WDEL Blog: Allan Loudell

Loudell rant: Distorted priorities in our schools

In between trying to set up some in-studio political debates, I've begun a quarter-century ritual:

Calling Delaware high schools - public, parochial, and private - for our first "Delaware High School Journalists' & Communicators' Night" of the 2012-2013 academic year.

It will air upstate on 1150 A.M. - WDEL - Monday, October 29th, 6:30--8 p.m., a week before the election.

I look forward to hearing students reflect on their state, country, and the world just before Americans go to the polls. I cherish these insights from young people. I am reminded of the first elections I really followed as a kid: Nixon--Humphrey--Wallace in 1968 and Nixon--McGovern in 1972. (For the latter, I orchestrated all-news Election Night coverage for most of the high school F.M. radio stations in the Chicago area.)

Fast-forward to today:

For the start of the school year, I typically call the main offices at each high school to update my list of faculty advisers for the newspaper (if one still exists!), yearbook, radio station, TV/communications arts, etc. It is amazing how many folks answering the phones at each high school don't have a clue. Would they be similarly clueless if I inquired about the name of the football or basketball coach, or even the coach for some lesser sport? In fairness, this doesn't necessarily happen at EVERY high school I call, but it happens at a good proportion of schools.

It's also interesting to reflect on the relative decline of high school journalism in Delaware. When I first launched a high school student journalists' night here in Delaware in 1987, the vast majority of high schools in Delaware had student newspapers which published with some degree of regularity. Except for Mount Pleasant High School's WMPH (available to high school students throughout the Brandywine district), Delaware has never been a hotbed for high school radio stations, although McKean High School (WMHS) signed on-the-air with a low-wattage station somewhat later. (Actually, the Kent County public schools in Maryland continue to operate one of the most powerful high school radio stations in the United States, WKHS, at 17,500 watts!)

But I digress.

Bluntly, I just find it troubling that so many high schools - public & private - have allowed their high school newspapers to evaporate. If the print publications were replaced by a viable presence on the internet (Milford High School's JOLLY ROGER comes to mind), that would be one thing. Granted, it's expensive to put out a physical newspaper, and many young people go to the internet almost exclusively for their news. But, in too many schools, the only media exposure comes from the yearbook or an in-house TV station. Sorry, students reading announcements on closed-circuit TV each morning cannot replace a hard-hitting student newspaper.

No wonder so many of our young people don't follow the news, are apolitical, and are largely clueless about the world! Forget conservative vs. liberal vs. libertarian. Many wouldn't know the difference. Although if I had to describe the dominant political view of students I encounter upstate - to the extent that it is possible to ascertain the ideological mindset of students - it's a vague, melba-toasty liberalism. Of course, you always have the outliers: A few articulate kids who clearly identify with Right or Left.

To return to one of my pet peeves about most Delaware high schools - public, parochial, and private - sports rules! If the coach for a major sport leaves, the administration will launch a tedious search to find a suitable replacement. If it's the adviser to the student newspaper, yearbook, etc., or perhaps the coach for some other academic extra-curricular activity, far too often an administrator will just saddle a novice teacher with that responsibility, whether or not that teacher has ANY experience in that area. I know. I've talked to some of those teachers over the years. Sad.

By the way, it's not necessarily the same in some other parts of the country. Excellent high school papers continue to exist - often with hard-copy editions & updates on websites between deadlines - in parts of the Northeast, Midwest, and the West.

Let's be blunt: Delaware's unique situation - particularly upstate with city/suburb pizza-wedge public school districts for purposes of desegregation - and many parochial and private schools - absolutely discourages hard-hitting student journalism. Public school administrators fear they'll be hit over the head, come referendum time, with any negative article which might appear in a unfettered student paper. Private school administrators, likewise, boost their schools as largely trouble-free islands far removed from drugs, crime, and all the rest. They don't need a student paper to report otherwise.

Bright spots exist, of course. I received a call from the adviser to the newly-launched student paper at Conrad School of Science. She WANTED her school to be included for a high school student journalists' night. It appears The Charter School of Wilmington will re-launch its highly-regarded paper, The BLUE STREAK.

But more typical is this: Talking to the adviser to the yearbook for a major high school south of the Canal (which will go unnamed for obvious reasons), I found out the yearbook had only four staffers so far, and none really followed current events. This high school's newspaper faded some years ago. This adviser said sports is just about the only thing that animates students. That says volumes.

One of the better advisers I know downstate once told me how the rush to standardized testing - and this inordinate emphasis on such testing - robbed schools of their flexibility and actually HURT such curricular and extra-curricular activities as a student newspaper. I believe it.

Now here's the paradox: You show me a high school with lots of academic extra-curricular activities, and academic teams competing in speech, debate, foreign languages, science, etc. Chances are that very same school flourishes in academic testing.

