Op-Eds from the Current Events Class

The students in the Current Events seminar were asked to write an op-ed piece about a current hot topic and submit them to local and national newspapers. The students are still waiting to hear if any of them will be published, but in the meantime, here are two op-eds written by a junior and a senior.

In Defense of Marriage Equality

 by Helen Thompson ’14

According to the defendants of Proposition 8, ProtectMarriage.com, marriage should only be between a man and a woman because heterosexual couples are who should “ideally” raise children. The website states that “Because only relationships between men and women can produce children, and children are most likely to thrive when raised by the father and mother who brought them into this world, opposite-sex relationships have the potential to further—or harm—this vital interest in a way that other types of relationships do not.” As a daughter of lesbian mothers, I personally oppose this idea. It insults my entire family, and makes assumptions about who would be my best parents. I believe that this statement is untrue, unrealistic and not only delegitimize same-sex parents, but other families as well.

The ProtectMarriage.com statement is wrong on three counts, the first being that it is untrue. It states that only a man and a woman can produce children. This is mostly truthful, but a more scientific explanation would say that one only needs sperm, an egg, and a uterus to produce a child. Especially with advances in science, as well as sperm and egg banks, it has become easier and easier to get pregnant without having sex. Both my brother and I were conceived via a donor’s sperm. So while parts of a woman and a man are necessary to conceive a child, that does not mean no one else can get pregnant without a little help.

Furthermore, it is unrealistic to argue that children will do better if raised by their biological mother and father. Not all children can or should be raised by their biological parents. Some children are born to parents who cannot take care of them for different reasons that may be out of their control; many parents are not ready for parenthood or stumbled into it accidentally. No child of same-sex parents, however, is unplanned or accidental. All of those children are wanted and planned for. In-vitro fertilization, surrogate mothers, as well as sperm and egg donors make it possible for gay and lesbian families to reproduce, but it takes time, effort and money. It can take years for adoption agencies to connect children with suitable families, which means that anyone who wants to adopt is thinking hard about raising a child and its consequences. In fact, the reason there are adoption agencies is that many biological parents are unsuitable or unable to parent their children. It seems outrageous to me that one can oppose same-sex marriage on the basis that children are best raised by their biological parents when I can see in my everyday life how little of a difference it makes. I am just as socially adjusted, academically focused and emotionally stable as all my friends with a mom and a dad.

Lastly, the basis that children should be raised by only their biological father and mother delegitimizes many different families and lifestyles. Children all over our country are being raised by their grandparents, single mothers, single fathers, step-parent, legal guardians, adopted parents, aunts, uncles, the government, as well as two mothers or two fathers. ProtectMarriage.com’s argument delegitimizes all of these family structures which are common in our society. It even invalidates divorce, which up to 50% of marriages end in. Forty percent of the country’s children do not live with married biological parents. I think it is important to recognize that not all families are a mother and a father who are stably raising their children. And it is even more important to accept that and not impose values or ideals on other people’s lives.

The Supreme Court should legalize same-sex marriage. I only see the homophobia and malice of taking away rights of so many Californians and Americans who just want to legally acknowledge their love. Many same-sex couples want to legally recognize their union or family and cannot do so because some people question their parenting abilities. The main arguments that the defendants of Prop 8 put forward look to me to be grasping at straws for some legal reason that does not exist. Insulting same-sex parents as well as many other types of families and lifestyles isn’t legitimate grounds to prohibit same-sex marriage. The homophobia and fear of different lifestyles that is obvious in the arguments put forth by ProtectMarriage.com offend my family and many other Americans. I hope that in the future there are more acceptances of same-sex parents, gay marriage and non-traditional lifestyles.

Watch Out! Drones Are Coming!

 by Andrea Tam ’13

thCA116AIPWhile visiting Boston last week in the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy, I thought about how useful drones could have been while searching for the bombing suspects. Drones could have found the suspects more efficiently while minimizing the amount of manpower and risk involved during the investigation. However, the effectiveness of drones does not outweigh the possible dangers of these “unmanned aerial vehicles.” The minimal regulation, change of parameters to suit our needs, and lack of transparency around drones must not be taken lightly. While drones have the potential to do good, we must address the issue immediately because drones have been used and will continue to be used irresponsibly unless we set defined boundaries before it is too late.

