Monday, October 29, 2007

Doctoral Student To Avery: Keep On Punching

Waterbury Republican-American
Letters To The Editor, Oct. 23

Punishment For Blog Entry
An Affront To Free Speech

Civil-rights marches, pro-life gatherings and globalization protests all rely on our right to challenge authority in a public forum. Free speech is the keystone holding a democracy together. Yet according to Jim Spinner (Oct. 18 letter, "First Amendment does not excuse rude comment on blog"), speech can be curtailed to protect "tenuous authority" if it is deemed inappropriate. Can you imagine the struggles of Gloria Steinman succeeding if the right to challenge authority was stripped from our democracy?

I do not suggest Avery Doninger's fight for extracurricular activities equates the aforementioned struggles. Her comments, while rude and inappropriate, still stand on principles of free speech that built this country. I am sure at some point in his life Mr. Spinner has criticized a teacher, a boss or a politician in a public place. Should his job be in jeopardy?

The school administrators, by stripping Ms. Doninger of her right to represent her peers in student government, could be placing her possibility of acceptance to college in peril, all because she gathered with friends on today's street corner — blogs, Facebook or MySpace pages — and made inappropriate comments. She is being punished for the normal discourse of teenage years, and that is an affront on free speech.

The most egregious mistake, however, made by Mr. Spinner is to lay fault at the feet of Ms. Doninger's parents and not at the footsteps of our educational institutions. Ms. Doninger's comments were inappropriate and they were read by the world, but maybe if we better prepared our students with the literacy skills they need for a digital world, she would have understood the consequences of her words. Instead, we teach students to regurgitate facts from textbooks, not evaluate "truth" from Web sites; lead class in front of chalkboards, not on discussion boards; and we teach students to write five-paragraph essays, not blogs, wikis and Web pages.

Ms. Doninger's plight grew from an outdated curriculum and not out-of-touch parenting. As parents, educators and citizens we must recognize the Internet has caused a monumental shift in literacy not seen since Gutenberg invented the printing press. If we continue to teach using texts that students will never encounter outside of the classroom, then there will be more students such as Ms. Doninger who pay the price of not learning the new literacies needed to be a global citizen. Keep fighting, Avery. You're in good company.

Greg McVerry


The writer is a doctoral student at the University of Connecticut studying literacy and technology and is a member of UConn's New Literacies Research Team.

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