Monday, March 31, 2008

Student Walkouts and Youth Responsibility

Here is an article that fits the standard mold of youth rights advocacy. The setting, as almost always, is school. The students are all protesting against a detached governing body, and they are protesting because they feel they have no other way to guarantee they are heard. The author of the article invokes the American tradition of civil disobedience, using the standard examples of the nations founding, and the more curious example of Douglass MacArthur. I have not read exactly this article before, but it rings true, has a pleasant familiarity to it. Or rather, it would, if it wasn't dealing with an intelligent, informed populace making reasonable demands and being unfairly punished for it.

And this is partly the problem. The article paints the youth as sympathetic, and by all rights they are. This screams of injustice, and calls for a more meaningful forum to be created to so that those attending school can air their concerns with those who work at the school and those who create and implement school policy. This is a call for more youth autonomy, protections for the students when they take the political action available to them, and more valid forms for youth political action. There is no reason to want to deny those rights to these youths. The article is brilliant in it's design that way, and this "look, the kids are doing what we want responsible citizens to do" approach is pretty solid.

But there's a flaw. I'm not saying that we should look at these Long Island students and their civil disobedience as anything less than the ideal of youth political participation, and they are fully justified in their aims, and would be fully justified in receiving the rights they could ask for. That is good, and positive. Nothing wrong with that. My problem lies elsewhere.

Advocacy movements start with the rights for well-behaving citizens, and move on to include the rights of those who err. Jean Six was a big deal not because it was about granting rights to people whose conduct showed a worthiness of rights, but it was about granting rights to people simply because they are people. If the legal system exists only so that the dominant culture and appropriately-behaving segments of other cultures get full protection under the law, then justice has failed in being blind. Likewise, I like this article, I like this story, and I like what the students here have done, but I want the rights extended not just to them, but to all youth.

For these students to be truly satisfied that their opinions matter, they'll need earlier citizenship and to be able to vote in local elections while in high school. If they don't get both the protection of citizenship and the right to vote (hopefully the full right, but local voting would suffice), they will still be subject to the decisions of the principal without recourse (except through parents, which is disempowering). This is big, as the disciplinary action is what prompted the editorial, and the disciplinary action is what comes across as fundamentally unjust. Dissent is vital to democracy, and it's okay for dissent to fail, but for people to be punished for dissent is absurd and undemocratic.

But I can say this, from my position of trusting youth with the responsibility to vote and to be full citizens, and I can point to an example like this, and say "this is why we need change, so that these youth can be acknowledged as the upright citizens they are". This people are comfortable with, and can agree with. But these same rights, rights that let youth live their fullest as participants in a democratic society, won't be brought up the next time a youth stands accused of some crime. When the media hits upon the next youth tragedy, and they mention the decision to try the youth as an adult, they won't say "because we have acknowledged that youth, whether committing crimes or acting as democratic citizens, can take adult responsibility for their actions". Youth are responsible adults when guilty and there is no thought it put into that. But they are disenfranchised kids when participating in democratic society through the only means left available to them.

This article is necessary, because we need to hear the good stories to make people comfortable with youth rights and youth responsibility. But we need this perspective as a constant in discussions of youth.

(full disclosure - I was informed of this article by an assistant editor at Newsday)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Forgotten Unitarian College Kids

It turns out BUUYA is a pre-existing acronym, which has something to do with Boston. Another term will need creation to meet the need, but until I hear a good one I'm sticking with it.

Not to replace the term but to further enhance the vocabulary of discussion, I've heard (and will soon be adopting) a new term that, as far as I know, originated among Vancouver UUs. The term? "Forgotten Unitarian College Kids", or the simple and abrasive acronym, FUCK. Because this segment of the faith is clever and bitter like that.

