Emma Sullivan, an 18-year-old high school senior at Fairway, Kansas’s Shawnee Mission East High School, went with her class on a field trip to the Capitol and heard Gov. Sam Brownback speak. She tweeted her reactions to her Twitter followers, writing, “just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot”.
The part about making mean comments to the Governor was a lie, but on a scale of believability and damage done, not an especially momentous one. It was adults who turned this unremarkable student tweet into an ethics train wreck in three neat, unforgivable steps.
1. First, some over-zealous hack on the Brownback’s staff saw the tweet and complained to an administrator in the school district. This is a First Degree Ethics Foul. Nothing in Sullivan’s tweet brings it within his, the governor’s or the government’s legitimate concerns. For the staffer to complain was petty, vindictive and mean-spirited. Every second he spent on his vendetta was a waste of taxpayer dollars. Worst of all, he was bringing the power of the government to bear on a teenager for doing nothing more than expressing her opinion, which is that Governor Brownback sucks. I’m sure there have been foreign dictators who would punish a teen for doing no more than telling friends that she doesn’t like him, but I would have thought that someone who works in one of the United States governments would instinctively know that this kind of bullying mind-control isn’t allowed here. I was wrong. Brownback does suck, at least at picking staff.
2. Next, the school district honcho called by Brownback’s brown shirt meekly did his bidding, and put pressure on the Shawnee Mission East High principal. What a craven weasel. He should have told the lackey to back off, that what a student tweets in her spare time is none of the staffer’s, the state’s, the school’s or the governor’s business, and that his next call would be to the ACLU and the news media if the matter wasn’t dropped immediately. But the school district administrator had neither the integrity, courage or common sense to do that, which permitted the fiasco to be passed on to the next spineless incompetent, and which also, I submit, tells us all we need to know about why public education in the U.S. is a disgrace.
3. The next spineless incompetent in the sequence was the principal. He, of course, should have told the school district hack what the school district hack should have told Brownback’s hack, but since he is also a craven weasel, this did not occur to him, or if it did, he lacked the character to do it.
Yes, I know—it would be more dispassionate and dignified to describe the conduct of these people in more sterile terms: irresponsible, abusing power, lacking proportion, violating autonomy, unfair, reckless and careless, unkind, incompetent, imprudent, and, of course, cowardly. I am weary, however, of observing the incalculable damage school bureaucrats do to our institutions, our youth and our culture by their absence of ethical instincts, common sense, compassion and courage. They deserve to be shamed, shunned, and condemned in the harshest terms, not the most measured.
The principal called Sullivan into his office, and demanded that she apologize…for a message she composed on her own time, reflecting her own opinions, that is absolutely none of the school’s business.
A personal social networking message denigrating another student or attacking a teacher is none of a school’s business, and this is pure political speech, the most protected speech in the Bill of Rights. Did the people who run schools today ever actually attend one?
“This is not about political views since none were given in the tweet – is about being respectful with a public official whether we agree or disagree with their viewpoints,” was the principal’s explanation. May I be permitted a retort? You are a pusillanimous idiot. The student did not communicate with a public official. A tweet into the Twitterverse is not personal communication to any individual who happens to be mentioned in it. If the student had been rude to the governor directly while representing her class, as her tweet suggested, then she would indeed owe him an apology and the school would have a legitimate interest in compelling one. She did not, however. She does not owe the governor an apology for her fantasies. She does not owe the governor an apology for writing that he sucks, which means no more and no less than she doesn’t care for him. You, the weasel at the school district and the governor’s bully owe her an apology, and probably Gov. Brownback does too, since he has assembled such a pathetically foolish and reckless group of lackeys to do his state’s work.
So far, Emma has refused to apologize, and I urge everyone to contact her on Twitter and give her support. Her twitter handle is emmakate988.