Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 1.29.09

What Matters to Teens?
South Eugene High students speak out
by Mariam Wahed

Old enough to have opinions but too young to be asked for their input, teenagers don’t often get the chance to present their thoughts on issues of importance to them. So I decided that this viewpoint would not revolve around my opinions; instead, I wanted to voice the concerns of the teenage community.

To initiate the discussion, I sent out an online message to my classmates with a simple question: “If you could ask for something, something that the teens of Eugene could benefit from as a whole, what would you ask for?” I wanted to know what changes my classmates would implement here in their hometown, were the opportunity to present itself. I also wanted to see if they cared enough to respond.

The feedback I received was overwhelming. My simple question spawned a discussion forum of more than 80 comments on what issues concerned students the most and how they would shape their collective future if given the chance. Here are some highlights from the discussion.

• Students wish there was more money invested in the art programs, that funding was equivalent to the quality of teaching and the level of students’ talent; and for art subjects to be taken as seriously as math and science — regarded as core courses and not “required samplers.”

• They wish they had more time to indulge in their interests, like art and creative writing, but feel that the pressure to perform at a high level of academic and extracurricular achievement keeps them from enjoying non-academic pursuits. 

• They wish that high school felt less like a “pressure cooker” environment, and that public education focused more on creating well-rounded, thoughtful and enlightened individuals and less on churning out future workaholics.

• They want subjects (especially science and math) to include realistic applications as well as theory. They want econ and personal finance to be required courses (so people can finally learn not to spend more than they make!), and they wish math, science, social and humanities classes were taught in a coordinated curriculum, instead of as isolated disciplines. 

• One of the major points of contention in the discussion was sexual education programs. This might come as a surprise, but proponents for sexual education outnumbered the one person who was against it. (Proponents presented statistical evidence to prove to the one opponent that sex ed has a positive effect on teens by lowering risks of disease, infection and unplanned pregnancy.) Not only do they support sexual education because it “directly deals with the lives of students,” but they wish for more funding for non-abstinence-only-based sex ed programs as well. One proponent also pointed out that school-based health centers are only allowed by district policy and state law to distribute condoms as a preventative measure after someone has tested positive for an STI, an issue about which most people, myself included, are probably unaware.

South students are only a fraction of Eugene’s entire teenage population — but look at how much they have to say. Had the rest of Eugene’s teens been involved in the discussion, just think of how many other issues and concerns would have arisen that are never otherwise mentioned.

My wish for the new year: a public forum, live or online, where students and teens can voice their concerns to a responsive audience. We are full of ideas and opinions, and our input is valuable. We are not apathetic; we are here, we are aware, and we do care. 

All we need, Eugene, is for you to listen.

Mariam Wahed is a senior at South Eugene High School.