Parenting and Teaching Styles and Their Interrelated Effect on Students’ Academic Success

by Vineeta Abraham, December 21, 2021

The following is a paper written for Stony Brook University’s Research and Writing in Psychology course (PSY 310) in which students were required to design an experiment and write a research paper based on it. It should be noted that all results and accompanying graphs, tables, and discussions, are imaginative and not based on conducted experimentation.


The current study aimed to examine the effects of the congruence of parenting and teaching styles on adolescent students’ academic achievement. Teaching styles mirrored the parenting styles of authoritarian, authoritative and permissive. Sixty eighth grade students were randomly sorted into three different classes, each of which utilized a different style of teaching. It was hypothesized that students who experienced the same teaching style in the classroom as parenting style at home would achieve higher levels of academic success than those students who experienced different parenting and teaching styles. Academic achievement was measured by proctoring identical final exams to all students and analyzing the exam scores. Results showed that students who experienced the same parenting style and teaching style achieved higher final exam scores than students who experienced different parenting and teaching styles. These results support that students’ academic achievement in schools are affected by the similarity and differences that exist between their home and school environments.


The many adults present in a child’s environment heavily influence their development and growth. Studies have aimed to look at the ways in which the style of parenting that a child’s guardians choose to follow may impact the child’s mental, emotional, and social development. Such parenting styles were typically identified as either authoritarian, authoritative, or permissive, whereby authoritarian parents show high control and little warmth, authoritative parents show high control and high warmth, and permissive parents show low control and high warmth towards their children (Walker, 2009). Additionally, besides the daily interactions children may have with their parents, their perception of and relationship with teachers while they are students have been shown to play a large role in their academic success (Alvidrez & Weinstein, 1999). It is on this premise that researchers have explored the extent to which parenting styles utilized in children’s home environments have impacted teacher-student relationships (Paschall, 2015). One study explored the effect of parenting styles in home environments on attachment issues and negative versus positive relationships with teachers, especially at a young age (Paschall, 2015). Studies such as this one have suggested that there may be an interconnected effect of different adults’ supervision approaches on children. 

Teaching styles that instructors adopt in the classroom have shown many similar characteristics to the three types of parenting styles (Bassett, 2013). The ability to use the definitions of parenting styles to evaluate teaching styles was shown in one study in which college students were asked to evaluate teachers using the 30-item Parental Authority Questionnaire, also known as PAQ, which was a survey used to assess parenting styles in home environments. A  few changes were made to the original PAQ; although the PAQ was created with the intention of analyzing parenting styles, scores using this survey were extended to teachers (Bassett, 2013). In a similar study, university students from Lander University were asked to read vignettes and describe the teachers in them as authoritative, authoritarian, or permissive, and then describe whether or not they would hire them. The students were also asked to identify the parenting styles they experienced at home, and the results were then analyzed to examine whether students’ preference in hiring teachers with different styles were related to the parenting styles the students experienced in their home environments (Bassett & Snyder, 2013). This study takes a more subjective view by asking the students for their perspective on which teaching style is preferable based on the students’ background. 

When describing parenting styles, an authoritative approach to parenting has often been seen as most effective in regards to yielding positive results such as higher levels of social and emotional maturity (Bassett, 2013). Similarly, an authoritative teaching style was observed to be the most effective at increasing academic success in students (Walker, 2009). A study conducted by Walker in 2009 using fifth grade students and teachers described higher levels of success and even preference for teachers using an “authoritative” style. An important aspect to note is that while authoritative teaching styles were generally seen as more effective, there is not much research that exists analyzing how this effectiveness is impacted by the students’ home environments. The current study aimed to explore the connection between students’ experiences with parenting styles and teaching styles to determine whether or not experiencing the same or different styles at home and at school is most beneficial to the student. 

The purpose of the current study was to determine how the relationship between parenting and teaching styles can influence adolescent students’ academic achievement at the end of an academic year. The teaching styles, categorized as either authoritarian, authoritative, or permissive styles, were designated to each experiment group with guidelines on how to maintain these definitions. Such guidelines included varying levels of leniency in regards to deadlines, supportiveness or consolement during struggles, and acceptance levels of disruptions in the classroom. Student achievement was measured using the final exam score at the end of the academic year. It was hypothesized that students who are instructed by a teacher adopting the same teaching style as the parenting style that student experiences at home will have excellent or high achievement while students who experience different teaching and parenting styles will experience acceptable or low achievement. By examining how similarities and differences in the student’s home and school environment impact their academic achievement through an objective lens, school environments can adapt to be better suited to students’ preferences and can more uniquely and effectively nurture their success.



      Sixty students, 30 males and 30 females, entering eighth grade in September 2021 were recruited on a volunteer basis for this study. All participants were in the age range of 12-14 years old and were selected from Nassau County, Long Island, New York. Each participant also came from a household that contains two parents (or similar parental figure or guardian). Three mathematics professors from Stony Brook University’s Mathematics department were recruited to teach the classes. Participants were sorted randomly into three groups consisting of ten males and ten females each. All three classes of students were taught mathematics in accordance with the New York State mathematics curriculum, and all participants had to be able to read, write, and communicate proficiently in English.. All classes were held year-round at Garden City High School located in Nassau County.


Parental Authority Questionnaire (PAQ). All students were provided with a modified version of John R Buri’s Parental Authority Questionnaire (PAQ) from 1991 in order to gauge students’ assessments of the parenting style they experienced at home (Buri, 1991). The 30-item questionnaire asked students to rank statements regarding their parents using a 5 point Likert scale (Buri, 1991). While Buri’s questionnaire aimed to provide results regarding the mother and father’s parenting styles individually, the current study grouped the parents as a single entity and asked all 30 questions as they pertained to both parents or parental figures. For example, “As I was growing up I knew what my mother expected of me in the family and she insisted that I conform to those expectations simply out of respect for her authority” was modified to read “As I was growing up I knew what my parents expected of me in the family and they insisted that I conform to those expectations simply out of respect for their authority” (Buri, 1991).


Each of the three groups of students were assigned to one of three teaching styles: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. Each of these styles was used by a predetermined teacher who was provided with guidance on how to implement their assigned teaching style as it pertained to leniency, supportiveness, and tolerance. For example, the permissive teacher was instructed to employ high levels of leniency with assignment deadlines, high levels of supportiveness when students expressed having trouble in class, and high levels of tolerance when students created disruptions during class time. The authoritative teacher was instructed to demonstrate low levels of leniency, high levels of supportiveness, and low levels of tolerance. The authoritarian teacher was instructed to display low levels of leniency, low levels of supportiveness, and low tolerance for disruptive behavior. Besides these guidelines, all three teachers were given identical lesson plans and content to teach each class. 

In September 2020, all students were asked to complete the Parental Authority Questionnaire. Results were compiled and each student was then categorized into one of two groups without their knowledge. Group A consisted of students who were about to experience a similar teaching style to the parenting style they experienced in their households, and Group B was composed of students who would be experiencing different teaching and parenting styles in the classroom and at home. 

All three classes of students were taught mathematics using the same lesson plan, co-developed by each of the three teachers. Throughout the school year, monthly observations of the class were conducted, during which the observers would note details regarding leniency, comfort, and tolerance demonstrated by each teacher for a day. 

On June 10, 2021, all sixty students were presented with an originally created, cumulative 50-question multiple choice final exam in mathematics with answer choices A-D. Every test was taken on a Scantron sheet for unbiased grading purposes. All students, regardless of class, were provided with the same exam and took the exam in identical testing conditions at the same time and location. Individual scores from the exam were blindly calculated and measured on a scale in which scores higher than 90% showed excellent achievement, between 75%-90% signified high achievement, between 65-75% indicated acceptable achievement, and below 65% represented low achievement. These results were then analyzed as they related to each student belonging to Group A or Group B.


In assessing students’ academic success it was predicted that students who experienced the same teaching and parenting style would display higher achievement than students who experience different teaching and parenting styles. Students were randomly placed into one of three classes (authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive), and students who reported having a parenting style similar to their teacher’s style were categorized as Group A, and those with parenting styles different than their assigned teacher’s styles were categorized as Group B. Results were compiled in order to support whether or not students who experience the same type of teaching style in the classroom as parenting style at home perform higher academically as shown by final exam scores. 

Figure 1 shows a comparison of Group A and Group B students’ final exam scores in each of the three classes. A two-way ANOVA was used to examine the effect of group assignment in the three differently taught classes on academic achievement in eighth grade mathematics. Results showed a significant main effect of group assignment. Students who experienced the same teaching style in the classroom and parenting styles at home — Group A — achieved significantly higher final exam scores (M = 90.23, SD = 5.55) than students who experienced different styles in the classroom and at home (M = 77.87, SD = 5.73) classified as Group B F (1, 59) = 5.32, p <.05. Furthermore, based on the predetermined scale, a mean of 90.23 showed excellent achievement for Group A (falling between the 90th and 100th percentile), while students in Group B obtained a lower average final exam score of 77.87, signifying high achievement (falling between the 75th and 90th percentile). Additionally, results were calculated to analyze final exam scores for each teaching style classroom. Students in the authoritarian class obtained an average final exam score of M = 79.75, SD = 4.03. Students in the authoritative class obtained an average final exam score of M = 83.95, SD = 2.43. Students in the permissive class obtained an average final exam score of M = 83.5, SD = 4.47. No main effect was found for the style of teaching on academic achievement F (1, 59) = 2.36, p <.05. 

Figure 1.

Average Final Exam Scores Across Three Math Classes

Note. This bar graph displays the comparison of Group A and Group B students’ final exam scores in three differently taught math classes.


