Have I mentioned I have a problem with authority? Those in authority seem to have a problem with that – but the older I get, the less I’m concerned with pleasing those that have some sort of real or imagined power over others. Think about it – if our founding fathers had not had a problem with authority, we’d be answering to Queen Elizabeth and Parliament! And as the saying goes, “Well behaved women rarely make history.” Not that my goal is to go down in any history book…or maybe it is, I mean, I’m writing this blog and I guess that is a history of sorts. Regardless, I feel strongly that people are entitled to their opinion and should be free to express it – even if their government, their boss, their parents, their spouse, their pastor, or their teachers thinks it would be better if those opinions were NOT expressed. In that, I’m one with the founding fathers – everyone deserves the right to free speech.
My advocacy for free speech came about while I was still in my junior year of high school. I needed an elective and working on the school paper appeared to be easy and interesting. I liked writing and, let’s admit it, I enjoyed gossiping – and I figured this would essentially satisfy both requirements. After spending a good portion of the first year assisting the seniors on the staff and occasionally being assigned “fluff” pieces to write, I grew to be a trusted and reliable member of the staff. The editor that year was a girl who wanted the paper to be more than a regurgitation of what happened at the senior prom and which team won the local track meet. We had long conversations about the kind of hard-hitting journalism that we would like to see at our school and, recognizing a kindred spirit, the editor named me as her successor when she graduated, and the rest of the outgoing senior staff agreed.
Being named editor of my high school paper was one of the highlights of my teenage years. I felt valued, admired, and accepted! However, those feelings were short-lived, because Mrs. Daniels, the advisor for the class, quickly told the current editor that she felt a mistake had been made. Mrs. Daniels felt that perhaps it was time for an editor who was “more mature” and “less likely to cause waves.” She suggested that a girl named Peggy, who was pleasant and smart, but rather bland and accommodating, be named the next editor. The senior staff immediately protested – they had made their choice and, according to the school bylaws, they not only had the power, but the right to name the next editor. Perhaps Mrs. Daniels was tired of this sort of pushback and did not relish dealing with it for another year – she went to the principal and convinced him that all of that power was misplaced. Attempting to come to a compromise of sorts, the principal informed the staff that since there was a difference of opinions, Peggy and I would be “co-editors.” I’m STILL a little bitter about how it all went down – not to mention that with her very outspoken views against having me as sole editor, Mrs. Daniels reinforced my deep inner feelings that I was not good enough or worthy enough to be trusted with the position.
I HAVE mentioned I have a problem with authority, right? I decided that, even if I was co-editor, even if I was not really wanted in the position, even if Mrs. Daniels was going to be a bitch about things (or perhaps BECAUSE all of those things), I was going to make a difference…and make it as loudly as possible. When senior year rolled around, I presented my plans at our first staff meeting. I wanted to hand out a questionnaire in first period to every student in the school, asking them for anonymous answers about their drug and alcohol use. My theory was that, even though we lived in a community where the vast majority of students were Mormon, most students had at least tried the forbidden substances and some actually had problems with addiction. Peggy, my co-editor, protested weakly that she did not feel the subject matter was appropriate and, after she informed our advisor, Mrs. Daniels let me know that the paper would NOT be doing the survey or article. She let me know that THIS high school had no such problems with drugs or alcohol and that I was just trying to create controversy. OK – I probably WAS trying to create a little controversy, but I knew from personal experience that many of our students DID have a drug or alcohol problem. Plus, I knew from reading those pesky bylaws that the advisor was supposed to be strictly that – an advisor, without the power to order or veto any particular story. I calmly advised Mrs. Daniels of this fact, and then was invited to accompany her to the principal’s office, where I again made my case. The principal was not particularly enthusiastic about my plan, especially after I informed him that I had discussed the story with a friend who worked at the local city paper, who was interested to know if the administration attempted to quash it.
I was finally given reluctant approval for the story – and that pretty much sealed my fate with Mrs. Daniels, who did not try to hide the fact that she disliked me after that. While the survey and story did show that there was a much higher incidence of drug and alcohol use at our school that administration would like to believe, the staff ignored it and the students did not seem surprised. Much to my dismay, I didn’t win a Pulitzer prize for my efforts…but I had the satisfaction of knowing that I didn’t back down, that I was able to tell the story, and that I was NOT (and never would be) a well-behaved woman!