Posted at 7:28am on October 11, 2012 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

Thu, Oct 11, 2012 7:48am
I believe the reason they'll put a high priority on searching for a replacement football coach vs. a P.E. teacher can only have to do with one thing: Revenue.

Thu, Oct 11, 2012 8:34am
Allan- Is it the drop of the printed paper that worries you or that reporting has taken a completely new form - twitter, facebook, blogs, etc. What is your thought on the kid at Pencader who video'd the board meetings and was lambasted for doing so and posting the videos? Isn't that the new form of reporting?

Like you said, high schools don't put time into printing school papers because the are expensive and OLD. It's the same reason Best Buy doesn't sell B&W tube televisions. Times have changed and moved on. Newspapers haven't kept up with them usually because they are run by old newspaper men who can't let go of 'the good old days'.

As for the focus on sports, it's our society. And sports are a revenue producer. How many English teachers add to the bottom line of a schools budget? Sports are also an AFTERSCHOOL activity, which is completely voluntary. My issue is why more schools aren't highly promoting community volunteer activities. Sure a lot do them, but they are mainly for PR purposes. A well rounded-student (IMO) has good academics, understands and can work in a team environment and is a productive and active volunteer for the community.

Thu, Oct 11, 2012 8:49am
I agree with everything you said Mr. Loudell and it's very sad for our country if this is any example of our next generation of "leaders".

With the lack of interest or knowledge in local or world events/history the next generation and our country will be doomed to repeat history...an ill-informed population that votes is very dangerous indeed.

How does Pennsylvania (specifically Kennett Square area) compare in this sector of education and journalism? Any better/worse?

Mike from Delaware
Thu, Oct 11, 2012 8:58am
From interviews of college kids today and from back in the day, most kids today go to college so they can get a job that pays good, vs. back in the day kids went to college because they wanted to improve the world and society.

So given the value society places on those who make the big bucks, including sports and entertainment, it's only natural the kids and yes the schools reflect that.

Sports, especially football, makes money for each school, so it gets the attention and the support.

Music/Arts/Language skills i.e., Journalism, etc., don't grab the headlines for a school district.

You lament about the lack of HS radio stations, there aren't any FM frequencies left in the Wilmington area so even if a school wanted to invest the money to start a station, where on the dial would it go?

The idea of a school student-run internet site with both news/sports/ activities info, etc., maybe with links to other online sources for news like both Drudge and Huffington, probably is where the future is for student journalists.

Cool has marched on and we've missed the parade.

Thu, Oct 11, 2012 9:54am
I kinda tend to agree with Arthur here. If it's a lack of journalism and knowledge of current events that concerns us, that's one thing. But if it's simply a lack of a school newspaper... so what? ALL newspapers are going the way of the Dodo, not just school ones. That's the reason the News Journal had to institute the pay wall for their website... they weren't making money from paper subscriptions anymore, so they had to do what they could (and look how well that has worked out). Certainly there are other ways schools could get their students interested in journalism and current events again. But an outright newspaper per se is only training kids for a job that isn't going to be around much longer. Give the kids a student-run news website, and run with that instead. Sure, they'll likely end up covering sports a fair amount. But hopefully the more engaged kids will take it and run with it (assuming the administration will let them without censorship).

Thu, Oct 11, 2012 10:31am
As a journalist, I find this story somewhat disappointing. People need news and that is not going to change, no matter what the medium. Whether we're reading something on paper or a phone, it has to be researched, reported and written. Some schools have gone the online route in order to avoid the paper and printing costs, but this does not have the impact a physical paper does.

That said, I worked at the TV station at Salesianum when I was there, but not at the newspaper. My interest in print journalism really took root in college.

You can't force kids to be interested in current events or to read the news, but if the news was worked into the curriculum, forcing them to have at least a passing interest in what is going on, maybe that would spur something in the students.

I don't know that bemoaning the attention sports receives is the right way to go. For some schools, but certainly not all, football and basketball generate revenue that helps pay for other sports. And kids want to play and watch sports. Athletic teams are a source of pride for a school and community, a common bond that a school newspaper can never be. And sports are a great way to teach lessons beyond sports.

Thu, Oct 11, 2012 12:05pm

It could be argued that the dearth of high school newspapers is a microcosm of the journalism industry in general.

Many "professional" newspapers have cut back on staff and content. In some cases, newspapers have closed all together. In the case of the News Journal, the size of the paper shrunk to accomodate fewer articles, and there have been many rounds of layoffs at the News Journal.

In many ways, it would irresponsible to have high school journalism clubs which encourage to enter an industry that is dying and in which they'd likely be unemployed.

