Opinion: For good education reform, listen to teachers


Education: Frequently seen as a human right by many, often used as a political battleground to wield ideology by others. Of course, on a local scale, such statements do not always wholly apply, but the flaws that exist in education today are not exempt from Guilderland. These flaws have been magnifying since education was something controlled by the government, and today they are at their peak. But there is never always agreement on what exactly these flaws are, or their central causes. Many blame the lack of funding, or Governor Cuomo, or the Department of Education, or the wealth gap, or many other things. But who’s saying this? These opinions we consume and receive come from such places as news articles found on the internet, they don’t always tell the whole story. It’s snapshot coverage of pinpoint issues, focusing on one thing at a time so as not to confuse us. I didn’t like that. So I decided wanted to go and find out everything myself.

I wanted to know more about this struggle taking place in education, approaching it from different angles. A problem is rarely as simple as being caused by singular sources. It isn’t just poverty, it isn’t just the State, it isn’t just Governor Cuomo, it isn’t just teachers, it isn’t just any one thing. It’s all of those coexisting within the same country, within the same world, affecting each other and all having a collective impact on how children are educated. To deny that would be to deny the complexity of the world we’ve created for ourselves. The first angle that I approached this topic from was through the internet, watching videos and reading articles on the topic of flaws that exist in the current education system. I came across many on the topic made by Salman Khan, the founder of KhanAcademy, a site that contains video-lectures dedicated to making learning easier. Sal had a great many things to say on the topic, presenting generally the same points wherever he spoke, whether it was at his TED talk or speaking with Charlie Rose, all centering around fixing education. He described his points in detail, bringing up how education today uses a one-size-fits-all model, not caring about individual progress. And in saying all of this, I wondered just how much better education would be if we considered these ideas. And I wondered why we weren’t considering these ideas. More and more videos were watched, more and more articles were read. I eventually reached the conclusion that the State itself was what was stopping us. But how, exactly, did they remove such possibility? Just how tight was their grip on us?

And so, I went to the teachers. They who receive instruction from the state, then pass it to us. I knew they’d have information and opinions related to this matter. Videos and articles wouldn’t be enough. I interviewed a large number of teachers, asking them a set of questions that would get them to tell me something about how the state affected their jobs. The first thing that I had asked them about was standardized testing. Though most saw the needs for having standards to hold students and teachers accountable towards, they believed that the way in which the state used them was misguided and unfair, currently only used due to how efficient current methods of testing are.

Initially, I questioned them about the control the state has over their curriculum. Most if not all told me that the state gives them a certain list of topics/areas that are required to be covered during the year, guidelines to keep them from straying. However, the state has no say in how these topics are taught, leaving that up to the teachers. That part, to me, was pleasantly surprising, as I had (jokingly) expected a much more grim answer.

Next I asked them about budgets and funding. Many complained about how funding was tight, cutting down on the number of teachers in each department, increasing class sizes. This example was made evident to me by numerous teachers in many of my classes. It was very clear that teachers had a more difficult time managing classes and meeting with students due to the sheer numbers of children each one had to teach. Something a teacher had said last year really strikes me today, now that I look back at it; “I don’t have time, I’ve got 120 students.” More and more is expected of both students and teachers all at the same time degrading the environments we’re told to succeed in.

When approached about the subject of how teachers are currently evaluated, almost all of them told me about APPR. It’s a system of evaluating teachers based on observations(which were already in place) and statewide testing grades. 60% is based on observation and 40% based on exam scores such as the regents. Previously, evaluations were based purely on observation, not factoring in any test scores. While it was generally agreed upon that test scores were a useful metric of measuring student progress, the catch here was that each staff member would be judged on these scores. A teacher in the Math department may receive a lower overall score due to lesser average regents scores in science. This type of system holds each teacher accountable for areas they do not have control over, instead of looking at them individually for their strengths and weaknesses. Another flaw in the new system is the use of outside observers. Previously, all observations on teachers were done by the staff that worked here, but the new system plans to use people from outside the district to eliminate any possible bias. While the idea here doesn’t seem ill-intentioned, the problem is that the state, like with many issues, is not clear on how exactly this is going to be implemented. Always giving initiatives to follow but never telling people how to follow through.

The grand takeaway is that in this new era of government overreach, more and more control is being placed on our schools in an effort to catch up with the rest of the world. I do not absolve any blame from teachers themselves, nor ourselves, nor the state. It is through our complacency that we allowed this happen, and it is through the state that the bureaucracy enacts these measures.   We are sacrificing our own autonomy so that we might receive guidance, but in the end it constrains us, taking too much and giving us too little. I can only hope that we as students, we as people, can try to change education for the better, abandoning old dogma in place of free-thinking.


