TeenVoice

A forum for teens to write about their outlooks on American politics, culture, and society. Posts are eclectic and provocative (much like us teenagers).

Comment on posts under “Leave a Reply.”

Important: all opinions expressed in this section belong to the writers of the respective posts and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of Truth Be Told’s author.

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On Congressional Failings Jordan Shalom, Grade 12, December 29, 2011 – Los Angeles, CA

In the most recent Congressional tax debates, Republicans attempted to stand strong with their illustrious morals and push for a year long extension. In the end, they were forced to succumb to the Democrats and agree to a short-term extension.

What does the latest failing of our Congress show us? The system is officially broken. All of the hoopla over a few months – yes a few months – of extending a tax cut bill is quite indicative of the failure that is the 112th United States Congress.

As a Libertarian, I am equally disgusted with how both of our “political parties” are fulfilling their bipartisan duties. But this is not what scares me. It is what they are overwhelmingly agreeing upon that scares me. The Senate and House easily passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the 2012 year, and President Obama has said that he would sign it into law immediately. That, to me, is frightening. The people who are elected to represent our best interests have passed a law that would allow the Armed Forces to detain anyone indefinitely, without trial. To make matters worse, a proposed amendment – that would forbid the Armed Forces from detaining American Citizens – was rejected.

So, guess what? When the NSA or CIA feel that you have done anything that could “endanger America,” like this article for example, they can send a National Guardsman to your door, and he will be able to hold you at his will. Forget amendments 4-8 – those are so 236 years ago.

It is, frankly, a shame that the nation that spent trillions of dollars fighting unnecessary wars against omnipotent regimes who treated their citizens like slaves, is doing the exact same thing to the people who funded their expenditures. I love the idea of America, but unless people actually exercise their political abilities, its future isn’t looking too bright.

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On “Pseudo-Pluralism” Daniel Kort, Grade 12, December 20, 2011 – Encino, CA

My homework is fairly routine, with one exception. Every time I open up my planner to cross off an assignment and move one step closer to freedom, I must roll my eyes. I’m fortunate enough to attend a school that provides its students with detailed planners, but every time I open mine, I find myself angrily staring at page 3: “We value each member of our pluralistic community while we foster a deep connection to Israel, a lifelong dedication to the Jewish people and a passionate commitment to the service of humanity and the perfection of God’s world.” An excerpt of my school’s mission statement, these contradictory words deter my pride as a student of my high school.

I’ve grown up in a Jewish home, attending high holiday services at a Reform synagogue. My parents – though not the most observant – wanted to send my two siblings and me to Jewish schools. Growing up in a world of Jewish dogma, I engaged in my own small-scale rebellion. Ever since the age of eleven, I’ve identified as an Atheist. I have not let that hinder my own “Jewish Identity,” however. I embody two of the most crucial elements of Judaism: education and community service; therefore I satisfy a large component of my school’s mission statement. But that is the extent of my “Jewish identity.”

My frustration with what I see as this communal hypocrisy began in my 9th grade Jewish studies class when it was assigned that I keep a “prayer journal.” It was not a surprise that when I wrote about my Atheism and frank indifference towards prayer, that I only earned a nine out of ten on my assignment when the rest of my classmates earned perfect tens.

As a sophomore, I couldn’t wait to attend one of my school’s most popular programs: a semester long study abroad experience in Israel. As soon as I walked into the course that guides the program’s curriculum, I felt assured by my instructor’s meticulousness to elimination of bias. That was clearly inevitable. Learning about Israeli-Palestinian conflicts from an Orthodox Zionist is like learning about the Civil War from Abraham  Lincoln. I was wrong – it was like learning about the Cold War while in Soviet Russia: propaganda, bias, even brainwashing. At the program’s end, a group called the David Project was invited to present about how to verbally defend Israel. I absolutely did not sign up for a lesson in lying, thank you very much.

This pressure to advocate continued into junior year when the same program required all participants to engage in Israel advocacy seminars. While a commitment to the Jewish cause is important, I had never put administration under the impression that I wanted to be an advocate for Israel. Perhaps it was my school’s mission statement that has stereotyped my school as a group of unconditional Israel supporters and AIPAC-goers.

I, for one, hope to belong to a pluralistic community. My school would assure me that I already do; but I don’t because I have very little desire to “foster a deep connection to Israel” or “perfect God’s world.”

Daniel Kort hopes to become a physician. He is also a poet waiting to be published.

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On the Uselessness of Statistics (If You Don’t Learn What They Mean) – Evan Zimmerman, Grade 12, November 28, 2011 – Brentwood, CA

I love studying economics. That’s not to say, of course, that there aren’t sources of annoyance for me. Chief among them is statistics.

Statistics, you say? But economists use them all the time! Just what is I+G supposed to mean, or Tau? Black-Scholes equation? GDP v GNP? These are, indeed, useful measurements. But they don’t really matter as much as you think they do, because none of them fully explain such a large phenomena as the economy. Things get conflated, inflated, and just screwed up. I’d like to take a moment to dispel some of our most common mistatistics.

Consider the unemployment rate. I believe this is a complete misnomer. Imagine we have a workforce of 10m people, with 1m unemployed, meaning that we have a 10% unemployment rate. Now, imagine that in one scenario, 500k of those 1m unemployed become employed. We now have an unemployment rate 5%. If those 500k people just stopped working altogether, and we reduced our workforce to just 9.5m people, we would get roughly the same 5% unemployment rate even though the same number of people are working and not working. The statistic that includes those who have drop out is the underemployment rate, but that is also misleading, as it also includes those who work part time. In other words, there is no true “unemployment” rate recorded. And don’t even get me started on spin.

I believe that poverty statistics are entirely useless. After all, that’s just the number of people who fall below an arbitrary line. Benchmark income lines are based on no statistical model. “Poverty” doesn’t consider regional differences, like the living standards in a specific city. It also doesn’t consider what “poor” is today. Over half of the “poor” have cable. Poverty is so poorly documented that most poverty experts call the numbers barely usable.

