Political divide in 2022: how are students affected?

Political divide in 2022: how are students affected?

Austin Matlis, Assistant Editor

How Have Politics Impacted Milford High School?

Nowadays, it feels like one just can’t escape politics. On every central news station, there is a new story about the state of the nation and the political battles surrounding it. Going onto social media, one is bound to see more and more posts about recent legislation and arguments between Republicans and Democrats. It feels like politics consumes every facet of life. This political overload hits young adults and teenagers the most. A sizeable number of students express their political beliefs openly today, some giving very raw testimonies of their political and social experiences.

“You’re on edge,” senior Abbi Gabli said. “It’s hard to have a conversation, an actual genuine conversation with someone from a different political party.” Opinions like Gabli’s are commonplace with students today.

Students and teachers are combatting the effects of the political divide in the classroom.  Social media impacts both and often provides a remarkable challenge for teens and adults. According to statistica.com, “55 percent of social media users are worn out by political content on social media.” In addition, the Harvard Institute of Politics tracked the political activeness of people aged 18 to 29 throughout the decade. In 2011, those that claimed to be politically active were 24%, and 10 years later, had increased to 36%.

These statistics paint a picture of the times; young people and social media have been changed by politics.

The Student Response 

Students at Milford High School had plenty to say about the political divide in the country. Fisher Barrie, a senior, spoke on teenage perspectives on politics. “People our age haven’t learned to be healthy with people who aren’t on our side,” Barrie said.” People don’t consider alternate points of view because they’ve thought, ‘This is it.’ They don’t consider other possibilities.”

Barrie noted the effect the internet has had on the change in politics in the last 20 years.: “With the introduction of the internet, people think they know everything now,” Barrie said. “People are a lot more emotional. That’s a major factor behind a lot of people’s feelings.”

Senior Matthew Stewart also attested to the media influence. “We have gotten more politically divided,” Stewart said. “But I think that’s also inflated by the media. There’s been a lot more bias with [the media] more so than the general public…I think social media impacts political thinking in a major way.”

Seniors Sabrina Girardi and Gabli discussed the generational differences that have heightened over politics. “Since we are teenagers, you’re just viewed as a lesser,” Gabli said “You’re viewed on a different spectrum. They’ll look down on you, and they’re like, ‘you haven’t lived long enough to know your political views or your moral views.’”

“It’s extremely invalidating,” Girardi said.

“It’s so hard to talk to an adult because I don’t know where they’re getting their information from. Is it from Fox News, ABC, or NBC? Where’s their bias?” Gabli continued.

When asked about the United States’ political climate, Girardi explained her frustration with having her personal views questioned.  “I think it’s frustrating,” Girardi said. “There’s a division between both skews that you are harassed or bullied for being a woman, gay, or having opposing views. Things that I believe are right, that I think shouldn’t even be questioned, are questioned by my peers.” This sentiment, along with Barrie’s and Stewart’s, shows just how politics has affected the lives of the students of Milford High School.

The Teachers’ Perspective

Teachers play a critical role in students’ lives and consistently shape how they view the world. Shifts in American culture and politics have changed the classroom in ways only teachers can witness. All the teachers that were interviewed currently teach senior social studies classes and thus are part of the final influences that high school students receive about the political, governmental and social aspects of this world.

Government Teacher Kaylene Robbins has 28 years of teaching experience. She explained how students are often tentative in sharing their beliefs with the current political climate. “Kids today don’t talk too much about their politics, not that they did that much when I started,” Robbins said. “It was easier to talk about the news than…it was just easy to talk about in class. I think there’s overall negativity. Kids are afraid to talk about new stuff because they’re afraid of getting jumped on. Kids are afraid to be called stupid or dumb. I think [kids] should talk about politics and share their ideas and practice living in a civil society.”

Kyle McGrath, the AP Government teacher, holds a similar belief. “Over the last few decades, many have noted the rising partisan political divisions in our nation,” McGrath said. “One of the causes of this is probably the increase in access to information about politics. Whereas in the past there were only a few television stations that made it so that people were exposed to the same commentary about politics, it is different today. People form opinions about politics based on the information they receive, and today people are receiving different information based on what they are choosing to consume.”

Terry Frikken, whose classes include Current Global Issues and Practical Law, has taught for the past 23 years. Frikken has witnessed political change within the classroom recently and spoke avidly about it. “I can’t remember a time in my four years of being a high school student when I was talking about political candidates or parties,” Frikken said. “I think people have always commented on social and cultural issues, but not as a group. People are judged based on what group they’re in before they even say anything. It stops you from learning what people think about these deeper issues.”

The great demand that we now hold as citizens to garner information has affected how we as a people react to political news. Social media has been a root cause of political strife and platforms that allow this robust discourse continue to grow.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

While the future of politics may seem bleak, the solutions to our situation that Milford High School students and teachers gave are enlightening. “Respect,” Gabli said. “I feel like so many people have lost respect. I feel like if people looked at others’ perspectives, we would be able to communicate better and function well.”

“Have an open mind and understand the other side,” Stewart said. “It’s not about agreeing, but simply understanding what the other side thinks  so we can better understand how we can lead ourselves in the best possible way.”

Robbins leaves students with a poignant message. “Just be who you are,” Robbins said. “You know your beliefs, and your ideology is yours. Own it. Develop it.” Students and teachers believe that to move past this political divide, respect and understanding are key to building a better nation.