Tag: free speech

He has it right

This morning, as I was painting a cabinet for my bathroom, I heard an interview with a former college professor of mine. Pretty much anyone in the DFW area who listens to the news is familiar with Dr. Alan Saxe. A small man with a huge heart, he has never met a topic he isn’t willing to research and discuss. Today, he took on the topic of political correctness and how it is silencing a number of Americans because they are too afraid to speak for fear of what others will think.

Dr. Saxe is a small man, not someone you would normally look twice at. Back in the Dark Ages when he was my Political Science prof at the University of Texas at Austin, he was energy personified. That was the first thing that struck me. The second was his joy for teaching and for making his students think. I had him for at least four classes, probably more. He was my favorite professor. It didn’t matter that we disagreed on a number of political issues. When we did, it was a civilized disagreement, one where we could discuss our views and learn.

And boy did I learn from him and, as today proved, he is still teaching any and all who are willing to listen and think.

To the surprise of the radio interviewer, Dr. Saxe said this trend toward being afraid of what we say started in the ’50s and ’60s, with the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Society was changing and words that had been accepted, if not necessarily acceptable, were now forbidden. These words became loaded and the use of them, even innocently, could mark you as, at be, unenlightened, and at worst a racist.

Social media increased this trend. As Dr. Saxe said, we are too quick to use the term “hate speech”, diluting its meaning and impact. We are just as quick to call someone a racist or Nazi, often to simply silence points of view we don’t agree with. It is a dangerous trend, one that needs to not only be slowed but stopped.

As Dr. Saxe said, he teaches people to think, to consider the context and the meaning of a word withing the context. He noted that the quickest and easiest way to avoid a number of the pitfalls we face today with so many trying to silence speech they don’t agree with is to simply think and be nice. No name-calling, no shouting down to silence an opinion that doesn’t match our own. Discussion and consideration.

What a revolutionary idea — not.

One thing that dawned on me as I listened to Dr. Saxe (beyond the fact he isn’t as liberal as he was years ago — or at least he doesn’t seem to be on certain issues) is that two of my favorite instructors, the two who taught me the most about critical thinking and really listening to what others say and framing discussions only after listening were two of the the most liberal. Of course, back then, a Texas liberal was a conservative most everywhere else in the country.

But I digress.

Dr. Saxe was right when he said we are on a slippery slope where free speech is concerned. We have to stand up for our ideas and quit being afraid to speak. Sure, we might say something to hurt someone’s feelings but no one ever guaranteed any of us a life where we wouldn’t get upset or insulted. It is up to us to listen to what people said, learn from it and learn how to discuss issues we don’t agree upon.

Say what?

Earlier this morning, I came across a story about a law suit filed by a California college student. It seems this young man attends a state college and had tried to hand out Spanish language versions of the Constitution on campus one day. He wasn’t inside any of the buildings. Far from it, in fact. He was in the public areas and, according to the suit, he wasn’t trying to convince anyone to think a certain way. He simply wanted to help students inform themselves on what was in the Constitution.

Except he wasn’t allowed to. As he was getting started, a member of the administration came up to him and told him he wasn’t allowed to hand out copies of the Constitution, be they in Spanish or English or any other language. The only place he could do so was in the “free speech zone” on campus. The zone, by the way, was described in one of the articles I read about the incident as follows: if the campus was the size of a standard tennis court, the free speech zone would be the size of a cellphone. That should give you an idea of how “valued” free speech is on this campus.

But it gets better. Even if he wanted to use the free speech zone, he couldn’t do so until he went to the powers-that-be and filed for approval — and received it — to use it and hand out his copies of the Constitution. .

Now think about that for a moment. A so-called free speech zone that required permission to be used. Hmmm. Maybe it speech wasn’t so free after all. What do you think?

Now we aren’t talking about a Speaker’s Corner ala Hyde Park in London. For those of you not familiar with Speaker’s Corner there, it is a large area in the park near the famed marble arch. There speakers can hold forth on just about anything they want as long as they aren’t inciting violence, etc. While not everything is legally allowed, the police are usually very tolerant. A quick search of some of the people who have taken advantage of Speaker’s Corner there throughout history shows they range from Karl Marx to Lenin to George Orwell to┬áthe Catholic Evidence Guild. Wikipedia lists many, many more.

Apparently, this particular California college system doesn’t believe its faculty and students can handle hearing diverse points of view. So, instead of facilitating such discussions, it shunts them off to remote parts of its various campuses. I’m sure when the system files its response to the law suit, we will see such things as protecting students from hateful speech, etc. The problem with this is that the world is full of opinions that don’t fall into lockstep with what any one person believes. Some of those opinions are hurtful. Others are hysterical. No one ever said the world is fair. It isn’t and never will be, not so long as there are humans on the planet.

When are we finally going to realize that we aren’t helping anyone by trying to protect them from speech they might find offensive or hurtful or just plain dumb? Shouldn’t we instead be teaching them how to counter it effectively? Instead of hiding heads in the sand, they should be able to look the offender in the eye and speak logically, persuasively and with facts to back them up as they offer a counter-argument. But no, our colleges would rather pamper them and let them continue the false belief begun in public school that they have a right not to be offended.

Free speech isn’t something that should be relegated to a small, isolated area of a public college campus. It isn’t something that should have to be approved by college administration to be able to make use of the “free speech zone”. If approval is needed, it isn’t free speech. It’s time the nanny state understood that.

