A strange year to teach civics

How do you teach high schoolers about government and politics during the current election cycle? According to Hazen High School civics teacher Brett Crueger, it's a challenge.

According to Brett Crueger

Brett Crueger has taught civics for 21 years, which means he’s taught high schoolers about government and politics for five election cycles.

He even worked at the King County Election department in 2008, the last year polls were open in King County. He had 140 students volunteer at the polls that year.

But this year’s presidential election, he said, is the strangest one yet.

Crueger has been following the election with his two civics classes at Hazen High School since the candidates started running a year-and-a-half ago. They’ve watched the “Frontline” episodes covering the candidates and the presidential debates — well at least the first two (Crueger said he didn’t want to put his kids through the third one).

“It’s been difficult,” he admitted. “How do you be fair and balanced? I attempt to do that. But the kids ask me who I’m voting for and I say ‘I can’t tell you.'”

This week, Crueger went over the various candidates and initiatives that are in the King County ballots, explaining what what each initiative aims to accomplish and the implications it can have. As an in-class activity, students were assigned an initiative and a position, and were asked to defend it. Written above the homework assignments on the whiteboard is a countdown to the election.

“[Students] register to vote,” Crueger said. “That’s the simplest civics project. I reward them for registering, I don’t care if they vote or not. I encourage them to, but my main thing is to register and be part of the process.”

Crueger said he’s been trying his best to engage students with issues that matter to them. However, there are difficulties in engaging a generation that’s labeled as apathetic and politically uninterested.

“To a certain extent, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy… they don’t vote because [candidates] don’t address their issues, and [candidates] don’t address their issues because they don’t vote,” he said. “I try to engage and try to say that this is the future but it’s difficult to see beyond next week, next year and graduation. It’s difficult. It’s the nature of youth.”

But most of the students in Crueger’s class who are eligible to vote are planning to do so, including senior Madelyn Jacklin.

“I know that the electoral vote has more weight on who becomes president versus the popular vote from learning about it in civics and other government classes I’ve taken,” she said. “[Voting] is an interesting way to be involved and you’re helping decide who is going to be in charge of your country for the next four years. I’d like to have a say in that, even if it’s not necessarily a huge say — the electoral vote is bigger than the popular vote.”

Jacklin said that learning civics this year has helped her understand the election better, thus making her a well-informed voter.

“We’ve studied a lot of information about both candidates,” she said. “[Crueger] showed us both sides of the election but lets us form our own opinions on it. As a first-time voter, it’s an interesting year to vote just because how unique each candidate is each year.”

However, she said she wishes she could see one more presidential debate to better understand what each candidate believes on certain issues.

“I’ve seen the debates and there have been so much arguing going on between the candidates, and a lot wasn’t said that should be said” Jacklin said. “Or they went off the topic they were given and talk about something we’ve heard about 10 different times, but that was the only thing they talk about. I think I do have enough information from watching who talks about the more important issues and who doesn’t, but I would like to have one more debate.”

Jacklin said the issues she’s interested in include cost of colleges, international relations/global affairs and healthcare.

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