At what point can, or should, teachers act as censors?
This is not a new question. Throughout history parents have regarded their children’s educators as the people who promote societal values. Teachers are expected to teach the concepts that prepare their students to assume their place as community members and leaders of the next generation.
Today, this question is just as relevant and, even more urgent, than ever. The internet affords the ability to communicate an idea instantly to a large audience, and as elearning becomes an accepted technique in increasing numbers of classrooms worldwide, educators must be more alert than ever to their role in guiding online discussions and interactive exercises.
In 1969 the Supreme Court ruled that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Ever since, students in public schools have benefited from the ability to express themselves freely within the limits of the law.
In today’s digital learning environment, most teachers would agree that, above all, they are responsible for their students’ safety. The large variety of online forums – social networks, discussion platforms, and online blackboards and bulletin boards – enable students to post their thoughts instantaneously. Thus, within the parameters of freedom of speech, educators understand clearly that they cannot allow posts that bully, or that threaten or promote illegal or inappropriate behavior.
Beyond that, how does a teacher decide when and if to allow a student’s thoughtful expression that may go against the principles of the institution?
Legally, the teacher may be able to monitor and regulate his/her students’ online activities, but what is the educator’s moral responsibility?
Additionally, even if the teacher determines that a post falls within the bounds of the school’s commitment to “free speech,” what are the school’s responsibilities to the parents or to the institution’s mission?
These are questions which will increasing occupy educators as EdTech becomes a central part of mainstream education.