When we depend too much on statistics, we miss things. We assumed that creditor nations would be immune to many of the financial ills that befall France, which has run a budget deficit since the 1970s, or Greece, which has been in default for over half of its history. Yet, Japan, with a nearly 230% debt-to-GDP ratio, is doing fine. And Ireland was a huge creditor nation with good debt. It got ruined by a sudden plunge in IIP (international investment position). If you compare Switzerland and Norway, which seem identical, you find a huge bond spread. The difference is that Norway uses the euro, while Switzerland has a strong Franc. There are even some interesting statistics relating to income inequality (Gini coefficient) and its irrelevancy.

Nix politicians, these mistakes are made by imperfect, not dishonest, people. We should always be forgiving, as we make errors like these all the time. But what we must stop doing is simply allowing ourselves to be spoon-fed soundbites that feature fancy figures that function well in our carefully calibrated echo chambers. For every Nobel laureate who thinks something, there is another who disagrees (case in point: Martin Feldstein and Paul Krugman), so status means nothing. The thing about statistics that bother me the most is something you can fix: too few people take the time to question what they are reading.

Evan Zimmerman writes a blog at impactimminent.blogspot.com.

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On the Blandness of the Messianic Age Samara Wolpe, Grade 9, November 16, 2011 – Los Angeles, CA

I’m in my history class when my teacher begins to talk about messianic theories. Everyone sits up a little straighter, of course; who doesn’t want to know about the Messiah? The Messiah is legend – a name attached to a thousand faces.

My teacher starts talking about how wonderful it would be if the Messiah were to come; how everyone who was dead would rise and come back to life; how a great peace would blanket the world; how there would be only happiness. When the Messiah comes, she tells us, we will all go marching down the streets bearing little peace signs and singing “Last Night I had the Strangest Dream.”

There would be no war, no argument, no crime. Nothing except perfect loving peace and serenity throughout the whole world.

I voice the opinion that everyone has at the back of his or her mind but hasn’t quite found the words to say: “Wouldn’t that be really boring?”

The teacher stares at me like I’d just told her I’d seen the Queen of England pulling up at Walmart. “I mean, think about it,” I implore my teacher, “there would be no art, because there would be no pain. There would be no music, because everything would be perfect as it was. The world would become an unchanging, supremely dull place to live.”

After a few minutes of the loudest silence I have ever heard, my teacher coughs out:

“That is off topic. The point is––”

I feel a sense of letdown. My teacher would rather stick to the topic than delve into deep discussion over a topic as old as religion and the coming of the Messiah. I think of the debate into whether or not there really is a messiah, and if such a being were one day to appear, what the ramifications might be. I see the heated discussion taking form in my mind, but the teacher has already moved onto other things.

Disappointed, the monotony of the hour comes back to me and my mind wanders.

Samara Wolpe is a writer and poet. She serves as editor for her school’s literary magazine.

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On the Vote and its Weight – Jon Brandt, Grade 12, November 14, 2011 – Los Angeles, CA

As 2012 creeps closer and closer, the graduating classes in high schools across the country are being forced to make some very serious decisions that will determine the course of the next four years, and arguably the rest of their lives.

The first thing that comes to mind in discussions of the “big” decisions is, of course, college. The class of 2012 is so wrapped up in the college application process that there is very little else we have time to concentrate on – other than keeping our grades up this semester for the mid-senior year academic report most colleges require.

Decisions such as that of who, if anyone, to vote for in the 2012 Presidential Election, will indubitably fall by the wayside for all too many newly eligible voters. Eighteen to twenty-five year olds already compose the smallest voter turnout of any age bloc. The combination of this trend, college stress, schoolwork, and – for those of us who keep up with politics – the antipathy toward the slapstick GOP presidential field and the underwhelming first term of our current president may incite an even greater decline in voter turnout for both the liberals and conservatives of our age group.

I stand behind the view that it is absolutely necessary, regardless of the current depressive political climate, to vote next November. I believe that it is our civic duty to vote, and that a non-vote is a vote for the other party. I encourage other eligible 2012 voters to do some earnest thinking prior to the election.

It may even be necessary for many of us to put off this thought process until the summer, when we already know what we will be doing next year and will not have to worry about schoolwork anymore. Do not be passive. Do not foster the idea that your vote does not matter. Each individual vote may just be one in a million, but it takes a million individual votes to make one million votes.

Jon Brandt is a musician and will be the salutatorian for the class of 2012 at Hamilton High School in Los Angeles.

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On the Significance of Steve Jobs – Mark Gurman, Grade 12, October 23, 2011 – Beverly Hills, CA

On October 5th, the world didn’t just lose the co-founder of Apple, but lost a man who has had an unprecedented impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Steve Jobs can be summed up as the man of significance.

Back in the 1970s, when companies like Microsoft and IBM were working towards the goal of bringing a “computer” to the market, their goal was to put this large machine into the hands of workers. At that point, the computer was imagined as a literal tool that could make calculations beyond the speed of a human. The computer was business focused; nobody had imagined that the computer would become a personal tool for both work and home.

That was until Steve Jobs pulled the Macintosh out of a small case and the personal computer introduced itself by quickly displaying all of its functions on its color screen. The possibilities of what could be done with this Macintosh were unheard of in the early years of the computer. Its functions included word processing, document design, and the first commercialized version of the mouse.

These, of course, are all aspects of the computer that we take for granted today because they seem so natural. Steve Jobs’ vision is what allows me, a student, to be able to type these words on a computer. His vision is what brought computers out of the office and into homes and schools.

Steve Jobs’ significance affected the music and movie industries as well. Jobs’ vision into the future turned the portable music player from a fifteen-song disc player into a thousand song card-sized device with small, white earphones. With over three-hundred million iPod sales since the product’s inception, it is beyond fair to say that the man re-invented the music industry, playing a significant role in the lives of music lovers across the globe.

