Careless Whisper

A Texas student’s quiet remarks about homosexuality spark controversy.

All it took was one phrase, but it was enough to get 14-year-old Dakota Ary suspended from Western Hills High School in Fort Worth, Texas.

When he whispered “being a homosexual is wrong,” and it spread from one student to another, the words ignited a debate over free speech, free exercise of religion and the role of public schools in enforcing the two.

Regardless of one’s views on homosexuality, Ary’s suspension, since rescinded, was wrong. Homosexuality isn’t the issue here.

Schools are supposed to be safe havens for ideas, where beliefs can be exchanged and debated freely. Somewhere in the past, the American education system lost sight of that. A student has been suspended for expressing his beliefs. That is inexcusable. Even the context seems slightly ridiculous; Ary was in a German class when he turned to the student behind him and spoke his mind, in private.

Dakota’s privacy was curtailed. Even if the teacher thought that what Ary said had no place in his classroom, he didn’t broadcast his opinion to the rest of his class. Nor was he trying to belittle any individual. This wasn’t bullying. This was a quiet expression of opinion.

Why was homosexuality even being discussed in a German class? Who cares? Ary’s suspension sheds new light on an issue that has been marginalized recently.

It seems as though the more politically correct our schools become, the more we encourage ignorance by stifling thoughtful discussion and debate. On the one hand, the First Amendment guarantees each of us the right to practice whichever religion we choose. On the other hand, it prevents state or federal governments, including schools, from mandating the incorporation of religious doctrines.

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There should not be any sort of religious affiliation in public schools. We have private schools for that. Reprimanding a student for expressing his religious views in a classroom is outrageous. Even if the teacher or administrators didn’t agree with Ary’s views, suspending him for expressing them sends a negative message to his fellow students. The administrators’ actions make them look like dictators on par with George Orwell’s Thought Police.

It’s obvious that the U.S. has a long way to go in reforming education, and a foundational change in the way we teach our children is not only necessary but logical as well. Being “politically correct” doesn’t mean students have to keep their mouths shut when they have convictions that compel them to question the world around them. It does mean, however, that students, schools, parents and administrators should encourage discussion and debate pertaining to relevant topics in a healthy and safe environment.

Perhaps the discussion of homosexuality doesn’t belong in a German class, but the issue as a whole, along with the discussions of countless other important topics, do have a place in our public schools.

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