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In the October issue of the Neshaminy High School newspaper, the Playwickian, the editorial staff decided that the word Redskin was racist and offensive to Native Americans, and that they would no longer use it or any derivative of it in their paper. This caused some issues as the school's sports teams are named the Redskins.

This issue has garnered much attention locally and nationally having been discussed in the New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Buck's County Courier Times and on Keith Olbermann's show on ESPN. However the major focus has been on the Redskin's controversy not, what is to my mind and the student's minds, the most important factor; the students right to make that decision.

I would like to tell the school board, the students and all Neshaminy parents, that these are young adults we should all be proud of. They give their free time to put out an award winning newspaper. They have recently been awarded the 2012-2013 Gold Award from the Pennsylvania School Press association and the Silver Certificate of Excellence for High School Journalism from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. The Pennsylvania School Press had this to say about the current Playwickian:

"The Playwickian newspaper staff, advised by veteran Tara Huber, was recognized for regularly looking beyond the campus for issues of concern to students. “You are not afraid to write about the hard and sensitive issues. You take risks on editorial pages – bravo!” The judge continued, “Nice job on social media presence. You did a great service to your readers. You also included Howler material. All great ways to provide coverage.”
These students also exemplify what I hope every student is learning in our schools. They held an intelligent discourse about the subject then voted on it. Even after voting on it the opposing viewpoint was given equal time. Then most importantly, they all stood behind the paper's right to decide it. "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" is a principle this country was founded upon and is shown in practice by these 21 very brave students.

Background and more below the squiggle...

The original editorial (http://playwickian.com/...) lays out a well-reasoned decision. The 21 members of the editorial board held a discussion that allowed all members a say. The issue was debated and voted on, with 14 of the members agreeing to ban the R-word. The remaining seven wrote a dissenting point of view, which was printed on the same page of the paper as the majority view (http://playwickian.com/...). Then they all agreed to stand behind the policy.

The paper went to press and about 2 weeks later (October 28) the school principal, Dr. Robert McGee, sent an email to Mrs. Tara Huber, the faculty advisor to the paper, and asked her several pointed questions most seemingly geared to intimidate the students and their teacher. For example; in the first four questions, he continually asks whether their "intent is to restrict/censor" certain things. By using the term censor, he is implying that the students are violating other's first amendment rights, which they cannot be because they are not a government organization (which in this situation he is,) and the fifth "question" which reads, "Presently, the "highest" district authority authorizing this policy appears to be you". In this letter, he also told Huber and the students that their policy was on-hold since "To this point, the NHS Administration has not been consulted on the Playwickian's policy to restrict 'Redskin' and 'Skins' from the NHS School Newspaper" which is not something the student's need to do. This hold will be maintained, "…until such a time that we can determine that a school newspaper has such authority and that this policy does not infringe on the rights of others." Still no discussion between the school board/McGee and the students was done.

During this time, the next issue was being put together and a clearly trumped-up challenge was in the works. A coach for one of the school's teams sent out a blast e-mail claiming the students were trying to change the mascot of the school (and supported the defunding of extracurricular activities?) and that the boosters and student athletes should do everything they could to stop the editors. One alumna put an ad in for consideration with the word "redskin" in it repeatedly. The editors were presented with the paid ad and were told to publish it. However, the alumna pulled the ad and donated the money to the paper. The editors then took the money and donated it to the "Spirit Bus" that would take the Women's varsity Soccer team and fans to the State Championship Final This new issue also included another editorial trying to shift the focus from the word and to the underlying issue of the rights of the editorial board (http://playwickian.com/...). . This email also lead to the editors being bullied at school.

McGee set up a meeting with the editors and Huber to "discuss" the policy on November 19 (more than a month after he was made aware of the editorial policy.) The meeting was moved, as requested by Huber, to November 21 after school hours so that parents could attend. (I was at the meeting since my daughter is one of the editors.)

The "discussion" began with Magee asking to lay out the administration's position. He handed out a 52 page document that included everything from all the articles written on the subject, cases that the districts lawyers felt proved the students had no right to create the policy, a time line calendar and all of the curriculum maps for the school's journalism classes but, oddly enough, not the first editorial or the dissent. Obviously, "an overwhelming force" intimidation attempt. It also contained a subtle threat of accountability for Huber as the only employee of the district standing on the student's side and a not so subtle hint that the paper itself could be defunded.

The parents would have none of it and interrupted McGee quite often with questions and observations as he tried to lay out the justification for the student's rights being denied. This went on for over an hour with McGee just insisting on trying to continue plowing through his mass of paper that he, as an educator, should have known did little to help his case, as we were not there to be lectured to, but to discuss the situation.
Next, the students presented their position. This amounted to citations of case law that they felt bolstered their side.

