Teachers’ Opinions And The First Amendment

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In 2006, the United States Supreme Court issued a little-noticed decision called Garcetti v. Ceballos, 126 S. Ct. 1951 (2006), that has some interesting—and disturbing—implications for how public employees can express themselves on the job. A January 24th decision from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, called Mayer v. Monroe County Community Sch. Corp., has now applied the Ceballos doctrine to the case of a government school teacher who alleged that she was unconstitutionally fired for telling students how she felt about the war in Iraq. And this raises the issue of whether the doctrine might be applied in cases involving government teachers who express to their students their own views with regard to evolution and creationism.

In Ceballos, a deputy D.A. in Los Angeles became convinced that there were inadequacies in an affidavit that had been used to support a search warrant in a certain case. As a good civil servant ought to do (and as a government prosecutor is ethically required to do), Ceballos wrote a couple memos to his boss regarding the problem. The D.A.’s office failed to follow through, and Ceballos was ultimately called to testify on the matter by the defendant in the case. Afterwards, he alleged that the D.A.’s office retaliated against him by reassigning him, denying him a promotion, and other things. He filed a lawsuit alleging that this retaliation violated his free speech rights.

The Supreme Court ruled against him. Although government employees “do not surrender all their First Amendment rights by reason of their employment,” the government can curtail its employees’ speech in certain circumstances. To decide whether its actions violate the First Amendment, the Court asks (a) whether the employee was speaking only as a private citizen on a matter of public concern, and (b) whether the government had a good reason for treating that employee differently than any member of the general public as a consequence of the speech. But in this case, Ceballos’ self-expression was “made pursuant to his duties.” Id. at 1959-60. And this fact “distinguishes Ceballos’ case from those in which the First Amendment provides protection against discipline. We hold that when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.” Id. at 1960 (emphasis added).

It’s nice when the Court draws clear lines, but there’s a big problem with this one. It encourages government to deter whistleblowers by drafting their employment descriptions so broadly as to encompass whatever speech the government wishes to deter. If the government can punish Ceballos for writing memos about faulty warrants, it can simply tell all incoming deputy D.A.s that their duties include writing memos about faulty warrants—and then fire them when they do so, leaving them with no First Amendment protection.

In the Mayer case, elementary school teacher Deborah Mayer alleged that she was fired after telling her students that she had honked when passing some demonstrators holding signs saying “Honk for Peace.” The Seventh Circuit explained that its previous decisions had long held that teachers “must hew to the approach prescribed by principals (And others higher up in the chain of authority).” Slip op. at 3. A school doesn’t really regulate speech “as much as it hires that speech.” Expression is “the commodity” that a teacher “sells to her employer in exchange for a salary.” Id. at 3. This is why a teacher “can’t use her classroom] as a platform” for self-expression:

[A] high-school teacher hired to explicate Moby-Dick in a literature class can’t use Cry, The Beloved Country instead, even if Paton’s book better suits the instructor’s style and point of view; a math teacher can’t decide that calculus is more important that trigonometry and decide to let Hipparchus and Ptolemy slide in favor of Newton and Leibniz.

Id. at 3-4. Because the current-events lesson that Mayer was teaching “was part of her assigned tasks in the classroom,” the court found that the Ceballos case “applie[d] directly.” Id. at 5.

Not only does the teacher sell his or her expression to the school, the court went on, but “the pupils are a captive audience. Education is compulsory, and children must attend public schools unless their parents are willing to incur the cost of private education or the considerable time commitment of home schooling. Children who attend school beacuse they must ought not be subject to teachers’ idiosyncratic perspectives.” Id. at 4. Although recognizing that the “[m]ajority rule about what subjects and viewpoints will be expressed in the classroom has the potential to turn into indoctrination,” the court held that the best solution to this problem was to ensure that “the power should be reposed in someone the people can vote out of office.… At least the school board’s views can be debated openly, and the people may choose to elect persons committed to neutrality on contentious issues.” Id. at 4. Thus the school had the constitutional authority to order Mayer to “[keep] her opinions to herself.” Id.

This decision has obvious ramifications for the evolution/creationism conflict: teachers who want to use their classrooms as platforms for preaching Intelligent Design or other forms of creationism are not protected from termination by the First Amendment when they deviate from the lesson plan.

I think I agree with the decision in the abstract. The First Amendment, after all, prohibits only coercive government actions, or those acts that amount to coercion (such as fraud). An employment contract is entered into voluntarily and therefore doesn’t raise the same concerns—in theory.

But I’m a little concerned with the idea that the teacher waives his or her complete right to self-expression when signing up to become a government employee. Could a school prohibit a teacher from wearing a cross around her neck during class hours? If the prohibition extended equally to all religious symbols, then this would seem perfectly within the power of the government acting as an employer (since any private employer should be free to do the same). But it is a disturbing idea nonetheless. We don’t normally expect a free government to act in such a way.

One concern that comes to mind is “academic freedom.” The Supreme Court has never actually held that a teacher’s academic freedom is protected by the First Amendment—certainly not below the college level—but it has certainly come close, and the reason is that school classrooms are very close to a traditional forum for the exchange of ideas. Cases like Pico have taken great care to preserve the freedom to exchange even controversial ideas in schools, and the Court’s references to a “right to receive ideas” speak to the concern over orthodoxy being maintained in the classroom.

In addition, the Seventh Circuit’s idea that the political process is enough to prevent the school system from being used for indoctrination is not comforting: it makes no sense to rely on a majoritarian political process to protect individuals from the indoctrination resulting from what the court itself calls “majority rule.” The First Amendment has long been understood to be an important anti-majoritarian rule. And as far as educational values are concerned, it is just as important that teachers inculcate a sense of critical thinking and independence in students as that they teach their students a prescribed curriculum. Schools ought not to be mere factories for memorizing what’s in the book. I have a teacher friend who sponsors an after-school “free thought” club for her students who are atheists, agnostics, or similar. This opinion would permit the school to shut down such a club pretty easily. The chilling effect that decisions like this might have on innovative teaching and the encouragement of independent thought is troubling.

Don’t get me wrong: it drives me crazy when school teachers use their position as an opportunity to preach politics or whatever other message they personally want to convey. But there is a serious down side to this decision as well. I think a better solution is to allow teachers to express their religious views, even during class time, so long as those opinions are clearly labeled as the teacher’s own, and not as the government’s official position, and so long as it is not really disruptive to the educational process. This alone would teach an important lesson. After all, if Mayer was trying to introduce her students to the idea of political protest and open debate that (supposedly) lies at the heart of the American Constitution, it’s more than a little disturbing to see a government agency retaliate against her for expressing her opinion.

My concerns are not well thought out, and are only policy-based. I can’t say that the Mayer decision is wrong on First Amendment grounds. But I think there are serious downsides to seeing teachers as nothing more than mouthpieces for the school board, and we should keep them in mind.

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Over at Panda’s Thumb, I have some thoughts on a recent Seventh Circuit decision about teachers’ right to free speech, and what it might mean for creationists. ... Read More

109 Comments

In a more conserative area of the country, could a teacher also be constrained from sharing her opinion that evolution is true, under this ruling? Especially if it’s the school board that determines what is appropriate?

I think very strongly that this particular case was very inappropriately decided. The teacher didn’t tell the students what to believe, or even how she stood on the Iraqi War- she said that she “honked for peace”. Frankly, who’s against peace, as a general concept? What kind of person would be like that? Especially in a society with the No Child Left Unrecruited Act, where, in violation of international agreement, under-age citizens can be prostyltized by the US Military to join, on school campus, it hardly seems that such a remark by a teacher really even tips the balance.

I think I share both your agreement with Ceballos in the abstract and your concerns about unfettered employers, but I would question your apparent concern that there are problems that would be properly addressed by a different Ceballos decision. Departments which are wrongfully managing the flow of information should, I think, be charged with violating their duties. The employee is a tool of the employer, and it is better to complain about the misuse of a tool than violation of the right of the tool to be used properly - the latter might produce the same result, but it is an appeal to the wrong principle IMO. The rights which have been violated are those of the people who expect departments to honestly manage information. Perhaps our rights demand (a) that we sue departments that fire reasonable whistle-blowers and (b) that properly run departments have an independent office somewhere in the hierarchy that a whistle-blower can safely complain to.

Ceballos doesn’t seem to remove the complete right to self expression … an employee couldn’t be reasonably terminated without the employer demonstrating that their actions were substantially at crossed purposes with the employer’s mission; Ceballos merely says that an employee doesn’t have a natural right to thwart his employer’s goals. I presume that minor quirks which don’t unreasonably thwart the employer are still protected by prohibitions against discriminatory dismissal, and I’m as pleased as you are that the quirk of spouting creationism isn’t protected as a teacher’s right. Ordinary innovative teaching should be protected by being consistent with local policy, and where it is not then you have a written policy which should be challenged at a higher level than the classroom.

I can’t see how Ceballos has any bearing on running free-thinking meetings outside classes. That teacher isn’t abusing his duties as an instrument of the school. Of course what he says in class will attract more scrutiny, but atheist teachers are typically much better at reining in unsubstantiated personal opinion than creationist teachers are - a hostile school wouldn’t be able to rely on Ceballos without having official policy which in some way restricted neutral scientific facts.

