Teens not excused from political awareness


By Claire Strother
Honestly, I don’t remember many specific moments from elementary school beyond a couple Halloween parties where we wrapped kids in toilet paper. But there is one distinct memory I have that sticks out above the rest. I remember playing “Odyssey Baseball,” a trivia game where we told my gifted teacher a topic and what “base” we wanted to score on to determine the difficulty.
I can’t tell you how many times the words “Politics, triple. Please?” came out of my mouth at Dryden Elementary, but it was more times than the toilet paper thing. Of course, back then it wasn’t the tough questions many of my peers are facing now, like whom to vote for or what their stance is on that tax bill we passed; it was more along the lines of how many electoral votes are needed to win a presidential election.
Even so, the basis was there. I was informed and interested in politics. I’m not saying this to try to say I’m better than you, nor am I saying that every 8-year-old should know everything there is to know about how debates work.
However, as people grow up politics and the government begin to influence them more and more. Every day while I attend a public school, I hear kids complain about where the school’s funding is directed, and why they have to take gym class, among many other gripes.
When those same students say that they don’t care about politics because “it doesn’t affect me,” it’s baffling. The fact of the matter is that unless you’re living under a rock, politics affect you from the moment you’re born. And even then, they might still dig up the rock to build the Keystone XL pipeline.
In your early life, the easiest way to comprehend that you are affected by politics is in the school environment. A person’s access to an education is political, in addition to nearly every aspect of that education.
Politics not only dictate school starting times or the price of lunch, it dictates aspects outside of school as well. The legality of teen drinking, and the access they might need to the morning after pill the next day are political. How much they’ll pay for college, or for some, if they will even get in to college, is determined by the government.
It’s not all old white guys in suits who make an impact on decisions. It’s not even restricted to those who have the ability to elect them. Teens can have an influence on what laws are passed and who is passing them as well.
It’s in things as small as Instagramming about a cause to spark interest, to as large as campaigning for a candidate. The influence that teens can have is in many ways more direct than that of an individual who only votes.
This influence is so massive and so necessary because as our society is modernizing, the youth are being allowed much more direct access with their representatives. In addition, teens taking their mind off of the algebra quiz they failed last period and focusing on larger issues is rare.
And when something happens that’s rare, people take notice. It’s not always that simple to become involved, but the first step to having an influence is to be informed about what you could possibly be influencing.
That doesn’t have to mean you spend your Halloween night watching the same Republican debate for the second time (like I did at a friend’s house this year); what it means is reading about that education bill that just passed, or making an informed decision about what political candidate you might support is vital. And no, that one witty Tweet you posted about Donald Trump’s hair doesn’t make you politically informed.
Social studies teacher Timothy Beisher has the mantra that, “The biggest problem with the American democracy is an uninformed American electorate.”
Whether or not you have the legal ability to vote, comprehending politics can be overwhelming. Trying to become informed about issues and candidates the night before, or even a year before you step into the polls, can make it impossible to come to an informed decision about what candidate you’re backing.
This makes it even more vital to become informed early on. As teenagers, we will soon be able to vote and that right is coming at us faster than the fear of who’s going to take you to prom, not to mention it probably has a much greater impact on your life.
For many, participating in student government elections is a good place to start, but that’s another article.
Being aware of how the election process happens, and whom you have the possibility to elect is vital to making any change.The words “it doesn’t affect me” are simply not true.
It does affect you. Politics affect everyone. Politics are the reason I’m allowed to write this, and you’re able to read it.