The truly wonderful thing happened next.

All 21 editors, even the ones that had written the dissenting editorial, sat on the edge of the stage and the meeting became a discussion not a lecture. The students were at their best when answering the questions that the parents and McGee posed.

 They explained that they were not infringing on anyone's rights, and even perfectly answered the "what if" scenarios that they were offered. They explained that opinions would not be censored; articles could be re-worded to comply with the new policy without losing the meaning of the article. Just like other newspapers do, the students edit submissions now for style and grammar; this is just a continuation of their acknowledged responsibilities as editors.

By the end of the night, one of the parents volunteered to create a mailing list so that everyone knew what was going on. McGee had, after learning about the bullying, agreed to do a school announcement explaining that the paper was not advocating removing the mascot, but just the word from the publication and that all harassment must stop. His address to the school was very well done and expressed several of the points made during the meeting (http://www.neshaminy.org//site/Default.aspx?PageID=25477). He also promised to do his best to deliver the student's view to the school board. I also believe that by the end Magee understood that the students had a strong point and could be trusted to fairly enforce this policy, and also that a future board of editors could reverse this policy in coming years.

Unfortunately, because this has dragged on so long I believe it is out of his hands and now rests with the school board, its lawyers and the lawyer the students have retained.

Originally posted to pgbyrne0009 on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 05:10 AM PST.

Also republished by Native American Netroots, Political Language and Messaging, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  re censoring: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    VClib

    censoring doesn't necessarily entail.government action.  for example, a private university can censor; the distinction is that it is allowed to do so because it isn't a government actor.  that said, private institutions like the press and private schools regularly trumpet their respect for free speech.

    that said, if this is a public school then the status of the newspaper as government actor isn't so.clear.  there are at least a few cases out there holding that student newspapers are "public fora" such that the first amendment would be implicated.  that doesn't mean they can't have viewpoint neutral policies in place that would permit banning certain speech, but I think you too quickly dismiss the possibility that the first amendment would apply here.

    •  How far does it go, Counselor? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nocynicism

      I figger that what you might be saying is that an Editorial Board on a school paper might be violating a writer's speech rights if the board decrees certain words or phrases aren't to be used, someone writes an article using the banned language, and the piece is either edited or spiked...

      What if the language they wanna use is one of Carlin's Seven Words?

      Who decides what's offensive speech? "Redskin" just might be as offensive to some folks as "N----r" or "F----t" are to most people of good will, and community consensus is something that develops, not something that just "is."

      (censorship works a variety of ways. I pretty much agonized over the two words in the above paragraph, I wanted to use them in my point, but they are so offensive I replaced the words with -----)

      "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

      by leftykook on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 06:16:10 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not really. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        leftykook, VClib
        I figger that what you might be saying is that an Editorial Board on a school paper might be violating a writer's speech rights if the board decrees certain words or phrases aren't to be used
        Just because the first amendment is implicated doesn't mean it's been violated.  Look at Occupy Wall Street and its progeny: they had first amendment rights to engage in expressive conduct, to protest, etc., but that can be overcome if the regulation is viewpoint/content neutral and reasonable.

        Same thing here.  

        Or: the diarist reached the right result (the newspaper can probably censor its contributors), but through a wrong analysis.  

    •  That all misses the point, though. (3+ / 0-)

      Censorship as something actionable pertains to viewpoints, not the use of specific words.  Even if the decision to use or not use a specific word is based on a broader viewpoint, there's a huge difference between saying "we're not going to use the word Redskins" and "we're not going to publish anything about European colonization of North America unless it's negative."  The former is a workaday editorial style decision.

      It's not the side effects of the cocaine/I'm thinking that it must be love

      by Rich in PA on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 11:35:31 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The amendments to the Constitution, as well as (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Orinoco

      the main body, address the behavior of agents of government. The principal of a school is an agent, but not the students, who have no rights because most have not yet been emancipated. But, again, that is irrelevant because the Constitution does not give license or rights; it merely says they cannot be infringed by agents of government. Which is where the parents come in. If anyone's rights are being infringed, it's the parents' who, presumably, did not send their children to a public school to be silenced.
      Rights are a mutual matter. But, it's not a matter of give and take. That is, the Constitution does not give rights (other than those associated with governing) and individuals do not take (accept) them. Rather, rights inhere in persons and need to be respected to be activated or made real. Rights are no good, unless someone respects them and, at a minimum, respecting individual rights is an obligation of agents of government. It is a minimum requirement that agents of government show respect to the people who employ them. That public officials are all employees comes as a shock to a good many, who think they've been designated to rule -- that "public service" refers to some abstract principle, like a secular deity, not real people. These same people seem to think that public is the opposite of private or secret and that people can properly be excluded from their own (public) spaces.

