Stanley Fish wrote a very silly editorial on his blog over at the NY Times.

His title proclaims ‘Clarence Thomas is Right.’ When I read the title, I first thought 1) Yes, Clarence Thomas is decidedly conservative and 2) No, Clarence Thomas does not posses enough legitimacy to ever be considered ‘correct’. Fish flops over to the later- this article is a defense of a certain set of statements in Thomas’ opinion in Morse v. Fredrick/BONG HITS 4 JESUS.

As many of you will remember, I wrote at great length about Morse and I mentioned the ludicrous inclusion of this excerpt from Justice Thomas’ concurrence:

Although colonial schools were exclusively private, public education proliferated in the early 1800’s. By the time the States ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, public schools had become relatively common. If students in public schools were originally understood as having free-speech rights, one would have expected 19th-century public schools to have respected those rights and courts to have enforced them. They did not.

In short, in the earliest public schools, teachers taught, and students listened. Teachers commanded, and students obeyed. Teachers did not rely solely on the power of ideas to persuade; they relied on discipline to maintain order.

Well, it is not at all surprising that I think Justice Thomas’ view is silly and rather unenforceable (legitimately, at least). Stanley Fish goes to absurd lengths to agree with Thomas and he succeeds in drawing attention to himself with ridiculous statements.

If I had a criticism of Thomas, it would be that he does not go far enough. Not only do students not have first amendment rights, they do not have any rights: they don’t have the right to express themselves, or have their opinions considered, or have a voice in the evaluation of their teachers, or have their views of what should happen in the classroom taken into account. (And I intend this as a statement about college students as well as high-school students.)

Educational institutions…are not democratic contexts (even when the principles of democracy are being taught in them). They are pedagogical contexts and the imperatives that rule them are the imperatives of pedagogy – the mastery of materials and the acquiring of analytical skills. Those imperatives do not recognize the right of free expression or any other right, except the right to competent instruction, that is, the right to be instructed by well-trained, responsible teachers who know their subjects and stick to them and don’t believe that it is their right to pronounce on anything and everything.

Fish’s arguments sound like caricatures of themselves. My initial response to these contentions was surprisingly similar to my initial reaction to Stephen Colbert- “Is this guy too conservative (silly) to be true?” I lucked out with Stephen but I think this guy is for real. He lays the rhetoric on so thick that its hard to read beyond the ‘pedagogical contexts’ and ‘imperatives of pedagogy’ that facilitate a ‘mastery of materials.’ Also, he claims that imperatives that rule pedagogy are pedagogical imperatives! ZOMG!!!!!!!1

I think its cute how this seemingly conservative man views rights with a Machiavellian, top-down approach. Instead of being born with rights and having them taken away when democratic selected, Fish sees the government as a wonderful caretaker of our rights which will bestow upon us our (their?) rights when it deems necessary and prudent. I scoff and the notion that the government is the provider of rights and, in this case, that students do not have first amendment rights. If the community feels as though it is appropriate for students have at least some sliver of first amendment rights after the 1st period bell rings, who is Mr. Fish to say it isn’t so? Students absolutely have the right to do whatever they want, but a local school board has the similarly competing right to limit those same behaviors. The students are by no means assumed to be the ones who are benevolently granted rights by the older, wiser Mr. Fish. Instead, students by proxy of their parents, have whatever rights they choose to act upon and in the case of the American school system- parents have chosen mandatory schooling for their children but have also refused to give up their children’s right to free speech. In fact, I, in my capacity as a student, have just chose to voice my opinion- This Fish is starting to smell a bit stale.


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