The New York Times had two articles that made me think of the Avery Doninger Civil Rights case yesterday. The first was straightforward reporting about the case. The second was less obvious.
A good friend of mine sent me a link to David Oshinsky’s article, No Thanks, Mr. Nabokov. By way of introduction, she said,
I'm saving this in my archives for every brilliant, budding author I might come across who has been rejected & thought of quitting or burying their manuscript.
Oshinsky starts of noting Alfred A. Knopf Inc’s rejection of the English translation of Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl.”
The work was “very dull,” the reader insisted, “a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions.”
Later on, Oshinsky mentions the rejection of Nabakov’s Lolita as too racy. All of this gets to my thoughts about Avery’s civil rights case. If it weren’t for the reaction of the administration of Lewis Mills High School, Avery Doninger’s now famous blog post would have been quickly forgotten. A commentator might note the raciness of the language, using terms like “douche bag and pissed off”. Yet they would also probably note that it wasn’t all that exciting. Instead, it was a dreary artifact of petty annoyances and adolescent emotions.
Yet it is these racy terms, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions that make up the fabric of our lives. It is when they are woven into the larger discourse of the collision between our basic rights and new technology that they become fascinating.
A thing that people tend to forget, and I think was a fundamental flaw of Judge Kravitz’s decisions is that there isn’t anything new under the sun and we would do well to look at the petty annoyances of the past.
One person asked me what I would have thought if Superintendent Schwartz had referred to one of the students with a vulgar derogatory term in a blog. My initial reaction is that if she is like so many superintendents, the only reason she hasn’t is because she doesn’t blog. Instead, if we think of what the equivalent of a blog for people who aren’t online, I could easily see a scenario like this:
A superintendent, after frustrating interaction with some students, expresses that frustration at dinner at a local restaurant suggesting that someone should “give those little fuckers in the student council a good kick in the butt”.
Now if I were a taxpayer, sitting at a near by table and overheard something like that, I could perhaps empathize, even though I disagreed with the use of words or the suggestion of corporal punishment. If I were in such a situation, I might pull the superintendent aside and suggest that she be more careful with her language in a public place. I would not demand that she be fired or resign from any position of privilege. I might even suggest finding getter ways of dealing with anger or attending an anger management course.
Students have always used derogatory vulgar terms to talk about school administrators when speaking in public spaces away from school. They always will and school administrators are likely to often act in similar ways. While it may not be the way we would want people to deal with frustrations, while it may be “very dull”, it is part of the fabric of our lives.
The school administration has failed to address this in a constructive manner. The judge has failed to have any context or perspective. Perhaps it is up to us online to encourage people to find the beauty, meaning and the teachable moments amongst the very dull petty annoyances and adolescent emotions.
Apollos Academy says School Officials Fail Constitution 101 and quips that they “must have missed the "Caution: You Are Entering A Constitution-Free Zone" signs.”
The Bristol Press writes about Avery receiving nationwide support for her free-speech case.
Over at Cool Justice, there is Frank Douskey has a great Douchebag Retrospective.
The Boston Globe has a short piece about Avery returning to school.
Yankee Cow Girl writes about students not being allowed freedom of speech.
The Region 19 BOE Gazette has a very interesting take on the case.
The agenda of these new politically greased courts seems to be to deny students any right to speak out. This has little to do with freedom of speech or cyber-bullying or any such nonsense. This is about growing a docile citizenry that will not protest its own growing subjugation to forces that no American should ever genuflect to.
Then to tie it all together, be sure to check on the Channel 61 segment of Beyond the Headlines about the case.
Now, for the action items: If you haven’t contributed to the Avery Doninger Appeal Fund, please do so today. You can also contribute by clicking on the widget to the right.
Also, for any of you who have not yet registered to vote and are eligible to do so, please do. I’ve just added a new widget brought to you by the folks from Rock the Vote. Please click on the widget to the right to register to vote.
News reports out of New Jersey are talking about twelve people arrested for taking bribes “from companies that offered insurance and roofing services to school districts and municipalities”. The arrests included the chair of the Pleasantville school board, another school board member and three former school board members.
