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Don't say vagina
April 21, 2005 8:08 AM   Subscribe

You can't say vagina in one Minnesota high school. A button bought at a production of the Vagina Monologues brings some students into conflict with the school.
posted by valis (101 comments total)

 
Here's one of the girl's personal accounts. I went to this high school and I hope the ACLU takes them down.
posted by valis at 8:11 AM on April 21, 2005


More than 100 students have ordered T-shirts bearing "I [heart] My Vagina" for girls and "I Support Your Vagina" for boys.

Why can't my t-shirt say "I [heart] your vagina"? That would be much more accurate. I'm sick and tired of supporting your vagina. Your vagina needs to find a job and stop sponging off me.
posted by found missing at 8:20 AM on April 21, 2005


Yay for free speech in Minnesota. I'm going to college a few hours north of there. We had a showing of the Vagina Monologues at a Catholic University, and thankfully the school didn't argue much about it. Maybe that says something for higher education.

Kind of reminds me of the penis game from middle school, where you walked around with your friends yelling "penis" at the top of your lungs.

Good times.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:21 AM on April 21, 2005


"The principal said that by wearing the pin, I was giving people wrong ideas," Rethlefsen said. "That I was giving an open invitation [to guys]." ... "We support free speech," she [Principal Nancy Wondrasch] said. "But when it does infringe on other people's rights and our school policies, then we need to take a look at that."

This Just In! Employees of Local High School Unable to Form Cogent Arguments; Uncomfortable with Differing Views and Equal Rights!

Find out more about this, and the diseases that could be lurking in your couch... at eleven.


Really. I wish them luck, but this is just getting so tiresome. If we could just write down peoples' rights somewhere public, so everybody knows what they are, then we wouldn't have this kind of confusion.
posted by odinsdream at 8:22 AM on April 21, 2005


More than 100 students have ordered T-shirts bearing "I [heart] My Vagina" for girls and "I Support Your Vagina" for boys.

In related news, Spaulding has introduced a jockstap emblazoned with "I Support Your Testicles."
posted by jonmc at 8:25 AM on April 21, 2005


She told me that she knew about the t-shirts and that if they get made, the students will overthrow the administration and cause a riot.

Wow, behold the power of the humble t-shirts.

That, in a single sentence, sums this whole problem up. They're not concerned about free speech. They're concerned about control.

I do wonder, however, how the heck they teach biology or 'health' if the word "vagina" is banned in the school.
posted by anastasiav at 8:32 AM on April 21, 2005


If the students wore pins and Tshirts that said "Abortion is Murder" how many of you would be standing up for their free speach rights?
posted by Jos Bleau at 8:39 AM on April 21, 2005


Can I go on record as disliking the words "vagina," and "penis" as well? They sound like clinical words for some ugly duct or tubule deep in our digestive system rather than the fonts of life.
posted by jonmc at 8:41 AM on April 21, 2005


anastasiav writes "I do wonder, however, how the heck they teach biology or 'health' if the word "vagina" is banned in the school."


"God created your unmentionables 6,000 years ago, from Adam's rib. Practice abstinence until marriage, when you can obey God's commandment to be fruitful and multiply and follow the 'Culture of Life' and make little Christian Soldiers to 'convert' the heathen in Iraq. Now let us pray for our Leaders, George, Richard, William, and Tom; may God grant them the vision to purify America for Jesus's sake and the overseas junkets to see how terrible the heathen lands are in comparison (expect for the golfing), amen.
posted by orthogonality at 8:41 AM on April 21, 2005


...the 'jiney monologues...
posted by naxosaxur at 8:42 AM on April 21, 2005


If the students wore pins and Tshirts that said "Abortion is Murder" how many of you would be standing up for their free speach rights?

Even if you were pro-life, I wound think you would still "support vaginas".
posted by stifford at 8:42 AM on April 21, 2005


Jos Bleau: I would.
posted by crawl at 8:42 AM on April 21, 2005


Jos Bleau writes "If the students wore pins and Tshirts that said 'Abortion is Murder' how many of you would be standing up for their free speech rights?"

I can't speak for anyone else here, but I'd say that's an even more clear-cut example of First Amendment political speech than the "Vagina" buttons. I'd stand up for those rights, just as I've argued here and elsewhere (*cough* DU *cough*) for the rights Ake Green and for the anti-gay protesters in Philadelphia's Pride Day.
posted by orthogonality at 8:44 AM on April 21, 2005


Must make biology class kind of difficult, not being able to mention organs that prudes find offensive....

"Don't say 'pancreas'!"
posted by jefgodesky at 8:45 AM on April 21, 2005


They sound like clinical words for some ugly duct or tubule deep in our digestive system rather than the fonts of life.

