Chilling Student Speech?
The pace of change in the Information Age is at times overwhelming, and the natural tendency is to emphasize safety and order over liberty and constitutional rights. I urge Representative Cross and his colleagues to hold the line and use the many tools already at their disposal to punish illegal activity. Speech that constitutes an "imminent danger" is not protected, nor is libel, or the purposeful defamation of character. Students should be taught the consequences of irresponsible Internet use and held accountable when they cross the line. The punishing bodies should not be schools, but instead parents, and in the most extreme cases, law enforcement authorities. Schools can play an importatant EDUCATIONAL role.
Lost in the debate are the educational dimenstions on the world wide web. The digitial universe offers a plethora of teaching tools previously inaccessible to teachers and their classrooms. Web logs enable us all to write to a larger audience. Wiki's allow us to engage in the social contruction of knowledge, literally producing an ongoing electronic encyclopedia. Social networking sites promote interconnectedness and even civic engagement as students unite to save Darfur or back Barack Obama for President.
The McCormick Tribune Foundation, in partnership with J-Ideas, will release a user's guide on this topic in about a month. Also, on February 3rd the Freedom Museum will open a special exhibit featuring student work enabled by the First Amendment titled "Speech at the Schoolhouse Gate." It will remain open through March 25t. Until then, contact your state legislator and tell him or her to leave monitoring of the online world to parents and the police.