Politics: Beware Systemic Disenfranchisement
My wife referred me to this story about a South Carolina county that wants to ban profanity in schools. And I'll confess, it fills me wtih some concern.
I'll freely admit that I'm against restricting people's free expression across the board, and I'm, generally speaking, in favor of greater rights for children. So I'm probably predisposed to finding fault. On the other hand, I myself am not a big fan of profanity, and certainly understand a desire to keep it out of schools. I have three concerns here, really.
First, it seems like the policy is a little harsh, and poorly defined. That's a bad combination, because it opens the door wide to abuse. Since the punishment (suspension) is so harsh, there's going to be a lot of temptation to spare well-liked kids for infractions, and a lot less pressure to spare those the teachers are not so fond of. Their refusal to even specify what words are banned, or grounds for suspension, seems like they are gearing up for selective enforcement. Our nation, and its schools, have enough of that already.
More troubling for me however, is the specter of systemic disenfranchisement. A little bit of research has shown me that Greenville, S.C., is a place where racial divisions run deep. It's one of only two counties in S.C. that doesn't honor MLK jr day. It is home to Bob Jones University, apparently the only non-tax-exempt University in the country. It has this unique status because the IRS considers their policies to be discriminatory. For instance, it had a policy againt interracial dating that held until 2000. The KKK appears to be still be active in South Carolina. More than 30% of Greenville's population is african-american.
Here's my question. Speaking culturally, are the non-white students of Greenville, S.C. more likely to swear than the white students. If so, we have a problem, because even if there's no selective enforcement of the anti-profanity rules, they've created a situation where they're going to be denying more non-white students their education for no other reason than that they, by habit, culture, or inclination, speak differently. That's called systemic disenfranchisement, and is one of the biggest problems facing our country today. (A lot of people believe that it is the reason that Bush won the 2004 election.)
But what really really concerns me, is that in researching this story, I've found that nobody seems to have raised any concerns about either of these issues. Sadly, nobody seems to have raised any concerns about the plan at all, other than a very half-hearted "I think existing policies against profanity are adequate already." It seems like nobody is giving any thought to possible negative consequences of this plan, caught up in a probably foolish hope that they can somehow get children to stop swearing.