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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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← xii | xiii → FOREWORD


Tongues Tied: How Teachers Learn What not to Say

Ursula A. Kelly

In the summer of 2013, following massive leaks by National Security Agency (NSA) whistle blower Edward Snowden that reverberated worldwide, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter commented to CNN:

[Snowden] obviously violated the laws of America, for which he’s responsible, but I think the invasion of human rights and American privacy has gone too far…I think that the secrecy that has been surrounding this invasion of privacy has been excessive, so I think that the bringing of it to the public notice has probably been, in the long term, beneficial. (Watkins, 2013)

In a stunningly refreshing addendum to these comments only a couple of weeks later at a closed event in Atlanta, Georgia, Carter was quoted by Der Spiegel, one of Europe’s leading newspapers, as saying, “America does not have a functioning democracy at this point in time” (Wing, 2013). Such comments, made by a respected Nobel Peace Prize winner and former president about one of the most significant security breaches in US history—comments that challenged the White House stance—were given no serious or prolonged consideration by mainstream American press. Instead, despite their consistency with Carter’s earlier statements, their accuracy was undermined by questions about the accuracy of the German translation and the absence of U.S. media at the event at which Carter spoke. These avoidance tactics pre-empted an← xiii | xiv → important conversation and created a missed opportunity...

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