Though the use of drones does save money and the lives of United States soldiers, does it really reduce the number of civilian casualties? According to The New America Foundation, the non-militant fatality rate due to drones has dropped from 46% under President Bush to 14% under President Obama; however, the true number of innocent casualties may not be so drastically different. In 2012, Obama re-defined “militant” as “all military-aged men in a strike zone.” This vague definition, therefore, names about half of the human population as “militants,” so we do not know how many innocent lives have been lost due to drone strikes. Drones have not become more accurate; we have just made the intended “target” larger.

With minimal regulation of drones, we do not know who could be a target, when an individual could a target, or where an individual could be a target. According to the Washington Post, most US citizens agree that drone strikes used for targeted killings should not be used on US citizens or on US soil. However, the ambiguity of drone regulations does not limit drone use to that specific case. As the law (or lack of law) stands, drones could be used against US citizens. During his 13-hour filibuster about drones, Senator Rand Paul stressed that this use of drones strips an individual of his/her Fifth Amendment right to due process. Drone strikes enable a select few individuals to decide the fate of US citizens without criminal charges. Not only does this eliminate the right of an individual, but it also weakens the foundation of democracy that this country is founded upon.

US drone strikes are carried out by secret committees. According to the Associated Press, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) make these decisions that can affect US citizens without their knowledge. Further, select individuals within these two agencies decide when the next strike will be, yet the President of the United States ultimately decides. The secrecy in the decision-making process makes US citizens vulnerable to foreign attacks. Drone strikes carried out by the US government create anti-US sentiment abroad, which only puts US civilians at risk. With terrorist attacks occurring like the Boston Marathon tragedy, we wonder why the US is under assault. We must look to the government who is attacking other countries and “acting in our name” more than we think.

When making decisions, a person often weighs the costs and benefits. Though drones can be implemented quickly, decisions should take time, especially when human lives are at stake. The ease at which drones can be used, the low-cost, and small number of US casualties make drones an automatic winner. However, the low direct casualty rate does not take into account the deaths that amount from a terrorist attack due to that drone attack. Often, we make rash decisions in the heat of the moment—it’s human nature. The use of drones will make rash decisions commonplace. In order to save lives, of innocent US citizen and non-US citizen, we must think before we act.

This battle of drone technology between countries will only fuel more drone use and more warfare. The US has an opportunity to set a precedent for drone use so that other nations will follow. We can stop a war before it starts by creating stricter regulations regarding drones. What the US does next will show the world if we have learned from our predecessors of the Cold War. We have the chance to change the future of the planet, to live not in fear of one another, and we must seize the moment.

The RV-12 Student Work Sessions Begin

The first work session! (9/11/12)

As with many new endeavors, it takes some time to get all of the pieces to fall into place. The Spirit of Athenian III was no different. We had nearly 60 interested students, relatively limited work space, a handful of adult mentors, and the need to fit the sessions into the after school hours. An operation of this size and scope required quite a bit of organization of the various groups. A tip of the hat to Eugene, the faculty lead on the project, for taking this on and finding a way to make it all work.

STUDENTS:  Eugene devised a work schedule that would evenly divide the students into eight teams of 6 or 7, with two, 90-minute sessions planned each week. This allowed the students to remain with the same students each session, and to work on the same day each week with one session each month.

ADULT MENTORS:  Eugene wanted to be sure that enough mentors were at each session so that the students would have proper training and supervision. Marsh, the founder of the program, was available for some sessions, but it was clear that additional mentors would be needed. Bruce, an Athenian teacher and mentor on the two other airplane projects, was excited to help with the third build. Bill, a retired teacher, heard about the project and wanted to volunteer his time. Then, in what we call a stroke of very good fortune, Joe, a retired engineer with over 30 years of technical fabrication experience, also showed interest in the program. Seems that his interest was driven by the fact that he had been building his own RV-12 for the past few years in his garage! This was a perfect fit.

Blair supervises the riveting process

Blair supervises the riveting process

STUDENT MENTORS: Two upper school students, Sho and Blair, were experienced with all of the tools in the shop through their time with the Robotics program, and they offered to help facilitate the work sessions on a regular basis. Their leadership, expertise and patience have been invaluable.

Sho supervises the riveting process

Sho supervises the riveting process

TRAINING: Another challenge was the reality that many of these middle and upper school students had little previous experience with power tools, riveting, or airplane building. It became clear that there was some essential groundwork that would need to be laid to ensure the success of the project and the safety of the students. To that end, each session began with a safety review, stressing the importance of proper attire (safety goggles, closed-toed shoes, no loose strings on clothing, long hair tied back) and behavior. Each student was also formally trained on each of the power machines in the shop, including the drill press, bench grinder, belt sander, air-driven rivet guns, and all of the other tools in the shop.

