I’m big on freedom of speech and expression…

Posted: September 23, 2011 in WTF???


Now see, I may not agree with this kid, I for one, don’t think homosexuality is “wrong”.  I don’t much think right or wrong about it at all, it just is, like hetrosexuality just is.  However, what happened to this kid? That I think IS wrong.

  1. dead_vladimir says:

    see Freedom of Speech only applies to right thinking people who can handle the responsiblilty of “new thought”..the rest of the unwashed teeming masses, you know those sorts who might question why homosexuality a topic for discussion in a class meant to teach how to speak German, just need to be quiet and accept that t heir betters well know better, and that they are nothing but imbecilc cretinous gammas who are only tolerated because every society needs ditch diggers.
    When will they learn that it’s only to have free thought and beliefs if they match ed the approved version? Or that free speech does not apply to those who haven’t shown the level of maturity to handle it by evidencing proper thought behavior?

    • Ren says:

      why being gay came up in a language class is still a bit beyond me, really. social studies, human sexuality and development? I could buy that…but…German?

      I took German, I don’t remember the topic EVER coming up…

      • dead_vladimir says:

        well apparently from the article it seems to be a running topic for this teacher

        and people wonder why people don;t always buy that teachers are the most important job–I don;t think anyone should get to protlyize to the children on the public dime

  2. kingschwarz says:

    There are a couple of issues here. One is whether a student has the First Amendment right to voice an opinion in school on a controversial topic. This has been tested several times in the context of antiwar sentiments, school newspaper articles etc. The established precedents all tilt decisively towards First Amendment rights. The punitive reaction from the teacher and initially from the school were dead wrong, and they were forced to reverse themselves when confronted with a constitutional lawyer. I think a full and satisfactory resolution would mandate that the teacher take a seminar or in some way better acquaint himself with the Bill of Rights and the major legal decisions that have flowed from it.

    A second issue, which Ren and vladimir engage above, has to do with the limits of classroom conversation. Ren would impose relatively strict limits: German classes should stick to teaching German, and presumably Chemistry classes to chemistry etc. I would argue for less of a hard line. Some of the most compelling learning comes from digressive conversations, when we stray off-topic but really engage our passions or curiosities. When I taught undergraduates world religions, I was fairly flexible. I should note that A) there is more flexibility in college than high-school curricula and classrooms B) I felt the digressions should follow the arc of the students’ passions rather than my own and C) at the end of the day (horrid cliche, sorry) we had to be sure to cover the assigned material.

    A third issue has to do with proselytism in the classroom. Here I agree with the hard line that vladimir lays down. When a teacher becomes a proselytizer, whether s/he is on or off the appointed class topic, education suffers. Education should be about teaching students to think for themselves and exposing them to material that will engage them. When confronted in the classroom with a teacher who advocates repeatedly and insistently for a particular position, students feel constrained about expressing themselves and interpreting material freely. The Fort Worth case is an extreme one: usually proselytizing teachers punish students with dismissive comments or bad grades rather than disciplinary action.

    When I was in college, one of my professors was a proselytizer for Tibetan Buddhism. Bob Thurman (Uma’s dad) is a superb Sanskrit scholar and a great expert in his field. He could not, however, restrain himself from preaching the perfection of his tradition and blinding himself to its flaws. Ironically, the man who is his friend and preceptor, the Dalai Lama, has always been honest and forthcoming about the problematics of Tibetan theocracy and other shortcomings of his tradition. I have been deeply engaged by Tibetan Buddhism and touched by its practice and its community, but Thurman’s proselytism has forever tinged my experience of these things.

    • Ren says:

      King: I am ALL FOR these kinds of discussions in classes to which they are germane: Health, Social Studies, English, Ethics, so on…..and college is VERY different from…age 14…FRESHMAN GERMAN. And yes, to me, it does seem like the teach is pushing an agenda, and if you look back on my blog, this same sort of thing happened to a catholic student and a gal in that damn hick flag and I posted about it, not too long ago.

