A distant rumbling…

Ever since 911 I’ve worried about our freedoms…and, as a journalist, about the right to freedom of speech. All of my life I’ve kind of taken it for granted that the media has a right to seek and tell the truth. In these times that right can not be taken for granted.

And ever since leaving the real world for the shifting shadow and light world of education I’ve found an even more frightening situation. I’ve heard about attempts by school districts and administrators to restrain the rights of student journalists…some successful/some not. These stories used to chill me. I just couldn’t believe that an educator – a person in charge of guiding young minds – would deny anyone the rights guaranteed every citizen. It happens – believe me.

I found it curious that my first principal was very nervous when the issue came up – he knew the state education code and district policy prohibited prior restraint…and asked that I be careful with a very touchy story.

In my present situation I am not facing a wary principal, but an administrator who told me last week that, “video is not journalism” and he had a right to review any material my students wanted to enter in contests (and I assume want to put in the daily student bulletin…scheduled to go online in October).

Funny…I could have sworn I’ve been shooting video for years and it was journalism. It seems to me that newspapers are doing this daily too.

We all have choices…the last time the rights of student journalists came up I told him I was tired and really didn’t want to fight. I was right and he did not have the right to prior restraint. When the dust settled, the students published and nothing happened.

My choices this time are bothersome. As much as I truly love working with students, I abhor the politics and childish behavior that goes along with working as a teacher. All I want to do is my best at helping students learn. So what to do? Shutting up and obeying mindlessly is not an option. I’ve been considering leaving and finding a job more suitable for a malcontent…but that leaves my kids in the wake. Having a knock-down, drag-out fight is not my style….I’m more of the sit-in type. Passive resistance. Listen to the ranting and calmly refuse to give in. But it is tiring and a waste of both of our times.

Oh well. Give it time…

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8 thoughts on “A distant rumbling…

  1. That sounds pretty crappy Cindy.

    Video is journalism and wanting to touch everything is not good management

    The old adage of “it’s better to seek forgiveness than ask permission” might work here but this administrator seems like a bit of a blocker.

    Hang in there

  2. Oh my, I gather you’ve only been fighting the school establishment for a short time? Try 20 years of this sort of thing. It’s the reason I’m looking to leave in another couple of years. You get tired of fighting. But for now, get back in there and fight for what you believe is right.

  3. Pingback: Fighting The Good Fight « TEACH J: For Teachers of Journalism And Media

  4. It is depressing to hear that these attitudes are still present in schools, which are supposed to be places of learning. Maybe you could approach this by asking the administrator to explain the reasons behind their thinking. For example, by asking is writing journalism? If I write a sci-fi story is that journalism? Obviously not. Journalism is not about using any one particular medium, but rather about reporting on the world around us in an accurate, fair and ethical manner. Good luck.

  5. I know the reason…he does not like the media. He attempted to block student freedoms once when I was the journalism teacher. His new tactic is to state that video is not journalism so that he can control it.

    This gets into a bigger issue of other student freedoms…not just journalism. If an art student creates a work of art in a class, are they prohibited from entering it in a contest? What if they are sitting on campus after school and create it? What about the student who enters a writing contest sponsored by a local organization – are they allowed to enter anything that their teachers mentored them on? Can the culinary students compete, since everything they learned was done on school time?

    I have no problem with fighting for video as journalism…when it IS journalism. The video that has caused the controversy was a :20 PSA entered in a local Crimestoppers video contest for high school students. It is NOT journalism. It was done during class with my approval because (silly me) I think crimes should be reported. My principal, without even looking at it or speaking with my VAPA administrator (who knew and had approved it), apparently got mad and caused a ruckus. His fear was that it would make our school look bad – that the public would think we had a crime issue on campus if they recognized the school. The general public cannot recognize the school from the video – it was shot inside a hallway.

    I refuse to allow someone with a bias to determine what is and what is not journalism – and I also feel that this is about more than one class’s right to have freedom of speech. Unless he is willing to examine every document, work of art, taste and approve every food item a student wishes to show off or enter in a competition, it will not be fair.

  6. There are many people supporting you and your students, Cyndy. Your administrator might want to know that California law (Education Code section 48907) doesn’t care if what your students are producing is called journalism or not; students still have strong free speech and press protections.

    Although the state law doesn’t explicitly prohibit prior review by administrators, it does limit their ability to censor student-produced work if they do review it. Schools that wage create these kind of headaches for their teachers/advisers are their own worst enemy.

    Best of luck. The Student Press Law Center is always a great resource on these issues (www.splc.org).

  7. Thanks Mark…
    I already did this drill three years ago when I was journalism advisor the the newspaper. Called in the ACLU, my union, and my students checked w/SPLC. This time the tactic is different – outright declaring that video is not journalism. He may be referring to the class, which is called Multimedia: Broadcasting in which I am supposed to teach students video production including how to shoot stories for the bulletin and how to anchor, etc.
    The California code prohibits administrators from prior restraint, as does our district policy. Plus, the advisor can only use prior restraint for limited reasons.

    I know this will turn out for the best…just wish it had never happened.

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