Saturday, November 14, 2015

FREE SPEECH AND EDUCATION

The ruckus at the University of Missouri, now spreading to other campuses turns a bright light on the issue of free speech versus political correctness.

I am no fan of political correctness. I am a devotee of freedom of speech.

That said, I will doubtlessly draw a host of disagreement with this blog.

What I want to say here is simply this: an educational institution should have the mission of educating its students. Educating – from the Latin e duco, means leading out. Specifically, it means leading the students out of the darkness of ignorance into the bright light of knowledge.

It means teaching. It means training. Education is more than simply transmitting knowledge. It involves instilling discipline, developing habits of thought, or action, and yes, of speech.

Americans have the constitutionally protected right of free speech. They do not have a constitutionally protected right to attend any particular institution of higher education.

There is nothing in the law to prevent a college or University from imposing discipline on its students, It can require them to wear uniforms. It can require them to sing the school alma mater, recite the pledge of allegiance, memorize the Gettysburg Address or the ten commandments.

A college or University may require its students to address its faculty with respect, refrain from cursing, dressing inappropriately, and yes, engaging in politically incorrect discourse.

There is no reason why a college or University could not ban the use of George Carlin’s ten words you can’t say on television anywhere on campus, and no reason why it cannot ban racial slurs by its students or faculty.

It short, there is nothing in the Constitution of the United States which forbids an institution of higher education from purveying the full measure of  higher education, such that its graduates will not only know things like history, literature, science and psychology, but will be trained to speak and act and think like a truly mature, cultured and civilized human being.

All of which is not to say that colleges and Universities are required to be operated like finishing schools. Indeed, most public Universities are committed to a kind of open ended freedom of thought and expression which is based upon the relativist notion that there is no such thing as absolute truth, and right or wrong are entirely personal opinions that each student is expected to divine for him or her self before receiving a diploma.

Given that kind of a mission statement, it is difficult for the academic administration to impose, retroactively or selectively, specific restrictions on speech or conduct.

Especially so when the ban is imposed at the request of an objecting minority.

Example: A college declines to ban a showing of The Vagina Monologues based on the objection of evangelical Christian students to its libertine message, but is then asked to ban the same movie by transvestites who take personal offense at its content.

Unhappily, much of the discord on college campuses has political overtones. It is not really about free speech so much as it is about who is in charge. 

Experience tells us that radical political change is often incubated on college campuses. Certainly campuses were the battlegrounds of dissent and protest during the Viet Nam War. College students like to chant in unison. They do it at football and basketball games and they do it on the lawn in front of the President or the Chancellor’s house.

There is a certain bravado that comes with solidarity. And solidarity is easier to achieve when condemning a person than when cheering for an idea.

How many “discussions” of issues on the Internet quickly dissolve into name calling. Young people who have not been imbued with a sense of propriety are especially quick to resort to ad hominem argument.

And let’s face it, “I respectfully disagree with your major premise” is not as much fun to say as “Yo Mama wears soldier boots.”  
  


  

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