Walling Off or Welcoming In?: Balancing Inclusivity and Free Speech

Snapshot: The School Culture Committee at a K-8 school in Jersey City struggles with the impact of divisive political rhetoric on their classroom and school community.


Case Description: The 2016 election saw a notable rise in divisive political rhetoric and policy proposals. This conversation has spilled into classrooms, as students bring with them to class what they see and hear from news, social media, parents, neighbors, and family members.

This case, "Walling Off or Welcoming In? The Challenge of Creating Inclusive Spaces in Diverse Contexts," describes a School Culture Committee (SCC) at the Jersey City K-8 school. Educators and parents on the committee wrestle with a series of events that challenged their ability to maintain inclusive learning environments that are welcoming to all students. The SCC must determine where and how to draw boundaries between free political speech and offensive or harmful speech that qualifies as bullying or harassment. 

This case is designed to help teachers, school and district leaders, parents, teacher educators, and middle and high school students have nuanced conversations about the challenges posed by divisive political rhetoric for school classrooms and communities. The case raises important pedagogical, ethical, democratic, legal, and political considerations, and invites readers to reflect on them both on their own and in dialogue with others.

Additional Resources:

  • In addition to the case, we have created a Facilitator's Guide to support groups engage in a meaningful discussion of the challenges raised by the case.
  • We have also put together a list of Supporting Resources for those looking to continue and enrich their discussions. 
  • In professional development sessions and other one-off workshops, we often use a Reader's Theater version to invite participants to help us perform/enact the case. The script is written so that people are cued when to read their lines (you can find individual parts pages at the end of the script). We recommend that members of the teaching/facilitation team perform the roles of narrator and Elena (who is not cued in the script).
  • There is also a recent real-life case in Maryland that has generated multiple perspectives about whether public school teachers' posting of Shepard Fairey posters was appropriately inclusive of diverse students or exclusive by implying anti-Trump sentiments.  The teachers have been directed to take the posters down, which has inspired strong views on various sides.

See the authors discuss the case below!