VOX: Atlanta's Teen Newspaper

Picking Up the Pieces

Sarah looked at me through eyes shielded by long tendrils of brown hair. She wore a nervous smile, offset by an air of agitation. Instantly, I recognized something was wrong. I leaned in just in time as she whispered confidentially: "John and I had sex this weekend."

Sarah was the archetypal insecure girl. She drifted from one boyfriend to another, panicking if she remained single for longer than a week. John was her latest conquest.

Sarah had approached me a month ago to gush about John's perfect qualities: "He's so sweet!" she proclaimed. "I think he's my soulmate." She repeated these lines every time she met a new boy. I rolled my eyes to myself, but I couldn't bear to ruin her ecstatic glow.

Now her expression was completely unfamiliar to me. Her smile wavered, then vanished. Despite all of her brief affairs, Sarah had remained a virgin until now.

"I thought you were going to wait until you were older," I said to her.

"Yeah, I was," she replied.

"Was he worth it?" I asked.

She couldn't bring herself to reply. In that moment she looked vulnerable and lost. We both realized that she had made the wrong decision.

Roots of the problem

Sarah is certainly not the only teenage girl going through a difficult time. Adolescence is a bewildering stage. Hormones race through bloodstreams, and suddenly the world loses all traces of familiarity. In this chaos, teenage girls fumble for a sense of security. Most of us feel hopelessly lost in the struggle.

We wrestle with physical changes we do not understand. Our bodies become battlegrounds and we come to despise the minute flaws that seem to expand every time we look in the mirror. The bathrooms in my school are filled with clusters of girls complaining in loud voices. Some are worried about an extra ounce of weight, while others hate the shape of their nose or their less-than-voluptuous cup size.

Media images only worsen the problem. We are bombarded by pictures of perfect women on magazine covers and television screens. Their imperfections have been airbrushed out of existence, and we seem to fall short in comparison. Still, we try to imitate them in the vain hope of reaching their impossible standards.

The mimicry shows in our appearance: shirts that cling too tightly to newfound curves, faces hidden by mountains of foundation, cleavage shown with a blushing self-awareness. Underneath the layers of cosmetics and the questionable attire, we hide our feelings of inadequacy: a crippling lack of confidence that is unrelenting and all too real. Research from the Commonwealth Fund, a national research institution, shows that self-confidence in girls declines with age: only 39 percent of high school girls report feelings of high self-esteem.

Filling the void

Teenage girls try to fill this void by any means possible. We want to latch onto something because it is easier than forging our own identity. Relationships offer a convenient distraction. Pimply 17-year-old boys become our messiahs, wards against the demons screaming in our heads.

We fall easily for flattery and a charming grin. Boys seem to possess a self-assurance we are missing, and in their presence we can temporarily forget about ourselves. Sarah's initial euphoria is shared by every girl in the first stages of infatuation.

It begins innocently with hand-holding and quick pecks on the cheek. But time moves at a heightened pace in a teenage relationship, and the pressure builds to move on to the last frontier: sex.

The intrigue

Wild rumors about sex circulate in high school hallways. Sex intrigues us and frightens us. It is mysterious and secretive. And we hear that more and more of our peers have done it. Every Monday the hallways buzz with the weekend's stories: parties with drunken encounters, boys bragging to their friends. Sex has been elevated to a rite of passage. We're tempted to try it – by age 17, more than half of us have, according to The Alan Guttmacher Institute – but we don't acknowledge sex comes with its own set of risks and responsibilities.

My observations tell me that most high school relationships aren't built on a foundation of maturity and mutual trust. They are casual affairs, meant to flare up for a brief time and fizzle out just as quickly. A few months of movie dates and backseat kisses simply aren't enough to justify such an important act. So, why are so many couples having sex?

Many girls like Sarah have sex out of mistaken beliefs. They hope that losing their virginity will suddenly transform them into women, or that their boyfriends will declare undying devotion.

Sarah later told me her boyfriend wanted to have sex more than she did. She thought it would draw them closer.

"I just wanted to make him happy," she explains. But Sarah overlooked what she wanted. In the quest to appease her boyfriend, she forgot about herself.

Having sex is not a magical cure for the problems of adolescence. Girls who do it for the wrong reasons will find themselves quickly disillusioned.

Sarah soon realized afterwards that John wasn't the ideal boyfriend she had imagined him to be. Losing her virginity to him didn't seal their relationship. Instead of feeling loved, she felt used and cheapened. Their relationship quickly sank into a downward spiral.

