Recent events, such as the national school “walkout” to promote gun control, raise the question of how much credence we should give to the political views of young people and crime victims. If large numbers of high school or college-age people support a view and protest in favor of it, does that make it any more likely to be true? In a recent Washington Post column, Megan McArdle casts cold water on the notion that the walkout and other similar events reflect any special insight of the young, that the rest of us should defer to:
The idea that children, in their innocence, have special moral insight goes back a long way in Western culture… It has, of course, always warred with some variant of the belief that “children should be seen and not heard” — that children are not yet ready to hold up their end in adult conversations….
Kids today do know something that the rest of us don’t: what it’s like to be kids today. But the rest of us do remember what it was like to be kids. If children really were special repositories of virtue, then it is doubtful so many people would recall their school days as the lifetime peak of personal meanness — both receiving and giving. And while teenagers are near the peak of their ability to absorb information, they are decades from the peak of “crystallized intelligence” — their stock of knowledge about the world, or what we might call “wisdom….”
That is not to say that gun-control advocacy is stupid. But if you wouldn’t be swayed by a 17-year-old’s passionate advocacy for a lower drinking age — or for that matter, their ideas about Federal Reserve policy — then you should probably apply those same cautions to their other views….
What is true of children is – though to a much lesser degree – also true of many young adults in their late teens or early twenties. They too are, on average, less knowledgeable and have less developed judgment than people at later stages in the life-cycle. For many years, surveys of political knowledge have consistently found that it correlates with age. The young, as a general rule, know less about government and public policy than other age groups. For that reason, they are also less likely to have valuable insights on how to address difficult issues.