Fri, Oct 12, 2012 8:54am
I used to argue that electronic media had made newspapers obsolete. My argument stemmed from the fact that with links it was easy to go to the source, and quickly see if the reporting was off base. Prior, we had to trust the reporter.

I changed my mind when stuck in a small rural town, during a power outage, with only a newspaper. The newspaper had stories about things I would have thought I was uninterested in, but turned out to be fascinating. The local crime report that actually reported stop signs being run... even the excuses made by the little old ladies themselves... Wow.

The paper forced me to see things beyond my blinders. Electronic media can give one unlimited opportunity within a very narrow field. Now, electronic media are worse, with cookies determining instantly what you are seeing, based on what you already saw. Somewhere yesterday, I saw an article (I can't remember where) in which a German here in the US, was commenting he had German ads that all went Turkish, when he got one e-mail from a friend in Turkey.

Electronics have narrowed our view. Which is why I so thoroughly enjoy hearing the other side on this blog, because none of us are stupid. We are all rational people making our best way through the maze we find ourselves in. As for me, if I find a good idea that works for me, I'm using it; I don't care where it comes from.

I think today's kids sign on to something, and whatever that is, they accept its values and never challenge themselves by seeing another's point of view... :) It is time to return Liberalism, or thinking for oneself, back into our school's system.

Allan Loudell
Fri, Oct 12, 2012 2:59pm
It's interesting. When I periodically get on my soapbox about this topic, many of you quickly comment.

Granted, I get under people's skins, particularly with my critique of high school sports getting such inordinate emphasis in many of our schools.

Let's be clear. I don't condemn athletic activities and I advocate physical fitness. For that reason, I lament schools which give short shrift to regular P.E. Conversely, I condemn some of the private schools which REQUIRE that students participate in a sport AFTER school. That just about kills many academic extra-curricular activities.

You guys are onto something when you suggest generating revenue partially accounts for the high priority given competitive sports. But I would suggest that's the tail wagging the dog. If we must reduce it to dollars, may I turn this discussion upside down? I will argue such inordinate emphasis on athletics, even at the junior high level, hurts the global competitiveness of this country, and ultimately COSTS this country Millions, if not Billions.

Let me raise another vital point about revenue: If you're a Catholic or other religious school - attempting to inculcate religious values - aren't we teaching our kids precisely the wrong lesson by making revenue the holy grail? In addition, in our increasingly secularized society, I would think religious-oriented schools might want to promote forums which get students thinking about the clash between religious and secular values. I'll go further: If we now have a world where even students from religious schools become secularized adults, could it be because they didn't experience / confront / analyze the great moral issues of our times?

The recent sports scandal at Red Lion Christian Academy underscores how a sports program can become an addictive diversion from the things that REALLY matter.

But apart from revenue, I would suggest another cause for what I see as the inordinate prioritization of sports: Parents who've become part of a self-perpetuating vicious circle. Sports have dominated Delaware high schools for so long, we have an entire generation of parents here who just ASSUME that's the way it must be. In previous blog posts, I've noted how parents will "shop around" for a high school - for example among the Catholic schools - where their kid will get specific playing time for a particular competitive sport. That is obscene.

That doesn't even take into account the increasing body of research suggesting football - in particular - can produce lifelong medical problems. That is doubly obscene.

Now, to the argumentative points raised by some (or many) of you:

I never said high school journalism HAD to be confined to the printed page. Yes, an argument - certainly an economic argument - can be made for an on-line presence. Fine. Do serious journalism on line. But most schools aren't doing that, partially for some of the reasons I raised earlier: Public school administrations under the gun at referendum time, and private schools trying to come off as nirvanas.

That said, I think we are all consigning printed newspapers to the garbage heap prematurely. Some people will always want to curl around a printed news product. I also recall the early 1970's, we're now about 40 years later. A.M. radio still exists, although we are admittedly seeing a drop-off in use, particularly in markets with forgettable A.M. stations.

But even if I am completely wrong - even if hard copy newspapers almost completely disappear - increasing numbers of journalists are employed in new media using new platforms. Journalism hasn't disappeared.

And yes, Arthur, you're onto something about how posting video of incidents represents a new form of communications, and even primitive journalism. I say "primitive", though, because written copy ought to accompany the video, providing CONTEXT.

That said, I believe our society will rue the day we abandoned the semi-permanence of print. Already, researchers are documenting the disappearance of web content, often within two or three years of its initial publication / appearances.

