Katie Reichard isn’t old enough to vote, but the 17-year-old Lewis and Clark High School senior has skipped a few classes this week to volunteer for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
Today, with the blessing of her parents and teachers, she’ll be excused from school to attend the rally with Michelle Obama at the Fox theater.
“It’s the second best thing to the man himself,” Reichard said.
The teen is not alone in her enthusiasm for this year’s presidential whirlwind.
“I could have as many as 15 to 20 students who will beg their parents to let them skip school (today) to go down and stand in line,” said Kevin Workman, who teaches an advanced government and politics class at Mead High School.
Like many teachers, Workman views the chance to hear Clinton or Obama as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Workman admits that his students are not typical.
Dubbed the “Nerd Nation,” they spent this week talking about Super Tuesday and watching President Bush’s last State of the Union address.
In class Thursday, a student received a text message from his mother that presidential candidate Mitt Romney was dropping out of the race.
“The whole room erupted in noise,” Workman said. “Obviously, that does not happen in every classroom.”
But most students seem to be keenly aware of the issues and the idea of “change” that many candidates are pushing, Workman said.
“There’s something particularly urgent about where we are at as a country,” and students ages 17 and 18 are plugged into that, he said. “The idea of ‘Let’s make something new, let’s make something revolutionary’ … those campaigns can be very captivating to someone at that age.”
Workman, who has in the past helped organize a student-led effort to encourage young people to vote, said technology has helped draw a younger demographic into politics. Political discussions and campaign hoopla are plastered on video Web sites like YouTube as well as blogs.
“Every one of these candidates has a MySpace and Facebook,” Workman said. “Maybe candidates have always wanted young people get involved, maybe young people will get involved. But what’s particularly powerful this time around is there’s a medium that’s specific to that demographic.”
The interest in politics by the younger generation is exciting in what Lewis and Clark High School teacher John Hagney says is a time of “de-prioritization of civics education” in public schools.
Teachers say social studies and civic literacy have taken a back seat to intense focus on core subjects such as reading, writing and math in the wake of standardized tests such as the Washington Assessment of Student Learning.
Hagney said students in Spokane are no longer required to take politics or American government classes. Most students take U.S. history and current world affairs, and those issues are folded into the bigger picture. “It’s not sufficient in this day and age. Politics have become more complex,” Hagney said. “But let’s face it, it’s not on the WASL.”