Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Book Reviews by Ava Tanis

 on: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is Part 1 of the biography of renowned activist, poet, and dancer: Maya Angelou. Beautifully raw and cuttingly honest, the first novel of the author’s seven-book series tells the story of Angelou’s life from childhood through her 16th year. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is written incredibly intricately and includes even the most obscure details of Angelou’s life as a Black child, woman, and person living in the South before and during World War II. It is important to mention, however, that the story includes potentially offensive language, graphic imagery of racism, and description of sexual assault, which can be triggering for some. If rather than being triggered by such discussions, you are merely made uncomfortable, this read is definitely worth challenging your comfort zone for. 

In an increasingly racially aware America, it is vital that people gain insight into the stories of Black people. Angelou’s is especially heart wrenching, evidencing just how cruel and unforgiving life was and can be as an African American. In one instance when she was just a child, and in excruciating pain as a result of two cavities, a white dentist refused to treat her because of a “policy” against treating people of color. On top of the deep rooted and hateful racism she experienced, Angelou was a victim of sexual assault—a crime which, much more than it does now, caused survivors to be regarded as “unpure” or “used,” despite their having been given no choice in the matter. 

The story is not all darkness and hardship, though. While making sure to shed light on her trauma and the “humorless puzzle of inequality and hate” (Angelou 193) she faced, Angelou balances bits of emotional depth and lightheartedness, even comedy, in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The subtle funny moments scattered throughout make her feel much less like a historical figure and more like a person. They add an element of relatability to the story which allows you, by the end, to be fully invested in her life’s story. 

Biographies—and nonfiction works, for that matter—can be intimidating to readers (especially teenagers), probably because they don’t off the bat sound incredibly dramatic or action-packed. To be fair, some biographies are boring and nonfiction books can be too, but Maya Angelou has a story that is not only interesting, but inspiring and eye opening. For anyone looking to dip their toes into the world of nonfiction, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an absolute must read. For anyone and everyone, looking to dip their toes into anything or not, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an absolute must read. 

This story is chock full of strong, thoughtful, and artfully worded pieces of food for thought. To conclude; here is one that is especially poignant and relevant to teens from Chapter 34: 

To be left alone on the tightrope of youthful unknowing is to experience the excruciating beauty of full freedom and the threat of eternal indecision. Few, if any, survive their teens. Most surrender to the vague but murderous pressure of adult conformity. It becomes easier to die and avoid conflicts than to maintain a constant battle with the superior forces of maturity. (Angelou 264)


Social Media and Free Speech

 By Melissa Maxwell

Have you ever read something online and asked yourself, “Why would someone ever say something like that?” Have you ever seen a post that is obviously filled with disinformation but people are believing it? Have you ever seen or read things online that you really did not want to see? Free speech is and has been a big issue on social platforms. The misinformation that is spewed online can mislead people, leaving them in the dark about what is really going on. There are people saying and posting things they should not say online. Do we really want to be on platforms that condone hatred and violence? I believe that moderators should be doing a better job at removing disinformation and extremism from their platforms because it will lead to bias and untruth on them.

People believe that the moderators on these social platforms are not doing enough to keep disinformation from the public. According to Andrew McLaughlin, “Failing to tackle that problem means ceding the terrain to fraudsters, fake-news pushers, and other kinds of propagandists, who easily gain the upper hand” (“Supporters Argue”). There is more fake-news on social media than ever before, which goes to say that the people are right, the moderators are not doing enough. Too often, social media companies have chosen profit over responsibility, which ends up leaving the public uniformed and confused.

Opposers argue that it is a violation of free speech for private companies to moderate content. Moderating content is allowed because it is a company enforcing its own rules against false or offensive speech. The people that believe it is a violation are the ones who are either spreading or supporting fake-news. Professor Anthony DiMaggio explains that "We have long lived in a post-truth society, with political propaganda dominating the 'mainstream' news media, and contributing to disinformation campaigns aimed at manipulating public opinion," (¨Opponents Argue¨). There is so much fake-news and untruthfulness in the media that people do not know what is real and what is not. One of the most popular social media apps, Facebook, has become one of the most affected when it comes to fake-news. "As Facebook has become the favorite online home for Americans, it has also become host to a wide array of hyperpartisan content machines that publish mountains of misleading or outright fabricated stories that are explicitly designed to be widely shared among people who are more inclined to believe them," (Olheiser, ¨Supporters Argue¨). Facebook is like the new Ccolosseum, some of the people on it are constantly fighting and arguing about their rights and views. Users can be on this app for hours on end, so they are always exposed to seeing these types of things within the app.

