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Is imposing one's biased, political views in a hidden manner to school children unconstitutional or illegal?

Fort Collins, CO |
Filed under: Civil rights

College argument about a third grader shown "The Story of Stuff" video and it being used as educational documentary in schools throughout the nation.

Attorney Answers 3


Every sentence a person makes is biased toward some thought or ideology. Is the public school student being actively and strongly forced (to the material detriment of his/her own legal rights) to agree with the theory presented? If not, then there is very likely no discrimination issue. Note that there is a difference between 'agreeing with the theory presented' and 'answering questions regarding the theory presented'. Note also the irony of all the 'biased political arguments' it would take in order to "successfully" make an argument for "political discrimination in school curriculum". Sure, there are likely to be some blatant examples of misguided politics in schools today, but showing a relatively mainstream documentary "The Story of Stuff" is hardly cause for concern that an educator is not complying with the standards below...

The Supreme Court upholds the right of educators to 'academic freedom,' and the educator's speech is usually protected under the first amendment.

Here are some helpful resources:

In particular, see the Supreme Court's discussion in Bethel School Dist. v. Fraser , 478 U.S. 675, 681 (1986): "In Ambach v. Norwick, 441 U.S. 68, 76 -77 (1979), we echoed the essence of this statement of the objectives of public education as the "inculcat[ion of] fundamental values necessary to the maintenance of a democratic political system." These fundamental values of "habits and manners of civility" essential to a democratic society must, of course, include tolerance of divergent political and religious views, even when the views expressed may be unpopular. But these "fundamental values" must also take into account consideration of the sensibilities of others, and, in the case of a school, the sensibilities of fellow students. The undoubted freedom to advocate unpopular and controversial views in schools and classrooms must be balanced against the society's countervailing interest in teaching students the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior. Even the most heated political discourse in a democratic society requires consideration for the personal sensibilities of the other participants and audiences."

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Christine C McCall

Christine C McCall


This is a remarkably thorough and thoughtful and incisive answer to the question.


I, like Attorney Gasser, fail to see the constitutional issue.

Is there a religious or racial undertone to "The Story of Stuff"? How is it "political"? Does it malign a particular political party? How so?

It does have a liberal tone to it but to call it a hidden agenda goes pretty far. Perhaps one could show a competing film extoling the virtues of Austrian School Economics also aimed at the third graders.

I will be more succinct borrowing from the courts political speech jurisprudence. "Every idea is an incitement. It offers itself for belief and if believed it is acted on unless some other belief outweighs it or some failure of energy stifles the movement at its birth." Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1923) O.W. Holmes, Jr. on dissent at 673.

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The inevitability of individual disagreements about what is appropriate instruction in the schools is a large part of the reason for having school boards . Someone has to make the judgment call, and in the American educational system the school board is ordinarily the entity invested with that power. Interested persons have access to the board to make their views and disagreements with the board's judgment and policies known. In some states, an individual has a right to bring a legal action against the board for decisions which are allegedly in violation of specific state statutes or mandates. But mere disagreements with the board's decisions -- or allegations that a decision is "imposing one's biased, political views" will seldom enable a legal suit to vacate or reverse any board decision. Where a legal action can be brought, these actions tend to be very expensive, defended vigorously, and to turn on a vast body of expert opinion and evidence. Because such suits are most often beyond the financial capability of most interested individuals, these suits, in the limited circumstances when they can be brought, are most often initiated by public interest groups or organizations.

My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as legal advice. I give legal advice only in the course of an attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by individual consultation and execution of a written agreement for legal services.

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