Students, staff consider the reasons why teens aren’t involved in politics

AP Government & Politics teacher Tyler VanLandeghen provides a student some feedback during class. “The vast, vast majority of people and students are uneducated on politics,” VanLandegehen said. Photo by Ian Mueller.

Politics is a divisive topic among Americans, and this contention is not isolated to older generations. Young people have begun the ascension to political activeness, and are taking on polarizing issues. However, at East, fewer students are involved with politics, creating a disconnect with the government.  With problems like mass shootings, climate change, economic instability, and other immediate threats facing the youth of America, disengagement from the government and its politics during these tumultuous times is a new norm.

Part of politics however, is first being informed on these societal issues.  In a survey among students at the school, about 49% said they somewhat pay attention to the news, and 27% haven’t at all.  These numbers have worried people in the school, including senior and former Political Action Club member Kai Lidke said not being involved is a direct cause of current societal issues. 

“I think the whole way a democracy works, the whole reason we are in a situation right now, with debt and nothing changing, is because at the start people lost their way to be politically active, and that is why we have these problems,” Lidke said. 

Other students agree with this sentiment like senior and Model UN member Anya Zarembski, who said she does not consider herself or her peers involved enough, even with their current level of knowledge. She plans to major in Political Science in the future and said she wishes she participated more due to that.

I am not as involved as I should be.  I should be more involved, I should be on top of things but it’s too much work,” senior Anya Zarembski said. 

Other students also have felt this way, with 31% of students polled said they were not involved because of an absence of time.  Teachers however, disapprove of this lack of contemporary politics information. AP Government and Politics teacher and Political Action Club sponsor Tyler VanLandeghem said that students need to take an active role in politics and stay increasingly informed in the news.  

“I think the whole way a democracy works, the whole reason we are in a situation right now, with debt and nothing changing, is because at the start people lost their way to be politically active, and that is why we have these problems.”

— senior Kai Lidke

If you don’t feel knowledgeable about politics, to what do you attribute that?

Poll based on a cross-section of East students

“Any amount of participation is better. I would rather people be participating and angry at each other, than uninformed or ignorant. And an ignorant population is the worst population you can have in a sense of a democracy. Ignorant people will let the democracy fall apart, that will let people take control that you don’t want in control,” VanLandeghem said.  

However, VanLandeghem added that expecting students to be more knowledgeable, comes with acknowledging where students spend a large portion of their time, such as family, social media, and school. He said that the curriculum in the school system plays a large role in a student’s development into a politically aware citizen.

“The number one source of political socialization is your parents, your school, and then the media and your choices in those, which snowballs on top of it,” VanLandeghem said. 

Because students spend a majority of their time in school, creating an environment where political knowledge can thrive, could be solved by the inclusion of politics into curriculum more.  Zarembski explained how she would want this change in curriculum incorporated into her education. She also said that she believes that the political process should be reflected in all social studies classes, not just those that deal specifically with government functions. 

“I think people aren’t aware enough. For me, when speaking of political history, a lot of times people think of wars and that kind of stuff, but I think it would be more beneficial to learn more about how politics developed, how the parties changed,”  Zarembski said.  

Senior and Political Action club member Kathryn Countryman said she would like to learn more about the government’s actions in school in order to learn the inner workings of why the government functions the way it does.

“We need to know what our government is doing and why they are doing it. At this point, much of what our government does is held unaccountable which means they don’t have to pay for what they do, they don’t talk about anything they do,” Countryman said. 

But not all students want to learn more about politics on a daily basis. Lidke explained that this change in curriculum would result in segregated groups and stereotypes, and therefore hinder productive discussions in class. 

“The problem with people at this school, and the problem with being politically active is it now segregates you into groups, now people hear ‘Oh he’s a republican’ or something, or ‘he must be racist,’” Lidke said.

It was these conflicts that became the main reason for his loss of interest in politics, and why he quit his membership in Political Action Club. Along with Lidke feeling isolated among students, that feeling also stems from stress and anxiety in learning about it, as 17% of students that don’t know a lot about politics or news was because of this.  Radziewicz also said she observed such feelings among students, especially when talking about political issues in class.  

“I tend to see a lot of kids shrink back, because they don’t want to share their opinions for fear of whatever it might be. Whether it’s fear of being ostracized by their peers, whether it’s being made fun of, or they simply just don’t have knowledge about that topic, so they don’t want to talk about it for fear of looking dumb,” Radziewicz said.  

She also explained that students would not feel this way, if they were better informed on the subject and rules of debate in a classroom setting. 

“There is going to have to be a huge shift in how we approach those topics and it has to be a consensus on ‘this is how we debate effectively and in a respectful way’ and teaching kids to share their opinions, and really listen to the other side to respond and to understand what they are saying.”

Even with these potential changes to classroom curriculum and low engagement numbers among students, there is still hope among teachers for East students.  

“I would love to see more kids get involved, because every voice does count. When you have the right to vote, you are getting to make a say in some sort of decision that’ll happen, that affects you,” Radziewicz said. 

Ian Mueller & Ashlyn Pearson are staff writers for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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