By Freddie Duquet
There is quite a bit of political activism going on right now in the town of Andover regarding teacher contracts, and until a tentative contract was reached last week, students at Andover High School were exposed to Work to Rule every day they came to school. Is this conflict between teachers and the school committee perhaps acting as a positive catalyst for students to become more involved politically?
Becoming a voter isn’t a difficult thing; take a trip to town hall, visit the town clerk, briefly fill out some information on a form, and wait a week or so for an official acknowledgment to arrive in the mail. But then, if you have already registered, how do you inform yourself?
Even if high school seniors are supposedly not mature or well-informed enough to vote, Fred Hopkins, AHS social studies teacher, says, “So what? Perhaps all adults aren’t informed either. We don’t have a knowledge test required for voting for good reasons.” Hopkins also claimed that if voter ignorance is a pressing matter, then we should focus on finding out why.
“Adolescence will always be marked by some general qualities, including a developmentally appropriate level of self-interest,” says Hopkins.
In other words, adults tend to apply political stereotypes to younger generations. And though these generalizations may exist, Hopkins makes the claim that teens, now, are far more aware of and active in politics than they were when he was a teen.
Brian Carey, also a social studies teacher at AHS, begs to differ, claiming that he hasn’t noticed much of a change at all. Carey said that there hasn’t been much of a change, statistically, in the number of youth voters (18-25 years of age) since the 26th Amendment was ratified in 1971, allowing 18-year-olds to vote. And while Hopkins states that AHS students are absolutely ready to be voters, Carey says he believes that only some are. “These are the students who are engaged in class and take the time to look at the issues and candidates,” Carey says. However, he also says that the small percentage of AHS voters who are informed enough to vote is not far off from other demographics that are eligible to vote.
Both Carey and Hopkins registered to vote when they were of age, and it seems it is the same case with AHS senior Griffin Lyons, a registered Democrat. Lyons says that he actively strives to inform himself on potential candidates and political issues, but he doesn’t say the same about his classmates. Lyons thinks that the general population at AHS lack concern for politics. And perhaps those who are concerned are the ones who are mature and well-informed.
“It’s a mixed bag,” says Lyons. “A lot of people are smart and mature enough to make and understand their own political views, but there are others who inherit their views wholesale from their parents.”
AHS senior Robert Hsu laughs and says, “I wouldn’t call them mature, but well-informed I will give them.”
Lyons seems to think that the idea of students mimicking political beliefs is somewhat of an epidemic, as does senior Emily Lowe. “Many of us go along with what our parents think and believe,” says Lowe. Hopkins and Carey didn’t have much, statistically, on the topic, but neither of them saw it as an issue. Absorbing ideas from adults is “part of the learning process and plays its part in becoming an informed voter,” Carey says.
Hsu and fellow seniors Ryan Fleming and Caroline Pramas all believe that the number of students at AHS who form their own opinions greatly outweigh the number of students that succeed their parents’ views. “The kids at our school are definitely informing themselves,” Hsu says. “A good number of them are forming their own opinions.”
Fleming, who considers himself unaffiliated but is most aligned with the Green Rainbow Party has a lot of faith in his classmates to make mature political decisions. “I think that the majority of high school students are ready to vote,” says Fleming, “and while there are a number of voters who get information from their parents, they are outweighed by the number of students who take interest in the political goings-on of our country.”
While many point the finger at parents and teachers as a strong influence of adolescent political stances, Pramas mainly blames biased news media, who are perhaps the indirect culprit, passing those views to adults.
“But again, is it a problem?” asks Hopkins. “If, as some research suggests, many adults only consider news sources with which they already share a general political stance, then how are we to judge teens as being overly reliant on the opinions of others?”
Nevertheless, it seems that AHS students plan on voting in the 2012 election, and they tend to share that same interest that their teachers did when the opportunity was first presented to them.
In general, questioning the validity of a voter seems silly to teacher Fred Hopkins, who will simply pose the question: “So what?”