The article examines the thesis that tenure and academic freedom are vitally needed for teachers who are competent in teaching the skills of critical thinking and the pursuit of truth within the context of the academic content they are being paid to teach. Critical thinking is defined as making judgments about the truthfulness and worth of the statements or answers to problems. Tenure, on the other hand, refers to the structure that safeguards academic freedom by providing protection for teachers to study and teach content-related ideas that may lead to controversy without the fear of threats or sanctions. To examine the thesis the writer alludes to the coexistent nature of critical thinking and controversy. At the same time, the article provides support to indicate a fundamental positive relationship between controversy and student mastery of related subject matter. The article then looks forward by emphasizing the future importance of tenure and academic freedom to provide a culture of thinking so vital to our democratic principles and values. Finally, the article outlines a list of principles and strategies that allow classroom teachers to move forward and improve their school's competence in teaching the skills of critical thought.
Tenure and academic freedom have been in the line of public fire for many years now. Tierney (1997, p. 18) defines tenure as the structure that provides protection for faculty to undertake investigations in a climate free of recrimination and penalty. More precisely, tenure aims to protect teachers from job loss as a result of public controversy that results from their attempt to pursue academic truth by being open to discuss sensitive and unpopular ideas. Academic freedom, on the other hand, refers to the freedom of the teacher to study and teach content related ideas that may lead to controversy without the fear of threats or sanctions. To be sure, academic tenure is the structure that safeguards academic freedom.
This article is intended to have two purposes. First, to provide a rationale in support of academic tenure for teachers who risk being controversial in their attempt to teach the skills of critical thinking and the pursuit of academic truth. And second, to outline from the professional literature a number of principles and strategies that provide classroom teachers with a guide to improve their schools' competence in teaching critical thinking and the learning of subject matter.
Critical Thinking and the Nature of Teaching
To understand the relationship between tenure and the teaching of critical thinking, there is a need to define both critical thinking and the act of teaching. According to Lee & Pallone (1966, p. 92), teaching is a joint search for truth between teacher and learner. Lee & Pallone (1966, p. 93) go on to say that teaching focuses on the students' need to seek truth, both within and outside of themselves. Correspondingly, Bauman (1977) believes that it is impossible to teach anyone to think the truth without teaching them to think critically. Critical thinking, on the other hand, has been defined as a process for determining the value of an idea (Fitzpatrick 1993, p. 42). Others see critical thinking as a process of thinking without a single solution (see for example Kataoka-Yahiro 1994, p. 352). To put this article into context, critical thinking is defined as making judgments about the truthfulness and worth of statements and ideas. Clearly, the forgoing definitions appear to suggest a coexistent and reciprocal relationship between critical thinking and the teacher's role in pursuing academic truth.
According to Paul (1990, p. xv), all of us students and teachers alike, are capable of believing things that are false or things that are true without knowing them to be so. Without scrupulous care, teachers may pass on to students their own moral blindness and closemindedness. Elsewhere, Paul (1990, p. 30) points out that open-mindedness, although proper, is not a "natural" disposition of the human mind. In the pursuit of truth, however; openness to contradiction and opposing points of view are the hallmarks of the critical thinking classroom. Indeed, Paul (1990, p. xv) goes on to say that in teaching critical thinking we need others to help us probe our own thinking in the pursuit of truth and new knowledge.
Critical Thinking, Controversy and Tenure
For Scriven (1985) teaching critical thinking is coping with controversy. Bernstein (1995, p. 22) goes a step further when he says, "controversy is fundamental to critical thinking and new knowledge". Conversely, Noll (1987) believes that the lack of controversy signifies the presence of complacency and the absence of realistic alternatives to existing circumstances. While making no attempt to address the immediate effects of critical thinking and controversy on the learning of specific subject matter, the above writers would apparently agree on the positive effects that critical thinking and controversy have on learning.
