Teens these days.


(Photo: Carol Kaliff, Hearst Connecticut Media)

Today kids across America walked out of school to protest gun violence and the inability for our government to pass common sense gun control.

That’s incredible. I can only imagine being a government & politics teacher, or any other branch of history/American studies, and witnessing your students actively participating in and organizing peaceful protests. Or deciding not to participate because they didn’t agree with the protests. Either way, it’s a teach by doing moment. It’s teaching kids to be actionable instead of simply memorizing facts or spitting out theory.

Facebook is flooded with posts of alum, teachers and parents talking about the school walkouts or walk ins, where assemblies are being held in memory of the students killed due to gun violence. CNN is live-streaming the walkouts and the words of our CT Senator Chris Murphy. Across the nation kids are holding up signs stating their beliefs and desire for the adults in charge to be actionable. They are no longer complicit and trusting that adults will get the work done. The Parkland students showed them that their voice matters even when they are unable to vote. That you don’t have to wait until you’re 18 to voice political opinions.

I was young for my grade and didn’t turn 18 until I was in college. I remember being furious that I couldn’t vote in the primaries that year, even though I would be 18 by the general election. I was always highly opinionated when it came to politics, thanks to my mother who was always a well-informed citizen and my brother, who walked into the Democratic Headquarters at 16 to start volunteering. I would tag along with him, making calls to remind democrats and independents to vote, checking in on our elderly residents to see if any needed rides to polls, attending Chris Murphy’s debates when running for Congress, joining the Young Dems chapter my brother helped start and my favorite part of the process: going from poll to poll on election night to watch them count then ending back at Headquarters or a restaurant to hear the results roll in. I couldn’t vote, but I was more engaged in the political process than most adults.

Which was why I was furious when adults would undermine my intelligence in my teenage years. I would often hear that my opinions, and the opinions of my peers, were just echos of my family’s beliefs. I understand the thought, and recognize that may be true in some cases, but I could never understand why my civics teacher would take so much time explaining our nation’s workings to us, only to tell me that my opinions were just something I inherited from my parents when I got in a fight with a classmate over Bush’s reelection. Of course my family influenced my beliefs, but I was also smart enough to research and act on my own. I was old enough to hold opinions.

I remember a car ride where my mom and brother were talking a politics. I listened without much input, thinking instead of my recent civics lesson on political parties.

“What if I’m a Republican instead of a Democrat?” I asked my family.

I was constantly the lawyer of the family. I always wanted to think about situations from a different angle. A contrarian, always thinking of the other side before agreeing with my family.

“Your beliefs line up with the Democratic Party,” my mom replied.

“But what if they don’t? What if I’m a Republican instead?” I asked.

“Then you can be a Republican.”

I went home and did all the research I could on both parties. I spent hours trying to understand the difference and political platforms. I weighed policies against my moral beliefs and found that I did side with the Dems.

All of this was done my freshman year of high school. Clearly I was already intelligent and thoughtful enough to question my beliefs and recheck them against my political affiliation. My thoughts and opinions haven’t changed much. They evolved slightly with the times and my maturity. Whereas I used to think we should eliminate marriage entirely, calling everything a civil union, so we can eliminate the religious context of marriage, I’ve realized that battle gets misconstrued and calling everything a marriage is a better angle. I used to be much more fiscally liberal that I am today. I used to be pro-choice under medical necessity but am now entirely pro-choice. Tiny tweaks, but my adult mind is still in line with my teen mind.

So I still get angry that I was always underestimated. That adults did not believe that I researched my policies enough. To be fair, this still happens. I was constantly accused for siding with Hillary instead of Bernie because she was a woman, when in reality I thought she was the most qualified candidate we ever had and her fiscally moderate policies enabled me to reap benefits while still covering costs of social security and welfare.

People may say that I was a different type of teen. That not everyone was as mature. Well then, why not teach them to find their own opinions instead of dismissing them?

I think adults fall into an awful habit of thinking kids don’t know enough. We talk down to them and assume they can’t possibly understand. But clearly they do.

