Free Speech not tolerated in Saskatchewan schools

A Saskatchewan honours student is facing a final report card of bare passes after being suspended from school during the final exam time range, and therefore being unable to write his exams and getting zero for all final exams. That he is still passing all his classes is an indication of the very high marks he had prior to being suspended. What is most remarkable, however, is the reason he was suspended.

According to the Globe and Mail today (Wed, June 20, 2007), after a presentation to students on the dangers of drug use, Kieran King decided to do some research on his own. Described by his mother as “a compulsive researcher who tends to go on at length about what he reads on the Internet” Kieran’s research led him to the conclusion that both alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous to health than marijuana, one of the drugs discussed in the information session. It was when Kieran decided to share this research with his fellow students that he got into trouble.

After another student at Wawota Parkland school complained to the Principal about Kieran, the Principal called Kieran’s mother to let her know. Even when his mother assured the school that her son wasn’t advocating drug use, the Principal Susan Wilson said “Well, if he talks about it again, I will be calling the police.” Kieran’s defense to the claims is simple … “all I’m doing is sharing the facts” his mother reported him as saying.

I DO understand the concerns of the Principal here … I am NOT advocating that schools ignore students who are actively promoting irresponsible drug use. Having said that however, no student should ever be discouraged from independently researching a subject. Further, one of the fundamental rights we have as Canadians is the right to do our own research and form our own opinions on a given subject, and to disseminate those opinions with no concern of “attack” from authorities. While the school might not find his views very palatable, they must recognize the research he did. An honours student who researches a topic after a presentation, and comes to a contrary conclusion to the presenter is a wholly different situation than a student who irresponsibly advocates for something.

Essentially, Kieran is being punished for taking the initiative to research a topic and to present his own findings to his fellow classmates. That strikes me as a VERY bad example to set. Leaving aside the fact that the school has very likely damaged Kieran’s chances for university entrance (at the very least, he will have to explain a semester of near fails in the middle of a honours-role academic career), the message being sent by the school is that independent research is not tolerated when the conclusion a student arrives at goes against the views the school is trying to promote.

If the school could show some specific reason why his research and conclusion are flawed, then I might agree that his discussion of it was premature and possibly damaging to other students. But the fact remains, in all of this, no one at the school is claiming his research is wrong, or that his conclusion is erroneous … instead, they are punishing him for disseminating information that no one is disputing. Unless and until the school can provide valid reasons why his research is invalid and his conclusion should be ignored, the school should be required to reinstate him, erase the suspension from his file, and give him the full opportunity to re-write the exams he was forced to miss as a result of the suspension. Any other response sends a very bad message to kids … the message that independent thought is not tolerated.

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