Tuesday, April 17, 2007

If Fascism Comes to North America, High School Principals Will be Leading the Way

There are good high school principals. I remember one I had that was willing to break the rules and allow me to enroll in a high school chemistry class even though I was rather young.

But many high school principals seem to be fascists-in-training. All over North America, high school principals are abrogating the right of students to speak their minds, even out of school.

By now, most people have heard about the "bong hits 4 Jesus" case. That case, which is currently before the US Supreme Court, high school student Joseph Frederick unfurled a nonsenical banner with the message "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" while the Olympic torch passed through his town. His principal, Deborah Morse, confiscated the banner and suspended him. The outcome of that case is still pending, but we can depend on authoritarians like Scalia to side with the principal.

In another case, Bloomington, Minnesota Principal Steve Hill confiscated a student's Blackberry pager and erased photographs he had taken after a protest at the school. Ironically, the name of the high school is Thomas Jefferson High School.

Principals don't always win, however. In another case, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that a student cannot be ruled a juvenile delinquent for criticizing her principal, using 4-letter words, in an online forum. Judge Patricia Riley found that the student's speech was protected by the Indiana Constitution.

Principals clearly have a lot of authority, and they can and should wield that authority inside the school in a responsible fashion. Students have the right to political speech, and what students do outside the school is their own business. Instead of being so thin-skinned, principals should use these kinds of events to teach the students a thing or two about the importance of free speech in an open society. By doing so, they would earn the respect of their students far more than any respect gained from the usual two-bit authoritarian posturing.


Anonymous said...

Didn't I see you on TV complaining that even young kids being cyber bullied were also just thin skinned little wimps who ought to just suck it all in in order to honour free speech? Are they mini-fascists in training themselves?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Dear Anonymous:

I see you have the courage of your convictions - you don't like to hide behind a cloak of anonymity, do you?

And you're pretty good at erecting straw men, too.