Steve did the same with movies, playing a significant role in the lives of film-lovers everywhere by providing them an easy way to download movies from a central store that works on any modern computer. Jobs – being the founder and original orchestrator behind the successful Pixar Animation Studio – also played a significant role in the lives of children who have grown up with movies like Toy Story.

Touching the lives of computer users, music listeners, phone callers, and movie watchers across the globe, Steve Jobs is one of the most significant – if not the most significant –technology visionary our world has ever seen.

Mark Gurman is an app developer. Check out some of his work at markgurman.com.

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On Caring for those Who Didn’t Wish to Be Cared For – Sammy Bass, Grade 12, October 3, 2011 – Los Angeles, CA

It’s an interesting feeling right now. I might just be the most tired I’ve ever been in my life, yet I cant get to sleep. Maybe if I put in some effort, I might make leeway but the thought of working towards a goal of not working is counterintuitive to me. My first night free from the duties of twenty-four-hour parent work for the past eight weeks and I still cannot seem to rid myself of the shackles: endless time spent caring for gits who cared for nothing, and an endless cycle of routine, fatigue, and eventually unenthusiastic demeanor.

The usual smut Facebook has to offer has resumed the place of Sudoku booklets and late night wandering under the stars. Yet despite the absurd amount of work I put in this summer to make sure I left an imprint in at least one area of my life — and the almost ungrateful response from those I worked for under authority and as authority — I miss it.

The images on a screen don’t make up for the real presence of people and the endless supply of company. From a guy who generally does not like people, the warm feeling of having others around was especially welcomed. And for once I feel like I’ve matured to a point where I can see someone younger than me, remember being in their place, and wish to guide them instead of being proud of myself for having made it to where I am unscathed. The seven-year gap between the kids and me might not be deemed “father worthy” in terms of age difference, but it was certainly significant enough for me to feel like an adult, a feeling a kid doesn’t come by too often.

So in spite of an insulting paycheck, and all the degrading work I had to get through to earn a conservative ounce of respect, I cannot help but feel good about myself and the job I did. Every other person with whom I worked alongside these past eight weeks should be entitled to same feeling of positive self-reflection, as it is rare to come across such a capable and constantly entertaining group of people. Camp is not without its many flaws. Nevertheless, I congratulate myself on getting past it and its weak links but I move on with an unexpected feeling of gratitude.

I might not return to camp next summer, but it would be rude and untrue to imply I will ever truly abandon it and the impressions it had made on me.

Sammy Bass disagrees with the majority of what Speaker John Boehner says.

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On Political Terms – Aarin Abel, Grade 11, June 14, 2011 – La Jolla, CA

A political term glossary including terms such as:

Sarah Palin: Known for original catch phrases such as “You betcha!” and “Be a maverick!” and commonly dubbed as America’s number one political idiot.

Tina Fey: A better-looking version of Sarah Palin.

Joe Biden: The guy who falls asleep during Barak Obama’s speeches. Enough             said.

Barak Obama: Voted America’s least-favorite black president until they day Osama Bin-laden was killed. Polls on FOX News beg to differ.

Democrat: The political party of people who blame all of America’s problems on the Bush administration-the success rate of this method is negligent.

Republican: The political party of people who blame America’s problems on all democrats and taxes. Their best ammunition for winning a political debate is to yell louder than anyone else. Success rate: non-existent.

Libertarian: The political party in which no American fully understands their views, not even members of the Libertarian party.

Universal Healthcare: Some call it a bad idea, and others call it a worse idea. Hipsters call it conformity and therefore align against it because they conform to not conforming.

The War Against Terror: Claimed by the Bush administration in 2001. Otherwise known as the war that encourages Americans to discriminate against minorities i.e. the Patriot Act.

The White House:  The only house to have its own official Facebook page. Has less “likes” than Lady Gaga by 37 million.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Anthony Weiner: The Saturday Night Live writing staff is forever thankful towards these men of strong character who have given them enough material to keep their jobs for the rest of the season.

Aarin Abel serves on the Student Government of La Jolla Country Day High School.

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On the Politics of Unemployment – Zach Ungar, Grade 11, June 4, 2011 – Marina Del Rey, CA

Yesterday morning, on June 3rd, 2011, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics came out with its monthly employment assessment. Today, 9.1% of Americans are jobless and in the past month, overall, only 50,000 people were fortunate enough to find work.

When President Obama took office in January of 2009, only 7.6% of Americans were out of work. With the 2012 campaign already underway, the Republicans can easily use this clear and significant increase in the unemployment rate to amass a large enough exodus of former Obama-ites to the GOP camp to cost the Democrats the White House.

The President has appeared rather nonchalant in this election cycle, and maybe for good reason. With no real opposition for his party’s nomination, a triumph over Osama bin Laden that sparked such widespread patriotism unseen since the 9/11 attacks themselves, and a Time magazine article which stated that the Republican field of candidates in the weakest its been since the nomination of Wendell Willkie in 1940, not much appears to be hindering the President from delivering a second inaugural address from the steps of the Capital in January of 2013. In spite of all of that, President Obama is not FDR. Roosevelt faced Willkie in 1940, backed by a slew of economy-stimulating legislation that lowered the national unemployment rate by around 10% whereas after President Obama’s two and a half years in office, the unemployment rate has risen by 1.5%.

I’m not saying that President Obama has failed America, as Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney proclaimed in New Hampshire yesterday. I understand that economic recoveries don’t take place overnight, especially when the half of Congress is controlled by Republicans who refuse to allow the President to increase federal spending through new taxes on those who supposedly “create jobs.”

I understand that the Republicans in Congress who blocked any sort of tax reform bill that didn’t extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans are just as much, if not more, to blame as the President. But an electrician in Ohio who’s been out of work for sixteen months and is not especially politically active or informed won’t necessarily be as understanding. If America’s employment situation does not improve, President Obama may need to begin collecting his own unemployment checks.

