So, Friday was a good day.
What Friday demonstrated was that when an injustice – and I know that sounds huge and the slightest bit pretentious – is done, some people are still willing to stand up and do what is right. And the silence from the sponsor of the bill and the complete about face by the governor should tell you all you need to know about this law.
The outcry from teachers – and particularly journalism advisers – in Missouri was a bit of a sight to behold.
Honestly, I think Missouri teachers’ reaction to this bill may have been a reaction to things that have happened in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana over the past year, where teachers have been put in the crosshairs by politicians. And much like in those cases – particularly Wisconsin and Ohio – politicians have learned a lesson the hard way: do not mess with teachers.
Because while we are impossibly busy preparing your – and our – children to be the leaders of tomorrow, we will absolutely, positively no longer stand for this.
Even more impressive was the reaction of students.
Cameron Carlson, a former student at Marquette High School in Chesterfield, Mo., created a Facebook group in the days proceeding its signing into law. In less than a month, it has almost 1,000 members.
Devan Coggan, a recent graduate of Kirkwood HS wrote a letter to her local representative detailing her thoughts on the matter, after posting it on her Tumblr blog.
Students from four high schools across Missouri participated in a Google+ hangout with Aurora Meyer, from the Missouri State Teachers Association, as part of a press conference for their coverage of the issue.
And I can’t even begin to count the number of tweets sent on this matter.
So, lessons to be learned?
First, is that the First Amendment and social media are powerful tools. By taking to Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, opponents of SB54 used a little bit of social media jujitsu to help propel this law back in Sen. Jane Cunningham’s face. The irony of all this makes me smile.
Teachers in all states must be vigilant of what is going on in their state legislatures. I heard about this bill in the middle of July, shortly before Gov. Jay Nixon signed it into law. In the current climate of what is going on in state legislatures across the country, teachers (and their unions, see below) need to be on the ball and prepared to act quickly and decisively when they are threatened, no matter the type of law.
Union members need to hold union leadership accountable. MSTA stepped up to the plate and did its job to represent its members by filing the suit that led to the the injunction against SB54. MNEA did so to a lesser extent, trying to work with Sen. Jane Cunningham, who crafted the law. Honestly though, the offending portions of SB54 shouldn’t have ever made it out of committee, much less to the governor’s desk. There have been several things MNEA has helped stall or kill that many teachers would argue were more important than this bill, but missing this patently ridiculous and obviously unconstitutional portion of this law is a big miss.
Finally, educators – and journalism educators in particular – deserve leadership from the media. All too many of the state’s papers weighed in on SB54 after the heavy work was done.
I appreciate the support of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Joseph News-Press and any other media outlets that have weighed in, but editorial pages are a place to lead. At least that’s what I teach my students.
The fact the state’s major papers maintained radio silence over the course of most of August is shameful, particularly on a First Amendment issue.
by Matt Schott
A slap in the face. And an unexpected one at that.
When I first read SB54, that was my reaction. And not a slap to my First Amendment rights, either, though I believe those rights are threatened by the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act and informs much of the anger over this from journalism educators.
No, to me, this was a slap in the face to my professionalism, my credibility, my trustworthiness.
In any profession, these are the qualities people try to build and nurture. With a swipe of his pen, what Gov. Jay Nixon (and to an extent State Sen. Jane Cunningham, who wrote the bill) did was wipe away those three things which I hold dear. Because what he did was cast teachers into the same category of respect generally reserved for criminals.
SB54 essentially said teachers were not fit to maintain a professional relationship with the students whom they have taken great steps to build and nurture relationships, no matter the medium. While I consider myself to be well-versed in the field of journalism, I consider myself (and most good educators) to be better in the field of connecting with students where they are most comfortable. Good educators work to make sure they have positive relationships with their students. More than anything, it is what makes us good educators.
What Gov. Nixon and Sen. Cunningham have evidently forgotten is that private conversations happen all the time at school. On Aug. 16, a Tuesday, I had no fewer than six private conversations with students. All of them were about things relating to education. Some were simple, like asking for the definition of a word. Others about projects that have been assigned.