"I wish I had held out for the right person," Sarah admitted to me. A month-long affair with a hormonal boy didn't exactly qualify.

No easy answers

Observing Sarah's experience, I realize that sex and love are not interchangeable. Despite our high expectations, girls often don't feel any better about themselves, and their boyfriends aren't more caring. In Sarah's case, it becomes clear that sex cannot provide easy answers. The ruthless pattern of insecurity begins again, this time worsened by remorse.

The real-life examples I have encountered unfold like cheap plotlines from B-rate movies: freshman girls who sleep with the football players hoping to gain notoriety but only gain ridicule. Friends like Sarah who are distraught and heartbroken after losing their virginity to the wrong boy or at the wrong time. I have been the objective bystander, the consoling friend, and frankly, I am tired of picking up the pieces of shattered girls. Reassembling a teenager so fragile to begin with is not an easy task.

Instead of relying on sexual relationships, we should seek to nurture each other and offer the unconditional acceptance we might otherwise be missing. I am lucky enough to have a close network of friends. Their presence is reassuring: I know that I have a reliable source of advice, and they have kept me from making harmful mistakes, especially with boys. Unfortunately, many of my peers are missing this helpful force.

Sex can be a beautiful expression of love or an empty, futile act. Starved for affection, teenage girls rush into it and leave full of disappointment. Sarah's case is not unique – there are thousands of others living with the same regrets. By beginning the slow (but worthwhile) process of building strong relationships, we can prevent our friends and ourselves from repeating the same mistakes.

This article originally appeared in the March 2005 issue of VOX Teen Newspaper. It is reprinted with permission from VOX, Atlanta's only citywide newspaper created by and for teenagers.

Mix It Up Day

It has been 50 years since the revolutionary Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that all U.S. schools be integrated, a decision that overruled the previous law of separate but equal schools. But things haven't changed as much as possible over a half-century.

mix it up dayI hope they know that nobody's gonna do this. That's what I was thinking when Nia Umoja, a club in my school that advocates cultural diversity and tolerance, planned Mix It Up Day last November. Mix It Up Day is a national project that encourages students to cross social boundaries, and Nia Umoja's plan was to get students to sit with people we wouldn't normally sit with at lunch, particularly people of other races.

"We expected people to start opening their eyes more to other cultures around them. We noticed that the cafeteria was segregated. It's probably the most segregated place in the school," explains Ms. Shervette Miller, one of Nia Umoja's two sponsors.

But, as important as diversity and tolerance are, Mix It Up Day was just another failed attempt to get all students to "step outside the box." No one was really willing to sit with different people. Everyone took it as some sort of joke, and the majority of students understood we wouldn't actually participate.

Though not successful at racial and cultural blending, Mix It Up Day was a good idea. It's just that racial rejection hurts, and most of us don't want to experience it over where we sit at lunch.

Though most students in our school generally embrace other cultures and races, the fact remains that black sits with black, and white sits with white in our cafeteria. Chamblee High School's cafeteria has six rows of rectangular tables, and three round tables. At lunchtime, students at each of the tables in the six rows sit pretty much in the same pattern: white students at one end of the table. After about three empty chairs, black students sit at the other end of the table. Usually, students of other races, such as Hispanic or Asian, choose between either side. The round tables are either full of black people or full of white people, with occasional exceptions of one or two people of other races.

Ruth Westby, a white sophomore at Chamblee, says she sits with white people "because I think it's a tendency to group yourself with people that you're like." There is a silent understanding that although it's OK to be an individual, if you step too far outside of the box of conformity you might not be let back in. This imaginary box is every student's comfort zone. The box is small, quiet and comfortable. It's the one thing that most students trust, and the silent understanding between us is that if we don't shake things up, we'll be accepted and every thing will remain the same, the way we like it: safe.

We're afraid leaving our comfort zones will lead to being exiled from our own social groups. Marissa Lowe, a sophomore at Cedar Grove, says she sits with "black people because I go to an all-black school and because I can relate to them."

Most of us have grown up spending the majority of our time around people of our own race and might not have come in contact with people of other races if weren't for school. This lack of exposure to other races doesn't make us racist, it just reflects the society we live in.

I live in a mostly black neighborhood, and as a result 97 percent of the students at my zone school are black, according to the DeKalb School System website. Not being exposed to other races causes us to be uncomfortable when we encounter people of other races. Larae Phillips, a black sophomore at Southwest DeKalb High School, says "I feel more comfortable around [black people], because they remind me of myself."

