What Matters for High Schoolers in a Democracy (A Post-Midterms Rundown)

Edie Koehlert, Editor

We all know it’s important to vote. The 2020 presidential election made it very clear that in make or break moments, the American people will show up to vote. While increased voter turnouts in national elections are essential, what needs more support are elections on the local level. The officials in local positions have more effect on our daily life than anyone in Washington, and most of us don’t even know who they are. 

Outside of Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, many of us do not know about other representatives from New Jersey. Tom Malinowski of the seventh district lost his race in the 2022 midterms due to redistricting that added roughly 30,000 Republican votes to his district, making a win impossible. This redistricting was not done by the Republicans, but rather Malinowski’s own party. The other nine Democratic incumbents ensured their own wins by adding Malinowski’s Democratic votes to their own districts. Most of us aren’t aware of how much this redistricting by Congress affects our ballot. It is issues like these that slip through the cracks when there is no attention on them. 

“​​​I graduated from high school in 1999. There is no question that here in Montclair 2022, the curriculum is more diverse and more representative of the myriad of experiences and contributors to our history in the US, as well as the world,” says Mr. Meyer, the history teacher for AP US History among other classes. For many teachers and students, we can examine the question, where is our education on voting coming from? We certainly have been learning American history for long enough, but what actually helps us become informed citizens? 

Mr. Meyer pointed out that both Holocaust and LGBTQ+ education are required in New Jersey, showing that, however slow, progress does happen. It may not be direct, but in history we learn skills that teach us how to think critically about civics and government. Learning a greater breadth of perspectives gives a less narrow-minded account of history, and it teaches us how to take all the factors of an issue into consideration. 

A few facts: Montclair uses a council-manager plan, which has an elected council and manager appointed by the council. Our mayor is Sean Spiller and our counselor is Timothy F. Stafford. The council has members elected by ward as well as counselors at large. We also have recently switched to a system that directly elects school board members. In national elections, Montclairians for the most part vote the same— in 2020 it was reported that 92% of Montclair voted blue. In school board and council elections, however, the races are usually close. 

It’s vital to do research. This idea ties back into how we are prepared in school to vote, and how the classes we take effect that. The Advanced Placement classes, for example, are from a standardized curriculum made by a for-profit company, the infamous College Board. 

“…if it were me, the College Board would not have access to public education. Any time the education of students is open to the profiting of corporate entities… I believe, at the very least, its intentions should be questioned.” Mr. Meyer said, as my questions shifted from politics to the politics of education. Whether it’s the monopoly of the College Board or local Montclair politics, we have to make decisions based on the information we receive. 

AP curriculums aren’t tailored to our lives, “the AP curriculum is set forth and can be constricting, students yearn for an educator’s personal touch, especially if it tries to make standardized historical curriculum relevant to their lives.” Teachers are doing as much as they can to customize the experience of learning to our lives. It is encouraging to know that even as we are fed whatever the College Board deems important, we still learn from the perspective of our teacher. 

Many of us at MHS are either 18, on the cusp, or starting to think about being voting citizens. We have grown up in a generation taught not to take voting for granted, and the hope is that most of us will take that to heart and not make the same mistakes that were made in 2016. Voting, however, is only half of the puzzle. Research is particularly critical in informed voting— especially in municipal elections, where there is less press and attention. 

The weight on the shoulders of young people is heavier than ever before. While the tendency is to make things digestible in a way that subtracts the complexities of an issue, the best thing we can do is resist that urge. It may be time-consuming and clunky, but examining an issue from every angle is our greatest tool for progress. Whether it’s battling the College Board or deciding how to vote on an issue or candidate, look at every side and every argument. Think critically and examine the facts. It is our obligation in a democracy to do so.