Zach Ungar is the co-president of the Young Democrats club at Milken Community High School.

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On Her 2.06 GPA – Rachel Dunn, Grade 12, June 2, 2011 – Boca Raton, FL

Everyone wants happiness and success from life, but how? I am a very recent graduate of high school, passing – by the skin of my teeth – with a GPA of 2.06. I am the perfect example of a young adult who lacks work ethic or even the slightest amount of motivation to do anything. I just did what I had to do, nothing more. I have not done a single homework assignment in two years, and I do not regret it.

Everyone who graduates high school gets the same exact diploma, so why do I need to achieve more? Because society told me I wouldn’t get my dessert if I didn’t eat my vegetables. We as students, work as hard as we choose to and the fruit of our labor is ultimately reflected by the colleges and careers we land on.

And this makes sense, but these paths through life are tangled and things get thwarted along the way. The school system is not equipped for change or individual circumstance, because we as society are blinded by glittering generalities and the decisions which are made for us. Bill Graham said in reference to The Grateful Dead, “They’re not the best at what they do, they’re the only ones who do what they do.”

So we take what we are given, and that’s it?

No. Schools across this country need to reform and create new methods because the the slow, but steady decline of American intelligence is a comin’. Colleges are raising their standards while high schools are pumping out lazy and ignorant individuals like myself who cannot get into schools that used to accept anyone with a pulse and a diploma. The school system is a funny place where adolescents “learn” skills that will carry them through life…in a perfect world. You would think that school faculty members know what they’re doing and that you should trust in their intelligence, but over the past four years I have learned the complete opposite.

I have been to seven different high schools and I think it’s safe to say I have an excess of experience with the school system and cutting corners. I am not bitter – I have made my own decisions and they brought me here. And I broke my way through. Every teacher used the exact same over-used and abused phrase when trying to talk to me, “Rachel, you aren’t working to your full potential”. No, really? You mean I’m not a ‘D’ student? Of course not, but that is not what my grades reflect.

And that is truly all that matters, everything we do from this point on in life is decided by numbers on paper. Not who I am or what I think, but who has that highest ranking or SAT score. I got a 1410 out of math and reading and an 11 on my essay…polished off by my 2.06? What does that mean? What went wrong? The public school system is trusted by society because it is the only option for an average American family who cannot afford to buy their diplomas from an accredited, coddling, private school.

The school systems are complex, extremely systematic, and absolutely foolish. Three out of the seven schools that I attended were private schools, where the education was personaI. Teachers got into your business when you were providing sub-par work (or in my case, absolutely nothing). I think this is the concept which public schools are painfully missing. We are children who need to be pushed. Pushed hard. Sure, we are expected to grow on our own and be independent, but in the ever-aggrandized “Real World” adults have people monitoring their work and contributions just like we have teachers. We’re learning, help us.

Once again, I understand that I put myself in this situation and I could have chosen to work harder and push for better grades, but I didn’t take that road. So what about the kids who work their hardest and can only achieve a ‘C’ average? Universities do not accept just a 2.0 any more, for we as society have decided that average is not good enough. Universities require a 2.5 to even consider your attendance.

I speak for myself and fellow slackers who understand me, when I say this: We are mature enough to see the flaws in the system, but not quite mature enough to push past them and do what we are told. I don’t have a perfect solution to this growing problem, but perhaps someone who graduated with a GPA higher than mine can try to work the kinks out. The vicious cycle of high schools systematically pouring average students into average lives will only grow from here if nothing is changed. Imagine a world where a GPA like mine is respected…Would you like fries with that shake?

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On Torture - Evan Zimmerman, Grade 11, May 8, 2011 – Brentwood, CA

While I am not President Obama’s biggest fan, one thing I was glad about was that, under Obama, torture wasn’t in the news every day. I was saturated with it under the Bush administration, and I was getting sick of it. Now – with the killing of Osama bin Laden by Navy SEALs – my lull has ended and torture is in the news again because such enhanced interrogation techniques may have been useful in finding this vicious killer. We must ask ourselves now, once again: is torture useful in national security?

First, I want to make sure that we separate “Gitmo” from this debate. I unequivocally think that we need to keep the worst terrorists at Guantanamo Bay because – on the off chance that there is a breakout – the most dangerous of offenders is in a geographically isolated location where he will starve to death rather than be able to inflict harm on Americans on American soil. Glad we’re done with that.

For those with moral compunctions regarding torture, if you are against it, this debate is over. Nothing will ever convince you. For those like me who believe that, in war, if it is practical it is acceptable, this becomes a very perplexing issue because the usefulness of such actions is nebulous, at best.

It is not clear how useful torture was regarding the capture of bin Laden. This is because I’ve read conflicting statements. Peter King – of the House Committee on Homeland Security – says that torture helped, while Dianne Feinstein – of the Senate Intelligence Committee – claims that it did not. What this tells me from my years of reading disparate sources to find the correct middle ground is that a small piece of intelligence fit in with a tapestry of other intelligence that helped to find bin Laden a few years later. In a world where intelligence is hard to come by, this seems like a win for torture on practicality.

However, I am still doubtful. Most torture-obtained intelligence is seldom used, according to what I’ve read, and even then usually ignored unless some other type of intelligence corroborates, as a result of its general unreliability. This tells me that we are not really learning much that we couldn’t find out anyways, and that verification actually slows down the process of acting on new information. That America, home of the free and land of the brave, engages in torture is also used as effective propaganda to inspire otherwise on-the-fence would-be terrorists. We should also consider the massive amount of capital that could have gone towards traditional, more successful intelligence gathering but was diverted towards sustaining and covering up the goings-on at Guantanamo Bay.

