The Republican Struggle in the Shaker Bubble

Republican. It’s one of the worst words you can utter in the liberal-dominated establishment that is Shaker Heights High School. Shaker is diverse in many ways, but political ideology is not one of them. This can leave students who possess more conservative political ideals feeling overlooked.

“As a Republican, I feel like I’m part of a small minority group and that it is hard to express my political views, because it seems everyone disagrees with me automatically and doesn’t take me seriously,” said freshman Keenan O’Toole. “Especially considering that the vast majority of Shaker is Democrat, and has opposite views of myself and most Republicans.”

Senior George Schmidt agreed that there is lack of diversity when it comes to political thought.

“The thing about Shaker that bothers me is how Shaker prides itself on diversity and toleration but when someone, like me, has a different opinion, they immediately jump on it and attack it,” Schmidt said. “Shaker should also stress diversity of thought, not just racial diversity.”

Freshmen Britt Anderson believes that Shaker students are heavily influenced by their parents and need to figure out their own political views.

“Most people like to argue with me just because their parents influence them one way and they usually have no concept of the alternative view,” he said. “My parents have influenced my political views but I am definitely willing to listen to the other side, and a lot of kids who I discuss politics with aren’t willing to do that.”

Anderson also believes that his classmates see him differently because of his political views.

“I think people think of me as less and that people look at me differently, because their parents tell them that Republicans are bad and they think: OK, well Britt is a Republican, so he must be bad, too,” Anderson said.

Although Schmidt is proud of his political views, he believes trying to stick up for his views is pointless in Shaker’s environment.

“I’ve learned that it’s impossible to argue politics with people, when almost all the Shaker student body disagrees,” Schmidt said. “I basically don’t bring it up anymore, which really is not the way it should be. I, and everyone in the school, should be able to express my opinion without being immediately shut down.”

“There have been times in my English classes where certain people will wait for me to say something political, no matter what it is, just to suddenly dismiss it,” Schmidt said. “How can you shoot down an opinion before hearing it?”

Social Studies teacher Bryan Elsasser believes that students should be able to express their political views without being ostracized

“I find it a lot more effective for a classroom to be made up of multiple viewpoints because it creates a discussion and forces people to examine their own viewpoints,” he said. “If people are just exposed to one point of view, then it is likely that they will think that that point of view is always right.

“In the past, my more conservative students have been the most appreciative of the way politics are discussed in my classes,” Elsasser said, “because they feel as if it gives them a place to share their side of the story without feeling like their views are illegitimate.”

For Schmidt, it’s not about wishing they were more conservatives in Shaker but about Shaker becoming more open to different schools of thought.

“I don’t necessarily think having more conservative thinking would make Shaker ‘better.’ I think what would be best is for Shaker to make a much bigger effort to stress diversity of thought,” he said.

“Shaker prides itself on all these kids with different ethnic backgrounds, but most of them have very similar, not diverse opinions or ways of thinking,” Schmidt said. “If Shaker was open to all opinions, like they say they are but really aren’t, the school would function much better.”

Social Studies teacher and IB Diploma Programme Coordinator Tim Mitchell said Shaker teachers typically align with the community’s political views.

“I think that the staff that is hired by the administration here is usually pretty reflective of the Shaker community, and it’s not a secret that the majority of the Shaker community is left of center in terms of their politics,” he said.

Mitchell also said that Shaker has work to do in terms of more diverse schools of thought.

“I think we have a long way to go in order to reach a meaningful dialogue in terms of the pros and cons of conservative ideas. A lot of folks around here make quick assumptions to the left on every political issue, which I think hurts the overall political dialogue in the school and can lead to a more closed-minded community,” Mitchell said. “Having said that, I’m not one to go out of my way to defend conservative ideas.”

In a recent Shakerite survey of 240 students, 68 percent of respondents said they hold a negative or very negative view of the Republican party, and only 2.9 percent said they had a “very positive” view of the Republican party.

In the same survey, 71.9 percent of respondents said they supported either Sen. Bernie Sanders or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president. The highest Republican vote- getter was Gov. John Kasich, whom 7.9 percent of students said they supported.

