Monday, December 8, 2008

"Academic Freedom" Day?

Here we are at the end of another year and the Discovery Institute is starting their pitch for what they call "Academic Freedom Day", in which they quote-mine Charles Darwin and say "A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."

Let's be clear on this, in no way shape or form is the Discovery institute actually interested in Academic Freedom, because if they were, they would know that the HS science classroom is not the place to have a debate about Intelligent Design (ID) and Theory of Evolution (ToE)! If ID were an actual scientific theory I would agree with them, but according to their own mentor, Phillip E. Johnson, it is not a theory. According to the overwhelming majority of the scientists in the world, ID is not a scientific theory. It does not belong in the science classroom, except maybe as a footnote. Rather than go into the details that I have posted many times of in this Blog, let's just keep it there for now. If you want more detail, there are a bunch of posts and lots of online references explaining the lack of science in ID, including Michael Behe's own testimony during the Dover trial.

So now, what exactly is Academic Freedom? The Discovery Institute has it half right, Academic Freedom is the freedom for students and teachers to explore even the most controversial of subjects. But what the they tend to forget is that academic freedom is not without limits. For example, according to the Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure, teachers should be careful to avoid controversial matter that is unrelated to the subject. This statement is referenced in many documents concerning academic freedom. Please note the phrase "unrelated to subject". That is the limitation that the DI wants you to forget about.

Students and Teachers today have a degree of academic freedom that seems incredible. But there are still limits. We have free speech, yet walk into a crowded theater and yell "Fire!" without there actually being a fire and you will see how fast your Free speech defense works for you.

Academic Freedom comes with responsibilities, and one of those responsibilities is to keep the discussion on target with educational goals and objectives. Allowing academic freedom to be misused in this way would open the doors for some pretty incredible things. What is a teacher to do when a student in a Astronomy class asks about astrology? Are they supposed to cut off a lesson that is part of the curriculum and branch off into a pseudo-science in the name of academic freedom? Of course not! But that is exactly what the DI is asked for. In fact the DI isn't asked that it be included, they are trying to mandate that it be included.

The main reason the DI is using this tactic is because if it is allowed in the classroom under the guise of academic freedom, then ID will have attained a level of acceptance and validity that is has not managed to achieve through actual science work!

There are two parts to this that aggravate me. First of all the obvious tactic by the DI to use the guise of academic freedom to try and achieve a level of acceptance that ID has not been able to garner through science. I mean they can't or don't do the actual science, yet they are asking for validity to be presented alongside other actual scientific theories. That is just plain wrong!

The other part is that right now today if a teacher wants to bring up ID in the classroom, even a science classroom, they have that freedom today. What they cannot do it raise it as a scientific theory the equal to real scientific theories. ID can be taught in a philosophy or theology class, but it cannot be taught as science in a science class -- which is as it should be until it earns that right through science!

In my opinion allowing ID in the classroom under such a guise is a step backwards for academic freedom. Forcing a non-scientific issue into the science classroom is an affront to academic freedom and will do more harm than good.

I am not disagreeing with Charles Darwin's quote, but I do have a question that people ought to consider. Is a HS science class the right venue to allow a fair result be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question? No! This should be settled well before any discussion as science. Pardon me if the DI thinks that isn't fair. But is it fair to expect the English teacher to teach English, the Math teacher to teach Math and the physics teacher to teach Physics? Of course it is! It is not academic freedom to demand otherwise.

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