Kennedy, we can do better

Jason Kline, Writer

Attention to all readers, Principal Jason Kline has submitted an editorial to the editors in Torch and we would like to share it with you:


Kennedy, we can do better.

I am not blaming anyone, especially students, for where we are today. It’s really not your fault. Many of the adults in this country have really let you down. And I don’t exclude myself.

Freedom of conscience and freedom of speech are rights protected by our Constitution.  And for over 225 years this country has struggled to define these things. Case law has established that there are limits to what we can say, but the eternal question, unanswered, is precisely where that line belongs.

Yet more foundational is this: free speech requires an informed and civil citizenry. Issues of how we engage each other are really at question because of the behavior of some of the adults in this country. It seems that both sides of the aisle and both ends of the political spectrum have accepted name-calling, vitriol, and censorship as acceptable tools of political activity.

It is no wonder that we are seeing more and more division amongst teenagers.  You are not the cause of this issue. But you are stuck in the middle of it. We are in challenging times. I have not dealt with as many issues of political and racial animosity in school in my nine years as a school administrator as I have this year. Combined.  There is good news, however.  Historically, when things have looked bleak, it is the youth of this country that has saved us (think about it, it was young men and women who defeated the Nazis)  We have the power to make things better.

What can we do at the high school level?  Here is are some thoughts. First, when expressing your beliefs, consider how your expression might cause someone to feel disliked or unwelcome. This can be applied in nearly all dialogue and expression. And often it’s a matter of how we express ourselves.  Yes, we are entitled to what we believe; but the golden rule is universal and sometimes it’s valuable to consider how our words, or how we say our words, might affect others. Making people feel unwelcome because of who they are, where they come from, how much they have, what they believe, their race or ethnicity, etc. is no way to persuade them to your side of an issue.  And it is no way to live.

Secondly, it’s really important we get out of our own personal bubbles.  Everyone of us has different life experiences and lifestyles that have profoundly influenced our own worldview. Our worldview is tremendously important when it comes to how we see political issues. And that’s a great thing. But it is also important to develop a sense of the world from other’s eyes.  And many of us associate and communicate with people with similar world views.  This creates a bubble, or an echo chamber, of ideas. Your own experience has influenced you; can you try to see how other people’s experiences have changed how they think about things?  Can you see how your own bubble might be an echo chamber?  Can you try to view issues from different people’s perspectives? (As an aside, as you may know, I am a major advocate for debate in high schools.  In organized debate, you are required to be able to defend both sides of an issue.  It’s an invaluable exercise in critical thinking.)

Finally, I would suggest that much of what we all want for our school, our city, our state, and our country is not so disparate that we need to bring attacks on others. We are all Cougars and we are all Americans and we want a great school community, a great city, and a better life for ourselves and our children.  We want to be safe, free, and prosperous. These and many other goals are universal. The desired path to these goals may differ, for sure. But consider: is it worth attacking your fellow Americans, making them feel lesser, to express your desire?  Does that produce the end you wish to see?

Again, these lessons apply across the board. I have experienced intolerance and incivility from folks expressing beliefs all over the political spectrum. And like I said, this is an adult problem. We have a lot to work on.  But you can choose to be part of the problem or part of a solution.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could live in a world where we can respect free speech and respect each other at the same time?

I think we can do better.