Open Phones: Free Speech and Responsibility

Monday, October 13, 2008

The United Federation of Teachers is suing New York City for what it considers inhibiting the free speech of the city's teachers. Recently, the city banned teachers wearing political buttons in the classroom, urging an environment of political neutrality. So, what's the line between free speech and abuse of power? Give us your take. Leave a comment!

Comments [32]

Inquiring Minds

Class [Field Trip] surprises lesbian teacher on wedding day
Jill Tucker, Chronicle Staff Writer
San Francisco Chronicle
Saturday, October 11, 2008

"It's just utterly unreasonable that a public school field trip would be to a same-sex wedding," said Chip White, press secretary for the Yes on 8 campaign. "This is overt indoctrination of children who are too young to have an understanding of its purpose."

Oct. 13 2008 01:04 PM
Christina from Manhattan

My students are exposed to sex, drugs, violence and rhetoric on TV, at the movies and in their streets and homes, but them seeing my Obama pin on my work bag is reprehensible? If only I had that kind of influence on my students. Those of us in the field know what we are up against.

Oct. 13 2008 12:00 PM
Inquiring Minds

on the right or on the left, stunts like this:

are just plain wrong.

Oct. 13 2008 11:37 AM
Inquiring Minds

@20 Alex

by your own words: "the public schools are expression of state power"

is precisely the reason why teachers should not have free reign to express whatever opinions they choose

@24 Nancy

bless you! planting the seeds for a sound democracy.

Oct. 13 2008 11:31 AM

Unfortunately many of the calls focussed on whether or not people SHOULD, instead of whether or not they are ALLOWED to. What people think should be done is largely irrelevant, as it's a personal preference and everybody's will be different.

My position is that in all publicly funded places employees should not pick sides. Not on politics, not on religion and not on baseball teams either, or anything for that matter. They are not employed to discuss these things, and people do not turn to them for services expecting these issues to come up.

Oct. 13 2008 11:29 AM

Indoctrination starts at a early age and the LEFTIST UFT is doing it's own bidding by wearing exclusively Democrat buttons. Childrens minds should not be poisoned by only one view point! The UFT wants to foster a new group of socialist and is incensed that anybody questions their Gestapo like tactics!

Oct. 13 2008 11:27 AM
Liz from Brooklyn

I agree with the commentator who said this is a waste of time and resources for the UFT. Who cares! The union should focus on real issues.

Oct. 13 2008 11:27 AM
Alexis from at work

And the last caller was worried about wearing an Obama button and offending a McCain supporter. Are you serious? Isn't that what intellectual discourse and debate is about? Are we all supposed to have the same opinion? To disagree is not the same thing as to offend. THAT I think is a valuble lesson to students. Why NOT point out when people opinions differ and make that a teachable moment?

Oct. 13 2008 11:26 AM
nancy sherman from upper west side

I work at an independent school on the upper west side. We have all agreed not to wear buttons. For the few conservative, Republican kids who attend our school (it is the upper west side, afterall), they need the same right to feeling comfortable as the "majority". Young people are vulnerable. They are just beginning to form their opinions and have the right to develop and express them in a safe place, just like any academic ideas that grow in a safe environment. That does not mean that they shouldn't be challenged to consider carefully what and how they think. But the "in your face" wearing of buttons should be left where it belongs - on the streets of NYC and anywhere else we Obama supporters go!

Oct. 13 2008 11:25 AM
Dorian Benkoil from New York

I sometimes am made uncomfortable when one or both of my children come home with an assignment or lesson that hews to a particular political point of view. Even when I may agree, I feel it's not the teacher's place to imbue the students with their politics. Sometimes, I think the teachers don't even realize they're being opinionated or slanted in the way they frame a discussion.

Oct. 13 2008 11:24 AM
chris from paterson NJ

teachers should just wear their union pin: right side up, or upside down. the other potential voters(teachers) could figure it out and the kids would be oblivious.

