Today I had no fewer than 3 students say to me that they didn't have to do something because they "have rights." "I don't have to sit in my assigned seat, it's a free country." "You can't tell me to be quiet, I have freedom of speech." "You can't make me do that if I don't want to. It's a free country." My response was, "Yeah, it is a free country. Do what I ask, or you'll be free to take this class again next year." They weren't impressed.
I started thinking about the fundamental lack of understanding my kids must have about the constitution and their rights. Our rights are tremendously important, but they only work for us if we understand what they are (and aren't). For the record, here is what the First Amendment actually says:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the
free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of
the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of
As I thought about this, and looked at my blog and some of the other blogs I follow, I realized that misconceptions about our freedoms are not limited to children. I can't tell you how many times I've read that people who comment on a blog have a "right" to express their opinion and that the blog operator can't censor their thoughts. These conversations usually go something like this:
- Person 1 says something dumb and / or controversial
- Person 2 says that they think Person 1's opinion is dumb, racist, inappropriate, whatever.
- Person 1 declares that they have a right to their opinion and that Person 2 shouldn't be censoring them.
Now, I'm a pretty big egomaniac (most bloggers are), but even I'm not conceited enough to think that I have the authorities bestowed upon congress. So when others complain that they have rights -- whether in my classroom or on a blog -- they're demonstrating clearly that they do not understand that the constitution limits the actions of government, not individual people. You can argue that a blog operator shouldn't censor, that I shouldn't make my kids sit in assigned seats, that I should value all opinions equally -- but you can't argue that you have rights.