Can and should the classroom remain politically neutral?

It’s a common hope that public schools will maintain some semblance of broad political neutrality between the great parties and causes in U.S. society. But many have been failing badly at this [Frederick Hess and Chester Finn/U.S. News, AP/Fox News (San Francisco teachers’ union lesson plan)] Related: Washington Post [Montgomery County, Maryland; liberal excused-absence policy following street protests by high school students; dissident student injured]

I’ve got a letter in the Frederick News-Post responding to the paper’s editorial on these topics, which begins with the unfortunate headline “Hate speech is not free speech” and never recovers its footing from there. Related, from Eugene Volokh last year: “No, there’s no ‘hate speech exception to the First Amendment.” (& welcome Instapundit readers)


  • Tough to recover your footing when your foot is firmly in your mouth.

    I would, however, support “hate speech is not free speech” if it applied equally to hate speech directed against white males, Christians, Trump supporters, e.g. For educational purposes.

  • It’s impossible to teach critical thinking if the pedagogy is partisan. Recent reportage and readers’ comments show a clear need for critical thinking skills.

  • I think it’s impossible to teach any sort of thinking without inevitably pushing a button in a political debate. All ideas, facts and theories have real-world implications

    In any case, the inevitable effect of “broad neutrality between the two great parties”, is not only a shifting target, but cuts out any “lesser” party. It narrowly defines a political norm, which is highly troublesome when the situation shifts.


  • I would, however, support “hate speech is not free speech” if it applied equally to hate speech directed against white males, Christians, Trump supporters, e.g. For educational purposes.

    Much as I would support a repeal of the law of gravity after falling off a cliff, but by then it’s too late. Let’s not go there at all.

  • An institution that is supported by tax money or can call upon the police and courts to compel attendance definitely _should_ stay out of politics. Whether that is possible is another question – especially when the average teacher is less intelligent and less intellectually curious than most college graduates, and has been indoctrinated in a left-leaning school of education.I can think of a number of teachers – going all the way back to my elementary school staff in 1964, although it’s much worse now at the highschool and college level – that might be in need of a good lawyer if we had a DOJ that was interested in rigorously enforcing the Hatch Act,

  • Hate speech seems related, too, to the equally disturbing cries of “fake news.” The Left now wants to control “the Press” and they believe that “Fake News” is only a problem on the Left, even though sites like the Daily Kos are full of it, too.

    I’m a very reasonable person, who isn’t a big fan of Donald Trump. And the “hate speech” charges against Mr. Trump are 99 44/100th% groundless. Has he ever said anything “hateful” about African Americans or Gays? I can’t find anything, yet these charges are leveled against him daily.

    • While I agree that “fake news” is badly in need of a clearer definition — some people are using it loosely to mean reports that embody bias, unoriginality, garden-variety reporting mistakes, and so forth, which seems wrong — I have no doubt that it describes something worth raising awareness about.

      Here’s one case history of an invented story that got more than a million hits:

      That does not mean the government (or the private management of Facebook or Twitter) should or can necessarily do anything about it, but it does suggest that we warn our friends and family more carefully about not spreading emotionally satisfying but invented tales. Over the history of Overlawyered, we have done battle repeatedly against fake stories sometimes originating as humor or satire and then taken seriously in later internet circulation, such as the “Winnebago cruise control” tale.

  • Here’s a comment that reader P. asked us to post on his behalf:

    “I work at a local community college. Last week, a staff member had ‘BLM’ (Black Lives Matter) buttons for distribution at a committee meeting. Although I do not agree with the behavior of that movement, I do respect her right to voice her support.

    “The problem is: In addition to working in a non-sworn capacity at the college, I am also a reserve police officer with more than 10 years service. I am acutely aware of the decision-making process on the street, and understand nuances that are not understood by the media and members of the general public. I closely followed the incidents that have resulted with the BLM response (Martin/Zimmerman-Florida, Freddie Gray-Baltimore and Ferguson).

    “I am not yet through my probationary period (1 year), It would not be wise to present any counterpoint, particularly with the results of the recent election cycle still settling down. I may in the future quietly display a counterpoint to the BLM. This would likely cause controversy.

    “It is important to remind the public that First Amendment protections cover all speech, including that which is not currently in vogue. Mr. Olson’s letter is a necessary reminder that the First Amendment protections cover more than just speech that advocates a popular position.”