Some users of social media apps have tried to refrain from using them as often, or at all. A volunteer from a study done in 2013 said "[I] felt alone and cut off from the world," (“Social Media”). People that try to stay away from the disinformation on social media, also end up staying away from the truth. Users on apps have the tendency to believe things they read and see online because they trust the platforms that they are on, and we've seen it a million times. Senator Elizabeth Warren said "[T]he same technological changes that have allowed people to more easily find each other and unite have also made it easier to incite hatred and violence," (“Supporters Argue''). Social media is supposed to connect people with friends, loved ones, and the truth. There may not be a way to completely remove fake-news and misinformation from the internet, but there definitely is a better way of moderating it.

I believe that moderating what people say and post on social media is beneficial because it keeps lies from spreading to the majority of the public. Not censoring things people post can cause the users that trust the platforms they are on to believe things that are untrue. I believe that censoring and moderating fake-news and misinformation is a violation of free speech. Although people have the freedom to say and do whatever they want, I do believe that there is a time and place where things should be said. Spreading fake-news online doesn’t help. The public is already unaware about things happening in the world, and a lot of people believe the things they see and read online. There isn’t a way to fully censor and moderate every source of fake-news, but I believe that moderators of social media platforms can and should do a better job.


Free Speech in Public Schools


By Justin Perrone

Freedom of speech is the most important right in the United States of America. It is why the Founding Fathers made it the First Amendment in the constitution. Now our most important right could be under attack and it starts in our schools. Imagine a student named John. John is pro-life and extremely passionate about abortions and the death penalty because he believes that no one should be able to take another human’s life. John is in the position to voice his passionate opinion, but cannot because his school deemed the topic “insensitive” or “disrespectful”  to people that view otherwise. John claims that this is violating his right to free speech and says that he has the right to say his opinion. John has the right to voice his opinion and the school cannot stop him unless it interferes with discipline or schoolwork as supported by the Supreme Court’s Tinker decision. Let’s say, however, that John cannot voice his opinion and is faced with disciplinary actions for doing so. The question is, what else can the school filter and suppress? What is stopping them from filtering and dismissing any opinion they deem “insensitive” or “inappropriate?” I believe schools should never be able to stop you from using your right to free speech because it is fundamentally unamerican. 

The Founding Fathers made The First Amendment free speech for a reason. They faced prosecution for voicing their “insensitive and “unpopular” opinions against the Crown. Free speech laws exist to protect unpopular views and thus schools are not exempt from limiting those rights. Scott Bomboy, who is the author of Public school student free speech: A primer wrote “Justice Abe Fortas said public school students don’t “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate”. (Bomboy 5) What Bomboy wrote is right and the argument of “teachers having to protect their students from potentially dangerous speech” (Free Speech 1) is just an excuse for them wanting to filter students and push their narrative. If you are being suppressed for “dangerous speech,” you should question that because it is your right to do so. If you do not ask critical questions now, would you do so when you are older?  

The whole argument and debate for wanting to have broad, free speech in public schools are so important; because if you are conditioned to not speak out for what you believe in, you are less likely to do so when you are older. If you are taught to shut up and obey the rules with no questions asked, you are more likely going to do that when you are older. When institutions allow independent thought at a young age (especially in high school) then the world is more likely to see independent thought in adults. If we discontinue the harmful trend of silencing our youth, we will live in a society where people know how to voice their opinions in a better way. For example, take what happened at the Capitol on January 6th: rioters stormed the Capitol under the spell of a lie. They did so under the impression that the 2020 election was rigged. Now if these rioters were able to talk about their opinions without being shunned or thought of as crazy, there could have been debate and productive discussions. The debate of the subject with free speech and evidence would have led to a different outcome. 

If you do not speak up to protect your right, then in the future you could possibly see harsh disciplinary actions for voicing your opinions outside of school. In Should Public Schools Students Have Broad Free Speech Rights the author writes “Many supporters have voiced concerns that students could be punished for views they express in outside writing projects, activities, or posting to their personal Websites or Web logs.(Supporters Argue 6)”. Instagram, Snapchat, and Tik Tok are all apps that a majority of students have. Imagine schools punishing you for voicing your passionate views on your private accounts. Where would you be safe to voice your opinion? When would the line in the sand be drawn? Would we the students wish we had fought harder for our right to free speech in schools? I hope we do not find out, but if we do not use our right to free speech, then it could be inevitable in the future. 

Your voices and opinions are all different and unique. Do not let them be dismissed by anyone, especially in school, where you're supposed to learn and grow as a person. Question why your opinion is dismissed as “insensitive,” “toxic,”, or “disrespectful.” If we the people, allow ourselves to be filtered and censored by teachers and our schools then we deserve to be censored. If we can question and demand that our right to free speech is protected and respected, then this push to censor us across all media platforms in our lives will die before it can start. This is why our right to free speech is so important because it is not just about being censored in school, but allowing ourselves to be censored throughout the rest of our lives. Use your right to free speech to question what happens in your school, household, and country because it is your greatest defense and offense in life. 



