Rob Melnick, Director
Young Steward of Public Policy
"Young Stewards of Arizona's Future"
By Rob Melnick, Director
Arizona is at a crossroad. One road leads to greatness: a state with excellent quality of life, a vital economy, and strong social fabric. The other leads to mediocrity or worse: an undistinguished state known only as an "also ran."
Which of these possible futures becomes a reality for Arizona will largely be a function of the public policy choices we make.
The famous futurist Herman Kahn was very fond of Arizona, his second home. He often studied and wrote about the state. I remember him saying, "Barring too much bad luck and bad management, the future will be far better than the past." There is much to be said for this pearl of wisdom; while we may not be able to change Arizona's luck, we can certainly be diligent about how we manage by choosing smart public policies.
How Public Policy and Policy Leadership Come About
The process by which public policy is decided is complex. It is certainly not made in a vacuum. Instead, public policy comes out of a richly textured context that blends issues ideas, personalities, philosophies, and politics. In the end, the policies adopted are usually shepherded through this maze by an identifiable leader or leaders passionate about the issue under consideration. That said, where do policy leaders come from?
Most people think that elected officials-in a word politicians-alone determine public policies. However, leadership on policy comes from many other sources as well, including public administrators, business executives, community organizations, and even average people who are willing to get involved.
If Arizona's future is going to be bright, we will need policy thinkers and leaders from all these sources, in addition to one that is largely untapped today-our state's young people. Arizona's youth are too often overlooked as a source of fresh ideas on public policy issues. We would be wise to recognize them as the human resources "pipeline" for policy leadership of the state.
The Role of Public Education
For good reason, recent curriculum and testing reform in Arizona's public schools has emphasized learning in math, science, and language. But, in many schools, achievement in these subjects has come at the expense of teaching what used to be called "citizenship" or "civics." Such courses helped students understand contemporary social issues. Yet, education leaders and philosophers have argued for years that schools should be equally responsible for teaching students how to learn, how to become economically self-sufficient, and how to be good citizens.
So, most Arizona high school students now get little or no exposure to the public issues faced by their community, region, or state, notwithstanding the course in government they take. "Current events," especially local ones, receive scant attention in our schools' curriculum. Instead, this important subject matter is mostly the province of extracurricular activities.
The Young Stewards of Public Policy Program
Morrison Institute's program was, therefore, created for three reasons —
1. To stimulate high school students (and their teachers) to think about the state's public issues and especially about "stewardship"-the management of collective resources in the public interest, regardless of political philosophy or personal gain
2. To highlight the fact that Arizona's high school students of today are likely its policy leaders of tomorrow
3. To create another ASU resource to assist our state's public schools
I applaud the students from throughout Arizona who entered this scholarship competition. Their essays demonstrated a remarkable grasp of important state policy issues and offered some very refreshing solutions.
Morrison Institute's chief lesson from our first experience with this program is simple-We can learn a lot from our high school students about which public policy solutions will take Arizona down the best fork in the road.
Rob Melnick is Director of Morrison Institute for Public Policy and Associate Vice President for Economic Affairs and Public Policy at ASU.