Thursday, March 29, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #50 - Part 3

Outrage of the Week: Schools punishing students for non-school activities

First a quick update: That bill in Tennessee, last week's Outrage of the Week, to sneak creationism into public schools through the subterfuge of calling it “encouraging critical thinking about scientific theories” has passed and gone to the governor for his signature.

This week's outrage comes from Indiana, which is becoming a regular contributor here.

Recently, an Indiana high school senior named Austin Carroll sent a Tweet that contained some obscenities. I'm going to tell you what he said - you just need to know that in each case, "bleep" is the f-word.*
Bleep is one of these bleeping words you can bleeping put anywhere in a bleeping sentence and it still bleeping makes sense.
Yeah, kinda crude - although hardly beyond the reach of some conversations I've heard and I doubt beyond the reach of some conversations you're heard, either - but still it's silly and obviously done as a joke, done just to be funny.

He was expelled.

Carroll agrees that the tweet was "inappropriate" - but expulsion? Just weeks before graduation?

But here's real thing, the real reason this gets Outrage of the Week status: The Tweet was sent from his home on his own personal account. Not at school, not on school grounds, not on school time. The school, that is, is asserting the authority to punish him for something done on his own time that has nothing whatsoever to do with school, lacking even the limp justification that what he did would somehow disrupt the school or interfere with some educational function - because no one would buy an argument that lame.

By extension, the school is claiming it can oversee and discipline - that is, punish - any student for doing whatever the school thinks is "inappropriate" any time, anywhere, regardless of its impact on the school.

And here's a question, one which occurred to me and perhaps occurred to you: How did school even know about this since, it develops, the Tweet was sent at 2:30am? It turns out that when you log on to a school computer, the system automatically goes back and tracks all your Tweets.

This is inane.

But nothing is too inane for Indiana these days. Current law in the state says:
a student may be suspended or expelled for engaging in unlawful activity on or off school grounds if the unlawful activity may reasonably be considered to be an interference with school purposes or an educational function; or the student's removal is necessary to restore order or protect persons on school property.
In January, the state House of Representatives passed a bill that would delete the word "unlawful." In effect, do something of which the school disapproves, any time, anywhere, and you are in the disciplinary cross-hairs - even if it’s entirely legal.

What makes this more important is that it's not just this school and not just this state. Other schools, other states, have adopted similarly sweeping rules to direct students' outside lives. It's all part of an on-going trend for those in power to want more and more power over those over who they have power - such as, for another recent example, employers taking advantage of a still-tight job market to demand of applicants that they hand over their Facebook password so the employer can go rummaging around the applicant's account.

Happily, there has been some pushback: Facebook is threatening to sue companies that demand job applicants give up their password and some states will be considering legislation to make the demand illegal. And for Indiana's students, the state Senate effectively killed the bill at least for now by replacing it with "a 'study commission' on best practices in school discipline."

But despite that, the school still is arguing that you are under their authority day and night, everywhere and all the time so you had just better watch your step. And Austin Carroll is still expelled. And that is still an outrage - the Outrage of the Week.

*No, I have no problems with saying "fuck" here, but remember these posts are supposed to reflect what was on Left Side of the Aisle, which comports with the rules of the local community access TV outlet, which require that shows using such language are only shown after 10pm, which obviously limits the potential audience.


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