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An Intellectual Freedom Primer for Preservice Teachers

Recently, at the invitation of Maggie Morris Davis, director, I had the pleasure of spending several hours with preservice teachers in the Illinois State University high school English teacher education program.  I talked with the soon-to-be teachers about intellectual freedom and suggested a number of practices they should undertake as well as resources to use when they begin working as teachers.

ISU’s teacher education program’s requirements are exactly as we at NCTE would have them.

The program emphasizes a critical-literacy-practices framework valuing language arts skills for lifelong learning with these core values:
• Teaching and learning for democracy and social justice
• Respect for the diversity of learners
• Writing as a rhetorical process
• Reading as a strategic process
• Multiple perspective-taking
• Meeting student needs through differentiation
• Teaching speaking, listening, and language skills for students to become advocates

We absolutely want new teachers to take these core values with them into the classroom. BUT sometimes when they do, they find themselves facing an angry parent or principal, a disapproving colleague or community member who is not so keen on social justice, diversity, or multiple-perspective-taking as integral to English class. So teachers need to be prepared—from the very first day.

Here’s a list of FIVE musts to know or do:

  • Know your school’s policy—you can usually find this on the district website under school board policies on instruction and curriculum.
  • Let parents know how you feel about literacy—see Why Penny Kittle Won’t Censor Books.
  • Remember that books save lives.
  • Have a rationale for the text you’re teaching.  Be prepared to offer an alternative if necessary and warranted (note: IB and AP texts probably should stand as they are).
  • Note that parents can object to a text for their own student but not for everyone else’s. Take time to listen to the parent—often that’s all they want—and to assuage their fears about the power of words over their student. Help them see this as a positive.