Ethics Quiz: Is It Time For A “Let’s Tweet Insults About Chip McGee Day”?

Meet Chip McGee!

Meet Chip McGee!

At Bedford (New Hampshire) High School, several students were not pleased with Superintendent Chip McGee’s announcement via his Twitter feed that classes would resume the day following the school’s cancellation for snow. They responded with tweets of their own, some that were not especially pleasant. McGee, as one would expect a mature adult to be, especially one overseeing the education of children, was philosophical. saying, “Kids said some very funny, clever things. And some kids stood up and said, ‘Hey, watch your manners.’ That was great. And some kids — a few — said some really inappropriate things.”

Yes, kids will be kids. McGee then suspended those latter students for up to four days.

“It’s been a really good exercise in issues of students’ right to speech, on the one hand, and students’ and teachers’ rights to an educational environment that’s conducive to learning,” McGee explained to the Constitutionally ignorant. “Kids have the right to say whatever they want about me [and] The First Amendment right means you can say what you want, (but) it doesn’t mean that you are free of repercussion. It can’t disrupt what we’re doing in school … If something disrupts school, and it (occurs) outside school, we not only can take action, we have to.”

McGee  hopes that the punished students will learn from this incident about “the line” of decent and appropriate commentary. “You only learn that by checking where it is, and having something happen when you cross it,” he said.

Good ol’, wise ol’ Chip McGee. He has no idea what the hell he’s talking about.

The students are absolutely guaranteed of speech without “repercussion,” if the speech is off school grounds and the repercussion is from a school official who takes offense. The school has no authority to punish students for what they post on Twitter, from their homes, none at all, unless it relates directly to action at school itself, such as organizing a school disruption. A student opinion of the superintendent or his decisions? That’s 100% protected speech. I can find that right to free speech Chip mentions right there in the Constitution, but search as I might, I can’t locate in the Bill of Rights the provision describing the “students’ and teachers’ rights to an educational environment that’s conducive to learning” that extends to what a student says and writes outside of school. Where is that “right,” Chip?

Chip speaks in the measured tones of a caring educator, but he acts like a petty tyrant who is eager to abuse his position and power to punish anyone who dares to displease him in what they say or think.

No merely insulting or uncivil tweet is going to disrupt school, and if that’s Chip’s claim, he has a rather tough burden of proof to demonstrate it. Nor does a public school—that’s the state, you know— have the right to effectively censor speech by punishing content. If the speech isn’t libelous or a credible threat, Chip McGee’s reasonable remedy consists of asking to speak with the Tweeter and express his hurt and disappointment, or perhaps consulting with the student’s parents, who do have a right to limit online speech when their children are the speakers.  As an educator, he might explain to the student that insulting authority figures who you must relate to by flaming them on mass social media is neither wise, civil, nor a good habit. He might even  suggest that an apology is in order. He may not, however, abuse his power and position to constrain the free speech of those students and others by inflicting punishment. Chip McGee, who has the young minds of children within his power to lead or mislead, needs to learn this basic civics lesson, as do other tin god educators, and I’m sure there are many, who similarly itch to punish students for exercising their speech rights in the privacy of their homes.

Thus this somewhat atypical Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz question to ponders:

Should we declare a “Let’s Tweet Insults About Chip McGee Day”?

I admit to being torn. I detest twitter mobs that hound individuals for simple mistakes or politically incorrect jokes. They engage in a form of harassment and cyber-bullying, and the punishment is almost always wildly out of proportion to the alleged misconduct. I also, as some will remember, vigorously opposed “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day,”  But the primary reasons for that position was that 1) the mass rendering of cartoons of the Prophet gratuitously upset Muslims who did not engage in the anti-free speech threats that spawned the stunt, 2) it was vindictive and 3) it accomplished nothing.  Setting a day in which everyone with a Twitter account shoots a 140 character insult regarding the Bedford Superintendent of schools is arguably very different. McGee is wrong in punishing the students for expressing their views, whether the tweets trouble him or not, and he needs to be taught that his is not only offensive conduct to both citizens and the Bill of Rights, it also is based on specious reasoning and won’t work.

