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Should Michigan Teacher Jim McDowell Have Kicked A Kid Out Of Class For Being A Free Speech Absolutist?

Jay McDowell (pictured), the Michigan high school teacher suspended for a day after removing a student from his classroom for his beliefs on gays, violated the student’s First Amendment rights, his superintendent says. Also, the boy would like everyone to know he doesn’t hate homos!

Student Dan Glowacki, 16, supposedly walked into McDowell’s economics class at Howell High School and said “I do not support gay individuals.” It was Oct. 20′s Spirit Day, when everyone was encouraged to wear purple to support bullied LGBT youth, and Glowacki, a junior, was just speaking his mind! “The student was speaking out on being offended by the gay and lesbian lifestyle because it’s against his religion,” says Superintendent Ron Wilson. “The teacher said that wasn’t appropriate.”

But Glowacki wants to clarify what happened.

Daniel Glowacki said another student walked in the classroom wearing a belt buckle featuring the Confederate flag. After McDowell asked the student to remove the belt, Daniel Glowacki asked why it wasn’t permitted while several other students wore articles of clothing commemorating Spirit Day — some of which featured a rainbow, which has been known to signify gay pride. McDowell, Daniel Glowacki said, relayed to him the two meant different things. McDowell, the 16-year-old said, told him the flag signified lynching and hangings and that the student was not allowed to wear the belt buckle in his class. The discussion then turned to whether or not Daniel Glowacki is against gays — he said he is not. But, Daniel Glowacki said, McDowell said if he was against gays, he could leave the class.

And lest Glowacki walk around the rest of his life wearing a scarlet letter, he insists: “I don’t really care what people think, but I don’t want people to think I’m against gays. That’s just not true. … I never said I was against gays, but I did leave the class.”

The boy’s mother Sandy, who says she was not the one who filed the initial complaint against McDowell, had him transfer to a different economics class. But: “The things people have been saying online about my son have been terrible. My son is being bullied. This is the United States of America. Just because someone has a different opinion doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. … My son is not a bigot. He has a very diverse group of friends that includes some gays. If a gay student was being picked on in class, he’d stick up for them.”

In a school-wide email (subject: “Important Clarification from the School District’s Legal Counsel”), instructors were told:

We have been asked to provide guidance to staff specifically with respect to the fact that from time to time our students may wear or display Confederate insignia to which some of us may feel strongly opposed. After consulting with legal counsel, here is the advice we have received and thus provide to you:

In light of the Constitutional considerations, and with the clarification provided by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in a ruling specific to the Confederate flag (Castorina v Madison County School Board), staff are advised as follows: Where students display Confederate insignia (i.e., on their person or their vehicles) staff are advised to disregard and not make an issue of this. However, there is an important proviso to this advice. Action can be taken to restrict or prohibit the display without violating the First Amendment rights of students IF THE DISPLAY CAUSES A SUBSTANTIAL DISRUPTION OF, OR MATERIAL INTERFERENCE WITH, SCHOOL ACTIVITIES OR THE SCHOOL DISTRICT’S EDUCATIONAL MISSION.

And that’s the gray area where schools’ and students’ free speech rights must coexist. If students must be allowed to wear clothing that explicitly supports homosexuality, do they also have the right to wear clothing that tangentially denounces it?

A Confederate flag can mean different things (“Southern pride!” or “Bring back slavery!”) to different people (“Fourth generation Mississippians” or “Racists”), though it does not have the words “hang blacks” on it. Then again, a Nazi swastika doesn’t say “gas Jews,” but if Aryan Nation boys and girls want to wear that to school, must we give them a pass?

EARLIER:
Michigan High Teacher Suspended For Telling Anti-Gay Student To Shut It

By:           RYAN TEDDER
On:           Oct 29, 2010
Tagged: , , , , , ,

  • 28 Comments
    • Wyatt
      Wyatt

      Obviously that school needs to get some better History teachers if their students think that Confederate flags are the same as Pride Flags. The economics teacher was absolutely right in his reasoning for the belt, but should’ve gone a different route for the shirt. How about needless attention whoring, or being a dumb high school prick?

