« Full Course Load | Main | The Fall of English? »

Freedom of Speech


Former Indiana school teacher Deborah Mayer alleges she was fired in 2003 for saying she "honked for peace" during a class discussion about the then-impending Iraq war. According to Education Week,
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled
on Mayer's case, stating that the First Amendment does not extend to primary or secondary teachers when "topics" or "viewpoints...depart from the curriculum adopted by the school system." This week the U.S. Supreme Court denied her appeal.

Should teachers have the right to express their opinions in classroom discussions? Should freedom of speech for teachers be legislated? Where should we draw the line?


I think that teachers should be able to say whatever they think is the truth. Isn't that what we are teaching kids these days, to speak out for what they believe in. I think cases like this are no sense and should not have lead to the firing of the teacher. But they should draw the line when it comes to the religious aspect of a discussion. Other than that they should have the right to say what they want to in their classroom.

Teachers have a right to help young minds to think for themselves and ask questions that go against the general populace thinking. Teachers do not have a right to impart their moral beliefs, ideals or religious belief to the exclusion of other lines of thought. They need to help students see all sides of a story not just their own view.

I find it interesting and rather narrow minded that Mr. West and DK Schmidt speaks out for "limited freedom of speech". The exclusion of religous beliefs appears rather odd in light of the Bill of Rights Amendment One: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." You make your stand based on the same amendment. What is this freedom of speech if you have made a codicil contrary to the original amendment language?

It is part of professionalism that teachers refrain from sharing the details of their personal beliefs and preferences, especially regarding religion and politics. It was fine for Mayer to have her students read Time Magazine, and to discuss the articles in a general way, ie, "Some Americans are protesting the war by demonstrating." But to go on record as agreeing with these actions changes your role from a teacher to a politician. Once historians weigh in on a subject many years after the fact, teachers can present information as "history." Even then it is important to present several views if there is controversy. Teachers are not there to convert students to any particular view, but to teach critical thinking and reading skills.

It is the same with religion. I think it is OK if a teacher says, if asked, "I'm Catholic," or "I'm Baptist," but no more. Religion can be discussed in a general way, in a comparative religion/culture/history class, but not as "truth." While certain religious teachings may be considered "truth" to a teacher, in a public school the teacher role is to present information and to ask kids to read and discuss with an eye to improving their critical reading and abstract reasoning. So a teacher cannot say a kid who agrees with him/her is "right" while another point of view is "wrong." The teacher has to stick to the curriculum. It is important for kids to understand the difference between scientific fact and belief. Scientific fact can be tested and verified, belief requires a leap of faith of some kind. Both can be "true," but in different ways. That is not to discount religion in favor of science, but to realize that teachers must teach the skill of differentiating between scientific fact and belief, and to always uphold the separation of church and state in public schools. Multiculturalism is a vital part of our heritage and should be honored.

There is no way to put tape over teachers in the classroom and expect them to have the authority and authenticity required of them by teenagers. What is sad about this case is not the freedom of speech aspect but the "pencil-raping" she got from the administration. How easy to see through the defamatory remarks. "Some parents had complained" sounds like the infamous Fox News saying "PEOPLE SAY." There is no teacher alive who does not have "some parents" complaining. It was Ms. Mayer's speech, not her "competency" that got her fired, as one can see even from the other side of the planet.

The teacher covered a timely subject, was asked a question by a student and answered it. She didn't organize a protest or support meeting, she didn't threaten anyone with a bad grade if they disagreed. She engaged her students in a dialogue about a current event that they hear CONSTANTLY in the media. Will parent complain? Yep, there are always some who will disagree with something you are doing. Do they have a right? Yep. But wouldn't it have been more positive for the students if the Board, Teacher and the Parents involved had a sit down to discuss the issue? What message are we sending the students, you have the right to express your opinion as long as you aren't a teacher? And we wonder why there is a shortage of teachers? I think I would be proud to have this woman teach my grandsons.

There are too many gray areas and ambiguities in defining truth and personal opinion. Expressing opposition to the war has no material effect on student performance, political ideologies held by those inside and outside of the classroom, and the structure of authority in school or the United States government. The school district and the Supreme Court erred in placing an undue limitation on speech. Curricula tends to be broad enough to include numerous perspectives and expression. We should be about inclusion. There was no harm or disproportionate influence exercised by the teacher. The punishment does not fit the speech.