The present study was conducted in order to examine the effects of similarity or difference of teaching style and parenting style on students’ academic performance. It was hypothesized that students who were placed in a classroom with a similar teaching style as the parenting style they experienced at home would result in higher academic achievement. It was predicted that students with similar teaching and parenting styles, or Group A students, would show excellent (90-100%) or high achievement (75-90%) on the final exam in mathematics, while students who experienced different teaching and parenting styles, Group B, would exhibit acceptable (65-75%) or low (below 65%) achievement. Results showed that students in Group A showed excellent achievement while students in Group B demonstrated high achievement. These findings supported the hypothesis by showing that the level of similarity between teaching styles in the classroom and parenting styles at home (same or different) influenced students’ academic performance. 

The current study used a novel approach to understanding the effect of different adult figures in adolescent students’ lives and how they work together to impact students’ success in education. Previous research has examined the relationship between the two styles, often focusing on the influence of parenting styles on teacher-student relationships, or vice-versa, showing support for the idea that the two are inter-connected (Paschall, 2015). Studies have also highlighted the success of one type of style over the other, often concluding that an authoritative style is seen as being more effective for the classroom and at home (Walker, 2009). While previous research has used a more subjective approach to understanding teaching and parenting styles and how they influence students by asking students to provide insight on preference and evaluation of the different styles, the current study aimed to take a more objective approach (Bassett & Snyder, 2013). The current study showed that students who experienced similar teaching and parenting styles had higher average test scores than those students who experienced different styles at home and in the classroom, providing quantitative support for the idea that both parents and teachers’ methods of supervision can impact students’ achievement together. While less focus was given on highlighting one style as more effective than the others, the study instead examined the relationship between school and home environments. 

One strength of the current study was that it analyzed comprehensive success levels of students by examining average scores of a cumulative final exam rather looking only at final averages or at individual test scores throughout the year, which could be impacted by other factors such as homework completion or class participation, which may not accurately reflect content understanding (as it could be reflective of time constraints or student personality, respectively). Final exams were identical for each student, as was the curriculum, in an aim to make the content of the three classes uniform. Another strength of the study was categorizing students into Group A or Group B — depicting that the students were either going to experience the same or different parenting and teaching styles, respectively — without informing the teachers or students of these placements. This allowed for minimal influence or bias on the teachers’ or students’ parts in regards to academic performance or teaching methods. 

One limitation of the study was the decision to make mathematics the subject to be taught by the three classes. Varying degrees of skill may have been present in each of the three classes, and no additional support classes (extra help, tutoring) were provided, thereby causing there to be a discrepancy between students who were previously skilled at mathematics and students who previously struggled with mathematics. Additionally previous research has shown that authoritative teaching styles were most effective in the classroom (Walker, 2009). This could mean that both Group A and Group B students could have been provided with the most ideal situations in the authoritarian style classroom when compared to permissive and authoritarian classes, indicating that an interaction may exist between the congruence of parenting and teaching styles and the specific parenting or teaching style itself. 

The current study brought to light the importance of examining the many environments children and adolescents find themselves in and how they are connected to each other in impactful ways. This study suggests that students may be more comfortable and successful when they are learning in a familiar environment, and that the continuity that exists between home and school can impact students’ academic performance. Further research is needed to analyze other factors that can impact the students’ success, such as physical setting or other members of the environment (i.e., siblings vs. peers). These further studies can also incorporate the significance and effectiveness of home-schooled students and how the education system can be molded to better suit each individual child’s unique needs.


Alvidrez, J & Weinstein, R.S. (1999). Early teacher perceptions and later student academic achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91(4), 731–746.

Bassett, J. & Snyder, T.L. (2013). “Parenting” in the classroom: University students’ evaluations of hypothetical instructors as a function of teaching styles and parenting styles. North American Journal of Psychology, 15(3), 447–462.’_evaluations_of_hypothetical_instructors_as_a_function_of_teaching_styles_parenting_styles

Bassett, J. F., Snyder, T.L., Rogers, D. T., & Collins, C.L. (2013). Permissive, authoritarian, and authoritative instructors: Applying the concept of parenting styles to the college classroom. Individual Differences Research, 11(1), 1–11.

Buri, J.R. (1991). Parental authority questionnaire. Journal of Personality Assessment, 57(1), 110–119.

Paschall, W.P., Gonzalez, H. Mortensen, J.A., Barnett, M.A., & Mastergeorge, A.M. (2015). Children’s negative emotionality moderates influence of parenting styles on preschool classroom adjustment. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 39, 1–13.

Walker, J. M. T. (2009). Authoritative classroom management: How control and nurturance work together. Theory Into Practice. 48, 122–129.

Music Therapy: The Art of Psychological Treatment

by Sanjana Sankaran, December 20, 2021

Nearly 800,000 people die from suicide every year (Suicide Data). Approximately seventy percent of the American youth that struggle with depression requires treatment (The State). People with depression have a daily battle with themselves to prevent those feelings of despair and loneliness from taking over. Those living with mental health disorders may develop effective coping mechanisms to deal with their issues. Music therapy, a method of therapy and a de-stress technique for which the positive effects are not yet highly known, involves “the professional use of music and its elements as an intervention in medical, educational, and everyday environments with individuals” (Wang and Agius 595). Music therapy not only involves listening to music but also consists of thinking, analyzing, and playing it. Many people view music as a means of amusement and frivolity for those involved. Both mental health issues and the fine arts are often stigmatized in our society. In regards to mental health, several people feel the need to downplay their problems since many illnesses do not manifest with obvious physical symptoms. Hence, society issues out old cliches, suggesting that people need to learn how to ‘deal with their problems.’ In actuality, mental health can affect not only one’s mind but also one’s body and, if left untreated, can severely affect one’s quality of life. Over recent years, many have come to view the fine arts as an impractical endeavor since several jobs in this field may not lead to a stable job or income. Historically, humans have always turned to the arts to express their feelings, through music, visual arts, or the written word. Music can have a profound effect on the biochemical as well as the physiological aspects of the brain. More and more researchers today find that psychotherapeutic drugs are not as effective in treating mental health patients as they used to be, partly due to  drug tolerance. As a society, we must alter  our mindset away from  treating psychological problems exclusively through psychotherapy and drugs and must instead leverage the nontraditional method of music therapy for those  who experience daily stressors and mental health disorders.

The standard practices of mental health treatment today involve two significant methods –  psychotherapeutic drugs and psychotherapy –  both of which, given the statistics of how the rate of mental health diagnosis is accelerating, are not enough. People with mental health disorders nowadays have a lot more options as to how to treat themselves: psychotherapy, medication, case management, hospitalization, therapy groups, alternative medicine, electroconvulsive therapy, and peer support (Mental Health Treatments). In the early- to mid-1900s, methods of curing mental health ailments involved lobotomies and shock therapy. Even with all of the progress made today, a recent study shows that approximately 10 million adults in America have suicidal thoughts,  have not been able to seek treatment or have experienced both. In the past six years alone, the population of youth (ages 12-17) with depression has gone up by 4.35%, and two million kids now have major depressive episodes and need to seek treatment (The State). A team of neuroscientists from Naples, Italy found that antidepressant drug treatments are mostly ineffective for major depressive disorders. (Fornaro e. al. 494). Inefficacy can be attributed to tolerance, an anomaly that occurs when depressive symptoms reappear after previous treatment with antidepressants” with the return of depressive symptoms of MDD occurring in 9–33% of patients across published trials” (Fornaro et al. 494). Drug tolerance can build over time as the body requires higher doses of the drug  in order to have the same effect as the initial dose once did, ultimately resulting in other biological side effects. Many antidepressant drug trials tend to last shorter than 52 weeks, contributing to the  lack of understanding as to how effective these drugs will be long-term. The National Institute of Mental Health stated that 25% of 103 patients had depressive episodes. Further these patients were found to have 43 out of 171 following depressive episodes and experienced drug tolerance after a 20 year follow up (Fornaro et al. 496).   

In the book, Music Therapy in Mental Health for Illness Management and Recovery, written by Michael J. Silverman, the director of the music therapy program at the University of Minnesota, he states that “ even when medications are effective in alleviating the symptoms of mental illness, they do not necessarily facilitate psychiatric recovery as pharmacological treatments do not contribute to the development of knowledge and skills necessary for a successful transition back to the community” (Silverman 55). The state of mental health is worsening – therapies previously used for decades are now proving to be not enough in curbing  the rampant increase in prevalence of depression and other  mental health disorders. Psychiatric treatment needs to implement  a new type of therapy, like music therapy, that includes psychological interventions to analyze how people’s behavioral and thought processes have improved over  time. By seeking new methods of treatments, specifically music therapy, society will move closer towards respecting rather than ostracizing mental health patients. 

Music therapy was developed post World War I and II as a way to ease the minds of many soldiers with PTSD (Craig). Since then, this field has led to a wide range of studies, all seeking to answer the questions of how music therapy works and its purpose. If we have many different types of psychotherapy, why are neuroscientists and psychologists seeking more holistic treatments for their patients that are not guaranteed to work? Let us start with what precisely music therapy is and the basis behind it. Music therapy includes two main facets: psychoacoustics and the appreciation and hearing of music. Psychoacoustics refers to how someone perceives and comprehends music. In contrast, the brain’s mechanisms of appreciation and hearing of music is something that is developed across an entire lifespan and is influenced by many environmental factors (Craig, para. 19-20). 

