Nan Austin

Young Ceres Sanders fan helps make case for civics education

If presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, 75, needs a pep talk, 11-year-old Savannah Haas is just the ticket.

“I like Bernie Sanders because he understands the middle class and doesn’t want a lot of poverty, and he wants everyone to have a fair shot for education and jobs,” Haas said emphatically, sitting in her grandmother’s house in Ceres.

Haas, a fifth-grader at Fowler Elementary School, speaks with some political experience. She is vice president of the Ceres 4-H, raising raises show rabbits and entering sewing projects in the Stanislaus County Fair. She also has experience at winning races, with the gymkhana and barrel racing buckles to show for it.

“I think people should be equal,” said Haas, who has followed politics since she was young, third grade. If her grades stay high, her family has pledged to take her to Sanders’ next rally in the region.

Why is the oldest guy in the race so appealing to the youngest constituents?

From Haas’ perspective, he is the one who will help her generation the most. Her top priority: affordable college.

“Everybody who’s rich gets to go to college, but people who don’t have enough money don’t get their education they need for any jobs. So they don’t get a shot at anything,” she said.

Donald Trump, Haas said, “is too much of a celebrity to understand the middle class.”

But Trump supporter Aaron Brittson – a grown-up – sees it differently. He said he’s going with Trump because he believes the billionaire can bring the good jobs back. Hard-working Americans need to get first dibs and decent pay, Brittson said, and Trump will do that.

While they may not be voicing the bigger picture, both Haas and Brittson want essentially the same thing: a fair chance at the American Dream. Republican Trump, and Democrats Sanders and Hillary Clinton all say that is what they will work for as president.

But which of these very different candidates and very different party platforms would deliver?

Figuring that out takes more than 30-second political ads or what can be found on Facebook or Twitter. It takes civics lessons, a basic understanding of macro-economics and some financial savvy.

As California debates how best to rate schools using test scores and undetermined “multiple measures,” it seems to me which schools help our younger citizens make good use of their education should be part of that equation.

This year, a high-interest presidential race provides material for civics, economics and consumer smarts. But it also provides a lesson on why these skills are so needed.

As supporters for each side rail at the idiocy of the others, voters need to be able to sort the spin from the substance.

“We started public school in this country in the early 1800s on the basis of arguments that we needed to teach our young people how government worked so they could be a part of making it work in the future,” retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor says in a video on the Center for Civic Education website,

The center offers state-by-state trainings for teachers and alignment to standards. It also has a daily civics question and podcast.

“If we want our political process more open and free, with a truly informed citizenry, our young people need to learn real-time civics and real history,” says journalist Carl Bernstein. “That way they can take pride in our country based on the complexities, and the richness, and the real contradictions in the American story.”

Bernstein serves as adviser to the Civics Education Initiative which proposes having high school students pass the 100-question U.S. Citizenship Civics test.

Understanding the economics behind the promises makes evaluating them possible. The American Economic Association has resources for students and information about careers in the field at

Financial education, a study released by PricewaterhouseCoopers in April (National Financial Literacy Month) found less than 10 percent of California classrooms touch personal finance in their lessons, even though a majority of teachers (56 percent) believe it should begin in elementary school.

In California, high school financial literacy training has been mandated since 2013, with community colleges offering courses online and on campus as well. The California Department of Education has a page of financial literacy resources.

The U.S. government has information at and grade-level resources for teachers at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation site.

The Council for Economic Education has an online personal finance game with 15 interactive missions to help a character having a financial crisis. Also free is the online Cash Crunch 101 game at

Whether or not it’s on the test, future voters need to have the skills to evaluate what candidates say. The political swirl of 2016 makes that crystal clear.