SmackDown: Is Suspension Too Severe a Punishment for a Facebook Post?

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Is it OK to take out your math frustrations on your teacher? Credit: John Macdougall, AFP

Freedom of (Nasty) Speech Extends to Teenagers

by Tom Henderson

Imagine if the Founding Fathers were middle school students with Facebook pages.

"John Adams is a hideous hermaphroditical character with neither the force and firmness of a man nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman," posts Thomas Jefferson.

Modern translation: The guy's got no cajones.

Oh, yeah?

"If Thomas Jefferson wins, murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced," posts John Adams.

Of course, Adams and Jefferson were not middle school students with Facebook pages. They were great men who, along with other great men, bequeathed to us a country with the freedom of speech. Provided you are not a middle school student with a Facebook page.

A middle schooler in New Hampshire was suspended recently for posting on her Facebook page that she was sorry Osama bin Laden never got around to killing her math teacher.

Suspended? Seriously? Show of hands. How many of you ever wished -- if only in anger or jest -- another person dead at one point or another? You probably have, and let's be honest here. Odds are it was a math teacher.

Facebook merely amplifies things.

But if Adams and Jefferson were middle school students, and nasty Facebook posts were against the rules, they would have spent more time in detention than Judd Nelson and the entire Breakfast Club combined. And you know the worst part? These guys were friends. They actually liked each other. Imagine what they would have said if they were enemies.

Adams and Jefferson knew freedom of speech is not always pretty -- it can even take a turn for the murderous.

Comedian Groucho Marx was asked in 1971 if he thought there was any hope for President Richard Nixon. "No, I think the only hope for this country is Nixon's assassination," Marx responded.

Another comedian, songwriter Tom Lehrer, was asked in 2005 if he had anything funny to say about President George W. Bush. "I don't want to satirize George Bush and his puppeteers," Lehrer responded. "I want to vaporize them."

Conservatives are not above wishing people dead, either. "We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee," commentator Ann Coulter said in 2007. "That's just a joke, for you in the media."

And a darn funny one, Ann. Murdering a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court? What a hoot!

Poisoning is a popular theme. Conservative commentator Glenn Beck joked about poisoning Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's wine in 2008. Another knee-slapper.

Count on music legend Ted Nugent to be more direct. He asked Barack Obama "to suck on my machine gun" during the 2008 campaign.

We react like Victorian school marms when our children vent their frustrations with angry and violent imagery. But if someone we happen to agree with politically does it? C'mon, it's just a joke. Political correctness suddenly becomes a bigger issue than violent rhetoric.

But don't worry, Glenn. Make all the rib-tickling jokes about poisoning people's wine you want. You're safe. And you should be. So should a 13-year-girl cracking morbid jokes about her math teacher on her personal Facebook page.

We should teach our children manners and civility. However, as Supreme Court Justice William Brennan said in 1964, America's open marketplace of ideas should be "uninhibited, robust and wide open."

Freedom of speech in America is one nasty 235-year-old running bitch-fest. It would be hypocritical to punish our kids for joining in the festivities.

If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say, Don't Say Anything at All

by Jessica Samakow

We can all remember a time when we sat restlessly in math class wondering when the hell we would ever need to know how those equations were derived.

When the pain became impossible to bear, we might have gone so far as to wish bad things happen to our math teachers.

And, if you were the kid who passed notes in class, chances are that note calling for Mean Mr. Math's head being subtracted from his body was crumpled up, thrown away and never seen again.

Today, kids still pass notes, but, more prevalently, they're hiding their cellphones under their desks and updating their Facebook statuses during class.

And. rather than scribbling their rants on paper, they're taking them high-tech. Recently, a 13-year-old in New Hampshire was suspended for posting that she wished Osama bin Laden had killed her math teacher.

Her parents thought the punishment was too severe for what their daughter thought was just an innocent Facebook post.

It was inappropriate, they admit, but she had no intention of actually harming her math teacher.

But, while that may be true, the larger issue is that kids do not understand the consequences of things they post online. The school was not necessarily concerned that this girl was violent, but it needed to make an example out of her.

Teachers and parents need to drill over and over again that it is not OK to post things on the Internet that you would not want everyone, including Grandma and yes, even college admission officials to see.

In this day and age, colleges investigate an applicant's social media presence and consider their findings when making a decision. So do employers.

Say a teen happens to get away with posting that she wished a teacher dead. If a college official spots the post, my guess is that student would have about a zero chance of being accepted to that school.

And if she's looking for a job and the employer spies the death wish? Resume in the trash.

So, while suspension may have been a severe punishment for the New Hampshire teen, you better believe no student in that school would dare post something similar in the future. In reality, the school is doing all the kids a favor.

The lesson here is that posting inappropriate things online WILL come back to bite you in some way, shape or form. Teens think they're invincible and need to be taught that there will be consequences for their actions.

So, while she may not have been the first person to innocently wish harm on the teacher scribbling x,y,z on the board, a punishment of suspension was completely appropriate.

If she, and those around her, don't learn the lesson now, they will undoubtedly learn it at some point down the road when the punishment is much worse than a suspension.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.