Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Education and Freedom of Speech

'Freedom of speech is the concept of the inherent human right to voice one's opinion publicly without fear of censorship or punishment'.

The attack last week on the staff of Charlie Hebdo and the ensuing violence poses many questions for us, but a key one must be how do we address the notion of free speech with our children. In France it has been long established that students learn the underlying values of the Republic: ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’. Now that very democratic value is under the spotlight.

At Blackhen Education we feel that education is one of the most important ways to ensure that young people view the acquisition of knowledge and skills as a way to develop an open mind and one that seeks to question. In addition, we must teach them that listening to the views of others is important but also how we react to them.

In one of our units we look at the ‘Cult of Celebrity’ and ask them to rank a series of famous female faces in order of importance. Consistently the person that is ranked first is the Pakistani schoolgirl and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. This is deeply heartening that she is perceived by our students as being more ‘important’ than a host of film stars, singers and clothes designers. For a symbol of bravery and defiance, Malala is hard to beat. Despite being shot merely for wishing to go to school, she continues to campaign for everyone, regardless of creed, colour or nationality, to have the right to a full education. In addition, she talks of peace as a response to violence and has even gone so far as to publicly forgive her attackers.

Too often in life prejudice can masquerade as something ‘to be respected’ or ‘to be accepted’ because that is the way it has always been done. Having a forum to speak openly and to challenge is a fundamental cornerstone of what democracies should stand for. Even if we disagree with what someone says, they should have the right to say it.

In another one of our units (Refugee Boy) we pose the question ‘What does freedom mean to you?’ It is a question that we should all be asking at this moment, as well as what we will do to ensure that these freedoms to speak and express ourselves continue. Education isn’t merely about learning to read and write, it goes much deeper. It is the first step in learning to think and to question. A society is only as free as the values it is run on and the people tasked with defending these. The next generation of guardians are waiting in the wings and watching.

This post was written by Andy Mackay ( KS3 and IGCSE tutor at Blackhen Education).