Students work behind scenes at debate
Democratic candidate Daniel Bliss makes his way to the auditorium for the Illinois 9th District senate debate at Glenbrook South High School on Wednesday, Sept. 19th. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 28, 2012 6:14AM
GLENVIEW — Public pension reform, rising education tuitions, property taxes that support education, school vouchers, grim finances, businesses lost to other states, gun control, poverty that perpetuates high crime, marijuana legalization and Medicaid fraud.
The list of issues facing voters this election season is long and weighty, as always.
Social studies students at Glenbrook South High School spent weeks studying and preparing debate questions for two candidates seeking to represent the 9th Illinois Senate District.
On Sept. 19, Daniel Biss, D–Evanston, and Republican Glenn Farkas, of Glenview, debated the issues based on the students’ questions.
Biss now represents the 17th House District, and Farkas owns a wealth management company.
For senior Allie Kahan, the extra credit assignment was a lesson in the wide political divide between parties that exemplifies a healthy democracy, she said.
Weeks before the debate, Biss and Farkas met with students in the classroom to explain their stances on the most relevant Illinois topics.
“I had no idea how strong the competition can be between candidates. Whatever one says, the other disagreed,” said Kahan, who has applied to three Midwestern universities to study English and creative writing.
“Politicians can be very manipulative in a positive way. They’re just trying to convince people that their way to handle things is the best way.”
Each of Kahan’s classmates participated on a committee preparing for the debates, such as press coverage, advertising and timing the candidates’ responses in the main auditorium.
Open to the public, more than 1,000 students and residents attended the 90-minute debate.
In previous years, GBS teacher David Kane has organized other candidate debates with his students.
“The kids here really get into the political process, and they’re doing something important for the community,” said Kane.
He teaches political science, economics and sociology.
“At 18 years old, most of them realize their voices matter. A real live politician has come into their class, and many will be voting for the first time,” said Kane, adding about 10 of his students have volunteered to campaign for Biss or Farkas.
“I’m turning 18 and that’s why I took this class – to be an informed voter in November,” Kahan said.
Kane’s other learning goals in the debate program were involving other students outside his classroom.
For instance, the debate was broadcast on the student radio station, reporters for The Oracle student newspaper covered the public discussion and students conducted a public poll on the candidates.
Senior John Desmond worked on the student press corps and plans on majoring in journalism in college.
“It was very different listening to the candidates discuss the issues, as opposed to just listening in a speech what they want to do.
“There’s a lot of give and take when they faced each other in our classroom. You get much more detail,” Desmond said.
In addition, a mock election at the high school is scheduled for Oct. 8. when students can vote for Biss or Farkas and U.S. presidential candidates Mitt Romney or incumbent Barack Obama.