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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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JEA-SPRC, SPLC condemn Neshaminy school district for
punishing newspaper editor, adviser
in ongoing fight over ‘Redskins’ name

Posted by on Sep 17, 2014 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Student Press Law Center and Journalism Education Association Scholastic Press Rights Commission condemned the actions of the Neshaminy School District in Pennsylvania Wednesday, following the District’s retaliatory and illegal actions calculated to punish thePlaywickian student newspaper, its editors and its adviser.

In response to an editorial board decision not to print the word “Redskins” because of its use as a racial slur, the administration handed down a decision this week to pull $1,200 of funding from the publication; to suspend its adviser, Tara Huber, for two days; and to suspend Editor-in-Chief Gillian McGoldrick from the newspaper until the end of September.

It has long been the law of this country that no government official can compel a student to speak or adopt words with which she disagrees. West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943). Imposing discipline for refusing to participate in the use of a racial slur is not only unconstitutional; it is un-American in the extreme.

These actions come at a time when a transparently illegal publications policy remains on the books at the District level, one that also purports to compel the use of certain words and attempts to hijack ownership of student work. These are, at their core, bullying tactics—forcing people to say words, then turn over their property.

Competent educators of good conscience would never resort to bullying tactics to perpetuate any ideology, let alone a racially offensive one.

We encourage the students to explore their legal options and urge the State of Pennsylvania to investigate whether the Neshaminy School Board members should be removed.

Contact:

Frank LoMonte, Executive Director, Student Press Law Center
703.807.1904 / director@splc.org

John Bowen, Director, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Commission
330.676.3666 / jabowen@kent.edu

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