two pre-Internet quotes provide an excellent example of the vision and the reality
of academic freedom in schools:
Our nation is
deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, which is of transcendent
value to all of us and not merely the teachers concerned. That freedom is
therefore a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not allow laws
that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom. ... The classroom is particularly
a 'marketplace of ideas.' The Nation's future depends upon leaders trained
through wide exposure to that robust exchange of ideas which discovers truth
out of a multitude of tongues, [rather] that through any kind of authoritative
The effort to
pull ideology out of schools is evident in battles over history textbooks.
... (M)ost students read carefully censored books. The pursuit of 'neutrality'
often leads to censorship. The American Textbook Publishers Institute has
counseled publishers 'to avoid statements that might prove offensive to economic,
religious, racial or social groups or any civil, fraternal, patriotic, or
philanthropic societies in the whole United States.' Textbook manufacturers
appear to have responded in some cases by deleting materials reflecting cultural
differences that might have offended someone. Interest group pressures from
diverse ideological camps have resulted in the deletion of materials that
would undercut the perception of an American monopoly on decency, as variously
defined. Business interests have occasionally intervened in textbook selection
to remove materials considered hostile to the "American system."
American policy is sanitized. Books rarely report questionable government
... Perhaps the
most striking feature of history textbooks is that they minimize the role
of dissent in our history. Government decisions that appear decent or beneficial
are often portrayed without any of the political controversy that created
Most states and districts have established careful processes to determine
what information is provided to students. This process also frequently acts
in such a way as to limit exposure to controversial viewpoints or subjects.
When the Internet becomes a primary source of information, students will be
exposed to a much wider range of information and ideas. Some of this material
will prove to be offensive to economic, religious, racial, social groups,
civil, fraternal, patriotic, and/or philanthropic societies in the U.S. Some
of this material may challenge the U.S. monopoly on "decency" or
correctness, as variously defined. Some materials may directly challenge or
raise questions about the appropriateness of the actions of the U.S. corporations
or the U.S. government.
When teachers use
the Internet with their students, decisions about the appropriateness of certain
materials are no longer under the control of school textbook publishers or school
textbook selection committees. The teacher bears the primary responsibility
for the selection of materials and the teacher will bear the primary responsibility
of assisting students in evaluating and analyzing the material. It is quite
easy to anticipate that the use of the Internet in the classroom will provide
a vehicle to expose students to a wide range of perspectives that have not traditionally
been accessible in the classroom. And controversy will be inevitable.
are going to be better prepared to be effective citizens in today's complicated
world. Those who receive carefully sanitized information or those who, under
the guidance of effective teachers, are exposed to a wide range of information
and develop the skills to ascertain the truthfulness of information, distinguish
fact from opinion, and engage in discussions about controversial issues while
demonstrating tolerance and respect for those who hold divergent views?
The changes in
education that will be brought about because of the expanded access to controversial
information made possible by the Internet will be significant. Clearly, the
best way to avoid unnecessary controversy is to place a high priority on providing
professional development opportunities for teachers to prepare them to handle
this new learning environment. Districts that fail to provide for adequate teacher
preparation will be the ones that face the greatest difficulties.
If we expect schools to be able to prepare students "for active participation
in the pluralistic, often contentious society" we could ask for no better
source of materials to accomplish this than those found on the Internet. Although
there may be some unsettling terrain to negotiate in the future, access to the
Internet will indeed provide our students, our future citizens, with "wide
exposure to that robust exchange of ideas" and, as a result, education
will undergo profound change.