President Obama visits students at Parkville Middle School in 2011 to reveal his budget. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Obama’s like a fairy godfather: he’ll get students jobs!

Mo’ students, mo’ money, mo’ jobs?

President Obama announced his Youth CareerConnect program, which would fund innovative education in 24 schools with $107 million total. The Washington Post reported Monday that this initiative will help students gain the work experience they need to enter the labor force:

Twenty-four awards, totaling $107 million, will be given across the country to partnerships of education agencies, workforce investment boards, universities and corporations to help them re­design learning so students will graduate “with the knowledge, skills, and industry-relevant education needed to get on the pathway to a successful career, including post-secondary education or registered apprenticeship,” according to a White House official.

How students are to be educated has been a long-term issue. Just look at Common Core, which is a list of standards, but has parents posting angrily online about worksheets that have barely changed since I was in elementary school.

The debate over whether American education needs to be restructured is an adequate one. Currently, high school education leads to more questions than answers about careers, and may direct students into a standard or a box that doesn’t fit them. Careers outside the college environment are sometimes more fitting for some students than others.

Obama’s grant program started last year in collaboration with the Departments of Labor and Education. Obama’s visit to Bladensberg High School accentuates his plan to potentially use his executive authority against Republican wishes.

Part of what makes this program valuable is the focus on internships and career development. Steve DeWitt, deputy executive director at the Association for Career and Technical Education, said that Obama is highlighting issues in student preparedness for careers through education, something he currently calls the “skills gap.” He told the Post:

A lot of our members would likely say, ‘Finally there is more recognition for post-secondary programs’…It needs to be about multiple pathways for students. That’s what needs to happen to improve education and the economy.

Obama told NBC that the outlook is optimistic for students (and that’s sarcasm).

“You guys are all coming up in an age when you’re not going to be able to compete with people across town for good jobs,” Obama said to NBC. “You’re going to be competing with the rest of the world.”

The bigger problem that has been noted is the drop out in students interested and pursuing jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM (read an argument for it here).

(Photo: AI/Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo: AI/Wikimedia Commons)

Two school systems in the news recently that implement policies to move toward technical and vocational school are in New York and Louisiana. In New York, PBS reported that the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) plans to keep students in high school for six years instead of four so students can acquire their Associate’s degree of Applied Science, through state funding and IBM investment.

Louisiana’s Jump Start program to provide career education has “drawn interest from 52 of the state’s 70 public school systems” according to The New Orleans Times-Picayune. Through this program, students connect with businesses and colleges in an effort to de-stigmatize “career education” over the generalized or college-minded educations.

The Post Bulletin reported that Minnesota has been trying to implement a more career/technical system for years, and has been succeeding in getting more students involved in the workforce.

How to educate children into an environment that will fit their talents and the needs of society is not a new issue. An article in Pearson’s Learning Curve, stated that stacking these two learning types in opposition would be wrong, but that another option for students who would otherwise drop out is never a bad idea:

Vocational education may not help students earn – or contribute to the economy – more over their lifetime, and too specialised a curriculum may make them less prepared to cope with rapid technological change. Nevertheless, by providing an educational pathway for those who otherwise would drop out, they are likely to be well worth the additional cost.

Already, most high schools offer Regional Occupational Programs for technical training for students. Now, this EdSource article from January argues that ROP is being dropped for the career and college track, instead of providing necessary blue collar jobs in communities.

Students need to be plugged into a system of education, whether it be technical, skills-based, or discovered through higher education. Engaging students in the workforce to help them survive in today’s society is an admirable goal. How that happens without draining taxpayer dollars may revolve around the idea of de-stigmatizing the so-called lesser pursuits of community college and vocational education.

Mark Philips, a teacher and educational journalist, makes a fantastic point when he explains the educational destructiveness to children and society of treating vocational education negatively. In 2012, he blogged in Edutopia:

They [students] should have the opportunity to be trained in whatever skills their natural gifts and preferences lead them to, rather than more or less condemning them to jobs they’ll find meaningless… Many of the skills most needed to compete in the global market of the 21st century are technical skills that fall into the technical/vocational area. The absence of excellence in many technical and vocational fields is also costing us economically as a nation.

