When the harsh comments levied by Pennsylvania high school teacher Natalie Munroe against her students on her private blog went public last week, parents and school district leaders fired back with equally harsh words and actions. On the blog, Munroe called select students “rude, lazy, disengaged whiners,” leading school administration to suspend her from teaching.
While reprehensible and out of line with social values and expectations for teachers, Munroe’s actions warrant more legal protection than prosecution while serving as a warning bell for American students of all ages. The identity of the American educational system rests at the heart of the student-teacher relationship.
Munroe’s vitriol toward her students cannot lead to prosecution under the law. A series of state-level court decisions, most recently in Wisconsin, found that teacher e-mails on school computers warrant protection under privacy laws and from records searches. The same should apply to teacher comments on private blogs, as in Munroe’s case.
Prosecuting Munroe would amount to an Orwellian “thoughtcrime” and an infringement on privacy. The government or a school system cannot declare what is or is not acceptable to think, except in extreme cases. A proper role for the government, however, is oversight of the forum in which free speech occurs and the just application of control beyond that forum.
With Munroe, this means the government ought to take a stricter stand on how easily the Internet allows people to remain truly private. Munroe deserves more protection for her speech, not legal condemnation. Only then can honest discourse about her comments occur.
On a policy level, Munroe’s actions are a timely reminder of the contemporary education debate. Disagreement rages over the influence of unions and the protection of ineffective, tenured teachers in American public schools.
Incidents such as the Wisconsin State Capitol protests in the past week and aggressive action in states like New Jersey toward tenure belie the sense that there is no common ground between subjecting teachers to strict performance reviews and ensuring the safety and security of a work environment under a union. Every employee deserves a union, yet every customer deserves a competent employee.
Munroe, while again reprehensible for her statements, indicates the kind of teacher who holds the middle ground. Motivated teachers with high expectations do not need performance reviews to ensure quality and can simultaneously receive protection from unions without unfair wage increases.
The United States should push for more teachers with the gall to demand more from their students. Teacher quality initiatives from the bottom-up, such as stronger entrance examinations and education departments in public universities, can solve the problem on one front and direct attention to others in education.
Among the remaining fronts is student engagement, which is absolutely essential to learning. Munroe’s offensive action must serve as an almost prophetic warning bell for students of all ages, including those at TCU. While speaking from perverse personal psychology, Munroe still offers a legitimate criticism of the poor academic habits of young adults and teens today.
Listening to and respecting professors more, changing habits to produce a healthy and focused approach to learning, and realizing the tremendous service offered by the education system and TCU will benefit teachers, administrators, government and all Americans.
Pearce Edwards is a sophomore political science and history double major from Albuquerque, NM.