Discouraging discussion is no way to protect free speech

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Freedom of speech and the preservation of educational discourse are things that need to be protected on university campuses. However, this protection won’t come about by promoting fear and intimidation.  

According to an article in The Toronto Star, University of Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson has proposed the production of a website which would list “courses and professors and disciplines that should be avoided” on the basis of the instructor’s politics. Peterson believes humanities courses such as Women’s, Ethnic and Gender studies are taught with “corrupt ideologies” and contribute to the creation of “social justice warriors.” 

With infamously radical opinions, this isn’t the first time Peterson has made headlines over the past two years for arguments centered on the protection of free speech. While this is an issue that deserves thought, Peterson’s methods and rhetoric create unhealthy and unproductive polarization of students, staff and the public. 

Professor Peterson’s suggested website follows this pattern. His proposal hinges on the idea students have the ‘right to know’ what they’re getting themselves into when signing up for a course. 

While very similar to sites like “Rate my professors,” which offer anonymous student reviews of professors based on their teaching styles, level of difficulty and where applicable, personal bias, Peterson’s idea would specifically target professors, courses and disciplines he believes to be corrupt. He encourages criticism, but only if it’s in line with his own values and beliefs.

The students looking to avoid the blacklisted courses and professors would be people who already align with Peterson’s opinions. This site would map out a way for students to complete a degree without being exposed to ideas different from their own, all in the name of protecting them from being morally ‘corrupted.’

Peterson isn’t giving students enough credit to decide what to think for themselves. The majority of university students may be young, but they aren’t ideological sponges. He grossly overestimates the power professors have over their students’ individual opinions. By pushing for them to avoid certain subjects, Peterson’s enabling the pursuit of a degree riddled with gaps in learning.

Even if students don’t agree with their professors, seeing the other side to an argument is fundamental to an education. Hearing opinions — even those they disagree with — helps students form their own views on a range of subjects in the humanities.

Professors have a responsibility to present all sides of an argument when teaching, even ones they disagree with. Even though personal bias will no doubt bleed into their classrooms, teachers need to be able to balance it by encouraging discussion and opposition to topics discussed in class. 

What Peterson is championing with an idea like this won’t create an equal playing field for those with right wing tendencies. It’s a blatant discouragement of discussion or exposure to differing views. 

 

— Journal Editorial Board

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