The question I’ve posed is difficult to answer in any satisfactory way. A few considerations obscure the original question. Does a reliable tool for measuring freedom of speech or expression exist? If such a tool exists, how readily can one apply it to the words and actions of teachers? Additionally, in what contexts should one measure the speech and expression of teachers? Do we only consider the classroom and what is said in the course of instruction? Do we include a teacher’s use of social media outside the workplace? Do conversations at a grocery store matter?
Beyond these initial qualifiers, the essential question is whether or not teachers have the license to express their views with impunity while employed by a school. Precedent suggests they do not. Examples are plentiful of teachers losing their jobs over off-hand comments and opinionated tweets. Similar examples abound in other fields, so this isn’t merely a concern for those working in education. Might the threshold for tolerating aberrant or challenging comments made in or out of the workplace be lower for educators? Should it be?
Most schools have policies meant to answer these questions. As school employees, teachers are beholden to these policies. Repeatedly, circumstances have arisen that have tested established policies. From teachers launching into unsolicited sermons exposing their political views, to students taking umbrage with seemingly innocuous banter during homeroom, recent and ongoing situations have muddled conventional understanding of acceptability. The threshold for tolerance might be changing.
I turn this discussion to any readers who care to comment. What I’m seeking are thoughts on the parameters of speech and expression that should apply to teachers.