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Should there be a limit to free speech in schools? What have important court cases...

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enotes | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted March 3, 2014 at 11:17 PM via web

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Should there be a limit to free speech in schools? What have important court cases ruled on this (like Tinker v. Des Moines School District), and what is your personal opinion?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 3, 2014 at 11:53 PM (Answer #1)

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This is, of course, a matter of opinion.  My own view is that free speech in schools must surely be limited.   However, I do agree with cases like Tinker which hold that students do have some rights to free speech.

If students had an absolute freedom of speech, schools would be chaos.  If we could not prevent students from (to take an absurd example) yelling out whatever they want in the middle of class, we would have no way of keeping control of the school and it would be impossible to educate students.  Similarly, imagine if students were allowed to say whatever they wanted in the context of a class discussion.  We can imagine students using offensive racist language or sexually explicit language.  This would have a terrible impact on education.

However, it is still important to protect student free speech rights to some degree.  Schools need to help prepare students to be good citizens and good citizens need to be able to express their political opinions.  Therefore, I agree with the Court’s holding in Tinker.  In that case, the Court said that schools have to have a very good reason to limit student speech.  They cannot simply ban the speech because they do not like it.  I agree wholeheartedly with this even though I think that we should never allow students to have complete freedom of speech.

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