The dust up in Bedford over the Book ‘Nickel and Dimed’ continues to linger in the local news–which reminded me that back in 2009 we had a similar situation in the sleepy town of Litchfield where comments by locals and students emerged in defense of the material on the grounds that its exclusion would constitute book banning and or violate protected free speech rights.
This was (and is), of course, total rubbish.
So I wrote at least two articles on the subject back in 2009, this one–from June 20, 2009 on the bankrupt educational-industrial culture that leads to this kind of moronic nonsense, and then a followup on censorship in general after a local ACLU lawyer felt the need to add her two cents.
What follows on the jump is my response, the article from July 5th, 2009–originally posted at NH Insider. I believe it (and my comments in the previously mentioned post here) are equally relevant to what has transpired in Bedford over the past few weeks, and demonstrates a lack of understanding by the public (and progressives) of the differences between first amendment speech and censorship. That this keeps coming up in the context of the public school curriculum is nothing short of ironic.
Barbra Keshen, writing for the Concord Monitor July 2nd, (regarding recent events in Litchfield) makes it clear that the ACLU, not parents or towns, are in the best position to decide what is suitable for our kids to read in school. As an attorney for the ACLU we can hardly blame her for her preferences.
Teachers are next appointed to this end; all in the name of protecting student exposure to a wide range of ideas and a diversity of political views, all likely ACLU approved.
But parents, it seems, do not fit into her prescription for presenting what she calls the multiple realities of pluralistic society. I don’t know about you but that is not real big on my list of things I need the school to teach my kids. But assuming this is a necessary function of public education (as she does) parents we must assume lack the ability to fulfill this ‘need’ where it must therefore be a job for a government run school to do.
The ACLU lawyer of course assumes too much and to defend her assumptions brandishes the politically polarizing buzz word censorship as if it were the little Dutch boy plugging up the free flowing expression of ideas through the dam of constitutional civil justice with his middle finger. But in this context censorship begins and ends with what the ACLU believes it is, which apparently trumps whatever parents believe is suitable for their children in the school they fund entirely with the fruits of their labors.
Most claims of censorship tend to focus on the presumption that any particular limitation violates our constitutional right to free speech. This is (of course) almost entirely the fault of the ACLU which has fought to expand the umbrella of what is meant by “free speech" to things that have nothing whatsoever to do with protecting the right to publicly object to the acts or interests of government without fear of oppression; the kind of thinking where a picture of a man with a bull whip in his ass is necessary to prevent the advance of tyranny, or where refusing public funding through the NEA to a woman who plays with her vagina on stage would bring the downfall of democracy.
This kind of thinking seeps into the collective unconscious where it promulgates retarded notions in the minds of students and parents alike, not just about what censorship and free speech are, but who is entitled to each and under what terms.
Contrast that with these quotes from Justice Story, a Supreme Court Justice from 1811 to 1836, and an eminent constitutional scholar with personal knowledge of the true nature and civic responsibility to free speech and the first amendment.
That this amendment was intended to secure to every citizen the absolute right to speak, write, or print, whatever he might please, without any responsibility, public or private, therfor(e), is a supposition too wild to be indulged by any reasonable man.
There is a good deal of loose reasoning on the subject of the press, as if its inviolability were constitutionally such that, like the King of England, it could do no wrong, and is as free from every inquiry, and afforded a perfect sanctuary for every abuse; that, in short, it implied a despotic sovereignty to do every sort of wrong without the slightest accountability to private or public justice … where it might be justly affirmed that the liberty of the press was incomparable with the permanent existence of any free government.
In this case the ACLU (or at least Ms. Keshen) would appoint the Teachers in Litchfield as King of what are both instructional and appropriate for their subjects, where independent acts of responsibility and accountability by parents or any act by their appointed representatives who exist solely to exercise their public interests could be censorship.
Such is the nature of what they have done to the protections of political speech, that people would embrace such rubbish as claims of censorship in these circumstances, when similar forms of “censorship” are in fact abundant, desirable, and necessary in the civic and public theater, and so well documented in existing law that even the ACLU has no desire to overturn them.
Our government limits access to and the display of pornography, who may be displayed in a pornographic manner and to whom, who can see violent movies, provides warning of harsh language and sexual content in recordings for public sale, prohibits threatening or vulgar language in public, and many other forms of expression which meet many of the ACLU’s other ideas of “protected expression” as protected free speech based on terms tangential to the prohibition which Ms. Keshen now objects to in Litchfield.
So should we expect a lawsuit from the ACLU in defense of the schools right to include this material and present it to students against the objection of parents or is Ms. Keshen just blowing a perfunctory cloud of smoke for a fire they have no intention of starting?
I’d go with the latter. The bulwarks of civil order are not likely to fall on such flimsy grounds, which makes the presumption that this could ever be censorship the irrelevant musings of self contradictory trouble makers or ignorant automa
tons (like the Campbell High graduate who proclaimed this as censorship in the Union Leader just last week–July 2009)
Let’s be clear here. Parents and guardians are free to purchase this same material with their own money, and at their discretion. They are free to allow their children to do the same based on their own ideas about what they are ready for. And the towns elected officials have not prohibited the sale or distribution of this or any other similar material within the limits of their political boundaries. But even then, barring any political component, it would be perfectly within their rights to do so always subject to further evaluation through public hearing and public elections if the majority of the town objected to their actions.
That is how representative government works. It expresses the interests of the people who elect it. And any abrogation of that right to any other entity depletes the public’s power to affect social or political change it deems necessary to sustain the scope and kind of the local civic order it desires. Free inquiry, as the ACLU defends it, is completely irrelevant in this context and until they bring suit to prove otherwise, they are simply trying to persuade you into thinking that their worldview is better than yours, and to make you feel guilty if you can’t explain why you disagree.