Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean ’71 told students Thursday afternoon that they are better positioned to enact political change than previous generations.
At a Pierson College Master’s Tea, Dean said the connectivity fostered by the Internet and has empowered young people to develop long-term solutions to societal issues. This shift lends itself to “bottom-up” efforts, he said, particularly in education reform.
“I think that your generation doesn’t do change the way our generation tried to,” Dean said. “Our generation believed in changing the system. You really don’t believe in the system or care about it very much [because] you have been able to circumvent it with the Internet.”
Online resources have made activism more feasible by allowing people to more speedily connect with those who share their views and take action, he said.
Dean said bottom-up movements are more effective in promoting change than top-down ones, especially when local communities engage in efforts to improve the quality of public education.
“Education reform is never going to happen from the federal government,” Dean said. “Education gets changed from the bottom up. So does everything else.”
In re-evaluating school systems, he said, policymakers should focus on extending educational services to children between the ages of 0 and 3. Dean said children whose families do not have access to educational resources early in life will struggle, even if they later enter a strong school system.
Dean also said the increasing ethnic and cultural diversity of communities in the United States is enhancing the need to alter the political system to reflect the wishes of all people. Dean said as a child, he had few friends of different ethnicities, but youth today live with people of various immigration statuses, religions, races and sexual orientations.
He said certain political movements, such as the Tea Party, do not reflect this diversity, which limits their effectiveness.
“America is a much bigger quilt than that,” Dean said of the Tea Party movement’s demographics.
Dean also took time to discuss politicians running for the Republican presidential nomination. He said he thinks Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would win the nomination, but he expects Romney to lose the general election in part because he has asserted he would veto the DREAM Act — which would allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities — and because of his “Swiss Bank account and investments in the Cayman Islands.”
Still, he said he fears that former Sen. Rick Santorum may pull ahead in the Republican nominating race because of his ability to connect with audiences. He added that he thinks the “straightforwardness” of Rep. Ron Paul has contributed to Paul’s popularity, but he said the “world would probably collapse” if Paul’s ideas were implemented.
Three students interviewed said they appreciated the optimism Dean expressed about America’s youth.
“It’s reassuring to hear [optimism] coming from someone who has seen so much,” said Jonathan Yang ’13.
Deena Gottlieb ’15 said Dean may be neglecting the Internet’s contribution to complacency in young people, but nevertheless called his perspective “refreshing.”
Dean teaches a Yale College Seminar, “Understanding Politics and Politicians,” with clinical professor of psychiatry David Berg ’71 GRD ’72.