Should we be concerned about our nation’s future in the hands of the generation of new adults ready to make decisions that will determine our fate?I don’t have an answer to that question, but sometimes it worries me to discover just how disengaged so many seem to be when confronted with simple questions that we might assume would produce answers that showed at least some awareness of what’s going on.Television comedians have fun confronting people on city streets, and journalists who have a more serious mission of measuring public cognizance of national issues have joined the practice.For example, a reporter with center-right PJ Media recently approached Hillary Clinton supporters on the campus of George Washington University, in the heart of the nation’s capital, wanting to know why they were planning to vote for her if she enters the next presidential race.Their replies centered on her gender: that it would be “really cool to have a woman president,” that her election would be an “example for the rest of the world that we had last elected an African-American followed by a woman — it would be amazing.”One student said, “It should happen because Bill has a lot of followers and he owes her one, so why not?” Another said it would be “kind of weird, but she is an amazing woman.”Others said they were going to vote for her but were really not sure why, that they were not that much into politics.The reporter then got more specific, asking what they thought her greatest accomplishment was as secretary of state.Answers ranged from “not having a clue” to “there’s been so many” to her “soft approach” to “really not having that many” and finally to “the way she handled Benghazi was remarkably adept,” the “high point” of her accomplishments.Meanwhile, about 20 miles away, Benghazi was the focus of inquiry on the campus of George Mason University (about the size of UT Arlington), where a reporter for MRCTV encountered students wrapping up the spring semester.The specific question he had for them: Why is Benghazi in the news? Knowing that many people believe we’ve heard enough about Benghazi, I had some expectation that replies would echo that sentiment.That thought was quickly proven totally wrong and naive by responses from every student offering an answer. Here’s what tomorrow’s decision makers said: “Sounds like a place to me.” “It’s a place in Afghanistan.” “It has something to do with Save the Children.” “It’s some kind of geographic region.” “It’s somewhere in the Middle East.” “It’s a place where there’s a lot of danger.”“It’s something my family talks about.” “It’s an Islamic political group.” “It has something to do with the PLO.” “It reminds me of a guy I work with at the gym.”And, my favorite: “It’s some guy named Ben Ghazi who has been in the news —but a really nice guy, though.”One other question was included in the interviews. The reporter asked if they knew who the recording artist was on the hit song Happy. Every student nailed the correct answer: Pharrell Williams.I’m not making up any of this. Maybe I’m needlessly concerned about the perils of handing over our country to those pursuing higher education these days. Call me out-of-touch and too up-tight, but I expect more. In a system of government where we depend on the knowledge of people with a purpose they can define, shouldn’t we all expect more?
Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. firstname.lastname@example.org