Next up…milestones.

Salon Day: A Conversation with Great Minds of Western Civilization

What happens when Leonardo Da Vinci has a conversation with Galileo? Or when Thomas Hobbes chats with Catherine the Great? The 7th graders applied their knowledge of the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution by embodying a great mind from one of these eras. By reenacting the Italian and French “salon” of the 17th and 18th centuries, students exchanged political and sociocultural ideas pervasive in these times, allowing them to place these trends in a greater historical context.

And so it begins…The Spirit of Athenian III


Marsh addresses the group

Opening the kits

Opening the first crate…drum roll please!

The Van’s RV-12 kit crates arrived at the school during the summer of 2012. We had the plane…now all we needed was a student work crew to build it. Shortly after the 2012-13 school year began, we launched the program with an informational meeting on August 29 at the Maker’s Studio/Airplane Hangar for interested students and their parents. The masses gathered to hear Marsh speak about the history of the Airplane project at Athenian, to ask questions, and to witness the ceremonial opening of the first kit crate.

It was thrilling to see the students and their parents asking thoughtful questions, and to sense their enthusiasm when the crowbar lifted the lid on the first box, revealing the shiny contents underneath. While it didn’t really “look” like an airplane yet, for many, the project became more real at that moment.

Up next…the student work sessions begin.

Van's RV-12 kit

One of the Van’s RV-12 kit crates

In Search of Spirit of Athenian III

After the sale of the Christen Eagle plane in 2012, Marsh, with the school’s input, received the “green light” to begin the search for another plane for the students to build. Research lead him to strongly consider the RV Series plane kit from Van’s Aircraft. Van’s Aircraft has an excellent reputation, and their kits are very popular in the home-building community. The planes are known for their smooth flying and efficiency, and the Van’s instruction sets have set the standard for being thorough, accurate, and easy to understand. The Van’s RV-12, specifically, seemed ideal for this group of middle and high school student builders.


Eugene and Marsh tour the Van’s factory

The RV-12 is the company’s first kit entry in the “Light Sport Aircraft” category. The FAA established the Light Sport category for pilots with licenses without a medical exam. These planes don’t fly quite as fast as some home built planes, and can be assembled with “pop” rivets instead of hard-set AN rivets (Army and Navy specification rivets). This was another important consideration for our young builders, who can easily set a “pop” rivet with the proper tools, especially since there are about 16,000 rivets on the airplane. The resale value on a Light Sport plane is also higher than most home built planes, which is also Key to keeping the Airplane Project flying in the future.

In order to investigate further, Marsh and and his wife, Mugs, organized a tour of the Van’s Aircraft factory in Aurora, Oregon in June of 2012. They were joined in Oregon by Eugene, who had been appointed by to school to oversee and drive the Airplane Project. They were impressed with the facility and the people they met, as well as the craftsmanship and the attention to detail in every aspect of the factory.They were beginning to feel that the RV-12 was a great fit to become The Athenian Spirit of Athenian III for our group of student builders.


Eugene views the student-built RV-12

They were also inspired by seeing a plane at the factory that had been built exclusively by high school students in the Aurora, Oregon area. The team of students met on Saturdays with adult mentors, and together, were able to assemble the RV-12 in about a year and a half. For more about that project,  you can check out their blog and the story of their project at http://www.teenflight.blogspot.com/.

Stay tuned for more on the after-school work sessions!

Community Honors Bob with Environmental Pledges

DSC_0870Bob Oxenburgh, Director of Finance and Facilities, will be retiring at the end of the school year after nearly a decade of service to The Athenian School.  Among Bob’s many accomplishments and contributions: creating a “shadow endowment” for the school by money saved from greening efforts; getting Athenian 70% off the grid; converting 60% of waste haulage to recycling and compost; and much, much more.  Thank you Bob for all that you have done for us!

In honor of Bob’s retirement, The Athenian School community organized an environmental pledge campaign.  More than 160 individuals committed to adding one more sustainable activity to their daily routine.  Watch the video above to see all the pledges!

Read more about Bob’s tremendous contribution to Athenian:

Athenian's Energy Usage 2012 copy 2