Saturday, October 16, 2004

I have been waiting for weeks to see how The Joplin Globe would handle the news that the Joplin R-8 School District had been accredited with distinction by the state of Missouri.
This is a big deal. To be accredited with distinction means your school district is one of the top districts in the state and has cleared all the hoops the state placed in its path.
At first glance, it appears The Globe has finally given a positive story about the R-8 School District the display it deserves. It is on page one, accompanied by a photo. But after that, the Globe reverts to its traditional reluctance to say anything good about its hometown school district.
The article quickly points out that the other two metropolitan Joplin area school districts, Webb City and Carl Junction, have already been accredited with distinction as have "several" other Southwest Missouri school districts.
The Globe is obviously trying to ward off complaints that it never plays up good news about the Joplin schools, while at the same time, not letting up an inch in its normal negative coverage. It makes no difference that Carl Junction and Webb City have already been accredited with distinction. So what? This story should have been about Joplin, not about Carl Junction and Webb City. And despite the Globe noting that "several" school districts have been accredited with distinction, there are a lot more that have not been.
The first news site to break the news about the Joplin R-8 School District was my Room 210 at , thanks to the hard work of intrepid eighth grade reporter Amy Herron Amy's article and a first-person article about the problems in adjusting to life in a new city (Joplin) when English is not your first language, written by eighth grader Mariana Rodriguez are featured on the Top News page at that site.
The formation of the new Journalism Club at South, which will have its works featured on Room 210 is one of the reasons (the final week of the first quarter being the other) that there have not been any updates of this website this past week. I will try to do better.
Back to The Joplin Globe. A letter to the editor in today's Globe hit the nail right on the head about the Globe's continued slide toward sensationalism. The article a few days ago about the bank robbery suspect which pointed out that his parents have criminal records was pure yellow journalism. Is it interesting? Sure it is. But the young man has not been convicted and this information adds nothing to the story of the bank robbery. I have had numerous e-mails asking me to write about a local candidate whose wife has written bad checks. It's not going to happen. Now give me a candidate who has written bad checks or declared bankruptcy and wants a post in which he or she has to handle taxpayers' money and I'll leap on it, but this candidate's wife should not be a story, any more than Dick Cheney's daughter, or the bank robbery suspect's parents should be stories.
Since I am on a roll with the media criticism, let's examine the most recent issues of The Lamar Democrat. First, the Turner Report, then the Joplin Globe, and even a national publication like Furniture Today have run stories on the resignation of Dan O'Sullivan from his position as chairman of the board of directors for O'Sullivan Industries. Though that resignation was almost two weeks ago, at least three editions have been published with nary word said in The Democrat about this major news story. I won't receive my Saturday Democrat until Monday and nothing has been posted on the web yet, but hopefully it will at least be mentioned.
The change of O'Sullivan Industries from a community-based business to a primary example of cutthroat corporate treachery is the biggest story to hit Lamar in years and Lamar residents, who should be able to turn to their hometown newspaper to get the story, are having to go to other sources such as The Turner Report and The Globe.
At the same time, the Democrat ran a story in the Thursday edition that detailed the search for a new CEO at Barton County Memorial Hospital. The article never mentions what happened to the old one or even who the old one is. This isn't a big secret, but you can't expect everyone to remember every detail from stories that have been run in the past.
And the editor's column reminded me of the scene in the old Clark Gable-Doris Day movie "Teacher's Pet," where Gable discovers that Day's father, the renowned small-town journalist Joel Barlow Stone, was nothing more than a cracker-barrel philosopher who wasted space on page one trying to determine if what he had seen were blueberries or huckleberries.
While the city of Lamar is on pins and needles wondering what will happen next in the O'Sullivan saga, the Democrat has devoted far more space to details of Lockwood City Council meetings and Thursday's "From Where I Perch" column in which editor Rayma Bekebrock Davis describes her discovery of "two very lovely persimmons" and uses them to try to determine what kind of winter we will have.
She makes the column worthwhile by noting "I have not seen one wooly worm crossing the road."
Perhaps if the Democrat were to search for news rather than wooly worms and persimmons it might get back to having the circulation and the journalistic reputation it had not so long ago.
It's no secret how I feel about the drug testing of students. It's wrong, it shouldn't be done, so naturally the Diamond R-4 School District is thinking seriously about doing it.
I am sure it is no coincidence that this is being considered so soon after the football team has had incidents with a top player who reportedly had been using illegal drugs. The U. S. Supreme Court won't allow drug testing of regular students because they have rights under the Fourth Amendment against illegal search and seizure. The students have to be provided with an education, but do not have to be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities, and that is where school districts such as Carthage and Webb City have instituted drug testing, as well as other school districts across the nation.
I am not naive enough to think that there are not athletes, band members, academic team members, etc., who take drugs. Of course there are. But how can we teach students about the protections offered citizens by the U. S. Constitution and then turn right around and blithely propose infringing upon their most basic human rights. And don't give me that nonsense about "If it saves one person's life, it will be worth it."
No, it won't. Each time we sacrifice a little bit of freedom for any cause, no matter how noble, we are spitting in the face of what makes America the greatest country in the world.
The majority of students who take drugs (alcohol being a major exception) are not involved in extracurricular activities. Being involved in these activities helps keep young people away from drugs.
For the Diamond R-4 School District, which has bandied about claims of financial hardship, to be discussing a program which in other schools has cost about $10,000, is ludicrous. Why not spend some money on an elementary counselor and help nip some of these problems before they ever begin?
It is true that you could probably catch some people doing drugs by testing them. It may even be true that some would avoid drugs (at least during the season) so they could pass the test. It might also keep some people from going out for extracurricular activities who might need some kind of meaningful activity in their lives to keep them from continuing to use drugs.
While the Diamond R-4 Board of Education is considering drug testing, perhaps it should also consider ankle bracelets for athletes to wear so they won't be partying on weekends or hanging around with the wrong people.Or how about chastity belts to stop those pesky teenage pregnancies. Just because it's being done by other school districts doesn't mean the Diamond R-4 School District should do it.
Then again, we all know how the superintendent and the board there feel about the First Amendment, give them time they'll take care of the Fourth Amendment, the rest of the Bill of Rights, and maybe a few of the Ten Commandments while they are at it.

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