By the end of class, Tyler Roberts, Gateway Middle School eighth-grader, had amassed a pile of political cartoons printed from the Internet for a political paper he was researching.
“This is one of my favorites,” he said, holding up a cartoon from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
In it, John McCain pointed at a “No Country For Old Men” movie marquee. “It’s not the violence I object to,” McCain says. “It’s the title!”
Nevertheless, Roberts would vote for McCain if he could.
“I share his beliefs,” he said.
A few weeks ago, Roberts was a little fuzzy on exactly what McCain’s, and Barack Obama’s, beliefs were. Roberts was surprised to learn their stances on some issues, like the right to bear arms, he said.
That’s the case for a lot of eighth-graders who’ve been studying the candidates and issues in this year’s election.
Funded by a grant from the Gateway PTSA, eighth-grade teachers at the school have been teaching a new election curriculum for about three weeks, supplemented with their own activities.
In class Monday, Oct. 27, Roberts and others in Jason Lunder’s class were doing research for a paper on a topic of their choice, ranging from Obama, McCain, the issues facing the candidates, the electoral college and whether eighth-graders should have to learn about politics at all.
Eight-grader Kwaku Asare thinks they should.
“We’re 13 or 14 now, but in a few years we’ll be able to vote,” he said.
Civics and government are often overlooked in the schools, and the result is often an uninformed and apathetic society, said Lunder. His goal is to teach the students to think critically.
“A lot of times (students) come in with their parent’s political beliefs and agendas, and my goal is to get them to lose that,” he said. “I don’t want them to agree with me all the time or with their parent all the time just because they think they should.”
Eighth-grade teacher Cheryl Carlson has also been studying the upcoming election with her class. A lot of students like one candidate or the other but don’t know what they stand for, she said. Obama has been very popular.
“They really enjoy doing it,” she said. “When you pull it out, there’s no moaning and groaning, they get really into it. It’s nice to see enthusiasm with this age bracket.”
Nov. 4, the eighth-graders will get the chance to vote in a mock election at the school, using retired Snohomish County voting machines.
“I’ll probably vote for Obama,” said Zach Feingold, a student in Lunder’s class. “He states his position a lot more clearly and answers the questions more thoroughly.”
Four weeks ago, students were asking principal Peter Scott on the playground who he’d vote for.
“I’d turn it around and say, ‘Who are you voting for?’ and they’d know who, but not why,” Scott said. “Now four weeks later they can say why.”