Saturday, August 27, 2011

Jeffersonville High School Principal Wants More Control

HARBESON: Making a judgment of errors

I don’t understand the uproar surrounding Jeffersonville High School principal James Sexton’s desire to have more control over the school newspaper. The conflict is completely unnecessary.

If Mr. Sexton is being truthful that his concern is not about content, but rather about grammatical errors, typos and other mistakes, then there is a simple solution which would benefit everyone involved.

I propose that the students prepare a newspaper draft chock-full of the various types of errors the principal worries about publishing.

This idea has several benefits. First of all, purposely making mistakes requires a good understanding of the rules that govern any structured activity and can be a great way to learn. So as the students purposely insert errors into their stories, they will learn a lot about writing and journalism in the process.

Inserting errors will also give the students a chance to test the principal and I’m sure this twist would be a refreshing change for teenagers who have grown up with the stifling testing requirements of current state and federal law.

In addition, creating an error-laden draft will go a long way in dealing with a government school principal who craves control. I imagine Mr. Sexton would likely be very happy and content while spending time marking all the errors — using a red and white pen of course.

Perhaps best of all, as an added bonus for the student body at large, Sexton would have less time available to bother others who are actually trying to learn by doing, which includes the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.

This is the only idea I would bother pursuing. I just can’t recommend spending too much time getting involved in fights between government school employees when there is way too much available out here in the real world for teens genuinely interested in communication and journalism.

I understand they may feel trapped in regards to obtaining credits for their future goals, so I can’t blame them for jumping through the hoops and doing what they need to do, but past that I really encourage teenagers to spend their free time educating themselves.

Teenagers interested in journalism are old enough and smart enough to get out here and jump right in if they wish. It’s so easy and cheap to start your own journalism experimental lab nowadays — one of the easiest is to create a blog using freely available software.

In addition, there are many places to learn about journalism, much of it available for free. I almost missed my deadline because I lost track of time browsing all the resources available online for anyone wanting to learn about journalism.

In an environment where people share information about current events in real time and any cell phone camera can be used to produce video news content, teenagers know that the controls desired by this principal, such as the three-day prior review, would teach them little, if anything of value for a world that is moving at increasing speed.

No one knows how the journalism field will continue to change as technology moves forward.

So my message to teens is to go ahead and do what you need to do to get the credit if you must. But I strongly suggest you spend your free time actually practicing journalism outside of that system.

If you think you need help getting started, let me know. I’ll be happy to share the resources I’ve found and volunteer my time to help you in any way I can. You’ll find out soon enough you don’t need me anyway.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson is quite the expert at making mistakes but she’s still working on actually learning from them.

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