Values (Part 1)
I think that sticking up for your rights is important. I think that sticking up for yourself is important. I think that if you don’t stand up for your rights, you’re making it easier for them to be taken away altogether. I think freedom of expression is an important right.
In a practical sense, New Zealand schools have no one to be accountable to in regards to internal behavioral decisions. They also seem to think they have carte blanche permission to do whatever they like.
This is a problem.
Two years ago, in Year 11, a friend was required to write an apology letter to a teacher. Apology letters are meaningless tokens–coerced with the insinuation of further/alternative punishment if one doesn’t comply.
So we thought we’d have a laugh. We wanted to see what would be accepted as an apology letter, with the help of Google.
I posted the above image to Facebook, unedited, with a facetious caption:
X’s sincere apology letter to X. Putting this on my CV under achievements.
Privacy settings restricted who could see it, and those who commented on the post said nothing nasty about the teacher involved. This wasn’t about the teacher. It was about the process of discipline at our school.
Here’s where the story should end.
But it doesn’t.
The next day, the school wanted the post taken down. Many reasons were thrown at me during an hour in two different offices, without merit. That I would ruin the teacher’s career, that the letter wasn’t sincere, that the model comment was defamation… I was threatened with suspension, even though the two staff involved, a dean and a deputy principal, didn’t have the power to make that call. Note that the letter had been accepted the day before.
I argued. Free speech. That even the police don’t have the power they were asserting. I didn’t believe that this post was causing a disruption to school so severe that my freedom of expression should be restricted. Their argument was that I should spend my time on something that mattered.
The end of day bell had rung, and I wanted to go home. It felt like the only way to get out the door would be to agree to remove the post from Facebook. And so I agreed.
I removed the post from Facebook that night, which was a mistake. I regret giving in.
I asked many people for advice over the weekend. The consensus was that the school’s argument was bullshit, but if they did suspend or expel me, my education would suffer.
I regret giving in.
Don’t make my mistake. Stand up for what you believe in. Because it matters.
I’ve tried to change the schools stance on social networking and freedom of expression immediately after the incident, and again this year. I was unsuccessful both times. Change is hard.
Also, this isn’t a dig at the staff involved. I assume the response would have been similar from any of the deans or senior management staff. That doesn’t make it right though, and illustrates an institutional misunderstanding of rights/the law/technology. Hopefully this post will help at least one person to have the courage to challenge these attitudes.
In the interests of fairness, here’s a note from the incident report about this… incident, verbatim, except for comments, and for names being removed:
Matthew was unwilling to accept any responsibility at all for his part played in the apology letter written to X or for putting it up on his face book page. Matthew argued that what he had done was not a school matter and that he had not done anything wrong, and was told that if X felt like it he could actually take it to the police as it was a deficatio [defamation] of his character, Matthew said ok I would rather it be a police matter than a school issue as it has nothing to do with the school, this was said to X and myself, that’s when I got X to step in.
And deal with him. He continued to argue that he had done nothing wrong and got quite defensive and rude and told X he would take it off his page when he got home but only if he asked politely [I said that if I was asked politely in the first place, my response might have been different], which X had been very patient with him, and we tried to get him to understand the seriousness of the situation, Matthew failed to understand that what he had done was not appropriate and he stood by his comment that it was sincere letter [I didn't say the letter was/wasn't sincere, but it shouldn't have been relevant to the situation.] and argued the fact and still failed to understand why it was a school issue. X told him once you put print anything about a teacher it becomes a school issue, especially as this was supposed to be a sincere apology letter he failed to accept it was a piss take until X said what do you think your dad would think if I gave him this letter and didn’t mention you had anything to do with it, he sat for about 2min in silence and then said I guess he would think it was a joke, X then said you have just admitted that it was not sincere, it went on for about 10 min before X said look if your not going to take this seriously I will take it to X [the principal, they said I would be suspended] it was only then he said he would take it off his face book page if X asked politely [see above].
Matthew was quite rude and snappy and had little respect towards us and for the matter.