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NCTE Principles for Intellectual Freedom in Education

Approved by the NCTE Executive Committee
February 2014

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. Denial or restriction of this right is an infringement of intellectual freedom. Toward this end, NCTE encourages school communities to generate, implement, and follow policies and procedures for defending intellectual freedom at the classroom, institution, and system/campus levels to limit and/or address attacks on free expression.

Challenges to free expression have not slowed in recent years and are rapidly extending beyond books to include other forms of media. Educators' decisions to include film and other pop culture artifacts, Internet resources and materials, and various forms of social media in their instruction are increasingly met with resistance from those who view these materials as offensive or inappropriate. Inclusion of attention to these technologies in policies and procedures for defending free expression is both timely and necessary in preserving the freedom to access information in multiple forms.

In these new assessment-driven and technological and social contexts, free expression in the classroom depends increasingly on an explicit, committed defense of this essential right.  Attempts to standardize curricula to accommodate mandated testing, we fear, will position teachers as mere delivery systems for prepackaged curricula produced by publishers and testing services, rather than as trained professionals whose judgment should be relied upon in determining appropriate texts and assignments for students in their courses and classrooms. This trend can already be seen in both online "model lessons" and published lesson plans that use exemplar texts as their base. These exemplars comprise a limited sample of texts that are supposed to be appropriate at each grade level; they do not represent the breadth and depth of texts that students should and could be reading.

This statement provides support for educators creating policies and procedures for the defense of free expression in the classroom and articulates guiding principles that are grounded in a commitment to agency, fairness, and the inclusion of multiple viewpoints. The principles outlined below are informed by the following assumptions: educators possess and draw from their knowledge and professionalism in selecting and defending the materials they bring to the classroom; fairness is demonstrated by a willingness to engage in open conversation with all stakeholders; and the inclusion of potentially differing perspectives in the policymaking process increases the likelihood of consensus and shared commitment among these stakeholders.

Principles

The following principles support the inclusion of agency, fairness, and multiple perspectives in the process of defending intellectual freedom in education:

  • The preservation of intellectual freedom in education depends upon the fostering of democratic values in the classroom, critical thinking stances and practices among teachers and students, open inquiry methods and access to information, and the exploration of multiple points of view.
  • As trained professionals, educators are qualified to select appropriate classroom materials and resources from a variety of sources given their teaching goals and the needs and interests of the students they serve.
  • Professional educators, drawing upon their training and content knowledge, should play an integral role in the curriculum design process at the district and school levels.
  • Educational communities should prepare for challenges to intellectual freedom with clearly defined policies and procedures that guide the review of classroom materials and resources called into question. In the creation and enactment of these policies and procedures, educators' knowledge and expertise should be solicited as integral, valuable, and necessary.

 

 
This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.

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