When I studied journalism in school, I had two teachers. The first was a woman who I loved while I was in her class. In the interest of her privacy, I’ll call her Miss because she was younger when I was in her class than I am now. Let me tell you how old that makes me feel.
At any rate, Miss and I had a really good relationship, which should have been my first tip off that A. I was a huge kiss ass and B. she was a little too comfortable with her students.
Learning journalism wasn’t like anything else I’d experienced in my short fifteen years. While it was, essentially the same, learn by practice, the only real way to practice it was to run our own school paper. Which is what we did. So, instead of having journalism as an elective, it was just another class. Just a class that we, most of the time, were writing and editing instead of listening while the teacher taught. As you can imagine, I learned a lot. And not just about journalism.
When I get comfortable, I have no kind of filter
And this was new to me, because as an introvert, it takes me a long time to get comfortable. So, I’d never really gotten to the point where I was comfortable before. So some of the things that came out of my mouth while we were having ‘current event discussions’. For instance, mine was the first class to have metal detectors. I had, on several occasions, had something on my person that made the damn thing go off. If you set off the detector, security guards went through your bag, often by taking everything ‘out’ of your bag. I was 15. Sometimes, they were taking tampons out of my bag. That was humiliating to a 15 year old girl. When we were discussing pros and cons of the metal detectors in class, that seemed like one hell of a con to me. Apparently that was inappropriate. Personally I thought then, as I think now, that if it’s too inappropriate to talk about in school, it shouldn’t be happening in school.
The world is a dark and scary place
If you do the math, you’ll know that I was 15 in 2001. I was, like so many of my contemporaries, sitting in a locked down school on September 11th, sharing rumors. The teachers were forbidden to talk to us about what was happening. My journalism teacher decided to forgo that rule. She turned the tv on, and we watched the news. Then we talked about what had happened. When Daniel Pearl was murdered, we talked about that, too. And at that age, with no adult in my life willing to discuss things like this with me, I learned that there was a lot to be afraid of.
Newspapers think we’re illiterate
Do you know that the majority of newspapers are written to a fifth grade reading level? That means that any vocabulary that would be too advanced for a fifth grader is not permitted. That’s, apparently all that can be expected of the American people. For my opinion of that, please see the above comment about the world being a scary place.
Sometimes editors are saints, and sometimes they are overly political assholes
This is the truth. I’m with Stephen King on this one, there is nothing that will teach you more than the first time an editor takes a red pen to your work and just marks it the hell up. (He didn’t phrase it that way, but he did talk about this in On Writing. If you haven’t read it, read it.) An editor who knows what s/he is doing will cut and tighten your writing in such a way to make it sing.
A bad editor will rip your piece a new one if they have ‘issues’ with it. I ran into this the same day that I found out that Miss and I didn’t fully agree on everything. Like whether we ought to have been at war. Shame.
The world is full of some amazing people, and I was privileged to go to school with some of them
I met two women in my class that I want to tell you about. The first was a very religious girl who always wore turtleneck sweaters with a small gold cross hanging out. She was incredibly conservative, like frighteningly so. She was also the first to help out when someone was having trouble with their edits and got straight A’s all year. The second girl was Gothic, atheist, sexually active at 16, frighteningly liberal, and possibly the coolest person I have ever met. Taught me all sorts of fun stuff my mother wished I didn’t know. She was also the first to speak out against any inequality in our school. Both of these girls were smart, kind, selfless people. They were funny, and their writing was thought provoking. They also, by the way, liked each other fine, despite pulling no punches during debates in class.
If two teenage girls as different as that can discuss the big issues in our country like wars, abortion, welfare, sexual discrimination and security after 9/11 without fistfights, we all can. I wish I’d met more people like that in my life. I hope that I’m like them in that one way.
There are some great people walking this world with us. It helps, know that they’re there when we’ve got so much scary stuff to face.