Jonathan Zimmerman: When Teachers Talk Out of School

Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of education and history at New York University, is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory.”

IN 1927, a schoolteacher in Secaucus, N.J., named Helen Clark lost her teaching license. The reason? Somebody had seen her smoking cigarettes after school hours. In communities across the United States, that was a ground for dismissal. So was card-playing, dancing and failure to attend church. Even after Prohibition ended, teachers could be dismissed for drinking or frequenting a place where liquor was served.

Today, teachers can be suspended, and even fired, for what they write on Facebook....

But... the truly scary restrictions on teacher speech lie inside the schoolhouse walls, not beyond them. And by supporting teachers’ right to rant against students online, we devalue their status as professionals and actually make it harder to protect real academic freedom in the classroom.

Last October, a federal appeals court upheld the dismissal of an Ohio high-school teacher who had asked students to report about books that had been banned from schools and libraries. The exercise wasn’t in the official curriculum, and parents had complained about their children reading some of the banned books....

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