To quote Matthew Ingram in BLOOMBERG BUSINESS WEEK:

"According to a recent study, which looked at links shared through Twitter about news events such as the Arab Spring revolutions in the Middle-East, this could be turning into a substantial problem. The study, which MIT's TECHNOLOGY REVIEW highlighted in a recent post by the Physics arXiv blog, was done by a pair of researchers in Virginia, Hana Salah Eldeen and Michael Nelson. They took a number of recent news events over the past three years -- including the Egyptian revolution, Michael Jackson's death, the elections and related protests in Iran, and the outbreak of the H1N1 virus -- and tracked the links that were shared on Twitter about each. Following the links to their ultimate source showed that an alarming number of them had simply vanished..."

I repeat: Society will rue the day.

My high school alma mater in the Chicago area is approaching its 125th anniversary, and someone is currently preparing a history of our public high school. That researcher is going through decades of bound LION newspapers as he reconstructs key developments in the history of the high school. Will someone be able to do the same thing in 2050? (Fortunately, our nationally award-winning high school student newspaper still appears as a hard copy publication, although updates appear on-line!)

Finally, let me suggest again that this discussion is much bigger than high school newspapers. It's about viable ACADEMIC extra-curricular activities which reenforce learning, in fact, provide a practical rationale for learning.

In some states, the very structure which provides for interscholastic competition in sports - including a state tournament with district, regional, sectional, and statewide brackets - can promote similar competition in speech, debate, science, foreign languages... you name it.

Students may go on the road many weekends competing in such areas. Ain't happening in Delaware, except for Model U.N. and some science competition, particularly in the charters.

When graduates of Delaware high schools - public and private - go on to college and compete with students who regularly competed at such a high level... who do you think will enjoy the advantage?

To Mike from Delaware's point about F.M. frequencies between 88.1 and 91.9 (the public radio spectrum), Temple and Penn ended up gobbling many channels for repeaters. It didn't have to be that way, but few high schools here sought those frequencies. Sad again!'

Allan Loudell

Mike from Delaware
Fri, Oct 12, 2012 5:31pm
One thing, Allan, you fail to mention is that Chicago taxes for public schools are far higher than Delaware public school taxes. Also, in addition, NCC has desegregation forced upon us by the Feds that took very good school districts where referenda never failed to pass and made such a mess of our schools where every school in NCC was a "ghetto school" so that suburban parents just said, "I'll not support these schools anymore and thus the battle since 1978 to get referenda to pass as most suburbanites no longer see those schools as THEIR schools. Call it racial if you want, but that is the fact of the matter.

So maybe more of those things could have happened in NCC public schools, but the Feds put their two cents in and changed the entire school environment and NCC public schools have never been the same since. It is what it is.

Allan Loudell
Fri, Oct 12, 2012 6:51pm

I acknowledge your points. In my initial post above - please recall - I noted Delaware's unique city/suburb pizza-wedge public school districts.

But that doesn't explain why Delaware's more affluent PAROCHIAL & PRIVATE schools are so sports-obsessed. It doesn't explain why no effort has been made in this part of the country to organize competition in academic extra-curriculars just like competition in athletics.

You're correct about the Chicago suburbs. Property taxes can be two or three times higher than here. But keep in mind middle-class parents don't have to save up money to send their kids to a private school. And in a big state, you have more in-state university choices with in-state tuition.

Still, some public high schools in lower-tax little towns and rural areas still have great student newspapers and great extra-curriculars.

We've covered this territory in this blog before: I believe northern Delaware's somewhat unique mix of old-money, expensive private high schools; Catholic and "Friends" schools; "deseg" schools like Caravel; and finally, the public schools, means our kids here are somewhat disadvantaged across the board.

By the way, a high school like Caravel hasn't had student paper in a very long time, if ever... long before print media suffered circulation declines. The explanation may be obvious: A developer started Caravel to complement the surrounding suburban development. No way was the administration going to promote a journalistic tradition where students actually exposed things that were less than helpful to Caravel's image.

As much as these schools - public & private - might cry about tight finances constraining them from having a student newspaper, I find it ironic that many of these schools, public & private, still have the funds to publish newsletters and pamphlets - often printed on good paper stock and multi-colored - intended to show those schools in the best possible light! And hiring and maintaining fulltime P.R. people, no problem!

And as the Red Lion situation vividly illustrated, some of these schools have gone to great lengths to construct athletic stadiums, etc.

Allan Loudell

Mike from Delaware
Fri, Oct 12, 2012 9:33pm
Allan: Granted, sports has had a long stay in Delaware public and private schools.

My point though: Even if the history here may have been sports-oriented, maybe IF deseg. hadn't happened here circa 1978, the interest of suburban parents would have remained, and possibly more journalism/TV/Radio activities would have happened here in our schools.

The other aspect to this that we've not discussed is, that Wilmington being a bit of an odd duck with not having much of its own media, which could affect how little importance schools have for it. Wilmington only had its own commercial TV station (1949 WDEL-TV, became WPFH in 1955, and 1957 WVUE, went dark in 1958). Then in 1963, Philly WHYY-TV took over and that ended Wilmington TV other than token programming on WHYY.

