From the Mouths of Babes: Free Speech and Technology in Schools

Mark Twain, sage of the 19th century Mississippi that inspired his Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, once suggested that when he was a teenager, his own father was so irredeemably stupid that the old man’s mere presence was unbearable ….and how amazing it was that the dumb bastard relic had got a lot smarter by the time Twain passed his 21st birthday. Ah, sweet youth…

Poor, poor, pitiful me

Our modern digital, always on communications technology reveals the long-dead Twain as several generations ahead of his time. Here in Southern Ontario, some high school students are …OMG!!! …up in arms that a regional school board extended its long, arguably extra-jurisdictional arm, and suspended them from the halls of academe – for tweets sent after school hours that the board characterized as ‘malicious, explicitly sexual and violent in nature’, with their teachers the verbal targets. Big deal, says the BNV readership…high school students, abject stupidity, indiscrete, mindless chatter, and a total disavowal of responsibility are interchangeable terms, a day in the life, please get the car back in one piece, son.

This tiny snippet of contemporary Canadian youth culture goes a touch further. I believe in freedom of speech, even where the freedom is exercised by those who would happily extinguish it for anyone who doesn’t agree with their world view. Perhaps I am old, jaded, and simply not seeing the fun in it all. Tell me if the following isn’t beyond even modern permissive, ‘throw our hands in the air’ disturbing. Here is the exchange.

One of the young people dispatched to the school board’s latter day Star Chamber was 17 year old Khadijah Haghighi. Khadijah does not like her teacher. Not a young woman to suffer quietly, she goes postal in her online community, telling all that the aforementioned educator, amongst other sins, is a ‘fucking loser’ that (gasp…for the non sequitor, not the revelation) ‘lives with his mother and eats fish sticks’. The local school board, latter day Captain Queegs, suspend this smooth talking libertarian for 7 days. Time elapsed between clever publication and punishment? One week, … to which the fearless Khadijah responded on the 8th day, “….Ridiculous! It wasn’t that serious. It was so long ago, I don’t know why they’re bringing it up now”. After all, says the free speech queen, everything was sent into cyberspace “on my own time”. Like, whatever…

So, class – lessons learned: (1) if it happened yesterday, old news; a week ago? Ancient history, and probably that stupid statute of limity thing the teacher talked about but he didn’t make sense, and I was texting my friend then anyway; (2) when I bomb people from behind my digital barricade, I can say what I want, screw them, they’re not me, my friends think I’m funny; (3) my Dad will sue the school board dicks if I don’t get the marks I need to get to university from this stupid teacher that can’t take a joke. Sweet youth….

I was reminded of  a lyrical snippet penned more than a week ago by the late, unreservedly great, and much missed Warren Zevon: ‘I went down to Havana….I took a little risk….send lawyers, guns, and money…Dad, get me out of this…”…and I get my ‘A’, right?