Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: Censorship At Northwest High”

Frequent commenter Here’s Johnny thanked me for choosing his analysis of the recent ethics quiz on school paper censorship as a Comment of the Day. Truly, the thanks goes in the other direction. Comments like his, which dig deeper into a story than my initial post has is a gift to Ethics Alarms and its readers. On the blog’s predecessor, The Ethics Scoreboard, I would generally post only a couple of times a week. Often that meant I could thoroughly research a topic before publishing (it also meant fewer typos, and almost no readers comments). I decided that a blog format that permitted covering more of the ethics landscape, which was (and is) vast and expanding, more quickly if less thoroughly was better suited to my mission. Nonetheless, as in this case, many of the ethics tales require more research, context and nuance than I have time to apply.

This commentariat is superb at filling the blanks. Indeed, for every Comment of the Day I post there are probably five that I could have posted. It is not so much of an honor for the commenter as a rescue for the blog. Most readers, I have found, don’t read comments to posts, for the same reason I usually don’t: on most sites the comments are useless, depressing, and horrifying. Ethics Alarms comments are, in contrast to all but a few other sites (Althouse comes to mind), are important supplements to the main essay, offering not merely a different perspective, but additional information as well

Heeeeeeeeere’s Here’s Johnny’s Comment of the Day on “Ethics Quiz: Censorship At Northwest High”…


As is often the case, we are getting just part of the story and being asked to render an opinion based on incomplete information. Unless we dig a bit further, our decision would be either: it never is okay to shut down a high school newspaper, or, it is okay for administrators to shut down a high school newspaper.

In this case, one reason we are lacking information is that school and district officials seem unwilling to even talk about it. A columnist for “The Grand Island Independent” says he was hung up on by someone at the district about as soon as he said who he was. A couple of officials have commented, but they essentially are non-comments. Zach Mader, Northwest Public Schools board vice president, told “The Independent” he remembers talks of shutting down the student paper should the school district lose the ability to control what they find to be “inappropriate content.” The district superintendent would only say that it was an administrative decision.

Whether or not the school could censor the student paper is a tricky question. It’s a public school, so administrators are bound by the 1st Amendment and by a Supreme Court ruling, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. The court ruling seems to allow censorship in some circumstances, but the school would have to establish that they had reasonable grounds. It appears to be simpler from a legal standpoint to just eliminate the paper entirely.

From an ethics standpoint, however, the decision to kill the paper seems completely wrong. One of the columns in the issue in question argued against a Florida law which is aimed primarily at securing parental rights in education, and which has been wrongly labeled by opponents as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. I don’t think the column describes the law accurately, but, so what? The Kuhlmeier ruling seems to allow censorship of articles that are politically controversial, but a better approach (from an ethics standpoint) is to allow fuller discussion. A second article which may have gotten some administrators knickers in a bunch is labeled “Science of Gender” and is more of a description of gender dysphoria than an argument, though it does offer suggestions for the person who believes their gender does not match what they were assigned at birth. A third article simply deals factually with information about Pride month.

You can see the Viking Saga issue that apparently led to the shutdown here:

Ah, yes, there were a few other questions…

  • BY-LINES: Student by-lines should be the legal names of the students or the name they commonly go by in the school (with administrator approval). It would be ridiculous for an administrator to require that Patricia could not use the by-line Pat or that Jack had to go by Johnathan. Administrator approval, because Burckhard could be allowed to go by Buck, but not by Fuck. The more pertinent question as to whether or not Meghan could be allowed to go by Marcus is a bit trickier. Does he use Marcus throughout the school? Has he had his name legally changed? Is he actually transitioning or simply thinking about it?
  • CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES: How can students be criticized for engaging in controversial issues? I should think that question answers itself, but, for school administrators everywhere who have the question, they should be praised, not criticized.
  • KILL THE PAPER: Is it responsible to kill of a student publication because the students challenged authority? No it is not. The reporter at “The Grand Island Independent”, Mike Konz, had the right answer to that: “Censoring the voices of teenage students only causes them to speak louder.” THREE TRANSGENDERS: Well, maybe it is germane. I have tried to track down whether or not there were three transgender students on the newspaper staff. The “Times” article attributes that to a former student and the Student Paper Law Center. I did not find a mention of that in the SPLC article, nor in “The Grand Island Independent”, and I would need just a bit more information to get in touch with that former student. I can comfortably state there is at least one. Possibly, just possibly, the “Times” reporter is mistaken.

