The pre-voting demographic

Yesterday, I covered a debate at Bishop O’Dowd High School between representatives of the Obama and McCain campaigns. Hundreds of students attended the optional event, which was organized by 15-year-old Julia Owens — who told me she thought it would be useful and fun for her classmates to watch a live debate.

The students’ questions were detailed and policy-oriented. One referenced the economic crisis, and another asked about the prospect of Georgia’s membership in NATO: “Is there anything that can be done to help people like my grandparents who are out of the workforce and are too old or ill to go back to work?” and “Why is defending Georgia in the national interest of the United States?”

Government teacher Bonnie Sussman, who’s been at O’Dowd since 1972, says she senses an enthusiasm around this election — and that her students, for the most part, seem quite knowledgeable about the issues at hand. (Photo below, by D. Ross Cameron: After the event, kids with follow-up questions crowded the stage.)

I interviewed Owens, along with students Kate Drew, Wolfgang Alders, Rachel Sklar and Brandon Pinkard-Scott, before the event began. They told me that the election has been a big topic in class discussions and at lunchtime since last year, in part because of the intense and historic Democratic primary.

Kim Wetzel, my colleague at the Contra Costa Times (now a sister paper of the Tribune), is working on a similar story about youth involvement in the election. She’s looking for examples, so I thought I’d check with you.

What are the local schools doing to leverage the excitement around this election into a learning opportunity? How are kids or teachers becoming involved on either side?

photos by D. Ross Cameron/Tribune

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Nextset

    Interesting that the Catholic Schools have this event – I don’t see similar stories of debates in the public schools. Especially debates with invited partisan debaters who can be expected to make a real event of it.

    Students should be able to see and participate in adults debating policy. Especially cutting edge or controversial policy. I do wonder what the ground rules were.

  • John

    Here here!

  • For Nextset

    Nextset: Here’s a story about a public high school debate that was covered four years ago in the public school’s newspaper. The same public school held a debate this year. It is a MAJOR project for students in this public school’s arts academy.


  • Ben F

    so pretty much the ground rules were: the moderator would ask a question, the rep would have 3 minutes to answer and then the other rep would have 2 minutes to respond. it was an hour long debate. The audience was asked remain quite (which did happen for the vast majority of the debate). It was a very good event!

  • Nextset

    I like that part about the audiance being asked to remain quiet. A lesson in civics the OUSD kids need practice in.

    Were questions taken from the audience?

  • Nextset

    typos again…

  • Katy Murphy

    Students submitted questions in advance, and the student-organizer selected which ones would be asked so that a wide range of issues would be discussed.

  • Nextset

    Do any the area public schools do anything similar either at election time or anytime (invite in outside partisan adults to debate current events)?

  • Sue

    Seems to me *some* are giving credit for the debate to the school, and then inferring that all private Catholic schools are doing better for their students than all public schools.

    From what I read, the credit for organizing the debate goes to one student, Julia Owens, and there was only one school (hers) that held a debate.

    So, if we could have somehow convinced Ms. Owens’ parents to send her to an OUSD public high school instead of Bishop O’Dowd, and if she’d organized her debate at that public high school – would the inferrence be that because one public high school held a student-organized political debate, all the OUSD public schools were doing the better job of educating their students?

  • Nextset

    Sue… (I hope you are the real Sue and not that interloper!)

    Catholic Education is widely consider superior to the urban public schools. And this is news? As far as why it is superior.. I would guess the discipline vs indiscipline is somewhere at the top of the list.

    I find Catholic Dogma anti-intellectual – superstitious actually. But their schools are superior because of the way they are run and the people who chose to attend and remain in them. It’s not the dirt, or the buildings, books or desks. Some of the Catholic schools in the East Bay are quite old. But they are run as “schools” and the urban public schools are not.

    Take heart, that is something that can be cahnged quite quickly if the public schools were thunderstruck enough to become real schools again.

  • Sue

    Yes, it’s Original Sue this time.

    And I agree that there is a perception that parochial schools are better.

    What I asked was: if we give credit to all schools in a category (parochial) for an event that one student organized at one school (debate / Ms. Owens / O’Dowd), would we give the same credit to all schools in a different category?

    My question wasn’t answered in what you posted…

  • wolfgang alders

    hey awesome job julia

    i r most srs polatishun. dis r most srs debatez.

  • Julia Owens

    Hello all,
    I am Julia Owens, no this is not a joke, if it was I wouldn’t be posting so late after the debate. I didn’t notice this feature until my boyfriend told me about it. I had a lot of fun organizing it and I’m so glad you all took and interest in this story. Thanks to everyone who helped(both Republican and Democratic parties) and everyone who came. I’m looking forward to the inauguration.

    Have a lovely day.