Academic Freedom and the Social Studies Teacher: A Position Statement of National Council for the Social Studies

Social Education, September 2007 | Go to article overview
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Academic Freedom and the Social Studies Teacher: A Position Statement of National Council for the Social Studies


1. Academic Freedom for Teachers and Students

Academic freedom for social studies teachers includes the right and responsibility to study, investigate, present, interpret, discuss, and debate relevant facts, issues, and ideas in fields of the teacher's professional competence. Academic freedom for students in social studies courses provides the right to study, question, interpret, and discuss relevant facts, ideas, and issues under consideration in those courses. These freedoms imply no limitations, within the guidelines of the subject area.

2. Rationale for Academic Freedom in Social Studies

The democratic process involves the ability to freely discuss ideas and values that exist in our society and in other countries. Without this ability in our secondary and higher level institutions, our democracy would disappear. That is why it is so important to protect the academic rights of teachers and students.

An educated population is essential in order to maintain a democratic society. This includes the ability to discuss or investigate diverse

and often controversial issues. Wisdom with which to make choices can come only if the essential freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and of teaching are available and defended. These basic freedoms protect the society and individuals in their right to hear, to read, to discuss, and to reach judgments according to individual conscience and evidence. Without the possession and the exercise of these rights, legitimate self-government is impossible. Well-informed citizens are more capable of making sound choices and carrying out their citizenship duties.

In order to carry out this crucial mission, education must impart the skills needed for intelligent study and orderly consideration of societal issues. Students need to learn how to study controversial issues by gathering and organizing facts, evaluating information and sources, discriminating between facts and opinions, and discussing different viewpoints in order to be able to think and make clear, informed decisions.

Social studies and its component subjects of history, politics, economics, geography, anthropology, sociology, psychology and other social sciences are the central school subjects in the development of civic knowledge and skills. The content of these social subjects involves controversial issues, and thus, the necessity of academic freedom for social studies teachers and students.

3. The Study of Controversial Issues

Controversial issues must be studied in the classroom without the assumption that they are settled in advance or there is only one "right" answer in matters of dispute. The social studies teacher must approach such issues in a spirit of critical inquiry exposing the students to a variety of ideas, even if they are different from their own.

The study of controversial issues should develop the following skills and attitudes:

1. The ability to study relevant social problems of the past or present and make informed decisions or conclusions;

2. The ability to use critical reasoning and evidence-based evaluation in the study and analysis of significant issues and ideas; this includes development of skills of critical analysis and evaluation in considering ideas, opinions, information, and sources of information;

3. The recognition that differing viewpoints are valuable and normal as a part of social discourse;

4. The recognition that reasonable compromise is often an important part of the democratic decision-making process.

4. Responding to Academic Freedom Challenges

Implicit in the basic idea of academic freedom is the continuous need to support and defend it by such actions as educating the public, the government (both local and federal), parents, school board members, and new teachers about its importance.

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