Blog Post: Freedom and the Colleges

Linda Elder
Jul 07, 2021 • 72d ago
Freedom and the Colleges

{"ops":[{"insert":"In the past decade or more, in the United States, there has been increasing movement toward political correctness in the classroom and a trampling of freedom of speech. In a powerfully written article originally published in May 1940, Bertrand Russell addresses the concept of academic freedom and discusses it’s important to education. The basic argument Russell makes in this article is relevant to a rich conception of education, and is still largely ignored in education across the board.\n\nRussell says:\n\nThe essence of academic freedom is that teachers should be chosen for their expertise in the subjects they are to teach and that the judges of this expertness should be other experts… University teachers are supposed to be men with special knowledge and special training such as should fit them to approach controversial questions in a manner peculiarly likely to throw light upon them. To decree that they are to be silent upon controversial issues is to deprive the community of the benefit which it might derive from their training in impartiality…"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"Over a wide field criticism is permitted, but where it is felt to be really dangerous, some form of punishment is apt to befall its author."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"The principle of liberal democracy, which inspired the founders of the American Constitution, was that controversial questions should be decided by argument rather than by force. Liberals have always held that opinions should be formed by untrammeled debate, not by allowing only one side to be heard… the fundamental difference between the liberal and the illiberal outlook is that the former regards all questions as open to discussion and all opinions as open to a greater or less measure of doubt, while the latter holds in advance that certain opinions are absolutely unquestionable, and that no argument against them must be allowed to be heard."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"A man or woman who is to hold a teaching post under the state should not be required to express majority opinions, though naturally a majority of teachers will do so. Uniformity in the opinions expressed by teachers is not only not to be sought but is, if possible, to be avoided, since diversity of opinion among preceptors is essential to any sound education. No man can pass as educated who had heard only one side on questions as to which the public is divided. One of the most important things to teach in the educational establishment of a democracy is the power of weighing arguments, and the open mind which is prepared in advance to accept whichever side appears the more reasonable. As soon as censorship is imposed upon the opinions which teachers may avow, education ceases to serve this purpose and tends to produce, instead of a nation of men, a heard of fanatical bigots… all those who oppose free discussion and who seek to impose a censorship upon the opinions to which the young are to be exposed are doing their share in increasing this bigotry…"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"There are certain matters on which common action is necessary; as to these, the common action should be decided by the majority. There are other matters on which a common decision is neither necessary nor desirable. These matters include the sphere of opinion. Since there is a natural tendency for those who have power to exercise it to the utmost, it is a necessary safeguard against tyranny that there should be institutions and organize bodies which possess, either in practice or in theory, a certain limited independence of the state."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"Collective wisdom, alas, is no adequate substitute for the intelligence of individuals. Individuals who opposed received opinions have been the source of all progress, both moral and intellectual… Let it be remembered that what is at stake, in the greatest issues as well as in those that seem smaller, is the freedom of the individual human spirit to express its beliefs and hopes for mankind, whether they be shared by many or by few or by none. New hopes, new beliefs, and new thoughts are at all times necessary to mankind, and it is not out of a dead uniformity that they can be expected to arise."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\n\nExcerpts taken from the article "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Freedom and the Colleges"},{"insert":" which can be found in the book "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Why I Am Not a Christian "},{"insert":"by Bertrand Russell (1957). NY: Simon and Schuster (pp. 179-192).\n"}]}

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{"ops":[{"insert":"I highly recommend Stanley Fish's book \"Save the World on Your Own Time.\" So what is it that institutions of higher learning are supposed to do? My answer is simple. College and university teachers can (legitimately) do two things: (1) introduce students to bodies of knowledge and traditions of inquiry that had not previously been part of their experience; and (2) equip those same students with the analytical skills—of argument, statistical modeling, laboratory procedure—that will enable them to move confidently within those traditions and to engage in independent research after a course is over.\n\nFish, Stanley. Save the World on Your Own Time (pp. 12-13). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition. \n"}]}