Resources:

"Students' Free-Speech Rights: Should Public School Students Have Broad Free Speech Rights?." Issues & Controversies, Infobase, 27 Apr. 2007,icof.infobaselearning.com/recordurl.aspx?ID=2128. Accessed 10 Jan. 2021.


Bomboy, Scott. “Public School Student Free Speech: A Primer.” National Constitution Center – Constitutioncenter.org, Constitution Daily, 16 Mar. 2018, constitutioncenter.org/blog/public-school-student-free-speech-a-primer. Accessed 10 Jan. 2021


Why Pinterest is the Most Unproblematic Form of Social Media


By: Brooke Bartschat


We live in the age of technology, an age in which almost all of our lives are lived and documented through posts, likes, retweets, and viral trends. But we know the effects of this. We have seen the studies. We have seen how the constant comparison and competition between numbers of likes, retweets, and views has negatively affected mental health in society. We have also seen the horrible effects of interactions on Twitter and Facebook. The harassment, the cancel culture, and the overall horrible comments that flood these platforms and make these apps that were supposed to be  a fun place to interact with friends and family into a cesspool of misinformation, harassment, and toxicity. 


Instagram, especially, has become a toxic place, rewarding and praising those who fit society’s beauty standard and promoting the most manufactured, capitalistic businesses. They put focus on numbers: likes, followers, and comments all there to show you where exactly you rank in the world. They have tried to combat this by hiding the number of likes on posts, thereby limiting your ability to compare your achievements to those of others, but you can still see your own like counts, and that’s enough to perpetuate the issue. 

Twitter and Facebook are also a breeding ground for toxicity. With misinformation and rumors that spread like wildfire, these platforms are essentially the social media version of a middle school. These platforms are also the main stage of cancel culture, where someone’s career, reputation, and happiness can be ended in one fell swoop (again, like middle school).


The only saving grace is Pinterest. Though Pinterest is technically a form of social media, I find it unfair to group this platform with the other gross mental health destroyers. Unlike these other platforms where you are bombarded by unwarranted and sometimes unwelcome opinions, Pinterest is curated directly to you. It is essentially a catalog, a vision board curated to your interests and things you will enjoy. It is arguably the most wholesome, peaceful place on the internet.


Not only is Pinterest’s website aesthetically pleasing and visually relaxing, the pins themselves our wholesome as well. I don’t know about you, but when I peruse my Pinterest feed, I’m easily gratified by beautiful views of coastal Greece, gorgeous gowns, and cute puppies. Essentially, Pinterest is a catalog of all of the things on the internet that actually bring you serotonin and peace.


Over the past couple years, we have also seen a rise in social media detoxes, a conscious elimination of social media use and consumption for a set period of time. Many people I know, including myself, have participated in these detoxes. One of the things I’ve noticed, however, is Pinterest is never included. One of my best friends recently started a social media detox, which she is still on and continuing strong, and I asked her why she didn’t include Pinterest. I remember her telling me, “Pinterest is different. Pinterest is an escape that doesn’t make me feel worse when exiting.” This is the key. Rather than other forms of social media that focus on comparison and negativity, Pinterest focuses solely on the things that not only bring joy, but bring joy to you specifically. Pinterest is an endless world of recipes you want to try, places you want to go, clothes you want to buy, and overall positivity.


While other forms of social media incentivize competition and unrealistic views of success, Pinterest provides a simple outlet for creativity and fosters an actual sense of community, reminding us of the simplicity of life, the happiness that comes with indulging in good food and friendship, and offering practical advice galore to ensure the content we see is plentiful, diverse, and enriching as opposed to competitive and destructive. Though Pinterest is not entirely unproblematic or absent of any flaws, I feel, when compared to any other social media platform, it is easily the best.


Dr. Seuss’ Cancelled Books


By: Grace Pereira


Earlier this month, Dr. Seuss Enterprises issued a statement that it would stop the publication of six of his books due to racist imagery. This announcement has triggered an uproar of opposition from right wing groups, such as Fox News, defending these offensive books; yet, none of the titles are the renowned classics. No one is trying to remove the best sellers. The six books that are being taken off the shelves are, "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street," "If I Ran the Zoo," "McElligot's Pool," "On Beyond Zebra!," "Scrambled Eggs Super!," and "The Cat's Quizzer."


These books contain harmful, offensive depictions of black people and Asian people, so there is ample reason for the books to be under fire. In schools, these are not the kind of books we should be allowing children to read, as they enforce racist stereotypes. Children look up to authors like Dr. Seuss, and I am sure he was a part of your childhood as well, so we must acknowledge the author’s racist past.


