Tuesday, July 18, 2017

No Such Thing As A Free Speech

"Knowledge Is Good." - Emil Faber
The words of "Pencil King" ring in my head as I read an article that suggests that a majority of Republicans believe colleges are bad for the United States. An interesting assertion, since there is a lot of debate about what the first university on these shores was, but they all came about just after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. So what's wrong with our institutes of higher learning? Free speech. Or, in this case, the lack thereof. A few years back, most Republicans had a favorable view of universities. The shift comes amid several high-profile controversies over freedom of speech on campuses across the country, including protests earlier this year at the University of California, Berkeley after scheduled appearances by conservative commentators Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos were canceled. Conservative critics have said these incidents are silencing opposing ideas, while some people who disagree with inviting polarizing figures to campus say the safety concerns in these cases outweigh the importance of free speech.
Lately, a lot has been made of how comics like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin wouldn't feel welcome on college campuses as they once were because of the over-arching cascade of political correctness. You can't say this and you shouldn't say that. The seven words you can't say on television would have to evolve into the catalog of terms that are no longer acceptable for use and could be considered Hate Speech.
When I think about the way my own speech has evolved, and the ways I have been corrected, it hasn't been political. It has been personal. I would never be confused with the boundary busting mouths of Bruce or Carlin, but I have always found it fascinating to see what words we choose to give power, and how those words can take power away. I don't expect that I would keep my job in the Oakland Unified School District if I didn't have a sense of just how to go about using my words. It is my job to help build minds, not tear them down. There are plenty of words that can do that. Explaining to five and six year olds why words they have heard their older brothers and sisters throw around aren't the ones they should be cavorting with on the playground. 
I really do wish that Milo Yiannopoulos could show up in any college auditorium and let fly with whatever was on his tiny mind. It would be a test of the learning that had gone on for all those years prior. Do any of those words apply to me? Do I want to take them along with me into my life after school? Maybe by making them secret and prohibited, we make them more exciting. There really isn't anything that mystical about Hate Speech. You can pretty much tell what it is just by looking at it on the page. Or listening to it as long as you have the stomach for it. 
But someone has to help young folks figure out how to recognize it.
That's where I come in. 
I'm a teacher.

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