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My Eighth Newsletter
14 February 2001
A little before midnight, Valentine's Day. A few weeks after the presidential inauguration. A month since the new congress, mayors, governors, city councilmen elected in November have taken office. While you're scrounging around those red heart boxes for that last chocolate chunk, think about the intent behind all the candies, red roses and hearts: our strong desire to connect and take care of others and ourselves, in more formal terms: responsibility and accountability. Well, at least some of what may be behind your thoughts!
Within our "daily" lives, with their celebrations, their triumphs and their losses, we cannot isolate politics solely to election season although the fatigue from an intense season such as we have just experienced tempts us to "move on." If we have affection for others, what better way to express that than by working actively for their (and our) welfare and happiness? Activism gives us the best of that expression: positive change.
What we can do with those who were just elected to office? Track their work and remind them to keep their promise of representation not only of those who elected them but also to all they were elected to work for. It is up to them to deliver the valentines they promised to America. For those new to this newsletter, I am the author of a new book, TEEN POWER POLITICS: MAKE YOURSELF HEARD, an issue-oriented book for young Americans on civic and political activism. Engagement is integral to our democracy and soon-to-be and new voters - citizens and residents already - definitely have the voice, the power, the intelligence, the sense of justice, passion and energy to give the benefit of their participation right now! My website www.teenpowerpolitics.com, and this newsletter are intended to provide an update on current issues and events affecting all of us along with resources for change. BTW, my newsletter already numbers around 700 recipients consisting of youth - of course! - press, educators and librarians, political and community activists, politicians, writers, publishers and a terrific assortment of others who are interested in being involved
HERE'S WHAT WE'LL TALK ABOUT IN THIS NEWSLETTER:
A. Critically thinking about your concerns.
B. Critical thinking resources.
C. Current concerns.
D. Recent youth activism and opportunities.
E. New Stuff on TPP!
A. CRITICALLY THINKING ABOUT YOUR CONCERNS.
With the advent of a new administration, broad social, economic and political programs are being discussed daily in the media. An excellent moment to check into the news, look beyond the front page and find concerns with which you may have an even more direct connect. A time to think about upcoming mid-term and municipal, school and other elections. The local is a small but powerful pond where your involvement has substantial impact.
But what to do when we pick up on a concern? Activism requires that we define issues and taking positive steps toward resolving them. To do so, we must understand what each source is actually saying and how we interpret it. We must keep ourselves current on as many concerns and news as possible as our interrelated world demands our most knowledgeable approach.
Nothing pains some people more than having to think. - Martin Luther King, Jr.
That knowledgeable approach requires analysis of the news story, media awareness of how something is presented - including the "hot" words that can trigger a reaction - and, a harsh but necessary understanding of one's own biases. Critical thinking among all of us is in the service of progress. Understand your natural bias. If we identify where we are come from, listen to as many others as we can, then we best understand how to go forward, debate, compromise and make positive change.
"The first precept was never to accept a thing as true until I knew it as such without a single doubt." René Decartes (1596-1650), philosopher and mathematician whose most famous quote is "I think, therefore I am."
TPP contains a media literacy chapter that explores how to approach and understand as logically as possible what we hear, read and see to make the most effective decisions. Here, I thought I'd give you an example of how I run through the immediate considerations a current news story raises for me.
From the February 10, 2001 NYTimes: "Students, Mindful of Columbine, Break Silence to Report Threats" In a post-Columbine atmosphere, youth now more freely report what they feel is suspicious behavior to authorities or school administrators. "James Alan Fox, an expert on mass murder and a professor of criminology at Northeastern University, said that the three recent incidents [students sharing information about possible dangerous behavior of their peers] might represent a cultural change in how we view snitching. 'The code used to be, snitching was the lowest form of human behavior for kids, Now there have been so many forums and events about Columbine at schools that we are encouraging and rewarding snitching, and kids are also starting to take talk about guns more seriously.' "
Here is my own messy internal debate:
1. My background is in the music industry. My passion is contemporary art. I am a writer who uses words to advance causes. All that I have ever done involves the expression of often-provocative concepts. I am immediately alarmed when I hear what sounds like the climate for censorship that many of the post-Columbine "remedies" have engendered. "Zero tolerance" has wreaked disaster in instances where schools have suspended or expelled artistic or emotional (but not violent) students whose work was deemed to exhibit a "dangerous" theme. This is a red flag for me. The "chilling effect" of expression guaranteed by our First Amendment can deter the creativity and imagination of the new that I consider essential to progress.