And, maybe, just maybe, there is some real hurt behind this, some feeling that bridging is more like being thrown into the Bering Strait, and the process has all the deliberate guidance of the vast, uncaring sea. YRUUs change, if it isn't demise, is surely something radical and will be more like reincarnation than resurrection, and so will be necessarily different enough to help air the issues that are tied into this. Ministry, while it can be effectively compartmentalized into "Youth, Young Adult, and Baseline Adult", needs to be a continuous thing, and having clearly demarcated bounds may only be harmful without proper structures to accompany the clear metaphors of ritual. Bridging should be to somewhere, and young adult community just doesn't feel like the proper drop off point for the 18-22 year olds. This is the question and the gap addressed by the FUCKs. Abrasive, but it sure warrants change.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


The above is not a typo. It's an acronym, a new one created (as far as I know) by Meghan McHenry. It stands for "Born Unitarian Universalist Young Adults", and I think it is brilliant. UUism is currently rife with young adults, terminology and speculation abounds at what would cater to the recently converted, the discoverers, and that whole group of people who discover Unitarian Universalism. These are people who fall in love with the faith for principle number 4, "A free and responsible search for truth and meaning". These are people seasoned by other religion, and perhaps burnt out on outside traditions. These people are essential to the faith, of course; this is a religion of converts, and one that doesn't really proselytize. But "young adults", as a term to describe such individuals, is fundamentally flawed. It excludes the very simple reality of those who find the church before they are 18, or those who are simply brought up as the native children in a religion of converts.

BUUYA as a literal term ignores the former of those groupings, so I don't expect it to become a huge deal in the intensely politically correct and subtext-centric terminology of UUs. It does address a need, however, and until I find a better term, I'll be using BUUYA as the catch-all for the post-YRUU Unitarian diaspora. This is a group that isn't really addressed by current Young Adult structures, groups, or culture, and this is an already existing gap.

I should clarify something - this isn't supposed to be nativist sentiment or backlash. This isn't railing against the inclusion of others into a system I was born into. And this isn't an attack on the structures that exist that are serving a need of N(new)UUYAs. It's also not an attempt to polarize the discussion. This is, however, an attempt at labeling. I think the discussion could use the term, and I think that if the problems of YRUU, Young Adults, and the diaspora are to be addressed, it'd be really good to have a vocabulary that allows for the full debate.

There are problems that "being Young Adult friendly" doesn't address, and there are problems with conceptions of "retaining youth". The issue is complex, and for all the categorization and labeling that can be done to look at this big picture, the issue of those raised UU staying with the church goes back to that 4th principal - it's an individual search, and we as a faith need to be just as happy and grateful and catering to those who choose to stay as for those who discover UUism.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Late on the bandwagon

I am odd, for those who make their lives about politics, in my relative lack of interest and attention given to the day to day of news. So I am late to discover this. So, so, incredibly worth it.

This is Barack Obama, in the best speech I've heard. Not heard this year. Heard. Period.
"And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism."
"In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper. "
I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.
and finally
It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.
I'm not one for short excerpts and soundbites, and I think even the excerpts here are too incomplete to really showcase the speech. Watch it, read it, or settle for this excerpts. It is worth the forty minutes, and you'll feel happy and idealistic afterwards. Which, really, is kind of awesome.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Youth Rights: Voting Ages Elsewhere

While reading Persian Mirrors* for school, I came across the fact of suffrage in Iran granted at 16 years of age. This fact is thematically tied into the ban on birth control and the call for more soldiers issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in the early 1980s. The call worked, and Iran's population went from a modest 35 million to 65 million, but the war with Iraq ended, and the religious authorities in Iran scaled back the prohibitions and controls, going so far as to approve vasectomies. Still, that's a solution for latter, and doesn't deal with the huge age imbalance in the nation. Iran's population is young, very, very young.

For comparison's sake, 1/4 of the Iranian population is below the age of 14, while only 1/5 of the United States population is. That doesn't appear to be a big disparity, but lets add that to the fact that the Iranian median age is 25, while in the US it's 36. This shows a disparity, but it isn't a disparity that easily translates into an explanation for Iran's voting age being 16, while the US (and most of the rest of the world) have suffrage set at 18. This is a cursory overview, as I think the full survey will work much better as late-college political science research.