Jedidiah Wrote:

I think very strongly that this particular case [Mayer I presume] was very inappropriately decided.

I would agree with that, but it seems to me that the Mayer case was argued wrongly - defended on the basis that a teacher has the right to express any opinion, rather than arguing that honking for peace is such a minor quirk that the dismissal amounts to unfair discrimination

I think a better solution is to allow teachers to express their religious views, even during class time, so long as those opinions are clearly labeled as the teacher’s own, and not as the government’s official position, and so long as it is not really disruptive to the educational process.

Strongly disagree. It’s coercive by the mere fact that the teacher is an authority with power over the students. Under your scenario the following is allowed:

Teacher: I’m a conservative Christian. Now the government or the school can’t tell you that you have to be a Christian. But I STRONGLY believe that if you’re not a Christian you’re going to spend eternity being tortured in Hell. Abraham, what do you think? Miss Shivaramakrishna?

This is an atrocious ruling but one that has been coming for a long time. Those of us who are pro-science should not be celebrating this movement but lamenting it. In fact, we should be out in the streets protesting it.

The issues that are raised by all these cases show continuous steps back in expression of academic freedom and even protection of whisteblowers.

First, the Ceballos case was a dangerous blow to whistleblower protection. In the past the Courts had ruled that public employees had some limited First Amendment rights when they spoke in a non-disruptive fashion as public employees on matters of public concern (as opposed to matters of personal concern). The speech of the DA was clearly a matter of public concern and was non-disruptive. In fact, the actions of the DA’s office (improperly obtaining a search warrant) were in and of themselves potentially illegal. The next time a DA’s office breaks (or bends) the law in a criminal case ethical DA’s will think long and hard about risking their lives to protect the Constitution from overzealous prosecutors.

Second, in the past, the courts had ruled that even private employees had some very limited protection when exposing illegal acts (but not unethical acts) by their employers.

I think we can consider whistleblower protection to be on life support if not completely dead.

The extension of this reasoning into the classroom is extremely dangerous. What the courts are now saying is that K-12 teachers do not have the right to comment on curricular matters. In the past, First Amendment K-12 law had allowed teachers some limited rights to comment on matters of controversy in the class as long as they followed the curriculum and followed school district policy in introducing potentially controversial material.

Why should K-12 teachers have some limited First Amendment rights to comment on issues that are curricular? Because the public has an interest in educating students to be part of a democratic society. Thus as long as the teacher is not proselytizing students for a particular point of view, we should encourage high school teachers to expose students to a range of opinions. Should this range of opinions include classroom discussion about a teacher’s (or student’s) views on Creation-Evolution? Within limits-yes. Just as this freedom should include the right to discuss Vietnam (and express an opinion), the right to discuss the Constitution (and express an opinion) and so on.

The real danger here however is how this dagger is now encroaching on higher ed. What we need in higher ed is a real academic bill of rights (not the phony bill of academic rights being sponsored). It’s time for the NEA, AFT, AAUP to wake up and smell the First Amendment burning.

What are you bellyaching about? You have already implicitly agreed that the Courts can decide these issues…look at Dover.

The fact is, the Supreme Court has finally say on what laws our representatives pass will be allowed to stand.

You really think we still have representative government?

O.K. if you say so…

DMC,

I think you misunderstand Dover. In Dover one small part of the problem was that teachers were refusing to follow the established curriculum. The Science teachers exercised their academic freedom and refused to read the disclaimer passed by the school board. If you apply this case the school board could fire teachers who refuse to read such disclaimers since they would be going against Board policy-even if they believed that Board policy was unconstitutional. Similarly, by the logic of this case, a high school teacher who voluntarily tells students (after covering the established curriculum) that he or she personally has objections to evolution, or simply refers them to panda’s thumb and the discovery institute could be fired. You could be fired for using “Talk Origins” in your classroom.

The other problem in Dover was that the school district was establishing religion.

So you are simply misciting Dover.

Finally, to illustrate how far public employee First Amendment protections have drifted there was a famous case (I’ll try to find the citation later) where a police dispatcher stated words (to a fellow employee) to the effect that she was glad Reagan had been shot. Her off hand comment was held to be non-disruptive and protected speech.

Ceballos aside, creationist teachers should be able to be fired, if they express their creationist views in the context of teaching, for simple inability to perform the duties for which they were hired. A math teacher who added 2 plus 2 and got 5 wouldn’t stay a math teacher long, and rightfully so, since they obviously couldn’t do math. In the same vein, a science teacher who taught that the world was created according to the Genesis account obviously can’t do science.

I’ve always felt that teachers who overtly preach one sectarian view, or who offer eccentric pseudoscience when they should be teaching the curriculum, should be fired.

Of course, teachers should NOT be fired for expressing their own religious and cultural traditions, as by wearing a cross, a kepah, a head scarf, or the like. Students need to understand that it’s a free society, and that the teacher has a private life outside the classroom, which may include whatever cultural and religious activities the teacher chooses. Students may be attracted to the implicit cultural or religious traditions of a popular teacher, even without being preached at, but that’s just the price we pay for living in a free, diverse society.

The Ceballos decision appears to be an outrage, in the Ceballos context.

Not surprisingly, one of its first uses was to punish a teacher for a very mild expression of opposition to the Iraq war. In the long run, though, the program to censor and suppress all expressed opposition to the war seems to have gone badly.

It would be an excellent silver lining if it were used to get creationist teachers fired.

DMC -

First of all, what I bellyache about is right wingers scheming to put pseudoscience that nobody really even believes into public school science curricula, with the primary goal of using pandering to convince many evangelicals to vote against their own economic and security interests, not to mention their own civil rights. That’s how I see ID. You may disagree.

What you can’t disagree with is that, in fact, the ID-promoting school boards in Kansas and Dover were booted out of power in the first election after their schemes were revealed. Our democracy has many flaws, but yes, for the time being, we do have representative government to some degree, and ID in schools was rejected by representative government.

The excellent decision by Judge Jones was grounded in laws promulgated by representative legislators, of course, as well.

I think a better solution is to allow teachers to express their religious views, even during class time, so long as those opinions are clearly labeled as the teacher’s own, and not as the government’s official position, and so long as it is not really disruptive to the educational process.

Really? I disagree quite strongly.

Are you familiar with the recent dust-up at Kearny High School in NJ?

Harold and Ric,

You are confusing ability to teach and learn with actual belief. You are also confusing types of knowledge and types of argumentation.

First, a creationist could be perfectly capable of clearly communicating standard evolutionary concepts and evidence in the classroom. Provided on is able to do so and teaches the established curriculum to the level which the principle or other person evaluates the teacher, there is no question about competence.

Second, you are entering a grey, slipper slope area. True, such matters as the age of the earth and the fact of evolution are consensus points for science. Consensus however does not establish truth. Thus IMO, as long as the established curriculum is taught competently a teacher should have the right to communicate their disagreement with consensus points.

Third, these debates/issues are debates/issues in society at large (though in this case not so much in science per se). Personally, I think we will get better learning outcomes if we acknowledge students’ concerns/objections and explain to them the nature of the debate.

If in doing so a teacher says “I am required to teach and test to the curriculum” and does so in a competent and professional fashion, then any further expression of belief that is non-disruptive to the classroom and is age appropriate should be not only protected, but encouraged.

We should always be encouraging critical thinking by students, though we should not use that critical thinking as an excuse to force psuedo-science into the schools.

All that said there are many issues ranging from interpreting Moby Dick to discussing the history of the Vietnam War to the efficacy (or lack thereof) of supply and demand where teachers should have academic freedom even in the K-12 setting.

I am not so concerned that an occasional teacher may express an outlandish belief in a science classroom that I want to resolve the problem by destroying all critical thinking in the classrooms.

Chip Poirot -

I almost agree with you. Certainly there are some issues that can be presented as “controversies” or “debates” to students.

But the problem is that there is a difference between legitimate controversy and the literally infinite easily discredited but potentially confusing objections that anyone can raise to any established fact or strong theory (I use “theory” in the mathematical and scientific sense here, not to mean “hypothesis” or “guess”).

And when distortions are knowingly used to advance a contemporary political agenda, often by people who don’t even believe their own distortion, it becomes easy to see that this shouldn’t be allowed.

For example, students learning history shouldn’t have to deal with denials of the holocaust, the slave trade, and the like.

With regard to YEC, the issue was decided thirty years ago. It’s a sectarian religious view, not a scientific view. All advocates of YEC admit that their views are informed by what they (mistakenly, in my view) perceive to be a “literal” interpretation of the Book of Genesis, and that if they weren’t fundamentalist Christians, they wouldn’t hold YEC beliefs. Therefore, declaring a belief in YEC in science class, as a “counterpoint” to legitimate science, is like declaring a belief in Mormon or Hindu creationism in the context of science class. It violates the rights of the students. The teacher’s purely religious views are being presented, to the impressionable and captive student, as if they were equivalent to mainstream science. This is a dead issue, and in fact, this is why ID was invented in the first place. To bastardize creationism sufficiently that it could be sneaked in.

