August 04, 2006


Academic Freedom, Part II

...My previous post highlighted the case of conspiracy theorist and folklore professor Kevin Barrett, who has drawn criticism for airing his views on government-planted explosives in the Twin Towers and detonating them on September 11, 2001. I’m not sure how that plays a role in folklore curriculum, but that’s not necessarily the point of this particular column.
...For this post, the primary focus is the idea of how far the term “academic freedom” can be taken, especially when the information being presented goes beyond the realm of being thought-provoking and enters the realm of factual inaccuracy.
...This was one of Ward Churchill’s downfalls, whereby he cried “academic freedom” to defend anything and everything that came out of his mouth (or pen), including his fictional account of the United States Army distributing smallpox-infected blankets to Mandan Indians during the 1800s in his book Indians Are Us?. Oddly enough, he cited Russell Thornton’s American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492, which offered a completely different scenario, in which the smallpox were actually spread by traders on the steamboat St. Peter’s.
...Similarly, the term “academic freedom” is being utilized once again in an effort to defend factually-questionable remarks regarding the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Thus, the question arises: What constitutes academic freedom? More specifically, where do we draw the line when and if an educator—on any level, from elementary school to university professor—crosses the line that separates reality from fantasy? Better yet, can we do anything, since First Amendment rights are routinely invoked in defense of the occurrences?
...Perhaps it would be more appropriate to suggest that the lines between free speech, propagandizing, and job descriptions have become blurred. A national backlash at school boards in both Kansas and Pennsylvania showed us that creationist theories would not be tolerated if they’re presented in a factual manner within a science classroom setting, but if a science teacher cried “academic freedom,” should they be allowed to espouse any viewpoint for the sake of provoking critical thinking? Similarly, if a teacher taught a conspiracy theory as fact, would he/she be allowed to defend the material under the guise of academic freedom?
...There’s no doubt that professors and public school teachers have different levels of what they’re allowed to present in terms of curriculum, but each has—or should have—the ability to present fact as fact and opinion as opinion. Moreover, the opinion should be backed by facts in an effort to defend the viewpoint.
...An educator, no matter the level, should foster critical thinking. Critical thinking, however, happens when multiple viewpoints are presented and the student has the opportunity to come to a conclusion of their own (the “Taking Sides” approach, if you will). This was one of my biggest complaints with respect to the Jay Bennish incident a few months ago—it wasn’t really a pro-and-con approach so much as it was a soapbox approach.
...We shouldn’t be referred to as “teachers” or “educators” if our primary reason for entering the field of education is to offer a heaping serving of propaganda to students. It would be more appropriate to call us indoctrinators. If propaganda is, indeed, the primary focus of someone, they should sooner become an author or columnist in their pursuit of advancing a particular agenda.
...Education will continue to come under fire if it’s used as an outlet for propaganda, no matter if it’s from the right or from the left, and the term “academic freedom” will become not only clichéd but also cheapened if it continues to find its place as a defense for presenting viewpoints that might otherwise be brushed aside were it not for captive audiences.


Blogger Ms. B said...

If I were to say anything in my classroom, I'd might be exercising some academic freedom, but it certainly would not be academic responsibility. "Academic freedom" seems to be a general excuse used by people who want to take advantage of their positions as educators so that they can have an audience for their theories, opinions, and "facts." Perhaps the 1st Amendment gives them the right to do so. I guess that simply means that it isn't illegal for them to express their opinions in a classroom. However, a school district/university still has a right to terminate an employee if they're not doing their educate. Rattling off one's beliefs is not necessarily teaching.

August 06, 2006  
Blogger J.P. said...

The scary thing is that some people view preaching as teaching.

August 07, 2006  
Blogger a.m. said...

Yeah, and most of them have the word "professor" in their title because somehow those three little letters after their name gives them the right.

August 08, 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home