Education Leader Challenges Students to Step Out of Their Political Bubble

Portrait of Nate Bowling in school hallway

High school teacher Nate Gibbs-Bowling is challenging his students to engage in discourse across ideological divides.

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 Gibbs-Bowling ’04, MiT ’06, said.

Nate Bowling's class

Students analyze the Bill of Rights in Nate Gibbs-Bowling's college-preparatory AP Government class.

Washington’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Gibbs-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 who matter,” he explained.

Gibbs-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.

As a moderate Republican who’s built a platform on saving the environment and education, Bryant is a far cry from the often-villainized Republicans currently leading the nation.

“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…the 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 Bryant and Gibbs-Bowling 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 one or two Trump voters in [there]—just give an authentic round of applause to a Republican politician on issues,” Gibbs-Bowling beamed with pride.

“Yeah, 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 he was asked: Can you see yourself voting for a Republican? “Yeah, I feel like that’s definitely a possibility now.”

Bryant is white, 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.

Gibbs-Bowling was a finalist for National Teacher of the Year in 2016, and in 2017 he’s still leading by offering the Tacoma community unconventional classes such as Adult Civics Happy Hour.

This story is provided courtesy of Q13 Fox TV News, Seattle and originally aired on March 15, 2017. View the video.