Sunday, June 10, 2012

Education, Criticism, and Free Speech Collide in Canadian High School

It's reasonable to conclude that education and freedom of expression (both intricately linked) are in serious trouble when a senior education professional in Canada can state the following:

“We absolutely support students’ rights to express their beliefs, but we absolutely support students’ rights to not have their own beliefs unreasonably criticized.”

The statement from school Superintendent Nancy Pynch-Worthylake was made to explain why she was supporting the decision of a Novia Scotia high school to demand that one of its Year 12 students stop wearing to school a T-Shirt containing the statement, “Life is wasted without Jesus.”

It is a sad day when an educational establishment cannot use such a provocative item of clothing to engender discussion among its students on the important issues of belief, free speech and mutual tolerance. Protecting children from having to deal with these challenging themes is an anti-educational act, in my opinion. And suggesting that not having one's beliefs criticised is in any sense a "right" is just a step too far in an arena in which freedom of ideas and words should be encouraged to flourish.

As Keith Porteous Wood, of the National Secular Society UK says:

“Freedom of expression should be used responsibly, yet some people only regard as 'responsible' that which they don’t regard as offensive or insulting. Freedom only to say only what others find acceptable is no freedom at all."

The t-shirt wearing teen was eventually upheld in his right to wear the controversial item.

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