Our nation’s founding fathers were educated and well-read men who constantly strove to advance their learning as they built a unique country and system of government from the ground up. Unfortunately, many of today’s political “leaders” seem to view the highest positions of government not as positions of leadership, but of power. This mindset, according to Joel Grewe, is “celebrity, not leadership.
Joel Grewe is the Executive Director of Generation Joshua, an organization that works to aid parents in raising up our nation’s next generation of Christian leaders and citizens. Grewe joins Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s episode of the Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast to discuss Generation Joshua’s work, in Part 1 of a 2-part show.
When looking at the youth of today, Grewe and Generation Joshua have observed an interesting trend. “The interest of American youth in politics is actually rather high, higher than it has historically been,” he says. “What I find fascinating is that although the interest has grown, the knowledge of it has declined.”
This means that we are seeing more people interested in politics, but fewer who are equipped to understand and better engage with politics. It also means, according to Grewe, that in the future, those individuals with just a basic civic understanding will find themselves in leadership positions because they will be the most knowledgeable about the political process.
Therefore, Generation Joshua strives to teach and equip young adults with more than basic civic principles; they teach a variety of civic and personal skills so today’s youth will be tomorrow’s leaders, not “celebrities.” “If you want to be a leader,” says Grewe, “you have to both gain wisdom and understand those principles and the direction you’re trying to move in, and then learn how to communicate that to other people. Because until you can take all of that good and share it with others, it’s not doing very much.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Joel Grewe share how his organization is shaping tomorrow’s leaders, in Part 1 of a 2-part show. Be sure to tune in next week for Part 2!
TRACI GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. President Ronald Reagan famously said, “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction.” This sobering reality is one reason why the work of Generation Joshua is so important, as the folks there assist parents in raising up the next generation of Christian leaders and citizens, equipping those young people to influence the political processes of today and tomorrow. Joel likes to say, “They teach through the doing.” And doing they did; here in North Carolina in the months running up to the elections, 325 young people made 977,000—that’s nearly a million—voter education contacts across our state in October and November of this year.
Joel Grewe, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
JOEL GREWE: Thank you so much, Traci. It is a pleasure to be here.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well start off by telling us in your experience, how much are the youth of America interested, knowledgeable, and better yet, involved in politics?
JOEL GREWE: Okay, so the answer to those questions—it’s a great question by the way—is actually different on different pieces. The interest of American youth in politics is actually rather high, higher than it has historically been. That has worked its way into the high school aspect of governance, where people are very much tracking what’s going on. What I find fascinating is that although the interest has grown, the knowledge of it has declined. So we find people that are more interested and less knowledgeable today about our American political system. And then as far as engagement, it depends on how you count it. If you’re looking at engagement as how often do you protest or change the cover of your Instagram or Facebook profile, that’s pretty high. If you’re looking at how much they actually know how to engage the system in a productive way, that’s unfortunately rather low.
TRACI GRIGGS: What do you blame this lack of knowledge on?
JOEL GREWE: Well, in part it’s because we stopped bothering to teach students about our civic process. And partly that is because we don’t agree on what the process is as a nation. We don’t like the process. And when we explain the process at a certain point, someone raises the question and says, “Why is that the process?” And frankly, even our teachers don’t know. It’s funny how often I’m working with people that teach government and civics, because we as a national nonprofit, we teach that around the country, but we work with other people who do as well. And how often we find people, particularly in the public education sphere, who don’t actually know why our government works the way it does. And the terrifying thing is that they’re the ones charged with teaching our kids how it works and how they’re involved. And if they don’t understand it, it’s unlikely anyone they’re going to teach is going to understand it. And that’s a real tragedy for our country.
TRACI GRIGGS: How much of the blame, if any, goes to social media and the way that kids engage on what seems like a very surface level, especially in say Instagram, which is all about that quick quote and hit and share.
JOEL GREWE: I wouldn’t put the blame there. I think the problem with that is that it is more of an echo chamber of bad content. Instagram and any other social media platform essentially just replicates things you got from somewhere else; it doesn’t normally originate content. But the end result is that bad content is a lot louder than it was because it travels a lot further. And what’s that quote about truth and lies? “A lie can travel around the world before truth puts its shoes on…” or something like that. There’s an aspect of that where disinformation or misinformation rapidly moves, and it’s hard to correct it when it gets out there, it truly is. And frankly, that’s one of the perpetual weaknesses of social media. It sounds good. It’s instinctually something I want to hear, great, and all of a sudden it’s out the door and moving, and we never even got a chance to say, “But it’s not right.” So, I would say that’s actually one of the recurrent challenges. That, and people want something to be true, and as a result of that they often assume it’s true because it sounds good, but it rarely is.
