Oh, Teenagers.

In recent weeks, I have read and heard a myriad of complaints about today’s high school kids. I am weary of the broad brush used to paint these individuals.

I’ve been teaching high school now for 17 years, and every year, I defend the kids I teach more and more. And while I readily admit there’s some kids that have tested every nerve, I have a news flash for you:

The adults in public education have made me want to quit way more often than the kids.

Teens are impetuous?

So are adults.

Teens are self-absorbed?

So are adults.

Teens are easily manipulated?

So are adults.

Teens are disrespectful?

So are adults.

Teens are reckless?

So are adults.

Come at me with all of your examples of teens who are just The Worst, and not only will I counter with teens who are just The Best, but I’ll also provide examples of adults exhibiting the same behavior you’re complaining about.

It is unacceptable to point to the younger generation of your choice as the source for societal problems. It is past time we start harnessing their passion, ingenuity, and skills to make the world better, instead of scrutinizing their methods as impractical, based on the sole reason of  “that’s not how we do things.”

Stop vilifying teens, start listening to them.

Stop ostracizing teens, start mentoring them.

Every day, teens impress me. Every day, teens surprise me. Every day, teens inspire me.

Allow for the possibility that they can do the same for you.




Thirty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided, 5-3, that high school student journalists should not be afforded the same First Amendment rights as professional journalists.

They decided this, despite the decision 20 years prior, that neither students nor teachers shed their constitutional right to free speech when stepping on school grounds. Instead, the Rehnquist court decided to splice up the First Amendment: Mary Beth and John Tinker had a right to free speech, because it was not sponsored by the school. The journalists at Hazelwood East High School did not have a right to free press because the school paid to print the paper.

That’s the watered-down version, of course, but you get the gist.

Thomas Jefferson said “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” What better place to train student journalists of this vital responsibility than in a school setting, with supports around them, so that should they choose journalism as a career, they have a strong foundation in ethical, solid journalism?

I’m probably being incendiary here, but I wonder what the current journalistic landscape would look like if 30 years of Hazelwood did not enable the censorship of  thousands of high school and college journalists (because yes, while Hazelwood’s intent was to stifle high school press, college administrators misuse it on their campuses to censor their journalists). Would we have journalists better trained in law and ethics? Would we have more journalists well-versed in reporting and fewer journalists well-versed in people-pleasing? Would we have journalists more interested in reporting news than moderating pundits? Would our news networks contain a little less public relations work and demand a little more accountability?

We’ll never know. But we might be able to turn the tide.

Currently several states have pending legislation that would restore full First Amendment protections to student journalists. One such bill, LB 886 in Nebraska, would protect high school and college journalists. The bill specifies that stories that are libelous, violate state or federal law, incite violence, disrupt the school day, or invade privacy of sources are not protected.

This bill is not a free-for-all for students to turn their newspapers and websites into mini-TMZs.

But it could allow students to report that a principal lied during the hiring process.  Kansas, by the way? They have a state law that protects high school journalists. That’s why those reporters could write this story.

LB 886 could also prevent the current PR nightmare Herriman High School is managing:

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Utah? No law there protecting student journalists. And now, the administrators have become the story. (I was a newspaper adviser in Utah for a year, and before my students even had a chance to publish one story, he told me, “The Supreme Court says I can censor anything you try to publish, so let’s make this a good experience for everyone.”)

When I think of the stories my students could write but don’t, for fear of censorship, it breaks my heart. And I’m lucky–I have a supportive administration that trusts me to do my job as an adviser. But I know my reporters self-censor all the time. To be honest, I probably point them in that direction sometimes, as much as it pains me.

Thirty years is too long. It’s time to cure Hazelwood. Our liberty depends on it.


I Love Public Schools.

Today is I Love Public Schools day, an initiative of the non-profit organization NELovesPS. This non-profit has spent the past several years traveling the state, telling the stories of Nebraska Public Schools at a most crucial time.

Nebraska’s current governor, Pete Ricketts, has made no secret about his desires to thwart public education–though he wouldn’t use the word “thwart,” he’d use the word “reform.” He advocates “alternative pay structures” for teachers (code for doing away with unions); he advocates for the proliferation of charter schools (his father funded one just down the road from where I teach); he advocates for voucher systems.

Then, just last week, a state senator introduced a bill that would give the governor control over the state Department of Education.

Not for nothing: Ricketts himself donated to that state senator’s campaign.

