By Damon Krane
August 15, 2015
Free Student Press never has been very controversial among school administrators. That’s because their opposition to FSP’s work has been nearly unanimous. Teachers, however, are another story. While many teachers have worked to keep students from knowing and exercising their press rights, many others have supported students in the struggle to make their voices heard — and that support for students has included support for Free Student Press.
Back in the day, one teacher took his class on a field trip to FSP’s first ever outreach event. Years later, another snuck me into her classroom without administrators’ knowledge and drew the blinds so I could teach her students about independent publications after their principal had begun censoring the official school newspaper. Now, several public school teachers are among those backing the Kickstarter campaign to revive and expand FSP. (If you care about these issues, I hope you’ll join them & encourage others to do the same!)
The written exchange below — between Grant Brayley, a public school music teacher, and Devin Aeh, FSP alum and publisher of the independent students publication Lockdown, and which occurred after the Southeast Ohio chapter of the ACLU honored Devin and co-publishers Mike Lannan and Jacob Thomas — is a great illustration of this controversy, even if it is mostly an account of teachers being supportive.
Another local teacher, Doug Brooks, chimed in to say, “I wholeheartedly agree with Grant Brayley’s assessment of the ‘crap’ that educators have to put up with.” However, Brooks added the following…
“One thing that I might disagree with Mr. Brayley on is the encouragement of our students to express themselves. I have learned, almost tragically, that far more damaging to our societal structure (read future) than low pay, lack of funding, and public confidence, is not teaching our young people to think for themselves and to express themselves. It is not giving them the skills that they need to survive.”
You can read Brooks’ full letter here.
To hear more from Devin and her classmates about Free Student Press and the experience of producing Lockdown, watch the documentary Student Publishing, Empowering Education & Democracy below.
One final note on teacher support for uncensored student expression: it’s not so easy. Not only can a supportive teacher puts his or her job at risk when that teacher goes up against hostile administrators, but sadly, teacher support can even open the door to censorship. In most states, it is legal for school officials to censor student speech within school-sponsored productions. And some courts have determined that a teacher’s assistance to an independent student publications is equivalent to the very school sponsorship that permits administrators to censor.
Furthermore, teenage students are inclined to see any adult speaking to them at school as a representative of a largely oppressive school system and adult society. That’s not only true for well-meaning teachers, but also for members of Free Student Press. In addition to outreach events held outside school, Free Student Press has been invited into classrooms on a few occasions, including the one I mentioned above. But only the events we’ve held with students outside of school have resulted in ongoing contact with students and students’ creation of independent publications. I think that’s another indication of just how hard our school system has made it for teachers to do work like this.
As I’m sure most teachers would agree, being a good teacher is an uphill battle. But classroom teachers who care about student empowerment and those of us who do FSP’s work outside of the classroom are natural allies.