Lauren Lucy Caddell '23
NCS has a class called Politics in America, an elective for seniors that is very similar to STA’s senior American Government. The class is taught by the same teacher who teaches the required eighth grade AmGov at NCS, and on the first day in both classes, students do the same exercise: aligning themselves along a political spectrum across the room, with liberal on one side and conservative on the other. I, unfortunately, am not in this class, but from various accounts from students in the class I gathered that most of the class put themselves close to the middle, but leaned slightly to the liberal side. So, if this class is to be taken as a small sample of the overall school population, one would think that NCS is mostly moderate, but leaning to the left.
I was recently approached by an editor who asked if I could find someone to write the conservative side of a point-counterpoint article. “I don’t know who the conservatives are,” she said. A lot of us would face the same problem. As of right now I think there are maybe six people in the entire Upper School who identify as definitively conservative. NCS’s student body is, to say the least, one-sided.
When I first heard about the Politics in America activity, my friend told me that the class “forced people to be conservative.” I asked her what she meant and she backtracked. “I mean if they were sort of near the middle but on the conservative side we told them to move down. We needed someone to be conservative!” So moderates, or liberals who take certain conservative stances, are the “conservatives” of the school. But here’s the main issue: the last time I can remember having an actual political discussion in a class was in eighth grade American Government. In history classes we’re focused on analyzing the past, and in English class we close-read the stories of the present. We almost never focus on politics. So how can the student body all be supposedly liberal if we don’t know anything?
I’ve been focusing on NCS because I have more knowledge about it, but STA isn’t fully politically balanced either. I’ve heard arguments by many that STA is in a better position than NCS due to the variety of positions on the political spectrum from the student body. There is more intelligent and informed debate simply due to the higher range of opinions on political issues. To some extent, this is true, but from my experience in Government Club I also know that on average, STA students spend more time reading the news and debating politics among themselves on their own time. However, the establishment of a new paper at STA this year is a subtle pushback against the mostly-liberal opinions presented in the independent Exchanged. It might not be as noticeable as labeling moderates as conservative, but there is still an emphasis on liberal opinions that worries conservatives who feel as though the school is becoming too liberal.
NCS is scared of conservatives, and to some extent, STA is as well. I’m not saying that educating ourselves about politics will turn us all conservative, but I do think that more discussion on political issues, especially at NCS, will help to depolarize the student body. There’s nothing wrong with a liberal majority in a student body, but that majority has to stem from individual development of a political identity through researching current debates and discussing them with others. Issues such as abortion and immigration rights, while more controversial, are not the only debates to exist. That’s why Gov Club (as well as classes like AmGov and Writing Politics) was so important for me starting back in freshman year. If I had never started attending meetings, I would have blindly followed whatever I picked up around me and never formed my own political beliefs.
Politics is arguably one of the most important fields for us to know about as we get older. Unlike math, which is perhaps important for future Economics majors and budget calculations, or biology, which will mostly be left to the future doctors and Google in a pinch, we all participate in our political system through voting. There is no one we can hire to vote for us or tell us what to do–we have to do our own research. And yes–there is often a lot of political tension on the Close. That may not change, but we can develop our own mindsets about where we stand politically to lessen the divide and create meaningful discussion.
Note: The author of this article is the liberal president of Government Club.