TRACI GRIGGS: And we’re talking right now about young people, but actually this applies to people of all ages, doesn’t it? I mean, we’re all guilty of this. And one of the things about Instagram I think, or any of the social media platforms, is that it gives especially young people a sense that they’ve done something. Right? They feel like they’re involved.
JOEL GREWE: Right. And it reinforces the fact that, “I’m making a difference,” whether they are or aren’t. The really hard part that comes as a result of that is when they think they’ve made a difference and they didn’t. Or, they’re making a difference to try and do a good thing, but the result of their action is actually doing the thing they’re trying to stop. What I find particularly troublesome, is how often you will have good intent paired with really bad policy, but not enough critical reasoning skills of the person advocating it to realize that they are actually bringing about the thing they’re trying to stop. That happens, unfortunately for our friends on the left, sometimes a lot more than they’d like. And it’s a recurrent thing we deal with. This study that came out, I think it was a year or so ago where they were measuring the civic awareness of our college graduates—the seniors—and we gave them basically high school curriculum questions. And most of them were getting somewhere between a D and an F. They couldn’t identify the Father of the Constitution, or the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or that a senator’s term is six years long. These are basic facts and figures that you need to know before you can even get to talk about policy, and they don’t even have that, which is really sad.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well, you have a statement on your website that says “many of today’s ‘leaders’ do not actually want to lead; they just want to be the top person in charge. That is not leadership, it is celebrity” you say. Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about leadership. Is this Generation Joshua designed to be an antidote to this kind of philosophy in our nation?
JOEL GREWE: Well, that’s our hope. And we’ve had our organization described as essentially “America’s life insurance policy.” And the idea is that we train thousands of high school students every year on how our government works, why it works that way, which is a crucial piece of it. And then we give them the basic skill set to change it. Now, back in the day, way back when, having basic citizenship skills was just the assumed minimum of every American. It was the responsibility of being a citizen. Today, that idea is gone, so when you walk in with base competency and citizenship, suddenly you’re leading because you’re the only one who knows how it works. And so what we had was we started teaching basic skills and discovered those rapidly turned into leadership skills, because if you can move people in a direction and give them a productive route going forward to change what they view as an evil or a wrong, people will follow them.
The downside with many of our celebrities today is they like to call attention to stuff they don’t like. They rarely have carefully thought through what a good solution to that is. Or more often they thought they were the solution, and they never thought about what the cost of that solution would be. Because everything you do has a cost, right? It can be time, it can be money, it can be something else. But for most of the people that like, “This is bad, we should fix it, we should do this,” well yeah, but what’s the result of that? And a practical example of that today is when people are mad about the Electoral College; it’s not the popular will, right? Well, the end result, however, of that objection is usually that you minimize or muzzle the voices of people who do not live in urban areas. Now they don’t intend to do that when you talk to them, but they haven’t thought about that idea long enough to realize the harm they’re about to try and perpetrate in the idea of pursuing something that is a reasonable thing, that everyone’s voice is heard, right? That sort of critical reasoning, and the lack of it, is terrifying when people that have huge amounts of influence are not wise.
TRACI GRIGGS: Can you give us another example? That is a great example about the Electoral College. Do you have another example in your pocket there about ways that people are moving, where they don’t really understand the consequences?
JOEL GREWE: Sure. Practical example, in my spare time—of which I don’t have that much, but in my spare time—I serve as a member of my local town council. Practical result, you’re dealing with local governance stuff, right? And a lot of the local governance in our country tends to actually trend pretty conservative. People like to have their budgets balanced and they like their bills paid and they don’t want to be taxed more than they need to be, right? And that’s a pretty straightforward approach to governance. And frankly, my friends on each side of the political aisle, we generally agree with that. We differ in how to get there, but we like our end goal. However, they also like a calm, peaceful environment to live in. End results: we had a local committee about a year ago now, that tried to put together like a music and arts festival in our town, in a park. This is common; it happens all across America today.
