By Christine Tatum | March 23rd, 2007
Something tells me I wouldn’t have lasted very long as a high school newspaper adviser in East Allen County, Ind., and Danbury, Texas, where school administrators are aghast that budding journalists would want to cover issues of sexuality.
Apparently, these fine educators would rather run roughshod over the First Amendment than devote time to fostering a public forum where students discuss and debate matters they’re talking about — and talking about nearly nonstop.
But hey, it’s so much easier for educators to clamp down on student media through censorship, prior restraint and adviser suspensions than it is to recognize in a socially redeeming way that running around on campus every day are students who abstain from sex, students who have more sex than rabbits, students who are pregnant, students who are parents, students who have had abortions, students who are gay, students who think they’re gay, students who have been raped, students who are sexually abused at home and students who daydream about (or are actually having) sex with their teachers.
School district officials in both states have compounded their sad policies with even worse behavior during school board meetings. When parents and students attended a meeting earlier this week in Indiana, they weren’t allowed to speak (Students were prepared to read a letter I wrote offering SPJ’s assistance — and they were told they couldn’t.). In Texas, board members closed to the public their meeting concerning the Danbury High School student paper. The school board has been sued by the local paper, The (Clute, Texas) Facts, for allegedly violating the state’s open meetings law (I’m sending out a giant thank you to that publication …).
There are much smarter ways to handle these tired disputes, and it’s way past time for some educators to think more creatively and collaboratively about how to teach students to deliver responsible journalism and to engage thoughtfully in ensuing discussion and debate. If that responsible journalism and thougthful discussion involves parents and community leaders, even better!
So, here’s my offer (academics, please do me the favor of passing this around far and wide): The Society of Professional Journalists is willing to take on one school district in the nation that wants to take a bold stand to improve and protect student journalism. SPJ has dozens of seasoned pros who would be willing to work alongside students, teachers and school administrators to craft policies and practices that work well for everyone. SPJ’s goal would be to devise a model that districts across the nation would be eager to follow.
To be frank, we’ll be looking to help a district that isn’t already on solid ground (because there are many districts out there with smart policies and thriving student media). Ideally, the district that wins SPJ’s assistance will be able to cite conflicts or problems much like those that have erupted in Indiana and Texas (and despite their recent bad behavior, I’m still hoping to hear from officials of those Indy and Texas school districts).
Teachers and school administrators wanting SPJ’s assistance should state in no more than 700 words how and why they hope the Society will help them. They should send their requests — under the subject line “Help for Students” — to me at email@example.com.