Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Freedom of Speech and the importance of civil discourse in public schools

In 1644, the notable English author, John Milton, appealed  to Parliament for the liberty of free speech in 1644 when he said, "Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties."  As a United States citizen, my freedom of speech is  protected by the First Amendment. The United States Department of Education recently clearly clarified that Freedom of Speech is to be protected in our schools while protecting and promoting the safety of students.
Protecting free speech means protecting the ability of your students, faculty, staff, and members of the public to hold and express views that may be at odds with your institution’s strongly held values. Schools should not ignore the dissonance that this creates, but should instead consciously use these moments as opportunities for reflection, discussion, and increased understanding.
Free Speech is integral to our democracy and to civil discourse. I am comforted that our early American leaders were in favor of free speech. George Washington in 1783 when speaking to his army officers said that without the freedom of speech "we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter."  Likewise, Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Edward Carrington suggested that he would prefer to be without government  rather than without free speech.

When discussing the importance of free speech, it is also important to promote civil discourse. Teachers must ensure the physical and psychological safety of all their students at all times, but especially during class discussions.  Teaching Tolerance provides useful FREE materials to teachers to help teach civil discourse.  These materials have won  two Oscars, an Emmy, and numerous publishing awards due to the excellence of the materials through the support of the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

Follow the links below to these free materials to help promote free speech with civil discourse in your classroom.

Civil Discourse in the Classroom
Additional Classroom Resources

Suzanne M. Rogers, M.Ed
I am an AP English teacher, ELA Coach, and a PD facilitator.
I have taught in private, public, and public open-enrollment charter schools.

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