Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Missouri: Newspeak Central!

Usually I avoid talking politics like the plague, but I am afraid I was so outraged by a recent law passed in the State of Missouri, that I have no choice but to voice my disdain and protest.

Last month, Missouri officials signed into law SB54, which makes it illegal for teachers to be "friends" with students on any social networking site that allows for private communication 
(cf. section 162.069).

That means teachers and students (including past students according to the law) can't be friends on Facebook or can't follow each other on Twitter for example. SB54
 is intended to crack down on sexual predators and stalkers--which would be fine if that's all the bill did--but the bill oversteps its boundaries and trespasses on the very rights of the students and teachers it seeks to protect.

I object to SB54 for the following reasons:

1. It suggests (implicitly) all teachers are sexual predators, pedophiles, and child rapists who will manipulate and abuse children (if not then what's the purpose of section 162.069
? Maybe removing that section would be a good way to improve the bill).  

Needless to say, SB54 in Missouri deliberately tears down the reputation of teachers by implying they can't be trusted. As it is, the bill is not only absurd, but also offensive. Wildly offensive. It sends the wrong message to children, namely that teachers should be looked at with suspicion and feared, instead of trusted and respected.

2. It prevents teachers from doing their job. The very definition of being a teacher is to impart knowledge and skill and to give instruction. Communication is built into the very definition of what it means to be a teacher. How can you teach if you can't communicate and impart knowledge and skill or give instruction?

This law is implicitly stating that a teacher's duty to their students only lies inside of the classroom. Outside of the classroom the teacher has zero responsibility, and should view their students as potential lawsuits waiting to happen, because, after all, all teachers are child molesting pedophiles (apparently). Again, to assume that a teacher can only instruct at the public level--in public institutions--and no personal tutoring can be had because of this law against communication, I don't really see how private schools and home schooled children are to follow this law. If your parent is also your teacher, would it be illegal for a mother or father to even talk to their child in a personal setting that is not class related? Unless a clearer distinction is made, this Missouri law says it is.

3. It prevents students from contacting teachers, even when they may be in need of serious help. Many students don't have the phone numbers or personal addresses of teachers, but using the powerful tool of communication called the World Wide Web, they might be able to contact the teacher they trust online to ask for help in an emergency. This law prevents them from getting that help (should such a situation arise).

4. It tramples the First Amendment Law stating freedom of speech shall not be impeded by the government. The moment the Government dictate who you can and cannot communicate with, you have lost your First Amendment rights.

In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), the Supreme Court extended broad First Amendment protection to children attending public schools, prohibiting censorship unless there is "substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others." 

Since SB54 seeks to censor what students can and cannot say with regard to how they communicate with their instructors, good or bad, even as the Supreme Court upheld the right of First Amendment protection to children attending public schools. So there is standing legal precedent to repeal SB54 as Unconstitutional.

Moreover, SB54 is in breach of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
, which among many things, informs, "Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without censorship."

It seems to me you can't "speak freely" if you're not allowed to communicate at all, regardless of the medium of venue.

5. Other than being absurd, offensive, derogatory, sensationalist, most probably illegal, this law also happens to be stupendously stupid. Not only for the reasons listed above, but also because it is anti-technology, anti-progress, anti-information, and anti-Internet. If there is on lesson history has shown, you don't attack progress by making it illegal to utilize new tools, methods, and forms of communication. Whoever thought this law was a good idea, clearly wasn't thinking.

As one friend of mine on Facebook clearly communicated to  


This stuff [social networking/communication] should be done more publicly and more transparently, anyway, where it can be verified by third parties that inappropriate things aren't going on - and not forced back into the old, secretive, much easier to hide phones, letters, and face-to-face messages. 

I agree. The objection is this, if there is a real sexual threat, then forcing the sexual predator to utilize more secretive methods of coercion is the opposite thing we would want to happen. Instead, this bill practically ensures it! 

Another reader commented:

I'd be more worried [that] a teacher would corner a kid at school (which is harder to prove) than harass a kid on FB (which is easy to prove by the paper trail).

Not only does this law have a good chance of being repealed, it is my strong opinion that it ought to be, or at the very least, amended to take out section 162.069.

Remember that fairness, justice, and freedom are more than words, they are perspectives.

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