It wasn't until the mid- to late-1970's before Wilmington had its own Sunday Newspaper (we had to put up with the so-called Delaware Edition of the old Philly Bulletin and Philly Inquirer... that had an insert of a couple of pages of Delaware news). As you know, Wilmington has only 2 FM stations and now only 3 AM stations, 4 if you count what used to be 1380 WAMS, now DelDot radio.

So maybe being in Philly's shadow where media in Wilmington seemed to be an after-thought, because Philly's major players were only 23 miles away might also have had an effect on why Wilmington-area schools don't value the media, be they print, radio, or TV, so see no reason to invest their limited money in school-run radio/TV and now with printed media in decline, are dropping school-run newspapers.

The Wilmington area was very science-Oriented due to some of the major Chemical companies being located here back in the day (DuPont, Hercules, Atlas, later ICI, etc.) and I remember how important Science Fairs, etc., were as schools did see value in Science (back when I was in school - can't speak for today).

Allan Loudell
Mon, Oct 15, 2012 5:48am

Good points. But using the same line of argumentation, the outer suburbs of some major metropolitan areas (even further from the central city than the Wilmington area is from Philly) wouldn't have decent student newspapers, and often, radio stations. But many do.

And again, the inattention to student media - not having a paper which publishes regularly, or just assigning the faculty adviser role to the lowest teacher on the totem pole - predates the appearance of the internet.

Again, I think the public--parochial--private school rivalry / competition conspires to minimize the number and depth of academic student extra-curricular activities, not just student newspapers. As I said, even a couple of the elite private schools - for which parents pay big bucks - FORCE kids to participate in a sport after school, which absolutely guts academic extra-curricular activities.

And I've covered how some states organize inter-scholastic tournament competition in a number of academic extra-curriculars, such as debate, speech, foreign languages, science, etc. Never happened here.

And, again, I find it indefensible that Catholic high schools, for example, are so sports-oriented. Almost seems to undermine the very mission of the school -- and the Church. We have kids becoming adults schooled ostensibly in some Christian tradition who often seem to be a lot more conversant in sports than in the very theology of their religious traditions. When confronted by someone proselytizing from a more narrow religious tradition - or by the secular world - these kids are hardly in a position to respond. Worse, they succumb.

Now let's turn this concept upside down. Decent student newspapers, debate, speech, a forum which brings in outside speakers, etc. - when done in a free give & take environment - get students to think outside the box. A cynic might conclude most Delaware schools don't want students to think. They must prefer turning out automatons.

Allan Loudell

Mike from Delaware
Mon, Oct 15, 2012 8:14am
Allan said:Good points. But using the same line of argumentation, the outer suburbs of some major metropolitan areas (even further from the central city than the Wilmington area is from Philly) wouldn't have decent student newspapers, and often, radio stations. But many do.

Yes that is true, BUT those stations still target those folks as their audience. Wilmington doesn't really figure much at all in their audience demos other than our 600,000 population adds to market clearance. So living in suburban Chicago, probably further away from Chicago than Wilmington is from Philly, those are still YOUR stations. Delawareans do not consider themselves Philadelphians, yes we watch their sports teams and root for them, we watch and listen to their TV/Radio, we fly from their airport, but we are NOT them. That is a major difference. Out-of-staters don't get that. They see an invisible line at the border; many Delawareans don't.

Allan said: And, again, I find it indefensible that Catholic high schools, for example, are so sports-oriented. Almost seems to undermine the very mission of the school -- and the Church. We have kids becoming adults schooled ostensibly in some Christian tradition who often seem to be a lot more conversant in sports than in the very theology of their religious traditions. When confronted by someone proselytizing from a more narrow religious tradition - or by the secular world - these kids are hardly in a position to respond. Worse, they succumb.

I totally agree.

I'm with you on wishing, back in my day, and now, that we had and would have, more opportunities for student journalists, but I believe that due to our state being a media wasteland, especially in the arena of television and to a lesser extent, radio (many smaller radio markets have far more local radio stations than the Wilmington Metro market #75), is why the electronic media activities in school are such as they are.

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 8:48am
"I will argue such inordinate emphasis on athletics, even at the junior high level, hurts the global competitiveness of this country"...Allan - athletics is about competitiveness. Its what drives sport. What countries are you referring to when you say athletics hurts our global competitiveness. Certainly not the far east where athletics from a very early age are thrust upon all students.

Mike - "And, again, I find it indefensible that Catholic high schools, for example, are so sports-oriented. Almost seems to undermine the very mission of the school -- and the Church"...You, as I, are Sallies grads. You can't say our school has lacked the vision of its mission. The extremely high level of community service the school provides has won them numerous awards, most recently the highest such regards from the Jefferson Awards.

