If you want toappreciate how drastically the student-rights pendulum has swung in America’scourts and legislatures over the past 35 years, consider a news item from theSPLC’s Report magazine of December 1977.
Reporting on theenactment of what became California Education Code Sec. 48907 – the nation’sfirst state statute protecting the freedom of the student press – writer GaryWeinstein reported that the only organized opposition to the bill came from …the American Civil Liberties Union, which was concerned that legislators weregiving schools too much authority by letting them censor speech thatis “obscene, libelous, disruptive, or advocates breaking the law.”
Fast-forwardthree-and-a-half decades, and – as reporter Emily Summars tells us in thisissue of the Report – legislation giving students some facsimileof the rights Californians have enjoyed since the ‘70s is considered D.O.A. inlegislatures from Nebraska to Vermont.
There is much aboutthe ‘70s not to be nostalgic for – Spiro Agnew, “You Light Up My Life,”sideburns the size of Greyhound buses – but for students, respect for basicindividual liberties was undeniably better. That same 1977 edition of theSPLC’s magazine brought news of a federal appeals-court ruling, Gambino v. Fairfax County School Board, granting Virginia high school students theright to publish a front-page article about the importance of contraception forsexually active teens – a story that many federal judges might regard aslegally unprotected speech today.
It is easier todaythan ever to trace the decline in regard for student rights, because – thanksto the efforts of Publications Fellow Brian Schraum and intern Sam Tobin –every edition of the Report magazine is now viewable online, eitherthrough the www.splc.org website or on Issuu at http://issuu.com/splc/docs.
These archived issuesprovide a valuable archival reference, reminding us all that a more open-mindedand educationally supportive way of life not only is attainable but has existedin our recent past, with not a hint of the chaos or bedlam that schooladministrators so often predict if their control is anything but absolute.
Beyond that, the Report archives offer an entertaining look back at how some of today’s mostcelebrated journalists got their start.
Check out the Fall1979 edition, which features the artwork of then-college student Bob Staake (whoseindelible cartoons are now a fixture in The New Yorker and The Washington Post) and stories by student writer Barton Gellman (now a PulitzerPrize-winning journalist and best-selling author of the Dick Cheney biography, Angler). We’re proud to count these luminously creative talents – and many morelike them – as part of the SPLC family.