To me, it seems as though we are not getting a good ROI on our investment in enhanced interrogation. When I think about it, I don’t understand why we tortured anyways. Our Cold War method of espionage was consistently ridiculously successful, and we knew that people will admit to anything eventually to end the pain they are forced to endure; take John McCain, who famously publicly denounced America after years of Vietnamese torture despite his obvious disinclination towards that opinion. There is no reason that the intelligence regarding bin Laden was any different than any other intelligence; thus, as outlined here, it is doubtful to me that bin Laden was found any earlier as a result of information yielded by torture.

As I said before, I have no moral issue with torturing the enemy if it undoubtedly saves lives, but as an investor, I am uncomfortable with the risk we are exposing ourselves to in exchange for what seems like a meager and uncertain return.

Evan Zimmerman writes a blog at impactimminent.blogspot.com.

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On Death’s Appeal - Zoe Lewin, Grade 11, May 3, 2011 – Los Angeles, CA

America, we can do better.

In the wake of recent events, namely, Osama bin Laden’s assassination (thank you, Navy SEALs), I find myself repulsed by and repugnant of this fine establishment I like to call the United States of America. Only after calamities, natural disasters, and assassinations do we – Americans – find the place in our hearts to leave our differences behind and unite as one melting pot and one nation under God. If the death of the “most wanted terrorist” is what is takes to turn this country into a red-white-and-blue fiesta, then count me out.

The part that really scares me is that the vast majority of Americans preferred to watch what ABC titled, The Modern Fairytale (Kate Middleton and Prince Edward’s wedding), over tuning into a news station that was covering tragedy on home turf—the tornados in Alabama. We pride ourselves so much on the fact that we can come together as one giant group of patriotic Americans, yet we somehow prefer to watch the British royal wedding instead of consoling the southern section of our country. How is it that we find so many ways to ‘nit-pick’ the finite and insignificant differences between us and them – because of death – rejoice and unite? What ever happened to love and respect as uniting factors? I find it quite pathetic that the number one motivator of jingoism in this country – the one thing that brings us to buy those star spangled banners – is death.

America, really? 

I have many questions about the contemporary moral standards of America – and rightfully so. When I hear ignorant utterances (that I should probably not be posting on a blog because some future college will google my name and the f-word will appear) that promote the death of Osama bin Laden and the gain of America, I become frustrated. I can only hope that soon enough the hype on Osama bin Laden’s death will simmer down, and the hype of American patriotism will remain in its place. One can only hope. But, for now, I think I’ll invoke my dual citizenship and move to Canada.

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On Affirmative Action – Ben Bulow, Grade 11, January 20, 2011 – San Diego, CA

With college applications submitted and students returning to school after Martin Luther King Day, I think this is a perfect time for me to call affirmative action racist.

As my fellow classmates and I come back to class to educate ourselves and strive to be the best, it only seems right that college admissions officers strive to admit the best possible class of candidates, rather than one that will allow them to put XYZ% Native American on their brochures.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Proponents of affirmative action have this perverse idea that by making judgments based on race, they are countering discrimination.

Look at two of the most over-represented ethnic groups at elite American universities today: Jews and Asians.

There was a time when this was not the case. There was a time when Jews and Asians were struggling on the fringes of American society. But through merit and work ethic, these two ethnic minorities achieved their goals (See: American Dream).

Why is it that people feel that the under-represented minorities of this generation, namely blacks and Hispanics, need some kind of special treatment in order to succeed?

Do they think that without robbing blacks and Hispanics of the opportunity to succeed in a capitalistic environment, they will not be able to succeed?

Ben Bulow serves as “Backpage Editor” of the Torrey Pines High School newspaper.

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On the System – Ali Tradonsky, Grade 11, January 18, 2011 – San Diego, CA

I want to go to a “good” college; all of my friends want to go to “good” colleges; and I’m sure many reading this know students who want to go to “good” colleges. What makes a college “good,” though? Today, those colleges that the majority of us students would agree are “good” display unique combinations of academic prestige, athletic talent, and a wide-variety of optional additional endeavors. Schools pride themselves on their ability to be well rounded in these ways, and look for applicants who will “fit in” with the kind of environments that they have to offer. In order for me, as a college-bound high-school student, to prepare myself for these schools, I pile my schedule with the hardest possible courses, and load up all my free time with activities that match those of these schools. Although being well-rounded clearly seems like a respectable thing, I must evaluate the true costs and benefits that this is having on our society, and whether or not we want to keep it this way for future generations.

The first element of being well rounded is being academically competent. While there are students who take college level courses because they genuinely want to learn the subject matter, many just take them for the AP credit needed in order to place out of actual college classes, or to put these classes on their resumes in order to help them get into college in the first place. The students who benefit most are — without doubt — those with authentic interest in the area, plainly because they are driven towards learning the information for their own self-good. The rest of the students attempt to learn the material in order to pass the AP test.

With a college-level course, though, even numerous cram sessions and a few solid essays cannot help to retain the information forever. The amount taught per year in an AP course is simply too much for the average high-school student to remember, and the College Board (the organization that is in charge of all AP classes and tests) indirectly admits that through it’s scoring system. For those who do not know, scores on AP tests range from 1 to 5 (1 being “extremely unqualified” and 5 being “extremely qualified”), and each category is defined by the percentage one earns on his or her test.For many classes, the actual percentage needed to earn a five- and therefore be categorized as “extremely qualified” in an area in the eyes of the College Board- is below 70 and sometimes as low as 45. In this way, the College Board is sharing that it does not expect even the most intellectual high-school students to keep hold of all the information. Perhaps it’d be more beneficial for all students to take regular or honors classes and fully understand 95% of the information, as opposed to taking an AP class and half-understanding approximately 75% of the information. “Normal” classes, though, don’t get you into college.

