Day 96 Question 96:
Does freedom of speech really exist?
I admit that I do not know the ins and outs of government and politics. I admit that I am opinionated and sometimes my opinions can be completely wacky (according to some). I do not have all of the solutions to make this world the best place it could possibly be. There is something my dad said a long time ago that has stuck with me because it holds so much truth, “Even if there are just two people in the world, at some point there is going to be an argument.” Well let’s add billions more people to that….OYE!!!
The First Amendment (yes, the very 1st one) protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. The more I think about this the more and more I see how it is something that is impossible. As a population, I believe we are always being censored. In a previous post I discussed how we are all needing to be so “politically correct” as not to offend anyone. Where is the freedom in that? What I am seeing is that people are able to express themselves freely as long as they are not offending anyone….as long as they are going with the majority. I also find the term expression so vague. Ok, the first thing that popped into my head was the education and how much teachers are really able to express to their children. There is this really weird divide in this country (well there are lots of really weird divides to be honest). I am originally from northern NY but I moved down to Myrtle Beach South Carolina almost 10 years ago. I crossed that Mason Dixon line and it was if I was living a completely different kind of life. In NY, teachers were not to ever touch their students (not a hug, a pat on the shoulder…nothing…well a handshake would be ok). There were strict rules about this in order to protect the teachers from ever having any sort of lawsuits thrown against them for touching a child inappropriately. In South Carolina, teachers can hold hands with their students, hug them, have them on their laps, etc. This was something that was so strange to me and I was caught in a crossfire trying to decide which way I believed to be the right way to go. I understood both points of view. We are now living in a society where lawsuits are being thrown out every minute (hell people are suing McDonalds for making them fat…don’t even get me started) so I understand why the state of NY enforced such strict rules. No teacher would want to be in the sort of position that could cost them their job or potentially land them in jail. On the other hand, although I do not understand a lot of the customs of the South and even after 10 years I experience culture shock regularly, I do love the value they put on family. When I say family I use the term in a manner that goes way outside of just mother, father, sister, brother. The area in which I worked in a youth service organization was very poverty-stricken. Many children came from broken homes and did not experience much love. Teachers provided the love and support by showing the children that they were special (not in any inappropriate way). If a child is NEVER hugged at home, I see no harm in a teacher hugging a student that he/she knows needs it desperately. Everyone deserves affection and kindness in some way or another (again, not in any inappropriate way). Again though, society has shifted so much, and because of the increase in pedophilia and child abduction/underage sex cases, we are no longer able to do this.
Freedom of expression is a weird thing. There are so many fine lines. In some cases I believe that people should express themselves as much as they choose but in others I believe people should use discretion and keep their thoughts and opinions to themselves. Just my own personal thinking shows to me that freedom of expression is almost an impossible concept. The First Amendment even discusses the separation between church and state. In NY there was absolutely a separation. Church and state were never brought together. Religion was a matter in which people practiced what they believed in but it was not brought into any public domains. Everyone was allowed to believe what they wished to believe but nothing was forced upon people. I LOVED THAT!!! Living down south is a completely different story. I have heard God mentioned in several classrooms. I have heard the mention of homosexuality being wrong in the school setting. I have even witnessed school board meeting that started with a prayer. Where is the separation of church and state there? In all of these scenarios I became very uncomfortable because I felt like other people’s religious beliefs were being forced upon me and in my opinion that is wrong. If someone chooses not to practice any form of religion that is their business and they should not have to feel uncomfortable attending a meeting where people are (again I say) forcing their religious beliefs on people. I am not a practicing Buddhist but I believe in a lot of the philosophies of Buddhism. In my time I don’t ever see Buddhist meditations or Buddhist prayers taking place before school board meetings or in the classroom. How is that fair????
I started surfing the Internet looking for different news articles on Freedom of Expression and I wanted to share what I found. Again, I am not highly educated on government and so much of everything I state is strictly opinion-based because of what I have personally experienced. To some people I may be wrong and that is completely ok…because opposing viewpoints are what makes the world go around. I would really love to hear input from other people though in order to expand my knowledge on the subject. I find this world so fascinating and I am always looking for new information. I hope you enjoy the article and are enjoying a beautiful weekend :0)
The firing of Brooke Harris: a teachable moment about free speech
Last month, Michigan teacher Brooke Harris was fired for allegedly helping students organize a ‘hoodie’ fundraiser for the family of Trayvon Martin. By all means, give Harris her job back. But let’s also support the free-speech rights of all of our teachers, not just the ones we agree with.
