Things have been pretty quiet here since last fall. That’s because I’ve been busy laying the groundwork for an exciting new campaign to bring a proven model of student empowerment through civil liberties education and independent student publishing to public high schools across the U.S. Here’s the skinny. (Do people still say that?)
Way back in 1998, my friend Lisa O’Keefe and I founded a group called Free Student Press, which we launched the following year in Athens County, Ohio with the assistance of the Institute for Democracy in Education. Within a month, the first group of high school students with whom we worked had released the first issue of an independent student publication they called Lockdown. School officials reacted harshly — and extremely illegally. They confiscated copies, lied to students about their constitutional rights and vowed to suspend everyone involved. The principal threatened to effectively revoke the valedictorian’s class standing in an effort to make it more difficult for her to go to college, and he suspended another student for distributing a leaflet that criticized his actions. The school’s attorney, meanwhile, falsely accused the newspaper’s teenage creators of promoting violence and drug use. And it was most likely school officials who directed local police to illegally break up a lawful student meeting at a public park.
Crazy stuff, huh?
Unfortunately, as documented during the past five decades by acclaimed journalist Jack Nelson and the Committee of Inquiry into High School Journalism, the Student Press Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, both misinformation about student press rights and illegal censorship long have run rampant in our schools. If you’re like most Americans, you made it through more than a dozen years of public schooling and into adulthood without ever learning of students’ rights to distribute uncensored, independently produced student publications at public schools.
The landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 1969 declared that authoritarian public schools are not compatible with American democracy. “In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism,” the court wrote. But 46 years later, our schools mostly remain “enclaves of totalitarianism” which do a much better job of promoting alienated labor and submission to arbitrary authority than of promoting democracy through empowering education.
The student publishers of Lockdown, who I mentioned earlier, ultimately prevailed. They kept their paper, and their principal lost his job. And in recent interviews, some of Lockdown’s creators discussed the lasting, transformative impact the experience had on their lives.
Over the past eight months, documentarian Roger Hill (Flying Paper and Mental Rev Productions) and I conducted interviews with these former students and others, and we produced two videos — a feature length documentary of the Lockdown saga and explanation of the work of Free Student Press, and a condensed 8-minute video addressing some of the key points.
These videos are now the centerpieces — yes, two centerpieces, because this metaphorical table is too amazing to have just one! — of a 60-day campaign on Kickstarter to bring the work of FSP to public high schools across the country.
Already, superstar public intellectual Noam Chomsky has given this effort a thumbs up, calling Free Student Press “an imaginative initiative that has already attained success in engaging students in constructive dialogue and encouraging independent inquiry, thought, and action.”
I hope you’ll give the Kickstarter campaign look-see now! (And please let me know what you think by sharing your feedback there, or by emailing me at my address under the “contact” tab here.)
(SHORT) Free Student Press: Student Publishing, Empowering Education & Democracy
(FULL FEATURE) Free Student Press: Student Publishing, Empowering Education & Democracy