At least I have this *&@#$*&^ blog

20 Jan

It was a good exercise in refreshing my skills in writing news stories under deadline. It was a good lesson in writing “sexy” for the Web. This blog entry is really for my own record-keeping as far as the process earlier this week, which started when I contacted Parent Dish, an product, to inquire when my piece on high school journalism would run.
That particular piece was easy to write, a tribute of sorts to journalism classes to entice high schoolers to sign up for newspaper, broadcast and yearbook as electives. When I wrote it way back in August, the Parent Dish editor liked it and said her site would buy it for $100. Then I got an e-mail with instructions on joining their Blogsmith community, which I misinterpreted as free reign to post the story when I wanted to and to write additional pieces. When I asked the editor about it, I got a snappy reply that I was not to do any such thing. Which made me wonder why I got the Blogsmith instructions at all.
Anyway, weeks and weeks passed, and I checked the site occasionally to see if the column had run. I wondered if I had ruined my chances of it ever running. I gave it until early January, then e-mailed the inquiry.
The editor was polite and posted the column within a couple of days. I am proud of the piece and received five “likes” on Facebook. Woo-hoo.
Capitalizing on the editor’s cordiality, I queried her about a story breaking here, about the high schooler who won’t face jail time for cussing out his teacher. It wasn’t a major story, but I figured it was in my sphere of knowledge, something I would feel comfortable discussing. I proposed a column and was optimistic enough about it that I started my piece, a first-person thing mixed with the news aspect of it. The editor got back to me within a day, but asked for a “news recap.”
I shelved the column and started researching the story further to get my facts straight for a recap. I listened to Dan Barr’s segment on KJZZ twice to get quotes because I am so rusty at that anymore. I googled, I fussed over the legal details, I got up early Wednesday morning to work on it and meet the noon deadline. I stared at the story — less than 500 words — for a long time before I sent it.
It was rejected — the wrong “voice” for Parent Dish, Susan said. Well, that was interesting to know that news stories need a “voice,” rather than objective, plain ol’ reportage. But there is a definite slant of casual, conversational, somewhat smarmy “voice” in their news pieces. I was supposed to study pieces by Tom Henderson on the site if I wanted to do a rewrite. I appreciated that offer, but demurred, telling Susan I had other obligations that day. Really, it was my stubbornness; I thought the piece was fine as is.
And when I looked at the way Henderson handled the story the next day, I was puzzled. I guess initially the editor thought it was a “sexy” story, given the image of a teen boy hurling the f-word and b-word at a flustered teacher. So the story played up that image and carried this headline:
Arizona Supreme Court says First Amendment protects student’s cussing
Now, I would argue, based on what Dan told KJZZ, that the ruling was not exactly a triumph for students’ free-speech rights; it was just a cautionary message that schools and law enforcement need to be careful about the charges they bring against such unruly students. In my mind, the headline overreaches and is misleading. Luckily, the headline used “student’s” instead of the plural possessive.
So I learned a lesson in reporting for the Web: it needs to be a breezy read, it needs a conversational slant, it needs to elicit discussion in the comments section of the article. The piece has three comments today.
To any readers of this blog, thanks for your patience as I told the tale. Here’s the start of my unused column, followed by the complete but unused news recap….
If you knew that your teen son or daughter had hurled a profanity at a teacher — let’s say, the “B word,” with (for good measure) an adjective that begins with “f” and ends with “ing” — how appalled would you be? Maybe bring it down a notch and hypothesize that your kid didn’t yell it, but just muttered it under his breath without the teacher hearing it. Or maybe she wrote it in a notebook, or surreptitiously texted her feelings to a friend, or scratched it into her desk with an X-acto knife from the art room.
A story in the news from my home state of Arizona, about a kid who yelled at his teacher and faced criminal charges, got me to thinking about the many times in my teaching career when I was called a you-know-what. Not to my face, although I witnessed that happening to one of our veteran social studies teachers. The girl was punished with suspension for that and other infractions. The teacher took it in stride. And certainly I became inured to seeing it or hearing it about myself — it was almost a badge of honor, to know that I wasn’t a total pushover.
