As the presidential election inches closer, Moore High School students in Liz Butcher's advanced placement government and politics classes are encouraged to study the issues and form their own opinions. In some cases, the students are straying from family tradition.
Before starting the school year, Joseph Kwak, 17, knew nothing about politics.
“In her class, we do a lot of research on parties and I'm better able to form my own opinions because she's not like, ‘This is right, this is wrong,'” he said. “She lets us do our own research, and then we form our own opinions and our own beliefs.”
Butcher led her class Thursday with a discussion on the first presidential debate. Her classes tend to be made up of honor students, so there were plenty of viewpoints tossed around the room about who the students thought led the debate and why the candidates did not go into specifics about the issues addressed.
“I ask for them to watch just a certain amount of time,” Butcher said. “I asked for them to not just watch for what the issues were, but how they presented themselves, do they look presidential, how can a debate help or hurt a candidate.”
Focus on election
Butcher tailored the normal curriculum to fit around the election. She started with the political philosophy of the United States, with students reading about the creators of the Declaration of Independence and analyzing their quotes to apply them to the U.S. government today.
“Then (we) went into our political culture,” Butcher said.
Students were required to watch the Republican and Democratic conventions and keep journals comparing and contrasting the conventions.
Mari Crowell, 17, said they are learning about public opinion “and all the different aspects of our government that go into the election.
“We usually spend 15 minutes in class or even more sometimes discussing the election, especially if there's a debate or anything like the conventions. We spent days discussing it so we could get opinions about politics and the candidates.”
“What I try to provide is information and let them know that an informed voter is the best kind of voter and that there are factors that do help us form our opinions, there's all these different factors that come into play,” Butcher said.
The students' families and religions have an influence on their opinions.
“I was encouraged to do my own research, form my own opinion and make my own analysis,” said John Newton, 17. “Even though most of my family has one political viewpoint, I tend to view another way just because the product of my own experiences shapes the way I see how elections and politics works.”
Kwak said there is a chapter in the textbook that examines how political views are influenced by a person's friends and relatives.
“A lot of it comes from family and religion because that's how you're raised, but as you get older you form your own opinions and that's what I've seen so far,” Kwak said. “When I was younger, I just followed my parents. They're always right, they have to be because they're my parents, but now that I'm doing my own research I found out I disagree with a lot of their opinions, so that's one of my favorite things about this class.”
Butcher said her teaching about good citizenship will extend beyond the election.
“It is a constant part of our curriculum, of what their role is, what their civic obligation is as a good citizen on the local, state and federal levels.”
This is Newton's fourth year on the debate team, which gave him an introduction to politics, “but Mrs. Butcher's government class really lets you go into a comprehensive study of what the political process is and what you as a citizen have a civic duty to do inside of an election.”
Newton plans to continue his interest in politics by attending law school at the University of Oklahoma.
“After a law degree I would very much like to consider a career in politics or a private practice,” Newton said.
Kwak does not plan a politically oriented career but does “want to be able to vote intelligently and just know my information. Whatever candidate I choose, I want to be the best for me.”
Butcher said she has often reminded her students they have until Friday to register to vote. Eligible students are encouraged to vote before or after school on Election Day.