Should public school teachers have “the right to free speech” in their classrooms?
It is more likely nearer the truth to state flat out that no teacher at any level, whether in public or private education, is immune to reprisal for expressing to students (or colleagues) any opinion, however, well-founded or reasonable, that can be interpreted by his superiors as contrary to the “commonly accepted” beliefs of the institution he or she works in. Both so-called “liberals” and “conservatives” raise an easy cheer to “free speech” so long as it means “speech I don’t disagree with.”
Teachers have “free speech” so long as no one higher up objects. In public schools, “higher up” includes parents and general public to the extent that they can harass superintendents and school board members about it. In the name of good public relations “curriculum” becomes doctrine and “professionalism” becomes censorship.
This generates a stomach-churning reality, a deep hypocrisy, in the context of the concerns – often strongly expressed by the censors, themselves – for developing “critical thinking skills” in students. Critical thinking skills, by all means, but not any that subject my nearest and dearest to examination.
Public schools are in a peculiar position. Private and religious schools are assumed to come with a certain amount of ideological baggage: you can always go elsewhere. But, by some miracle of human nature, public schools are supposed to be free of it.
Too many communities define themselves in terms of events of questionable facticity, in terms of esteem rendered to persons of questionable repute, in terms of expectations of questionable justice. Critical thinking, and the freedom of speech that supposedly supports its development, awaits still, in this United States of America in the 21st Century, an educational forum that supports it.
To examine these issues further, see Trading-Off "Sacred" Values:
Why Public Schools Should Not Try to "Educate"