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Fireworks and Freedom

A version of this blog ran in July 2015.

On this July 4th, I’m reminded most of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

There’s more than something to be said for encountering, studying, and thinking about ideas with which we don’t agree, and I’ve always thought that something to be education. But, as many challenges to text and curricula (NCTE has handled over 60 since July 2017) make evident, some people don’t agree.

In fact, public schools and teachers K–12 are bound to offer their students controversial material even if they don’t agree with it. Because, you see, looking at all sides of an issue and being able to express widely varied opinions are basic democratic principles. As the National Coalition Against Censorship’s resource guide on the First Amendment and Schools notes,

Not surprisingly, universal access to free public education has long been viewed as an essential to realize our democratic ideals. According to the Supreme Court in Keyishian v. Board of Education, 1967:

The classroom is peculiarly the “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] than through any kind of authoritative selection.”

The NCTE Position Statement on Academic Freedom points out,

All students have the right to materials and educational experiences that promote open inquiry, critical thinking, diversity in thought and expression, and respect for others.

This is our goal as teachers.