A few days ago, my son came home from school and explained how his 8th grade science teacher told his class that she'd rather vote for Adolph Hitler than President Obama this November. Further discussion revealed that she believed there was “ too much government” in our society, and particularly in our schools. She'd talked with his class about how Michelle Obama was leading initiatives to control our school lunches by not allowing soda and greatly reducing the amount of meat kids receive on their trays. My son was greatly confused by her statement about Hitler, as he understands Hitler to have been a mass murderer. Appalled to hear this kind of statement being made by his teacher, I have become quite frustrated with the issue of free speech in the classroom. It is one thing to answer what candidate an educator supports but it is absolutely distasteful and irresponsible to state any US president could even compare to, let alone be more harmful than Hitler. I was also aggravated that his teacher used one of the only political issues relevant in many 8th grader's eyes- the school lunches they eat and the options surrounding it- in an attempt to further her own political beliefs.
This is not our first experience in this tri state school district with teachers stating their beliefs in our children's classrooms. In 2nd grade, my son was told flatly in front of his entire class that his spiritual beliefs were “ wrong” by their teacher, a discussion which led some of his classmate's parents to refuse to allow their children to play with him, stating that he was “going to hell” because he didn't believe in God. Contacting the school did not help at all, as my husband and I were told that teachers are allowed to talk about their personal beliefs as long as they were not teaching them in class. Numerous requests to have him placed in another class were denied. My once incredibly sociable son has come to the unfortunate realization that he cannot speak about certain issues without possible repercussions and has since all but clammed up in school entirely.
Both free speech and political pride- both valuable qualities- have become important topics in the educational realm. Teachers in many states, including California as well as in New York City, have been banned from wearing political buttons and displaying signage in their classrooms. Many educators across America are speaking out about their views as well as their right to express them in their workplace, and this is an issue that parents should pay attention to because covering these topics in schools often leads to incidents in which students end up feeling discriminated against, or like they are being forced to accept a position held by their teacher because these topics are not being approached in a balanced or unbiased way.
Please continue reading part 2 to find out more about the different approaches teachers use to deal with controversial topics in the classroom as well as what local laws are concerning these issues.