Freedom of Speech One of Essay

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The issue of emotional harm, which at first seems complicated to a prohibitive degree, can also be applied in a similar fashion. Law and custom have united -- for the most part -- to define other instances of unacceptable speech in public society and even in the privacy of a business. Sexual harassment and racial discrimination are the tow most well-known and easily illustrated instances of speech that does not actually present a danger being banned. More stringent interpretations of sexual and racist speech might be appropriate in a school setting, but restricting speech much more than it is in adult society does the students a disservice, denying them the ability to take responsibility for their own speech.

Protecting the students' ability to become responsible and educated self-directed adults is, I believe, the primary responsibility of all youth educators. That being said, there was an instance in a class I was in -- as a student -- in which a fellow student's speech was censored, rightly I believe. While working on persuasive essays in a writing class, a student attempted to present his paper to the class (as was required by the assignment) on the benefits of drunk driving. The student thought that his paper was hysterical, of course, but the teacher not only barred him from presenting it, but reported the student to school authorities. Though he did not really incite any harmful behavior, I agree that this students right to free speech needed to be abridged until he had learned to use that right in a responsible and compassionate manner.
Not only were their students in the class that had been adversely affected by drunk driving, but the issue should not be presented as something to laugh at in the first place.

Though I have never been in a situation where the student's rights to free speech was more important than the teacher's responsibility to provide a safe environment, the circumstances surrounding the Tinker v. Des Moines case provide a useful thought experiment. When there is a moral imperative behind speech, however controversial and however dangerous it might be to express that view, it is essential that students have the right to express their moral views (so long as those views do not directly advocate harmful activity). This is the only way in which critical thinking skills can truly be developed, and if school is not the place for this to happen, it is hard to imagine what is. Free speech should be tempered, but only slightly.


ACLU (2009). "Free speech: student speech." Accessed 20 February 2009.

Linder, D. (2009). "Exploring constitutional conflicts: Free speech rights of students." Accessed 20 February 2009.

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