Pages Navigation Menu

Use real situations to teach law and ethics

Share

by Candace Bowen, MJE

Teaching student journalists about legal and ethical issues can be a challenge. Some of my pre-service teachers at Kent State always want student groups to research different law cases and then present their findings to the class, possibility re-enact the trial. Others want teacher lectures, a process that takes at least several days.

Neither work all that well. The former often pays little attention to what the decision means to student media now. (Sure, they can explain about wearing the armbands . . . , but how does that even relate to student media.) Besides, they’re not always very accurate dealing with legal research. And the latter can be pretty darned boring, even with the liveliest presentation.

The JEA curriculum (for members only) has lots of good lessons, as does the JEA Press Rights website.  But let’s think about another option that might have the benefits of all of these: roleplaying or just discussing in groups various hypothetical* (and sometimes NOT so hypothetical) situations.

I have developed quite a few that have worked successfully for me. Groups of three or four each get a scenario and must discuss how they would handle it if this happened at their school. Sometimes we do role playing and other times just discussion — it depends on the class. They first must look at the possible legal consequences, then the ethical and finally apply those to their actions.

Let’s try an example*: 

Your cartoonist decides to poke gentle (?!) fun at the football team, which has had a dismal season. His art shows a football player talking to a cheerleader. She asks, “How do you expect to do in the game tonight?” He answers, “We beat St. Eds six weeks ago.” She then asks, “How did you do against East Aurora last week?” He repeats, “We beat St. Eds six weeks ago.” And so on, covering all the weeks of the season so far. 

The coach, trying to build up the team’s sagging morale, is livid and berates the newspaper staff in the Friday pep assembly. How do you as a staff respond to him? In particular, does the adviser talk to him personally? Does the editor? Do others on the staff? Do you react in print? Does whether the team wins or loses the game that night make a difference in what the staff does in the paper? In fact, what is the game plan for the next issue? Consider first any legal implications. Then consider ethical ones.

Some hints: Take care of any legal possibilities first. What if the coach says this is libel? What if the principal says it’s disrupting the school process? The group will need to research those aspects or at least refresh their memories about what that takes and decide if they can role them out and move on.

Ethical considerations are many and varied. Should the adviser fight the battle for his/her students? But is it throwing them to the wolves to have editors or staffers face the coach? What if no one talks to the coach? Is the cartoon fair? Do cartoons need to be fair? What is their purpose? Who is helped and who is harmed by publishing this? If the team wins, did its members do so to prove the cartoonist wrong? Or is THAT unfair?

Ethical considerations are many and varied. Should the adviser fight the battle for his/her students? But is it throwing them to the wolves to have editors or staffers face the coach? What if no one talks to the coach? Is the cartoon fair? Do cartoons need to be fair? What is their purpose? Who is helped and who is harmed by publishing this? If the team wins, did its members do so to prove the cartoonist wrong? Or is THAT unfair?

Plenty of other discussions can grow from this and from other such scenarios. Students will think of much of what they should decide. As a teacher, going around and dropping suggestions might help them explore more deeply.

If you’re interested in seeing more situations I’ve used, I’m happy to share on future blog posts. After all, these give your students some group work, often lively but useful discussion, research, application and, finally,  assessment as they present their findings. And, from my experience, it’s anything but boring.

*This one really did happen — St. Charles (Illinois) High School (now St. Charles East) when I was advising there. I was only in my second year teaching/advising and was half afraid of the football coach whose room was next to mine. (I thought I heard him throwing things sometimes!) The cartoon was redrawn years later when I wanted to use this situation and didn’t have the original. But it’s pretty close……  

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.