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Fond du Lac English department statement
should be guide to those who face review

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When the Fond du Lac English department issued a statement supporting embattled student journalists there March 21, they signaled clear support against those who would censor student expression.

We urge other groups in high schools across the country follow their lead, especially if their student media labor under prior review.

We urge other groups in high schools across the country follow their lead, especially if their student media labor under prior review.

Students at the school have faced censorship since their principal imposed new prior review directives March 10 following student publication of “The “Rape Joke” story, a look at what student journalists felt was a “culture of rape” at the school and focused on three students who said they were raped.

Important parts of the English department statement include:
• …“The story, itself, stands as an exemplar of high quality, responsible journalism that has helped countless readers feel supported, speak up, seek help, and come together in a way that has undoubtedly resulted in a more positive environment in our school. We need more stories like this one, not fewer.
• “The fact that the new guidelines were drawn up so quickly, in defiance of past precedent, without warning or consultation with the school newspaper advisor or staff or other interested parties, and in the most restrictive form possible has the students worried that such stories, while powerful and community-building, may be controversial or not be “positive” enough to gain future approval.
• “Our students, allowed some freedom to work together to think critically and make informed choices on their own along with the guidance of a highly qualified instructor, are capable of truly amazing things. Such work should be celebrated, not censored.”

The group also urged the superintendent and school board to support the open forum for student expression and to drafted new guidelines “in collaboration with students, community and experts in the field” to accomplish that.

We absolutely agree, for these reasons and countless others:
• No one has ever demonstrated  legitimate educational rationale for prior review. Defenses almost always come in the form of public relations and personal administrative preferences. Not even the Hazelwood decision supports that.
• Academic rigor and civic engagement require student decision-making and critical thinking where students apply the principles they learn. Anything less prevents the authentic learning a journalistically responsible student media must demonstrate.
• A free and unfettered journalism is at the core of a democracy. If students see they cannot practice what they are taught, they will come to see that democracy as flawed, unreal and unworthy of protection.
• Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in The Elements of Journalism and its follow-up book Blur, say journalism’s first obligation is to the truth. Achieving that, through accuracy, balance and coherence of content cannot occur under the practice of prior review.
• In Blur, Kovach and Rosenstiel emphasize the discipline of verification, which is also limited if not impossible in an atmosphere of prior review.
• We strongly support the Questions about Prior Review the department mentions as they substantially reflect JEA policy and beliefs.

We strongly urge English departments, social studies departments, parent booster groups and any citizen or educator who supports learning and rigor in schools to examine the Fond du Lac English department statement.

The statement provides a summary of essential positions JEA and other scholastic media groups have advocated for years. For more about those beliefs and principles, go here.

Whether we teach freedom of expression in English and journalism, social studies or news/media literacy, we must practice that belief or all the rigor and literacy we give lip service to will be shallow, meaningless words.

As we move forward with authentic learning, expanded news literacy and civic engagement, we must prime our students with real practices that reflect what they are taught.

Whether we teach freedom of expression in English and journalism, social studies or news/media literacy, we must practice that belief or all the rigor and literacy we give lip service to will be shallow, meaningless words.

 

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