Turning inner space into outer space

March 4, 2011

Free speech works both ways

There seems to be a misunderstanding about freedom of speech. It’s not just about the freedom to say what’s on your mind. It’s also about the freedom of others to rebut what you have to say.

That’s why I have no problem with personalities such as U.S. arch-conservative author Ann Coulter or controversial leftist British MP George Galloway coming to Canada to express their views. It’s why I’m cool with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad giving a speech at a university in New York. And it’s why I’m opposed to the ruling against Kamloops teachers wearing a black armband in class.

All should be allowed to have their say, and all should be allowed to present counter-arguments.

And that should even apply in Kamloops, where at least one teacher decided to wear a black armband during class as a protest against Foundation Skills Assessment tests.

I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of who is right or wrong about the tests. But I will say that teachers, students or anyone else should have the right to freely express themselves in a classroom setting. The arbitrator who ruled against the teachers made much of the students being a “captive audience.” But it was the kids themselves who asked what it was about, and reportedly cheered when given the answer. (Of course, in their minds, all tests are likely seen as “bad.”)

As I said before, though, free speech works both ways. And my take is that the wearing of a black armband in class is clearly a political stunt that demeans the true purpose of black armbands, which is to mourn the death of a comrade.

Let teachers wear black armbands, and let them suffer the consequences of a backlash from those with opposing viewpoints. If people were only allowed free speech when it was comfortable, there wouldn’t be much point in guaranteeing it in the first place.