We had a lively discussion at work yesterday about the Brownback Twitter story that has been across the news. If you don’t know what happened, a student was present at a speech Gov. Brownback was giving and tweeted while he was giving the speech “just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.” She didn’t do any such thing in reality but Browback’s staff monitors Twitter as one of the media outlet and they informed the group that organized the event. The group that organized the event contacted the students school and she was brought in and reprimanded by the principal and told she was going to have to write an apology letter. Everyone seems to be up in arms about this and I’m trying to figure out why. First of all she wasn’t trying to make a political statement and has said she was just trying to get a laugh from her friends. If a student were to stand in middle of an assembly and shout out to the speaker the same thing I don’t think anyone would bat an eye at them getting a detention or worse. You could argue that what this girl did was different, it would probably be more akin to sitting at the front of the assembly and saying something snide at the speaker loud enough that the 10 or so friends closest to her would get a laugh, not intending for the speaker to hear. Twitter would be very close to this situation, it is digital conversation with a limited crowd, with the unfortunate exception that when you leave your account public the words hang out there for everyone to see. In this case the speaker did hear, reported it through the proper channels and the student was punished as would be appropriate for any student that causes a disruption during a school function. When I went to school if I got caught passing a note to the person next to me of similar content I would have gotten in trouble. Everyone seemingly wants to scream about first amendment rights and freedom of speech. What this translates to is saying student should be allowed to voice discontent at any authority figure is fair game and protected under free speech, and amazingly the Kansas school system has fallen in line with this thinking. To clarify, this means that it should be protected under free speech for students to make disruptions during assemblies, and it since it’s all covered as first amendment rights it should extend into the class room. Students should be able to stand up in class and tell their teacher they suck or the blow and the school system should defend them as just making statements under the first amendment rights and not be subject to punishment.
For the record my opinion on how she’s being treated would be totally different had she made the statement in the evening afterwards or at some point that wasn’t during a school function. I thought students weren’t supposed to have cellphones running during school hours anyway and they were supposed to be powered off.