[Sept. 2016 News] Conservative underrepresentation persists as 2016 political dialogue intensifies

By Fritz Schemel ’17 Editor-in-Chief and Zach Horowitz ’19

As the 2016 election barrels towards the finish line, political dialogue surrounding it has grown increasingly tense. Out of 200 Staples students surveyed, just 17 percent of liberal students felt their views were underrepresented, compared to 88 percent of conservatives who felt their views were underrepresented at Staples. The poll did not include an option for Independents.

Christine Taylor ’18, who considers herself conservative, said that this underrepresentation can have an effect in the classroom.

“Sometimes, like in class, most people will be supporting one side and since my views are different, I think I can’t contribute,” Taylor said. “If I say something, I’m like, OK, well the majority of the class agrees on this one point, and I’m kind of…out. I don’t know who else agrees with me.”

Nonetheless, Drew Coyne, a social studies teacher, said that all teachers attempt to create a fair playing field in their classes.

“I think it’s about creating an equal platform for all kids to hear [different views], because some kids may be feeling quiet,” he said.  “They may be feeling uncomfortable whether they’re conservative or liberal. It depends on the classroom, but it’s about me creating a community where ideas are welcome.”

Despite the effort of teachers to maintain an unbiased position in the classroom, many teacher unions, including the American Federation of Teachers, have endorsed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for President, and have supported Democratic candidates for many years. Some students believe that national endorsements by teacher unions indicate bias.

“I have had certain teachers that teach with a liberal bias,” James Allott ’17, a Libertarian, said. “I believe a teacher would challenge [a liberal] kid less than they would a conservative kid who openly voiced their views.”

Some conservatives, instead of remaining quiet, speak out but are met with a response many fear. At the end of the 2015-16 school year, Allott shared a pro-gun rights message on Facebook by posting a link to an article written by the Huffington Post and expressing his opposition to it.

“I was sworn at, called names,” Allott said. “I definitely faced harsh and critical backlash from the student body. With that being said, there were definitely people who supported and agreed with that view.”

Moreover, liberal students are aware of the possible underrepresentation of conservative students at school. Maddie Baildon ’19 is a student with liberal views who notices the same treatment as most of the conservative students.

“One of the kids in my pottery class last year is a Republican, and he talked about [how] whenever he tried to talk about his views in his social studies class, he would be shut down almost immediately,” Baildon said.

Ultimately, the students feeling underrepresented feel unheard.

“People hear what we’re saying,” Noah Lomnitz ’17, a conservative, said, “but they’re not really listening.”

While conservatives felt more judged, 36 percent of liberals believed they were judged too, to just the 17 percent of liberal students who felt underrepresented.

“I feel judged about issues that are highly controversial such as guns, healthcare and abortions,” Emily Porter ’17, a liberal student, said. “I think that conservative students must feel the same way about extremely stubborn liberal students.”

This hostile political climate can have a negative consequence for all students when they leave Staples and Westport, A.P. Government and Politics teacher Robert Shamberg says.

“You’re not just going to stay here your entire lives,” Shamberg said. “I don’t believe your mind is made up yet as 16, 17, 18-year-old kids. And if it is, you haven’t done enough thinking about the issues. I’ve met very few people, adults or children, who are entirely left or entirely right.”