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Ben Franklin rubbed rulers the wrong way.

In colonial times, royal governors worried about student dissent and warned headmasters that their schools were "seminaries of sedition."

Youthful scholars were spending their times criticizing not only the "seminaries," but the royal government as well, they said.

One of those students, Benjamin Franklin, completed his education at the Boston Latin School and at Brownell's writing school and at 16 was managing his brother's newspaper, the New England Courant.

The remarkable turn of events that placed a teenager in control: James Franklin, the brother who owned the Courant, had been jailed because he criticized the government.

Ben Franklin, who fought with brother James during his apprenticeship, wrote:

"During my brother's confinement, which I resented ... notwithstanding our private differences, I took the management of the paper and I made bold to give our rulers some rubs in it."

Indeed he did. This product of the "seminaries of sedition" reported that those in power "began to consider me in an unfavorable light" and resented his satire.

Today, young people still shake up the authorities when they speak their minds.

Consider this case: Dean Poling, a junior at Unicoi County High School in Erwin, Tenn., was running for student-council president. On election eve he made a campaign speech to student voters. He spoke his mind.

The school administration "plays tricks with your mind," he said. "And they hope you won't notice."

He poked fun at the assistant principal, and the audience cheered and laughed.

"Our school has been kept behind other schools," he said. "If you want to break the iron grip of this school, vote for me for president. I can try to bring back student rights that you have missed ..."

The result? The principal ruled that Poling's remarks had "a disruptive effect on the authority of the administration." He disqualified Poling as a candidate.

Student editors also have been treated as colonial-era seditionists. Professor Joel Kaplan at Syracuse University has compiled a long list of punishments.

Consider this case: The student newspaper at Central High School in Manchester, N.H., was closed down because it criticized teacher Salvatore Toscano, who announced the winner of the class election, but refused to release the vote totals. The newspaper, The Little Green, said Toscano was withholding the election returns to keep from embarrassing the losing candidates.

But, said the newspaper, open elections were the democratic way, and Toscano had "undermined" democracy.

There are too many similar cases.

The colonial governors and their royal rulers are long since removed.

But dissenting students still worry the authorities, who still view schools as "seminaries of sedition." In fact, they are today - as they were in Ben Franklin's day - seminaries of citizenship.
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Title Annotation:The Freedom Forum supplement
Author:Seigenthaler, John
Publication:American Journalism Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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