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Aijia Shen

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Should schools have the power to limit students' speech?

Free speech is one of our rights in the U.S, but should it be limited in schools?
We are focusing more on the non-verbal aspect of free speech. For example, a student showing up at school wearing an armband or something of the like that protests or promotes something. Should students leave their free speech rights at the doors, or still be able to speak their mind?

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  • Dec 22 2013: It has always been that way. I resigned from the school paper because of the censorship done by the teacher who was the adviser of the school paper.
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    Dec 18 2013: What sort of situations do you have in mind? Are you asking whether one student should be able to spend the whole class period talking loudly about whatever he likes, preventing everyone else in the class from learning whatever is planned for that day? Are you asking whether hate speech targeted at people of different ethnicities or religions should be accepted on campus?

    Are you asking whether administrators should be able to reject articles from the student paper? Are you asking whether kids should be able to wear buttons supporting their preferred political candidates or distribute religious literature in the classroom or the lunchroom?

    What sort of situation do you have in mind?
  • Jan 6 2014: I think that schools have to be careful about the messages they give out, both to their students, parents, and the wider community.

    If a person can wear a T-shirt outside of school, assuming that T-shirts are allowed to be worn in school, it would seem discriminatory to try to ban the wearing of this T-shirt in school. I would assume that overtly racist, sexist, or other offensive items would probably be illegal outside of school, so should be dealt with by the authorities in the usual way, not by the school. School staff are neither police, judges, nor jailers.

    Recently a couple of students at a London university wore Jesus and Mo T-shirts. Staff asked them to leave the freshers' fair. There was a reasonable amount of media coverage, so you may want to do some research into it. The outcome was that these two men were entitled to wear the T-shirts and should not have been asked to leave. Their clothing may have been offensive to Christians or Moslems, but why more so than a Jew standing up and saying "I don't believe that Jesus is the son of God or Mohammed a prophet!" If you want to be able to put up banners and wear T-shirts promoting your religious views, you have to be prepared to let others do the same to promote their views.

    Assuming clothing and other items break no laws, or the general dress code of the establishment, what grounds would there be for banning any item? If you're talking about dress code alone, and not censorship, then that's a different question. A school may want to ban all political items so that they are seen to be free from political bias, but that would seem to be a missed opportunity to get young people involved in politics. A great opportunity to look at local and national issues, so long as there is political impartiality!

    In most instances censorship limits debate, understanding, and ultimately tolerance for others and the views they hold. If you believe that you are right, your arguments should hold water, not theirs.
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    Jan 4 2014: Taking away free speech always creates more problems than solutions. A teen who wears an armband or a t-shirt that promotes positive change and gives positive calls to action should not be discouraged. Certainly the use of swear words should not be encouraged, but there's a difference between proposing an opinion and angrily bashing contrary opinions. Swearing is not necessary in the exchange of ideas. Many schools which maintain ridiculously strict guidelines about speech often find that their plans for student "obedience" backfire. Students are more encouraged to break the rules, the more rules there are to break. Students who get to share more ideas will be better equipped to handling interaction in their future workplaces. School is where children learn how to interact with their peers. School is as much a place for social interaction as it is an academic institution.
  • Jan 4 2014: why do you want to wear an armband,when u do sth,do you just keep asking yourself why?If the armband is a sign to motivate people to pay more attention to climate change,air pollution,will it do any matter?
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    Dec 31 2013: Personally I would prefer it if they couldn't, but this is a good question. Do we really value freedom of speech, or is it just a Constitutional amendment that we have to make do with? How far do we take it?

    To start with, Congress shall make no law prohibiting freedom of speech.

    Should state-run schools also be prevented from prohibiting free speech?

    Should private schools be prevented from prohibiting free speech?

    I would love the answer to be yes for all of those, but the law is what it is. Also, if a student harasses another, or wears a shirt that's clearly offensive, is that protected by freedom of speech, or would other rules manage to censor that student - i.e. harassment rules, the charge of "causing a distraction", etc.?
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    Dec 25 2013: Yes, non-violently to help them learn "responsibility". If they do not learn responsibility then they should be removed from the classroom and given re-rehabilitation.
  • Dec 20 2013: I think it's always human's rights to express their own ideas, however, school is the place to learn, all students need to do is obey the school rules and learn. So even though free speech is the rights for us, school would be able to limit us from expressing ourselves too much. Share my experience, Here in Taiwan, most students are limited so that they even don't know how to express their own ideas, so that's such a pity to limit our creativity!
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    Dec 19 2013: Aijia,

    I think we need examples of what specifics you're talking about.

    Are you thinking of examples when students are expelled for things like online posts. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/25/aclu-3-indiana-girls-expe_n_1453943.html

    Or when students speak their native language in school? http://www.rappler.com/nation/35762-students-expelled-speaking-ilocano

    Or when students are expelled for peacefully protesting something. http://thefire.org/case/751.html

    I think that the other examples have been mentioned by others...

