Geoff Johnson: Lessons from summer jobs applied to voting

My first “real” summer job was in the parts department of a large industrial trucking company.

I did not know the difference between an SAE bolt and a metric bolt and busy truck mechanics don’t like to be kept waiting so it was a steep learning curve if I wanted to keep the job.

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Later, my summer job was as a window washer — mainly commercial and industrial windows but the employment criteria was, again, simple; a clean window was a clean window, no excuses.

Later still, as a wannabe musician, the rules were the same — don’t tell us what you can do, show us, play the notes if you want to come back next week.

Many kids will have had similar experiences with employers who say: “Don’t tell me what you can do, just do it and don’t come to me until the job you said you would do is done properly.”

As they near voting age, it must be puzzling when kids see their elders continue to hire people as politicians to take on the important job of running the nation without any actual accountability or cogent analysis of what these people might actually be able to do during the term of the job itself.

So as Canada heads into a federal election, there is something to be said for an all-candidates meeting where wannabe politicians answer to a hall full of Grade 11 and 12 students who have already learned that talk is cheap.

These are kids, after all, who are in the throes of discovering that success in their lives is not something you can just talk your way through. Candidates might well be faced with “Don’t tell me about your political party’s carefully curated position on climate change, LGBTQ issues, immigration or education — what do YOU think based on your background, experience and vision for the future.

“Our parents, and soon us, are looking at YOU and your values, not at your party and its desire to garner votes by telling people what data suggests they want to hear.”

There is much to be said for a Grade 11 or 12 course in political science which examines, based on well-substantiated recent history, the realities of how modern election outcomes are worked on by non-elected party strategists and data nerds whose expertise is in winning through complex high-tech analysis of voting behaviours and patterns along with sometimes divisive social and economic class-based messaging which form the campaign script of each party.

Such a course could examine, for example, what England’s Brexit campaign was really all about — employment concerns, trade disputes or immigration.

Why, for that matter, was the Brexit slogan Take Back Control so remarkably similar to Trump’s electioneering Make America Great Again, and what and who were those slogans really talking about?

That’s worth a class discussion all by itself.

Were both campaigns simply sophisticated marketing ploys engineered by companies like Cambridge Analytica?

Students in senior grades could also learn about electoral systems around the world and why the simple winner of the greatest number of votes, more often than not, no longer wins the election.

First past the post, proportional representation, the majority-preferential instant runoff system used for Australia’s lower house and the single transferable vote system used in that country for the senate — what are they and how do they determine elections, and subsequently public policy outcomes? Come to think about it, these better-informed kids might ask candidates about the 22 countries and 744 million people around the world where compulsory voting, very often starting at age 18, is the practice? What has been the effect of that?

Just like the starter jobs kids will be moving into at about the same time as they vote for the first time, what does the aspiring candidate know, metaphorically speaking, about the political difference between and an SAE bolt and a metric bolt?

Has the candidate, again metaphorically, washed a few community service or local initiative windows or has he/she learned to play the music as written by voters, not as rearranged by some spin doctor who does not actually play an instrument himself or herself but just likes to talk musician talk?

Nothing new here except that we need to be preparing the next generation to finally heed the words of Euripides, who said: “When one with honeyed words but evil mind persuades the mob, great woes befall the state.”

Geoff Johnson is a former superintendent of schools.

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