Posts made in October 5th, 2009

Fighting off prior review

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With examples of administrator censorship running rampant around the country, I thought it might be informative and helpful for other teachers, who may run into similar situations, to speak with a teacher who just successfully fought off censorship from the higher-ups at her school.

Konnie Krislock has been teaching journalism since the late 1960s and has been the adviser of the Evolution at the Orange County High School of the Arts since it began publishing in May 2006. The Evolution’s first issue of the year featured a couple of stories its administration found objectionable.

How Krislock handled the situation provides a pretty good template for how to handle censorship, particularly in a state that has anti-Hazelwood protections.

According to Krislock, the Evolution was able to get coverage in a major metro, the Orange County Register, as well as quick feeback from the SPLC. Krislock was able to use friends at Cal State Fullerton, a major state organization (CNPA) as well as enlist the office of a prominent state politician – state senator Leland Yee – to help her get word out and fight the administration’s attempted censorship. As I’ve found in my five years as an adviser, if administrator’s hate anything, it is bad press and people calling the school complaining about damn near anything.

“Get the word out about what is happening to people in the know,” Krislock said. “I really know everyone and this got covered fast and well. It didn’t hurt that my EIC had been a summer intern with the OCRegister and that the writer realized he knew her. I also know Cal State Fullerton’s communications dean (I used to teach adjunct there) and belong to CNPA, whose lawyer was a resource. I would tell everyone to get connected.”

Most interesting, and appalling, to me was the reaction of Krislock’s students to the situation. If you’ve ever taught in a school where this sort of censorship is permissible, it has a particularly pernicious effect on students.

“They were scared,” Krislock said. “Most said they were less likely to take assignments on Evolution after the grilling the editors got from administrators. Everyone was intimidated. Just today my editor started to shy away from a story on swine flu because she said ‘we’ve done enough controversy right now.'”

While administrators often intend to block some sort of news they find will draw unwanted attention to their school, crushing student enthusiasm and creativity for their work on the newspaper is the unwanted result. What advisers must do is work to counteract the effect the administration’s intrusion might have. Fortunately for the students at OCHSA, they’ve got one who’s willing to do the heavy lifting.

“I believe this is the ONE high school subject that teaches student everything they need to know about life,” Krislock said. “My quote in the SPLC article is totally accurate. This is my life’s passion: my adoration of high school students and their RIGHT to express themselves and their ideas in a public forum with an adviser who is knowledgeable and who cares about them and their opinions.”

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