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Suspension of Disbelief 507

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the not-the-kind-in-a-fluid dept.
Frequent Slashdot Contributor Bennett Haselton writes in "A federal judge rules that a student can seek attorney's fees against a high school principal who suspended her for a Facebook page she made at home. Good news, but how could the school have thought they had the right to punish her for that in the first place? Posing the question not rhetorically but seriously. What is the source of society's attitudes toward the free-speech rights of 17-year-olds?"

Well, you knew this post was coming when you read the news. A federal judge has ruled that Katie Evans, who had been suspended from high school for creating a Facebook group calling one of her teachers "the worst teacher I've ever met," can proceed with her suit seeking attorney's fees from her principal for violating her First Amendment rights. Evans, now a journalism student at the University of Florida, is represented in her suit by the ACLU of Florida.

If any of the recent student online free-speech cases should have been adjudicated in the student's favor, this would most clearly be the one. As Judge Barry Garber wrote in his ruling, Evans's page did not contain threats of violence (if it had, it would have been a matter for the police, not for a school punishment), and the principal didn't even find out about the page until two months after she took it down. It's hard to believe that the principal's lawyers, if he consulted with them, would have gone along with a recommendation to suspend the student. And once the Florida ACLU contacted the principal, wouldn't he have realized that the longer he fought the case, the more legal bills the ACLU would amass, along with the possibility that the principal could be ordered to pay them? Even if he had estimated that there would only be a 5% chance that he could end up being ordered to pay legal fees, was it worth the risk, if the fees could come to thousands or tens of thousands of dollars? Well, now he knows.

When a different judge ruled that a student had no right to challenge his suspension for making a vulgar Myspace page about his principal, I said that there was no more objective basis for saying that the ruling was legally "right" than it was "wrong," because if you put 10 judges in separate rooms and ask them how they would rule on the case, you could get 10 different, mutually contradictory answers. Well, fair is fair — even though I support Judge Garber's ruling 100%, I have to concede that it did not necessarily follow inevitably from the facts and the law, and there's no objective basis for calling it "the" right ruling. Judges are not like doctors who look at a mammogram, and draw on experience that the general public does not have, in order to see something that would be hidden from the rest of us. In cases like these, judges simply have multiple plausible interpretations in front of them, and they pick one. As such they're acting more like referees (who make a decision so that the game — or, in this case, society — can move on) than true "experts."

There is a temptation to think that there is some consistent reasoning behind the different courts' rulings — say, that the student who created a vulgar page mocking his principal (the student was identified in papers only as "J.S.") went too far and crossed a line, while Katie Evans's page complaining about her teacher was clean enough to stay on the safe side of the line, and make her eligible for damages in a First Amendment suit. This, I think, is nonsense, an attempt to put a consistent theory on top of a legal system that does not follow consistent rules from one court ruling to the next. If different judges had been randomly assigned to J.S.'s case and Evans's case, then it might have been J.S. who won and Evans who lost. After all, it was a federal judge who once ruled that a Utah high school had the right to suspend a student for wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with "Vegan" and "Vegans Have First Amendment Rights." (The judge and the principal had apparently confused veganism with eco-terrorism.) How do you reconcile that with any of the recent rulings? (No prizes for guessing how that judge would have ruled if the shirts had said "Christian.")

But even if it's still a roll of the dice how a court would rule in a particular student free-speech case, what matters from the point of view of a principal in a future case, are the potential payoffs. What if you're thinking about suspending a student for a non-threatening, non-libelous Facebook page? If the case ends up in court and you win, then you get the satisfaction of being "vindicated." But if you lose, you could be ordered to pay tens of thousands of dollars to the student's attorneys. So even a small number of victories for students in free-speech cases, even if mixed in with an equal or greater number of victories for the schools, still create an enormous incentive for a principal not to risk the case at all, when the potential gain is so small and the potential loss so huge. Even if you think there's only a 5% chance of being ordered to pay the student's $10,000 legal bill, that means you'd still have to decide if it's worth (on average) about $500 to get the satisfaction of suspending them.

(On the other hand, if a student created a page that was so threatening or libelous towards a staff member, that the school would run the risk of being sued if the principal didn't suspend the student, then the school and the principal are taking some legal risk either way, but the risk involved in suspending the student is much smaller. Fine — there's nothing wrong with suspending a student for threats of violence.)

So the ruling is a much more significant victory for student speech than many of the parties involved probably realize. Even though Judge Garber didn't actually award Evans her attorney's fees (yet?) — he only said that she could proceed to seek them against the principal — just the fact that it's coming dangerously close to that, means that principals in future cases now know what the risks are.

But why was all this necessary? How did the legal and societal climate of attitudes toward people under 18, lead to a principal thinking that he could punish a 17-year-old for comments that she made about a teacher, on her own time, to a third-party audience? If the students in the school had been comprised, not of minors, but of adults from some other minority group — African Americans, immigrant women, native Spanish speakers — there's no question that the principal never would have thought he could get away with suspending the student for criticizing a teacher.

Similarly, students at Harriton High School in Rosemont, Pennsylvania just discovered that school officials had given laptops to students to take home with remotely-activated webcams, that could be used to take photos in student's homes and transmit them back to school officials. Incredibly, this was discovered not by students or their parents examining the laptops, but because school officials used the feature to take a photo of a student in his bedroom, and then confronted him about "inappropriate" behavior, not considering that the students and their parents might consider it "inappropriate" that the school snuck spy cams into their bedrooms. (The school has issued a denial claiming, "At no time did any high school administrator have the ability or actually access the security-tracking software" — which doesn't seem to make sense, since the lawsuit was filed in the first place because the student was told by the assistant principal that the webcam had caught him engaging in "inappropriate behavior.") What was the school thinking? Probably, they were thinking, "These are minors, we can do what we want." If their student clientele had been comprised of adults, they never would have dreamed that they could confront a student about behavior in their room that they captured with a hidden camera. (Ironically, the school may end up in more trouble for spying on minors, as this editorial argues, since the school officials may now be guilty of recording and possessing child porn, depending on what the cameras "captured" in the students' rooms!)