Part of the reason that so little information is fully grasped is because students, with all of their extra-curricular activities, do not have enough time to study. In addition to being extremely competitive when it comes to grades, a student needs to be competitive in other areas in order to beat out their opponents for a spot at the college he or she is applying to. This leads to students piling on as much as they can in extra-curricular activities to the point where they literally have no free time. This is neither practical nor healthy. After an activity such as sport or music, a student gets home, showers, eats dinner, and only then begins to do his or her homework (okay, some eat before they shower, but either way homework is last on the list). As a result, the average high-school student is fairly familiar with the concept of going to sleep early in the morning (ie 1:00 am) as opposed to late at night (although, on a good day, some do manage fall asleep before midnight).

Since many schools start around eight, this quantifies about seven hours of sleep on a “good” night. Ask any first-period teacher and you will find that this leads to students who are not fully attentive in the morning, and who, therefore, are not benefitting as much as they potentially could be if they got their full 8 hours of sleep. If a student only signed up for one or two after-school programs (preferably those in which he or she were actually interested in) then that student would have much more free time to be with his or her family, to complete his or her homework at reasonable hours, and to live a healthier life.

What we are teaching high school students today is to push themselves as much as they can until they reach a breaking point, at which point they simply break down and then repeat the process all over again. While I agree with the concept of being the best that one can be, I do not agree with the concept of pushing oneself past all areas of their true academic and social interests in order to make oneself the right fit for a school. As humans we love the blame game, but there is no denying that many of us, including myself, are guilty of this. Our society has great intentions by providing for us so many opportunities in all areas of our lives, but we must be careful which ones we take and don’t take, as there is a HUGE tradeoff not only between information retained and advanced courses taken, but also, and more importantly, between true happiness and over commitment.

Ali Tradonsky serves as ASB President of the San Diego Jewish Academy.

__________________________________________________________________

On Julian Assange – Mia Haas-Goldberg, Grade 11, December 12, 2010 – Manhattan Beach, CA

We are a part of the United States. We exude the very essence of diversity; a plethora of ethnicities, of social classes, of those who have lived and those just beginning to understand the meaning of the word, all of us somehow coexisting as a more or less cohesive nation decided on similar ideals.

Sound nationalistic? Well it’s supposed to.

Yet despite the complexity and flexibility of the very rights this multifaceted nation once based its existence on, years of innovation, public discontent, and a few mishaps in political theory have finally manifested itself into none other than the international turbulence we call ‘Wiki leaks’, an entity which has not only the grace to cause supplementary internal division, but has also succeeded in the political alienation of our nation from most others.  ‘Political alienation’ may sound harsh yet essentially Wiki Leaks has, for the most part, instilled within every ally and every adversary a distrust that will not be easily rescinded.

Now, it’s quite true that America is a decidedly vocal country, always challenging governmental policies and legislation, and indeed that is how it should be seeing as we retain the right to free speech.  We have been divided on constitutional interpretation in the past many a time, yet it is Wiki Leaks which gives us the opportunity to evaluate how far our rights truly extend, a debate highly contested and particularly aggravating to the relatively informed high school student.

To begin with, I am not a fan of the current government, nor am I a harsh critic.  I despise wedge issues and the extent to which politicians play upon the ignorance and emotion of the masses, and I’m sure others are in agreement of internal corruption and self-interest, however I certainly do not align myself with those who find themselves cursing under their breath day in and day out about the utter incompetency of the United States government because that’s the beauty of it; you CAN curse it under your breath, or in public, as much as you so choose.

With that being said, Mr. Assange is in the wrong, yet several of my classmates remain opposed to this viewpoint (again, the wonders of the first amendment).  They are certain that his disclosure of raw and unanalyzed data regarding not only the US’s involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but also observances of several members of the international community, to be ‘informative’ to the people by unveiling exploitation at the hands of major oil companies and such as well as the minute detail that these documents account for.

Let me ask a few key questions: What does this do? How does this affect the average American? Can the average American do anything to solve what they perceive to be unjust?

Those diplomatic cables have variety. And detail.  They specify major oil reserves, notify the crisis that would accompany a specific pipe leakage in Europe and frankly, contain more information that is useful to terrorists than to the average American citizen.  What’s more, this highly attainable information does not only put the US at risk, but it also exposes a wide range of countries to both international scrutiny and terrorists.  The cables have rampantly instilled distrust in the citizens of the US as well as those abroad, disrupting relations globally.  And what can we do?  Sure, some believe that disclosing certain immoral cables was necessary but again, what does that DO?  Riot like the French? Petition until we have our way? But for ‘what’ and whose ‘way’?  One man who, as it so happens, is accused of sexual assault (Assange) has come close to destroying the legitimacy of the United State’s international relations and bargaining power (every other day it seems our government is apologizing for a leak involving, let’s say, the Ireland/Vatican child abuse scandal), yet some of my peers still believe this information is good for us to ‘know’.  In such a case, I believe that the big picture is what we should be focusing on; our future relations with our biggest food, machinery, toy, textile, clothing, furniture, jewelry etc. suppliers in addition to those with who provide us with military support and those who threaten the balance of power.  I value our freedom of speech, of expression, yet I do not believe it beneficial to our livelihoods or status as a nation to ‘rejoice’ with the outpouring of these documents, and abandon support for the only government we have, a government that has allowed us to peacefully curse it if we very well choose to.

According to Rousseau’s Social Contract, power lies in the hands of the people and therefore it is the people who have true power to rule. However, today, we forfeit certain rights to the state and federal government so that they may better govern us in attempts to raise our standard of living, protect us from external threat, and uphold our early values that we once (and hopefully some of still do) held so dear.

And so my final question for my suspecting and unsuspecting peers: Should our rights extend so far as to put our government, liked or disliked, at risk?

I’m quite sure that we will soon find out.

__________________________________________________________________

On The Russian/American Question – Rachel Chistyakov, Grade 11, December 8, 2010 – Los Angeles, CA

A few days ago, I was fortunate enough to meet Israel’s Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, Yuli Edelstein, during his visit to my Jewish high school. Born in Ukraine, Edelstein was interested in meeting some of the Russian students who go to my school, since it’s a known fact that Russians aren’t the most religious of Jews. He found it fascinating that the children of Russian immigrants were attending a Jewish day school and wanted to hear our opinions on the Russian community in Los Angeles. At the meeting, Edelstein asked us why some of us had said our parents were born in Russia while others said they were Russian. Some people subconsciously prefer one or the other, but I consciously know not to say that I’m Ukrainian—simply because I’m not.

