Free Speech – is it Now a Cause for Division Too?

In early February, NPR’s Fresh Air featured host Terry Gross interviewing Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, a History Professor from Acadia University in Nova Scotia. I was riveted. I was shocked. I was dismayed and ultimately, saddened at the legislation that is in place or is being attempted to be put in place our “land of the free” to stifle free speech.

One would think that free speech is secure in our country as a core belief and value on which we were founded. We teach truth and want our children to learn true history so they can develop values and morals worthy of global citizens. Don’t we?

Dr. Sachs talked about three main areas of concern he is tracking: racial justice, LGBTQ regulations and prohibitions, and abortion rights. Many of these new laws center on regulations imposed on educational institutions with severe, draconian punishments for “violators” whether they be teachers, administrators, or Boards of Education. Thirty-five states have introduced bills and twelve states already have laws in place that prohibit discussion of critical race theory (CRT) – despite the fact that CRT has only ever been on the curricula in graduate school. That is only the beginning of the push to quell discussion of race-related issues.

As if that weren’t enough, many states are encouraging parents and citizens (even students) to report ‘violators’. Students are encouraged to film teachers with their smart phones. While curricular transparency is a good thing, privacy of students is another. It is NOT all right to have the student who is struggling in the classroom filmed, nor is it all right to have the student with the black eye from their abusive parent seen in a smart phone video.

There’s more distressing news on restrictions of and banning reproductive rights, from the Supreme Court to state legislation – some giving the unborn more rights than the person carrying the fetus, and further restrictions on rights for LGBTQ people cited in Dr. Sachs’ interview. I encourage you to listen to it. Book bans, penalties, limitations on how and what to teach, extreme scrutiny – this is leading to an exodus by teachers and a disincentive for anyone to consider teaching as a career. The list of people who are at risk grows – librarians, educators, election workers, doctors, legislators – it is truly frightening. We must be vigilant.

Susan Bues