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‘Whad’ya know?’
New teachers should answer, ‘Law & ethics!’


by Candace Bowen
As Wisconsin Public Radio’s Michael Feldman asks each week, “Whad’ya  know?” Sadly, even some secondary school journalism teachers with proper credentials can answer, like Feldman’s audience, “Not much!”

At least that appears to be true when it comes to law and ethics.

And some teachers don’t know much because no one required them to learn much to get their jobs.

Case #1:  My own state — Ohio — has Integrated Language Arts licensure, a common sort of “mile wide, half inch deep” curriculum that means pre-service teachers study something about English, speech, theater and journalism, but not necessarily much about any one of those.

In addition, the state Department of Education approves each college’s curriculum, but anecdotal evidence indicates some higher education programs don’t stick to what they submitted for approval more than 10 years ago. Thus students graduate with little or no journalism, and what they do have is often only beginning newswriting.

Case #2: Other states that require SOMETHING often settle for English and really require no journalism at all. The recent unveiling of a map showing state-by-state requirements for teaching journalism had a few scholastic press association directors protesting when it looked like their states had requirements. Well…technically they do, but it’s true – requiring Elizabethan Literature or College Rhetoric 201 isn’t going to help a teacher spot libel. If English is the requirement, law and ethics stand a good chance of being overlooked.

Meanwhile, we’re tweaking the map so requiring SOMETHING doesn’t look the same as requiring JOURNALISM.

Case #3: What sounded like it had potential for putting a little oomph in credentialing, now has raised more questions than it’s answered. Suddenly it appears there’s a Praxis II Skills Test for journalism. Huh? Even though no one I’ve talked to who deals with journalism education in a variety of states had ever heard of this before or has been involved in its creation, suddenly it’s a test given in some states (not sure which) Nov. 3, 2012, and scheduled to be given two more times this year.

The Test at a Glance shows it contains 100 multiple-choice questions covering (I) Mass Media and Communication, (II) Journalistic Writing and Photojournalism, (III) Student-produced Media and (IV) Journalism in the School Community.

So where is law and ethics? Where do soon-to-be advisers show they know it’s illegal to just download that photo and say, “Photo compliments of”?  Who asks them if their publication should be a designated forum for student expression and why that would be important? When do they have to discuss the pros and cons of anonymous sources or how that could impact their student journalists? And the list of important legal and ethical issues could go on and on.

Is Praxis II, Journalism 0223 Skills Test something you know about, have seen, have taken? If so, I’m asking, “Whad’ya know?” and will you share it with me? If there’s some national test out there, it’s imperative that it includes law and ethics. That’s what I know… and thanks.

Candace Perkins Bowen

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*Editor’s note: This is part of a continuing series of rotating columns by commission members to appear Wednesdays. Megan Fromm will present best practices for teaching ethics; Jeff Kocur will discuss common problems student leaders and advisers face and how to overcome them; Candace Perkins Bowen will examine journalistic ties to teaching issues, like Common Core standards; Mark Goodman will write about current events and impact on law as it affects scholastic media and Marina Hendricks will address ethical issues and online journalism.

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