College Students are More Politically Engaged

Here’s a report that I feel is great news. According to the Higher Education Research Institute, college students are more interested and involved with politics than they have been in 40 years.
According to this report, about 36 percent of college freshmen reported that during the past year, they talked about politics frequently. In addition, almost 90 percent said they talked about politics in the past year at least occasionally.
This is so nice to hear. When I was a professor, I was so frustrated by how little many of my students cared about issues like democracy, political participation, equality, and other issues that are so relevant to both individuals and society as a whole. In fact, this is one of (many) reasons why I left academia.
Although many of my students were interested in politics, I had some terribly disheartening experiences. After 9/11, I quickly revamped my broadcasting class to turn it into a “teaching moment” kind of semester. I shifted the focus to looking at how the media were covering the crisis, and asked students to critically evaluate and compare different news sources. A few students really liked this, but overall this bunch just wasn’t engaged. One student told me point blank that she was bored and felt we should talk about things that were more relevant to students, like sitcoms.
I also taught a media studies class during the semester when the War in Iraq began, and tailored that class around the media coverage of the imminent war. That experience was much better. Many students on both sides of the issue spoke out in class and we had great discussions. Unfortunately, there was a small but thoroughly displeased group of students who wrote things on their evaluations like, “We talked about the war too much!”
I’m so happy to hear that things are changing. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times we live in. Between the economic downturn and the wars in the Middle East and the threat of terrorism and global warming, it’s heard not to understand that political issues are relevant to everyone.