Discussion Starter: How Much Freedom of Speech Should Teachers Have?

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.


Discussion Starter: How Much Freedom of Speech Should Teachers Have?

2 thoughts on “Discussion Starter: How Much Freedom of Speech Should Teachers Have?

  1. They say classrooms are microcosms of society. In our society, there is freedom of speech. I believe when that freedom was granted, the ultimate intention was that it be handled with responsibility. That’s how it should be handled in the classroom. Students should have the opportunity to hear and respond to various viewpoints that impact the classroom and beyond its walls. As a teacher, I’ve shared my views, but only when asked, about important issues, and never from a bully pulpit. As a teacher, I’ve played Devil’s Advocate to push students to defend their views with logical as well as emotion. If handled responsibly and respectfully, teachers should be allowed to have freedom of speech (our students sure have it!) as long as it serves for the greater good of understanding all sides of an issue. I’ve known teachers who have made unbelievably insulting remarks about U.S. Presidents as oppose to teaching students to respect the office of the presidency. These were teachers of both political parties. I had a Social Studies teacher ask me what he had done wrong when a parent complained about him saying, “During Reconstruction, Blacks were better off as slaves.” Instead, he should have posed the question asking if they were better off enslaved considering the conditions of Reconstruction, and let the students reason it out for themselves. Society will always hold us to a higher standard. Speak your mind, but aware of your true intentions, your real motives when speaking it.


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