"At lunch I sit with mainly white people, but sometimes black and Hispanic people. Because mainly my friends are white, and I guess this is because it is easier to relate to people of your same race or culture," says Anna Geyer, a white sophomore at Chamblee.

Racial differences often make us feel we have to censor ourselves. When I'm around my black friends, we make jokes about how black people act and speak; whereas, if a person of another race were to make the same jokes, they would probably offend us. Just the same, we would refrain from making jokes about people of other races around them to prevent from offending someone, not because they're degrading jokes, but because there is always the possibility that they can be taken offensively.

Since lunchtime is supposed to be my free time, I want to be able to speak freely with my peers without having to censor myself. I also sit with these people because I have a lot in common with them. We all grew up in majority black neighborhoods, and we were raised to speak our minds, yet ironically we usually get in trouble for doing so. Now I know that there are people of other races who were raised to do the same, but all the people who I've encountered who were raised like this are black. So, the people I sit with at lunch are black.

Rejection never feels good, but I imagine it would feel worse if I was rejected by people of my own race because of who I associate with. Black students are often called "oreos" if they associate too often with white people. The term "oreo" implies that although they are black physically, they are "white on the inside," or they have qualities that may characterize them as white. This possibility of being called an "oreo" can discourage black students from interacting as often with other races. Peers viewing you as "not being black enough" has to be hurtful. On the other hand, white students who often associate with black students are sometimes referred to as the "Eminems" of the student body. Eminem is a white rapper, and because of his rapper lifestyle, some people say he is trying to "act black."

After transferring last year from a majority black school to Chamblee, a very diverse school, I began to open my eyes to the fact that there are people of other cultures I'd never been exposed to. With my school transfer I also developed a new attitude and a motivation to learn new things about other races and cultures that aren't acquired by believing all the stupid stereotypes I've heard. And with my newly discovered wisdom came a tolerance, and ultimately respect and acceptance, for the people around me who aren't like me.

I've learned that sometimes it is necessary to step outside of our comfort zones. Sometimes the best experiences in life are outside of our comfort zones, like, for instance, learning how to drive. When I first drove a car, I wasn't necessarily comfortable, but after a little more practice, I began to drive more comfortably. If I would've never stepped out of my comfort zone, I might have never discovered how great driving can be.

If I never practice being comfortable around other people, I may never be able to freely speak around people outside of my own race. My need to be comfortable may hinder me from discovering new and great things about other races, and I may miss an opportunity to get to know someone of another race.

Maybe we can come to think of race as one more difference that attracts us to one another. And, as time goes on, maybe we'll one day be able to comfortably socialize with people of other races. As we honor the 50th anniversary of a decision that was revolutionary in changing America for the better, I encourage all of us to step outside the box and Mix It Up.

LaShana is a black sophomore at Chamblee High School. This article was originally published in VOX, Atlanta's only newspaper by, for and about teenagers.

Right Before My Eyes

harassmentI have always considered myself an activist. If I see something wrong, I usually try to speak up and point it out. I have realized, however, that like many other people in society, I am a passive observer to sexual harassment.

It's hard not to notice sexual harassment. Whether an inappropriate comment in the school corridor or a slap on the behind on the street, sexual harassment seems hard to escape.

In the minds of both males and females, girls dress provocatively to garner a certain reaction. Their skimpy outfits turn guys' heads in the hallways and on the streets, and I have to admit that despite my holier-than-thou demeanor, I sometimes join in the watching. The mentality I observe and sometimes buy into is the idea that when a girl dresses a certain way, she wants to be ogled, touched and spoken to inappropriately. In the back of my mind, I knew this assumption was unfounded, but that did not stop me from sometimes giving into the mob -- until recently.

The notion that sexual harassment is provoked made sense to me. Why else would a girl dress provocatively if she didn't want attention? But a recent class discussion shined light on something I didn't even realize was happening in my own community. Many males my age are giving what they call "love licks" to their girlfriends in the halls between class. Love licks are exactly what they sound like: The guys smack their girlfriends in a "playful" fashion on the behind. It's not so playful, however, and I doubt whether it is out of love. Roughly grabbing someone's forearm, holding her in place and smacking her on her behind, while a hoard of friends stands around cheering you on does not seem like a loving gesture to me.

My mind was blown away when my journalism teacher revealed the presence of such harassment in my school. "I think it's sick," says Mary Block, a teacher at Cedar Grove High School. "I know that I would never let my boyfriend do that to me when I was in high school, nor would I let it happen to any of my girlfriends."