Some people may claim that this is just a result of “cancel culture”, but in my opinion, that is just an excuse to ignore the racist imagery. No one is cancelling Dr. Seuss. Simply, it is about not tolerating racism, and accepting change. With that being said, I believe that we need to learn from this prejudice that has been prevalent throughout history. The removal of the books is a step in the right direction, and we must continue to learn from the past to ensure that racial stereotypes are not a part of future literature.


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Trump Acquitted… Again

By: John Stracco      


 In a less intense than usual manner (let's try and not normalize this impeachment thing), the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, was acquitted (to no one’s surprise), despite high hopes of some democrats. In all fairness, the house managers were able to achieve the most bipartisan impeachment in American History (though that fault mostly lies within the actions of Mr. Trump), with 7 Republicans dissenting to the minority side. Those 7 Republicans were Pat Toomey (PA), Mitt Romney (UT), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Richard Burr (NC), Susan Collins (ME), Ben Sasse (NE), and Bill Cassidy (LA). 

Some noticeable things about these seven senators are that Romney, Sasse, Collins, and Murkowski are all moderates, meaning they were heavily expected to vote the way they did. Senators Burr and Toomey are notable because they are both retiring in the 2022 midterm elections, meaning they do not have to worry about serious in-party rebuke. Lastly, Senator Cassidy just won reelection, meaning by the time he is up again, his constituents will not be too worried or remember this vote.


With that being said, the acquittal is telling of what the republican party wishes to be in the upcoming years: the party of Trump. While minority leader McConnell said the former president should be prosecuted, he also stated his belief that the trial was unconstitutional as justification for his acquittal, despite having the opportunity to bring the articles up while Trump was still in office. In a certain sense, this trial is not only symbolic in the continuous two-party struggle in American politics, but also in the fact that there is political support in Congress for the actions that took place on January 6th. The point is that were this to be Joe Biden, the Republicans would be down his throat and the Democrats would scramble in defense, just like Trump did. Joe Biden is yet to prove he could unify America and Trump’s trial was the first test. His next- Covid relief and vaccinations.


The Unique Fashion of Inauguration Day


By: Elise Stefankiewicz


Let’s talk fashion, but with a political twist. Inauguration Day this year stood out for many reasons. The crowd was much smaller due to the pandemic, there was heightened security, and the former president was not present. All of these things made the Inauguration extremely unlike any Inauguration in the past. However, my eyes lit up when I saw what everyone was wearing. The fashion of Inauguration Day was ruled by colorful coats and was definitely next level, especially for the ladies. While the men all looked very classy, the women stood out the most.


Our Vice President Madam Kamala Harris wore Christopher John Rogers and Serigo Hudson. The purple color looked incredible on her. Even though I am not a huge fan of the shape of the dress, overall she looked amazing. Michelle Obama wore Sergio Husdon and a beautiful shade of purple. She was agrumentably the best dressed of the day, the color looked stunning on her, and the pants were amazing. I love how the belt cinches the waist perfectly and the matching gloves as well. I also love how Former President Barack Obama wore her accent color. Hilary Clinton wore Ralph Lauren and also had on purple, however her outfit was one of my least favorites. I think a white coat would have gone better with the shade of purple that she had on. These three women wore outfits that stood out to me because of the color that they wore. Purple is blue and red mixed together therefore supporting the theme of unity which was what Inauguration Day was all about. 


The First Lady Dr. Jill Biden wore Alexandra O’Neill. This was one of my favorites because of the fur collar on her coat. I absolutely love the shade of blue and the matching gloves, mask, and jacket. I have to give an honorable mention to Bernie Sanders who wore mittens by Jen Ellis who used repurposed wool and recycled plastic! His outfit was iconic to say the least and of course a photo of him was turned into a trending meme all over the internet. The Biden grandchildren were the breakout stars of Inauguration Day. Naomi, Finnegan, and Natalie Biden all wore monochromatic coats that were powerful. Natalie Biden wore an all pink outfit and a mask that matched. She looked stunning in the color. Amanda Gorman had on Prada. She is so talented and her outfit, like her poetry, had a lot of power. It involved a lot of color, as she wore a striking yellow coat and red hair band.


Shifting the spotlight to some well known celebrities who also attended, we have Jennifer Lopez who wore Chanel. I think we can all agree that she is absolutely stunning and her all white moment was beautiful. Lady Gaga wore Schiaparelli by Daniel Roseberry. I loved her outfit because she is always over the top, however, she still managed to keep it classy. 


The fashion on Inauguration Day was amazing. Symbolism played a big role with all the looks. Monochrome was definitely popular and all the outfits were an iconic moment in fashion.