Wednesday, January 29

Academic Freedom is no Basis for Pedagogical Malpractice


By Steve Joordens

This article makes a case for professors undergoing formal training in education, just as doctors undergo formal training in medicine.  The factors allowing a lack of training to be the norm are discussed, as is the manner in which the concept of academic freedom is sometimes used to maintain this state of affairs.  

An exploration of the origins of academic freedom reveals it was never intended to support untrained practice.  Graduate schools, thus, should expose students to educational foundations in the same way medical schools expose doctors to medical foundations.

The main points discussed in this article are:

  • Imagine if doctors were allowed to practice medicine without formal training, and that one basis of this was a concept called “medical freedom.”
  • This concept would hold that doctors should not be constrained by how they practice medicine, and would include the freedom to avoid any formal training as training might inhibit innovative practices.
  • Clearly this would never work in medicine—cases of medical malpractice would be widespread.  For this reason, society insists that doctors undergo significant medical training before being given the power to practice medicine with some independence.
  • The notion of performing medicine without training seems silly, but a parallel situation is the norm when it comes to teaching within institutions of higher education.  The vast majority of professors have no foundational training in education, and their institutions do not insist on such training because professors must enjoy the “academic freedom” to teach as they like.
  • A deeper consideration of academic freedom reveals that it was never intended to be a mechanism that supports untrained practice.  In fact, within the research context in which it was born, there is an established tradition of learning the foundation skills of research before one is given the freedom to use those skills as they like.
  • Thus, the argument is that we should view teaching as we view medicine—including even the research component of many professors’ jobs.  That is, we should train would-be professors in the foundation skills of education to as part of their graduate training, before the concept of academic freedom is in play. 

In most developed countries a large proportion of taxes goes towards providing quality health care and education to citizens.  This article will focus on the practice of providing education to students, and how it differs from the practice of providing health care to patients.  At its core it will pose a simple question; should these two fields of practice differ to the extent they do?

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