Academic Freedom November 28, 2007

GLOBAL NEWS

The following article raises key issues related to academic freedom.  What is the meaning of “academic freedom” in the current, highly politicized environment in which we teach?  Can restrictions be placed upon teachers in terms of their right to speak out about political issues like the Iraq War?  Isn’t informing students about the current political environment an important part of “teaching”?  Can any subject matter really be politically or ideologically neutral? Is it possible to check politics at the classroom door?

–Suzanne Verderber      

Washington Teachers Under Fire For War Protest Participation
by Chris Daniels

Published on Wednesday, November 28, 2007 by King 5 News (Washington)

TUKWILA, Wash. – Students in Tukwila are rallying around a group of teachers in trouble with the school district for taking part in an anti-war protest.

That war protest turned into a full-fledged controversy at Foster High School in Tukwila. Should teachers have encouraged students to walk out of class to protest the war in Iraq?

The civics lesson is now under the microscope.

The Tukwila School Board is sorting out whether anyone should be punished over the issue. A Foster High School social studies teacher remains on paid administrative leave after the district says he participated with students in a walkout and protest of the war.
The students rallied outside a school board meeting Tuesday night and rallied to the defense of their teachers inside.

“Why are we being punished, why are we being silenced?” asked one student.

Roughly 125 Foster High students walked out of class earlier this month to protest the war, part of a state-wide effort. But the Tukwila School District is investigating six teachers who may have encouraged the students, including the one who marched out with the kids.

“Even though he is a teacher, he has a right too,” said another student.
The district says teachers were warned not to participate, but says this is not about politics but rather student safety.

“To us, students leaving during the middle of the day, without parent permission, can be a volatile and unsafe situation,” said Jan Lande, Tukwila School District spokesperson.

At least one parent agreed at Tuesday night’s meeting agreed.

“If I was here at the school and I left, they would have fired me. You’re here to teach!” said one parent.

No word on when the investigation will be done or if punishments will be handed down. Some of the students who walked out had notes from home; others who didn’t were given so called unexcused tardies.