Teacher’s free-speech rights stop at the classroom door

January 26, 2011 at 7:23 am 4 comments

Every American has the right to free-speech, but this court finding says that the School Board’s instruction on what to teach overrides the teacher’s right to free speech, at least in the classroom.  What does that mean for faculty?  With whom does ultimate responsibility for the college classroom lay?  Can my Dean say to teach in a certain way, and I’ll be liable if I don’t?

Teachers have no First Amendment free-speech protection for curricular decisions they make in the classroom, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday.

“Only the school board has ultimate responsibility for what goes on in the classroom, legitimately giving it a say over what teachers may (or may not) teach in the classroom,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, said in its opinion.

via Court: No Teacher Speech Rights on Curriculum – The School Law Blog – Education Week.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  January 26, 2011 at 10:32 am

    I think that there is a difference between college standards of academic freedom and high-school curricular limitations, and that there are more active organizations (like AAUP) protecting college academic freedom than protecting high school teachers (whose unions seem more concerned with seniority than with academic freedom). So you might not have any personal worries.

    It is still possible to fire college faculty for failure to teach the material in the curriculum, but it is pretty difficult. I have seen faculty get reprimanded for “bait-and-switch” tactics, where they got one course description approved in the catalog, then proceeded to teach a totally different course. They weren’t fired, nor was their pay cut, but the limitations of academic freedom were pointed out to them, and there may well be serious consequences if they do it again. (Personally, I think that even the first offense of this sort deserves some punishment, since lying about the content of a course is a form of academic fraud.)

  • 2. Hélène Martin  |  January 26, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    You ask whether you might be required to “teach in a certain way.” It seems this decision has more to do with content than pedagogy? As a high school computer science teacher, I would be comfortable being censored if I started to teach, say, Of Mice and Men or pottery glazing techniques. In fact, I’d be alarmed if I weren’t. I generally would like clearer bounds on what I should and shouldn’t cover in my classes.

    I agree that limits on HOW things are taught would be really alarming, especially given the failure of so many pedagogical fads. I suspect that a lot of the effectiveness of teaching strategies comes from the instructor’s enthusiasm for them. (And that certainly applies to content as well to some extent…)

  • 3. Alfred Thompson  |  January 26, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    This really seems similar to how things are in business. After all an employer can tell people what to sell, how to promote products and place other limits on what one does or says in the course of ones work. An employee has an option – it may be take it or leave it but its still an option. 🙂

  • 4. Mark Miller  |  January 30, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    I don’t think it’s fair to expand this out to a free speech issue. Last I heard, teachers in public schools have the right to express their political views, and even wear campaign buttons/stickers in class. The former is fine, but the latter surprised me, and if I had kids in school I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that.


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