2. I am a parent. There is no fear greater than that of parents for their child's safety anywhere, but especially in the schoolyards and public places of life. We cannot condone the increased violence that we hear about so often.
a. That said, I live with teens, my own and their friends, and it is apparent how easily their language - influenced by media, peer group pressure and a sense of the provocative - can color and give the wrong impression. It is that provocative approach that should be valued and not arbitrarily inhibited as youth turns their incentive for questions and reactions to curiosity and activism.
b. I fear the growing perception that those who are "different' are suspicious and the resultant imposition upon our wonderfully diverse nation of a conformist American norm. There have always been young social outsiders who have grown to become our leaders. We must allow space for them in our schools and in our communities.
3. I read daily about the dire consequences of our path toward punishment and incarceration of youth over more complex but better resolution of our problems.
4. I am extremely concerned that "safety" concerns persuade us to permit erosion of our constitutional rights. I brought this up in a prior newsletter with a comment on the new tracking devices in cell phones and other electronics to monitor our children. Many of these policies start with youth as parents often emotionally balance diminution of their rights vs. their children's safety. And those proposing these constraints often deem youth not powerful enough to fight for their rights.
5. I have to be able to balance my strong feelings in this area with the benefits of this strong policy for responsibility. In the post-Columbine world of the United States, there have been serious "copycat" crimes and it may be time that responsible youth utter their legitimate concerns. In all three instances reported in the NY Times story, the subject(s) of concern were indeed planning very dangerous behavior and there was a benefit to young people reporting their fears. But that "fear" can be highly subjective.
We must require responsibility of the youth and administrators to whom youth turn to report a suspicious instance or behavior. Vengeance and hysteria cannot be permitted. This is not always the case and it is up to all of us to ensure that a rash of potential alarms is not treated lightly. The trampling of our rights - free speech, unlawful searches and seizures and others - happens too quickly. The consequences to those summarily expelled, arrested, or otherwise humiliated can be devastating.
"Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from bondage of irrational fear." Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, dissenting Gitlow v. People of State of New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925)
An excellent investigation site, the ACLU's Students' Rights Site. You may see what some of the considerations are when, as an example, a young 11 year old is suspended from her middle school for 10 days for possession of a small chain that attached her Tweety Bird key ring to her Tweety Bird wallet, or the case of Sarah Boman, a Wichita high school honor-student senior who was expelled for displaying artwork deemed "threatening." In Sarah's case, the ACLU was able to obtain a quick injunction to allow her return to school, the courts and even the school administration acknowledging that she was not one to fear. From the ACLU website: "Zero tolerance does not mean zero common sense."
4. The comment "kids are starting to take guns more seriously." It is hard to counter any policy that aids safer gun habits or reduction of their availability and use.
It is apparent that I have major conflicting concerns on this issue. Here is what I will do next:
1. First, reread the whole article and check out letters to the editor to see how others think about this. See if it has been covered in other papers,
2. Think of as many questions as possible. See if I am imagining a problem that isn't there. I will throw "zero tolerance" into the search engines and determine how many instances throughout the country there really are. I might want to check in with the ACLU website or chapters.
3. Reread the Bill of Rights protecting, among other rights: free expression, freedom of assembly and protection from unlawful searches and seizures. A good overview is at www.law.cornell.edu. Our rights do have limits. For example, freedom of expression is not available to us in the classic case of shouting 'fire' for fun in a crowded theatre with resultant terror and possible injury to those who try to escape. However, the interpretations and limitations on our rights need be closely monitored.
4. Do I want to take immediate action on this? I really don't know as yet. At times it serves us well to hold off and see if a greater pattern is developing. Often our concerns will lead us to an organization for change, or a candidate who we feel acts as we act or would like to. Often we may feel inspired to write a letter to the editor of our local paper, contact a news outlet, speak to the school administration.