Oct. 13 2008 11:23 AM
ChemTeech from brooklyn

I teach a technical subject at a university and don't bring up my personal politics in lecture/lab/recitation. I do point out that "creation science" is not science, and describe the scientific method to show why.

In private conversation with students, I don't hold back, but tell them that political opinions are separate from the class.

A teacher has great influence over students. I find my students are easily intimidated and are afraid of being judged with bias by their professors. I think teachers should tread very carefully - answer honestly when asked, but don't volunteer information about personal politics and don't wear insignia.

Oct. 13 2008 11:22 AM
Alex from Park Slope

Political speech is a cornerstone of democracy and the public schools are expression of state power, not a private "workplace" as suggested in one of the comments, and thus should be within the protections of civil and political rights.

Wearing a button is not encouraging someone to vote, but expressing one's opinion and offering others the opportunity to discuss one's opinion.

If the school classroom cannot be a place where students and teachers are not allowed to express their opinions when we live in an information society where information is everywhere, the message that is being given is "Big Brother is Watching You!".

Oct. 13 2008 11:22 AM
Mike from Jersey City from NJ


What's really amazing is that this button thing is even subject to debate. Teachers possess huge power in their microcosm. Imposing their partisan views is just beyond the pale.

Oct. 13 2008 11:21 AM
Susan from Kingston, New York

I don't wear a button for any candidate, but I encourage my students to register to vote and then to vote on election day. My students always ask me how I am voting and then I ask them the same question. Usually a lively discussion follows....... Getting them to the polls is the most important thing for me!

Oct. 13 2008 11:21 AM
Inquiring Minds

@12 Alexis
"How exactly is this damaging to children?"

It is a form of thuggery and bullying.

On the right and left in this election we find atrocious examples of it.

Oct. 13 2008 11:21 AM
Terri from Bed Stuy

I teach political science at a CUNY campus, and have given a few minutes of each class meeting over to the presidential election. The point is not to inject my personal politics into the discussion, but to try to get the students to view the candidates and campaigns from an analytical perspective.

As a general matter, I will give my opinion, if relevant to the course discussion, but only if I think doing so will open up a conversation. (I ALWAYS encourage the students to question or disagree with me.)

And that is the point, at least in my classroom: to open up the discussion, as a way of opening up the students' minds. I can't speak to elementary-level classrooms, but at the college level, at least, I think it's better to bring more into the classroom rather than try to seal it off from the rest of the world.

Then again, I'm a political science professor. This may not work for other disciplines.

Oct. 13 2008 11:20 AM
claudia from nyc

clem from brooklyn is correct as far as what the UFT has been up to throughout the BloomKlein administration...back to students when kids ask me who I am for what it is is code for testing me as whether a white teacher in an urban school consisting of 99% non-white students will admit to wanting a black candidate...I tell them I am a Democrat. Period.

Oct. 13 2008 11:20 AM
Ellen Cava-Haag from Queens

In 1968 I was one 10 year old girl in a class of 50 girls (yes, in one class!) in Catholic school in Queens. My teacher loved Nixon. When we had a presidential debate in class I had to be Humphrey and had no Muskie because EVERYONE was for Nixon. When we debated, some girls were chanting, "2, 4, 6, 8, who do we assasinate? Humphrey!"
Today I am a teacher in Queens and I am a dedicated Obama supporter. I won't let my family put an Obama sticker on the car and I won't wear a button. I never want a student to feel isolated and aleinated as I did.
Most people in my school share my political views and it's great to share politics in the staff lounge. Keep it out of the classroom.

Oct. 13 2008 11:19 AM
D from NYC

Went to a local suburban high school. It was a largely liberal area, one teacher made a point to push his conservative proposition.

Looking back, it's great. Here's a guy bucking the general trend and showing new ideas to the overall discussion.

More views are always better.

Oct. 13 2008 11:18 AM
Alexis from at work

I'm not sure what the conflict is here. Students can't vote. You wouldn't be influencing the mind of a young voter. I think discussing issues is more influential than advocating a certain candidate if you're talking to mid-junior-high school students. Wearing a button is something you do for your collegues and peers WHO VOTE to show how you feel. How exactly is this damaging to children?

