40% of Messiah College students enrolled in a United States history survey course would.
Every year my colleague, Cathay Snyder, conducts a survey among the members of our United States to 1865 survey course. This course serves as a general education requirement for students and it represents a pretty good cross-section of the Messiah College student body. This year 84 undergraduates–from first year students to seniors–took the survey.
Here are the results:
- 40% of Messiah College students would give up their right to vote in one presidential election in exchange for a new I-Phone.
- 92% of Messiah College students would give up their right to vote in a presidential election in exchange for four years of free education at Messiah College.
- 62% of Messiah College students would give up their right to vote FOREVER for one million dollars.
- 75% of Messiah College students believe that one vote CAN make a difference
Today I shared the results of this survey with my students and asked them to respond to these trends. Here were some of their responses:
Would you give up your right to vote in one presidential election for a new I-Phone?. Most of them talked about how important technology was to their everyday lives. One student even suggested that cell phones and other forms of technology would make her better prepared to land a job in her chosen field. So I pressed them. Was their own economic betterment (chance to land a good job, pursue their own version of economic happiness, live a comfortable life) more important than their participation in American democracy? Most said that it was.
Another insightful student made a historical argument. As a woman, she was not going to betray all of the women who went before her who fought for women’s suffrage.. She was thus unwilling to trade away her vote for a piece of consumer technology like an I-Phone. Responding to her remark, another student lamented this society’s lack of historical consciousness. If we knew what it took to get universal suffrage, we may not be so present-minded and passe about participation in American democracy. Yet most of the students in the class were at Messiah College not to study the liberal arts–things like history, literature, philosophy, politics–that might help them become more informed citizens. Instead, they were in college on more specialized career tracks–accounting, business, engineering, and nursing. One student lamented that becoming an informed citizen was too much work and the proliferation of information on satellite television and the Internet only confused him more. When I suggested that the study of things such as history prepared one to be more active and informed citizens, most of them nodded in approval, but I am guessing that few of them will pursue careful study of such a field beyond the required general education course.
One student, referencing a passage I gave them from Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, described how among democratic nations,
the woof of time is every instant broken and the track of generations effaced Those who went before are soon forgotten; of those who will come after, no one has any ideas…As social conditions become more equal, the number of persons increases who…owe nothing to man, and expect nothing from any man; they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone.
Most agreed that Toqueville was right, but really had no particular interest in doing anything about it.
I am most sympathetic with those students who would give up their right to vote in one presidential election for free college tuition, room, and board. Many thought that college would allow them to acquire the skills needed to be an informed citizen and thus an informed voter. Others, when pushed, understood this trade off in economic terms. They were willing to pass on voting in one election if they could gain the skills necessary to pursue economic comfort and a “good job.” What is striking is that this is something I would fully expect from any college undergraduate. Christian college students are not a whole lot different. In fact, when this survey was given to NYU students, they actually came across a bit more civic minded and less materialistic than the students at Messiah.
Would you give up your right to vote FOREVER for $1 million dollars? Apart from economic acquisitiveness and the chance to make a million bucks, few students could justify this position.
What fascinates me is that 75% of the students surveyed believed that one vote CAN make a difference, yet this did not stop many of them from giving up the opportunity to “make a difference” in exchange for an I-Phone or one million dollars. As one student put it, “I believe that one vote can make a difference, but just not my vote.”
There was a certain cynical response from the students during the discussion of these results. They clearly want to be good citizens and participate in the democratic process, but few of them thought that they could really make a difference with their vote. Many felt that they were not being heard and this discouraged them from voting. All of them admitted that ideals such as democratic participation were no match for the kinds of “pursuits of happiness” that corporate America had to offer them.
In the end, those who fear that Christian college students are mounting some sort of assault to overtake the country with their Christian ideals, political virtue or spiritually-inspired disinterestedness seem to have little to worry about.