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The Ides of March

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by Ellen Austin

What is it about March? Even Shakespeare noticed it, putting the soothsayer’s warning out to Caesar about the time span that begins this week.

So the bad news from the early Ides of March rolls in …

I read with great surprise and shock this weekend the news that a well-known and professionally recognized colleague posted to a Listserv about losing his current position as a journalism adviser at in suburban Chicago.

It reminds me of a quote attributed variously to Saddam Hussein, Stalin, and others of that ilk whose names have become synonymous with suppression: “If you have a person, you have a problem; no person, no problem.”hazelwoodcolor

The ultimate form of censorship is eliminating a person’s ability to do or say the thing which might cause concern. It’s also the pernicious form of censorship that too many high schools and universities have used to quell and control the student voices they really wanted to affect.

That adviser is one of our very best, a leader who has devoted himself not just to his students but to the greater cause of scholastic journalism, including outside-of-school service to JEA and state journalism organizations.

If you’re reading this, know that you are also “skin in this game.” It’s not just about this colleague or others whose names flash by on the marquee of a Listserv. It’s about all of us, and the collective work we do. We work at the flash point in our schools, the place where we really get to see what kind of climate of free expression exists on our campuses. I remember being told by a mentor early on, “Be prepared: you will probably lose your advising job at some point, if you’re doing it right.”

Earlier this week, my colleague Paul Kandell and I are heading over to neighboring Mountain View High School to sit in on the board meeting in which the journ advisers are being asked to discuss their programs. Amy Beare, the adviser to the Mountain View Oracle, will be presenting to the board, with (I hope) a room full of supportive parents and students around her.

It’s Monday, and only a couple of weeks after our celebration of Scholastic Journalism Week. This is hard, but meaningful work that we do.

What am I trying to say here? Guess I don’t really know. Mostly, here’s my Monday note to say that this is a hard hard job — and one which sometimes requires us to say, “How much do I believe in this? How strongly can I stand for what I believe? How willing am I to face the cost that may come with standing?”

Good luck to all of us this week as we go through our classes and our deadlines. I will be crossing my fingers tonight across town in the hopes that a neighboring school board sees that student free expression is a scary, but wonderful thing. Love that U.S. Constitution.

Ellen Austin is Dow Jones News Fund Teacher of the Year for this year

 

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