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Primaries Add Relevance To NHS Government Classes



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Primaries Add Relevance To NHS Government Classes

By Jeff White

As Newtown residents went to the polls March7 to vote in the primaries, the 2000 presidential campaign was the principle topic of discussion in the government classes at the high school.

Government, the senior-year elective offered through the social studies department, has always been a course steeped in the history and theory of the American political system. Yet only election years give students the opportunity to see textbook examples of the political process play out nightly on newscasts and on the front pages of newspapers. Teachers of the course this year plan to use the presidential campaign to complement course material.

Each day, first-year government teacher Ed Obloj has his students link current events to potential political repercussions. Tuesday’s “headlines,” as Mr Obloj calls the beginning of each of his classes, dealt with the United States Defense Secretary’s current trip to Vietnam to normalize relations between the two countries. “How could this affect the presidential election?” Mr Obloj asked his students.

After some discussions, students settled on how John McCain might have difficulty accepting an improving relationship between Vietnam and the United States due his captivity during the Vietnam War. Perhaps this is not the only impact this foreign policy breakthrough might have on the upcoming presidential relationships, but Mr Obloj will tell you that it is important that his students are making connections between what is in the news and how those issues may play out on the campaign stage.

Because the presidential primary campaigns have been covered nightly on the evening news, it is becoming easier for these high school students to make those connections. A recent class discussion in Mr Obloj’s class concerning the school shooting in Michigan yielded an examination on where each candidate stands on the issue of gun control.

In Candy Deitter’s government class starting this week, students were required to look for election coverage every night, either in a newspaper or on television, and report on their findings through journal entries. Monday’s coverage of the campaigns leading up to Super Tuesday was the focus for discussion in her first period class March 7.

Besides summarizing the top election stories from the previous day, Mrs Deitter’s students pored over the current issue of Time magazine that addressed, among other things, the amount of delegates each state possesses.

Each government class, which runs for one semester, is looking ahead to the annual Political Action Project, which has typically represented the culmination of the course. In the past, especially during election years, students have done in-depth profiles of candidates, followed candidates in the news while listing where they stand on specific issues, and helping out in local voter registration drives.

Both Mr Obloj and Mrs Deitter said this week that they hoped to get similar projects off the ground in the next few months. Mr Obloj added that he had been thinking of running a mock election.

Although most seniors are still a few months away from turning 18, the voting age, some of the older students in the class took the discussions in their government classes to heart and registered with a political party to vote in this week’s primary.

Mike Rostafin is one of two students in Mrs Deitter’s class old enough to vote, and he said Tuesday morning that he intended to vote in the primary. Whereas many young people obtain their party identification from their parents, those high school students who were old enough to vote this week claimed that more than their parents’ beliefs went into their decision to side with the Democratic or Republican Party.

Students are playing closer attention to the issues than some might think. Mike Rostafin said he chose to register as a Democrat in light of the party’s stance on health care and education issues.

Kerry Levinson also based her party affiliation on issues. “The issues that are important to me are abortion and education,” she said, adding that she would vote in the primary after school Tuesday.

Katherine Moberg, a student in Mr Obloj’s class, said that although her parents’ party affiliation played into her decision to register as a Democrat, she also drew from discussions held in her government class.

Mrs Deitter pointed out that although the majority of her students could not vote this week, most will be of voting age when the presidential election arrives in the beginning of November. Getting them talking about the issues that go into making an intelligent electoral choice, she said, will prepare them to exercise their vote more effectively in the future.

Mike Rostafin agreed. He said that regardless of age, high school students should take an interest in the current political campaigns, because they will eventually have to decide who they want running the country. “It’s very important to get involved.”

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