I am one of the few people who races to the front of my fourth period classroom each month to grab a newspaper. I am one of the even fewer people who reads the paper from cover to cover. I like to know what is going on at school, how our sports teams are doing, maybe even what the latest teen obsession is. In the service of students who want to know what is going on, The Samohi writers excel, turning out consistently high quality news and feature articles.
However, The Samohi is failing the students who want to know why. I have strong opinions about nearly everything and look to others with strong opinions, whether or not I agree with them, to influence my own judgments. Regrettably, there is no full-throated advocacy anywhere in the pages of The Samohi.
If extreme views were expressed in the paper, they might not represent the views of the majority of people at Samo. They would, however, serve as the boundaries for what might be an important debate. If the only ideas students express appear sanitized and safe, then healthy debate is frustrated. Productive discourse in society begins with well-intentioned individuals expressing strong positions on one side or the other, and ultimately, perhaps, influencing each other. Something, whether apathy or reluctance to provoke, is preventing this from happening.
Case in point: the recent Day of Silence pro-con articles described in tepid language Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) awareness day and why it does or does not deserve our support. “Others may comment. . . it is just a hindrance to a productive school day to participate in [Day of Silence]. To that, I agree.” (This is from the pro-Day of Silence columnist, Abby Mahler). The strongest argument against Day of Silence in Joe Colajezzi’s and Lillian Kalish’s rival column is that the demonstration was not well executed. But even this anti-Day of Silence column acknowledges that it does draw attention to a worthy cause and “is symbolically meaningful.”
Why did none of the columnists make a pure argument, not diluted by caveats and qualifications – either that Day of Silence is a crucial component of raising awareness and understanding of the LGBTQ community; or that Day of Silence is a waste, and offensive to Samo’s core mission to educate students free of distraction?
These two “rival” opinions were, in fact, so similarly advocated that they ended up seeming to present shades of the same argument, rather than opposing positions. While attempting to address the counter-argument, the columnists ended up substantially agreeing with it, thereby diminishing each of their positions to the point of near neutrality. Addressing the counterargument can help balance an article, but it should be dissected and refuted, not praised.
Sophomore staff writer Sam Reamer recently wrote an opinion article about California State Testing award certificates, taking the position that the way in which they were distributed was harmful to Samo students. He undermined his arguments by closing the article in praise of the overall CST communication strategy. Unfortunately, ending the article on such a conciliatory note weakened his otherwise powerful piece.
It is hard to make a strong point when one validates the other side’s position. The Samohi writers go beyond giving voice to opposing views – they are often so accommodating as to strengthen the other side’s argument. Even when they do take the occasional aggressive stance, the writers never go for an unequivocal win, usually betraying elements of self-doubt.
While responsible media must present unbiased coverage of the news, their opinion sections should present forceful, well-argued viewpoints that foster debate among their audiences. Unfortunately, many recent opinion articles seem almost apathetic about the issues they present. If The Samohi is to be a newspaper in which students influence and enrich their peers, this must change.
Students who feel this near-apathy toward all school issues should reconsider submitting opinion articles, and expand their recruitment of guest columnists. These current staff opinion writers have so narrowed the spectrum of argument to the point of inhibiting all but minimal debate. I understand the concept and necessity of middle ground, but if only middle ground is expressed in these articles, debate turns to trivial differences on minor points. This near-apathy is being further diluted by poorly executed counterarguments.
As a Samo student, I encounter a range of opinions every day. What I long for in the school newspaper is a fearless and blunt opinion, one that I might not agree with, but that is thought-provoking. The opinions in The Samohi are often fastidiously cautious, to the point of seeming forced. After all, we are teenagers – we have opinions about everything. Just ask our parents.
Real, honest debate is raw, fearless and occasionally messy. “Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed – and no republic can survive,” President John F. Kennedy said.
If writers choose to stake out a broader spectrum of argument, maybe we will see a different outlook from The Samohi. Our community can only be strengthened.
Or maybe it makes no difference either way.