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Educators: balancing kids' morality vs freedom to express

Write a reflection journal that addresses the following questions:

(1) If you were an administrator, how would you explain to your teachers the balance between the influence of their moral standards and character and their freedom of expression as individuals?

(2) Where does the line fall?

(3) What situations can you think of, or have you encountered, where a teacher's professional life and personal life cause friction or conflict?

Solution Preview

1) In this category, as an administrator I would explain that the teacher must keep in mind that while he/she wants to help his students to grow to be positive, productive members of society, he has to make sure that he does not offend parents, some of whom would want to provide this instruction themselves. Sometimes we simply have to stop and think before we speak, aware of the gravity of a particular situation.

Personally, I have found that prefacing my statements with "in my opinion" or being able to build some kind of discussion that naturally comes out of a classroom lesson (finding a "teachable moment"), provides an easier method to navigate these waters. One of the major problems in the classroom today is that students come to school without having received the guidance that educators in the past knew most of their students would already arrive with.

The picture will also be very different depending upon where one teaches. If someone is an educator in a suburban school district, many students will have a sense as to how to best handle their behavior: that they should not lie to the teacher or cheat on a test. These are things one can discuss without concern because these expectations are a part of the classroom guidelines, usually encouraged district-wide. In the urban school setting, things may be very different because parents may work extra long hours, or students may come from one-parent households where the parent may still be working extra hours or two jobs and no one is there to meet them. The guidance an educator would hope to find at home may just not be there because the parent is not there.

However, there is an enormous difference between teaching one's students not to cheat or steal from another person, and discussing "hot" topics such as abortion, capital punishment or even politics. The temptation to discuss the morality present in these kinds of topics should be approached as if they were explosive. As with other topics, sometimes these things will develop from a class lesson, or may just come up in a discussion that takes a quirky turn the teacher wasn't expecting. When someone brings up a topic in class, the teacher needs to find an acceptable way to validate the student by acknowledging his statement or concern without simply shutting him/her down. The teacher wants the classroom to provide comfort for students so they can exercise self-expression without fear of ridicule or censorship. The teacher will need to watch not only the amount of time invested in the discussion, but in what direction the discussion moves. The instructor can play devil's advocate to an extent by presenting an alternative view, but I would do it in the form of a question, and then be non-committal rather ...

Solution Summary

When teaching, an educator must walk the fine line between providing students with direction regarding their moral standards and character, and avoid infringing on a student's freedom of expression. There are a great many nuances to be aware of when addressing these issues in the classroom. Sometimes these grey areas can be expected based upon what you are teaching, but sometimes they come out of nowhere as a natural progression of in-class discussion.