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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Free Speech and Teachers

If you read or hear comments on legal or political issues you'll inevitably hear an American who was educated in one of our public schools and maybe even in one of our colleges say the following (this one was in Huffington's blog on the Colorado school teacher controversy):

You may not like the fact that a teacher was expressing his views, on either end of the political spectrum, but IT WAS F---ING ILLEGAL FOR THE STUDENT TO RECORD THE CLASS. Over and out.

This kind of hit and run comment is made over and over. Ignoring the expletive, how was the taping illegal? Is legality just something we know? Or are laws drafted by legislatures, decided by case law or codified in the Constitution? If so, then what was illegal about about the repercussions against the teacher's personal political classroom comments?

An important fact from this matter that I have heard is that parent's had given written permission for their students to attend Benish's class with the expectation that there would be controversial statements made. I am not sure this is true. I have Googled for any newspaper article to corroborate this claim. If the parental permission were given, then at least the students were forwarned. Even if such were given, there is a line that cannot be crossed by any teacher regardless of the "permission". Permission would still stop the expression of patently sexually offensive or racist comments, for instance. The political commentary that Bennish made in class would not cross that line. However, the lack of reporting about this parental permission tells me, there was no such thing.

Then we come down to the fact that the teacher is supposed to be spending valuable (and limited) class time teaching geography.

Getting back to the 1st Amendment. The 1st Amendment does not protect one from what happens after the utterance. In general it is a curb to censorship---the halting of the utterance pre-publication. And as to post-publication, there are legal safeguards inhibiting how government may react. The utterances should be protected when the teacher acts as a citizen on his own time. When he is lecturing to students in a core non-political subject, he has a job to do and should withhold his comments for more suitable situations. Because then we are talking about attempts at indoctrination.

As Thomas Sowell wrote yesterday:

The teacher's lawyer talks about First Amendment rights to free speech but free speech has never meant speech free of consequences. Even aside from laws against libel or extortion, you can insult your boss or your spouse only at your own risk.

Does anyone have an account where the parents provided consent? And has anyone published this consent form? If so, please email to me. Thanks.

1 Comments:

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