Young Achievers gathered a panel of 11 high school students, from a variety of schools and organizations, to identify issues they are most concerned about as the 2012 presidential election approaches. The teens spent several hours discussing Keynesian v. Hayek-inspired economics, the degree of young people’s knowledge about local government, and standardized curricula, among other topics.
As a group, working through several steps to identify, categorize, then prioritize their concerns, they came up with the following top-10 li st. The teens do not speak in a single voice about these topics – they speak from a variety of stances and political perspectives. Here, they discuss their ideas and concerns in further detail:
The concept of standardized education launched an energetic debate.
“Long-term solutions to many problems in U.S. society need to incorporate the future of youth, and the most direct way we can engage students is through education reform,” Sara Lee said.
Poulumi Banerjee suggested school systems across the nation follow a similar, but not completely synchronized, structure. This would help to encourage students’ success and balance quality from school to school, she said, adding, “I think (school systems) should be putting experienced teachers and staff in lower-achieving schools.”
Sara agreed, saying creation of a national standard would promote innovation and achievement, “so that we, as a nation, can compete internationally in business, research and innovation.”
Sarah Kerman disagreed about some aspects of standardization, saying teachers need to be trusted to use their own areas of strength: “Teachers need to have the freedom to teach in ways that are going to be best for their classrooms.”
Brenden Carol said the real issue concerns the teaching profession: “It used to be the smartest and brightest people wanted to teach. But people don’t do that anymore, because that’s not where the money is.”
Desirae Kindley and Allen Bosbyshell suggested an increase in teachers’ salaries to attract the best minds.
Damian Walker believes education troubles shouldn’t be blamed on teachers and administrators, that students themselves are key.
“We ask teachers and administrators to reform the educational structure, but in reality as a student, I believe we should reform ourselves,” he said. “For some students, they do not have that (motivation) and…it should be our duty to motivate each other. Student-to-student motivation…is the most inexpensive and impacting of any ‘educational reform.’ ”
Government’s fiscal policy
This proved to be one of the more hotly debated topics, indivisible from discussion about education and local government.
Teens want candidates to be clear on their position on federal spending – when, in what areas, how much and when they’d leave spending decisions in the hands of state and local government.
Brenden charges Congress with the task of ironing out financial weaknesses.
“My generation will be asked to pay for the record high deficits, to rebuild our crumpling infrastructure and to fund the retirement of today’s adults,” he said.
“Congress proved entirely incapable of solving today’s problems, let alone even engaging in a civil dialogue … The elected members of what will be the 113th Congress and either President Obama or Governor Romney must work together to … figure out a way to talk, to compromise and to solve the mounting problems that will be left to my generation.
“My generation needs to wake up to these issues, find its voice and play a role in solving them. It will be our world,” he said.
In order for young people to become knowledgeably engaged in politics, Tully Conroy said it is imperative for youth to learn about local government at a younger age.
“I’m going into tenth grade and I haven’t taken a civics class,” Tully said. “I think we need to get this into schools earlier.”
Sarah Whitmore agreed, saying, “I don’t know the small intricacies of local government and I’m going to vote this year.”
Desirae believes learning about local government at a younger age is key.
“I think it’s easier for a local government to be tuned in to their people...but a lot of people don’t pay attention to the local level ... they are taught to pay attention to the presidential election and federal government.”
As a student, Arjun Gupta said, he wants to be in the know about local government, but doing so is challenging. He suggests creating a system to alleviate voter frustration. “It’s much more difficult to get involved in local government. Just trying to find out what district I’m in was a 20-minute process ... The average person doesn’t have time to do that.”
The group’s definition of this, and opinions on appropriate actions on such facets as immigration, gay marriage and the LGBT community, wasn’t unilateral, but all want candidates’ positions defined.
Sara Lee said she’s noticed an emphasis on minority groups as the election approaches.
“Amendment 1, for example, in North Carolina; President Obama’s public support for gay marriage; controversy over the DREAM Act; racial profiling because of Arizona SB 1070 ... In the upcoming election, I think that the candidates need to solidify their stances in various areas of social justice to help the public understand what their leadership would mean.”