ID has been subjected to the same scrutiny, has been found to suffer from at least the same deficiencies (plus a weaselly and vacuous nature to boot, in my opinion - YEC made real assertions that could easily be tested). It most certainly doesn’t belong in schools.

Of course, teachers can privately “believe” in ID or YEC if they have the discipline not to distort science lessons.

I believe that such “beliefs”, especially “belief” in ID, are not usually very sincere, and are usually a code or proxy for especially ideological adherence to the contemporary political clique known as “the conservative movement” (although it is not “conservative” in the dictionary sense).

“ID advocates”, in practice, are too obsessed to keep their views to themselves. I would strongly recommend that ID advocates not go into teaching. It makes no sense to take a job where you will be required to frustrate yourself.

Harold,

So what’s next? Loyalty oaths to evolution? Loyalty oaths to officially established beliefs on matters of “historical consensus”?

I repeat-as long as the established curricular material is taught and taught competently the principle of requiring belief in material or establishing a litmus test (beyond the litmus test of the appropriate credentials) to hold a teaching job is repugnant and would quite fortunately be struck down even by this court!

Students will survive exposure to controversial, unpopular or even wacky ideas even at the K-12 level provided they are competently taught the standard material.

Chip,

Of course I disagree. What I said was that if a teacher teaches creation theory, that exhibits incompetence in the field and should be cause for dismissal. Of course a teacher can believe whatever they want and should be free to express those beliefs outside of the context of actually teaching them.

But truly, there is no controversy over evolution, and teaching that there is is not encouraging critical thinking.

As a side note, it is my personal belief that if a science teacher is a creationist, that betrays incompetence in the field of science, or it betrays lack of critical thinking skills, or it betrays a very deep and fundamental misunderstanding of science. Yet as long as they keep such beliefs outside of their teaching, I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that they be fired over them, as I indicated in my first post.

After a hard day of teaching, if I go home and blog about my day (“Today we started Moby-Dick…”), that speech is still protected, isn’t it? It’s about my official duties, but not a part of them. Or do I misunderstand the definition of “pursuant?”

Chip Poirot -

“So what’s next? Loyalty oaths to evolution? Loyalty oaths to officially established beliefs on matters of “historical consensus”?”

I stand by my assertion that denial of the holocaust or African slavery should not be advanced as history, and creationism should not be advanced as science, at taxpayer expense in public schools. There is no implication of a demand for “loyalty oaths” in this position. It is perhaps ironic that you would use the term “loyalty oath” as an insult. Have you perhaps, in other contexts, argued that critics of President Bush should be punished for “treason”?

I did suggest that most ID advocates probably lack, at a personal level, the self-control to teach without inserting their beliefs as an “equal alternative to science”. However, if even one person can “believe” in ID privately and yet teach the curriculum (without distortion, ridicule, or omissions) publicly, that person could certainly be a competent teacher.

“I repeat-as long as the established curricular material is taught and taught competently the principle of requiring belief in material or establishing a litmus test (beyond the litmus test of the appropriate credentials) to hold a teaching job is repugnant and would quite fortunately be struck down even by this court!”

Absolutely true, and absolutely compatible with my points above. But inserting politically motivated content which is well known not to be accurate, as a “counterpoint” to the established curricular material, would be a violation of “teaching competently”.

You can’t simply declare every arbitrary or political distortion to be a legitimate controversy. It is obvious that if a teacher presents Newton’s gravitational equation “competently”, for example, but then falsely declares that it is controversial, and that another version, which he “believes” in, exists, in which the distance term in the denominator is not squared, and that students should “critically” choose whichever they like, the overall lesson is “incompetent”. It is unreasonable to have teachers repeatedly express false material; it defeats the whole purpose of school. Teaching biology and then presenting ID as an “alternative” would be analagous. And the courts have agreed.

If a teacher has an issue with the curriculum, the classroom is usually not the place to express it. There are many valid routes open to teachers who believe that the curriculum should be modified, and teachers use them all the time. If a teacher really cannot abide the mainstream curriculum, though, it may best for them to leave teaching, voluntarily or otherwise.

“Students will survive exposure to controversial, unpopular or even wacky ideas even at the K-12 level provided they are competently taught the standard material.”

This may be true (or it may not). I am not arguing wholesale against presenting “controversial, unpopular, or even wacky ideas” in school at any rate; there may be appropriate times for doing so. But presenting pseudoscience as an “equal alternative” to mainstream science, to naive schoolchildren, at taxpayer expense, is unacceptable.

There have already been a number of cases that establish that a public school teacher is required to teach the curriculum, and that the interjection of creationism is not a violation of their 1st amendment rights. The extention of this to political speech does not seem too far a stretch.

Thje NCSE has a good article “8 Major Court Decisions against Teaching Creationism as Science,” by Molleen Matsumura that gives a short review and links to each case.

The Dover case is not appropriate here as it addressed the actions of a school board.

There is of course the problem that if all people were actually to obey all laws all the time, society would self destruct. This is basis for the well known labor action of “work to the contract” which is a good way of closing down a factory without a declared strike.

Consider a few possible situations:

1) While teaching a unit on evolution a high school teacher has to confront the overt anger, hostiliy and resistance to learning evolution by students. The students will face widespread support from the community and threaten to walk out of the classroom. In the end they actually do and the principle allows them to do this (actually happened in a local school district).

In order to prevent this the teacher decides to discuss and confront the student’s resistance and so has a class discussion day. During this class discussion the teacher talks about YEC and ID and points students to resources (pro and con) on the debate. The teacher expresses the opnion that YEC and ID are junk science.

I would say this is protected speech (or at least should be). I would also say it is good teaching (understanding student resistance to learning and trying to deal with it appropriately).

Now, suppose the teacher expressed the opposite opinion for whatever reason but the standard material was presented and presented competently. This too should be protected expression of ideas even at the K-12 level.

2) While teaching a unit on the Cold War the teacher disagrees with the view expressed in the textbook that US military confrontation of the Soviet Union was necessary. The teacher discusses some different schools of history while teaching the curriculum and expresses his view that much of the Cold War was bad policy.

This too should be protected expression at the K-12 level.

Why are people so afraid of having free discussion in the K-12 classroom provided the curriculum is covered? Part of the purpose of education is to create citizens capable of functioning in a democracy.

Just dumping a standard curriculum into a student’s brain without asking the student to engage in the ideas is bad teaching. Having school principles being able to fire a teacher every time the teacher says something about the curriculum the principle doesn’t like is not conducive to educating students in a democratic society.

There is a strong public interest in extending academic freedom at the K-12 level and defending it in the University as well. For that matter there is a strong public interest in insuring that prosecutors will feel free to stand up to abuses of the Constitution.

Good grief! Do people really want to live in a world where whoever is in charge has the power to just tell you to shut up? I’d rather defend the right to present some bad ideas than shut down the right to promote good ideas. The last thing we need is an officially defined list of “good” and “bad” ideas. PC sucks. It sucks whether it is being promoted by the right, by the left or out pure bureaucratic interest.

If we can’t have free discussion of ideas in the schools where can we have free discussion?

Actually teaching specific religious doctrines as such in public schools is illegal. It really doesn’t matter if the teaching is embedded in some sort of standard curriculum, or if a teacher is doing it individually as part of ‘private religious expression’ or “academic freedom”. It can’t be done. So teaching any form of creationism is prohibited, even without this case, because creationism has been held to be a religious doctrine.

The rules aren’t so specific insofar as political teaching or political doctrines are concerned. Obviously, some subjects require some discussion of current politics.

In general, public schools don’t allow teachers to display partisan political material in classrooms or make partisan political statements to their pupils. As I said, some subjects require some discussion of current politics, but there should be clear guidelines about what can and cannot be displayed or said as part of teaching the subjects. That isn’t an unreasonable limitation.

Private religious and political expressions, as apart from teaching, are another matter, and a school would be in hot water if they tried to limit that. The teacher wasn’t in trouble from a private political expression, only because of the way it was introduced into the classroom.

Sandefur Wrote:

… I’m a little concerned with the idea that the teacher waives his or her complete right to self-expression when signing up to become a government employee. Could a school prohibit a teacher from wearing a cross around her neck during class hours?

Probably not - certainly not as a specific personal religious expression. Of course, the school could bar all neckwear or jewelry for safety or other reasons, but specifically singling out crosses - or any other personal religious symbol - would be against the law.

Of course, there is a ‘reasonableness’ doctrine in play, but a small symbol could hardly be unreasonable.

Sandefur Wrote:

If the prohibition extended equally to all religious symbols, then this would seem perfectly within the power of the government acting as an employer (since any private employer should be free to do the same).

Actually, that isn’t true. Even a private employer would be in hot water if they took any action against an employee for this reason. Religious discrimination in employment is absolutely illegal - whether based on a particular religion or on religion in general. The employer would have to show that their policy is not related to religion - and that would be impossible if their policy applied only to “religious symbols”.

Sandefur Wrote:

[The ruling] encourages government to deter whistleblowers by drafting their employment descriptions so broadly as to encompass whatever speech the government wishes to deter.

