In response the ongoing prior review situation and restraint at Stevenson High in Lincolnshire, Illinois, JEA President Jack Kennedy recently sent school officials the following letter. Links to Chicago area coverage of the situation follow the letter:
I am a long-time admirer of Stevenson High School, having read numerous scholarly articles by faculty members on Professional Learning Communities and Advanced Placement courses, having followed “The Statesman” for over 20 years, and even having visited your campus just three years ago. I have always imagined Stevenson as a bastion of academic excellence, an example of the comprehensive American public high school at its very best.
Events involving “The Statesman” over the past year have certainly rattled that perception. I have no standing to get into particulars of how events have unfolded, but to have a second instance of the school administration and board leadership coming down on the side of squelching discussion and debate in a newspaper that has a long history of being an open forum for student expression is deeply troubling.
Garnering national attention is certainly not something new for Stevenson, but that this national attention is now so negative must also trouble you. I represent the national organization that supports scholastic journalism educators, and their students by extension, and I hope you will believe me when I say that your school is rapidly becoming the symbol of censorship in American schools. Instead of discussions about the progressive curriculum and fine instruction at the school, journalism educators from across the country are now discussing extraordinary pressure being applied to faculty advisers and administrative attempts to act as “super editors.” This micromanaging has no end. If someone outside the classroom has the power to approve or deny the mere coverage of certain issues, is there any doubt that we eventually find assistant principals correcting spelling, asking for more sources, and quibbling over how a photograph is presented?
Imagine applying the same sort of micromanaging to a football coach, with each play call being approved by some assistant athletic director sitting in the press box. That would be intolerable. Imagine threatening to simply cancel the next football game due to a poor performance by the team last week. In fact, imagine demanding absolute perfection from any sports team or course in the school. That sort of school climate would be equally intolerable.
I hope we can agree that our job, from board members to administration to classroom instructors, is to help our students improve each day, which presupposes that they are not perfect now. Will mistakes be made as we all work to produce valuable citizens? Of course. We will regret them. We will make adjustments. But we will not turn our backs on our young people, even when they disappoint.
The Journalism Education Association has consistently supported student free expression rights over its 85 years, but the association also advocates an adviser code of ethics, as well as distributing positions on photo manipulation, use of copyrighted materials, and Internet expression to our membership. In other words, the association advocates for responsible journalism in a broad array of areas. JEA stands ready to provide support and expertise to anyone involved in disputes over student expression. I sincerely hope you will not hesitate to contact John Bowen, JEA’s student press rights commission chair, Linda Puntney, our executive director, or me if we can be of any assistance.
I would like to think that, ultimately, we agree on the importance of student expression as part of the high school experience.
I ask that Stevenson High School return to its former status as a school where students come first, and where free, open, and responsible discussion of even the most sensitive issues is encouraged.
Coverage of the situation:
• Stevenson High officials halt publication of Statesman
• Students say district forced them to publish
• Stevenson High orders students to publish
• Presses roll at Stevenson, without offending stories
• Student newspaper is a lot leaner, less controversial
• Controversial Stevenson student newspaper released
• Muzzling students
• Stevenson High to students: publish or perish
• SPJ blog by David Cuillier
• Il high school students face censorship
My Teaching High School Journalism course at Kent State is almost over for this semester, and I’m beginning to wonder if I have taught the right things to these education majors who may end up in media classrooms.
Sure, as usual I started with law, emphasizing unprotected speech and the stuff that can REALLY get student media in trouble. They learned about Tinker, Hazelwood, Bethel and Bong Hits and the impact these cases have. From there, we worked our way through ethical issues — the “SHOULD we?” that follows the “COULD we?” After all, without 70 percent on the law and ethics test, my students don’t pass the course. That stuff matters.
They figured out the difference between journalistic writing and “English-class writing,” and we practiced coaching and the maestro concept as we thought about how to package stories for an audience using good design and graphics. Yes, I tried to teach them everything I learned while earning my undergraduate and graduate degrees in journalism education and from MANY years in the classroom.
