The empowerment of high school students through free speech 

Students holding up posters to protest for gun reform. (Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull)

By Thu Nguyen

May 14, 2022 

SAN JOSE, CALIF. – Under the First Amendment, students have the right to express an opinion or idea without fear of censorship. This right is called freedom of speech. 

In 1969, the landmark Supreme Court ruling of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District established that students have a right to free speech in public schools. The Supreme Court stated that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

This secures the legal rights of students to speak, form assemblies and to protest issues that they feel are unjust. This can be done in any manner that they choose. Students can create petitions or wear expressive clothing that demonstrate their belief, just as long as it does not disrupt the school environment or violate the rights of others. 

The right to student expression is essential in teaching kids, especially teenagers in high schools, to speak up on topics that they feel passionate about. It would encourage them to apply the same skills in the real world when they become an adult and are faced with more responsibilities. By learning that it’s okay to voice their opinion now, it would help them adapt to the workplace environment. If they were struggling with an issue in their place of work, they would have the courage to speak up about it.

In addition, sharing ideas is also a key part in a healthy academic environment. Students can make their voices be heard without fear of suppression by teachers or school officials. It would make them feel more confident to speak out during discussions. Being able to confidently share their ideas without negative feedback from other peers is necessary for kids to have a positive attitude towards school. If they perceive the classroom as a secure place, they will associate school in a positive connotation.

By allowing students to openly engage in topics that they feel strongly about, it would boost critical thinking capabilities and open them up to new perspectives that they have not considered before. Controversial issues that impact the lives of students can be openly talked about and they can peacefully demand for a change in the institution. Student expression is important because it teaches them the power they hold in their voice and how they can use it to effectively seek for change.

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