Chicago Sun-Times
A dialog between Sun-Times opinion writers and our readers

Trashing teachers online is trashy itself

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Disrespect by students toward teachers -- and, for that matter, toward other students -- is a big enough problem in our schools. Sun-Times columnist John Fountain made just that point on Thursday.

The last thing we need now is students setting up Websites and Facebook pages to carry the disrespect that much further, organizing entire cyberspace campaigns of ridicule toward a teacher.

And to those defenders of such students who say they're just exercising their constitutional right to free speech, please. We're guessing they've never been teachers.

We're all for free speech. Without the First Amendment, this newspaper and every newspaper would be Pravda, the old Soviet Union rag that never dared to venture beyond the Communist Party line.

But we're talking about high school kids. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed, in numerous cases usually involving a principal's censoring of a student newspaper, that free speech for minors works best with training wheels.

What prompts these observations is a story in Monday's Sun-Times that a student at Oak Forest High School was suspended for five days for posting critical comments about a teacher on his Facebook page. He referred to the teacher in a rude way and invited similarly mean remarks from "anyone who has had a bad experience or plain dislikes the teacher."

The school was right to stand up for the teacher. The parents of the kid would be wrong to sue. If the family has a problem with the teacher, they should take it up with the principal or, if necessary, the school board.

But trashing the teacher online is pretty trashy itself.

High school is not a perfect democracy. Principals and teachers run the show, as it should be. And given the viral nature of a Facebook posting -- this stuff goes everywhere and respects no walls -- the unhappy student might just as well have been standing in the school's main lobby with a sign calling the teacher names.

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Where can I find the best and safest sites for my Kids online? I am a mother of two and I am concerned about the content available to my Kids online.

"But we're talking about high school kids. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed, in numerous cases usually involving a principal's censoring of a student newspaper, that free speech for minors works best with training wheels."

A school-sponsored student newspaper and a personal Facebook page are two very different things.

While the school has every right to act as the final arbiter for the newspaper, what right does a school have to patrol and judge the personal websites? OK, if the post was made on a school computer, I could see where a student might see some issues. But in the original article, it says the page "[was] posted on his own time, using his own computer and in his own home."

The other way I could see the school getting involved was if threats were being made on the page. But there's no evidence of this at all (in fact it sounded like there wasn't any activity, period).

Regardless of how disrespectful and dumb it is, the school doesn't have that kind of authority (nor should they).

Sure, the school should stick up for its teachers. But maybe a parent-conference or a talk with the student might have been a better option. Usually those two options alone serve as enough deterrent for stuff like this.

And last (and less important), he's a Sophomore. That means he's automatically going to do stupid things. At least no one got hurt, no awful tragedies resulted, and he even smartened up and took the page down.

This is a clear-cut violation of 1st Amendment Rights. Even the school admits it's in operating in a gray area. I hope the suspensions are removed and if not, he and his family pursue legal options.

You couldn't be more wrong, classroom behavior and student papers are miles apart from what a student does on his own.

Suggesting opposing views are wrong for having never been a teacher, please. No teaching experience is needed to understand the difference in standards and behavior required in the school, classroom or student newspaper and off campus.

The point Mr Fountain made in his excellent article was specific in regarding classroom behavior, had Nothing to do with after school activity.

If there is nothing obscene or violent posted then let it be,kids like adults gripe,a five day suspension is just outlandish. Do the principals and teachers have no common sense?

Never mind the possibility that the student was correct in his assessment.

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This page contains a single entry by Tom McNamee published on February 25, 2010 2:17 PM.

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