[Marxism] The Snapchat Cohort Gets Into Politics, and Civics Is Cool

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Feb 15 07:20:15 MST 2017


NY Times, Feb. 15 2017
The Snapchat Cohort Gets Into Politics, and Civics Is Cool
By ELIZABETH A. HARRIS

In Bridgette Francis’ Advanced Placement comparative government class at 
the College of Staten Island High School for International Studies, 
there was palpable excitement over a recent project — on the North 
American Free Trade Agreement.

In the hallways of Middle School 447 in Brooklyn, talk of gay rights and 
President Trump’s executive order on immigration has replaced chatter 
about “the Kardashians or Beyoncé, or somebody’s new sneakers,” said 
Leslie Hughes, a seventh-grade English teacher.

And at Riverside High School in Greer, S.C., “they’re talking about Jeff 
Sessions and they’re talking about Betsy DeVos,” said Lindsey Beam, a 
science teacher and adviser to the youths in the government club.

These are signs of unusual times.

With Mr. Trump in the White House, the obsession with politics that has 
many adult Americans fiercely focused on the Senate’s latest 
confirmation hearing and the president’s last Twitter message has 
filtered down to those not yet of voting age. High school and even 
middle school students are showing a level of civic engagement not seen 
in years, their teachers and principals say.

That, in part, is because it is so much easier to keep up with current 
events than it was in the past. Rather than having to sit down and watch 
the nightly news, teenagers can just scroll through Snapchat and 
Facebook on their phones. The adults in their lives are more attuned to 
politics as well, and dinner tables are thick with conversation about 
Mr. Trump’s latest executive orders. And then there is the ultimate 
teenage imperative: Their friends are talking about it, and they don’t 
want to be left out.

“Not only is information easy to find, it finds you,” said Theo Shulman, 
a high school freshman at the NYC iSchool, standing at a student rally 
in Lower Manhattan last week opposing Mr. Trump’s policies.

“Even if you aren’t looking for it, you’re going to find it,” added 
Hayden Mosher-Smith, a classmate, who compared the trending level of 
political memes to those of pop stars. “Like how you don’t have to read 
a story about Zayn Malik. You’ll know about Zayn Malik.”

“And Bernie Sanders is the new Zayn Malik,” Theo said.

For students who identify as liberal, many appear to be animated by 
concerns about the rights of immigrants, Muslims, women and the L.G.B.T. 
community. At the Manhattan rally, a couple of hundred students from 
different schools convened at Foley Square, having walked out of class 
in the middle of the day. Word spread largely on social media, and the 
students arrived on a wet and cold afternoon, shouldering signs along 
with their backpacks. One sign said, “Make Racists Afraid Again (or, 
like, for the first time).”

But the interest is not confined to young people on the left. At Ms. 
Francis’ Staten Island high school, the students are a mix of liberal 
and conservative — Staten Island was the only one of New York City’s 
five boroughs to go for Mr. Trump in the presidential election. Ms. 
Francis is in her 16th year of teaching, and she has been through plenty 
of elections, but during this presidential campaign, something started 
to change, she said.

Her students would ask her arcana about the caucus process and 
superdelegates. Now, they can offer up specifics about United States 
border policies during class discussion. When Ms. DeVos was confirmed as 
education secretary last week, Ms. Francis said, she heard about it from 
a student.

“It’s a conversation in the lunchroom, when normally politics really 
isn’t the thing to talk about,” said Julie Firetag, a government and 
economics teacher at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, a private school 
in Columbia, S.C. “They don’t want to look stupid in front of their 
friends. So when they see that story on their news feed, they may click 
on it.”

Ms. Beam, who teaches science at the same state’s Riverside High School, 
said she had to limit how much class time she and her students could 
spend discussing politics during the presidential campaign. “I’ll foster 
this debate,” she said, “but we’ve got to learn chemistry at some point.”

For teachers of social studies and A.P. government, however, this moment 
is scholastic manna from heaven.

“They know a lot, and they’re proud that they know a lot,” Ms. Francis 
said. “What’s on their radar in terms of world events and domestic 
issues has grown exponentially.”

Krisztina Jankura, who teaches eighth-grade social studies at a Growing 
Up Green charter school in Queens, said her students had mentioned 
watching several speeches — which most likely popped up on their news 
feeds — in which politicians like Senator Bernie Sanders were discussing 
cabinet posts.

“I said, ‘You guys watched that?’ And they tell me, ‘It was on C-Span!’” 
she said. “I don’t even watch C-Span.”

But students can be just as vulnerable to the scourge of “fake news” as 
their parents.

Ed Raines, principal of Washburn Rural High School in Topeka, Kan., said 
that in the twilight of the Obama administration, an outraged student 
brought in an article that said Mr. Obama had awarded himself the Medal 
of Honor, which he never did. Class time that day was focused on how to 
evaluate online sources and what red flags students should watch for.

Mr. Raines said that while his school was in a conservative area, he did 
have some students on the left. And on either side, he said, their 
questions seem to be seeking something similar: reassurance in an age of 
bifurcation and rancorous disagreement.

“The whole notion of being able to disagree without being disagreeable 
is something that I think the kids long for,” Mr. Raines said. “And 
they’re seeking direction on how we get back to that point.”

Of course, this political moment has been unusual for adults as well. 
Emily Kaczmarek, who teaches English and offers college counseling to 
low-income students in New York City through two nonprofit 
organizations, said that watching her students become more engaged had 
helped her see this moment differently.

“This is something that has been a note of hope for me,” she said. “It’s 
seeing students wake up to their citizenship, to the fact that 
citizenship is not passive, or shouldn’t be. Regardless of how you feel 
about everything that’s going on, it’s thrilling as an educator to see 
that shift happen in a teenager, to see their world get wider.”



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