While researching for my AP Government class, I came across a news article in the Epoch Times that read “Biden Administration Urges Supreme Court to Allow Schools to Censor Student Expression Online.”
“What?” I thought, “So now administrators can basically stalk students online and then punish them for anything they’ve posted that they don’t agree with? In what world is that fair?”
Continuing my research, I found another article that stated, “...speech that was written off-campus, but could still be highly disruptive, is seen by nearly everyone in a school community.”
I thought, “That’s true, students can’t just get away with posting threats or bullying others, even if it isn’t done in school. No wonder administrators won’t let this misconduct go.”
While taking AP Government this year, I observed how different media sources present information. The results left me disappointed. Media influences young adults by presenting polarizing topics on popular topics. Consider the excerpts listed above; the first one sparks indignation on behalf of the students being “silenced” by schools, and the second creates the belief that any posts on social media by students should be monitored for “disruptive content.”To increase viewership, the media, specifically news sources, are becoming increasingly divisive. With few outlets providing unaltered information, the public is deprived of the authentic facts. Biased sources make forming evidence based opinions difficult— less straightforward than parroting the latest alarmist media coverage on immigration, for example.
This polarization goes further than just politics. In my town, there are two main middle schools: ASD and Elm Street. ASD is a STEM-focused charter school with a rigorous academic program, while Elm Street is a public school. Almost immediately after entering 6th grade, the idea of “us versus them” became apparent. Year after year, we would beat Elm Street at our annual math competition, Mathcounts, and Science Quiz Bowl. Instead of academic achievement, the students at Elm seemed to excel in scandals, like students vaping in the bathrooms or sneaking out of class. After we, students from Elm Street and ASD, started high school together, I thought that all the unintelligent kids who made bad decisions had to have come from Elm Street. Imagine my surprise when I found out many of the class's highest achievers came from Elm. In fact, the valedictorian of the class of 2018 ended up attending MIT and the quarterback of our football team was recruited by the best university teams. Since both of these students went to Elm Street, their stories drastically changed my viewpoint of students who went there instead of ASD.
My judgments came from a stereotype of this middle school. I didn’t take the time out to address my own biases against this middle school and instead grouped everyone from that middle school into one class of “underachievers.”
What gives me the right to make these judgments about the Elm Street kids without knowing them? To broaden the scope, what gives anyone the right to act as an expert on issues that they only know about through biased media reports? To be supportive allies, young adults must acknowledge and learn about all sides of the story instead of attempting to speak on behalf of an entire community.
Author Chimamanda Adichie discusses the dangers of a single story. A limited understanding or a "single story" leads to unfounded conclusions that could be rectified if readers looked past the headlines. Stereotyping obscures the complete picture.
The polarization in the news media unknowingly perpetuates stereotypes of people from different cultures, countries, etc. In America, the idea of diversity stops at ethnicity. Categorizing all Asians as "Chinese" erases the individual cultures and identities of other Asian peoples. Every country in Asia, every city in Asia, every family in Asia, every person in Asia is diverse and unique. Listening to these communities and their stories prevents harmful stereotyping and categorization.
The power to end harmful stereotyping rests in our hands, as consumers of media. Taking the time to research issues using multiple outlets and digesting new information before making decisions prevents polarization. Listening to all sides of the story leads to a greater understanding of the world and the obstacles that others face.