(Los Angeles Times)
Brentwood School

How to be politically aware in high school

As the highly anticipated Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary wrap up, the 2020 presidential election is on everyone’s mind.

Many high school upperclassmen will be eligible to vote this year, in both the California primary and the general election. Yet, a staggering amount of young adults do not engage with politics.

For example, out of 100 Brentwood School students surveyed, 47% of eligible students are not registered to vote. 

AP United States Government teacher, Hasani Sinclair, helps breakdown the root of this growing trend. In his class, Sinclair analyzes the ways in which all kinds of people interact with the government, depending on their race, gender and, most significantly, age.

According to Sinclair, people do not vote because it is not required by law in the United States, voter registration requirements can be confusing, and political efficacy.

“Voting is not required by law in the United States, and in other countries, it is,” Sinclair said. “The United States has a lot of elections and elective offices; it happens very often. Another problem is registration, as the requirements often vary by state and are sometimes pretty confusing.” 

Above all, Sinclair emphasizes that the biggest issue is political efficacy, which is a citizen’s trust and belief in government. A large part of political efficacy is that people chose not to vote simply because they think their vote is meaningless, either because they think their state’s party will hand all its electoral votes to one party or their legislative district is extremely gerrymandered.

However, according to Sinclair, there are many ways that our nation can change this pattern including making voter registration automatic, election day a national holiday, polls open longer, and ballots shorter and easier to comprehend for the average person.

One of the biggest concerns when discussing the youth vote and young adults in the political sphere are their understanding of the system itself as well as current events in politics. In fact, 75% of Brentwood students surveyed think they are politically aware, but 53% think that their Brentwood peers are not politically aware.

Through this same survey, some students expressed their interest in finding resources that can open up political conversations.

In particular, anonymous students said, “I would love quick ways to educate myself” or “something brief would be great to just keep me up to date.”

Sinclair’s advice on how to become active in government in much simpler than you might think: 

“Take AP Government, read the newspaper, get to know your senators and representatives, and read up about policy issues,” Sinclair said. “At the end of the day, political leaders are accountable to us. They are really only as good as our vote.”

Senior Tatiana Ojeda is currently enrolled in Sinclair’s course, and by her second semester gained a greater knowledge of government and its processes. 

“AP U.S. Government has helped me understand the foundations of politics and governmental structures,” Ojeda said. “I am now able to recognize the causes of certain political issues and apply my own knowledge to current events. In addition, I now am aware of the salience of political opinion. I also feel a greater sense of political efficacy.”

Even if you are not taking AP United States Government, there are many other ways that you can engage with our political climate.

For example, you can canvass in support of certain politicians or advocacy groups, get in touch with your local representative, or even use your own social media accounts to spread different posts and hashtags.