One thought on “Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: Censorship At Northwest High”

  1. Part of the issue, from my perspective, is that we did the discussion a large disservice decades ago by referring to a pretty wide spectrum of people “trans” and we’re feeling some of the pain of that now.

    We did that because there were so relatively few “trans” people that actually separating them into classifications would almost certainly make their already marginal issues even more marginal. But in failing to differentiate, we baked an assumption that there was such a thing as a single solution into the narrative, and both sides ran with it in very different directions with the same amount of reductiveness.

    There is a difference between someone who was born outside of the standard XX/XY chromosome makeup and someone who has an XX/XY makeup but was born with a birth defect. Those people are different in kind from people who have bodies with the standard configuration, but genuinely believe that they were born into the wrong body. And those people are different in kind from the subset of people who are sexually attracted to the idea of being the other gender.

    Before 2020, the estimated prevalence of transgendered people in America was approximately 0.5% or 5 in 1000. That included all the subsets above, and then some.

    Currently, that rate is 1.3% for kids 18-24 years old. Now, in my experience, a trans activist would look at that and say that as trans issues are more highlighted and trans people are more accepted, you would expect that more trans people would come out of the closet. While I’m sure there’s some of that in play here, I can’t imagine it being the whole story. Sure, some closeted gay people came out of the closet as acceptance increased… But not 200% more. If this is actually an explanation, the sheer scope of it would be unique to trans issues. And while I suppose that that could be possible, it doesn’t explain the prevalence of a localized trans effect. When we’re talking about 1.3% of the 18-24 age cadre identifying as trans, we aren’t talking about 1.3% of the entire generation, we’re talking about pockets of young people where upwards of 10% of them identify as trans encompassed by seas of young people reporting the traditional 0.3-0.5% range.

    Which means that either 10% (more than twice the prevalence of gays and lesbians combined) of the population is comprised of closeted trans people, and those kids in those 10% zones are all just living their best life, or there’s something else going on. I don’t know how else to explain that except as a social contagion.

    Which… Is probably a great reason not to have these discussions with kids. Look, I’ve been clear and upfront on this issue before: I like me. I like my life. At this point in it, if someone offered me a pill to make me straight, I don’t think I’d take it. I’m set in my ways. If you’d asked me that 20 years ago? I’d have dry swallowed it. Being gay is not ideal. There are struggles that we have to deal with that straight couples just don’t. If we ever truly get past all the social and cultural baggage, there is still the reality, set in stone, that we cannot have children with the people we love. But at least we have options. Trans people have it worse. You want to play the oppression Olympics? Fine! You win. Mileage may vary, obviously, but in a majority of cases where people are going on hormones, one of the first steps sterilizes you permanently. You can’t regrow those breasts or penises. The scars are forever. The complications of putting your body through the rigors of a hormone cocktail it wasn’t designed for can be fatal in and of themselves. These are some deep, life-altering decisions.

    If we can avoid that and have these kids grow up to be healthy, happy adults, which is basically what the best information we have shows (the overwhelming majority of kids confused about their gender before puberty do not report the same problems after puberty), then what’s the argument against that?

    Seriously. If 90% of children reporting some level of dysphoria grow out of it, what creates more risk and human misery? Affirming that confusion as a self-fulfilling prophecy and having half of them go through the hell of puberty blockers as a gateway to HRT, or damn near anything else?

    Maybe the answer for someone with a chromosomal issue is medical. Maybe the issue for someone with dysphoria is medical, maybe it’s psychiatric. Maybe the answer for any of the above is transition. These are issues that we’ve been dealing with for years, and there’s still a dearth of answers, but my expectation is that 100 years from now, people will talk about bottom surgery in 2022 the same way we talk about trepanation.

    With this very novel issue about rapid onset gender dysphoria and social contagion… Something is obviously happening. Something new. And something not explained by cheap sociological platitudes. Maybe the answer is to leave the kids alone until we have a more complete understanding of the situation and keep the groomers the hell away from them, because reality is that the status quo from ten years ago was better than it is now. Whatever we’re doing… It’s not working.

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