Newsweek Educational Program (CCCC 2006 Chicago — Day 1)
A big part of the CCCC convention is the exhibit hall, where publishers offer their latest titles. I peeked in before the exhibit hall opened, and found the chaos very interesting. The exhibitors work for hours to set up booths that I might spend 2 seconds glancing at as I walk by. The scene reminded me of how much goes into preparing this convention.
While chilling out in the lobby, I spent some time talking with the rep from Newsweek, who is here to exhibit materials from Newsweek’s education program. I liked what I saw of their current unit on popular culture and an older unit on innovation. My initial sense is that the materials don’t really represent the way students really work. It makes perfect sense that Newsweek would want to introduce students to samples of its work (the same company also publishes The Washington Post). Newspapers have a vested interest in the literacy of a population, since in addition to all the other benefits literacy brings to a society, more readers means more subscribers, which means more ad money.
But students don’t start their research with Newsweek or The Washington Post – they start with Google. The rep at this conference admitted he couldn’t show me very much evidence that the Newsweek educational program was taking advantage of new media.
The Newsweek materials include stand-alone subject guides that anthologize recent articles on a particular theme. It also includes a newsletter that presents study questions, vocabulary guides, and current events quizzes, keyed to each week’s issue of Newsweek. (Apparently the woman who writes that newsletter gets a FAX of the magazine over the weekend, just before it goes to press, and she’s supposed to have her newsletter finished by Monday, when it’s sent out to teachers.)
When I teach journalism, I do have students read current issues of the paper, and as part of the discussion about sources, bias, and credibility, we have wandered into topics such as nuclear proliferation in North Korea, the Swift Boat Veterans’ attacks on John Kerry, and the Danish cartoon controversy. But I don’t really teach those events. That news writing class had 33 students, which is huge by Seton Hill standards, and very large for any writing class. While I’d like to see students engaging intelligently with the world around them, the only part of that course I think I could cut to make room for more current events would be the exercises I assigned that had them covering events on campus. But that first-hand reportage taught important lessons that students simply would not be able to get out of a book. Getting out there and doing their own local reporting fits perfectly with the educational practices that serve millennials best.
Still, that doesn’t mean there is no place in my curriculum for a current events-based resource. I never assign students the kind of rhetorical persuasion that asks them to use current news reports to support a particular stand on a hot issue. Some students choose to write those kinds of essays on their blogs, of course, in which case I will help them out. But it’s not a genre that I actively teach.
Looking at these materials makes me wonder whether I should give it a try.