Chalk talk

College students rock the vote

ST. PAUL, MINN. - Surveys and news reports around the country show a strong and potentially decisive increase in political interest and activism among college students. A new Harvard University study suggests an attitudinal shift, with 91 percent of students saying they care a good deal about who occupies the Oval Office and 87 percent saying politics is relevant, up 20 percent from 2000.

In Minnesota, both major parties are reporting dramatic increases in activism. The College Republicans have three times as many volunteers as four years ago. The College Democrats, unable to mobilize on all of Minnesota's campuses in 2000, now have more than 7,000 active participants, says Chris Montana, the state organization's president.

"It used to be unfashionable to care about politics or even to talk about it. Now it's expected," says Mr. Montana, a University of Minnesota political science student. "Everyone's got an opinion. If you say you're undecided, people look at you as if you're crazy."

Deserted Schoolyards in Iraq

BAGHDAD - Just before noon at the Faraqid Elementary School, about 325 children stream through the briefly unlocked side gate. A crowd of parents and drivers quickly hustles them into waiting cars, and by 12:07, the area is deserted, except for security guard Haidar Mohammed.

"After they leave here, they go straight home to their houses and stay there until school tomorrow," Mohammed said. "It's like they're in jail."

For the estimated 4.5 million Iraqi children who returned to school Oct. 2, the world outside their classrooms and homes has all but disappeared. A landscape littered with threats both targeted and general has left parents struggling to shelter their own - with some wondering if an education is worth the risk.

Just 60 percent of students attended the first day of the school year, and even that exceeded Education Minister Sami Mudhaffar's expectations. Attendance levels rose sharply after the first two days, Mr. Mudhaffar said, and now stand at more than 80 percent.

Still, the dangers of contemporary Baghdad were brought into focus on just the third day of the term at the Faraqid school. A nearby car bombing thudded through the building and shattered a window. Some parents say they're just one more school-related incident away from keeping their children at home.

"I'm still thinking about it," said Ibtisam Ibrahim, an architect who waited nervously outside the school for her two sons. "I only bring them here to make them feel like they have a normal life."

- Los Angeles Times-Washington Post news service

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