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Have students learn from history
as student journalists today

by Jackie Mink
As a high school student in 1968, I had friends and family members fighting in the Vietnam War. There were many protests across the country by young people against the war, but one in particular influenced student expression for the future and up to today.

That protest was when a group of students in Iowa decided to wear black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War. They were suspended, and legal challenges regarding the suspension  led to the famous Tinker vs. Des Moines Supreme Court decision in 1969.

In 1983, as a young journalism teacher, I took a job at Hazelwood East High School.  I was told by a school official that there was a “small problem in the journalism classes”.  I learned that legal action had been started over an issue with the previous school newspapers printing something the principal found unacceptable and that I had two of the students in class who were involved.

This, of course, led to the Hazelwood School District vs. Kuhlmeier case and the influence it has had on many student journalists. I left in 1985 before the decision was handed down in 1988, but it has always been a memory I have as a journalism teacher.

In 1996, my husband was working for a small high school in St. Louis County when he was asked as the audio-visual technician to film a student play which was found to have profanity and other material that the principal and district officials objected to.  The teacher, Cissy Lacks, was fired, and another court case began in the area of student expression as Lacks vs. Ferguson Reorganized School District .

These three cases affected me, and I write about them now because of what I think young student journalists should learn about these cases and many others.

These cases involved real people and real issues.  They should not just be a line in a journalism textbook and gone over quickly in a classroom.

Students would benefit from having these cases and others that can be found on the SPLC and JEA sites discussed at length.  Students need to know the particulars of the cases.  Maybe, they will  disagree or agree with the court decisions; perhaps, they will question the reasons these cases went to trial.

Two quotes on history stand out to me as a teacher.

One is “Don’t get stuck in the past-use it to fuel the future.”

Another is “The past is where you learned the lesson. The future is where you apply the lesson.”

Teaching has been called the essential profession by some.  Another such essential profession is journalism, I believe.  We owe it to our students to have them learn the history of the First Amendment cases and that they were not just dry words in a big book, but cases that changed lives.

Katherine Graham was forced to take over the leadership of the Washington Post  in 1963 when her husband died.  She had not done this before, but had deferred to her father and husband on the running of the paper.

When it was time to discuss publishing the Pentagon Papers, she had to decide what would happen to the paper as her stockholders and lawyers told her not to do it.  But, she made the decision with the words “Let’s publish” !    This is another story that young  women journalists can be inspired by reading about Graham’s life.

Real people and real struggles occurred to keep journalism alive and thriving.

Let’s not only publish ideas and stories and photographs, but let’s teach where the foundation that allows us to do or not do certain things in journalism came from. Teach students the history of legal cases in journalism with detail and determination to make them aware of the people and their lives who got themselves involved.

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