      Oct 29, 2010 at 11:33 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • tallskin2
      tallskin2

      There is a hell of a lot of disparity in power here, so it’s not equal.

      Wearing “pro-gay” apparel is showing support for a persecuted minority (if gays are not persecuted then the word has no f*cking meaning!) – whereas the wearing of symbols used to persecute gays, as I would guess the confederate symbols are (I don’t know for sure as i live in the UK) is a bullying aspect.

      And i love this: “Oh, I have gay friends so I cannot be a homophobe” line is just fantastic!!!

      Oct 29, 2010 at 11:41 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • peteNsfo
      peteNsfo

      Kids are going to try and be provocative, no matter the day.

      Teachers ought to be prepped for ‘that’ day when a kid arrives in class w/ an objectionable message. Use it as a opportunity to explore the issue.

      This whole nation has become so knee-jerk reactionary and polarized. I would hope that these instances arise out of principle, but I suspect not.

      Oct 29, 2010 at 11:49 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • DR
      DR

      @tallskin2:

      Depends on who you talk to. I grew up watching the “Dukes of Hazzard”, and the General Lee, the iconic car in the series, was decked out with a Confederate flag on the roof. I’m fairly certain Lynard Skynard (“Sweet Home Alabama”) and other Southern bands use the same image.

      I’m sure the PC lefties would balk at that representation today, but there are ways in which it has been worked into current American culture with different meanings.

      Oct 29, 2010 at 11:50 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Adam
      Adam

      If you’re under eighteen the constitution doesn’t fully apply to you because you’re not an official citizen yet. Ergo, his freedom of speech can be abridged just fine.

      Oct 29, 2010 at 12:01 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Cam
      Cam

      Funny, the kid says he isn’t anti-gay, but the mother says he is being bullied for having a different opinion…so which is it?

      Oct 29, 2010 at 12:09 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jimmy Fury
      Jimmy Fury

      I have to say this whole debacle has gotten quite confusing. There are now 4 sides to the various aspects of the story.
      The teacher, the superintendent, the mother, and the kid are all making different claims about different things.

      If the kid’s claims are true then I would agree that it was wrong to punish him. I would also say that it was probably wrong to send the other kid out for his belt buckle unless there was a clear “no confederate flags” clause in the dress code or a complaint had been made by another student.
      (but I would certainly have to question why a kid in Michigan, a.k.a. a damn yankee, is wearing a confederate flag…)

      Simultaneously, suspending the teacher was also wrong. He made a bad call, that’s hardly grounds for suspension even if it was only for a day.

      Oct 29, 2010 at 12:15 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Alex
      Alex

      The confederate flag is a touchy subject but I don’t think most people associate it with lynching. There’s more of a sense of pride in the southern/redneck identity. I don’t really understand why people would want to identify that way, but they just do.

      Oct 29, 2010 at 12:15 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Luke says Moo
      Luke says Moo

      @Alex: southern and redneck are two different identities. One can be southern without being redneck. However redneck tends to be the more media centric version. A Southern Gentleman would not be considered redneck nor would he likely be welcome within the redneck arena.

      Southern: Blanche Devereaux
      Redneck: I don’t have a good example. Anyone on Jerry Springer.

      Oct 29, 2010 at 1:03 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jack
      Jack

      I say we follow Germany’s lead and ban the Confederate Flag like they banned any Nazi stuff.

      Oct 29, 2010 at 1:49 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • DR
      DR

      @Adam:

      We’ll remember that the next time a gay kid gets blasted for taking a stand in school and you bitch about it.

      The First Amendment goes both ways, not just the way you might like.

      Oct 29, 2010 at 1:49 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Chris
      Chris

      @Adam: First off, that’s just not true. It’s a common misconception that the Constitution only applies to US Citizens; in fact the Constitution applies to all persons in the United states, except where the document itself specifies otherwise. Case law and Supreme Court rulings have delineated the ways that the First Amendment may be limited to public school students – and the “substantial disruption or material interference” line in the school’s email is in-line with those rulings.

