Monday, September 21, 2015

Trigger warning: I always prefer more speech, not enforced silence

A few days ago, a tweet from the Chronicle of Higher Education included a quote:
Obama's comments included issues like this one that I have blogged about.  He added:
Anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with them. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying you can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say. That’s not the way we learn, either.
Of course, it generated constructive comments and also brought out the trolls.  Thanks to one of those comments, I looked up the paragraph in an opinion by Justice Brandeis, who was the first Jewish member of the US Supreme Court:
 To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.
That Supreme Court opinion was in 1927!  Almost 90 years ago!!!

Rest assured that this not yet another post on the maniacs who have messed up what could have been an even more enjoyable career in higher education.  This post is about how the higher education "establishment"--especially the student life bureaucracy--is leading students down the path of enforced silence, which is what Obama's comment is about.

Glenn Reynolds has more to say in the context of Obama's comments:
College isn’t supposed to be about having our prejudices reinforced. It’s supposed to be about learning how to think about ideas, and even to change one’s mind in the face of new arguments and evidence.
It’s also about learning to address ideas one doesn’t agree with. As Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” You can’t do that if you’re not willing even to hear unacceptable thoughts.
I suppose such a perspective to engage in discussion of ideas is not always welcomed.  Yet, I continue to seek that kind of an engagement, even in professional matters.  A recent email that I sent to the provost of the university, included the following lines:
 I don't see any evidence out there to convince me otherwise.  To borrow from John Maynard Keynes, I will change my opinion if the facts change.
I am not holding my breath; I know all too well that the provost will not reply.

I am really, really, tempted to include the following in the syllabi for my courses:
Trigger Warning: This course will force you to think!
Oh well!

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