Tully Conroy agreed, saying she hopes candidates will address these issues directly.
“Social justice is an incredibly important issue to focus on in the upcoming election, because it is so interconnected with the other problems our nation is facing,” she said. “It’s easy to look at problems like health care and immigration from a purely political perspective and solve them with money and ease of execution in mind. But these black-and-white solutions will fail because they don’t peel back layers to get to the heart of the issue: the people most affected by it.”
The teens reached an impasse on the topic of gun control, but all acknowledged the recent shooting tragedies in the U.S.
The majority of the panel said they would implement stricter gun laws, while a few said they would refrain from doing so.
For Brenden Carol, this topic hits on a personal level. On a trip to Denver in 2010, Brenden met Tom Mauser, a father of a young man shot and killed in the 1999 Columbine shootings.
“His sad experience convinced me that we need stricter shooting laws to help protect the American citizens from ourselves and to close the ‘gun show loophole,’ ” he said.
Benefits and drawbacks of universal health care bubbled to the top of the teens’ conversation.
A quick comparison of the United States’ health care system to that of England’s universal system sparked the debate.
Tyshanae White said, “In European countries, they have less people ... so we can’t go by their universal health care plan. If they had more people, then more people would be against (universal health care).”
Tully Conroy disagreed and said universal health care is a priority to her. “I believe that universal health care should be a reality, not a goal, for everybody in the country,” she said. “We offer ‘equal’ education to every citizen of the country, so I think it’s fair that we should care for their health as well.”
The group agreed that it isn’t as pressing an issue for them as it is for most of the electorate, since most of them still rely on their parents’ health care.
“We think of more long-term solutions because we have the benefit of going to college for four years ... but people need these solutions now,” Sarah Kerman said. “It surprises me how partisan the health care discussion has become ... It should be the core of our priorities.”
Research – more and better funded – and Americans prizing innovation both struck a chord with the panel. Funding was the debate point: Who should fund, at what level and when?
Climate change, oil supplies, recycling and sustainable/renewable energy are all hot topics in the teens’ estimation, and they were primarily in agreement. Sarah Whitmore was most detailed in her opinion: “With (the) world population mushrooming, oil supplies plummeting and profuse carbon emissions, of the key election issues, the environment both internally and abroad is of the upmost importance to the U.S.,” she said. “Our country, as a generally wealthy and healthy nation, has a responsibility to impoverished parts of the world to educate and raise awareness of things that can be done to conserve our resources and preserve our planet.”
The teens tread lightly on this subject, and made clear their opinions about it spanned the political spectrum. Again, they most want candidates to articulate their beliefs.
The two main subtopics here were obesity and food regulation.
Allen Bosbyshell worries about food becoming unhealthier and eating habits poorer. “Real food can be hard to get and almost never convenient. But change can be made by buying local and making policies that restrict the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).”
Tully Conroy is anxious about a rising obesity rate because of unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise.
“With the obesity rate rising at such a rapid pace and the way we eat becoming more industrialized by the day, it’s evident that America needs to change the way we eat,” she said. “The government … need(s) to hold huge food companies accountable …Glory needs to be brought back to the occupation of being a farmer and those who are already small farmers need more government support. After all, if we have nothing healthy to eat, how are we supposed to solve the pressing issues of national debt and education?”
The panel agreed that youth need to be able to analyze varying forms of media – and that doing so requires education.
Sara Lee said, “While the public has access to many different types of media, I’ve noticed that the viewers don’t often analyze the types of information they are receiving based on their sources ... If one only watches a conservative-based television channel, the perspective given would be drastically different from that of the liberal-based channel’s views.”
Allen Bosbyshell said he is cautious of the media and carefully examines facts. “I try to be a conscious viewer of the media. I think more teens need to be aware of the negative influences the media has on their psychological, emotional and social development. It would be useful if candidates took into consideration the idea of adding a ‘media literacy’ course in school to teach kids to interpret and internalize the media effectively.”