Too bad we are splitting hairs; splitting hairs over this notion of Free Speech. Either people have free speech or they dont. As for teachers, well, I think it is in the best interest of all students that teachers are mindful of what they say. A teacher,s job is to be inclusive and give all students opportunity in the classroom. However, I dont think that what the teacher claims to have said was controversial or the real problem. The fact that students were compelled to complain may reflect that students were not "gelling" with this particular teacher. It is so hard to really know. She was on an improvement plan before this incident, but in all fairness, every single living person on this planet could use an improvement plan.

There's a piece missing...If teachers must stick to the curriculum and never offer opinions (the way a person understands something), then how will teachers teach students to think critically? If critical thinking is indeed the goal for students, then how will they ever learn to do that if they are unable to hear different points of views (opinions), including their teachers' opinions? Students, who are held captive to take standardized test aren't offered during those test an opportunity to think critically...Something is missing...

The political right-wing has infiltrated most of our public school districts. How awful and sad that is. Even our Colleges have been infiltrated by them. To speak up for what is ethically and morally right/correct (against the war, for women's and minority rights, etc.,)should never be abridged - especially in these environments. Until the Supreme Court regains appropriate judges, we will continue to see these kinds of "Don't want to hear it" comments from them.

Teachers are people. We're human. We have beliefs, and we have the right to express those beliefs.

I am disgusted that the administration would cave to parent complaints like that. I worked at a similar school - where the union was non-existent, the administrators could do what they wanted, and the teachers were oppressed; I was unfairly targeted based on parent complaints, not on the facts.

I think it exemplifies why unions are so important. Unions are there to protect our civil rights. Free speech is one of those rights.

As a fellow first-year teacher, I can tell you that until such time as you have established tenure in a school system, the system can fire you FOR WHATEVER REASON THEY DESIRE.

There is no contractual obligation to renew a first, second, or third-year contract (at least in my state). Non-tenured teachers have limited due process rights because there is no requirement for the school district to grant tenure or even re-hire a teacher unless the personnel director feels it is expedient.

Many school systems are known to quietly non-renew teacher contracts after 3 years. Why? Because they have to pay a 4th year teacher more. It is cheaper for them to train new teachers every 2-3 years rather than establish a seasoned cadre of teachers.

All this does is hurt the students, and, ultimately, the taxpayers.

Why we can't enjoy academic freedom? While this administration has leading US in a war for a democracy in Iraq for instance, here in our backyard we can express any opposing view without suffer a sanction, persecution or being penalize. Bush's administration is very critical and concerning about democracy in Iran, Iraq or Cuba, but what about democracy here in USA? I was fired from Dent Middle School here in Cola, SC in 2003, because a colonel from Fort Jackson says that I was talking bad about Bush.

Point of views, opinions, and beliefs are component part of what Freedom of Speech stand for. In teaching and learning environment, it was an opportunity and timing for teacher, student, and parents to comprehend and exchange issues in hand. It was never a question of curriculum or supreme court but a basic process of an acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, practice, or study, or by being taught.
In this case, someone failed but it would never been teacher, student, or parent. Not in front of billions of students!!!!!

A teacher's job is to educate, not indoctrinate. Reading news articles, comparing left to right wing opinions through writing assignments, and generating verbal debates are ways to get students to critically think about hot topic issues. The teacher should be a moderator in all of this, remaining neutral. Students generally look to a teacher as a role model and take their opinion for truth. I think it is a disservice to the student when the teacher is not impartial.

Gary Scarpinato writes, "Students generally look to a teacher as a role model and take their opinion for truth. I think it is a disservice to the student when the teacher is not impartial."

However, while remaining impartial in GRADING and EVALUATION of student work, teachers sometimes must describe their own opinions. To the student, if a teacher says, "I can't discuss that" every time he/she is asked a question of opinion, then that teacher is not worth listening to.

