Government Shutdown: In The Eyes of a Middle Schooler

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Over winter break I had the opportunity to substitute teach in my hometown middle school. During the 3 days I was in the class, we worked on their projects about national parks. They had written letters to the parks in November and were hoping for responses during the time I was there. After multiple inquiries about the letters, I informed the students that due to the government shutdown the parks were closed, and therefore they were going to be waiting a bit longer for their responses. This caused a flurry of questions and emotions, that started making my science class take a more political turn.

I have a joke with my family that although I never bring up politics somehow they’re always brought up to me. It has happened on first dates, meeting new friends parents, or even just over dinner with my conservative friends families. It should have been no surprise that it happened during my substitute teaching as well.

Although I was raised liberally, my town is mostly conservative. I’ve subbed in my district before and have been greeted with “Make America Great Again” hats, as well as students saying that “Trump is a cheeto who shouldn’t be in office.” Either way, when sharing the news of the shutdown I knew I needed to keep my personal beliefs to myself.

I was surprised at the range of students knowledge on the shutdown. Some knew a lot and had in depth questions, while others didn’t even  know that it was happening. I would have loved to spend time answering all their questions, but since I was there to teach about national parks, I worked to keep the conversation on the topic at hand.

“Wait, why is the government shutdown?” was the most common question in every class. To which some students responded “Because Trump is awful.” It was my job to change the conversations direction, while making sure that I didn’t give away my political opinion. I started by telling the class that this wasn’t something to talk about while the projects still needed work, that it wasn’t a big deal, and it will be over soon. This worked enough for the students to get back to work. And then the hands started popping up around the room.

“So like, what’s the real reason?” met me as I called raised hands. In my head I wanted to say that  Well, Donald Trump is being defiant and our country is going to suffer until he gets his way, but I instead responded with “The congress and president cannot seem to agree on a new budget, and without a budget there isn’t money to pay for things.” They seemed to understand this, and it was neutral enough for them to interpret it how they saw fit.

“Wait, is my mom/dad/aunt/etc. being paid?” was another daunting question from the raised hands around the room. They understood that if their parents worked for a company they were still getting paid, but teachers/librarians/cops/etc were the points of worry for these students. Since nobody's family worked for the FBI, I was able to put most of their minds at ease. Except for the police parents, for those kids I told them to ask their parents if they were concerned, but not to worry because “I’m sure everything will be okay”, at least I hoped.

After the first day it appeared the students had calmed down and were more focused on their projects. Throughout the next two days though, as I walked around the room and helped with projects, some students were focused on the message on the top of the all the national parks websites.

This distraction on the websites home page required much redirecting from me, and reminding them of the due date of their project. Most kids focused after my reminder, but others were constantly trying to learn more about the shutdown than their park.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with the number of students who wanted to learn more about what was happening with the government. When I was their age, Obama was being elected and that was about all I knew. Whatever the side of the isle, I think it is so good that children as young as 13 are trying to learn more about their government. It can only say that I hope the shutdown ends soon, but their interest continues.