I Was Censored By My High School

Why is that when students enter a public school in this country, they lose their right to free speech? If anything, kids should be encouraged to say whatever stupid shit they want because then a teacher can say, ‘That’s a stupid thing to say, and here’s why.” If kids are denied the right to free speech, there’s no debate, and if there’s no debate, then nobody learns anything, and in an institution presumably designed to educate, that sure doesn’t sound right.

Take for example, the case of Morse v. Frederick. In 2002, the Olympic Torch Relay passed through Juneau, Alaska on its way to Salt Lake City. To celebrate this dumb event, students at Juneau-Douglas High School were allowed out of class and permitted to line up on either side of the street to watch the torch go by in what must have been an extraordinarily boring field trip. Such was the students’ disinterest they reportedly threw coke bottles on the ground, staged snowball fights, and got in minor scuffles while the school band played and cheerleaders performed. Then, as the news cameras honed in to record the torch passing, a group of idiot students unfurled a giant 14 foot long banner which read “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS”. The principal marched over and demanded the students put down the banner. Only one refused, a student named Joseph Frederick who heroically stood by his right to free—albeit unbelievably stupid—speech. The principal was unmoved by Joseph’s affirmation of the American constitution’s hallowed tenets and suspended him for ten days—a punishment which has always baffled me seeing as the kind of students schools punish by sending home are the ones who least want to be at school in the first place.

So now this kid Joseph Frederick evidently felt outraged that his sincere message of Christian generosity or perhaps his harmless non sequitur was being censored. He took his case to the Ninth Circuit Court which ruled that his rights had been violated. Then it went to the Supreme Court where the majority opinion was that “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS” promotes drug use which is bad, real bad, so bad the school needed special powers to circumvent that darn first amendment in order to “send a consistent message against illegal drug use.” Frederick argued that he didn’t mean his message to be taken as advocating drug use. He meant it to be a random inflammatory nonsense phrase to get attention from the TV cameras. Nevertheless, the court ruled that it didn’t matter how Frederick meant the phrase to be taken, but how the school administration interpreted the phrase. Justice Roberts wrote that students simply don’t have the same rights as adults. Clarence Thomas went so far as to say that Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist. (the case that allowed students to quietly and unobtrusively wear arm bands to protest the Vietnam War) should be overturned. He said, “In the earliest public schools, teachers taught, and students listened. Teachers commanded, and students obeyed.” He went on to say that teachers act in the place of parents, and should therefore have the same degree of authority in regards to disciplining students. What an asshole. I almost expect him to continue, “If I could outlaw skateboards and hip hop music, I’d make it happen, but all I can do is legally force you to shut the fuck up. Did I mention I wasn’t democratically elected, have a lifetime term, and am under no obligation to anyone else for the crazy shit I believe? No? In conclusion, fuck you, kids.”

The problem with this ruling is that even if a student unobtrusively expressed a political opinion like, “Medicinal marijuana should be legalized”, because it has to do with illegal drugs and contradicts the school’s “coherent message”, that student could be suspended or expelled. Bam. Just like that. No debate. And who’s to say what other school sponsored messages might be deemed too crucial to allow dissent from students.

This sort of thing concerns me because in 2006, I wrote an underground newspaper called Free Porno Sex Dealy. It had a scantily clad lady on the front. Inside, however, the introduction revealed that there was no porn, but it was in fact a collection of funny (or maybe not) fake news articles meant to be taken by anyone with a trace of common sense as a fat pile of sarcastic bullshit. One of the articles talked about how there were so few gay students at the high school that the dating pool was more of a puddle. To remedy this, the students organized a mass transfer of gay students from other schools to our school. Another article referenced the brewing racism against Asians in regards to their perceived monopoly on academic achievement. It was about how Asian students were being sent off to a separate but advanced school where they could receive a more rigorous curriculum of schoolwork. I quoted the assistant principal as saying it was “because it worked out so well for black people in the 50s.” That’s pretty bad I guess. There were maybe ten or so other less offensive news articles I won’t go into, and I spent a lot of time working on it when I was supposed to be writing articles for the school newspaper.

I distributed a couple hundred copies through a friend of mine so I would have no connection to it. Still, the very day of distribution, the assistant principal, a man named Mr. Davis, called me into his office.

“Did you write this newspaper?” he asked and held it up for me.

“No,” I said.

“That’s funny. Because some students told me they were confident it was you who wrote it.”

“Yeah, I heard that too. I think it’s because I write for the school newspaper, so they just assumed.”

“Uh huh?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, I’m going to give you one more chance to tell me the truth. Did you write this?”

“No, I didn’t.”

Then he said, “If I find out you’ve been lying to me, I will make sure you’re off this campus, and if I see a second issue of this newspaper, make no mistake, you will definitely be expelled.”

Later, he came to my newspaper class and asked whether anyone was involved in a rogue sect publishing a racist pornographic hateful piece of trash. He recited quotes from various articles out of context and generally terrorized the class. Looking back, I wish I had released a second issue anyway. Students should be allowed to publish whatever monumentally stupid thing they want because in high school, kids are experimenting with boundaries, and they have to be allowed to cross them from time to time or they’ll never learn. According to Clarence Thomas, teachers are perfect sources of wisdom, infallible absolute authorities who students should obey or they will descend into anarchy. But if that’s true, why did I have a History teacher telling me the Civil War was about states’ rights and not slavery or another one tell me that all I needed to know about the American Revolution could be found in Roland Emmerich’s film The Patriot? Why did this same Assistant Principal Mr. Davis place restrictions on school organizations just so that the Gay Straight Alliance couldn’t meet on campus? Teachers and administrators can be just as stupid as the students, and that’s why free speech in public schools is so important. TC mark

image – Hequals2henry

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  • guest

    although I agree with the message, the writing in this article sounded very amateur and put me off completely.