I thought Times New Roman and Sans Serif were the fonts of life.
posted by dr_dank at 8:48 AM on April 21, 2005


If the students wore pins and Tshirts that said 'Abortion is Murder' how many of you would be standing up for their free speech rights?

Me. Free speech is free speech.

orthogonality, thanks so much for making me get yogurt in my sinuses. Its going to take a week to clear that up.
posted by anastasiav at 8:50 AM on April 21, 2005


jonmc writes "Can I go on record as disliking the words 'vagina,' and 'penis' as well? They sound like clinical words for some ugly duct or tubule deep in our digestive system rather than the fonts of life."


Va-gin-a!, say it loud
And it's almost like music playing
Say it soft, it's almost like praying.

(These lyrics stolen from a purportedly gay librettist as set to music by an acknowledged gay composer; in no way does this post imply any personal knowledge of Eve Ensler or vaginas by the librettist or the composer.)
posted by orthogonality at 8:56 AM on April 21, 2005


ya know, old folks and authority are facts of life. that they are often behind the times and perhaps a bit stuffy about vaginas and such is simply the way it is. it is a sign of maturity when one can bend and deal with it. carrie rethlefsen is not showing signs of maturity.
posted by quonsar at 8:57 AM on April 21, 2005


That principal is just being a prick.
posted by clevershark at 9:02 AM on April 21, 2005


if colleges and unniversities are the domain of karl marx readin', pot smokin', boys-kissin-boys liberals, then high schools are the domain of knuckle-draggin', ban everything, git-r-dun conservatives.

If the students wore pins and Tshirts that said "Abortion is Murder" how many of you would be standing up for their free speach rights?

I know I would.
posted by mcsweetie at 9:07 AM on April 21, 2005


carrie rethlefsen is not showing signs of maturity.

Wow, Q, I have to say I'm a bit surprised to hear you say that.
posted by anastasiav at 9:08 AM on April 21, 2005


"If the students wore pins and Tshirts that said "Abortion is Murder" how many of you would be standing up for their free speach rights?" I asked.

My answer: I wouldn't.

I don't suport free speech in public schools, so I'd ban any and all message pins, shirts, etc.

The courts have sad repeatedly that the school's mission to educate trumps stduent's free speach rights at least when it comes to matters of dress or appearance. Schools can impose uniforms or restrict the wearing of certain types of clothing or even colors of clothing. There is a standard of relevance that officials must meet but its very low.

I think that's wise. You have the rest of the day and your life to demonstrate your political views.

Supports of free speech usually argue - students are coerced into attending school, you shouldn't restrict their rights further.

But part of what makes speech free is the freedom to avoid other's speech. If I don't like what's on TV, I can turn it off; I can not look at billboards, post a no-soliciter sign on my door. If I don't like the clothing that young people wear I'm free to not go where young people are. I'm free to only 'take' the speech of my choosing.

But because students are coerced into attending school, they are also coerced into receiving other students speech. That's a big part of the appeal of making political speech at shcool right - everyone HAS to notice & deal with it whether they want to or not, right?

That's also why it's wrong.
posted by Jos Bleau at 9:11 AM on April 21, 2005


Yeah, Quonsar, maybe not, but I think part of high school is learning how to deal with authority clashes like this. These sorts of stories always escalate to such irrational levels so quickly, but that is in their nature. The principal is directly beholden to the parent community and has to "protect" the children from what those prisses think is inappropriate. The students believe in something a little higher, but don't quite know how to express it. If she had been ignored, she might stop wearing the pin. She might have worn it for a few months, had a few conversations with people about what it meant to her, and passed an important message to people one-on-one. That would have been normal, and reasonable. This outcome is neither normal nor necessary.

As an aside, I had a friend who wore the "Nazi punks fuck off" shirt to school. Of course, this was in Canada, where the staff realized they had very little control over such things, but the VP took him aside and said it was offensive. He asked who was offended by it, pointing out that only Nazis would be offended by it. She said the word "fuck" was the problem, but he maintained that only Nazis would be offended by the sentiment, and that the rest of his friends supported him in wearing it, and if there were Nazis in the school that she should be spending her time going after them. He continued to wear the shirt, and everytime she admonished him about it, he dismissed her with a quick, "We had this conversation already." With no complaints made directly about the shirt by anyone but her, there was no real recourse.
posted by jon_kill at 9:12 AM on April 21, 2005


If the students wore pins and Tshirts that said "Abortion is Murder" how many of you would be standing up for their free speech rights?

Actually, I believe Carrie used to date someone with a pin that said that.
posted by valis at 9:16 AM on April 21, 2005


The courts have sad repeatedly that the school's mission to educate trumps stduent's free speach rights

Spelling errors aside, how does wearing a "vagina monologues" button affect the school's mission to educate?

