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Teens Want More Education On The Electoral Process


We're down to 11 days before Election Day. While plenty of adults are sick of hearing about this, many teens say they want more education about the electoral process. Youth Radio's Noel Anaya has more.

NOEL ANAYA, BYLINE: At Lowell High School, a public school in San Francisco, Peer Resources teacher Adee Horn is gathering her class together for a discussion about civics.

ADEE HORN: You have two questions. One, do you feel prepared to vote? Why or why not? Two, what would it take for you to feel prepared to vote?

ANAYA: Nineteen-year-old senior Hong Guan is one of the only kids in class who raises his hand to say...

HONG GUAN: Yeah, I feel prepared. I had a really good Social Studies teacher. Like, when I came out of that class, I felt ready to vote, like, and that was eighth grade.

LILY LIANG: OK. So I think that, Hong, you made really good points.

ANAYA: That's 17-year-old senior Lily Liang.

LIANG: But, like, what you're saying is that you feel ready and prepared to vote because you did your research and because of that great teacher that you had that made you feel ready. So many teenagers, they don't have teachers that make them feel like adults ready to vote.

ANAYA: Voter education in schools makes a big difference, says Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, who directs CIRCLE, a research center at Tufts University aimed at studying and boosting youth voter turnout.

KEI KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: Simple things like bringing in the voting machine and let the students practice it.

ANAYA: According to a 2013 survey from CIRCLE, teens who learned about voting in high school were 40 percent more likely to cast ballots in the last presidential election. Civics classes also used to be where students debated issues and policies. But, says Kawashima-Ginsberg, that's totally changed.

KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: The state standards in social studies really discourage teachers from really letting students from exploring what their belief systems are and how they relate to political ideology and how that's reflected in candidate's policies and policy platforms.

ANAYA: At El Centro de Estudiantes, an alternative public high school in Philadelphia, 17-year-old Joselyn Figueroa Rodriguez says her teachers generally avoid talking to students about politics.

JOSELYN FIGUEROA-RODRIGUEZ: They're not allowed to because they feel like that's going to influence the way we vote.

ANAYA: She wishes for school taught more about the political system and how to take part in it. Figueroa-Rodriguez says she plans to make the most of her swing state vote as soon as she turns 18.

FIGUEROA-RODRIGUEZ: I mean, I think I should have a say in who's leading the country that I'm living in, especially because I know what I need and not only what I need, but what we all need - government help, school funding.

FIGUEROA-RODRIGUEZ: Lily Liang, the San Francisco teen from earlier who isn't sure she feels ready to vote, had a revelation when she volunteered to help at the polls during this year's California primary.

LIANG: Yeah. It was actually really interesting because from, like, a teenager's standpoint, I always thought adults knew what they were doing and, like, they knew what ballots they wanted. But, like, half the adults that I helped when I was, like, working the polls, they, like, didn't know what they were doing.

ANAYA: Come November, San Francisco voters will decide on a ballot measure about whether to lower the voting age to 16 on local and school board elections. Based on what I've heard from young people, it's a responsibility they would take seriously. For NPR News, I'm Noel Anaya.

GREENE: That story was produced by the great team at Youth Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Noel Anaya
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