NEA affiliate rejects freedom proposal

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LOS ANGELES — The college affiliate of the National Education Association yesterday unanimously rejected a proposal to expand its policy on academic and professional freedom to protect “intellectual pluralism and the free exchange of ideas” in the nation’s classrooms.

Randy Jackson, a delegate to the NEA convention now under way, appeared before the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) summer meeting to defend his proposal, which was attacked roundly as part of a conservative agenda.

“There are no secret agendas here. Divergency [of views] in the classroom is being stifled. More and more, what we can say in the classroom is being restricted,” said Mr. Jackson, a high school English teacher from Kennewick, Wash.

Teachers have a responsibility “to instruct students how to think, not to indoctrinate,” he said. “All this is trying to do is to open this up and to prevent restriction” of the academic freedom of students as well as teachers.

But Tom Oxter, president of a Florida higher-education group that led the fight before the Florida Legislature against a similar campaign for a student academic bill of rights there, denounced the proposal as “really just the beginning of a witch hunt” by conservatives.

Mr. Oxter said, “What we need to do is have a clear-cut victory here” against such proposals, which are being pushed throughout the country by David Horowitz, head of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture.

Ron Weatherford, the NEA’s liaison to the higher-education council, invited Mr. Jackson to defend his proposal at the NCHE meeting.

However, Mr. Weatherford is marshaling opposition to proposals that the NEA commit itself to recommending that teachers act “to ensure the academic freedom of students.”

Mr. Jackson has introduced his proposal for floor consideration by all 9,000 delegates to the NEA’s convention here. The vote tomorrow is expected to be overwhelmingly negative.

The resolution states: “In order to guarantee that democratic principles are conveyed to the next generation, academic freedom in the classroom should be included in teachers’ instructional guidelines. It is important that teachers welcome intellectual pluralism and the free exchange of ideas by providing an unprejudiced learning environment.”

The resolution also states: “The association does not condone the indoctrination of students through intimidation, unfair grading practices, withholding of information, or by any other means.”

A delegate from Massachusetts said she saw Mr. Jackson’s proposal as “a wedge” that would open the door for “students telling us what we can teach.”

Another delegate said he preferred a resolution with an expletive directed at Mr. Horowitz.

Lawrence Sand, an eighth-grade history teacher at Webster Middle School in the Los Angeles school district, said he helped write the proposal and could not understand the vehement opposition at the meeting.

“I don’t understand what everyone is so afraid of,” he said. “This is to ensure that students are not indoctrinated or browbeaten.”

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