      We have, in Public Schools, established Freedom of Religion- that NEEDS to be a two way street.

      • kingschwarz says:

        I am in complete agreement that the teacher here was pushing an agenda, as you put it, or proselytizing, as vladimir and I have put it. As I wrote above, I feel strongly that this is bad pedagogy, that it impedes learning and academic freedom, and can even – as in this case – lead to infringement of students’ First Amendment rights. This would be true even if the class in question dealt with health or social studies or some other subject more germane to a discussion of homosexuality. The real issue here is not digressiveness in the classroom but proselytic, agenda-pushing pedagogy and the violation of a student’s rights. You and I are in essential agreement, with perhaps a very nuanced difference or distinction. By the way, I agree absolutely that freedom of religion needs be a two-way street, and that religious students must have the right to make faith-based statements just as non or anti-religious students have to voice their opinions.

  3. Gaina says:

    I would have thought that experiencing a response like that to his views would – if anything – entrench them.

    In England at least, it’s quite usual for students to discuss the culture, political process and customs of the country who’s language they are learning – as I did it when I was learning French – but I agree with there being a separate time and place for certain conversations of a more ideological nature.

    I also feel very strongly that teenagers should be taught critical thinking and debating skills.

    • dead_vladimir says:

      I think you are right about the critical thinking skills. Here in the US it seems there isn’t any effort any more to teach kids the dialectic.

      • kingschwarz says:

        Perhaps so, but this is a 9th-grade German class. They probably are not reading Hegel yet.

        • dead_vladimir says:

          that’s true, but its more of a comment overall about the US education system, is that while it strives to be “socially concious:” they don’t teach studnets how to defend or analyze or critically think about topics, rather they just beat them down with what the “right” position is.

          • kingschwarz says:

            Agreed. The exception is elite schools, where students are still inculcated with a classical education and then expected to think for themselves. The political and social implications of this educational divide are worrisome.

  4. I have always felt that the best way to kill a bad idea is with a better one. If people think it’s a problem that this boy believes homosexuality is wrong, then trying to force him to stop believing it (or perhaps, stop talking about it) will not do anything to change those attitudes, or prevent him from hurting others in the futures with actions based on those beliefs (hurt meaning in a wider sense than just direct physical harm). If you can debate a person and show them why their belief is mistaken, or at least why it isn’t appropriate to share it in that way in that setting, then you might make some kind of progress.

    If the topic in a German lesson was “German culture’s attitudes concerning homosexuality”, then the teacher could quite legitimately have said, “Your personal opinions are not relevant right now, you may discuss them with your peers after class.” That would maintain proper classroom discipline, and appropriate boundaries. I personally believe that the cultural background is relevant to learning a language, and I know that in my GCSE German and French classes I learned a bit about the background in those countries (and, in fact, in French-speaking Canada) as part of the context for the language. I would have wanted the teacher to discuss the incident later with other staff members to alert them to the wider issue of how acceptance of others is not being taught well enough, though.

    As for his talking out-of-turn in class – I believe that does deserve some form of censure!

    • Ren says:

      Sorry disagree. The student did not disrupt class by whispering to a fried. Teach did by making it a side show….and popular or not student is entitled to his beliefs just as teacher is….which ha e what all to do with learning german language …which is what the class is?

      • Well, when I was a student at secondary school I did find it disruptive when other kids whispered to each other, and I firmly believe that if you’re going to say something in class, then it should be something that is relevant to the lesson and for the whole class to hear. But you are also right that by making a scene of it, the teacher did more to disrupt things. (Not to mention, if the teacher heard it then it’s reasonable to believe that a gay student in the class could have overheard it too, and that would certainly be disruptive to that student in particular.)

        Yes, the student is entitled to his beliefs and to express them outside of the classroom, but I think that it is also the case that others are entitled to challenge and question those beliefs. Moreover, I think that certain beliefs are such that the education system should have a duty to challenge them – especially where, even with critical thinking and debating skills in general being taught, those beliefs might not be challenged elsewhere. That’s why I am always upset (regardless of the actual issue involved) when parents want to pull their kids from classes because the kids are being taught different ideas than the ones the parents believe.

