Teaching and the Sunshine Law
I was checking out Erin O'Connor's weblog early this morning and have been meaning to blog about this post in which she comments on a proposed bill that would "bolster the academic freedom of professors by denying public access to books, films and other resources being used in classrooms." We have a conflict--on the one hand, a professor wants to feel like she or he can speak freely without a Big Brother's monitoring; on the other hand, the public has a right to know what is going on in public universities.
This has to be one of the more convoluted pieces of academic self-justification I've seen in a long time. Academic debate will be chilled if it is second-guessed? Debate is second-guessing. Allowing the public to see what's taught at public colleges and universities threatens the civil liberties of professors? Only if you think professors have the right never to be questioned. Syllabi should be treated as sensitive information? Only if the professor has something--perhaps lack of seriousness or lack of competence--to hide. The above quotes are the rationalizations of professors who don't want to be criticized, who don't believe John Q. Public is qualified to criticize them, and who don't want to acknowledge either their snobbery or their thin skin.
Anyone who knows me should guess right away the extent to which I agree with this. I really believe in a sunshine policy when it comes to education. That's why I write about my teaching on a public weblog, and why I upload my syllabi to my public Web space--it's not guarded by usernames, passwords, and a secure connection. Sure, teachers feel exposed, but that feeling is temporary. I think that any criticism I get will improve my teaching, which is O'Connor's point too. But at the same time, I can see that this is a debate not only about teaching technique, expectations of students, and types of assignments, but ideology, politics, and "indoctrination." With the current political climate and right-wing-majority in office, I suspect that feminist- and Marxist-influenced pedagogies would come under fire more so than pedagogies influenced by colonialism and capitalism. Still, though, I am persuaded by the sunshine policy; I haven't heard a strong enough argument against it.