My parents were born and raised in the former Soviet Union. Their childhood and teenage memories aren’t necessarily happy memories. My mom would always tell me stories from her childhood. I remember two of them in particular; she told me that when she was my age—and ever since she was a small girl in elementary school—she would come home to an empty house. Her parents weren’t able to come home until late at night because they had provide for her and my uncle. She took care of herself for her entire life and rarely had a maternal figure to provide for her.

I tried to imagine myself coming home to find no one around me; no one to tell my problems to, no one to eat dinner with, and no one to have a simple conversation with. It’s almost maddening to think about, but my mother had to go through that every single day. Her only chance of having a better life would be through college. She would then tell me the story of her college exam, the Soviet version of the SAT, which back then was only one question. If you got the question right, you were guaranteed a chance to go to college. My mother, who was a very intelligent and skilled student, figured out the answer very quickly but before she turned in her test, she helped some of her friends, all of whom were Jewish, cheat. She bluntly told me that she refused to help non-Jewish students with the answer because the mere fact that they were not Jewish gave them a much higher chance of getting into college than the Jewish students.

For me, it was shocking to think that religious beliefs almost kept my mom from getting an education. Here I am, going to a prestigious Jewish day school and proudly professing my religion, when 40 years ago, my mom had to shamefully hide her religious beliefs in order to provide for herself. Even when she did pass the exam, my mother had to nearly beg her way into university. Her entire life was a massive struggle for her to get through. She would tell me to thank God that I was born in America and will never have to go through the pains she experienced as a child. My parents moved to America in the 70’s in order to provide my sister, and later on myself, with a better life. For this reason, I cannot say that I’m Ukrainian because that statement carries so much baggage and hardship with it that I cannot even begin to comprehend.

This doesn’t mean that I’m not proud of my heritage. Nearly my entire family is from Odessa, Ukraine, a city that I have visited twice, and I can proudly say that it feels like my second home. Russian is a beautiful and very complicated language that I can almost speak fluently and can almost easily read. Russian food is a staple of Russian culture that I can honestly say I cannot live without. Russian literature and poetry, although I haven’t attempted to read some of it yet, is filled with eloquent writers and moving poets. And the proximity of the Russian community is extremely comforting; literally every Russian family is connected in some way. I love my culture and my people, but that does not mean that I am ‘Ukrainian’ in the same way that I am ‘American’.

In the end, it really is a personal decision whether one wants to say their family is from Russia or they are Russian. I might be looking into this statement a little too deeply, but I find it necessary to do so in order to acknowledge the suffering my parents went through in the Soviet Union. But at the same time, I want to thank them for giving me a chance at a better life.

__________________________________________________________________

On Zuckerberg – Sophie Golub, Grade 11, November 23, 2010 – Los Angeles, CA

Colonial America had George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson.  The Gilded Age had Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. The early 20th century had Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, and Henry Ford. The Civil Rights movement had Martin Luther King Jr.

What do these people all have in common?  They all changed the way that we live. They each contributed in major ways to their generation each generation that followed. They were, in essence, the movers and shakers of their times.

In school, I was studying the Progressive Era and learning all about Carnegie and Rockefeller. That same week, I watched the Social Network.  When I got home from the movie, I couldn’t help but wonder: is Mark Zuckerberg the Carnegie of my generation?

In a way, it seems he is; he has invented something, and whether it’s positive or negative is debatable. Nevertheless, he has invented something that has drastically changed our lives and potentially our futures.

Unfortunately, most of my generation is far too materialistic.  They don’t care what they do, or how they do it; they just want to be rich and famous and end up in the tabloids as celebrities.

So if my generation is all about making money and not about actually bettering society; then who is going to be our next Carnegie or Rockefeller? (And by the way, Rockefeller may not have been the best guy of his time, but he did influence great changes in society.)

Clearly, my generation is still young—most of us are still teenagers—but we are at that age where it is possible to change the world.  Regrettably, the only ones who are really making strides to change the world are fueled by the desire to get into the best universities and make the most money.

So then I think about Zuckerberg.  In a moment of anger towards his ex-girlfriend, one thing led to another and he created a social networking site—the ubiquitous Facebook.  Zuckerberg created something that has changed the way we communicate, interact, and even live.

Is Mark Zuckerberg our Rockefeller or Carnegie? He invented something, changed the way we communicate, and will surely be remembered for it in the years to come.

Are there any others like him on the horizon? I hope that our generation can make a name for itself and others will arise to better our society. We can only hope that those budding movers and shakers will address more serious concerns: global warming, renewable energy, and improving the quality of life in developing countries.

__________________________________________________________________

On Misrepresentations - Zoe Lewin, Grade 11, November 14, 2010 – Los Angeles, CA

As I was walking along the Chicago River in downtown Chicago during the long weekend, I noticed a sign of particular intrigue. It was magnificent and terrifying—it was a picture of President Obama with Adolf Hitler’s mustache imposed onto his upper lip. While I was initially unsure of what the people holding the sign were protesting, it became clear to me that this sign was associated with the LaRouche Pac, a Tea Party association that wants nothing more than to “Throw This Sick Psycho Out Of Office”– the psycho, of course, being President Obama. They were protesting “Obama-Care”, the new health-care plan.

While I have my own opinions on the president’s health-care plan (that do not agree with the plan itself), I was utterly disgusted to see the radical position my fellow citizens had taken against this piece of legislation. I firmly understand their vehement reaction to such a bold bill, but I will never comprehend their harsh analogy, comparing President Obama to Adolf Hitler. No, I do not agree with every piece of legislation that the president has passed, and no, I do not support the new health-care plan, but how can any American stoop so low as to compare our president to a mass murderer, hated by most of the world?

