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Steven Singer asks the question that is the title of this post. It is not a simple matter. Many people fear that teachers with strong opinions will try to indoctrinate students with their views. Some think that teachers should have no opinions. After all, any strongly held views will annoy someone. One of the strongest argument for tenure (i.e., due process) is that teachers cannot teach if they may be fired capriciously because a parent or another teacher or the principal disagrees with their views.
The bottom line question is: should teachers have freedom of speech? Are there limits to that freedom? Singer argues yes, that teachers should have strong opinions, but yes, there are limits to that freedom. Students do not come to class to learn the teacher’s views, but to learn how to challenge the teacher’s views and to question the conventional wisdom. They are learning how to think for themselves, not to mouth whatever they are told.
Read on and see how Singer wrestles with these issues:
I am an opinionated person. I am also a public school teacher.
Those two things should not be mutually exclusive.
You should not have to give up the one to be able to do the other.
Teachers should not have to relinquish their judgment in order to run an effective classroom. In fact, you might expect good judgment to be a prerequisite to doing the job well.
Yet it seems many people disagree. They like their teachers tame, docile and opinion-free.
That’s just not me.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying teachers should instruct their students to think just like them. I’m not saying they should indoctrinate or unduly influence the young people in their care.
Just the opposite. They should spur their students to think for themselves. They should teach the young how to entertain an idea without immediately accepting it.
But they have no business telling students, “This is what I believe.” They have no business misusing their authority to make their views seem normative.
So I agree that teachers should be careful about expressing their opinions in the classroom. The problem comes after the school day is through.
When a teacher goes home, all bets are off. When a teacher is not in front of a class of impressionable children, he or she should be afforded the same rights and privileges of any other citizen – and that includes the right to form an opinion and express it publicly.
I am an educator. Hear me roar.
And yet, as a blogger, Steven receives responses from people who ask why he, a teacher, has such strong views! They imply, how dare you!