These two public servants obviously don’t know much about the public they serve. They should watch this. Facebook is the most trafficked site on the Internet and high school students have driven that traffic almost since the site’s inception. As it says on the linked video: “We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.”
By seeking to take educators out of the social media equation, Gov. Nixon and Sen. Cunningham have ensured Missouri students will “do social media” worse than students in the rest of the nation.
By seeking to take educators out of the social media equation, by not allowing educators to teach and model what a positive social media presence looks like, Gov. Nixon and Sen. Cunningham have made it that much harder for Missouri students to succeed in the digital marketplace.
By seeking to take educators out of the social media equation, Gov. Nixon and Sen. Cunningham have taken away an avenue – sometimes the only avenue they feel safe in – for troubled students to communicate with someone they trust: their teacher.
Gov. Nixon and Sen. Cunningham did have some successes with this bill, perhaps in spite of themselves.
By seeking to take educators out of the social media equation, Gov. Nixon and Sen. Cunningham have drawn the attention of the nation to the educational practices in our state and shown the nation that they, at least, don’t believe in the job Missouri teachers are doing. Thanks for your support.
By seeking to take educators out of the social media equation, Gov. Nixon and Sen. Cunningham have succeeded in making a difficult job more difficult. Not being able to communicate with trusted students in a medium they feel comfortable in inhibits the learning and success of all students. Thanks for the extra work, we need more of it.
And finally, by seeking to take educators out of the social media equation in Missouri, Gov. Nixon and Sen. Cunningham have angered a very vocal and active political force: educators. Make no mistake, teachers in Missouri are upset (to use a school appropriate word) by this law. Teachers in Missouri are conferring about this law. And soon, very soon, I hope teachers in Missouri will be working with wonderful organizations like the Student Press Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, to battle and overturn this ill-informed, poorly written and insulting law. You’re welcome. By giving the educators of Missouri a little bit more work to do, we’ll help you learn through experience and hopefully, as you reflect upon this once SB54 is overturned, you’ll have learned something.
All in a day’s work.
The principal of Timberland High School in Wentzville, Missouri, recently censored student articles on tattoos. Thursday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch posted an article about the censorship. Quickly, reader comments mounted.
The principal indicated he thought everyone could grow from this.
We’re not sure what he has in mind as growth, but we’re certain school officials or some of those who commented have not mastered understanding citizen roles in a democracy. Or understanding how students learn.
Which creates another scary day in scholastic journalism.
The principal also said he “is responsible for judging content based on what’s appropriate for students in the school and whether it supports the mission of the school.”
School missions, though, usually have verbiage about building better citizens and encouraging civic involvement. And that is appropriate.
Sadly, by censoring, school officials do not accomplish the most crucial mission they say is important.
Read the Post-Dispatch article. Read the student article linked from it. Read the comments.
Then think about school missions again.
… When will it end?
At least three more recent situations should make one think about the educational validity of prior review:
• One, in Missouri, concerns a story on tattoos. It also led to students changing the content of their paper.
• The second, in Ohio, concerns an obituary and photo. According to the Student Press Law Center, the principal said she knew it was censorship and did not care.
• The third concerns a principal changing quotes while reviewing. Hopefully, we will have more information on this soon.
Of course, some of these don’t involve just review. Review leads to restraint, without consideration of the education implications.
When will it end?
When we agree it has no educational value and convince our various communities to no longer support its use.
As much as we don’t want to see it or accept it, the number of student media being restrained grows rapidly.
• In Boonville, Mo, the superintendent stopped distribution of The Pirate Press reportedly because the paper had not been reviewed as it was supposed to be. Coverage in the local paper did not report reasons for the stoppage in its first article. Look for an update soon.
• In Arizona, former student journalists are pursuing legal action in an attempt to continue fighting censorship of their high school’s newspaper.
• In Oregon, an student editorial on a community project so angered a former school board member he threatened the adviser and administrators now require all articles, including editorials, to be bylined.
If you are aware of more instance like these, please let us know using this blog’s comments or contact the SPLC or JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission.
The more we know about censorship and its ally prior review, the more we help each other to fight them.