The Chronicle of Higher Ed stated in its article that the conversation must start between “the higher-education community and future employers in business and the nonprofit community, and acknowledging that higher education fails in its mission if it trains graduates only for their first postcollege job.”

One size does not fit all. Look at Logan, a home-schooled student who is gearing his education toward things he enjoys and specializing it at 13 years-old. He calls it hackschooling. Our education system needs to start reflecting that creativity, flexibility and individuality in some way, or else the workforce may continue to lose professionals, both white and blue collar, to unemployment and an uninspired educated class.

(Photo: Valerie Everett/Flickr)

Are college students the next big thing in journalism?

A recent article by the New York Times revealed that student journalists at the University of Michigan cracked a story before any other local publication. Other publications, at Arizona State University, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Harvard University, have reported breaking stories or have developed methods of embedding reporters for local news.

The New York Times transitioned the story into a larger discussion about how student journalists are providing better coverage of local news in some instances than the for-pay local newspapers. The NYT reported that comparatively there are 1,800 American college and university newspapers and only 1,380 daily newspapers left in the United States. Now, while I love an underdog story just as much as anyone else, I find that this article makes a couple stretches. And boy, do the comments call them out both on Twitter and on the NYT site.

nytcomment4 nytcomment3 nytcomment2  nytcomment5nyttwitter3 nyttwitter2 nytcommentonetweet

But here are a few statements or questions I still have for the reporter:

  1. Many locals are no longer dailies. Does that mean they are unable to cover breaking news? Not necessarily.
  2. Many college newspapers, small and large, produce local news coverage that sometimes the local press misses. Especially if that news is on-campus!
  3. If this is the case, should students stay in college forever to keep reporting the news that local newspapers don’t report and aren’t hiring for?
  4. Does this mean anything for the future of news coverage?
  5. Is student journalists’ local news coverage indicative of greater civic engagement?

These final two questions are quite exciting and nerve wracking for young journalists looking to enter into the journalism workforce.

University of Michigan’s Michigan Daily is run by editor-in-chief, Peter Shahin. He told the NYT that the student paper has a better idea of the town than other newspapers in surrounding areas because of their resources through the university:

I feel The Michigan Daily fills an important niche in Ann Arbor and a need that is unmet by our regional newspapers in an era of constrained resources…We have 200 to 250 staff, and though we are a trade publication first covering the university, we are also trying to fill a void in other areas here, like the arts…I think we truly have the pulse of the town.

Journalism students have the potential to report local news just as much as a local news organization does, except for the fact that they report to a tailored audience. Student media has the potential to be the voice of a significant population that could promote more civic engagement. This is true at least among the journalists.

This week, Peter Bobkowski, University of Kansas assistant professor of journalism, decided its time to find out if the connection exists. The University of Kansas, KU News Service reported that Bobkowski is looking for a connection between civic engagement and high school journalism in Kansas to pave the way for future journalism education:

If there is a connection, I think the study will help legitimize journalism education to principals and administrators, showing that journalism is not just about writing about the latest music or the homecoming dance…It’s about learning skills students can use to carry forward in their civic lives.

While college journalism is expanding and finding new ways to attract audience, local newsrooms and city newspapers still provide local coverage. All of this is status quo, but journalism with any adjective before it, should be something the public is thankful for in that ultimately, it provides a public service.

It’s all about changing the communication gap.

Journalism sophomore Peyton Gallovich at Arizona State University (no I don’t go there, and no I didn’t want to reference them twice so their PR must be really effective online) created a Deaf and Hearing Network of vocal news, signed-only news and news with subtitles, she told ASU’s student newspaper, Downtown Devil. She hopes ultimately that this station will be run by deaf people.

“I see this need, and I think that I can fill it,” Gallovich said to the Downtown Devil. “So, I got together with people who thought this was a necessary thing too, and here we are.”