No one's contesting the school's right to impose a uniform, for example, but there is a striking difference between mandating that everyone dress the same, and singling out one student for wearing one particular button when no regulation already exists to forbid it.
posted by clevershark at 9:16 AM on April 21, 2005


As an aside, I had a friend who wore the "Nazi punks fuck off" shirt to school...

Yeah, but that's in Canada. We're not such control freaks as our southern neighbors.
posted by clevershark at 9:17 AM on April 21, 2005


Hate to post twice in a row, but Jos Bleau, you are way off base. You are positioning yourself, in your opinion, as the arbiter of what is and is not offensive. If I were in a particularly pissed off mood one day, I might find a shirt that says "YAY HAPPY!" on it irritating to no end. People have elevated this word "offensive" above what it is: a specialized form of irritation. I might find a shirt supporting the war offensive, or a shirt opposing the war offensive, or a shirt with the picture of the pope on it offensive. I might find pants that remind of the coked-out days of the 1980s offensive. I might find a flock of seagulls haircut offensive, because my dad was blinded in his right eye by a seagull, and JESUS FUCK, why should I have to be reminded of that in this COERCED manner?

Now, you're probably thinking, all my examples above are silly. They are. Extremely. But, seeing as we haven't arrived at some definitive answer about what is silly or not, we have no right to limit the discourse in any way, in any venue, between any two people. The only limitations I support on Free Speech are those that put people in direct physical danger, such as the canonical example of yelling "Fire!" in a croded movie theater. Any other limits smack of authoritarianism, so you can count me out. If you're comfortable on a slippery slope, enjoy the slide. I'll be sure to wave.
posted by jon_kill at 9:18 AM on April 21, 2005


Velvet igloo.
posted by bardic at 9:21 AM on April 21, 2005



I think that's wise. You have the rest of the day and your life to demonstrate your political views.


Sure, after you've had your ability to think and speak up for yourself beaten out of you in school.
posted by ursus_comiter at 9:26 AM on April 21, 2005


"You are positioning yourself, in your opinion, as the arbiter of what is and is not offensive."

No I'm not. I made an argument for banning all student speech, up to and including "have a nice day" pins or T-shirts with pictures of kittens on them.

And I was sent home from JR. & SR. high school at elast once every semester for wearing offensive Tshirts & buttons.
posted by Jos Bleau at 9:28 AM on April 21, 2005


"I [heart] my man-gina."
posted by RockCorpse at 9:30 AM on April 21, 2005


Ah, yes, so you have, Jos Bleau. My apologies, kind of.

Now you're advocating exerting a level of control over those in school that is not imposed on other members of society. That's weird, I thought we reserved such treatment for inmates. What a sad, scared world it would have to be for that kind of plan to be put into action.
posted by jon_kill at 9:36 AM on April 21, 2005


Spelling errors aside, how does wearing a "vagina monologues" button affect the school's mission to educate?

because it gives the administration no choice but to summon the wearer to the office and assign tremendous amounts of power to the message itself by branding it "offensive" and "inappropiate."

it reminds of the time I showed up to school with freshly dyed hair. I was pulled from the hall before I even made it to my first period and told that my hair color was a distraction and that I needed to wash it out before I would be allowed to go to class. not wanting to cause a distraction, I did what I was told and returned to class with dripping wet hair and my clothes soaked with dye, and had to spend a little time at the beginning of each class that day explaining what happened while the teachers fielded comments from the students.

And I was sent home from JR. & SR. high school at elast once every semester for wearing offensive Tshirts & buttons.

some folks never learn!
posted by mcsweetie at 9:38 AM on April 21, 2005


I made an argument for banning all student speech, up to and including "have a nice day" pins or T-shirts with pictures of kittens on them.

You're missing the whole "gang colors" aspect. Let's also ban all clothes of color!

Oh wait, people could wear a plain bandana to express something, or perhaps wear a baseball cap sideways, or walk around with their flies open. Can't have that, obviously. Even an ordinary white shirt can convey a message by doing the buttons up a certain way.

Ultimately you must demand that all students go naked.
posted by clevershark at 9:38 AM on April 21, 2005


Kind of reminds me of the penis game from middle school, where you walked around with your friends yelling "penis" at the top of your lungs.

Good times.

posted by craven_morhead at 8:21 AM PST on April 21 [!]

at our schools, i think the idea was that you went aroudn in a circle, and each person had to say penis louder than the last...

what fone
posted by es_de_bah at 9:38 AM on April 21, 2005


Jos Bleau:

I'd hate to send my children into an environment where they can't express ANY opinion whatsoever. What about class discussions? Debate Team? How can we foster discourse and respect for other peoples' ideas if we ban people from engaging in such discussion (and wearing a t-shirt or pin that expresses your personal beliefs IS initiating discussion) at the time when they are coming into their own as mature individuals?
posted by scarymonsterrrr at 9:51 AM on April 21, 2005


the fonts of life.

