Case Study III

First, please be sure that you have reviewed and understood the instructions for Case Studies, especially regarding formatting instructions, before beginning this third case study.

Second, and perhaps due to the first point, the number of students who seem to think a critical analysis is just an opportunity to opine positively or adoringly about their partner's argument is troubling. Surely you want to help your partner as much as possible. Ask yourself: do accolades or clearly explained criticisms better help them improve their argument? Reflect, if you will, on a great philosopher's words:

Never be cruel, never be cowardly. And never ever eat pears! Remember – hate is always foolish... and love is always wise.

Always try to be nice and never fail to be kind.

Dr. Who, Series Twelve

But what does that mean, "always try to be nice and never fail to be kind"? Isn't it the same thing, being nice and being kind?

Well, no, actually.

It is very nice of you to comment in glowing terms on the genius and insight of your partner's argument. After all, we all want to hear nice things about our work, don't we? Yet it is hardly kind of you to ignore gaps, confusions, missteps, and unjustified leaps in their arguments, for the simple reason that they won't then have the opportunity to improve their argument.

They'll feel better, but they won't be better. Isn't the whole point to be better, and not just feel better?

So, no, being nice and being kind are different things. Always try to be nice. It's good to be nice. But never fail to be kind, even--or maybe especially--when it comes at the cost of being nice.

Answer each of the following questions in the 'Argument' section of your Case Study, making sure to clearly indicate which question you are answering. Note that each of your answers will be scrutinized and subjected to rigorous criticism by your partner in the Critical Analysis because they are now so keen to be kind, so it behooves you to think through your answers, anticipating possible criticisms as you go, and designing your argument accordingly. You might even try to include such phrases as, "it could be argued in criticism that..., however, I would argue that..."

  1. What moral dilemmas does the following case from the 2012 Regional Ethics Bowl expose?
  2. In light of the Principle of Autonomy and its four exceptions, how might a school administrator argue in favor of a speech policy restricting teachers' use of social media after hours, and what should those restrictions be? How should a teacher respond to these restrictions on their autonomy?
  3. In light of the Principle of Autonomy and its four exceptions, how might a school administrator argue in favor of a speech policy restricting students' use of social media after hours, and what should those restrictions be? How should students respond to these restrictions on their autonomy?
  4. Assuming either Kantian Ethical Theory or Social contract Theory as your theoretical assumption in constructing your argument, is it morally permissible for schools to adopt and enforce codes of conduct regulating the speech of students and teachers on social media?

Mean Girls

Just where is the line between the personal and the professional when it comes to the educational profession? Back in the days of single room schoolhouses, school marms were often subject to oppressive rules of conduct, one amusingly stating, “Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.”1 Over the past century and a half, however, female teachers seem to be afforded much greater freedom outside the classroom. This stems in part from the greater degree of anonymity teachers enjoy when they live in more populated communities. The women’s liberation movement and other philosophical movements have also fought for greater acceptance of women’s and teachers’ freedoms of speech and association and their autonomy as professionals.2

Present-day teachers are given much greater freedoms to behave as they choose outside the classroom; however, schools still regularly have codes of conduct for their employees.3 In the burgeoning age of social media, the boundaries of these rules are being tested. For instance, in one case, New York elementary school teacher Christine Rubino posted the following Facebook status: “After today, I am thinking the beach sounds like a wonderful idea for my 5th graders! I HATE THEIR GUTS! They are the devils (sic) spawn!”4 This statement was made after school hours the day after a student drowned while on a field trip to the beach. While Rubino took down the comment just days later, she was fired from her job, and only got her job back after a court ruled that the comments were not sufficient grounds for dismissal.5

While generally much less strict, students may also be subject to limitations on their speech.6 However, this is not always the case. Sometimes teachers find themselves the subject of their students’ criticism, struggling with how to cope with the freedom of speech of “cyber bullies”. One Land O’Lakes (Florida) High School teacher, Angelica Cruikshank, recently made headlines when she was terminated for her actions relating to “policing” students’ Facebook comments.7 In particular, Cruikshank demanded one student log into her Facebook account on Cruikshank’s cell phone. Cruikshank did so to gain access to other students’ Facebook comments about her. She also enlisted some students to review their classmates Facebook pages for derogatory comments, and refused to provide permissions slips for a museum fieldtrip to her Facebook bullies. Parents were outraged at Cruikshank’s actions, and it is unknown at this time whether Cruikshank’s termination was final or if she was reinstated.

Though Cruikshank’s actions were clearly extreme, she was likely subject to codes of conduct that would have subjected her to punishment for making the very sorts of comments that she had to endure. It is not clear she had any way to address the criticisms of her student cyberbullies.

1 “School Rules—1872,” New Hampshire Historical Society,

2 Kenneth A. Strike, “Professionalism, Democracy, and Discursive Communities: Normative Reflections on Restructuring,” American Educational Research Journal, Summer 1993, Vol. 30, No. 2, p. 255-275,…

3 See Helen Norton, “Constraining Public Employee Speech: Government’s Control of Its Workers’ Speech To Protect Its Own Expression,” Duke Law Journal, Oct. 2009, Vol. 59, No. 1,… (discussing how teachers are often still subject to strict off-duty behavior rules)

4 Evan Brown, “Teacher fired over Facebook post gets her job back,” internetcases: Law & Technology (blog), Feb. 9, 2012,…

5 Anson N. Carter, “The impact various forms of Freedom of Speech has on students and administrators in an Educational Setting,” March 21, 2012,…

6 See Chris Boots, “Student questions regulations after Facebook censorship,” The Chicago Maroon, Feb. 3, 2009,… (discussing student who posted Facebook page about his ex-girlfriend who allegedly cheated on him but was asked to take it down by university officials, citing the student code of conduct).

7 Jeffrey S. Solochek, “Pasco Teacher Accused of Policing Students’ Facebook Comments,” Tampa Bay Times, March 22, 2012,; “Spanish teacher suspended after she 'forced students to show her their Facebook pages - and banned them from school trip if they insulted her,” The Daily Mail, March 21, 2012,…