15 April 2008

Things That Are Wrong

When I was in high school, I occasionally worked on the school paper. I was never a staff member, more of a volunteer that occasionally wrote poor movie reviews. The adviser to the paper was Linda Kane, who was also the journalism teacher.

I won't invent stories about how my work on the paper changed my life, but it did teach me some very valuable things about writing, about composition, brevity and most importantly, editing.

Under Kane's supervision, the paper, the Central Times, gained national exposure from the New York Times for its investigative journalism, which resulted in censorship by then-principal Tom Paulson, a bill passed by lawmakers in Illinois, and a veto by Governor Jim Thompson. It was the recipient of nine National Scholastic Press Association Pacemaker awards in 19 years, given annually to 20-25 of the best student papers in the country.

The Central Times recently published a series of stories about marijuana use, three pieces, which the subject was treated frankly and featured the use of swear words in direct quotation. From the Chicago Tribune:

Kane said she got e-mails from administrators expressing their disappointment with the stories shortly after the package was published. Naperville Central Principal Jim Caudill and Student Activities Director Lynne Nolan visited the newspaper staff March 3, when Caudill said the newspaper's policy on the use of profanity should be changed, Kane said.

She and Central Times' editors refused, saying they had adapted the policy, which allows profanity in a direct quote if the words "are imperative to the content or meaning of that quote," from the Student Press Law Center, an advocacy group for student press rights.

But an interview with the Daily Herald got Kane into deeper trouble. She contended in a March 7 article that Caudill and other administrators "don't know squat" about 1st Amendment law. Then, she said Caudill "is all about PR and doesn't want any bumps in the road."

Kane was asked to resign. She refused.

She was fired.

I find this troubling for many reasons. How can we expect students to read the big boy newspaper when we deny them the ability to participate in its dialogue? It is a hopelessly misguided notion to deny the student paper to write about topics that actually matter to its readers. Students smoke pot at Naperville Central. I know this for a fact. The student body is well aware of this fact.

If the appearance of an article of this nature is deemed inappropriate for students, does that mean that the New York Times or the Chicago Tribune is also inappropriate?

I added the Tribune article to Digg. Please visit and Digg it (for the non-initiates, this means to vote for the article to raise it's ranking and exposure). I also added it to Reddit, if you've got a minute.

We shouldn't reward our most talented educators with termination.


Cayman said...

Parents and the school administration seem to just want to avoid the real issues that students are facing today. If we don't teach our youth to address issues (like drug use) what are they going to do when they are forced to deal with them as adults? I know, they'll become the leaders of corporate America who are so good at avoiding issues and passing the buck.

Bubs said...

I think that we're going backwards in terms of what can be honestly discussed in a school setting compared to 20 or even 10 years ago.