But, the overview - going from the CIA world Factbook's list (which is pretty dang handy), the most popular option for voting is universal suffrage at 18, followed by universal suffrage at 18 with compulsory voting. The youngest voting ages are universal suffrage at 16 in Austria, Cuba and Iran, with suffrage for employed 16 year olds in Slovenia. Several nations have requirements of adulthood, without ages specified. Other nations have compulsory voting only for the married, or younger voting for the married. Still other nations have caps on compulsory voting at an old age, and make voting voluntary after that. We have a few nations (notably Japan) where suffrage is only granted at 19 or 20. And then, we have one interesting exception, found in many nations - soldiers (and sometimes even police) are forbidden from voting.

This list challenges my previous speculations about what entitles an individual to voting rights. Dying for one's nation seems to warrant the right of consent in government, but many nations specifically feel that those doing the dying shouldn't have the say, and so citizenship cannot be defined by potential for military service. Brazil has voting as compulsory for persons between 18 and 70, but optional for those 16-18 and over 70, which is an interesting twist on whose voice gets to be heard. Nonspecific adulthood is an interesting proposition, and it'd be interesting to see how a loose standard is applied in the daily exercise of politics. Some nations have education requirements, or education requirements for a specific gender (looking at you, Lebanon). And most interestingly, marriage as a requirement, which must be the result of the family, rather than the individual, seen as the essential component of society.

It's all very interesting, and at my present state I think that's all the interpretation I can offer. I'll hold that my previous criteria for voting as citizenship hold in the US, but it's pretty interesting to see how the question has been answered elsewhere.


* I can't really recommend the book, as it is too much a spoon-fed bipolar dichotomy aimed at separating Islamic government from Iran, and at explaining why the current Iranian government both isn't really Iranian and why it falls short of the universal standards every nation should abide by. By universal standards, I of course mean those of the enlightened west, and particularly the United States center-left. Not that the book doesn't have selling points (it was interesting enough to get me to write this tangentially related post), but it doesn't let other cultural standards be meaningful, and it treats a 1,300+ year old religious tradition in Iran as temporary and unessential to Iranian identity. Read Persepolis instead.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Youth Rights Interlude

Reading BoingBoing, I found this post, about an 8th grader, by all indicators respectable and law-abiding, getting in trouble for buying candy from a student. Going further into that blog's archives, I keep finding more and more absurd stories about rights youth are being denied. Seriously, this goes on and on, and this is only what I've found in five minutes. Bear in mind, the blog I'm pulling these links from is not a blog about youth rights. Its about civil rights, plain and simple. Youth are just denied them, or have restricted, trial versions that do them little good.

It's absurd, and this alone is enough fodder to consider a change in legal attitudes. The bakers dozen of links says more than enough, but a few points worth making. These rights are all civil rights we believe adults should have, and several of these posts focus on state interference against the parent, in a way puts that lets the state supersede parental authority in matters from education to curfew laws. Rather than parents having the state to back up on for curfew laws, parents who set their own curfews find out:
...that it is also unlawful for parents or guardians to knowingly or by inefficient control allow their children to be in public places during the prohibited hours.

There's worse in there, more gross violations of the human dignity of parents, and refusal to respect the humanity of youth. The home is a heinous place for governmental authority to overstep its bounds, but this happens elsewhere.

Or there are other things, which have large implications against the principle of academia. In one post, we hear about a student banned from student council because:
it [a lower federal court] believed she could be punished for writing in a blog because the blog addressed school issues and was likely to be read by other students."

That's one of the happier ones, of free speech being quashed and the quashing being contested. There's other horror, at least as bad as that, and it ranges from clothing violations to suspension for doing the right thing to something akin to gulags.