So no matter how much ink is spilled analyzing the legal technicalities of suspending a 17-year-old student for off-campus speech, that's not what the case is really about. The case is really about attitudes. Change society's attitudes to think of 17-year-olds the way we currently think of 25-year-olds, and no judge is going to deny them their right to criticize their school on their own time, any more than a judge in today's society would deny that right to a 25-year-old.

And where does this attitude towards minors come from? I suspect that most people who believe that we have to draw the line somewhere around age 18, believe it for no better reason than because they were raised in a society where most other people believe it too. If you think that setting the cutoff age at 18 is just "common sense," then I would bet my house that if you had been raised in a society where the cutoff age was set at 13, that would seem like "just common sense" to you as well, and similarly if you had been raised in a society where the cutoff had been set at 22. This may seem like an unremarkable observation, but my belief in minors' rights has always been motivated by a more fundamental belief that you should not believe things merely because most people in your society believe them. If that sounds like a trite platitude, consider how few people in the US seem to question the rule that you can show a man's chest on television but not a woman's chest. In more liberal Denmark, supermarkets can stock tabloids at toddler-eye-level with photos of topless women on the cover, while in Saudi Arabia, adult women can't leave the house without covering their faces, and in all three societies, the majority thinks these regulations are just plain "common sense." Is the age of majority just another arbitrary illusion caused by the power of consensus?

When I said this on The David Lawrence Show, the host made the thoughtful observation that most countries all over the world set the age of majority for most purposes at 18. Close, I said, but it doesn't quite prove what it seems to prove, because those globally diverse societies did not reach that conclusion independently — they move in similar directions because of cross-cultural influences. (The voting age was set at 21 in many democracies before many of them lowered it to 18 in the 1970's within a few years of each other.) To get a better sense of whether there is any merit to the idea, we'd have to do something like the "putting the 10 judges in 10 separate rooms" test — put 10 different societies in mutual isolation from each other, let them develop and debate things on their own, and see if all or most of them reach the conclusion that 18 us a good cutoff age for adulthood.

The idea that actual children — under the age of, say, 11 — are qualitatively different from adults, has in fact been re-discovered by civilizations that developed independently at different points in history, all over the world. So there's probably something to it. The idea that teenagers are qualitatively different from adults, is something particular to recent history, and a wise person transported forward in time from the 1500's to the present day might scratch their heads and wonder why we think that 18-year-olds should be allowed to criticize their teachers but 17-year-olds cannot. I suspect the artificial extension of childhood grew out of the fact that because modern jobs are more complicated than they used to be, we need more years of schooling before we can go out and compete in the workforce. The fallacy there, though, is that just because we need more years of schooling, doesn't mean that the natural age of "human maturity" has gone up. So we end up with 17-year-olds having to go to court to establish their right to criticize their teachers on their own time.

Judge Garber wouldn't have been in a position to make this argument in his ruling even if he agreed with it. But even if his ruling was based on logic that has nothing to do with the underlying case for minors' rights, it was still a step in the right direction.

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Suspension of Disbelief

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  • Ageism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FredFredrickson (1177871) * on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:08PM (#31230046) Homepage Journal
    I've always been against ageism, and have been active in youth rights, first as a minor, but later as an "adult".

    The scary thing is, I just don't think age has much to do with maturity.. I've met plenty of minors who seem to have a really decent grasp on maturity, while I've met plenty of 18+ who will never grow up.

    Curfews and other discriminatory things are inherently ageist, and should be examined. Let's let parents do some parenting, shall we?
    • Re:Ageism (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sir_Lewk (967686) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (kwelris)> on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:13PM (#31230106)

      Unfortunetly, Ageism is generally only considered to be "descrimination against people for being too old", not the other way around. This is definetly something that should be changed in my opinion.

      • Re:Ageism (Score:5, Insightful)

        by qoncept (599709) on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:23PM (#31230246) Homepage
        Meh. Minorities can't be racist, women can't be sexist. Good luck reforming society.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by hedwards (940851)
          I've seen that, but it generally results from a misunderstanding of the rules perpetuated by white supremacist groups, and Republicans. It's not that minorities can't be racist or that women can't be sexist, it's that there's less harm resulting when a minority engages in it than when somebody in the majority does. (Although that doesn't really explain women since they make up the majority of eligible voters and vote down their own interests anyways)

          Ageism against the young is particularly heinous in thi
          • Re:Ageism (Score:4, Insightful)

            by dasunt (249686) on Monday February 22, 2010 @01:16PM (#31231268)

            I've seen that, but it generally results from a misunderstanding of the rules perpetuated by white supremacist groups, and Republicans. It's not that minorities can't be racist or that women can't be sexist, it's that there's less harm resulting when a minority engages in it than when somebody in the majority does. (Although that doesn't really explain women since they make up the majority of eligible voters and vote down their own interests anyways)

            Women (and men) who support traditional gender roles can engage in a lot of harm. Look at how culturally appropriate it is to think that women make better parents.

            • Re:Ageism (Score:4, Insightful)

              by commodore64_love (1445365) on Monday February 22, 2010 @01:28PM (#31231558) Journal

              I think I make a better parent than most women in my neighborhood, even though I'm "just a male". For one thing I don't sit my kid in front of a TV, and then leave for hours on end like I see many mothers do. I sit and watch the TV with my kid, because I know my kid will only be a kid for ~13 years, and that's not a long time. I think I can spare 13+ years.

              Plus I think they need that human-human interaction, especially when they say something like, "Why's that guy stealing on the tv?" and you explain that stealing is wrong and he'll eventually be punished for it. If you weren't there, the kid might think it's okay to steal.

              • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                by joib (70841)


                "Why's that guy stealing on the tv?" and you explain that stealing is wrong and he'll eventually be punished for it.

                Oh. I thought the lesson was "Son, if you kill the whore afterwards you'll get your money back. And oh yeah, use the baseball bat so you'll save the bullets for when you're in trouble.".

                GTA parenting FTW.

              • Re:Ageism (Score:5, Insightful)

                by Uberbah (647458) on Monday February 22, 2010 @03:43PM (#31234074)

                For one thing I don't sit my kid in front of a TV, and then leave for hours on end like I see many mothers do.