Opinions: High schools must do more to prepare students for the SAT


The SAT is a notorious test that millions of high school students across the country unwillingly take each year. It is a test that proves what students learn in high school. It is a test that colleges view as almost an ultimate measure of intelligence. It is a test that directly compares me to the next student. It is a test that public high schools across the country refuse to teach. Why wouldn’t high schools offer students a class on the SAT, a test that matters so much on an application? High schools offer everything but SAT prep. A public high school like Guilderland provides students with the opportunity to perform and excel in all academic and non-academic criteria that colleges look for in applications. The lack of test preparation in schools burdens busy students by forcing them to independently study. Preparation for such an immensely important test should be offered by high schools.

Guilderland High School offers everything to its students but SAT prep–AP classes, clubs, sports, teacher recommendations. Everything but SAT prep. Here at Guilderland, students participate in clubs ranging from French to Harry Potter, take AP classes ranging from European History to Calculus, and play sports ranging from golf to basketball. All of this reflects the way high school is designed to prepare us for college. Since all these characteristics do indeed matter when applying to college, it’s wrong for a high school to not offer SAT prep–an equally important aspect on applications. By not offering any prep, it almost seems that high schools don’t care how students perform, that they seemingly don’t care about the future of their students. It is incredibly wrong that we are prepared in every aspect of high school, but are neglected an increasingly important part of college applications.

By not offering SAT prep in school, students have no choice but to prepare independently while admirably attempting to balance a full schedule. By studying outside of school we have less time for extracurriculars, jobs, and other outside activities that would admissions officers would deem impressive. In order to excel on the SAT, we remove ourselves from these outside activities and events in our lives that also matter. We remove ourselves from sports practice, club fundraisers, even family gatherings. All of this sacrifice, just to prepare enough for the SAT so we won’t have to take it–and prepare for it–a second time. This is not the responsibility of us students, but of the high school. High schools act as hypocrites by not offering SAT prep because it does not align with what high schools should offer its students. If a high school sets a standard to prepare students for college–offering aforementioned AP classes and extracurriculars–then not preparing us for the SAT is an absolute disgrace. They are ignorantly disregarding the fact that the SAT is a tremendously important test that we take for college.

The SAT is a brutal four hour exam that is viewed as a punishing and insuperable obstacle for students with aspirations of attending a competitive university. The SAT forces us to physically remove ourselves from outside activities we’d far rather do. The SAT forces us to study for long nights and endless days just to get a score back we won’t be satisfied with. The SAT forces stress upon sufficiently busy lives. Why do high schools refuse to help stop this harassment of students? Any other form of harassment would be stomped on and crushed in a heartbeat. Yet when it comes to a test that high schools could readily prepare students for, there is no assistance against, no prevention of, and no protection from this harassment. Without proper guidance, students are left to deal with an enormous task alone, leading to unconditional sacrifice, unfair work, and unwarranted stress.

The fact that high schools do absolutely nothing to help their students for this exam is utterly shameful. A school could offer a half-year SAT course that prepares students for the test either midway or at the end of the year. The prep could help develop strategies, understand the test in-depth, and learn the types of questions, eventually culminating in a much higher score. It is indisputable that high schools are wrong in not preparing students for the SAT despite possessing the power to do so.

Opinion: The hypocritical cost of a college education – Why public higher education should be universally free


The American Dream is built on the principles of equal opportunity and social mobility, the idea that if someone works hard, they should be able to define their own destiny. It’s a term that has shaped our national ethos of freedom and prosperity and our ideals of success and advancement; it’s the idea we’ve used to welcome immigrants, fight for equality, and exemplify socioeconomic advancement; this is the rhetoric we use when we try to define the idiomatic idea of American greatness.

But when it comes to obtaining a college education, the American Dream is failing too many American students. Equal access to higher education is an imperative key to overcoming socioeconomic disparities, as it can give people of diverse backgrounds the tools they need to have a fair shot at a bright future. But as students are faced with rapidly increasing tuition and the crippling burden of debt from student loans, the cost of a college education is becoming a barrier to what should be a pathway to opportunity.

Many of us were hit with this reality this year as when we applied to college. Even at public schools, government-sponsored and taxpayer-funded institutions that have lower costs than private colleges, the cost of attendance can be a burden on students and families. In New York, the average total cost of tuition, room, and board at a SUNY school is more than $23,000 per year – no small sum for a typical family.

