06/11/2010 12:43 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

When Free Speech Isn't Freedom to Blog

Academy of Notre Dame de Namur is an all-girls Catholic private school in Villanova, Pa.

Until April of this year Elizabeth Collins taught Juniors and Seniors English there.

She did not complete the year Notre Dame at because she got into a row with some parents over a botched assignment.

The thumbnail image is Ms. Collins gave an assignment requiring her students to write a conciliatory speech modeled after Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address ("with malice towards none"). One of her students delivered an "Obama Lied" speech. Ms. Collins blogged on the assignment. She did not reveal the identity of the student or the school.

Ms. Collins has also been forthright in the fact she is a moderate Democrat in the classroom. In an English class where one would think that critical thinking is being molded, knowing a viewpoint is a bonus.

The father of the student, an award-winning Catholic for his conservative political activism (James J. White IV won the Sourin Award in 2009), had been monitoring this teacher because he perceived her to be too liberal for a Catholic School. Almost immediately after the blog's release the parents pounced on the teacher. It took about 2 months, but they eventually had the teacher removed.

The extended story sits here (Link from Philly.Com).
This is a story about the Parent's award (Link from The Bulletin).

Ms. Collins is off-base on a couple of things (you thought I was going the other way...) :

  • Ms. Collins is teaching in the Catholic School System. While some of the academics are superior, the cultural blinders that are attached to your head can ultimately become a handicap.
  • When you take the King's coin, you do the King's bidding. They own the building. They own the books. They are selling a Conservative Catholic viewpoint in their educational system.
  • This is a lesson about telling tales out of school. Ms. Collins literally messed with that when she blogged on issues inside the classroom. It is immaterial that she did not identify the student; those in the know would not have a hard time figuring it out.
  • As far as the blog - kids are off limits. There needs to be a level of academic integrity with regard to confidentiality.
  • When you start bringing lawyers to teacher conferences you are gone. You have an untenable situation. No learning is getting done in that environment.

Some bigger ideas:

  • This is a teacher. Teachers need to have latitude in the classroom to teach, challenge, and cajole brain cells to function. Tenure is about academic freedom.
  • Education is a business. Like any business, they need to put out a consistent product.
  • The Catholic school system is an alternative to the public school system. It is marketed as being superior to the public school system because of the "values" that are taught.
  • The White's are people feel they are too good to put their kids in the public school system. They have the money to pay for this alternative. Ms. Collins messed with that. You can't go around indirectly bad-mouthing your employer (by actively taking positions counter to Church Doctrine).
  • However, an argument can be made that Ms. Collins firing is exactly why the Catholic School System is INFERIOR to the public school systems.

I have to laugh with regards how many Catholic activists want tax breaks for their school system. The same arguments I just made above can also be applied to those who would use tax dollars to fund these institutions. They take Uncle Sam's coin, they would then need to teach things Ms. Collins was advocating. Since the Catholic School System would be taking public money, she would have been offered a higher level of protection.

I hope she moves on and can have her voice amplified as this episode will become a partial badge of honor for standing up for one's belief system, but it may not have been the right place to do it. The Church is essentially one of many religious arms of the GOP. Even though there is diversity in the pews, the command and control structure are elephants. For somebody so smart, Ms. Collins should have known this could happen.

BTW, I would be more than happy to have Ms. Collins teach my kids.