Ahead of 2016, Schreiber’s political climate


Seth Barshay, Ana Espinoza, Rachel Kogan, Delia Rush, Sports Editor, Editor-in-Chief, Copy Editor, Features Editor

In the past month, many politicians have announced their candidacies for the 2016 presidential election.  Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton created a sufficient amount of buzz after her official entry into the race as a Democratic candidate.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is also running as a Democrat, although he is an Independent senator.  The Republican field is more crowded, and it most recently includes New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

The media covered the race heavily, as the number of potential candidates seems to increase continuously.  With so much talk surrounding the American political sphere, it was only fitting that the Turning Point USA (TPUSA) club hosted the first student-led political discussion in recent history on April 30.

TPUSA members, including senior, and club founder and president, Jacob Bloch, led a discussion on the wage gap,  Schreiber students’ choice of classes in correlation to gender, and the careers chosen in relation to gender.

This discussion, shedding light on clashing views within the student body, as well as the general buzz surrounding national and international politics within the past few weeks, inspires the question: what are the political views of the Schreiber student body?

High school students think about and participate in politics in different ways.  And although the political sphere can seem distant, many current juniors and seniors will be eligible to vote for the 2016 presidential election.

Some students already concern themselves with public policy on the local level.  Seniors Josh Curtis and Christopher Wilson are the co-founders of the Student Union Party of Schreiber (SUPS).  SUPS is a group of students who gather to discuss educational policies that affect Schreiber and Port Washington, and act to solve problems.

There is also the TPUSA chapter on campus.  According to the organization’s website, Turning Point USA wants to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.”

But although many students identify with a political party, the real political views of the student body vary.  Some students get information from social media websites and online journalism sources, but a real grasp of American political processes, whether local or national, can be elusive.

“I definitely don’t have enough information to have a definite political opinion,” said senior Sally Kuan.  “Even though I think in this day and age we have the access to information, with the Internet, the news, and other forms of media.  But you have to make a conscious decision to go learn the information.”

Even so, students are required to take a government class during senior year, either Senior Options or an AP government course.  Senior Options in particular emphasizes civics and American political processes.

“I think we’re heading in the direction of young people being more involved, but I think we still have a long way to go,” said social studies teacher Ms. Jen Klock, who teachers Senior Options.  “Hopefully classes like Senior Options, which let students learn about government, civics, and their roles as citizens, will encourage students to get involved.”

Curtis feels that the school could further emphasize political responsibility.

“If the question is about whether the school culture should emphasize political activity more, I would say yes, student organizations should become more aware of the political world,” said Curtis.  “I think a lot of the reason it doesn’t emphasize political activity had to do with the administration discouraging real political discussion and action by students.”

In order to further gauge the political climate of the student body, The Schreiber Times conducted a survey during second period English and social studies classes on May 15.  254 students opted to take the survey, while three students declined to take it.

The survey, adapted from an online quiz given jointly by PBS and the Pew Research Center, consisted of 12 questions, each with the same four choices: completely agree, mostly agree, mostly disagree, and completely disagree.  The questions cover many current political issues, including environmental regulation, gay rights, government intervention and assistance programs, abortion, immigration, and health care.

After compiling the survey results, the most common answers from each question were entered into the survey in order to find the political views of the common student at Schreiber.  Overall, the survey pegs the average Schreiber student as having “political values closest to those of a liberal Democrat.”

On economic issues, the student body seems less liberal, appearing to be roughly moderate on the spectrum.  However, social issues, the average student falls way left on the spectrum, inching toward the left end.

Interestingly, according to the survey, on the political spectrum, the typical student falls left of every voting age demographic and both the male and female demographics.

According to the Pew Research Center, the political party scale used “ is a weighted sum of answers to each question, with individual questions weighted by the strength of their correlation with party identification among voters.”

In addition, the survey results that The Times compiled show Schreiber’s overall views on several important subjects.  While some topics saw the surveyed sample have a general consensus view, others were more divisive.

For the most part, social issues had mainly liberal responses.  For example, 87 percent of students either completely agreed or mostly agreed with both the statements, “There need to be stricter laws and regulations to protect the environment” and “Gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry legally.”

One statement that was divisive was neither social nor political; rather, it was religious.

