Posted by Brian at 1:12 PM
Good lord, this is a bad idea
It's so bad I hardly know where to begin.
We should hasten the enfranchisement of this generation, born between 1980 and 1995, by lowering the voting age to 16.
I know that as a society we seem split at times. We look to keep our children pure and unsullied by the ugliness of the world (a mistake, I believe, and one I didn't make with my daughter). We look to protect them from video game violence and boobies on the television, and from ugly realities of our nation's history. At the same time, we market sex to them at an early age and expose them to violence in television and movies and yes, video games. We're a little conflicted.
But what our teens lack, for the most part, is real-world life experience, and I'm not talking about simply holding down a job. I'm talking about having to struggle to make the rent, or deciding between the off-brand mac & cheese and the top ramen as the major diet source for the coming week. We've drawn a bright-line for adulthood at age 18, in part because you have to draw lines somewhere, but in part because it's the time where most people complete high school. It's recognized as a rite of passage of sorts (though a less meaningful one in recent years). Kamenetz recognizes this, and suggests that we should lower the age for other things as well:
And why stop at voting? Sixteen is a good starting point for phasing in adult rights and responsibilities, from voting to drinking to marriage. In reality, this is already when most people have their first jobs, their first drinks and their sexual initiations. The law ought to empower young people to negotiate these transitions openly, not furtively.
First of all, I question the integrity of anyone who so easily equates "sexual initiations" with marriage, especially when it comes to teenagers, but I think this whole set of comparisons is bogus. Drinking is the same as voting? Seriously? Strangely enough, I agree that we're handling the underage drinking issue all wrong--we should do away with drinking age laws completely--but even in this case, she's comparing apples and oranges. The drinking age in all 50 states is 21, not 18, because the federal government decided about 20 year ago (just as I was coming of age, naturally) that teen drinking and driving was enough of a problem that it would use federal highway money as a club over the states.
But the biggest difference is that sex/marriage and alcohol consumption are personal issues, while voting is a civic one. We need voters who are more informed, not less, and we need voters who actually feel the consequences of their choices, not those who are sheltered from them because they're still living at home. Kamenetz's claims that high schoolers would need to pass a civics test to get their voting license doesn't pass the laugh test--does anyone think that this wouldn't disproportionately increase voting rights in affluent parts of the country?
Kamenetz also wants teens to be able to get credit cards, and to take on other trappings of adulthood at earlier ages, because we as a nation are getting older, and we need to be more worried about old people than young ones. The only way I'd be willing to consider this is if we revamp the educational system so that it resembles Europe's, where you finish the equivalent of high school at 16, and then can go on to university prep if you wish. They've effectively lowered the bar of adulthood. Kamenetz wants some hybrid system that is rife with problems. No thanks.