Tuesday, December 2, 2008

YJI students write on everything from Mumbai attacks to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade

A new issue at www.ReadTheTattoo.com features journalism from a number of Youth Journalism International students that I know you'll want to check out soon.
Two of Youth Journalism International's teen journalists in India, Hashra Mishra and Janina Ramachandran, detail the terror of watching Mumba, the city of dreams, locked in battle with terrorists for three days last week.
Back in the U.S., three teen writers - Brice Birdsall in Oregon and two Connecticut reporters, Leah Igdalsky and Kiernan Majerus-Collins -- weighed in on Black Friday in the wake of the trampling death of a Wal-Mart worker in New York.
Speaking of New York, don't miss a brother and sister take on the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan. Kathryn and Matt Middleton, who live in Pennsylvania,tell what it's like to see the famous parade up close and personal instead of on television.
Birdsall also has a review of Twilight, the hit new vampire movie.
I failed to send out a notice about our last issue -- sorry for that oversight! -- but let's catch up now.
Genoa, Italy's Eugenia Durante wrote about a student protest against planned education cuts by the government while Mishra had a piece about Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.
Australia's Rebecca Baylis wrote her take on the election of Barack Obama, whose acceptance speech moved her to tears. And Connecticut's Justin Skaradosky had another of his great cartoons, too.
We're working on an election reaction package featuring the thoughts of more than two dozen young people in eight countries on five continents. It's an ambitious effort for Youth Journalism International, but we're getting there. You wouldn't believe how much material there is to try to organize coherently. When it's done soon, you'll appreciate the work that went into it.
As always, we're grateful for your support and any help that you can offer. We're eager for constructive criticism, tips, advice and any talented teens you may have in your life.
As the recent carnage in Mumbai makes clear once again, learning together about our world and the ties that bind us all, young and old, is an endeavor that's not merely nice, but perhaps the most important thing we can do. We're lucky to have so many wonderful young people in our broad Yoouth Journalism International family and so glad that their work is seen and appreciated by so many.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

YJI's first class proves a hit immediately

The first class of Youth Journalism International students, numbering 50 so far, began last week. There are students from 12 countries -- including Afghanistan, Vietnam and South Africa - and nearly all of them are new to our educational program. They're an outstanding, enthusiastic bunch, eagerly introducing themselves via email to one another and reaching out to every part of the globe.
In our first week, students wrote 15 pieces about the Olympics, including two by Zhu Qin Zhe, from China, who actually got to hold the torch as it came through her hometown last May. Their stories were published in the Sept. 1, 2008 edition of The Tattoo, an international teen-written newspaper.
We'll have much more to say about these talented teens soon.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Douchebags and freedom

Last April, a Burlington, Connecticut student named Avery Doninger got angry when the principal of Lewis Mills High School told her that a battle-of-the-bands contest called “Jamfest” would be postponed for a third time and, perhaps, not held at all.
Though exactly what Principal Karissa Niehoff said remains in dispute, there is no doubt that Doninger tried to get the decision changed by rallying students and parents. She sent a mass email and posted this on her livejournal blog:

jamfest is cancelled due to douchebags in central office. here is an email that we sent to a ton of people and asked them to forward to everyone in their address book to help get support for jamfest. basically, because we sent it out, Paula Schwartz is getting a TON of phone calls and emails and such. we have so much support and we really appriciate it. however, she got pissed off and decided to just cancel the whole thing all together.

Eloquent? No.
But as anyone who spends much time online knows, it’s pretty mild stuff. Basically, she got mad and called the principal as a “douchebag.”
A reasonable school leader would have shrugged that off as run-of-the-mill blowing off steam by a student who didn’t like a decision she made. But Niehoff – and her boss, Region 10 Superintendent Paula Schwartz – chose to act like aggrieved sixth graders and upped the ante.
To cut to the chase, Doninger was stripped of her right to run for senior class secretary, which she later won anyway because students don’t like authority figures trumping democracy. The authorities, of course, didn’t let her take office. It’s important, after all, to show that both free speech and democracy are both far less important than showing deference to a school principal.
As a good American with a legitimate grievance, Doninger turned to the federal courts for help. After all, they exist in part protect the Bill of Rights from wayward government officials.
But the judges, incredibly, have sided with the principal and the superintendent, who argued that Doninger’s blog entry, which the principal learned about two weeks later, created a “foreseeable risk of substantial disruption” and thus deserved censure.
This week’s decision by a three-judge appellate court in New York City came down on the side of the principal.
“We have determined, however, that a student may be disciplined for expressive conduct, even conduct occurring off school grounds, when this conduct ‘would foreseeably create a risk of substantial disruption within the school environment,’ at least when it was similarly foreseeable that the off- campus expression might also reach campus,” the court ruled.
This is plain ridiculous.
It is foreseeable that any written “off-campus expression” might reach the school – and, course, that’s the whole point of writing something to rally support for a Jamfest at school.
It’s bad enough that principals have a dangerously misguided notion that free speech within the school is dangerous. But now the door is open for administrators to try to keep students mum day in and day out, wherever they may be.
The obvious question, then, is exactly when and how are students supposed to be able to challenge the government officials who rule their lives?
Is it fine to tell people to bombard the principal’s office with phone messages as long as you don’t also call the principal a douchebag? What if a student writes an opinion piece that challenges a school’s cell phone ban, busing scheme or decision to drop AP Spanish?
There’s no end to the items that principals find disruptive. Basically, most of them think anything other than slavish obedience by students could create “substantial disruption” of their day.
It’s a terrible policy – and a clearly unconstitutional one – to teach young people to go along meekly with whatever an authority figure says. Buy that argument and you might as well give up on liberty.
We have free speech and a free press so that challenges against authority can be made unhindered.
The judges in New York looked beyond even the iffy language that Doninger employed.
They said her words were “plainly offensive” and “hardly conducive to cooperative conflict resolution.”
Since when is “cooperative conflict resolution” in the Bill of Rights? What’s protected is our right to say whatever we want as long as it poses no threat to others.
The only threat to others in this whole sorry case is that wrong-headed judges and power-hungry school administrators can’t see that Doninger was doing what Americans do – using words to rally people to her side. What her foes are wielding is exactly the kind of authoritarian club that our founders fought against.
The court said this week that “local school authorities have the difficult task of teaching ‘the shared values of a civilized social order’ — values that include our veneration of free expression and civility, the importance we place on the right of dissent and on proper respect for authority.”
But dissent that can’t even call a principal a douchebag on a blog isn’t worth a damn thing.

Youth Journalism International seeking formal non-profit status

Youth Journalism International, Inc., which has been training young reporters since 1994, is preparing to ask the Internal Revenue Service to recognize it as a 501(c)(3) corporation. What that would mean, once the IRS approves, is that donors would be able to get tax benefits for their charitable contributions.
This is a major, exciting step forward for YJI. We'll provide much more information in the weeks and months ahead.
We plan to reach out to teens and other young people, of course, but also to parents, teachers, professionals and experts who can assist us in making YJI better than ever.
If you're in a position to offer a helping hand, we'd love to hear from you.