On Academic Freedom and Pedagogy
David O. Stowell, May 1995
To the Editor:
Professor A. Daniel Frankforter's article, "Conversations in Clio's Classroom: The AHA and the Assessment of Pedagogy," in the December 1994 issue of Perspectives heightened my concern about the debate over how best to teach history. I am apparently one of the "few forthright defenders" of expository lectures, although I employ a variety of teaching methods in my classes. But my own preferences are largely beside the point.
Professor Frankforter's essay fails to place "discussions" of teaching methods within the framework of power. For example, if a majority of one's history colleagues believes strongly that lecturing should be kept at a minimum, what becomes of the faculty member who just as strongly believes that lecturing is key to his or her mission? Similarly, what becomes of faculty members who find themselves being reviewed unfavorably for promotion and tenure by university or college administrators due to fundamental disagreements over teaching methods?
In short, it is central to the continuation of our profession that all discussions of pedagogy start and end with a clear and unequivocal affirmation of the pedagogical component of academic freedom—namely, that it is the teacher's right and responsibility to freely choose whatever pedagogical approaches he or she determines to be most effective in the classroom.
David O. Stowell
Keene State College