A Kaplan Test Prep survey finds that 76 percent of future college students are more interested in topics regarding politics, human rights and activism than they were two years ago. Such data is no surprise given the current heightened political atmosphere, said University of Connecticut professor in human rights Glenn Mitoma.
“I wasn’t surprised (by the survey),” Mitoma said. “Anybody who has been paying any attention has seen a rise in the general public’s attention to political issues. High school students are just as connected to what’s going on in the world as anyone is.”
The survey by Kaplan, a provider of educational services, polled 567 high school students across the country who took a Kaplan SAT course. The students were polled in March via email, according to the company’s website.
“Over the past two years, a strong majority of high school students have become more aware, interested and engaged on major social issues, indicating a new generation of active citizens,” Kaplan said in a summary statement.
In West Hartford and Mansfield, programs regarding democratic discourse were put in place for students to further their political engagement. Similar programs are in the works for Glastonbury, Farmington and Manchester schools, Mitoma said.
Manchester High School social studies teacher, Jake Skrzypiec, said the emphasis on human rights at MHS, the only high school in Connecticut that requires human rights for graduation, encouraged the school walkout on March 14 protesting the Parkland School shooting.
“Very recently I had a loose group of students that got together and said, ‘We have a need to make sure our voices are heard and we want to show that MHS will stand up for something bigger, [rather] than passively accepting another school shooting,’” Skrzypiec said.
At E.O. Smith a similar walkout took place in protest of gun laws.
Griffin Deans, a senior at E.O. Smith who attended the walkout, said high school students are demonstrating activism as a reaction to governmental and societal issues.
“There are lots of [topics], including gun control, that a sizeable and powerful majority of Americans strongly support, but because the influence of special interest groups and a variety of other factors on the political system, those reforms have not been enacted and they have constantly been blocked,” Deans said. “My generation right now believes that protest and activism is a necessary pathway to achieve those ends.”
Deans said the only way to further increase the amount of high school students concerned with politics and human rights is to allow substantive political discussions in the classroom, which he feels is lacking at E.O. Smith.
“No matter what kids believe or what side of political spectrum they are on, schools have an imperative role to embrace and support student activism, which creates more pluralistic community driven morally and consciously,” Skrzypiec said.
Lillian Whittaker is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.