    • Jinglebelles

      Supreme court judges are appointed not “democratically elected”– I liked your article don't get me wrong, but I'm sad when someone makes a good point and also proves to be ignorant, it detracts from the message.

      Sigh.

      • Woyzeck

        Quoth the article:

        “Did I mention I wasn’t democratically elected…” (emphasis added).

      • Jinglebelles

        oops, I missed the n't part, skimmed this really fast.

      • Woyzeck

        No worries. What use is my hawk-like focus if not to correct people on internet forums? Woyzeck away!

      • Elle

        Pretty sure you misread that. He definitely said that Clarence Thomas WASN'T democratically elected.
        “Did I mention I wasn’t democratically elected, have a lifetime term, and am under no obligation to anyone else for the crazy shit I believe?”

  • casey

    brilliant.

  • Guest

    Love.

  • http://twitter.com/Chrys0poeia Nick Beith

    agreed.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XTCTJBWA5PTI7M6AKZSP7XHCNQ Sara

    Hell ya! I hate how adults assume they have the right answers and are more knowledgeable and experienced than kids, therefore they have the right to force their ideas onto younger people. There's so many kids that are full of fresh, unbiased ideas but their ideas are discredited because they're not old and jaded.

  • deb

    Congratulations on having something “worthy” enough to be censored.  It seems like being censored in a school atmosphere brings more attention than allowing the speech/action to go ahead unhindered.  And props to educators that foster the passion.

  • Mr. Davis

    I knew you'd slip up one day, you little son of a bitch. Your ass is mine now. Consider yourself expelled.

  • rollerblades

    I agree with your opinion but comparing yourself to Bong Hits for Jesus dude is a little off since you denied writing the paper. Why did you do that?

  • guest

    TEEN ANGST Y'KNOW?
    this author sounds about 15

  • freddipass

    I think that the schools should take on more of a “parenting” role while kids are in school. I hear a lot more compliants (as a counselor to these children and their parents) that they school does nothing or doesn't seem to to care and says everything is the parents' problem.  So, I'd like to see schools care MORE about what matters (but definitely less about stupid shit like whether or not a space zombie who has been dead for 2000 years does or does not smoke from a bong).

  • JAMIE

    This was a fantastic article.

  • http://twitter.com/Sscottie Scott Lewis

    yeh kids rule adults drool

  • inflammatorywrit

    I was also censored (and then completely kicked off the school newspaper) in high school, so I relate to this very much. Thank you for taking me back to the awful, embarrassing day where I had to pack up my things from the 'newsroom' in front of EVERYONE and walk aimlessly around campus because I no longer had a 4th period.

    But you do know that the Civil War wasn't actually about slaves, right? At least, not in the sense that the entire North wanted to free the slaves because they were just good, progressive guys. It was much more related to economic reasons, control of the territories and, yes, states rights.

    • Lola

      Agreed. He lost me at “why did I have a History teacher telling me the Civil War was about states’ rights and not slavery?”. Your high school teacher is in fact, correct.  Your elementary teacher is incorrect. Google it.

  • joe

    I think yours would be a country worth living in.

  • DeeQuinn

    Agreed. I had a defamation case served against me by my University. 

    Luckily I survived with a clean record. 
    Unluckily, it cost me a fortune.

  • henry

    pretty funny because schools are made by and for parents anyways

  • http://www.facebook.com/gregpphoto Greg Petliski

    Another gay TC writer? Are you serious? I'm starting to think this is like a gay bar.

    • elise

      really?  one more gay, and you get pissy?  like ryan o'connell satisfies some gay quota, and another white gay male is too much for you?  grow up, please.

  • Lillian

    the civil war was about states' rights. i think if you crack open any good book about the civil war, you'll find that that is what the historians say (team of rivals says this, i think). at a progressive college with a progressive professor, i learned this, so it's not, like, some weird racist thing that only white people in the south are taught.

    • Anonymous

      “The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property” -Georgie Declaration of Secession 

      “In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.
      Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.” -Mississippi Declaration of Secession
      “The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.” -South Carolina Declaration of Secession

      “The government of the United States, by certain joint resolutions, bearing date the 1st day of March, in the year A.D. 1845, proposed to the Republic of Texas, then *a free, sovereign and independent nation* [emphasis in the original], the annexation of the latter to the former, as one of the co-equal states thereof,
      The people of Texas, by deputies in convention assembled, on the fourth day of July of the same year, assented to and accepted said proposals and formed a constitution for the proposed State, upon which on the 29th day of December in the same year, said State was formally admitted into the Confederated Union.
      Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery– the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?
      The controlling majority of the Federal Government, under various pretences and disguises, has so administered the same as to exclude the citizens of the Southern States, unless under odious and unconstitutional restrictions, from all the immense territory owned in common by all the States on the Pacific Ocean, for the avowed purpose of acquiring sufficient power in the common government to use it as a means of destroying the institutions of Texas and her sister slaveholding States.” -Texas Declaration of Secession

      Idiot

      • ll

        are you kidding? you can’t quote one aspect and then sit back smugly because you’ve just managed to simplify a hugely complex war. slaveholding was intricately tied to a number of core economic and political issues that had been in place since the founding of the country. 

        Idiot. 

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