Journalism Class an Opportunity to Relish Reality, Write Clearly

RICHMOND (Special to the Observer) — Immaculate Heart of Mary School is offering a course on journalistic writing for the 2017-2018 school year. This is the first year that such a course is offered at IHM.

Brother André Marie is teaching the course as this year’s required High School English subject. He explains that the class will focus on the written part of journalism, not on graphic design, layout, or any elements of broadcast journalism, although, he says, the disciplines of information gathering and good writing learned in this class would carry into broadcast journalism.

There are two reasons the class came to be offered this year, according to Brother André and other IHM School Administrators. Given the size of IHM, several of the High School subjects, including English, are offered to the entire High School on a four-year turnover. Following the curriculum that was established over twenty years ago, drama would have been the course offered this year. But the drama teacher four years ago was Sister Mary Peter, who is now absorbed with teaching and administrative duties in the lower school. When all other options for procuring a drama teacher were ruled out, the school administrators decided to offer a journalism class instead.

But, in addition to meeting an urgent need — the High School would be without an English class — another, more positive reason emerged for offering the journalistic writing course.

“The more I thought of the idea over the summer, the more I liked it,” said Brother André Marie. “It struck me as a great opportunity to do more than teach writing. The journalistic process involves research skills and verbal communication skills, too. Adults often fault young people for an inability to speak properly, for refusing to get their heads out of their technology and look someone in the eye, and for failing to get advice and wisdom from those who have it. All these things can be taught and practiced in the context of this class.”

School Administrators are concerned with how IHM students and graduates will be able to navigate the massive quantity of information they will confront on a daily basis in this so-called “information age,” in which technology has facilitated the rapid-fire exchange of information. Brother André warns that these same tools have also enabled widespread disinformation, brainwashing, and mental laziness. To counter this, Brother André says, his goal is “to form the students’ minds in the disciples of attention, careful listening, critical thinking, and the articulate expression of truth.”

“Fake news” has lately become a byword in the nation’s polarized political discourse. In response to this and other forms of mass manipulation, IHM’s journalist writing class presents journalism as, “an economic, clear, and concise written presentation of truth,” according the class Syllabus.

The change in curriculum is bittersweet for Sister Mary Peter, who said of her inability to teach drama this year, “I’m really disappointed. Drama teaches them lots of skills. It also gives them confidence, plus so much of our history is in drama.” Sister went on to explain that the way drama has been taught at IHM involved an historical overview which taught the students about the ancient Greeks, the Medievals, men of the Renaissance, right up to the moderns. It also taught them good literature, as they studied Shakespeare as part of the program.

While she hopes that drama will return to the curriculum, Sister Mary Peter said that the journalism class is “really exciting” and that it presents, “a good alternative” to the drama class. She expressed the hope that a journalism program of some sort would continue at IHM, even if drama does come back into the curriculum.

For his part, Brother André said he hopes the class will spin off a journalism club which might be an extracurricular activity in the future. That way, journalism could continue at IHM, even if drama makes its hoped for return to the curriculum.

Headmaster Brad Grinstead expressed his pleasure at the change, and indicated that it will continue IHM’s traditions of educational excellence. “One of the more gratifying things about our school is the fact that people tell us how articulate our students are,” he said. “From my review of the syllabus, and my conversations with Brother André on how he plans to approach the subject, it looks to me as if that tradition is going to continue and get better.”

IHM School Senior Juliana Haynes expressed her own excitement about the class. “I think it’s a good idea, because this will help the students to consider possible career paths they will follow in their later lives.” Haynes expressed her interest in the course for a very personal reason: she is considering journalism as a major in college. When asked if she sees journalism as a career after college, Haynes said, “Not journalism per se, but writing.”

And writing is exactly what the class is all about. To accomplish that task, in addition to their notebooks and pens, the students will now have new tools to use. Thanks to an earmarked donation from a generous benefactor who wishes to remain anonymous, the school has recently purchased eleven System76 laptop computers for the students to use. These machines are new, and will introduce the students to word processing and (supervised) internet browsing for research purposes using the Ubuntu Linux operating system, a free alternative to the Macintosh or Windows operating system.

“The technology is just enough to be a tool, but not a crutch or a burden,” Brother André said. “Part of our challenge here is to help the students sort fact from fiction in the very confusing online world. Truth is the conformity of the mind to reality, and my obsession, besides getting them to write well, is to have them learn to see and relish reality — not ‘virtual’ reality!”