As viewers of The Big Bang Theory know, Newton Massachusetts is most famous for being the thing Fig Newtons are named after. (Not Isaac Newton.) But now Newton has a new claim to fame: punishing a kid, one Henry DeGroot, whose vile sin was expressing anti-government sentiments.
Times change. Back in 1763, Boston's Faneuil Hall was dubbed the "cradle of liberty" based on anti-government words spoken by James Otis there. But that was 10 or so miles away from Newton, and 250 years ago, and things are way different now. Faneuil Hall might still be the cradle of liberty, but Newton is where liberty grew up to be insulted and abused.
Anyway, about Henry: his sin was doing this in China, where he was visiting as part of a study abroad program run by Newton North High School. When he was asked to write his e-mail address in the Chinese students' notebooks:
“Democracy is for cool kids,” he recalls writing. “Don’t believe the lies your school and government tell you,” said another message, and “It’s right to rebel.”
Oops! James Otis would have patted him on the back, but not Chinese school officials. Right up front, Henry was whacked for a five-hour detention. And things did not improve when he got back to the Land of the Free. Newton school officials, allegedly Americans themselves, banned him from the prom.
Newton school officials say he violated semester abroad rules, embarrassed the principal of the Chinese school that was hosting Newton students, and showed so much disrespect for the Chinese that the longstanding relationship with the school may be harmed.
Here's what I really doubt: that there were any "semester abroad" rules that said anything close to: "While in China, don't write anything that will irk or embarrass Chinese officials." My guess is the rules are vague enough to allow arbitrary punishment of any behavior that sufficiently irritates the tinpot administrators of Newton North.
Specifically, Newton School Superintendent David Fleishman is quoted:
“We certainly want our students to be thoughtful and critical thinkers,” said Fleishman. “We encourage that, and we pride ourselves on giving students that opportunity. But this is not about free speech.”
Not passing the giggle test there, Superindendent Fleishman! "This is not about free speech. This is about violating our rules that disallow you from expressing your opinions freely! A different thing altogether!"
Also irritating: the hand-wringing that DeGroot's actions might cause the "longstanding relationship" between Newton North and the Chinese school to "be harmed."
Please. Yes, even hinting at the truth about the brutally repressive and corrupt Chinese government might irk the authorities. Since when should anyone with a decent respect for liberty worry about that? Why aren't Newton North administators ashamed of a program that requires participants to be silent about that?