                Meh. You always see complaints about parents not taking time to spend with their kids as if it were simply a function of laziness. But one of the reasons parents were able spend more time with their kids "in the good old days" is due to a more subtle problem: economics. It used to be possible for a young man to graduate high school, get a good unionized job in manufacturing, and make enough money to buy a house, a car, and for his wife to to stay home with the kids or work part time.

                Whereas now it's more common for both parents to work 40+ hours a week for the same or lesser lifestyle. And when you've been dealing with a stressful job all day, it becomes a lot easier to think "fuck it" and say "okay kids, go ahead and watch tv..."

                • Re:Ageism (Score:5, Insightful)

                  by winwar (114053) on Monday February 22, 2010 @06:20PM (#31237178)

                  "It used to be possible for a young man to graduate high school, get a good unionized job in manufacturing, and make enough money to buy a house, a car, and for his wife to to stay home with the kids or work part time."

                  It is still possible. The jobs may not be in manufacturing but they are still out there.

                  "Whereas now it's more common for both parents to work 40+ hours a week for the same or lesser lifestyle."

                  Sorry, but in many cases both parents work because they want or expect a HIGHER standard of living. They want more than one car, a big house, the toys, etc. If my parents had lived like the average family of today, one income would not have been sufficient either.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by osgeek (239988)

                The old "I'm a better parent than women who let their kids be couch potatoes because I plant my ass on the couch right next to them so we can all be best 'spuds'" argument.

                And I think you delivered it in all seriousness. :)

                I like the sig, though.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by HiThere (15173)

              On the average, women do appear to make better parents then men. There are lots of exceptions, but that's the average. Believing it isn't something that is socially harmful.

              OTOH, believing that ANYONE can be a decent parent and also hold down a full time job IS both a false and socially harmful. The only possible exceptions are jobs that allow one to work at home...and those had better allow for frequent interruptions. So the job will suffer, or the kid will suffer.

              <digression>N.B.: This used to

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by cyphercell (843398)

            There's also a plainly huge difference between what we understand as bias and what we understand as bias that forms an ism. So, it's not completely uncommon for a woman to bitch about men labeling women as either virgins or whores, yet they do the same with men and they do the same with themselves. The difference between natural forming opinions and overt oppression is probably on a scale somewhere.

            Disclaimer, this is my own opinion I don't know what the experts say or even if they've looked at it much. It

          • Re:Ageism (Score:5, Interesting)

            by commodore64_love (1445365) on Monday February 22, 2010 @01:22PM (#31231406) Journal

            >>>there's less harm resulting when a minority engages in it than when somebody in the majority does.

            Tell that to some husband who has been abused by his wife, or a white guy who applies at a black-run or Arab-run company and gets turned down (in favor of the second black or Arab candidate), because he won't fit into the "culture". Reverse racism or prejudice is just as wrong as female or colored-prejudice.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by adisakp (705706)
        Our society seems bent on passing laws to continually "protect the children". But 99% of these laws seem to really be some way of either intruding on our privacy or a curtailing of the rights of people under 18 (or under 21 for alcohol). Some of these are totally ridiculous, such as the whole idea of a single "sexting" message being passed around a high school causing half the kids in the school to be registered as sex offenders and child pornographers for the rest of their lives.

        At some point, people
    • Re:Ageism (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Akido37 (1473009) on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:15PM (#31230136)
      Interesting how it's taboo to discriminate against the old, but not the young.

      Bars that won't let you enter unless you're over 25, although the drinking age is 21.

      Apartment complexes that won't rent to you unless you're over 55.

      In both these cases, the reverse would be unthinkable.

      I don't want smelly old people in my bar or apartment complex - nobody over 40 allowed. Why does this bring a lawsuit, and the former does not?
      • As a young adult (24) I often find vacation spots and condos that won't rent to anybody under 25. I find that incredibly offensive as well. Since I am mild mannered and am often looking to rent a condo to escape the high-pressure day-to-day, I'd assume I'm actually a perfect guest, one who is quiet and generally no hassle.

        But apparently my money is no good. Is there any basis for an ageism suit? Doubtful. But it's clear ageism happens across the entire age spectrum.
        • Re:Ageism (Score:4, Insightful)

          by NeoSkandranon (515696) on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:29PM (#31230326)

          Have you been around many of your age-peers lately? I'm 26 myself, and remember enough of college to think that denying a vacation rental to college age kids is a great idea.

          Places that restrict rentals in such a way are worried about a group of immature people coming in and destroying the place without any means to pay for it.

          • Re:Ageism (Score:4, Interesting)

            by MrMickS (568778) on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:49PM (#31230640) Homepage Journal

            Places that restrict rentals in such a way are worried about a group of immature people coming in and destroying the place without any means to pay for it.

            This can be solved, in part, by paying for additional insurance to ensure that the cost of the damage is borne by an insurance company rather than the renter. Of course the insurance company will hike up the cost if the renter is under 25.

            Interestingly its fine for insurance companies to discriminate based on age. They make no bones about using age to form part of their assessment as to what premium to charge. Are they exempt from anti-age discrimination law?

            • Re:Ageism (Score:5, Informative)

              by groslyunderpaid (950152) on Monday February 22, 2010 @02:08PM (#31232392)
              I was going to use my mod points today, but can't pass this up. Having worked previously at an insurance company [rockinghamgroup.com] I can give you a little info here.

              Insurance companies are not (automatically) discriminating against you based on age simply because you are charged a higher premium due to your age.

              The first step is insurance companies generally create many virtual "buckets", if you will, and assign to each of those buckets the various combinations of age/gender/driving history/other stuff/etc that you could have.

              For example, possibilities for age might be 15,16,17,18,19-20,21-24,25-34,35-54,55-64,65-74,75-89,90+;That gives you 12 possibilities. 2 possibilities for gender. Pulling a number out of my butt lets say there are 14 possible points on driving record (by insurance guidelines, not DMV guidelines, they may be different) so thats 15 combinations there. Then maybe boolean for whether or not you have had a dui. So thats 12x2x15x2, or 720 possible "buckets".