Today’s teens are living in a world where any question they have can be answered in a matter of seconds on their phones. Teenagers are actually MUCH better at recognizing “fake news” than we are. Aside from their obvious increased technical literacy, they’re also taught how to seek out information. As students, they have access to online encyclopedias and academic research. They’re constantly being told not to trust sites like Facebook and Wikipedia, and instead fact check every piece of information they want to use. They’re writing research reports and getting graded on whether or not their facts are confirmed. They’re much better at finding the truth than we are.

Without the ability to vote, I believe they’re getting antsy. I remember talking to my cousins, just shy of 18, about how much it sucked to be unable to vote in such an important presidential election. And now here we are, with massive school shootings happening at levels that I can’t even comprehend, and they’re done with us adults. They can’t vote, but they can speak for themselves and remind politicians that they’re voting very, very soon.

We need to stop underestimating kids and instead listen to them. That’s how I treat the kids I babysit. I never want to influence their own moral and political beliefs, so I just listen to them and encourage them to think about where they stand. The other day a kid I babysat was doing a project on trans kids and I found that she knew way more than even I did. I offered no opinions and instead just let her inform me on the topic. When I was watching some younger kids, someone came to the door who was running for local office. What followed was an hour long conversation with the kids about what their platforms would be and how they can run for office within their school. While I would steer at times, like suggesting they invest in scientific research when they said they wanted to stop all hurricanes, I let them carry the conversation.

We invest so much time and money into our kids and their education. But often when they want to show us the results of that investment, we don’t listen. While what happened at Stoneman Douglas was horrific, it is inspiring to see the students use their voices and speak up for themselves when a politician is dismissive of their question. Unless you’re a teacher or school employee, the topic of school shootings will ALWAYS impact the kids in your life more than it will ever impact you. Empower them to use their voices, especially if they’re teenagers. I’m so proud of these teens who are speaking up for the students in Sandy Hook who are still too young to speak for themselves. There are no longer only parents representing their students, but students themselves being actionable.

Keep going teens. Stand up for what you believe in and know that your mind is worthy of respect and your opinions are worth being heard.

Lessons from a political science major.


One of my majors at DePaul was political science. I wish I could tell you some intelligent and mind churning explanation as to why I majored in political science, but I’m afraid that I’m just going to disappoint you. There were two reasons why I chose this specific major:

  1. I initially picked it up as a minor so that I would be forced to follow the news. I thought that my comedy would improve greatly if I knew what was going on in the world.
  2. I had a crush on my professor. It’s so cliché… but it’s so true. Dr. Khalil Marrar stole my heart and I decided that I wanted to take more classes with him so I bumped political science up from a minor to a secondary major.

Regardless of why I picked it up, I learned invaluable lessons during my time as a political science major. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Don’t just study the problem… find a solution.

One of the first things Marrar broke down for us was the meaning behind the name political science. It’s not history. If you want a history class, major in history. Political science is a form of… well, science. Which means that you study the problem… and then solve it. One of the most life changing lessons I ever learned in college was during Marrar’s Israeli-Palestinian conflict class. It was an advanced class where we spent weeks studying everything there was to know about the history and politics behind Israel and Palestine. We debated sides, read books on various wars and studied the psychology behind the leaders of both sides. At the end of the term, he presented us with our final paper: solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in four pages or less. Draw the borders and explain why you chose them. Every word you write over four pages counts as ten points against you.

Uh… excuse me? I have to solve it? Me? Numerous scholars, academics and politicians have already tried to solve this to no avail. And you’re putting it in the hands of a 20-year old sorority girl? It’s a conflict bred from hate, which means that no matter how logical a solution, they have so much emotional hatred towards each other that nothing works. But I had to solve it. And I did. In four pages or less. It was the most difficult paper I ever wrote – but I did it and turned it in.

No problem, no matter how large, is incapable of being solved. Maybe the solution won’t work, maybe people won’t listen to you… but at least try. Learning the past does nothing if you’re not going to help things move forward. No matter how impossible a problem seems, at least try to fix it. Proposing a solution shows that you were actually listening to the problem at hand. I use this lesson constantly with my friends. When they vent to me about a problem, I don’t stop there. I give my advice on how to make things better. I let them know that I was actually processing the information they gave me. It shows that you actually care.

