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Should Students Be Censored? : Teen Journalists Need Principal's 'Guiding Hand' and Temperance

January 24, 1988|JIM GRAVES | Jim Graves lives in Santa Ana

As a 22-year-old recent college graduate who spent five years as a reporter and editor for both high school and college newspapers in Los Angeles County, I know well of a student newspaper staffer's desire to be free from the heavy hand of censorship by the school administration. In the wake of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling asserting the school authorities' right to prevent publication of controversial articles in school publications, I understand the sense of anger and hostility the teen-age reporters feel.

When I was 17 and opinion editor of my public high school's paper, our principal pulled an article I had written critical of a school program. I was disappointed by his decision and wondered, "What about my rights?"

In college, however, my perspective began to change. I saw how insulting a few unrestrained student writers could be. True, most students wrote responsibly, but there was always that ever-present minority that needed to be regulated.

Certain students would write vicious editorials personally attacking people they disagreed with. I saw students call people and groups foul names and present blatantly one-sided accounts to bias student opinion.

In addition to a lack of integrity, there are those who can demonstrate a lack of any sense of morality as well. In a recent issue of my college paper that I heard about, a girl described being strapped in stirrups along with other crude details during an abortion she had; another article related the benefits of masturbation. If this is what older, supposedly more responsible college students come up with, what lurks in the minds of their younger high school counterparts?

High-minded professional journalists demean the Constitution they claim to uphold when they insist that the First Amendment protects this kind of juvenile rubbish. The professional newspapers do us all a disservice when they run pictures of sour-faced teen-age editors, along with quotes decrying their loss of "free expression."

It isn't the squelching of the fundamental rights of "free speech" embodied in the Constitution that these young people are angry about; they're mad because they don't like authority figures placing restraints on their lives--restraints we all know they still need at that age. I know from experience: Several years back I was as bad as any of them.

In hindsight, I thank my high school principal for offering his guiding hand, not because he wanted to erase my right to free speech, but because he wanted to prevent me from hurting myself and others.

So three cheers for the Supreme Court's most judicious ruling demonstrating a clear understanding of the needs of teen-agers. And for those who moan the loss of true "student expression," which so often leads to irresponsibility by some student writers, I ask them one question: We have enough adult journalists who do this already, why do we need more?

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