Don’t ask, don’t tell in philosophy class

A philosophy instructor is sueing for the right to tell his students he’s a “Catholic Christian philosopher and theologian.” James Tuttle argues that discussing how his faith has shaped his thinking is relevant to class discussions on moral philosophy. When a student complained, Lakeland Community College cut Tuttle’s teaching hours, denied his seniority rights, assigned him to classes he didn’t want to teach and threatened to fire him.

Tuttle warned students in the syllabi for two of his classes that he’s a “committed Catholic Christian philosopher and theologian,” notes FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), which is backing the professor.

The statement also encouraged any students who felt uncomfortable with Dr. Tuttle’s views or methods to feel free to talk to him about it outside of class.

“Dr. Tuttle made sure his students knew about his philosophical perspective even before they started his class, while, at the same time, making it clear that he wanted to engage every student. Such a policy of honesty and full disclosure should be encouraged, not punished,” commented FIRE’s David French.

. . . Since faculty members often disclose their political, ideological or philosophical beliefs without being punished, the suit points out that Lakeland has “arbitrarily singled out faculty’s speech on the topic of religion.”

Students usually prefer instructors who are up front about their beliefs.

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  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    And I am sure administration is clueless as to why their action is being questioned.

  2. wait a minute:

    we have biology teachers, physics teachers, other teachers espousing their political beliefs in classes where politics is at the very best marginally related to the topics covered (and I would argue, NOT related), and they are free to waste all the class time with that that they want, and here we have someone teaching philosophy who wants to inform his class of his religious beliefs – and I would argue that religion and how you view philosophy are intimately intertwined and will have a big impact on each other – and he’s not permitted to even give the disclaimer on his freakin’ SYLLABUS?

    something is very wrong here.

  3. ack, didn’t read carefully.

    He’s not being punished for stating his beliefs on the syllabus, but discussing them in class.

    I would still argue that discussing religion in a philosophy class (and discussing how the two interact or in some cases may conflict) is a very useful topic. (Far more useful than, say, giving an anti-Bush spiel in a chemistry class).

    If they let the leftists use the classroom as a soapbox for issues unrelated to what they’re teaching, the least they can do is let Mr. (Dr.?) Tuttle let his class know how his faith informs and affects his study and understanding of philosophy. (I think that would actually make a fascinating class discussion).

  4. Remember the old saying — philosophy is the handmaid of theology. For the better part of 15 centuries, philosophy was used to support the theological underpinnings of the Christian faith.

  5. Joe in NM says:

    I see this is at the community college level, not elementary school.

    So this is an adult, speaking with other adults, in a voluntary classroom situation.

    And not someone slyly molding the impressionable minds of captive youth, who are involuntarially attending a K-12 class.

    I think the instructor will easily win the suit: quashing his 1st amendment speech and free exercise rights is not something done lightly, and the court probably won’t want to attempt to dictate the pedagogy of the class.

    Plus, the college might be required to show that it constrains all instructors with different viewpoints in a similar way.

    The offended adult student could take a similar class from a different instructor, duh.

    Or (s)he could actually study the class content and debate the instructor at his level. Isn’t that what this kind of class is about?

  6. Steve LaBonne says:

    This is what comes of conceding that college-age students have the right to be “comfortable” at all times. That’s the antithesis of education.

  7. Well, my “Diversity” (Ed. Dept. of Big 10 U.) class has no such warning. Maybe you can figure out which way the wind is blowing in my class.
    Required Reading:
    “Savage Inequalities” Kozol
    “Funny Boy: a Novel” (Homosexuality in Sri Lanka)
    “Gender Tales: Tensions in the Schools” Kleinfield and Yerian
    “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work”
    “Light in Their Eyes” Nieto
    Required in-class viewing:
    “Bowling for Columbine” Moore
    “Failing at Fairness” ? NBC Dateline

  8. Bob Diethrich says:

    As a former middle school and current high school teacher I am very careful about injecting my political, religious and philosophical views into the curriculum.

    When I give my opinion I make a gesture of taking a hat off of my head, and the kids no that my “teacher hat” is off and what follows is my opinion.

    Apparently I am good at this because when teaching sixth grade during the 2000 election fiasco my kids COULD NOT accurately guess who I voted for.

    Unfortunately at my school many teachers on the other side feel it is their duty to inject anti-Bush and anti-war screeds into their classes, as was mentioned above.

  9. should be “know” not “no” in the above post. Sorry. only one cup of coffee this morning.

  10. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I don’t expect teachers to be neutered, I just want them to make a stab at objectivity.

  11. Eric Holcombe says:

    Meezer – Michael Moore as part of any ‘education’ curriculum – that’s too funny.

  12. Moore could play an important role in education:

    “Your Body (picture of normal person)
    Your Body On Twinkies (picture of Moore)”

  13. Heck, I think this sort of disclaimer ought to be required on a syllabus! I was browsing the bios of the English faculty at a college my daughter is considering. Most of them listed their academic interests as things like Slave Narratives, 18th Century Poetry and the like. One assistant prof listed “queer theory.” Trust me, if she goes there, she will NOT be taking his classes.

  14. interested observer says:

    In the future all teachers, by law, will be politically, ideologically, philosophically, morally, and sexually neutered before being allowed into a classroom. They will have to speak without inflection, joy or sadness. They will be trained to keep their faces expressionless while presenting the “facts” to their students – not being able, of course, to point out that those “facts” might be from an utterly predjudiced source.

    However, when challenged by parents as to why they aren’t educating their children or making education realistic, fun, or enlightening, they will be able to reply, “Just doing my job and providing an wonderful example to your children how they should do theirs.”

    School boards and administrators need to stand up for some common sense in education. Either people will teach people or we will have to turn it over to the computers. I wonder if stuff like this is why Charter schools are becoming so popular.

  15. I am currently discussing “Bowling for Columbine” with my year 11 English class. We are looking at the text as a film, as a presentation of an issue and as a critical thinking exercise. We are looking at the merit of Moore’s arguments and style and at the opposition to the film and the point of view and arguments of those who oppose it. My aim is to get the class thinking and talking about things they have never talked or thought about before. We are looking at the discussion on this board and I hope some of the class will register and comment publicly.