Thursday, May 17, 2012

Do students have unbridled rights to free speech in the classroom?

No--according to a recent Law and Policy report from the Association for Student Conduct Administration.

Naturally, instructors can limit student speech by deciding "which arguments are relevant, which computations are correct, which analogies are good or bad, and when it is time to stop writing or talking." A key takeaway from recent court cases is:
So long as the teacher limits speech or grades speech in the classroom in the name of learning and not as a pretext for punishing the student for her race, gender, economic class, religion or political persuasion, the federal courts should not interfere (Settle v. Dickson County School Board, 6th Circuit 1995).
Still, care needs to be taken when designing assignments and exams. As the report concludes,
For good pedagogical as well as legal reasons, teachers should avoid poorly worded classroom assignments in which students are asked to do little more than emote about provocative thinkers. In the eyes of the law it makes no difference whether one's uncritical sentiments are elicited about Nietzche, Karl Marx, Marcus Garvey, Ayn Rand--or Jesus Christ.