That's almost as puke-inducing as "John Thomas" and "Front Bottom". My old fella isn't any bloody "font of life". And when it has been, I've taken antibiotics.
posted by Decani at 10:00 AM on April 21, 2005


How does "I [heart] my vagina" educate about violence against women (as one of the girls said in their umpteen interviews)? What sort of statement does the pin make other than "Look at me, I dare you to make me take it off!"? I think this story is less about freedom of speech and more about two girls who wanted to get their names in the paper.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:13 AM on April 21, 2005


Ultimately you must demand that all students go naked.

And install webcams in the classrooms, thus ending all school funding problems.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:18 AM on April 21, 2005


Ultimately you must demand that all students go naked.

*remembers my days in 11th grade "slow group" math*

*shudders*
posted by jonmc at 10:24 AM on April 21, 2005


Just Curious. What if her pin said, "I [Don't Heart] Vaginas"? What if the wearer was a boy? Or, what if the pin the girl was wearing said, "I [heart] Penises".

For the record, I don't in any way disagree with the message on the pin. (Hell, I'm all for vaginas!) And frankly, the school sounds totally lame for getting involved in the first place. But I can dig why they might not want students wearing these pins, for the same reason I probably shouldn't wear a "Federal Breast Inspector" T-shirt to work.
posted by UncleDave at 10:30 AM on April 21, 2005


This reminds me of the Satanic Verses readers at my high school in rural Missouri. They took to wearing pentagrams necklaces outside of their t-shirts, people freaked out. The administration tried to force them to remove the necklaces. The kids explained that until every christian took off their crosses, the pentagrams stayed. The administration backed down...

We also had a political party run for student body elections...we called it the "keg party" because we were all very witty and original...the administration was not thrilled.

I <3 your Vajayjay!
posted by schyler523 at 10:30 AM on April 21, 2005


including "have a nice day" pins or T-shirts with pictures of kittens on them.

But "FUBU" and "Nike" are still ok, right?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:41 AM on April 21, 2005


Is it okay to yell "VAGINA" in a crowded theater?
posted by found missing at 10:44 AM on April 21, 2005


anastasiav writes "orthogonality, thanks so much for making me get yogurt in my sinuses"


I'd get yogurt in your sinuses any time. Anything for a pretty girl who loves her vagina.

(And if you enjoy orthogonality's comments, remember that the next time you get mod points. Or link to orthogonality as a contact. Because orthogonality is exceedingly vain.)
posted by orthogonality at 10:46 AM on April 21, 2005


Oh, UncleDave...I know someone that wears a shirt with "I <3 my Penis" on it...i want one.
posted by schyler523 at 10:47 AM on April 21, 2005


ya know, old folks and authority are facts of life. that they are often behind the times and perhaps a bit stuffy about vaginas and such is simply the way it is. it is a sign of maturity when one can bend and deal with it. carrie rethlefsen is not showing signs of maturity.

quonsar was more fun when he was on the sauce.
posted by gigawhat? at 10:58 AM on April 21, 2005


Schyler, I would have guessed you already had one.

Oh... Of course...T-shirt... yes
posted by UncleDave at 10:58 AM on April 21, 2005


Now I know what message I want on my scrolling LED belt buckle.
posted by bashos_frog at 11:07 AM on April 21, 2005


I know someone that wears a shirt with "I <3 my penis it./em>

Yeah, but it's "tough love"...

/shamessly stolen from "Futurama"


posted by clevershark at 11:13 AM on April 21, 2005


I apologize for the italics-related weirdness...
posted by clevershark at 11:15 AM on April 21, 2005


Not that I think there's anything wrong with wearing the button in question (because there isn't), but if the school had just ignored this, the girl would have worn the button a day or two and that would've been that. Maroons. They gave her exactly what she was looking for.
posted by deborah at 11:26 AM on April 21, 2005


Also this week ...

Gay And God T-Shirts Clash At (Chicago) Area High School
"A group of students organized a campaign that sold more than 200 T-shirts at Homewood-Flossmoor High School that say, 'Gay? Fine By Me.' The shirts were designed to promote tolerance and acceptance and safety at the school and the idea was for the students to wear the shirts on Tuesday. But a group of Christian students also made their own T-shirts with the help of several churches in the community. The T-shirt reads on the front, 'Crimes Committed Against God,' and on the back referenced the Ten Commandments....'There was pretty much chaos in my first class -- students wearing the God T-shirts and students wearing the "Gay Fine By Me" T-shirts,' student Joe Maloney said. 'Students (were) arguing with each other about the justification for wearing the T-shirts.' 'People who had gotten along in the past, and seeing each other in these different shirts saying, "What's wrong with me? Do you have a problem with me?"' student Sara McKee said." [NBC5.com | April 19, 2005]
posted by ericb at 11:29 AM on April 21, 2005


it is a sign of maturity when one can bend and deal with it. carrie rethlefsen is not showing signs of maturity.

