Campus Speech and the Heterodox Academy

screen_shot_2016-09-04_at_1.20.33_pm_0According to Middlebury College’s Jonathan Haidt, thought in the American university is an endangered commodity, requiring focused support from his brainchild: The Heterodox Academy, a group of scholars seeking “viewpoint diversity” on college campuses.

Among specific violations against a healthy climate of free speech, discussion, and thought are
the inversion of language, that is, considering words (what B. F. Skinner called verbal behavior) acts of violence, hence actual violence the vehicle for protection and safety of those violated.
equal opportunity goals supplanted by equal outcome demands that require authoritative protection for students against insult and opposition.
• (and possibly most pernicious) intimidation against opposing viewpoints through public humiliation or legal recourse against “x-ophobia.”

Haidt and his academy, lately 600-strong, have now come to rank universities according to their free speech index (the University of Chicago sits atop the list) and to provide tools for consciousness raising among students.

The offshoot? If the likes of Heterodox Academy can ignite student demand for free discussion and inquiry, higher education may yet witness societal fruits: agile and adaptive reasoning, innovative problem-solving, and nuanced negotiation as opposed to socio-political entrenchment and decay.


Footnote on Twitter in Turkey

manset-twitter2Since our March 17 post deploring restriction of free speech via social media in Turkey, the reality of 21st century media has given evidence of its resilience. Ban Twitter? Well, as you wish, but Twitter techies had strategies for circumventing Prime Minister Erdogan’s ban: SMS tweets, for instance, would fly freely. In fact, since the “ban” appeared, Turkey-watchers report a surge in Tweets at a rate of 17,000 each minute. What’s that we said about inability to silence voices of opposition?

And as a footnote to a footnote, now Hotspot Shield VPN, available by free download, claims to

  • unblock any website from anywhere
  • allow anonymous web browsing
  • provide complete WiFi security
  • protect bank info, passwords, and downloads from snoopers

. . . which is to say where there’s a will there’s a way.

  • oopers

Twitter and freedom of expression

Nearly a year before the U.S. became embroiled  in World War II, on January 6, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt delivered a speech extolling what he called the four fundamental freedoms: freedom from fear, from want, and freedom of speech and religion. That speech inspired Norman Rockwell’s painting named Freedom of Speech, taken from Rockwell’s experience at a Vermont Town Hall meeting where a man stood and spoke his mind, and no one interrupted him or shouted him down. The point was to hear him out, to let him have his say.

On March 20, 2014, more than 70 years after FDR’s speech and Rockwell’s painting appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, In a country far from the U.S. geographically, but in later years not so far ideologically, Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan moved to block access to Twitter.

Although one of the oldest settled regions in world history ( more than ten times older than the U.S.), Turkey had for more than 90 years (July 24, 1923) adopted a parliamentary representative democracy, the Republic of Turkey. Originally led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey was reformed from a six-century sultanate into a secular republic, notably through religious neutrality of government and promotion of equal education and universal suffrage, thus expanding freedom of expression in the public sphere.

In blocking Twitter, Mr. Erdogan lashed out at this social medium as a “menace to society.” According to Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch, “This is another fundamental blow to freedom of expression in Turkey.”

How boldly the ideal captured in Rockwell’s painting contrasts with Erdogan’s move to shutter social media in Turkey. The objective, of course, is to silence dissent. Yet by taping a mouth shut, one does not silence the mind that holds and crafts opposition. If public policy will benefit the public at large, the policy must be formed by the public, the multitude of unique voices, the parts that make up the whole. Silencing opposing views benefits no one, whereas using them makes the united whole truly representative and satisfactory.

In the U.S., the year 1963 heralded civil rights demonstrations over a sizable swath of the land. On June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered a Civil Rights Announcement in response to a court order for the University of Alabama to admit two qualified young Negro Alabamans. President Kennedy recalled the nation’s founding and asserted that the rights of everyone are diminished when the rights of one are threatened.  August of that year marked the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  And that same year, the National Communication Association articulated a Credo for Free and Responsible Communication in a Democratic Society:

“We support the proposition that a free society can absorb with equanimity speech which exceeds the boundaries of generally accepted beliefs and mores; that much good and little harm can ensue if we err on the side of freedom, whereas much harm and little good may follow if we err on the side of suppression.”

We can look at freedom seekers throughout history, whose quotes echo that sentiment: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” and so on. When will we learn that suppression of speech is more dangerous than speech itself?

Keeping it short

ImageWe have a preference for short speeches, which may seem as self-evident as to prefer eating to starvation. But as Nancy Duarte, leader of presentation services company Duarte, Inc., points out, in our media-centric lives, where we select concise pungent messages and ignore (delete?) those that hijack time (consider how you prefer a text to an email or phone call), audiences have lost their tolerance for the ponderous speech. What needs to be said can be said succinctly.

The TED talk typically runs 18 minutes and covers substantial ground—often on a captivating subject. Why would someone sit through an hour of meandering observations wending toward  a point? That short speeches can have impact overlooks that they are striking because they can be apprehended within a listener’s attention span and make an uncluttered point vividly. Short has been a good thing in public speaking for eons (let’s not forget Gettysburg), but in the 21st-century, short is the new normal, or at least the model to be emulated.

Matt Damon on education

His mom is a teacher, he loves teachers, and in fact he loved school, which is why actor Matt Damon wound up speaking at a Save Our Schools march and rally in 2011. The rally joined parents, teachers and community organizers, to support an end to education reforms put in place in the administrations of Presidents Bush and Obama.

While you might not choose an actor to represent the cause of education, this actor was raised by a professor mother and attended Harvard University, leaving the university only twelve credits short of a degree to pursue his acting career in earnest.

Still, Damon’s credibility as actor is not what seals his performance here. He uses the moment to confirm his charisma and establish his ethos as one who grew up respecting teachers and loving learning, a learning experience unfettered by the teaching to the test model of education heralded by No Child Left Behind (2001), an act requiring annual standardized tests as indicators of the school’s success—or failure. As this speech demonstrates, rallying teachers opposed this test-centered view of education. And what educator doesn’t love hearing a former student wax passionate about the importance to him of his education?

For example . . .

moonWhat constitutes a short speech? The Gettysburg Address may have run around two minutes, but Neil Armstrong’s words when he disembarked Appollo 11, July 20, 1969, was still shorter: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” clocking in at under fifteen seconds.

Why do short speeches have impact? Seriously? Have you ever said you wished a speech could be longer? We find them compelling, but we appreciate the speaker who can get in and out expeditiously. There have been a good many. Take a look at some of the compilations currently popping up online.

A ranking of the top thirteen short speeches, including King George’s address to his people September 3, 1939 (made more famous in a 2010 film starring Colin Firth, The King’s Speech): When we recall that His Majesty overcame formidable personal obstacles to speak to his subjects (unfortunate to go down in history as the British king with a speech impediment) and then spoke to his people with such affection, we are all the more taken with his impeccable message.

Famous short speeches, from political to motivational:

And from The Telegraph in London: