Stop Shielding High-Schoolers From Sensitive Speech
Shaina Chen, New York Post
“We should build the wall,” suggests a classmate.
The rest of the class falls silent. We’re having a class debate on race in politics, and I freeze, thinking: How should I respond? I’m at a loss for words, choosing instead to exchange a nervous glance with a friend. From the corner of my eye, I see others do the same.
My high school is a liberal place. Colorful “We Love Dreamers” signs are proudly taped on classroom windows. The Gay-Straight Alliance club members offer cupcakes and unicorn onesies on Club Advertising Day.
It’s the most racially diverse school in the district, and as an Asian-American never have I felt out of place because of my race.
The same holds true for my hometown, which is located right next to San Francisco, a city famous for its Pride Week and sanctuary-city status. So while this classmate’s statement might be considered mundane in large swaths of America, it clashes with the views of the majority at my school.
The brrriiingggg!! of the bell pierces the awkward silence. Hands snatch backpacks, feet scramble out the door. Instantly, whispers bounce off the hallway. I catch a few phrases: “Trump supporter,” “Nasty,” “I’ll never speak to him again.”
It was then that I realized something. For a school that boasts an open-minded and free-thinking attitude, we’re actually the opposite. While students embrace diversity, we’ve become so focused on supporting certain beliefs that we’ve forgotten the value of another kind of diversity: a diversity of opinion.
Such diversity comes from free speech. And free speech is important, even — or, perhaps, especially — in high school, because it makes people uncomfortable. Discomfort sparks discussion and promotes an acceptance of the existence of different opinions.
Even in this single incident, a change occurred. There was discomfort in the hallway, but I noticed it was also the first time people continued a debate after class was over. In fact, this single statement led to weeks of discussion on race and the right degree of government involvement in race-related issues.
Photo: John Snape via Wikimedia Commons