And they decided they wanted to make it pleasant, so their solution to doing so was to ban from a government festival at a park, any and all forms of political speech, okay? You couldn’t be a candidate. You couldn’t be a political party. You couldn’t advocate for policy. Actually, that’s not true; a nonprofit advocating for policy ideas could show up, but none of the candidates and none of the parties could show up. Either side; it didn’t matter. They just banned them all, but they wanted everyone else to attend. But what happened was they missed the fact that they rolled right over top of something we call the First Amendment, which was our freedom of speech. And freedom of speech—particularly in a public venue that is open to the public, that is public land—you can’t ban that sort of conduct. In fact, that is a clear violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Now, did these people intend to do that? No, they had no idea. In fact, it got brought up at council. I’m like, “Guys, we can’t do this,” and one of the town attorneys and myself were rushing to get in front of this committee to stop them before we got ourselves in a lawsuit. And so we did and they were like, “We didn’t mean to. We weren’t trying to violate the Constitution; we were trying to have a party at a park,” but they didn’t know.
Okay, fine. But then I was talking to the attorney afterwards and we were looking at some facts and figures and realize that the majority of violations of our First Amendment speeches happened by local towns, local committees, local counties, et cetera, not federal stuff, which we talk about federal stuff all the time. But it happens on the local level because frankly, people are not educated into how these master governing principles, like our Constitution, apply to them. And they give us some trouble all the time. And that lack of civics awareness…this was a bunch of 40 and 50-year-old folks on a committee for the town trying to work in the park, but they still bumped into our US Constitution, not even realizing it. And that sort of stuff happens all the time.
TRACI GRIGGS: Right? I mean the most famous religious liberty violations have come at the hands of state government. So very interesting.
JOEL GREWE: Exactly. From the Electoral College to your local park, the lack of civics education runs across the gamut. It really does.
TRACI GRIGGS: Talk about what you teach as important leadership qualities that you hope to see in young people.
JOEL GREWE: There’s a fair number of those. One of the first ones, and this sounds odd to be listing as a leadership quality, but one of the first ones I’d recommend is humility. Because if I’m working with young students, very quickly they will grab a piece of information and discover that they know all the things, or at least they think they do. It’s a common failing of high schoolers, but it’s also a common failing of adults. And the result is that they try and then take their bit of information they know, which may be true, and apply it to everything, which is probably not how it ought to go. And the end result is they lose their ability to learn. And if you look at our Founding Fathers, they were avid students from the very young to the very old; they were constantly working to learn, understanding that they were finite beings who did not know all things. And so the goal was to be hungry to learn, at the same time being true to their convictions.
And so we pair humility with principle. Take your principles, know them, own them, hold them tightly. Do not necessarily hold your function as tightly, because there may be better ways to do something. And there’s a lot of innovation learning that can happen there, particularly with some humility. But hold those first principles dearly, don’t let them go. And the problem we end up having is that leadership, the idea of moving people in a direction, moving people in a direction for a purpose, but you’re going somewhere with them. Like there’s an aspect of team that goes in there. There’s an element of leading people, but there’s also an element of principle or a direction that you’re trying to go. And that requires listening to people that aren’t like you. Even in your team, you’ll find that there are people who know things that you don’t, and a wise leader will listen to them and understand that they fill in areas that are your gaps. It requires some self-awareness on your part to know what your weaknesses and what your strengths are. And it requires a love of learning to develop those areas that are weak or to enhance those areas that are strong.
And then frankly, lastly, probably most importantly is good communication skills, because if you have great knowledge and great wisdom, but you can’t tell anyone what that information is, you’re kind of useless. And I don’t mean to be insulting, but the inability to communicate that wisdom or that good information to anyone else, frankly, hampers any of the knowledge/wisdom you have; it ends at you. It doesn’t continue. And so if you want to be a leader, you have to both gain that wisdom and understand those principles and the direction you’re trying to move in, and then learn how to communicate that to other people. Because until you can take all of that good and share it with others, it’s not doing very much; it’s just sitting in you.
So, I think those are some of the things that we try and teach our students how to do. And that includes practical stuff like how does government work and how does policy get made and what is our Constitution and why are these principles important? And why do we believe in innocent before proven guilty, or in religious liberty, or freedom of speech, even freedom of the press? All of those are good things. And then we teach you not only what those are, but how to communicate them to others, because if you can’t do that last part—I’m having to repeat myself over and over—we’re not changing the nation as a whole; we’re just repeating ourselves.
TRACI GRIGGS: This has been part one of a two-part show with Joel Grewe, Executive Director of Generation Joshua. Be sure to tune in next week for part two.
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