Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lessons learned

The Tucson Citizen has a depressing opinion piece in today's paper from Gene Policinski, vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center. Policinski addresses the erosion in recent years of respect for free speech in American public schools.

As high school students head back to school, far fewer have a chance to participate in real student journalism owing to reduced or eliminated programs, fewer trained professional advisers and quite possibly antagonistic school administrators. ...

The combination of school abandonment of support for free press and speech and court decisions in the past two decades is "chipping away at fundamental freedoms" in a trend "for which I see no end in sight," warned Mark Goodman, who led the Student Press Law Center for much of that time.

Among the incidents cited as examples of creeping control-freakery in the government indoctrination camps is the infamous "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case in which the U.S. Supreme Court allowed school administrators to punish students for allegedly pro-drug advocacy during school hours, but off campus. Lesser-known cases involved censorship of student newspapers for calling for tolerance of gays or portraying simulated burnings of the U.S. flag, and an incident in which a student sent a private email message from home that administrators believed would be disruptive.

Too often, parents and the public applaud school administrators for keeping kids in line by suppressing unpopular sentiments and sometimes raw expression. There's a craven authority worshipper lurking in the souls of all too many people, just itching for an opportunity to applaud the humiliation of any teenager so bold as to pen a few pungent words for a newspaper column or a blog.

I can't help but wonder if it wasn't the pointless rules and punishments of the past that bred the deference to thugs of the present. Did raising children for years on end in an environment of arbitrary discipline, 50-minute class periods and long lists of proscribed behavior so twist the minds of many of the graduates that they think turning the screws a bit tighter on the current generation of youth is a good thing? If so, what does that suggest about the future of kids getting dragged through the disciplinary gauntlet now for their initial exercises of their natural right to free speech?

I'm not saying that they'll all turn out to be fans of mindless control, but I worry that some of them will take the wrong lessons to heart. Their schooling will have prepared them for life as willing forelock-tuggers and cheerleaders for the whatever band of arm-twisters happens to anoint itself with a claim to legitimacy.

For what it's worth, the Student Press Law Center is an excellent organization actually doing something about these concerns.



Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home