Igniting debate as to whether political correctness hinders freedom of speech, the pupil claimed he was punished for voicing an opinion that there were only two genders, while his teacher argued his views were at odds with educational policy and promoting inclusivity.
We have reached a conflicting time in society; when teenagers demand greater acceptance, dignity and responsibility for those who may not fit the framework that we, as adults, have grown up with and it can be confusing for us all. However, it is essential that we create opportunities to listen to opinions, and that we are all prepared to guide, to support and help to reframe. Schools should, of course, be centres of curiosity and drivers of debate but it is important that students learn not to confuse freedom of speech with the right to be rude and we as staff, ensure that we are not blinkered and also open to shifting perceptions.
Freedom of speech should not be guaranteed if it undermines the human rights of another. Intolerance should surely never be tolerated. We know that hate can incite violence and that words have the strength to wound or inspire. In a world where powers of communication reach an all-time high, students must acknowledge that with power comes responsibility. We do not exist as autonomous beings and our actions have consequences for those around us.
There is a valuable lesson in learning that we are only entitled to do and say as we please, so long as we are not invading the freedom of others; equally, that we are not restricting the freedom of thought and opinion. It is essential that we empower students to understand that supporting limits to free speech does not mean promoting censorship and can create an opportunity for us all. However, good manners and respect for each other should be the fundamental position we work from, in the words of the Dalai Lama; “Compassion is a necessity and not a luxury, and without it, humanity cannot survive.”
Mrs Natasha Dangerfield
(Westonbirt Senior School Headmistress)