Guns are Good with the Lege; Speech Not So Much (part two)

When it comes to a choice of trusting kids with guns or words, looks like guns win in the Lege.

Senator Annettee Dubas’ legislative resolution supporting trap shooting as a sanctioned school sport received downright jovial reception from the education committee last week. (See: Guns are Good…Part One)

On the same day, Senator Ken Haar introduced a bill that clearly defines what students can say, write, and create in public schools; and what they can’t. The idea is to support the First Amendment as a sanctioned school sport, so to speak.

Here’s what the chair of the education committee, Senator Greg Adams, had to say about the idea of endorsing the First Amendment in Nebraska’s public schools: “It has value. It’s thought-provoking. But I don’t get it.”

Full disclosure: Senator Adams is a former high school government teacher.

A number of people spoke eloquently of the need for students to be able to practice the tenets of democracy in public schools in order to protect their rights and the rights of others. The editor of a high school student newspaper spoke in support of the bill on behalf of her newspaper staff. A Fulbright Scholar spoke of the literary value of student expression and of his concern that fully a quarter of students enter college without adequate speaking and writing skills.

A psychologist testified that free speech is essential to adolescent development. A university librarian said college students are afraid to discuss controversial issues because they are forbidden to do so in high schools. A law school student said the voices of the very best and brightest students are the most likely ones to be silenced in high schools.

In a nutshell, here is what the many supportive speakers said: “Free speech is good.”

Here is what Senator Howard, a former HHS caseworker, heard: “Bullies! Bullies! Lots of bullies!”

Here is what Senator Cornett, a former cop, heard, “Gangs! Gang signs! Gang shirts! Gang slogans!”

The senators were greatly relieved when the very intelligent people speaking about the many benefits of free speech finished speaking. The senators (keep in mind this is the education committee) could hardly wait for the lobbyists paid by school districts to speak in opposition to student speech.

Here’s a funny thing about local public school districts in Nebraska: They get a lot of money from the state (that is, you and me, the taxpayers), and they use a good chunk of that money to pay lobbyists to demand local control over schools. Do you see the irony there? Local school districts don’t.

On this fine legislative day, the school districts also paid their lobbyists, again from our collective taxpaying pocketbooks, to oppose U.S. Constitutional protections for our school students.

The first paid lobbyist obviously was a regular, because Senator Adams knew him and didn’t ask him to state his name, which every testifier is supposed to do. Since the lobbyist didn’t state his name, I’ll just call him, for lack of a better identifier, “Dick.”

“Dick” let everybody know he once was a teacher but he left that profession to become a lawyer who defends big schools against small students for big bucks. Then he bellowed out in a loud and lawyerly voice, “I’ll give you four words on this bill: precatory, weasel words, separation of power, and liability.”

I count eight words in there. Perhaps Dick should avail himself of a remedial math class.

Dick went on to say, and I quote: “We want these kids to be thinkers, blah, blah, blah. I don’t think you should worry about Constitutional rights until we find these people responsible.”

Here’s a high school government class question: When do American citizens gain Constitutional rights?

Here’s the answer: When they are born.

…unless you are a former student of former high school government teacher Senator Adams. Then the answer is: whenever the paid lobbyists for the school districts say so.

The second paid lobbyist, Brian (real name), said we shouldn’t ensure Constitutional protections for students because by doing so we “give them the expectation” that they will also have these protections as adults. Brian seems to think nobody deserves Constitutional protections, child or adult. Brian is a school board member. I know. Scares me, too.

My personal favorite paid lobbyist spoke on behalf of the Nebraska School Administrators. Mike the School Administrators’ Lobbyist said free expression for students “wouldn’t be the end of the world.” I’m glad principals and superintendents everywhere recognize that allowing students to speak and write and put on plays is not a violation of the United Nations War Crimes Commission.

Long story short, the senators lapped up the words of the lobbyists like cool lemonade on a hot summer day. Senator Haar’s student expression bill, on the other hand, has all the chances of a snowball on that same summer day.

Maybe the senators would be more willing to consider a resolution on student expression, like Senator Dubas’ resolution about the glories of trap shooting. It could go something like this:

“Whereas trap shooting free speech improves the confidence of youth and provides personal responsibility and sportsmanship among primary and secondary students, and our youth should have the opportunity and be encouraged to participate in trap shooting free speech

Therefore be it resolved by the members of the One Hundred Second Legislature of Nebraska that the Legislature hereby encourages the school boards of every school district in the State of Nebraska to voluntarily promote and include trap shooting free speech as a high school sport for the youth of our state.”

Students practice math to improve their math skills. Students practice trap shooting to improve their shooting skills. Seems like a no-brainer that students should practice the First Amendment to improve their free speech skills.

Kids, go practice.

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