The ideas represented within this article are opinions in nature and are solely that of the author. They may not wholly reflect the stance of The Forest Scout newspaper as a publication.
Tuesday, May 22, 2018, about 5:30 PM. I’m sitting in the Commons, waiting for the end-of-year Model United Nations meeting. I check my email for any school communiqués. After a few moments, I spot an email announcing the last day of Student Council elections.
Being a democracy-loving citizen of the United States, I open up the Google Form to cast my ballot. I then proceed to the Junior Class Officers section of the ballot and start perusing the candidates.
There are three available offices: President, VP, and Secretary. I glance at who is running for each office, but to my dismay, only one person is running for each. There is one candidate for President, one candidate for Vice President, and one candidate for Secretary. There are no write-in candidates. It is a one-party system.
Seriously disgruntled, I take a principled ideological stand and decide to vote against all candidates by abstaining and move straight into the general student body election.
But alas! The vote for each officer is counted as a required question. If I wish to vote in the general election, I must vote for a candidate for each office. I growl to myself and start cursing in a manner similar to Gollum, earning a few strange looks from other people in the Commons.
But I am the kind of person who believes that democracy is a beautiful and noble thing. The United States is great because of its democratic values. So I vote for all three of the officers who are running unopposed in order to continue to the general election.
The general election at least has some competition, and I proceed through it relatively quickly and turn in my electronic ballot.
At first, I found the whole experience to be deeply amusing and recounted it jokingly to several of my friends and family. As time passed, though, I gradually turned my attention toward what the election said about the Student Council as an institution. Its authority comes from teacher mandates instead of from popular sovereignty, a recipe for a government that does not represent the will of the people. The scarcity of officer candidates exacerbates this problem.
Student Council, from the outside, also seems worryingly opaque. What do they do? How? Why? When? Where? All of these questions they answer sparingly at best and not at all at worst. How do I contact Student Council? Who knows? They aren’t on social media, to my knowledge, and they don’t have any pet journalists representing them on the school newspaper. The only things that we hear from our elected officials don’t even come from their mouths; the school district informs us of upcoming service projects, fundraisers, and the like, but nothing else.
In an era where our president is involved in a worryingly friendly relationship with a dictator and denounces the First Amendment right of freedom of expression, when a major political party that shall go unnamed acts counter to the beliefs of a majority of its constituents, when voter turnout in national elections regularly plunges below 60%, when paying somebody to vote against their constituents is a fact of political life, and when foreign powers influence our democratic process, it is all too obvious that our democracy is slipping down the drain. To restore it, we must truly be enamoured of the concept of democratic governance.
To highlight the urgency of this need, the United States was downgraded to a “flawed democracy” in a 2017 study by the Economist, with a democracy index of 7.98 out of 10. In the survey, we were in 21st place globally on that index, behind illustrious countries such as Iceland, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, and countries that we do not normally think of as illustrious, such as Uruguay. We are the so-called arsenal of democracy; we should be a paragon of democracy and democratic values.
It is therefore frustrating, to say the least, that Student Council remains an unrepresentative and authoritarian junta (albeit a peaceful one). It purports to enable student leadership, but what good is that? Our democracy is dying, as any free-thinking person will immediately recognize. If we do not do something about that right now, it will die.
Student Council does not even lead, not really. It does not blaze bold new trails that teachers and students alike can follow in. It is given a set agenda and told to execute that agenda. It operates through the authority of the school and does not contact its constituents to any meaningful extent. It merely plans and executes. Planning and executing are great things, but the Student Council does not represent students’ opinions or get anybody excited about democracy as it ought. Student involvement and investment in Student Council is so low because students recognize that Student Council does absolutely nothing to represent them and because they recognize that Student Council is a powerless puppet state of the school. This disinterest in Student Council can translate into disinterest in government, a very bad thing in America’s weakened democracy.
Any student government should be by, for, and of the students, mirroring the nature of our democracy. While teachers should be involved in the process, their role should be to ensure that no laws are being violated, not to decide what Student Council does; if a majority of the student electorate is opposed to Prom or another dance for some reason, for example, it should be canceled, regardless of teacher or parent opinion. Students at LFHS will still need to and/or want to contribute service hours; Student Council will still lead service projects if given freer reign by teachers. The same is true dances and other events. And while I do not think that Student Council should administer the school and become a direct democracy, it should, for instance, help interclub cooperation, publish the school newspaper, and hold fully public meetings, in addition to all of its existing duties.
A more independent, more streamlined Student Council with greater authority, responsibility, and transparency would educate the student body as to what a functional democracy in action looks like and in doing so would help restore democracy in America.
For this reason, I firmly believe that the Student Council of Lake Forest High School must be cast down and remade from base principles. We must ask ourselves what good government means and how it is achieved.
We could make Student Council an actual club, with its various organs meeting in different rooms around the school at the same time. We could have committees where club representatives work on joint activities between clubs. We could have sessions where the student body questions their President. Regardless, we must acknowledge that our present system does not work. It must be changed, and we must change it with democratic values in mind.
What is your stance on a more vibrant student-led democracy? Is it necessary? Is it a hindrance? Please, let us know.