Passing a government class is required to graduate from high school. For Westside students, either regular or advanced placement (AP) are the options for government class students have, typically taken their senior year. However, it wasn’t always this way. Up until the early 2000s, civics, a class similar to government, was taken instead during a student’s freshman year.
Current government instructor David Bywater said that in the former civics course, students did similar things to what students do now in government class. However, Bywater said civics students didn’t do activities to the same extent and understanding that government students do.
“For me, not to be disrespectful or condescending, the whole idea was that we were teaching civics to people who couldn’t vote for another three years,” Bywater said. “The connection wasn’t there. They didn’t understand. It just never worked out.”
Bywater said he believes that having government as a senior year class makes the most sense for the students’ futures in the political process.
“[As] a senior, you’re getting ready to go out in the real world,” Bywater said. “It’s helpful to not have had the first time you have a [political] conversation [be out of high school].”
In order for students to gain knowledge and experience for adulthood, students do several activities in government class to simulate the political process. One of these activities includes a mock election, where students have the opportunity to run for president, run for congress, create a PAC, become a reporter or fill any other position that can be found in a campaign process. As there is generally a cognitive relationship with physically doing something, Bywater said that the mock election is a way for the information learned to really stick with students. Bywater also said that the mock election is typically very similar to what occurs in a “real life” election.
Senior and first semester elected president Haley Gagne said that she learned a lot during the election process.
“I learned a lot about different political issues, different economic issues also,” Gagne said. “I think that was the most impactful part of the whole class, being able to learn about all the different topics.”
Both Gagne and Bywater said they agree that government is an important class for students to take. Bywater said he that it is important for students to realize the result the government can have on their lives, and believes government class gives students knowledge and experience that they can take with them into adulthood.
“I think that it’s important for young people to know about their government,” Bywater said. “You should have the tools to go out and figure out what you believe in and how to support people who help bring about things that you would support.”
Although government class prepares students for situations in adulthood, Bywater said he thinks that students shouldn’t wait until after school is finished to get involved with their government. Bywater said he believes that if students get involved, they will have an impact on the outcome.
“I think that it’s important that all sides be heard on an issue, and that includes young people,” Bywater said. “The only way for you to get your voice heard is to get involved.”
Gagne and Bywater both said they think that as students in government class are coming of age to vote, it is an important class for them to take. They believe that students will have an influential effect on the future.
“We’re kind of like the change in between how people used to be and how people will be in the future,” Gagne said. “I think we’re really that turning point. It’s important for us to get out and be heard.”