Teens Are Next Generation of Voters; What Are They Learning From Election?

Published: Wednesday, November 2, 2016 - 5:00am
Updated: Wednesday, November 2, 2016 - 5:05am
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(Photo by Mariana Dale -KJZZ)
Some of Frasier's students will vote in the 2020 election. “They have to think about what this means for their long term future,” she said.
(Photo by Mariana Dale - KJZZ)
“So are we getting accepted into the Electoral College, is this like Harvard?” Frasier asks the class.

Some of the youngest voters in the 2020 election are in eighth grade this year.

In Sarah Jo Frasier’s eighth-grade social-studies class at Newell Barney Middle School in Queen Creek, a standard lesson comes to life every four years.

“How do we elect our president?”

They start with the basics, like the Electoral College.

“So are we getting accepted into the Electoral College, is this like Harvard?” she asks the class. They shake their heads.

This is the third election Frasier has watched from the classroom, and each year the students come in with new questions. She said she knows when her students go home, they turn on the TV, they look up  Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton online.

“It is hard, and difficult to discuss a presidential election when the two main candidates have had pasts where either a spouse has had infidelities or the other candidate is saying inappropriate things about women," Frasier said.

There are some ground rules in her classroom.

Frasier does not tell her students who she votes for and she has steered conversation away from recreational marijuana. 

Principal Denise Johnson said she doesn’t want teachers to ignore the election. It’s an opportunity to help students become critical thinkers. 

“We are the ones that we ask the questions, and sometimes we ask the hard questions that cause them to  begin thinking, ‘what do we really believe?’” Johnson said.

The beginning of political beliefs

After spending class talking about how a president is elected, Frasier turns the discussion to why people choose to support a candidate.

“So what are some of the things that are most important to you?” she asks the class.

Students, including Belle Zuchowski, start scribbling down answers and quickly has a list that includes illegal immigration and climate change.

“I’ve always been worried about that since new things have been happening with the sun and people’s gas and stuff.”

Kacey Woods sits across the table. Her mom is a firefighter and her dad is a retired police officer. When she saw violence at rallies on TV in response to police shooting this summer, she thought of her parents.

“I put mine more on like law and like health care and more for like money for like law enforcement,” Woods said. 

Other students offer gender identity, taxes, education and foreign relations as top issues. 

“They have to think about what this means for their long term future,” Frasier said. “I want them to know this is how we do research, this is how we look at candidates and what does that mean for me as a student and me as an adult in the community?”

'Not a single yes or no answer' this election

As homework, students visited ISideWith.com. The non-partisan site has a quiz that matches your ideas on topics like immigration and health care with candidate’s policies.

Student Nash Porter was convinced he’d score in the red. Arizona is his home state and he knows it leans conservative.

“I was really surprised at mine. I had no idea,” Porter said. 

The quiz found more of his values lined up with the Democratic party. Still he said, if he voted today, he’d look to a third-party candidate.

“There’s not a single yes or no answer for anything in this election,” Porter said. 

Porter said he thinks the U.S. is on the top of the food chain and its decisions affect other countries.

“Since we’re a democracy, the people make the choices. So as the people we need to make smart choices.”

Porter and his friends will have a chance to vote on Election Day. Albeit, in a mock election. In four years, it will be for real.

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