Thursday, 16 March 2006

What academic freedom isn't

You may have heard about the case of the 16-year-old American high-school student who recorded his school teacher's rant comparing George W Bush to Hitler, which saw the teacher suspended and then reinstated after his lawyer claimed for him a 'First Amendment' right to what he calls 'free speech' and his 'academic freedom.'

Thomas Sowell points out that "there is much confusion over free speech and academic freedom" -- and ain't that the truth -- and the the teacher is mistaken on both points. On the first:
The teacher's lawyer talks about First Amendment rights to free speech but free speech has never meant speech free of consequences. Even aside from laws against libel or extortion, you can insult your boss or your spouse only at your own risk.
True enough. And on the second point:

Academic freedom is the freedom to do academic things -- teach chemistry or accounting the way you think chemistry or accounting should be taught. It is also freedom to engage in the political activities of other citizens -- on their own time, outside the classroom -- without being fired.

Nowhere else do people think that it is OK to engage in politics instead of doing the job for which they are being paid. When you hire a plumber to fix a leak, you don't want to find your home being flooded while he whiles away the hours talking about Congressional elections or foreign policy. It doesn't matter whether his political opinions are good, bad, or indifferent if he is being paid to do a different job.

Only among "educators" is there such confusion that merely exposing what they are doing behind the backs of parents and taxpayers is regarded as a violation of their rights.
Perfectly clear, and perfectly true. Academic freedom is not the freedom to rant about issues irrelevant to the subject at hand; it does not grant teachers the freedom "to use a captive audience to vent their politics when they are supposed to be teaching geography or math or other subjects."

LINK: Academic Freedom and classroom brainwashing - Thomas Sowell - Capitalism Magazine

TAGS: Education, Politics-US

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