Or as Dan Kennedy quoted in his article in 2013 on his book The Wired City, which discussed coverage of local communities by looking at readership primarily and building an audience, Howard Owens said it better:

…local community news is currently only a niche product. Entrepreneurs need to think about not only “how am I going to appeal to the people who care now,” but “how am I going to get more people to care about their community so I can grow my audience?”

Isn’t that what all journalism is about? Filling the need for information as a public service and educating people along the way? Hopefully this study finds that journalists are being educated in high school to educate others. And college students are doing the job of local newspapers to instill life in the local community. And even that journalists are providing new ways to look at information.

This isn’t just for college students and this isn’t just about their education. It’s about civic engagement for all young people, and a new media that can bring new audiences into it.

Journalists are the future of journalism, and the NYT is stating the obvious because college journalists are still journalists. This is the status quo.

What do you think? Are college journalists the future of journalism?

Restrictions on reading the Bible at a Tennessee school causes controversy. (Photo: Nicholas B./Flickr)

Keep your Bible at home, kids. No expression allowed…

While the Bible may be the top-selling and most widely distributed nonfiction book, it’s not exactly topping reading lists in public schools.

Not that it has to be.

But seemingly, today’s public school systems maintain a non-disruptive learning environment by subduing religious expression on campus. An example of this can be found in last week’s news coverage of religion in student media.

The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for – nope, not during this free-reading time

An elementary school student told not to read the Bible in an after-school reading program will now receive assistance from Tennessee’s American Civil Liberties Union, the Christian Post reported. The student was told in free-reading that he couldn’t read his Bible and that the staff would lose their state funding if they allowed him to continue reading.

The ACLU responded with a letter to the Cannon County REACH after school program on the child’s behalf, asking that the Bible continue to be allowed during free reading or any time throughout the day. An excerpt from the letter states:

“Tennessee public school students cannot be denied the right to engage in religious activities during student activity times, recess and other free time, provided they do not cause a disruption or interfere with the education of other students. Reading the Bible, or any other religious text, during a free-read period would fall within these protected freedoms.”

According to the ACLU, misconceptions of religious liberty in the Constitution by Tennesseans are partly to blame for this issue. Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN legal director set the record straight in ACLU’s press release:

“The First Amendment exists to protect religious freedom…While this means that schools may not impose or promote religion, it also means that students can engage in religious activities that they initiate, provided they do not cause a disruption or interfere with the education of other students.”

The ACLU also argued  against a bill that would protect students from religious discrimination and provide a limited forum for discussion, “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act.” The ACLU stated in their alert that it “crosses the line from protecting religious freedom into creating systematic imposition of some students’ personal religious viewpoints on other students.” That might be the crux of the issue on today’s campuses.

There is a belief that students are being disrupted. In some cases, maybe they are. However, this student reading his Bible is not disrupting anyone. The reading falls under his First Amendment rights.

Imposing beliefs on others takes more than the display of ideas, and students must learn to discern what ideas to incorporate into their own thinking. Students must continually engage ideas to learn. Religion is a part of civic and cultural life, and keeping students from these ideas and philosophies only limits their worldview and capacity for knowledge and compassion.

Religious expression does get a little more complicated when the intent is to preach or to discuss religion, but the rights still support it. A case from a couple weeks ago reinforces this right.

Preach it? Virginia college student denied right to preach on campus

It was just another day at Thomas Nelson Community College for Christian Parks who only wanted to share his faith on campus as he had done twice before.

This time though, Parks was ordered by campus police officers to stop and request permission in advance, as laid out in campus demonstration policy, OneNewsNow reported Thursday.

In an effort to protect his right to speech, Parks sued the college a couple weeks ag0, claiming in his lawsuit that the policy was unconstitutional. Parks had two past altercations with school police, but wanted to profess his belief anyways. The lawsuit states:

“It is repugnant to Mr. Parks that he, as an individual citizen and student at a public community college, must notify the government in order to speak on campus when he feels convicted by his religious faith to speak and preach on campus…The fear of arrest or punishment severely limits Mr. Parks’ constitutionally-protected
expression on campus.”