There are two main methods of music therapy: listening and active playing. When  listening to music, therapists will put on music for the patient, recommended by medical experts who know about the patient’s specific case (Craig, para. 41-42). Some therapists will go down the more analytical route of listening to music. Therapists may ask questions that evoke personal thought analysis and insight. Some may also follow the Bonny method of guided imagery and music. Bonny methods consist of a patient listening to a song and seeing an image. This leads to the therapist asking specific guided questions that lead to the patient talking about their thoughts and emotions (Craig, para. 43-44). Music therapy can change a person’s attention, emotion, memory processing, behavior, and communication. A combination of all of these changes can result in  changes in neural processing that can  effectively change the biochemical state of depressed minds and improve their lives 

  Many studies prove that music therapy has been effective in treating people with mental disorders. In a  study done by Sergio Castillo-Pérez MD and his team, he states that “depression remains a major health problem and, despite using pharmaceutical agents, patients continue to report high levels of unrelieved depression” (Castillo-Perez et al. 390). This group of researchers decided to study a group of low to medium depressed people receiving  psychotherapy treatment compared to music therapy. A group of 79 patients between the ages of 25 to 60 years old were split into the two groups of therapy. The subjects chosen have never taken any psychotherapeutic drugs or have any other neurophysiological problems.  All subjects were asked to self-report their level of depression with a well-known survey known as  the Zung depression scale (Castillo-Perez et al. 387). The subjects self-reported how they were feeling age week for eight weeks. The music therapy itself involved a 50-minute self-administered music session, and once a week the participants would have a group session with doctors and other patients to provide a comfortable environment. The study controlled for stressful environmental variables that may occur such as sudden noises, changes in temperature, any environmental change or trigger (Castillo-Perez et al. 389). 

The psychotherapy administered in this study was standard conductive-behavioral therapy (CBT). At the end of the tests, the researchers quantitatively analyzed the patients’ progress with the Hamilton scale (another type of depression scale) based on their behaviors  and their self-reported scores of the Zung scale. The people with significant improvement meant they had to have a Hamilton scale of 0 to 7. The Hamilton scale was used after the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 8th weeks. After only three weeks, within the music therapy group,  one person improved; however, none improved within the psychotherapy group.. By the end of the study, 29 subjects improved with music therapy, and only four did not. For psychotherapy, only 12 subjects improved with 16 people showing little to no improvement. These data from the Zung and Hamilton tests were also cross-referenced with the Friedman test, and showed to be statistically significant with a p-value as little as 0.0356 (Castillo-Perez et al. 389).  

As we can see, psychologists and neuroscientists today are doing more and more research regarding music therapy. Castillo-Perez’s study is just one of many examples in which music therapy has proven to improve the quality of life for people with depression more than psychotherapy. The three main methods of treatment for depression today are psychotherapy, antidepressants, and electroconvulsive therapy for severe cases. However, Perez and the rest of his team say, “Pharmaceutical treatments […] make no difference in the odds ratio of suicide attempts” (Castillo-Perez et al. 387). That is what needs to fundamentally change in how we treat and understand therapy for depressed patients. Pharmaceutical drugs will not influence the likelihood of someone committing suicide because there can be many sudden environmental circumstances and triggers. Musical therapy, on the other hand, aims to help depressed patients by trying to invoke the mesolimbic system, which correlates to positive and rewarding thoughts. As people living in  the 21st century, we can understand that there is something special about listening to new music by our favorite artists, or dancing and singing to a high energy song that can affect our minds positively. Songs can reflect how we feel and can heighten our current emotions, and this is something that medicine and therapy at a certain point cannot do as effectively as initially administered. 

As with many people who learn music from an early age, I found that playing a music instrument helped me relax and de-stress, especially after a long day of school and tests. After my piano lessons on Sundays and six-hour days at high school, I would hop on that leather bench and play Emile Pandolfi and feel my heartbeat slow down and my cheek muscles tense from all the grinning. Playing the theme from Harry Potter on the piano was my mode of artistic expression and relaxation. It is easily accessible, then, to imagine how music can help those who have severe emotional or mental disorders. To the parents of kids with mental health disorders, understand that music can be an outlet for kids to release their emotions and can have a tremendous effect on their functioning and behavior; to the kids who never seemed interested in playing music, that is okay. Part of music therapy merely involves passively listening to music in a relaxing setting. Society needs to alter its perspective on music from being misconstrued as a way of wasting time to a way of elevating one’s moods and taking a mental break.  

To truly get an insight on a student’s perspective of music and its effects on mental health, I interviewed a bandmate of mine from high school who has been playing trumpet since the fifth grade. Her lifelong appreciation of music started when she began taking piano lessons in the second grade. She then began taking trumpet lessons and joined the band in the 5th grade and has continued primarily with trumpet since then. When I asked her about her mental health, she said, “As someone who has depression and anxiety, a part of me is always anxious, and the daily fight is not letting it become a 100% of me, and using coping mechanisms to get out of it.” She had to move 350 miles for college and said that it was a difficult transition due to the workload and having to meet new people, making it difficult  to find time to relax. Being a part of the wind ensemble at her college allowed her to ease into the transition of a college student.  When asked how music has helped her with her mental state and journey, she stated, “playing music was definitely a double-edged sword. Although I had stress and anxiety from the responsibilities that came with being on the band e-board, the intrinsic joy I got from getting together with people I cared about and playing amazing music was amazing” (Anonymous). She found that listening to music gave her a sense of solace and tranquility. It allowed her mind to focus on just the music,  and in the process,  she forgot all of her anxieties and elevated her mood. The lyrics, instrumentation, and many other aspects of music therapy can reflect the emotions we feel and can elevate how we feel. Music can alter the state of chemical neurotransmitters in our minds and change our emotions – this is something drugs and psychotherapy cannot do as effectively.  

Due to social media today, music has become much more prevalent in students’ lives and has influenced the way college students handle stressful situations.A significant reason explaining  music therapy’s lack of usage is because there are many misconceptions about the way music therapy works. Music therapy Director of University Minnesota Dr. Silverman, discusses the ill-conceived notions of music therapy, stating that “a common misperception of music therapy is that it is used exclusively to treat musicians” ( 55). Silverman emphasizes that music therapy was always used to help treat people with a broad range of neurological and psychological issues among a variety of adults, children, and seniors. Another common misconception is  that music therapy is not as effective because it is merely the act of passive listening to pre-recorded music. However, music therapy is not just listening to music. Director Silverman says that in a study done comparing two groups of depressed patients who underwent passive music therapy and active music therapy, the active music therapy patients stayed throughout the sessions. Active music therapy involved lyric analysis, recreation music playing, and percussional music therapy (Silverman 55). All of this active participation served as psychological interventions that helped alter the person’s mood, behavior, and mindset.   

In a survey I administered to fellow Stony Brook Students and my fellow high school alumni who have taken part in music since a young age, I discovered their opinions on the use of music in a therapeutic way.  Of the 57 people who responded, 79% played an instrument, 22% of people said they listen to jazz or a variety of orchestral or classical music while studying, 80% of people listen to music when stressed out, and 73% of people found music to be therapeutic overall (“Music As Therapy”). 28% percent of the people I surveyed have mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Even though the  majority of people surveyed did not have disorders, 80% of the people who deal with everyday environmental stressors choose to listen to music to cope. When asked on a scale of one to five (five being complete improvement in mood and one being mood unchanged), 31 people said they felt better after listening to music when they felt anxious, sad, depressed, or other negative emotions. 12 people say their mood completely changed for the better (“Music As Therapy”). Although these results are biased because many of these people have played an instrument, they show that a majority of students understand that music has therapeutic qualities and utilize it as a coping mechanism or a tool when experiencing stress, anxiety, or depressive thoughts. Music is a type of escapism that allows people to avoid focusing  on their current troubles and gives them the ability to focus all of their energy on one thing only – music.  

Having said all of the above, why do people still believe that conventional treatment methods are effective and do not want to change? Discussions of new treatment methods lack because people only know what is largely acknowledged in society. Mental health was and still is stigmatized because it affects one’s  mind and does not often manifest with physical symptoms like cancer. Only in the past few years has the topic of mental health been brought to the forefront. If many Americans do not wish to discuss their mental health problems, then how can new and more productive methods of treatment be used? Therein lies the existing problem that needs to change. Currently, in the time of self-quarantine, anxiety can run high even with people who have not been diagnosed with a  mental health disorder because we live in a time of uncertainty. In a time when the fear of virus spread is high and ‘stay at home’ orders are strict, quarantine serves as an obstacle for people who need weekly in-person therapy sessions. People need to utilize resources at home that are easily accessible to cope with their anxiety, like  music resources. If people are privileged enough to have access to the internet, there are a plethora of resources that can be used for music therapy, such as YouTube, Spotify, or an instrument if one has it. 

Society needs to acknowledge that music therapy is a method that has proven to be successful amongst a wide range of people with varying disorders and varying levels of depression. Well known music therapist Dr. Dany Bouchard eloquently describes how to handle anxiety during the time of COVID: “Music has a connection with memory, brings us emotions, all kinds of stuff. It is how you use it now in order to make it a music prescription” (Rowat, para. 15). Music can help with COVID-related anxiety by serving as a focusing tool that allows our mind to target what is going on now rather than worrying about an uncertain future (Rowat, para. 18). Being open to trying new modes of therapy can  be much more effective for anyone. As time goes on, some people with mental health disorders may have to increase their drug dosage due to drug tolerance that inevitably develops. At times, people who go to therapy may feel that it is not working, and can  revert to unhealthy habits and coping mechanisms. Mental health overall is something that affects people every day through their actions and their emotions. Treatment of mental health disorders is an important aspect of healthcare that needs to be improved;  it is a series of actions and behaviors one takes in order to see an actual result. Music can alter the state of someone’s mood and change someone’s behavior after prolonged daily music sessions. Additionally, the collaborative nature of music therapy allows people with mental disorders to have a massive support system on their path to recovery. Music therapy moves away from the idea persisting in mental health recovery that it is up to the person to improve themselves, and it is a solitary journey. Take 10 or maybe even 20 minutes per day to actively take part in something that involves music, whether it’s through such as playing, writing, singing, or listening.  People with mental health problems are in a daily battle  with their minds to prevent feelings of depression and anxiety from overcoming their thoughts. While psychotherapeutic drugs and therapy are helpful to an extent, music therapy can provide long term positive effects.

Works Cited

Anonymous. Personal interview. 15 April, 2020.

