A dive into whether students are aware of the volatile state of American politics

Surya Chelliah

Staff Writer

     Systematic oppression, the wage gap, corrupt politicians—in today’s world, sometimes it feels better to isolate yourself from the chaos of the news and politics. Why look at something that makes your day a little bit worse, knowing that you can’t make a difference at the polls because you’re too young? Yet, society refuses to shift its gaze from educating the youth on America’s grim ongoings. The 2020 Census reported that a mere 51.4% of people aged 18-24 voted, while those between 65-74 comprised the majority of the turnout, with a staggering 76.4% of them voting. Though this was an 11% increase from the 2016 election, the lack of voters amongst millennials and Gen-Z has massively shaped the political climate of today. 

     History teacher of two years at American High, Mr. Elam, states, “We have three [groups of] individuals with sway in government. Anyone with a net worth over a handful of billions of dollars, lobbyists, and special interest groups. What the [latter] do is pass on corporations’ legislation to the local, state, and federal levels of legislation in their name to get corporate policies passed. Based on how our system is done, the only way we can enact change is by electing officials we truly believe will do what is best for us – this, unfortunately, does not happen often.” 

     Mr. Elam details how Gen- Z’s media literacy and ability to speak out past their echo chambers can shift the government’s paradigm, unlike many of the politicians of today who operate and adhere to their voters’ every request purely through a partisan lens. 

     He remarks,  “It’s incredible to me that individuals like Joe Biden [have been] in the Senate for 35 years, in addition to being a vice president. [regardless] of my opinion of him, the fact that he’s been able to stay in power for that long — long after the time your average citizen is deemed ineligible for work; it absolutely blows my mind.” 

     However, Mr. Elam’s opinion isn’t universally reflected—evidently, many students are less versed in current events. Jessica Li, a junior at American High, shares, “When I was in junior high, I never cared about [politics], but now that I’m nearing the end of high school, and I’m learning more about what it means to be a minority in this country, I do think I should be more informed. Politics just is not a priority right now, I need to focus on school; I’m sure that will become a priority, [though]. I want to vote when I turn eighteen, but I don’t think everyone should vote. You should be knowledgeable of who or what you vote for. That’s why I would say I wouldn’t want to vote right now. I am not ready to make decisions that can impact my and other people’s lives.”
    A common criticism of the American schooling system is the lack of preparation it gives students for the world after they complete their education. In recent times, however, the AP Government course has begun to bloom with relevancy—working to increase student awareness and literacy of past political precedents and the nature of the economy. 

     Samuel Yip, Tri-M leader and American High senior taking the course, commented, “AP Gov has specific assignments on current events concerning constitutionality that are helpful to gauge the state of the nation. Immersion in the subject of politics has greatly improved my understanding of how constitutionality affects personal liberties and the process of law.” 

     The course has shaped the way Samuel approaches thinking about politics, along with general discussion. He states, “We have to be more cognizant about how to approach and discuss politics with our peers; we’re no longer bystanders, and many seniors are nearing voting age…If you are swayed by something that is not for the benefit of the majority of society, then you’re not doing your job. So as a citizen, to be a good citizen, you should be informed in trying to stay up to date on matters that concern not just you but your community as a whole so that you can, in your actions, better represent them and improve the country. ” 

     Over time, student consciousness of American affairs has increased, and with it, the quantity of voters from the younger demographic. From 36% of registered citizens voting in 2000 to the present day, wherein 55% of registered voters aged 18-24 voted in 2020. Even those who do not actively follow politics understand the importance of doing so, whether it be in the form of political issues becoming so involved in their personal lives that they must look, or of their own volition as a citizen.

The star-spangled banner flies high at American. Though patriotism is at the forefront of school imagery, do students keep current with the times as the flag has done throughout history?

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