At the same time it's a sign of good judgement when one can determine whether action will cause more harm than it will solve, and the principal in question clearly lacks that judgement. Had the girl been allowed to wear the button we would have never heard about that whole silly story.

in other words, what deborah said...
posted by clevershark at 11:30 AM on April 21, 2005


You know, Jos Bleau, there are plenty of other countries you can move to that would glady impose the kinds of insanity you envision would better educate young people, perhaps you should take a vacation there for awhile?
posted by odinsdream at 11:34 AM on April 21, 2005


As America slips into a theocratic black hole, let me remind the good citizens that Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 11:35 AM on April 21, 2005


Gay And God T-Shirts Clash At (Chicago) Area High School

You know, I can't for the life of me find anything about homosexuality in the 10 commandments, so one has to wonder what the big deal is with that story.

The only anti-gay stuff is in Leviticus, and let's face it that books is full of kooky stuff -- like not having any contact with women during menstruation, bleeding your animals before a sacrifice, the "god hates shrimp" prohibitions, and the stern warning against wearing a garment made of two (or more!) different fibers. Also it says you should be killed if you work on the Sabbath.
posted by clevershark at 11:38 AM on April 21, 2005


"If the students wore pins and Tshirts that said "Abortion is Murder" how many of you would be standing up for their free speach rights?"

*raises hand*

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe the constitution promises the right not to be offended.
posted by 2sheets at 11:43 AM on April 21, 2005


This girl seems really cool. She is independant, and can smell hypocrisy a mile away. How old is she? 17? Just a little too young.
posted by Dean Keaton at 11:44 AM on April 21, 2005


This reminds me of the Satanic Verses readers at my high school in rural Missouri.

While the idea of a Salman Rushdie club fucking shit up at a Missouri High School is immensely attractive to me, are you maybe thinking of The Satanic Bible?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 11:47 AM on April 21, 2005


Both actually, there was a "ringleader", an Uber-goth if you will, that basically told his "friends" what to read...included tons of books on the occult, but mostly satanic verses and the satanic bible.

They would read the satanic bible to each other at lunch in the cafeteria...I talked to the leader for a while one day, he was obviously very intelligent and well-read, but definitely a few sandwiches short of a picnic (or so he wanted me to believe). Luckily this was before Columbine, as this kid wouldn't last a day at most public high schools now.
posted by schyler523 at 12:00 PM on April 21, 2005


Actually, clevershark, Paul had a few condemnations of homosexuality in the New Testament. Romans 1:26 and 1:27.

Not that I'm in any way opposed to equal rights for homosexuals; but the fundies will be sure to point that out if you make such a claim in an argument with them.

It is worth noting that of all the things Jesus spoke of, he never once mentioned homosexuality. He said that rich people will go to hell. He said that lending money at interest was evil. He said that preachers who ask for money are vile. But he didn't have a single thing to say against homosexuality.
posted by sotonohito at 12:07 PM on April 21, 2005


Clevershark: The only anti-gay stuff is in Leviticus...
...unless you go to the New Testament, where Paul goes off on gays. It's nothing that Jesus himself said, and Paul is quite the extremist (no extremist like the newly converted, as they say), but Christians don't have to go to Leviticus for the gay-hatred justifications. And Jesus said that the old rules (i.e., Leviticus) don't apply anymore; that's why Christians can eat pork to their hearts' content.

Arguing against Leviticus is kind of pointless, I think. It's better to point out to homophobic Christians that 1) Jesus said the sum of the law was the Golden Rule, and 2) they have lots of sins their own selves and shouldn't be casting stones.

On preview, I'm echoing sotonohito.
posted by jiawen at 12:10 PM on April 21, 2005


I can't for the life of me find anything about homosexuality in the 10 commandments,

Thous halt not covet thy neighbour's ass
posted by TimothyMason at 12:13 PM on April 21, 2005


So could you wear a “shite happens” shirt legally in a public school? My work had a policy to ask people to turn this kink of shirt inside out unlike the similar place down the street which usually had you escorted out.

Don't see the freedom of speech here since schools have rules, which have their own interpretation, authority. The younger generations really missed out looking at all the crappy stuff that was considered proper behavior at school or the work place, yet they did have smoking circles when I was in high school. I could see if she was on the campus grounds during her free time being a different matter.

One thing to consider, it may not be offensive to you, yet courtesy should be given to others. Sorry, as ethics rules in my book over freedom of speech any day because that’s a better democracy. If you don’t get it, may I smack my food around you since it couldn’t possibly ruin your appetite?
Don't let the "me generation" fool you by their "what's in" thought or WWJD which usually have a positive line today.

