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Eager to learn, students find Hazewlood as inspiration, provocation to ‘ruffle feathers’

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by Don Bott

Hazelwood stories: My favorite part of teaching Journalism 1-2, the beginning class made up mostly of freshmen, is the unit on press law and ethics. Up until that point, we focus mostly on writing for various pages. A few in the class by this point are beginning to grasp the power of journalism. It is not merely self-expression but something more meaningful. These students want to be on staff next year.hazelwoodcolor

This is the time in the year when I outline the significant rights — and responsibilities — that high school journalists have, especially those in California.

Students become fascinated to learn about something as fundamental as First Amendment rights. They marvel at what a brother and sister went through at an Iowa high school long before they were born. My students, who mostly see clothing as a matter of fashion, are now thinking about a black armband and the abstract notion of protest. They then shudder to see how student voice, protected in one historic Supreme Court ruling, could be challenged some 20 years later because of articles that potentially “make the school look bad.” This is history they can relate to.

Advisers in California should not have to worry about Hazelwood, about a principal as “publisher.” Sure enough, my 20-plus years of advising newspapers have been free of administrative intrusion. Still, in this favorable atmosphere, educating students is almost more important. With more rights comes greater responsibility — for the adviser and for the students.

Curiously, I have found that students are often timid when it comes to how far their reach should be in a story. Regardless of law or ed code provisions, many are reluctant to offend. They want to look good and sound good and not be seen in any way that is bad. Rather than wait for some outside authority to stop them, they are too willing to censor themselves. The boldness of a staff from Hazelwood East High School must serve as inspiration, provocation: Find the story out there that is compelling, the story that must be told, the story that will ruffle feathers.

The legal restrictions of Hazelwood, I like to say, have “never applied to California.” But Hazelwood has always mattered in this state. Students need to be educated, and sadly so must many educators, even administrators.

As I write this piece, I am closing out the unit on press law and ethics, a unit that gets longer every year. Students are more excited about journalism than they have been all year.

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