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Start the year by promoting journalism skills,
not just defending your programs

Posted by on Aug 13, 2012 in Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Fern Valentine

Sadly, many journalism advisers are having to defend their programs in an educational environment that concentrates on basic skills that are needed to pass national or state tests. However, employers interviewed across the country are looking for applied skills that they say are not found in most high school or even college graduates.

In “Are They Really Ready to Work?” employers listed clearly the applied skills they want in new entrants to the 21st Century U.S. workforce, and 100 percent of them are integral parts of a student-run publications program.

They define “applied skills” as those skills that enable new entrants –recently hired graduates from high school, two-year colleges or technical schools and four-years colleges– to use the basic knowledge acquired in school to perform in the workplace.

The study’s findings indicate applied skills on all educational levels trump basic knowledge and skills such as Reading Comprehension and Mathematics. They say that while basic skills are still fundamental to any worker’s ability to do the job, applied skills are “very important” to succeed in the workplace.

Among the most important skills cited by employers were Oral and Written Communications, Teamwork/Collaboration, Professional/Work Ethic, and Critical Thinking/Problem Solving.

Other necessary skills listed were: Information Technology Application, Diversity, Leadership, Lifelong Learning/ Self Direction, Creativity/Innovation, and Ethics/ Social Responsibility.

Sounds like a great journalism curriculum to me.

These skills are clearly developed and strengthened in the publications classroom where student editors lead the staff.

By working as a team producing school publications, students learn practical lessons in communication and in civic responsibility. They write for an audience of their peers instead of for their teachers. They research by interview rather than just by internet searches, developing oral communication skills not taught in other classes. They develop critical thinking skills, learn to meet deadlines, and work within a budget as part of a team.

Presenting their work in a graphically attractive manner is another unique skill practicing the very technology employers want and need.

Even more importantly, students learn first hand the civic lessons our forefathers intended when they built a free press into our democracy.

Project-based learning provided by working on a publications staff clearly prepares students for the working world. These skills are enhanced when the students themselves solve the problems and take responsibility for what they publish. The more involved they are, the more they learn.

Working on a publications staff, led by trained student editors, clearly prepares students for future careers, not just a journalism career, but any career. Employers say over and over that they want to employ people with the skills students clearly learn on publications staffs.

See for the full 64 page report compiled by four organizations jointly surveying over 400 employers across the United States.

School districts across the country are cutting journalism programs from their curriculum. They clearly don’t realize the enhanced learning opportunity they provide.

Other districts restrict those learning opportunities because they are afraid to let students practice some of the skills employers say they want like ethics, social responsibility, self direction and leadership. Ironically, that restriction not only inhibits learning, it opens the district to greater liability.

Advisers are fighting to retain their programs when school districts seem to emphasize only classes that “teach to the test.” Advisers need to stress that along side the obvious writing skills, publications offer unique opportunities to learn lifelong skills that will help their students succeed no matter what career path they follow.

Advisers need to stress that students learn by doing and may need to call on former students, now successful in their chosen careers, to write administrators and school board members about the importance of the unique skills they learned by working on a student-run publications staff.

Only a few members of publications staffs will seek journalistic careers, but they will all be more informed consumers of the media and understand its essential role in a democracy.

When students are allowed to work responsibly as a team with the freedom to make creative and innovative choices, they learn and practice all the applied skills employers in all fields seek in their work force.

Districts need to recognize and encourage open forum publication programs not restrict or eliminate them. Advisers need to continue to make administrators and school boards aware of the unique learning opportunities a student-run publication can provide.

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Standing up for what is right in Missouri: stopping SB54

Posted by on Aug 30, 2011 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

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.

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Need arguments to empower your journalism program? Check these out

Posted by on Aug 25, 2011 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


The school year is just starting and already those who want to control student thinking and decision-making are hard at work.

In an Ohio school that boasts the state’s highest testing scores, prior restraint started last year and a nearly 20-year adviser was removed against her will over the summer. The reason given, one heard so often over the last six months, was the administration wanted to go in a different direction.

In Indiana, an adviser was stripped of journalism classes and the publication subjected to prior review. The reason: too many typos and grammatical errors. The principal might not even be conducting the private review; instead, that might be the job of a committee of students, faculty and others.

Thanks to the New York Times, teachers and advisers like the ones above, ones who face administrative control or work for those who don’t see the value of journalism to promote authentic learning, now have something to promote their values.

In using The Learning Network coverage for their Student Journalism Week, The Times provides advisers with an opportunity to reinforce the myriad of scholastic journalism positives by making creative use of the following topics:

A Guide to Rights and Responsibilities
The Value of  School Newspapers
• Three Benefits of  Newspaper Programs
• Using News Models for Authentic Writing
Resources for School Newspaper Advisers

These articles present principles that should enable all of us to embrace and spread the values of scholastic journalism either in our own schools or with others who need to know what we so strongly believe:

Scholastic journalists, when empowered and trusted, produce coherent reporting and thinking in authentic, accurate and substantive communication.

And that is what education is all about.

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