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EDUCATOR INTERVIEWS

Associate Professor of Sociology

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Ilana Redstone

Associate Professor, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 

What is your favorite book on topics related to education, freedom of thought, and freedom of speech? 

 

It’s not exactly on those topics, but I’m a big fan of A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell. 

 

 

What is your favorite quote on the topics of freedom of speech and thought in education?  

 

I don’t know if it’s a “favorite quote," but it has stuck with me. I recently heard Richard Easterly on a podcast where he said (he was talking about problems with foreign aid, but the point applies more broadly). It’s not exactly on free speech but, to me, it falls under the same broad umbrella.

 

“...I think human wellbeing is not only about material development. Human beings worldwide have very similar aspirations for having their own human rights respected, their political and economic rights respected, to have the dignity of self-determination.”

 

Transcript linked here.

 

 

Why did you become an educator?

 

My initial primary interest in going into academia was doing research. And teaching was just part of the job. It was years later, as my work shifted towards what I do now, that I really came to feel that the teaching component is at least as important, if not more. 

 

 

What does freedom of thought and expression mean to you?

 

These are core principles that allow us to communicate with one another and to solve problems. They’re also slippery to pin down in the sense that almost everyone will say they’re important, but people vary widely in the how many asterisks they put alongside as exceptions. When the list of what’s permissible is largely constrained to positions, opinions, and questions that are consistent with a singular ideology, we have a serious problem. 

 

 

How do you promote freedom of thought and expression in your teaching?

 

Students can be taught to think broadly on sensitive and controversial issues by asking questions. Lots and lots of questions. For instance, Is X the only possible explanation for Y? Is there consensus on claim Z? This is an approach that can be used with a wide range of difficult topics. 

 

What, in your view, is the most pressing issue in K-12 education that needs public attention?

 

Most concerning is that the following have come to, too frequently, characterize the education system: a substitution of theory for truth, moral certainty, and binary thinking. School should be a place where a wide range of theories and perspectives are introduced and discussed while being placed on equal moral footing.

 

 

What can parents, teachers, students, and concerned citizens do to improve K-12 education in their community?

 

There are ways to engage on these topics that aren’t aggressive or combative—ways that come from a place of shared concern about solving important problems. I recommend that people start there. I work with groups and organizations on this. 

Associate Professor of Sociology

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William Reusch

Educator and Co-Moderator of Heterodox Academy's K-12 Education Community

What is your favorite book on topics related to education, freedom of thought, and freedom of speech? 

 

My favorite books that help me in this area would be Jon Haidt's The Righteous Mind and The Coddling of the American Mind.

 

 

What is your favorite quote on the topics of freedom of speech and thought in education?  

 

"I don't like that man. I must get to know him better"- Abraham Lincoln

 

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion... Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them...he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.” - John Stuart Mill

 

 

Why did you become an educator?

 

I became a classroom teacher because I felt that learning and being capable were not just admirable, but "cool"... yet school was not enjoyable or cool at all.  That didn't make sense to me. I thought I could connect the two.

 

 

What does freedom of thought and expression mean to you?

 

The freedom to express yourself means that we can find the best ideas to advance as a society and species. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and I believe bad speech is defeated by more and better speech.

 

 

How do you promote freedom of thought and expression in your teaching?

 

My classroom is a place where we work together to recognize patterns and reveal the best ideas. Genuine curiosity must be rewarded. Bad ideas will be met with grace and intellectual reasoning to be defeated. Excessive shame for being mistaken and willful ignorance are not welcome.  

 

 

What, in your view, is the most pressing issue in K-12 education that needs public attention?

 

K-12 education needs to embrace critical thinking. Curiosity must never be punished. We also must focus on these and other skills, which will be the vehicle to drive the good ideas.

 

 

What can parents, teachers, students, and concerned citizens do to improve K-12 education in their community? 

 

Get involved. Compulsory school is wonderful but not perfect. If parents do not take an active role in their child's education, then they will not receive a good one. Schools need to be communal. When individuals have buy-in, the results improve.

Associate Professor of Sociology

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J.D. Uebler

Educator of Humanities and Financial Literacy, Culver Academies

What is your favorite book on topics related to education, freedom of thought, and freedom of speech? 

 

How to Educate a Citizen: The Power of Shared Knowledge to Unify a Nation by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.

 

Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do by Daniel Willingham

 

A Time to Build by Yuval Levin

 

A colleague also feeds me a lot of Danielle Allen, whom I enjoy reading.

 

 

What is your favorite quote on the topics of freedom of speech and thought in education?  

 

I enjoy school law, so related to this topic, here is a favorite quote from SCOTUS Tinker vs. Des Moines: students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

 

 

Why did you become an educator?

 

My mother was a teacher, and I was influenced by her constant curiosity of the world around her and her care for students both inside and outside of the classroom.

 

 

What does freedom of thought and expression mean to you? 

 

I’ve always been influenced by Aristotelian philosophy, so I see these acts represent a bridge to the healthy discourse of a society and to a virtuous citizenry.

 

How do you promote freedom of thought and expression in your teaching?

 

In short, I try to remain a learner, which includes surrounding myself with resources and people who may think differently and who may maintain different political views. I leverage those experiences to make every attempt to provide students with a range of resources (ones that I may not have come across had it not been for a different viewpoint that I encountered) that provide information and thinking on the polarity of a given topic. Students are put in positions during discussions and in their writing to lend credence to varying viewpoints before offering an additional point or a contrasting one. Hopefully, these behaviors challenge students to listen and to challenge their own echo chambers.  

 

 

What, in your view, is the most pressing issue in K-12 education that needs public attention?

The arms race for college admissions, pressure to deliver test scores, and/or poor school leadership that results in the strangling of curiosity, of love learning, and the shelter from failure.

 

 

What can parents, teachers, students, and concerned citizens do to improve K-12 education in their community? 

 

All things reading: create a community of readers from adults to small children. Make it cool to read.