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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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Chapter 5. Disciplinary Power & the reasonable limitation

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On the Waterfront (1954) is a classic American film about a washed-up fighter named Terry whose career takes a wrong turn when he takes a dive for a local mobster. The film opens as the gangster, Johnny Friendly, has Terry lure a witness named Joey Doyle into an ambush. Terry is horrified to learn that Doyle has been killed to keep him from testifying at an anti-corruption hearing. After later falling in love with the dead man’s sister, Terry begins to experience an awakening of conscience, one spurred on by the example of a local priest, Father Barry. After another outspoken worker is killed, Terry decides to confront Friendly at the dockyard. There he gives an impassioned speech before he is savagely beaten by mob thugs until finally his fellow dockworkers intervene to save him. The film ends with the bloodied but victorious Terry leaving the dock surrounded by his fellow workers, resolved to testify in the upcoming hearings.

On the Waterfront is a film where morality and law are neatly aligned. However, we also get a sense of a world where more subtle influences determine what it is possible to say. The film impresses upon us the fact that speech has deep significance, since words are both a vehicle for conscience and a means of bearing witness to injustice. In this way, the film portrays a world where a good life is one characterized by meaningful relationships that← 153...

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