WE VALUE CHILDREN AS UNIQUE INDIVIDUALS WITH THEIR OWN PURPOSE
In our Spring newsletter we shared with you the opportunity for Year 12 pupils to enter our Bishop Bewick Essay Writing Competition.
There was a 500 word word limit with the essay prompt ‘Why is Freedom of Speech Important in Higher Education?’.
We received entries from all five secondary schools and the quality of the arguments presented was very high. Judges were really impressed with the range of ideas presented and how the essays were structured, all within the 500 word limit. You can read the winning essays below ...
Sacred Heart Catholic High School
Newcastle Upon Tyne
Why is freedom of speech important in higher education?
Freedom of speech is the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint. To understand the importance of freedom of speech in higher education, it is important to look at the counterfactual, i.e. What are the consequences of not having freedom of speech in an educational context.
Freedom of speech exposes students to new and challenging concepts. This is significant because diversity of thought progresses society as it considers the different cross sections of the population such as the multitude of cultures EG. Different ethnicities, religions, and LGBTQ+ members. Higher education, particularly university in the UK, unites diverse groups of people around the country thus there is a variation in social factors and characteristics, enabling students and professors to appreciate different cultures and perspectives. Overall, we would be a fundamentally weaker society if students do not have a platform to speak on.
At a younger age, this is where your beliefs and ideologies begin to form. Freedom of speech allows people to explore these thoughts and opinions in debates and seminar discussions. An all-rounded, pluralist education makes us a better critical thinker, helping us avoid polarising extremes in the future. However, socioeconomic factors may also contribute to which ideology you lean more towards, but it is still important to understand the other end of the spectrum/ideology.
Furthermore, it is important that students can speak out in higher education because institutions such as universities are advancing our philosophy as this is where research is undertaken, and science is further developed. An environment where students can be radical allows people to explore the best and worst ideas on doctrine contributing to the effectiveness of society. Restrictions and limits of freedom of speech in these settings means the best ideas might go unheard however freedom of speech does not come without consequences. Hence there should be structures in place, so it is beneficial rather than a detriment to minorities.
We can see the necessity of freedom of speech if we look at countries where this right is not granted. For example, women in Afghanistan are prevented from attending universities and are not respected but they are not allowed to speak on this freely. Consequently, it causes unrest, chaos and lives are lost. This has also been seen in Iran over protests on the hijab. Freedom of speech would help avoid this. Restricting freedom of speech does eventually affect the economy of these countries as a restricted society does not do well. This is clear as when you compare real GDP between these countries, they are significantly lower.
Freedom of speech in higher education means the best ideas are heard. Society can be at the best version of itself which is beneficial in the long-term because these students go on to contribute to a more inclusive society.
St Mary's Catholic School
Newcastle Upon Tyne
Freedom of speech is a concept that has epitomised the zeitgeist of our society in recent times. Thus, it is critical that the right to free expression is maintained in higher education.
Throughout social, political, and educational spheres, a discussion surrounding what we can and cannot say is never far away; it has been at the forefront of a myriad of debates as of late and it is difficult not to find oneself siding repeatedly with those who argue in favour of freedom of speech. This is because freedom of expression is intrinsically intertwined with freedom of thought and consequently, as people, the extent to which we are free to verbally express ourselves is a direct reflection of how free we are to think. It is inconceivable that our thoughts could or should be limited by an external entity, since our thoughts and opinions are so crucial to our sense of identity, so why is the view that our speech should be bound or controlled becoming a widely accepted mainstream tenet?
Some would say that curbing free speech is necessary to avoid the spreading of incorrect or demonstrably evil ideas like political or religious extremism, for example. However, it could be posited that it is, in fact, critical that these ideas are shared publicly so that they can be discussed and adapted. Too often we see the internet being used as a breeding ground for extremist views as an ever-increasing number of impressionable young people find themselves chronically online, unable to unplug themselves from an unstoppable current of delusion and misinformation. It is of paramount importance that all viewpoints are challenged and debated instead of being reverberated around online echo chambers that blindly reinforce ignorance and a sheer unwillingness to give any real deliberation to one’s own opinions. This rings true nowhere more than in the fields of education and academia wherein reasoned debate and discourse are integral inevitabilities of life. Therefore, universities and other centres of higher education should seek to give students maximum ability to freely express their ideas in the interest of erudition and edification.
Scholarly discussions and debates exemplify the spirit of universities and higher education, and these would undoubtedly be rendered impossible if the speech of students was to be constrained. It is irrefutable that young people need to be given sufficient liberty within their centres of education to explore and enquire about the world that is unfolding around them as they develop into more informed and knowledgeable adults. If universities wish to continue cultivating free-thinking, well-read members of society, they should opt to place the utmost importance on freedom of speech.
To conclude, our right to free expression is unequivocally one of the most valuable rights we can be afforded as people; accordingly, it is imperative that universities maintain freedom of speech on their campuses, in their lecture halls, and firmly in their identities as establishments of education.