Tenure, Academic Freedom and the Teaching of Critical Thinking

By Stancato, Frank A. | College Student Journal, September 2000 | Go to article overview

Tenure, Academic Freedom and the Teaching of Critical Thinking


Stancato, Frank A., College Student Journal


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. …

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