Learning what you cannot say: public school teachers and free speech, an exploratory qualitative study

Hoben, John L. (2012) Learning what you cannot say: public school teachers and free speech, an exploratory qualitative study. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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    Available under License - The author retains copyright ownership and moral rights in this thesis. Neither the thesis nor substantial extracts from it may be printed or otherwise reproduced without the author's permission.
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Abstract

This thesis examines the impact of teacher perceptions of free speech on teacher identity and school cultures. Based on interviews with twenty-two teachers in Newfoundland and Labrador, the research explores how perceptions of free speech influence teachers' understanding and performance of their professional identities. Results suggest that teachers are uncertain about the nature and meaning of free speech and that this has a detrimental impact on teaching and learning as well as their ability to participate in school governance initiatives. -- Informed by critical, democratic theories of education, the study explores demands faced by teachers as employees who are also professionals. Participants described a type of professionalism that was rooted in service, obedience and compliance and, which, along with the notion of the reasonable limitation, acted as a disciplinary norm. Significantly, when talking about free speech most teachers emphasized the importance of learning what one cannot say. More specifically, many teachers commenced their exploration of the concept of free speech by focusing on the notion of a reasonable limitation rather than considering the nature and existence of any right. Teachers treated free speech in the workplace as more of a privilege than a right and expressed great reluctance about speaking critically in the public sphere where their views could contribute to an informed public dialogue about contemporary educational issues. -- Free speech, participants suggest, rather than being speech without limits, is the ability to express oneself with minimal administrative interference and often within the context of a "troubled agency". The latter results when teachers are forced to contest professional identities in school systems whose objectives are sometimes at odds with the best interests of students. Between the poles of speech and silence a broad range of speech practices and conceptions of free speech exist. Collectively, these findings suggest a need for further research as well as a renewed emphasis on the democratic role of public schooling within professional associations, teacher-education programs and schools themselves.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/6125
Item ID: 6125
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (leaves 362-389).
Department(s): Education, Faculty of
Date: 2012
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Freedom of speech--Study and teaching; Teachers--Attitudes; Public schools--Business management; Primary school teaching; High school teaching;

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