That’s an entirely different subject.

Of course the ruling does that - but that wasn’t anything new. In fact, absent specific laws, government employees who are “whistleblowers” don’t have any protection - whether in schools or in government in general. That’s why we needed specific whistleblower protection laws. We now have these laws at the Federal level, and I believe many states also have similar laws. Not perfect, of course, but better than nothing.

Note: the above applies to the US. I don’t know about other countries.

Chip Poirot Wrote:

Why are people so afraid of having free discussion in the K-12 classroom provided the curriculum is covered? Part of the purpose of education is to create citizens capable of functioning in a democracy.

In Kearny, NJ, a high school history teacher spent a full class period discussing how the Bible is literally true, how it’s full of prophesies that have since happened, even claiming there were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark. He went on to explain that Jesus died for our sins, and if we don’t acknowledge that, we belong in hell.

That’s the sort of “free” discussion of religion you will get in US K-12 classrooms. Moreover, only Christians will be truly free to discuss their beliefs. In the above case, a student (Matthew LaClair) complained that the teacher was proselytizing in class. He (LaClair) was promptly villified by other students and by a significant fraction of the adults in the community. However, I have no doubt that if a Muslim teacher had made similar comments about Allah, the Koran, and Muhammed, he would have been fired and run out of town within days.

I see no need for a teacher to discuss his/her personal religious beliefs in a public classroom. Nor do I think they should have the right to do so.

Chip Poirot -

You continue to insist that requiring tax-payed teachers in public schools to teach the curriculum, and not their own political beliefs, is akin to “ordering people to shut up”, “demanding loyalty oaths”, and various exaggerated things. (While not actually directly showing what anyone else said that could possibly be construed that way.)

Having a public education system that imparts a solid body of general knowledge does not inhibit freedom of expression, critical thinking, or respect for civil rights.

“1) While teaching a unit on evolution a high school teacher has to confront the overt anger, hostiliy and resistance to learning evolution by students. The students will face widespread support from the community and threaten to walk out of the classroom. In the end they actually do and the principle allows them to do this (actually happened in a local school district).

In order to prevent this the teacher decides to discuss and confront the student’s resistance and so has a class discussion day. During this class discussion the teacher talks about YEC and ID and points students to resources (pro and con) on the debate. The teacher expresses the opnion that YEC and ID are junk science.

I would say this is protected speech (or at least should be). I would also say it is good teaching (understanding student resistance to learning and trying to deal with it appropriately).”

It is common in teaching science to make reference to past hypotheses that seemed good but were proven wrong. “Lamarckism” (somewhat unfairly named) and “Lysenkoism” are sometimes used in this way while teaching evolution. One could use ID or YEC this way, but I would suggest that it would NOT be a good tactic, but rather, insensitive and confrontational, to make reference to a community’s religious beliefs this way. If the intolerance and fanaticism of the community prevent its students from learning science, well, that’s too bad. The teacher might want to get involved in pro-science activities as a volunteer.

“Now, suppose the teacher expressed the opposite opinion for whatever reason but the standard material was presented and presented competently. This too should be protected expression of ideas even at the K-12 level.”

Yes, it was obvious that this was what you were building up to. The same point you made before. If the teacher perfunctorily and unenthusiastically rushes through the actual science lesson, then they should be allowed the “freedom of expression” to follow it up by preaching ID or creationism that directly contradicts the actual lesson. Just the old stale “equal time” argument that right wing creationists have been using unsuccessfully for decades.

Nope, sorry, it doesn’t work that way, and if you read to the end, I’ll explain why.

ID and creationism are wrong as science, so although it may not be the best thing to do, it’s perhaps acceptable to use them as examples of how not to do science.

But to preach politically motivated, sectarian pseudo-science as science, at children whose parents could be of any religious tradition, violates the civil rights of American taxpayers. You can’t have it, the courts have told you you can’t have it, the voters have told you you can’t have it; it’s not going to happen, you can’t have it, and if you come into a public school and try to use my tax dollars to preach divisive, sectarian, politically motivated pseudoscience at anybody’s kids, I’ll fight back, and there are millions and millions more like me.

And in fact, although you may fantasize about teaching YEC or ID to naive high school kids, I can turn you against your own scenario. Simply imagine, if you can, that after “presenting the standard K12 material”, the teacher begins preaching Hindu creationism, or Mormon creationism, as his version of science. It would be the exact same thing. Do you support that freedom of speech for teachers, on your tax dollar?

I think that you are all missing an inportant point- there are lots of kinds of creationism. All of them are religious, all are false, all are protected under the 1st amendment. Public school teachers are prohibited from attacking religious belief just as they are prohibited from promoting religious belief.

The only position consistant with the Constitution is that science is taught in science class. Period.

Now Sandefur’s worry that the Federal Courts have run amuck is too little too late. The extreme right “conservatives” he and his ilk have backed under the guise of “libertarianism” have brought down the judicial branch. Sandefur’s bosses have recently crowed over their “victory” for school segregation. Yeah, hip hip for the right of racists to be racists.

2) While teaching a unit on the Cold War the teacher disagrees with the view expressed in the textbook that US military confrontation of the Soviet Union was necessary. The teacher discusses some different schools of history while teaching the curriculum and expresses his view that much of the Cold War was bad policy.

not a fair comparison. you are comparing a subject where there are legitimate differences of opinion WITHIN the subject material, vs. a case where there is an attempt to introduce opinions that are OUTSIDE of the actual material.

More correctly using your example, the analogy to science would give you a debate between say the overall impact of neutral mutations vs. selection on the resulting evolution of ovserved traits. NOT a debate between frickin’ science and religion.

This is why nobody in their right mind considers “teaching the controversy” to be a good thing; you are talking about the value of comparing religious beliefs to actual science, and I can give you oodles of evidence that all this does is confuse kids further, not help.

get it straight, people: creationsism is NOT science, in any way, shape, or form, and this is THE ONLY point that needs to be made if the issue is raised by a student in a science class.

you want to get together after school and have a meeting with the kids and their parents to eplain to them why their religious beliefs have nothing to do with science? fine and dandy. However, the comparison of religious belief and science does NOT belong in a science classroom, period. Has far less to do with the constitution, and far more to do with good teaching practice in general.

Sir Toejam,

If you would please kindly read my posts and address them in the context. If you care to look back over the archives of PT and you will see that I am not an advocate of “teach the controversy.”

What I am advocating is the principle that even K-12 teachers should have academic freedom to introduce controversial material related to the curriculum so long as they follow a school district’s policies.

If you also care to read over the archives you will see I am generally no fan of Timothy Sandefur.

It is extremely difficult to say you have academic freedom in history class and then turn around and establish viewpoint discrimination in the science classroom.

I am concerned about teachers abusing academic freedom to introduce inappropriate material. But safeguards can be put in place.

The problem is that the courts are saying that teachers have no academic freedom in the classroom to speak on curricular matters. Thus the First Amendment is dead where it is needed most.

Killing academic freedom at K-12 in order to stop creationism is to use a bazooka to try and kill a gnat. You won’t stop creationism this way and in fact what you will stop is teachers speaking their minds.

One of the key points in Dover was that the teachers refused to read the disclaimer they were ordered to read as a matter of district policy.

If these kinds of precedent hold up then the next time a school district passes a disclaimer and a teacher refuses to read it the district will be able to fire that teacher.

Agree or disagree with me-either one is fine. It is discouraging that people have so little support and confidence in the principle of academic freedom.

It is extremely difficult to say you have academic freedom in history class and then turn around and establish viewpoint discrimination in the science classroom.

no it’s easy to say, it’s also easy to say that isn’t the case as it stands.

Which is exactly why i pointed out that your example is in error if that is the point you were trying to make.

there is just as much academic freedom in the sciences as in history.

we frown on holocaust denial as “historical point of view” in a similar way to “creationism” as being any part of science. Is it worthwhile to discuss holocaust denial in a class on history? No, it’s a complete waste of time. However, you know that kids occassionally will bring it up in a history class, because their parents/pastor/friends told them there was no holocaust.

based on what you’ve written so far, you are still not painting an accurate picture of what teaching is all about, let alone teaching science.

this isn’t about academic freedom. There is nothing that limits such in history or in science.

IOW, I can understand quite well where you are coming from, even if you have done a poor job of trying to get us there, but I completely disagree that the issue you are addressing is really one of academic freedom.

the rest is intended to head off any creobots that would jump in the wide open door you have painted for them, apparently without even realizing it.

Sir Toejam,

Until fairly recently K-12 teachers had limited rights to discuss curricular issues.

Historically, the courts had argued that K-12 education should attempt as much as possible within age appropriate limits to come close to the University atmosphere of wide ranging discussion.

Now the courts are saying that teachers are basically transmittal devices for Board policy with no rights to comment on the curriculum.

The courts are not saying that they want to define limits as those limits were always there. You are raising bogeys. No one ever had the right at the K-12 level to introduce holocaust revisionism.

What is being discussed here is the right for example in a class discussion on civics to use one’s personal political activism as an example or to say in a class on civics that one thinks George Bush is a bad (or a good President).