Yes, need-based financial aid programs make noble and often substantial attempts to make a college education affordable for people of all economic backgrounds, and merit-based scholarships attempt to reward bright students with a well-deserved discount. However, such programs, while helpful, perpetuate the idea that a college education is a privilege to be awarded rather than an opportunity that anyone who will work hard should be able to access. I’d offer a more equitable solution: let public colleges and universities be free for everyone.

Thomas Jefferson, in his autobiography, wrote that “instead of an aristocracy of wealth, to make an opening for the aristocracy of virtue and talent is essential to a well-ordered republic.” The way to realize this, he said, was to ensure that everyone, regardless of their social or economic class, has access to a quality education. Social mobility depends on equal opportunity, and it is undeniable that, on the whole, a college education is a critical opportunity for economic gain. Based on a 2013 analysis of Labor Department statistics by the Economic Policy Institute, Americans with a four-year degree make 98 percent more on average than those without a degree. Furthermore, the Pew Research Center found that young millennials with a college degree will make an average of $17,500 more than those with only a high school diploma. Following these trends, it would ultimately cost a person more not to go to college than it would to pay for their degree. The salary gap between those who went to college and those who didn’t illuminates why it is so important that everyone has access to a college education. Pursuing a college education is the most reliable route to financial security, and especially for students raised in lower-class families, it offers a pathway out of poverty.

Public universities were originally designed to meet the need for higher education at a more reasonable price than private colleges. But as tuition increases at public colleges, more and more students, particularly those from lower-class families, are barred from this opportunity. Even among those who do go to college, many are faced with the undue burden of massive debt. On average, college students graduate with an average of $30,000 in debt, and the total debt from student loans in this country has reached over 1 trillion dollars. In a nation that proclaims a conviction in social mobility, to impose a financial burden on those for whom education should be a path for economic advancement is a hypocritical action. This is not characteristic of a “land of opportunity;” this is indicative of an academic aristocracy that is out of line with American values, one in which a college education is seen more as a privilege given to the wealthy than as a resource available to everyone.

Here’s the thing: when our students succeed, our nation succeeds. Making a college education accessible to everyone would lead to a stronger economy, as those who earn higher wages would, in theory, be able to spend more. If people have access to education as a tool to economic prosperity, then more people would be lifted out of poverty, allowing them to contribute further to a stronger economy. Furthermore, if a college education could be free, students would not graduate with at much debt, which has become a tremendous drag on our economy.

And believe it or not, it seems that our country actually could afford it. As of 2012, according to Department of Education statistics and an analysis in The Atlantic, the total tuition of students at public colleges and universities was $62.6 billion. Currently, the government spends $69 million dollars in patchwork attempts to subsidize the cost of public colleges – programs like Pell Grants, tax breaks, and work study funding. Beyond that, the government spends another $107.4 billion dollars on federal students loans, which often serve students attending public schools. Therefore, it seems it would cost the government less to fully subsidize tuition at public colleges and universities than it currently spends on its various programs to try to make these colleges more affordable.

Critics will argue that a system of free higher education will only allow people to slack off in college, as there will be no economic incentive to do well. There is some merit to this argument: when people are paying for their education, they are probably more likely to take it seriously. However, there are other ways to encourage students to work hard in college. When President Obama proposed making community colleges free, his plan included the rule that students must maintain a minimum GPA of 2.5 in order to have their tuition waived. The minimum GPA approach could work very well, as it would give students an incentive to work hard in school without giving them unjust costs. Fundamentally, however, these ideas represent a wrongful mistrust in American students. I have faith that for most students, the pursuit of economic security and the pursuit of broader knowledge would be incentive enough to work hard and do well. We must not allow fear-driven “moocher” stereotypes to invalidate a system that would overwhelmingly benefit our students and our nation as a whole.

I’m not saying that students should always choose public schools over private schools, nor am I saying that private schools should become institutions only for the elite upper class. For students who feel that a private college offers them the best educational opportunity, the government should continue to offer the option of federal student loans to help tuitions be more affordable. Furthermore, private colleges should follow the practices, as many, but not all, already do, of need-blind admissions, which ensures that students are admitted or rejected based on academic strength and not their financial situation, and fully-funded financial aid, which aims to give each student as much as they need in financial aid to make that college affordable. Even if public colleges became free, private colleges must remain places of socioeconomic diversity, and must continue or initiate programs to do so.

