In the United Nations' "Universal
Declaration of Human Rights" adopted in 1948, intellectual freedom is summarized as follows.
"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this
right includes freedom to hold opinions with-out interference and to
seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and
regardless of frontiers." You'd expect those who value
"Intellectual Freedom" (theme #30), and see it as a basic
human right, would also respect "Valuing Human Rights" (theme
#32). But not so fast!
Besides this free inquiry aspect, there is another, equally important
part to this theme: intellectual curiosity.
Intellectual curiosity involves the desire to use one's intellectual
and reasoning abilities in investigating, exploring, learning, and
extending one's conceptual framework.
This attempt to make sense of
the world begins in early childhood with recognizing patterns,
similarities & differences, and building concepts.
Related concepts make up conceptual schemes, many of which fit
together into a framework. Parts
of this intellectual structure may get torn down, rebuilt, and refined
over many years—perhaps over a lifetime devoted to learning! Children are naturally curious. One wonders why so relatively few of them grow up and
become intellectually curious adults who value learning? In this regard we consider four things that dampen
curiosity and hinder learning.
First, educational systems—that
discourage children's questions (their wondering "what if?")
and nix open-ended, hands-on, discovery type inquiry in favor of
curricula structured around narrow objectives and related tests—dampen
curiosity and creative thinking. Where
student performance on standardized tests given by the state is
critically important with respect to student advancement, school
funding, and perhaps even teacher compensation, teachers may "teach
to the test" and ignore everything else.
Many once eager to learn students grow up taking courses that are
a) heavy on memorization of facts or performing rote tasks without
b) lacking breadth and relevance, and c) do not teach critical
thinking skills. Teachers
and administrators are not solely to blame: eventually students learn to
narrowly focus on what they'll be tested on.
Many teachers of high school or college age students try to
enrich courses but become discouraged by students who repeatedly ask,
"Will this be on the test?"
Sadly, many college students' top priority is getting credit for
courses, maintaining good grades, getting a degree and a job—instead
of learning and intellectual exploration!
Second, along with too narrowly focusing on aspects within the cognitive learning domain, schools tend to ignore
the affective domain, which relates to emotions associated with learning
which stress intellectual
basics— reading, writing, and arithmetic—may do little to
students' emotional intelligence (Figure #18c).
This refers to the ability to 1) be aware of one's own emotions, 2) control those
emotions, 3) sense, comprehend, and respond to other people's emotions,
and 4) help another's emotions develop in the context of a relationship.
Some feel that EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) is as
important as IQ in predicting a student's future success.
If emotions interfere, one's mind is not free to learn!
Third, what students learn in churches or from religiously
dogmatic parents sometimes destroys their motivation to fully explore
aspects of biology, geology, and astronomy that involve evolution.
In some schools, evolution is simply not taught in high school
biology classes given administrators' desires to avoid controversy and
placate religious fundamentalist (see
theme #9A) parents. Sadly,
nearly 400 years after Galileo got into trouble with Church authorities
for teaching the Earth orbits the Sun, in some places religious
orthodoxy is still an obstacle to free inquiry!
Rather than being obstacles, parents can aid their children's
full pursuit of intellectual freedom.
D. Moran describes it, "Adults can encourage creativity by
emphasizing the generation and expression of ideas in a non-evaluative
framework and by concentrating on both divergent and convergent
thinking." (See Figures #30a and #30b.)
He adds they "can also try to ensure that children have the
opportunity and confidence to take risks, challenge assumptions, and see
things in a new way."
Fourth, there may be financial impediments to learning.
As students transition from high school to college, what
education and access to information costs becomes an obstacle for many. Between 1998—2008 tuition at American public universities
increased an average of 4.2% / yr (in
constant dollars, adjusted for inflation, according to College Board).
Where once outright grants benefited poorer students, today those who do
survive and graduate find themselves saddled with massive loans to pay
back. Along with tuition,
textbook and professional journal subscription costs have similarly
While those living in democratic societies and valuing
intellectual freedom lament the existence of these four obstacles to
intellectual pursuits, similar people living under authoritarian regimes
(see theme #20B) have an even more troubling concern: censorship!
This involves restricting
communication and access to information by altering, deleting, or
suppressing it—typically for
political or moral reasons. Censorship
seems oddly out of place, given that the Information Age is about making
increasing quantities of information more easily accessible.
But if having too little information is a problem in
authoritarian parts of the world, elsewhere, too much information can be
a problem. It can produce a clutter that prevents people from picking
out what's important! In this regard, students can benefit from values
articulation exercises and websites like project
Types of Thinking
Thinking / Creative Problem Solving