Castillo-Perez, Sergio, et al. “Effects of Music Therapy on Depression Compared with Psychotherapy.” The Arts in Psychotherapy, vol. 37, no. 5, Nov. 2010, pp. 387-90. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.aip.2010.07.001. Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.

Craig, Heather. “What Is Music Therapy and How Does It Work?” Positive Psychology, 18 Mar. 2020: par 1-101, Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.

Fornaro, Michele, et al. “The Emergence of Loss of Efficacy during Antidepressant Drug Treatment for Major Depressive Disorder: An Integrative Review of Evidence, Mechanisms, and Clinical Implications.” Pharmacological Research, vol. 139, Jan. 2019, pp. 494-502. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2018.10.025. Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.

“Mental Health Treatments.” Mental Health America National, Mental Health America: par 1-10, Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.

Rowat, Robert. “We Asked a Music Therapist How to Relieve Anxiety Caused by Social Distancing.” CBC Music, 20 Mar. 2020, p. 1. CBC: par 1-23, Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.

Sankaran, Sanjana. “Music As Therapy.” Survey. 15 April. 2020.

Silverman, Michael J. “An Overview of Music Therapy as a Psychosocial Intervention for Psychiatric Consumers.” Music Therapy in Mental Health for Illness Management and Recovery, Oxford UP, 2015, pp. 60-67. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198735366.001.0001.

“The State of Mental Health in America.” Mental Health America National, Mental Health America, 2017, Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.

“Suicide Data.” World Health Organization, 27 Sept. 2019, Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.

Wang, Shentong, and Mark Agius. “The Use of Music Therapy in the Treatment of Mental Illness and the Enhancement of Societal Wellbeing.” Psychiatria Danubina, vol. 30, 30 Nov. 2018, pp. 595-600, Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.

Augusto Boal: The Madness Behind The Methods

by Marcela Muricy, December 13, 2021

“Theatre is the most perfect artistic form of coercion.”

-Augusto Boal

Theatre is universally considered an art form, a way to embody the trials and tribulations of human emotion and virtue, and a way to speak the truths of those far too silent. Konstantin Stanislavski, for instance, was known for being a visionary of emotional discovery. He taught his actors to become the character, almost to the brink of no return (Cohen-Cruz, 2010). Bertolt Brecht then had a completely different approach: isolate the audience from emotion, and ask them to judge the conflict from the viewpoint of logic and objectiveness (Cohen-Cruz, 2010). Both became the introductory means to using theatre as a form of social change, while one man became the true pioneer: Augusto Boal. Boal — a Brazilian theatre actor, director, and playwright — created a beautiful mesh of Stanislavski and Brecht he called “Theatre for the Oppressed.” His plays were interactive and discussion-based, emotional yet objective. He is known today for opening these forms of theatre all across Europe, North and South America, and even Africa, all of which have the unique ability of creating a sense of change through critique and unity (Cohen-Cruz, 2010). For those who know him well, it is easy to admire his groundbreaking take— but for those who know Brazil, it is far easier to view him (and his methods) as revolutionary. 

Boal’s popularity unfortunately (not coincidentally) rose right alongside Brazil’s difficult transition to a dictatorship in the 1960s— so that at the height of his career in Brazil, he was assaulted and exiled for his controversial practice (1971). It’s important to acknowledge, however, that his popularity rose for a reason: his styles and methods were skillfully designed to combat the political and social turmoil within Brazil, and continue to target those issues today. 

The dictatorship, supported financially and politically by the United States, seemed ideal for many wealthy citizens who agreed with the coup. They were relieved to feel as though they could walk the streets without the fear of crime, protected by guards on every corner. For the poor or the dissidents, this was a different story entirely. People could not speak against the dictatorship, promote unity amongst the people, or offer critiques about the state of affairs. Anyone who chose to do so would be exiled, killed, or tortured for more information. (The dictatorship’s style of choice was the “macaw’s perch”, which involved tying and hanging the person upside down to wear out their limbs and rush the blood right to their head.) (Rejali, 2009). The dictatorship was not fair, not strategical, and chose personal profit over people at every given opportunity. Pablo Uchoa, whose father was a detainee, recalled these stories in a 2014 BBC article: “Many prisoners were also subjected to electrical shocks to their fingertips, genitals, and wherever else the sadistic imagination of their torturers would choose” (Uchoa, 2014). This was the setting from which Boal’s methods developed, which made them evolve from “How can we make theatre more entertaining?” to “How can we use theatre as a conduit to make a difference?” The concern of the people at the time was not entertainment— it was the pain and suffering they wished to fight against.

Boal’s theory is very involved, both mentally and physically. He wanted his audience to imagine themselves as the main character, just as many great directors do—to feel the pain, happiness, or desire that drives that person forward. Stanislavski reserved the right of “becoming the character” solely to the actors, whereas Boal wished to make everyone sense this feeling, so that the emotion became collective. His most famous method is known as “forum theatre,” during which the audience will watch the play once, consider how it could have occurred differently, watch it again, and—at their own discretion—interrupt it to suggest (or become) that change. That is, they may tell the actors how they wish for the play to be modified, or they may replace and become one of the actors themselves. The true embodiment he encouraged, it seems, is the perfect promoter of anti-military upheaval. The body’s connection to theory is what makes it powerful, as a symbol for dedicated change and action. It gives the audience a recognition of their body as power, each motion and act a new subjective lens to a complex situation. He not only wanted his people to become the characters, but to also become their own proposed solutions. In this sense, he wished for his audience to gain autonomy and independence in the context of the story and within their own lives. The Brazilian people subjected to the rule of the dictatorship—fearful of the outcome of disagreement—would have used Boal’s practice as not only a way to feel more comfortable, but also as a way to confront issues long gone unspoken. It was a way to unite the people in their mistrust, maltreatment, and dissatisfaction— all the while motivating action through reaction.

Today, Brazil’s social and political situation has not improved by much. After its shift to democracy in 1988, the nation has faced many issues with corruption, poverty, sexism, and racism. Each is as divisive and dangerous as the last, most particularly in the case of politics and corruption. In 2003, Lula da Silva ran for president, known for having had a very limited educational background and a very unfortunate life of pain and family death. This grew into a resentment of capitalism and worker treatment, and passion for politics. As a presidential candidate, he attracted people for his kindness, charisma, his humble background, and most importantly, for being someone they could trust. After years of allegations and suspicions, he was arrested for corruption in 2018 for accepting bribes worth a total of 3.7 million reais, equivalent to 1.2 million USD (Britannica, 2021). This led to riots and protests all across Brazil arguing about the validity of those allegations. They would spray paint it, scream it, put posters up, have custom door knockers, make it their wifi password, their phone case— everything: Lula Livre, they’d say. Free Lula. Or, if they disagreed, Lula Ladrão. Lula the Criminal. Jair Bolsonaro, the current president, is passionate about strong militarism and obsessed with returning to the Brazilian dictatorship (Reeves 2018). He has done countless things to incite anger from the public and believes criminals that live in favelas should “die on the street like cockroaches” (Phillips 2019). Many citizens, including Uchoa (whose father experienced it first hand) are terrified of this new reality—that Brazilians must fear the return of a dictatorship—but it is the reality of a politically, economically, and racially divided people.

“The purpose of Theatre of the Oppressed is to rehumanize humanity.”

-Augusto Boal

Methods such as Forum Theatre, then, never cease to become useful in their capability to not only change the flaws of society in the crux (government), but also the people. Boal would find random sample sizes of individuals at the park, restaurants, etc., and motivate them to theorize and discuss together, regardless of their opinions, beliefs, race, sex, sexuality, etc. They would become immersed in the theatre and feel a newfound sense of unity with one another, particularly after Boal’s “Games for Actors/Non-Actors” (Paterson 2013). During the dictatorship, the Brazilian people could discuss these issues with the cloak of just games or petty acting, coerced into developing a new sense of community identity and revolution against a dysfunctional government. These same people now, who struggle with polarization of class systems and racial exclusion, tend to remain silent and act as though they live in a racial democracy, incapable of racial tension or injustice. These same people more than ever do not understand each other’s lives and debate constantly on how to create a better future. The Augusto Boal Institute, made in his honor, continues to encourage constant reproductions or inspirations based on his work, holds panels of Boal’s relatives and colleagues, and shares important stories of his life and his time during exile. It keeps his message alive, his impact longlasting, and most importantly, it creates a space where theatre is synonymous with critique and release, with love and change, with power and unity— the very theatre Boal knew would never rest.

Works Cited

Cohen-Cruz, Jan. Engaging Performance: Theatre as Call and Response. Routledge, 2010. 

“Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva.” Edited by The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,;

“O Instituto Augusto Boal – Augusto Boal.” Instituto Augusto Boal, 2018,;

Paterson, Doug. “A Brief Biography of Augusto Boal.” Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed, Inc., 13 Nov. 2013,;

Phillips, Tom. “Jair Bolsonaro Says Criminals Will ‘Die like Cockroaches’ under Proposed New Laws.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 5 Aug. 2019,

Reeves, Philip. “With Memories of Dictatorship, Some Brazilians Fear a Hard-Right Turn.” NPR, 26 Oct. 2018,;

Rejali, Darius M. Torture and Democracy. Princeton Univ. Press, 2009. 

Uchoa, Pablo. “Remembering Brazil’s Decades of Military Repression.” BBC News, BBC, 31 Mar. 2014,

Physician Insecurity and Patient Expectations Drive Medical Excess

by Ean Tam, December 8, 2021

In 2008, a seven-year-old boy complained that his stomach was in such pain that he could not sleep. The boy’s parents took him to see his pediatrician. In due time, the boy found himself in a hospital in Long Island. He was missing an entire school day, which would have otherwise been a happy occasion if it were not for the IV in his arm and the impending endoscopy—a procedure in which a small camera is inserted down his esophagus and into the stomach to check for gastrointestinal issues. The doctors could not find any explanation for the stomach pain. 