College ‘Free Speech Zones’ In Spotlight After Student’s Lawsuit



What right to free speech?

With the campaign season in full force, all you need to do is look at facebook to see folks screaming about what someone else is saying about politics. You’ll see name-calling and insinuations. You’ll see folks threatening to ban posters on their wall, or on their blogs, if they don’t agree with them. That’s fine. That’s all part of social media. It is also part of that pesky little guarantee we have in the First Amendment — freedom of speech. And yes, the sarcasm was on for that last statement.

There are limitations to free speech. Most of us are familiar with at least some of them. You can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater. Pornography — whatever it is, although we are supposed to know it when we see it — doesn’t enjoy the same first amendment protection as, say, our daily newspaper. These limitations, and most others, are meant to protect us from danger of one sort or another.

That brings me to one of the reasons for today’s post. Yesterday, an article caught my attention. As I read it, I was both proud and infuriated. I was proud because an 11-year old had taken the initiative to do something to support his mother, who happens to be battling breast cancer. I was infuriated because of actions taken against him by the principal of his school.

The setting is Indiana, pretty much the heartland of our country. Eleven year old Trevor cut his hair into a mohawk with a pink ribbon on the side to support his mother (who was released from the hospital after surgery yesterday). The problem came not when Trevor was sent home because his haircut violated some school policy because, well, he wasn’t. In fact, I’ve seen nothing to indicate his haircut was against school or district policy.

No, the problem came when the school principal told him that, because of his hair, he couldn’t try out for the basketball team.

Here’s this kid who wants to make a positive statement of support for his mother and he is being penalized. Remember, he’d apparently been allowed to attend school all day without being in violation of any school policy. “I was walking out to my bus and she stopped me and told me that I couldn’t try out for basketball with my mohawk,” Trevor told RTV6. That, to me at least, makes it pretty clear no one had objected until after school was out.

Needless to say, Trevor’s dad was more than a little upset. He did what so many do these days — he went public, taking what happened into the world of social media. Suddenly, the principal wanted to talk to him and Trevor. Oh, yes. With the public eye firmly fixed on her, she apologized to Trevor, told him he could try out for the basketball team and even asked if he’d lead a new student organization designed to raise money to fight breast cancer.

Don’t get me wrong. If Trevor’s haircut violated some school policy, then this goes beyond his right to free speech. Rules are rules, especially in school, and should be enforced. My problem comes from the fact that he’d apparently been allowed to attend school all day without anyone saying there was a problem with his haircut. Then we have the fact that the principal doesn’t appear to have asked him why he had chosen that particular cut and color.

I applaud Trevor for facing what could have been some cruel teasing on the part of his fellow students — let’s face it, middle school kids can be cruel and a boy showing up with pink hair and a bow makes a seemingly easy target — to show support for his mother. I applaud his parents for raising such a son.

But Trevor’s story isn’t the only case concerning free speech in our schools to catch my attention over the last twenty four hours. The second one came to my attention this morning. Again, it is set in a place that should be the heart of Free Speech: Philadelphia. You know, the city where our fight for independence from England began, the home of the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, etc. Unfortunately, it seems that the schools there must not be requiring their teachers to understand either free speech or the fact that teachers shouldn’t be bullies.

In this case, a 16-year old high school sophomore came to school wearing a Romney/Ryan tee shirt. Just as with Trevor, this young woman went to class and, as the day progressed, nothing indicated there was any problem with her shirt. No teacher said she was violating the dress code and she had no issues with any of her fellow students. Then she went to her geometry class and everything changed.

According to the girl, her teacher got a look at her shirt and told her to leave the classroom. The girl refused and she refused to change. At that point, the teacher allegedly pulled her into the hallway and began to ridicule her. Part of this included comparing her to the KKK. If that wasn’t bad enough, the teacher also encouraged others to ridicule the girl.

I can’t blame the girl, Samantha, for feeling like she’d been bullied by the teacher. She had been. Nor can I blame her for not wanting to return to that teacher’s class. I sure wouldn’t want to. The teacher had proven to be a bully. I’d lay money on the teacher also being one to hold a grudge. No student should be forced to put up with that.

Making matters worse, at least in my mind, is the teacher’s excuse. The teacher said it was all a joke, that she jokes around with all her students.

Pardon me? Comparing someone to the KKK because they wore a Romney/Ryan tee shirt to class is a joke? Egging on others to ridicule the student is a joke? Bullying a student is a joke?

Now, before someone says this teacher was simply exercising her right to free speech, she wasn’t. This situation is pretty much the same as the yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. This teacher used her position of authority in an attempt to intimidate a student. When that didn’t work, she then tried to incite others to do the same, something that could have caused physical harm to the girl. Remember, this was an adult, a teacher. There is a special sort of responsibility teachers hold — and this particular teacher forgot.

I’m sorry, but when teachers are allowed to act this way because a student happens to support a political candidate the teacher doesn’t, it’s time for that teacher — and probably that school’s principal — to be fired. The teacher because she is no longer teacher but is trying to intimidate and indoctrinate. The principal because it’s a pretty good bet that this sort of behavior isn’t an isolated incident.

So here’s to two very brave youngsters — Trevor and Samantha. You go, guys!

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