Commentary: When Did We Become a Nation of Snowflakes?

Last winter, the right complained, and I think largely rightly so, when events such as Milo Yiannopoulos were shut down by leftist protests on college campuses.  The complaint was that college campuses had become antithetical to the notion of free speech and protesters could shut down events simply by creating apparent safety risks.

However, any claims to being stalwarts for free speech have disappeared this fall as the issue has turned away from right-wing speakers on college campuses to protests during the national anthem at sporting events.

The incident at Woodland High last week just punctuates this debate.  The Vanguard on Monday published comments from the principal who informed parents, “While teachers do retain certain First Amendment rights in their capacity as an instructor, such rights are limited by Ed Code and caselaw. Their personal, political or religious beliefs are not appropriately expressed at school or in the classroom.”

Instead, they argue, the “legal instructional role is one of facilitator – one who facilitates student discussion and intelligent analysis of current events.”

At some point I wonder when we became such a nation of snowflakes, who melt any time a view is expressed that we don’t wholly back 100 percent.

Inevitably, someone pointed out in a comment on the Vanguard that I would not be happy if a teacher were pushing a pro-Trump line in class.  The reality is that I have been extremely consistent on this
point and I don’t believe I would have a problem with that.

When I was in school we had a number of teachers who were former marines in Vietnam and they had a much more conservative view than I did.  We had some interesting discussions, including over the need to salute the flag in class.  Instead of being indoctrinated, we had good and passionate discussions in class and it became a source for learning that there are a variety of different viewpoints out there.

We had interesting class discussions and debates over many current events.  I remember during some protracted labor negotiations and two near strikes for teachers, we had teachers who were union reps, and they would tell us what was going on.  It was certainly off-topic from the curriculum but we learned a lot.

My guess is that, these days, many of these discussions and off-topic rants (and the teachers often did not hold back) would be frowned upon – and, I think, to the detriment of learning.

The irony of it all is that Ms. Pappas was doing this at a school assembly.  She did not take up class time to do it.  She had a sign that was really a free-thinking sign: “It’s OK to disagree with every sign here.”  And of course, there was the most incendiary message, the hand-held “Black Lives Matter” sign, which I’m sure is what got her in the hot water.

Had the school simply ignored the signs and her silent protest, I wonder how many people would have even been aware of it.  They certainly were well within their rights to tell her not to do this again – but, by suspending her on the first offense, they did not present other ways forward that could be learning experiences for the teacher, her students and the community.

By disciplining her immediately through suspension, they made this far bigger than it ever needed to be.

As a 9th grade female student wrote: “As a student at Woodland High School it is damaging to see a well respected teacher torn down for simply expressing how the world works.”

She said, “High school is not just about learning Y=MX + B.  High school is a place where students should feel comfortable expressing and learning new opinions of the world.”

She said, “Today-October 13th 2017-not only my principal, but the entire Woodland School district let me down.  I feel I have missed a positive opportunity to learn.  By silencing the voice of this teacher, you silenced the voice of a whole community.

“If America is truly the land of the free, then why is this happening?”

The interesting thing is that, by requiring the national anthem, already the school district and other entities have injected politics into the discussion.  They have tilted the scales in one direction.

One commenter stated that “by playing the national anthem with the expectation that students and teachers will defer to some traditional stance with hand over heart is, by its very nature, injecting politics into a school setting. Even those teachers who ‘behaved appropriately’ were expressing a political statement. How then, is it justifiable to discipline a teacher who happens to not share the same political view of the masses?”

But another commenter responded, “I don’t see it as a political statement to show respect and love for your country by standing for its anthem.”

But what they are failing to see is that the way that people show love and respect for the country is being dictated by someone else.  I happen to believe that this nation stands for the right to freedom of speech, and that freedom of speech is pointless without the right to dissent and criticize the government.

After all, the most oppressive nation in the world is happy to allow its citizens to praise the government and express patriotism and love for the nation.  The real test of freedom is the ability to challenge that – to say things that the government opposes and express opinions that are considered by some dangerous and by others disrespectful.

Without that right, we have lost our freedom.  Therefore, for me the flag stands for the right to dissent and it is antithetical to our nation’s values not to allow people to express dissent.

Last winter, I lectured to many students about free speech.  It was difficult to get many to understand that the reason they needed to allow people like Milo to be able to speak and say things they consider hateful is that next time the shoe will be on the other foot.

At that time, the point I made is that the best way to respond to speech you don’t like is to ignore it, because it is only by publicizing it and trying to ban it that it has its biggest impact.  That is exactly what has happened here.

But many seem to fear that teachers will indoctrinate our students.  I have no such fear.

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of photographing the Yolo County Concilio award winners, including 14 county-wide high school students who are receiving scholarships to go to college.  The best part is listening to the students speak about the adversity they had to overcome to get to this point in their lives, as well as their list of accomplishments.

What you realize is that these kids are not snowflakes.  They have to overcome barriers – language, economic hardship, cultural differences – to get to this point.  These kids are not going to melt when they see a teacher expressing an opinion that they either agree or disagree with.

Kids are tough and resilient, and we don’t need to protect them from a diversity of opinions.

What we do need to do is protect their right to freedom of speech and freedom of dissent.  That is what this nation is built on and what makes us great.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Come see the Vanguard Event – “In Search of Gideon” – which highlights some of the key work performed by the Yolo County Public Defender’s Office…

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Keith O

    There’s a big difference from shutting down Milo at a college campus speaking event attended by adults and a teacher in a public school espousing their political views on captive adolescents.

        1. David Greenwald

          “You’re wrong here, I think you’re letting your politics cloud your judgement. These are totally different situations and venues.”

