Eagle High Students Participate in Presidential Election as First Time Voters
November 4, 2016 – “I was 6-years-old when the first presidential debate aired on national television. I remember watching Nixon and Kennedy,” Gary Gorrell, Eagle High School government teacher recalls. “Back then they had a group of students split up so half were watching the debate, and the other were turned around listening. The students watching the debate thought Kennedy won, and the students listening thought Nixon won.”
Gorrell looks back on the first debate with intrigue, because even then people were divided on the best way to critique a presidential debate. In his classroom, Gorrell encourages all of his students to watch political debates from both the watcher and the listener perspective.
“All of my students are required to observe and critique a political debate while they are in my class, and I think it’s important especially during a presidential election year,” Gorrell explained. “Students are invited to eat pizza and watch the debates in my classroom with their peers, and together we discuss and critique the candidates.”
High school senior Nicole Recla is not yet old enough to vote in this election, but feels she will be better prepared when the time comes after taking this government class.
“Body language and facial expressions are everything,” Recla explained of evaluating politicians during a debate. “Even though a candidate may say one thing, their body language can show they mean something completely different.”
Watching a political debate is only a small part of what students are tasked to do under Gorrell’s direction. As part of a bigger election project, students are also asked to take an online political philosophy quiz to determine their general stance on politics. Students are sorted into one of five groups: liberal, moderate liberal, moderate, moderate conservative or conservative. These groups help students study differing perspectives.
“The election project is important because students get to see most facets of a political campaign. With Take 10, students are tasked to get signatures from people eligible to vote saying they promise to vote in the next election. We also host a mock election through the secretary of state, and students must try to pass a literacy test which would have been given in Alabama prior to 1965.”
Gorrell was part of the first group of 18-year-olds eligible to vote after the 26th amendment was ratified in the early 1970s. “Our big issue was Vietnam. I tell my students it is important for them to vote – and more than reading about government in a book, they have a practical application for their knowledge,” Gorrell shared.
Senior Emma Bailey participated in campaigning for a local politician this fall and witnessed the importance of educating oneself on political topics first-hand. “Our job was to bring a package of information to people and ask them if they were registered to vote,” Bailey shared. “I really enjoyed getting out in the community to help a good person become known…and talking to the public about politics, because it could be something interesting to go into.”
With a better understanding of politics and how the government operates in mind, Recla and Bailey will be watching the election results next Tuesday along with many of their peers.