The Trayvon Martin case has claimed a new martyr. The first one was Martin, the Florida teenager gunned down on Feb. 26 by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. Now there’s Michigan teacher Brooke Harris, who was fired last month, allegedly for helping her 8th-grade students organize a fundraiser for Martin’s family.
Ms. Harris quickly became a cause célèbre on the Internet, where more than 200,000 people have signed a petition calling for her reinstatement. As the petition correctly noted, dismissals of this type “create an atmosphere of fear” in American schools. “We will not tolerate the silencing of our nation’s best teachers,” the petition declared.
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But we do tolerate it, and increasingly so. Harris’s firing comes at a historic low point for teacher freedom in the United States. And most of us have stood idly by, because we don’t really believe that teachers should have freedom. Instead, we want them to echo our own views.
Consider the case of Jillian Caruso, who was fired from her Massapequa Park, N.Y., elementary school after her principal objected to a picture of George W. Bush that she displayed in her classroom during Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. A member of the Republican National Committee, Ms. Caruso alleged that the principal – who was married to a Democratic state assemblyman – violated her First Amendment rights to free speech and association.
Caruso’s dismissal generated a few columns and blog posts from outraged Republicans. But from Democrats? Not a peep. Nor did I hear much protest – from any side of the aisle – when a federal jury ruled against Caruso in 2007.
In instructing the jury, the presiding judge emphasized that Caruso had freedom of speech in her capacity as a citizen, but not as a teacher. So she was free to support President Bush on her own time – and on her own dime – but not while she was in school.
Here the judge invoked the Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos, which said that public employees have no First Amendment rights when they are speaking as part of their “official duties.” The state hires employees to deliver a certain message, the court said, so it can also penalize those who deviate from it.
Since then, federal courts have used Garcetti to uphold the removal of an Indiana teacher who told her students she opposed the war in Iraq, and of an Ohio teacher who asked her class to report on examples from the American Library Association’s 100 “most frequently challenged” books. “The right to free speech…does not extend to the in-class curricular speech of teachers in primary and secondary schools,” the Ohio ruling flatly declared.
That’s a huge problem for anyone who cares about American democracy. Teachers do not simply work “for” the government; they’re supposed to help students learn how to function within it. So they also need to model the skills and habits that democracy demands, especially the ability to analyze and evaluate different points of view.
And they can’t do that if we prevent them from taking political positions themselves, as the famed civil libertarian Alexander Meiklejohn argued in 1938. “No one can teach an art which he is forbidden to practice,” Meiklejohn explained. “Slaves cannot teach freedom.”
But propagandists cannot teach it either, Meiklejohn warned. So while teachers had the right to express their own views, he argued, they also had the duty not to impose these beliefs in the classroom; their job was to teach how to think, not what to think.
“The teacher-advocate wants thinking done as the only proper way of arriving at conclusions,” Meiklejohn wrote. “The propagandist wants believing done, no matter what the road by which the belief is reached.”
So the real question isn’t whether a teacher should be able to articulate political beliefs in class, but why. If Jillian Caruso was simply trying to sway her students in favor of George W. Bush, her principal was right to intervene. But if she was attempting to teach them about Mr. Bush – and to form their own opinion of him – than she had every right to share hers.
THE MONITOR’S VIEW: Trayvon Martin case: What cities can learn
And that brings us back to Brooke Harris, who says that her students’ fundraising idea – to wear “hoodies” to school, in honor of Trayvon Martin’s garb on the day he died – came out of an editorial-writing assignment about the tragedy. As the students discussed it, it would be helpful to know whether Harris challenged their views. Or did she simply lead them to adopt hers?
Many students in the class were African-American, like Harris, and some of them reportedly had been stopped by police who thought they looked “suspicious” – the same term that George Zimmerman used to describe Trayvon Martin. All the more reason for their teacher to raise tough questions. When is it OK for police to suspect someone, and when is it not?
I would also hope that any such discussion would analyze Florida’s “stand your ground” law, and whether Zimmerman was acting within its bounds. And in America, remember, you’re presumed innocent until proven guilty. Shouldn’t Harris have also presented Zimmerman’s side of the story, so that students could arrive at their own conclusions?
I don’t know whether that happened. Indeed, any sentiment on behalf of Zimmerman might have provoked outrage from the same people who are now rallying to Harris’s side. And in the current environment, the outcome would likely be the same: She’d be fired.
So by all means, let’s make sure Brooke Harris gets to return to her classroom. But let’s resolve to support the free-speech rights of all of our teachers, not just the ones we agree with.
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Let’s also insist that they entertain every point of view, especially those they don’t share. If we muzzle our teachers, they really can’t teach democracy. And if they simply teach their own beliefs, our students won’t learn it.