You think that you have found a way to keep the creationists out. I am telling you what you have found is a way to keep the creationists out only so long as the courts keep ruling against teaching creationism.

We are one precedent away from school districts (as in Dover) being able to tell students that they must teach creationism.

Perhaps when that happens you will see the value in academic freedom. If being able to discuss controversial subjects related to the curriculum is not academic freedom, then I cannot think of anything that would meet the concept of academic freedom.

I agree with what the old standard was: K-12 should attempt as much as possible, within age appropriate limits to mimic the ideal of academic freedom in Universities.

Of course this case will soon be extended to Universities and so we will not have to worry about academic freedom there either.

Historically, the courts had argued that K-12 education should attempt as much as possible within age appropriate limits to come close to the University atmosphere of wide ranging discussion.

again, you are implying this is an issue of academic freedom when it most certainly is not.

you have much confusion to overcome.

good luck with that.

If being able to discuss controversial subjects related to the curriculum is not academic freedom, then I cannot think of anything that would meet the concept of academic freedom.

Ok, then you’re just an idiot, because all of the examples you have used so far do not pertain to “controversial subjects” related to the curriculum of the classes under discussion.

or didn’t you understand my explanation of why we also shouldn’t waste time debating holocaust denial in a history class?

really, you are sooo confused as to what academic freedom means, I really see no way to set you straight.

Chip said:

No one ever had the right at the K-12 level to introduce holocaust revisionism.

Why not? If holocaust revisionism is not allowed (and I’d agree), then why do you favor allowing evolutionary revisionism? They are perfect parrallels.

What is being discussed here is the right for example in a class discussion on civics to use one’s personal political activism as an example or to say in a class on civics that one thinks George Bush is a bad (or a good President).

The question of whether Bush is good or bad is a subjective valuation, an area where there are legitimate differences of opinion among historians. Opinions are ok in that subject because that’s all anyone has. The situation for creationism is completely different, because creationism is not a legitimate scientific difference of opinion. It is religion dressed up as science, in a cheap tux in the case of ID, with no more validity than the theory that the universe sprang fully formed from my left nostril, and no more right to take up valuable class time.

I am telling you what you have found is a way to keep the creationists out only so long as the courts keep ruling against teaching creationism.

Well no shit, that’s what the courts are for.

First of all, the very definition of academic freedom is the right to introduce controversial material related to the subject matter. You might wish to reference the AAUP’s statement on academic freedom. In fact, according to the AAUP academic freedom also includes the limited right to introduce controversial material that is not directly related to the subject matter. This is still at least the standard for higher ed, though given this ruling I see the day coming when it will not be the standard for higher ed.

In the past courts had ruled that this standard should be applied **as much as possible** to K-12 while recognizing that there needed to be age appropriate limits.

I am saying that should be the standard.

Let me try again:

1) First of all, with respect to whether or not I know what “teaching is about” let me say I think it should be about more than just channeling state standards. I don’t want to get off subject by discussing the pitfalls of the standards and testing movement. As long as there are standards they need to be taught and they should be taught well. Good teaching is not “Teaching to a test”. Good teaching aims at having students learn content broadly and deeply and where appropriate, learn to use critical thinking. At the K-12 level only a little bit of education should be focused on critical thinking.

2) Teachers should have within age appropriate limits the right to express opinions on the curriculum.

3) The case we are talking about involved a teacher who expressed a controversial opinion (which wasn’t even that controversial) about a public protest and was fired for expressing an opinion about a public protest during a classroom discussion on current events. That is the type of expression that I think should be protected.

4) You can protect freedom of expression and prevent inappropriate material from being introduced into the classroom by writing clear, concise guidelines for schools. Many schools in fact have such guidelines.

5) Nobody has answered my question about what you do when students literally walk out of a science class where evolution is taught.

6) Even if teachers don’t have the right to teach ID or YEC students do have the right to ask the teacher a question.

So what is a teacher to do when he or she faces an audience of students who are hostile to the subject matter. Do you:

a) refuse to answer the question and thus increase hostility and student resistance to learning;

b) answer the question honestly and suggest to the student additional resources where they might explore their questions in more detail?

I say b. I say you refer to the student to talk origins and true origins. I say you explain to students why you think ID/YEC are not good science. If in that context a teacher says something like: “we need to focus on learning the material on evolution” and spends class time teaching the material, students are not harmed if the teacher states the view that he or she does not agree with the material.

I would much rather have school districts confront resistance and social attitudes directly and have those attitudes discussed openly then refuse to address the issues at all.

Furthermore, there are other lessons we are trying to teach students. Education is not just about memorization of facts approved by disciplinary committees (though some of that is in fact necessary). Education is also about learning to engage in open discussion, about learning to live in a pluralistic, democratic society and about learning to evaluate and weigh arguments.

How much freedom of speech there is should depend on the age of the students. What you are suggesting will simply lead to local school districts having the power to tell teachers not to say anything other than the officially approved lesson plan.

I think that creates a terrible educational environment and sends the wrong message to students about speech in a democratic society.

Yes, it is worthwhile to cover this in a history class, because at some point in their lives, kids are going to encounter Holocaust denial, and I think perhaps it is important to let them know that this viewpoint is out there, that some people advocate it, and that these people are precisely the reason that we do fail to learn the lessons offered by history. again. And again. And yet again.

have you ever had a student tell everyone in your class that the holocaust was fiction?

have you then spent the rest of the class trying to convince him that it wasn’t?

what if the shoe is on the other foot?

what if it is the teacher that says the holocaust was fiction, and the student challenges that?

neither deals with history as history, so it’s a waste of actual CLASSTIME to debate it. get it? Nowhere did I EVER say that addressing the issue of creationism WASN’T worth addressing, I explicitly stated it doesn’t belong in a science class, and should be addressed OUTSIDE of the classroom setting.

hence, you, just like your evident compatriot, apparently enjoy making strawmen of what other people are saying, then accusing them of doing that very thing to you!

as to my vehemence at chippy, perhaps you missed the MANY times he made strawmen of not just my arguments, but everybody who posted in this thread. when called on it in reasonable fashion, he ignored it and proceeded to make the situation even worse.

when his strawmen arugments became so blatant as to be laughable, he finally tried to apologize, but why on earth should one take such an apology at face value given the egregious nature of his approach to argument to begin with?

which, I might add, he proceed with AGAIN, after I gave up on him and FHS proceeded.

If the construction of strawmen is what constitutes reasoned arguement in the part of the woods you and chippy hail from, I see no reason to pull my punches, and haven’t the slightest care that you view it as “rude”.

By the way, what is your definition of academic freedom? Do you have one?

if you had a complete set of neurons yourself, and weren’t just projecting, you might actually have been able to pull it out of several posts where i essentially defined academic freedom as being limited by:

relevance, accuracy, and integrity.

and pointed out numerous times how and why creationsim does not fit as worthy of discussion as a subject in a science classroom.

hence, why I said this was never about ACADEMIC freedom, and is NOT an issue of free speech.

also why I made note of the fact that the judges did not need to rewrite the constitution in order to make the conclusions they did in this case.

so my conclusion for you is that you have rather poor reading comprehension skills, and should curtail your career as a concern troll before you dig yourself any deepeer.

Now you’re just being obtuse Chip.

These are my points:

1) Are there significant “Age appropriate” limitations between the various K-12 grades and the university level to consider for academic freedom or not?

2) Even if you have complete 1st amendment rights by any measurement, do you think it’s “appropriate”, or not, for instructors to exercise the full extent of those 1st ammendment rights irrespective of their level of instruction, or not?

3) Who has the responsibility to determine what is “appropriate” in a classroom and does anybody have the right to challenge the appropriateness?

I didn’t ask you to restate yours. I can read and comprehend at a sufficent level I think.

Is this the best you could do for a response to mine?

You: “Of course age appropriate has to be applied to some degree on a case by case basis. I never said otherwise. What I said was that there should be a balancing act and that the ideal should be as age increases to approach the openness of expression of a University. How can we tell age appropriate expression? Well, one way is to listen to the music they listen to, the books they read, the movies they watch, the things they are exposed to.”

What? To some degree? Case by case? Huh? What exactly is this balancing act you speak of and what exactly is it we are supposed to be balancing?

Translation: You don’t have the first clue what age appropriate means “in practice” in the K-12 classrom, just like I figured.

I have a better idea than “listen to the music they listen to, the books they read, the movies they watch, the things they are exposed to” which, btw, is pretty damn entertaining to actually do I’ll tell yah. Sometimes I don’t have a choice with 20 Ipods blaring in class.

Why don’t you listen to just one person who actually has the classroom experience dealing with the students? I conceded every point regarding what you “know” about university teaching and even conceded that there, in theory, quite possibly, may be, a way you could talk about religeon in a science classroom if you interpret the 1st amendment the way you do if I had your considerable knowlegde on the subject. I will not concede that you can even presume to even have advice, in passing, for me or anybody teaching K-12 regarding what is “appropriate” in our classrooms, based on anything you’ve said in this thread.

You: “We are talking about a high school teacher teaching civics. I think that a discussion of anti-war opinions in high school is age appropriate. Is that clear enough for you?”

