The School Speech Police

The School Speech Police
October 9, 2013

Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)

School Choice Weekly, Issue #11

Facebook has unveiled a new initiative in Maryland that aims eventually to go nationwide. It has given educrats the power to follow kids into cyberspace to monitor and censor what they say on Facebook, following a new state “cyberbullying” law that makes schools responsible for what kids do online, even if off school property and outside school hours. The school speech police will have a special ability to flag for removal posts they find objectionable.

The law defines what might be objectionable as anything written using an electronic device that intends to “harass or inflict serious emotional distress” on a minor. That essentially describes kid brothers. But Facebook is letting the speech police go further than that and block posts that contain “questionable” language, whatever that means.

It means whatever the speech police take it to mean, which means Maryland’s youth are now subject to the caprices and preferences of unknown government agents. “[State Attorney General Douglas] Gansler believes he has negotiated power for school officials to go after speech that is not unlawful even under the decidedly speech-unfriendly definitions of the new Maryland law, but which they consider hurtful and lacking in ‘redeeming societal value,’” comments Cato’s Walter Olson.

Bullying has declined in recent years, according to federal data, and so has cyberbullying. But the public perception of it has increased, feeding an anti-freedom agenda and armies of publicly paid consultants. The Hill reports every school in Maryland now must appoint a person to work with Facebook to report and delete “offensive” posts.

As lawyer Scott Greenfield writes, “Facebook is happy to lock arms with Maryland’s teachers to silence speech. Welcome to the start of something big.”

SOURCE: Cato Institute


School Choice Roundup

  • LOUISIANA: A new study shows the state’s voucher program reduces desegregation, counter to the Obama administration’s lawsuit claiming the opposite. The available data indicate vouchers reduce segregation both in the public schools sending students and in the private schools receiving them.
  • NEW JERSEY: On the campaign trail, Gov. Chris Christie tells a Jewish audience of his support for vouchers. Affording a Jewish education is “the No. 1 kitchen-table issue in our community,” says an Orthodox community leader.

Common Core Watch

  • FLORIDA: Florida may still use national Common Core tests even though Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order limiting the state’s involvement with them. Florida has not yet withdrawn from the testing organization, and new Education Commissioner Pam Stewart recently told superintendents in an email its test is still in the running “while we conduct a competitive procurement.”
  • INDIANA: Lawmakers tasked with making a recommendation on Common Core can’t come to any agreement after an entire summer of nine-hour-long hearings. The 12-member panel could not find seven members to agree on any recommendation for whether the state board of education should decide to withdraw the state completely from the national standards and testing initiative.
  • CALIFORNIA: Gov. Jerry Brown thumbs his nose at the feds andsigns a bill suspending state tests for a year. California’s ed leaders wanted to prepare for Common Core national tests instead, so there will be no accountability tests of any kind, only pilot Common Core tests, in 2013–14.

Education Today

  • LITERATURE: Reading classic fiction boosts people’s social skills and empathy, a new study finds. On the same topic, author and professor Katharine Beals discusses why studying history and literature broaden children’s minds and sociability far better than touchy-feely programs.
  • CALIFORNIA: Public schools in this state are among the first to comply with new regulations requiring them to turn over student-level, not aggregate, data to the state. Common Core testing agreements require student-level data from schools also, and will provide it to the federal government. In California, the rules have led to schools collecting parents’ Social Security numbers and tax information.

Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)