David Hacker, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney, helped with Parks’ lawsuit, and said to OneNewsNow that declaring something offensive prior to it happening limits the function of colleges which is to inform and challenge and student conversation.

“It’s a very clear situation of colleges – which are supposed to be the marketplace of ideas – censoring and restricting students’ free speech, which all too often happens to the Christian students on campus,” Hacker said.

The ACLU Executive Director in Virginia, Claire Guthrie Gastañaga said that a student shouldn’t need permission to speak freely on campus to his peers, calling it “absurd and unconstitutional” in the Christian Post. She’s right. Restrictions on faith expression further restrict speech. Both inhibit the creation and tolerance of ideas on a college campus that are essential to learning and maturity into civic life.

These issues lead only to more questions about religious expression on campus: Where and when is it appropriate for students to express their religious beliefs on campus? When does religious practice and expression become imposition or disturbance of the campus environment?

Did I leave you wanting more? Here are some responses to religious liberties on public campuses that I found interesting from this week.

– An overarching view of the issues in religious liberty from Charles C. Haynes of the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.:

Learning to understand and love the many, open to the few and far between with tolerance:

Time to stop throwing sand in the sandbox: higher education and politics

Ever seen kids throw sand at each other in the sandbox? It’s usually over a toy or some other valuable that in reality means little to nothing. But they just sit there and throw things at each other and cry. I liken this act to Congress. Nowadays, no one seems to want to compromise or share the toy in the sandbox. They just want to throw sand until one side gives up.

Well, that sand is hitting students, not the politicians, and the sand is turning into mud. We’ll start by addressing this low blow.

Only one out of 10 of the country’s lowest income students earn a bachelor’s degree by the age of 24, compared to three out of four of the wealthiest students, according to information from a New America Foundation panel Thursday.

Degrees of Inequality: How the Politics of Higher Education Sabotaged the American Dream is the title of a book released by Cornell University political scientist Suzanne Mettler, who argues that the crisis in higher education is “fundamentally a result of political failure.”

Mettler, a fellow at the Century Foundation’s sponsored panel on this issue in higher education, places blame on political polarization and plutocracy for the current state of education.

“What I began to recognize is that our current political circumstances are a disastrous combination with the demands of maintaining public policies. You can see real variance over time with the capacity of the political system to do that kind of policy maintenance. As recently as the late 1980s early 1990s, we had a more conducive combination between our political system and that task than presently because of both the rise of polarization and what I’m calling plutocracy, or plutocratic government.”

Mettler argues that Democrats and Republicans have been increasingly unwilling to cross the aisle than in the past. She accounts part of this to the decline of moderates in the Republican Party and the greater homogeneity in voting patterns across issues in each party, both of which lead to stalemate.

“That indicates why we haven’t had major new solutions to problems in higher education if we’re not even agreeing on the small issues. We’re not even finding the political space in which to negotiate and deal with detailed, knotty kinds of issues that have to do with unintended consequences of policy. It’s not surprising.”

They’re just throwing sand.

Even worse than that, they’re missing each other and hitting students attempting to reach the heights of higher education, a merit which has been seen across the board as an expectation in the workforce.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, 18-year-old graduates are a “shrinking demographic,” representing only 24 percent of the U.S. population today, and 21 percent by 2050.

And for the students that do try to make it? Their outcomes are just as bad, according to Mettler.

“There are other students at the other end of the spectrum for whom they go to college, take on student loan debt, and either don’t graduate, or get a degree that is not worthwhile, and so they can really end up worse off than if they’d never gone to college in the first place.”

Beyond all the debt numbers, which I could throw at you (see these statistics in the full video!), two of Mettler’s points stand out. States now devote 26 percent less per student on higher education than they did decades ago, and tuition has increased about 113 percent in an attempt for colleges and universities to make up the difference. Mettler calls on holding state governments and non-profit private universities accountable for their spending in this regard.

