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Controversy at Conifer

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Psychology and social studies teacher Aaron Shepard leads an in-class discussion about violence.

Psychology and social studies teacher Aaron Shepard leads an in-class discussion about violence.

Photo by Jasmine Anderson

Photo by Jasmine Anderson

Psychology and social studies teacher Aaron Shepard leads an in-class discussion about violence.

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In today’s society, political correctness has silenced many controversial opinions, especially those of students and teachers. Free speech has become more important than ever, yet its extent is still being debated in schools.

“I don’t know what I’m allowed to talk about, but I talk about everything,” junior Audrey Hayes said. “I’ll talk about politics, sex, drugs, kicking puppies. I’ll talk about anything and everything. I think that we should be able to talk about politics more because I always get yelled at for talking about them, but it affects us.”

While Hayes is unsure as to what she is allowed to talk about, other students feel they are restrained by the current standards of free speech in school.

“My political opinions are constantly repressed, and my thoughts about the English texts that we are required to read in class are all too often completely ignored,” senior Thomas McCarthy said.  “All of my questions in my language class, my math questions, and especially science, are always shoved under the carpet by the teacher and given a very cursory answer.”

In addition to teachers occasionally “shutting down” students’ questions, students feel that their peers also have rejected their opinions in favor of others.

“I have felt like in a class that I was not being taken seriously or my viewpoint wasn’t being taken seriously,” junior Arden Miller said. “I was angry, yes, I probably wasn’t articulating my point very well, but it’s the fact that kids laugh when you’re upset, or when you’re passionate about something, because they don’t understand it as they’re not passionate.”

Not only do the questions students ask occasionally shut down, but people feel they can’t speak of personal experiences. They have other students criticize them.   

I think that [teachers] should be able to talk about politics. I think they should be able to talk about LGBT rights, black rights, any kind of rights that we need to, especially considering politics, because half of the problem is that kids can’t look outside of their own perspective. They’re not taught about it because we’re not allowed to. So if we’re not allowed to talk about [politics], how are we ever going to learn about them?”

— Arden Miller

“I definitely think that there are [restrictions on what students can discuss],” Miller said. “Some students take everything as a joke because they don’t have the mental understanding to look beyond their own personal experience and into other people’s. You cannot talk about your own personal life because others will literally make fun of you and I think that is a huge problem at the school.”

There may not be too much discussion of politics in class, but many students choose to discuss them in the halls and out of school. Some students are old enough to vote and others are simply interested in what is affecting their country and state.

“I think that [teachers] should be able to talk about politics,” Miller said. “I think they should be able to talk about LGBT rights, black rights, any kind of rights that we need to, especially considering politics, because half of the problem is that kids can’t look outside of their own perspective. They’re not taught about it because we’re not allowed to. So if we’re not allowed to talk about [politics], how are we ever going to learn about them?”

Teachers and students appear to approach these discussions in different ways. It is a teacher’s job to educate and often they do so without conflict. There are still disagreements.

“I believe it’s not about what is discussed, but rather the methodology behind the way it’s discussed,” McCarthy said. “Any topic has the potential to be good or bad; information is itself a grey zone. It is the way that information is used that becomes a very dangerous thing. And I believe that when one limits what one can say, one limits what one can think. Limiting what a person can think is a surefire way to cause revolution.”

Though Hayes previously said that she is open to most topics of discussion, she is opposed to some of the more offensive things that students say, which likely applies to most.

“There’s this one word that goes around all the time,” Hayes said. “It pisses me off because the school is mostly white – it’s the N-word – everyone calls each other that.”

Spanish teacher Julie Doyle helps a student read a passage in Spanish. Doyle believes that politics and current events should be allowed to be discussed, as long as they are approached in a manner that is politically correct and unoffensive. Photo by Jasmine Anderson

Despite the general dislike of some offensive terms, it is seemingly agreeable that free speech should always be recognised. It has shaped and defined society, yet also has its limits.

“In terms of free speech, I think that students have the right to say whatever they’d like as long as it’s not hurtful to other people,” Spanish teacher Julie Doyle said. “I definitely don’t say everything that occurs to me. That’s why I still have my job. I think [students] should be able to talk about anything at all and I think it’s really important that they have a place to talk about anything at all, as long as it’s respectful. So, I don’t think it’s the subjects that are the problem. It’s how they’re discussed.”

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