EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 5, 2012

College debt, jobs, taxes on young voters' minds

By Alex Lippa alippa@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — It’s been something that Andover High School senior David Johnian has been looking forward to for a long time. Having recently turned 18, Johnian will get a chance to influence the direction of his country today.

Johnian and many of his peers will be voting in their first election — a right that Johnian knows should not be taken for granted.

“Knowing that so many people died for this country so that we could have the right to vote and that people all around the world would do anything for that right to vote, makes me feel extremely fortunate,” Johnian said.

But, not every young voter is as enthusiastic as Johnian.

A poll by the Harvard University Institute of Politics last month said only 48 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 are definitely voting, far below the 63 percent who were definitely voting at this time in 2008.

“I think there was a level of novelty into then Senator Obama’s campaign that does not exist in this campaign,” said Andover High social studies teacher Ruth Masters. “In 2008, it was very grassroots and was very intensely driven on college campuses and it’s not now for a lot of reasons. I think that it hasn’t percolated from the bottom up and if it’s not going to percolate from the bottom up, kids aren’t going to get involved. They’re not interested from the top down.”

In Andover High’s Democracy and Media Literacy classes, teachers informed students about the key issues which will be coming up in the election. The first step however is making sure students go out and vote.

“When my kids turn 18, the first thing I say after happy birthday is to ask them if they’ve registered to vote yet,” said Masters. “I don’t care who they vote for as long as they vote.”

Many of the students are looking at the election from a unique position, looking four years into the future and seeing which candidates will provide a better landscape for students once they graduate college.

“Getting a job after college is one of the biggest issues we are facing,” said senior Adam Ladd. “Also debt from college is on the mind of every student who wants to pursue a college education. There isn’t a strong enough system in place to effectively deal with that debt when leaving college and that will play into young voters’ decisions.”

For Haverhill High junior Colin Fitzpatrick, taxes are an issue that comes to the forefront.

“I’d like to see taxes distributed evenly,” said Fitzpatrick. “I’d like to see a stronger middle class start to develop and stray away from the policies that got us into this recession.”

As the election approaches, teachers are ensuring that students have the necessary information needed to form their own opinions.

“We are having them watch the debates,” said Mary Robb, who teaches two sections of the course at Andover High School. “We are having them read news articles about the candidates, we are discussing political philosophy. The purpose is to develop the skills and the tools that they need to be informed and active citizens.”

One of the challenges teachers face when discussing political issues with students is ensuring that their own political views aren’t apparent to the student. Robb acknowledged that she bites her tongue a lot, but will also specifically take the opposite side of an issue when a conversation is overwhelmingly leaning in one direction.

“In today’s political climate there is such extremes where neither side can see any of the positives that the other side has,” said Robb. “That’s really frustrating and it really limits our ability to resolve issues we have as a nation. If you turn off your ears and don’t listen to the other side you may be missing something valuable.”

The conversation flows in the classroom and teachers say that after a debate kids are always eager to talk about what they watched last night. Once the bell rings however, the conversation among students tends to stop.

“You don’t just go down and talk to your friends and ask ‘So what did you think about the presidential debate?’” said Andover High senior Elizabeth Williams. “That’s not something that happens. Political talk doesn’t quite come into context with kids our age.”

Robb said a reason for the lack of buzz among students is because there is just too many other things going on in a student’s life.

“They are told and they believe that there are so many other more important focuses for their life,” said Robb. “In some cases there really are, but the elections aren’t a priority.”

At Haverhill High, social studies teacher Marilyn Caradonna said that she thought there would be more indifference among her students than she has encountered.

“I would have thought there was apathy,” Caradonna said. “But when I did my social networking class after one of the debates, there was a lot of talk among the students and they requested to watch some of the debate in class. I think they’re very much interested in the elections and certain kids have very definitive positions.”

The presidential and U.S. Senate races elicit much conversation in classes, but the local races tend to slip under the radar among students.

“I think there’s very much a lack of communication about what the candidates’ beliefs and positions are,” said Andover High senior Madeline Hertz of local races. “I think who people vote for is purely based on name recognition and yard signs. It really has nothing to do with the issues or substance and I think it’s a little bit sad.”