      Obamacare at your fingertips: 1-800-318-2596; TTY: 1-855-889-4325

      by hannah on Sat Dec 07, 2013 at 07:02:06 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for giving us an inside look (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Steven D

    at the brave editorial staff of the Playwickian.

    Welcome from the DK Partners & Mentors Team. If you have any questions about how to participate here, you can learn more at the Knowledge Base or from the New Diarists Resources Diaries. Diaries labeled "Open Thread" are also great places to ask. We look forward to your contributions.

    The Americas greatest political dynasty...the Kaan

    by catilinus on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 09:59:11 AM PST

  •  This story made me smile (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Steven D

    Thanks for sharing it.

    Best of luck to the Playwickian staff. I was a student editor in both high school and college. I know those battles.

    Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility (not an original but rather apt)

    by terrypinder on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 11:21:17 AM PST

  •  I was thinking about (0+ / 0-)

    why the term is so difficult to remove from sports teams.  I think it boils down to it is that it is not viewed as a "negative" derogatory term.  You would never have an issue with other terms - who would want to play on Valley High Sp!cs or k!kes etc?  But this term portrays fierce valor/bravery for many.  So I think they have a hard time viewing it as a negative - even if they could intellectually agree that it is not something they would call someone of native American ancestry.  

    "I'm not left wing because i'm ideological, or passionate, or angry. I'm left wing because I'm informed." - Mikesco

    by newfie on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 12:58:36 PM PST

  •  Good Luck to your Daughter (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Laurel in CA

    I am a Council Rock graduate. As a child (I am now in my forties) I always thought it was weird that we called our sports teams the Indians. After all, we were all a bunch of suburban whites of European ancestry.

    "To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead." -- Thomas Paine

    by jerseycorn on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 06:04:45 PM PST

  •  Here's the text of the First Amendment (0+ / 0-)
    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
    Freedom of speech doesn't mean you can say anything you want at any time. Censorship is something done by the government (usually accompanied by a threat to arrest and prosecute you -- or to prevent the publication of your opinions by some means).

    If you visit a friend and he kicks you out of his house for using the F-word in front of his toddler, that's not censorship.

    If you're a stand up comic and the owner of the club tells you not to do the offensive and unfunny bit about raping a five-year-old (no matter how funny you think the joke is), that's not censorship.

    If you're a Republican troll and visit the Daily Kos website for Democrats and if your comments get hide-rated, that's not censorship.

    If your letter to the editor of a local newspaper doesn't get published, that's not censorship.

    I could give you a zillion examples of what's not censorship.

    --

    Censorship is something that's inflicted on citizens by government. Censorship is when the government tries to control what you say or don't say.

    "Congress shall pass no laws..."

    --

    And in this case, I think it's clearly the school that is acting as the government. For the principal to accuse the students of censorship is ludicrous. The students aren't censoring anything.

    I suppose you could argue that students under the age of 18 are not yet adults. And in a school situation, the school acts in the place of a parent (I think the legal term is "in parento locis" or something like that).

    But if the kids don't want to use the word "Indians," that's not censorship.

    "Stupid just can't keep its mouth shut." -- SweetAuntFanny's grandmother.

    by Dbug on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 11:28:23 PM PST

    •  Comments (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dbug

      I would like to thank you all for these thought provoking comments.

      I am sharing all of this with the student editors.

      The student editors have very strongly stood up for the rights of students to have differing opinions, they will publish articles that express a view different from their consensus, only asking that the offensive term is not used. This is evidenced by the dissenting editorial that was printed alongside the majority view. 7 of the editors did not find the word offensive in its context as a team name. They made the argument that it was not intended as derogatory but as a symbol of athleticism and pride in the Native American culture pervasive in the area (The paper name and the school name are both locacl Native American names). However they too stand behind the paper's right to make that editorial policy and against the school to force them into printing a word that the majority do find derogatory.

  •  I took a look at my old HS (0+ / 0-)

    I went to Highland Falls High School in NY back in the 60's. Our teama were called the Red Raiders with an Indian chief's picture used on all our athletic "stuff". Our school colors were maroon and white - the maroon for the Indian mascot .... including a nice faux Indian suit to run around during games.

    So I went to take a look and see what it uses now.

    It is now called the James O'Neill high school and it calls the teams the "Raiders" - they dropped the red, or so it seems, but they still use the old Indian Chief's drawing.

    Some things never change.

    Politics is the entertainment branch of industry. Frank Zappa

    by Da Rock on Sun Dec 08, 2013 at 05:01:54 AM PST

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