Other writers have provided support for the positive effects that critical thinking and controversy have on the learning of subject matter. For example, Johnson & Johnson (1993) believe that controversy tends to result in greater mastery of subject matter being studied, as well as, greater ability to generalize principles learned to a wide variety of situations. At the same time, Paul & Elder (1996), Lipman (1985), and Shanklin & Rhodes (1989), report a positive relationship between critical thinking and student understanding of subject matter. Perhaps it may be appropriate to state then that controversy fostered by critical thinking enhances the student's knowledge and learning of subject matter.
In 1985, Scriven (1985) maintained that most teachers would be reluctant to facilitate critical thinking by providing a fair presentation on a controversial topic like "The Legalization of Marijuana". According to him, the resulting controversy would likely lead to teacher sanctions and possible dismissal. Without academic freedom, current teachers may be equally reluctant to provide fair presentations on controversial topics like "Gay Rights", "Evolution" or "Abortion". More to the point, Scriven (1985) believes that an additional lesson may be learned here when students realize that the school is corrupt and does not value the pursuit of academic truth by way of a fair examination of sensitive and unpopular views.
Because of the coexistent nature of critical thinking and controversy, it goes without saying that controversy is likely to follow the teacher who attempts to pursue truth by way of a fair-minded examination of sensitive and unpopular views. Furthermore, the resulting controversy might well put the teacher's position in jeopardy without the protection of tenure or something similar to it. For the sake of being precise, it is important to note that this article defends the practice of tenure to protect teachers from controversy that arises from critical thinking and the pursuit of truth. No attempt is made here to defend the practice of tenure to protect teachers from controversy that arises from teacher bias and attempts to teach what is not known to be true as though it were true. Indeed, controversy that arises from the teacher's attempt to indoctrinate students might well be grounds for teacher sanctions and possible dismissal.
Democratic Principles, Tenure and the Teaching of Critical Thinking
Much of the belief and support of academic freedom and tenure would appear to be related to the importance our schools and universities place on the principles of democracy and our commitment to teach students to think for themselves by learning how to think not what to think. Curriculum specialists will most likely agree that a necessary part of the curriculum is taught when students acquire the skills of critical thinking generated by a fair examination of both accepted and controversial ideas in the pursuit of truth and academic knowledge. By showing confidence in the students' ability to think for themselves, we not only show confidence in democratic values but we also strengthen the capacity of our society to make sound decisions in the future. Correspondingly, the Supreme Court views academic freedom and the pursuit of truth by teachers and students as a vital link to our future existence as a nation when they say:
To impose any straightjacket upon the intellectual leaders of our colleges and universities would imperil the future of our nation. Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study, to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die (Sweezey vs. New Hampshire, 1957).
It seems obvious that in a democratic society we ought to hold on to the structure of academic tenure until we have another viable safeguard for the academy's core belief Yet, according to Perley (1995), these are very hostile times for all of us who work in the academy. He questions why our friends and enemies need to attack so viciously a vital component of our society that has served us with excellence throughout our history. Certainly, the problem of unproductive personnel is a problem that all organizations face. According to Tierney (1997, p. 21), we ought not to focus on a false problem - tenure - and seek to change it when no evidence exists that organizations without tenure are any more productive than schools and universities. Added to that is the observation that in a democracy, American higher education became the best in the world at a time when tenure existed. What would we lose if tenure were eliminated? On this point, Perley (1995, p. 45-46) is very succinct when he says:
The answer is simple - the very best educational system in the world. A system where it is possible to raise the difficult and controversial question and not worry about being fired for the asking. A system that has produced minds that are not mere mimickers of their mentors. A system where individuals have obligations not only to their chairs or to their administration, but to their disciplines and profession. In short, we would lose the very features that permit us to look at the outrageous and see beauty ... that survival means we have to be more compliant and accepting of judgments made by others.
