Free speech vs… The TDSB

Seriously, Toronto? What the fuck are you doing?

Speaking at a Nov. 22 assembly at Northern Secondary School that was supposed to be a celebration of the school’s athletic achievements, Emil Cohen said: “We now have it instilled into us that soccer [at Northern] is synonymous with the word ‘unnecessary.'”

Cohen, 17, said he was upset that students had to take it upon themselves this year to “to do the phys ed department’s job to find a coach” for the school’s team. In past years, the team also had to supply most of its own equipment and was frequently forced to cede use of the school’s field to the football team, he said.

The day after his speech, Cohen was suspended for two days and was barred from all sporting activities at the school.

Back in high school I was a director of the Young Actor’s Company, a school drama production where grade 11+ students directed one-act plays performed by grade 9/10 students. It was an opportunity for older students to get some directing experience, and for younger students to be in a play without having to compete with older, more experienced actors.

The play we did, called Of the Blue, was about a philosopher who is injected with an unknown substance and has to deal with the sudden relevance of his potentially-impending mortality. In one scene, he is arguing with his girlfriend, who says “don’t you think we should wait for the test results to come back before we start… fucking?” The line is delivered in the context of an argument where he basically tells her that she owes him sex because of his distress.

Of course the teachers involved in the production told us (a week before we went on stage) to censor the line. Their suggestion was “doing it” instead of “fucking”. The first night we tried the substitution line and absolutely hated it. I told the person playing the girlfriend to leave the line as-is. Shit hit the fan, and I was told that I wasn’t allowed to be in the school play that year.

Even at the age of 17 I knew that this was a bunch of bullshit. The language we used was not particularly strong – no stronger than you’d encounter walking the halls. It was appropriate in the context of the scene, and we had even warned audience members that the play contained strong language.

The issue was that I had stepped out of bounds and defied the teachers. I had done so in a way that was entirely consistent with the regulations of the school, so they had no grounds for official “on-the-books” punishment, so they had to get their revenge through unofficial means. Luckily, the school play was a total stinker that year, so I kind of dodged a bullet there.

This story is far worse. This kid is not being punished for defying teachers, he’s being punished for lodging a legitimate criticism of his school in an appropriate venue. How can anyone at the TDSB think that this is a legitimate defense of their autocrasy?

“He certainly didn’t comply with his teacher in the process that he was supposed to follow,” he said. “There are pieces in terms of the Education Act around students needing to be able to follow through with expectations and directions of their teachers.”

Student fails to comply with censorship… and is suspended for standing up against an unfair teacher? Something’s rotten at the school board.

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  1. Ethan Clow says

    I came to the conclusion long ago that things like freedom of speech and civil rights don’t exist in places like high school. Sigh.

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