Eventually, the boy’s parents brought him to a specialist in Manhattan, who did his own tests. When all the tests seemed to be futile, the specialist asked if lactose intolerance had been considered as a possible cause. After a few days of avoiding milk, the boy’s stomach pain went away. In the end, he had no gastrointestinal issues, no infections, no serious complications; he simply could not digest dairy. Silly, right? I know. The boy was me.

Lactose intolerance is not only very common, but it also runs in my family. All my signs and symptoms indicated lactose intolerance. The evidence was there. As the saying goes, “When you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras.” It should not have taken three doctors and a camera down my throat to reach the proper diagnosis. So why did it?

Did my parents’ urgency for their child create a dramatic flare for the doctors? Was there a desire to take action so quickly and intensely? Maybe the doctors thought a simple answer was not satisfactory enough for my concerned parents? Maybe the multiple lab tests and procedures done on me were just the doctors’ gesture that they were trying their hardest to get an answer, no matter how convoluted and unnecessary the gesture. While this may seem ridiculous that a doctor would  offer excessive medical services just to make patients happy, it is not unheard of. In fact, it is quite common. To the detriment of the medical profession, the interpersonal dynamics of the clinic can become tangled with a physician’s fear of lawsuits.

The Power of Patient Expectations

“[W]e overprescribe antibiotics, but my own view is that I don’t really care… your goals at the end of the conversation is for both you and the mother and the baby to be satisfied.”

Anonymous doctor 
(qtd. in Butler et al. 639)

Some doctors find symbolism in providing medical services they know are unnecessary. The doctors see their actions as doing everything they can for their patient (Rowe et al. 5). To them, the issue of overtesting and overprescribing their patients can be overlooked. Doctors have even reported that if their patient left an appointment without some kind of prescription, the doctors felt as if they had not done their job (Butler et al. 639). 

More often than not, patient expectations for their medical care are communicated to doctors implicitly rather than explicitly (Stivers 1127). Since patients are not always making their wishes clear, doctors decide to follow their gut instinct on what they believe their patients want. University of Newcastle researchers Jill Cockburn and Sabrina Pit found that if a doctor perceived their patient to be expecting medications, then the patient was ten times more likely to get a prescription (Cockburn and Pit 521). 

Now, one may say, ‘Maybe the doctor is correct. Maybe the doctor is just really perceptive, and they can tell what the patient wants without the patient saying it.’ Unfortunately, doctors are frequently wrong on this occasion. A study published in Patient Education Counseling observed that when doctors predicted a patient’s expectation for medication, the doctors were correct only 53% of the time (Jenkins et al. 276). Medications can have harmful side effects and high costs. Lab tests also bear negative consequences, especially if the tests involve radiation or high risks of false-positives. Medical services should not be given on gut instinct just to make patients happy.

However, the demand to meet patient expectations is both compelling and draining for doctors. In the short term, doctors may receive some relief in believing their patient walked away feeling fulfilled, but in the long term, the reality of not complying with standards of their medical training may kick in. In interviews with Dr. Theresa Rowe et al. of Northwestern University, doctors spoke about prescribing unnecessary antibiotics because they felt the patients desired them. One doctor remarked, “You spend 15 minutes trying to educate [patients], when they will go out disillusioned, come back the next day and see someone else, making you feel 5 minutes would be better spent just giving them a prescription and getting rid of them.” Another doctor admitted, “I do feel as though I’ve been slightly used. Sometimes slightly abused as well” (639). 

When doctors put an emphasis on patient expectations, they lose the motivation to limit medical excess, preferring to cater to customer satisfaction. Ironically, the physician makes the medical profession more mentally taxing for themselves. Now, they must walk a fine line between customer service and patient wellness. And to keep customers coming back for business, sometimes it pays to think of zebras, not horses.

Looking for Liability

“Malpractice attorneys like to say they save more lives than physicians.”

Eric Katz, MD, MBA (329)

When we think of the healthcare we receive, we hope physicians run their medical practice faithfully, not defensively. However, an unfortunate reality is that the threat of malpractice lawsuits and mentalities such as “more is better” have made doctors weary of acting according to their medical training. Doctors would prefer to safeguard themselves with defensive medicine, ordering multiple tests or procedures that do not always make the patient feel better, but will definitely make the doctor feel better. Doctors can use tests or prescriptions as evidence that they did their job correctly and were extensive in their examination of a patient. 

At times, some of these numerous tests may alert doctors to a hidden, life-threatening illness. If we think in terms of “more is better” or “earlier is better,” then maybe the cost of defensive medicine is acceptable. However, if we prioritize the moral integrity of the medical profession, then we should not accept that some doctors direct our medical care by threat of lawsuit. Then our treatment plans are not designed exclusively for patients. Rather, doctors will begin to merge the clinic with the court, and legal opinion with patient outcome. As Johan Bester, director of bioethics at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, writes, “[Defensive medicine] represents an egregious breach of professionalism and of ethical obligations to the patient and to society” (418-419).

We should hold doctors liable for their mistakes, but we should be mindful of where the threat of liability is steering doctors’ decisions. Current trajectory suggests more defensive medicine. It would be ironic if the tool we use to hold doctors responsible for isolated incidents encourages doctors to have an irresponsible approach to treating every patient.


If we would like to have patient-oriented medicine, we should consider the realities in which doctors exist today. There is no magical wand to stop doctors from engaging in defensive medicine. This is more than just a patient-doctor issue. It is one that affects our economy and healthcare system: from longer wait times to more expensive medical bills. Bill Clinton said he wanted to get rid of defensive medicine in 1992. So did George Bush in 2004. And Barack Obama in 2009.

But there are realistic steps that we can take to clarify the line between patient and customer. We should be more upfront with our doctors: let them know what we expect, what our presumptions are, and what we would like done. We should not be worried about sounding stupid or wasting the doctor’s time with questions. Doctors undergo many years of medical training to give you an answer. So ask away and be frank. We cannot risk our doctors making an inaccurate assumption of our needs and then treating us accordingly. Not all of us are doctors, but all of us at some point will be patients. We do not need to be over-tested nor overprescribed. We should take up our side of the effort to prevent medical excess and preserve our doctors’ attention to us.

Works Cited

Bester, Johan C. “Defensive Practice is Indefensible: How Defensive Medicine Runs Counter to the Ethical and Professional Obligations of Clinicians.” Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, vol. 23, no. 3, 2020, pp. 413-420.

Butler, Christopher C., et al. “Understanding the Culture of Prescribing: Qualitative Study of General Practitioners’ and Patients’ Perceptions of Antibiotics for Sore Throats.” BMJ, vol. 317, 1998, pp. 637-642.

Cockburn, Jill and Sabrina Pit. “Prescribing Behaviour in Clinical Practice: Patients’ Expectations and Doctors’ Perceptions of Patients’ Expectations—a Questionnaire Study.” BMJ, vol. 315, no. 7107, 1997, pp. 520-523.

Jenkins, Linda, et al. “Developing and Using Quantitative Instruments for Measuring Doctor–Patient Communication About Drugs.” Patient Education Counseling, vol. 50, no. 3, 2003, pp. 273-278.

Katz, Eric D. “Defensive Medicine: A Case and Review of Its Status and Possible Solutions.” Clinical Practice and Cases in Emergency Medicine, vol. 3, no. 4, 2019, pp. 329-332.

Rowe, Tiffany A., et al. “Examining Primary Care Physician Rationale for Not Following Geriatric Choosing Wisely Recommendations.” BMC Family Practice, vol. 22, no. 95, 2021, pp. 1-6.

Stivers, Tanya. “Participating in Decisions about Treatment: Overt Parent Pressure for Antibiotic Medication in Pediatric Encounters.” Social Science & Medicine, vol. 54, no. 7, 2002, pp. 1111-1130.

The Contradictory Holiday of Thanksgiving

by Nora Rivera-Larkin, December 6, 2021

While the basis for Thanksgiving is rooted in the concept of giving back and giving thanks to the many positives in our lives as well as a way to reflect on the year, this holiday also comes with some very contradictory underlying tones. The holiday of Thanksgiving serves as a way to gloss over the struggles of many people throughout the years. The pain of the Civil War and the history of slavery, the ignored role of women in the household, and its’ use of reinforcing patriotism and distracting many from the deep sociological issues in America, are some ways that the holiday has been used to promote an exalted idea of the United States and its history. 

The first Thanksgiving, as an official national holiday, is a prime example of how the holiday has been used to smooth over the troubles of a nation. In his “Proclamation of Thanksgiving,” President Lincoln said,

“Peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict…”


This excerpt from Lincoln’s speech shows that the establishment of the holiday was based on the concept of solidifying this idea of unity into a national holiday on the backdrop of a war that tore apart the country. Though it has a positive message and meaning, it hides the intensity of the war and the issues still rampant within the country such as institutionalized racism, the masses of freed yet unsupported slaves, and the continued resistance of the South. In a review of the holiday, history scholar Elizabeth Pleck writes, “Thanksgiving did not unify a war-torn nation, but the holiday probably did help unify the Northern side during the Civil War” (Pleck). While this new national holiday may have been an opportunity for renewed strength and power in the North, it was a conceptual holiday that paid no dues to the ongoing suffering throughout the country and did not serve as the day of remembrance and unification it was supposedly for. 

As time went on, Thanksgiving became more widely celebrated and became a day for relaxation and a positive outlook on the hard work of the past year. But it had some very sexist underlying tones: “As women in the kitchen washed the dishes, and men listened to the game, one could recognize that women (willingly) gave up their leisure, and that men and children benefitted” (Pleck). Though this situation may not be as true in current times given the many changes in the “traditional” American household, the underlying tone may still hold true. A day for celebration and relaxation is often a double-edged sword; the holiday was built on the backs of someone – whether it be a political purpose or a sexist approach – and it continues to ignore its origins and the continued work of the less fortunate. It pays no real remembrance to the work of many and has often become an egotistical holiday geared towards the more fortunate and to the men of the country. 