I’m also not saying that everyone needs to go to college. Many respectable and lucrative careers do not require a college education, and students who wish to pursue such a path should be encouraged to do so – after all, our society depends on its people to fill all jobs, including those that do not require a college degree. Furthermore, some of the richest, most innovative people in the world did not go to college – this is a perfect time to remind you that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were both college dropouts.

But what I am saying is that everyone should have the opportunity. Economically, a college education is a pathway to financial security that benefits students and, in turn, our country. Academically, a college education is a pathway to intellectual fulfillment and enlightenment, a way for everyone to reach their full intellectual capacity. And morally, a college education is an imperative path to overcome socioeconomic inequality, a critical tool to ensure equal opportunity for all. We must come to see a college education not as a privilege for a few, but as a worthy investment in our citizens, and making higher education free reflects this fundamental principle. Until we do, the American Dream of social mobility and equal opportunity will remain just that – a dream, an unreachable standard, a hypocritical myth.

The injustice of affirmative action in college admissions


For many students here at Guilderland, race isn’t something that we spend a lot of time thinking about. While GHS is a place filled with all kinds of diverse interests, it is not a place filled with all kinds of diverse people: we are an overwhelmingly white school. There is a limited amount of individuals able to see race through the often sharper lens of minority. I am guilty of it too – as a white American I easily forget the privileges I garner simply because of that fact. Recently, however, as the college admissions wave crashes in once again, the sometimes-difficult contemplation about who we are, where we come from, and how that affects us peeks its head above the surface.

“You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say you are free to compete with all the others, and still just believe that you have been completely fair.” President Lyndon Johnson said this in 1965, as he so eloquently described the rationale for the continued, then contemporary, use of affirmative action in the United States. Affirmative Action programs are meant to help bolster opportunities for minority groups who have been subject to both the visible and invisible barriers of discrimination. They are an attempt at leveling the playing field so all citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender, are able to have their slice of the American Dream. I’ll give you the logic: Two hundred fifty years of slavery, ninety years of Jim Crow, sixty years of “separate but equal,” and the continual, omnipotent gray cloud of discrimination under the police and justice system. And this idea of marginalization isn’t unique to African Americans – as the U.S. population swelled to become the melting pot it is now, nearly every ethnic minority group – Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans – has been subjected to some form of discrimination under the law. Affirmative Action programs began just after the Civil War and continue today, through employment and recruiting procedures, as well as how it pertains to many Guilderland students – college admissions. And while it should be clear at this point that I believe sturdily in the principles that Affirmative Action are built upon, I have recently begun to ask the question that unbearably arises each year around this time: Is Affirmative Action in college admissions truly fair?

Before I begin making any kind of case, I feel it behooves me as a senior and as the author of this article to briefly explain my own college process.  I applied to school Early Decision and by incredible luck and potential divine intervention, I was one of the lucky few who knew where they were going by mid-December of this past year. I’m saying this not to toot my own horn, but rather to explain that this article isn’t some angry retaliation at a hoard of rejection letters. I also think it behooves me to mention this: Personally, I don’t know if I think Affirmative Action in colleges should change drastically, it’s an idea that I struggle with. But I do know that there is an argument to amending the system, and it’s one that I believe is important to make.

It is fairly well known that college admissions is not a perfect science – not even close, especially when it comes to elite universities. Acceptance to top-tier schools, even by the most qualified of qualified students is never close to a guarantee. Perfect grades, amazing standardized test scores, a host of extracurricular activities, and great essays have now become the norm among applications to say, an Ivy League institution. The admissions standards are so high that simply meeting them means relatively little. These standards, however, aren’t consistent from applicant to applicant. Students that fall under the category of “underrepresented minority” or URM (typically black, Hispanic, or Native American), are often subject to a relative detente by admissions officers regarding the level at which their applications are scrutinized. I’m not claiming that URM students who are accepted to prestigious universities aren’t deserving of it, and that they aren’t incredibly bright, driven people, because in order to get into a top school you must be. However, what I am saying is that many, many rejected applicants are as well. More specifically, Asian-American applicants.

