Johnston County schools superintendent Ed Croom and the school board he works for face an important decision in how to deal with outside groups who want to distribute literature in our public schools.
For years, the school system has allowed some groups to distribute faith-based literature in the schools. Now, another group is asking permission to do the same. But their literature is not in keeping with the mainstream thoughts and believes of many Johnston County residents.
Croom is correct in his assessment that the school system can’t arbitrarily allow one group to disseminate its message, but forbid another group to do the same.
School officials have said the best option may be to simply disallow the dissemination of all literature from outside groups.
But that idea runs counter to the notion of free speech and the free flow of ideas in an open society.
Because we do not like a message, we shouldn’t necessarily allow that message to be squelched.
School leaders certainly have an obligation to prevent the dissemination of illegal communication, such as pornography or exhortations to violence.
But we must be careful that we not go to the extreme of quieting all such materials because we disagree with them – even if we disagree with them strongly.
Schools should be safe havens for discussions of controversial issues. Students with access to different schools of thought can digest different points of view and make their own decisions about which point of view they support or oppose. And lest you think public school students are too naive to consider arguments fully, let us just suggest that you engage some of those students in a discussion on some hot-button issue. You will be surprised to see the depth of their understanding and the maturity of their thought process.