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Learning What You Cannot Say

Teaching Free Speech and Political Literacy in an Authoritarian Age

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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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Chapter 3. The Meaning of Free Speech

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· 3 · the meaning of free speech What teachers can and cannot say is rarely defined as dramatically as in the in- famous Scopes Trial of the 1920s in which John Scopes, a public school teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, was prosecuted for teaching the theory of evolution in defiance of the state’s Butler Act. Scopes was eventually acquitted on a tech- nicality regarding the imposition of a $100 fine but the case drew enormous attention to issues surrounding the proper social role of public education and the separation of Church and State. This was a galvanizing trial that featured two high profile attorneys of the day, Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, who seemed to embody the competing ideals of conservative virtue and liberal tolerance. Similar issues were subsequently raised in a number of school prayer cases including Engel v. Vitale, 307 U.S. 421 (1962), Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), and School District of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963) (Jenkins, 2008, p. 598). Indeed, in addition to secularism and the content of public education there are always hot button education topics in the media, including those surrounding issues such as sex- uality, same sex rights, and abortion. Such issues illustrate a common feature of education and the law since they both deal with the fundamental issue of the type of society we want to live in, and our social institutions need to bal- ance the competing demands of social stability and cultural change. In Canada, Chamberlain...

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