LAUSD students discuss political climate as Biden becomes president

LAUSD students discuss political climate as Biden becomes president

Seeing a new administration take over the White House brings with it a feeling of excitement for Emely Cortez. At the same time, she struggles to remain hopeful that President Joe Biden will be able to get as much accomplished as she would like, given how fractured the country is.

“In the last four years, when I’ve actually gotten into politics and I started paying attention, I’ve only seen a lot of bad stuff,” said Cortez, an 11th grader at Cesar E. Chavez Social Justice Humanitas Academy in San Fernando.

“I want to be hopeful but also realistic,” she said.

She’s not the only one grappling with how to manage expectations.

As Cortez and her peers watched Biden be sworn in as the nation’s 46th president on Wednesday, Jan. 20, students spoke candidly in class about their impressions of Trump’s presidency, the challenges facing the new administration and the importance of civics education.

Several expressed hope in the new administration but also mistrust in politicians. If anything, they said the last few years have taught them the need to discern facts from opinions and to hold elected officials accountable, no matter their political affiliation.

“It’s so scary to be optimistic because of what we’ve been seeing the last four years. … We do have trust issues,” said Yesenia Cardona, a junior, who, like a couple of her classmates, cautioned that this is only the “honeymoon” phase of the Biden administration.

As students pointed out how divided the country is and questioned whether people are willing to listen to others with opposing views, San Fernando/Sylmar Community of Schools administrator Eduardo Solorzano, who joined the discussion, prompted students to think about how they can improve the situation.

“You’re the next generation of voters,” he said. “So how do we carry this forward? How do we build empathy?”

It’s not the first time educators have led classroom discussions about democracy — or how it can be messy. In the days after supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in protest of the election results, teachers shared advice about how to discuss what happened with students.

Los Angeles Unified school board President Kelly Gonez, who also joined Wednesday’s discussion, encouraged students to be change agents.

“Democracy is not just about one person. We can’t just rest all of our hopes and our future on just President Biden,” said Gonez, who served as an education policy advisor during the Obama administration and, at 32, recently became the youngest woman to head up the district’s school board.

“Your voices matter,” she continued. “I just want you to know, you have power.”

Superintendent Austin Beutner also encouraged students to “practice democracy every day.”

“Remember democracy is not a once-in-four-year thing,”  he said. “We’re counting on each of you. My generation’s done some things well and some things not so well. We don’t necessarily leave you with a perfect union, but you’ll make it better.”

Karla Perez, a 12th grader, said one challenge her peers face is in assessing what information is credible.

“We honestly don’t know what to believe since there’s so much information being thrown on the news, on social media …, through our parents. It’s like so many ideals coming at us that at times, we don’t know what our own morals and what our own values are and we start questioning who we are as a person and what we actually believe,” she said.

That’s why education is so important, said junior Brenda Macuil.

“Schools are supposed to help us be critical thinkers,” she said, stressing the need for more civics education.

“How do we form our own ethical compass and how can we hold our politicians accountable and be more active participants in our democracy?” she asked. “It’s so important to teach us right now what a healthy democracy is.”

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