Controversial Topics and Limits on Teacher Free Speech
In their paper, “Broaching the subject: Developing law-based principles for teacher free speech in the classroom,” researchers Bruce Maxwell et al. explain that for many teachers, the decision to discuss controversial topics in class is both an important and fraught decision. On the one hand, engaging with controversial issues is crucial for the development of students’ critical thinking skills and allows them to demonstrate democratic values like tolerance, recognition of reasonable disagreement, and respectful political engagement. On the other hand, many teachers will avoid controversial political matters so not to create an uncomfortable classroom environment. There is a worry that students’ lack of maturity to handle some topics may result in insult or shouting matches; there is a worry that some students may voice socially unacceptable views that might upset other students; there is a worry that the teacher is unable to facilitate such heavy discussions; there is a worry that workplace sanctions will occur as a result of engaging with controversial topics (196-197).