Teaching Free Speech and Political Literacy in an Authoritarian Age
Chapter 4. Speech, Community & Culture
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SPEECH, COMMUNITY & CULTURE
In 2012 in Edmonton, Lynden Dorval, a Calgary physics teacher, was fired for refusing to stop handing out zeros to students who did not complete assigned work. The school board had repeatedly admonished Mr. Dorval who took the position that the “no 0” policy failed to teach students responsibility and undermined the integrity of the assessment process. Although the case did not find its way into the court system, Dorval became something of a poster child for members of the public mystified by many of today’s ‘student-centered’ educational policies. After much public debate and media scrutiny, the beleaguered teacher subsequently found a position in a private school and later retired. In a small but symbolic victory for teacher autonomy a Board of Reference subsequently ruled that Dorval had been improperly suspended by the school board.
Whatever we think about Dorval’s grading practices, it is important to remember that this very public incident underscored the tension between schooling’s increasingly rigid administrative apparatus and the professional judgment of a senior teacher. It also represents a distinctive moral conflict that is the heart of many contemporary public school speech cases: between the demands of a teacher’s employer and the integrity of the education system itself. Unfortunately, these tensions are compounded by the centralization of policymaking power in the hands of experts who often fail to take teachers’ concerns seriously.
Although the Dorval case is centered more around the issue of teacher autonomy, there...
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