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Freedom Of Speech - Natalie's Right?

Updated on September 1, 2012

What's all the furor about?

written 02-22-2011

February 10, 2011 found Natalie Munroe packing up her belongings and being escorted from the building where she had been employed to instill education in some of our nation's youth. Her crime? She was a schoolteacher who dared to speak in less than glowing terms when referring to some of her students, fellow teachers, and even a few of the school district's administrators.

When the news first broke, I wasn't paying attention to the low hum of the radio playing in the background as I finished washing my lunch dishes and poured myself another cup of coffee. Then my attention was caught by a short phrase... “1st Amendment Rights to free speech”. By now, nearly two weeks later, almost everyone has heard one version or another of what transpired. Viewers across America have had the chance to tune in and watch Natalie on Good Morning America, as well as several other television shows. She's been broadcast on radio shows and even been to Toronto and London to discuss the debacle created by her activities.

Once I'd heard the general gist of the story, I found myself scratching my head about the direction the story seemed to be taking. This woman had written her personal feelings about the trials and tribulations associated with her chosen field of work, meant to be read by a few close personal friends and family members, on a website intended strictly as a method of socialization. Now she was being penalized for having an opinion and daring to voice that opinion where others might find it.

Doesn't Freedom of Speech entail freedom of expression?

There are two issues to be weighed and considered in relation to this event, the first being whether or not her employer has a right to even monitor her written thoughts and opinions. Only if that right is legally established can we begin to determine the extent of the reach it may have. I'm appalled that my fellow countrymen are behaving like a bunch of old hens, gossiping and wasting time commenting with indignation over the content of Natalie's blog, when so far as can be ascertained, we don't have a right to act on our indignation by taking away her job.

The woman never mentioned any student by name. She never mentioned any other teacher or administrator by name, at least so far as I've been able to find. She never advertised her blog openly as an invitation to be viewed or read by any of her students, co-workers, or supervisors. Frankly, from what has been reported, the general population seems to be more upset about Natalie stating her opinion, than taking a good hard look at what has been the basis of forming that opinion.

We've raised a generation of self-absorbed and spoiled children

I'm a parent of four, now grown, children. I currently am grandmother to seven who are all of school age. I've had my share of run-ins with teachers who don't deserve the title or the pay, let alone the raises they constantly claim are their right. I've also had the rare occasion to deal with teachers who are in the profession for the very real purpose of wanting to make a difference, to help mold young minds, and to broaden a child's perspective of the world around him. It's a fact of life that we will always find both good and bad employees no matter what profession or job we choose to focus our attention upon.

Because of my career in the restaurant industry, I've had many occasions to hire, train, and work with teenagers on a daily basis. There is no doubt in my mind, that my generation and that of my parents, have successfully brought forth a new generation of self-absorbed individuals whose sense of entitlement knows no bounds. I see people my age looking around in anger, pointing fingers at everyone but themselves, and whining about the injustice and hopelessness of it all, and I want to shake them until their teeth rattle in their empty skulls.

We're missing the point

This incidence with Natalie Munroe is just another distraction from what is truly going on in our society. We are so caught up in being angry at her for her words, that we're missing the big picture. Our kids are spoiled brats and we, the parents and grandparents, have created them. If you can't get your son or daughter to pay attention to your household rules, what makes you think they're willing to pay attention to school rules, or the teacher handing out assignments? We have not done a good job in raising this younger generation to respect authority, because we keep taking the authority away from those who need it in order to be successful at their jobs. As a nation, we've allowed parental authority to be chipped away through legal mandates, followed by more and more limitations being placed on all those who will also have interaction with our children.

It's only natural for us to wonder about Natalie's ability to teach, and certainly to question whether she is dedicated to her profession, given the rash of negative statements she made about those she is to teach. However, if we aren't willing to recognize and accept our own culpability in the matter, then we have no justification for being indignant about our perceptions of her unsuitability for the job.

Does an employer have the right to penalize employees for exercising constitutional rights?

The real question to be raised is whether any employer has the right to penalize its employees for writing opinions and thoughts in a public forum, when those opinions and thoughts are not in keeping with the employer's publicly projected image. There are many with the belief that unfailing loyalty to the employer is an unspoken but implied part of the employment contract, but then, where do we draw the line with loyalty?

In my book, being loyal to the brand for which one is employed, is not the same as being loyal to the other individuals associated with that brand. What I see happening with Natalie's case isn't a question of whether she was being disloyal to the school district for which she was teaching, but more of a punishment for her personal views of other individuals associated with the district. Punishing her for not liking some of her students is like punishing a grocery store cashier for not liking some of her customers. Punishing her for not liking or supporting an administrator is simply administrative ego striking back.

Social Sentry

Screen shot of Social Sentry
Screen shot of Social Sentry | Source

43% of companies engage in employee email monitoring

As for those parents being so verbal about their disapproval of her statements regarding the unnamed students, I'm left wondering if their anger at her isn't an indication that they are aware she was speaking of their own children. If this is the case, I would have to assume these same parents know their children exhibit the behaviors being complained about. The only thing left to conclude is that Natalie is being punished for viewing the students in the same light as their own parents view them. Apparently, it's perfectly acceptable for parents to feel this way about their children, but not the person assigned to contending with the behavior.