Ok help me out here Chip. I was referring to the Mayer v. Monroe County Community Sch. Corp. in the ORIGINAL POST WAY AT THE TOP. Maybe that Grey Goose and tonic I had the night I wrote regarding the Mayer case affected me. I’m willing to concede that. But, when I read the ORIGINAL POST WAY AT THE TOP regarding the Mayer case, this is what I was referring to: “In the Mayer case, elementary school teacher Deborah Mayer alleged that she was fired after telling her students that she had honked when passing some demonstrators holding signs saying “Honk for Peace.”’

Now, in California, elementary school means 1st through 5th grade, sometimes 6th grade, and is taught by a teacher holding in multi-subject general ed credential. There’s no such thing as a Civics class. High school is 9th through 12th and is taught by teachers holding single subject credential in subjects such as Civics, and Biology like me. I read that Deborah Mayer was an elementary school teacher which I assumed to mean 1st through 5th (sometimes 6th) grade, and not a high school (9th through 12th) teacher.

I actually did try to click on the hotlink to go to the case and get more info before posting something that makes me look like a asshat (got that one from listening to my students btw), but it was a dead link. Seriously, did I miss something? I apologize if I did.

Beyond that, I really wasn’t interested in a lecture and your rehashing of all your opinions. To be fair, I did learn something from the discussion and i do think you carried the 1st amendment baton as far as you could. When it comes to actual K-12 issues, I think it’s time to hand it off to someone who could carry it with a bit more authority. Not saying it’s me, but for fuck sake, anybody (My students cuss a bit sometimes, sorry. Bad influence).

To express my 1st amendment rights like a good boy…It is my considered opinion, as an experienced K-12 teacher, that your opinion as a university professor, regarding what is or is not appropriate speech in a K-12 classroom, sucks donkey nads (Got that one from listening to my students too).

FHS,

When you put it like that this is simple:

But I’ll concede one mistake. You are correct: the case is about elementary school and not high school. Even so, I don’t see how why a single comment about honking for peace puts 5th graders in danger and even at that level I see value in the speech. Had the teacher told the students: let’s spend the day making anti-war protestors and told them all to write letters to their congressmen opposing the war, she would have been out of bounds.There may or may not be other reasons she was fired. Who knows. But what I am arguing against is and specifically concerned about are the implications of the precedent (see my multiple posts above). Not one person (including you) has challenged me on the implications of the precedent or on my understanding of the law. Instead, there have been multiple personal insults and outright distortions of my views. I have pointed out to people that this very same precedent could be used to stifle pro-evolutionary speech.

Furthermore, I have also said that I believe this precedent will very soon be applied to the University level. My argument is against the precedent. Again, not one person has engaged me on the legal matter.

In answer to your questions/points:

1)I did not say that there should be no age appropriate limitations at the K-12 level. I said, that within the context of age appropriate material K-12 schools should make every effort to **approach** the University ideal of free speech. Obviously, there is much less protection at the 1st grade level than for high school seniors.

I’ve given several examples of what I consider to be protected speech and my comments were directed primarily at the high school level.

I find your demand that I provide an exhaustive list of what is age appropriate/inappropriate for each age level to be absurd and irrelevant to what I have advocated.

What I have said was is that teachers should have a constitutionally protected right to express opinions on curricular matters. I think this addresses the age appropriate issue. If teachers have some discretion on what materials they introduce in their classrooms I see nothing wrong with having a school policy that vets potentially controversial materials first.

I will give you an example (Unfortunately I can’t find the case right now).

In one recent precedent a high school teacher was fired for having students perform a controversial play. The teacher had first obtained the principal’s permission to have the play performed. When the play was performed, the principal took heat and disciplined the teacher. The teacher took the case to Federal Court and argued that she had been disciplined due to her controversial speech that had been within the limits of school policy. The court argue that she had been fired due to a disagreement over a curricular matter and that therefore she had no First Amendment rights.

Since the teacher followed school policy and the play had been approved, I think she was well within her rights and her speech (and her class’s speech) should have been protected.

I think my examples above respond to all your points, but I’ll proceed.

2)Teachers at any level need to balance academic freedom with academic responsibility. As I have stated again and again and again, and as Lynn Goodman pointed out I believe that teachers should give a thorough and rigorous coverage to the curriculum in any subject.

Teachers at any level are routinely evaluated for their teaching effectiveness and if a teacher is not effective then they should either be given ways to improve and work towards that, or they should find another job. My own department recently dealt with such a case. We had a new hire who held some very radical opinions and who was devoutly devoted to a complete learner centered style of teaching. We had no problem with either in principle. We had a problem with the fact that she could not pull it off and failed to even follow the contract with respect to hear teaching evaluations. If she had followed the contract, had decent teaching evaluations he opinions and teaching style would have been of absolutely no consequence to us. In fact, we had hired her because she held opinions that differed from our opinions.

I think the same principle applies at K-12. Evaluate teachers by their effectiveness. Allow them to express opinions on the curriculum. Hire and fire based on teaching performance. I think that covers the issue. The trend it seems to me is to limit teacher’s freedom to teach, to focus on pedagogical technique rather than letting people who are well grounded in relevant content have the freedom to teach. Personally, I believe teachers at the K-12 level need more freedom to teach and less monitoring.

3)School districts set the curriculum and policy and in some states, state boards as well. Teachers at any level need to follow that curriculum. As I stated, I follow curricular guidelines on a daily basis I personally disagree with. That does not mean I cannot voice disagreement with the curriculum, indicate to students that there are other approaches to economics and in a few places introduce students to the controversies. My syllabus and courses still meet the Ohio Transfer Articulation Guidelines for my subject (IMO, though I participated in drawing up the TAGS I think they have been mostly a waste of time).

If teachers do not like the established guidelines they should go through proper channels: school committees, public board meetings, their union, and even the courts. I could envision a case where a teacher or a teacher’s union brings suit against a school district because its policies are over restrictive.

If courts grant teachers First Amendment rights then courts will be the final arbiter of what is/is not protected speech. I suspect that part of the reasoning behind the court’s decision is that they don’t want to be inundated with hearing suits in every district. But this is a red herring IMO. In the past, courts were not swamped with 1st amendment cases so there is no reason the *previous* standard should not hold.

So to repeat: 1) My first and primary concern is about the implication of this standard; 2) My goal is to protect speech that is controversial but clearly within well understood limits of specific disciplines; 3) Sometimes in order to protect good speech it is necessary to protect bad speech; 4) This precedent is a dagger aimed at higher ed.

“When you put it like that this is simple:”

Put it like what Chip? Cutting and pasting the points from the previous post and putting numbers next to them? But, sure, no problem.

“I find your demand that I provide an exhaustive list of what is age appropriate/inappropriate for each age level to be absurd and irrelevant to what I have advocated.”

I never asked you to provide an exhaustive list of anything. A simple yes or no would have sufficed, although I had hoped you would engage in a “good faith” discussion rather than lecturing to me again. The thing about it for me is that you can ask any K-12 student or teacher that same question and all they’ll have to do is show you the Teacher/Student expectations that we discuss on the first day of school. Again, the practical application of this “statement” is part of our job description. I personally have no problem with wearing an age appropriate filter.

I’m not surprised you have issues with even hypothesizing any kind of list of anything regarding age appropriate limitation here. Frankly, my “belief” is that it’s part of your job description as well. You’ve simply expressed nothing but distate about having to deal with it in your zeal for “academic freedom”. That’s for you to worry about. But the tragic (yes, one of your overstatements) implications of what you would like to see is just more crappy, ineffective, teaching.

“I’ve given several examples of what I consider to be protected speech and my comments were directed primarily at the high school level.”

So? I can give you thousands of examples of “actual” protected speech from every high school Biology lesson I’ve ever taught Chip. Both are just anectdotal references that to “age appropriateness” beyond what you’ve tried to lecture to me about regarding my own responsibilities.

“What I have said was is that teachers should have a constitutionally protected right to express opinions on curricular matters. I think this addresses the age appropriate issue.”

Um, no. Maybe at an academic discussion level it does, but at a “practical” level (which is what I have been emphasizing, and which as a K-12 teacher affects me the most) it speaks to nothing about how this sentiment can and should be applied in a K-12 classroom. Nothing whatsoever. It’s where discussion begins, not where it ends.

Come on Chip. Admit it. You can’t speak to, in your terms, the implications of “age appropriateness” regarding 1st ammendment rights in a K-12 classroom with any more authority than anybody else with half a brain off the street.

“But what I am arguing against is and specifically concerned about are the implications of the precedent (see my multiple posts above). Not one person (including you) has challenged me on the implications of the precedent or on my understanding of the law.”

Give me two inches of a break Chip. I told you, I conceded EVERYTHING, anything you want to say regarding the University level on implications, your understanding of law, whatever. I can’t speak for anybody else here, so don’t drag everybody else into our catfight. Hell, even when I try to extend you common courtesy, you can’t see past your own personal viewpoints.

I think I’ll just take back those concessions now, just on GP alone.

