On Academic Freedom and Student Discussion

News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  Wednesday, November 17, 2016

Educators have a moral responsibility, in a democratic society, to discuss the issues of the day with their students. Without this fundamental right, teachers will be subject to outside political pressure to limit the discussion of the key, sometimes controversial, issues that shape the lives of their students and the community. For that reason, the CFT applauds the Mountain View School District’s decision to return Mr. Frank Navarro, a high school teacher and a recognized expert on the Holocaust, to the classroom, following controversy over an important and legitimate classroom discussion.

Just as important as ensuring academic freedom is the essential responsibility of individual educators and the school community to create an environment where students are free to share ideas – as long those ideas do not lead to the harassment of or adverse actions toward any student population.

The foundation of a democratic society is its educational system. When educators feel pressure to curtail their lessons based on changing political, legislative or legal winds, as a society we take a step toward totalitarianism.

We would do well to remember the statement of German Pastor Martin Niemoller, who, based on his experience in Germany in the 1930s, warned,

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.


The California Federation of Teachers represents more than 100,000 faculty and school employees in public and private schools and colleges, from early childhood through higher education. It is the statewide affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. More info: www.cft.org.