The controversy in Pasadena over a move by Marshall Fundamental School Principal Joseph Caldera to impose censorship on the school newspaper should concern journalists and educators as well as parents.
As a journalist who grew up in Pasadena and attended its schools, including Marshall 25 years ago, I commend the integrity and courage shown by faculty adviser Mary Ellen MacArthur, student editor Matt Luecke and The Eagle’s Eye staff.
This country is constantly uneasy with, yet drawn toward the tenets of its foundation: free thought and speech and human equality. The perpetual tension over the First Amendment between those who would restrict it and those who would protect it reflects a society’s struggle to live up to democratic values.
Board of Education President James McBath’s suggestion of a forum appears to be a thoughtful approach that could lead to a valuable experience. Antonia Darder, a parent and community leader respected for her insight and ability to facilitate communication, should be among those asked to lead such a forum.
Student Michael Comas’ fantasy piece using culturally stereotypical words that “perpetuated negative images of people of color,” as Darder put it (Times, March 5), no doubt offended some. Another article explored the relevance of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Such topics have been known to upset people.
Caldera may have thought he was accomplishing damage control when he moved to restrict the publication process. What he did instead was to run a more subtle, though far greater risk, of undermining the students’ understanding of the First Amendment’s role in a democratic society, where ideas are, literally, the tools of justice.
Democracy never has been, and never could be furthered by censorship, which, however well-intentioned, is anathema to it.
U.S. Federal Judge Learned Hand, writing in a case involving the Associated Press, made an observation that might prove useful to chew on regarding this situation:
“The First Amendment presupposes that right conclusions are more likely to be gathered out of a multitude of tongues, than through any kind of authoritative selection. To many this is, and always will be, folly; but we have staked upon it our all.”
ARTHUR B. WOOD