Tacoma teacher challenging students’ idea of what it means to be a Republican

TACOMA, Wash. -- Imagine for a second being an 18-year-old minority. For as long as you’ve been paying attention you’ve had a president that looked like you, then all of a sudden a dramatic political election erupts leaving you confused and scared. Washington’s 2016 Teacher of the Year is showing his students what it means to be a Republican when it’s the last thing they want to hear.

“When President Obama got elected it was my fifth-grade year and I remember all the colored kids on the playground going ‘Obama! Obama!’ just going wild,” Lincoln High Senior Jose Agreda said with a smile.

For the students in ‘AP Government and Politics’ at Tacoma’s Lincoln High, the results of the 2016 election weren’t met with quite as much fanfare.

“Honestly it was traumatizing. And it was embarrassing.” Lincoln High Senior Dawson Bailey said stoically.

“My students live in a bubble. They are predominately low-income students, predominantly of color. They live in an urban area in a city in a blue state on the west coast. So when the election happened they were all like ‘what, what?’ ‘How, How?” Lincoln High teacher Nate Bowling said.

2016 Teacher of the Year, Nate Bowling, has been working since November to pop that bubble, to expose his students to different points of political view.

“My goal is to have my students tune off the circus, tune off the distractions, and the polarization and focus on the real issues and the people that matter,” Bowling explained.

Bowling chose Republican businessman Bill Bryant, who on the heels of losing the race for Governor has something to prove: that not all republicans are the same.

“Not every Republican wants to go out and trash the earth. There are Republicans that really care about folks having opportunities the way I was given opportunities and I want to make sure every kid does,” Bryant said to the collection of students.

Bryant is a far cry from the often villainized republicans currently leading the nation… as a moderate republican who’s built a platform on saving the environment and education

“These students don’t remember political discourse other than what they just saw,” Bryant said. “Citizens don’t just get to hang out every two to four years and vote. Citizens have an obligation and responsibility…that responsibility is to be informed so when you do vote you’re making an informed decision and know what your government is doing and you can rise up when you don’t like it.”

While Bill and Nate alone can’t reverse the poisoning of the political process in these young minds, they can clean the tainted waters.

“I watched a group of students who I know there are only 1 or 2 Trump voters in [there] just give an authentic round of applause to a Republican politician on issues,” Bowling beamed with pride.

“Yea there were biases but I came in here with an open mind,” Bailey said matter-of-factly. “I hope he runs again. He’s got my vote.”

“It was a great eye-opener for me and a really big cultural shift” Agreda added.

And when asked: Can you see yourself voting for a Republican?

“Yeah, I feel like that’s definitely a possibility now.”

A white man; but in the long run these kids want to see people who look like themselves

“When I see the people at Lincoln, I do feel hope that at one point we may have a Muslim Supreme Court member or more people of color in Congress,” Agreda said.

Bowling was a finalist for National Teacher of the Year in 2016 and in 2017 he’s still leading teachers. Coming up in the spring he will be doing other non-conventional classes on topics like immigration and dealing with the police.