There were various responses from the students in the class. Some people disagreed with her: "It's just fun," said one student, a male, in my class. "I don't see what the big deal is."

The girls were not so forgiving: "Of course it's a big deal," said one girl. "It's stupid and wrong."

As I walked out of that class, I felt different. Knowing that this type of sexual harassment was occurring around me left a bad taste in my mouth. I didn't notice it before, but I notice it now. Now that my teacher has pointed it out to me, I see it everywhere, not just at my school. I see guys smacking their girlfriends' behinds at the subway station and on the train.

I wanted to know what other kids at my school thought, particularly the girls. Most of the time, when I observe sexual harassment, the girls just laugh it off. But I wondered what was going through their minds. "My boyfriend doesn't do it to me. I mean, it's a bad thing," says Lequita Thomas, a 17-year-old senior at Cedar Grove High School. "But what is anyone supposed to do about it?"

"It's a problem," says Matthew Mitchell, another 17-year-old senior at Cedar Grove High School. "But it's not going away any time soon, so I just don't say anything."

Well, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there is something that can be done. The victim, who can be a man or a woman, can report the harasser, who can also be a man or a woman, to the police. A common misconception is that sexual harassment must be directed toward a person of the opposite sex, which is untrue.

Another important aspect of sexual harassment is that the advances must be unwelcome. If you are sexually harassed, this does not mean that you cannot report it just because you did not protest. If you were offended and did not welcome the comments or advances, the behavior (slapping, in the case of the "love licks") is still sexual harassment, which is illegal.

DeKalb County addresses sexual harassment at the school level as well. "There is a process," says Sterling Payne, an employee for the DeKalb County Press Office and executive assistant for Superintendent Johnny Brown. "The sexual harassment must first be reported to a teacher or administrator. Then it is investigated. Then, depending on the outcome of the investigation, the person in question is found guilty or not guilty. This information is available online or in the Student Code of Conduct."

According to the DeKalb County Student Code of Conduct, sexual misconduct or inappropriate sexual advances are prohibited. This includes, but is not limited to, indecent exposure, request for sexual favors, and comments about one's sexual orientation -- all of which are forms of sexual harassment. These all have consequences that can include suspension or expulsion.

As I sat back and reflected on what was going on at my school, I stopped to consider if I had seen sexual harassment in other places. When I worked in a fast-food restaurant in my hometown, the female employees got sexually harassed on a daily basis by customers and co-workers alike. I said nothing. At my old high school, males, including teachers, would comment on the length of the girls' uniform skirts in an inappropriate way. It got to the point where some of the girls refused to wear the school-issued skirts and were forced to wear the alternative: men's cut pants.

I also realized that this was happening at other schools, not just mine. "I see girls getting pushed into the bathroom, the boys' bathroom," says Lauren Smith, a 15-year-old freshman at Mays High School in Atlanta. "I haven't received any comments personally, but when I tell people to stop, they just don't listen."

"I wouldn't say [hugging and touching] is harassment because a lot of the girls really don't mind," says Zakiyah Matthews, a 16-year-old sophomore at Heritage High School in Rockdale County. "Guys have joked around with me, and it has bugged me a little. But I can take a joke. If it's not happening to me, it's none of my business."

Is it really a joke? And is it really none of anyone's business -- or is it everyone's business?

Teachers also have their opinions: "Sexual harassment goes on, and yes it's a problem, but sexual harassment has to be unwelcome," says Kenneth Green, a teacher at Cedar Grove High School. "If I said something that offended one of my students and they didn't tell me, I wouldn't know. If they told me, and I kept doing it, that's a problem."

"There is not a problem with sexual harassment in high schools, " says DeKalb County's Payne,

What people like Green and Payne fail to realize is that although sexual harassment has to be unwanted, people should recognize that the things they say and do may be received as harassment. We have to learn to be more careful of what we say and do.

"I sometimes make comments at girls and I don't feel guilty about it," says Matthew from DeKalb County. "I'm just playing, and it's fun."

If people were more introspective and aware of the consequences of their actions, sexual harassment might not be so severe. They would also realize that sexual harassment doesn't just happen to one group of people.

"The underclassmen girls sexually harass the upperclassmen boys all the time. This is an everyday thing," says Tamira Cousett, a 17-year-old senior at Cedar Grove High School.

The one thing I'm taking away from this experience is that apathy and passiveness don't make anything better. By not speaking up, we are actually creating a greater problem -- the illusion that "love licks" and other forms of sexual harassment are acceptable.

