Saturday, May 19, 2007

speech is a commodity. who's bidding for yours?

Actually, TRP, you did just fine.
While I don't think Mayer should have been fired, I think she made a mistake in stating her own views to her students. Why not respond with a question? When the students ask "Would you protest the war?" why not say, "would you?" I don't see how she helped kids' learning by answering the question. She could have dodged it. I do every time it comes up, and I even tell them why: "In this classroom, my opinions are irrelevant. Your opinions are critically important, and they are valuable insofar as they are backed by evidence."

To put it another way, my experience tells me that telling kids my personal views about something complex like the Iraq war is unneccessary: a teacher can play devil's advocate on all sides. In fact, stating one's opinion is often counterproductive to student learning. I therefore believe it should be avoided in almost all cases.

But a firable offense? No way. Mayer's firing was a sad and unfortunate decision, and the courts' support of it could lead to some yucky outcomes. Would the school board in Indiana have canned Mayer if she had brought in a "Support our Troops" bumper sticker? If she had asked her class to write a letter of thanks to soldiers? I highly doubt it. This means that, under the current decision, the school board would gain the de facto power to select the appropriate political perspective to teach, and fire any dissenters. That's no good either.
Here's the irony that goes unmentioned:
The incident occurred in January 2003, when Mayer was teaching a class of fourth- through sixth-graders at Clear Creek Elementary School. As Mayer recalled it later, the question about peace marches arose during a discussion of an article in the children's edition of Time magazine, part of the school-approved curriculum, about protests against U.S. preparations for war in Iraq.

When the student asked the question about taking part in demonstrations, Mayer said, she replied that there were peace marches in Bloomington, that she blew her horn whenever she saw a "Honk for Peace" sign, and that people should seek peaceful solutions before going to war.

A student complained to her father, who complained to the principal, who canceled the school's annual "Peace Month" observance and told Mayer never to discuss the war or her political views in class [emphasis added].
Mayer was clearly within the range of reasonableness by advocating peace in the classroom, and the school district's claim that she was fired for incompetence, not for her politics, is evidence. The Court, though, would deny a teacher any sort of moral authority. A while back, our school hosted an assembly decrying school violence--an emotional remembrance of the Columbine tragedy. If I were like Mayer, and had said, "You know, kids, we should always seek a peaceful solution to our personal conflicts before using violent measures," and a parent had complained, I would hope and pray that my administration would stand up for the message they were already promoting.

Oh, and I'm glad I teach in a district where I'm not a script-spouting robot--attorney Francisco Negrón's world.
"Teachers bring their creativity, their energy, their skill in teaching the curriculum, but ... a teacher in K-12 is really not at liberty to design a curriculum," said Negrón, who filed arguments with the court in Mayer's case supporting the Bloomington school district. "That's the function of the school board."
Except in the most planned-out, constricting, intellectually deadening environments, teachers make curricular choices--even "design curriculum"--every day. We do it within a framework of age appropriateness and educational standards, but in our own words, in our own style. That's where our "creativity... energy... [and] skill" come in to play.

1 comment:

rightwingprof said...

I lived in Bloomington for over thirty years, and I can tell you this: There is no way in h3ll any teacher was fired by the Monroe County Community School Corporation for expressing a liberal opinion. No. Way. This would be like a teacher being fired by the Berkeley or Seattle school district for making the same statement No Way. There is more to this than we're being told.