I'm not advocating the vote be extended all the way down to the youngest of children (in this sample of stories, that's grade school). I am, however, in favor of extending civil rights further down, and if that cannot be done without some extension of the vote to youth (16 or 14 being the target goals), then the vote should be extended, and citizenship besides should go at least that far, conferring not just human rights but American rights on our nations youth. The alternative is, at best, frustrating, and at worst it is terrifying.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Youth Rights Post 2: Citizens at an Early Age?

My last Youth Rights post was all premise, and at best it succeeded only in explaining why 18 year olds can vote. That's a good thing to know, but it doesn't readily translate into why people younger than 18 should vote. With luck, this post will clear that up.

The definitive factor that granted the vote to 18 year olds was military considerations, and the notion that a drafted army can only draft citizens. As such, drafted soldiers have the vote. As do volunteer soldiers, with the exception of 17 year olds who can legally enlist with parental permission.

Fighting and dying for the nation, then, is not enough for an individual to have earned the vote - they have to face the possibility of being drafted against their will. Going back to the vote as consent, this means that people who could be drafted/have been drafted will be able to remove that consent, by voting for politicians opposed to continuing war. All straightforward, all restatements of what I said last post.

However, the draft as last written excludes over half the population by gender requirements. Debating a new draft that includes women is not my goal, nor is it a major concern for this post. But this gender requirement does mean that other factors must be important for full citizenship besides eligibility for military service. Some of these issues are mentioned in the previous post, but this time I'll consider each and the role it plays in citizenship.

1. The Drivers License

This isn't something granted exclusively to citizens, or granted as part of the "turned 18 - now a citizen" process. In fact, some states (New Mexico, for example) grant drives licenses to illegal immigrants. Drivers licenses are earned by requirements that vary state to state, but most include 3 requirements: being a certain age, passing a written test, and passing a road test. The latter two test necessary knowledge, the written test being on conventions and laws, and the driving test being on actual driving ability. The age requirement isn't a strict assumption of competence - in New Jersey and New York, it's higher (17 instead of 16, last time I checked) to help address the density of the population, and to limit the number of drivers on the rode. In New Mexico, a provisional license can be had at 15 and a half, and Western states in general have lower age requirements - partly less population density, partly the early age at which people enter into employment (and accompanying poor public transportation systems. The point here is that competence at driving alone can be assessed as early as two and a half years before citizenship is earned, and people can be subject to traffic laws that they can't vote for politicians to change. People willingly enter into this, as the benefits of being able to drive under existing laws outweigh the downside of not being able to repeal traffic laws they are subject to, but it also leads to some legal anomalies, like municipalities that make it illegal to talk on your cell phone while driving, but only make this illegal for teenagers.

2. Rights in School

Teenagers in public school have reduced free speech, as has been ruled in the Supreme Court, but they do still have rights to free speech. This shows up periodically, with clothing choices or political protest (or hugging, apparently). This is a right enshrined in the US constitution as the first amendment, and it is especially important in academia. Discourse and free thought, the underlying aims of free speech, are essential to citizenship, and to an informed electorate. However, the right doesn't just safeguard speech deemed appropriately valuable for society - personal expression and individual differentiation are also covered, and many legal cases for student rights revolve around either the intellectual value of the student's action, or on how constraining the students action would only serve to make more free speech, especially the valuable free speech, difficult or impossible. Teenagers' free speech is more subject to rulings based on the value of that speech, but this shouldn't be seen as detrimental to youth rights. Rather, it is a beneficial scrutiny, one that time and time again has validated teenage expression. The scrutiny is, however, a test that is rarely applied to citizens in the public arena (although the test is extended to teachers in the schools).

The point of this free speech would be meaningless if society thought teenagers opinions didn't matter, and if this free speech wasn't seen as a precursor to engaging in public discourse latter in life. There are other examples of "training-wheel rights" granted to high schoolers, the most notable one being student government, but the bigger issue at stake in youth rights and education has more to do with education theory.