              This is obviously oversimplified because I don't care enough to do it right or actually post underwriting guidelines. But what type of care you drive would also be part of the combo, along with other things.

              Each bucket is assigned a "risk factor" based on comprehensive data that the company has on past losses for others in the same buckets, and likely based on data that they have purchased [iso.com] from 3rd parties that keep centralized info from many insurance companies. [choicetrust.com]

              The buckets are then assigned premium based on the risk factor. Viola.

              Disclaimer: some of this may be out of order, they may assign the premium cost to the risk factor up front and then assign that number to the combination, blah blah blah, again I don't care about getting it 100% right, because>>

              2nd Disclaimer: I was the network technician, not an underwriter.

              Oh and as I said, they are not automatically discriminating against you, due to the above. However, it is possible, though highly unlikely due to the regulations they face from their state, that they could discriminate against you based on age grossly and above the above allowable calculations.
        • by Joce640k (829181)

          Makes perfect sense...

          Most people under 25 who rent a condo in a vacation spot are going to have a party there and it's unlikely to be a formal dinner party. After a few 'parties' in one of your condos you'd be hanging up a "No under 25s" sign too.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            It's a good point, but no less ageist. It means stereotyping (and don't forget discrimination) based on my age instead of who I am.

            Often, to segment customers and discourage the wrong crowd from your business, putting hurdles is customary. To avoid the lower class from a 5 star hotel, they charge the amount only classy people would pay. Do some people sneak past that filter? I'm sure they do. But it's certainly less discriminatory than ageism. If you can pay, you can play.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by maxwell demon (590494)

            Just make a "no party" clause with huge monetary penalty for breaking. Make it bloody obvious from the beginning that this clause is there, and that it will be enforced if necessary.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by fredjh (1602699)

              Just make a "no party" clause with huge monetary penalty for breaking. Make it bloody obvious from the beginning that this clause is there, and that it will be enforced if necessary.

              And what happens when they have a party anyway, trash the place, and have no money to pay for it?

              Take them to court? How much does that cost? And you can't get blood from a stone.

              It's easier to avoid the whole problem to begin with.

              It doesn't matter if you think it's discrimination or right or wrong, it's reality.... if someon

        • Re:Ageism (Score:4, Funny)

          by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@[ ]mythe.com ['jws' in gap]> on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:37PM (#31230448) Homepage Journal

              Places set their own rules for their own reasons.

              Ya, a vacation condo rented to someone under (or even around) 25 could potentially be that renter looking to rent a party spot.

              Then again, anyone can do that.

              I knew of a hotel in the town I grew up in, that wouldn't allow unmarried couples to stay there. The restriction was that if a man and woman were sleeping in the same room (even if in separate beds), they had to be married, with the same last name, and provide photo ID's to prove it. I was talking to the owner, and he said it was to keep people from coming to his fine establishment and committing sins. Oh, did I mention that they sold bibles and a whole assortment of religious crap in their lobby?

              You gotta love the hard core bible thumpers. I'm pretty sure that it doesn't say in the bible that two people can't rent a hotel room and not have sex. :)

      • I don't want smelly old people in my bar or apartment complex - nobody over 40 allowed. Why does this bring a lawsuit, and the former does not?

        Because old people tend to have more money than young people?

      • Meh, those are private establishments that have their own rules. If you don't like it, don't give them money when you're the age they will accept money from you.

        • by AGMW (594303)

          Meh, those are private establishments that have their own rules. If you don't like it, don't give them money when you're the age they will accept money from you.

          Of course, by the time you're old enough to be able to rent it you don't want loads of screaming kids partying all night and keeping you awake so it's an ideal place!

          Bah Humbug!

      • Because older people usually have the money and connections to get what they want, and younger people usually don't. Don't confuse a "right" with a "capability". Rights and laws are normally defined by agreement and social convention, but are "granted" by the threat of violent force. Children have limited capability or experience with violence and will alway be at a disadvantage against an older adult.

      • Re:Ageism (Score:5, Informative)

        by Amouth (879122) on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:46PM (#31230584)

        not sure about the Bar's but the 55+ living communities are an interesting thing - that is normally due to a city ordinance for utilities hookup.

        see Old people use less water and power and sewer than young people because the normally don't have kids or other family - in fact the number of people in a house hold is usually 1/2.

        this allows for the developer to do higher number of homes or apartment in a given area without having to foot the bill for increasing the utilities run to that parcel of land. They get a permit for using the connections with a 55+ community - then get to uses that permit as their reason for restricting sales - and keeping it restricted via HOA agreements.

        I'm not saying it's right at all.. BUT that is how it works..

      • Re:Ageism (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:51PM (#31230702) Journal

        You obviously have not been to many of the bars in Calgary.

        There is blatant Ageism, Racism, even uglyism.

        It's common knowledge that such and such a bar doesn't let in Asians. Such and such a bar hates hispanics. This bar is for 14 year olds pretending to be 18. This bar doesn't allow anyone over 40.

        Not a single lawsuit to follow any of these. The bouncers can always say "Its your shoes" or come up with any excuse they want.

      • Re:Ageism (Score:4, Insightful)

        by tnk1 (899206) on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:54PM (#31230746)

        Because old people have the time, resources and experience to make you eat your rule. Additionally, even if they are old or senile, chances are that they have spawned some children who have become adults who don't want their parents fucked with.

        I have to admit that right now, it seems like teens who are for the most part, pretty much physically adults, are being treated like children. That has caused all sorts of problems. On the other hand, looking back at when I was 17, I was smart, and didn't get into too much trouble, but I was completely inexperienced compared to the way I am years later. And the thing is that some of the most important lessons I have learned weren't a few years later, it was more like five or even ten years after.

        So I am torn between advocating rights for teens over say fifteen or so, or demanding that no one gets to vote or be an adult until they are 25. Honestly, the answer is probably "both", depending on the level of experience that they need to make certain decisions. The reason to lower the voting age to 18 was because you could draft 18 year olds into the military. It was therefore considered appropriate to at least let them vote for the people making that decision. I consider that fair even if it means that we have a more inexperienced voter pool at the low end. However, I don't really want anyone younger than that voting. There are people who are too ignorant to vote at 25, let alone have teens vote who haven't even finished their basic education.