Why does this matter for student free speech? To do as Mettler says, to “reinvigorate democracy, to expand who’s involved in American civic life,” students should get a college degree. Higher education should give students the opportunity to specialize in the formation of new ideas and politics. At the end of the day, higher education should be an avenue to continue learning in order to inspire and engage future leaders in the issues of today.

Mettler found in another one of her books, Soldiers to Citizens: The G.I. Bill and the Making of the Greatest Generation, that students who did got their college degree during the GI bill were more active in politics and civic organizations than others. She argues that like in the time of the GI bill, political involvement allows the U.S. to live up to its ideals more fully.

Unfortunately, today’s political landscape and changing economic realities in higher education adjust student opportunity more than ever before.

Polarization as Mettler sees it makes influence easier for interest groups because the effort is streamlined straight to leadership who directs their members. She says Republicans and Democrats in the House fall into this trap. With this polarization of parties, students and Americans in general have become increasingly disengaged.

Others involved in this delightfully deep conversation on the federal government are Robert Shireman, the executive director for California Competes and the former U.S. deputy director undersecretary of education, and Frances E. Lee, professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.

They boil down some of the arguments a little more comprehensively to show the relation to higher education. Lee said that this last Congress has been the least progressive, barely acted on any nonpartisan issue and changed the parties to be more ideologically cohesive and homogeneous internally. Lee discussed the media’s coverage of party ideology but told the panel audience that there is another, more pressing trend to consider:

“Often overlooked in the focus on party ideology is another factor that affects our contemporary politics and that’s its ferociousness party competitiveness. The closeness of today’s party competition is not normal in American politics.”

This change to ferocity among today’s parties results in distinct “confrontational politics.” In other words, both parties refuse to compromise because highlighting their differences makes a better case for a change in power. Because in all reality, polarization benefits party aims. If there are no dividing issues, why change the government and give the opposing party the majority?

Shireman argues that this change has “felt more and more like we’re walking into a buzz saw where the folks on the other side of the aisle are just required to slash and burn and not have an actual discussion.”

The American public, he says, gets very left out of discussions in the tension of engagement through broad ideas and the details of policy reform. According to Mettler, lawmakers responded to young people when young people were more active in politics, not only voting but an array of political activities. This was clear in the engagement of elections in 2004-2006 and 2008 when Pell grants were increased, students had a louder voice, and elected officials were more responsive because of broader civic engagement.

Lee notes that party competition causes people to pay less attention, become less serious about politics and the details, and see policy proposals as unreal because of the transition to campaign speak instead of acts of governance.

Holding institutions accountable for funding, increasing Pell grant offerings and the continual work by the policy community to find and offer solutions at the right “window” are what this panel argues can make all the difference.

Recent news from this week shows they may be right. It also shows that many are looking for more creative solutions to a complicated issue.

Solutions to the problems of higher education despite polarization:

Use your noodle? (little brain break for making it this far down in the post)


According to the Chronicle for Higher Education, Noodle is “attempting to become the Google and Amazon for education by aggregating education options from around the world into one search-and-recommendation engine,” and other similar education providers online focus on short-term learning for prospective job opportunities. The focus here is continuous learning over full-time education.

Too much? A New Jersey assemblywoman introduced 20 bills aimed at cutting college costs and making them more accountable for student outcomes. It sounds vaguely familiar…

However, here are some of the takeaways from Assemblywoman Celeste M. Riley and the folks reporting at the Chronicle for Higher Education:

– distribute state appropriations to public colleges

– standardize course-numbering for public colleges statewide

– bar colleges from requiring campus meal plans

– close public colleges with 50 percent or lower six-year graduation rates

– require a state auditor to determine whether fees students pay actually benefit them

– THE BIGGIE (and maybe not so much a goodie): freeze tuition and fees for all nine semesters for all incoming students at both public and private colleges in the state

A Student Debt and Federal Loan Policy Senate hearing, which examined reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, offered suggestions of ways to improve federal student aid Thursday. NPR discussed this issue with Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, before the hearing, and found that the “student loan bubble” and the for-profit colleges that go after low-income students who default their debt, are the main issues to be dealt with.