The final target of this holiday is children. In schools, the idea of patriotism and a sort of “happy past” is widely promoted. Oftentimes, history lessons are smoothed over to protect the image of the country and to hide its ugly truths and origins. As a land of immigrants, people saw it imperative to get children, especially immigrant children, to believe in this idea of a “golden country.” Pleck continues to analyze the teaching of this holiday in schools, writing,

The schools recognized that they had to develop an emotional bond between the immigrant and the nation, a love of country… the home was where the deepest feelings of patriotism were conveyed. Thus, the home celebration of holidays needed to be encouraged to reinforce the patriotism”


Again, the holiday is twisted into a political tactic, erasing its supposed true origins and elements to form a specific idea of patriotism and unity in a child’s mind and then their home. It becomes an ignorance of struggles, of past truths, and the reinforcement of this glossy, picture-perfect holiday used to conceal its true intentions. 

It cannot be forgotten that the true pillar of the Thanksgiving holiday has been political strategy, whether to reinforce the idea of unity even in the face of war, to make an example of the power structure and imbalance between genders in the household, or to become a way to spread an idea of patriotism in the country. Thanksgiving has many ugly truths and it is important that these be taught, without the edited versions that conceal the truths of this nation. It is only when these truths are taught, when we confront our history and understand that it has been painful and unfair to so many people in this country, that we can move forward and make proper change, and hopefully celebrate a future Thanksgiving that not only gives remembrance to our most recent past year but also to the ones far before it and those who have been hurt by this holiday’s history. 

Works Cited

Lincoln, Abraham. “Proclamation of Thanksgiving.” Abraham Lincoln Online, 2018,;

Pleck, Elizabeth. “The Making of the Domestic Occasion: The History of Thanksgiving in the United States.” Journal of Social History, vol. 32, no. 4, 1999, pp. 773–89. JSTOR,

Today’s Crisis Standards of Care: A Death Knell for the Less-Abled

by Vignesh Subramanian, December 3, 2021

As of November 2021, nine U.S. states – Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona – have either officially activated statewide crisis standards of care or have been on the brink of declaring their activation. The news comes as several more states, including the southern bloc of Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas, have warned that I.C.U.s are rapidly approaching capacity (Knowles). Amid waves of largely unvaccinated COVID-19 patients besieging weary hospitals, authorities have attempted to ease this burden by hastily formulating policies that will decide the relative value of human life during public health crises for decades to come. But what does all of this mean?

Crisis standards of care institute substantial changes to the delivery of healthcare services amid pervasive or catastrophic disasters, with the understanding that standard levels or quality of care can no longer be wholly provided to patient populations. In the United States, activation of these standards is formally declared by state governments and directly alters the evaluation criteria on which decisions about triage, transfers, and use of scarce resources are made. The criteria are far-reaching but vary immensely; some incorporate ‘inclusion criteria’– encouraging treatment of patients in good standing following assessments of their major organ health, life expectancy, and the order of the first-come/first-serve basis — while others also incorporate ‘exclusion criteria’– rejecting critical care for patients with low likelihood of immediate survival or poor ‘quality of life,’ or those patients for whom it is assumed that increased sustenance will not substantially provide significant benefit (Auriemma). 

Physicians’ use of this last-resort discretion can be frightening; beyond the more expected measures of postponed elective, cosmetic, and nonurgent surgeries and longer wait times in general, patients are often subject to crucial decisions made on mere whims. Physicians can send patients home to rely on inadequate in-home medical equipment, transfer them to hospice care or other centers without the appropriate specialized facilities, and even remove them from life support entirely, all over their objections. Universal ‘do-not-resuscitate’ and ‘do-not-intubate’ orders are applied as blanket protocols to all patients in cardiac or respiratory arrest if insufficient staff are available, even without consideration of patient statuses on a case-by-case basis. Ventilators are given to those who are most likely to restore their normal breathing function, nearly defeating the purpose of the devices; ambulances are not guaranteed upon emergency calls; and patients may even be denied admittance into a hospital to begin with (Chin and Harris). As the systemic capacity to treat large patient volumes shrinks, so too does sympathy for those whose lives are simply deemed worth less.

Do not resuscitate (DNR) orderA written order from a physician, issued at a patient’s request, instructing healthcare providers not to perform any form of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) – including chest compressions, cardiac drugs, or placement of a breathing tube – on the patient should respiratory or cardiac arrest occur.

(Breu and Herzig)

Do not intubate (DNI) order A written order from a physician, issued at a patient’s request, instructing healthcare providers not to place a breathing tube to assist the patient’s breathing should respiratory or cardiac arrest occur. Unlike a DNR, a DNI still allows providers to administer chest compressions and cardiac drugs as necessary.

(Breu and Herzig)

It is therefore not surprising that crisis standards of care amount to a death knell for the less-abled. Already, reports are being made of elderly patients and those with disabilities receiving subjective evaluations of their ‘quality of life’ from their physicians in violation of civil right statutes, being denied care at hospitals without resource shortages due to mere anticipation of capacity being reached, and being pressured — especially in the cases of patients with intellectual disabilities, and in the absence of caregivers — to sign off on advance directives they do not understand. Despite their relative inability to accurately predict the long-term survival probability of patients with disabilities, or whether or not such patients will require use of greater treatment resources, many doctors and lawmakers continue to place ableist judgement above sound scientific knowledge. Of the twenty-nine U.S. states that issued crisis standards of care guidelines before or at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority did not include language prohibiting discrimination against elderly or disabled patients in the provision of critical care, and few used their administrative processes to close such loopholes. Some state plans actually explicitly prioritize younger patients and those without comorbidities, while others prohibit people with specific disabilities from being offered life-sustaining ventilation support or throw discretion to hospital policy (Cleveland Manchanda). Such fragmentation of standards forces the current array of disability rights groups engaged in litigation against these hospitals to base their petitions on tort law claims rather than righteous grounds of disability discrimination, leaving patients at the mercy of an indifferent medical bureaucracy.

Ableist The quality of being prejudiced or discriminatory against individuals with disabilities.


It is inexcusable that demonstrably false stereotypes about the ‘quality of life’ experienced by a patient with disabilities or old age are allowed to dictate the quality of care they receive. While the U.S. has made tangible progress towards extricating such biases from medical practice — one could certainly point to the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (DOJ, HHS) as prominent examples — those gains have evidently not been fully incorporated into the healthcare pathway. Even during a public health crisis, acute episodes of illness must not determine the relative value of a patient’s life simply because providers are under duress. Instead, moments such as these call for the best of physicians’ work ethic and equity in screening criteria and treatment allocation decisions.

Works Cited

“A Guide to Disability Rights Laws.” Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Feb. 2020,

Auriemma, Catherine L., et al. “Eliminating Categorical Exclusion Criteria in Crisis Standards of Care Frameworks.” American Journal of Bioethics, 18 May 2020,

Breu, Anthony C., and Shoshana J. Herzig. “Differentiating DNI from DNR: Combating Code Status Conflation.” Journal of Hospital Medicine, Oct. 2014,

Chin, Natalie M., and Jasmine Harris. “Examining How Crisis Standards of Care May Lead to Intersectional Medical Discrimination Against COVID-19 Patients.” Center for Public Representation, UC Davis School of Law, Feb. 2021,

Cleveland Manchanda, Emily C., et al. “Crisis Standards of Care in the USA: A Systematic Review and Implications for Equity amidst COVID-19.” Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, Aug. 2021,

Knowles, Hannah. “Hospitals Overwhelmed by Covid Are Turning to ‘Crisis Standards of Care.’ What Does That Mean?” The Washington Post, 23 Sept. 2021,

Neilson, Shane. “Ableism in the Medical Profession.” Canadian Medical Association Journal, Joule Inc., 14 Apr. 2020,

“Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 27 Oct. 2021,

One reason that is probably destroying Gen-Z

by Aliaksandra “Sasha” Kiniova, December 3, 2021

Special thanks to Brian Bulag to contributing to some parts of this paper.

As a fellow Gen-Z person, I feel as if it is very appropriate for me to judge this generation of souls. Whenever I look at criticisms or judgements of Gen-Z people, it often comes from older generations and to be frank, they may not understand the different and unique experiences that this upcoming generation is facing. There are many economic issues such as college rates, loan management and the increasing wealth gap in the United States. I will be focusing on some of the more social issues affecting the U.S. Gen-Z  population, however it is likely that my observations can be generalized to Gen-Z populations in different regions of the world. 

One of the biggest changes that Gen-Z experienced that no other generation in history had experienced was the exponential increase of social technology such as social media, applications and the Internet. In many ways it has helped progress our society in professional ways, but I cannot say the same for social reasons. One of the difficulties of this adaptation is that no one has experienced this type of change. So all the generations were trying to learn. Unfortunately for Gen-Z, is that all this technology coincided with a very developmentally challenging and complicated time, puberty and adolescence. 

During this time, it is hard for a person to find their own identity and they are learning how to react to situations that are more complicated than most typical childhoods. Many professionals in the psychology field back this claim up by saying that “adolescence is a transition period characterized by major changes in terms of biological, cognitive and social development” (Assuncao et. al, 2017) Also during this time there is a big shift in not only how friendships and relationships are formed but also how they are maintained. In Gen-Z, the biggest issue socially seems to be making and retaining friendships and relationships with people. There are many reasons why, however I believe the rise of individualism, mobility, consumerism and vulnerability may contribute to this problem. 

Individualism is a philosophy or belief that the person themselves and their wants and needs are above all else in life. This definition seems very harsh but milder versions of individualism is just thinking about oneself more often than about others. Due to the rise in business and career growth, people have started becoming too focused on themselves. Friendships and relationships are becoming deemed as unnecessary, when in reality a person’s support group is one of the most important things in the world.