    But yes, free speech for the win! As long as it's not extremely disruptive or full of hate.
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    Dec 19 2013: Express yourself as you will, but be strong enough to face the consequences and repercussions of your act. People respect those who can defend a position with eloquence, aridity and conviction. But, little respect is given to those who use speech as a weapon of hate or vileness.
  • Dec 19 2013: If you've yielded to an external authority as to 'how' to learn and 'what' to learn, then it's probably best to keep it zipped.
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      Dec 19 2013: I don't know about you, but here we're obligated by law to go to school until ninth grade. We have not yielded, we are forced (which is mostly good). But in those examples at least, it seems odd if people (or kids if you will) don't have the right to free speech.
      • Dec 19 2013: Tis the law here as well.

        As far as your 'mostly good' reference, I cannot help but wonder if this 'mass compliance' is the very deepest root cause of all that is nasty in this world......

        war
        poverty
        violence
        a sense of separation from one another
        extreme competition between one another for seemingly limited resources
        anxiety that prevails throughout society
        extreme materialism
        constant tension and corruption In and Between governments
        environmental destruction on a vast, vast scale

        These things exist because we Tolerate them as individuals and as a society.

        How does one build an extremely tolerant individual and thus a tolerant society?

        You Educate them to be Tolerant.

        With respect to 'Free Speech' the Authorities who may wish to limit it, really only give a damn when Declarations are made by One, to Many, about the Status Quo....we go around making Declarations. The Declarations directly attack the Status Quo. The Status Quo has no choice but to punch back, for that is it's Nature.

        Of course the Inmates in Schools will not be granted Free Speech. But, there is NO HARM in QUESTIONING....SEEKING UNDERSTANDING OF THE STATUS QUO.....PENETRATING DEEPLY INTO THE STATUS QUO......PUBLICLY.

        For, when one Questions, you are really speaking directly to the other Inmates who Hear your question. They naturally turn inward to ask themselves the Same said question. That's one way to change the collective consciousness. Enquiry. Initially, the Status Quo welcomes the enquiry for it wants to be understood.......but, as it is more deeply penetrated, it becomes more difficult for the SQ to defend itself. It may eventually begin cave in.

        my original comment was not intended to offend. But, one wonders about such a mass system of education. It always takes two to tango.....one to force and one to comply. It's such a delicate dance with the warden.

        (J, I consistently gain insights from your comments)
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          Dec 19 2013: I fully agree that there's a BIG problem with formal education, and that need to be fixed.

          I said that it was mostly good because I'm aware of how it was before we had this law. Illiterate children would often work from a very early age, and that was all that they ever did. With every major extension that we've had of our school law, people have been better off.

          Maybe it's not needed anymore but I'd rather change the educational system instead.
        • Jan 6 2014: Scott, I can't help but think that some of your examples of nastiness are products of intolerance, not tolerance. E.g. Wars, violence, etc.

          School is often where children learn critical thinking, what is a fair test, etc. Without education, which I have to say could be better in many instances, children would not gain these tools for life. If anything, children would grow up experiencing fewer views, have less understanding of others and the world around them, and may be more open to manipulation (be more compliant).
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    Dec 18 2013: there is a serious widespread misunderstanding about the right to free speech. it is not a right in itself, it follows from a general concept of freedom, namely, since i own my life, i'm free to choose my action, therefore i can freely say whatever i please.

    but the same concept also means that i can ban anyone from my premises, even unconditionally. unless i made an agreement with someone otherwise, but that is a whole different case. that includes, for example, if i kick you out if you speak in favor or obama. my house, i decide who is in it. it is *not* a violation of free speech.

    it also means that if i have a newspaper, only i decide what goes in it. if you have a differing opinion, you have no right to put that in my newspaper. it is mine. you can write your own.

    so back to your example: what school? private or state operated? a private school can pretty much limit free speech in any way. if you don't like it, don't go there. they can kick you out at any moment, or at least they should be able to.

    if it is a state operated school, they have to follow the guidelines set up by local or national governments, and thus follow what voters wanted them to do. which translates to: you can not offend any numerous and stupid groups out there, otherwise you are quite okay. nobody likes trouble. asking the question whether "should voters be smarter" is pretty futile. what if they answer is yes?
  • Dec 18 2013: Free speech is a right we should uphold even in schools, with some limited restrictions. School is an appropriate place for children to learn how to express varied opinions on different issues. Outside of a school setting there are very few restrictions on this freedom. However, in schools there need be a bit more. A student, or a teacher for that matter, has a right to wear certain things. But not if these things are inappropriate and are hurtful to others in a school setting. For example, a shirt with a racial slur or graphic image should not be allowed. The issue comes in drawing the line between what is acceptable and what isnt. Like your issue of a shirt that protests something specific, sometimes it can be hard to definatively say this shirt wont be offensive to anyone or will be offensive to a couple people. Even fairly simple statements can be offensive in a certain light which obscures how the school draws that line in the sand.
  • Dec 18 2013: Thanks Robert and Fritzie for your comments. I realized I should have been more specific. This is for a debate project and we’re researching different opinions. We are focusing more on the non-verbal aspect of free speech. For example, a student showing up at school wearing an armband or something of the like that protests or promotes something. Should students leave their free speech rights at the doors, or still be able to speak their mind.
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    Dec 18 2013: Aijia, I totally agree with Fritzie. You will have to narrow this down to items we can discuss.

    In general, I would say to look at the mission and the goals of schools ... if the actions are disruptive of the opportunity to learn and the teachers attempt to facilitate the learning process then I think the school should limit those actions.

    I look forward to your response.

    Bob.