We, as consumers and taxpayers, feel that anyone paid to do a particular job has no right to publicly complain about the job, especially if we get it into our heads that the employee knew what was expected right from the beginning. The only trouble with this line of thinking is in defining the true expectations. Teachers come into the job believing they are going to make a difference and throw open the doors to educational revelations, while too many parents believe the job entails parenting responsibilities without the parental authority to make it work. We want them to do our job for us without our being inconvenienced with participating.

Irregardless of how we may feel about Natalie as a teacher, we need to give more attention to protecting our rights to privacy and free speech. Due to the fact that there are presently relatively few laws regulating internet communications, there is a surge of monitoring activity by employers against employees. A 2007 survey shows that 43% of the companies interviewed, engage in email monitoring with another 12% monitoring blogs of its employees. These numbers were up 27% from 2001. In March of 2010, the company Teneros released a software called Social Sentry which enables employers to discover and monitor their employees' social networking accounts. This means an employer can keep better tabs on its employees, even when the activities are taking place on personal time, using personally owned devices.

If the conclusion of this case supports the dramatics of the parents and the egotism of the administrators, there will not be a single American citizen who can count on their rights to privacy or freedom of speech.


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    • Terri Meredith profile imageAUTHOR

      Terri Meredith 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      I'm kind of curious...if private schools with high disciplinary and academic standards receive more applications than they can accommodate, wouldn't that be an indication that parents are certainly willing to be accountable for their children's behaviors? It would seem to me that there might be another reason for so many applications to such schools besides just the behavior.

    • AbsoluteJeanius profile image

      Jean Ann 

      7 years ago from Niagara, Ontario Canada

      Parenting is the name of the game. Kids with good parents do far better than those without, other things being equal. I noted this in my articles on Natalie Munroe's situation.

      I think the problem is broader than Natalie's journal. Certainly, undisciplined and unruly teens pose a problem for teachers as well as the general population. Parents need to be held accountable for the behaviours of their young people.

      School systems must be ready to address those behaviours firmly and effectively, without giving in to parent demands for leniency, as well. Private schools with high disciplinary and academic standards receive more applications than they can accommodate each year.

      When parents and educators raise the bar and hold it, we'll see meaningful gains in the classroom - regardless of teacher accountability plans, the texts used, the length of classes, or the advanced academic degrees demanded of teachers.

    • Terri Meredith profile imageAUTHOR

      Terri Meredith 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Whenever the conversation turns to discussions of governing the internet, with the younger generation, I'm hit with all manner of silly, and obvious statements. The one most puzzling to me is the idea that since the internet is public domain, all content is subject to being monitored. Password protected sites are obviously protected for the right of privacy. Then the comeback is that hacking is a known risk of the internet so basically, we use it at our own risk with no recourse. My answer: Just because people can find a way to get in, doesn't make it right or render it open to public inspection and monitoring. Essentially, hacking is a form of breaking and entering, no different than burglary except for the arena of the commission of the crime. Furthermore, I believe anyone who uses information gained from private sites and protected sites to inflict control of the owner, is essentially admitting to the act of committing the crime and should be judged accordingly. Coercion by any means is unethical and we should not be finding or fabricating reasons to justify it. Other than law enforcement groups, acts taken by an outsider against the site owner or commentor should be null and void if the acts are a result of ill gotten information otherwise unknown or unable to be known without the willful conduct of invading one's privacy.

    • KFlippin profile image


      7 years ago from Amazon

      I would agree, considering the topic, you would expect to see hubbers with some definitive views on this topic. These days it is fairly known by most Americans that tenure keeps teachers teaching, much moreso than skill. If in fact this was a good teacher, how sad that she was terminated for 'this' cause, rather than for her teaching skills/record, etc...

      Much is happening right now in Washington that will impact the internet in America, yet there is this odd mainstream silence about the potential changes via executive order or legislation which will likely make the Patriot Act look quite ... elementary school level.

      Again, great hub, and it could be that the essence here is something many just aren't ready to see and accept as a new and very vital, critical issue in internet use.

    • Terri Meredith profile imageAUTHOR

      Terri Meredith 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks for commenting. I've been surprised more people didn't have something to say. I was sort of expecting a few people to be a little upset with my take on the student-teacher aspects. I'm no champion of teachers, as I've had to deal with a few who shouldn't be permitted anywhere near children. However, I don't believe in making assumptions about everyone just because of my own issues. These problems are getting bigger and bigger, while those most affected sit by pointing fingers at the others. We're all at fault for many reasons. OK. I'll stop now before I write a whole new article here in the comments.

    • KFlippin profile image


      7 years ago from Amazon

      Wow, an Extremely well written and presented piece on the plight of not just this teacher, but a very timely piece on the the plight of everyone as the internet continues to grow as a primary means of communication and of course as a means of monitoring all of us, in America and across the world, and of course even here on hubpages. It is informative to place your hubs on Google stats and see just where some of the visits come from after posting a hub considered politically controversial.

      Well done, rated up and Awesome.


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