What is nie?

August 19, 2009 

Lots of folks in our country and around the world are still asking the question: Where did nie originate? nie as we know it today began at The New York Times in the 1930s when social studies teachers in the New York City Schools asked the newspaper to arrange for bundles to be delivered at schools to use in current events activities. (Content of textbooks is already 5 years old on the day they are delivered to the schools.) These insightful teachers received the support of Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger, grandparent of the current publisher, and the first student subscriptions began to appear in schools.

The Times got started and over the decades the concept spread like wildfire among newspapers all across the country. The program was called Newspaper in the Classroom for a long time. Then our Canadian friends convinced us in the late 1970s that we ought to be saying nie, since copies of newspapers were clearly being used in educational settings -- such as prisons, adult literacy centers, hospital-based learning programs and others -- far beyond the traditional classroom setting. Yes, nie has been around a long time, and if we look at the "incidental use" of content from newspapers in schools, the idea goes back even farther, perhaps to the publication of the first English-language newspapers in London, England in 1702. (We in the United States eagerly await historical research from international nie specialists documenting the use of text from newspapers in schools earlier than on the North American continent!)

Early use of newspapers in the schools

The earliest existing documentation acknowledging the idea of using newspapers in classrooms of the U.S. is an article published June 8, 1795 in the Portland (Maine) Eastern Herald. Here is the excerpt from that article:

Much has been said and written on the utility of newspapers; but one principal advantage which might be derived from these publications has been neglected; we mean that of reading them in schools, and by the children in families. Try it for one session -- do you wish your child to improve in reading solely, give him a newspaper -- it furnishes a variety, some parts of which must infallibly touch his fancy. Do you wish to instruct him in geography, nothing will so indelibly fix the relative situation of different places, as the stories and events published in the papers. In time, do you wish to have him acquainted with the manners of the country or city, the mode of doing business, public or private; or do you wish him to have a smattering of every kind of science useful and amusing, give him a newspaper -- newspapers are plenty and cheap -- the cheapest book that can be bought, and the more you buy the better for your children, because every part furnishes valuable information. (quoted in Editor & Publisher, 1984) The Newspaper in Education program is a cooperative effort of newspapers and thousands of schools in the U.S., Canada and other nations where the newspapers is used as a tool of instruction. Publishers provide copies of their newspapers to schools, sponsor teacher education programs, offer instructional resource materials and generally help schools develop newspaper use for student learning.

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