O’Toole wishes Shaker could be a place where alternative viewpoints are accepted without judgement.

“This would make Shaker a more accepting community for all, but I don’t think that could happen in the near future,” O’Toole said.

O’Toole, who comes from a conservative family but believes hearing other viewpoints can be beneficial, believes too many of his friends’ political views come, spoon-fed, from their parents and don’t recognize other points of views as being legitimate.

“I believe a lot students just form their opinions based off what their parents tell them and think what their parents tell them to think,” he said. “It gets to a certain point where you can’t even discuss politics because people believe what they’ve been told is always true and they won’t even give you a chance to explain your side.”

Schmidt believes it is important to hear the other side’s’ viewpoint.

“I am very open to hearing the other side, I hardly ever immediately dismiss an opposing viewpoint,” Schmidt said. “There’s the irony though, how people from Shaker pride themselves on being so tolerant, yet when someone comes and challenges their opinion, they shoot it down right away.”

Government teacher Kimberly Owens said a strong family influence over political views is very common.

“Family is a large factor in political socialization. Our family chooses where we live and where we go to school,” she said.

Owens also said that Shaker’s one-sided political debate is far from an anomaly.

“I think it takes away from a healthy political debate, but I don’t think it is unusual,” Owens said.

Senior Abby Connell, who identifies as a liberal Democrat, believes a more fair political discussion would benefit all.

“I enjoy having some more conservative students in my classes because it helps me see some opposing viewpoints, which I think is good during any kind of debate.”

Owens, who keeps her political beliefs unknown to students, believes not choosing sides is important for teachers who deal with politics.

“I do not tell my students my political leanings, nor have I ever. I started teaching in a bipartisan program in Washington, D.C. and that was a requirement and I continued this tradition with all my classes,” Owens said. “Students can ask [about my political views] after the class has ended as long as they do no tell current or future students. Many students, both liberal and conservative, believe I am what they are, which makes me feel that I am staying fairly neutral.”

“At the end of the day, I hope students can be analytical with what they learn from my class and other classes in this school and can make informed political decisions,” Mitchell said.

As a Shaker student who identifies as a Republican, I too sometimes feel as if my views aren’t respected.

For example, whenever I bring up the fact that I identify as a Republican, most people look at me as if I had just committed a heinous crime. But, contrary to the views of most Shaker liberals, not all Republicans fit into the classic “evil” Republican stereotype.

For example, the media and common Shaker belief would make you think all Republicans are racist and sexist, but the Republican party actually has a past of extending civil rights to more and more people.

For instance in 1970 70% of Southern schools were segregated. President Richard Nixon, a Republican, sent federal troops to major Southern school districts and met with Southern education leaders in order to help integrate students. When Nixon left office in 1974, less than 10% of Southern schools were segregated and Nixon did more to desegregate Southern education than Democrats John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson combined.

Nixon also supported and signed the Title IX legislation into law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs and buildings.

Also, government tends to be smaller and less intrusive under Republican presidents, which means lower taxes and more personal freedom for U.S. citizens. There are actually a lot of Republicans who don’t oppose gay marriage or a women’s right to have an abortion, either, because they believe this kind of government regulation is intrusive and harmful to personal freedoms.

And although Donald Trump has been dominating recent polls and the primaries, large portion of Republicans who don’t support Trump at all.

For example, Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has condemned Trump’s rhetoric three times, and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has vehemently protested Trump’s stances on immigration, Muslims and American foreign policy. Well-respected Republican senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain have also come out against Trump.

Another stereotype about Republicans is that they are all old, white men. However, there is a new, young, diverse wave of Republicans, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. and Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and South Carolina Sen.Tim Scott.

So to all my well-meaning liberal friends, the next time you see a Republican, cut them a little slack. They’re not evil, they just have different opinions than you. And at the end of the day, a lot of Republicans have it pretty bad right now. Donald Trump has ripped our party in two and come November, whoever wins, we lose.

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