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Get Your Prior Restraint Off Of Me: Indiana Schools Dealing With Censorship Issues

Parentaladvise_1Here's something that should stir up some debate, a la the high school newspaper censorship case out of Columbus and the story about a Fort Wayne student who was recently expelled for mocking his high school:

"The new University of Notre Dame president questioned Monday whether "The Vagina Monologues" and a Queer Film Festival held on campus the past few years should be sponsored by university departments.    

"The Rev. John I. Jenkins, who took over as president of the Roman Catholic school on July 1, did not say he would cancel the events, but is scaling back both events. He discussed the matter on Monday during a speech to faculty members and plans to address students on Tuesday. He said also wants to hear from alumni.

"He told the faculty he worried that sponsorship by university departments indicated a certain level of acceptance. As an example, he said the school would face questions if it were to sponsor a play that was anti-Semitic."

At what point do schools need to step in and determine what's good for students? When, on the other hand, should they just let things be?

Discuss, if you'd be so kind.


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First, I'm not sure I get what the Notre Dame issue has to do with the others. The decision of whether a private university with a particular religious viewpoint should extend official university sponsorship to certain events seems quite different from the issue of to what extent a public high school should prohibit or control speech of its students.

As for the high school issues, schools are in a tough position. I agree that school administrators should not go out of their way to suppress speech as a way of crushing all dissent. It is natural for kids (and adults) to say some choice things about those in authority, and administrators who go overboard end up looking insecure. As a former high school newspaper writer/editorial board member, I certainly believe that a school newspaper with a quality, professional advisor and students who regard themselves as "real journalists" is a valuable educational exercise. I had to laugh at the proposal by the Columbus school board member, which would require the principal and superintendent reading every article in the paper! I wonder if anyone asked the superintendent and princiapl about that. I would assume they have enough to do without serving as de facto editor in chief of the school paper.

That said, I think sometimes in these debates we lose sight of the fact that schools do not exist for the purpose of providing a public forum for outspoken teenagers. They exist for the purpose of educating students. I was just starting high school when the Hazelwood decision came down (allowing prior restraint of school newspapers) and thought it was bogus. The more I think about it, however, it certainly would seem that the alternative (i.e., not allowing the school to have any control over the content of the paper) is more difficult to defend. While high school students are adult-like in many ways, they are still children under the eyes of the law and administrators do have obligations to other students and their parents. I don't necessarily believe that suppressing the Columbus oral sex story would have been necessary, for example, but there should be a line somewhere. Should a school be allowed to stop a student newspaper from printing profanity? From printing true but embarrassing accounts of who is sleeping with whom?

I think the ideal arrangement for a high school newspaper is a principal who puts his or her trust in a good journalism teacher who advised students on how to handle controverial issues in a professional way. Still, I'm not sure there shouldn't be controls in place for when the system doesn't work well.

As a practical matter, the landscape is much different today than it was in 1988. Anyone with a public library card can own and maintain a blog. The notion advanced by the Columbus student about losing her voice in the community is much less resonant today than a few years ago.

This isn't about high school journalism or Hazelwood. The primary agenda here is for our Christian brethren in Columbus to pretend the kids aren't doing oral sex! Don't talk about it and we'll think as parents that it's not happening. While the adults were in fantasy land, a couple of highly responsible teenagers tried to alert their peers that getting or giving a BJ without a condom might prevent pregnancy but you can still get sick. In fact, you can get VERY sick! The article was well researched and well written. It's just another case of "dirty dancing". Get real mom and dad ...... your kids are smarter than you are!

john, if you read the ND article, you'll see that it's not just about whether ND sponsors the events in question. according to the article, rev. jenkins believes that "events that are inconsistent with Catholic values should not be allowed at Notre Dame." that's a long way from saying "i just don't want to sponsor 'em."

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