Every four years Mike’s classes get the supreme blessing (curse?) of operating at the same time as the US presidential race. It is a confusing time full of names, polls, scandals, and everything else under American politics’ proverbial sun. For many of us this is about the 4th time in our lives such an event has happened.
We have vague memories of Bush’s eight-year rule. We remember some sentiments of Al Gore being cheated and Bush being a terrible president but we have no context for those claims. Then we may remember John Mccain and Sarah Palin; she could see Russia from her house? But ultimately the election of our nations first black president is more or less a hazy memory. The reelection and Mitt holds a little firmer in our minds but still it is not something important to us.
This year is different, as it must be for all who take Mike’s class during election season. For the first time in our lives the reality of politics hits us. Not only are many of us now eligible voters. But, for the first time in our lives, we can see the end of the tunnel that is childhood. Whereas before we were safe under the wing of our parents, now we can see a time where they’ll be out of the picture and things like taxes or healthcare begin to take on real meaning to us. So we begin to try to sift through the mess that is the US presidential race and, with Mike’s help, we do what every American must do: decide who to vote for.
Mike does his best to integrate our interest in the election into his already planned class. The main event for us is our weekly podcast and politics Mondays. We all listen to an hour of podcasts, write what we learned and what we’re thinking, then discuss our thoughts in a Socratic seminar. I recently went back and read our posts on Haiku from the beginning of the year. The podcasts seemed to mostly be speaking on the, then recent, Republican debates. Many of us came in with only knowledge of Trumps wacky antics and some loose ideas about the Democratic Party’s state.
As the class progressed I, along with seemingly all of my classmates, seemed to be drawn to Bernie Sanders. Now I say seemingly because I cannot say with certainty that we will all be voting for Sanders, only that whenever such discussions came up I only heard support for one side. In all honesty I can’t recall one time when a Republican candidate was referred to as better than “tolerable.” Whether it was gun laws, minimum wage, or foreign policy I always felt like our class had a pretty unanimous stance. Gun laws specifically made me increasingly aware of this homogeny. Throughout our class nearly everyone voiced
support of stricter gun laws. To me, these laws made sense and I figured, especially with the recent mass shootings, the majority of the country would support such laws. However, a quick search led me to find that in the entire country 52% opposed such laws with only 46% in support. What this really told me is that I had been missing a huge part of the picture.
To complete this picture I had to look no farther then my own father. He had grown up with guns and now is an NRA member who owns around 9 of them. Talking to him about gun ownership and gun laws was one of the first times, since I had begun to be politically aware, that I had a real conversation with someone of a different view than my own. My father, a registered Republican, also went on to talk at length about the candidates. It was one of the first times I had discussed the Republican Party outside of taking easy shots at Trumps antics or Carson’s wild claims. This was one of the first times that I felt I had some semblance of being an informed voter.
No, I will not be voting Republican in this election, nor will I be in the foreseeable future. However, gaining this insight has allowed me to see the reason behind why one would disagree with the Democrats. It has allowed me to see Republicans as more than just the opposition, more than someone who just holds warped views. Rather, they are the other half. In the words of E.B. White, “democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time.” If this were true then to ignore the other half would not be any sort of democracy. To discredit their views would be to discredit the values this nation was founded on. While certain people, like Trump, still mystify me and why someone would oppose Planned Parenthood is beyond me. Those views are still held by citizens of the US and, as such, it is my duty to try to understand them.
At the end of the day I am grateful to have been in such a homogeneous class. It is true that there wasn’t much debate and I had to go out of my way to find new perspectives. However, by going out of the way, I learned far more than I would otherwise. Had our class been a mix of Republicans and Democrats, I may never have realized to necessity to see both sides. It is entirely possible that I would have adopted liberal
views and, when coming under fire, bitterly stuck to those views. After all it is hard to back down when surrounded by a room full of one’s peers. Being an independent school on the left coast it is very likely that Mike’s GPC class will often be full liberals. But I would challenge future GPC students to not get caught up in echo chamber that any homogenous group can become. They should seek the other side, play devils advocate, or do anything else then repeat what everyone already believes. Only through such actions can they be introduced to new ideas and allow their own ideals to further develop.