Cassi B. Virginia

Free Speech in the School System

The First Amendment is not upheld fully in the American School System. This needs to be changed to make our country all it needs to be.

Dear Next President:

The first amendment is one of the most important rights we have as Americans. However, young people are not encouraged to exercise that right - in fact, it is oftentimes frowned upon. In school, ‘free speech’ is usually controlled by the administrators, to better reflect their political agendas in the school system. However, this issue matters to a larger population as well, because control of opinions leads to more government control. The first amendment guarantees us our right to freedom of opinions (including speech, press, and assembly), and should be upheld in as many ways as possible.

A case-in-point: my father’s freedom of speech was abridged in high school. His Latin teacher in his junior year, 1970, believed that because Latin was a dead language, there was no need to go over pronunciation rules or learn how to ‘speak’ Latin. Rather, she had them doing conjugation tables and numerous worksheets. Finally, my dad and many of his classmates decided that they would petition her to teach them pronunciation rules. My father was appointed spokesman, and told the teacher of his concerns. She didn’t agree with him, and they began arguing, which led to my dad digging his heels in and the teacher running out of the room crying. My father was sent to the guidance office, and tried to explain his point there, but alas, it fell upon deaf ears. He got in trouble in school, for simply exercising his free speech - a right technically guaranteed by the Constitution.

Twisting of student rights by administrators is a problem. The people in charge at school oftentimes disguise the punishment of free speech as a way to keep their school safe. This especially applies to things that could be taken wrongly and cause violence or concern for bullying. According to a court decision displayed on the New York Times’s website, an exercise of free speech that disrupts the normal functioning of the school is punishable, by suspension, expulsion, or a simple apology note, depending on the relative severity of the transgression. However, individual administrators have differing ideas as to the definition of disruption, and these court decisions haven’t specifically interpreted of what is and isn’t permissible. Many arguments now are about how far schools can take punishing children for free speech, which especially applies to what is done out of school, even on personal computers and in one’s own home. The National Coalition Against Censorship, for example, cites an issue wherein an expletive-ridden post on Twitter was deemed unacceptable, even though it was posted under a student’s personal account at their home, with no content having to do with the school. America fundamentally contains a guarantee of both free speech and diversity. However, they have been found to be fairly incompatible, especially by the less fortunate in society. These groups include those with different religions or radical political views. The students in these categories oftentimes are scared to speak out, or when having spoken out, are punished for their views by the authorities or adults in the school.

The causes of this issue include people having opinions that aren’t widely accepted, or those that challenge authorities. This makes it more likely for the authorities to be more on the lookout for those abusing their free speech policy, because it makes the government paranoid. This issue matters to students because occasionally we are censored by teachers. With the exception of foul language or harassment, students should not be told which opinions they must have. Many adults think certain things should “only be talked about at home” and force their opinion on the kids around them, instead of letting them form their own opinions. Most people, however, believe that free speech is a good right to have, but not all things are socially acceptable to believe in: they contradict themselves. As John Palfrey of The New York Times says, “The American experiment is, at its highest form, about diversity and free expression coexisting. That coexistence has not been easy, nor has it been all that successful, especially for those who have less power.” Minorities are ignored or made fun of for their different views on religion, policies, and family. It’s generally frowned upon for gay people to talk freely about their sexual views in many places, while often it’s encouraged for straight people. Students and children have opinions forced on them by the adults in their lives, which unfairly prejudices them and makes them into different people.

As president, you could do the following about this issue: make websites dedicated to free speech, encourage acceptance and accept diversity. To encourage free speech, let people be who they are and have their own opinions, especially children, as they’re who will run the world someday and not all of them can be bigots. Do you want the colleges of tomorrow to be spitting out little like-minded robots to work to make this country a bland tapioca pudding nation, Future President? Or do you want a country full of rich and varied opinions, all working together as best they can to make a strong America? As a citizen, I prefer to decide for myself, rather than be told what to think by someone who doesn’t understand my situation or where my opinions come from.

Sincerely, Cassi B.

Works Cited

Bazelon, Emily. "Technology, Free Speech and Children." The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 June 2011. Web. 23 Oct. 2016

Palfrey, John. "No Light Between Diversity and Free Expression." The New York Times. The New York Times, 22 June 2016. Web. 23 Oct. 2016

"Watch What You Tweet: Schools, Censorship, and Social Media." National Coalition Against Censorship. National Coalition Against Censorship, 16 Sept. 2016. Web. 23 Oct. 2016

James Wood High School

Concerned Colonels

Letters to the Next President by James Wood High's AP English 11 students

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