family, spoke about being bullied and ostracized in his previous school and finding home depressing. While Jamie voted in the previous election, he cited poverty as a systemic cause for the decrease in voting patterns. He questioned: “Isn’t it poverty? Isn’t it like the poor people are so downtrodden and they’re depressed, they feel like they don’t have the time and they work more hours?” Unlike Jamie, Teika explained that it was too hard to vote even if she wanted because “life is a little unstable I guess for our generation.” Life has certainly been unstable for Teika. Over the course of the interview, she described leaving her parents’ home at a young age due to family problems, spending two months in a shelter, dealing with anorexia and attending five different schools in the last few years. Teika commented that government was far removed from her needs. She said: “My little world it’s completely different logic, so even if I had the chance to talk I don’t think that’s what government is really talking about, like social services and all that other stuff. I don’t know where it fits in.” Jamie and Teika represent students who spoke about the disaffection of young people from Canadian politics as a result of inequalities. Other students, in particular Fatima from Ottawa-East HS, a recent immigrant from Iraq whose family is struggling to learn English and find employment, felt silenced by the civics questions in our study. Her teacher, Helena, explained, “There’s no continuity in a lot of the kids’ lives, I take my hat off to them because if I had to exist in the situation they’re found in, I don’t know if I would have made it.”
While many students in our study considered political voice an impossibility, Gina Bishop and Rebecca Low remind us from their research interviews of youth “that many expressed passion in things that could be considered political, like the environment, community based action, and community support for neighbours, family and friends.” They do not necessarily identify their actions as political because “most view ‘politics’ as separate from them, something that is boring and to be avoided when possible; ‘politics’ happens some place far away, an activity of ‘older men and women’ and had little to do with their lives, interests, and the things that they value.” Some in their research saw politics as an exclusive group for those with more money and power. As one of their interviewees stated, “Politics is a club, and I’m not a member.” xlviii
The “club” for youth in our study was student life, a culture that does not easily enable political participation. A busy schedule was the dominant cultural characterization provided by both Ottawa teachers and students. Trevor explained: “Teenagers are busy people, and they’re trying different things … Politics, and being politically active, it kind of takes a back seat to some of the other activities they are involved in.” John made a similar comment when describing the busy in-school schedule of the students he teaches. Outside of schools, he said, “They are either doing homework or [having] down time [because] in the end they’re still Grade 12 girls.” John concluded that “the timeline or their scheduling inhibits their passion or inhibits their action.” Many other participants described the stresses of adolescent relationships, getting high marks or needing to work part-time as adding to a hectic agenda.
Perhaps more definitive of student life than a full timetable, however, were cultural stereotypes of youth made by authority figures. Samantha argued that adults were as jaded about adolescents as adolescents were jaded about politics. She reflected on what adults think about youth: “They [youth] really don’t care. I’m not going to lie, a lot of the adolescent experience is stuff that’s meaningless … but at the same time, adolescence is a lot more because it is when you form most of your ideas.” When Jillian was asked why her peer group did not discuss politics, she responded in a similar manner to Samantha. She said, “This is what I’ve heard, that teenagers generally don’t talk about anything that isn’t going to happen in the next 45 minutes.” Jillian, like most youths in our study, gave examples of living up to their reputations. She said that outside of school she talked about politics more, “but when I’m inside of school … you just talk about oh I have a test, oh this