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Why Academic Freedom Has No Place In K-12 Education

Those who wish to manipulate children use a variety of slogans to justify their actions. One of the most deceitful slogans they sling around is “academic freedom”. In the current climate, this phrase is used to justify

· pornographic material in schools

· teaching our kids to hate each other (CRT)

· teaching our kids to hate themselves (Gender Ideology)

As with all slogans, this one has been used so often and so vaguely as to practically have no actual meaning anymore in public discourse. That, of course, is precisely the goal. But “academic freedom” does have a meaning, and it’s an important one.

Academic Freedom: the freedom of teachers and students to teach, study, and pursue knowledge and research without unreasonable interference or restriction from law, institutional regulations, or public pressure.

Academic freedom can take many different forms, but this definition gives us a good starting point. First, we need to understand that academic freedom is not a law, and it is not a right. Academic freedom is a social concept. As such, how it is applied in society, and to what degree, is determined by the people of that society.

Academic freedom is an essential ingredient in the generation of new knowledge, but it is not absolute. Like other freedoms, restrictions can and should be placed upon it in certain circumstances. Therefore, when it is being used in such a way as to justify racializing and sexualizing children, we have every right to say “No”. We have every right to make our case as to why academic freedom does not apply to drag shows, pornographic material, Critical Race Theory, and to the teaching of gender ideology in schools.

A Little History

The core policy document of academic freedom is the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure as set forth by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). It is very short, and we here at The True Corrective urge you to read it. We have provided a clean, readable version at the link above, without all the footnotes and endorsements.

It is a very conservative document, which shouldn’t be a surprise really, since I think we can safely assume that university professors were far more conservative-minded in 1940. Specifically, it asserts that “Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole”. It further states that professors “should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject” (emphasis added in both cases). It even acknowledges that when professors speak or write outside of their profession, they have a “special position in the community” which “imposes special obligations” and therefore they “should exercise appropriate restraint and should show respect for the opinions of others”.

Wow. That all sounds good to us. All of those statements are something I think most of us can rally around. The problem is, of course, that universities and professors have not abided by their own standards. Both have become more corrupted and adulterated over the years.

In response to this decline in standards, a supplement to the original 1940 Statement was proposed in 2004. This supplement was designed to reinforce the strong values and principles of the original and to oppose the blatant ideological intimidation and indoctrination happening on campuses around the country. This supplement is known as the Academic Bill of Rights. It is also very short. I also strongly suggest you read it. As one can imagine, the modern and enlightened AAUP was not happy with this new addition. Their primary argument against it is that it expresses “distrust of faculty capacity to make such judgments” on what is considered to be indoctrination. To that we say…Yes. That is exactly correct. We no longer trust universities and professors to make proper judgments on what is indoctrination and what is legitimate scholarship. You did that. You brought that distrust on yourselves. You did it by banning speakers, silencing voices, smothering ideas, and attacking, smearing and expelling students who dared question your highly revered beliefs. We wouldn’t even need to be having this conversation if universities had adhered to their own ethical standards in the first place.

What Academic Freedom Is Not

Academic freedom is related to, but not the same as, the right to freedom of thought and expression. There are dozens of First Amendment cases in which the courts have affirmed the social importance of academic freedom. In Keyishian v. Board of Regents (1967) the court provided one of its most ardent defenses when it wrote, “Our Nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, which is of transcendent value to all of us”. That's very strong support of academic freedom. However, the Supreme Court has never tried to enumerate academic freedom as a protected Constitutional right (as it did with the right to abortion, for example). If the Court ever did enshrine the right to academic freedom in the Constitution, it would mean that all teachers would have the Constitutionally protected right to teach ANYTHING they wanted, to ANY student, at ANY grade level. That, of course, would be patently absurd and completely destructive to society. Thankfully, our Supreme Court justices have not lost their collective minds quite to that extent yet.

Since academic freedom is not a Constitutional right, it is, therefore, not enforceable by law. Instead, the dictates of self-governance demand that the case for academic freedom be discussed and debated in the public square, and then carefully applied through the will of the People. Like all socially significant issues, there is a fine line to be walked.

In what situations should academic freedom be granted?

Who should have it?

To what degree?

Let's all agree, we do not want ideological uniformity in a free society. We want differing ideas and opinions to be freely exchanged. Therefore, the question is not whether some amount of academic freedom should exist. The question is, “How much, and where?”

Where Do We Draw the Line?

There is clear inherent social value in protecting the concept of academic freedom. It acts as a counterweight to government power and abuses in a similar way that a free press acts as a check on government power.* The Founders knew what it was like to live in a society where their very words could get them hung in the town square. A republic such as ours requires the free flow of ideas. Protecting academic freedom, however, does not mean we have to live in a viewpoint free-for-all. Every concept, even those deemed beneficial to society, has limiting principles; standards that guide us in the application of that concept. The benefits of academic freedom must be continually weighed and re-weighed against the public good.

Historically, the concept of academic freedom has only been applied to higher education (colleges and universities). There is a very good reason for this. Colleges and universities play a unique role in society; a role that makes academic freedom a valid and necessary social tool. Higher education serves as a source of new knowledge and ideas, and as an independent source of authority to that of the government. This is not the case with K-12 education. That is why academic freedom has never been extended to teachers or students in K-12 education.

We can and should have public debate on the extent to which academic freedom should be applied in colleges and universities, but K-12 is different than higher education. It doesn’t perform the same function in a society. K-12 education is where we develop children’s ability to think, analyze, and weigh ideas. It is not the place to create and experiment with new ones. We have long ago decided, as a culture, that K-12 education is the development stage. It is the stage where children require guidance. It is where they develop the intellectual maturity needed to be able to handle the wide scope of ideas that they will face in college, and in society writ large. It is not a petri dish for intellectual or social experimentation.

Using Political Power

Those who seek to use our children for their social experiments in gender ideology, neo-Marxism, and racial grievance are trying to hide behind the catch-all slogan of academic freedom. We cannot let them. Since academic freedom has never been applied to K-12 education, the burden of proof is on them to explain why it now should be.

The People have absolute authority to determine the place academic freedom has in society. Let us then use that authority to draw the line at the harming of children. Our children are not lab rats. Academic freedom has no place in K-12 education, and we must make that argument loudly, consistently, and without hesitation.

In a free republic, it is our right and duty to use political power to advance the values and principles that we wish to be upheld. If we are not going to use that power to protect children, then what will we ever use it for?



*Education Week - If Critical Race Theory Is Banned, Are Teachers Protected by the First Amendment?

American Association of University Professors - 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure

Verdict - Precisely How Much Academic Freedom Should (Does) the First Amendment Afford to Professors and Teachers at Public Schools?

KEYISHIAN v. BOARD OF REGENTS, 385 U.S. 589 (1967)

Inside Higher Ed - How K-12 Book Bans Affect Higher Education

The First Amendment Encyclopedia – entry, Academic Freedom

City Journal - Academic Freedom and Cancel Culture

National Association of Scholars - Academic Freedom and Online Education

American Federation of Teachers

Washington Post - Florida is trying to roll back a century of gains for academic freedom

Academic Bill of Rights

Academic Bill of Rights
Download PDF • 36KB

1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure

1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure (simplified)
Download PDF • 612KB


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