Editor's Note: As part of his internship with The Lake Today, Camdenton senior Joshua Sharp will be delivering columns through April. His topics will cover a variety of current issues and topics that relate not only to the high school student population but also to the Lake Area community. If you would like to provide comments or feedback to Joshua Sharp's column, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.thelaketoday.com and comment to the column online.
High-school students and politics are volatile enough on their own, so what happens when you mix the two together? This is a question not many people ask, except during election season.
To say that high school students are underrepresented in the political realm would be fallacious; those that are old enough to vote have the right to do so the same as any other citizen. However, many people do not realize that a large number of students in secondary school have strong political opinions. Even those who are not eligible to vote often endorse (or oppose) political candidates and legal bills. This was especially apparent in the recent election. Many high school students were finally able to vote for the first time, even those that weren't were hardly shy about which candidates they supported.
Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself. Many of you may ask, "Who are you? What qualifies you to speak for high school students regarding political matters?" My name is Joshua Sharp, and I can speak for high school students because I am one. I am a senior at Camdenton High School, and I've always had a strong interest in politics. This interest has only increased as I've gone through high school, and I feel it is important for all students to be open with their political beliefs. The teenage vote factors in heavily to all elections, and there is an expansive patchwork of political opinions in this area. We have anarchists, conservatives, independents, liberals, libertarians, moderates, socialists and everything in between. And these students aren't passive, either. They are unafraid to voice their views and they eagerly await any and every opportunity they'll get to vote.
Unfortunately, having been born in July, I was unable to vote in this most recent election. However, that didn't stop me from becoming informed. As I focused in on issues surrounding the national election, I noticed that many of my friends were also heavily concerned with the municipal elections. I found this surprising and encouraging; some adults don't even pay the slightest attention to local and state elections, but my classmates had very strong and very well informed opinions on every person they would be voting for. Many people assume that teenagers don't really care that much about politics beyond sound bites and the presidential election, if they even care at all. This is simply not true; while there are some teenagers who are too caught up with everyday life to pay much attention to politics, there are many who take time out of their busy (or not-so-busy) schedules to get informed and to fashion strong, comprehensive political opinions on the national, state and local levels.
I remember starting this recent election season with very stoic, hard-right viewpoints on most of the issues. As the months wore by, however, I did more reading on the issues and, more importantly, openly discussed them with my more liberal friends. By the time Election Day came around, I still sat on the conservative side of the fence, but my views had changed significantly. I was actually surprised by how incredibly my friends' opinions had influenced me. This made me realize that American politics aren't as simplistic as I had thought, particularly among the high school community.
To speak candidly, teenagers are often viewed as being naÃ¯ve, immature and stupid, especially regarding politics. I believe that is a lie. High school students have strong and intelligent ideas about politics and society. These same teenagers will one day be the people running for public office and voting. When that happens, our ideas will gain real traction, altering the field of American politics.
I am writing this column because, when that day comes, I don't want everyone to be caught by surprise.