By Aanya Sethi and Eva Liu
The 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1971, guarantees a precious enfranchisement to young people––the ability to vote. While in the past, young voters have been outnumbered and underrepresented, data collected during the 2018 midterm elections sparks hope for a more politically engaged young population: voter turnout rose from 20 to 36 percent between ages 18 to 29, according to the United States Census Bureau. This was the largest jump compared to any other age group.
History teacher Jaime Fields noticed this shift in young voter turnout and gave credit to the digital age.
“I witnessed this huge shift of how politically aware the young people were when phones came out and people had more access to politics, [whether it’s] from Tiktok or New York Times. Young people can participate in a social movement without even leaving [their] house,” Fields said.
People often underestimate the power of young voters to affect change. America’s youth has the potential to project a strong political voice and tilt the balance of the 2020 election. In addition, the diversity of opinions among the young voters can cause the presidential candidates to expand their target voter base. History teacher Sam Jezak believes that voting is not something that people should be lazy about, considering its immense significance.
“It seems pretty flippant of people to not take that power that we’ve been given … to shape our country how we want it to be, instead of just letting other people do it for us,” Jezak said.
Chemistry teacher Sarah Prestwood agrees with Jezak about the significance of youth voting.
“[Young people] represent a huge portion of the population whose needs and values need to be represented in our elected officials,” Prestwood said.
A poll representing the Pinewood student body shows that the two most important social issues to Pinewood students are climate change and education. Junior Morgan van der Linde explained why climate change and education matter to her the most.
“Climate change is important to me because it will become irreversible in the next 10 years, which is pretty short, if you think about the speed of our government. The government moves extremely slowly because of the numerous checks and balances that need to happen in order to make laws. This means that acts that could help slow climate change take a long time to work their way through the government. And education is essential because that is what [best improves] a country’s future. Education will change the path of our future more than anything else,” van der Linde said.
When looking for a candidate to support, keep in mind the presidents don’t actually make policy. While the president may encourage specific policies, he/she has to get Congress’ approval first; therefore, many of the campaign promises often remain unfulfilled. Because of this, Jezak believes the most important thing to consider when choosing to support a candidate is value. What a presidential candidate believes can often reflect his/her character. However, it is also important to recognize that finding a candidate you completely agree with is unrealistic.
“If you’re looking for a candidate you agree 100 percent with, you’re never going to find one,” Jezak said.
Regardless of the candidate one may support, it is important to be politically engaged. Senior Srinivas Balagoal advocates for youth involvement in politics.
“Civic engagement is the best solution to all of society’s problems,” Balagopal said.
In order to keep its student body socially and politically active, Pinewood held its first student-led voter pre-registration drive. Led by Balagopal and the Pinewood Social Initiatives club, the drive helped around 40 eligible students to pre-register. Balagopal is optimistic that the voter pre-registration drive is only the first step to a more politically and socially involved Pinewood community.
“At Pinewood, we are blessed to have educators who create a safe environment for asking questions and encouraging healthy discussion. Respect is a fundamental tenet of Pinewood’s culture, and additions, like the Pinewood Scholars Program, are steps in the right direction towards fostering political and social awareness and considerate dialogue at Pinewood,” Balagopal said.
However, there are more things that Pinewood can do to motivate students to take on leadership and responsibility to create a more politically and socially involved community.
“I have [seen students take charge of social initiatives] on a small scale. Last year, there was the March for Life, which was the walkout assembly. I feel like that was one of the most meaningful days at Pinewood I ever had,” Fields said.
Prestwood thinks the teachers can play a major role in helping the students to perform their civic responsibilities, and she thinks that responsibility not only applies to social sciences teachers. Prestwood tries to discuss social issues with her class; however, she finds it difficult to do so without straying from her lesson plan.
“It’s like we stop doing class for a second, so I can lecture you on climate change,” she said.
Prestwood believes that teachers should get trained in order to help students be more involved in political and social issues. In addition, Prestwood talked about the importance of graduation speakers. An activist or the founder of a nonprofit organization can be very impactful and will further motivate students to perform their civic duties.
Jezak tries to help his students to be more politically aware in his classroom by exposing kids to both sides, liberals and conservatives alike. Jezak thinks there are many ways to boost students’ political awareness, whether it’s promoting advocacy as part of the required service hours, assigning homework that has to do with current events, or taking time in class to talk about current events. Political awareness leads to activism and civic engagement.
“You can’t complain about the world unless you try to do something to fix it,” Jezak said.