Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009 | 2 a.m.
In the Las Vegas Valley, gathering 37 teenagers from various ethnic, political and social environments into one room can appear to be a daunting task. Throw in some of the most controversial issues facing our state these days, and you get an enlightening discussion from some of the most auspicious minds of tomorrow.
The recently held 2008 Sun Youth Forum dared to accomplish such a task, and while no one left this experience anointed with the solutions to all these problems, it’s safe to say we all went home that day with new perceptions, not only of the topics at hand, but also of our peers and the knowledge they possess.
We tackled many issues under the direction of our moderator, Bob Stoldal, including: voting age, per-pupil spending, the teen-friendliness of Las Vegas, and the ever-debatable Yucca Mountain plan.
In the first poll taken, 22 were opposed to lowering the voting age of 18, with 15 in favor.
It was generally agreed that the right to vote comes with the social obligation of political education and that while there are many ignorant 18- to 19-year-old voters, there would probably be an equal number of 16- to 17-year-olds who would knowledgeably embrace the right to vote.
But some argued that until you reach 18, your parents hold too much power over you to be able to independently vote.
One thing was evident from both perspectives, though: Teenagers care just as much about voting as adults do.
The topic of voting age inevitably led to debates on the drinking age and driving age. Not surprisingly, the majority argued that the drinking age is fine where it is, with 16 students admitting that they have a friend who has some sort of substance abuse problem.
In an initial poll, 22 were for the age staying at 21, while 15 were for it being lowered to 18. By the end of the discussion, however, the margin had widened to 27-10. The lure of drinking would be there whether you were 18 or 55, argued some, and postponing the age at which one could drink definitely wouldn’t hurt Las Vegas or its sinful image.
The issue of Las Vegas’ image brought us to our most insightful discussion of the day. Why are we at the bottom of every good education list in the nation and in Nevada?
We first asked: Who is to blame for this? The answer boiled down to three groups: teachers, parents and peers.
It was an interesting moment when it was revealed that we students are just as accountable for our educations as those giving it to us. Simply stating that Las Vegas doesn’t have an effective education system doesn’t accomplish anything unless the students, parents and teachers are invested in fixing it.
Students recognized that 45 people in a core class such as English is too many. We know that we are underfunded and so are teachers’ salaries, but interestingly enough, when a poll was taken on the educational future of Nevada and Las Vegas, 25 were optimistic compared with five who were pessimistic and seven who were indifferent.
Despite the current state of our education system, a vote for optimism makes sense because the students in that room are as fully invested in their peers’ futures as they are in their own futures.
If there is any definable conclusion that can be drawn from my experience in that room with 36 of my peers, it’s that the only limitations on our future are the ones we put upon ourselves.