The Poky Little Pundit

The First Amendment Part 2: The Solution

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If only I had thought of this super clever play on words when I was teaching. #shakespeare watch out

If only I had thought of this super clever play on words when I was teaching. #shakespearewatchout

The Poky Little Pundit is going back to teaching next week. For two months. A dear friend has shitty cancer and so I am going to be her substitute while her white blood cells are decimated. Damn that cancer. I’m a little nervous because she is a hard act to follow. She is one of those people who, after five minutes’ discussion on any given topic, allows you to deduce that, in fact, you are not very smart at all. The kind of person whose desk drawers look like a picture out of Martha Stewart. Mine contain things like chewed gum, hair elastics and old York Peppermint Pattie wrappers. You get the idea. That doesn’t mean that the PLP gets time off, though. We teachers have so much free time that I can no doubt write this blog during class (Hilarious joke btw. We normally don’t have time for bodily functions, much less writing.)

I digress. To review, last week I discussed how the Hazelwood ruling has limited student speech rights. Today, I want to talk about how to fix it. So here’s what needs to happen:

1) WA state needs to follow Oregon’s example (and the example of six other states) and pass legislation offering stronger free expression protection.

2) Individual districts and schools need to give student editors the authority to make their own content decisions.

The second one is easy-peasy, since giving student editors autonomy also means absolving a school district of liability – a no-brainer if ever there was one. School districts need simply to alter policy language to reflect this change, and pat themselves on the back for supporting First Amendment rights for young people.

The first one is a lot harder. In fact, I’ve talked about doing it for six years, and have educated roughly 150 students on the issue, but I have made little progress. And it is my very impatience that has been my demise. Because in order for me to make meaningful change, I need to slow down. I need to learn the process. I have to learn how to write a bill. And then that bill needs to be supported by state legislators. And I need to go to Olympia and, like, lobby and stuff. Which basically sounds about as fun as tweezing my eyebrows (trick statement – I love doing that!). House Bill 1307 died for high schools in 2007. Six years later, no discernible progress has been made.

"The great moral attribute of self-government cannot be born and matured in a day; and if school children are not trained to it, we only prepare ourselves for disappointment if we expect it from grown men." - Horace Mann

“The great moral attribute of self-government cannot be born and matured in a day; and if school children are not trained to it, we only prepare ourselves for disappointment if we expect it from grown men.” – Horace Mann

So here’s where I have failed for the past six years. Even with my considerable energy and resources, I have failed to ignite a passion in my students sufficient enough that they actually want to take on this behemoth. I lack power. Students have the cache of being young, while I am just a teacher. And school teachers are about as well-respected as baristas in this city, only we don’t make good tips. Writing this blog is part of my solution – I am attempting to untangle how one arrives at a position of power without exploiting other people in the process.

I also struggle to demonstrate for adults the importance of the cause – I can’t seem to accurately convey the maddening frustration of leading a group of idealistic, intelligent young people to whom you must constantly say, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ And the reason you have to give them is, ‘because the Supreme Court gave your principal the right to control what you say.’ That is really what it boils down to, and I am not even being hyperbolic.

But even my students think I am hyperbolic. They say things like ‘It’s really not a big deal. Chill, Keogh. We’ll just re-write that story and take out ____.’ And while this kind of complacency in general horrifies me, I am consciously trying to avoid that whole ‘young people aren’t what they used to be’ trope. Adults are as guilty as young people are of undervaluing our system. Sure, the courts gave us Hazelwood, but I also know that the right words, in the right way, spoken by the right people could absolutely change that ruling. And that is just mind-bogglingly awesome.

I have pitched an idea to my old school that could easily be replicated in other student newspaper programs: A introduction to journalism class that combines history, civics and English. Students will focus on the role of journalism in our society; essentially, how writing instigates change. Classes will also contact local legislators, draft a bill, take field trips to Olympia to lobby for the bill and hopefully make some in-roads into furthering freedoms for all people. This is just one idea – and if you, dear reader, have any others, I await your suggestions with bated breath.

PLP Update: I am attending an all-day training session this Saturday with Progressive Majority – so excited to report what I learn next Tuesday!


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