        As for bars and car insurance companies that discriminate against single men under 25, let's face it, at least in the case of the insurance companies, they've done the studies and both know their target audiences. You can argue the alcoholic drinking age all you want, but while it is in effect, people are going to be more likely to binge drink for a good few years after they are legal. I don't know about 25, but 22 or 23 definitely doesn't seem like a stretch to me to ban all those undergrads.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by HTH NE1 (675604)

        nobody over 40 allowed. Why does this bring a lawsuit, and the former [won't rent to you unless you're over 55] does not?

        Those under 55 can become over 55; they're only delayed entry.
        Those over 40 can never become under 40 again; they're barred entry forevermore.

        You might have a case if you suffer from progeria or other life-shortening disease and thus will never have the opportunity to reach these magic ages. Can a terminal disease or condition be considered a handicap illegal to discriminate against?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dkleinsc (563838)

        The US (and Europe as well) uses age as a very poor approximation of maturity and adult capability. It's a very poor approximation at best, but it's well-entrenched, and since folks younger than 18 are legally second-class citizens they can't do very much about it.

        I'm much more of a fan of tying privileges that are currently tied to age (e.g. driving, drinking, smoking, voting) and so on to passing appropriate tests on a regular basis.

        For instance, if you want to hold a drivers license, I'd prefer a system

    • by sunking2 (521698)
      I tend to find that those who claim a certain maturity level are often the least mature.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        While I'm sure there are instances where this may be found as true, I really dislike the use of thought-terminating cliches.

        I would prefer to judge each person's maturity based solely on their maturity. (Redundant, but needs to be said).

        Awareness of one's maturity or lack thereof does not, in itself, decide ones maturity. And while maturity is a highly subjective matter, having an honest view of ones self does not always imply ego, and therefore is not inherently contradictory of maturity in itself.

        In
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AP31R0N (723649)

      That would be great if parents "parented". Most don't. There are so few consequences for poor parenting and 0 standards about who can become a parent. Let's start sending parents to jail for their kid's stupid behavior and see how that goes. "Drunk driving minor? You and kid lose their license for X days." In military brat communities parents are held liable for their kid's behavior. If the Sergeant's son is caught shoplifting it can hurt daddy's career. Consequently, such problems are rarer. Daddy

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by inviolet (797804)

      The scary thing is, I just don't think age has much to do with maturity.. I've met plenty of minors who seem to have a really decent grasp on maturity, while I've met plenty of 18+ who will never grow up.

      The difficulty here is that 'child', 'teen', 'adult', 'elderly', and 'infirm' are points drawn on what is actually a smooth continuum. From conception until death, you pass through the continuum of humanity. Your apogee occurs around age 35, which is when you are probably wisest and strongest and most ind

  • Can someone tag this 'article in the summary'?

    More contributors like this please.

  • by characterZer0 (138196) on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:11PM (#31230094)

    If it happened outside of school and it was illegal, call the police.

    If it happened outside of school and it was legal, mind your own business.

    • by Jason Levine (196982) on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:33PM (#31230382)

      This brings to mind the recent case [techdirt.com] where a student was using a school-provided laptop at home and the administrators turned on the webcam remotely "for security reasons." The student was disciplined for "improper behavior in his home." The school never said what the conduct was. Some theorized it was sexual in nature while others said he was eating Mike & Ikes which the administrator mistook for drugs.

      In any case, if my child is doing something improper at home, it is my job to punish him, not the school's. If it impacts his schoolwork then the school can either give him bad grades, work with me to correct the behavior and/or take action if the action "spills over" into school (e.g. he comes to school high/drunk even though he wasn't taking drugs/drinking at school). But punishing a child for actions that apparently were exclusively done outside of school is *NOT* the job of teachers, principals or any other school official.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hurricane78 (562437)

      You forgot the most important point:

      You are not the one who decides on its legality!
      Also, isn’t vigilante justice illegal for a reason?

      You call the cops because you think it might be illegal. The cops then also just bring the person in front of a judge, because they think it might be illegal, and because they have the power. And the judge, in a proper process, checks if it fits the laws and hence is illegal, because he has the competence. (At least in theory.)

      In any case, you and the cops got no busin

  • by MadCow42 (243108) on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:12PM (#31230098) Homepage

    How many different directions and issues do you need to drag up in one Slashdot posting????

    Maybe you make some good points, but your rambling makes me put you in the "tinfoil hat" category. Don't drag down one good argument by associating it with 7 less important ones.

  • by smoothnorman (1670542) on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:13PM (#31230104)
    Seems like the current Scalia conservative court set the tone for this whole matter http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/20/opinion/20tue1.html [nytimes.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:14PM (#31230118)
    So why should they be allowed to say whatever they want?
  • by SlappyBastard (961143) on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:15PM (#31230138) Homepage

    We rage against our parents, get older and then oppress our kids. Happens without fail.

    What's disturbing now is that the current generation looks like kittens compared to the last three or four that came before. Truth is, they're being oppressed by adults who came from a generation of serious trouble makers.

    I suspect that's where a lot of the worst of it comes from. We just assume the problem is with young people, and never stop to consider whether the problem was if our generation was maybe a little too fucked up.

    • by ElectricTurtle (1171201) on Monday February 22, 2010 @01:24PM (#31231456)
      It depends on your definition of oppression. It is necessary to exert some level of authority in any functional household. It would be unworkable (and hence why it would be irrational) to treat children as complete equals. Any household with two or more kids run as a democracy would end up looking like the child-based societies in Logan's Run or Miri.

      That said, as a father who has not forgotten his own childhood, there are things that happened to me that I will not let happen to my own daughter. I will answer any question she asks with the truth, and if I catch anybody lying to her because they think innocence can only be achieved by ignorance, I will thank them not to do it again. If somebody has a problem with her behavior they should take it up with her first to give her a chance to change of her own accord or to even defend her rationale. I hated it when people would air their grievances with me behind my back to my parents as though I were some disobedient dog that did not deserve the respect of direct contact but should be brought to heel by my 'owner'. There are more than these, of course, but the take away point is this: I am not my parents.

