The threatened suspension of a Montgomery County high school teacher for assigning two classics not approved by school administrators has added another element to a more general debate in the county over the freedom an individual teacher should have in developing course materials.
Candidates for the county school board and current members of the board said yesterday that the case of Cyril Lang, an English teacher at Charles W. Woodward High School in Rockville, who faces suspension for having assigned Aristotle's "Poetics" and Machiavelli's "The Prince" is not a simple issue of academic freedom but one of curriculum and insubordination.
In the school board races that will be settled on Tuesday, the six candidates seeking three board seats have argued the merits of countywide uniform exams being pilot-tested this year that aim to make sure students master basic subjects.
The countywide exam is part of the controversial senior high policy passed last February by the board's conservative majority, which was sought to impose more uniform standards on the system.
Members of the school board would not discuss the specifics of the Lang case on the grounds that they will rule on it at a meeting in about two months. cBut those candidates who were willing to discuss the issue in general terms divided along liberal and conservative lines.
The conservatives argued that for theuniform countywide exams to work, teachers must adhere to the curriculum approved by the school board. For teachers such as Lang to introduce other materials would detract from the time students could spend mastering the requirments.
Liberals, on the other hand, feel the countywide exams are not necessary and the curriculum should be flexible. According to this argument, individual teachers should be encouraged to experiment with new material.
"We need to make certain teachers have flexibility, including books, materials, and ideas which will stretch the ability and understanding of their students," said Blair G. Ewing, a liberal member of the school board who is running for re-election.
Marilyn J. Praisner, who is running with Ewing on a liberal slate, said that "with the standardized tests, it could be very difficult for the teachers to go beyond the curriculum and teach other materials. It wouldn't allow the creativity for going beyond."
For Elizabeth W. Spencer, a school board member, the question in a case such as Lang's is not academic freedom, but the school board's authority in determining curriculum.
"The issue is insubordination and not academic freedom," said Spencer. "We have a countywide adopted curriculum for the 22 high schools. We have the responsibility for having the same kind of education available to every child . . . Schools are no longer little kingdoms."
"I believe in academic freedom, but does academic freedom at the high school level mean you can teach anything you want? Or are there a variety of ways to teach the curriculum?" asked Carol F. Wallace, a conservative elected to the board two years ago.
One school board candidate, Suzanne K. Peyser, a part-time English teacher at Albert Einstein High School, said she has asked her students to do exactly what Lang did.
"I have asked them to read more challenging, difficult words, to give oral reports to class, required the class to take notes and used the information in conjunction with the other class material.
"I think it would be appropriate to do that," she said.