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Transparency helps keep air in the balloon

Posted by on Oct 31, 2021 in Blog | Comments Off on Transparency helps keep air in the balloon

Photoillustration by JBowen

by Stan Zoller, MJE

Al McGuire, the late basketball coach at Marquette University, used to remind folks that championship basketball wasn’t all “seashells and balloons.”

I suppose you could apply that to just about anything – life, final exams, losing a close game or even journalism.

No matter how many laws are passed, policies adopted and awards won, getting that story isn’t, wait for it, all seashells and balloons.

You just don’t go out and get the perfect source, have the editors love your first draft and the hierarchy throw roses at you when the story runs.

It ain’t all seashells and balloons. 

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Active censorship or community protection?

Posted by on Oct 26, 2021 in Blog | Comments Off on Active censorship or community protection?


Two Ohio high schools have now canceled fall productions of the same LGBTQ-themed play

by John Bowen, MJE

Two points.

Two Ohio public school systems.

The first point is about two student performances of ‘She Kills Monsters’ killed this fall.

Students at Hillsboro High School in southwestern Ohio faced the news of the play’s cancellation after rehearsals had begun, about a month before the production was to open. Students there faced opposition from some parents and a pastor who supported cancellation of the play because one character is implied to be gay. 

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Free Speech Week:

Posted by on Oct 14, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments


Which journalistic change can best enhance free expression,
ensure essential information and restore trust?

by John Bowen, MJE

The past two years brought concepts previously unfamiliar to scholastic journalism: asynchronous, hybrid and Covid. Students and advisers practiced new techniques: Zoom, safe distance, remote interviews and more created individually in schools nationwide.

For some journalism programs it was a time of implementing creative change. Others scrambled to publish at all, but creatively attempted to fill gaps caused caused by limited school programs. Some faced bans dictated by community or school rules on publishing photos of school figures without masks, to showing too many students within a six foot space. Teachers and administrators danced swiftly to discuss legally and ethically sound solutions.

Because participants in the long season of change developed new methods or gathered gumption to tackle issues again, and they could have a multitude of issues to tackle.

All just in time for Free Speech Week, Oct. 18-24.

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Keep fighting Censorship:

Posted by on Oct 3, 2021 in Blog | Comments Off on Keep fighting Censorship:


Banned Books Week doesn’t need to be over yet 

by Candace Perkins Bowen

Free speech is free speech, whether it’s an article students want to publish about unsanitary bathrooms or a book for an English class that delves into a sensitive – but vital —  topic. We need to support everyone’s right to access or publish sometimes unpopular subjects. It’s the only way we can improve our world.

Art included is what JEA had when it announced
One Book was “The Hate U Give”

That was the idea in 1982 when Banned Books Week first began. And this year’s Sept. 26 – Oct. 2 event is something journalism teachers may want to carry on a bit longer. Its theme is “Books unite us. Censorship divides us.”

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, annually compiles lists of challenged books, according to what teachers and librarians see across the country. Some things are clear: There’s a pattern in the topics although the books often are ones educators choose to enlighten their students and ones that can make a difference. Look at the list of the “Top 10 Challenged Books of 2020.”

This list appears in an “Education Week” story, posted Sept. 30, headlined, “Calls to Ban Books by Black Authors Are Increasing Amid Critical Race Theory Debates.”* More on that issue later. First, look at the books and Education Week’s explanations.

  1. George by Alex Gino. Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community.”
  2. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. Banned and challenged because of the author’s public statements and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people.
  3. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism and because it was thought to promote antipolice views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now.”
  4. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint, it was claimed to be biased against male students, and it included rape and profanity.
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of the author.
  6. Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin. Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote antipolice views.
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience.
  8. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes and their negative effect on students.
  9. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse.
  10. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Challenged for profanity, and because it was thought to promote an antipolice message.

You may be surprised – or maybe not, if you have run into problems – but at least two of them are classics, taught for years, and offering such valuable lessons as the value of “climbing in someone else’s skin and walking around in it” and kindness matters (thank you, Harper Lee and John Steinbeck). What other valuable lessons do students learn from these books?

Note some of the books are a problem, according to the would-be censors, because they have a “negative effect on students,” or “contain a political viewpoint,” or are “too much of a sensitive matter right now,” or “don’t reflect the values of our community.” 

But how better to learn about some of these problems than through the eyes of a skilled author, presented by a trained educator?

What did the Education Week story reveal about Black authors’ books being banned? Although for some there’s been a long-standing concern about introducing more diversity in schools, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for intellectual Freedom, told reporter Madeline Will, ““We’re seeing a real effort to stigmatize any works dealing with race in America or the experience of Black, Indigenous, or people of color under this rubric … of critical race theory, even though these works have nothing to do with critical race theory.”

One book on the list is “The Hate U Give Us,” by Angie Thomas, the 2018-2019 JEA One Book choice. This has also been accused of making white students uncomfortable. Kimberly Parker, a literacy consultant and the co-founder of #DisruptTexts, dedicated to bringing more diverse books into schools, is quoted in the Education Week article, as saying some people just don’t want to be uncomfortable, but “children are aware of race. I think it’s our responsibility to really make our classrooms spaces where we can have conversations and the discourse and the dialogue that we need to be able to put young people out in the world.”

Connie Fulkerson, an integral part of JEA’s staff for more than 30 years who died this summer, captured it well in the explanation of why that book was chosen: “As advisers, we teach our students to share their voices and that good journalism is active in nature. If something our students write evokes change or sparks conversation, then they’ve succeeded. We’ve seen our students cover — and be at the center of — movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo and #NeverAgain. And while nonfiction can be a powerful source of change, sometimes a novel comes along at the exact moment that it’s impossible to ignore.”

With that spirit, we should be sure our students know the value of sometimes uncomfortable literature and be a generation that will fight for continued access to books that explore issues they want and need to explore and understand.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, someday, we didn’t NEED to have a Banned Books Week?

*Microsoft Word seems to be judging content here…..If I click on that hypertext, it says. 

Microsoft Office potential security concern: 

Hyperlinks can be harmful to your computer and data. To protect your computer, click only those hyperlinks from trusted sources. This location may be unsafe:

/Users/cbowen/Desktop/Calls to Ban Books by Black Authors Are Increasing Amid Critical Race Theory Debates

So here is the complete URL.


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Who made the cut? Start your school year with a Voices Audit

Posted by on Aug 20, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments


by Kristin Taylor, MJE

One of the highest callings of journalism is to “give voice to the voiceless.” Constitution Day is a great time for journalism staffs — digital, print or hybrid — to evaluate their coverage from the year before and see how fully they’ve met that goal. 

Before starting the process, I suggest having students make predictions, even if they weren’t on last year’s staff.

How many people do they think last year’s staff covered? How balanced was their coverage of various areas? Can they think of any voices they might not have covered as well as they could have? Did any voices dominate? Were the students they used as sources throughout the year representative of the school population?

These gut feelings are often wrong, and comparing what they think they covered to who they actually covered can provide an important reality check.

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Celebrate roles student news media can bring to a democratic society; honor, envision and practice free speech

Posted by on Aug 20, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments


JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee hopes to help you and your students celebrate their free speech rights this year. Constitution Day, observed on Sept. 17 each year in commemoration of the signing of the United States Constitution, is an excellent time to do it. 

This year we provide lesson materials ranging from exploring impactful, recent Supreme Court cases to applying the democratic political philosophy of John Dewey and how to use modern planning tools to improve coverage. 

We have a quick Constitution-review crossword as well as an additional blog post to help you and your students audit if your coverage was as comprehensive as you’d like.

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