In the politics of education, the most talked about group of people is often the least listened too. To remedy this situation, StateImpact turned to Bloomington South High School journalist Eleanore Fuqua to find out what students are thinking about about the current legislative session. Here’s her guest post:
Two summers ago, politics and state legislation made a blip on the radar of many high school students in Indiana. News of drastic cuts in education funds reached Bloomington, threatening both the teachers and programs we held so dear. Within our school system alone, $5.8 million was set to be sliced away from the annual budget, manifesting itself in the form of 75 lost jobs, reduced extra-curriculars (including sports), and a spike in class size.
Students became actively involved in protesting the proposed budget cuts or fundraising to make up for the inevitable funding losses. Students involved in after-school activities at Bloomington South held a daylong carwash, accepting donations instead of charging a set fee. Along with breaking the world record for number of cars washed in a single day, the car wash also raised $33,778.
Students, parents, and teachers alike breathed a sigh of relief in November 2011 when a referendum allowing a higher property tax to pay for the funding cuts was passed by Bloomington voters. Teenagers played a major role in rallying for the local legislation, canvassing neighborhoods so that citizens could meet the students whom the added tax would directly benefit.
Unfortunately, this phase of awareness has passed. As I roam the hallways of my high school, asking a few acquaintances about their general feelings towards politics, I come to a troubling conclusion – only a handful of teenagers have any desire to keep up with the events of their town, state, country, and world. The more people I ask, the more this statement seems to holds true.
Many students may come into contact with current events, through class, at home, or when browsing the Internet. The problem is not a lack of resources but a lack of interest. “I do pay attention, but I don’t care. I don’t really care about anything,” says a junior in the top five percent of his class who would prefer to remain anonymous.
A small fraction of students seem to put a bit more weight into the current events, focusing mainly on the issues that will directly affect them. Senior Jesse Smith, who indicates that he pays attention only to the status of state funding for higher education, is a prime example. “For a senior in high school your whole life revolves around what you are going to do next year. With the states cutting funds it’s harder to get into and go to college,” he said.
An even smaller minority seems well informed and engaged in a spectrum of subjects such as foreign policy, the election, gay rights, and the environment. “I read the news often but it’s more the events going on, not the background or developments that lead to the events. I’ve actually been keeping up with the candidates for next election,” says sophomore Emily Moon.
In general, it seems politics are a personal matter. Students rise to the occasion when an issue has a close connection to them, as they did with the cuts in funding for education. However, most teenagers avoid the issues that do not impact them and are, in their opinion, not relevant. As news becomes virtually at students’ fingertips, though, hopefully the ease of access will also begin to stimulate their hunger for information.