But to each of your points and with all concerns regarding schools, private and public, it comes down to parents.

Allan - go to any baseball field, basketball court or football field, and you will see kids from a very early age involved in sports year-round. It's not the schools emphasis on it, it's the parents. If it weren't for the boosters, alumni, etc., that fund new fields, locker rooms, etc., sports wouldn't be such a holy grail. But this isn't a Delaware issue, it's everywhere. Look at Texas HS football. Some of those schools have bigger and nicer stadiums then the UofD. Funded by rich boosters. That being said, the balance put upon sports is only brightened by the fact that where are the rich alumni and boosters funding media communications centers, high tech chemical-mechanical-electrical engineering labs? I'll point out Sallies again, since we did have a rich alumnus fund a new science wing and we have a Nobel prize winner as an alumni.

When parents and money promote other areas of school outside of the locker room we will see a shift in focus. Unfortunately, if we do see these funding sources pop up, traditional public school pundits will say it's Wall Street taking over the schools.

Allan Loudell
Mon, Oct 15, 2012 9:34am

I agree it's the parents. That's part of my argument. This sports-is-all outlook has gone on for so long in the Wilmington area, it transcends generations. And despite all the scientists, business people, and lawyers who've descended on the Wilmington area over the years and decades, it doesn't appear to have altered the basic outlook. Again, I point to the high-priced schools forcing kids to participate in competitive athletics after school. Amazing and appalling!

Agreed, this problem is not just Delaware. But, it's interesting that you cite Texas, as - in public appearances - I've sometimes compared Delaware to Texas in its adulation for competitive athletics. Perhaps I'm swinging too wildly here, but may I suggest that's how you get small-town police chiefs and sheriffs, particularly in the South, covering up a sexual assault by a football or basketball player, because sports rules. The ends justify the means. Wonder from whom I first heard that!

As for East Asia, wasn't it not too long ago that "60 Minutes" aired a piece on middle-income Chinese parents insisting their kids become proficient at violin or piano? That, on top of second-language immersion?

Let me quote from a June 8th, 2008 article in The PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER entitled, "China's Piano Fever":
"Chinese parents urge their children to excel at instrumental music with the same ferocity that American parents (urge) theirs to perform well in soccer or Little League..."

And then from Spengler in the December 2nd, 2008, ASIA TIMES on line:

"American outspends China on defense by a margin of more than six to one, the Pentagon estimates. In another strategic dimension, though, China already holds a six-to-one advantage over the United States. Thirty-six million Chinese children study piano today, compared to only 6 million in the United States. The numbers understate the difference, for musical study in China is more demanding.

It must be a conspiracy. Chinese parents are selling plasma-screen TV's to America, and saving their wages to buy their kids pianos -- making American kids stupider and Chinese kids smarter. Watch out, Americans -- a generation from now, your kid is going to fetch coffee for a Chinese boss. This is a bit of exaggeration, of course -- some of the bosses will be Indian. Americans really, really don't have a clue what is coming down the pike. The present shift in intellectual capital in favor of the East has no precedent in world history..."

Congrats to Sallies for its community service and other activities. In fairness, the longtime yearbook moderator at Salesianum, Betsy Diemer, nearly always manages to forward me the names of one or two students who will take part in our student journalists' night. She is the "institutional memory" that many schools lack.

I still regret, though, when an after-school sport prevents a student from taking part.

To Mike from Delaware, I anticipated your out-of-state argument. But I really don't know how much that figures in the overall argument. Otherwise, I'd see fantastic student media just across the state line. I don't.

Allan Loudell

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 12:48pm
This may be a bit off-topic, but parents shopping around for a high school is not limited to Catholic institutions, nor is it necessarily a bad thing. I know kids who have looked for a strong program in a particular sport because they were looking for the visibility that may have led to a college scholarship. No one expects to make a living by swimming, but if they can go to college on a swimming scholarship, is that bad? And if one school gives them the best shot to do that, is it wrong for the student to go there?

This extends to public schools as well. Students choose public high schools every year for academic and athletic reasons. Where is the outrage? They also are heading to charter schools in larger and larger numbers, and while some people criticize charters, they are not going anywhere.

As a parent, I don't feel bad at all for shopping for a school for my daughter. She is at one of the Catholic high schools despite the fact that she would have a much better opportunity to play sports at our local public high school. Academically, however, the schools aren't even close, and that's the main reason she chose the school she did.

As for Delaware's obsession with high school sports, it is not limited to Delaware. I've seen the same thing in other places I've worked and lived.