If the play had not been a great hit, bet most would have said; WhyTF wear that awful pin.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:17 PM on April 21, 2005


'Students (were) arguing with each other about the justification for wearing the T-shirts.' 'People who had gotten along in the past, and seeing each other in these different shirts saying, "What's wrong with me? Do you have a problem with me?"'

Oh noes!!11! Young people engaged in dialog! Teens figuring out what social values they support! Children forced to defend their beliefs!

Keep them stupid and lazy, I say. Makes for a population that's easier to control.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:26 PM on April 21, 2005


Y'know, if you say "vagina" over and over in an Australian accent, it sounds really hilarious.
posted by jonmc at 12:29 PM on April 21, 2005


satanic verses is a novel, not a book about the occult.
posted by mdn at 12:30 PM on April 21, 2005


It is the name of a novel, but where did that name come from?
posted by found missing at 12:39 PM on April 21, 2005


If the play had not been a great hit...

Yawn. Let me get in on the fun: "If the student had worn an 'abortion is murder' button you would be screaming that the principal is part of the abortion lobby!"

Sure, it sounds stupid as hell, but then so do ALL "if conditions had been different x would be saying y" comments.
posted by clevershark at 12:40 PM on April 21, 2005


Y'know, if you say "vagina" over and over in an Australian accent, it sounds really hilarious.

If you mispronounce "fajita" it sounds a lot like "vagina"!

I watch way too much "Family Guy".
posted by clevershark at 12:43 PM on April 21, 2005


I watch way too much "Family Guy".

I :heart: Family Guy. It's how reconcile myself to being a Peter Griffin on a site full of Brian The Dogs.
posted by jonmc at 12:47 PM on April 21, 2005


The question of rights of expression in schools is different from public forum or non-school areas. The court rulings (any legal beagles want to dredge up the case law?) basically say that learning trumps expression for expression's sake. This means that student's right to expression is qualified by non-interference with learning.

The crucial test is whether the student's expression is directly and fundamentally about their values and viewpoint and the suppression of the expression must be viewpoint neutral.

What quashes most student claims to right of expression is when they get into expression for expression sake and not as a communication of viewpoint.

I got a quick course in this when a local high school had an epidemic of nooses appear. This was followed by the display of Confederate flags on cars and clothing. We never discovered who was putting up the nooses, but the flags were busted.

Then the right-wing asshole "I know my rights" parental hotheads got into the act. I was called in for fact-finding by the local human rights group. The school board was relying on a policy that banned "disruptive" and "gang" symbols.

The students who wanted to display the flags made it clear that they didn't have a viewpoint they wanted to discuss (being racist assholes and bullies) and instead tried to shift the issue to "free speech" and their right to do any damn thing they wanted.

At that point, they had jumped off the cliff in terms of the legal issues and it was all Roadrunner and Coyote from that point on.

I really like the point where they are totally doomed but haven't figured it out yet. The wait for the dawning recognition of defeat is quite enjoyable.
posted by warbaby at 12:55 PM on April 21, 2005


Then the right-wing asshole "I know my rights"

next sentence: I was called in for fact-finding by the local human rights group.

Who says irony is dead?
posted by jonmc at 1:04 PM on April 21, 2005


you would be screaming that the principal is part of the abortion lobby!"
Yes, it would have been specifically great at my high for me and several others. Mine was a "bet" statement than a conditioning one.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:09 PM on April 21, 2005


I've said it before, but it bears repeating:

K-12 students in public schools (private schools too, for the most part) have no freedom of speech at all. None. And they never have. We should stop pretending otherwise.
posted by Clay201 at 1:17 PM on April 21, 2005


What's your point jonmc?

Investigations have two phases: fact-finding and analysis. This is often reflected in how you have to write up investigations with two memos. The factual memo that lays out the five W's and the confidential memo that conveys judgements and impressions. Both are important, but it pays to keep them separate.

I've been doing human rights investigations for over ten years -- and I've long since curdled any milk of human kindness towards creeps that get off on bullying and intimidation. It also makes me kind of irony impaired....

To get back to the vagina situation, the students are weakening their case if they switch issues to their "right" to behavior (wearing shirts or buttons) from expression of the political views in the play (what they shirts and buttons say.)

on preview: Clay201, there is a conditional right of expression, which is what I've been trying to explain. It's not terribly obvious, but ultimately it's about distinguishing between behavior and speech. Behavior is highly constrained, speech is less so, but still constrained.

Shades of gray, imagine that!
posted by warbaby at 1:20 PM on April 21, 2005


What's your point jonmc?

You call people assholes for knowing their rights, and you serve on a human rights commission? You don't find that ironic?
posted by jonmc at 1:22 PM on April 21, 2005


>>>K-12 students in public schools (private schools too, for the most part) have no freedom of speech at all. None. And they never have. We should stop pretending otherwise.

