Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thursday's Thoughts: Blogging and The First Amendment

I read something in the news today that really got me to thinking, plus getting under my skin. It seems that a high school teacher in Philadelphia was suspended for writing on her personal blog about how lazy, rude, obnoxious, and even dim-witted her students were. She wrote about them not listening in class, not wanting to learn, complaining about the grades they received, and so on.  In other words, describing to a T how so many teens are today, specifically those in her classes.  She did not name a single kid, but directed her remarks to them all. On her personal blog.

A couple of her students found the blog and reported it to administrators, who promptly suspended her. She retained an attorney, and is now getting her job back. The attorney apparently had to remind school officials that what the teacher says on her blog is protected by the First Amendment, particularly when she doesn't name any of the students.

The article brought to mind a couple of things, one being that this teacher is right on about a great many teens today. For the most part, they seem to all feel they are "entitled" to do or say anything they want to, and NOT do or say anything they don't want to. That includes being rude and obnoxious to adults, and not putting forth any effort to learn in school, yet feeling entitled to join the work force without the skills, knowledge and ability to do so. Having worked with young people for many years, I can see for myself the ways in which their attitudes and thinking have changed over the years, and I agree with everything this teacher said.

However, what concerns me the most is the fact that this teacher was suspended over what she said in her blog.  A blog on the Internet certainly does not have any expectation of privacy, so there was nothing wrong with her students finding and reading it. But since when can we NOT say what we think and have opinions about in our own blogs? That's where the rub is.

The First Amendment grants us the right to freedom of speech, which carries over into the freedom to write whatever we want to write. (Given, of course, that what is written is not some kind of libel against someone.) However, sometimes it is also brought up as a diversion from the truth, or as an attack upon someone we don't want to hear or something we think should not have been written. That's when I believe it is misused.

When you blog, how often do you really think about what you are writing? By this I mean, do you ever "ponder" if what you are blogging about might be conceived as a violation of the First Amendment? How could it be, when we are guaranteed the right to say anything under that very same amendment? So when this teacher blogged about her opinions of her students, how could she have been suspended by the school board? Obviously, they believed that she did not have the right to state, on her blog,  her opinions of the students she tried to teach on a daily basis.

I wonder what this means to us, as writers, would-be book authors, searching for agents and publishers? Should we think twice about what we post on our blogs? It goes without saying that no professional person, published or not, should ever carry on a contentious conversation on their blog about a run-in with an agent or publisher, or how terrible an editor is because she sent back a "bad" rejection letter, or any of the other "mishaps" we all have along our journey to find representation and/or a publisher.

The First Amendment protects our right to say anything we want to say. But how far does that take us in posting on our blogs? On the Internet, everything is out in the open for anyone to see; we certainly can't say that we expect our private thoughts...when we post remain private. I've read some blogs that are really my opinion, that is...with language right out of the garbage can, on any number of subjects, some equally disgusting,  and even people. The only option I have, since these same blogs are protected, is to never read them again, and of course, I don't.

Then there are the politically extremist blogs, full of hate and self-righteous indignation towards our present President, as well as those presidents in the past. Do they have the right to spew out their racially charged expletives, their lies, their vicious and venomous remarks? Apparently, they are also protected by the First Amendment, regardless of how decent, intelligent, and objective people feel about them.

Think about it. Do you ever post anything that could be taken as offensive to someone? Not necessarily someone in our literary profession, but by anyone? The First Amendment gives you that right, but with rights, comes responsibility. Many blogs today abuse the rights this amendment gives them, most of them intentionally. How far can a blog go, before that same amendment will no longer protect it? Or, in this country, where freedom of speech is the FIRST freedom we all espouse, will that amendment never recant that freedom, no matter how radically or extremist the speech, written or spoken, becomes?

Where do "rights" end, and responsibility begin?

Think about it. I'd love to hear your opinions.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.


  1. Well, I certainly agree about the First Amendment Rights. She is free to post about WHATEVER she wants.

    That being said, she was setting a very poor example for her students. Were they lazy? Probably, yes. Were they rotten? Most of them, probably. But getting on your blog and telling the world about it is no different then spreading the nastiness around town about how much you dislike your job (or students). If I worked at say, Dollar General, and I went ALL OVER town (the little league fields, church, the grocery store) telling everyone I came upon every bad thing about Dollar General, how long would it take to get back to my boss? Do you think I'd have a job after that?

    I don't.

  2. When I first began looking into blogging, I read that you shouldnt post something you don't want the whole world to see. Same as people who post pictures of themselves or their children on facebook. If you don't want everyone and their brother to see it, don't post it. I definitely believe in the first amendment however, everyone has a right to READ what they choose so she should of realized that a student might see her blog.

    I don't agree with the firing of the teacher but I do agree she should have been warned. As Katie said, she was setting a very poor example for her students.

    The bottom line is, everyone who is active on the internet in any form or fashion needs to be very careful about what they post. It's just the way the world is today, unfortunately.

  3. I agree with both of you..uh, Katie, only to an extent! I don't think anyone should ever post anything on the Internet that they would not be willing for anyone to read. That goes for every blog or website or social media like Facebook that claims to be "private," because any kind of privacy anywhere on the Internet is a joke.

    However, with respect to the First Amendment, we can't say...Yeah, but. This teacher may well have been setting a poor example for her students, but first, I would bet that some of those same students had far worse blogs than anything she came up with. Second, regardless of whether she was setting a bad example or not, she has the RIGHT to post whatever she wants to, and she should not have been suspended because of it. She was not complaining about her job, or other teachers or her principal, she was stating her OPINION about the students she taught every day. The students could get angry, their parents could be upset, but if she could prove by their behavior, grades, disciplinary actions taken ( given the school even allowed any), then she was not telling lies about them. And the First Amendment allows us to state our opinions about anything, anywhere, and does NOT give someone else the right to "punish" us for doing so.

    From a different perspective, we all need to take responsibility for what we post. I think she used very poor judgement in posting those opinions. I think she lacked responsibility in posting them. But...she had the guaranteed RIGHT to do so, and should not have been "punished" because of it.

  4. Just because we CAN express ourselves freely under the First Amendment doesn't mean that in every situation it would be prudent to do so. I think that the age old advice to "think twice before you speak" (or post on your blog) is always a good rule to follow.

  5. While I think everyone has the right to express themselves, I do think that people should understand that expressing yourself will get reactions from others, and maybe not the reactions your want. When I was searching for an agent, so many said they check out writer's blogs and websites. Content on those sites could stop agents from offering representation. I can understand that. While a writer is free to say whatever he/she wants on a personal blog, an agent has the right to dislike what the writer is putting out there and decide not to represent that author.
    So really, blogging is a lot like face-to-face interaction in that people may not like what you have to say and it will have consequences.

  6. Yes we should all think before we speak or post, but the reality is that we dont have to. The 1st amendment gives up the right to express ourselves in any way we like. Whether it is distasteful or disrespectful of others; whether it should be posted or not; whether it is vulgar and rude. We are allowed to voice our opinions. The fact that this school system took upon themselves a power they did not have is what the real question should be about. Freedom of speech is freedom of speech. This teacher is allowed to have an opinion and scream it to the world if she wants too. Schools are not the moral police and they are not the law.