How 'critical thinking’ at student newspapers is facing punishment by 'frightened adults': journalist
At Northwest High School in Grand Island, Nebraska, the Viking Saga, a student newspaper, was shut down after publishing some articles addressing gay and transgender issues. The Saga, which has been around for 54 years and was started in the late 1960s, published its final issue in June.
Journalist Margaret Renkl, in an op-ed/guest essay published by the New York Times on Labor Day 2022, lays out some reasons why the Saga’s demise is so regrettable. And she stresses that it is no coincidence that the publication was discontinued in a deep red state.
“There appears to be no limit to the willingness of red-state officials to politicize simple human decency toward LGBTQ students,” Renkl laments. “Decline to use the names and pronouns they wish to be called by? Check. Refuse to allow them to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender? Check. Prevent them from competing in school sports? Check. Force schools to out transgender students to their parents? Check, check, check.”
Renkl continues, “As Eduardo Medina pointed out in an article for The Times, the travesty at Northwest High School is only the latest episode in the increasing efforts to censor student publications across the red states, particularly when students are writing about LGBTQ issues. Even if you accept the argument that parents, not schools, ought to decide when and how children should learn about gender issues, shutting down a high school newspaper in which the writing and editing are done by the students makes no sense.”
“Critical thinking,” Renkl argues, is one of the “skills” that high school newspapers encourage — and she recalls her own experiences on a high school newspaper back in 1977.
“Student journalists practice formulating arguments and expressing them in written language,” Renkl explains. “They are obliged to recognize that different people hold different opinions, and they practice listening closely, word for word, to what other people say…. Working on my high school newspaper was the single greatest formative experience of my writing life — never mind that I have a graduate degree in writing. Like most high school students, I wasn’t a great writer, and some of the opinions I held then are opinions I repudiate now.”
The journalist adds, “But writing for my school paper taught me the power of words.… The first time I got in trouble as a student journalist, it was for writing a poll designed to discover how many teens in my high school were sexually active and in what ways.”
Renkl notes that the high school newspaper where she “got in trouble” for addressing a sex-related topic 45 years ago in 1977 was in the Bible Belt, not unlike the Viking Saga in 2022.
“It’s a time-honored tradition for parents to be terrified of the changing world their children will one day lead,” Renkl observes, “but student journalists are not the ones who created that world. Student journalists are only reporting on it. Faithfully and fearlessly, they are showing us what they observe and what they experience. They are telling us what they think it all means. The high school newspaper is not the enemy of frightened adults.”
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