When responding to the statement, “I never doubt the existence of God,” 31 percent of students completely agreed, 27 percent mostly agreed, 22 percent mostly disagreed, 18 percent completely disagreed, and two percent opted to skip the question.

Another statement with discordant responses was, “Business corporations make too much profit.” For this response, 76 percent of students chose to either mostly agree, mostly disagree, or skip the question, showing that most of the student body does not have strong views on this matter.

A similar result came from the statement “Poor people have become too dependent on government assistance programs,” in which 68 percent of students either mostly agreed, mostly disagreed, or did not respond to the statement.  This could be in part due to the diverse economic backgrounds of the parents of the student body, with jobs ranging from those on Wall Street to those making minimum wage.

Overall, the school seems to have fairly defined political views, at least collectively.

But people are not typically born with political views of their own.  Their opinions develop over time as they are influenced by outside sources.  For many students, the media and public figures play a large role in the development of these political views.

“Pay attention to the news,” said Curtis.  “Not just reading headlines, but reading the whole context and following up on how problems get fixed or ignored.  I also pay attention to people and daily situations to understand how seemingly nebulous problems relate to very tangible struggles.  That the best answer I can give without dealing with specific, varied issues.”

Bloch discussed the sources of his own political views.

“My views are shaped by my contemporaries,” said senior Jacob Bloch.  “Jesus.  Mahatma Gandhi.  Martin Luther King Jr.  Galileo Galilei.  Therefore, I go about creating progress like these above individuals.  I know that every political effort I have ever made would be supported by these individuals.”

For students who are not as active in learning about the political sphere from news sources or history, parental and cultural ideals often serve as the foundation for their beliefs.

Although these beliefs may change throughout a person’s life, some students still cite them as significant influences in their formation of sociopolitical and socioeconomic views.

“For me, the news, my parents, and my culture influence my political opinions,” said senior Anan Rayn, who has lived in both the United States and Egypt.  “I feel like a lot of my opinions reflect the beliefs that my culture stands for.”

Some students try to find a balance between information from outside sources and personal convictions.

“I think most of my political views have come from my parents because I grew up with their values,” said senior Ariel Waldman.  “But I also have my own opinions, which formed from being an educated member of society.”

Although the media and family members are important, students often spend most of their time at school.  Classes like Senior Options educate them about politics using set curricula, and encourage them to get involved, but there may be some subtle biases in the way that being at school influences political opinion.  Although it is not a written rule, teachers are generally advised against revealing their political opinions.  wNevertheless, many teachers do influence their students’ political views (either intentionally or unintentionally) in the way they speak about certain subjects.

When asked whether or not this is true, many students said, “Yes.”

“Yes, they have,” said Curtis.  “Not actively—no teachers of mine have always pontificated.  However, talking about different political issues with them—Common Core, education funding, health care policy, campaign reform—I have gathered opinions from those whose job is to stay as unbiased as possible.  They have been some of the most ideal people to discuss politics with as a result.”

Bloch feels more negatively about this source of information.

“Yes, teachers have influenced my opinion, in a negative way,” said Bloch.  “Due to their biases, they are not able to discuss issues with an open mind, which has hurt my ability to engage in political discourse.”

Students also encounter other students with similar opinions or differing opinions, and participating in political discussions, whether formal, like the recent TPUSA one, or in a more casual setting, may be constructive in helping students think critically about politics.

Some Schreiber students believe that participating in political discussions offers a new perspective on issues and creates a more open-minded atmosphere in the school.

“Absolutely discuss them as long as both members of the discussion are going to be open-minded about the topic,” said Curtis.  “I have found it surprising how my views and those of my fellow students differ slightly, or more drastically in a few cases; I have also found it enlightening.  It’s been positive most of the time, because it helps me synthesize a better, more holistic view of an issue.  The worst thing is to stick to the same viewpoint because you don’t want to hear new evidence or viewpoints.  There have been a couple times I have done this, and a couple times friends have done this, and those are the only negative experiences I have of discussing politics.”

Again, Bloch disagrees.

“I used to believe that politics should be discussed at school, “ said Bloch.  “However, I no longer believe this to be the case, because most students and teachers I talk to are too close minded and immature, which are both qualities not conducive to political discourse.”

Even so, it is important that students are politically aware.  Today’s high school students can influence important changes right now, not just ten years from now.  It’s important to be informed, be vocal in a civil way about issues you want to influence, and, if possible, vote.