Earlier this month, a group of IDEAS students elected to attend a Convocation at Lakeland College featuring Jackie Spinner, former foreign correspondent for the Washington Post. Spinner read from and discussed her book, Tell Them I Didn’t Cry: a Young Journalist’s Story of Joy, Loss and Survival in Iraq, while taking questions from the audience on subjects of Iraqi and American culture, veterans affairs, the consumption of news in America and the responsibilities of journalists. This student trip was this school year’s first of what teacher Tad Phippen Wente calls an “afield” and was attended by about twenty students.
After a day to reflect, the group met to discuss what they saw and heard at Lakeland. Students went about the room recounting topics and images from the event that were particularly striking or surprising and Wente documented each on paper. What stood out for Rachel, a sophomore, was the haunting photo of a smiling Spinner on the back of an army truck with her last name and blood type duct taped across her front. She truly was happy in that she was fulfilled in doing what she loved, but the reality was that journalists don’t wear dog tags and she was risking her life everyday. For Casey, a sophomore, and Sarah, a junior, hearing about the Iraqi culture and how Spinner compared it to the American Midwest was particularly of note. These themes, and many more, jumped out at the young learners and grabbed their attention. Subsequent discussions would allow them to make connections into their own lives, communities, and education.
This afield was completely voluntary and not specifically related to a class nor did it offer extra credit to those who went. Why would students choose to sit on a bus for twenty minutes to hear a journalist speak? The themes presented in this outing encompass numerous disciplines. Students similarly had diverse reasons for wanting to attend and also what resonated most. Some students were interested in hearing a writer speak, some for the sociological themes, some for the global perspective. As a writer, Autumn, a senior, is always looking for new experiences that may improve her writing. She found potent symbols and themes in Spinner’s experience and the balance of fear-comfort that Spinner had to keep to stay professional and safe while reporting in Iraq. Hannah, a junior, was also intrigued by the fear-comfort balance and also the “willful ignorance” of many Americans, according to Spinner, to what is going on in the world outside their own. TJ, a junior, liked to hear Spinner’s reports of Iraqi culture and of Islam, which, he noted, is sometimes very different from what we see in the media.
Spinner believes journalists have a duty to “bear witness” to what is happening around them which subsequently holds people accountable. This event and debrief served a very similar purpose. Students who attended this event were tasked to extend this knowledge back to the IDEAS community in an informative and engaging way. After the initial debrief, the group continued to discuss what this experience meant to them and presented it accordingly to the IDEAS community at the Town Hall Meeting on September 16th. They provided an overview, then each used an “I Used to Think, But Now I Think” thinking routine to share how their perceptions about Iraq, news media, journalism and the world have changed. Students are also considering delving deeper into some of these themes in future projects.
There will be more “afields” of all kinds taking place over the course of the school year. Thank you to Jackie Spinner for sharing her experiences and expertise and to Lakeland College for extending an invitation to this inspiring and thought-provoking event!