So, Friday was a good day.
What Friday demonstrated was that when an injustice – and I know that sounds huge and the slightest bit pretentious – is done, some people are still willing to stand up and do what is right. And the silence from the sponsor of the bill and the complete about face by the governor should tell you all you need to know about this law.
The outcry from teachers – and particularly journalism advisers – in Missouri was a bit of a sight to behold.
Honestly, I think Missouri teachers’ reaction to this bill may have been a reaction to things that have happened in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana over the past year, where teachers have been put in the crosshairs by politicians. And much like in those cases – particularly Wisconsin and Ohio – politicians have learned a lesson the hard way: do not mess with teachers.
Because while we are impossibly busy preparing your – and our – children to be the leaders of tomorrow, we will absolutely, positively no longer stand for this.
Even more impressive was the reaction of students.
Cameron Carlson, a former student at Marquette High School in Chesterfield, Mo., created a Facebook group in the days proceeding its signing into law. In less than a month, it has almost 1,000 members.
Devan Coggan, a recent graduate of Kirkwood HS wrote a letter to her local representative detailing her thoughts on the matter, after posting it on her Tumblr blog.
Students from four high schools across Missouri participated in a Google+ hangout with Aurora Meyer, from the Missouri State Teachers Association, as part of a press conference for their coverage of the issue.
And I can’t even begin to count the number of tweets sent on this matter.
So, lessons to be learned?
First, is that the First Amendment and social media are powerful tools. By taking to Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, opponents of SB54 used a little bit of social media jujitsu to help propel this law back in Sen. Jane Cunningham’s face. The irony of all this makes me smile.
Teachers in all states must be vigilant of what is going on in their state legislatures. I heard about this bill in the middle of July, shortly before Gov. Jay Nixon signed it into law. In the current climate of what is going on in state legislatures across the country, teachers (and their unions, see below) need to be on the ball and prepared to act quickly and decisively when they are threatened, no matter the type of law.
Union members need to hold union leadership accountable. MSTA stepped up to the plate and did its job to represent its members by filing the suit that led to the the injunction against SB54. MNEA did so to a lesser extent, trying to work with Sen. Jane Cunningham, who crafted the law. Honestly though, the offending portions of SB54 shouldn’t have ever made it out of committee, much less to the governor’s desk. There have been several things MNEA has helped stall or kill that many teachers would argue were more important than this bill, but missing this patently ridiculous and obviously unconstitutional portion of this law is a big miss.
Finally, educators – and journalism educators in particular – deserve leadership from the media. All too many of the state’s papers weighed in on SB54 after the heavy work was done.
I appreciate the support of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Joseph News-Press and any other media outlets that have weighed in, but editorial pages are a place to lead. At least that’s what I teach my students.
The fact the state’s major papers maintained radio silence over the course of most of August is shameful, particularly on a First Amendment issue.
The school year is just starting and already those who want to control student thinking and decision-making are hard at work.
In an Ohio school that boasts the state’s highest testing scores, prior restraint started last year and a nearly 20-year adviser was removed against her will over the summer. The reason given, one heard so often over the last six months, was the administration wanted to go in a different direction.
In Indiana, an adviser was stripped of journalism classes and the publication subjected to prior review. The reason: too many typos and grammatical errors. The principal might not even be conducting the private review; instead, that might be the job of a committee of students, faculty and others.
Thanks to the New York Times, teachers and advisers like the ones above, ones who face administrative control or work for those who don’t see the value of journalism to promote authentic learning, now have something to promote their values.
In using The Learning Network coverage for their Student Journalism Week, The Times provides advisers with an opportunity to reinforce the myriad of scholastic journalism positives by making creative use of the following topics:
• A Guide to Rights and Responsibilities
• The Value of School Newspapers
• Three Benefits of Newspaper Programs
• Using News Models for Authentic Writing
• Resources for School Newspaper Advisers
These articles present principles that should enable all of us to embrace and spread the values of scholastic journalism either in our own schools or with others who need to know what we so strongly believe:
Scholastic journalists, when empowered and trusted, produce coherent reporting and thinking in authentic, accurate and substantive communication.
And that is what education is all about.
We know there are a significant number of open forum student media out there, and we’d like to see you apply for JEA’s First Amendment Press Freedom Award (FAPFA).
Being an open forum for student expression, besides having exceptional educational validity and offering excellent learning opportunities for students, can also help protect a school system in cases of liability as a recent court ruling in Seattle indicates.
