The Educated Citizen

Every day we are bombarded by political assertions, opinions, ads, and statements of "facts" as identified by a political candidate or party. These are all thrown at us among the TV ads, radio ads, newspaper ads, Facebook pages, Twitter comments, and other media that offers to get a message to the masses. The problem, however, is so much of what we hear, read, or see in the media is distorted, stretched, quoted out of context, or simply not true. But often, it just seems convincing.

Now that we are entering an active political season, particularly at the federal level with the beginning of the presidential campaigns, the propensity of political fodder is exacerbated. How many times will we hear wars of words between candidates citing positions from years ago or statements made without any contextual basis? How often will we hear what bad shape the country is in; and how one party or the other took the U.S. into the depths of disparity? By the time we go to the polls in November, two years from now, we'll be happy to vote just to make it stop. Sadly, it will only stop for a few hours before they begin to speculate on who will start his/her run two years later.

However, voting for our elected officials - local, state and federal - is one of the great privileges and responsibilities as a citizen of the United States. How sad it is that relatively few actually vote in any given election. So, our elected officials are selected by a small percentage of our population. It seems to me that higher education has a duty to encourage our students and graduates to vote in any eligible election. Equally as important, we must encourage students to become informed about the issues and the candidates who are running for office.

No one should take at face value the statements of any elected official, particularly during the election season. No offense to our elected officials, but we have a responsibility to understand the issues on our own. Then we can understand the candidates' positions on issues because we have read and interpreted our own positions. No one can understand all of the issues that candidates face, so we need to pick the ones that are important to us, and gain a better understanding for ourselves.

At Fulton-Montgomery Community College we try to teach students that when you explore a subject, a topic, or an issue, it is important to explore all sides. Don't read only documents or data that reflect one's current opinions. Rather, those interested should read articles, books, and editorials expressing opinions that do not agree with our own. At the conclusion of our research we may or may not have the same opinion as when we started, but we are informed.

It is then that we can decide if candidates reflect our opinions or if they differ. We can determine if they are knowledgeable about an issue, or pandering to a sector. We can discuss if the candidates' position could lead to real change or if it is wrapped up in hyperbole.

Certainly one key to moving our society forward is having our citizens understand the issues and make informed decisions about our leaders. While a college education may not be the only way to prepare for such an endeavor, it sure helps.