Remember your high school days? Of course, when some of us were born, the Dead Sea was simply sick--and the mud buildings were a bit more drafty. Passing notes has been, for the most part, replaced with sending texts, but that’s not the only news about education.
The Supreme Court has recently ruled in favor of a student’s free-speech rights. If you hadn’t heard, a female student did not make her varsity cheerleading squad at Mahanoy Area High School (Pennsylvania). She then posted a profanity-laced rant on Snapchat on the weekend and off campus, expressing her frustration.
Her cheerleading coaches found out about her online video, and she was suspended from any involvement in cheerleading for a year. This led to the student’s journey through the justice system.
It has been a half-century since students have won a free-speech case at the Supreme Court. Most rulings have favored school administrators. But that’s not the most significant aspect of the cheerleader’s legal victory.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, “The school in this case asked the court to allow it to punish speech that it considered ‘disruptive,’ regardless of where it occurs.” Obviously, the Supreme Court didn’t buy the school district’s argument.
Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority opinion, penned, “The vulgarity in B.L.’s posts encompassed a message, an expression of B.L.’s irritation with, and criticism of, the school and cheerleading communities.” He added, “the school’s interest in teaching good manners is not sufficient, in this case, to overcome B.L.’s interest in free expression.”
The main point: Not all ranting is disruptive to educational activities — and should not be controlled. Indeed, ranting outside of school about school is probably a mental-health benefit.
You don’t believe that? Adults who have worked full time outside of the home for someone else: raise your hand if you’ve never complained about your job. Just as I thought — I don’t see many hands in the air.
For the record, the Supreme Court did not say that all off-campus speech is protected at all times, which reversed a lower court’s opinion. However, they see the value in free speech in this particular case.
Yet, in our country there’s still some disrespect for freedom of speech. I would not be surprised if in the next few years, we see more victories for the First Amendment, as those who want to control speech are castigated by the courts.
For example, more colleges’ speech codes will be removed. Not too long ago, universities prided themselves on being bastions of free speech. Now, many schools epitomize politically correct speech. Remember, the truth is always a legal defense against defamation and libel.
However, while speaking or printing the truth may be a satisfactory defense in court, it is not acceptable in any environment which prioritizes political correctness. Colleges are the most vivid example of this.
The most democratic way to arrive at the best solution to a political problem is for all voices to be heard. Therefore, as institutions of higher learning flinch from having conservative speakers on campus and punish students for espousing conservative beliefs, bias inevitably wins.
The First Amendment needs to be accepted by all Americans as a cornerstone to our society. Controlling language equals controlling ideas. And then we’re only a step away from re-education camps filled with enemies of the state.
Jeff Ottney was a teacher at Titusville High School and was once the managing editor of Rollercoaster! magazine. While he owes his political views to Aristotle, Edmund Burke and George Will, he believes the most conservatizing experience one can have is becoming a parent. Ottney can be reached at email@example.com