Stop thinking critically

It turns out that high school officials don’t really want students to seek out information, think critically or discuss ideas with classmates, writes Colby Cosh in the National Post. A high school student in Saskatchewan who discussed the health risks of marijuana with friends was threatened, suspended and accused indirectly of being a drug dealer.

(Kieran) King, who is in Grade 10 at a high school in tiny Wawota, Sask., started researching marijuana after he and his fellow students were given an audiovisual presentation about drugs earlier in the year.

. . . On May 30, Kieran, who is described as “research-obsessed” by his mother, was chatting with friends around the school lunch table and telling them about what he’d discovered, largely from scholarly and government sources. He argued that marijuana carries a near-zero risk of overdose, that it has been approved by Health Canada for medical use and that it kills an infinitesimal fraction of the people that alcohol and tobacco do every week — claims so uncontroversial you’d have to be high on something much stronger than pot to dispute them.

He also suggested that it doesn’t make much sense for marijuana to be illegal in a world where booze and smokes are freely available in shops.

A student told the principal, who told Kieran not to talk about marijuana on school premises.

. . . later she called his mother to warn her that “promoting drug use” would not be tolerated. According to the education director of the school division, she was also told “if there were any drugs brought into the school, the police could be involved.” One can almost hear the truncheon slapping against the open palm. Later on, when Kieran organized a brief free speech protest outside the school with the help of a few “cannabis culture” types, Wilson reacted by ordering a lockdown (remember, they’re not prisons!). When he walked out anyway to join supporters, he was suspended from school and a “threat assessment” was ordered (definitely not prisons!).

Superintendent Velda Weatherald claimed “there was an accusation” that Kieran may have been involved in selling drugs at the school.

This boy’s mother is a teacher. His father was killed by a drunk driver.

When my nephew was in fifth grade, he gave an “I Have a Dream” speech on Martin Luther King Day about his dream that one day marijuana would be legalized. There was no censorship or consequences.

Update: On a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that school officials can punish a student for advocating drug use by carrying a sign across the street from the school saying, “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.”

About Joanne


  1. Velda Weatherald. I thought she went on to become a California assemblyperson.

    I did a fair amount of research in high school, but didn’t have a superintendent named Velda.

  2. It is worth mentioning that the Supreme Court ruling in the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case was a narrow as-applied ruling which did not approve suppresion of advocacy or debate.

  3. Whether or not it will be treated as narrowly is quite up-in-the-air. While I in general don’t have a problem with Clarence Thomas, I’m very disturbed with his opinion in this case.

    Even as I’m in the educational establishment (as a comm. college professor and the spouse of a high school teacher), I’m not sure I’m necessarily comfortable with the idea that schools have the right to decide which opinions are appropriate to express. There have been laws in the past that were later ajudged to be unethical, immoral, or otherwise inappropriate; the whole point behind real free speech is that a well crafted argument should be persuasive to carry the day even in the present of highly questionable and confrontational opinions.

  4. “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” is not a well crafted argument, and I say that as someone who has taken quite a few.

  5. The decisions seems to follow from the assumption that children don’t have the same rights as adults. If you can compel children to attend school then you can certainly do what’s necessary to ensure that the reason for mandatory attendance is accomplished.

  6. triticale, I cannot argue with that but I’m very wary of the slippery slope. Sometimes satire can be the best way to make a point.

    allen, mandatory attendance is not universal in the U.S. (Homeschooling laws in many states essentially invalidate mandatory attendance laws provided that certain criteria are met depending on the state.) I think you’re getting access to an education confused with the method in which the education is delivered. Going back to Joanne’s post, I think we’ve changed the definition of what a well-educated student is from one who thinks critical to one who knows lots of stuff. The former can do the latter but the latter often cannot do the former.

  7. Nope, don’t think so. Homeschooling doesn’t invalidate mandatory attendance, it’s just another place to do what you’re compelled to do. I’m not so much concerned with the ostensible reason for the mandate as I am about the mandate itself and what it implies about the degree to which we can, in aggregate, impose our will on ourselves as individuals.

    I also don’t think it would be all that tough to guess which kid, the one who’s well-versed in critical thinking skills or the one who knows a lot of stuff, in this case about history, would draw the most educational value from the excessive reaction of the school administration.

  8. This was clearly a “reasonable time, place, and manner” restriction on the exercise of free speech. The key word there is “reasonable”.