News Reporter's Notebook

Cooperating Across Party Lines To Defend High School Internet Access Rights

As Max Turgeon, a Newington High School student, speaks at a press conference on student internet access rights at the Connecticut state Capitol Monday, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat listens to the left and Connecticut state Sen. Rob Kane, a Watertown Republican, listens to the right. Most of the others are debate students.  (YJI)

HARTFORD, Connecticut, U.S.A. – Being home for the summer is not always as nice as it sounds. Even though the high-speed pace of college life can tire a person out after a long while, sitting around doing nothing but sit in the dark and type away on a laptop is somehow even more tiring.

So it’s natural that a person like myself would take any excuse to get out of the house and do something. Anything, really.
I was asked to come to the state Legislative Office Building to a press conference with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and Connecticut state Sen. Rob Kane, about the
issue of overly restrictive filters on high school computers.
I believe that trying to get computers to differentiate between news and politics is, as Sen. Murphy, a Democrat, put it, “an impossible exercise.”

Alan Burkholder with his popcorn, ready for the show to begin. (YJI)

I took up the offer to attend the press conference, figuring I wouldn’t really have much else to do on a Monday morning in the tail end of June. Besides, who would pass up the opportunity to bug an elected official? Certainly not I.

I arrived around nine in the morning, alongside my fellow Youth Journalism International reporter Kiernan Majerus-Collins, who wasn’t reporting at all. Instead, he was busy looking over his notes for the speech he was going to make at the press conference.

Outside the building we saw two women having a chat and smoking. I am not quite sure what this says about the local government, but it was an interesting way to start the day.

When we entered the building, I had to stop and look around the huge hall. This was not my first time there, but I still had to wonder about the purpose of having such a large amount of empty space in an office building.
I didn’t have long to think about this before we were approached by two young people taking interviews about global climate change. Since I wanted to be courteous, I threw in my two cents while Kiernan stood in the background, waiting for his chance to speak. Once I was finished and Kiernan began his interview, I returned the favor.

I still had time before the talk, so I made my way to the cafeteria to see what politicians have for breakfast. I got a small cup of Frosted Flakes, an apple, some apple juice, a cinnamon bun, and some popcorn for later. It seemed odd to me that there was a popcorn machine in the cafeteria, but after thinking about it, it made sense. You can’t have a show without popcorn.

Alan Burkholder gets interviewed by Bryan Frankovitch of the CPBN media labs. (YJI)

When the time came for the senators to actually speak, I sat down and took note of what they said. It surprised me how cooperative they were being about the issue of activism in schools.
Sen. Kane, a Republican from Watertown, even stated directly that this was “not a Democratic or Republican issue.”

Wait, politicians are agreeing? Whatever happened to petty bickering and stubborn refusal to cooperate?

YJI reporter Alan Burkholder interviews U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy. (YJI)

Sarcasm aside, it was nice to see both sides of this issue come together for the sake of the public and also the visiting Westfield Academy of Debate and Public Speaking.
Senators Murphy and Kane were very friendly and polite towards each other, which is the kind of behavior that I admire in politicians. If only senators and representatives were cooperative more often.
Kiernan also spoke, along with a Newington High School freshman named Max Turgeon. For people so young, they spoke very passionately about the issue. Both of them are on Congressman John Larson’s First Congressional Youth Cabinet.
Kiernan, representing young Democrats, said, “Access to all points of view in our schools is important.”
Max, a conservative who was representing young Republicans, also voice his support to change school policies on politics.
“The best way to defend freedom of speech,” said Max, “is to inform our youth.”
It is incredible how even in the face of discouragement by their schools and peers, (Max pointed out that most of his political tirades ended with an answer of “Shut up, Max”) young people like Kiernan and Max can fight passionately to encourage activism in schools.

After the press conference, I asked Sen. Murphy about what he thought could be done to encourage political activism in schools other than remove unnecessary filters from Google (or Bing, if you’re one of those people.) He responded that one method he approves of is “when schools have debates” about hot-button issues, encouraging young people to get involved in the discussion.

YJI reporter Alan Burkholder and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy. (YJI)

I thanked Sen. Murphy for his time, shook his hand, and took a picture with him. It was a real pleasure to meet him and ask him a meaningful question. It’s always nice to see people getting involved with kids and telling them that whatever they can do to help others is appreciated.
I for one, am doing my part. I am writing about all of this so that other people can read it and think, “Maybe I should do something.”
Getting others to help is one of the best things that someone can do to help a cause. That and making things actually happen.
All in all, I am glad I went to the press conference today. It’s reassuring to see people agreeing about something and cooperating to make it happen. I should do this more often. And frankly, so should you.
Alan Burkholder is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.