On Academic Freedom

One of the issues I’ve seen raised in recent months, and one that I expect will become more common as we move into the “post-COVID” era of education is academic freedom. Specifically, I refer to the argument by faculty that they have the “right” to teach in any manner they see fit and that any imposed strategies are somehow violate this right. A with all wicked problems, this one is difficult to resolve, but here are a few of my thoughts on how we might benefit our students and out schools.

First, faculty must stop equating their education with “the correct” education. While your experiences may have been very meaningful for you, that is not evidence they will be meaningful for everyone. This is especially problematic when faculty base their current teaching on their last academic courses or their latest professional training. The audience for these courses, including members’ prior knowledge along with their motivation, make the methods appropriate for them much different from the methods appropriate for novice students in the field. The message to faculty is clear, “your most recent learning experiences were designed for your unique needs, your students deserve the same.”

Second, faculty must recognize they are not a good at teaching as they think they are. This one is hard to hear for many, but it is true. The best faculty I have encountered over my 33 years as an educator and dozens of years as a student are those who see every group as a chance to learn more about teaching. The message to faculty is clear, “you have been successful in the past, but that means nothing to the current group.”

Third, administrators must stop adopting the latest fad as the pedagogical panacea that vendors and the consulting industry hold up. It should be clear my now these don’t work… rather they do work for the small subpopulation or niche curriculum for which they were designed. They will not work for all purposes. Stop. Just stop. Spend you time and resources at understanding the variety of human skills and the variety of strategies that can be educative.

Fourth, accept the advice of education experts. Teaching is just like any other field of human knowledge. There is a rich “folk knowledge” and there is a rich “evidence-based knowledge.” Learning science (the field that translates cognitive science into proven classroom practices. Find the experts on teaching and learning in your school and collaborate with them. They will appreciate the opportunity to learn about your field and your practice and you will find nonjudgmental advice on how to improve your effectiveness and efficiency.