      Once again I am totally disheartened at the way so many LGBT Americans and advocates would shit on the very Constitutional rights that we have relied on for so long in our own struggles. Forty years ago to wear a Gay Pride t-shirt in the majority of schools would have led to suspension, and we would all decry that as a violation of free speech – but now that the majority cultural position is pro-gay, far too many of us want to see those who disagree with us stripped of their rights and censored. If anyone should be taking an absolutist stance on the First Amendment, it should be we the LGBT community, who have benefited so greatly from its protection.

      The price of our own free expression is allowing others the same right, even when it offends, horrifies, or disgusts us. Free speech does not stop when someone else is offended, even the majority – it specifically exists to protect that speech. Inoffensive speech needs no protection, because no one tries to stop it.

      Now, if this student was doing something deliberately disruptive, that is grounds to deny his right to expression, but if all he did was put on a belt buckle and a t-shirt and go about his school day, then this teacher is in the wrong.

      ON THE OTHER HAND, this kid’s mother apparently belongs to the same Sarah Palin club that believes the First Amendment means there are no consequences for anything you say. Also incorrect. The Constitution only prevents the government from censoring your words – it doesn’t stop your private employer, your friends and neighbors, or society at large, from taking clear actions to make you pay for what you said. The First Amendment protects every American’s right to show everyone else what a thoughtless asshole he is – and every other American’s right to tell him so.

      Oct 29, 2010 at 2:58 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Alex
      Alex

      @Chris: I agree! You said everything on my mind and more.

      Oct 29, 2010 at 3:28 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jeffree
      Jeffree

      Yet another reason that I’m fan of school uniforms: no distractions from the teaching/ learning/ maturing that’s supposed to take place there —- [Yet uniforms don't keep you from spending all hour day dreaming of or flirting with the hottie three seats away!]

      Oct 29, 2010 at 3:54 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jimmy Fury
      Jimmy Fury

      @Luke says Moo: And don’t forget that rednecks aren’t restricted to the south either.

      Oct 29, 2010 at 4:53 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Bobby in Seattle
      Bobby in Seattle

      Cue all the hateful conservatives screeching about “freedom of speech,” which leaves me to wonder, why conservatives so vehemently defend the right to be hateful? I mean, seriously. Is it really a trait they want to defend??

      Oct 29, 2010 at 5:49 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • addison
      addison

      I find it hilarious that the kid’s mom said that he has a diverse group of friends that include gays. If it’s true then his statement was made for attention or as part of a joke and I’m all for inappropriate, possibly offensive humor bits, but if you’re gonna go through with them then you have to face the consequences for when people don’t get it or just plain don’t find it funny.

      tl;dr The kid’s a moron

      Oct 29, 2010 at 5:57 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Kev C
      Kev C

      The teacher did the right thing. The event was pro-support, not anti-support. If the kid walked into the Math class and said “I don’t support math”, the kid has two options: STFU or GTFO. Imagine walking into a Dairy Queen and saying “I don’t support ice cream”. Ok, so STFU or GTFO .. dumbass.

      Oct 30, 2010 at 4:31 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Michael
      Michael

      I have to believe that during the Civil War, half of the nation believed that the aggressors from the North were – bullies. That war was not fought over slavery alone.

      Oct 30, 2010 at 1:18 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Kev C
      Kev C

      @Michael: The war was fought because the southern slave states wanted to seperate from the union. The confederate flag is ULTIMATELY an anti-american symbol.

      Oct 30, 2010 at 1:38 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • me
      me

      Oh lord! Of course this happened at my high school!

      Oct 30, 2010 at 10:46 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • wesley stone
      wesley stone

      @Wyatt: the teacher handled the situation wrong. he told the kid “if your against gays you can get out of my classroom”. So this teacher is violating freedom of speech and freedom of religion. If the teacher asks the kid if hes against gays and he says yes and kicks him out because of it hes saying your not allowed to have your own opinion in his class and that violates everyone of his rights

      Oct 31, 2010 at 9:09 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • wesley stone
      wesley stone

      @Kev C: The thing that everyone forgets is that the conversation was about suicide awareness, not some protest against gays being bullied, and the teacher turned it into a conversation about exactly that and had completely gotten off the point of suicide. This kid that im personally good friends with was asked by the teacher if he is really against gays and he said yes. Whats the problem?