With many Gen-Z feeling like they cannot reach out to make new friends or cannot get a reply from a person they met, this can be because of individualism. People often do not go out to meet with friends or check up on them because they say ‘they do not have the time’. The reality is that if someone really cares or wants to talk or be with someone, you or that person will find or make time for them however this takes effort on our part. But it also can be our fault. When was the last time that we texted an acquaintance or old friend to genuinely talk and not just talk about superficial things? I find that I struggle to make friends, however I have been trying more and more to reach out first since I do not want to become one of those people who does not have time for friendships and possibly pass up on many interesting people that could be amazing friends. 

One of the less visible reasons that Gen-Z could have trouble making meaningful relationships is because this new generation is always up and moving. People always move, however with the increase of transportation technology in Gen-Z, many people are moving. This will naturally cause any relationship to become less close. Even though we have social media and other ways of communicating, this cannot replace proximal relationships oftentimes and seeing people in person is integral to being human. Gen-Z also had to go through the Covid-19 pandemic through their adolescence which does not help the fact that we often need to see people to continue our friendships with them. 

There also has been a shift in how Gen-Z treats friends in general and this adds to my idea of how consumerism is affecting relationships. With the rise of hookup culture in the Gen-Z era, we see that people often treat each other as people who can be ‘replaced’ or that relationships can easily be ‘thrown away’ if that person starts becoming a burden. Oftentimes with consumerism or materialism, we associate ourselves with materials. However this can easily be translated to people. When we want to drink some water, is it easier to buy a plastic bottle of water or remember to fill our water at home and bring it? Of course the plastic bottle of water. After we buy the plastic bottle is it easier to throw it away or to keep it, wash it and reuse it for a different time? It is easier to throw it away! And this scenario I showed can easily be applied to how our generation is starting to treat people.

Lastly, it has become harder for us to be vulnerable with people, which may also explain why Gen-Z is struggling mentally as a whole. Let us first reflect on our own friendships and relationships with people. How often do we genuinely talk about how we feel and how often do we actually listen to how a person feels and do not dismiss the fact that they said something that is worse than ‘good’. With the rise of social media and technology, I think that it is harder for us to look eye to eye with someone. We are always more comfortable to do this anonymously. However when we are friends with people, we cannot just talk about superficial things and only check up when something life-changing is happening to someone. We need to learn and understand that opening up is important because not opening up about how we feel can lead to many mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. The rise of these mental health issues are often disregarded by older generations as ‘our generation being too sensitive’. However I believe a major contributing factor is that our friendships as a whole are becoming less meaningful. We open up less to others and are not very receptive to others. 

These are just some reasons and some issues of how I think Gen-Z is one of the most confusing and unique generations that is shifting society in a different direction, in good and bad ways. In the psychology field, many professionals have proposed that there is “a model of “problematic Internet use”, identifying several specific cognitive and behavioral constructs associated with negative outcomes of the Internet use such as preference for online social interaction, mood alteration, cognitive preoccupation or compulsive behavior”(Assuncao et. al, 2017). I hope to write a longer version of my analysis and it will encompass all my reasons and with a more detailed look at Generation Z by a person who is Gen-Z and therefore understands the Gen-Z/internet culture better.


Assuncao, R., Costa, P., Tagliabue, S., & Mena Matos, P. (2017). Problematic Facebook use in adolescents: Associations with parental attachment and alienation to peers. J Child Fam Stud, 26(11), 2990–2998.

The American Left/The World’s Center

by Abbie Cawser, November 29, 2021

In recent years, America has seen the emergence of “radically left” politicians, who introduce ideas such as universal healthcare and green climate policies. Politicians such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (also known by her initials as AOC) and Senator Bernie Sanders have been described as “socialist superstars”1 and “Stalin sympathisers,”2 and have been criticised by both moderate Democrats and the Republican Party as being too radical.

Reflecting back on history, it is easy to see why this divide has emerged. America is one of the few countries that was founded on and rooted within capitalism, an economic system that is inherently much more closely aligned with right-wing ideology than with left-wing ideology. Additionally, the Cold War bred the “Red Scare” mentality (an Anti-Communist movement that targeted more liberal figures in the 1950s due to fears of connection between the Soviet Union), and therefore the impact of USSR Chairman Joseph Stalin is long-lasting. Due to this, America has always aligned itself more with the right side of politics than the left, symbolizing a continuing and everlasting form of the Red Scare even today. Therefore, when candidates such as Sanders, who promote left-wing values, start to come into mainstream politics, the outlook and public opinion is that they are too leftist, as history has told modern day Americans to fear left-wing figures. 

The irony of these criticisms is that in the grand, world-wide scheme of politics, Sanders and AOC are far from radical. Progressive candidates in the US push for reforms that strongly resemble the norm within many other countries, and it is only within the US-centric view of politics that they appear radical. While this is a perfectly understandable reason to critique or analyse them within American politics, applying terms such as “radical socialists” is far from correct. Candidates such as Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader in the UK, and Marie-Noëlle Lienemann, a French MEP for the Party of European Socialists, are much more characteristic of more extreme left-wing candidates. Corbyn championed nationalisation for a wide range of industries, a huge tax increase for the wealthiest in order to pay for welfare services, and even more of an investment in the scope of the National Health Service. In much the same way, Lienemann fought for Socialist ideals such as freezing the private sector and raising the minimum wages across the public sector. It would be inconceivable for a candidate to run with the outright name of socialist (as Corbyn and Lienemann did) in the US due to the everlasting Red Scare, and even Sanders faced criticism for being a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, an ideology much less extreme and palatable than actual Socialism. Whilst Corbyn’s views are pertinent to similar issues as Sanders’ views, they’re taken to much more extreme measures, whereas Sanders and AOC have to operate within a much more restrictive system. 

One way to illustrate the US’s restriction on leftist ideology expression is through the policies that Sanders and AOC vote for. Sanders lists the following on his website as his key ideas: a move to renewable energy, national health insurance, and more humane and greater tolerance for immigration.3 On AOC’s website, she calls for greener climate reforms, criminal justice reform, and tackling income inequality.4 All of these issues are seen as radically left in the US, but are consistent with almost every major left-wing party outside of the US, and even in many centrist or right-wing parties. For example, the Conservative Party in the UK generally reaches a consensus that their National Health Service is important, highlighting an agreement between the far-left of America and the right-wing of the UK. With this point, it is clear that the ideas of Sanders and AOC are so often dismissed in the US for being too radically left, but they are the consensus between major parties outside of America. Another example is criminal justice reform policies, which aim to grant prisoners the right to vote – a concept that is the norm in many European countries, or at the very least, an issue at the forefront of the attention of major parties. Overall, America’s major left-wing party is more indicative of a centrist party elsewhere, which means that actually traditional left-wing politics are seen as radical-socialism, resembling the political beliefs of Stalin.

A reason for why this disillusion has occurred is because of the general right-wing bias that the US operates under. The consensus of the Democratic Party is one of moderate, even centre-right politics, in the grand scheme and yet is branded as a left-wing party. Democratic Presidential candidates such as Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden would undoubtedly be part of the centrist or right-wing parties in other countries. Their policies, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, are similar to those argued for by the UK Conservative party. Biden, along with other Senate Democrats, wouldn’t commit to the Green New Deal, a progressive and expansive Climate aid program, which the European Parliament, a currently centrist/right-leaning body, supported. Additionally, one such argument often made in favour of calling Biden a left-wing politician on a global stage is his opposition to Brexit, Britain’s exit from the EU, a typically left-wing policy. However, this is also an issue supported by two Conservative former Prime Ministers: in short, Biden’s more left-leaning ideas are also those supported by right-wing parties elsewhere. Even within Canada, the election of 2020 was seen as an opportunity to decide between “Republican and Democrat: The choice between two right-wing parties.”5 While the Democrats are the left-wing party of the US, it is important to realise that almost all of American politics operates on a right-shifted spectrum, and when translated into global terms, it is very much a case of centrist/right versus far-right, with the “radical” voices merely representing actual left-wing policies. 

What is important to recognise, however, is that the goal of pointing this out is not to suggest that Sanders and AOC are not hugely influential, or to criticise their politics. They are politicians who are actually left-wing, and this is hard to come across within the US political platform. Their emergence in Congress, and the effect they are having on political debates are a positive thing. The US is an inherently right-wing country, so any movement to the left, no matter how minimal on the global stage, is progress for the left-wing voters. By shifting some of the debate to left-wing issues and by challenging those in the centre to take a stance on issues they have previously stayed silent on, the nature of American politics is revealed, and it is evident that elected officials have limited scope. If enough support is gathered for the progressive branches of the Democratic party, such as Sanders and AOC, perhaps a clear left-wing alliance may arise, and the consensus will shift to one many other countries have: an “actual” left-wing, and an “actual” right-wing, instead of continuing with one party having the label of left, and the other having the label of right, but continuing to vote on centrist and far-right policies respectively.

  1. Don McIntosh, “Talking Socialism: Catching up with AOC,” March 19, 2021,
  2. David Brooks, “No, Not Sanders, Not Ever,” The New York Times, February 27, 2020,
  3. “Issues,” Bernie Sanders Official Website, accessed November 1, 2021,
  4. “Issues,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Official Campaign Website, accessed November 1, 2021,
  5. Donald Cuccioletta, “Republican and Democrat: The choice between two right-wing parties,” Canadian Dimension, October 31, 2020,


Brooks, David. “No, Not Sanders, Not Ever.” The New York Times. February 27, 2020,

Cuccioletta, Donald. “Republican and Democrat: The choice between two right-wing parties.” Canadian Dimension. October 31, 2020.

“Issues.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Official Campaign Website. Accessed November 1, 2021.

“Issues.” Bernie Sanders Official Website. Accessed November 1, 2021.

McIntosh, Don. “Talking Socialism: Catching up with AOC.” Last modified March 19, 2021.