Public education is provided at taxpayer expense as a social right. The trick, however, is figuring out whose right that is. Is it the parents who have the right to send their children to school, the child who has a right to attend school, or the adult who has a right to have gone to school as a child? Citizenship rights in regards to public schooling focus primarily on the former and the latter, as they deal with adults. The actual people in schools, students, aren't the people the school system is designed to serve. Parents want the kids to have an education that meets their goals, and the adults who graduate from public school want to have had an education that is valuable to them. These people, parents and former students, will vote in local elections and for school board members based on their past experience of public schooling, based on their children's experience as best they know it, and based on the detached criterion of tax concerns (not all that detached, but often far from the students minds). Students unhappy with how they are being served by the public institution they are legally obligated to attend can complain to parents, can hope that their schools student government has some form of meaningful power, or can at a specific age (in New Mexico, 16) exempt themselves from the system. They have some rights in this situation, but the big problem is that the only way for an individual to formally deny consent to this process is to opt out of the system. It's not an exact comparison, but it's like disagreeing with municipal authorities and then moving away. In the US, we value working for change instead of running away from problems, and its a bad system that has running as a primary recourse. Teenagers, as participants (and mandatory participants) in the public education deserve some say in how that institution is run, and in a way that makes the teenagers being educated at least as important a constituency as the parents of small children, and as adults who had been educated.

3. Rights to Work

I don't have the numbers, and I'm hesitant to trust the NYRA's numbers at face value, but regardless; lots of teenagers hold down jobs, for lots of reasons, and it isn't primarily summer jobs. Youth work, some of them very hard and as a matter of survival. Teenagers traditionally get low paying jobs, with minimal required skill sets, that see lots of turnover. This isn't an objection to the system - the jobs are in theory aged out of, and teenagers will always be willing to work them. It does mean, however, that there will always be a significant amount of teenagers who are taxpayers, and that these taxpayers can't vote. These taxpayers are operating under reduced rights, and they will have to age into a position where they can seek redress from politicians. Not the biggest of concerns certainly, but this is a nation founded on strong belief in the rights of taxpayers as citizens.

4. Rights of Youth and Rights of Parents

Lots of rights can be seen as conferred to youth through parents, and this is a huge gray area. The debate stretches back to conception, where rights of baby/fetus and mother are argued in regards to abortion. Not delving into that here, the general trend is more and more government acknowledged freedom for the child as they age. Children can (again, using NM as my example) be legally left alone at 10, and at 12 can be left alone in charge of other children below the age of 10. At 14-15, with parental consent, they can apply for workers permits, and parental consent is a requirement for most activities at school, up until the teenager is either old enough by judgment of a ratings board (movies, shown at school or elsewhere) or is 18 and can sign their own forms. Even donating blood for those younger than 18 requires parental consent. A lot of this is trust placed with the parent in knowing what is best for the child, and judgments are made on behalf of the parents right to parent. Rights to parent are lost at times, usually in unpleasant circumstances where the governments obligation to protect the child supersedes the parents right to raise the child (this is why child's services exists). Children can also remove themselves from having a legal guardian through teenager emancipation, which is a concerted effort that secures some rights of the parent onto the child, but more importantly denies those rights to the parent.

This whole topic is a big, messy arena, but the key points to get out of it are that 1) parents have a right to raise their children into functioning and independent adults, 2) that the government has a right to remove a child from its parents authority if the government can justify doing so is in the interest of the safety of the child, and 3) teenagers can remove themselves from parents legal authority, provided they are willing to go through (and know about) the whole process of emancipation.