Am I starting a crusade to end all forms of sexual harassment? I'm not ready to take on a challenge of that magnitude. However, I will try to speak up when I see it happen. The social acceptability of sexual harassment is reprehensible, yet sadly, because of passive observers, it is all too real.

Kieran Scarlett is a senior at Cedar Grove High in Atlanta, Georgia.

To Be a Teen Refugee

teen refugees"When I just came [to America], I used to cry. In front of my [classmates], I used to just put my head down and cry," admits Belize Munezero, 14. Belize is a refugee from Burundi, a country in central Africa. She resettled in Atlanta after escaping the civil war there. She is now a freshman at Lithonia High School.

According to the U.S. Committee For Refugees, refugees are persons who flee to a different country because of a fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, social group, political opinion, armed conflict and lack of a durable solution. World Relief, a Christian-based humanitarian organization, estimates that more than 1,400 refugees come to Atlanta each year. They come from all over the world, including Somalia, Bosnia, Vietnam, Iran, and Sudan. Many of these refugees are teenagers who attend schools such as Clarkston High School, where at least 52 countries are represented. Teen refugees must learn to adjust in the American schools while coping with the fresh memories of life in the refugee camp.

Life In a Refugee Camp

"I saw a lot of tents, people, and crying. I always saw mean people in the army just looking. It was muddy, very very sad," says Shpresa Aliu, 13-year-old Albanian refugee who is now a 7th grade student at Stone Mountain Middle School. "There were like 300 people there, and more people were coming. There was only one store for food." Shpresa lived in this refugee camp for five months.

Teen refugees say that living in a refugee camp literally changes your mind. You cannot walk out from a camp the same as when you walked in. "There is a feeling of hopelessness," explains Bryan Hudson, youth coordinator with Refugee Family Services, a metro-Atlanta based community center assisting refugees. "They constantly have to deal with a situation where they have no choices."

"I remember everything. I remember poor people with nothing and they didn't have any work. It was really hard because people were dying without food, and people were going back to their country," says Fouad Saleh, 17, now a junior at Clarkston High School. Fouad left his native country of Iraq and lived in a refugee camp in Syria for nine years before moving to the United States.

Refugees are escaping life-threatening situations. In refugee camps, the sheer desperation provokes people to use creativity, stretching their imagination to bring relief to the morbid atmosphere. "I remember some kids just playing, try'na have fun. We tried to make thing fun," recalls Shpresa.

Belize has similar memories. "Every Saturday [we] would play drums. [We] hated what was going on in the country so [we] would try to make it happy."

The American Journey

There were an estimated 10.3 million refugees worldwide at the beginning of 2003, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). That means that there is a new refugee every 21 seconds, says Amnesty International. The United States resettles more of these refugees than any other country in the world. According to the UNHCR, there were 68,400 refugees in the United States as of 2001. The majority of refugees in 2001 came from Afghanistan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Angola, Sudan, and Congo.

The general public is not aware of the large population of refugees. Refugee Republic, an internet-based advocacy organization, explains that refugees lack self-representation because the mainstream media does not give attention to their struggles. Because teen refugees do not have much of a voice, American teens are not able to hear them. "It's a lack of awareness. I think it has a lot to do with misunderstanding," explains Catherine Dhongade, youth program manager with Refugee Family Services.

With its rights and freedom, America is seen as a haven. Refugees come from all corners of the globe but it is a long and strenuous trek. "A majority of refugees are coming into this country with just the clothes on their back," explains Glory Kilanko, a Nigerian refugee and director of Women Watch Afrika, a nonprofit women's organization. Shamsoun Dikiri had this experience. He is now freshman attending Stone Mountain High School but he lived in a refugee camp for six months in Sudan. "I had absolutely nothing when I came here," says Shamsoun, 14.

Refugees must have documents to prove that they are in fear of persecution, such as birth certificates and passports that reveal that they are from a different country with some type of conflict. "I did not have any documents. Just a little clothes and food," Shpresa adds.

"One of the things that is really important when talking about refugees is that they always have to travel with papers. If you have to walk around with papers to prove that you are a legitimate human being, that is a constant trauma," says Hudson with Family Refugee Services.

New Country, New School

Despite the vast diversity of many metro-Atlanta schools, not all students are accepting of refugees. In school, teenage refugees are often labeled and discriminated. "[American teens] have a very uneducated idea about what a refugee is," explains Hudson. The media projects images that American teens take in and assume as correct. "On TV, they [American teens] saw huts and people naked, lions," Belize says. After a long pause she adds, "[The students at school] would make fun of you, move away from you, and they think we don't take a shower."