In the Avery Doninger case, people have been quick to point out that some of the costs of defending Superintendent Schwartz and Principal Niehoff have been picked up by the insurance company, Massamont Insurance. Regular readers will recall that on August 23rd I sent this letter to Massamont Insurance. I have not received a reply from them.
As I look at the coming Board of Education elections in Burlington, I note that two of the Republican candidates, Phillip Penn, and Jeanne Doerr work in the insurance industry.
While Region 10 Superintendent Paula Schwartz came to Burlington from being Principal at Summit High School in New Jersey, which saw a “$22 million capital improvement project for the high school” while she was there, I have seen no evidence of corruption regarding insurance or building contracts in Region 10. Afterall, Region 10 as well as Summit High School are in wealthy communities. Pleasantville is a poorer community just outside of Atlantic City.
However, my father-in-law, a retired special agent for the U.S. Treasury Department was part of the Tri-Town Amity Investigation Committee back in 2001. I have not yet read the report of that committee, but it does seem that wealthy communities in Connecticut also are worth investigating.
So, if I were a taxpayer in Burlington, CT, I would be asking a lot of very serious questions about building and insurance contracts of all the Board of Education candidates for this November’s election.
The first hour of the event was provided attendees to mingle and find out about people running for local office as well as visit tables set up supporting five of the Presidential candidates. At least three Board of Education candidates were there, including Joan Johanson of Clinton, David A. Stevenson of Bethel and Matt Cooper of Essex. Matt’s wife is due any moment and I didn’t get a chance to speak with him. However, I did get a brief chance to speak with both Joan and David.
Neither had been following the Avery Doninger case closely, but they had both heard of it and knew the general issues. As such they didn’t have any specific comments about the case other than generally upholding freedom of speech, particularly when the speech takes place away from school grounds.
In other discussions during this period, one educator commented about how school superintendents around the state spend inordinate amounts of time speaking with their lawyers and another person noted that schools, particular at the high school view any contact from parents as disruptive. Perhaps if they viewed contact with parents as an important part of their job they would need to spend less taxpayer money on lawyers.
It is not uncommon for certain Connecticut politicians to boast of being bipartisan. Yet too often they use this as a justification for ill thought out policies. Because of this, bipartisanism has a pretty bad name around these parts and I’ve been on mailing lists where people are encouraged not to link to conservatives.
Yet recently, because of my interest in the Avery Doninger case, I’ve found myself in strange company. You see, there are a lot of good conservatives who are fierce defenders of our constitutional rights.
Recently, Greg from Rhymes with Right and I exchanged emails and links. Greg lists himself as a ‘Proud member of The Conservative Blog Network’ and has a ‘Blogs for Bush Blogroll’ and a ‘GOP Bloggers Blogroll’. In an email, he describes himself as a GOP precinct chair who is married to a Democrat. While we may differ on parties and politicians that we support, we both have a commitment to using our freedom of speech to help our country be what we believe it should be.
Judy Aron of Consent Of The Governed left a comment on Greg’s blog saying, “Schools regulating what you can say and do off campus or on the Internet? Well, looks to me as another really good reason to homeschool.” She quotes Ronald Reagan on her website and includes the John Birch Society in her list of “Other Websites of Interest”. There may be a lot of things we disagree on, but her comment, “As far as I am concerned we are in this together fighting abuse of authority,” sums up the sort of bipartisanship that I am glad to be part of.
Perhaps the most interesting connection I’ve through this, however is with Leslie Graves, a libertarian from Wisconsin. Her blog, State Sunshine and Open Records has provided great coverage of the Doninger case and has named Andy Thibault of Cool Justice the Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week for his work in uncovering information related to the Doninger case. She also has WikiFOIA, a valuable site to help “people understand and use the Freedom of Information Act at the state and local level”.
This morning, I visited her website and found that one of the next candidates for Troublemaker of the Week is Charlie Grapski. Charlie is an old friend of mine, who has been battling corruption in Alachua for several years now. For more about Charlie, read this post.
All of this takes me back to the Doninger case. In one email, Lauren Doninger wrote, "I realize that the affront to Avery's civil liberties was miniscule". Compared to the affront to Charlie’s civil liberties, it is miniscule. I responded to Lauren with a quote that ties it all together, and why I am glad to link to conservatives and libertarians that are “fighting abuse of authority”.
"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
- Robert F. Kennedy