Ways to improve aid reported in the Chronicle for Higher Education suggested: simplify the repayment plan, give more information and borrowing options, and counseling to get through the process (let’s hope that includes mental as well for the amount of debt some students rank up…)

THE BEST PART: Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the top dog Republican on the committee, said that college is more affordable than many students think.

His answer: “Borrow wisely.” He mentioned statistics from the New York Federal Reserve Bank that were noted in the Chronicle for Higher Education, “40 percent of borrowers had student-loan debt of less than $10,000 while less than 4 percent had debt of more than $100,000.”

An expansion of this study to be more comprehensive and revealing all the data would inform the public better of the state of student loans. A large number of students are unaccounted for because they are still in school or paid off their balance before the 2011 quarter the data addresses. This data really brings more questions to mind than answers because each year students can increase their debt and the time it takes to pay off that debt, but not be accountable for it (in data) until their graduation.

Even looking at the numbers, 45 percent have between $10,000 and $50,000 worth of student loans. The higher the age, the higher the average student loan balance, which logically fits in with interest in repayment post-graduation and other costs in entering the workforce. The HuffPost reported on this widening gap between students who take out student loans and those who do not, entering into the frustration of students who have been paying off their debt for years, like this student who has been working to pay of debt as an attorney since 2005.

“I have more education and more degrees than my father, as does she than her parents, and yet our parents are better off than we are. What’s wrong with this picture?” Gregory Zbylut said to the HuffPost.

Others weighed in on this issue in The Oregonian. See their responses here. Also, remember back in 2010 when Obama said that he would forgive student loans after 20 years? Here are the proposals that have been established since then in government, thanks to ABC’s News10.

Lack of affordability in higher education will only bog down the workforce and maintain debt among students, keeping them from political involvement.

Some students attempted to make the transition into civic involvement and came up a bit short.

The Topeka Kansas City Journal reported that Kansas students from Bucklin High School lobbied for changes in public education, including a sex education course, physical education in response to obesity, bullying and the inadequate representation of their small town. Despite whether or not these issues are addressed in any mainstream way, the House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence appreciates their concern.

“So many of decisions made in the Capitol affect them,” he said. “We need to hear their voices.”

If only this could happen on a mass scale in the way Mettler wants it to, then students would be increasingly involved in public discourse in a way that would affect their own education and future. But it’s not enough that student voices are heard. Student voices need to be integrated into public discourse and discussion, so that future leaders are educated voters and active participants in society.

Income inequality in high school also reflects the potential that students can have when given the resources and opportunity.  Michigan Live tracked this issue last week with a story on “hard lessons” with good results for low-income students.

After a merger of Albion and Marshall high schools, a low-scoring and a high-scoring school on merit exams, students who scored lower in one school had to meet the higher expectations in the other school. Homework, respect, resources, and social pressures may change the direction of these newly adjusting low-income students facing an alternate economic reality. Richard Kahlenberg, of the Century Foundation in New York has written on economic integration, and told MLive:

“Higher-income schools tend to have college-going expectations and cultures, highly active parental groups, and strong teachers compared to high-poverty schools. While there is often an initial period of adjustment for low-income students. The long-run benefits are undeniable.”

Hopefully the payoff is intelligent individuals who will disconnect from party loyalties and engage, voicing the issues of higher education and civic engagement in a politically polarized world. Maybe they’ll be the ones to stop throwing sand in the sandbox.

Student social media controversies usually start with Facebook and Twitter. (Photo: Jason Howie/Flickr)

Tinker Tour exposes importance of student speech in social media

First thing you think of when you read the word, “Tinker,” GO! TinkertoysTinsmith or a traveler? I’m talking about this Tinker.

Mary Beth Tinker was a 13-year-old who wore an armband in protest of the Vietnam War, and was suspended for it. Taking her case to court in 1969, Tinker  involved herself in a movement that has since endured. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District is cited in nearly every student First Amendment case, according to Lexus-Nexus. Now, why does this matter?

Today, this case has come back as the “Tinker Tour.”