All I’ve done in every post one of my post is address your points about the implications for K-12. I have plenty of other snarky comments about fallacious leaps in logic, and outright hypocrisy, to express but whatever.

To summarize:

1) I don’t agree with your idea of “right of religious expression” in a K-12 classroom and the implications of Mayer to that issue.

2) I don’t think you know jack about what the practical implications are of anything regarding K-12 education.

You can have the rest. Specifically to you Chip, but with all due respect to any university personnel, good luck but keep your implications out of my classroom.

FHS,

I’ll take your summaries and attempt to address them

“1) I don’t agree with your idea of “right of religious expression” in a K-12 classroom and the implications of Mayer to that issue. .

I don’t think you have even made the effort to understand my position enough to have an agreement or disagreement.

The implication of Mayer is that a K-12 teacher has no Constitutional right to express any opinion whatsoever on a curricular matter or on any matter related to school district policy at all . Period, end of story.

If you think my logic on this is faulty, then please show me how my conclusion does not follow from the Court’s argument.

I am not sure whether or not Mayer has any specific implication for religious speech per se in the classroom. To the extent it covers religious speech it covers it under the general rubric of speech.

To repeat a point you and many others have failed to even address: One implication of Mayer is as follows-

In Kitzmiller one of the issues was the refusal of teachers to read the statement approved by the school board. An implication of Mayer is that the schoolboard had the right to fire them for refusing to read the district approved statement. Not only am I not advocating that, I find that implication to be chilling and I am using it as an example of what is wrong with Mayer.

If you think my logic is faulty the correct my basic syllogism below:

Premises of the Court expressed in Mayer: 1. A teacher has no First Amendment right to express an opinion on a curricular matter; 2. Teachers must adhere to the approach adopted by the school district and principal;

Actual state of affairs: 3. The school district and/or principal mandate that the teacher read a statement before every science lesson;

Conclusion. 4. The teacher has no Constitutionally protected right to refuse to read that statement and may be fired for refusing to do so.

Please show me where my logic above is faulty. You and others may wish to argue that the Dover District’s actions were unconstitutional. That is now true as a matter of law (at least in that particular Federal District). But that does not matter because under Mayer it is not the right of the teacher to act on a frolic of his or her own and declare what is constitutional or unconstitutional. The teacher must adhere to the approach established by the district and principal. Thus the teacher must read the statement until he or she is informed by the District to stop. And even if the District orders the teacher to continue in violation of the court, an implication of Ceballos is that the teacher has no right as a public employee to refuse to go along with potentially unconstitutional practices by a government agency.

If you think I endorse this state of affairs then you are woefully mistaken.

2) I don’t think you know jack about what the practical implications are of anything regarding K-12 education.

What practical implications do you want me to address? I gave you specific examples. You say that this is where discussion should begin. I actually agree with that.

That is why I said that school districts should set general policies for what they consider to be age appropriate materials. They should set general guidelines for teachers to introduce potentially controversial materials. Teachers should follow these guidelines. If they follow these guidelines, they should have the right as public school employees to speak on matters of curricular concern. If they dislike the guidelines they should seek to change the guidelines through appealing to the appropriate venue, through their Union, or ultimately, through the courts. The courts should seek a balance between the open exchange of ideas and the need to insure the curriculum is taught.

I gave as an example the fairly recent case of a North Carolina teacher who followed school district policy in presenting a controversial play. She was fired when the principal got heat because some in the community found the content of the ideas expressed in that play to be offensive. Again, to emphasize the point-she had followed approved school district policy and had permission to perform the play. She was then fired for the ideas expressed in the play. The court ruled that since overseeing the play was part of her duties, she had no right to express ideas through the medium of a play.

Now do you or do you not agree with this case? Do you or do you not think a teacher should be fired for stating she honked for peace in a civics lesson?

You can have the rest.

What rest? I don’t see any evidence that you have made the slightest attempt to deal with the Constitutional implications of this case. While you keep going on about the practical implications, all I have heard from you is bland statements about following statements of student-teacher expectations.

Specifically to you Chip, but with all due respect to any university personnel, good luck but keep your implications out of my classroom.

I don’t even know what you are trying to say in this statement. It is not **my** implications that are being put into your classroom. That is the point that you cannot see. The implication of Mayer is that any example of protected speech you can show me in a high school biology class is irrelevant in a Constitutional sense. So I am not imposing any implications on your classroom.

You may be able to show me speech that as a matter of district policy or a negotiated Union contract is protected but you can show me **no speech that is Constitutionally protected in your capacity as a public school employee if Mayer holds.

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 21, column 397, byte 4334 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

Once again, you seem to be completely incapable of understanding that I am critiquing Mayer. Can you see that point?

Actual state of affairs: Dover v. Kitzmiller. The teacherw were required by the district to read a statement that has now been ruled unconnstitutional by the District. As i have summarized this part of Kitzmiller several times and a perfunctory search on Talk Origins can lead one to the decision and trial record of Kitzmiller, I can only conclude that you didn’t bother to read my summary of Kitzmiller, couldn’t comprehend it and are to freaking lazy to actually search for and read the case.

What you refuse to see is that Mayer would allow the principal to fire the teachers for refusing to read that statement, which was unconstitutional. The fact that it was unconstitutional is irrelevant. That is not for teachers to decide under Mayer.

Since this was an actual, recent court case and we have surely not seen the last of mandated statements, this is clearly an “actual state of affairs.”

Sadly, Mayer will apply outside the classroom. I said very clearly that the problem with Mayer is that it removed all First Amendment protections for speech inside the classroom on curricular matters. You seem to be OK with this. You seem to be saying that teachers should have no right to express an opinion on the curriculum at all. but what Mayer also does is broaden the meaning of “work related” speech. Under Mayer, your comments at a school board meeting on proposed curricular changes could be considered “work related” speech and you could be fired for it.

And actually, your right to comment on the curriculum or any other matter of school district policy outside the classroom even in your capacity (or especially in your capacity) as a school teacher is virtually nil. You have only limited rights to comment as a private citizen. That is the actual state of affairs.

You state: We have all kinds of rights to speak on matters of curricular concern, just not in the classroom while we are supposed to be teaching. Unless you can show me a positive correlation between talking about curricular issues to your kids, beyond “this material is going to be difficult, be ready” and effective teaching, I dont see the point. I’m not interested in more court cases or hypothetical examples. I want to see data that shows whining about work to your students in class increases your effectiveness as a K-12 teacher before I see one crappy teacher made more crappy by giving him/him her a platform for expousing all kinds of nonsense in a K-12 class.

I think it is appalling you consider trying to engage in discussion in a classroom to be “whining”. You objected earlier to my paraphrasing of Dewey where he says too much time is spent on rote memorization and not enough time on critical thinking.

Lets look at the lesson that was sent to the students in Mayer. During a civics discussion, apparently about participation in politics, the teacher indicated to the class how she had recently participated in politics by expressing a political opinion. For her political opinion, that was expressed in a way that was clearly on topic and germane to the curriculum, she was fired. So the civics lesson for today is: speech that the principal doesn’t like about civics gets you fired.

I’ve given other examples of where I think speech should be protected such as a teacher voicing an opinion about interpreting the history of the Vietnam War or voicing an opinion about how the Cold War was conducted.

You steadfastly refuse to deal with the legal/constitutional issues. While you may not care about these issues, the original post was on these issues.

What you fail to understand is that while you may have due process many teachers do not have due process. It may be the case that due to the way your contract is written you may have some freedom to discuss controversial issues. If so, all to the better.

But again, the original post for this thread was on the Consitutional issues and Constitutional implications.

Or have they stopped teaching that at your school? Apparently you were absent in American Government on the days they were discussing Constitutional Law because you are clearly incapable of confronting and dealing with legal arguments.

A couple of additional points:

I want to see data that shows whining about work to your students in class increases your effectiveness as a K-12 teacher before I see one crappy teacher made more crappy by giving him/him her a platform for expousing all kinds of nonsense in a K-12 class.

What the data shows is subject to dispute. It is generally accepted that students learn better, more broadly and more deeply when they are somehow actively involved in and engaged in the learning process. There is much debate about how best to stimulate active learning and critical thinking. There is also a problem about at what stage students are truly ready for critical thinking and whether or not they need to progress through myriad levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Personally, I would argue that if one applies Bloom’s taxonomy judiciously and carefully it can be a useful guide to determining the specific skills, knowledges and abilities one is trying to elicit from students at different levels. I still think that critical thinking as defined by www.criticalthinking.org is the best ideal approach to learning to aim for (I realize as a practical matter that basic skills often need to be taught first and that a lot of this will entail drill and repetition).

Still, in that context “whining” about anything adds nothing to the learning process. Engaging a class in discussion about current issues, disputes within the subject and debates in society at large can stimulate student learning and interest and thus lead to improved outcomes. This can take place through specific classroom activities (small group discussion), class discussion led by the teacher, formal debates between groups of students. In order to be effective at this kind of discussion a teacher does need to be able to express an opinion. I think discussing with students the goals of the curriculum and why the curriculum is set up as it is can contribute to student understanding. In an ideal world, students would set their own goals and all student learning would be self directed with but minimal prompts from teachers. I think we all realize that in the real world this ain’t gonna cut it-but as much as we can and whenever we can realistically help to create student goal setting and active involvement in the setting of the goals and buy in to the curriculum, I think it will help learning. That’s a lot better than saying this is the state mandated curriculum and going on a forced march to cover a curriculum geared to passing a standardized test.

