Free* Speech 101
The department decided to do away with History of Mass Media sometime last year. Shoot, why should college students learn anything about the beginnings of the greatest single influence (other than their parents) on their lives? The department chair blew off the course, even when we teachers of it tried to explain that the Reagan babies weren't quite sure which came first, TV or radio. That they are unfamiliar with the contributions to what we think of as mass media made by, say, Ben Franklin, William Randolph Hearst and Edward R. Murrow. (About the only thing they can tell you about Franklin is that his picture is on the $100 bill.)
When I taught Mass Media, I went all the way back to the Great Library at Alexandria and worked my way up to the World Wide Web (the two share interesting similarities). As a huge lecture class -- enrollment could top 100 per section -- Mass Media drew a broad range of students. Frosh took it as the gateway to the corp/comm major. Seniors came for an easy elective and ended up loving it. My goal was always to leave them with a new vocabulary for media topics, so as they progressed to the upper-level courses, they wouldn't be the ones asking other profs mid-lecture to explain what Nielsen ratings are or who owns the Internet.
Replacing Mass Media this fall is History of the First Amendment. A journo-colleague is the adjunct teaching it. I ran into him at an event the other night and he told me about his first day of class. There are nearly 100 kids in his section, 80 percent of them first-years. It's an 8 a.m. class, so many of those younger students got him as their first college prof on the first day of big school.
He began his first class with a lecture about free speech, specifically dealing with uses in media of the word "fuck." A bold move, to be sure. But a surefire way of getting the attention of a hall packed with nervous new students.
If any of them were uncomfortable with profanity, he warned, they should drop the class, because future lectures and discussions would look at what some would consider objectionable language and its uses in media and society.
Nobody budged or whimpered so he soldiered on and finished the F-word lesson.
But that afternoon his phone rang--the dept/chair letting him know that a student had left class that morning at 9;15, called her daddy, daddy called the dean, the dean called the chair and she was calling him. Not exactly to say cool it on the f-word lessons, but, well.... you know.
In the media they'd call this "the chilling effect."
It's a course in free speech. How free is yet to be determined.