Friday, May 14, 2010

Teaching Tolerance: Free Speech Is OK, But You Need to Embrace Empathy More!

The Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance website typically offers up all kinds of goodies for this Gold-Plated Witch on Wheels to comment on, but I was particularly interested in this post, which, if left in the comments of a rightwing blog would be known as concern trolling.
The post is about the five (not four) students at a Live Oak High School who were suspended for wearing American flag shirts on Cinco de Mayo (see here for my take). The author begrudgingly acknowledges the totally outrageous idea that students have the right to free speech, even when it offends some, but then launches into the real point of the post: we should curtail our speech if it offends someone, and by someone, she means those celebrating another country's Independence Day.

Public school students have rights, and at a minimum their administrators need to ensure that those rights are protected. But the primary mission of educators in public schools is to teach children how to use those rights, and how to be a member of a diverse society. Students need to learn that rights come with responsibilities. And in a pluralistic society, we need to understand and respect the people who live alongside us.

I haven't looked, but I'm sure the author endorses respecting the rights of, say, those protesting government spending or parents wanting the best education for their children. Well, probably not.

If students want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, I have no problem with that. But when American students want to wear T-shirts with American flags on them anyday--including Cinco de Mayo--that's not intolerant and it's not insensitive. That's freedom of expression, something those celebrating Cinco de Mayo should learn to embrace. And that's the teachable moment the author should have embraced.