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Students, join movement to make change:
Mary Beth Tinker

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Mary Beth Tinker claps her hands while sining a song to high school students in the grand ball room on Tuesday October 1, 2013 at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. The engagement was part of the Mary Beth Tinker Bus Tour.(Photo by David Dermer)

by Mary Beth Tinker
The student uprising for safer gun laws is going to rock gun culture to its core.  It already has.

As it does, student journalists will be on the front lines, proving again they are not only the future, but the present.  In this, they also have an opportunity to join with student leaders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Parkland who promote youth voices often left out of student journalism, those of low income students of color.

This week, Parkland students met with students from Chicago, where gun death is  epidemic. Students discussed how gun tragedies affect their very different communities.

“Those who face gun violence on a level that we have only just glimpsed from our gated communities have never had their voices heard in their entire lives the way that we have in these few weeks alone.” –– Emma Gonzalez, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Parkland student leader

Emma Gonzalez, a student leader at Parkland tweeted,  “Those who face gun violence on a level that we have only just glimpsed from our gated communities have never had their voices heard in their entire lives the way that we have in these few weeks alone.”

Emma made a commitment to share the platform  Parkland students have established with “every person, black or white, gay or straight, religious or not, who has experienced gun violence,” saying “hand in hand, side by side, We Will Make This Change Together.”

In Baltimore, hundreds of students from different racial and economic backgrounds joined in a  walkout March 6 for a march to City Hall in protest of gun violence.  They expressed solidarity with Excel Academy, where seven students have been killed by guns in the last two years.

David Hogg, a student leader at MSD who is also a leader in broadcast journalism there,  tweeted words of support, saying “Yeah Baltimore!!!!!!!! Let’s do this !”

‘Tinker Tour’ finds common fears, causes among students
Last week, as part of my “Tinker Tour” to schools around the country, I visited with students at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Ward 8 of Washington DC. According to its website, “almost 100 percent” of the students in school are African American and 75 percent qualify for free lunches.

Students at Thurgood Marshall have lost two classmates this year from gun violence, Zaire and Paris.  Zaire’s twin brother, Zion, told me his brother was killed by a person wearing a prison ankle bracelet, and there should be more limits on who can get guns. Washington DC has strict gun laws, but guns flow in from elsewhere.

Zion’s father testified at President Trump’s ‘listening tour’ on gun violence, saying his tragedy began on Sept. 20 and the family struggles to recover from their grief.

Students at Thurgood Marshall Academy won’t express any of this in their school newspaper or in broadcast journalism class. Like most Washington DC students, they don’t have a journalism program. In fact, only a handful of high schools in Washington DC do.

One is Wilson High, where students at the award winning Beacon decided to do s

omething about that. With The Paper Project, student journalists at Wilson meet with students at schools where there is no journalism program to share skills and help with publications. They raise money through student fundraisers and contributions.

Too often, young people must endure policies they have had absolutely no part in making.  Funding for journalism is one. For some, cuts to journalism budgets are retaliation for articles. For others, journalism education was never an option to begin with. As I travel the country to schools and communities, that is most often the case, with  a “sliding scale”  for First Amendment rights, particularly student press.

Bringing these voices together as an issue in civics
Frank LoMonte, past director of the Student Press Law Center, advocates for an increased connection between civics and journalism, natural partners for an active citizenry. But, civics education shares the same gap that afflicts journalism education.

The Civic Mission of Schools, a coalition of civics organizations, cites this disparity and attributes it to an education system that a provides “far fewer and lower-quality civic learning opportunities to minority and low-income students.”

Despite all of this, young people find their voices and make them heard.

You can hear one of them, Jonothan Gray, in a powerful twitter video highlighting the coverage to gun violence in schools (mostly white students) compared to that out of school (mostly kids of color). Jonathan says in Baltimore, like so may places, gun violence “has become the norm.”

At a stop at Kent State University during her Tinker Tour in 2013, Mary Beth checks out the May 4 Visitors Center. Members of Ohio’s National Guard shot and killed four students in 1970 during a time of national protests against the Vietnam War. Photo by John Bowen.

Great movements begin from civic awareness, student voices
From great tragedy come great movements. The civil rights movement, also a story of the free press, was surely one. The current movement by students for safer gun laws, with walkouts and plans for rallies throughout the country Marcy 24 will be a story of the free press as well.

When I was 13 and in eighth grade in 1965, like the students, I was moved to action by great tragedy and great journalists. I watched the horrors of the Vietnam unfold on the evening news, with Walter Cronkite giving a daily “body count” to keep track.

A group of us in Des Moines, Iowa, including my brother, John, wore black armbands to mourn the dead and to promote a Christmas truce being proposed by Senator Robert Kennedy.

For doing that,  we were suspended.

The American Civil Liberties Union took our case to the Supreme Court, and in 1969, the Court ruled that neither “students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

The ruling was chipped away by three later rulings, with “Hazelwood v Kuhlmeier” in 1988 targeting student journalists and being the most harmful.

Young people are on the move.
They are winning in the court of public opinion, and they are winning laws to affirm the rights of young journalists through the New Voices movement.  Washington state is the latest, with the legislature voting for student journalists’ rights.

By coming together, young people will also win victories against gun violence. When they do, student journalists and advisers have a real opportunity to advance the First Amendment for all youth across the country.

3 Comments

  1. We in Washington state have a new law giving student journalists at public high schools and colleges press freedom. We have had two cases of school shootings. In the latest one in 2017, one boy was killed and two other students injured. Sadly, it did not receive much coverage because of that. We have had some stores refusing to sell assault rifles and many schools participated in the walk outs. Students can make a difference and their voice is being heard. Also, I am sure that these students will soon be voters and will support their views about gun violence at the polls. If only the ACLU had as much money as the NFA!

  2. Congratulations to everyone involved in the success of legislation in Washington for journalism students’ rights! It was a long path, with a lot of work, but you did it! Here’s to the free press, it’s definitely for students as well!!!

    • Today was like a dream come true! Now our next step is to educate advisers and administrators about what the new law means. It is a wonderful bill that spells out specifically the standards students will follow just as the Tinker bill all those years ago. It also provides protection for advisers and administrators who follow it as well. New Voices will be heard in the state of Washington!

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