        As I said – I think culture is relevant to language, so teaching about attitudes in a country would not necessarily be out of place in a language lesson, as long as it’s on the basis of “this is what people in that country tend to believe/do/talk about” and NOT on the basis of “debate the rights and wrongs of their position” (or worse, “this is what you should believe, too”). The article implies that there’s an element of that worse point taking place, and if that is the case then perhaps there should be some censure of the teacher for that, too.

        • dead_vladimir says:

          Who decides what ideas deserve to be challenged though? Public education has no right to push any social agenda, other than perhaps good citizenship. It is not their duty to pick winners and losers in people’s social belief system. Yes to teach the analytical and critical skills so students can question both the beliefs of others and the beliefs they themselves are being instilled with.

          Education’s agenda is education. Pure and simple, better reading skills, less championing social causes. More teaching students how to weigh what people think, rather than telling them what to think.

          • rootietoot says:

            The problem is defining “good citizenship” That can be very subjective.

          • Gaina says:

            Any attitude or belief that has the potential to escalate into hate crime if left unchallenged must be challenged.

            I am disabled and I’ve seen a horrifying acceleration in hate crimes (including torture and murder) against disabled people in England in a relatively short space of time. In all of the cases that made it into the media the abuse escalated from verbal abuse that went unchecked to more direct intimidation like bricks through windows, ending in murder. I want to know at what point our basic humanity took such a nose-dive than anyone thinks it’s in any way acceptable to harm or harass vulnerable people?

            Words are never just words. They carry immense power and history has taught us only too well how they can be used to other and dehumanise a certain group of people until the majority are so desensitised that they are happy to allow governments to mistreat that section of society.

      • Gaina says:

        Heh, if you were caught whispering in class at my school you got an exercise book across the back of your head and break time detention :P.

        • rootietoot says:

          Eraser streaks across the top of your head. Mrs Bowles was a former college softball pitcher and had perfect aim. If it was the person behind you whispering to you,she could get both with one shot.

          • Gaina says:

            I hasten to add, that was never my fate. I got a break time detention once because I’d decided I’d rather go horse riding that do my science homework the night before but that was about it. O:-)

            I was mostly just so terrified of the kids and the teachers I never talked to anyone, so I never got into trouble for it :P.

    • dead_vladimir says:

      also perhaps this a UK vs US thing, but part of the principle of Free Speech here is that even bad ideas or opinions are legitimate. There’s something wrong I think with the idea of assuming someone’s belief is “Bad or wrong” and needs to be killed. Also the assumption that his belief will automatically lead to harm of a protected class is ridiculous. Sometimes people need to have thicker skin, because otherwise that is the real slippery slope that leads to thought police,
      also if you read the article it seems this teacher has a habit of introducing homosexual topics into class, which is what leads me to believe this is more than simple education about german culture and more of a person belief trying to be taught to the kids. Which regardless of how one views homsexuality is wrong.

      • Well, it’s kind of a figure of speech, which means that the best way to deal with a disagreement is to have an open discussion about it, and if you’re convinced your view is right,. you ought to believe you can persuade another using the force of debate. In other words, bad ideas are a legitimate part of a debate, and should be open to that mode of “natural selection”, rather than should be legislated against. (Also, it doesn’t necessarily apply to the person with whom you disagree, but rather to the people hearing both sides of the debate and choosing which side they support.)

        Not to mention, I think there are some ideas that are just plain wrong, and should be killed (again, preferably by debate rather than legislation). I won’t go all Godwin’s Law on it, but there are plenty of ideas that unequivocally result in harm to others and should be stopped.

        Also the assumption that his belief will automatically lead to harm of a protected class is ridiculous.