      However I get the impression that I am a minority. At PAX some years ago I went to a panel about the role of gamer parents in their children's lives, and I heard the same old crap that the generation before ours gave us. I got up and asked the panel, essentially, 'if it didn't work the first time, why do you think it will work now?' And they fed me and the crowd some more crap. No approach is so perfect that it can't be improved. If we mindlessly follow the same patterns as our parents, how can we hope to improve our children beyond that limit? Social development will stagnate. Luckily, even if my kind are a minority, there's still some movement.
      • by SlappyBastard (961143) on Monday February 22, 2010 @01:51PM (#31232068) Homepage

        My concern is more about big, stupid generational assumptions. Like how Generation X was supposed to be a bunch of bums, but instead spent a decade fueling the tech bubble, finance bubble and real estate bubble. Not exactly the actions of unambitious people.

        Generic assumptions about any generation get over-ridden by the ground truth of the decade when they hit their 20s. You don't really know anything about a generation until the hit 30. By that point, you've discovered how they treat work, money and family. And only then do you know who they are.

        I come from the generation that was told to lock the door, fear strangers and murder anyone who says "Hi" to you because all strangers want to fuck you in the ass or force you into a cult.

        None of that was helpful. Strangers rock, it turns out. It's the people you know who should scare the fuck out of you.

        And why were raised that way? Because my mom's generation became adults in the 60s and early 70s, and were convinced that the end of all civilization was upon us. They saw one of the highest rates of violent crime in the history of the industrialized world. I think that's why they elected Reagen and Thatcher.

        My generation became adults in the age of terrorism. We've watched "the end of the world" happen so many times since the Berlin Wall fell (supposedly "The End of History" happened at that moment) that we just find the possibility the world could end a little implausible.

        Point being? All the shit our parents' generation inflicted upon us was not only useless (turns out there weren't big scary negroes or any Russians fixin' to kill me) but counter productive considering that we live in a much more social world than we were told would ever exist. None of the shit they told us helped. And in fact, shit like "Make sure you invest" put a fuckin' to us.

        And truth is, we can't help but do the same thing to our kids. We look at how they use the internet, and all we can see is awesome ways they're going to be raped and murdered. So, we inflict the same crap on them.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:20PM (#31230208) Journal
    Not a lawyer but found resources [umkc.edu] (site is cosmetically terrible but information rich) on some case histories in this sort of thing.

    Probably the closest case to that is Morse v. Frederick [wikipedia.org] in which students stood just off school property with a banner reading "BONG HiTS 4 JESUS." Basically what it seems to come down to is that you have some first amendment rights as a minor in school unless your message contradicts stated school goals or hinders the learning process.

    So the banner contradicted their anti-drug agenda and therefore it was ruled as okay to suspend them for the act. Similarly I guess a judge could interpret undermining a teacher's status as an authority figure to be an inhibition of the learning process in the facebook page. I don't agree with that ruling but this didn't seem to be addressed in the lengthy opinion piece presented above.

    A classic case of a message not hindering the learning process was Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District [wikipedia.org] in which black armbands were worn to protest the Vietnam war.

    In high school some kids circulated a 'zine that was laden with four letter words [slashdot.org] and was distributed via a student's access to his mom's work's photocopying machine during after hours. We were aware that some of them had been confiscated and you got detention for profanity but since we never really attacked teachers, it never resulted in suspension or worse. During the 'vest craze' of the late nineties, I fashioned a vest out of duct tape and made "Old Navy Sucks, GAP Blows" out of duct tape letters on it. And I was allowed to wear it throughout the whole school day claiming it was a political message if anyone gave me grief. I actually recall being pretty disappointed at the lack of attention I was given for it. The school had some rule about profanity so if you wore a shirt with profanity you had to turn it inside out. I guess 'sucks/blows' wasn't foul enough.

    Long story short: as a minor you have some free speech rights in school but not all of them. Any that violate the reason you're in school are restricted. Any that undermine the stated goals of your institution are restricted. I think it's sad that this gets escalated so much ... was the teacher really that insecure of themselves that they thought the Facebook group hurt them?

    Whatever was going on in Utah needs to be looked at though [libertarianrock.com]. That story was downright disturbing. "Curbing the straight edge movement" was one of their school's stated goals?! Vegan statements were construed as 'straight edge'?! I must have missed something about the dangers of the straight edge movement and veganism because that smells like complete administrative bullshit from where I'm standing.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      While the Straight Edge movement has calmed down considerably, for quite a while there were militant aspects of it that were extremely violent. Much of this occurred in Utah, where the movement was very popular among Mormon youth. It's not surprising that there would be a strong backlash in a community against a violent movement that very often looked and acted like a hardcore gang in its actions. Now, that's not to say that the decision was RIGHT, but it gives it a bit more perspective.
  • by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:21PM (#31230222)
    How dare they trick us into reading TFA! It should be my constitutional right to have a genuine Slashdot summary complete with mis-quotes and misinformation not this bloated full page article masquerading as the former. I don't have time to read TFA, I'm supposed to be working...
  • by nomadic (141991)
    There is a temptation to think that there is some consistent reasoning behind the different courts' rulings -- say, that the student who created a vulgar page mocking his principal (the student was identified in papers only as "J.S.") went too far and crossed a line, while Katie Evans's page complaining about her teacher was clean enough to stay on the safe side of the line, and make her eligible for damages in a First Amendment suit. This, I think, is nonsense, an attempt to put a consistent theory on top
  • by reporter (666905) on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:25PM (#31230266) Homepage
    The issue is not really about free speech. The victim in this case is surely free to publish whatever she wants on Facebook, regardless of whether she is suspended from school.

    The issue is whether the school has jurisdiction over activities that a student performs outside school. Legally, the school does not have any such jurisdiction.

    For example, consider a Christian fellowship meeting. The governing council of a school district can ban the conduct of such a meeting on the premises of the school, but students wishing to attend a Christian fellowship meeting off campus are free to do so. Once you walk off the premises of the school, you are free to do whatever you want.

