This I Believe

Arend - Austin, Texas
Entered on May 17, 2006

I believe in the power of individuals to care—if they’re given the chance. This belief wasn’t completely shaped by a single event or person, but one experience did contribute greatly to it: my high school. Near the end of my junior year in high school, I transferred to Gonzalo Garza Independence High School, a self-paced school that concentrates less on authority and more on mutual respect between teachers and students, and gives students more say in how the school is run. It’s a powerful concept—at Garza, students are largely in control of their own destiny as well as the overall culture of the school. It seems to work, too. Garza is the cleanest school I’ve ever been to, it’s the safest school in the district, and there’s a surprisingly small amount of cliquish behavior. It’s a pretty powerful example of how individuals are willing to maintain a community if it is close to them and affects their daily lives, and if they have individual power in the community; at my other high school, no one really cared about the school or the community because we were all powerless. Why care about a place that we had basically nothing to do with, other than the fact that we were forced to go there every day? At Garza, students can make changes to their own curricula (with teacher approval), and we’re made part of the principal’s decision process. This all ties into my personal beliefs. Why are so many people so apathetic about politics at the national level? I’d say that one big reason is that, like at my old high school, most people feel disconnected from the federal government, and don’t see how it affects them personally. A lot of people also feel like their opinion doesn’t make any difference in the larger world—they feel disconnected from the decision-making process. This is one of the problems of representational democracy, especially on such a large scale. This is what I believe: if individuals are given power, feel connected to their community, and are involved in the decision-making process, they’re glad to take part in and help maintain a community.