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Academic Freedom

You have the right to choose how you learn

Academic freedom, or the right to control one’s education, is an important aspect of the rights students have at school. It includes the right to access resources, to choose our own courses and teachers, and to consent to methods of assessment and evaluation. It also includes the right to decide what is important to learn, and to choose the best-suited environment for learning. Academic freedom is also about our freedom of thought and the right to determine for ourselves what gets to take up space in our minds. Unfortunately, most schools deny this right to young people. In fact, most students are treated as if we are too lazy to control our own learning and that our interests are trivial. We are cajoled, threatened, and punished into learning in ways determined by others rather than ourselves.

 

 

Student choice improves learning

Academic freedom is advocated and practiced in various learning environments including democratic schools, Montessori schools, a small number of public schools, and in certain forms of homeschooling. There is also a great deal of research that shows the many benefits of allowing young people control their own education. In fact, most of us know that we learn best when we are allowed to follow our curiosity and passion and choose to learn a subject because we want to – not because someone else thinks we should. Even when we are very young, we are capable of directing the nature and pace of our own learning as shown by how we learn to walk, talk, interpret our environment, and build relationships.

When we are denied the right to have a say in our education, we are hindered from learning how to take control in our lives. We submit our intellectual lives to the power of another person. This not only violates our rights, but puts us at risk of losing our ability to question and to think for ourselves.

Influencing curriculum in public schools

Most public schools limit the amount of control that students have over the curriculum. This happens at the state level where course requirements dictate what courses are required, but also by school boards and the administration of individual schools that may restrict the curriculum even further.

However, some students have been able to encourage their schools to switch to more a student-centered approach or by successfully submitting proposals for independent projects.

Students are also able to opt out of certain aspects of their required courses. For example, many states have laws allowing public school students to opt out of animal dissections, and some don’t even require parental permission to do so. A few other states allow students to opt out of a wider range of activities for religious or ethical reasons. Students have organized protests against changes in the curriculum made by their school board or the removal of elective courses without their consent.

School choice

Within the public school system, students can sometimes decide which school they wish to attend. This is known as “open enrollment,” which takes two forms: intradistrict or interdistrict, the latter allowing students to attend school outside of their district. States that require public schools to allow open enrollment between districts (interdistrict enrollment) include Arizona, Delaware, Florida, and Idaho. Although interdistrict open enrollment is mandatory in some states, there are usually circumstances in which schools can refuse to accept students (too many students, for example). Additionally, many states have voluntary intradistrict or interdistrict enrollment, meaning that schools can decide whether to allow open enrollment in their school. There are also states, such as California and Indiana, whose laws involve both mandatory and voluntary enrollment within and between districts. In California, it is mandatory to allow open enrollment participation for students who attend schools with low performance records.

School choice within the public school system allows students to take control of their education and decide how they want to spend the formative years of their lives. Although not every student can take advantage of alternative education environments like homeschooling, public school choice allows some young people to make decisions about which school to attend.

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