The students had a real audience, a real purpose and a real voice.


Journalism was the most authentic writing experience my students every enjoyed and the best teaching I have ever done. My journalism students at Title One, urban schools in Southern California were almost all the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves. We always had at least three different primary languages on staff; one year we had seven, yet they regularly won prizes for quality of their paper.
The students had a real audience, a real purpose and a real voice. They came into my classroom before 7 a.m. for a zero period class. They worked on the paper after school and on Saturdays. Sometimes I forced them out at 9 p.m. I taught them about research and writing, and about the First Amendment and the responsibilities of the press, but they lived those principles while they made editorial decisions, almost always mature and responsible decisions.
My demure young business manager, the child of an elderly refugee, told me one morning that her father had pointed to a Vietnamese woman digging for recyclables at curb as he drove her through the winter darkness. “See her. She is why I want you to study journalism. You must tell her story.”
My first principals, the ones who focused on the students and the school, did not always like everything my students wrote. One September the paper covered the June walk-by shooting of student three days after his graduation, obviously gang-related. But the principal only grimaced and suggested that we warn the dead boy’s girlfriend before we went to press. He understood California’s student press law and wanted the best for the kids.
But that ended in 2000 when we got a new, data-driven principal. He told me the students’ editorial about the bathroom — it ended with ‘Write the school board!”– upset people at the district office. He said the kitchen staff were upset about the opinion column on the cafeteria food (‘Dear Santa, Fix Lunch). He asked me if the students really needed a whole page for their editorial comments. Then he told me I would no longer be advising. ‘The paper needs to take a new direction,’ he said. I did not go without a fight, and California has since passed a law against punishing an adviser to silence the students’ voices, but law or no law, there is now no paper at the school. As the ESEA noose tightens, many of those award-winning young journalists would have been siphoned away from journalism into remedial classes to improve their test scores.