Thursday, May 17, 2007

Reassigned Woodlan adviser honored

The American University law school honored Amy Sorrell with its Mary Beth Tinker Award on Wednesday for her efforts to fight censorship in her school.

The honor is well deserved for an adviser who has gone through a lot in this ordeal.

Sorrell detailed her experiences to at a luncheon in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. She challenged those at the luncheon to work toward protecting student rights.

"This is something we need to do now - not wait until you are a victim of censorship," she said. "We need to challenge schools to be advocates for students and to truly make schools a place for learning. Schools need to be places that harbor student rights, that encourage students' thoughts and ideas even when they are unpopular."


slnachbar said...

I have read the Amy Sorrell story from New Jersey, as someone who is about to publish a similar story late summer/early fall, but in a fiction novel—and my outcome was the same.

A teacher-newspaper advisor targeted by unhappy parents, including school board members, for allowing students to run a controversial story, is reassigned from high school to middle school. I reassigned the teacher in my story, on the suggestion of a former superintendent of schools, because it appeared to be a credible outcome. My teacher allowed students to run a sex test in the school paper without consulting her principal, during a time when sex education was being debated statewide.

The major difference is that my story took place in 1980, not today.

When I started my work, I spoke with teachers in my hometown in New Jersey who had taught me 30 years ago. They made the same arguments as Ms. Sorrell: that a high school paper was a student forum and students were entitled to freedom of expression—as long as the writer made no comments that were disrespectful to classmates, teachers and school administrators or disruptive to school activities. My former speech and debate coach told me that it had been only recently that her principal had asked for final approval on student work in the school paper and literary magazine. Recently--as in the 21st century—even though this had not been required of an advisor during the late 1970’s.

I read Megan Chase’s column. She wrote nothing that would have offended anyone, even some one who is, for whatever reason, opposed to homosexuality. She presented an argument and backed it with facts, as a responsible journalist is supposed to do. I read no challenges to her column from parents or classmates; no one proved her wrong in any forum of public opinion, in least in the various articles I read online. I read only one objection from a parent who was not connected to the school district and it was not about the content of the story, but that her teacher did not follow the rules—to get approval from the principal before the story ran.

In Ms. Sorrell’s story, and mine, the principal wants the power of being publisher--but not the full responsibility.

I bet that Ms. Sorrell would have been fortunate to work with a principal/publisher who would have defended Megan Chase, if any one, parent or classmate had attacked her or her column. In that role, he would have followed through on Ms. Chase’s message of tolerance. He would have done the same as a publisher in the professional media would have done.

I can only guess that he was not willing or ready to do it.

I am also glad that you have chosen to honor Ms. Sorrell for doing what her "publisher" was unlikely to do.

Stuart Nachbar
Educated Quest

kathy schrier said...

Today's (06/05) Indianapolis Star has a good opinion piece on this: