Saturday, November 29, 2014

Who cares? I do.

Pop quiz: which disease has ravaged thousands of people this past summer?
           You could answer Ebola, an endemic that has infected over 3,500 people in western Africa. You could argue that the poisonous ideology espoused by ISIS in the Middle East is a sickness in itself. But if you are unable to answer anything at all, that may be a prime indicator that you are afflicted with an ailment of your own: apathy.
           We live in a world where most of us can recite biographical details of the extensive Kardashian clan with mechanized precision but hardly anyone cares enough to trudge through the name of one US Supreme Court justice. Today’s youth seems to have a predisposed aversion toward keeping up with current events (but not “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”). And this “I-don’t-know-so-I-don’t-care” attitude isn’t just disconcerting. It’s dangerous.
           Never has this been more evident than in 2014’s (sometimes literally) explosive summer of discontent. The current geopolitical climate is apocalyptic, with conflicts festering in Gaza, in Crimea, in Venezuela and in our very own Ferguson, Mo. Yet, tucked away snugly in the bubble that is Weston, too many students – and even some teachers – are shielded away from the weight of the world. To the vast majority of the student body, mentioning Boko Haram elicits nothing but puzzled expressions. Drone strikes in Syria? Students remain nonplussed. Orwellian privacy breaches by the NSA? What even is that?
           And this indifference isn’t unique to the Bay. In the national report card issued by the U.S. Department of Education, less than a quarter of high schools seniors were found to be proficient in U.S. history based on an exam administered to 12,000 12th graders. A study by the Pew Research Center produced equally disquieting results: only 14 percent of young people aged 18-29 could identify John Boehner as the Speaker of the House, and just 7 percent knew the inflation rate of the U.S. These respondents are eligible to vote, yet they could not summon so much as a cursory understanding of the U.S. political system.
           Not that the new wave of youth can be counted to participate in elections. During the 2012 presidential election, only 45 percent of eligible voters below age 30 cast a ballot. Thirty years ago, in 1972, that number exceeded 66 percent of young adults. It’s understandable that the incoming generation of voters is weary of the politics – Congress did, after all, score lower in popularity than root canals, NFL replacement referees and Nickelback in a 2013 poll by Public Policy Polling – but that is no reason for more than half of young adults to shirk their civic responsibilities and act as dead weight in the democratic process.
           Apathy is nothing new, but the new strain introduced by millennials is especially worrying because they have unprecedented access to information. Technology today plunges users down a digitized rabbit hole of information and into a wonderland of more feeds, forums and factoids than any one person could possibly fathom.
           With all this available information, there is absolutely no reason for young adults not to know Baghdad is in Iraq and not Afghanistan (as 30 percent of students in a Kent State University study presumed). There is absolutely no reason for students to scratch their heads when asked about members of Obama’s cabinet. But much like ancient Romans were distracted from the world of their leaders with “bread and circuses,” it seems like technology is distracting students from global issues with cat videos or salacious stories of celebrities.
           If students don’t look toward the greater international community, they will never carve out a place in the world. This generation will fail to produce the inspired leadership to promote positive change in the world. Unless we are more finely attuned to the inner workings of the world, tomorrow will not see the leadership of Ghandis and Einsteins and Martin Luther Kings.  We’ll just be a nation of dummies.
           Apathy is a disease, though not in the same strain as Ebola. It’s not even in the same strain as senioritis, which also inhabits many students at the school but swoops away in time for college. But if left untreated, apathy only gets progressively worse, atrophying the brain until one totally withdraws from the world.

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