Teachers demand political rights in class

New York City’s teachers’ union, which has endorsed Barack Obama for president, has filed suit demanding the right to wear political buttons on the job. The American Federation of Teachers says it’s a free speech issue.

The Education Department, which runs the city’s public schools, issued a memo telling school staffers to “maintain a posture of complete neutrality with respect to all candidates” while on duty.

Ann Forte, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said that courts have ruled that teachers do not have an “unfettered right to express their personal views at school.”

“We don’t want a school or school staff advocating for any political position or candidate to students, and we don’t want students feeling intimidated because they might hold a different belief or support a different candidate than their teachers,” Ms. Forte said in a statement.

Teachers shouldn’t push partisan politics in class, writes Stanley Fish on a New York Times blog.

If I look out and see Heather and Kevin turning themselves into advertisements for a candidate, my behavior doesn’t alter at all; but if they look up and see me announcing where I stand, they might well alter their behavior in ways of which they are not even aware. Faculty advocacy, even if it is technically silent, distorts and pollutes the educational process.

Like Eduwonk, which has more links, I think this is an obvious point.

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  1. Robert Wright says:

    How sad.

    Students need to learn to think for themselves.

  2. Would the AFT be pushing so hard for the right for their members to wear a button with a socially conservative message like “abortion kills 3700 babies every single day”? Somehow I doubt it…

  3. It’s a issue of professionalism. Do accountants, cashiers, doctors, nurses, mailmen, or office workers walk around their work places wearing political buttons or t-shirts? Mostly, not. Hopefully they’re to busy doing their jobs and engaging their customers or co-workers. They only draw attention to themselves and possibly distract others.

    Political discussions do have a place in the classroom. But, teachers who campaign while on the job make the conversation about themselves. They look immature.

  4. I went to a community meeting in Boston on Tues nite on the expansion of a highly successful K-8 to add a new high school and the BTU sent a representative to oppose it because the HS will be operated as a pilot. Because they’re like all about helping kids learn.

  5. If I as prosecutor went into court to represent the people of my state wearing a partisan political button, I would be and should be fired, and probably justifiably disciplined by the Bar as well.

    Public school teachers are public servants and representatives of government in an equally public forum: government is supposed to exist to serve–and to be seen to serve–all of its constituents equally, without regard for political preferences.

  6. Richard Nieporent says:

    I found the following statement about the Hatch Act on the National Treasury Employee’s Website.

    Employees May Not:

    1. Be candidates for public office in partisan politics;
    2. Use their official position to influence or coerce colleagues and election results;
    3. Wear political buttons in government buildings;
    4. Collect, solicit, receive, handle, disburse or account for contributions from the general public;
    5. Wear a government uniform or government insignia while engaged in political activities;
    6. Sell tickets to a political fund raising function to the general public.

  7. Frank Zavisca says:

    Well, as a State of LA employee, I must be breaking the rules – I don’t wear political pins, but I DO have some partisan stuff on the bulletin board in my office.

    But it’s not campaign literature – it’s mostly cartoons and funny photos. Difficult to call that “political speech”.

  8. Why not give teachers the unfettered right to decide which political party receives a share of their union dues?