Academic Freedom

While scanning some old editorials and opinion pieces at The Star, I came across one that I missed, by Jse-Che Lam. Basically, Lam laments that a showing of the movie Jenin, Jenin at a Toronto school was mired in controversy. Here’s a paragraph that caught my attention:


“We, along with the rest of the Western world, know that ignorance has the power to destroy us. Canadians take it for granted that their access to knowledge, the arts and culture are all opportunities that exist independently of bloodlines or political allegiances.”

Well.. we shouldn’t take that for granted, especially in Ontario, where our educators seem to be bent on providing one-sided “knowledge.”

I’m a Libertarian. I make no bones about it. Part of Libertarianism is the belief in total freedom of speech. I may not like what you say, but I’ll defend your right to say it. Some may even find what you have to say as inflammatory, insulting, or even untruthful. I think you still have a right to say it.

Insults and inflammatory statements are only insulting or inflammatory in the mind of the reader or listener. A good course on semantics and projection is in order for those who easily ‘feel’ insulted.

Truth is another matter though. And admittedly, it is a tough one. For as much as I think you may have a right to freedom of speech, I also believe:

1. You are responsible for what you say. If you have lied, and those lies have caused another harm, you are responsible for their losses.

2. You are responsible for what you choose to believe. If you choose to believe a thing based on someone’s reputation or simply because you like the sounds of what they say, you’re responsible for your own losses that you incur for believing something, and not doing your own due diligence to seek more evidence that could support or weaken another’s statement.

To that end, I have to admit I “believe” very little. I do have my own beliefs, but I have very few “strong beliefs” about events, the way things “are,” and even what scientists propose to us as being facts. The preponderance of evidence at one point in time compared to other points in time, on any given subject, change.

What’s this got to do with Lam’s column in the Toronto Star? Well, if you’ve read it already, you’d know that Lam’s lamentations are about the controversy of the showing of a one sided movie that purports to prove Israeli acts of brutality against Palestinians.

Lam seems to think that this controversy virges on suppressing academic freedom. She also bemoans the lack of discussion that arises when such controversies occur.

I think she’s acting like an Anti-Semite. For if Lam was truly interested in Academic freedom and discussion, she would be quick to ensure that all sides of a discussion are represented. And quite frankly, there is enough evidence around to indicate that what the producers of Jenin, Jenin are trying to show are outright lies. Even the United Nations found no evidence after their investigation of the allegations made against Israel of any brutality.

I really have no idea what happened at Jenin. I wasn’t there. And even if I were, I’d only be able to report to you what I saw. I’d not be able to factually tell you about all the events that I didn’t see. You would of course be able to listen to what others have to say – and that’s where academic freedom comes into this discussion.

Academic freedom does not include teaching children or adults one-sided stories of any event or belief. That is in fact, academic slavery.

Academic freedom is providing materials of equal weight on both sides of an issue to your audience. Not doing so will obviously and expectedly create a controversy. But to our mostly left wing public school teaching society in Ontario, this is of course overlooked. And then we end up with folks like Lam who have no idea of how to discern truth, and instead of discerning truth on the basis of the evidence presented, seem to prefer to discern truth based on the logical fallacy of exclusion.

But of course in Ontario, Academic Freedom seems to mean being able to teach your kids whatever left wingers want to teach, using tools such as a movie that relies heavily on the Fallacy of Appeal To Pity. Naturally, in such an enviroment, Academic Freedom doesn’t seem to require the teaching of logic or the recognition of logical fallacies. “Let’s just show the kids anything – even if it’s filled with fallacies. The more pity we can get them to feel, the better for our debate and discussions afterward.”

Perhaps this explains why Lam suggests teachers have a tough job when they need to remind students “not to overindulge in CNN’s excessive coverage of destruction.”

Except when it’s controversial and quite possibly, lies and filled with logical appeals to pity. That’s Academic Freedom, of course.

Would Lam prefer students watch movies that are primarily aimed at provoking emotion? If so, Lam would be far better off as a critic of the advertising business than a critic or commentator on education.

5 thoughts on “Academic Freedom”

  1. She’s actually my english teacher, and her articles do posess logic. Youcan always look at an article from both ways, it takes a strong intellectual mind to accept both sides.

  2. Nicole, no strength is required whatsover to consider something from ‘both sides’. All that is merely required are thinking skills. That’s not strength. What it often DOES require is the ability and/or willingness to separate emotion from logic. I’d also suggest some study in logical fallacies, with all due respect. As well, a so called “open discussion” is not very likely to occur after the presentation of only one side of a story, without all the evidences that are available that dispute that side of the story. Pray tell how this could REAL open discussion could ensue after such an event where only one side is presented?

  3. Another couple of questions for you, Nicole. Put on your thinking cap! 🙂 Should Academic Freedom include teaching that the earth is flat, according to the ideas of the Flat Earth Society, without providing the evidences for a spherical earth? Should Academic Fredom including the ‘Open Discussion’ on the holocaust, with the suggestion that 6,000,000 Jews died is an exagerated figure, without providing equal time to those who believe in the 6,000,000 figure? Perhaps you might want to ask Ms Lam about this and ask her if these issues should be included in Academic Freedom, if they were taught or some presentation was made in support of a flat earth or less than 6 million jews killed, without equal time being given to the evidences that suggest otherwise. I’d be curious as to Ms Lam’s response to you!

  4. For someone who is preaching talking about both sides, you don’t seem to be doing a good job. It is quite interesting becuase of all of my teachers, (and I actually commented on this to one of my fellow classmates a few days ago), she is the only one that makes you think about things from both sides. Here she’ll be asking you a question about how you feel about a certain topic. Hands shoot up, and everyone answers, say for example, strongly defending it. Next thing you know, she throws a point that makes you see a complete different picture. There is a difference between teaching things that have been proven to be false, and looking at contrevericial ideas from both sides. Maybe the article is baised, well no, it is. Of course, it is her opinion. Still, I beg to differ that looking an idea from both sides, an idea that has no right/wrong answer, and teaching students something that has been proven false (such as the comment about teaching students about the earth being flat) is more than slightly different. Then again, I also believe in freedom of speech and you are entlitled to your opinion. Just as she is and just as I am.

  5. You’re missing the point entirely. Freedom of Speech and being entitled to one’s opinion are prinicples I deeply cherish. However, all opinions come from past experience of knowledge. If that knowledge that has been gained is one sided, then it is quite likely the opinion may be wrong. Academic Freedom in education includes the expectation of both sides of an opinion being taught, with both sides being given equal time. The flat earth society was an extreme example. How about your opinion on the Holocaust example I provided?

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