    Consider another example. Smoking cigarettes on campus will result in a suspension. Yet, smoking cigarettes at about 1 foot outside the perimeter of a campus will result in nothing.

    • The issue is not really about free speech. The victim in this case is surely free to publish whatever she wants on Facebook, regardless of whether she is suspended from school.

      You aren't free to do something if you are punished for doing that thing. You wouldn't maintain that she was free to post the web page if she was jailed for a day, or harassed by the police for doing so. This is an issue of free speech AND limitations on the authority of schools, who should, incidentally, get back to teaching childr

    • by e2d2 (115622)

      What about a current student sitting one foot outside the school perimeter holding a sign that reads "The principal is an asshole!"?

      IMHO, anything that disturbs the teaching going on in the classroom should be squashed. Kids need to focus on the big picture and why they are there in the first place.

      • by coats (1068)

        IMHO, anything that disturbs the teaching going on in the classroom should be squashed.

        OK. let's outlaw the NEA. That teachers union has done far more to hinder and disturb actual learning than any amount of speech by actual students. All in the interest of their own greed.

  • ...how could the school have thought they had the right to punish her for that in the first place?

    Probably the same reasoning they used when thinking it was ok to spy on students and their families with school-issued laptops [slashdot.org]...a severe God complex.

  • by Jason Levine (196982) on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:26PM (#31230282)

    If that sounds like a trite platitude, consider how few people in the U.S. seem to question the rule that you can show a man's chest on television but not a woman's chest.

    It's even more ridiculous than that. In 1999, Lil' Kim went to the MYV video music awards with one breast hanging out. She covered her nipple with a pasty and all was well. So breasts are allowed, but showing a woman's nipple turns it from a normal (ok, maybe slightly more-than-normal) show of skin into "OMG!!! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!"

    In addition, we've gotten to the point that we (as a society) can't seem to see a woman's breast as anything other than a sexual object. If a woman breastfeeds her child in public, she risks being told to cover up her breasts because someone doesn't get that her breast isn't being used in a sexual manner but is being used to feed her child. She might even be told to take it to the bathroom. As if anyone really would like to eat their meal sitting atop a toilet! But breasts are involved so therefore someone, somewhere might see this as sexual and therefore we must push them out of sight entirely.

    I often imagine a world where women are free to go topless whenever they want. Yes, a lot of guys likely just started drooling, but really think about it for a second. After a few weeks of that, seeing a topless woman would be just a normal part of life. It would be like seeing a woman's leg: Yes, a guy might be attracted to that piece of her anatomy, but it wouldn't cause him to go into a frenzy. Of course, the THINK OF THE CHILDREN crowd would eventually move on to another body part, calling kids seeing that as inherently harmful and thus required to be hidden from view at all possible times.

    • by Tim C (15259) on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:33PM (#31230372)

      It's even more ridiculous than that.

      By saying that it's ok for men to be seen topless but not women implies that men are unable to control themselves, while women are. That's a double-dose of sexism - women's bodies are shameful and must be covered up, while men are brutish and incapable of controlling themselves.

    • Answer: it's considered vulgar. Vulgarity varies from place to place, and community standards set the standards. Seriously, there is a ton of law about this, have you never heard of it? From your post, it sounds like you're totally unaware of this and are approaching the subject with a "21st century know-nothing" perspective.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        How cute, you provided an answer to a question that wasn't asked, and then call the poster's perspective 'know nothing'. I'm fairly certain the poster understands vulgarity, but that's immaterial, as social standards are not by themselves capable of objectively defining virtue. (Where objective means based on a real causal understanding of harms and the avoidance of bias and bigotry.)

        If you read the Old Testament, you'll find that social standards determined that women were unclean when menstruating, and
  • These laws, rules, and regulations are in place because they're governing a population, not individuals. When dealing with populations you have to work by statistics. Statistics show that people in certain age groups have attained certain capacities to function in our society. They are given rights and freedoms to meet the stereotypical capacities of people of that particular age, with rules and punishments for individuals who break the rules for persons of their age.

    Why did we choose this age? Historically

  • There are too many people that don't want anyone to have our God-given/Constitutionally-recognized (however you choose to see them) rights, period. They view rights like free speech as dangerous because such a right allows others to criticize them and possibly undermine their authority or whatever else it is they're afraid of. Since it's easier to condition young people to not claim those rights than it is to strip those rights from older people , who are already accustomed to exercising them, that's the

  • If I called my boss "the worst boss I've ever met" in a public forum, then I'd likely be fired, and no one would raise an eyebrow. The forum to make these kinds of complaints is not a public facebook page, but the principal's office, and failing that, the school board. If that fails, then it's time to go public - and at that point, facebook still isn't the right medium - you need to go to the press. That is, of course, assuming she has a real complaint, other than a vague "she's a terrible teacher".
  • Pretty simple, really. In an authoritarian environment, if you undermine authority, authority will come down on you.

  • People, organisations, religions, philosophies, all of these should be used to the idea that they can be insulted by others without being able to stop them.

  • Legal age affects several rights, like the right to vote, to drink, or to drive (though at a different age, it's the same principle).
    But this has nothing to do with First Amendment rights. These belong to everyone. Even toddlers. Before you know how to speak, your speech is protected. Anything else is plain and simple bullshit.

    I don't fancy anyone would deny a 17-year-old the right to speak at a rally, for example. How is this any different? Except, of course, for the fact that a school principal has no le
  • Maybe I'm missing something... but public schools can't have public prayer (in most cases--there are exceptions) because that would be government "establishment" of religion. Yet they're allowed to do other things that government is forbidden to do on grounds that they're in loco parentis--like radically restricting student's freedom of speech, against their real parents wishes. I understand that the processes and procedures that one would follow with adults are not necessarily appropriate to schools (I h

  • The tag of "rant" is correct. "Rambling" would have been correct, too.

    I do note that a lot of the "evidence" put forth here is actually simply assertions:

    ... because if you put 10 judges in separate rooms and ask them how they would rule on the case, you could get 10 different, mutually contradictory answers.

    That's an amusing argument; suggesting that your argument is correct because, if something that didn't happen would have happened, it would have proved it.