We become political beings by thinking, by questioning, by determining OUR point of view and what we feel is the best way we can effectively deal with the issue. In this instance, I need to let it muck about in my head for awhile although I suppose that I am taking action with this newsletter.
Even when the news bombards us, if we continue to understand our basic goals, then we can better define our issues, find our facts within the stories and go forward to act. I would very much like to hear some of your thoughts or thought processes on this or another issue!
B. SOME CRITICAL THINKING RESOURCES- several noted before
1. Center for Media Literacy with links to other strong media literacy sites
2. Canadian media educator Barry Duncan's new web newsletter with educator questions about young people's popular culture. Good for all of us! Just Think Foundation. Critical thinking & youth activism opportunities.
4. FAIR's report: "Fear & Favor 2000: How Power Shapes the News." (An open discussion on this will be held Friday, February 16, 6:30 PM at the Housing Works Used Book Café 126 Crosby St (between Prince and Houston), New York). From their release: "A 'serious' talk show turns itself into an infomercial for Campbellıs Soup, complete with a veteran news anchor joining in a chorus of the 'Mım, mım! Good!' jingle. A Boston reporter is suspended without pay after writing critically about a bank which is a major advertiser in his paper. A network news show interviews a sock puppeta puppet which is the mascot for a company the networkıs owner has a stake in. Welcome to the whimsical, frightening world of the corporate media, where the "fear and favor" of advertisers, owners and the government can shape and twistnews.
5. On Tuesday, February watch PBS's FRONTLINE: THE MERCHANTS OF COOL, following the marketing forces behind teen culture and questioning whether marketers simply reflect teen desires or have they begun to manufacture those desires in a bid to secure this lucrative market. www.pbs.org.
C. SOME RECENT CONCERNS AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR ACTIVISM
A variety of current news that may or may not raise concerns for you. As we educate ourselves as political beings, it behooves us to just be aware.
1. FINGERPRINT SCANNING OF STUDENTS. ABC News January 18, 2001: " Students in Pennsylvania are giving the lunch lady the finger." A new system using fingerprint scanners to let kids pay for school lunches is getting raves from students and school administrators, but is making privacy advocates nervous. The scanners make stealable lunch money, lose-able swipe cards and the stigma of being known as the free-lunch kid things of the past. "Once you have a collection of fingerprints starting from such an early age, I can imagine this being used for other purposes in the future "
2. THE ANNUAL 2000 AMERICAN FRESHMEN SURVEY In an annual study conducted by the American Council on Education and UCLA"s Higher Education Research Institute, 269,413 students at 434 4-year colleges and universities and several community colleges were surveyed about their objectives and their current interests. The report shows, even in a presidential election year when political interest is assumed to be higher, declines in civic and political engagement and in the political awareness among college students, indicating that only 28.1% keep up to date with political affairs, a record low of 16.4% of freshman discuss politics frequently, and only 22.7% participate in a community action program. The LA Times article (pay archive).
3. LIBRARY INTERNET FILTERING. In December, Congress passed the "Children's Internet Protection Act." This law pressures public schools and libraries to install blocking or filtering software on computer terminals. "Three free-speech powerhouses are gearing up to slay the measure in federal court [as the law] requires, for the first time in the nationıs history, that local libraries censor speech for every adult and every child. .. Thatıs got to present First Amendment problems One month after Congress passed a law pressuring public schools and libraries to install blocking or filtering software on computer terminals to screen out Internet smut, three free-speech powerhouses are gearing up to slay the measure in federal court. This law requires, for the first time in the nationıs history, that local libraries censor speech for every adult and every child." (more on the NYTimes site for January 19 -pay archive, "Free-Speech Advocates Fight Filtering Software in Public Schools)
Of course we want to protect young minds from some of the unrestrained activity on the Internet but broad-based censoring, subject to the vagaries of the various filtering systems is not the answer. This act is a serious threat to the education and availability of information for youth and stifles the work of well-trained librarians and educators who can locally set better standards for proper use of the Internet.
Last year I spoke at the national conference of the American Library Association (ALA) as part of their Joint Legislative Committee presentation. Neither librarian nor educator, I did serious research on issues facing libraries, broad-based Internet filtering being one of the most destructive.
