With the presidential election just a month away, The Vanguard thought it appropriate to address the topic of debate and freedom of speech in our school. How do we learn and form educated opinions? How do we share and test our views through debate while also remaining open to new ideas? And finally, how do we do all of the above while remaining respectful and rejecting language that aggressively targets certain individuals based on gender, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability?
Our formula for proper approach to political issues is as follows: inquiry before advocacy. Following these steps in proper order provides a respectful way for us to engage in discussions about difficult topics.
In his speech to the incoming freshman class, Yale President Peter Salovey stressed the importance of inquiry, finding the key facts on all sides of an issue before forming opinions. He noted, “All of us are strongly predisposed to accept accounts that align with the opinions we already hold and to ignore or dismiss those that do not.”
The Vanguard believes that the best way to counteract our biases is by reading up on the issues that matter to us and focusing on the arguments for beliefs we disagree with. Before choosing a candidate, it’s good to know both their policies and those of their opponents. And it’s good to know why they support their policies and what the alternatives are. What President Salovey says about Yale is also true of our school: “A major part of your education is for you to become a more careful and critical thinker.” Those skills apply when you’re analyzing a poem as well as when you’re picking a candidate.
A recent Boston Globe editorial about the University of Chicago addresses the step after inquiry in the development of political opinions: discussion. The editorial argues, “The proper response when hearing opinions you oppose is to debate them—or better still, consider them.”
The University of Chicago refuses to issue “trigger warnings” and wants their students to have their opinions challenged and occasionally to feel “uncomfortable.” The Vanguard thinks it is possible to engage in impassioned debate while still demonstrating respect for one’s opponent and not employing hate speech. By advocating the views we have developed over time based on information we have analyzed, we can test them, find their flaws, and learn from the opinions of others.
The country will be tense in this month leading up to the elections. Let’s make our school a haven of respectful and intellectual debate, a place to learn and grow rather than fight.