Sunday, I watched the Detroit Tigers vs. Texas Rangers baseball game from the stands. Yes, I am still upset about what happened in the 7th inning.
Still, attending a summer time ballgame is one of my favorite things to do, even when the mercury flirts with triple digits. I have two unwavering game day traditions:
1) eat a ton of delicious food beforehand, and
2) keep a scorecard
I will assume most of you understand the first tradition (I went to Slow’s BBQ and nearly had to be rolled into the stadium). For those that are unsure about the second, a scorecard is a way to keep track of important stats from an individual game. You record outs, hits, walks, RBI’s, etc. for each player/team. It is a fun way to keep your attention on the game and away from the pointless Instagram photos that you still browse through for some reason.
What I have discovered, since I began keeping a scorecard regularly, is that many people do not have the slightest idea what I am doing or why I am doing it. As I exited the ballpark yesterday, it dawned on me that the baseball scorecard is local government.
“Huh? Andrew, you clearly consumed several adult beverages. You probably had one of those gigantic alcoholic slushy towers, too, didn’t you?” No… just a lot of barbecue.
Certain traditions, ideas, and knowledge are simply not passed on to the next generation. Much like many baseball fans do not teach their kids the art of the scorecard, our parents and schools have stopped effectively teaching younger generations about local government.
Knowledge of local government is skewed by our surroundings during developmental years
Ask a child at a baseball game how many strikes a batter gets before being out and you will hear a resounding ‘THREE!” Now, ask the same child to explain the infield fly rule, what constitutes a balk, or why there is no replay in baseball and you will likely receive nothing more than a confused look.
Ask an adult why they pay taxes and if you don’t receive a somewhat correct answer I suggest you begin weeping for our nation’s future. Ask the same adult to explain his or her take on a community’s pension liabilities, current economic development incentives, or the next fiscal year’s budget and many answers will fall within the ‘nails on a chalkboard’ and ‘stabbed in the eardrum’ range.
Sure, we hear plenty about government. The Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and the Emancipation Proclamation are on full display during the course of our early academic careers (and we still don’t know much about those…). We also hear our parents utter any number of the following phrases:
“President Bush [insert almost anything]!!”
“President Obama [insert almost anything]?!?”
“Congress is the opposite of progress”
“The Senate is a bunch of drunks”
“The Supreme Court is full of dirty liberals!”
“The Supreme Court is a gang of bible-thumping conservatives!”
“Rick Snyder is an idiot”
“Rick Snyder is a genius”
I could go on, but I think you get the point: the focus rarely rests on local government issues.
Why we give local government the cold shoulder
Local government tends to lack the “wow” factor we so often look for when teaching kids about civics (or arguing at dinner). How can we expect a local bond issuance to compete for attention when the IRS scandal and NSA leaks are on the table?
The blame for a lack of interest cannot be placed solely in the hands of school and households, though. For the longest time, many local government’s seemingly made it an organizational goal to make the simplest things so complicated that average citizens would give up trying to understand (enter 150-page budget documents).
The combination of difficult-to-understand output by local units and little educational input into the minds of children has produced generations of Americans that know/care more about what is going on in Washington than their own back yard. It’s a double-edged sword that weakens us as a nation.
The price we pay
As citizens of a democracy, we are charged with deciding the nation’s future. We elect individuals to represent our interests, both locally and nationally. How can we say the nation’s future is bright when fewer and fewer citizens (some of whom we elect anyway) do not have sufficient knowledge and experience to properly make the necessary decisions?
Anyone at yesterday’s baseball game could have pulled out their phone and looked at the same stats I had written down. They are prepackaged and delivered as fact by several outlets. It is far easier to rely on someone else to give you information than actually figuring it out for yourself, right?
During the 6th inning a gentleman seated near me was using his phone to look at game stats. “[Expletive]ing Verlander is washed up! I can’t believe we gave him that big contract,” he said. “I can’t believe the manager still has him in the game… He’s thrown 90 pitches and isn’t even through sixth innings!”
During the 6th inning of Sunday’s game, Justin Verlander was still throwing a no-hitter. Keeping a scorecard may not be as easy as watching your smartphone update automatically, but nothing can ever truly replace firsthand knowledge of the game and its intricacies. The same goes for everything else in our lives.
According to Reuters, 60% of the “millennial” generation believes that they will be worse off than their parents. Perhaps it is time we stop looking to Washington and begin focusing closer to home. Let’s learn to collect and decipher information, then use it to make the important decisions. Let’s teach our kids how to understand government issues: local, state and federal. Let’s prepare them for the future.
During his career, Andrew Opalewski has successfully navigated both the public and private sectors. Having grown up oblivious to local government, save for the limited amount taught in schools, he enjoys shedding light on what he feels is one of our nation’s best kept secrets. An avid sports fan and lover of sarcasm, he often chooses topics that reach beyond local government’s normal realm in an attempt to engage the average citizen.