The Snapchat Cohort Gets Into Politics, and Civics Is Cool
In Bridgette Francis’ Advanced Placement comparative government class at the College of Staten Island High School for International Studies, there was palpable excitement over a recent project — on the North American Free Trade Agreement.
In the hallways of Middle School 447 in Brooklyn, talk of gay rights and President Trump’s executive order on immigration has replaced chatter about “the Kardashians or Beyoncé, or somebody’s new sneakers,” said Leslie Hughes, a seventh-grade English teacher.
And at Riverside High School in Greer, S.C., “they’re talking about Jeff Sessions and they’re talking about Betsy DeVos,” said Lindsey Beam, a science teacher and adviser to the youths in the government club.
These are signs of unusual times.
With Mr. Trump in the White House, the obsession with politics that has many adult Americans fiercely focused on the Senate’s latest confirmation hearing and the president’s last Twitter message has filtered down to those not yet of voting age. High school and even middle school students are showing a level of civic engagement not seen in years, their teachers and principals say.
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That, in part, is because it is so much easier to keep up with current events than it was in the past. Rather than having to sit down and watch the nightly news, teenagers can just scroll through Snapchat and Facebook on their phones. The adults in their lives are more attuned to politics as well, and dinner tables are thick with conversation about Mr. Trump’s latest executive orders. And then there is the ultimate teenage imperative: Their friends are talking about it, and they don’t want to be left out.
“Not only is information easy to find, it finds you,” said Theo Shulman, a high school freshman at the NYC iSchool, standing at a student rally in Lower Manhattan last week opposing Mr. Trump’s policies.
“Even if you aren’t looking for it, you’re going to find it,” added Hayden Mosher-Smith, a classmate, who compared the trending level of political memes to those of pop stars. “Like how you don’t have to read a story about Zayn Malik. You’ll know about Zayn Malik.”
“And Bernie Sanders is the new Zayn Malik,” Theo said.
For students who identify as liberal, many appear to be animated by concerns about the rights of immigrants, Muslims, women and the L.G.B.T. community. At the Manhattan rally, a couple of hundred students from different schools convened at Foley Square, having walked out of class in the middle of the day. Word spread largely on social media, and the students arrived on a wet and cold afternoon, shouldering signs along with their backpacks. One sign said, “Make Racists Afraid Again (or, like, for the first time).”
But the interest is not confined to young people on the left. At Ms. Francis’ Staten Island high school, the students are a mix of liberal and conservative — Staten Island was the only one of New York City’s five boroughs to go for Mr. Trump in the presidential election. Ms. Francis is in her 16th year of teaching, and she has been through plenty of elections, but during this presidential campaign, something started to change, she said.
Her students would ask her arcana about the caucus process and superdelegates. Now, they can offer up specifics about United States border policies during class discussion. When Ms. DeVos was confirmed as education secretary last week, Ms. Francis said, she heard about it from a student.