American high school students read about the democratic ideals of their country in history textbooks, yet, when they try to make practical use of what they are taught, they are punished.
A recent example of this is an experience I had at my high school in Fallbrook.
Fallbrook is a very conservative community, and anything that represents change or new ideas is frowned upon. This conservatism borders on mental stagnation and is reflected in the attitudes of students at my school.
My friend Daniel Gluesenkamp published a newspaper called The Hatchet Job to fight these attitudes and "stir stagnant brain cells into action."
I submitted an article to the paper that was considered obscene by school administrators and parents. Actually, the article was meant to describe the most offensive obscenity of all--apathy. The Hatchet Job was published in hopes of getting some of the students to wake up. We hoped that some would agree with us and confront their attitudes about some of the things they had held sacred and above question, such as the Associated Student Body.
The students at my school have a form of security blanket that keeps them safe. As long as they have their blanket, they don't care what happens outside their world. These security blankets come in different forms, but the most common ones are drugs, cliques and parents. And the students' parents have their own security blankets. The most popular two in Fallbrook are the Bible and the American flag.
The article was a stream of consciousness look at all the things assaulting us in our society, things like male chauvinism, racism, drugs, things I viewed as negative. I strung words and phrases together--Michael Jackson, Moral Majority, Boy George and Ronald Reagan, or Lebanon, oil prices, Thompson Twins, police brutality, punk rock, incurable impotency, homosexual prostitution, parents who care, teen-age death, or masturbation, legal drinking age, MSG, BHT, LSD, THC, ASB, Sid Vicious, corporate process.
I ended it with a criticism: Right now somebody's dying, and you're upset because your school picture turned out bad. Open your eyes.
Apathy results in a complete denial of responsibility. People fail to see important things because it is simply somebody else's problem. Students are being taught to put faith in God or the government and ignore the problems.
The Hatchet Job's attack on apathy only turned stagnant thought into stagnant actions. Daniel and I were suspended, parents in the community labeled us pornographers--and most of the students agreed.
Ironically, the lessons Daniel and I had been taught at school about civil rights seemed to apply least to our high school. We were told that the First Amendment to the Constitution did not apply on high school grounds if the school had a differing policy.
If Daniel and I had been apathetic, it all would have ended there. But with the priceless assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, we were able to strike a winning blow for the U.S.Constitution.
A Superior Court judge ruled our suspensions illegal, and, although he avoided mentioning the civil rights aspect, he proved that the Constitution is stronger than a high school.
The Constitution ensures liberty for the people in this country. It was written by men who had lived under the oppression of a monarchy and realized that no man is better than another. But just having it written is not enough.
A Constitutional right is not a right if it can be denied. If a person allows his rights to be denied, then he is in fact betraying his country, and one day enough of this type of betrayal will lead to an atrophied Constitution--a set of civil rights that has decayed into nothing.
Students should be taught about the freedom this country is based on in practical ways. Civil rights must be tested. They must be "flexed" to avoid atrophy, for a civil right is only worth the extreme to which it is able to be pushed, and if it cannot be pushed, then it is worth only the ink with which it is written.