      Oct 31, 2010 at 9:16 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Kev C
      Kev C

      @wesley stone: You and your friend obviously missed the point of Spirit Day.

      From the Livingston Today article link:

      The district Oct. 20 was taking part in a national “Spirit Day” — a Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation event aimed to raise awareness of anti-gay bullying after the recent suicides of six gay teens across the United States who had been harassed. Students in support of the day wore purple T-shirts that read “Tyler’s Army,” for one of the six who died. Others wore shirts featuring a rainbow, which signifies gay pride.
      ==========

      Maybe if you and your friend both had half a brain, you could put them together to have one whole brain. Dumbasses.

      Oct 31, 2010 at 9:43 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Chris
      Chris

      Whether the argument was about pro- or anti-gay, suicide, the Civil War, race, slavery, or anything else, several of you are missing the larger point.

      The teacher has the right to say that a student is being disruptive in his effort to express himself – for instance, to say that wearing a slogan on a belt-buckle or on a t-shirt is disruptive to the educational process or to school activities, and ask the student and any other students doing something similar to stop. What the teacher (or any other government employee or official) does NOT have the right to do is censor an individual’s speech based on the content. In other words, he can’t allow a bunch of students to wear t-shirts promoting awareness of the LGBT propensity toward suicide, and bar another student from wearing a t-shirt opposing that effort. If the school makes a forum or method of expression (like quietly wearing a t-shirt while going about your daily business as usual) available to some students, they must make it available to all.

      Do the other students have to like it? No. Does that make any difference? No. We hear a lot about “the costs of freedom,” usually referring to the blood spilled by soldiers, but the cost of free speech is that you have to accept being confronted by message you find offensive or deplorable – even if you are in the majority. You simply have to tolerate and accommodate dissent. Anything else is NOT free speech, it’s censorship – and maybe you’re okay with censoring student speech in public schools, but I for one am not.

      This is not to say that the dissenter is immune from discipline and can do anything he wants. He’s entitled to all the same expression that students expressing the popular opinion are – if they get to talk about their position in class, then he does too. If they get to wear shirts, then he does too. If they get to hang posters, then he does too. But if he goes beyond the form of expression allowed to the other students, then he can be removed – not because of the content of his message, but because he’s being disruptive in his efforts at expression.

      The bottom line is that public schools do not get to tell students which viewpoints are okay and which are not. They can tell students not to express viewpoints because they’re disruptive, and that’s just fine. But if they’re opening the school up to a discussion about any issue, even if that discussion takes place on t-shirts and belt buckles, they must tolerate the expression of all viewpoints on that issue.

      Nov 1, 2010 at 1:09 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Kev C
      Kev C

      Free speech absolutists tend to put free speech rights above every right. Free speech doesn’t give some uneducated a-hole the right to disrupt the education of hundreds of others. Not even for the second it takes to kick them out of the classroom.

      Nov 1, 2010 at 1:28 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • jc
      jc

      The one thing that really stumps me on this earth in this day and age , is how far technology, science, etc. Has come. But we as a people have been taking such baby steps toward the peaceful and beautiful lives we are given. Love yourself, respect others as you would hope to be respected. Regardless of race religion or sexual preference.

      Country’s with such great people fighting for good and peace for all who walk this earth, should not be facing such problems as these.

      The people who choose to make a stink, or speak their “opinion” on a day specifically chosen to enforce a positive action among the students are clearly looking for attention. I’m sure if the class were supporting the color green , that boy would have stood up and said he doesn’t support green he supports red. Just because he wants the attention. If it were any other day would this incident have even occurred ?

      Nov 20, 2010 at 12:08 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Scott Rose
      Scott Rose

      @Alex: The Confederate Flag (the flag of a now vanquished enemy of the United States) is a symbol of white supremacy. Correspondingly, there is an organization called “Sons of Confederate Veterans,” all of who would have total shit fits if black people organized as “Sons of Confederate Slaves.” Let’s ask some African-Americans if they would feel safe in a classroom where white supremacist students are flashing and wearing the Confederate Flag.

      Dec 18, 2011 at 2:39 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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