07/04/2013 04:16 am ET Updated Sep 03, 2013

And You Thought Censorship in China Was Bad, Look at Scholastic Journalism in America


As we celebrate our country's birthday July 4, 2013, we need to think about what attracted us and our ancestors to this nation. In one word: freedom. Freedom of speech, of religion, to congregate... all spelled out in the Bill of Rights. Most of us enjoy these freedoms, but there is one group that does not enjoy First Amendment Rights and that group is our children in the public schools.

The Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier decision, passed in 1988, gives principals and advisors the right to prior restraint of the student press. The justices claimed that the student press was not a "public forum" for expression. Administrators argued that they need to make sure that the school environment is conducive to teaching and learning. They don't want stories that could disrupt the educational atmosphere of the school

This was poor judgement on the part of the justices since the purpose of the student press is to encourage students to participate in the public forum. In fact, the student press is a public forum for students. Its role is to encourage training for a democratic society. Where are students supposed to practice their democratic skills? Kids don't want to be told what to write about all the time.

Why are we depriving our kids of this training? It appears that one of the main reasons is that administrators don't really want to know what kids think. It might damage their reputation. So we are failing to teach important skills because schools are worried about what the community thinks. Not a good choice; the skills are more important.

Unfortunately, student press in high schools today is on the decline because schools are now teaching to the test even though we have an explosion of citizen journalism on the web. Shouldn't we be training students how to write for the web and about the ethics of the press? It actually should be required training in all English classes. This is the 21st century, after all, where all kids should be able to search intelligently, distinguish between fact and opinion, and understand the difference between copyright and Creative Commons licensed work so they can respect copyright.

However, instead many schools are trying to reduce their budgets and focus on the state testing. A recent article in The New York Times talks about the number of programs just in New York City that have been cut.

What a short sighted view on the part of administrators and school board members; scholastic journalism is one of the most effective project based learning programs available to students. Kids learn how to pay attention to what is going on in the world as well as write, collaborate, and use technology effectively. The student press is usually the center of the campus and definitely a forum for student opinion in states where Hazelwood does not rule.

So what can you do about it? Talk to your school board members, write articles in your local paper, talk with the school administrators, and most of all support your school's journalism program. Let's see what we can do to respect our students and give them the First Amendment rights that they deserve. And let's celebrate our nation's birthday and the freedoms we enjoy.