By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli
Another school year has begun. In the more than three decades that I have had the privilege of teaching college and graduate students, I have never had a class that I did not love and learn from. I continue to be amazed at their openness and enthusiasm about life.
Their love for others, their concern for the environment and their desire to leave the planet better than how they found it continues to inspire me to do my small part at making the world a better place.
Every fall semester I teach an honors sociology class at Suffolk County Community College in Selden, one of our best-kept secrets in higher education. Usually by my second class, I ask my students how many are registered to vote, and then take a count on how many are not registered to vote. It is always a mix on who is and who is not registered.
After the question about voter registration, I ask how many intend to vote. This semester I was shocked at how many indicated that they had no intention or desire to vote. The conversation that erupted after that statement was deeply troubling. Most of my students feel that their vote is meaningless and that their voice does not matter at all. They believe that our country is led by special interests and not by those elected to represent the people.
Even more disturbing was my question about the issues. What are they? Who do they affect? Some could articulate some of the national issues like gun safety and a broken immigration system. Very few could identify or articulate the local issues like health care, high taxes and affordable housing to name a few.
What was really troubling is that this group of students who are among the brightest of the bright who may go on to Harvard or Yale, have no foundation on the core values of our nation and how it works.
We in education need to revisit this issue and reassess how we are preparing the next generation of American leaders. What are we doing in our junior high and in our high schools civics classes? Are we teaching our students to be critical thinkers and analytical writers? Are we discussing the important social issues of our times and helping them to understand what it means to be sociologically mindful?
They are the next generation of leaders that need to salvage our democracy and protect human rights for all. We need to work harder to prepare the next generation to become our future leaders. Our democracy demands it and our country desperately needs them.
Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.