A Northern California high school senior told me how filtering blocked her term paper research on the noted landscape photographer, master printmaker, and workshop instructor John Sexton, whose work is represented in major collections, on network television and published in Bullfinch Press monographs. The Internet filters installed on the library computers read "s-e-x" in the surname and shut her down. And yet, other knowledgeable students tell me that typing in several references to our capitol can send you to places you certainly would prefer not to go (don't go there now!). See "Internet filtering software generally fails to block one out of every five sites deemed objectionable, Consumer Reports magazine concludes."
Librarians and educators are not abdicating their duty in opposing these filters. Many creative librarians and schools have installed their own monitoring programs including placing their computers in public areas to deter exploration or utilizing older teens to monitor the younger readers. Within the next few months, the ACLU, People for the American Way and the ALA itself will be challenging this new law. I urge you to check with these organizations, your local libraries and others involved with this issue. When we start to use these broad-based vehicles to censor, we are facing serious consequences in how information is acquired and accessed.
4. FEDERAL VS STATE: THE CONTINUING DEBATE SINCE 1776 (and before!). Stronger state involvement with "local" issues as opposed to a more powerful national government. Like so many other concerns, this must be explored in terms of its ramifications on each and every problem. Here, as opposed to internet filtering, is a dire example of where the stateıs rights issues may not be the way to go, as evidenced by this excerpt from the February 1, 2001 press release on the Applied Research Survey, "Federal Welfare Reform Creates A Crazy Quilt of Arbitrary Rules: New Welfare Survey Reveals Disturbing Trends"
" Last year Laura Jackson (whose name has been changed for protection) lost all welfare benefits for herself and her three children. The Brooklyn, New York resident hadnıt reached her two-year benefit limits. She hadnıt refused a work assignment or missed an appointment. But she had broken one rule: she had failed to report that she and her kids each had a savings account. The total amount in all four accounts? Seventy-three cents. The report summarizes some unexpected results of welfare reform. 'Pushing responsibility for welfare programs down to the state and county level has created a crazy quilt of arbitrary rules. This is the result of a new movement for states rights,ı which has deregulated services for poor people.' The survey shows that activities that are encouraged in one state such as earning money while continuing to receive welfare benefits are not only discouraged but treated as criminal offenses somewhere else."
5. JUVENILE JUSTICE. One week ago, a California Court of Appeal struck down a significant provision in California's Proposition 21, passed by voters last Spring, which granted prosecutors instead of judges the right to determine whether teenagers were to be prosecuted as juveniles or adults. This is a major decision in the long battle against the increased movement of states requiring greater adult incarceration of youth. As stated in previous newsletters, juvenile crime is down but the public perception has continued to view harsher punishment over rehabilitation and investment in communities as the remedy for crime. Parents, students, others: the time is here to take a more reasoned and educated approach to the serious problems of juvenile justice, drugs, better recreation and communities for us all. Those who commit crimes need to tried, but an arbitrary use of "adult transfer" may not be the answer. Check out this decision. www.cnn.com www.sfgate.com
6. ELECTORAL REFORM. The CNN independent report, commissioned by CNN on their presidential election coverage, is available for viewing at www.akamai.net.
D. RECENT YOUTH ACTIVISM ACTIVITY AND OPPORTUNITIES
1. From Jess Fjeld. Chairperson of the International Student Activism Alliance ( ISAA ) and a senior at Otter Valley Union High School in Brandon,Vermont. "FIRST NATIONAL 'STUDENT RIGHTS HOTLINE' CREATED" The lack of a national clearinghouse of student rights information is a problem that has plagued persecuted teens and student activists for years. In response to the difficulty students have in accessing information about their rights, the ISAA has launched a new service, the Student Rights Hotline a critical link between students and information on how to protect their rights. Students can access the hotline in either of two ways: the more traditional phone, or email, which provides faster response. The service will provide information to students who feel their rights have been violated, referencing legal material specific to the studentıs situation. The hotline will not be staffed by lawyers; questions will be answered by student activists who have experience in the field of student rights. Civil liberties information will also be provided on the ISAAıs website.