    Repeated many times, e.g.,

    ... If different judges had been randomly assigned to J.S.'s case and Evans's case, then it might have been J.S. who won and Evans who lost.

  • by nick_davison (217681) on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:47PM (#31230602)

    Not that I, in any way, think it's right we've ended up in this situation, nor that the conclusion is right. For the sake of providing an alternative perspective, however...

    "And where does this attitude towards minors come from?"

    Under the legal age of consent, minors are considered a group that require additional guidance: greater praise to encourage positive actions, protecting from greater long term consequences of negative actions, more immediate short term consequences for those actions.

    Under that system, it's generally considered a parent's responsibility to discipline.

    Unfortunately, the common belief is that a hell of a lot of parents don't bother. They've got other things to do, are absent, would rather be the kids' friends, had kids whilst kids themselves and never learned the lessons they need to teach, a whole slew of reasons.

    The common belief holds that they tend to dump pretty much the entire responsibility for parenting on a school system that has to deal with the consequences of that lack of parenting every day.

    Given they've had both the responsibility and consequences dumped on them, for the entirety of raising a child, time and again... and they know the parents often won't back them when it becomes the parents' responsibility in situations that overlap... how surprising is it that issues keep coming up where they overreach what would ever be acceptable in a world where every parent acted like a parent?

    I'm not saying it's right. As is always joked, there are tougher requirements on having a beer or driving a car than there are on becoming a parent. It's not acceptable that many parents do a terrible job of raising their kids. It's not acceptable that responsibility and consequences are dumped on the school system. It's not acceptable that some parents acting so poorly leads to some teachers generalizing for all parents and overreaching in all cases. It's not acceptable that we value education as poorly as we do, have class sizes as large as we do, and create a situation where teachers don't have time to genuinely assess each case.

    It's wrong in every way. But the only way you stand any chance of fixing something is to understand the whole broken system and everything that needs fixing... rather than just finger pointing at one symptom at the end of the chain and declaring that it is wrong. Sadly, as a society, we much prefer that fingerpointing and scapegoating to actually facing tough truths. So, I imagine these teachers will get sued, we'll all feel very righteous, then wonder why it's continued to get worse next year.

  • Want it both ways? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tweezer (83980) on Monday February 22, 2010 @01:08PM (#31231052)

    I don't understand how they can't have full free speech rights, yet be held accountable for criminal acts. If a 17 year old student came to school with a gun and killed someone, they would want to try them as an adult. If you're going to be held to adult standards in that situation you should also have adult privileges.

  • by Grond (15515) on Monday February 22, 2010 @01:15PM (#31231228) Homepage

    Once again Mr. Haselton demonstrates his tremendous ignorance of the law by attempting to analyze it from his own preconceived first principles using his own methods of reasoning rather than from within the appropriate legal framework using legal reasoning.

    Judges are not like doctors who look at a mammogram, and draw on experience that the general public does not have, in order to see something that would be hidden from the rest of us.

    The general public does not have substantial legal experience or knowledge, so judges do indeed see something that would be hidden from most people, Mr. Haselton included, evidently.

    In cases like these, judges simply have multiple plausible interpretations in front of them, and they pick one. As such they're acting more like referees (who make a decision so that the game -- or, in this case, society -- can move on) than true "experts".

    Although Mr. Haselton almost certainly does not know it, this is close to a critical legal studies [wikipedia.org] view of jurisprudence. It is a controversial view, to put it mildly, and the majority of judges and attorneys do not subscribe to it.

    There is a temptation to think that there is some consistent reasoning behind the different courts' rulings...This, I think, is nonsense, an attempt to put a consistent theory on top of a legal system that does not follow consistent rules from one court ruling to the next.

    Those rulings were written by judges in different circuits who were thus bound by different precedents. Furthermore, one was written by a district court judge who is generally constrained to follow the law in his circuit. The other was a decision on appeal written by a circuit judges who were considerably more free to deviate from prior precedent. Mr. Haselton is comparing apples and oranges.

    And indeed in the 3rd Circuit case you see 3rd Circuit cases cited, and in the Southern District of Florida case you see different cases cited, including the earlier 3rd Circuit case! There is no inconsistency here: the Southern Florida judge is distinguishing his case from the 3rd Circuit case based on the facts present in the particular case. Judges do this all the time.

    Mr. Haselton seems to think that rulings are always simplistic hard and fast rules. Here he seems think that the rule is something like "students can't be punished for something they do online outside the school." In fact, as the case discusses, there is a complex legal and factual inquiry that is dependent on balancing competing factors and making fine distinctions. The case itself makes this clear: "While the Frederick decision offers little aid in solving the specific issue of student speech published on the internet, it does, however, make clear that the operative test is not a simple one of geography. Where the speech is published is not the only question that needs to be asked." (emphasis added)

    But even if it's still a roll of the dice how a court would rule in a particular student free-speech case, what matters from the point of view of a principal in a future case, are the potential payoffs.

    Here Mr. Haselton is stumbling onto law & economics [wikipedia.org]. But his argument rests on several unstated assumptions: first, he's assuming that the principal is a rational actor, which is a pretty questionable assumption. Second, he's assuming that principal's have sufficient information on which to base a rational choice; in particular he's assuming that the principals (or their lawyers) know about this and related cases and know all of the ground facts of the case that a court might use to come to a decision. This is also a questionable assumption. He offers nothing to support either of these assumptions.

    How did the legal and societal climate of attitudes toward people under 18, lead to a principal thinking that he could punish a 17-year-old for comment

  • by naasking (94116) <naasking AT gmail DOT com> on Monday February 22, 2010 @01:25PM (#31231492) Homepage

    To my knowledge, free speech is an inalienable human right not an inalienable adult right. The age of the individual should not matter in the slightest, but be subject only to the conditions on free speech itself, ie. libel and slander.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I'd argue that there are some human rights that should not be extended to children due to their undeveloped sense of moral reasoning, judgment and impulse control. That said, I don't see any potential harm from children being given full free speech rights; if they're immature babblers they get ignored, no harm done, and if they're cogent, forceful speakers, people can choose to listen. Much like with adults actually.

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