SPLC director LoMonte sees dual purpose for journalism education

Frank LoMonte speaks at the Capital Teach-In at George Washington University. (Photo by David W. Bulla0

Frank LoMonte speaks at the Capital Teach-In at George Washington University. (Photo by David W. Bulla0

By David W. Bulla

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Frank LoMonte is a mass communication legal expert. The executive director of the Student Press Law Center, LoMonte specializes in freedom of the press for student journalists at the high school and college level.

But he also might just as well as being an advocate for education in general. For example, when he starts talking about the value of journalism education, he shows the enthusiasm of a head coach about to lead his team into battle against an arch-rival.

“There’s a vast deficit in civics education in America,” LoMonte told high school and college teachers at the AEJMC Scholastic Journalism Division Capital Teach-In on Wednesday. “However, this a great opportunity for journalism education because journalism class becomes a two-for: (1) students learn how to report and write; and (2) they get an education in civics, learning how to think about an issue, what does it mean to one’s life and how one can change something that needs changing.”

Awareness is another civic virtue, he said. LoMonte noted that Washington, D.C., has a students’ bill or rights, but it is not well publicized. He encouraged teachers in the district to look it up, know what’s in it and spread the word in their schools.

The district safeguards the First Amendment rights of free speech, assembly and expression for its students. Based on the 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the following examples of free expression are protected: wearing political symbols such as armbands or buttons; participating in political and social organizations; using student bulletin boards without prior restraint; and publishing student publications, including newspapers and yearbooks.

Putting these rights into action offers significant pedagogical potential.

“Student journalists have the time and interest to ask the deeper questions,” LoMonte said, referring to the wealth of  information in the public domain from school districts and state boards of education. “This is something professional journalists in big cities cannot do when it comes to covering education. They only show up on campus when there has been a shooting or bomb threat.”

The SPLC leader mentioned several possible story ideas for student publications, based on the idea of localizing such information.

LoMonte makes a point. (Photo by David W. Bulla)

LoMonte makes a point. (Photo by David W. Bulla)

“The leading reason for suspension and expulsion in almost every state is ‘defiance of authority or insubordination,'” he said. “What does that mean? What about prohibitions against cell phone usage or banned websites.”

LoMonte said to see how these played out in the district and the school building. He also told teachers not to be fooled by a wide application of FERPA, which does not apply to anonymous statistics that point to certain trends.

The Capital Teach-In was held at the GWU School of Media and Public Affairs. The Scholastic Journalism Division of AEJMC has held a teach-in for 11 years in conjunction the organization’s annual national conference.

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2 Responses to “SPLC director LoMonte sees dual purpose for journalism education”

  1. Fern Valentine Says:

    As usual, Frank was dead on, although journalism programs led by student editors are more than two-fors. They not only teach journalism and ethics, they teach how to work as a team to produce a product within time and budget restraints, how to use complicated computer programs and how to do research by interview instead of Internet. What other program teaches these skills that employers say they are looking for most?

  2. Michael C. Hines Says:

    Good information. Lucky me I discovered your blog by accident (stumbleupon).
    I’ve book marked it for later!

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