When I am away at school, I volunteer at an underprivileged elementary school once a week to mentor a third-grade student in an after-school program. In all honesty, I began doing this because it was a good way to get community service hours for my sorority. However, I really came to learn a lot from this program. The student I mentor, Mikayla, is a sassy, smart, hilarious, takes-no-crap-from-anyone girl. I sit there with her for almost two hours talking about everything going on in her life, and at times we'll actually get some studying done.
At one session, we were playing hangman with the student beside her, Ryan, and Ryan's mentor. Ryan was picking the word and the category was presidents. Mikayla, sassy as she is, said, "That better not be Donald Trump I hate that man," to which Ryan angrily replied, "Hey Donald Trump is a great president. Let me tell you something…" At this point, Ryan's mentor interrupted and gave a nice speech about how we all need to respect each other's opinions and the dispute was quickly over with. I, on the other hand, was completely silent just in awe at the fact that I just witnessed two 8-year-olds get so heated about a political dispute which they don't understand in the slightest.
They got as heated as I would get in the dispute, but I can get heated because that's my major. I thought back to the 2008 election to compare notes with what just happened. I was in fourth grade, and we had a mini-election in school to encourage us to exercise our right to vote once we turned 18. I remember sitting in class and our teacher saying, "Okay, class, raise your hand if you want to vote for John McCain," and some kids raised their hands. She then counted them up and did the same thing for Obama. Then she said that Obama won our class election and our electoral votes would go to him. And no one protested.
None of us wanted to scream what our parents said to us at other kids and pretend we knew what any of the issues were about. In fact, no one really cared that much, because we understood that politics really didn't affect us at age 9. Of course, there are confounding variables in my comparison. I lived in a small town on Long Island, New York where most people had pretty similar views, and John McCain and Barack Obama were candidates who didn't pose as a mortal threat to the other party, so yes, it was pretty different than 2018 Tuscaloosa. Still, though, I was shaken by this excessively heated third-grade debate.
I kept this debate in mind when I went to my political science class the next day. The focus of that day's discussion was political parties. In our class discussion, I found a slightly scary amount of similarities between this debate and the one between two third graders. They weren't yelling, but they were saying some pretty passive aggressive stuff that comes off as just academic. And this was the kicker: 18 to 21-year-old political science majors, who seek to find a career in politics, would not listen to the other side's argument.
If a Democrat and a Republican were debating, while the other person was talking, one would just look at their computer screens and tune them out. Absolutely ridiculous. I have a relatively optimistic view of the government and politics, but this really put a damper on my day. I thought to myself, "Wow, we are all just a bunch of overgrown third-graders."
This disappointment, however, did not ruin my optimism regarding politics, nor did it hinder me from continuing my journey. This made me excited for higher-level political science classes in which the professor would never let disrespect like that happen in a class discussion. I also decided to use these terrible arguers to enhance my own debate skills. I need to learn not to get so worked up, and these people will really be a good challenge for me to try to overcome my mid-debate rage. I would like to use every experience, the amazing and the downright upsetting, to grow as a person. Who would've thought that a petty argument between two 8-year-olds would cause this much growth in me? I guess it is the little things in life and the little people.