Wednesday, March 18, 2009

You Have the Right to Shut the Hell Up

What are government teachers teaching?!

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.
OK, here's the thing Person 1: no you don't. You have a right to an opinion, and the right to voice that opinion and not get arrested or put in jail or censored by the government. But you do not have the right to have an opinion and not get criticized or have your comment deleted. Too often we forget that there are governments in this world that actively suppress ideas, and we equate "freedom of speech" with "freedom to say whatever I want at all times."

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.



jmannii said...

People have the right to say that they have rights. But saying it doesn't make it true! ha!

Seriously, though, Mr. Potter, or others - I'd like to know a good response to that situation, since I expect to hear a kid say that to me someday. I think I would refer back to the classroom rules, which hopefully we decided upon together and remind them that those rules and policies make sense and we all agreed to live by them.

I know my solution sounds so theoretically beautiful - now tell me WHAT REALLY WORKS!

Glenn Watson said...

Kids like to push back against rules and their reasons are not always logical.

I remember my first year of teaching I asked a girl to sit down. She claimed she was sitting. Mind you as she said this she was standing for all the world to see.

Despite this obvious fact I realized later she was right. The problem was one of communication and interpretation.

I asked her to sit down meaning I wanted here to already be in the seat. Her position was that she was sitting, meaning she was in the process of sitting.

I saw sitting as a state of being. She saw sitting as a verb, a process that could take a bit of time.

Or maybe she just wanted to be a pain in the ------.