An elementary-school teacher who was dismissed after telling her class on the eve of the Iraq war that "I honk for peace" lost a U.S. Supreme Court appeal today. I suppose this tells me that I should be careful about what I say to the kids in my classroom. I don't want to lose my job. The most recent ruling, by a federal appeals court in Chicago, said teachers in public schools have no constitutional right to express personal opinions in the classroom. A teacher's speech is "the commodity she sells to an employer in exchange for her salary," the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a 3-0 ruling in January."The Constitution does not enable teachers to present personal views to captive audiences against the instructions of elected officials."
I confess that I don't tend to make a big show of my personal opinions or politics to my students. I much prefer to hear what they think, and ask them questions to back up their ideals. I know enough to flinch when a student turns the tables on me and asks, "What do you think, Mister Caven?" I think a lot of things, and from time to time I have been known to sit down and write some of them down for others to reflect upon.
But not my students. That slope is just too slippery. I believe it is quite possible that Deborah Mayer, the woman whose contract was not renewed, lost her job for airing her views. I believe it is just as likely that she lost her job for any one of a dozen or two different reasons, all of which could be considered just as picayune as telling your class that you "honk for peace." This unwillingness to blindly take up the side of my fellow teachers is one of the things that keeps me from being considered a truly loyal union member. I'll just have to ask my fourth graders what they think. I don't have an opinion - not in my classroom anyway.