By the way, Delaware's private and parochial high schools (and its public schools) do have academic competitions like math league, academic bowl, mock trial, mock U.N., Odyssey of the Mind, engineering (MOE), art, writing and more. Our high schoolers do a lot more than perhaps you give them credit for.

Mike from Delaware
Mon, Oct 15, 2012 1:15pm
Arthur: One correction to your post that came after mine, I'm NOT a graduate of Sallies. I graduated from Dickinson High.

Now the other "Mike" may be a graduate of Sallies. I had friends who went to Sallies, and I thought it was so cool that they had a School TV station/studio back then, I graduated in 1969, so they've had that for quite some time. That seemed so cutting-edge as at that time, no other high school in Delaware had radio or TV, only the printed word. Even the U of Del. only had a carrier-current AM 640 WHEN that could only be received within the Uof Del campus and on those particular streets in downtown Newark.
WVUD-FM 91.3 came later. It had different call letters when it first started, but don't remember what they were.

Allan Loudell
Mon, Oct 15, 2012 1:51pm
Mike (not to be confused with 'Mike from Delaware'):

I agree. It's not limited to Catholic schools. Absolutely true. I've already noted that some of the elite private schools - which cost an arm & a leg for tuition - also seem to have this obsession.

And you've touched on the other part of this conundrum: Cash-strapped parents may push their kids into a competitive sport in hopes of winning sports scholarships.

(I'm differentiating here from parents who may push their kids into competitive sports because they were jocks themselves - or - although not very successful themselves as student athletes, seek to RELIVE their lives through their kids' athletic achievements.) All these things are absolutely appalling.

We need more scholarships for academic achievements, curricular and extra-curricular.

I don't have a problem with parents "shopping" for schools for the things that ought to matter: Core curriculum, academic extra-curriculars, the very atmosphere of the high school, etc.

Hey, I understand I'm fighting here an uphill battle, not necessarily exclusive to Delaware. Indeed, to fight this little crusade may be akin to Gorbachev fighting alcoholism.. i.e, vodka.. in the old U.S.S.R. But I just feel sad for kids who don't have these opportunities afforded elsewhere. And I try - in this blog - to get people thinking a little contrarian, a little outside the box.

I acknowledge some of the schools, particularly the charters and private, offer some of the academic competitions you mention. Heck, I was the opening speaker for a regional Model U.N. tournament at Salesianum a couple of years ago. Academic bowl has less prominence, though, ever since Cable Channel 2 went bust; COMCAST picked up the torch, but I'm not aware COMCAST has done anything lately. A brief internet search did NOT turn up something lately. (If anyone could shed light on this subject, that would be welcome!) We've actually had a discussion here at WDEL about trying to do something in this area.

But nothing above really refutes my central contention that student journalism in most Delaware schools has been lackadaisical for years; that sports rules in most schools; and that Delaware has never set up a framework for a competition leading to a state tournament in speech, debate, science, and/or languages.

Allan Loudell

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 4:00pm
Which extra-curricular activites would you like to see offer more scholarships? Brandywine HS used to have a Rock-Paper-Scissors club. Should there be scholarships for that?

The fact is that sports are an intertwined fabric of our society...of the entire GLOBAL society. Hell, we celebrate the Olympics every 2 years and they have been going onfar longer than organized education. In fact, if you look back at the ancient Greeks and Romans, it was the philosophers who have statues and stories about their greatness, not the athletes.

Anyway, back to some kind of topic. Obviously, you are biased towards high school journalism due to your career, but in today's world, news isn't reported, it's read. And usually, with the parent company's slant. The honorable 'Fourth Estate' represents very little of what it did when journalism was a noble profession. I wouldn't be surprised that parents in the media steer their kids out of it they same way blue-collar workers want their kids to go to college and not have to do the same labor-intensive jobs.

So what is more important in schools today? Journalism with the slant towards the left or right, whichever the faculty adviser wishes, or a constructive extra-curricular activity that provides useful instruction? Personally, I would rather see a car maintenance; home repairs; etc.

And sports did provide me a scholarship. Not a full ride, but half time. I still graduated Sallies with a 3.6 and college with a 3.7.

Allan Loudell
Mon, Oct 15, 2012 7:04pm

First of all, thank you very much for commenting. I admit I've been very much the provocateur in this particular blog post, basically blasting sports, which may be akin to those who want to banish Christmas!

But, as you can probably tell, I've been debating this subject for years...

I really do believe this is a subject that many people don't consider; don't question; and never really think about. Rather like the United States being the last non-metric country in the world (Liberia and Myanmar/Burma were the other hold-outs), which costs the United States dearly in a global society, but which doesn't even come up in our political discussions.

Of course, people in other parts of the world obsess on sports: Soccer "hooligans" in the U.K. and on the Continent, for example.

