Monday, November 28, 2005

Selective Rights

Students at Oak Ridge High School in Tennessee published and distributed a newspaper containing articles about birth control and tattoos. School administrators retrieved the 1,800 copies of the newspaper from the classrooms, stating that such topics were inappropriate for some of the younger students.

The school administration is now under scrutiny for potentially violating the students’ first amendment rights.

Quite frankly, I’m surprised this story made the front page on CNN’s website. It’s not news to anyone that the Bill of Rights is selectively applied in a public (government) school setting. I’m sure an article in the school newspaper about which rifle the student is using during this year’s hunting season wouldn’t go over so well with a lot of government school administrations either. But it wouldn’t make national news. University of Tennessee journalism professor Dwight Teeter says this will teach students “a terrible lesson in civics.” I wonder if he is as concerned about 1st Amendment rights when students are subject to disciplinary action for wearing a shirt that bears the emblem of a firearm or cigarette manufacturer. What is the lesson that students draw when they can be suspended under ‘zero tolerance’ rules for possessing a bottle of Tylenol? What lesson do they draw from virtually being held captive throughout the day, without the freedom to step outside the classroom without a hall pass? What lesson do they draw when they are forced to be in the school and then can be subject to searches without probable cause? What lesson do they draw when bureaucrats decide whether they learn intelligent design, evolution, or a combination of the two?

This is the problem with mandatory public education. Were there more choices in education, parents who disagree with their children being exposed to topics such as birth control or tattoos will not send their children to school that permit those stories to be published. Those who would like their children to be free to publish stories on any topic will send their children to schools where no topics are forbidden. We would not have to rely on bureaucracies to decide what was taught and what was not. In the current system, students are accustomed to violations of their rights on a daily basis. The sad thing is that they will eventually become adults trained to quietly accept violations of their rights.

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