'I don’t feel like I’m heard': How a class of Arizona high schoolers see the election
For the past 26 years, Lane Waddell has taught a government class at Mountain Pointe High School in Ahwatukee.
In fact, Waddell’s class has never been more timely.
“It’s hard to figure out what exactly to talk about because A, there’s so much and B, some people don’t want you to talk about so much, so I try to leave it up to the kids to decide. But i do pick some things, like the other day we talked about the affirmative action case in front of the Supreme Court because that impacts them, they’re all getting ready to go off to college," Waddell said.
There are certain issues that his high school students understandably can’t relate to just yet.
“They haven’t done much. You know, they’ve lived at home. They haven’t had to pay a lot of taxes. They haven’t had jobs. They haven’t had a family. So a lot of these things really don’t apply to them. So, when we talk about these issues, a lot of times they look at me like, ‘what are you talking about’?" he said.
Only about 1 in 10 of the juniors and seniors in his Advanced Placement government class can actually vote.
That’s a source of frustration for students Eli Sells, Connor Murray and Zane Turner.
“As kids I feel like we don’t get listened to for politics and stuff, because we’re kids and we can’t vote," Murray said.
Sells said, “I feel like not having a direct voice in how our country is run is kind of disheartening."
For Turner, “I don’t feel like I’m heard. I really wish I could vote because it’s really an agonizing feeling to have so many opinions that you want to be able to share with the world and have an impact on the way the country is [run], but you can’t because of your age.”
"I don’t feel like I’m heard. I really wish I could vote because it’s really an agonizing feeling to have so many opinions that you want to be able to share with the world and have an impact on the way the country is ran (run), but you can’t because of your age."
— Zane Turner
Not the case for 18-year-old Ramsay McNeill, who actually can have her voice heard at the ballot box this election.
“I do have kind of a special responsibility I guess in that way, because going to class, hearing my classmates talk about their feelings, seeing what they want done, I’m almost in a position where I want to carry on how much passion they have in to the voting stands and I want to be able to represent my peers as best I can," McNeill said.
So are what the biggest issues for high schoolers? Well, it may not be a surprise to know that education funding is at the top of the list for many of them.
“Funding in a lot of aspects, if it comes to substitute teachers, maybe a sub is juggling a few classes at the same time. Maybe one of my teachers isn’t getting the right pay and he’s been teaching for a long time and won’t be able to do this next year. You know, it’s a lot of hard issues that come in with the environments that I see every day," McNeill said.
For April Conyers, it’s another related issue as well as income inequality.
"College tuition, I mean scholarships are definitely a huge help, but I’ve been looking at the cost of going out of state, and it’s really insane, I think. And um, medical care and stuff without insurance, I think there’s a really big gap between the richest people in the country and the poorest people," Conyers said.
Anissa Moreno says education funding is also top of mind, but so are some of the other major things that will be impacting her soon.
“Honestly, I also worry about things like abortion rights, minimum wage, things along that line that are going to affect my future," Moreno said.
For Eli Sells, it’s a matter of equality.
“There’s been a recent rollback of rights for LGBT people, so I feel like a lot of people’s right to exist is on the ballot this year, and that’s a scary reality," Sells said.
Murray regrets the lack of moderation. “Definitely the hyperpolarization of politics. You’re either one side or the other and it doesn’t seem like there’s any in between anymore.”
And in a day and age where there is such much to consume, where are these students getting reliable information? Moreno says she tries to stick to trusted traditional sources but is alsoswayed by some untraditional ones.
"Like the news, my teachers, sometimes certain peers. I also get a lot of my information of course from social media, things like TikTok. There are certain creators who will go out of their way to go in depth on certain issues," she said.
For Waddell, thanks to social media, he believes his students are more aware than when he started teaching.
His most important lesson in these times of political hyperpolarization? Compromise.
“Yeah, I can be passionate about what I want. You can be passionate about what you want. But unless we work together, neither one of us is getting anything. It’s great we can differ but at some point, we’ve got to find common ground," he said.
And that’s a lesson it seems we can all learn from.