This week we are thrilled to launch our newly reimagined school magazine, simply titled Friends. Among the editorial innovations readers will discover is an opening Query, in which we have posed a compelling question and invited members of the community to weigh in. Their thoughtful (and thought-provoking) responses, excerpted below, represent a wide range of viewpoints and are meant to be just the beginning of the conversation. We invite you to read more and then share your thoughts on the Query using the "Submit Comment" form below. Here, again, is the Query:
How can schools simultaneously foster safe spaces and freedom of expression?
Kaitlin Toner Raimi '02, assistant professor of at the Ford School of Public Policy: "I teach at a public policy school, so it's incredibly important that my students engage with the full range of perspectives on controversial topics that they will face after graduation. But it's not easy: In many classes, the students don't come in with a great deal of diversity of political views. And, as my own research has shown, both liberals and conservatives are really skilled at ignoring information that doesn't fit their own worldview (what psychologists call 'motivated reasoning.') ...More
Deloris Jones, Friends Middle School social studies teacher since 1983: "It would be superb if teaching at a Quaker institution made this question moot. Those unfamiliar with Quaker education may imagine peace and tranquility govern our campuses, and we all wear gray garb Earth Shoes. Perhaps they believe, as my own parents and siblings suppose, that I teach in a stronghold of liberalism, where alternative viewpoints wither and die, and people always talk using library voices...More
J.H. Verkerke '77, professor of law and director of the Program for Employment and Labor Law Studies at the University of Virginia School of Law: "You might expect me as a law professor, to emphasize how legal rules determine the limits of free expression. Instead, I hope to persuade you that the law -- and even university policies -- should play merely a peripheral role in establishing the conditions for a productive exchange of ideas. To be sure, various sources of law prohibit falsely defamatory statements, protect individual privacy, and outlaw discriminations, threats, and harassment...More
Jennifer Kneebone '13, admission counselor at Earlham College: "There seems to be a misconception lately that creating a safe learning environment will hinder a free discourse of ideas, because it requires that some voices will be stifled or censored. I would argue that the opposite is true: There can only be open and dynamic academic discussions in environments were all participants feel safe...More
Molly Smith '82, Friends Upper School History Department chair: "I think this may be the biggest challenge we face today in our classrooms. Tackling discussion topics that invite a range of opinions, many of which are deeply held and intensely personal, can feel like a minefield. I can recall times when we set down the road of a difficult conversation in class, got to the point where it was messy and unsettled, only to have the bell ring...More
Elijah Muhammad '12, teacher in Baltimore City Schools through Teach for America: "It has been very helpful watching the debate surrounding safe spaces on high school and college campuses evolve. Some take 'safe spaces' to mean 'repressing speech,' leading to the hotly debated term "snowflake culture." This is bemusing, as creating learning environments where debates don't devolve into insults is hardly repressing speech...More
What are your thoughts? Be a part of The Thinking Cap's online discussion group. Weigh in on something you've read or add a new insight in the Comment section below.