This is a huge topic, trying to reverse engineer citizenship rights so that they apply to youth. We have clear examples of citizenship conferring a right in the form of draft eligibility and the right to vote. Voluntary enlistment at 17 with parental consent limits military service as the domain of the voting citizen, so we must look at what is involuntary. This doesn't help case 1, where a drivers license is obtained from a voluntary process. That case does, however, allow us to examine rights that are earned through the completion of specific tasks; merit-based rights, at a rudimentary form. Public school attendance is involuntary to a point, but attending school doesn't confer rights. This can then be seen with education for children as the right of the adult that child will be, and as the right of the child's parent. The rights of the child as they attend school are still worth considering, and if one believes that schooling is the right of the current student, the case can be made for giving current students the right to vote. Tax-paying is involuntary, and workers who have to pay taxes are almost always entitled to a say in how those taxes are spent; teenage workers being an exception that I feel is worth correcting. Lastly, we have the rights of the parent in conflict with the rights of the youth, where the interests of government, the parents, and the youth itself are all involved. Here, granting citizenship to the youth would lead to a transformation of the dynamic, and may well be seen as infringing upon the rights of the parent.

Youth rights are a difficult concern, and I've tried here to tie youth concerns into the fundamental concerns of citizens, especially the right to give and withdraw consent to and from government. This approach is lacking in many areas, and places all its emphasis on youth as fulfilling the roles and obligations of citizens without receiving the rights. Still, I think this is a valuable concern, and that youth rights must, at its core, be seen as expanding citizenship.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Two Shorts on War

For your weekly supplement of blogging by Kelsey, I give you this and this. Both are short (under ten minutes) films about war, and both are fun and interesting. The first one is quite impressive, with the more ominous ending, and the second one has an absolutely incredible soundtrack, as well as the better ending. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Sunday, March 2, 2008

War Between Democracies

That democracies do not wage war against one another is a point often brought up in talking about the overthrow of dictators, and in conversations concerning war in general. I've always found the notion of no wars between democracies seem somewhat off, and may well have devoted time to mapping out wars and determining how democratic their governments were. This being the age of the internet, someone else has already done it.

The whole site is interesting, but the part that makes it really valuable is the discussion following the examples. But Kelsey, you ask, can I just get a simple answer? Have democracies ever gone to war against each other? Well, using entirely someone else's logic, I can tell you simply that it depends entirely on how you define democracy.

Want a more valid, more thorough examination? Go to the site. It's well done to the point that I'd be jealous if it hadn't saved me time.

Youth Rights Post 1: Concerning Citizenship

There are two threads with which to tackle the issue of youth rights, and in this post (and part 2) I will take on one of them: What makes youth qualified to vote? This question cannot be answered on its own, and so instead I will attempt to address the following:

What makes anyone qualified to vote?

Voting is the fundamental role of the citizen in representative democracy, by which continued governance earns or loses consent, and so were are going to assume that citizenship is the requirement for an individual to vote. Citizenship entails many things, but the important one here is a vested interest and stake in the governance of a nation. This stake can be represented as taxes, but is not limited to involuntary (though consensual) financial contributions.

Citizens, as affected by the actions of government, have a right to deny consent (to the specific actors and not the whole system, generally; but the second amendment is in place for the latter concern). People are granted this right through either deliberate action on the individual's behalf and then granted on completion of that action, as in the case of legal immigration, or by right of birth in the nation and then granted on attainment of a certain age.

Granted is not really the word to be using here; the right to vote is earned. It is clearly earned in the case of immigration, where we have tests and lessons and a whole process of citizenship in place. Earned is harder to pinpoint in the case of voting rights granted upon attainment of 18 years of age. This is granted/earned on the assumption that 18 years is enough time spent to learn and to understand the rules and traditions of this nation, and the assumption that an 18 year old is responsible enough to grant or deny consent to government.

Rights of citizenship, once earned through formally earned (or aged into) citizenship, is taken away in few circumstances: deliberately changing one's citizenship to that of other nation, being convicted of a felony, engaging in open rebellion/armed conflict against this nation. Rights of citizenship are denied when one clearly does not value or hold to the laws of the nation, and so the rights are taken away when a person exempts themselves from organized society.