        Well, now, I never used any indication that I believe it is “inevitable”. But the fact that a class needs protection in the first place, to be described as, “a protected class”, rather points to the reality that some harm does result from such attitudes, unless some protection is afforded.

        As for “grow a thicker skin” – I really hate that answer, because what it sounds like to me is: “It’s okay (for me) to beat people up because I feel like it, even though they’ve done nothing wrong, and it’s still their fault because they’re not as callous and thuggish as I am.” It’s a bully’s mantra.

        Sure, “people have the right to be offended, and I have the right to cause offence”. But some ideas, in the society we currently live in, due to its structures and due to the cumulative actions of individuals, lead to harm being done to people through nothing except accident of phenotype or sexuality or whatever. And that is not a matter of “grow a thicker skin”, that’s a matter of human rights being denied. I don’t believe that it is a “slippery slope that leads to thought police” for people to ask not to be treated as subhuman.

        • dead_vladimir says:

          but how is saying I don’t approve of homosexuality or i find it wrong actually harming someone? that’d the thicker skin -the truth is it doesn’t -we’re not talking about denying them rights or jobs or making them wear pink triangles and march off to concentration camps. As a child growing up poor, I had people make fun of my hand me down clothes, the junk car my parents had, bad teeth etc. Part of the human experience is learning that words are just that.
          Nothing this student did in any way is treating anyone else as sub human ; or then do you believe anything ever offensive to anyone should be stopped-for example when bill maher calls religous people mentally ill is he treating them as subhuman or is it really only ideas that don’t meld with your world view that are the ones that can hurt people?
          Frankly to be honest I don’t believe any class should be protected and the whole concept is just pandering to groups for political power. For example hate crimes, if someone kills someone because they are black or gay or whatever, how is that any more hateful than someone killing me for my sneakers or because they don’t care.

          Don’t get me wrong I am all for equality, no one should be denied benefit or opportunity on any basis of race, religion, gender or even sexuality (and i include marriage as a right or opportunty that should not be denied). But I am also vehemently opposed to any special treatment on that basis (for the record socioeconomic status should be the criteria we use). People are going to say ideas I don’t believe or agree with all the time in life. If our response is to censor or believe we need to re-educate people whose beliefs we find wrong -that is thought policing.
          Paramount to a free society is the ability for people to be free, and that includes freedom to be stupid and small minded.

          For example I grew up poor irish in a neighborhood of majority italian descent and let me tell you I experienced a pregdijuce there, and then attended a school of a higher economic average status then my family had, and let me tell you , words and even actions were directed in manner because of that, and you know what? That is life. We do no one any favors by coddling them.
          And the beleif that a whole class of people needs to be coddled strikes me as very philospher kingish in the I know best -toltarian sort of way.

  5. Allow me to put on my Libertarian Left wrist band on and play a bit of Contrarian for a bit.

    Being the straight-but-not-narrow fella I am, if I was faced as a teacher with a student who belted out such a homophobic remark, my first impression would NOT be to attack him for having such views. Part of being a Lefty in South Louisiana is understanding that my personal views are both pretty much personal and pretty much in the minority, and as such, I don’t feel the need to use my teacher powers to impose them on others. That kinda comes with the territory, you know.

    On the other hand, though, I have to say that Vlad and Rootie’s points about public teachers having to mute their personal agendas only goes to a point…especially since such is NOT the case with religious and private schools in the South….most of whom are pretty damn conservative to outright reactionary, and whom would not only applaud but actively promote the stance of that student. Indeed, private and fundamentalist Christian schools would probably not only openly encourage (if not require) their teachers to openly advocate antigay positions; but they would be very quick to actively isolate, contain, and even run out of town on a rail anyone — student, teacher, or otherwise — who attempts to even discuss a dissenting position other than the official line.

