A Free AND Ordered Space

Part 1 of the series

By John M. Sedor, Sedor, Wendlandt, Evans & Filippi, LLC

In these AASB Commentaries we provide legal perspectives on issues facing districts across the State. In addition, we also have the latitude to provide some editorial comment. Here is my editorial comment for this month: The 2021-22 school year has begun … Buckle Up! It is shaping up to be a doozy! 😊

Long ago I read a book by A. Bartlett Giamatti. This name might be familiar to baseball fans – he was once the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. The book as titled: A Free And Ordered Space: The Real World of the University. It was written in 1988. The book warned universities to beware of efforts to impose any agenda on the process of learning be it political agendas, social agendas or otherwise. In a certain sense it was a call for civility and reasoned discourse. To be honest, it was not a “page turner” and I stopped turning the pages before I got to the end. But what I have always remembered is the title: A Free AND Ordered Space. This title succinctly identifies the tension of our democratic society. We celebrate freedom but that freedom must be bounded by the needs of order necessary for a functioning and successful society. Freedom without order is chaos. Order without freedom is autocracy.

Schools – possibly more than any other public or private entities – embody this tension between freedom and order. Schools bring together an incredibly diverse group of people each of whom want and expect the freedom to express themselves. On the other hand, schools must have sufficient order in the school community to be able to effectively and successfully deliver the level of education the next generation requires and deserves. This is a tall order made only more difficult over the last few years by the pandemic, societal discord, social media, and political polarization.

This year our commentaries are going to address controversial school issues that push to the limit the tension between freedom AND order. How is the freedom of individual choice balanced with a need to provide in-school learning and a reasonably heathy school environment? How do schools provide an orderly educational environment while respecting the freedom of speech of students and staff both inside and outside the “schoolhouse gates” in an increasingly digital world? And how does society allow for board member free speech while providing boards the tools necessary to conduct meetings in an efficient and orderly manner? The balance between freedom and order also manifests itself in gender identification that inevitably impacts day-to-day school administration and participation in school wide activities including athletics. “Academic freedom” in diverse school communities is another area where the freedom must be bounded by society’s need for reliable consistency in the education delivered.

None of these are not easy topics but then again, we are not living in easy times. And for each of these issues, the answer is neither simple or certain – these are complex issues with answers that continue to change and morph as we journey down the path.

More from Sedor, Wendlandt, Evans & Filippi, LLC:

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Association of Alaska School Boards. AASB welcomes diverse perspectives and civil discourse. To submit a Guest Column for consideration, see our Guest Column Guidelines and email your 400-1000 word submission HERE.