The Supreme Court would disagree. Their rights may be limited, but they do exist.
posted by Kellydamnit at 1:25 PM on April 21, 2005


jonmc: No, I call people assholes for being assholes, asshole.

These jerks didn't "know their rights" --- there is no right to the behavior they wanted to reserve for themselves and deny others. And they got their asses beaten like gongs and I enjoyed every minute of it.

I don't serve on a human rights commission. I do research, analysis and field investigation. In this case, I was asked by the local human rights task force, which is a private, not a govenment body. I have also done work for the state human rights commission on a volunteer basis. But that was a different matter.
posted by warbaby at 1:30 PM on April 21, 2005


jonmc: No, I call people assholes for being assholes, asshole.

*blows kisses*

I love keyboard tough guys.
posted by jonmc at 1:34 PM on April 21, 2005


jonmc, it's hard to make a war baby laugh ;D
I don't think jon was picking on you. The long winter has made me an ass lately, so who knows.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:44 PM on April 21, 2005


There's a point I'm not seeing in here and it's so simple, it's amazing it got missed:

The principal is stubborn and made a bad call.

Here's what I think happened: the pincipal either saw or got a few reports of the buttons and decided that he might reduce conflict in the school by telling the girls to stop wearing the button. This grew and the principal, not wanting to relinquish power, stuck behind it in a very stubborn way and the conflict grew even more. The arguments used to justify clinging to a demand like this have no substance and translate to "I refuse to be wrong in this matter"

Here's what the principal should have done:
1. Discuss the what's going on with the button and the reports that have come in.
2. Suggest that any disruptions could be avoided by removing the button.
3. Make it clear that if there are any future disruptions that center around those pins that the students will be held responsible and will suffer the consequences
4. Spell out the consequences and make sure the student understands
5. Let the student know that their parents will be called just to make sure they know the content of this discussion

The reason why this didn't happen is that in most cases giving the order "take off your button" is easier, quicker, and is pretty effective.

The approach used is bad because the underlying message is "it's better to toe the line".
The approach I suggest is better because it doesn't violate 1st ammendment rights and holds the students responsible for their actions, making it clear up front what the consequences will be.

When I was in the classroom and faced with a student wearing something vulgar, I would give let the student know that they were being disruptive and they could either change or leave the class and leave the choice up to them, which is pretty much the same way I'd handle any other disruptive item: put it away, lose it, or leave.
posted by plinth at 1:45 PM on April 21, 2005


I don't think jon was picking on you.

I just saw the apparent irony in his statement and wanted to make a point that freedom applies to even unpopular speech. I guess it wasn't well taken.
posted by jonmc at 1:47 PM on April 21, 2005


Indeed the Supreme Court would disagree. From Tinker vs. Des Moine:

"Certainly where there is no finding and no showing that engaging in the forbidden conduct would materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school,' the prohibition cannot be sustained." The Court further observed, "In our system, state operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school as well as out of school are persons' under our Constitution. They are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect, just as they themselves must respect their obligations to the State. In our system, students may not be regarded as closed-circuit recipients of only that which the State chooses to communicate. They may not be confined to the expression of those sentiments that are officially approved. In the absence of a specific showing of constitutionally valid reasons to regulate their speech, students are entitled to freedom of expression of their views."
posted by kaemaril at 1:49 PM on April 21, 2005


And there you have it.

The principal is wrong. I think plinth nailed it.
posted by Specklet at 1:55 PM on April 21, 2005


kaemaril got it. Tinker was the case my attorney cited as guiding in public school speech.

tomcatspike's right, I'm humor impaired when it comes to going up against a mob of twenty teenage racists being egged on by some of their parents. There were two or three of them arrested for assault later that evening.

My point was the Confederate flags weren't "speech" they were conduct and conduct that disrupted learning -- ergo the school could ban it.

It sure looked like jonmc thought using the flags (and hangman's nooses) to intimidate other students was a rights issue. Yet another case of misunderstanding turning into flames.

And yes, I'm irrascible. This shit got old for me a long time ago.

Back to the post -- the student's will have a case if they stick to the viewpoints relating to The Vagina Monologues, but if they slide into conduct (and it's often not immediately apparent where that line is) they could lose.

Why isn't somebody all over CafePress with this?
posted by warbaby at 2:18 PM on April 21, 2005


Why are we pretending that a) vaginas somehow offend people, and b) that anyone really learns in high school? C'mon, it's not like these kids are going to be swayed from their papers on the Crimean War by seeing a button, and it's not like the curricula of high schools are particularly challenging.
posted by klangklangston at 2:23 PM on April 21, 2005


I :heart: Family Guy. It's how reconcile myself to being a Peter Griffin on a site full of Brian The Dogs.

Hey, some of us are Stewies and Loises, too. I'm a little of both, but mostly Lois.