If you think your student media are forums, by policy or practice, then go here or here and either download the application form for FAPFA or complete it online and return the completed form to JEA. Application for the honor comes in two parts: the initial application of 25 questions for a media adviser and an administrator.
Those meeting the criteria for the award will then receive a second application to be filled out by the principal, all student media editors and advisers. Deadline for applying is Dec. 1, 2011.
Those meeting the final criteria will be recognized at the JEA/NSPA convention in Seattle. We know you’re out there. Take the time to be recognized as First Amendment Press Freedom Schools.
by Matt Schott
A slap in the face. And an unexpected one at that.
When I first read SB54, that was my reaction. And not a slap to my First Amendment rights, either, though I believe those rights are threatened by the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act and informs much of the anger over this from journalism educators.
No, to me, this was a slap in the face to my professionalism, my credibility, my trustworthiness.
In any profession, these are the qualities people try to build and nurture. With a swipe of his pen, what Gov. Jay Nixon (and to an extent State Sen. Jane Cunningham, who wrote the bill) did was wipe away those three things which I hold dear. Because what he did was cast teachers into the same category of respect generally reserved for criminals.
SB54 essentially said teachers were not fit to maintain a professional relationship with the students whom they have taken great steps to build and nurture relationships, no matter the medium. While I consider myself to be well-versed in the field of journalism, I consider myself (and most good educators) to be better in the field of connecting with students where they are most comfortable. Good educators work to make sure they have positive relationships with their students. More than anything, it is what makes us good educators.
What Gov. Nixon and Sen. Cunningham have evidently forgotten is that private conversations happen all the time at school. On Aug. 16, a Tuesday, I had no fewer than six private conversations with students. All of them were about things relating to education. Some were simple, like asking for the definition of a word. Others about projects that have been assigned.
These two public servants obviously don’t know much about the public they serve. They should watch this. Facebook is the most trafficked site on the Internet and high school students have driven that traffic almost since the site’s inception. As it says on the linked video: “We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.”
By seeking to take educators out of the social media equation, Gov. Nixon and Sen. Cunningham have ensured Missouri students will “do social media” worse than students in the rest of the nation.
By seeking to take educators out of the social media equation, by not allowing educators to teach and model what a positive social media presence looks like, Gov. Nixon and Sen. Cunningham have made it that much harder for Missouri students to succeed in the digital marketplace.
By seeking to take educators out of the social media equation, Gov. Nixon and Sen. Cunningham have taken away an avenue – sometimes the only avenue they feel safe in – for troubled students to communicate with someone they trust: their teacher.
Gov. Nixon and Sen. Cunningham did have some successes with this bill, perhaps in spite of themselves.
By seeking to take educators out of the social media equation, Gov. Nixon and Sen. Cunningham have drawn the attention of the nation to the educational practices in our state and shown the nation that they, at least, don’t believe in the job Missouri teachers are doing. Thanks for your support.
By seeking to take educators out of the social media equation, Gov. Nixon and Sen. Cunningham have succeeded in making a difficult job more difficult. Not being able to communicate with trusted students in a medium they feel comfortable in inhibits the learning and success of all students. Thanks for the extra work, we need more of it.
And finally, by seeking to take educators out of the social media equation in Missouri, Gov. Nixon and Sen. Cunningham have angered a very vocal and active political force: educators. Make no mistake, teachers in Missouri are upset (to use a school appropriate word) by this law. Teachers in Missouri are conferring about this law. And soon, very soon, I hope teachers in Missouri will be working with wonderful organizations like the Student Press Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, to battle and overturn this ill-informed, poorly written and insulting law. You’re welcome. By giving the educators of Missouri a little bit more work to do, we’ll help you learn through experience and hopefully, as you reflect upon this once SB54 is overturned, you’ll have learned something.
All in a day’s work.
As scholastic media staffs begin their year, there really is no more important strategy than developing a strong editorial policy, for print and digital media.
For a good model print policy, see JEA’s model editorial policy.
For an excellent policy model that combines print and digital media, see JEA Digital Media’s article on collapsing multiple editorial policies (and not just newspaper) into one.
As Aaron Manful says in his article, “school programs should not be seen as individual mediums, but as a media program.”
Whatever the future brings for scholastic journalism, a good way to anticipate it is with a strong, unified policy that empowers all student media staffs with final content decisions.