But did I teach them to show their students the importance of caring? The need to cover stories that should be told, not just the ones that fall into their laps? Did I make sure they won’t be afraid to tell their students they have the right and even obligation to question authority? Did I make sure they know it’s not just a matter of filling the time on air or the space on a page? Did I teach them to help those in their classes stand up for their beliefs?
Will those in my course this semester become the kind of teachers who can support their student journalists and help them make a difference?
I’ll have a new group next semester. What do YOU think I should teach them? It’s only 15 weeks of class, but what MUST be part of their learning?
Candace Perkins Bowen, MJE
One way or another, no matter where censorship of scholastic media is reported, we need you to respond to comments.
All one has to do is to read the comment sections of of the Daily Herald and the Chicago Tribune, among others, to see the lack of understanding about the First Amendment and how it applies – or should apply – to scholastic media.
All it takes is 10 minutes. You know the principles and the educational validity of student free expression and decision-making.
Your colleagues facing censorship, their students and the parents of the community need to know there are others who abhor censorship.
After all, freedom of student expression is what are are passionate about, something we believe in. Something we want to see continue.
Let those who don’t seem to believe in these principles hear from you today – and all the tomorrows it takes.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful for how student journalism programs across this country prepare their graduates for real life. Districts cutting their journalism programs need to hear this story.
This week I was visited by two former student editors. As a journalism adviser I know about the study “Journalism Kids Do Better” and often hear about how successful those high school j students are in college. I hear every year from former students who are excelling in college.
This week I was reminded of something much more. Neither of these former students were able to attend college out of high school, but both of them credited their study of journalism in high school with having helped them secure good jobs in a tough economy.
Student #1 was a photo editor and after graduation applied at a new Target store going up in the area. She interviewed to be a cashier. Not only did she get a job (she says because of the communication skills she learned from interviewing numerous people), she was actually put in charge of the new photo lab and setting up the entire operation. She subsequently moved on to set up other stores around the state. She has now changed careers and is a corrections officer, but she credits those same communications skills with her successful interactions with her employer, her coworkers and the inmates.
Student #2 could not continue her education because she had a baby just a year out of high school. She too credits her communications skills with landing her current job. She is an animal research assistant for a major medical company and, because of her journalism experience, is now the editor of their division newsletter. She shared that getting to tell her bosses they need to get their articles in and meet deadlines is a highlight of the job.
The skill to get a decent paying job without a college diploma and job security – that’s what the journalism program gave these students – and in this economy that is truly a reason to be thankful.
Turkeys in the news tomorrow may not be just on people’s plates.
Lately, some have been dressed as administrators at Stevenson High in Lincolnshire, Illinois.
First, school officials’ objections held up the paper’s initial release. Then they forced journalism students to remove several stories and several pages from the latest issue.
Next, administrators demanded the issue run despite student objections. According to information in the Daily Herald and Chicago Tribune, administrators wouldn’t allow students to remove their bylines from the stories and threatened to fail the student journalists if they did not do as told.
Prior review, administrators said last year when a previous dispute occurred, would only last a short time.
They were right about one thing. Review is now prior restraint of the least educationally defensible kind.
Executive director of the Student Press Law center, Frank LoMonte, called administrative actions a confession that they had lied.
“Stevenson’s conduct today is a confession that its administrators lied when they claimed in a press release last week that they had problems with only one story in the Statesman,” he said. “We trust that the school board will immediately investigate the source of this intentionally false public statement and will remove any employee who played a role in distributing it.
LoMonte also praised student editors.
“Student editors have dealt with Stevenson in an honest, professional and restrained manner, attempting to work out a peaceful resolution. Their reward for it was a sucker-punch in the gut. To threaten the highest-achieving students in the school with flunking journalism, potentially endangering their college careers, simply confirms that Stevenson puts its image ahead of the well-being of its students. When a school tries this hard to silence student journalism, the public should start asking hard questions about what is going on at Stevenson High School that its administrators are so desperate to conceal.”
This Thanksgiving the communities that send their students to Stevenson definitely may want to be thinking of ways to deal with these leftover turkeys.
For related reporting and coverage, go here, here, here and here.