I wrote earlier that the basis of Affirmative Action was to help level the playing field, and on its surface, easing the acceptance standards for URMs does that. It uses the idea that these students have been given less opportunity, and inherently don’t have the same platform that say, white people have, to achieve high academic success. I’ll get back to this point, but for now I will say yes, that is true. Being white in America has a lot of advantages that other minorities don’t receive. So while Affirmative Action has an arguably reasonable basis behind changing admissions standards for URMs, it’s harder to account for the raised admissions standards that Asian-American individuals fall victim to. In 2009, in their book “No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal,” Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade and researcher Alexandria Walton Radford, studied applicants from 1997 and found that whites were three times, Hispanics six times, and blacks more than fifteen times as likely to be accepted at a US university as Asian-Americans. And this was data from now nearly twenty years ago. Okay, there are inherent disadvantages that black people face in America, however, I believe firmly that there aren’t inherent advantages to being an Asian person, especially not in comparison to white Americans.

The reason for this disparity in standards is the case of diversity – we need it in colleges. Diversity is a good thing in a learning environment. It helps give a wide range of perspectives. It benefits both minorities who are able to have people that they can relate to ethnically, and for whites who can understand the world better through their classmates. Schools aim to create a student population reflective of the population as a whole.  If colleges ignored race in their admissions process, we wouldn’t get the same cross-section of humanity that campuses would like to reflect. Take UC Berkeley, arguably the most prestigious school in the UC system, a system that in 1997, began a race-blind admissions process. In 2014, Asian Americans were the largest demographic to be admitted, making up 42.8 percent of admissions offers, followed by whites with 28.4 percent. While California does have a high Asian-American population, they are not the majority ethnic group, not even close.

So, a race-blind admissions process does create some diversity issues, I can agree with that. However, something feels inherently wrong about essentially punishing a demographic for having high levels of achievement. In many Asian-American households, education is an important value, which is why we see such staggering levels of incredibly successful Asian students. The thing here to note is this, though, successful students in general tend to come from families where education is a stressed ideal. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, Asian, Hispanic – if your parents expect you to take school seriously, you likely will. Asian-Americans aren’t successful because they are Asian, they are successful because they come from an environment where they are expected to be, just like the vast majority of every other top student from every race. If colleges raised their admissions standards off of which students were read to when they were little, encouraged to take enrichment opportunities or watch educational television, I imagine that their acceptances would change. This noted disparity in Asian-American academic success and everyone else has little do with race and more to do with values, values that are more prominent in Asian communities but likely the most prominent on the campuses of elite universities, where the majority of students benefited from the very same things that Asians are being penalized for.

This idea that academic success is derived not from your race, but rather from your household, is the driving force for much of the backlash against Affirmative Action. This logic is also pretty simple: You have a black student and a white student, both with two parents who are college educated attending the same high school and falling in the same socioeconomic bracket. It is challenging to find any disparity in opportunity for academic success between these two students. They both come from households where education is important, they have the same chance to take challenging classes, join clubs and sports, and neither has to worry about family economics more than the other. However, when it comes to applying to colleges, the black student has an advantage because they are black. I am someone who hates the absurd claims of so-called “reverse racism,” or the idea that any of this somehow makes up for the atrocities that African-Americans have been subject to in our history as a country and still today. I’m not complaining about my whiteness, I’m just stating the fact that this is true.

I’m not saying that Affirmative Action needs to go completely. It does a good job helping bring up minority groups that haven’t been given a fair hand, but it also tips the scales against Asian-Americans, and at times, poorer white people. The most readily available amendments to this entire system stabs at the demographic that we haven’t talked about yet: the poor. People from challenging economic backgrounds are at the most disadvantageous position when it comes to academic opportunity. Beyond just the stressors and struggles of daily life around or below the poverty line, students from low-income areas often attend worse public schools, and are less likely to have parents who graduated college. Here is the important thing though: the URMs I was talking about earlier all have significantly higher poverty rates than white people. If Affirmative Action focused more on class and family background, and less on race itself, theoretically, diversity should occur in an organic way.

I know that this isn’t a perfect solution. I know that discrimination isn’t black and white (no pun intended), but rather a dynamic mosaic of little things, of micro-aggressions, of deeply rooted and unrecognized stigmas we find within ourselves. I know that in the search for equality, we have so, so far to go as a country. But I also know this: I have spent hours at night doing APUSH, gnawing through calculus, stressing over English papers. I have seen my friends do the same, friends who are white and friends who are black, friends who are Hispanic and friends who are Asian. While our struggles are often unique, we are bound by our work ethic and love of learning, our late nights and our long readings. So when college admissions comes down to the nitty-gritty, when rejections make us question our efforts or hurt for our friends, white, Asian or anything else, it is known: we could not have done this any way but together.

