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Uh, hello? Kids Have First Amendment Rights, Too!

October 31, 2010
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In this video, DPS School Board President Nate Easley and DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg lead a discussion about whether to allow students to speak during public comment sessions. Seriously. They’re actually suggesting it might be wise to limit the ability of those most affected by their actions to voice their opinions about those actions.

Nate Easley doesn’t care about student voices from DeFENSE Denver on Vimeo.

I left this comment on DeFENSE’s website (where I found the video):

Utterly shameful. What bothers me the most about this, in addition to the blatant attempt to silence student voices they know will most likely be critical of them, is the assumption that they can tell when a kid “knows what they’re talking about” and when they don’t. I highly doubt that. Moreover, adults are never required to prove their knowledge of an issue before speaking, and we know there are plenty of adults out there who are clueless but vocal nevertheless (including school board members and district leaders…). If we start encroaching on people’s First Amendment rights because we think they’re too uninformed to exercise them well, we’re going down a really scary path. Who gets to decide if someone “knows enough” to speak their minds? And why should anyone feel empowered to silence others in that way?

It seems to me that everyone involved needs to think through the implications of what some of them are suggesting. I’d especially encourage Mr. Easley to look into the history of statements like his. It wasn’t too long ago in our history that people were making similar statements about Black folks, and women, and Latinos, and…well, everybody except people who look and live like Tom Boasberg. Not. OK.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. cat permalink
    November 5, 2010 6:23 pm

    I know I’m an oddity in today’s society, but I’m a high school senior who actually follows education reform and the issues in American schools. Over the past two years, I’ve been watching and researching both sides of the reform debate. Quite frankly, I see no reason to continue funding the same model which has had little success in the past twenty years. Many countries and even some states have supported partial to full voucher systems, and they increase school preformance and test scores (although I do disagree with current testing models). I was wondering if it would be possible to get your views (as a teacher with experience) on America partially or fully switching to a voucher system?
    -Cat

    • November 6, 2010 5:04 pm

      Hey, Cat! Thanks for the comment, & kudos to you for taking the time to educate yourself about these issues.

      I agree with you that our current system is flawed, but I’d argue that’s mostly because of the social/political games that play out in schools, not because a public system can’t work. Indeed, successful school communities here in the US, and countries like the Scandinavian nations illustrate that when everyone is committed to making schools work, and when highly-trained, highly-respected educators (instead of politicians & business elites) lead major policy discussions, public schools can work incredibly well. In countries like Finland, they don’t rely on standardized tests to assess students (as opposed to here, where we give standardized tests up to four times a year, at a direct cost to instruction), and they also ensure that far fewer people live in poverty, which has a tremendous impact on everything from learning to achievement to drop-out rates. If we did that here, we wouldn’t see such high failure rates.

      As for a universal-choice or voucher system, I see three main problems.
      One, most private schools (around 80%) are religious, so sending public funds to those schools presents a number of legal problems. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is the major reason why the voucher movement hasn’t been very successful.
      Two, private institutions don’t have the same disclosure requirements as public ones do, so they are harder to hold accountable. That’s a big problem where public money– and children’s educations!– are concerned. Private schools only educate about 11% of all students, so the private school market would have to expand a lot in order to meet increased demand. The spike in demand could encourage unscrupulous organizations to enter the market, as has been seen in some charter schools. The relative lack of public oversight would make it harder to find and resolve such problems.
      Three, private schools can’t be required to accept anyone, so it would be very difficult to guarantee that “hard-to-serve” students (poor children, English language learners, special needs learners, etc.) would be educated at all in a wholly or mostly privatized system. Again, that brings up huge moral, ethical, and legal questions.

      Hope my answers make sense, and feel free to continue the conversation here or via e-mail: TeacherSabrinaFSP@gmail.com. I’ll probably pick up this issue again soon, since there is a voucher plan in development not far from here (in Douglas County, CO).

  2. March 13, 2011 8:16 am

    hi great article, Thank you!

  3. @Cat permalink
    March 20, 2011 4:02 pm

    you are NOT an oddity, im a high school freshman in ohio. I am very concerned about the senate bill five which affects my dad who is an administrator for columbus in a major way. This is what i would expect from a man who never listens, children ARE protected by the 1st Amendment and any argument on the contrary is ludicrous

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