What happened to manners?

10 Jan

The Atlantic published a piece of libertarian wonkery regarding a proposed amendment to a Tennessee anti-bullying bill.

Not so many years ago, liberals and progressives would have supported a law ensuring the rights of high school students to express unpopular ideas that could make their classmates uncomfortable but would not threaten anyone’s person or property. Today, they’re apt to condemn this simple affirmation of basic student-speech rights as “horrifying.” Why? Because it appears in a proposed amendment to a Tennessee anti-bullying bill, advocated by an anti-gay Christian activist, and it would establish a religious and political “loophole” for anti-gay speech.

I graduated from high school almost 20 years ago but I don’t recall it being an episode of “Meet the Press.” Unpopular ideas could be expressed in a newspaper — I did it fairly often — but even that was under the guidance of the faculty adviser.

The anti-bullying bill reads as follows:

Under present law, “harassment, intimidation or bullying” means any act that substantially interferes with a student’s educational benefits, opportunities or performance, that takes place on school grounds, at any school-sponsored activity, on school-provided transportation or at any official school bus stop, and that has the effect of:      

(1)  Physically harming a student or damaging a student’s property;      

 (2)  Knowingly placing a student in reasonable fear of physical harm to the student or damage to the student’s property; or      

(3)  Creating a hostile educational environment.

This bill specifies that “creating a hostile educational environment” would not include discomfort and unpleasantness that can accompany the expression of a viewpoint or belief that is unpopular, not shared by other students, or not shared by teachers or school officials.

The last paragraph has been interpreted as granting a “license to bully” among students who are anti-gay for stupid religious reasons rather than stupid secular reasons. It doesn’t make a lot of sense when you consider that it gives students less protection in school than their parents receive in the workplace. You’re not allowed to tell your female colleague you think her skirt is too short based on your interpretation of the scripture. It’s also not advisable to tell your coworker that he’s living a life of sin with his husband.

If it’s the job of a student’s parents to teach him basic manners, the job of a school is to reinforce them. That would mean you’re polite to your classmates, even if they look or behave differently than you do. I’m not sure how the merits of gay marriage would come up in Algebra, but even if it was a topic during Debate Club, the goal would be to discuss different viewpoints congenially and not make things personal.

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Posted by on January 10, 2012 in Social Commentary


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