I don’t like dealing in political/social issues, so I may not even leave this one up. However this one deal with freedom of speech, and the class Lindsay was teaching, dealt with communication, aka Speech and Writing… so in some ways, it applies here…
If you’re here for Geek culture or writing advice, you may want to skip this post.
As a former educator myself… there are certain trends occurring right now that I find extremely troubling. Through the media, we’ve all seen a lot of contention of the issues of freedom of speech, expression, etc.
All of this calls into question a fairly basic philosophy of learning. This is especially true for educators.
First of all, let’s ask ourselves this fundamental question: What do you go to college for? What is the purpose of education? Are you attending school to learn how to think critically and come to a conclusion on your own, or are you there to be taught what to think. In other words, are you there to have someone feed the right perspective and thought to you? In short, are you there to learn what to think or how to think? This may seem like a fairly nuanced difference, but it comes with fairly severe implications.
In my own studies and teaching philosophies, I adopted a philosophy that it’s only through comparing ideas and allowing them to do battle that we can identify the right ideas from the wrong ones.
This unfortunately isn’t as easy as one might think. To accomplish this, we are given the daunting task of having to consider all ideas; whether we agree with them or not. We do this because without the ideas that we may not agree with, or even vehemently oppose, we cannot expect our existing ideas to be adequately challenged. This is why Lindsay was absolutely correct when she said in her interview panel that in a University environment, all points of view are valid.
Of course I understand that said ideal can be a bit of a challenge and a lot to ask of people. I myself have failed at it from time to time. That said, if a person’s feelings are a casualty in a battle of ideas, then it falls to that person to strength them. They must possess the mental maturity to understand that other people have different world views and must be able to accept those views even if they do not agree with them. It does not fall to others to soften winning viewpoints, truth, or even just concepts that they may not necessarily agree with.
All of this is a complete contrast of being taught what to think. In this case, one simply has the ‘correct ideas’ fed to them, requiring a person to accept them without any real critical thought. When you do this, you are not accepting ideas because they are the victor in a battle of morality or overall truth, but because someone in a position of power or authority told you which ideas were the right ones to hold, regardless of context or justification.
Again, the difference of the overall question may seem nuanced, but the consequences of adopting either are quite striking in their difference.
The first one will usually produce an one-minded, intellectually diverse person, capable of critical thought and possessing and open mind.
The other produces a one-dimensional mind trained exclusively in the art of regurgitating what it’s been told, often reacting harshly, if not violently to opposing viewpoints.
Unfortunately, it seems this latter philosophy is quickly becoming the predominant one at centers of higher learning in western nations. The critical value of ‘question everything’ has long been lost to the sands of time in some cases.
The consequences of this irresponsible behavior and teaching ideology are on full display to the public at places like Mizzou, Evergreen State, and… more recently Wilfrid Laurier University. It was here that a communication’s TA named Lindsey Shepherd was attempting to launch a discussion on language use, specifically dealing with preferred pronouns, and the conflict of addressing people as they wish to be addressed when pinned against the rights of others who didn’t want to be forced to use a certain verbiage that they didn’t agree with.
If someone wants to be called a woman, should you be forced to call them as such? What if someone wanted to be recognized as one of the letters in the LGBTQ+ acronym? This is a debate that virtually everyone in the western world should be familiar with. It’s one If you wanted to examine that debate and be able to launch a critical discussion around it, then the proper course of action is to put both perspectives on display. In the case of Shepherd, to use snippets from someone who uses those unique pronouns and also use some from someone who is against compelled speech. This was what she attempted to do when she showed a brief, 3-5 minute clip from Professor Jordan Peterson’s debate on public television in Ontario Canada,
In short, Peterson argued for what he viewed as a breach of freedom of speech, forcing him and others to use words they do not want to.
I’m including a link to the video here for context:
In the later interview, Lindsey claims that she presented both sides neutrally and encouraged her students to think critically about each side and decide for themselves who’s right. She did what I stated above and put both ideas onto the field of battle and it was up to the students to determine the victor, based on their own reasoning and values. However, she landed herself in hot water by refusing to take sides.
The problem is that doing something like this will get you in trouble with a University that has lost touch with the mission and purpose of that type of institution. The end result for Ms. Shepherd was censure due to the complaints of ‘one or more students’ and she was summoned for a meeting with the communications dept. professors and someone with… rather lengthy title at the euphemistically named diversity office.
Lindsay, very smartly in my perspective, secretly recorded the exchange… which then made its way to the internet and the dialogue is as cringe-worthy and… I’ll even go so far as to say Orwellian as it could possibly be… (See below.)
They tell Lindsay that certain ideas or certain perspectives and arguments are never to be entertained, because at minimum they create a ‘toxic environment’ for certain students. At worst, they are equivalent to violence or threats and thus may violate Canadian law. (They don’t, by the way. This has been completely vetted by the media.)
Keeping in mind, they aren’t talking about physical threats, just arguments and the way the world exists. To these people, whether or not anyone was actually targeted is material at best, at worst is completely irrelevant. Put in the most simple terms, the point at which an individual’s discomfort starts, is where critical examination must cease.
According to Ms. Shepherd, she presented the material neutrally, and invited the students to debate the merits. However the faculty seem to believe that she has the responsibility to tell students which views are right and which are not, and they’re willing to take this to the point of comparing Jordan Peterson to Hitler.
Goodwin’s Law violation aside… Yes, you should present speeches from Hitler for analysis if that is in context with what you are attempting to teach.
In college, took several classes dealing with socio-political issues. Yes, I read Mien Kampf, I read the Communist Manifesto, the Quran, two different iterations of the Bible, and many other works responsible for human suffering on a monumental scale. In many cases, they weren’t all easy to get through, but I read them to decide for myself what I think of the content.
Entertaining an idea is not the same thing as endorsing it. The grand irony of this whole thing is that Lindsay Shepherd doesn’t even agree with Jordan Peterson, yet the recording she took… pretty much proves that a lot of the concerns he expressed might actually be valid ones.
In closing, if you work as a teacher or school admin and the latter approach mentioned above is the one you believe in, then I would say that terms ‘School’, ‘College’, or ‘University’ might not be the best title for your institution.
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