I third your rousing appreciation of Family Guy, however. (Not that it needs it anymore...)
posted by mrgrimm at 2:58 PM on April 21, 2005


Reading multiple news stories and comments on the web about something going on in your own school that you didn't even know about it is an odd experience.

I guess my only contribution to this story is to mention that I've seen plenty of "Bud Light" shirts at WSHS and nobody seemed to get too worked up about that.
posted by VanRoosta at 4:15 PM on April 21, 2005


warbaby writes "The students who wanted to display the [Confederate] flags made it clear that they didn't have a viewpoint they wanted to discuss (being racist assholes and bullies) and instead tried to shift the issue to 'free speech' and their right to do any damn thing they wanted. At that point, they had jumped off the cliff in terms of the legal issues and it was all Roadrunner and Coyote from that point on."

What the fuck? Since when do anyone's free speech rights depend on having "a viewpoint they wanted to discuss"? Free speech means you get to express your views, whether or not you can or wish to articulate them.

You've "been doing human rights investigations for over ten years " and your "point was the Confederate flags weren't 'speech' they were conduct and conduct that disrupted learning -- ergo the school could ban it"?

Your opinion is at odds with the Supreme Court's in Tinker et al. v. Des Moines: if a black armband protesting one war is symbolic speech, surely a T-shirt commemorating another war is also symbolic speech.

But it's clear the distinction you're making is content-based: you want to deny "racist assholes" their rights. Free speech if it is to have any real meaning, must include speech we detest, including the speech of "racist assholes".

Any conception of "free speech" that excludes speech you don't like is just tyranny with a pretty face.
posted by orthogonality at 4:27 PM on April 21, 2005


I third your rousing appreciation of Family Guy, however.

[tangent]

Due to my job, I got to hear a pre-release copy of the Family Guy "Live In Vegas" CD. It's hilarious. You'll never look at the word "nipples," the same way again. Plus Patti LuPone makes an appearance.

(although "American Dad," truly sucked. I got the points he was trying to make, but I didn't care about any of the characters. The brilliance of FG, like the Simpsons, is that despite Peter and Homer's oafishness and obtuseness, you know that their heart is genuinely in the right place, so you sympathize with him. American Dad had none of that which rendered it simple smartassery rather than genius)
posted by jonmc at 4:39 PM on April 21, 2005


Just change the button to "Conversatin' Cooter". Problem solved. Too easy.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 6:37 PM on April 21, 2005


high school students have no rights. thats why high school sucks. get over it.
posted by Satapher at 8:17 PM on April 21, 2005


high school students have no rights. thats why high school sucks. get over it.

My, how cogent and sensible your stance is.
posted by odinsdream at 9:04 PM on April 21, 2005


I :heart: Family Guy. It's how reconcile myself to being a Peter Griffin on a site full of Brian The Dogs.

Hey, some of us are Stewies and Loises, too. I'm a little of both, but mostly Lois.


Dare i say we also have some chrises?
posted by schyler523 at 2:50 PM on April 22, 2005


My, how cogent and sensible your stance is.

its a taxpayer funded government run institution. not letting the girl wear that button is no different than not being aloud to wear a hat. this girl will graduate soon and then she'll have no reason to wear her button.
posted by Satapher at 9:56 PM on April 22, 2005


So you're saying that the government in America has the right and, indeed, the responsibility to dictate what the users of publicly-funded programs are allowed to wear, say, and do?

I'm curious as to whether you can identify other public programs in which there are such limitations, with the exception of those that are required to ensure health and safety. Keep in mind that we're talking about the users of the system, not the employees.

I'm not entirely sure there are -- and I'm not sure there are not -- examples of such a thing.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:45 PM on April 22, 2005


what the users of publicly-funded programs are allowed to wear, say, and do?
No dress codes in Canada's school system. Guess the snow keeps the children bundled up well. In France watched children take their toys from home into the classrooms. Not like that for me growing up. You could, but not along the same guidelines the French teacher explained it from their country’s view.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:10 AM on April 25, 2005


getHow does "I [heart] my vagina" educate about violence against women (as one of the girls said in their umpteen interviews)?

I'm not sure, but I would say it is linked to views that vaginas are dirty -> women are dirty -> it's okay to trash women. So if vaginas aren't dirty/gross/ugly/obscene then maybe women aren't either and then maybe it's not okay to trash women.
posted by Amizu at 11:22 AM on May 2, 2005


Other than avoiding irritation (and, Jos Bleau, learning how to avoid irritation is a good life skill anyway) and maintaining discipline, what's the good in restricting teenagers' free speech in school?

I'm afraid we are too hesitant to express our ideas as is, and if giving high schoolers more free speech rights would increase our abilities as a country to express our views, that's a good enough reason to increase free speech rights in schools.

Why can't everyone just get over vaginas?
posted by Amizu at 11:28 AM on May 2, 2005


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