There have been varying stories in the media in the formative months of 2011 that have questioned the application of democratic values in the US, and whether various governing and educational bodies are losing sight of the principles that discern a liberal rule. In particular, there appear to be issues concerning individuals who fully utilize their rights to free speech and independence of thought, especially those which infringe on the accepted conventions of society.
On the back of the news that a US teacher was temporarily suspended for expressing her opinions on her profession through an online blog, a Michigan high school this week moved to announce a gender neutral prom court for their students this Spring. This is as a reaction to an incident which first took place last fall, where a transgendered student was stripped of the homecoming king title he had been awarded by his peers.
The latter set of circumstances have drawn mixed emotions from those involved, and serious criticism for the schools governing principles. Firstly, their decision to deny the student the title he had earned in the first instance was dubious in terms of its democratic merit, and their response to change the entire tradition of prom court structure seems little more than an act of ill considered political correctness to avoid negative press coverage.
If we assess the first decision, we are confronted with a prevailing ethos that is entirely opposed to the values of democracy. Liberal rule states that an individual has the right to act and subsist any way they wish to, so long as they fall within the guidelines of law and order. Given the continuous advancements in medical knowledge and function, this means that an individual can change their gender to suit their innermost feelings without the fear of facing reprisal or social prejudice.
Subsequently, the decision by the relevant bodies to deny the student his place as homecoming king was in itself a negative judgement on his choice of lifestyle, and a veiled attack on the expression of self and personal freedom. While it was undoubtedly not intended as such, it was a small minded reaction to an unusual social circumstance that sets a dangerous precedent for the types of behavior accepted towards minorities in society.
Perhaps the most revealing aspect of the original incident was the fact that the student in question had clearly been accepted by his peers, which suggests that the younger generation of the US possess a far more liberal view than their elders. This is particularly alarming, as it is the adults who create legislation also make decisions on the prevalent issues that develop within society, and it is this demographic that is required to lead the way in terms of regulating a democracy.
This difference in understanding was also reflected in the recent developments this year, as the schools decision to modify the format of the prom and create a gender neutral court has also meet with hostility from students. The decision is considered to be unnecessary and against one of the favorite traditions is US youth culture, and little more than an attempt to avoid any criticism from the media. Given that the student at the heart of the initial story also considers the changes made to be draconian and undeserved, it would appear that the governing bodies have simply reacted to one extreme in judgement by making another.
What the students proposed was simply a more flexible attitude to such gender related issues, meaning that the nature of the prom is dictated by the students involved on a yearly basis. This kind of flexibility is required in a society that is both liberal and multicultural, as these aspects of democracy dictate that a community will be increasingly diverse in terms of its beliefs and attitudes. What is surprising is that the youth of the US appear to have a better understanding of this need than those who create and uphold legislation.
This incident stands as a worrying portent for the immediate future of US society, and one which suggests that the country is losing touch with the values of government that mark it as an example of liberal rule. Governing bodies must react and learn from these instances, and ensure that all policies and decisions are not only built upon the foundations of democracy but also take into account the diversity of contemporary culture.
In some ways, it is not surprising that younger factions of the US are more open to the changing nature of society and lifestyle choice, as this demographic are more accustomed to the intricacies of the modern age. However, it is the duty of responsible adults to adapt to the times in which they live, especially those who are raising children or who make a significant contribution to the passing and implementation of legislation.