Here’s what I always find interesting: when pollsters ask Americans their opinions about public schools in the U.S., their satisfaction is dismal–Gallup’s most recent poll has that number at 47% general satisfaction. But if you break that down to local schools? That satisfaction number almost doubles, to 82%.

What does this tell us?

People, in general, like their local schools. So here’s some things I really like about Bellevue West High School, where I teach.

  • We have an admin team that supports student journalism and encourages us to grow.
  • We have a stellar fine arts program.
  • We have students every year who get into fantastic colleges.
  • Our alumni succeed in college–at both under- and post-graduate levels.
  • Our athletic teams are competitive.
  • We have several AP course offerings.
  • We have partnerships with UNMC, Metro, the Henry Doorly Zoo, and other local businesses that give students current, real world experiences.

There are really good things going on in public schools. And if you think there aren’t good things happening in your local schools, then do something about it. Volunteer. Run for school board. Go to Donors Choose and fund a project. Support NELovesPS.

Nebraska has always done a pretty good job of keeping educational boondoggles at bay, instead relying on local districts to make sure they are giving children a quality education–often with much fewer resources than other states.

There’s much to love about Nebraska Public Schools. If you can’t find anything to love about public schools yourself, go ask a teacher to educate you.

Keeping the World Safe for Democracy.

Growing up, I never understood what my dad’s job entailed. His security clearances required he not share a whole lot about the specifics, but he would often tell me his job involved “keeping the world safe for democracy.”

The older I got, I tended to laugh a little when he would say that phrase; it seemed a little tongue-in-cheek, a nod to the fact that he couldn’t tell me just how dangerous his job was. A veteran of the Cold War, his job entailed managing parts of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and being an expert at deterrence theory. He literally kept the world safe.

In my own public service career, I have made similar passing comments about my work, often when talking to my peers. What do I do? I change lives. I’m a champion for children. I’m helping the future. All idealistic catch phrases I’ve said over the past 17 years, sometimes sarcastically, sometimes not.

Ernest Hooper, a columnist with the Tampa Bay Times wrote a piece this week about his experience at the Journalism Education Association’s Fall Convention. It’s fantastic. You should read it.

I’ve taught media literacy in some capacity my entire career, but I’m not sure how I would’ve answered if people asked me on a regular basis why I feel so strongly about teaching media literacy. I’d probably fall back on those catch phrases.

But Hooper’s column gives me the real answer: “Protecting [democracy] begins with educating a new generation that you can’t have freedom without a free press.”

With public education under attack locally through LB 295 and at the national level with the House’s tax reform bill (the Senate’s bill is a bit more supportive of education), I get discouraged about my job and wonder how much longer I’ll be able to do it. Especially since I teach journalism, and if you haven’t heard, the current leader of the free world doesn’t take too kindly to journalists.

My current job feels a bit precarious.

But tonight, I have a renewed sense of purpose, thanks to Hooper. I might be changing lives and teaching the future and whatever teaching cliché you want to throw at me.

But really, I’m keeping the world safe for democracy.

I’m a Rowse. It’s what we do.



I stood next to a table, watching my colleague, my friend, my writing compatriot laugh and rap along with a room full of kids. I soaked in that moment and reminded myself, “This. This is why you show up every day.”

I can get all kinds of ruffled up with righteous indignation about any number of injustices I am privy to on a daily basis. Sometimes, those injustices make me wonder if I wouldn’t be better off, happier, someplace else. Or, as I asked my Pop Culture class last week, “Have you ever had a day that made you question every single life choice?” Most of them smiled and nodded. I sighed, then had them each write me an essay on whether sampling in the music industry is creativity or theft.

If I looked hard enough, every day I could bombard myself with reasons to stop teaching. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t even have to look hard at all. But no matter what career I chose, I imagine I would reach a point where injustices and my inability to do anything about them would threaten to take over my mindset.

As I watched a room full of kids–student journalists–laugh and rap and stuff their faces full of unhealthy food, I felt lighter. It reminded me to refocus on the things I can control, like teaching proper comma use or how to make ethical decisions–because I’ve taught all of those kids those things. And knowing how to use commas and make ethical decisions just might make them better people.

It’s so easy to lose sight of the “why.” For me, when I get to that point, I need to remember to take a breath, spend some time looking at what my students have accomplished, and acknowledge that those accomplishments don’t always produce external recognition. Sometimes the accomplishment is the kid who finally makes deadline, or the kid who finally takes a perfect photo, or the kid who finally writes a sentence without a helping verb.

Small victories, but victories nonetheless; victories that deserve my acknowledgement, especially at those times when the injustices blind me to the reason I keep showing up: the kids.