What's important here is not so much when rights are taken away, but when they are not. Rights are not taken away for other cases of bad judgment (misdemeanors), deteriorating mental capacity (senility, Alzheimer's, or other such circumstances). Rights are taken away when a person decides they don't want to be a citizen, or act in such a severe manner as to prove citizenship is meaningless. Rights remain so long as the citizen does not knowingly and willingly forfeit them, even if the citizen shows remarkably poor judgment in executing those rights.

The National Youth Rights Association points out several examples of people older than 18 but not formally denied the right to vote, but I think the distinctions can come across as arrogant and off-putting. Yes, the mentally disabled are not barred from voting while teenagers are, but saying that can lead to the disenfranchisement of another segment of the population (who, yes, isn't voting in numbers significant enough to constitute a constituency) as easily as it can lead to expanding the vote to teenagers. Also troubling, it could lead to medical diagnosis being a valid way to remove the vote from people.

That is of course the opposite goal of anything that seeks to expand the franchise, and so standards of competence, besides those already contained in our notions of earned citizenship, are not helpful. The question now moves from "why are citizens qualified to vote" to "why aren't teenagers full citizens".

Using "full citizens", I'm acknowledging the rights already conferred to teenagers that are commonplace (drivers license before citizenship), that are institutional (some rights conferred to those currently in public school), that run into tricky child/adult labor regulations (workers permits, right to get a job at some teen year), and rights that come into conflict (parental responsibility and authority/teenage emancipation). There are many conflicts here, and as far as I know (which is some knowledge, but I will be the first to say I'm no expert on these matters), a lot of this is uncertain as it varies from state to state, while the vote (and citizenship) at 18 is a national law. (side note: The constitution also contains other age requirements (and requirements of time lived in the nation) as requisite for holding elected office, so age is something we associate with suitable judgment and experience in this country is something that bestows the right to have a say in this nations affairs.)

The gray areas are interesting, and are the key to understanding youth rights. They'll be the focus of the second post, but before I go into that, one final case study is needed here, about the last time the voting age was lowered

Voting at 18 as national law was instituted in 1971, and it was tied into a fundamental role of citizenship. The draft was for males 18 years and older, but at the time there was no set national voting age (as the matter was constitutionally left to the states), but the standard was 21, and some states placed the bar higher. Lowering the age to 18, and making a national standard, served as a politically expedient way to counter cries of "old enough for fightin' but not for votin'", but besides bitter realpolitik, the rationale meant that if one is going to, as citizens duty, fight a war in the national military, one should be able to consent (and withdraw that consent) through voting. (Also worth noting, the United States is a democracy where the active-duty military is allowed to vote; some nations don't go for this, but I think we're fortunate to live in a state where the people fighting a war can vote to support or oppose the officials who sent them into war.) More important in the matter of voting at 18, no matter how calculated it may have been as a draft age, it now means that the government acknowledges that 18 year olds have sufficient stake and interest in the nation to both die in its wars and elect its leaders. The have this stake even if deemed unfit for military service, as being eligible for the draft is all it took to make people eligible for the vote.

Still, there's a curious exception to the draft age at 18. In the United States, youth 17 years of age can join the military, with written parental consent. These youth cannot yet vote, so the citizenship that matters here is that of the parents, and the distinction between rights inherent to the parent and rights bestowed on the youth. This will be the focus of post 2.

Saturday, March 1, 2008


This is round zero for the Youth Rights post, which is in development.

Here's a simple video, a ten minute talk, about 5 dangerous things to do with your kids. The kids will get hurt, certainly, but the guy tosses around the notion that no matter the situation, kids will find the most dangerous thing to do, and do it anyway. This is about coming to terms with dangerous things, and the power and learning that can come from such activities. It's great stuff, and it was fun to remember back to how old I was when I did each of these things.

The underlying theme of this piece is empowerment, and letting kids encounter dangerous things, develop an understanding and a mastery of those things, and come away as more fully developed people. It's great stuff