With the Student Press Law Center and funding from civil rights, journalism and education organizations, and some patriotism (please for all of us, look at this magic, and “get on the bus”), Mary Beth Tinker started the Tinker Tour across the U.S. on Constitution Day to bring to light today’s unjust prohibition of expression or unpopular views and remind students that they do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”  Tinker has spoken to more than 20,000 students and teachers across the country at locations ranging from schools, colleges, and churches, to youth detention facilities, courts and national conventions this year. She wrote in the About section for the tour a note addressing how youth can make a difference with their speech (emphasized text from the source):

“The goal of the Tinker Tour is to bring real-life civics lessons to schools and communities through my story and those of other young people. I made a difference with just a simple, black armband. Can you imagine what a shy 13-year-old could do today with all of the extraordinary speech tools available? We look forward to encouraging her — and sharing real-life stories about how students are keeping the First Amendment alive today.”

This tour promotes “youth voices, free speech and a free press” in the hopes of significant change. What’s interesting about Tinker is her recognition of today’s social media influences, in which the “modern-day attempts to restrict students’ use of social media and other digital communications tools in an effort to combat cyberbullying and sexting.”

This week, Tinker hits the west coast.

The @tinkertour arrives at the Pacific Ocean!!!!

— Tinker Tour (@tinkertour) March 21, 2014

To honor that case and its current travels, let’s engage the current discussion on the difference between free speech and bullying on campus and take a look at the logic and the arguments behind some of today’s free speech cases.

Social media can affect student academic success based on restraint of speech. However, regardless of whether students should have said what they did and in what setting, their first amendment rights protect their speech. As Tinker suggests, campus free speech still trumps administrative control, despite relevance or maturity of that speech.

Is opinion becoming such an issue that adults can’t handle it from students? What do you think?

Disrespectful or inappropriate things have always had punishment, but in the school setting, are students being restricted beyond what they should? As an older sister, I was always told when I was younger that my brother was going to egg me on to get a rise out of me. It really annoyed me. But then I realized that I held the power when I allowed him to say that, get angry when I didn’t respond and look stupid in any further attempt. Recent news (read on and see some of these situations) suggests that maybe administrators are looking a little too stupid and need to be the bigger person. But, even I had to transition. Good things take time, right?

First things first: admissions. Like job applications, common sense is the trend these days. I don’t know how many times I need to be told “careful what you post; anyone can see it, and if it’s embarrassing, it’s not going to get you hired.” But a study by Kaplan University from 2012 states that 30 percent of admission officers use social media to research prospective students.

Now, free speech online can keep you from an education.

Here are some other cases in which administrators have taken themselves a little too seriously and students have gotten a little out of hand.

The newest (or oldest) craze is the confessions site. This craze has already for the most part died. However, according to this article, social media escalated the site to new platforms, namely Twitter and Facebook. While confessions anonymously are all the rage, as a completely objective third-party outsider with absolutely no personal interest in the matter (1:40), I’d say these pop up and down too quickly among college students because of the understanding that the posts, strong as they may be, get old. One confessions page went haywire, turning into cyberbullying and controversial posts at Hopkins, but I would side with Dennis O’Shea, executive director of media relations at John Hopkins University who wrote this to Inside Higher Ed:

“It’s unfortunate that from time to time, at colleges across the country, these things pop up. It’s unfortunate that a very few people are willing to hide behind the mask of anonymity to say things to which they would never attach their names and reputations.”

The idea of shutting these sites down entirely is difficult because of the nature of the web page. Sites remains unassociated with universities unless proof can be found that they were created and maintained on their grounds, can disrupt the learning environment or create a critical culture. Students have the right to these sites under the First Amendment. Management of posts generally comes after the hype has died down through student response to the appropriateness of the posts and maturity.

Social media misuse cases

Beyond site interaction among students, social media can be just as costly. Twenty students were suspended for retweeting a post about a teacher in Oregon. After the ACLU got involved, the school decided that maybe they should reevaluate their previous decision.

