Free Speech For High Schoolers

One worry I have while working in my high school is the continuing trend to silence the students. Just because the students disagree with the teachers or the administration, their rights should not be parsed and their speech silenced. An article in the Seattle-PI highlights the rights of students and the efforts to limit those rights.

The “Bong hits 4 Jesus” case scared me, not because of the message, but because this case extends the administrators’ power beyond the school and outside of school hours. While I think the message was light-hearted and harmless, it was also somewhat asinine. However, I don’t believe it warranted the consequences levied against the student and should not allow those in charge to reach outside their jurisdiction.

Now administrators are reaching into cyberspace to exert control. Blogs, MySpace, Facebook, and more are being targeted. Still, the person in charge must prove that the educational environment will be impacted in a negative fashion; I believe it’s termed as “a significant disruption of the learning environment.”

School newspapers are often the target of those in charge, often because the student journalists shed light on inequities and often on those in charge. “Only tyrants fear the press” is a line I’ve heard numerous times. While I think that statement is a bit broad, it does emphasize the fear those in power have of the press. Student journalists can be quite poignant, investigative, and insightful, a scary notion for someone in charge walking the line on certain issues and decisions.

I firmly believe we, as teachers, need to help teach our students their rights. We need to ensure we stand up for students who speak and perform within their rights. These students will be our future society, and they need to know their rights and be protected from those who would take those rights away.

By the way, how many of you can quickly name the five freedoms in the First Amendment? It’s a great way to point out what we, as adults, may know and not know about our own constitutionally protected civil liberties. According to a presentation at a journalism conference last year, only 30% of adults and 10% of students could name the five freedoms in the First Amendment. Maybe some professional development is needed for the teachers…

2 thoughts on “Free Speech For High Schoolers

  1. McSwain

    How do we balance that teaching with the reality that people get fired for what they write on their blogs? How many teachers have been fired for online postings? Granted, we sign up to be roll models, but must we live in fear that we might lose our jobs if someone takes a picture of us with a beer in our hand and posts it on Facebook? I am a writer, but I am TOO careful about what I write online. This is a good question for debate–I wonder how I can teach students to stand up for a right that adults don’t seem to have anymore either. After all, why is it that so many teachers don’t blog under their real names?

    Reply
  2. drpezz Post author

    In all honesty, anonymity is a facade. If someone wants a blogger’s identity, he/she can get it.

    However, we still have to lead by example. If we do not stand up for ourselves and our kids, no one else will.

    My wife and I endured a difficult time when an administrator tried to punish my wife when she was in the right. We fought it all the way to the school board before winning. Others saw what we did, and they supported us as well as encouraging others who were wronged to fight.

    I can’t teach these lessons if I won’t follow them.

    Reply

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