"Some of them [students] ask, 'Do you chase lions?' Because I am fast in school," Shamsoun, 14, says.

School officials do not always try to identify with refugee students either. "Teachers and administrators are looking at these people as refugees first and teenagers second," says Bryan. Because of their accents and limited knowledge of English, the teens are made fun of much too often. "It was just people laughing so much," reveals Shpresa. "We miss our country so much."

Adjustment Crises

"I had to learn the language and get use to the food and the music. It was all weird and hard," says Shpresa.

There is a great amount of stress placed upon teen refugees. Along with trying to hold on to their culture, identity, language, and pride, they have a lot of domestic responsibilities. A stereotype of refugees is that they pack around each other. Family bonds are tight and usually include the extended family as well. Teen refugees must work hard in academics and make friends. On top of all this, they are learning the American way of life. They must become accustomed to behavior and rituals that may be different from their own. This includes learning the American greeting, hangout places, music, slang, and sports. Unfortunately, there is little time left to just have fun. "These refugees have it four times harder than American teens," Bryan explains.

The End?

With all the psychological, mental, and emotional trauma, teenage refugees can still be who they are: teens. They can laugh and be themselves, but this will only happen if American teens help. "American teenagers should try to talk to us and not just assume things," adds Belize.

"I think it [America] is a great, great country. Although I miss my country, I feel that America has helped a lot. It's fun!" Shpresa expresses.

We can do our part to assist the teen refugees that we meet and learn from each other. Treat everyone the way you wanted to be treated. There is no other way to say it. Live to learn and respect all human beings.

Chika Oduah is a senior at Chamblee Charter High School counting down the days until graduation.

Does Your School Tell You What to Think?

sonny purdue
Would you clap for this man? Keosha Morgan didn't.

"If you don't clap, then you get detention." The face of the menacing teacher giving us this new rule angered me. Who was he to tell us whom to clap for? Who was he to tell us whom to like or dislike? For two days, the news that Gov. Sonny Purdue was coming to our school had spread like wild fire. I spent those two days thinking up questions I wanted to ask him. I just wanted to know what he thought of the Atlanta Public School system.

Though my teacher did not intend to, Gov. Purdue's visit would not only be an experience to learn about politics but also to learn about my rights as a student and a human being. At that moment, I realized that my school system was taking away my right to think for myself.

A few of my classmates and I decided that we did not want to clap for the governor, in spite of the warning from our teacher. Some of our teachers had blown it off, thinking we were just kids acting dumb. But this one teacher took our refusal to clap as a sign of disrespect. It angered me that he would say something that disrespectful to his own students. We were all standing in the hall before the Governor's speech, being told what to do and -- it seemed to me -- like what or who to believe in. No one else took it as personally as I did, but I think they should have. How could our teacher tell us what to do? What to think? What to believe? Who to clap for? Though he thought that not clapping for the governor was a sign of disrespect, he did not realize that making us clap was an even bigger sign of disrespect.

I have noticed that every day I am told what to do and what to believe. By telling us we had to clap for the governor, I felt like my teacher was telling us we had to be like him. It seems like every day teachers and administrators are telling us what to do and what to believe in -- even how to think about politics. It seems to me that we are taught in social studies that Republicans are racist, rich, white men, while Democrats are always for the people and by the people. In class, we learned about the impeachments, scandals and suspensions that were committed by or imposed on Republicans, but whenever the topic of Bill Clinton comes up, our teacher changes the topic. We are also taught that Democrats have always been the "heroes" and that they have always tried to help the less fortunate. Then further showing the hypocrisy in schools, we were ordered to embrace our Republican Governor. It seems as though we have been taught to conform to their beliefs and way of life. We were all supposed to give in and all be the same, ever since elementary school.

I think it frustrates adults when they cannot instill their ideas into teens. When we are told whom to like and what to do, and we don't listen to those adults, it frustrates them even more, and they are forced to extremes like this teacher, threatening detentions.

Even the second highest U.S. court believes in students exercising their self-expression rights. In 2002 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that students have the right to not participate in the Pledge of Allegiance at school. I think this ruling can be applied to my situation.

I went to the assembly to hear Gov. Purdue, but I didn't clap. Before I could even raise my hand to ask a question, we were all herded out of the auditorium and into class, once again to learn what they want us to learn, and to believe what they want us to believe.

Keosha Morgan is an 8th grader at Inman Middle School and thinks everyone should be able to show their own beliefs.

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