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Different view not necessarily wrong view

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By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 26, 2002


Ihad teachers who had funny ideas about things like Catholics and African-Americans and sometimes stated them in school.

At one point I thought they were surely saying stupid things just to challenge me, and then I found out, the hard way, that they weren't.

But, on my way into my second year in the 11th grade, I had learned the valuable lessons that people who saw things differently from I did existed and that they are sometimes in charge.

The lesson that came years later was that their exercise of their right to free speech demonstrated to me how wrong bigots are and how responsible I was for doing my own thinking.

I am not, certainly, saying that embattled Collier County school teacher Ian Harvey is a bigot. But I am saying that -- agree with him or not -- he is certainly representative of a substantial number of the threads in the tapestry of Americana, and that it would be wrong to deprive him of his right to teach.

A conservative's lobbying has led to an investigation of Harvey, who ran afoul of the thought police when he appeared at a peace rally. I'll bet the kids he used to teach (before he was banished to an adult education job in Immokalee) have done more thinking about things like free speech and free thought and individual involvement in the political process than they have ever done before.

It really doesn't matter whether you agree with Harvey's antiwar views and the difference between what he says in the classroom and what he says in the streets is still apparently at question.

Quite a few years back a Pasco teacher, who now works for the Times, called and asked me to present my viewpoint to his classes, as a Vietnam veteran who later opposed the war. A few days earlier he had presented a strongly pro-war guy to the same class. The pro-war guy was another teacher.

I remember then what I told the kids. I said I wasn't a hundred percent right and neither was the other guy. I said that the war had been so divisive that families had broken up from it, young men had gone to prison or to live in exile in different countries and that people had literally died in confrontations about the war and that a subject that had that much power was something to think deeply about because there would be other wars and other calls for them to make up their own minds.

With some reservations, I'm a little more in favor of the war against terrorism that Harvey is protesting, than I have been in other wars, and would love the chance to sit down over a cup of coffee and talk to Harvey about his views.

Talk, I said, not shout or scream, not have him removed from his job.

Educational institutions today have become such guarded bastions of political correctness and stylized thought that it's hard not to consider the term "educational institution," oxymoronic.

I worry about a society where issues have only one side, the right side -- the one the government tells you is right and punishes you for if you don't agree with it.

I've pointed out here before that too many people use the word censorship when, frequently, they are talking about things like economic boycotts. If you write to advertisers and say you won't buy their product if they sponsor South Park, that's not censorship.

Censorship is when the government tells people to shut up because it doesn't like what they are saying. The Florida Department of Education, which is now reviewing whether Harvey gets to keep his career, is a government agency.

Should a teacher be allowed to say anything he or she wants any time in a classroom?

No.

Should we look long and very very hard before deciding what is permissible and before taking punitive action?

You bet.

Some of his critics say that Harvey's British citizenship should be at issue in deciding how free he is.

The sign we pictured him carrying says, in part, "Citizen of the World," and the last time I checked we were all in it.

Some of us, apparently, more than others.

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