          Actually I’m not allowing my politics to cloud my judgment, which is why I supported Milo’s right to speak on the UC Davis campus even as people of color felt that his brand of hate speech put them in danger. I believe that the woman’s protest is permissible free speech and I think we should err on the side of allowing more of that – even by those who I disagree with.

        2. Keith O

          Thank you, that says it all about how ludicrous your position is.  No way Milo should ever be allowed to speak to students on any public high school campus.

    1. Eric Gelber

      . . . a teacher in a public school espousing their political views on captive adolescents.

      To “espouse” a political view is merely to support it. It does not entail forcing that view on anyone, including so-called “captive” adolescents. There’s no coerced indoctrination. There was no disruption or attempt to prevent others from expressing their own political views or demonstrations of respect. In fact, this teacher made a point of emphasizing acceptance of disagreement with her silently expressed opinion. If even this innocuous nonconformity is a punishable offense, then I have to ask what values are those who stand for the national anthem expressing support for?

      1. Jim Hoch

        Maybe they want to create a “safe space” at school events for people of all political outlooks? Just a wild guess. BTW there is a vary large middle ground between standing and making a spectacle of yourself.

        English lesson: “innocuous” = “not harmful or offensive”

        This display was designed to be offensive.

        1. Eric Gelber

          This display was designed to be offensive.

          I admire your ability to read minds. Provocative, perhaps. But offensive?

          By your interpretation, there’s no such thing as an innocuous expression of opinion, since someone will always be offended. That’s a formula for oppression and censorship. I’m not a fan of derogatorily referring to people as snowflakes; but your standard for what is innocuous and what is offensive proves the thesis of this article.

        2. Keith O

          Displaying two signs while kneeling on the gym floor during the anthem in front of all the students is indeed in my opinion “making a spectacle of yourself.”

        3. Jim Hoch

          I will also note that at DJU school board meetings it is forbidden to clap with more than one hand as it would hurtful to those people who did not receive applause.


  2. Ron

    From article:  “When I was in school we had a number of teachers who were former marines in Vietnam and they had a much more conservative view than I did.  We had some interesting discussions, including over the need to salute the flag in class.  Instead of being indoctrinated, we had good and passionate discussions in class and it became a source for learning that there are a variety of different viewpoints out there.”

    Sounds like you had some good teachers, who didn’t consciously or subconsciously “punish” those with views different from their own.

    When I was in school, I was mostly concerned about passing the class.  (That, and at times – my own safety, sometimes from those who didn’t like my skin color.  With the schools apparently not caring much about that.)

    Don’t recall any interesting or passionate discussions, in which all viewpoints were (safely and honestly) encouraged.

  3. John Hobbs

    Laughable commentary, when you consider that the “moderation” on the Vanguard is primarily used to protect the fragile egos of the management and  home towners. Advocate for free speech all you want, but you’d have more credibility if you walked the walk. If the readers of the VG are so sensitive, their offspring are likely doubly cursed.

  4. Howard P

    Read the breton article in the Bee today… same picture… had a thought, and a new perspective…

    Take a close look at the picture… which seems to be the only one in existence for the event/incident.  Have seen no others…

    Take a close look at head orientations… how many in the shot appear to be looking pretty close at the camera… for maximum effect?  Really lucky camera angle? [you should see, at this point, where I’m heading!]

    Who provided the picture?  What, if any relationship does the one who took the photo have with the teacher?  Was this a “staged” ‘incident’?  Think about the two signs?  Was the one that said it’s OK to disagree an ‘insurance policy’/mitigation’?

    The teacher (according to the Bee) returned to teaching Tuesday… no dock in pay…

    My ‘gut’, and ‘spidey-sense’, leads me to wonder if the whole thing was a “set-up”… for what reason, is unclear… IF it was ‘staged’, I am no longer defending the teacher, I’m pissed!  I generally don’t get into ‘conspiracy theory’ mentality, but, as outlined above, am getting more and more skeptical of the accounts.  For a number of reasons, we may never have the answers to the questions I’ve asked… but I recommend all take the whole narrative, to date, with a heaping tablespoon of salt.

      1. Howard P

        David… had two (cups of coffee… decaf)… I’m drop dead serious… you can place your head back in the sand (your right), but until we know who took the picture, circumstances as to why only one image is available, I am skeptical about the narratives to date… please recall, I was inclined, and repeatedly asserted, that this was no big deal… now, with the accounts here, in the Emptyprize, and now the Bee, I may have erred.

        Not on the national anthem thing, but as to the motivations of those involved… And to emphasize again, I used IF… bolded and italicized…

        Simple to resolve… the person who took the photo can come forward (why not, if I’m wrong), and let folk know how they came to get the pic.

        1. David Greenwald

          What are you skeptical about?  Teacher protested.  Teacher got suspended for a day.  She probably had a good record prior to that.  Teacher went back to work.

          I’m not following your train of thought here.  What do you mean by the motivations of those involved – who?  The teacher?  The principal?  The administration?  The school board?

        2. Howard P

          The nuance is a possibly “staged” protest (if truly spontaneous, without an intended photo-op, I revert immediately to my previous comments)… thought facts were important to you… pretty sure it was an immediate suspension… so, more than a day.  Apparently, zero loss in pay… a “day off” apparently with pay, if you will…

          If spontaneous, and inadvertently captured in a pic that you, and the Bee have used (and have seen no other), I object to the removal of the teacher from class and exclusion from the grounds, and the suspension.  I put that on the Woodland school admin…

          If a “setup”, my objections move off the Admin, and lie elsewhere…

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