June 19, 2013 - . Along with the sunshine, there's gotta' be a little rain, sometime. . ."
-- a song some country and western
chick sang in the early to mid 1970s
In one of our community newspapers last week a local teacher wrote a letter to the editor. When I saw the letter and that the writer was a teacher, inside I did a fist pump. "Yeah!" I love it when teachers read the paper and take the time to write us. The "school" beat is our Number One news beat -- we put a lot of effort into covering schools, policy, the governing body, administration, taxes . . . but more importantly what is happening in the classrooms and student achievement.
When I give tours of the newspaper, I let folks know it is our goal to get every kid who goes through our local school district in our community paper at least once before he or she graduates.
In the 28-plus years I have worked for this company, I do not think we have failed yet. So, like I said, I was glad to see a teacher writing us . . . until I read, in part:
"I feel as though I wake up every morning and read about the doom and gloom of public education, kids, and schools. Whether it's an article about funding issues, union busting, school shootings, annoyed parents, angry teachers, standardized tests, or drop out rates, there is always something negative about schools.
"These articles often make the schools, teachers, students, and community look and sound awful. As a teacher, I often shake my head in disgust because these articles are either 100 percent true or 100 percent false.
"Somehow, through all of the doom and gloom mentioned on the news and in newspapers, I feel like this year was my best year of teaching. It wasn't because of state legislation, new technology, new curriculum, or some great reform, it was because I had an awesome group of kids.
"Sadly, we rarely read or hear about the wonderful things these kids do in our schools, so I thought I would try to write a positive, refreshing, feel good letter about schools and students!"
* * *
What newspaper was that teacher reading? (Not this one, that's for sure.) Ninety percent of the school news on these pages is about all the groovy things kids are doing. That said, we are a newspaper and we must report when an administrator says, "(Financially) We're flirting with receivership."
Locals need to know this stuff! It is newsworthy. We can't all just sit around the fire, holding hands and singing, "Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya." John Bogart, an editor of The Sun in New York from 1873 to 1890 is given credit for this saying, "When a dog bites a man, that is not news . . . But if a man bites a dog, that is news."
I probably gravitate to that quote because -- as one former Clarkston Community Schools superintendent called this 1981 Clarkston High School grad -- I am a yellow journalist at heart. I admit it. I also note, even though he called for my head to roll, I'm still here and he's not.
I guess that's a "nanny-nanny, poo-poo."
When I read last week's letter, I knew I had to do something and not just tweek the teacher upside his head for being too sensitive. I needed to make it a learning experience. One of the newsletters I read is e-mailed and is about being skeptical. Donna L. Halper recently wrote, How to be a skeptical news consumer. I think she's a better educator than I, so . . . here's Donna:
"I'm a professor of media, and I focus on critical thinking in every class I teach; but it's not just college students who can benefit from a skeptical approach to what they see from both print and on-line sources.
"Every school—from elementary right on up—should encourage students to become media literate: the ability to evaluate and assess the claims made by commercial advertising as well as by politicians and advocates. We are supposed to live in an 'information society,' but sadly, much of what we see and hear is not entirely accurate.
"As a researcher, I've noticed the tendency on the internet for some 'fact' to be posted on one site and then reposted hundreds of times, as if the amount will somehow prove it's true.
"As any student of philosophy knows, this is an aspect of Argumentum ad Populum, or the Bandwagon effect—if millions of people believe X, it must be true. Or, as my students will often tell me, they saw it on Wikipedia (or some other frequently read site), so it must be true . . ."
* * *
Thank you, Donna. So, students, what you read in the paper or hear from your teacher may or may not be true. It is up to you to research. Read this paper for a few months and then tell me the percentage of positive to negative. And then remember, I never promised you a rose garden, sometimes when it rains, we print it.
Don is Assistant Publisher for Sherman Publications, Inc. He has worked for the company since 1985. He has won numerous awards for column, editorial and feature writing as well as for photography. He has two, sons Shamus and Sean and resides in the area. To read archived copies of his columns, click on his name, just under his picture up top . . . He can be e-mailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org