The hypocrisy of “progress:” the state of racism in America


On Sunday, March 7, 1965, nearly six hundred marchers assembled on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama to protest the shooting death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young, unarmed black man who was an activist for African-American voting rights. In the tragedy that became known as “Bloody Sunday,” the nonviolent demonstrators were sprayed with tear gas and beaten with billy clubs by Alabama State Troopers as they fought to march across the bridge. The events of “Bloody Sunday” sparked national outrage, with protesters pouring into Selma from around the country for further demonstrations; they also prompted political action, ultimately leading to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. The tragedy was one of the most important events of the civil rights movement; the heroic acts by the protesters on Bloody Sunday are a vital part of the long story of civil rights in America.

But the story of civil rights in America is not over. Last month, thousands of people gathered on the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the tragedies in Selma. Led by President Barack Obama and Congressman John Lewis, who was beaten on the bridge on Bloody Sunday, the demonstrators walked across the bridge, symbolically completing the march from fifty years ago. But despite the air of hope and optimism, the event was cast against a backdrop of desperation. Two years ago, a Supreme Court decision dismantled a key aspect of the Voting Rights Act, the very legislation that resulted from the protests in Selma. And in the past year, America saw the murders of two unarmed black men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, casting a stark reminder to the needless deaths of Jimmie Lee Jackson and countless other African-American lives. Indeed, it seems the struggle for racial equality is as much a part of the present as it is a part of our past.

A few years ago, the underlying and often-ignored racial tensions in America were reawakened when Trayvon Martin, an African-American teenager, was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator who thought Martin “looked suspicious.” Personally, following the case of Trayvon Martin was the early spark to my convictions about racial equality and social justice. Prior to Martin’s death, my concept of America was only what I had been taught in history books; I knew that racial discrimination had been a part of our nation’s past, but was ignorant of it’s lasting impact. But through absorbing the nation-wide discussions stemming from Trayvon’s death, I became increasingly aware of the systemic racism that has permeated American society and the cultural implications it has caused. Racism, I realized, is not merely buried in history books – it is, sadly, an integral aspect of modern society.

Some, however, refuse to acknowledge this reality, and continue to ignore our society’s inherent racial bias while only admonishing those who call for change. When millions of people demonstrated in cities across the country in protest of the murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, carrying signs declaring “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe,” the last words of Eric Garner before he was choked to death by an NYPD officer, they were met with criticism for being, as Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly labeled them, “racial agitators” who “set back race relations in America years” with their “tactics of violence.” Similarly, when the Department of Justice released a scathing report showing a horrific pattern of racial bias within the Ferguson police department, including blatantly racist emails and evidence that police officers arrested African-Americans only to raise revenue, the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri pointed his finger back at the Justice Department, saying “there is more racism in the Justice Department” than anywhere in the St. Louis area; “it is the left,” he says, “[Attorney General] Eric Holder and the Obama-left and their minions who are obsessed with race. The rest of us are moving on beyond it.”

But the painful truth is that the institution of racism exists today in much the same way that it did in the 1960’s. Racism exists in the city blocks where helpless people are detained and victimized by crime and gun violence with no option of escape. Racism exists in our nation’s prison system, where most of the inmates are minority citizens. And perhaps most painfully, racism exists in the messages sent to minority children through the injustices in our society that there will be more barriers to their success than they can overcome, that their hopes and dreams are invalid, their futures held hostage by the color of their skin. Racism, systemic racism, is alive and well in America, but in the post-racial paradox in which we live, many refuse to see it.

So when an African-American student at the University of Virginia is thrown against the pavement by the police, it must be viewed in the context of a larger cultural problem of race relations; when a University of Oklahoma fraternity is caught on video chanting a racist cheer, it must be seen not merely as an isolated incident, but rather as a reflection of the cloud of racism that hangs above our nation. In today’s society, we seem to have a tendency to pinpoint racism as if it exists only in specific places and the minds of certain people. Instead, if we are to truly make progress, we must accept that racism is a prevalent problem in our nation, an issue that is deeply rooted in our society.

Before we, as a nation, blindly accept that we have made progress since the days of Jim Crow and complacently claim to live in a post-racial society, we must deeply analyze the present state of race in America. When we do, we will see that the progress we speak of exists only in our minds as a source of comfort and innocence. To accept this false reality as fact is an injustice to the victims of our innocence, a truly hypocritical action against our national doctrine of liberty and justice for all.