The Arizona kid in question said more than the “B word” to a teacher one day when he was upset about the classroom he was stuck in for on-campus suspension. The language grenade went off when the teacher refused to move him elsewhere. The school district filed criminal abuse charges on behalf of the teacher, and the court initially sided with the teacher, saying the words were disruptive and could set off a fight. The situation met the Arizona standards for a punishable crime. On appeal, though, the student argued that he had a First Amendment right to voice his feelings in such a way and in such a setting. The Arizona Supreme Court, while not totally standing by his free-speech rights, ruled that the incident would not have actually led to a physical fight between the student and teacher and so it dismissed the charge.
I can tell you that even though I am an ardent defender of the First Amendment, there were times when I wished that harsher punishments befell students who use profanities at school. The average student, I would argue, knows her boundaries and wouldn’t dare use slurs out loud in the teacher’s presence. But hey, I’ve followed that average student out the classroom door when the bell rang and have heard a fusillade of profanities, loosely uttered, sometimes loud and clear, in the hallways, on the way to the cafeteria, while dawdling between class periods, on the way to the bus — you name it. I’ve heard colleagues been described as cretins and misanthropes, but not in such vaulted language. The kids throw ugly terms at each other — sometimes in jest, although you wonder about the bullying aspect of it.
If you’re reaching for the phone right now to let your child’s principal know that you won’t stand for profanities anywhere on campus, please understand that administrators and teachers are acutely aware of how our language has coarsened in recent years. And it’s hard to clamp down on it when it is so omnipresent.
Please do take a stand on the need for greater civility among young people, but first do a reality check with your own kids: What words do they use at home when they are angry or upset? What do you overhear them saying to friends? Have you had a conversation about the very limited appropriateness of coarse words, not just with family and friends but also with teachers and other adults?
The news version:
The Arizona Supreme Court has fueled a discussion on free-speech rights for students using curse words in the classroom. Last week it threw out a criminal charge against a teenager who used a number of expletives in an argument with a teacher.
The case began in 2009 when a northwest Phoenix teen was unhappy with a classroom he had been placed in for on-campus suspension and began yelling profanities at the teacher. The outburst continued, even though the teacher told him he could not be moved to another classroom without administrative approval. In addition, the boy refused to put his cell phone away. The school suspended him for 10 days, and the Maricopa County Juvenile Court put him on probation after finding him guilty of knowingly abusing a school employee, a Class 3 misdemeanor. The boy, identified as Nickolas S., fought the criminal charge at the state Court of Appeals level, which in turn said Nickolas had no First Amendment protection because he had used “fighting words.” The “fighting words” doctrine dates back to Arizona territorial days and criminalizes words that “by their very utterance” provoke fighting or a breach of the peace. But the Supreme Court reasoned that the confrontation between Nickolas and the teacher was not about to come to fisticuffs and that authorities could have sought other charges, the Arizona Republic reported.
“We do not believe that the natural reaction of the average teacher to a student’s profane and insulting outburst, unaccompanied by any threats, would be to beat the student,” according to the opinion.
The county is not expected to prosecute the student under other state laws.
In an interview with Phoenix NPR station KJZZ, attorney Dan Barr, who specializes in First Amendment issues, said the court ruling was not excusing the student’s behavior nor questioning why the school suspended him. But it had to abide by a narrow interpretation of fighting words, and the incident was not volatile enough — the student hadn’t grabbed the teacher or threatened violence — to result in jail time or a fine.
“No student in the state reading this (Supreme Court) opinion should think it’s OK to repeatedly call your teacher the B-word and the F-word,” Barr said. “They’re still going to get suspended, and they might get prosecuted under other statutes.”
Barr also noted that students’ First Amendment rights are somewhat limited on school campuses and during school-related activities, with protected speech usually seen as the kind that causes no campus disruption. Wearing a black armband, for instance, is protected speech. But schools could argue that loud displays of anger through the use of curse words cross the line of propriety and cause disruption, he said.
He added that in the case of Nickolas, the court went out of its way to call his behavior “abhorrent.”
For good measure, here’s the azcentral headline:
Supreme Court sides with Glendale student over profane rant


One Response to “At least I have this *&@#$*&^ blog”

  1. Writers Wanted January 26, 2011 at 10:23 am #

    I like your transitions and quality. I have been writing for Ghost Writers for a while now, and they pay me very well to write blog posts like this, or articles. I clear $100-$200 on a poor evening.
    Judging by your ability with the written word, you may enjoy doing the same.
    It wouldnt hurt to check them out.Here are the details

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