No, I’m not referring to the faculty listserv here! Rather, this regards the case of Avery Doninger, the Lewis Mills High School student in neighboring Burlington, CT, who called the principal and superintendent “douchbags”[sic] in a Livejournal blog entry. School officials removed her from her position as class secretary, and she and her mother filed a lawsuit against the school district claiming that Avery’s First Amendment rights had been violated. The case is now before the U.S.2nd Court of Appeals and the mother vows to go to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
While I’m in favor of protecting the First Amendment rights of high school students, I can’t help feeling depressed about how low we’ve sunk since the landmark Tinker v. Des Moines (1969), involving high school and junior high school students who were expelled for wearing black armbands protesting the Vietnam War to school; and Healy v. James (1972), involving a group of students at our university who were forbidden to start a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society. Those students were engaged in struggles against war and social injustice. Now the “marketplace of ideas” seems to consist largely of how vulgar and outrageous one can be in a public forum.
While I’ve argued elsewhere that free speech includes freedom to be a jerk, I can’t help wondering whether in the long run Avery is going to regret putting herself in the spotlight. What impact is this having on her applications to college? Does she really want to go down in history as “douchbag [sic] girl”? I guess it’s better than bong hits but not much.