I generally try to avoid any posts about politics on here, which has most certainly been a challenge this particular election season. The amount of hate and vitriol existent this election cycle is truly disgusting, and I don’t foresee this problem decreasing in four more years. I was pleasantly pleased, however, when I arrived at work yesterday and realized the high school was hosting a well-organized mock election. I began my work day excited due to this, and that excitement grew as many of the students in study hall were eagerly discussing who they had voted for. But, then I started to pay a bit more attention and engage in the discussion with them, urging the students to justify their votes and think critically. This is when my excitement became frustration and fear.
One particular student very proudly boasted to me that his vote was a write-in for Peter Griffin, an asinine cartoon character on Seth McFarlane’s Family Guy. When I questioned his vote, he shared, “Peter Griffin would be an awesome president. He’s frickin’ hilarious. Can you just see him getting all drunk and crashing Air Force One? That would be so cool.”
Oh indeed, I thought to myself, how very, very cool that would be. And then I high-fived that kid for being a fucking hysterical genius.
[Alright: I’m making this shit official. The universal sarcasm font is now Microsoft PhagsPa. Remember that and spread the word.]
So, what would happen if teenagers truly did have a voice and a vote in this election? I can tell you that most of them would remain mute and inactive. Apathy is the most prevalent disease in today’s high schools (it’s not the clap like I had assumed at age sixteen – damn, our school had a lot of Chlamydia cases, or maybe just a really bad rumor mill … either way). The most terrifying element of apathy is how highly contagious it is (way worse than the clap).
The overwhelming majority of students could not even be moved to vote in a mock election. They had many excuses for not voting, ranging from “the line was too long” to “politics are a waste of life.”
In between these two responses, I also heard the following:
“Voting is a waste of time. Either way, I hate our current system of government.”
“I didn’t want to get up. All my friends know I’m lazy.”
“Why vote? I might as well have voted for the Easter Bunny for all the difference my one voice makes.”
“It’s just plain stupid. All politicians are on crack anyway.”
“I could care less because both potential presidents plan to screw us over anyway.”
“I don’t give a crap. Alls I know is I don’t want nobody taking my guns away.”
There were a few students who, although they did not participate in the mock election, still had passionate and intelligent thoughts regarding this election. One student explained that he chose not to participate because our country is being run like a company rather than a united nation. He pronounced that we must return to shared values of democracy and end the divisiveness. He further feared Romney would not be prepared to lead a nation simply because he ran a business and our future president must not be a man with a “personal lust for fame and money.”
One young female student very passionately expressed her frustration with the high frequency of students who fail to form their own opinions and simply “spew out whatever rhetoric their parents have been feeding them.” She impressed me more than any other student who shared their opinion today. However, she then confessed she would not have voted even if she were eighteen due to the Electoral College.
Of those students I spoke with, Romney emerged the victor. I cannot offer you a clear explanation of this decision, as the students largely could not explain the beliefs behind their ballots. When I inquired about their selection, many students replied to “Why did you vote Romney?” with either “I don’t know” or “because … just because.” One sophomore female even told me it was because Romney “has a better name.” Another sophomore male adamantly attempted to assure me that a Romney/Ryan vote meant lower gas prices. Many students repeated the prevalent phrase, a cliché of campaign commercials, “Obama was given four years, and he failed to bring real change. We can’t afford four more years.”
Some of the students had stances they strongly supported, such as one fervent pro-life proponent. Another student was concerned about the impact that Obama’s environmental regulations might have upon her father’s profession in drilling. Here’s the thought that went into most of the other decisions:
“My parents are voting for Mitt Romney.”
“Mitt Romney has a five point plan that will create jobs for everyone. Obama only wants to create teaching jobs.”
“Romney will be better for the economy because that’s what the television said.”
“Obama doesn’t understand the principles of job creation and economics. We need rich people to make the rest of us rich.”
“I didn’t have a reason, so I picked randomly.”
“He’s more awesomer.”
The worst of this is not yet over. I also discovered that some students were intentionally writing the name of their least favorite teacher in, hoping he would win and it would be a great, grand joke. I was informed of this after I saw a few “Vote for Mr. -----“ signs hanging up around the cafeteria. Most of the students found this funny, but one junior female was very angry. She expounded, “The kids just made it a big joke. It shouldn’t be funny. Politics aren’t funny. The future of our nation is not funny.” I fully agreed with her.
While the bulk of the students I spoke with favored Romney, Obama did end up winning our school’s total popular vote. Not every student who voted for Obama was well-informed either though. When I asked one student why she chose Obama, her face became flushed, and she stuttered out, “uhm … uhm … I don’t know. Can you get back to me on that one?” Another added, “Well, I do have some reasons. I just can’t remember what they are right now.”
However, more Obama supporters could defend their selection. This is a reality, and not just spin given my own political preference. Although his vocabulary lacked a certain level of academia, one student so strongly supported Obama that he began pounding on his table and I needed to tell him to lower his voice as he defended our president. “Obama’s the shit. (If you don’t regularly talk to teens, know this is a good thing … kind of like being ‘a boss.’) He’s actually making a difference, and has a genuine concern for our future. Further, he’s concerned about everyone, not just his buddies. He cares about the lower and middle classes too. He even cares about other nations and human rights. That’s why, for the first time, other countries are doing as well as us because he gave them a chance. I don’t want to elect a douche-bag (Romney) that lies all the time.”
Many of the Obama supporting students spoke to the value of education. One junior female shared, “He is the president that will support our education. Mitt Romney doesn’t. Mitt Romney even said class size doesn’t matter and it’s about greedy teacher unions. He won’t offer support or aid for college tuitions. Some people don’t have a chance without education and aid.”
Another junior female added, “I like that he supports gay marriage.” To this, the boy seated near her made a disgusted face and asked, “Dude, who do you know that’s gay? Who cares?” I explained that they surely all know someone who is homosexual, but may not be aware of such as most high school students remain closeted. “Well, I know I ain’t gay,” he declared.
Yet one more female student, this one a senior of age eighteen, shared that she voted for Obama in the real election because she supports universal health care and education, and feels threatened by the policies of Romney and Ryan that attack women’s rights through such policies as the elimination of support for family planning agencies.
The last comment I heard yesterday regarding the mock elections was, “It’s stupid. It’s pointless. People were voting for themselves, or bad teachers, or characters on TV like SpongeBob Squarepants. We don’t take these kinds of things seriously.”
I take these kinds of things seriously, though. It is comments as the above that are a large factor in my decision to support Barack Obama, because to do so is to support education. As I interacted with the students yesterday, it became immensely evident how much we must invest in education and strengthen public education. I vote for intelligence, critical thinking, passion, and articulation. Many of these attributes cannot be bred without good teachers, strong curriculums, and proper school funding. I vote for a brighter future, and I vote for those students – even those who could not be moved to vote for themselves.
Author’s Note: At no point in my conversations with students did I ever indicate my own political preference, disagree with a student’s view point, or state who I was voting for (even when repeatedly asked). I do not believe in swaying students to my particular political views. I do, however, believe, in encouraging students to be critical thinkers and become more articulate and well-versed when expressing their own views.