Monday, February 12, 2007

Cry Freedom (& Dictators Be Damned)

At least 11 students at a Catholic high school northwest of Toronto have been suspended after what officials call "cyber-bullying'' of a principal.
Students at Robert F. Hall Catholic Secondary School in Caledon East started to vent about their principal Edward McMahon on the popular networking website, calling him a "Grinch of School Spirit.''
But a school board spokesperson said the posted comments then became vulgar, derogatory, demeaning and sexually explicit, according to the Toronto Star.
As a result, 11 male and female students, which included a student council member and a top school athlete, were suspended last week for up to eight days.

(Click on the link to read the whole article.)

I have to say that I’m absolutely stunned reading this. We live in a country where Jewish lawyers will defend those who deny the holocaust happened because they believe in free speech….

But teenagers who question their principal are suspended?

As one of the suspended teens says in the article:

"Some did go over the top, but some of us didn't say a whole lot and we're out," said one student.
"I wasn't saying he was an idiot, I said he acted like an idiot and that's my right, and the fact that they suspended me for saying he acted a certain way is a little over the edge."
Another student said she was suspended after responding to a posting made by a male student who mentioned inciting a riot to fight the ban on electronic devices. She said she was opposed to the riot but supported lifting the ban.

You know, I had this fun experience at LCC, because I knew there was someone who would be there I have absolutely no respect for at all. Zero. Why?

Because I used to be on the board, as an elected official of a group that allegedly operated with bylaws and procedures, with her. Until I disagreed. God help you if you didn’t agree with something.

And you know what the issues were? Members had made complaints about our meeting location, because it was in the not-so-savoury part of the city and some members had been approached after meetings when they had to walk to their cars in the dark. There were knifings and the local trade is in drugs and sex.

Uh, gee, yeah, you think some people aren’t crazy about the location?

But there was a refusal to even consider change of venue.

And this person made an announcement that I had resigned and was leaving the group and then ordered me to turn over all my materials.

Yeah, bloody fucking wondrous democracy. You think I respect people like this? Not one bit.

Of course I didn’t just let them kick me. Blogged about it. Talked to several people – perfectly willing to answer questions to anyone who asked. I know others who left the group.

And so they should have, if they didn’t feel the group was being run properly or meetings held in a safe location, or being run by the principles set forth in the bylaws.

It’s the number 1 reason I have issues with a certain political figure, beyond the war, beyond anything else. It’s the way people were made to fear to speak up. If you spoke against anything the government did you were practically a traitor.

Whatever happened to free speech?

Whatever happened to democracy?

What happened to the very principles America was founded on?

Any time I see organizations that clamp down on people with the legitimate right to express a difference of opinion, any time I see them run like a dictatorship with minimal or no accountability to their members, I’m going to think about these kids (the ones who legitimately questioned the policies) getting suspended from school.

And hope that these kids are the leaders of tomorrow – those who do not blindly accept policy but actually use their brains to question it, to think it through and make up their own minds about what they think.

Three cheers for those who are more than sheep.

Maybe if there were more people like that in the world, some of the worst atrocities would never have happened, for people wouldn’t have stayed silent to protect themselves, their job, their reputation or whatever else they thought they had to lose – they just would have stood up on the side of what was right.


Anonymous said...

I remember getting suspended at school for startinig a petition to fire a teacher. While I think the petition might not have been a good idea (even though he was a crappy teacher and don't even get me started on the tracky dacks without underwear look), the school clamped down so hard. It's like they can't take any questioning of authority because then what would happen.

Sandra Ruttan said...

My thinking is that respect has to be earned, not handed over without question. I mean, there are enormous scandals here, over kids being abused in religious schools - particularly Native kids. It's abuse of authority, and we take it seriously because these kids are put in a vulnerable position.

The reality is that not every parent is a good parent, not every teacher a good teacher, not every cop a good cop. We have to be more willing to listen when people speak up and not let people hide behind 'positions of authority' and use them to get away with abuse.

I did have a teacher fired in high school. Well, he blames me, anyway. As far as I'm concerned he's responsible, but that's another story...

angie said...

Well...I guess I have a little different take on the matter. Voicing complaints is one thing, attempting to incite a riot is another. There are ways to get policies changed and bitching on a web board isn't one of the more effective ones. It's also interesting to note that parents who initially voiced concern over the severity of the punishment changed their minds after reading the entries. To me, that says a lot.

The policy in question seems reasonable, and is (at least from what the article says) one that came from the school board. However, the comments were directed at the principal & not the board. I'm all for freedom of speech and expression, but I have no issue with kids learning that there can be negative consequences for incendiary statements. Welcome to the real world.

Sandra Ruttan said...

That's why I inserted "(the ones who legitimately questioned the policies)" in what I said. Inciting a riot is quite a bit different, and being suspended for that is one thing.

Being suspended for saying you think the principal acted like an idiot is quite another.

I had a very interesting experience that ties to this on my recent school visit. I walked away admiring the hell out of one kid who was driving his teachers nuts.

He almost made me laugh outloud in front of the whole group. I respected his independent thought, even if it was an attempt to embarrass me and the teacher.

I'll tell the story tomorrow.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

"What happened to the very principles America was founded on?"

They were used as toilet paper by a guy we were supposed to trust.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh, and here I was thinking the political leaders had just been pissing on them all this time...

Eileen said...

If the students were way over the top I don't have a problem with them getting into trouble. I don't think under free speech they should be allowed to say anything at anytime. However, they should be allowed to critize him and if it was going to far there should have been a warning before it went to this point.

Bill Cameron said...

I'm a dirty fucking hippy, but even I believe there are limits to free speech. That said, if those limits were crossed in this instance (and they may have been in the alleged incitement to riot), the school is out of line in meting out punishment.

In my view (and I say this as the father of 11- and 21-year-old children), the school's authority ends at the campus boundary. If the students were posting their comments from school computers, there the school administration could step in. But if one of these children had been mine and the school suspended him or her for posting to an internet site while away from school, they'd have a fight on their hands.

Maybe I would decide to discipline my child, and perhaps (if the incitement to riot was real and not just teen trash talk) the police would take a position. But the school has no authority, and it's a gross abuse of power to exercise authority.

In the end, if someone calls you an idiot, suck it up, and maybe ask why they think so. Kids can be abrasive and immature (though often no more than the principals and teachers who pull this authoritarian bullshit), but they often have a point too. And, as a teacher or principal, if you have an issue with the behavior of my child away from school, then tell me about it. But it's up to me to decide what to do about it.

If one of these suspended kids were mine, I guarantee you the bitching and moaning on some internet site would be the least of the school's worries.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

"...the school's authority ends at the campus boundary."

I agree with the dirty fucking hippie.