Learning the Real Way to Expand Your Political Knowledge

I was teaching Introduction to American Government in Political Science 100 during the fall of a recent election. As a professor of political science, I wanted to encourage students to pay attention and participate in the election. Along with updating and reorganizing my content, I also gave information about this election, including how to register to vote, the resources for the ballot propositions, and much more.

So that anyone could cast their ballot, I didn’t hold classes on Election Day. Instead, I offered an alternative assignment where students were asked to reflect on the election. Students could talk about their experience at the polling station, viewing the election results on TV, or any other memorable event that happened that day. I read every single one of the reflections from my two hundred students. They were thoughtfully written, and I learned so many things from them. They were diverse in every possible way.

The reflection of one student is what has stayed with me the longest. One student shared how they wanted to vote but needed to feel sufficiently informed. Others shared this sentiment, but the student’s post captures it best.

My first reaction was shock and disappointment. How could this happen? Despite all our class preparation, this young man still felt unprepared. I thought about what I could have done to help them feel empowered and ready for class.

Second, I thought about where this feeling of not being informed enough. Politics can be intimidating for many. People are constantly bombarded with information but also need help finding reliable information. People also think they need to learn all they can before getting involved in politics. There is always more to be discovered. Politics is like life.

Many underestimate the connections between their everyday experience and “politics” because they don’t know enough.

We all learn something about politics every day, regardless of whether or not we want to. We all live around the globe, whether in a country, a state, or a city. Your neighborhood has fewer trees and more pollution than you live in. A teacher, a city utility worker, or a police officer could be among the people you interact with. We are seeing the government’s response to COVID-19 up close. This includes mask requirements, restrictions on gatherings, and closures of beaches and parks. These interactions can reveal a lot about you as a citizen or resident. It also tells you if you are in a position to see yourself and how others view you. You understand politics from the ground up.

These experiences can provide knowledge. However, there may be questions that will help us transform that knowledge into political participation. For example, What government officials or agencies make decisions that impact the air quality in our communities? Why is there only one major political party when so many people are unhappy with both? What would happen if I voted yes or no on this ballot proposition?

These are my suggestions if you’re interested in learning more about politics.

Some of these are more accessible learning methods, such as finding reliable news sources and enrolling in classes. These options are available to you, and I’ll help you make the most. Be efficient in your efforts.

Others will require you to act in a way you might not be “prepared” for. However, acting is a way to learn. Engaging, talking, and working with others can help you learn more than you think. This elevates the daily experience of politics.

Stay tuned! This new series will teach you more in a structured way. Let’s start with how to use a textbook. Even if you don’t take a class, textbooks are a cost-effective and well-organized way to learn. They also make excellent references when you have questions.