Originally considered cyberbullying, the tweets allegedly called the teacher a flirt. This is where Tinker’s case and school policies came into play, questioning whether this post would or would not disrupt the classroom environment and whether action can be taken by a school for what was posted off its campus. Tinker specifically takes precedent in these cases when deciding how schools can justifiably prohibit expression.

According to the case, administrators must “be able to show that its action was caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint.” Dave Fidanque, ACLU Oregon’s executive director said to the SPLC student involvement in solving the problem and awareness of the power of their speech is the first step to keep behavior in check:

“We believe strongly that talking with students should always be the first thing that school officials do.” While students need to get their behavior in check as far as being overly offensive, “it’s most important that the people engaging in those expressions understand the impact of their speech.”

Some quick facts of other instances of free speech restricted or punished from Statesman Journal from last month:

  1. Roughly 60 students in California were suspended for (re)tweeting “@SDSchoolConfess.”
  2. A high school student was suspended for five days in South Carolina for favoriting a tweet on a confessions type page (basically the double whammy). As WBTW News13 reports, she just “thought they were funny.” Bummer dude.
  3. A student was suspended for months after he replied “Actually, yes” to a tweet that he had inappropriate relations with that woman, a teacher, and a joke gone too far in the Minnesota school district. According to CBS, students surprisingly got on board to defend the student who made the joke, signing petitions and tweeting “#freereid.”

One Pennsylvania student joked about a bomb. He probably learned that from Meet the Parents, but that’s not really funny. Neither was the tweet: “Plot twist: They don’t find the bomb and it goes off tomorrow.” Talk about dark humor. This joke was misplaced and insensitive to recent security concerns, but there are other precedents that state if he developed the post as satire (and the public understands it as such), than that speech is protected. Really though, he’s learned his lesson now.

Unfortunately, these sorts of shenanigans are not uncommon. Students are told again and again what they shouldn’t post, but do it anyway. Speech has consequences in some sense if it falls under bullying, safety, or libel towards/defamation of a school official, administrator, or teacher. But this categorization has been too broadly applied to issues that could otherwise be settled in one-on-one discussions between the involved parties.

A student from New Jersey was banned from prom, graduation and senior trip over her tweet, so she filed a federal lawsuit, as all 17-year-olds do. She called the principal a “colorful name” according to myfoxphilly.

Here’s a snidbit from the ever-so-provocative big kid lawsuit from Jerry Tenenbaum, a Cherry Hill attorney for the girl and her mother, said to the Courier Post:

“It’s an important social issue. We’re talking about government officials being able to impose consequences on people for the things they say… From my perspective, they’re acting as much like teenagers as she is.”

While schools nationwide waste precious time and money on lawsuits for suspending students for ridiculous speech, some teachers and administrators have tried to come at the issue of cyberbullying or appropriate social media usage from another, more effective avenue.

Effective ways to end bullying without ending social media

A “Be Nice. It’s that Simple” campaign at Centennial High School in Las Vegas started after a teacher realized that freshmen students were prime targets. Janet Roll, teacher and organizer of the campaign, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

“After surveying my students, I determined that within the first four weeks of school, 32 percent had been a victim of bullying or harassment… As a parent and an educator, that bothered me.”

This program works to do more than the “Be Kind” programs used by elementary and middle schools because of the ineffective verbiage, according to Roll. Students working on the campaign provide commercials in the morning announcements with the help from video production teacher John Roberts. They also sells t-shirts with “Be Nice. It’s that Simple” on them to students from various social groups and place posters on campus walls to remind students of its message. Apparently it works.

Because I couldn’t find any posts of their video online, but here’s a video of a similar effort happening on the campus of my high school alma mater for this academic year called “Respect for All.” The school is trying to promote cultural revolution through videos and the telling of stories on campus through their most recent campaign. But really, I wish it was this simple. Nevertheless, it’s a step in the right direction. BE YOU.

And when all else fails, remember: students are going to write things that shouldn’t be posted online. The real question is, does the school have the authority and right to remove the student from school if the social media posting was done off campus? How far should these efforts go against the very real issue of cyberbullying and defamation?