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Beyond SJW: an education for reality


by Fern Valentine, MJE


During Journalism week, and every week for that matter, we need to stress the unique learning opportunities a publication class offers, unique learning they will be able to utilize no matter where they head after high school.

For example, while law is mentioned at least in social studies classes, in publication classes the students learn first hand the opportunities and limitations of U.S. law including, of course, the First Amendment, but also copyright, libel, etc.   They learn to check out their legal questions with free advice from the Student Press Law Center.  They learn to use their rights responsibly investigating topics of interest to their audience.

Speaking of their audience, instead of their teacher as an audience to their writing, publications staffs have their peers and other readers as their audience, making them take special care in getting everything right. Students learn to edit copy and apply all those grammar and punctuation rules they have been taught, but, in other classes, only their teachers have corrected.

In other classes, students today usually do their research on the Internet, copying and pasting materials with little or no thought to copyright or other legalities.  Publications student learn the rules involved in that copying and pasting.  Certainly, that instruction will be come more and more important in adult life where more liability is involved in that copying and pasting.

Moreover, students in publication classes do most of their research by interview instead of Internet.  Talking directly to sources, taking accurate notes, incorporating these quotes in stories and making sure they are balanced with quotes from other sources is a sellable skill taught in no other classes.  That skill will be useful in almost any career field.

In publications classes, students learn unique computer skills using complicated programs to create attractive products for their audience.   They learn to use photography, graphic design.  They often also create web pages to display their publications and may have Facebook pages as well.  Learning to use the Internet and social media responsibly is certainly a skill that administrators should recognize as important.

Working as team, working under strict deadlines, within a specified budget to create a product they are proud to distribute to their friends and peers as well the community builds skills that employers are seeking.  Few other classes teach these sellable skills.

Some publications students will seek careers in journalism or other related fields like public relations or advertising.  More important, all publications students will be better informed consumers of media more ready to evaluate the avalanche of information all Americans face daily.

Journalism teachers and students need to promote these unique learning opportunities and make sure administrators, school board members and the public are aware that when publications classes are not supported these opportunities are lost.

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