Political Awakening

Valerie Diep, Staffer

How much do you know about politics?

Some students gain understanding through family, friends, or social media, while others learn through courses at school. “Our mission statement is ‘All Mariner students will graduate prepared for post-secondary pathways, careers, and civic engagement,'” principal Nate DuChesne said, which includes having political understanding and motivation.

Statistically, the youth are less likely to vote and participate, which causes “the youth voice [to be] underrepresented in our system.” If more of us voted, candidates and officials would offer more care and attention to what we may be concerned about, such as student loans or climate change.

Although students and teachers agree on increasing political knowledge and involvement, there isn’t a clear answer on how to achieve this.

A possible idea would be to give teachers more freedom to talk about their political perspectives. Mariner High School senior Amber Carbajal explains, “I remember last year when we were talking about a commercial promoting something, and then [the teacher] was talking about [how it was] a false ad…I had no idea that ads could even do that… so it really opened my mind.”

“I feel that it’s a core subject that everybody should know. It affects our everyday lives. There needs to be more not talk but more discussion on it.” – Amber Carbajal

Washington state, however, has restrictions that limit the free speech of teachers to avoid manipulating students. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated that “what you say or communicate inside the classroom is considered speech on behalf of the school district and therefore is not entitled to First Amendment protection.”

“If a student has a question on their personal beliefs, I feel like that should be okay to discuss in school,” Carbajal says.

“Everyone is entitled to freedom of speech based on the Constitution, ” Mariner student Alberta Gbla states, “but you don’t want to impose your opinion on kids, especially because at that age kids are impressionable.”

“I don’t stand up in front of the room and tell you who should vote for,” social studies teacher David Broadhead explains, “I think where it’s even more pronounced would be if a math teacher were standing up and telling you how you should vote. I feel like it’s your choice, and I want to give you the knowledge to make good choices. A lot of social studies teachers try to use class debates and class discussions to build the ability to have discourse; it’s tricky.”

Sobia Sheikh, Mariner’s statistics teacher, expressed her concerns, “There are times that I’m afraid that if I say something in class, it might cause trouble. There are teachers who do worry about that, especially with Ethnic Studies coming in. Ethnic Studies bring in a different perspective, and it might be a contradictory perspective to what your Euro-Centric textbooks tell you.”

Although it’s unclear whether allowing teachers to have more freedom of speech would make students more politically involved, it is a risk for educators to talk about their own political beliefs.

Other ways schools can increase political awareness include students being involved with community volunteering, registering for government-related classes, participating in student government, among other ideas brought up by teachers and students.

Washington makes it required for students to take a civics class. In senior year, most Mariner students will study a government-related course.

“I would say,” Broadhead explained cautiously, “It probably doesn’t have the impact the legislature intended, but it also opens up the door for kids. So if you have never been exposed to it, [and] you take my class, or you take Ms. Spada’s government class, or you’re in Metzler’s law class, something there might speak to you, and then you’ll start paying attention. That’s what we hope.”

Another approach would be to create connections between students and their backgrounds to a bigger issue.

“Let’s take vaping or issues on immigration, which affects a lot of people in our community,” said DuChesne, “There’s a lot of different issues that you can have conversations about. Finding those connections as a teacher to real-world issues and then creating simulations in your classroom where it gets to the emotions of students, I think that’s the best way to do it. ”

“If we participate in politics, we’re able to control what’s going to be our future outcome, and if we don’t know what’s going on with politics, how are we going to know what to do when we get to the position of power in politics?” – Alberta Gbla

Sheikh also believes that bringing in student connections to real-world issues would help increase political involvement, “We have classes that are very Euro-centric. When we learn about history, we mostly learn about US history. We need more than one perspective because students are exposed to that. Even though we do have these government classes, and we have these history classes, what side are you showing them? Are you being culturally sensitive? Do kids see themselves in the curriculum you’re teaching them?”

This is where Ethnic Studies come in. By introducing Ethnic Studies, not only will students have a better understanding of their communities, but they also will feel more inclusive, perhaps increasing the likelihood of political participation. More details about this course will be included in a separate article.

Much of the youth rely on social media like Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube; “nowadays, there are celebrities that are using their social media to create changes, so how can they use their social media, so they become more aware of the issues that are going on?Sheikh added.

Both DuChesne and Sheikh have agreed on the importance of community volunteering and how it increases awareness. However, DuChesne pointed out that, “A lot of school districts require students, by the time of graduation, to volunteer at least 20 hours in community service. We don’t do that in this district, but I think that’s another way to get kids out there to see what’s going on. We can do better in those areas. I think if it was a requirement to have 10, 15, 20 hours to graduate, we would create more [opportunities].”

For seniors, the first eligible presidential election seniors can vote in is 2020. Mariner has given students an opportunity to register to vote on campus when they turn 18. Be sure to take the time and register to vote; it may be the best way to voice your values and beliefs.