Teens speak truth to power

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One teen said wryly that she would try to save money for college by working at McDonald’s. “I’ll be able to pay for school in time to retire,” wrote Maria Gomez, a Truckee Meadows Community College High School government student.

Student Marcus Chapman likened cutting education to robbing the future. “It’s a typical example of a poorly planned short-term solution that will create a long-term problem.”

Damn, these teenagers are smart. I spoke recently to two government classes at TMCC High, a magnet school for juniors and seniors run by the Washoe County School District. In addition to high school classes, TMCC High students attend Truckee Meadows Community College. While earning a high school diploma, they complete many core requirements for a university degree.

It’s a jumpstart for some, given that college-educated adults are rare commodities in Nevada. But obstacles seem to be mounting.

I was asked to talk about media and politics. I showed ’em the Nevada Legislature website. They can watch online as Nevada’s future unfolds. Reality TV with live lawmakers!

We talked about how journalism has changed, but news stays the same. It’s still timely information about events, conflicts and matters of consequence delivered to an audience via media.

The difference? Now there’s more news from which to choose. CNN delivers news; so do Facebook, YouTube and gossip zines. Young people with Facebook pages, blogs and Twitter accounts are doing journalistic work, conveying timely info to friends.

What hasn’t changed? Good journalism still speaks the truth to power, I tell them.

In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, dictator for more than 40 years, uses state-run media to craft ridiculous propaganda, like blaming recent uprisings on Osama bin Laden. Last week, Gaddafi alleged that Bin Laden had put hallucinogenic pills in protestors’ coffee “with milk, like Nescafe.”

We have an arguably independent media, a right protected by the First Amendment. Sure, there’s corporate control. But though jobs might be lost, U.S. editors, reporters and anchors don’t end up in prison or executed for writing articles critical of our government.

With rights come responsibilities. I asked students to write something they’d say, if they were given a chance to speak the truth to power.

Several students wrote letters to Gov. Brian Sandoval about education and income inequality—the rich getting richer and the schools getting poorer. They argued for saving the Millennium Scholarship and for keeping tuition affordable so more Nevadans have a chance at a well-paying job some day. They don’t want more university programs cut. They want something left to study when they make it to Nevada campuses.

Students wrote about abortion—pro and con—unemployment and genetically engineered foods, as well as immigration and legalizing gay marriage.

“It is ridiculous to me that in 2011 we still treat human beings like they don’t matter based on who they choose to love,” a student wrote.

“I am half Mexican and half Native American,” wrote Celina Gonzalez. “The Native Americans were here first, and everyone else immigrated to this country. The white man wanted the land to himself so he decided to put us on reservations. The U.S. is an immigrant country. People who say illegal immigrants should be sent back to Mexico should just stop.”

Some teens were angry at adults for “buying houses they couldn’t afford.” One student was troubled by the bailouts of banks and large corporations: “We should have been investing in cleaning up our streets and improving infrastructure to create jobs. My dad does construction. Since the economy went downhill, he’s been unemployed for close to two years.”

One note was brief and pointed, like a Facebook post: “Ummmmm … hello? As if we’re not dumb enough, you want to cut spending on education? NICE!”