In week five, the subjects of discussion are the following:
- As concerns employments, which has more significant precedent: A teachers’ constitutional rights in the school, district, or state code of conduct and employment? Explain why and provide an example to illustrate the point.
- What is meant by the concept of “Academic Freedom,” what protections do teachers have under this concept? Why is differentially applied in K-12 and Higher Education? Provide an example relating to either course content or teaching strategies to illustrate the idea.
It is not easy to select either question; both have validity, and they are essential to discuss at any level. But I have selected to describe and talk about “Academic Freedom,” due to recent events happening in the Nation, as well as Globally.
Constitutional Right of Freedom of Speech
As we all know, we have a Constitutional Right to Freedom of Speech, established by the First Amendment; as we do have this right, it is essential to seek a positive way to implement our right into the classroom. Not everyone can or will be allowed to be completely expressive, and this is not only in the school, applies as well outside, in our “private” life, too. You may ask how our “private” life can affect our image at school, work? How will I jeopardize my work and students? We are in the Technology Age, anything you post, anything you record, anything you state can be saved for ages and can be utilized to damage your image, the school/work environment. So, yes, we have a given right to express freely, the questions how freely?
Academic Freedom of Individual Professors
Academic freedom is a concept that protects both students and instructors in a higher learning environment. Academic freedom means that both faculty members and students can engage in intellectual debate without fear of censorship or retaliation (Inside Higher Ed, 2010). This “Academic Freedom” should also be applied at the K-12 level, but some fear retaliation, even if today’s issues and problems are utilized to describe subjects of discussion in the classroom. Educators can or may adhere to their teaching philosophies and techniques. At the same time, be able to challenge students’ capabilities and abilities to have an intellectual debate; by demonstrating their ideas and views through critical thinking, research, and discussion. However, educators and teachers must remind themselves that they may not penalize students for holding an opposing view or not adopting a position.
Higher Education professionals, such as professors, have some guidelines established in 1940 by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU). EUben (2002) states that the professional standard of academic freedom is defined by Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure developed by the AAUP and the AACU. The statement has been endorsed and adopted by around 180 scholarly and professional organizations; the statement provides the following points:
- “Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties.”
- “Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their controversial teaching matter that has no relation to their subject.”
Academic Freedom does not mean that the School or University regulations may be ignored or violated. Students must still meet the minimum requirements to pass a course or to graduate. Due process is also yet required where disciplinary action may be necessary. Schafer (2019) describes Academic Freedom as:
- “The faculty holds a position that is of the equal importance of that of administration and trustees.”
- “The main function of academic institutions is to promote the learning of knowledge and to provide instruction and training.”
- “Trustees have no right to bind the reason or conscience of the faculty.”
Arguments have been made that Academic Freedom does not apply to K-12 schools. The common reason is that the students have not reached the age of majority and are not mature enough for academic freedom. Courts have also consistently sided with school boards on who has the power to determine the curriculum. One such case is Greenshields v. Independent School District NO. I 1016 of Payne County, Oklahoma (2006). A science teacher used her methods to teach because she felt the district’s methods were inferior. When she did not have her contract renewed, she sued the district and lost. For reasons as mentioned here, it is difficult for teachers of K-12 to have the type of “Academic Freedom” that some of them wish to have.