To the Editor:
As I read Frank D. LoMonte’s chilling Commentary about widespread censorship of high school journalists and newspapers (“A Muzzled Generation,” Feb. 6, 2013), I recalled U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis’ brilliant defense of free speech and dissent in his famous Whitney v. California (1927) opinion. Brandeis, fondly known as “the people’s judge,” was also an academic and he knew our profession well.
In Whitney, he wrote that “public discussion is a political duty” and that “the processes of education” require “more speech, not enforced silence.” For the court’s first Jewish member to extol such ideas on behalf of a radical, female Communist Party organizer in the middle of the anti-Semitic, sexist, and Commie-crazed 1920s took intellectual honesty—and guts.
Like Brandeis, LoMonte’s fervent defense of others’ free-speech rights should inspire us to stand up for the rights of all of our students—and ourselves.
When the “paramount concern of school governance” is to “get through a day without controversy,” as LoMonte describes happening in school life today, new ideas are ignored, uncomfortable truths are stifled, and dissent is crushed. Teenagers smell hypocrisy like bird dogs smell quail. Soon enough, students begin to tune out. Teachers, too.
As Brandeis warned, also in Whitney: “The greatest menace to freedom is an inert people.”
To beat this threat, we must give students the tools and the opportunities to speak their piece. Their native, infectious idealism is a barely tapped well that can replenish the dusty traditions of democratic citizenship education in any school almost overnight. I’ve seen it happen.
Let’s let their voices be heard.
Civics, Social Studies, and Language Arts Teacher
South Lake High School
The writer is the executive director of the Civics for All Initiative.
A version of this article appeared in the March 13, 2013 edition of Education Week as Student Journalists Should Not Be Muzzled