But I would argue that ours is the only society where sports so absolutely distorts the educational mission of educational institutions: The Penn State scandal is exhibit 'A'.

And yes, I'd rather put up statues and honor philosophers... thank you very much.

But, honestly, as my late father used to tell me... I think we should honor (and compensate accordingly) the people who make a REAL difference for the betterment of humankind: Someone who discovers a cure to a particular strain of cancer, or some other disease... NOT some athlete, or actor, or for that matter, some national broadcaster.

To your other points: Journalism will always exist in some form. The platforms - the MEANS of communicating - are changing. But, don't expect traditional platforms, such as printed-page newspapers, to completely disappear any time soon.

Ironically, the publicly-traded Gannett Company today reported better-than-expected quarterly revenue and higher profits, on strong TV advertising from the Summer Olympics (I know, I know, a sporting event!); the U.S. Presidential election, AND subscription revenue from its newspapers. The latest report also suggested newspaper revenue declines were easing. Gannett executives hope to hit $100 million in operating profit in 2013, propelled by the ON-LINE PAY MODEL at its local newspapers! As I said, different platforms, but still journalism.

High schools or colleges which teach journalism should still teach the objective model. Just like a high school debater who learns how to argue all sides, journalists can adapt if a particular employer has a different ideological outlook. I knew a reporter who worked for The WASHINGTON TIMES and then, TALKING POINTS MEMO, for example.

But most journalists and most journalistic organizations, I believe, still want to break the big story and don't care about the ideological fallout.

You apparently believe journalism was once a "noble profession", but no longer is. Mostly, I blame Corporate America.

To one of your other points, I swear on a BIBLE, if one of my kids sought a career in journalism, I wouldn't dissuade a son or daughter as long as he/she understood the long hours and modest pay, as long as she/he were willing to sacrifice other comforts for that pursuit. But I believe that's true for many careers.

By the way, as I tell young audiences, the great thing about journalism is that you have to know a little about everything, and eventually, a LOT about everything. No subject is irrelevant. You're learning for life. Beyond that, it doesn't hurt to be involved in student media in high school & college, even if one intends an entirely different career. Most professions can use people who understand the media, can use media, and can communicate to major media. Plus, the side benefits: I believe I was able to type a 25-page term paper - more pages, with footnotes - on a single night with an IBM Selectric, because I was so accustomed to the deadline pressure.

A Rock-Paper-Scissors club? Surely, you're making that up.

I didn't necessarily say scholarships to reward involvement in extra-curricular activities, however. I said academic extra-curriculars reinforce the curriculum because they show kids the uses for what they learn in the classroom; it's not just learning for the next exam -- but learning for life! And yes, more scholarships should be awarded for exceptional mastery in particular academic subjects.

A well-rounded high school, public or private, should offer opportunities not only in media, but many other pursuits.

Ideally, everything from auto shop to aviation.

By the way, come by WDEL some time. I'll show you a 'real' student newspaper!

Allan Loudell

Tue, Oct 16, 2012 8:52am

Thank you for your very thorough response. I'll keep it quick:

1) Yes, there was a Rock-Paper-Scissor club
2) I've always liked the media (being an athlete in HS and college, I enjoyed the vanity of seeing my name in print, on the TV, or heard on Friday nights on WDEL)
3) Maybe I am the jaded side of journalism, coming from the PR background. Selling the story got too cumbersome and exhausting. Ergo, I've been to WDEL many many times.

Tue, Oct 16, 2012 2:16pm
Hi Allan,

I'm an English teacher at Howard High School trying to establish a student newspaper here. One problem that I've run into is that there simply isn't much support for teachers who are trying to set up a new program. Do you have any practical advice or resources for those teachers who would like to start a newspaper but don't know how?

Allan Loudell
Tue, Oct 16, 2012 2:45pm
That's a tall order, PaulR, trying to start a newspaper out of the blue in 2012, for many of the reasons listed above.

It might be even tougher at a vo-tech school.

That said, I've gotten some pretty good representatives from Howard High School over the years for Student Journalists Nights.

You need to get one administrator in your corner. Do you think you could identify one? Someone who could be "sold" on the idea that a student newspaper - while reporting not just the good, but the bad & the ugly - could ultimately be an excellent communications organ for the school.

As for resources, several umbrella organizations exist. I could try to get some names and contacts. Here in Delaware, we have Delaware Press Association, which counts several former student newspaper advisers among its ranks.

These associations have excellent websites & resources:

National Scholastic Press Association


Columbia Scholastic Press Association


Journalism Education Association


Could you identify any students who have a certain "spark"?

Feel free to get in contact with me beyond this blog... although I'm booked pretty solid through election day.

Allan Loudell

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