    Even worse than that, those words are reinforced with very real sanctions that can be very directly harmful to the target of such shaming and ridicule. Say what you want about that teacher (and I do agree that he was wrong in calling out the student so openly, especially in a topic so unrelated to his course of study), but defending homosexuality in the South has not exactly been the default position of those with power. The student is far more likely to have plenty of powerful resources behind him than, say, a gay student who can’t even form organizations of like-minded folk without extreme public opposition from the usual Religious Right forces who are far better organized (and probably more of the majority).

    Believing personally that being gay is wrong is his own business and his right..but when his opinion has been used for so long as an excuse to not only deny gay people fundamental rights, if not persecute them, beat them, and even assault them, even to death…well, perhaps maybe it’s not quite so “coddling” to say that a person denying another person his right to his humanity shouldn’t be called out for that. As long as the religious conservatives have the political power to impose their beliefs on others though the State (and through their own private institutions), I’m not so willing to condemn to hell those who attempt to resist. If anybody has been guilty of though-policing, it has been the antigay folks..and to target this teacher without allowing for the context of the history of how the education system was used by the Religious Right for their own indoctrination of students, seems to me to be fundamentally misguided and wrong.

    Having said all that, though, there are smarter and more subtle means of resisting, and perhaps it should have been another student who is more progressive whom should have countered the antigay student in an equal setting, rather than the teacher using his powers to impose his beliefs.

    The difference is, Vlad, that people weren’t beaten or killed due to having bad teeth or junky cars or wearing the wrong color shirts; but plenty of young people are being beaten or killed every damn day for merely being thought of being gay. Having “thick skin” won’t protect them at all from systemic discrimination or harassment. That’s a bit different, though, from someone simply saying that (s)he doesn’t support homosexuality, and leaving it at that. The general rule for that should be: “You are entitled to your opinion, and I am entitled to disagree with it.”

    I see the guns already aimed towards me….fire away. I have on a strong Kevlar jacket.


    • dead_vladimir says:

      here is the problem with your opinion:
      “to say that a person denying another person his right to his humanity shouldn’t be called out for that”

      no where in any of his comments did the student deny anyone there humanity; it’s painting anyone who disagrees with the more socially concious position with a brush that makes them evil for disagreeing and that is bullshit.

      Also if you don’t think anyone has ever been beat up or raped or killed for the crime of being poor, you need to relook at history. The weakest in society are always preyed upon.

      I am so sick and tired of this, thought police bull shit. It’s okay not to like someone, or how they live. That denies them nothing. Someone who commits homophobic violence, that’s all on them. Or are you bold enough to take steps and attack everything equally, from professors in colleges who discriminate against religous students for their view points, to blacks who practice anti white bigotry? Or heck when is anyone goign to be bold enough to point out that here in Amerca while asians are a minority they don;’t get the special treatments others do because they don’t vote the right way.

      That is what gets me most about it; the left is all socially concious and active, but only when it suits them.

      Let me be flat out, when every any group is discriminated against in a actual way that harms the, gay , white, black, red, yellow whatever, that is bad, and wrong.
      But no one is entitled to acceptance in this world. People are going to disagree with you, dislike you, and maybe think your core beliefs are stupid or wrong headed. Happens to me all the time.

      And you know what? Everyone has to deal, because that is part of being free. You and i are free to be what we want, and other people have the freedom not to like it.

      And as for a teacher in a position of power over students, damn right no matter how wrong headed he beleives their ideas are, he has no business what so ever trying to enforce his views, and in this case using his position and power to stifle and punish people who disagree with him. This isn’t the case of a teacher catching some student using homophobic slurs or actively picking on another student-nope it is the teacher squashing someone whose opinion he personally finds unacceptable, and if you can’t see what’s wrong with that, simply because you personally find the view to be “wrong”, well then, I don’t think you get freedom of speech. Or is it that freedom of speech only applies to positions you find acceptable?