We are required to teache the science of evolution, whether the students in our classes want to hear it or not; whether we believe in it our not; and we do so impartially. I would not lower a student's grade simply because they wrote an opinion contrary to my teaching or to my personal belief. However, I believe that the teacher has the right and should be able to express a reasonable position on current subject matter. Can the teacher advocate illegal or immoral activity? Of course not! But a question such as, "Who are you voting for?" deserves an answer.

Perhaps the NEA needs to use some of our dues to pursue some national legislation to help us out. SUrely lobbying is cheaper than litigation?

I agree with the statements protecting the freedom of a teacher's speech. I do think, however, that we have missed a question. What happened after the teacher said "When I drove by..."? Did she continue to preach about the need for peace? It sounds like she said something about the students learning to mediate - not a bad idea. Did she lambast the president for starting a pointless war? Did she talk about the innocent who are dead on both sides? Didn't sound like it from what I read.

I too believe that an opinion is a right of free speech. And if that opinion is used to strength critical thinking than it is even better in the classroom. Maybe the parents need some lessons in diversity - of opionion, of technique, of tolerance, of the constitution - OH, and let's not forget the Administrators. OH and the judges. OH - and our legislators. Never mind, I'm tired and the list is to long.

Perhaps I missed something, but since we teach students to be tolerate of one another and of course, to oppose violence, I do not see where the teacher went wrong in this case. I know, from taking a school law class, that our first amendment rights go out the door when we're in the classroom. But, I disagree with the outcome of this particular case.

Folks, political correctness has its consequences, as all "progressive" ideas do. It is now a collective agreement that teachers are NOT to be moral leaders of students = they just might impose some nasty Judeo/Christian values. And, outside of school hours, it is a teacher's RIGHT to do what ever is legal = he/she can be a stripper by night, as long as he/she teaches the curriculum by day.

Such conditions have reduced the support of many parents, given a huge surge to private and home schools, promoted the moral decay of our students, and has increased backlashes such as this one. Yes, actions do have consequences.

Like the guy who does'nt shout 'fire' in a crowded room, we have the right to be responsible.
However, we also have to right to engender good human values in an ethical, responsible way. How does the Supreme Court expect a teacher to answer reasonable questions from students of differing viewpoints if some topics are taboo, insofar as the teacher's own values are concerned? Research is full of examples of 'significant other' personalities in the lives of successful people -- we remember inspiring teachers as well as the duds -- and without the values and well-considered morality (careful with that word!) that a concientious teacher brings to the classroom, we are left with 'Big Brother' in charge.
Our license to teach is still called a 'Credential' in CA, which tells us that our government considers holders worthy (deserving the credence of the state) of being in charge of a class(room). When that changes, watch out.

Hello, my name is David Leidner and I am a GED teacher at a prison in Cuero, TX. On Oct. 3, 2007, I was exiting the education building when two inmates crossed my path pulling an unfamiliar container. With NO slur intended, I asked, “What do you have there-a bomb?” Both the offenders and I chucked at the comment and I went home for the day.

The next day, my principal calls me in to ask me if I made this comment and I said, “Yes”. She told me that the convicts I made this comment to were Muslims and they want an apology which I immediately agreed to do. My principal wrote up a disciplinary report and next thing I know, I’m being walked off the unit, suspended, and awaiting a contract termination on Oct. 31. I am devastated with no legal representation, because I don’t have enough money. I am going to go before a panel of administrators and lawyers loaded to fire me and possibly ruin my career.

Wow! It is really scary to think that any comment a teacher makes may be misconstrued. The saddest part is that many times a student will not address the teacher directly but will in turn talk to a principal who is clearly concerned for the reputation of the school. I guess the only response and lesson learned is ... watch out!

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Miss Vanegas: Wow! It is really scary to think that any comment read more
  • David Leidner/Teacher: Hello, my name is David Leidner and I am read more
  • Wick Humble/Kindergarten Teacher: Like the guy who does'nt shout 'fire' in a crowded read more
  • Red Sanders/ Teacher/Administrator - 43 years: Folks, political correctness has its consequences, as all "progressive" ideas read more
  • HDM/Teacher: Perhaps I missed something, but since we teach students to read more




Technorati search

» Blogs that link here