Are you implying that the guidelines were not properly assesed by the principal? Maybe she edited speech after the approval was given. Supposition, of course, but we don’t know, and regardless, the teacher is responsible.

I realize you can’t be bothered to deal with actual precedents and constitutional law, but again, I specifically discussed this in relation to another case. And that is exactly what happened in a North Carolina case: a teacher followed the district’s policies and was then fired for the content of the ideas expressed in the case. The court held that putting on a play is part of the school’s curriculum and that she had no right to express ideas on curricular matters. Therefore, she had no First Amendment right to express the content of the ideas expressed in the play in her capacity as a teacher.

Teachers have due process, as determined by the status of their union contract. A teacher with any kind of permanant status cannot simple be fired for anything. It certainly isn’t a case of a) fired b) sue. She had her day in court and lost, sorry. Unless you are implying that stepping on her 1st amendment rights negates her right to due process, I don’t see the problem.

As I said above, not all teachers have due process rights. From your description of your district you are either in a unionized district or in a district where you have specific due process safeguards built in. The reason you have these safeguards built in (aside from your union) is because the courts have recognized that public employees have due process rights as employees (to a limited degree). However, what you fail to understand (due I presume to your having been absent the day Con Law was discussed in American Government)is that generally speaking, employees do not have due process rights as employees. What Mayer and Ceballos both exemplify is a growing tendency by Republican appointed federal judges to weaken both due process rights and First Amendment rights of public employees in order to uphold the right of government as employer to hire and fire at will. So unless your contract, district policies or state law specifically grant you tenure, you have no due process rights in your capacity as a public employee.

Furthermore, while due process and free speech are intertwined to some degree they can be logically separated. One could recieve a full and fair impartial hearing as to whether or not one made the statement and then be fired for making the statement. So yes, under some circumstances getting due process will not necessarily satisfy the First Amendment interest.

Example: a college professor lecturing on evolutionary psychology is accused of stating in class that he believes rape is a biological instinct. A female student complains that this constitutes sexual harassment. The University disciplinary committee investigates and in so doing adheres to the letter of procedures scrupulously but finds he indeed did make the statement and then disciplines him for the statement. His due process rights have been protected but his First Amendment rights have been violated.

It is possible therefore that Mayer was in a district where there was no tenure or had no tenure. IT is also possible that her due process rights were upheld. If the link worked I could find out. My guess is her due process rights were weak to non-existent to begin with.I will almost guarantee you she is not in a unionized school district.

It’s all well and good to rely on your union to protect you. that only works when you have one and when your state or district actually allows you to engage in collective bargaining.

for once, Chip actually says something correct and on point.

the link to the case has changed since the original post was created, you can find the opinion and arguments here now:

http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/fdocs/d[…]=06&num=

have fun, Chip.

Well,

Thanks for the link and it supports what I have been saying. This court has rejected any effort at balancing. That had been the standard in Pickering and other cases which the court has now overturned.

Furthermore, the court is saying explicitly that teachers do not have the right to express an opinion, even one that is clearly germane to the subject matter in the classroom.

If pro-science forces celebrate Mayer because it now precludes creationists from introducing their opinions into a science class, they do so at the expense of what had been the right of K-12 teachers to voice an opinion on contentious issues.

What a wonderful civics lesson the students have been taught.

Thanks for the link Sir_Toejam,

Couple of things Chip, if we can bury the hatchet.

First, the fact that she was probationary answers a lot of my questions to you regarding the Mayer case. Probationary K-12 teachers, basically, have no due process rights granted to them by their contract. They can, and have, been fired for much less. The administration doesn’t even have to state a reason for firing a probationary teacher. Her only recourse, probably, was to sue for her job back.

My permanent status affords me the full extent of due process, which is substantial, according to my union negotiated contract. Whether you believe me or not, it is my considered opinion that my administration probably would not have even tried to fire me, an experienced permanent teacher, with the union backing I have, had it been me and my administration in the same situation. In fairness to you, I can clearly see how it could affect me, and the due process accorded to me, after reading the case.

Be fair to me regarding just one point please:

I think it is appalling you consider trying to engage in discussion in a classroom to be “whining”. You objected earlier to my paraphrasing of Dewey where he says too much time is spent on rote memorization and not enough time on critical thinking.

When I said, I want to see data that shows whining about work to your students in class increases your effectiveness as a K-12 teacher before I see one crappy teacher made more crappy by giving him/him her a platform for expousing all kinds of nonsense in a K-12 class. I was literally referring to whining in the class, which I feel like you think should be protected by the first amendment, even if we agree it’s “bad speech”. I don’t disagree with you or Dewey regarding memorization versus critical thinking. I simply disagree that extending first amendment rights into the K-12 classroom will necessarily increase the ability to teach critical thinking. We will probably always disagree on that point Chip. I don’t see a need to argue about it. Agreed?

Finally, I will agree with every point you want to make about the implications of Mayer to my classroom duties. I would ask you to explain, though, how exactly you think they extend to discussion of curricular matters outside my duty as a classroom teacher. Not to be snippity, but seriously, I do actually whine about all kinds of work issues, including curricular mattters, to fellow teachers in many other situations, like District approved Union meetings on campus, department meetings, or during Friday Night Happy hour. I read the decision. You think i can seriously be fired for doing any of that according to Mayer?

FHS,

Yes, I think we agree and I can see where there was a misunderstanding.

I never discuss University policy or department matters in class. If I discuss state standards wrt curriculum at all it is briefly and as a way of explaining to students why they need to learn the topics i cover. So I agree, whining or cmplaining, or even engaging in reasoned discourse about school policies or curricular policies is almost always inappropriate in the classroom.

When I said teachers should have the right to comment on curricular matters I meant they should have the right while teaching the curriculum to comment on issues that are relevant to the curriculum. In this case, as best I can judge, Mayer was teaching the established curriculum and simply answered student questions. That is the kind of speech I think should be protected.

Mayer may or may not have been fired for First Amendment reasons (the school board argues she was not) but the court decided to address the First Amendment issue and to address it in the most narrow way. You should listen to the oral arguments because during oral arguments one of the judges clearly stated that he did not believe that even University professors should have the right to express opinions in class. He stated that even if Yale were a public University it would have the right to require its entire law faculty to teach legal realism. This is the kind of hostility to 1st amendment expression in the classroom we are facing.

This is not a ruling pro-science forces should face no matter how much one of the judges tried to turn this into a creationist case and even miscited Kitzmiller to make his point. In addition, he made an analogy that did not even hold in this case.

In response to your questions about what rights you have to comment on district policy, your school principal, etc. outside of your classroom: as far as your 1st amendment rights to do so you have very, very few. Any speech that is anti-employer can generally be viewed as disruptive and therefore sanctioned. The reason you can freely complain to your fellow employees is because you are protected by your union. Your right to join a union is probably protected by your state’s public employee collective bargaining law or some similar statute. So you cannot be sanctioned for participating in union affairs or commenting on the contract. It may also be the case that your school or district chooses to allow employees to comment but that does not mean that you have a Constitutionally protected right to do so. As a practical matter no employer is likely to sanction employees for what they say in a bar. As a legal matter, they probably have the right to do so.

This has been the case since long before Mayer. One relevant case in this instance is Churchill. Churchill was a nurse at a public hospital and was fired for complaining about the quality of patient care to a fellow employee. The Court ruled 6-3 (if memory is correct) that this kind of speech was not protected. 3 Supreme Court justices thought it should be and at least one-I think it was Stevens-argued that the public had a compelling interest in having public operations subject to scrutiny. However, most judges did not see it that way and as in Ceballo supported efficiency over transparency.

What can you personally be fired for? I can’t say without reading your contract, though I doubt your contract departs from standard NEA/AFT contracts. In that case, probably little short of gross incompetence or illegal acts will result in your being fired.

Cases like Mayer are a good argument for teacher unions becaue that will be the only way to preserve academic freedom.

Thanks Chip,

Wow, I couldn’t agree more. Particularly interesting to me is how you approach your own curriculum standards in class. I do much the same thing in mine. The closest thing I have to mandated statements to read before presenting content, however, are the state standards. My administration, at one point, wanted us to read the relevant standard verbatim before each lesson, but back downed after my union insisted that, per contract, we are not even required to mention them at all. I, like you, find it particularly useful to present them, in some way, to show relevance, though I rarely read them word for word. Given the implications of Mayer, I wonder what would happen if the administration pushed the district to challenge the Union. I seriously doubt they ever will, but I do wonder now. If I failed to mention, before, how important union protections are to my day to day duty as a teacher, I’m certainly glad the point has been raised now.

Sincere thanks for clarifying everything regarding Mayer outside the classroom Chip. Chilling indeed.

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This page contains a single entry by Timothy Sandefur published on February 17, 2007 11:01 PM.

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