Students side with Obama during school ‘mockus’

South Whidbey High School teacher Jorn Aronson, left, listens as senior Sam Felt extolls the virtues of Republican Mike Huckabee during a mock caucus in Aronson’s world contemporary problems class Feb. 13.  - Jeff VanDerford / The Record
South Whidbey High School teacher Jorn Aronson, left, listens as senior Sam Felt extolls the virtues of Republican Mike Huckabee during a mock caucus in Aronson’s world contemporary problems class Feb. 13.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford / The Record

LANGLEY — Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was the big gainer among South Whidbey High School students in a recent informal straw poll.

He didn’t win, of course, but he ended up a close second to Sen. John McCain.

The poll came about in response to a question teacher Jorn Aronson posed in his senior class on world contemporary problems.

Did any of his students know about, or care, that a presidential race was underway?

Taking a cue from the recent caucuses, Aronson organized a “mockus” on Feb. 13 where his seniors split into four groups — one each for Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and Republicans John McCain and Mike Huckabee.

Republican Congressman Ron Paul of Texas didn’t make the cut.

“Think of this activity as a life skill,” Aronson said. “This is where we run into real life.”

First, a ballot vote was held to gauge students’ views.

In the first pass, McCain had 10 votes to Huckabee’s zero while Obama beat Clinton 14 to two.

Aronson then told each group to research the candidate’s biography and political past from Web sites. A spokesman was chosen who then made a pitch for the group’s candidate to the class. A final straw poll was conducted to see if anyone had changed their minds.

Mark Arand championed McCain.

“He believes in a revised tax code, strong defense, border security and a revamped health care system,” Arand said. “Sen. McCain says we need to win in Iraq, giving the people a chance to govern themselves. To do that, we need to put in more troops, McCain says.”

Next up was Sam Felt, pitching Huckabee’s case and taking a few shots at McCain in the process.

“Mike Huckabee stands for true conservatives, unlike the moderate views of McCain,” Felt said. “He disagrees with McCain on border security. Huckabee is socially and economically more to the right and believes in less government.”

In his rebuttal, Arand argued that Huckabee’s views on taxes was naive.

The Huckabee camp wasn’t done yet.

“McCain’s plan for Iraq will create a bigger Vietnam-like situation,” Eric Stallman said.

Discussion then shifted to the Democrats.

Jasmine Kela told her fellow students that Obama is for better education. “He wants to improve graduation rates while controlling college costs,” she said. “One way is to have the government pay $4,000 of the first year of college and two thirds of the cost to get a two-year degree.”

The Clinton folks argued that the New York senator is in the middle of the road for most Americans.

“Hillary supports tax cuts, wants to strengthen labor unions and balance the federal budget,” Evan Derickson said. “And she’s been working on healthcare since her husband’s first year as president.”

When one student in the Clinton group challenged an Obama supporter, Kela keyed in on a not-so-subtle difference between the two.

“Hillary seems divisive to me and doesn’t really inspire us like Kennedy, King and Obama do,” Kela countered.

Asked if appearance and the ability to fashion a good speech influenced their views more than substantive issues, there were conflicting but thoughtful responses.

“Obama is willing to take a chance on a fresh approach to the country’s problems,” Kylie DeMartini said.

But Stephanie Walker wasn’t convinced.

“The war in Iraq is a big issue. Hillary has a plan where Obama isn’t as clear,” she said.

Before the final vote Aronson asked the class to name the biggest issues facing America. The students came up with four: healthcare, the economy, education and the war in Iraq.

After unanimous applause for their spokesmen, the class agreed they all had learned something new about the election process and the candidates.

Oh, and that final vote?

Obama and Clinton stayed the same at 14 to two. But the Huckabee camp convinced five students to abandon their man and cast their vote for Huckabee. McCain still won but Huckabee followed closely, six votes to five.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or jvanderford@southwhidbey

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