Our High Schools Have Failed Us

Why This Matters | Jen Semler | April 7, 2016

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A really good article can change the way you think about something. I recently learned that a really bad article can do the same.

I stumbled across one particularly anger-inducing article, as many of us do, by scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and clicking on a link to something that some girl from my high school wrote. It was about why she supported Donald Trump. My problem with the article wasn’t a simple clash of political ideologies. In fact, I was actually pretty excited to read a coherent and convincing piece about the notorious man. My problem was the fact that the article was built upon false information, was grammatically incorrect, and blatantly revealed the writer’s lack of knowledge on the political realm.

My initial reaction was simply that this writer was ignorant. She didn’t do the research or put in the time to make this article good. But then I read this comment: “Horace Greeley HS has failed you (and us) fantastically.” In many ways, this response is extremely accurate. High school education fails to actually teach us about the modern political atmosphere.

High schools are designed to teach and prepare us for the next step—whether that’s college, getting a job, or just being able to function in the ‘real world.’ For all of the random facts, and great skills, we learn, how is it that so many graduate unprepared for the responsibilities of being an active citizen in this country?

You’re 18. Now What?

Reaching the big 1-8 is a huge deal. It comes with a whole new set of expectations and rights—including the right to vote, one of America’s greatest values. We’ve learned in our history classes that many pivotal moments in this country have revolved around the right to vote. And finally, after the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the feminist movement, it seems as though we are finally at that point of universal suffrage. We learn in school that voting is a critical component of American democracy, and as soon as we turn 18, we can finally take part in this process. So why did only 57.5% of eligible voters participate in the 2012 presidential election? It seems as though part of the problem is that we are unsure of how to actively participate in the election process.

What Do These Policies Really Mean?

Not only are the logistical components of an election (how to register to vote, how the primary and caucuses work, what the delegates are, how the electoral college works, etc.) rarely taught, but we also leave high school uneducated about how to actually make a fair and accurate assessment of the presidential candidates.

It’s easy to look at a candidate’s promises and say “yeah, I agree with that.” We all like the sound of our taxes being lowered, saving American jobs, and avoiding war. Politicians do a good job of hitting these buzz words and making broad promises about how they will help different groups of people. But at the end of the day, no candidate can actually do everything that they promise while campaigning. It’s simply impossible. So, it’s up to us to look at the different options and decide who we think is most likely to come through for us.

Despite this fact, policies are still the most important factor in considering a candidate. Of course, it’s difficult to completely understand everything about the impacts of certain proposals. I’m almost done with Econ 101 and I can barely scrape the surface of all of the nuances of the candidates’ economic policies. But some basics would be helpful. For example, we could learn the pros and cons of different tax systems. We could learn about both sides of the immigration debate. Even more so, we can learn about what the president does on a day-to-day basis. How much power does the President actually have? How will each candidate affect me in my daily life? It’s easy to look at and listen to different candidates and their plans, but in order to make a good judgment we have to know how to interpret the practicality and effectiveness of their promises.


Yes, it’s impossible for high school to teach us everything we need to know. Many of the skills we learn- such as time management, analysis, problem solving, and critical thinking- are undoubtedly helpful. But we have a responsibility that comes along with the right to vote, and that responsibility is making a well-informed choice. Looking back now, I realize what an injustice it is to exclude such a critical part of our citizenship from the learning process. Unfortunately, to this end, our high schools have failed us fantastically.