This interview was first published in JWeekly.
Name: Esther Wojcicki
Home: On the Stanford campus
Position: Teacher and founder of the Palo Alto High School journalism program
J.: Palo Alto High has the largest high school journalism program in the nation, with an array of award-winning online and print student publications. Have things come a long way since you arrived as a teacher in 1984?
Esther Wojcicki: There were only 19 students in the whole journalism program back then. They put out a six-page paper (The Campanile) and the back page was always a calendar. I didn’t have a grand vision I was going to develop a program that was going to be as large as what we have today, but I did have a vision that I was going to revolutionize The Campanile. It was just a little rag. I thought it was ridiculous.
J.: Are you a renegade in your approach to teaching?
EW: I’m a born journalist. I’m an investigative reporter, I don’t follow rules for the most part, and I’m very good at finding out information. Most teachers are just the opposite. They follow all the rules and they do exactly as they’re told.
J.: How have administrators reacted?
EW: The greatest challenge was getting the administration to accept my style of collaborative learning and empowering the students. I allow the students to be collaborative with me. This was the hardest thing of all because the teacher was required to stand in front of the classroom and lecture.
J.: You have said that you think every American student should study journalism or media arts. Why?
EW: Journalism is simply a tool to teach kids how to think, how to ask questions, how to go against the grain, how to say, “Oh my God, that doesn’t make sense! Let me ask that question again.” We need a nation of people who actually think. We don’t have that. We have a nation of people trained to take multiple-choice tests.
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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.