George Will’s column on the weenie rules instituted by several colleges attempting to police offensive thought and behavior has lit up the comments on the Post Opinions page. Will argues that colleges should be the last places on Earth where some ideas are forbidden, and it is antithetical to education to try to ban speech that makes other people uncomfortable. He cites a case in Indiana where a student was officially reprimanded for carrying a book with a picture of Ku Klux Klansmen on the cover, even though the book was anti-Klan. Banning any hints of racism, sexism and other isms, Will contends, essentially make it impossible to discuss racism, sexism, etc. PostScript is delighted, and a little surprised, to find herself thoroughly in George Will’s corner here, with the offensive.
So were many commenters. handofjustice1 says authorities should follow the “sticks and stones” rule:
There’s no right not to be offended. When the racist jerk yelling epithets at you begins to throw pine cones or snowballs at you, then you have something actionable.
Cindii says the system will always be flawed because it will always be run by flawed people. Maybe there should be some checks and balances?
Excellent read, Mr. Will. Within the system (including education), our freedoms to learn, read and speak are dictated by those in charge of the institutions, who judge what is and is not acceptable within the confines of their own, biased, minds.
Some argued that censorship is an especially bad thing for education, because of the opportunities for teachable moments.
The answer to those acts and other dastardly ones is not to prohibit that speech but to broadcast what those people did so they can feel the full weight of public disapproval. I also support the right of Nazis and KKK member to march wherever and whenever they want. We cannot ban ideas or speech simply because a community is horrified or thinks that something is unacceptable. Defeat bad ideas and hateful speech by persuading a majority that the ideas are bad and the speech is indeed hateful. Otherwise, you may find your speech banned one day by those who think your ideas are bad and your speech is hateful. It is, to me, pretty simple.
Life is offensive. People always will be “offended” by someone’s opinions, views, likes/dislikes, etc. Instead of teaching people how to deal with reality and how to counter someone else’s opinions intelligently, with solid arguments and convincing reason, academia is teaching society that ideas found “offensive” ought to be shouted down and drowned.
murray1665 is sympathetic to the school administrators who create the rules curtailing free speech:
It is the responsibility of school administrators to walk the fine line between protecting the rights of students to exchange ideas and ensuring a safe environment where all students feel able to express those views. This is no easy task in this day and age considering our incredibly diverse population and the thousands of self-proclaimed whistle blowers/reporters/bloggers who are just waiting to pounce on a “big” story. I will not be one to pass judgment on Will’s examples, as I was not present for any of those incidents, but I do understand the difficulty these school leaders face on a daily basis. They will never satisfy everyone, but even if that book 100 cases of this, it still is a tiny percentage of the exchanges that occur daily on college campuses.
Centsorsense remembers back when things got really offensive:
People used to set trash cans on fire, then roll them down the stairs for fun. Now kids get in trouble for reading books? I guess that is what happens when kids are less violent . . .?
guyslp agrees with Will about the listed cases, but not his broader conclusions:
I doubt a single reader, myself included, could support those “enforcers” in the specific situations cited. They were wrong, it’s that easy.
Go take a look at the student/university newspapers and their stories on these incidents. After that, get back to us decrying the death of free speech.
PostScript too wishes she could find more specific information about some of these cases. What does it mean that a student is charged with and convicted of “racial harassment” by a school administrator? The case in question, with the Klan rally on the cover of a book, seems to have been reversed after a surge of media attention from the group Will cites, and they note his school record was cleared.
With time and media attention, this case seems to have been corrected. PostScript would even venture to say this is exactly how bad ideas should die, in opinion columns and in comments sections and in reinforced special free-speech offending bunkers. Aw look, you guys, a teachable moment.