More Missed Opportunities

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

Milan Kundera was correct in claiming that we should attempt to understand first before we judge. It’s a hard stricture.

Avery Doninger’s blog post accusing Burlington school officials of being, I believe, “douchebags” (in the original post the student wrote “douchbag”) falls into the above category and is yet another example of a wasted effort by the courts and school to offer learning opportunity. Since the post was public, why didn’t an official from the school system in their own weblog or comment space simply ask the student to explain the remark? This would have cleared things up and would’ve presented Doninger with chance to amount an appropriate rhetorical scheme.

Doninger was junior class secretary in April when a dispute over the school’s battle of the bands-type jam session led to her now-infamous comment. After talks with school officials made it clear the school’s “Jamfest” might not go forward as planned, Doninger wrote on her livejournal.com Web log, “Jamfest is canceled due to the douchbags in central office.” She also encouraged others to write or call Region 10 Superintendent Paula Schwartz “to piss her off more.”

A few weeks later, Principal Karissa Niehoff told Doninger to apologize to Schwartz, show her mother the blog entry, and remove herself from seeking re-election as class secretary. Doninger agreed to the first two points, but refused to withdraw her candidacy. Niehoff then told Doninger she would not provide an administrative endorsement of her candidacy, barring her from the race, according to Kravitz’s ruling.

The above presents some traces of context. The witless call to “piss off” the Superintendent is further evidence for answer in the agora, not for prohibition, which merely makes things worse.

I’ve always felt that the answer to rate your teacher websites is a counter “rate your student” website. This wouldn’t work, though, would it.

In today’s Courant, Rick Green writes:

A fascinating ruling Friday evening by U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz suggests that Big Brother school districts can keep watch and penalize juvenile offenders who overstep the boundaries of decency and civil behavior, even if it occurs nowhere near school.

Technically, Rick is begging a question: it is merely an assumption that Doninger overstepped in the first place and incorrect to attribute “juvenile offender” to her position. My claim is that “civil behavior” demands a question or an explanation. But this question and explanation was never asked for. I disagree with Green’s characterization that “education leaders” seek to “muzzle speech,” they simply don’t know how to react appropriately in the context of networks.


2 responses to “More Missed Opportunities”

  1. gibb says:

    As a Burlington resident, I’ve been following this brouhaha and must say that there’s really no excuse for it to have gotten so out of control.

    I am a strong, fierce even, believer in freedom of speech and therefore defend the right for anyone to say any idiotic thing they wish, including vulgarity, gender, age and ethic references without the law at any level stepping in. I believe in everyone’s right to be ignorant and obnoxious if that’s their thing, and society as individuals will be the one to censor their behavior. Obviously something that can be seen as a threat–not mere words that can hurt just as deeply I’m sure–would seek a more serious reaction. But words should be questioned and explained as you suggest. I’m saying that somewhere along the line we should realize what is nice to say and what is not nice to say, fair versus unfair, and be willing to back it up or apologize.

    When we have a high-school teenager making a derogatory remark about school administrators, it needs to be addressed if it’s noticed, and it was noticed. An explanation and apology was well within the bounds of good manners and should have ended the situation there, with the bonus for all of learning just how un-private the internet really is.

    Simply put, I feel that Ms. Doniger used poor judgement in how she revealed her feelings on the band scenario and that the Burlington school system responded inappropriately. They had an opportunity to teach a lesson here and blew it.