Indeed, the effect of hundreds, thousands of tweets (Dare we say–millions? After all, it takes some skill to draw Muhammad, but anyone can compose a 140 character insult) condemning Chip would still do imperceptible damage to Bedford High’s “educational environment that’s conducive to learning,” and might even improve it by prompting more accurate instruction regarding the Founding documents while limiting student fear of abuse by a petty Superintendent whose feelings are overly delicate and who is prone to use his position to censor kids.

Another reason to flood McGee with the tweets he deserves is that this scourge of schools punishing students for off-campus speech using social media has to stop.

Last year a student was suspended for writing on Facebook that he bought a gun to shoot a dinosaur, for example, but there are too many of these cases for me to track now. I’ve been complaining about them since 2011,  here, here, here, here, and  here, and those are just a few examples. Finally the ACLU got off its duff and fought one of them and won last year, after the Minnewaska School District  suspended a young woman for a Facebook post, written and published outside of school, in her home,expressing hatred for a school hall monitor whom she accused of being “mean.”  “A lot of schools, like the folks at Minnewaska, think that just because it’s easier to know what kids are saying off campus through social media somehow means the rules have changed, and you can punish them for what they say off campus,” Minnesota ACLU attorney Wallace Hilke said. “They punished her for doing exactly what kids have done for 100 years — complaining to her friends about teachers and administrators. She wasn’t spreading lies or inciting them to engage in bad behavior, she was just expressing her personal feelings.”

I guess educator Chip doesn’t keep up with First Amendment news, and he’s not the only one. A high school in Illinois rounded up students and falsely claimed that they had to reveal their Facebook passwords, based on a recent Illinois law that itself has First Amendment issues.

So yes, on balance I think it’s time that censorious, power abusing school administrators were put in their place. I think that Chip, who loftily misrepresents and diminishes his students’ rights (and ours) with both his actions and his ignorant pronouncements is an excellent abuser to target. It’s not unfair, and it’s not excessive to do this—these are just words, after all—and Chip doesn’t have to read them. In fact, he’s deleted his Twitter account, because Chip is a coward.

I’ll pick a date—let’s say March 1 —-and a hashtag: #Letstweetinsultsaboutchipmcgeeday.

So let’s.

It’s the right thing to do.

Chip needs some toughening up

________________________

Pointer and Graphic: Patrick at Popehat

Facts: Union Leader

Source: Huffington Post

 

 

24 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: Is It Time For A “Let’s Tweet Insults About Chip McGee Day”?

  1. It’s not just school superintendents, it’s all kinds of officials, both elected and appointed. For some reason, these folks don’t really understand that there are limits (Constitutionally, statutorily, ethically) on their authority and what they can do to exercise that authority. It may just be my imagination, but this seems to be becoming more frequent over time.

  2. Jack, have you talked to this guy? Granted, he was definitely wrong according to what I read but media has a tendency to get parts of stories or whole stories wrong. Maybe he said those things or maybe he didn’t. Maybe it was taken out of context. We don’t know for sure that students were suspended for anything they may have said about him. Maybe there was an actual threat which impacted the ability for school to function in some way. Or the guy could be even worse than the article I read suggests. I have no clue. And it’s very easy for me to jump to the conclusion that this superintendent is as clueless as all the others we read about in the media. But sometimes the media doesn’t get it right. I’m just saying to give the guy a chance to defend himself or even admit that he made a mistake before a day is devoted to tweeting insults to the man.

    • This guy closed his twitter account and wouldn’t respond to Patrick at Popehat when he tweeted him multiple times. It’s confirmed that he suspended students for what they wrote about him, on Twitter, and his explanation of how free speech works would be ridicule worthy even without the rest of the story.

  3. So now, not only are our educators morons teaching kids to be morons, they think they can break the law with impunity and get away with it? It was a scandal in another jurisdiction that the school-supplied laptops were in fact being used to monitor kids in their HOMES! Don’t trust ;em, don’t respect ’em, and thank my lucky stars that my son didn’t attend public school. A horror for the millions of families that have no other choice.