The Silent Cruelty of Calorie Counting

by Sara Giarnieri, November 24, 2021

***Content warning: This essay discusses eating disorders***

The first time I was exposed to a calorie counting app was in high school during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A gym teacher required us to download the app, My Fitness Pal, in order for us to complete assignments that involved tracking our food intake and exercise. Even after the end of my senior year, I continued to use the app with the mindset of losing weight. The app did as advertised. It certainly helped me to keep track of how many calories I burned versus how many calories I was absorbing… however, I was not happy. Anytime I went out to eat with a friend, I anxiously searched for the lowest calorie options on the menu. I constantly looked at myself in the mirror to bodycheck. I was trapped. Looking back on this time, I realize how much calorie counting made me feel miserable. Rather than being a healthy tool, it was an obsession. My experience made me ponder: Can fitness apps with calorie counting be harmful to some of its users? 

A study conducted by Courtney C. Simpson and Suzanne E. Mazzeo titled “Calorie counting and fitness tracking technology: Associations with eating disorder symptomatology” focused on whether the use of health tracking apps correlated with eating disorder (ED) symptomatology. After conducting the study, it was concluded that their findings “corroborate media reports documenting a relation between calorie tracking technology and ED attitudes, and indicate that monitoring consumption might enhance rigidity and anxiety regarding calorie intake” (Simpson and Mazzeo). This study is showing us that calorie tracking apps have a correlation with behaviors regarding eating disorders (Simpson and Mazzeo). This fact is extremely dangerous because someone who downloads a fitness app with healthy intentions in mind could possibly slip into a harmful situation. It could also be dangerous for those diagnosed with a mental illness like anxiety, since this study has proven that these fitness apps intensify anxiety around calorie counting. This could be potentially triggering.  

On a more personal note, an article titled “Hunger Games” by Alice Gregory highlights the obsession that users with fitness apps can develop over calorie counting. According to the article, a woman named Rebecca Gerson felt herself become more strict with what kind of foods she ate because they all “counted” (Gregory). She felt her social, academic, and personal life decline to the point that she received eating disorder treatment (Gregory). Rebecca’s experience gives us some insight on how an obsession with calorie counting may feel, and more importantly how it leads to negative consequences. Calorie counting forces you to look at every food you eat along with its portion size. It may make an individual afraid to touch certain foods, healthy or not, because of the fear of increasing calorie intake. Unfortunately, the fixation on calorie counting can lead to serious consequences that involve eating disorders, both shown by the study and Rebecca’s experience. 

Keeping this information in mind, how do we approach this situation surrounding calorie counting apps? One of the most important things to do first is to spread awareness of the potential harm of these apps. We need more academic studies, articles, and journals about them. We need fitness influencers who promote these apps to share statements of discretion; share warnings. The most significant thing is for the apps themselves to have clear and concise warnings for users that want to download the app. A discrete message hidden in terms and conditions will not help the problem. For example, some medications have black box warning labels to indicate serious, adverse side effects the medication could cause. Fitness apps should do the same, as they are tools that can deeply change a person’s life. Like medication, it does not work for everyone. 

Another way to approach this issue is to promote body positivity. Users should be encouraged to stay active and nourish themselves with nutrients, but there shouldn’t be a pressure to look a certain way. These apps are for health, not to change our genetic code. We all have different body types, and that is okay. There are many influences outside the app that must be changed in order to encourage body positivity. It will take a long time for such a culturally ingrained thing to change. However, we must start to break the cycle. 

There is certainly a lot to be done in order to prevent the harmful consequences of calorie tracking apps to continue. Becoming more mindful of these consequences can help us as a whole to combat them.

Helpful Resources

Eating Disorder Hotline & Treatment Information:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Information:

Works Cited

Gregory, Alice. “Hunger Games: Is our tech obsession making anorexia worse?” New Republic, vol. 245, no. 1, 18 Dec. 2013, pp. 7–9. Retrieved from

Simpson, Courtney C., and Suzanne E. Mazzeo. “Calorie Counting and Fitness Tracking Technology: Associations with Eating Disorder Symptomatology.” Eating Behaviors, vol. 26, Aug. 2017, pp. 89–92. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2017.02.002.

The United States is Overdue for a Film Like Pixote (1980)

by Cassandra Skolnick, November 22, 2021

Press the “channel up” button on your television remote several times. Every channel you stop on features colonial concepts of gender and power, concealing relevant truths about actual lived experiences. This is how those in the status quo maintain systems of oppression; unchanged, unchallenged, and uninterrupted. We need an escape from political ideology in film and television, centering our focus on social problems, like the film Pixote (1980) did in Brazil, under the direction of Héctor Babenco. I intend to examine how Pixote created an uncompromised and devastating view of the lived experiences of street children in São Paulo, forcing people out of their comfort zones and to finally address social problems; supporting my argument that a film like Pixote is long overdue in the United States.

Set in the 1980s, Pixote brings attention to the social problems experienced by abandoned children living on the streets of São Paulo and falls under an artistic genre known as social realism. Héctor Babenco originally set out to produce a documentary, but after nearly a dozen visits to the juvenile reformatories he reported that “…the authorities closed the door on me” (Csicsery 3). Instead, he created a fictional film based on the experiences of the children he interviewed. Concerned that it would not be genuine enough, Babenco hired non-actors from the low-income regions of São Paulo. The boys were not given a script or screenplay and were encouraged to speak in their own language (Csicsery 3). They were only told about the situations in workshops and improvised genuine responses. The result is a film that highlights “…the dark side of life for abandoned children in Brazil” (Shaw 149). 

Beyond extreme poverty, street children experience abuse and exploitation at juvenile reformatories by the men in power, demonstrating an overarching depiction of toxic masculinity that filters down to the boys. Our first glimpse of this transference of toxic masculinity occurs when a few older boys at the reformatory violently gang rape a younger and weaker boy (Pixote, 09:29). The abuse waged against the boys by the men at the reformatory is also responsible for enabling a primitive survival instinct in them. The boys frequently showcase their strength to one another, as well as to the men running the reformatory. This survival instinct is clearly present when one of the boys is framed for murder, and he grabs a knife in the cafeteria and threatens the guards (Pixote, 52:48). The will to survive drives the boys to turn to drugs and criminal behavior as an escape mechanism.

Pixote is the central character, and the point of view in the film is often deployed through his eyes as he encounters an accelerated coming-of-age transformation from childlike innocence to deviant delinquent. Following an escape from the reformatory, Pixote and a few friends form a familial pact and engage in criminal activities to support themselves. This begins with thievery, stealing purses, briefcases, and wallets from pedestrians (Pixote, 01:05:44), and ultimately leads to involvement in drug trafficking (Pixote, 01:14:32), prostitution (Pixote, 01:34:13), and murder (Pixote, 01:30:52; Pixote, 01:57:20). 

The themes of strength and survival showcased by the boys influence a third theme, sexuality, which is explored in an uncensored and often uncomfortable way throughout the film. The character Lilica, a transgender woman, is abused and sexually assaulted by the boys; rarely does she enter a sexual encounter on romantic terms. Sueli is a prostitute who sells her body for her male pimp, giving up her autonomy to support herself and her addiction. At one point, Sueli admits to Pixote that she got pregnant from one of her sexual encounters and gave herself an abortion (Pixote, 01:35:27). Pixote sees the aborted fetus discarded in the bathroom trash can. The boys also explore their sexuality, entering non-heteronormative sexual encounters. Dito, a boy who escaped the juvenile reformatory with Pixote and serves as a patriarchal leader of the group, engages in both romantic and sexual relations with Lilica and Sueli, exploring his sexuality and desire in the process. Pixote, on the other hand, never engages directly in sexual relations but learns about sexuality and desire through his observations of the other boys.  

The purpose of social realism is to illustrate real-life conditions and experiences of people living and surviving in society. Pixote accomplishes this by refusing to hold back on the life experiences of abandoned children in Brazil. In the United States, we have become accustomed to censored television and filmmaking, maintaining dominant concepts of heteronormativity, the nuclear family, and positive views of capitalism. However, I argue that a film rooted in social realism in the United States would challenge these concepts. Pixote showed how a group of boys can become family, incorporating common familial traits like shared responsibilities, unconditional love, financial support, and opportunities for learning and growth. This non-traditional nature challenges the dominance of nuclear families and also challenges concepts introduced in capitalist ideology, ideas that propose “…childhood as a separate and protected space of play and of learning” (Reimer 2011). The children are forced into accelerated coming-of-age transformations, leaving no opportunities for them to experience childhood.   We need films like Pixote to force Americans out of their comfort zone, to see the dark side of lived experiences in the United States. There has been some progress with filmmaking moving in a direction of social realism; Moonlight (2016), introduced us to the intersections of race, toxic masculinity, and sexuality in the lived experiences of Chiron, a queer Black boy living in Miami, Florida. The film was able to challenge the concept of the nuclear family, raising the question, “what is family?” Chiron finds himself supported and unconditionally loved by Juan, a drug-dealer, and his girlfriend Teresa; important traits than he rarely experienced from his birth mother. The film addresses poverty within Black communities, and Chiron’s transition to drug dealing for survival challenges capitalist failures in the United States. While this is a meaningful step in the right direction, we need more filmmakers to take the risk that films like Pixote and Moonlight took to challenge dominant societal norms.

Works Cited

Babenco, Héctor, director. Pixote. Embrafilme, 1980. 

Csicsery, George, and Héctor Babenco. “Individual Solutions: An Interview with Héctor Babenco.” Film Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 1, 1982, pp. 2–15,

Jenkins, Barry, director. Moonlight. A24, 2016. 

Reimer, Mavis. “On Location: The Home and the Street in Recent Films About Street Children.” International Research in Children’s Literature, vol. 5, no. 1, 2012, pp. 1–21.,

Shaw, Deborah. “National Identity and the Family: Pixote by Hector Babenco and Central Station by Walter Salles.” Contemporary Cinema of Latin America: Ten Key Films, Continuum, New York, 2003, pp. 142–179.