Rather than maintain an evaluation system that looks backward, Perley (1995) feels that we need to create a culture that looks forward and tries to outline how individuals and organizations want to perform. Discussions about tenure or faculty productivity framed as if faculty are obstacles, deadwood, or laggards is unhelpful. Conversely, dialogues that frame our work as a way to help faculty improve and develop enables us to create definable goals about how the individuals and units might mutually be supportive of one another. It is in this spirit that the writer has outlined from the literature a number of principles and strategies that will enable teachers to look forward and improve their schools' competence in the teaching of critical thought and the learning of subject matter.
1. Students must be encouraged to enter empathetically into the arguments for both sides of an issue to ensure the strongest possible case for each side. (Johnson & Johnson 1993, p. 43)
2. Provide role switching exercises to see if students can pass the entry test for-critical thinking about an issue. The test requires each person to be able to give the whole range of arguments for the side they oppose in a way that is entirely acceptable by those who support the position. (Scriven 1985, p. 12)
3. Brief students in advance to be respectful of others' feelings by reminding them of the personal nature of the issue under discussion. (Cohen 1993, p. 24 1)
4. Following a debate ask the class to sit down and write a few minutes about why they believe as they do. Ask them to discuss the influences in their lives that they feel helped them arrive at their current position. (Wade 1995, p. 24)
5. Students should be encouraged to evaluate the behavior and politics about what they read. The teacher might ask "Why did this government say they took this action?" "Was the reason consistent with their behavior and action?" (Paul 1990, p. 333)
6. To increase students' intellectual skills students can examine texts for questionable assumptions and the potential effects of such errors on conclusions. (Litwin & Haas 1983, p. 46)
7. At every opportunity students should be given the opportunity to advance ideas of their own and give reasons to support them as well as opportunities to hear objections from other students. (Paul 1984, p. 7)
8. When the class is discovering an issue about which people disagree, the teacher can encourage students to check a variety of sources supporting different points of view. (Paul 1990, p. 333)
9. Students should be able to specify the assumptions that underlie a particular statement where the truth of the statement is contingent on the assumption "Is Cairo in Egypt?", "Yes, assuming that the Cairo you are talking about is the capital of Egypt". (Lipman 1985, p. 20)
10. Students should be able to probe loose questions by asking questions like "How do you know that? What is the evidence? And if this is true does it follow that other matters are true?" (Glaser 1985, p. 24)
11. When discussing an issue, the teacher can ask students to ask themselves metacognitive questions like "What is the evidence?" "What would someone who disagrees with me say?" (Paul 1990, p. 324)
12. When evaluating an article, students are invited to ask questions identifying ambiguous language, questionable assumptions and major reasoning problems. (Keeley & Browne 1986, p. 386)
This article has provided a rationale in support of academic tenure for teachers who risk controversy in their attempt to teach the skills of critical thinking and the pursuit of academic truth. Tenure was defined as the structure that provides protection for faculty to undertake investigations in a climate free of recrimination and penalty. Critical thinking, on the other hand, was defined as making judgments about the truthfulness and worth of statements or ideas.
The writer has alluded to the coexistent nature of critical thinking and controversy, at the same time, support has been provided to indicate a fundamental positive relationship between controversy and student-learning of related subject matter content.
Because of the coexistent nature of critical thinking and controversy, the article logically assumed that controversy would likely follow the teacher who attempts to teach critical thought by providing a fair-minded examination of sensitive and unpopular views. It was further pointed out that the resulting controversy might well put the teacher's position in jeopardy without academic tenure or something similar to it.
Further support for academic tenure has been provided by emphasizing the importance of our democratic principles and the commitment to teach students in our schools and universities to think for themselves. Finally, the article looked forward by outlining a number of principles and strategies that enable teachers to create a culture of thinking in our educational classrooms.
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FRANK A. STANCATO, PH.D. Professor of Teacher Education and Professional Development Central Michigan University Mt. Pleasant, Michigan…