Freedom begins when you tell Mrs. Grundy to go fly a kite
Robert A. Heinlein
Apparently that doesn’t apply if you’re a student in 21st Century United States.
There’s been quite a flap this past week about kids and their use of the web. To me, there are three different topics getting mixed up together. Writing that can get you in trouble today (even if some of it shouldn’t), writing that can get you in trouble tomorrow, and reading with too much trust. I’m only writing about the first of those today.
To today’s kids (and a good number of adults too), the web is just another outlet for expression and creative writing. Things that are written on websites are the same sort of things that would be written in paper-based journals, talked about over the phone or with a group of friends in the coffee shop. As Facebook director of marketing Melanie Deitch says, “[online writing] is just an outlet to express what students are already doing.”
To be clear… I’m not talking about death threats here – about anyone: teachers, parents, or other students. Those need to be investigated appropriately.
What I’m talking about are simply the sort of complaints that kids have always voiced, which are now being voiced online – and having much more serious repercussions than they warrant. Students have been saying critical things about their schools and teachers since the beginning of time. It’s easy to imagine Ralph, Potsie and Ritchie sitting in Arnold’s and griping to each other about their teacher or the test they were given that day, but you’d think it pretty absurd if they were suspended from school for it. That’s the equivalent to what’s happening.
Reed College (Portland, OR) has denied admissions to a prospective student because of comments written on a weblog about the Dean of Admissions. Louisiana State kicked two swimmers off the team last spring for posting criticizing comments about the coaches their coaches. Fourteen year-old Daniel is an acquaintance of mine who had a Xanga.com website until recently when school officials were able to have it shut down just because he wrote that he “didn’t like” a teacher, and there are reports of students being suspended or expelled from school for similar writing.
I won’t get into “freedom of speech” or “freedom of the press” debates here, that’s a much larger discussion including an actual reading of what the Constitution says (not just what most Americans think it says) and then the whole question of whether or not a public school’s actions equate to Congress making a law.
I just ask for a calm, rational discussion and an answer to one question…
Is this what we want to teach our kids, that over-reacting and stomping on creativity is an appropriate response?