Starting today, and once a month through the end of this school year, a student column will appear on this blog. The students come up with their own topics, which may address educational issues or youth culture in general.
The columnists are all student board members for their school districts. This month’s column is by Jennifer Siew, a senior at Irvington High in Fremont. Future columns will feature the writings of Newark student Evangel Penumaka and New Haven student Leslie Salvador.
STUDENTS: APATHETIC OR SIMPLY WAITING TO BE HEARD?
By Jennifer Siew
Fremont Unified student board member
Have you wondered why, as our political and social issues seem to grow, each generation’s interest in these topics dwindles? It just doesn’t make sense. You’d think with an election resulting in the first-ever African-American president, the participation of first-time voters — mainly those too young to vote in the last election — would significantly increase. Yet, according to a Gallup poll, the percentage of first-time voters in the 2008 election (13 percent) was identical to that of the 2004 election.
Opportunities for our upcoming citizens to get involved are growing exponentially, yet our voices are being slowly lost to fits of ignorance and indifference. Or are they? Does our generation not care about these issues, or are we just afraid to speak up?
High school exposes you to an unbelievable database of opinions, varying points of view, interesting perspectives and surprising lessons. I don’t believe for a second that students don’t care about the world around them, especially when the economic, as well as global, crises we’re in at the moment are affecting us all so heavily.
So why is it we don’t hear our students speaking out when we need them most? Perhaps we can answer this question by coming back to our parents. I always wonder what my parents think about my opinions, what I have to say, and the topics I talk to them about. Looking back, I realize I’ve had the privilege of expressing my thoughts in many different situations. I love debating with my parents, talking to them as an equal individual, having my say in any and every topic that crosses our general conversation.
What I can’t imagine is the household in which the student is confined within his or her own thoughts. He or she sits alone, eats dinner alone and does homework alone, never getting a chance to express opinions and thoughts. From this situation, I realize that a major factor influencing students who choose to voice their opinions as opposed to those who remain silent is the home life. Parents have the largest impact on a kid’s feeling of self-worth. Should you choose not to take the innumerable opportunities you have to talk to your child, you, and subsequently society, are missing out on a completely unique take on whatever it is this particular individual wishes to talk about.
In my high school career, I’ve learned my most valuable lessons from my classmates. For every student who has been brought up to stay silent during open forum-style discussions, I’m missing out on a potentially key addition to my overall breadth of understanding and knowledge. I value the points of view of every classmate I encounter, because it is the open discussions and free exchange of ideas that prepare me for every situation I may face outside of school.
This said, I would like to continue back to my original point. Active participation in civic events is extremely important. The issues around us are growing more complex and urgent. Student involvement and outspoken action is unsuspectingly one of the most influential factors on political issues, such as this past presidential election. With the ever-growing importance of student voices, it’s increasingly important to acknowledge your student’s opinions.
As part of the We The People team for Irvington High School, I have come to learn the importance of contributing, even when uncertain of being right or wrong. Free discussion with my classmates, prominent figures in Washington, D.C., and my team instructors and coaches furthered my enthusiasm for civic participation and expressing my views.
Since every student is not offered opportunities such as those I have received, the need for at-home discussion is more boldly emphasized. If you have a child who seems terribly shy, solitary, or seemingly indifferent and uninterested, don’t focus on what “may be wrong” with him or her, but consider what is lacking in the household day-to-day life.