There is no excuse.

I feel ashamed to be an American— if we can compare our president to a Nazi, what else do we have the potential to unleash? How far can the first amendment of the constitution protect our fervent feelings? Something about what I saw this weekend struck a note in my teenaged soul…and what is happening in this country just does not seem right anymore; at least not to me.

__________________________________________________________________

On Nukes – Evan Zimmerman, Grade 11, November 11, 2010 – Brentwood, CA

We’ve been learning about WWII in my APUSH class (which for some reason is not going in chronological order) and we were told that the nuke actually saved lives because it prevented an invasion. If we invaded, estimates for Japanese deaths, including civilians, ranged in the millions. That got me thinking: why don’t we bomb the sand out of the South Waziristan mountain ranges, or the Pakistan-Afghan border, or other terrorist havens? It works perfectly for these reasons:

  • We won’t be killing civilians in this case because no civilian in his right mind lives there.
  • We don’t have to worry about precision because we’re just blowing everything up.
  • Bombs are really cool.
  • Other countries that might be thinking of attacking us will think twice.
  • We utterly destroy al-Qaeda and the Taliban in a shock-and-awe campaign
  • Our troops don’t risk dying.
  • We save trillions of dollars that could go towards fixing our deficit or, even better, buying me and iPhone and Ford Fusion.

Or, you know, we could waste trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives on a war that’s going to take way too long at too high a cost…yeah, that one sounds good, huh?

18 Responses to TeenVoice

  1. Pingback: TeenVoice | Truth Be Told

  2. Ben Bulow says:

    Re: “On Misrepresentations”:

    Attack campaigns have always been nasty, see:

    Look at the attacks portraying Obama as a fascist. How different is Thomas Jefferson calling John Adams a monarchist?

    So “what is happening in this country” is really nothing new. We can all stay calm.

    The real problem we’re having in this country is the blatant disregard for the constitution that Obama and his colleagues are showing with this healthcare bill.

  3. ElderStateman says:

    Re: “On Misrepresentations”:

    Zoe,
    Lovely writing. FYI, Lyndon LaRouche is a complete nut job/cult leader who has run for president about eight times. He pre-dates the Tea Party by decades. His followers have always been extreme and intentionally provocative. You shouldn’t be ashamed to be an American. You should be proud to live in a country where even people who espouse bizarre and counter-cultural opinions can speak freely without fear of reprisal.

  4. Pingback: New TeenVoice Posts | Truth Be Told

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  6. Bag Lady says:

    Mia, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

    I’m trying to understand what you are proposing. Julian Assange is not American, nor has he been arrested in America. Can you clarify what you think we, as Americans (or our government) should be doing?

    Thanks.

    • Mia Haas-Goldberg says:

      @Bag Lady
      I understand your objection, however I believe you have missed the point of my statement; a fault of my own to be sure. Obviously I have stated my disdain for WikiLeaks and to be clear, I am NOT proposing a solution, for I am not pretending that I posses the knowledge or analytical prowess to solve a national dilemma which clearly is taking a toll on our top foreign officials.
      As I mentioned, there have been multiple comments among my classmates of the validity and usefulness of the website and this is merely an argument against that. Moreover, although Assange is indeed Australian, I did want to mention the extent to which our freedom of expression has been stretched in the past and how this outbreak of documents accentuates previous similar outbreaks that splatter our newspapers every so often. Why, even our former president, G. W. Bush admitted to water boarding despite his clear declaration when in office that the US is adamantly against torture (water boarding included). Obviously that did not have the same weight, yet it does represent bad PR for the United States government and should be viewed similarly to WikiLeaks (but I guess that time passed).

      Thanks for your comment.

  7. Pingback: New TeenVoice | Truth Be Told

  8. Evan Z says:

    Re: On Affirmative Action
    Thank God someone finally agrees with me.

  9. Pingback: New TeenVoice and Spin Room Pieces | Truth Be Told Politics

  10. Pingback: Two New TeenVoice Pieces | Truth Be Told Politics

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  12. Pingback: TeenVoice and Spin Room Pieces: Voting in the United States and Military Swaps in the Middle East | Truth Be Told Politics

  13. Evan Z says:

    @Samara: Not all art comes from pain. There would still be music, because no suffering doesn’t mean perfection, it just means we have more free time to approach perfection. A world without war actually sounds like it will be the most interesting one we’ve ever had.

    • samaramerav says:

      There are many ways to look at a perfect world. From my own life experiences, I have found that the best art comes from pain, or at least the best pieces of writing I have created. However, I do share your opinion on a world without war. But I do not think that all pain should be obliterated; pain is a natural reflex, it is what has kept the human race alive for the whole of our existence. A world without pain robs us of a great part of what makes us human. Again, there are many different ways to look at pain. It also depends on your definition of perfection. Is perfection a utopian society? Is it static or developmental?

      • Evan Z says:

        The difference is that I am separating lack of pain with staticism. You can absolutely have growth when you are experiencing great joy. I used to think that my moments of pain brought me joy. In fact, it was the moments of peace afterwards in which I was able to reflect. Just because pain has helped us thus far does not mean that it will in the future. We don’t have tails anymore, but they used to be pretty useful. Some people have used pain productively and I absolutely respect that. I imagine that a world without such externalities will free us up to speed up our improvement. For example, most modern technology advancements took place during the Cold War, where there was little actual conflict, and today, where we are (again) free from conflict on our soil and face some of the lowest crime rates ever.

        Even if, for me, a world without conflict only means a world without external human negative stimuli, like war and argument. There would likely still be physical pain, natural disasters, et al.

  14. Pingback: TeenVoice: Pseudo-Pluralism and Poverty Statistics | Truth Be Told Politics

  15. Anonymous says:

    Jordan,
    Very mature writing skills about Congressional Failings. Hope to hear more from you!

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