The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, February 01, 2004

A star is born: Cecile Dubois versus the dittoheads

Via Samizdata a genuine blog phenom.

Cecile (not her real name, as the text indicates) tells her story here. There are plenty of stories around (not a few on this blog) about bullying teachers, and school boards and so forth, who prize a quiet life a thousand times higher than vindicating a student's right to free speech.

But none that I've seen which has a first-hand account of the issue from the student concerned.

Cecile [1] is a natural writer [2] with the exuberance and frankness of youth. There have been dozens of TV dramas in the last decade supposedly capturing the teenage years on tape: how flabby and tired compared to Cecile's effervescent prose!

And her excuse for a teacher? I'm not without sympathy: it's a low-paid, low-esteem job, with a raft of No Child Left Behind Act paperwork on top of the the school board and state bureaucracy. As they say in Japan, the nail that sticks up will be hammered down. Because a nail that sticks up - like Cecile - means trouble: reporters, memos, lawyers. Stuff liable to make a principal mad, that will consequently look bad on a teacher's employment record.

There is no slack in the system for free spirits; dissent means man-hours spent in committees trying to agree positions for the press; revision of rules; awkward correspondence; bad publicity.

Why didn't the teacher point this out? And say, use the First Amendment on your own time: just do the basics, I'll tick the boxes, and pretty soon, you're away to college. If the teacher had spoken to the class like grown-ups (they were high school juniors, around 17 years old, for crying out loud!); acknowledged that, for practical purposes, there was no free speech in school [3]; that high school education was not real life, but a game with rules, one of which was to defer to the prevailing orthodoxies of those responsible for high school education (including affirmative action); and that she did not have the time or energy to debate the matter further - she would have got my begrudging respect.

As it was, she effectively set the rest of the students on Cecile and cowered behind them.

There is one consolation for Cecile: to judge from the reports I've seen (some blogged here) of American higher education, she's getting in some very worthwhile practice for specimens far worse than her English teacher!

  1. The name? I'm guessing: C├ęcile from Laclos' Liaisons Dangereuses: and Dubois from Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams' Glass Menagerie. Which is, I think, usually pronounced doo-bwah. Whilst the surname of WEB Dubois is pronounced doo-boys.

  2. Yes, it has crossed my mind that the whole thing is a fake. If it is, it's pretty damned good!

  3. Despite the fact that public schools are, well, public, the First Amendment applies to them only in a restricted form. (The USSC case is Tinker.)

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