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Brett Kavanaugh’s 1983 yearbook provides teachable moments

Posted by on Sep 27, 2018 in Blog, Scholastic Journalism, Yearbook | 1 comment

Yearbooks are forever.

We wear this statement on matching T-shirts, mail it home on marketing postcards and proudly display it on homemade posters created by dedicated publications staffs nationwide.

But less than one week before National Yearbook Week 2018, the phrase takes on new significance during the hearings surrounding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Earlier this week, Kavanaugh’s 1983 Georgetown Prep yearbook page made the news for its references to drinking and partying along with coded mentions of a female classmate that appear to be demeaning inside jokes.

Seeing a yearbook page in the news is always a teachable moment, of course. Journalism teachers can show students — and other stakeholders — the value of yearbooks as historical record, as memory keepers and, depending on one’s perspective, possibly as a sort of character reference. The way people hold on to yearbooks, as Heather Schwedel describes in this Slate article, draws attention to a student publication 35 years later as a form of historical evidence.

What complicates the larger discourse is the social media noise, which quickly shifted to placing blame on the yearbook adviser and others responsible for producing the publication. A tweet by Soledad O’Brien questioned the adviser, and the comments that followed illustrate the wide range of uninformed public opinions about what should and shouldn’t find its way into a yearbook — and who plays a hand in that decision.

What can yearbook staff members learn from the 1983 Cupola?

Recent H.L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the Year winners share their perspectives to help add context and offer guidance for students and teachers discussing this in their journalism classes.

 

What is the role of the adviser?

“Advisers are responsible for helping guide staff members in understanding their responsibilities and through challenges they face. They are not there to censor or to dictate content. They are there to provide support, advice and direction. Advisers are not there to serve as editors of student publications. They are there to help students establish the standards and guide them.”

— Brenda Field, MJE; Glenbrook South High School (Glenbrook, Ill.)

“First and foremost, the role of the yearbook adviser is to teach responsible journalism. If we’re doing our jobs, then students will be equipped to make responsible decisions regarding content. And this is what happens every single day in yearbook journalism classrooms across the country. Yes, I read every word that went into the books I advised, as that was the expectation in my school and community. But it was the editors and staff who ultimately determined content.”

— Cindy Todd; retired from Westlake High School (Austin, Texas)

 

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Maybe #Firstonthefirst initiative can help move the needle

Posted by on Aug 1, 2018 in Blog, Featured, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism | 1 comment

Maybe it was last night’s reflection on Anthony Kennedy’s final day serving as a Supreme Court justice.

Or maybe it was because I’m still recovering from the latest State of the First Amendment survey.

In case you missed it, more than one-third of the survey respondents (40 percent) could not name a single freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment. Only one out of the 1,009 people surveyed could correctly name all five freedoms.

That blows my mind, and I often think about what I can or should be doing differently to help move the needle outside the walls of my classroom.

So today I began what I’m calling #Firstonthefirst.

I made a commitment to talk to five strangers today and share with them about the First Amendment. I’m going to do it on the first of every month, and I hope you’ll join me.

It’s easy enough to visit with folks in line at Starbucks or the grocery checkout, or colleagues at school, or parents on the bleachers at your kiddo’s sporting event. A few minutes of conversation can make a huge difference. I want the people in my community to know the five freedoms and to have a better understanding of why the First Amendment matters.

To make a visual connection, I wore one of my First Amendment T-shirts, and I’ll do that for each #Firstonthefirst. There’s something about seeing those 45 words (or in the case of this shirt, my favorite of those 45) that makes it more memorable, and I hope to leverage the power of social media to spread this movement and get my students — and all of you — having these First Amendment conversations as well.

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