There can be no doubt that the decision to force [Nova Scotia highschool student] William Swinimer to remove a T-shirt expressing his faith [“Life is wasted without Jesus”] reeks of hypocrisy and bias. Today’s schools strive to turn their environment into a utopia of expression and dialogue, and then bristle when the dialogue becomes politically incorrect. Profanity and casual attire are in; traditional values and Christianity are out.
Canadian schools are dripping with ideological confusion, half-baked secularist agendas confused and bizarre interpretations of multiculturalism, etc. The only consistent victim seems to be Christianity. It’s wrong, it’s hypocritical. I get it.
However, since when has it become a students’ job or even prerogative to use the classroom to advance a political or a religious agenda?
Canadians generally know that when they enter the workplace, their freedom of expression is limited. At work, you probably abide by a few rules: (1) dress appropriately; (2) speak respectfully; and (3) if you break rules one or two, start looking for a new job.
The workplace is not the legislature; it is not the op-ed page of a newspaper. Your rights as a worker are not the same as your rights as a citizen. They are more tempered. Yes, you may wear a cross or a similar artifact that identifies your faith. No, you may not pepper your clothing or your workspace with slogans that will offend your fellow workers. Yes, you may share your faith or political views if the conversation is comfortable for all parties involved. No, you may not instigate conversations that are generally considered to be disruptive. You’re there to work, not to debate, not to express yourself.
Schools used to have the same rules. There was a time (albeit long-past) when a student sporting a mohawk or a ripped T-shirt to school would have been suspended or even expelled. There was a time when students were expected to do a lot more listening than talking.
No more. Students are now encouraged to express themselves in whichever manner they deem to be appropriate, with the limitations on those expressions becoming fewer and farther between. Sport that mohawk, come to school as a boy in girl’s attire (as long as you’re protesting something), argue with your teachers–almost anything goes.
In this context, it was absolutely wrong to send William Swinimer home. In an environment where the freedom of speech is considered to be nearly absolute, he has the right to express his beliefs, whether or not some consider them to be offensive.
But what a lousy preparation this is for the workplace, and for life in general. Who will teach our children the nuances of socially acceptable behaviour outside of the public square? Teach your children these values all you want at home-if they spend eight hours a day or more in an environment where such ethics are cast into the trash heap, they will learn something else entirely.
The classroom should first and foremost be a place of learning: not a forum in which to exercise one’s freedom of expression. Children need to learn how to think before they learn how to bellow out whatever it is they’re thinking. (There’s a reason we don’t allow them to vote.)
Given the current atmosphere of the classroom and the problems it engenders-texting, bullying and rampant disrespect for authority-perhaps it’s time for Canadian school boards to re-discover the benefits of public decorum. Dress codes would be an excellent start.
Colin McComb is a human resources manager living in Calgary, AB.