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Freedom Of Speech - Natalie's Right?
What's all the furor about?
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.
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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.
Freedom of Speech
- Freedom of Speech - Legal Overview
Cornell University Law School - overview of the 1st Amendment Constitutional right to free speech and it's challenges.
- Freedom of expression
Human Rights Education Associates (HREA) is a non-profit organisation whose main mission is to support efforts aimed at introducing human rights concepts and values into educational curricula and teaching practices. The HREA site contains many on-lin
- Spying on First Amendment Activity - State-by-State | American Civil Liberties Union
Click on your state to find who's spying on you.
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.
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.