      • Ren says:

        ‘And as for a teacher in a position of power over students, damn right no matter how wrong headed he beleives their ideas are, he has no business what so ever trying to enforce his views, and in this case using his position and power to stifle and punish people who disagree with him. This isn’t the case of a teacher catching some student using homophobic slurs or actively picking on another student-nope it is the teacher squashing someone whose opinion he personally finds unacceptable, and if you can’t see what’s wrong with that, simply because you personally find the view to be “wrong”, well then, I don’t think you get freedom of speech. Or is it that freedom of speech only applies to positions you find acceptable?’

        This, right here. In ANY educational institution, those who teach have authority over the students, especially students who are minors- and lest we forget- some kinds who MIGHT feel better due to their personal beliefs IN private or relgious schools- well not ALL of them (or even a majority probably) can AFFORD them- most of ’em ain’t cheap, others lack a truly diversified and state supported educational experience.

        And since I feel it bears mentioning; this KID (yes kid, he is 14, his ideas on many things may change as he gets older) did NOT commit a hate crime. Did he jump up and scream “Faggots must die” or “You are going to hell!” at anyone? No. He stated, to one person, that due to his religious belief he thought homosexuality is wrong. Which he was then publically humilated for. Now, I do think it is wrong for gay people, students, adults, whomever, to be harassed, hurt, tormented, any of that- but in that whole two wrongs don’t make a right, I do not think it is right for religiously conservative people- kids or adults- to be harassed, hurt, tormented or whatever else either…which is what happened to this kid- at the hands of an adult, who has authority OVER him.

        • dead_vladimir says:

          What happens today in the US at least, is no one engages other people’s ideas–it’s i’m right and you are wrong and they just surround themselves with people who agree. And when they find people who disagree its attack, belittle etc, which of course only crystallizes the divide.

  6. Of course, I should note that antigay bigotry is not just a Southern thing…see Michelle Bachmamm, NOMNOMNOM, and the Westboro Baptist Freakazoids. It only seems that way because most of the most public gay bashers happen to be Southerners.


  7. And one last thing about the source of that story:

    Remember that ClusterFOX will tend to sort of taint their selected stories to fit their professed “fair and balanced” biases…..and also just so subtly leave out certain perspectives that don’t bond with their right-wing viewpoints. Thusly, you’ll hear about the evil secular humanists picking on the oh, so innocent Christians….but not a peep from the far greater incidents of the Religious Right intimidation of those who merely attempt to challenge the notion that homosexuals are merely the fruit of Satan.

    In other words…on issues like these, consider the source.


    • dead_vladimir says:

      ‘far greater incidents of the Religious Right intimidation of those who merely attempt to challenge the notion that homosexuals are merely the fruit of Satan’ -and that is just as bad too, but truth is as a society which one are me these days more likely to turn a blind eye too?

  8. Roy Kay says:

    Interesting that the school is hiding behind “school policy” which seems mainly oriented towards concealing facts and discussion on the effects of policy. It is difficult to see how this leads to an informed public in making decisions – including what the school board actually intends and means by policy.

    Meanwhile the fetishing of “hate speech” to carve out exceptions to the first amendment are hugely disingenious. Almost all but the most insipid political speech tends towards “hate speech”. I have yet to reading much other than hate directed at Bush (and before him, Bush I and Reagan) by the left, nor hate directed at Obama (and before him, Clinton and Carter) by the right. And this derives from all sorts of socio-political perspectives. Me? As a Libertarian I find much fault in both. I suppose that makes ALL of my speech “hate speech”.

    I have troubles believing that the fiction of non-hate speech in the socio-political arena should extend to students expressing opinions. It is in the expression of opinion that one participates in a democracy, and if students should learn anything it is to express their opinions and to keep the polity vital and alive.

    On social issues I usually side against the religious right and rather fervently at that. But here it is the left that has the blinders on. It self-conceit that it is non-hating borders on that of the most medieval inquisitor. It genuinely believes what it is doing is righteous and dictated from on high for the greater good. Therein lies it’s menace and the reactionary fears it engenders. With luck it will fail routinely and ignominiously. Without luck, it will encourage the religious right to subdue it’s public views and quiet;y go about the business of developing insurrective cells.

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