by Q.T.M. McConnell
Are you in the mood for some good reading? The other day I was in the Guidance Office looking for guidance when I saw an unassuming three page packet. Having nothing else to do, I picked one up and began reading. I learned that the name of this little manual is the Student’s Rights and Responsibilities Bill. I thought to myself, “my, what a great place is La Follette, that I can simply walk into my guidance office and learn my rights as a student. But wait, why must I pursue this information on my own? Why isn’t this information in my handy handbook issued to me at the beginning of the school year? I ought to read this!” So I read. Soon I realized why our School Board may not want students realizing what we are actually entitled to. Right away in the Preamble, it states “students have the responsibility to respect rights of all persons involved in the educational process and exercise the highest degree of self-discipline in observing and adhering to legitimate rules.” The first thing I thought was “WOW! That sounds great! The School Board really trusts me as a free-thinking individual to respect people and be respected. I love this school!” But wait. Before we all stage an “I love Cheryl Wilhoyte” love-fest, let’s take a look at what these “legitimate rules” are, particularly as they apply to freedom of speech, expression, and something they like to call “material disruption of the educational environment.”
The first item on the list is literature, specifically a student’s right to post it. It reads “Students shall have the right to post any literature of a non-commercial nature without prior censorship or approval by the Administration or School Board in any designated posting area, provided, however, the designated representative shall be accorded the right to remove posted material s/he considers obscene, libelous or will cause material disruption to the educational environment.” Let’s stop and think a bit. I have the right to post whatever I want so long as my Administrators agree with it? Whose rights are we really talking about here? Well, I began to think and it occurred to me that maybe my Administrators and School Board representatives aren’t so concerned that I express myself however I like. But, I can see their point; after all, I probably wouldn’t want fifteen hundred students posting whatever they wanted to either. They might start to see the world outside these walls.
I proceeded reading. The next civil liberties violation I came across is stated as such: “Students shall have the right to wear buttons. . .and other symbolic expression provided these expressions are not obscene, libelous, or cause material disruption of the educational environment.” So if I, Joe Student, am actively pro-life and I want to wear a button with a picture of an aborted fetus, I can’t because someone is offended? Isn’t that the point of democracy? To believe in something no matter what other people say and being able to voice an opinion? Am I expected to compromise my beliefs because someone doesn’t agree with me? I hope not.
Next on the list of Administrator’s–oops, I mean student’s–rights is clothing and conduct. According to our elected school officials, we the students have “the right to choose (our) own dress, conduct, and personal appearance, insofar as (it does) not substantially disrupt, pose a clear and present danger to school operations, present an obscene appearance, or endanger health.” Well, lovely. Perhaps I’m just reading this wrong, but it seems to me that this bill of rights says that (paraphrased) “students can do what their administrators deem appropriate.” Personally, I’m insulted that the School Board and our Administrators, the very people that are supposed to be helping us become intelligent, free-thinking adults, really give themselves the right to make me change my clothes or remove symbols of my beliefs because it may rub someone the wrong way.
It’s getting to the point where the WASPS downtown who have a very small idea what the students are really thinking make decisions for us on basic fundamental things, like our dress and expression of beliefs. Isn’t the whole preamble of this bill saying that they trust us to be responsible to make our own choices with respect for others? When we arrive, or when any group of people arrive at a place where a student can’t dress himself without fear of administrational reprimand, things need to change. Where I think we need to be, whether it’s Libertarian or purely Utopian, is at a place where unless I’m infringing on a person’s rights and abilities to live as they desire, as long as I respect them there’s nothing wrong. If Mr. Man (or Woman) sitting in his (or her) office doesn’t like my shirt, DON’T LOOK AT IT! What makes his (or her) opinion more valid than mine? What our Administrators ought to be doing is not to restrict rights but to empower individuality, work so a student can post literature to educate other people without prior consent from anyone. Whether someone posts literature that I agree with or not, at least I can choose a position and stand with it. As it is now, most everyone just walks to class, mutes out the teacher, walks to the next class and so on. If I was to read a pamphlet in the commons that encourages pot smoking, I may or may not agree with it, but the information is there for me to see and I can decide whether I want to smoke pot or not, whereas now, the information isn’t even there, so I either get to find the information myself or remain ignorant. If public education is supposed to be about anything, shouldn’t it be the opportunity for me to learn what I wish with the support, or at least passive non-support, of my educators?
Now, about that “material disruption” stuff. The generous folks downtown have bestowed upon me the sacred privilege of wearing what they see as appropriate, behaving as they see appropriate, and just generally being appropriate. For example, tee-shirts and other clothing: When I see someone with a tee-shirt advertising something, I think “Oh, that person likes beer, that person likes Marilyn Manson, that person likes having no fear and that person likes his Big Johnson! Great for him!” But not once have I ever thought “That tee-shirt makes me want to skip school, cause unrest, drink beer with Marilyn Manson or fearlessly play with my Big Johnson!” You know why? IT’S ONLY A SHIRT! The same thing applies to hats. If I wear a hat and someone decides to try to beat me up because of it, isn’t there a bigger issue to deal with than hats? Aren’t our elected officials perhaps examining the wrong problem? I, a partially educated 17-year old, has never thought things like that, but apparently our college educated Administrators do, or at least think so little of us that they expect us to. They seem to think that a shirt or a poster or the way I conduct myself will cause such a furor that the school can’t continue to function. They seem really wrong to me.
Don’t get me wrong. I have great respect for our Administrators and I know that they have very difficult jobs to do. They didn’t write the Student’s Bill of Rights, but they do have some room to move under the established rules. Why not take the whole issue to a vote? Why not have the students decide what we want and don’t want in our school? Isn’t that conducive to “Success for All” and our basic system of Democracy?
Oh, just a few asides: Kudos to Dr.Jenkins for writing a piece for the last issue of The Lance. Whether you agree with him or not, at least one of our Administrators took the time to voice his opinion and let the student body know a little bit about him. Boo hiss to the St. Valentines Day massacres that happened a few weeks back. I can think of no better way to get the friendly gun-toting police officers–excuse me,”Educational Resource Officers”– out of the halls of La Follette than a few good bare knuckle brawls. I’m also just a bit curious about the awards convocation (party) last month. Do our grade principals really know so little about us that they can’t pronounce our names correctly?
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