In recent years, there has been much media attention given to the matter of teacher freedom in schools, especially as some form of gun-free zones have been instated in so many schools across the country. It is a highly debated topic, especially with those who feel strongly that teachers are an essential part of educating our children.
They argue that a school is not a public school anymore because it is now a bilingual education model. What exactly is individual teacher freedom?
For many years, the educational community referred to those employed in public schools as public school teachers. These were subject to union-busting, discrimination, and sometimes harassment by the employer for various reasons, such as endorsing a certain political party. As more individualized classrooms were born, the term “public school teacher” came to die with it. The new term, “individual teacher” or “parent-teacher” emerged and since has been used to describe a new type of teacher in every classroom.
So what are the factors that might induce a teacher to exercise their free-speech rights in the classroom? Well, many years ago, the teaching profession was almost entirely made up of one major trade union. This was a major factor in the hiring of competent teachers. Those teachers willing to work without regard to how they would be perceived by the other teachers in the classroom were an important element in the teaching profession.
Over time, other trade unions have sprung up, especially within the business realm. This is also a factor in the increased numbers of teachers who are seeking employment in different settings, whether it is a traditional school to a college, or a career setting such as a university. There are other considerations as well. Many smaller schools have had to establish a Parent-Teacher Program to ensure competent teachers in their schools.
Also, private schools have a Parent Teacher Program to assure competent teachers, especially those who are not union members.
There have also been attempts over the years to limit the freedom of the teacher. For instance, in some states, the state Board of Education may require classroom discussions on controversial topics, or teachers may be required to participate in political activities in school.
Other states have attempted to regulate the time when school teachers speak on certain topics or may have the ability to choose which topic they will teach this year, forcing them to give up their freedom of speech. These efforts to micromanage the freedom of speech of the teacher are ironic, given the fact that the First Amendment was designed to promote free speech and that the teacher’s right to free speech is guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Unions also have sought to gain a stronghold over the classroom by becoming involved in local politics and spending large amounts of money on political ads. This in turn has led to the closing down or reducing the number of classrooms that teach classic liberal arts subjects. This trend has had an unfortunate consequence for traditionalists who are most concerned about preserving the intellectual richness of our nation’s history and literature. As noted, many of these educators are the children of union members who have been forced out of their classrooms.
Individual freedom of speech in the classroom is also threatened by curricular restructuring and the increasing trend of academic textbooks that require reading from a prescribed list of texts.
To teach these courses, teachers are being compelled to read material that they do not personally agree with or have a conflicting opinion about.
there are now hundreds of school texts that are wholly or partially based on liberal or left-leaning political thought. The development of these politically-driven texts has led to an erosion of teacher freedom. There is no longer a place for the educator to provide his or her personal opinion about specific topics; if such opinions clash with the politically correct line being pushed by the school, then the teacher is either forced out or must resign.
Other factors influencing teacher freedom of speech in a school environment are the presence of zero-tolerance policies. Administrators and other administrators are quick to terminate those teachers who challenge their ideas with physical violence. There is also a trend within some schools toward censorship of materials deemed to be inappropriate for various mature age groups.
This censorship can take many forms, with some materials being banned from classroom discussion lists while other materials are merely altered to remove references to offensive topics or images. This censorship can have a significant chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of those who express contrary views on any topic or matter. In this respect, the chilling effect of a zero-tolerance policy is even more pronounced when the policy is applied to teacher freedom of speech.