By:: Tyler Colborn
These days, college is becoming more and more an “expectation,” rather than a possibility, and as a result, high school is becoming more and more a funnel for higher education. I’ll dance past the silent stigma that has recently begun to afflict trade and service jobs, and focus on the effect this practice has on high school itself. Everything that can be learned or done is examined in the context of its effect on later life; will I use trigonometry? Maybe, says the math teacher. Will I need to know how to make nitroglycerine? Maybe, says the chemistry teacher. Never are they allowed to (nor do they allow themselves to) say ‘no.’ No. Just learn it. The philosophy of “well-roundedness,” of discovery, of learning things for the sake of learning them… has been ignored. In many contexts in education, it’s considered an embarrassing excuse at best. Through this stigma, student journalism, a precursor to what is considered a “risky career,” is treated as a peripheral interest at best.
Arts and sports are, of course, considered their own beasts- activities for the purpose of self-improvement that are either not expected to translate to adult life, or are expected to create habits of good mental and physical health. But other extracurricular activities are more and more often considered to be useless; why learn words or trivia? Why do anything involved with a job you won’t ever do? Those other activities, considered “training” for careers that most students don’t want to participate in, are criticized for that exact reason. But they give students a chance to broaden their horizons anyway, find out what they like… make them more interesting at parties, maybe. This is entirely what citizenship is about; an awareness of the world around us, sharpened by all the things the world has to offer.
But even beyond these arguments, there’s a major reason why student journalism in particular isn’t simply “preparation” for the wider world of newspapers. A mockup of the real thing, it can offer every single aspect of the real deal. From writing style to deadlines to design to marketing, everything a real publisher or writer might have to deal with can be accounted for. Of course, one can still say they don’t want to be a journalist, and a school newspaper means nothing to them in the wider context of “real” newspapers.
In political debates throughout American history, the Constitution is brought up again and again; to the process of democracy, the most integral Amendment is the first (hence its numbering). In participating and thereby understanding journalism, one can derive an appreciation for the freedoms afforded by this amendment- of speech, of press, and all the other rights that support them. This is the purpose of being “well-rounded”- awareness of the world around oneself, and why it must work the way it does.
If someone wants to talk about civic engagement, one can get an idea of what they mean- voting, and the knowledge necessary to do so; participation in the day-to-day politics of their towns and counties and states and inevitably country, and knowledge of the world around them. The media is meant to be the medium for this knowledge, which should inform all “civic” actions a citizen can take. It can circumvent the misinformation of governments and organizations, and provide its readers with a true view of the larger world.
Freedom of the press is arguably the most important aspect of a democracy; when a country becomes a dictatorship, the press is much easier to control than the speech of its citizens. When the integrity of a nation’s media is compromised, the knowledge of its citizens is questionable; the concept of student journalism clarifies the importance of the media, and the difficulty of a journalist’s job (especially in the modern day, where the media is questioned constantly and incorrect information can be dangerous). The past of yellow journalism is evidence of the power of inaccurate information, to the point of starting a war (the Spanish-American War was caused by inaccurate coverage of an American warship’s sinking).
In the context of extracurricular activities, many seemingly-“useless” or fun-only clubs and teams can be much more important beneath the surface. Journalism in particular is an important topic in the modern day, especially in regards to politics; information provided during school can only go so far to allow a young mind to think for itself, but examining the effects and viewpoints behind modern politics can come easily with the practice of student journalism. The fundamentals of good writing and good information-gathering can also come in the process of writing an article. And in a more general sense, scheduling and filling up one’s own time with things beyond the bare minimum is effective preparation for the real world and the workforce. Intellectual and physical pursuits alike are an integral part of a well-rounded lifestyle, and nothing can be underestimated in its role in the development of a young man or woman on their way to adulthood.