The students in Nick White’s U.S. government course are witnessing one of their first elections.
“Students are very aware of the tone of the campaigns,” the Richland High School teacher said.
“I’ve tried to explain to them how this is different than previous elections just based on my own life experience, but for a lot of them this is their first time going through this process,” White said.
The seniors prepared for Tuesday’s finale by putting together a final project supporting a presidential candidate and a local candidate, and taking a position on two state measures.
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“Yes! Jay Inslee,” one of the girls said, looking at who she was assigned.
Another asked White if she could support increasing the minimum wage — he told her to stick with the assignment, which was to oppose the proposal.
One of the class objectives is for students to analyze viewpoints that may differ from their own, White said.
“By me telling them what to support or what to oppose, it puts them sometimes in a situation where they don’t agree with (the person or point of view), but they have to view it that way anyways,” he said.
Most students tend to share the same political beliefs as their parents, he said.
“Sometimes it’s not a matter of teaching them things,” he said. “It’s (a matter) of exposing them to other viewpoints or other sources of information.”
Aurora Kongsnes, Megan Balint, Darby Miller and Narjes Almosawi all brought some political stance into the class when they started.
Aurora, an exchange student spending a year in the U.S studying at Richland High, brought her opinions from Norway.
Sitting about three desks away, Darby’s political opinions came from growing up in a Republican household. Her mom helped her and her brother learn about politics, and she became really immersed in the last presidential race, she said.
Megan was 14 when she started paying attention to the news, but she didn’t really follow politics until this year, she said.
Narjes, the daughter of an Iraqi mother and a Turkish father, said her opinions were shaped by her Middle Eastern heritage. She noted people from the region pay attention to news because it often involves their countries.
Exposing students to different viewpoints comes about several different ways, White said. He leads discussions using a variety of sources, both online and print.
The students use information from the state voter’s pamphlet, the Tri-City Herald editorial page and other websites.
“One of my goals is to get them as new voters ... to not just rely on one source of information. The voter’s pamphlet is a great starting point, but to get out and see other forms of media (and) to do your own personal research,” he said.
White began teaching the class five years ago. This is the second presidential race he’s covered in the classroom. The current narrative involves a career politician and a government outsider.
“It’s just a different tone, and I feel like the debates and the issues that they discuss are just a lot different than the questions that were asked of the 2012 candidates,” White said.
A majority of the students recognize the candidates’ campaigns are negative, he said.
Darby sees the election from both points of view, she said.
“Here (at school) a lot of people are anti-Trump and really bitter,” she said. “At home, my mom is a Republican, and, so she is more in favor of Trump, not necessarily him as a person, but his political views.”
When Aurora, the Norwegian exchange student, was asked about the presidential election, she paused a few seconds before answering.
“I don’t know. It’s just weird,” she said. “Back home we’re very liberal. ... Hillary is the closest to what we would have at home. We kind of think Trump is a little absurd and kind of crazy.”
Narjes said neither of the candidates make her hopeful for how the U.S. government is going to treat the Middle East.
“I feel like Trump goes against everything that I believe. ... He talks (bad) about everyone, Muslims, black people, and I don’t agree with that, because I’m Muslim and that offends me,” she said.
On the other hand, Clinton seems ready to bomb the region, she said.
“I feel bad that this is the first election that I get to witness and understand. It’s horrible,” she said.
Megan thinks the candidates are “a little bit crazy this year,” between scandals and people not supporting the candidate their party selected, she said.
“I’m kind of tired,” she said. “This has been going on since around this time last year. I just kind of want to know who has been elected and who is president and see what America thinks.”
To gain a broader perspective on the history of presidential races, White recommends his students talk to their parents about their experiences.
“(I tell them to) ask your parents about the election of 2000, where we didn’t know who the winner was going to be for several weeks,” he said.