The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but is freedom of speech guaranteed in all circumstances, for all people? The answer is no.
According to modern interpretations of the First Amendment, children give up virtually all rights to freedom of speech when they step onto a private school campus. At first glance, this appears to serve some useful purposes. Proponents for limitations of rights claim that unrestricted free speech distracts from learning, and that students allowed to say what they wish have the propensity to hurt and antagonize other students. Also, school officials fear freedom of expression because of the possibility of gang retaliation.
Andrew Welcome states (‘12), “The problem with giving people the ability to limit freedom of speech is deciding who has the authority to dictate what others say.” The sad truth is that at some schools, administration officials abuse their power of absolute discretion. One sorry example comes from Denair, California, where 8th grader, Cody Alicea, was forced to remove an American flag, yes, an AMERICAN FLAG, from his bicycle because school authorities believed that it heightened racial tensions. Cody’s case is only one example of such incidents.
However, the real issue is not the absurdity of certain instances of free speech limitation, but that speech is even restricted at all. A school’s first and foremost purpose is to prepare students for the life ahead of them, for the ‘real world.’ Preventing students from voicing opinions and otherwise exercising their First Amendment rights and learning how to respect the opinions of others only obstructs their development. Allowing for the most realistic scenario possible in a controlled setting creates the best opportunity for the development of a student’s intellectual faculties. Schools can easily become open forums for the discussion, extension, and expansion of ideas, and yet, hampering First Amendment rights of students only serves to crush creativity and breed apathy.
At Sage Ridge, we are fortunate; we have a student-run newspaper for the spread of ideas, we have advisors willing to listen to our concerns, and we have an open and approachable faculty eager to engage in rational debate. As students enter the Upper School, most are within four years of being allowed to vote in elections and enlist in the United States’ armed services. To be prevented from learning to speak and operate in a free and open society not only hinders the individual, but also hurts the country itself. The Supreme Court has done American society a disservice in its past rulings; it is up to the schools to pick up the pieces.