Monday, February 21, 2011

Social Media: Should teachers be able to express their voices as well?

You may have read about the Pennsylvania teacher who got in trouble for blogging about her students. Natalie Munroe didn’t identify the school or any of the personalities about whom she wrote, but her school has suspended her.

Some observers, including many teachers, are crying “foul!” They say Munroe’s First Amendment rights have been violated by the suspension.

I haven’t read her blog, so I have mixed feelings about that specific situation. But with blogging becoming more and more popular, I think it’s wise for all of us to consider some of the issues her situation raises.

First, though some people view blogs as personal journals or letters, they’re not. They’re public forums that are, theoretically, available to millions of people. (Most of us bloggers wish we could reach just a small fraction of that!) Anyone who writes a blog with the notion that the comments are somehow kept private among a select audience of like-minded individuals is naïve.

In fact, provocative content like Munroe’s – calling her students “lazy whiners” – spreads faster than the proverbial wildfire. That’s the nature of the Internet – and of humans.

To me, it’s just unwise to make public comments that could affect one’s relationship with her employer or her customers – students and parents. Munroe may not have identified anyone, but students, parents, other teachers and others in the community surely know her and her school, so it’s disingenuous to contend that no one would feel wounded. If anything, her comments about unidentified people painted all of her students with a broad brush, so even the most conscientious student may feel targeted.

Most people know it’s unwise to criticize one’s employer in a public forum; we recognize that, if word gets back that we’ve bad-mouthed the company’s president, our careers may suffer. There’s even a cliché to describe the situation – biting the hand that feeds us. Consequently, we willingly forfeit some of our First Amendment right to free speech so that we can remain gainfully employed.

That’s not to say that, in the appropriate forum and with the appropriate manner, our employer would not value constructive criticism. The same goes for Munroe’s school; perhaps her thoughts would have been taken more seriously – and she would have caused less of a stir – had she expressed them in a less mean-spirited way and in a more constructive forum. Maybe she would have found a legion of fans if she had offered a thoughtful blog entry that expressed concern for students’ behavior and study habits and offered constructive solutions.

What do you think? Should teachers blog about their schools or students? Are they being held to stricter standards than people in other careers? Have Munroe’s First Amendment rights been violated? Let us know your thoughts.


The Indiana Partnerships Center encourages and enables parents to engage with their child’s school, to the mutual benefit of the child and the school.  The center, which serves all of Indiana, is one of 62 Parental Information Resource Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement.


John / Social Media User said...

I think teachers should be able to use the platform just like students. If the kids are on Facebook and Twitter they can talk about their teachers and faculty without any penalty -- but the teacher gets fired for an anonymous complaint?! Ridiculous.

Angel Smith said...

I think it's fair. Player in professional sports league can be fined and/or fired for Tweeting comments. I think all professionals should be held to that standard. The difference between students and teachers is just that... students aren't professionals - teachers are!!

Walter Perry said...

The teacher had it right. Most students are liberal toad stools, courtesy of the NEA propagandists, with little to no home schooling and expect tax payers to give them their well deserved entitlements after "graduation'. Unfortunantly its true and parents are to blame.

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