After all, today’s similarities to our nation’s past seem more pronounced than the differences we speak of. In 1955, Emmett Till, an African-American teenager, was beaten, shot, and drowned with a cotton gin fan tied to his neck because he allegedly “threatened” a white woman. At his funeral, his mother, Mamie Till, issued a call for change by leaving her son’s casket open, exposing the deformities caused by his murder. But in the past few years, we’ve seen the murderers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner slip through the cracks of the court system, and with each acquittal, Mamie Till’s hope for change slipped further and further into the foggy abyss of the forgotten past.

Progress? Sadly, it seems not.

Attack in Kenya overlooked in America


Not everyday do we see nearly 150 university students killed in a mass shooting. But could it be that we don’t hear about it at all?

On April 2, the Islamist militant group al-Shaabab claimed responsibility for the massacre at Garissa University in Kenya earlier that day. After entering the campus grounds and shooting the guards, the four militants began firing in the library and classrooms, killing 148 students and wounding another 80. Though the militants claimed to have released Muslims and killed only Christians, the attack was seemingly random and targeted all groups, especially women.

Al-Shaabab was also the perpetrator behind the Westgate shopping mall attack in September 2013, which killed nearly 70 and wounded 175. A jihadist terrorist group with around 8,000 members, al-Shaabab pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2012 and continuously launches attacks in Kenya. Hardly a week earlier, al-Shaabab attacked Hotel Maka Al Mukaram in Mogadishu, killing 20 and wounding another 30.

In fact, al-Shaabab conducts so many attacks in Kenya—whether it be skirmishes with local military forces or large civilian massacres—that each specific one does nothing but paint a larger picture. In fact, they lose individual significance. Could that be why we students hardly hear about, or even care about, events of such stupendous magnitude?

Al-Shaabab’s attacks are not about demonstrating international power. They don’t have international consequence, and matter even less perhaps for countries like the U.S. What they do show is their ability to frustrate the Kenyan government in an everyday setting, such as schools or malls. Not only are they more vulnerable; attacking a glamorous mall or newly constructed school is more symbolic than functional. Perhaps that’s why fundamentalist groups such as al-Shaabab continue to survive and thrive: their threat is local, and their opposition is weak.

And maybe that shows something about American foreign policy towards radical Islamic groups in the Middle East and Africa: the drone strike and the bolstering of a naturally weak leadership is not the right way to confront fundamentalism. Instead, the U.S. should focus their help on the local level, because Kenya’s problems are local.

Building a capable nation requires time, so that local political and economic divisions can be solved. This means building a capable economy in both Kenya and Somalia, where al- Shaabab is based. Ending this economic misery eliminates the perfect environment for such radical terrorist groups. But there is a larger problem than al-Shaabab for the U.S., and that’s the absence of attention towards events like the university shooting. The Garissa University massacre did not spawn the massive social media outburst like #freeourgirls or #JeSuisCharlie.

Stéphane Charbonnier and four other cartoonists were killed for publishing what they believed in, and their names will be remembered as symbols of free speech. But those 150 students were killed for learning, for trying to better their futures and worshiping different Gods. Will the deaths of these students have the same symbolic meaning than the attack on Charlie Hebdo?

Most likely not, and it spawns the crucial question: why not? What makes the attack on Charlie Hebdo so much more striking and important than the shooting at Garissa University?

The first consideration is location. Is it possible that Charlie Hebdo received more attention simply because it occurred in Paris? Perhaps, but then we remember that #freeourgirls began because of the kidnapping of 200 female students in Nigeria. Could it be the perpetrators of the killings? It’s unlikely. Radical Muslims carried out the assassinations of Charlie Hebdo columnists. Islamic fundamentalists also carried out the abduction of the Nigerian girls.

What about the ideals that the killings symbolized? The assassinations of Charlie Hebdo journalists reinvigorated support for free speech, while the abduction in Nigeria demonstrated the universal right to an education. But the same goes for the attack at Garissa University. So where is the discrepancy?

A final consideration is that the attack in Kenya was a more local problem than the attack in Paris or the kidnappings in Nigeria. The attack on Charlie Hebdo was conducted by French Muslims because for many years the newspaper’s satirists had been slamming and mocking Muhammad and Islam under the protection of free speech. In Nigeria, the 200 schoolgirls were abducted because the Islamist group Boko Haram, who carried out the kidnappings, disliked the new style of Western education that was “corrupting” Africa and wanted a return to traditional Islamic education. In contrast, however, the recent massacre in Kenya was merely one piece of a thread of constant attacks carried out by a dangerous but overall typical fundamentalist group. The attack in Kenya had little to no international implications—and though one could argue that the other two events did not either, the attack on Kenya was motivated almost solely by local reasons. Undermining a nation’s local security is not symbolically the same as assassinating members of a famous satirical newspaper or kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls.

