Where Do We Draw the Line? - National Council of Teachers of English
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Where Do We Draw the Line?

The line between intellectual freedom and censorship is sometimes a fine one. Especially in schools.

Certainly, we are all free to hold our beliefs. But, it’s quite possible that what we believe cannot be part of the school curriculum.


Take two recent state bills concerning the teaching of science in the schools: one in South Dakota and one in Oklahoma.  NCTE signed on letters standing against passage of both of these bills.

In South Dakota, Senate Bill 55, entitled “An Act to Protect the Teaching of Certain Scientific Information,”  targeted the teaching of evolution and climate change. The description of the bill reads innocuously enough: “No teacher may be prohibited from helping students understand, analyze, critique, or review in an objective scientific manner the strengths and weaknesses of scientific information presented in courses being taught which are aligned with the content standards established pursuant to § 13-3-48.” However, its intent is that counter-arguments to climate change theory and evolution could be presented on equal footing with the teachings on those topics outlined in the state’s science standards.  The House Education Committee defeated this bill.

In Oklahoma, SB. 393,  titled the “Oklahoma Science Education Act,” calls for “providing for the creation of a school environment that encourages the exploration of scientific theories; allowing teachers to help students analyze certain scientific strengths and weaknesses; prohibiting the promotion of religious or non-religious beliefs; providing for certain notification…” This bill has not yet moved.

In both cases, the bills claim to protect academic freedom and each does represent the presentation of different points of view. But, in schools we rely on more than points of view in our teaching. As a National Coalition Against Censorship article notes:

“Academic freedom is a vital pillar of both our education system and our democracy. However it does not entitle teachers to reject the professional standards governing education. Students and teachers must have freedom of inquiry and the freedom to scrutinize scientific, historical, and literary writings. But this freedom does not permit teachers to say whatever they would like in the classroom or promote what educators and experts consider to be misleading, incomplete or false information. Rather than protecting free inquiry, the bill would simply allow teachers to deviate from approved curricula, at the expense of high quality education.”