Daring students to express their views Featured

 

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.
Voltaire

As I start a new term teaching journalism, this quote has played repeatedly through my mind. For me, it epitomizes what journalism and education, at their very foundation, are about: the right to free, full self-expression—including the right to offend. Why? Because whatever is seriously interesting usually offends somebody at some point. It's the ideas that jar us which stimulate discussion.

Over the last year, the world has become highly charged due to the usual suspects: politics and religion. While many talking heads encourage us to avoid offending each other, hoping to quiet any disquiet, this is simply impossible. And unreasonable. What makes (and enlivens) a democracy is the ability to express (contrary) ideas fully. Without the right to think, question and doubt, our minds would remain complacent and our ideas, stale.

Look at comedians—they are offensive and rightfully so, challenging our perceptions of the world, which is a terribly big, complicated place. Many scientists and doctors have also explored areas once considered offensive and saved millions of lives with the knowledge we've gained. I want my students to exercise the same right to explore and question what they think no longer applies. And I want them to defend their classmate's right to actively contradict them.

Does this generation have strong, critical minds, though? I think so, though not everyone agrees with me. Writer Brendan O'Neill of the Spectator, wrote last year how "students are cushioning themselves from anything that has the whiff of controversy....This is a disaster, for it means our universities are becoming breeding grounds of dogmatism. As John Stuart Mill said, if we don't allow our opinion to be 'fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed', then that opinion will be 'held as a dead dogma, not a living truth'."

I agree with him and hope to engage my students in a healthy debate about the state of the world because they need to learn how to question and exercise their minds. 

Last modified onTuesday, 08 September 2015 08:34

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