The ISAA is a national organization that strives to educate, empower, and involve high school students to work for the protection of students' rights, representation, and for the betterment of public education. The four-year-old student run organization has organized around a number of causes, including placing students on the State Boards of Education in Connecticut and Vermont, encouraging student involvement in the legislative process, and fighting for freedom of expression in the schools. Students: Get involved with the ISAA
2. And just in from Arizona: "TEEN MOVEMENT SUCCEEDS IN INTRODUCING BILL TO LOWER VOTING AGE" Generation Now, a youth initiated organization based in Tucson, introduced a bill to the Arizona House of Representatives to lower the voting age for Arizona elections to sixteen. Generation Now high school volunteers created the bill in the past months, and have lobbied for the support of local politicians. The bill received its first reading today on the floor of the House of Representatives, and was assigned to three committees by Speaker of the House Jim Weirs. If the bill is approved by the committees, it will move to the House of Representatives for a vote. Because it an amendment, it will then proceed to the Senate and ultimately will be voted on by the general public. "
Since February of 2000, Generation Now Volunteers have been lobbying for public support of their proposal. The motivation behind Generation Now is the significant lack of funding for education in Arizona and the lack of civic responsibility among youth," says Director and co-founder Stephanie Faith Green. "By getting teens into the habit of voting while they're in high school, we predict they will more likely continue to vote in college and we will then have a strong 16-24 year old age block that can provide incentives for politicians to spend their time and the budget on America's future."
For more information about the bill and/or Generation Now, contact Stephanie Faith Green: 520-751-9981. Track the bill (HCR2011).
3. Become a student correspondent for the Wall Street Journal Classroom Edition. Check out their site and email them.
4. Wiretap recently put out a call for student journalists as well. The deadline has passed but you might want to check in with them for the future.
5. BLACK HISTORY MONTH. Activism involves knowing about all of us. Black History Month is a terrific time to check into the major contributions and specific concerns of African Americans - historically and right now! www.africana.com -A great site for contemporary culture and current issues of concern. www.infoplease.com The Learning Network's 2001 Black History links. www.seditionists.org. A terrific database with an ongoing (not just this month) This Week In Black History updated weekly calendar of Black History and culture -then and now. The Mutnomah Library in Oregon's incredibly extensive set of references for African American sites! AfroAmerican Almanac (biographies, historical documents and folk talks Black Americans honored on U.S. postage stamps).
E. NEW STUFF ON TPP!
1. Wiretap has excerpted from TPP three of my youth profiles: Katrina Nimmers, Justin Kopetsky and Celeste Lopez. It was also just chosen as one of Utne Webwatch's site of the day! I had such an incredible time interviewing Katrina, Justin and Celeste and all of the other powerful youth whose profiles are included in TPP. Check out that site
2. I will be quoted in the May issue of CosmoGirl in a terrific article they are doing on careers for women, this one focusing on grass-roots organizers.
3. I and Steven Culbertson of Youth Service America are quoted in Laurie Dove's article "The Power Of Giving: Teen Volunteers Make A Difference For Themselves, And Others"
4.. I will be definitely attending and/or speaking at the following conferences this Spring with hopefully more to come!
a. March 21 through Sunday March 25, Stanislaus/Modesto County, California where I am giving a presentation to schools and the Central California SCBWI (children's writers and illustrators).
b. April 3 through April 7. Denver, CO at the National Youth Leadership Conference and Youth Service America's "Decision-Makers Forum"
c. May 17, an evening of youth issues at Village Books, Pacific Palisades, California
d. June 14 - June 16, San Francisco. I will be attending and signing books at the Millbrook booth at the American Library Association annual conference.
Check out TEEN POWER POLITICS: MAKE YOURSELF HEARD and its companion website, http://www.teenpowerpolitics.com. (The website will hopefully be updated, including back issues of this newsletter, by this weekend!). TPP was written as a guide and a tool for activism. If ever that tool was needed, it is now. Again, please let me know of a concern or activity you would like me to tell others about. And send this on to others and suggest that they e-mail me if they would like to be added to this list (or if they wish to be removed). Thanks for taking the time to read this! If you received this twice, please let me know as I refine my list. Sara Jane Boyers firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.teenpowerpolitics.com TEEN POWER POLITICS: MAKE YOURSELF HEARD (c) 2001 Sara Jane Boyers