The Protocol represents a logical next step for the Civic Program in our work to further the cause of civic education in Illinois. In 2009, we released the Illinois Civic Blueprint, a document detailing six promising approaches to teaching civic education in high schools across the state. Among the approaches is making student activities available that encourage greater involvement and connection to school and community. The link between certain extracurricular activities and lifelong civic engagement is well documented, particularly those organizations that pursue a collective outcome, such as student government, youth service clubs and, perhaps most prominently, scholastic news media.
Another approach emphasizes authentic student voice in school governance. This entails student opportunities to discuss school policies, present viewpoints, and have a respectful hearing of their concerns. It also includes information about student rights and responsibilities in school, and established processes for students to air their grievances, including issues of fairness. The Protocol that follows embodies these principles and more.
The Knight Foundation's annual survey of student appreciation for the First Amendment shows that students are much more likely than their teachers or administrators to take for granted the First Amendment's five freedoms. However, students enrolled in classes with First Amendment or media content show higher levels of support for freedom of expression. Additionally, when First Amendment freedoms are rooted in their daily lives, students are much more likely to protect not only their own rights but also the rights of others. Such a reciprocal commitment is the best way to preserve First Amendment freedoms.
All too often student media fall victim to the inevitable tensions associated with schools' perpetual balancing act between freedom and structure. Lack of structure invites sloppy journalism that reflects poorly upon the school it represents. Lack of freedom fails to prepare tomorrow's journalists for professional responsibilities and obligations and tomorrow's citizens for news consumption critical to informed democratic participation.
The Protocol is our best effort to find balance between freedom and structure. It is a consensus document that student journalists, their advisers and school administrators can turn to repeatedly during times of both harmony and discord. When a controversy surrounding a student newspaper gathers headlines in the professional press or ends up in the courtroom, all parties lose. On the other hand, when adversaries become allies, when contentious issues are resolved through consensus, and when student journalists practice their craft with the proper mix of freedom and structure, all parties win.