    BTW, there is now a free home-schooling website that apparently is GREAT, and is not dependent on parent actually being the teachers. It’s nationally accredited through high school, the kids interact with the teachers on the website, and it could save your kids from the idiots that run the public schools, and from the Federally-mandated “Core Curriculum” that teaches the test and nothing else. Google “home schooling” and you’ll find too much, but you can find it. It may be as simple as ‘homeschool.com,’ but I’m not sure…

  4. Idiocy defined
    Chip McGee has not a clue
    Tar and feathers earned

    Not the best haiku I guess… but it’s less than 140 characters. I decline to sign on to twitter even for a worthy cause though.

  5. I agree completely that, as far as the Constitution goes, the kids can say whatever they want, and Mr. McGee was legally wrong to suspend them. Fine.

    But having a tweet insults day is encouraging the participants to act like sophomores, literally. I am a high school teacher. I love sophomores for lots of reasons, and they sure can be creative. But they are not a group of people whose behavior and judgement I would emulate.

    Freedom means being able to say yes, but it also means being able to say no. Just because they can say offensive things to Mr. McGee (about a snow day?) doesn’t mean that they should.

    My question is this – how would you handle this situation in a Constitutionally correct way? Is it possible to honor the free speech, and still teach a lesson about being classy?

    What will happen now, and encouraged with the tweet an insult day, is that these kids will have their behavior glorified and championed. They will get their fifteen minutes of fame when their parents sue the school district, Mr. McGee will get fired, and they will become Heroes of the Constitution.

    The whole thing seems yucky to me…and I apologize for my lack of eloquence….

    • Not just legally wrong. ETHICALLY wrong. It’s an abuse of power.

      Free speech should be glorified and championed, and incompetent educators who teach otherwise should be widely and effectively shown the error of their ways.e

      • OK…ethically wrong and an abuse of power. I agree with that.

        But does that mean that we let the students get in the habit of saying awful things to other human beings, even if the human beings are grown-ups? We certainly spend a lot of time and energy on all sorts of anti-bullying programs, so that kids are encouraged not to treat other kids poorly. But in this case, some bullying is ok, because it’s our right, and a good way to teach unethical people a lesson?

        My question is, in a perfect, ethical world, how should a school leader respond to students who use social media to harass and bully, including harrassing and bullying the adults who work with them?

        And I understand that an abusive leader needs to be shown the error of his ways. I am uncomfortable with your suggestion because it doesn’t treat another person with dignity. I won’t participate, as is my right, and others can, as is theirs. I just wish that being mean was also unethical (well, I think it is, but on this particular forum it does not always seem to be), even being mean to a person who has done something wrong.

        Aren’t there other ways to teach a person a lesson?

        • I think that there are other ways to teach students to mind their manners on social media, and why insulting authority figures in public forums is both stupid and wrong. I would not advocate a public demonstration if the this kind of thing wasn’t getting more rather than less common.

  6. So what are the other ways? I think these abuses of power are becoming more common because on some level the adults either feel powerless or aren’t very creative. I can’t think of any type of typical school punishment that wouldn’t run afoul of the standards you discuss here.
    I am honestly looking for your ideas!!

    And I apologize for taking up so much of your time today…I am snowed in today! I will go back to the work I am supposed to be doing!

    • kgill…schools open up a floodgate when they involve themselves with social media and allow a give and take with the students. Adults feel powerless regarding what students say because they are powerless. And some students are going to say inappropriate things and there is nothing a teacher or administrator can do in the majority of these cases. So the remedy is…don’t use Twitter or facebook etc. and allow comments from students. It is just an invitation for trouble.

      • That solution is so simple, it is brilliant!! I enjoy using social media, so it didn’t even occur to me.

        I still think tweet-an-insult day is not a good idea.

  7. Abuses of power are becoming more common because we have created more bureaucrats. The idea of a perfect bureaucracy is “to created enough anthills so that every piss-ant has an anthill to piss from”*. As we have more government, we create more of these piss-ants. We give them more power and at the same time less accountability. My elementary school principal was one of the 5th grade teachers. Let that sink in. He was the principal (and the only administrator) of a typical elementary school with 14 classrooms of students. He taught a full day of 5th graders, then did all the administrative work before going home at 5. That’s it, 10 hours of administration for him and a full week’s work for the school’s only secretary. How many more administrative staff doe our current schools have?

    *from P.J. O’Rourke, I believe.

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