I just returned from the campaign trail in Indiana, where I hung out with high school students who are working for both Democratic presidential candidates and where I attended a Barack Obama campaign event, a town hall meeting in New Albany, Ind.
You can read all about it in the next issue of Education Week - but here are some quick observations:
- Education is definitely a minor player in the Illinois Democrat’s stump speech - but his criticism of the No Child Left Behind Act solicited some of the loudest applause of the day. Really. I couldn’t even hear exactly what Obama said (something about the promise of the law going unfulfilled) because the audience response was deafening. If that’s happening every time Obama - or Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York - brings up the law on the campaign trail, I can’t imagine it won’t have an impact if and when they get to the White House.
- Rigorous social studies classes can really make a difference. At least for some students. Most of the kids I met who were working for Obama, and at least one of Clinton’s interns, had taken a course called “We the People,” which was basically an intensive civics course focused on the U.S. Constitution. Many credited it with spurring their political involvement.
- High school kids can be just as “on-message” as any campaign communications director. I met some from Plainfield High School in Plainfield, Ind., who could rattle off the distinctions between Obama’s and Clinton’s health care and Social Security plans, which are relatively minor compared with their differences on those issues with Sen. John McCain.
- Obama has energized young people, including high schoolers, more than any other candidate in decades, according to Nathan Gonzales, a political analyst I talked to. But whether they stay involved in the long run could depend on whether Obama can deliver on his promises to change the political discourse if he gets to the White House. If Obama succeeds in his bid but isn’t a successful president in the eyes of many of his young supporters, they could become disillusioned with politics, Mr. Gonzales told me. Something to look out for, if we end up with an Obama presidency.