Ultimately, that’s the danger we face: ignorance to the real problems. We can continue to fight a war against a danger we cannot see—radicalism and fundamentalism in a religion that’s becoming widely scrutinized—but we will not be able to restore peace if we continue to turn blind eyes towards an actual problem. Radical Islamic terrorist groups are continuing to pose real threats in Africa, the Middle East, and increasingly in the West and in Europe. But that problem lies in Kenya, and other African countries where attacks and conflicts are daily occurrences, not in Paris or Washington, where threats are only that and one attack grabs historic attention.

All of these events are horrific. Assassinations of Parisian journalists threaten American newspapers and massacres in Kenya frighten students at home. But to address the long-term problem, we need to consider the problem in Kenya as well as Paris, and we need to force ourselves to look at the problem we face, because every one of the terrifying events should deserve our attention.

After Charlie Hebdo, a new foreign policy


The smoke had hardly cleared from the Manhattan skyline before the quest for justice began. While police officers and firefighters pulled lifeless bodies from the rubble, the country called for retaliation. As the world mourned the victims of the attack, Washington prepared for war.

On the day after the September 11 attacks, President Bush put before Congress an Authorization for the Use of Military Force. The bill called for the authorization of “all necessary and appropriate force” by the President against “the nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks.” Democrats and Republicans in Congress were decisively unified in their support of the authorization, and the bill passed the Senate unanimously. But in the House of Representatives, one person – Democratic Representative Barbara Lee of California – stood in stark opposition to the otherwise unanimous military fervor.

Speaking on the House floor, Lee warned against passing a “blank check” for the President that did not include specific military actions or time parameters. Citing “my conscience, my moral compass, my God,” she begged Congress to “take a step back,” saying that “we don’t know what the implications of our actions will be.” In the end, the authorization passed the House by a vote of 420 to one, with Barbara Lee casting the lone “nay” vote in Congress.

Now, more than 13 years after Barbara Lee voted no to the War on Terror, history has repeated itself.

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No name calling week must last


There’s always posters hanging up in the hallways at school. I never pay attention to them, mainly because they tend to advertise events or dates that have no importance to me at all. But, one poster was pointed out to me by a friend, a handwritten poster announcing a No Name Calling Week. I started laughing at this poster, not because I’m pro-derogatory terms and love the use of hurtful names, but because as students in the 21st century we should’t have to reserve certain weeks to respect one another. Having respect for your peers enough not to put them down should be a daily thing, not a notion that has to be reinforced by a specific week.

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Satire: Survey of heterosexual, white males shows sexism completely eliminated


A recent survey, polling hundreds of heterosexual, white teenage boys across all levels of the middle class, is showing that sexism is no longer a problem in our modern society. The survey requested the young men to answer questions regarding how they felt their gender affected their schooling, their work environment, their representation in the media, their ability to make their own conscious decisions about their sexual health and more. The results, which were unanimous in that participants did not feel as if their gender affected any of the listed scenarios, clearly stated one thing: sexism is all but eliminated. For many, these results show a triumphant victory in the fight for equality, though the participants in the study were not shocked by the news. “Honestly, I don’t see how anything is any different for me than it would have been 200 years ago,” said one anonymous, Caucasian male, noting “I’ve never even thought about any of these things until I took this dumb-ass survey.” The poll also contained a series of “yes” or “no” questions, which responses indicated that there are no longer places in the world where participants couldn’t vote, drive, attend religious services, or join the workforce based purely because of their gender.

The survey was conducted in a controlled, observed environment over the course of sixty minutes. Researchers noted that many of the participants met some questions with confusion.  “Some of these questions were really stupid,” another anonymous, white male participant said. “Like, obviously I can go to in school clothes that make me feel confident, and like no, the administration isn’t going to ‘sexualize’ me. What does that even mean?”

Despite the good news, some women’s rights groups feel as if the survey wasn’t totally representative, as no actual women put forward their input. However, Daniel Schiesser, a local UAlbany student who took a women’s studies class believes their claims are unfounded. “Let me explain in this to you in a way you would understand,” began Schiesser. “Honestly, women just overreact to everything. They complain about sexism, you give them the data they want, and apparently you still did something wrong.”