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Guest column: Freedom is under fire at government-run schools

POSTED: December 26, 2013 1:00 a.m.

Today some of America’s least free places are many government schools where students enjoy less free speech than prisoners since “zero tolerance” and “social justice” trump liberty.

In October, a Pennsylvania school’s zero tolerance for violence policy dictated that a fifth-grader be suspended for pretending to use his pencil as a bow and arrow. The same month an 8-year-old Scottsdale, Ariz., boy was suspended for drawing a ninja, a Star Wars character and a soldier. Now so many schools have pervasive security cameras and closed campuses, too.

Zero tolerance for “sexual harassment” mandated in 2011 that an 8-year-old North Carolina boy be suspended for being overheard saying his teacher was “cute.” In 2006, a 4-year-old Waco, Texas, boy got an in-school suspension for daring to hug a teacher’s aide. And in 2009, a Milford, Conn., middle school forbade all touching, including handshakes.

Zero tolerance for “racism” or “hate speech” in many schools means no one can wear anything with a Dixie flag. A New Jersey high school student got suspended for an “I’m a Redneck and Proud of It” T-shirt. Under the diktat of “multiculturalism,” Los Angeles schools threw out a math textbook series for not having enough Hispanic names in word problems. And teachers can no longer ask children to sit “Indian style.” The preferred politically correct phrase is “criss-cross, applesauce.”

Zero tolerance for expression insufficiently pro-homosexual meant a Minnesota high school boy with a “Straight Pride” shirt was almost expelled. That violated the school’s “toleration of diversity” policy. And California Democrats enacted a 2011 law banning anything in schools that “reflects adversely” on homosexuals. “Toleration” excludes the politically incorrect.

Literature in K-12 schools has likely never been more under assault. Intolerant leftists censor Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” for revealing that racist characters speak racist words, while intolerant rightists target “Harry Potter” for its wizards, and for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” for Snow shacking up with seven men.

God help the bold instructor who lets his class discuss a political issue. As a high school teacher near Athens told me, if a parent or anyone says he was “offended by” something allegedly said in your class, then it means “days or weeks … involved in a defense.” So teachers are “better off … walking the straight line and avoiding controversy.” Only about 40 percent of my college students say they were ever allowed to discuss any controversial issue in high school.

So why the dramatic decline of liberty allowed in our schools? The zero tolerance for violence paranoia is a hysterical overreaction to the saturation media coverage of the handful of horrible school shootings in recent years. But instead of rationally allowing school workers with conceal-carry permits to be armed, since almost every mass shooting in the U.S. has been in a “gun-free zone,” educrats exploit school shootings to impose a totalitarian vise on students’ basic First Amendment free expression rights. Constipating children’s imagination appears to be the imperative.

That so many principals get sued by angry parents and students about any alleged inadequacy encourages them to regulate students ever more to reduce their legal liability. More rules beget more administrators to enforce them. And the record number of professional paper-pushers generates a record number of rules to justify their jobs, power and pay.

A great many schools of education, administrators and teachers (especially their unions) value equality far more than freedom. Indeed, freedom is stigmatized as the obstacle to “equity,” “inclusion” and “fairness.” Allow young folks choices and they might make the wrong ones. Thus, many educators in schools and colleges see their mission as one of indoctrination toward creating some “social justice” utopia rather than encouraging independent critical thought.

So they preach one party line, and woe unto the student who dares to deviate from it in class discussion. How I learned that in graduate school in the 1990s.

The self-esteem movement has fostered a far more narcissistic, entitlement mindset among many which says if my son can’t eat peanuts, then no one can. Not only must I shield my daughter from learning about evolution, but I must save all the children from it.

Most people fear standing up to the intolerati’s Stalinist encroachments on our rights. The statist war on liberty is constant, and defending freedom is a never-ending struggle. But the prophetic U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, regarded as a great liberal, warned that: “The freedoms of speech, press, petition, and assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment must be accorded to the ideas we hate, or sooner or later they will be denied to the ideas we cherish.”

We will enjoy precisely as much freedom as we are willing to fight for.

Dr. Douglas Young is a professor of political science at the University of North Georgia-Gainesville campus.


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