A 15-year-old girl brings her school to cheers with a speech about Islam.

Teenagers are getting smarter. These days, they have to.

Take 15-year-old Isra Mohammed, for example.


Image via The Telegraph.

In the weeks after the terrorist attacks in Paris, she and other Muslims around the world have faced daily ridicule and hate attacks. Sad and frustrated, she decided to prepare a presentation for her entire school. By the end, they were all cheering.

Here are five poignant moments from Isra's speech:

1. "What are your thoughts on this picture?"

Photos via Library of Congress and Islamic State/Wikimedia Commons.

Isra opens by asking the audience to consider the images above overlaid with these words: "No one thinks that these people are representative of Christians. So why do so many think that these people are representative of Islam?"

These two hate groups have more in common than their tastes for creepy masks and mass murder. Both operate on the premise of hate and violence, guided by perverse interpretations of what are otherwise peaceful faiths.

Thankfully, we've never had to read headlines like, "Hate Attacks on White Christians Spike After Klan Terror Spree," because that would be terrible. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for innocent Muslims after deplorable acts of terror by ISIS and the like.

2. "People think that Muslim women ... have no rights."

Photo by Azlan Mohamed/Wikimedia Commons.

"But we do," Isra said. "Look at me, for example. I'm Muslim, I'm a girl, but I don't wear a head scarf. I have the right and freedom to wear one."

And that's true. Wearing a hijab (or any other type of head scarf) is a choice for the vast majorty of the hundreds of millions of Muslim women on this planet — not the mandate of a cruel god, ruler, father, or husband.

In fact, some women see wearing a hijab as a demonstration of freedom, spirituality, and strength. So they're really no more oppressive than these amazing leather pants:

Or anything else he's wearing, for that matter. Photo by HebiFot/Pixabay.

3. Islam "is a religion of peace and mercy."

Photo by Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images.

Isra explains that in the same way people say "good morning" on a daily basis, she says "as-salamu alaikum," which means "peace be upon you." Not exactly cause for hostility.

Of course, there's more to being Muslim than pleasant greetings. She also explains the pillars of Islam, which really aren't so different from what we see in other faiths.

A declaration of faith and commitment to prayer? We've all seen it.

Giving to charity? C'mon.

Practicing self-discipline and moderation through fasting? That's just ... healthy.

A once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca? OK, that's one's more specific to Islam. But is it so unlike paying homage at a memorial for a loved one or one of your dearest idols?

The point is, everyone can find something good in common with Muslims. We just have to be open to it.

4. "If you are throwing out masses of hate, you are helping ISIS."


Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images.

The global game plan of ISIS is pretty simple: build their ranks by building Islamophobia. So if you want the attacks to stop, Isra explains, it doesn't make sense to treat all Muslims like enemies of the state.

In other words, if you act like this...

Photo by Raphael1/Wikimedia Commons.

...you're part of the problem, not the solution.

Ironically, most ISIS victims are Muslims. So if anything, we should see Muslims as allies in the fight against terrorism. "ISIS is not Muslim," said Isra. "Terrorism has no religion. ... They have hijacked our religion and used it against us."

5. "How would you feel if that was you?"


Photo by Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP/Getty Images.

Isra closes by asking her classmates to put themselves in innocent Muslims' shoes — from her and her family, who face daily derision even as British citizens, to the Syrian refugees, whose homes and lives were destroyed but are met at new borders with skepticism and disdain.

How would you feel if that were you?

Watch Isra Mohammed's poignant speech:

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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