I had the opportunity last week for the second straight year to spend the day with the seventh grade language arts classes at Coffee County Middle School.
They invited me to come the day before spring break … I really had their attention.
Actually, it didn’t go as bad as I thought. In a quick scan of each of the four periods I spoke to, I only found three dozing off, two playing some sort of paper game and one guy made faces at me when I turned my back (I guess he thought I didn’t see that).
But seriously, it was a great opportunity and despite what has to be boring talk about primary sources and the role newspapers play in the community and recording history, I managed to keep the attention of the hundreds of students for 45 minutes each period. As my wife likes to tell me, I am good at talking for the sake of talking. She hates it. It comes in handy sometimes, though.
I do want to thank the school system and seventh grade language arts teacher Stephanie Fischer for the opportunity to educate young students about the importance of newspapers and the role that the Manchester Times and hundreds of other community newspapers play in documenting and recording history in small communities– good and bad. It was also refreshing to see the number of students who were relatively familiar with recent news events and how many of them admitted to reading the paper (I’m not sure it gains 13-year-olds many “cool points” to admit they browse the newspaper in their spare time instead of browsing the Facebook “news” feed).
I was surprised that roughly 25-30 percent admitted to reading the actual hard copy of the newspaper on a somewhat regular basis. I hope I don’t come across as biased, but one of the often overlooked keys to the future is the ability of students to recognize and understand the importance of news and news gathering.
I don’t think a seventh grader necessarily has to understand Roberts Rules of Order or all the functions of county government, but it’s healthy to begin an interest in these things early.
The idea that credible newspapers can continue to oversee government operations, be watchdogs and give voices to the voiceless only comes to fruition if readership continues to grow and society regains trust in real media and passes on propaganda news.
That trend has to begin with young people. And it hast to begin now.
-Josh Peterson is the editor of the Manchester Times. He is a Tennessee Press Association award-winning writer and photographer. His column, “From the editor’s desk” won TPA first-place honors for best personal humor column. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 931-728-7577 ext. 105. Follow him on Twitter @joshpeterson29