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Writing during a crisis: 1942 vs. 2020

For Pam Francesconi’s mother, Eagle Rock High School was her life. It’s where she grew up, met her husband, and made life-long friends. Her mother had always spoken dearly of high school, displaying memorabilia, and attending multiple reunions. After her mother passed at the age of 94, Francesconi found old copies of the Eagle's Scream. Francesconi swiftly contacted the school about these 78-year-old newspaper editions and gave the current Eagle’s Scream team access to photos of them. These copies of the Eagle’s scream were published in 1942, at the height of WWII. At the time, the U.S had been at war for a little less than a year, and life at ERHS had shifted significantly. Students were being drafted for the military, mandatory blackouts restricted student life, and many people were living in fear. Despite all of this, the Eagle’s Scream staff continued writing, even during a global crisis. Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?

Eagle's Scream, published January 20, 1943

In 1942 and 2020 alike, the nature of high school changed drastically with the introduction of a global crisis. Multiple articles from the 1942 and 1943 editions of the Eagle’s Scream mentioned Eagle Rock high school boys dropping out to join either the military or the navy. Although young boys dropping out wasn’t exclusive to Eagle Rock, the article “City School Attendance Drops 20,515” (see photo above for article) printed on January 20, 1943, highlighted this phenomenon among Los Angeles youth. There was a massive drop in attendance for Los Angeles City schools because of enlistments and the rising popularity of the war industry work.

Students in 2020 also had to adjust to a different learning environment after the COVID-19 pandemic forced ERHS to adopt online-schooling. The departure from normal school life was depicted in the article “Eagle Rock High: Mid-Pandemic” through a series of photos that captured an eerily empty Eagle Rock High School this November. What was before a busy and packed school is now an abandoned shell of its once noisy halls.

In any crisis, there is always pressure to return to normalcy, even if it’s premature and a threat to student safety. The Blitz of 1941 was a bombing campaign led by Nazi Germany against Britain during World War II. The event caused ⅔ of all the schools in London to stop instruction. Many British students were unable to attend school, disrupting their academic time. The Eagle's Scream documented British parents stressing the importance of their children returning to school after the Blitz in the article “Protest of the Public and the Return to School”(see photo above for article) from the April 14, 1942 edition. Initially, the Board of Education decided to keep the schools closed, but that changed after the majority of British parents and politicians expressed that education was more important than the threat of bomb attacks.

In related news, the current Eagle’s Scream discussed the recent authorization for sports teams to resume on-campus, outdoor, voluntary conditioning in the article titled, “Beutner Green Lights LAUSD Sports Practices.” This order came at a time when California was experiencing another wave of COVID cases with no improvement. Parents held a lot of influence on the School Board decision, the same as they did during the British Blitz debacle. Many LAUSD parents have been calling for students to return to campus even though California currently has a record-high number of COVID cases. As parents attempt to sue LAUSD for distance learning, we can see the pattern of disregard for students’ wellbeing in both the old and new versions of the Eagle’s Scream.

Social life is also gravely affected by global crises. When the fear of another bombing attack dominated the United States, blackout regulations were mandated to alleviate the public’s concerns. Blackouts aimed to minimize outdoor light by turning off street lights and covering all windows of homes and businesses. They prevented enemy aircrafts from identifying targets by sight. The article titled “Between Classes” (see photo above for article) from the May 6, 1942 edition, disclosed that blackout policies prevented ERHS French classes from fulfilling the course tradition of going to French movies and restaurants.

The limited options under blackout mandates kept many Americans at home, just like quarantine has done in 2020. With the spread of Covid-19, we’re unable to leave home for anything other than the essentials. In the global crisis of today, the disappointment that French students felt when unable to visit movie theaters and restaurants is felt even more so by students in 2020 who are under complete quarantine.

If the reduced educational and social opportunities weren’t enough, these crises also provoked racial scapegoating. A short article, published on March 17, 1942, mentioned the evacuation of Japanese-Americans from high schools in Los Angeles. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 created mass paranoia, and Japanese-Americans had to bear the brunt of the resulting anti-Japanese sentiment. Japanese-Americans were incarcerated against their will in isolated concentration camps, leaving behind their homes and everything that they had ever known. The Eagle’s Scream from 1942 (see photo above for article) describes how San Pedro High School lost 105 students because of the creation of Japanese internment camps.

Oddly enough, March of 2020 also saw a rise in discrimination against East Asian communities. The school newspaper was again ready to write articles even as the pandemic was looming over our heads and inciting racial violence. The article, titled “COVID-19’s Impact on Asians in America,” dealt with the emergence of COVID-19 and how Americans sought someone to blame for the novel virus. China became the target, and Asian-Americans were the scapegoat once again. Hate crimes against the Asian community rose, and Asian-Americans had to endure constant physical and verbal attacks.

Looking back at the 1942 Eagle’s Scream and seeing only a three-sentence allocation towards the Japanese internment camp issue is a sign of how much the Eagle Rock newspaper has grown over the years. The Japanese evacuation article was extremely short and lacked remorse for the individuals affected by this event. Nowadays, the Eagle’s Scream is filled with social criticism, and nearly half of the articles on the website deal with racial and political issues in the U.S. From one global tragedy to the next, the same patterns arise, but it is interesting to see how high school journalism has taken a new route in recent years.

When there is a global crisis, and almost everything about daily life has changed, the thing that remains constant is our writing. The Eagle’s scream continued to provide information to students during a World War and a devastating pandemic. Even through the chaos and mass paranoia, the newspaper guided students through crises, offering relief with facts and humor. In the 1940s, every edition of the Eagle’s Scream included “The Prowling Percy” (see photo above for series), a gossiping column written in a humorously condescending tone that reported on the love lives of Eagle Rock students. The articles would often poke fun at the students by asking rhetorical questions about their relationships. Nowadays, there aren’t any drama-filled articles, but there are amusing articles about mundane topics in the Shallot section of the Eagle’s Scream. “The unexpected perks of Thanksgiving on Zoom” depicts a humorously optimistic take on Thanksgiving season in quarantine, and the article “Is a Hotdog a Hamburger?” answers an age-old controversial question. The Eagle’s Scream, in any era, maintains a balance between serious and amusing topics even during a period when the world is crumbling around us.

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