  1. People will judge you. Prove them wrong.

I was an east coast sorority girl studying politics. The majority of my classes had no more than three females in them… and even some of the ladies were rude to me. I didn’t really make any friends in my major. While I had some wonderful classmates and professors, some weren’t so nice. People thought that I was stupid or airheaded and the amount of times classmates threw a Legally Blonde reference my way almost made me dislike the movie (almost, not quite). I had two professors make fun of my involvement in Greek life in front of my entire class… one dig was so bad that I had to take it up with my department head.

I got angry at first. But then I realized that anger is wasted energy. It all made me work harder. I felt like I had something to prove… that just because I may not look the type, I’m smart too. I had a classical political theory class where we had to write an essay every week about our readings. This teacher was known as a hard grader and only handed out A’s to those who blew his mind. I worked really hard in this class… I wanted to prove a point. I tackled Plato’s Republic and got straight A’s on my essays. One day, about five weeks in, we were chatting in class and my professor gave me kudos for my straight A’s. The look the faces of my classmates was enough to satisfy any self-doubt they caused me.

If someone slaps a label on you, defy it. Don’t get angry at another person’s ignorance. Instead, use that energy towards proving them wrong. You may be able to change their perception of an entire group of people in the process.

  1. There are so many other people in the world. Your problems are nothing compared to someone else’s.

Unfortunately, I’m not as traveled as others. Toronto is the furthest that I’ve been out of the states. I once had a history teacher tell me that being born in the United States is like winning a lottery at birth. For the majority of us, we’re able to experience opportunity and security that other countries only dream of. I understood this even more when I studied political science.

My every day is someone else’s dream. I haven’t experienced apartheid and no one ever recruited me to be a child soldier. As a kid, I was able to experience an education and didn’t have to worry about soldiers kidnapping me in the middle of the night. Clean water is a given and I don’t have to hunt for food. Not everyone has this.

There isn’t a day that goes by where I forget how fortunate I am. Even when times are tough and I feel helpless, I take a second to remember that I am healthy and I have more than enough. Just because I can’t do everything I want due to financial constraints doesn’t mean that I’m poor. Poor is relative. Poor people don’t have iPhones and an apartment in the city.

  1. You’re capable of understanding more than you think.

Let’s reemphasize that I took up this major because I had a crush on my teacher. He intrigued me, challenged me and treated me with respect. That means that I was pretty much a blank slate going into this major. I didn’t read the Wall Street Journal daily and had no idea what Al Jazeera even was. The area I knew most about, local politics, became irrelevant since no one in Chicago cared about the political happenings of Danbury, CT. A lot of my classmates chose this major because they were passionate about it. They came with prior knowledge that I just didn’t have.

I had to learn everything. I had to study and work really hard because I didn’t have the foundation that most other students had. There were times where I thought it would be impossible to get on the same level as everyone else. However, I reached out to my teachers and was honest and open with them. I let them know that I didn’t have the proper educational background and knowledge. I asked for explanations and supplemental readings. I worked really hard to be at par with everyone else. However, when all was said and done, I was extremely satisfied when I felt like I learned enough to step up to the plate. There’s this inexplicable satisfaction in knowing that you worked really hard to learn something that you didn’t think you would ever understand.

  1. There are multiple sides to every story.

Don’t just form an opinion based off of one perspective. When I was taking my Israeli-Palestinian conflict class, we had to read four books. Two were historical explanations of the events but two were from authors who were highly biased. One from Israel, one from Palestine. Authors whose families were murdered from the opposing side and had years of hatred in them. Authors that most educators would warn students to stay away from because of how biased their stories were.

But you have to look at every side to understand the story completely. By reading biased authors, we learned how deep seeded their hatred was. That this was an extremely personal conflict.

It’s easy to dismiss something you don’t want to hear. Most of us have opinions on topics. For example, I’m huge on gun control. It’s easy for me to see an extreme right stance and decide not to read it. I want to turn off the TV every time Fox is on. However, I listen to the other side. By listening to the other side, I can form an informed and educated position instead of one bred from emotion and personal taste. I can see the points that those opposed to me are making and counter them. There are two sides to every story.

  1. Read.

Oh man, did we read. Reading helps you formulate ideas… it helps you imagine and question the world. It gives you the opportunity to see conflicts through other peoples’ eyes. It keeps your brain active. Just trust me on this one and read.