Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dear Principal Man,

I'm writing to you as an alumnus of both Our Humble High School and the student newspaper staff. I graduated as one of the school's valedictorians and one of the paper's editors-in-chief in 2002, earned my bachelor's degree in 2006 from Northwestern University and now work as a reporter in New York. I'll admit to not having read the student newspaper since my younger brother, also a former editor-in-chief of the publication, graduated in 2007. But this morning I saw the editorial, "Save the sex for after school." I am not writing in outrage over the article's perceived pro-teen-sex slant, as I understand some parents have, but out of concern that the administration is considering censoring the newspaper in the future because of the editorial.

As someone who wrote perhaps more than her fair share of articles, columns and editorials that criticized the school and its policies, upset more than a few parents, were sometimes perhaps deliberately provocative and surely occasionally caused your predecessor to wonder why he had not taken an easier job - say, triage surgeon - I would like to make only one argument against censoring the student newspaper.It is not the importance of teaching students about the freedom of the press, not only for the self-important aggrandizing that goes with it, but also for the lesson that with that freedom comes the responsibility to use good judgment in choosing how and when to exercise that freedom and the understanding of what happens when journalists of any age choose to write something that will be unpopular regardless of whether they were justified in their decision.

It is not because censoring the paper might discourage students from pursuing a career that - though not dead by any stretch of the imagination - has surely seen better days.

And it is not because that editorial is incredibly tame compared to a wide range of content legally and easily accessible to students in other newspapers, magazines, books, movies, television and not least of all, the Internet.

It is because the only real effect censoring the student newspaper could have would be to discourage some of the school's most engaged students from caring about their fellow students, their school and themselves.

In the student journalists who wrote that editorial, you no doubt have the students who work through their lunch period in order to report and write articles on the accomplishments - and yes, sometimes also the hijinks - of their fellow students. To produce a student paper that has been repeatedly honored as among the best, if not the best in the state. I can't speak to the extent of the issue the editorial identifies at WS. If students really are taking to the cafeteria, the locker rooms, the woods or what have you to have sex during the school day, that is a problem that the school should certainly make every effort to deal with. Regardless of the politics involved in underage teenagers having sex, I certainly agree with the authors of that editorial that students should not be having sex on school grounds or when they're supposed to be in class.

But that is the point. The reporters who wrote that piece are on your side here. This was not a tongue-in-cheek piece giving the wink-wink-nod-nod to the problem, this was an expression of genuine disgust and disapproval. I can all but promise you that the authors of this editorial are not the students searching out the latest sex spot on campus. Censoring the paper won't solve the problem of students having sex on school grounds, and it certainly won't guarantee you'll never again have to deal with the headache of angry parents. But it will guarantee that the school will discourage some of its most engaged students, when the school's job is to push students to learn and to care.

I hope that I have not taken up too much of your time and that you will consider and find useful both my thoughts and the words of some of my fellow alumni that you have surely already received and will continue to receive. Of course, ultimately the school is responsible neither to angry parents nor to angry alumni, but to the students who now pass through its halls and who will enter its classrooms this fall and the one after that. In considering this matter, I urge you to act in their best interest.

Editor Girl

A note from Mrs. Scribe: Principal Man has received dozens of like-minded e-mails from alums, concerned parents, parents of alums and even Ella Numera Una & Ella Numera Dos in recent days. Although yesterday's meeting with Your Humble Scribe lasted 2 hours, & acrimony prevailed, he has decided not to censor the student paper.


Jen said...

Nice post and well thought out. Haven't been following this saga as I just started reading your blog but I seem to have gotten the gist of what's going on. Sounds like there are some very thoughtful students out there to balance the blissfully unaware ones.

The Lucky Mrs. T said...

Over from SITS, and read your other post regarding the story.

I can see parents being in the dark, but where on earth is the lunch lady?

Kids obviously know what's goin' on - and where - and if they feel strongly enough to voice opinions about it.... administration should take heed and listen....

Great Post!

Ashley said...

Yay!!!! The Scribe wins!! And the students win! Justice is served!

Sean Hogan said...

The Lip strikes back!

Columbia Lily said...


And what a well-written letter. Well done, as I am sure you were her teacher.

Cairo Typ0 said...

Hi, visiting from SITS! :) Excellent post in its entirety!

I'm glad the administration listened to reason.

LadyStyx said...

very awesome

HappyChyck said...

That letter is certainly a voice of reason! I'm glad the principal had two sides of the story. And cheers to you on your tenacity and courage!

Marrdy said...

Congrats on your freedom victory. Glad Principle Man could see the light.

Karen & Gerard Zemek said...

Great victory! Glad the PM did not censor the paper. I think it's good the students cared about the problem and wrote about it!

Congrats on your SITS day!


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