Reflecting (on) Democracy: Why Journalism Matters - National Council of Teachers of English
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Reflecting (on) Democracy: Why Journalism Matters

This is #10 in a bi-montly series by NCTE member Alana Rome.  

Alana Rome

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my time in Montclair University’s Leadership Associates Program and how it prompted me to discuss scholastic journalism’s ability to nurture “the whole child.” It wasn’t until I received the Spring 2016 issue of Student Press Law Center’s Report magazine, though, that I realized another of LAP’s widely discussed topics also related to the importance of scholastic journalism: democracy.

In “Momentum swings toward legal protections for student journalists,” SPLC Executive Director Frank D. LoMonte said, “Scholastic journalism is finally receiving recognition as a resource worth saving, in part because of the recognized national crisis in preparing young people to participate intelligently in the political process.”

It wasn’t until I read LoMonte’s words that I realized the discussions I had all week at Montclair actually related not only to theoretical democracy in the classroom, but also, quite literally, to our country’s democracy outside the classroom. And that’s where the importance of scholastic journalism lies.

My first year teaching journalism will be a particularly special one because we are in the midst of arguably one of the most controversial and discussed president elections in our nation’s history. Coverage is abundant and ripe for discussion in a journalism classroom. Now is the best time to teach students how to use the news to inform themselves of presidential platforms, to analyze and evaluate the credibility of the news outlets in their coverage, or to read up on platform issues and see which ones line up with students’ beliefs and values.

Although not every school has a journalism program (which, consequently, is the crusade behind this entire blog series), these activities can certainly align with Common Core State Standards and find an appropriate place in the English classroom.

Without the analysis and inquiry taught in journalism, students may not take the time to educate themselves on issues that directly affect their lives, even though at least a quarter of them are old enough to vote and sway the polls. They may not even feel compelled to partake in the democratic process at all. This lack of civic participation goes against everything we hope to instill in our students.

Cutting scholastic journalism programs, however, is not the only thing stifling the survival of citizen participation in and preservation of our democracy; in many states, secondary and collegiate administration censorship is impeding students’ rights to free speech, as well.

In his“letter from the editor” for the Spring 2016 issue of Report, LoMonte includes a quote from U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. when she spoke to the Senate in March regarding such censorship: ‘“That is not an environment that values and empowers student voices,’ …‘and it’s not a climate that is conducive to effective and learning civic participation. We can and must do better.’”

This silencing from administration, unfortunately, does not cease when students graduate high school; a place typically known for increased academic and social freedom, the collegiate world is also experiencing bouts of censorship, as well; but that, I’m afraid, is a whole other topic for a whole other blog post…

Alana Rome is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterly and has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting.