So a high school student tweets about the governor and everybody throws a fit. His staff monitors social media and caught the post, released a statement, and it was picked up by everyone. About half were incensed by the remarks; the other half came down on the side of free speech.
In Dave Helling’s coverage in the Kansas City Star he quotes a lawyer, Anthony Colleluori, who says “I am not asking her to agree with Brownback, but respect for our institutions is an important thing for schools to teach.” I have several bones to pick with Colleuori on this.
1). Sam Brownback is not an institution; he’s a guy holding political office. The tweet was personal in nature, and not directed at the institution of government. Not that disparaging remarks against the government are wrong either, they’re perfectly legitimate, too.
2). Perhaps Colleuori meant that children should be taught to respect the office, but not necessarily the person holding the office. This is fairly common doctrine. It is also wrong.
This concept is drilled into soldiers during basic training, which is nothing more than a high-intensity indoctrination program. Recruits are conditioned to instinctively react to orders, never think for themselves, and above all, never question authority. The concept is reinforced throughout one’s time in the military.
One way they do this is by demanding that the subordinate judge the superior not by his actions, but solely by virtue of his position. “You don’t have to respect me, but you do have to respect the rank!” is usually followed by disrespectful epithets and an order to perform some kind of degrading punishment.
Requiring that people respect the office, and not the man, gives a certain legitimacy to whatever “official” actions are taken by the office holder. It absolves him of personal responsibility for any injustices that result. He now has special authority by virtue of his position, and you don’t have to like it, but you do have to abide it. Individuals should be judged by their actions, regardless of what position they hold.
3). Schools do in fact teach “respect for our institutions;” that’s a big part of the problem. Not just in this case, but with the bigger picture as well. Students are indoctrinated to love the State from the first time they pledge their allegiance to it. From this point forward nothing they’re taught in school objectively questions the omnipotence of government. Sure, children are taught that on rare occasions bad politicians come to power, but this is never framed as the systemic problem it truly is.
This is to be expected, though. Why should a government-run school, or the government-educated faculty, ever be critical of itself? When you’re in employ of an organization and draw special privileges from it you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you. Instead, you promote it as the source of all things wonderful.
When the sacred institution is questioned, or in this case when a high school student tweets a joke to a couple dozen friends, everyone flies off the handle. The Governor’s agents inform the teachers, who report to the principle, who demands a written apology to the guy who, it just so happens, approves school budgets. If Colleluori had meant students should learn respect for social institutions such as the family, marriage, the market, churches, fraternal organizations, etc, I would have agreed. These are the true sources of wonderful things, and where prosperity is derived from.
Lastly, Steve Rose’s piece in the Kansas City Star addresses the real issue here, which is Brownback’s thought police. Almost entirely ignored is the fact that government agents are employed trolling facebook, searching for disloyal remarks, who then report them to authorities. Why isn’t this the main story? It should be.