July has brought on a flurry of powerful thoughts from our OEP alums, addressing subjects spanning from Islamism to bullying, from education reform to scientific discoveries.
Alum Debra Chasnoff zeroes in on the film Bully, reminding viewers to not be appeased by the uplifting ending of the film (a trap I myself had fallen into). She calls on readers to address the complex causes of bullying and the concrete systems that will work to thwart it.
As politicians and schools introduce anti-bullying programs and preach zero-tolerance policies, Chasnoff warns readers about the dangers in doing so. Zero-tolerance policies often penalize students who are themselves targeted, and fail to undo deep-rooted biases–particularly those regarding sexuality and gender roles. Chasnoff urges educators and policy-makers to breed compassion and understanding in students by introducing new curricula and removing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from political and religious discourse. While reading, I realized that dissolving biases regarding LGBTQ issues in social, educational, political and religious arenas will take a long time. This is what Chasnoff urges readers to understand: quick fixes such as school assemblies and respectful vigils are not effective solutions to bullying, especially for those who are driven to take their own lives after victimization. Read Chasnoff’s Huffington Post piece, and see that effective healing is a long-term process.
Alum Trina R. Shanks also awakened readers to student-oriented issues, showing in her CNN article that education opportunity doesn’t correspond directly to student intelligence or effort. Rather, it has a lot to do with what one’s parents have in their pockets. She traces how one’s family’s income level starts to affect one’s education opportunities from the age of two, and can even be detected in the vocabulary of young children. Sharing her family’s story of upward mobility, Shanks explains that the progress her working-class grandparents then middle-class parents made, enabling her to receive a PhD, are less attainable with today’s economy.
Shanks most poignantly links educational opportunity to economic standing by pointing out that the values most desired in our society are not the most widely seen. She writes: “A decent job and a decent life should be a possibility for anyone who makes an effort. As a nation, this was more likely in our past than in the present. A college education should be affordable to anyone who is willing to do the work, but that is no longer our reality.”
Having recently graduated from high school, my classmates and I received speeches about the vastness of the opportunities ahead of us. But, as Shanks cautions, opportunities are narrowing and will continue to do so if the talents and intellects of students from low-income families are wasted.
Alum Qanta Ahmed also highlights youth-related problems in her Investigative Project on Terrorism article, which details her conversation with a teenager who had been lured into performing violent raids by the Taliban in the name of religious purity. Ahmed writes about testifying during investigative hearings, which have uncovered that similar brainwashing of Islamic youths are occurring in the US today. She asserts that we fail to respond to these phenomena because of our political correctness, our aversion to Islamophobia. Ahmed shows that avoiding labeling terrorist attacks as religious fanaticism and “radical Islamism” puts non-Muslim American civilians and Muslims who don’t adhere to extremist beliefs in danger- as well as the Muslim youths who are targeted for this brainwashing. Ahmed writes that shying from religiously charged language regresses our cause, and, on a personal level, silences Muslims like Ahmed by not distinguishing them from radical Islamists. Thank you, Qanta, for addressing head-on this personal and national issue.
Alum Ainissa Ramirez also wrote about a worldwide phenomenon, though one centered in science, not politics. Ramirez tells the less science-savvy (me) in a clear, humorous fashion about the magnitude of the discovery of the Higgs boson particle in her Forbes article, explaining that its discovery essentially proved all of our previous understandings of the universe. While she celebrates this incredible scientific progress, Ramirez laments the fact that most of the population doesn’t know about or understand this discovery. She writes: “I think we should do a better job at teaching science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) using events such as this as a catalyst. Since science is right now part of the national conversation, let’s strike while the iron is hot and create ways to get more people excited about science.” Ramirez goes on to list clear modes of communication, such as websites, spokespeople and videogames, to disseminate information about the particle to the public. Thank you, Ainissa, for your insights and efforts to involve people like me, the humanities-oriented, in the crazy cool world of science. Congratulations to all who have recently published; your articles have made me reexamine my perspectives on science, bullying, Islamicism, and education. I hope that they’ve done the same for all of your readers.