Thursday, February 17, 2011

If it's the truth, can you get in trouble for saying it?

Have you heard of Natalie Munroe? She's the Pennsylvania teacher who's probably going to lose her job because she complained about her students — without mentioning students' names or identifying qualities, her name or the school's name — on her blog. Parents and administrators say it's outrageous that a teacher would say things like, "Your kid dresses like a streetwalker," and "He's just as bad as his sister; do you know how to raise children?"
I'll admit, I heard about this story and immediately became a fun of Munroe on Facebook.
This morning I was watching Fox News (at the gym, I'm sorry, I needed something) and two lawyers were arguing about it. One said it's not a free speech issue, just like teachers making comments about how sexy students looked on Facebook was not a free speech issue.
Uh, duh on the second one. But I fail to see the connection between saying one unidentified student among 100 is frightfully dim and telling a very much identifiable student, while speaking as a teacher, that the backless dress makes me want you, or whatever comments these moronic teachers are making. Of COURSE that's not OK. And it's not even remotely the same as the teacher anonymously complaining about anonymous students. Which the second, much more aware lawyer pointed out.
But, first lawyer argued, free speech doesn't cover everything. You can't yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater.
Except you can if there's a fire in a crowded theater. Want to hear some of Ms. Munroe's comments?
  • "I hear the trash company is hiring."
  • "I called out sick a couple of days just to avoid your son."
  • "Just as bad as his sibling. Don't you know how to raise kids?"
  • "Asked too many questions and took too long to ask them. The bell means it's time to leave!"
  • "Nowhere near as good as her sibling. Are you sure they're related?"
  • "Shy isn't cute in 11th grade; it's annoying. Must learn to advocate for himself instead of having Mommy do it."
  • "Too smart for her own good and refuses to play the school 'game' such that she'll never live up to her true potential here."
  • "Am concerned that your kid is going to come in one day and open fire on the school. (Wish I was kidding.)
And said they were lazy, whiny and felt entitled.
From a free speech perspective, yes, the woman is protected. Sure, maybe, as other articles say, it was in bad taste. But bad taste is absolutely protected; in fact, the First Amendment is around to protect things that are tasteless, classless and potentially offensive.
But, and in my mind, this is even more important than her basic free speech issue: if it's the truth, shouldn't you be able to say it?
And isn't what she said the truth?

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