Thursday, February 19, 2009

The American Council on Education's position on Academic Freedom

This topic is getting so much attention, so here is more fodder for the discussion.

In 2005 the American Council on Education (ACE) issued a statement endorsed by a pretty impressive list of collegiate organizations. It's called "Statement on Academic Rights and Responsibilities". In it they made some pretty focused comments that also show that the current 'academic freedom' bills have little to do with academic freedom.

Owing to the incredible diverse nature of educational institutions in the United States they agree that it would impossible to create a single definition or set of standards that will work equally well for all fields of academic study, but they offer a central set of tenets that would create a common core of academic freedom principles no matter what the endeavor. Here are a few highlights:

  • Colleges and universities should welcome intellectual pluralism and the free exchange of ideas.
  • Academic decisions, including grades, should be based solely on considerations that are intellectually relevant to the subject matter under consideration.
  • The validity of academic ideas, theories, arguments and views should be measured against the intellectual standards of relevant academic and professional disciplines.
  • Application of these intellectual standards does not mean that all ideas have equal merit.
  • Government’s recognition and respect for the independence of colleges and universities is essential for academic and intellectual excellence.
Hmmm so looking at the bill passed in Louisiana, and the ones introduced in Alabama, Mississippi, and Missouri, among other states; does anyone else see the things that are missing? Oh there are enough words similar to make people think the bills support actual academic freedom, but where is the tie to intellectually relevant to the subject matter under consideration? They tend to gloss over that part for the specific reason of being able to introduce irrelevant topics.

How about being able to measure standards against academic and professional disciplines? So in other words who should be decided whether or not Intelligent Design is a scientific discipline? Not the Discovery institute for sure! But that is what they are trying to do and in doing so gain a level of scientific validity without having to do the actual science! They want to have it mandated by law, not any professional discipline!

Note the lovely phrase that not all 'ideas' have equal merit! Just because an idea exists, doesn't mean that it deserves a seat at the table with actual valid, and well supported, scientific theories!

This does certainly violate the last principle, the one on academic institution independence. Yes, the government, both National, State, and Local are necessary for our public education system, but when a bill is used to determine what is course content, without the support of relevant professional and academic disciplines, where is the independence?

One more time, with feeling! The so-called academic freedom bills were not designed to support actual academic freedom. They were not designed to improve and foster a better science education. They are purposefully, and with intent and -- in my opinion with malice, designed to permit teachers to introduce unsupported ideas, ideas that have not passed any sort of professional discipline review, ideas with no basis other than the religious feelings of a small minority, into the classroom of our young and be protected from any actions that should result!

Look at the document from the ACE itself. Read it and you will see that right now, today, a teacher can introduce the concept of Creationism in school. They can discuss it in Philosophy class, in Sociology, even in Marketing. They can bring up this whole political debate in science class if they want. But what they cannot do is bring it to the table in science class as if it were a valid scientific discipline, well except in the State of Louisiana which has passed one of these ridiculous laws! It will be interesting when a teacher tried to implement it!

"Dover II" in Louisiana next school year? Anyone want to start a pool?

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