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First Amendment doctrine acknowledges the constructive potential of citizens’ criticism of public officials and governmental policies by offering such speech vigilant protection. However, when students speak out about perceived injustice or dysfunction in their public schools, teachers and administrators too often react by squelching and even punishing student-critics. To counteract school officials’ reflexively repressive responses to student protest and petition activities, this Article explains why the faithful performance of public schools’ responsibility to prepare students for constitutional citizenship demands the adoption of a more receptive and respectful attitude toward student dissent. After documenting how both educators and courts have mistakenly devalued important messages from young dissenters, this Article explores how to reformulate the doctrinal approaches used to resolve challenges to the suppression of student-critics and urges courts to recalibrate overly deferential assessments of educators’ claims that student dissent compromises effective learning.


Originally published in American University Law Review, 2012.