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A Tech-Econ Mashup with a Libertarian Flavor

Teens Sue School for Punishing Them over Lewd Photos

Two teenage girls, along with the ACLU, have filed a lawsuit against their school district after the school punished them for publishing racy photos on their myspace pages. Let’s get ready to rage.

The background: a group of girlfriends had a sleepover earlier this summer that involved phallic lollipops and a digital camera. “Suggestive” photos of two of the girls eating the candy found their way to myspace (surprise), though the girls set their privacy controls so that only “friends” could see them.  A few months later, some jackass kid (probably an ex-boyfriend or a vindictive drama queen) printed the pictures out and brought them to school, where they were shown to school officials. School officials then suspended the girls from their fall semester extracurricular activities, made them apologize to an all-male coaches’ panel, and made them seek counseling.

There’s so much wrong with this situation that I don’t even know where to begin. First, you’ve got school administrators disciplining kids for activities that didn’t take place on school grounds, during the school year, and had nothing to do with school, period. When kids bring phallic-shaped candy to school, confiscate it. When they violate dress code, send them home. When they misbehave, discipline them. But when they exercise their free speech rights as private citizens (and at fifteen, who among us wasn’t experimenting with the power of sex appeal?), the school has no business acting as a censor.

Second, it seems to me like the wrong people were punished. What about the kid(s) who printed the pictures out and brought them to school? Aren’t they the real evildoers here? They took what was intended to be private knowledge and publicized it. While that may not be illegal, there’s definitely a lesson here that these creeps aren’t learning. You don’t tell other people’s secrets, and you never spread unflattering or character-destroying photographs of anybody around school or the web. Those are two things that civilized, decent people just don’t do. Isn’t that a more important life lesson for becoming a decent person than the glib message “don’t take pictures of yourself licking a dick-shaped lollipop?”

Third, the punishment here does not even come close to fitting the “crime.” 1) The crime here is young ladies acting lewdly. Not minors engaging in sex acts. Not peddling child pornography. They were acting un-ladylike. If school admins looked around their lunchroom any day of the week, they’d see the same thing happening among giggling groups of girlfriends. It’s called “adolescence,” and while teens might be annoying to everyone else, they’re not doing anything out of the ordinary (I recall an old video of a friend of mine performing two seconds of over-exaggerated fake fellatio on a banana back in the 8th grade – good thing myspace wasn’t around then). 2) The punishment resulted in the situation going from merely embarrassing to downright humiliating. Someone tell me WHY these girls had to seek counseling. Even more important, tell me WHY they had to issue apologies to an all-male panel of coaches. Shaming someone over his or her sexual expression is a sure-fire way to really screw with their head and unleash their insecurities; the effect is worse if done publicly. Why on earth is the school getting away with publicly shaming two teens?

Fourth, the sanctimony displayed on the part of the school’s administrators is out-fucking-rageous. High school teachers: as much as you’d like to think otherwise, you are not charged with the sacred task of instilling a moral compass into other people’s children. You are civil servants – basically government employees. Your job is to educate, supervise, and when necessary protect these teens from external danger or from other students. Your job does not include the right to impose disciplinary sanctions on the basis of your subjective ideas about drugs, sex, rock and roll, politics, etc. That’s a job for parents. If anybody had any responsibility whatsoever, it would have been for a concerned teacher to quietly notify the girls’ parents of the photos, and let them deal with it. Instead, they made the whole incident into a much bigger deal than it needed to be.

The girls in question here have every right to be upset. School officials overreacted and overstepped their bounds. At the same time, these girls learned an unfortunate but important lesson about posting unsavory photos on the web. As I’ve said before, kids are stupid, and when you post pictures of yourself acting uncharacteristically lewd on the ‘net, you’d better be ready to be judged. But being teased by peers is punishment enough; being shamed and humiliated by school authorities is totally uncalled for.

Filed under: Internet, Off-Topic, , , ,

More on the MSU Off-Campus Alcohol Policy

An economic analysis of the new policy, courtesy of the Economics Club, co-authored by myself, published in the MSU Reporter. The gist:

University leadership is in the unenviable position of trying to balance the students’ interests (if you can consider drinking an “interest”) with those of the community. However, administration showed a blatant disregard for student opinion by ignoring the student senate’s dissenting opinion and pushing through such a sweeping measure so quickly.

If the goal of the university is to achieve a high level of compliance to these new rules, then administrators should reconsider this heavy-handed approach. The ability of the new penalties to alter student behavior at the time of consumption remains dubious. The impact that the fines and classes will have on students’ behavior after the fact is also questionable.

Finally, the university must realize that it’s fighting an uphill battle against a deeply ingrained cultural norm that pairs the college experience with alcohol use

Read the whole thing. Pretty please?

Filed under: Off-Topic, ,

Nanny-Schooling

Apparently, the local paper published my letter-to-the-editor today (I thought they were supposed to contact you to verify your address before they print these things?). The background is that my university has a new policy this year that punishes students for alcohol-related offenses that occur off-campus. As would be expected, what passes for a local newspaper wrote an editorial commending university leadership for their excellent parenting. /sarcasm.

Here’s my take on the matter:

The Sept. 8 editorial praising Minnesota State University’s underage drinking policy (“MSU Correct on Alcohol Policy”) patronizes the MSU student community.

Of course, students ought to be expected to follow a reasonable code of conduct, both on-campus and when acting as representatives at university-sanctioned, off-campus events. However, the editorial missed the bigger issue at stake: It is the duty of local law enforcement officials, not school administrators, to police students’ activities off-campus.

MSU’s punishments for alcohol-related offenses (which include fines and mandatory “educational” films) are an assault on the autonomy of these young adults and have a questionable deterrent effect at best. Charging students for alcohol-related offenses through the legal system is the proper way to handle run-ins with the law; further castigating them through academic disciplinary action oversteps the school’s authority and should not be tolerated.

Perhaps if MSU’s administrators are serious about curbing underage drinking, they ought to begin by treating adults (even ones who behave like children) as adults and let them be accountable to the law for their actions.

A more thorough analysis of MSU’s alcohol-related-misconduct policy (courtesy of yours truly and the MS U Econ Club) will appear in the campus Reporter next Tuesday. I’ll blog it here.

Filed under: Off-Topic, ,

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