Oct. 13 2008 11:17 AM
Ellen from Brooklyn

This is slightly tangential to this issue, but illustrates the way the DOE distorts the law and refuses to listen to common sense. In recent years, the DOE has extended the ban on any campaign literature in the schools for any public elections to Parents' Association elections. So, when PAs are conducting elections at their meetings--after school, in the evening, a one-time restricted situation having nothing to do with public electoral politics--they are still not allowed to bring leaflets promoting their candidacies for PA office into the meeting held in a school.

This was originally intended to be a ban on supporting school board candidates, but in the latest revision of regulations governing PAs has been explicitly extended to PA elections. Just one more example of how bizarre the DOE can be.

Oct. 13 2008 11:16 AM
clem from Brooklyn

This issue is largely a distraction tactic by the UFT. I support Obama as do most New Yorkers. It is clear that Obama is going to win. Why is the UFT wasting time on this issue? They are throwing a little red meat to Union members to pretend as if they are fighting for their rights. But when we get down to real dollars and cents issues, the UFT gets their behind handed to them over and over by the mayor and the chancellor. UFT members stop allowing yourselves from being distracted by the issues that really matter -- longer school year, pay raises taht barely keep place with inflation, new pension tiers, etc...

A NYC teacher

Oct. 13 2008 11:14 AM
hjs from 11211

[6] Inquiring Minds
"This country will split in half"

not in half. the working class won't be able use your voucher because they would not be able to come up the remaining cash to pay the balance.

Oct. 13 2008 11:14 AM
claudia from nyc

I believe if Barack Obama was NOT ahead in the polls the BloomKlein administration would not have raised their ugly heads about this issues...I don't think the Republicans would be worried about EQUAL representation for the opposing party if it was losing....

Oct. 13 2008 11:13 AM
Spence from UWS

I am an Obama supported and member of the UFT teaching on the college level. I think teachers have too much power over students for them to express their personal political opinions in the classroom. It is our role to help students learn how to anaylze the positions of candidates, not to steer them to any particular candidate. Having said that, I do not think expression should be banned. Teachers should just exercise discretion.

Oct. 13 2008 11:07 AM
Inquiring Minds

How about a deal: We allow VERY free speech -- political, commercial, religious, whatever -- AND we set up a voucher system!

This country will split in half in one school year.

Parochial schools will have parents lining up around the block to transfer their kids...

Oct. 13 2008 10:35 AM
Claire Cox from Manhattan

Excellent question. I don't have the answer. The slipperiness of it is what stops me from wearing the button.

Oct. 13 2008 10:31 AM
Inquiring Minds

@3 Claire

'Tis a slippery slope. If we allow your Obama button, do we then allow a burka, an NRA ballcap, a Marine Corps. T-shirt?

Oct. 13 2008 10:28 AM
Claire Cox from Manhattan

How much does a button say? Is stating a preference the same thing as indoctrinating youth? Maybe it's dangerous - but I don't think it's the same as indoctrination. My classroom is built on discussion - my job is to further it, to ask as many question as possible - not to tell kids what to think.

Oct. 13 2008 10:23 AM
Inquiring Minds

One doesn't have free speech in a workplace. Period.

That teachers think they may (or should) indoctrinate youth is offensive and undemocratic.

Oct. 13 2008 10:12 AM
Claire Cox from Manhattan

As a high school teacher, I wrestle with this issue. In the classroom, I am the boss; I have more power than my students. By endorsing or condemning a political candidate (or an office-holder), I am implicitly communicating my views on a range of issues. As the person with the most power, I could be creating an unfair environment for students who disagree with me. The same could be true if I discuss my spiritual views. That said, I try to model citizenship for my students with everything I do - from reading books to talking about art, culture, and current events - and wearing political buttons can be part of that. I'm not comfortable doing it, though - I take my Obama button off my bag or lapel when I leave for work.

Oct. 13 2008 10:11 AM

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