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Learning What You Cannot Say

Teaching Free Speech and Political Literacy in an Authoritarian Age


John L. Hoben

How do teachers know the limits of their speech? Free speech means more than simply being free to agree, though the authoritarian managerial cultures of many schools increasingly ignore the need for a strong and empowered teaching profession. In response to this ongoing systemic contradiction, Learning What You Cannot Say provides a unique combination of teacher narratives, cultural theory and «black letter law» as part of a broader effort to create an active and effective critical legal literacy. The book explores the subtle ways in which cultural values inform shared perceptions of the black letter law and the detrimental impact of teacher apathy and confusion about rights. Since public schools educate our future citizens who learn not only from books but also by example, strong teacher speech is vital to the continued health of both our education system and our democracy. Any transformative form of political literacy, the author insists, must consider the cultural politics as well as the substantive law of rights.


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viii learning what you cannot say Illich and Schooling as an Obstacle to Empowering Learning 48 Political Literacy and Teacher Activism 52 Culture, Talk, and Educational Change 55 Can Today’s Teachers Become Transformative Intellectuals? 59 Official Knowledge and the Role of the Teacher 64 Redefining the Public Lives of Teachers 72 Chapter 3. The Meaning of Free Speech 75 Towards a Critical Appreciation of Rights in Schools 81 The Meaning of Harm 87 Performativity and the Speaking Subject 93 Bong Hits and Kafka: Re-Imagining Political Literacy 101 The Imagination and Political Literacy 107 Chapter 4. Speech, Community & Culture 113 Educating For Democratic Culture 115 Communities and Democratic Norms 119 School Culture and Teacher Leadership 123 Who Defines the Nature of the Teaching Community? 126 Insubordination: The Importance of Context 133 Neoliberalism and Speech 139 Place and the Politics of Speech 142 The Codes of Power 148 Chapter 5. Disciplinary Power & the Reasonable Limitation 153 Disciplinary Power and Professionalism 160 The Duty to Remain Silent 165 Paternalism and Reasonableness 173 Reasonableness and Utility 178 Pragmatic Speech: Politics and Context 185 Offense and Tolerance 187 Troubled Agency and Speech 189 contents ix Conclusion: Leaving it all at the Schoolhouse Gates? Realizing A Critical Legal Literacy 195 Insularity and the Gentle Infringement 201 Free Speech and Tolerance 207 Teacher Professionalism and Democratic Ideals 213 Censorship and the Missed Encounter: The Search for a Rights-Conscious Critical Pedagogy 220 References 225

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