Sunday, July 9, 2017

Rules for Polite Political Discourse in The Classroom

I'm teaching a high school senior literature class this fall that is likely to involve a great deal of political discussion. I'm working on a poster I can hang in the classroom and refer to occasionally. This is a draft - I would appreciate suggestions and input.

Rules for Polite Political Discourse in The Classroom

1. Your right to free speech does not mean everyone must agree with you.

2. Do not shout.

3. Do not interrupt or speak over others.

4. Avoid generalities and stereotypes. Statements that begin with "Everyone..." or "All [group of people]..." are usually wrong.

5. It is okay to say you disagree with a point of view or opinion, and to give evidence that supports your opinion. It is not okay to personally attack the person who made the statement.

6. Do not insult a person's physical appearance or another aspect of their self because you disagree with something they have said or done.

7. Slurs and obscenities are not allowed in this classroom. Bethel School District v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986).

8. Statements that advocate violence toward any individual or group of people are not protected by the First Amendment. Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919).

9. Students do have a right to free speech. However, a classroom is considered a closed forum, which means free speech may be limited at times when a conversation disrupts our ability to have an orderly and effective educational experience. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969).

10. This is my classroom, and my classroom is intended to be a safe space for individuals of any race, religion, creed, sexuality, gender identity, national origin, or ability. If I ever do not respond to something said or done in my classroom that is offensive or hurtful to you (or if I say or do something myself), please speak to me at a time when you feel comfortable. I would like to learn and improve.

Sources and Suggested Reading:

"Free speech and public schools." Center for Public Education. National School Boards Association, 5 Apr. 2006. Web. 09 July 2017. <>

Greenhouse, Linda. "Justices Won't Hear Student Who Sought to Write on Jesus." New York Times. The New York Times Company, 27 Nov. 1995. Web. 09 July 2017. <>.

Jacobs, Tom. "10 Supreme Court Cases Every Teen Should Know." New York TImes Learning Network. The New York Times Company, 15 Sept. 2008. Web. 09 July 2017. <>

"What Does Free Speech Mean?" United States Courts. U.S. Government, n.d. Web. 09 July 2017. <>.


  1. Looks good. I like how it informs students of their actual rights and the cases they come from. The only thing I might add is something about staying on topic/not using the classroom as a platform for agendas that are not on topic. And maybe something about respecting persons outside of the classroom? Dunno how much issue you have with bullying. Here in the South, anything nonconforming is met pretty unpleasantly. But I do think it looks good as is too.

  2. Regarding #10: One small change I recommend that can be important in safer spaces culture is to use "Safer" rather than "safe", as no place is truly 100% safe. We can express our desire for a safer place, one safer than other places, and that ends up being a promise that is much more likely able to be kept by those in charge of that space. It may be super subtle and students may not notice the little change and the way it sits in their brain, but that way you have offered/consented to something you are more able to provide and they are more likely to ask for things that will help keep it safer for them. Good luck!