By Billie Guthrie
The definition of controversy is “disagreement, typically when prolonged, public, and heated.” By that definition any issues faced today are controversial and often aren’t discussed within a classroom setting.
When taking a journalism class students want to write articles that grab people’s attentions and cause them to talk -- and nothing does that quite like controversy. Topics like rape culture, homophobia, drugs, and mental illness are controversial topics that schools often shy away from.
Should schools be censoring their newspapers from these kinds of topics? Students live with the reality of rape culture, homophobia, drugs, and mental illness every day and are so fully immersed in these structures that they become normal. So why hide them? High schools are full of people at many different stages of learning and development, and often different stages of innocence, but walking down a school hallway we hear slurs being said and conversations with deep meanings. We can’t hide the innocent away from a world that they are eventually all going to face.
People need to talk about the issues that plague many high schools. Why can’t a journalistic paper talk about the effects of rape culture in today’s society? Something that affects students all over the world and leaves people feeling alone and isolated should be discussed in order to help. What about homophobia? How can something so important not be allowed to reach the paper? Saying that all students should feel comfortable and accepted in their own school should not offend anyone in the slightest. Drugs are also something that needs to be discussed. Students may want to experiment at this time in their lives, and if no one is telling them about the wrong that drugs can do, they might do drugs just do to be cool. Mental illness is, to me, the most important controversial topic to raise. So many students suffer from depression and anxiety and it may help them to read something that shows they’re not alone and it's okay to be sad or stressed. The school newspaper might be a place where students can read about coping mechanisms and resources. This safe place to talk is an important space in our lives.
In the United States, there are many stories of censorship in school newspapers. School boards have tried to block out swear words as though children don’t already hear this language from movies or friends or even their own parents. The school authorities try to please the parents and forget the children who need to hear about what goes on in the lives they live. Students know about these topics. They discuss these topics with friends. They live these realities every day. I think having teachers fired over publishing articles about these issues, or making them take the articles down, is harmful to the writers of the pieces and to the students who read the paper. None of these topics – if written properly – should offend anyone reading. They just bring a little real life to the high school news.