Jack Kaplan '23 and Phillip Sosnik '23
Jack Kaplan and Phillip Sosnik are the Conservative and Liberal Co-Presidents of the St. Albans School and National Cathedral School Government Club.
The St. Albans School and National Cathedral School Government Club had an incredible first semester of spirited debate and critical thought. Students discussed issues of constitutional rights, border policy, government oversight, economic policy, and the midterm elections. There was record turnout, with the historic Kellogg Room filled to capacity at a number of debates. Every meeting consisted of lively debates and thought-provoking ideas. And while club members enjoy the occasional quip or tense exchange, it’s imperative that the true purpose of the Government Club, its mission of promoting the unfettered exchange of ideas, not go forgotten. The Government Club’s goal of providing a forum for civilized debate, discussion, and learning is a reflection of one of the most integral values of St. Albans: protecting the free exchange of ideas. In an increasingly polarized world, it is now more important than ever for free speech on the Close to be not just protected, but honored and promoted.
It’s no secret that parts of the Close lack political diversity, and while not ideal, this fact isn’t particularly catastrophic or alarming in and of itself. The problem arises, however, when there exists an insufficient amount of discourse or debate. Without respectful conversations about matters of community or national importance, St. Albans and the rest of the Cathedral community will become intellectually flat and lacking of dynamism. The fact that there are political majorities on the Close makes the need for the free exchange of ideas even more important. To shut down, or even discourage or disincentivize productive conversations, harms the character and future of the community.
As part of the policy on respectful discourse, St. Albans recognizes that it has a responsibility to “create an environment that encourages freedom of thought, expression, and inquiry” in order to promote learning and prepare students for life in a free society (Respectful Discourse, St. Albans School Website). This commitment to freedom of thought and expression is in the best interest of the community and all of its members. When these freedoms are protected, students and teachers are forced to evaluate and reconsider their stances, creating more thoughtful and considerate people. Furthermore, these protected discussions lead to the formulation of new ideas and solutions to problems, enhancing the community and all of society. These discussions also allow community members to learn from the perspectives and opinions of their classmates, resulting in increased open-mindedness and the acceptance of all others. Finally, the more commonly-held belief is not always the more “correct” one. Prohibiting conversations or restricting specific views and ideas alienates community members in the short term and impedes the advancement of the community in the long term.
The schools and all of the community members must continually work to uphold the values of freedom of speech and expression. Students, teachers, and administrators should all accept that there are a plethora of valid views, even if they don’t agree with all of them. Moreover, conversations cannot be prohibited just because they contain sensitive matters. Topics that are more consequential, and that affect people in significant ways, are the topics most deserving of discussion, regardless of some people finding the conversation disagreeable. Viewpoints that are clearly bigoted or insensitive deserve to be called out, argued against, and dispelled, but this can only be done when people are allowed to have difficult conversations with each other. Listening to other perspectives and forming new solutions and ideas from them are necessary features of a Close education.
For any successful democracy, community, or institution of learning to thrive, freedom of thought and expression must be protected. Many teachers and students have long been champions of these freedoms; now it’s time for all teachers, students, and administrators of Close institutions to come together and protect these values. Students need to participate in respectful discourse with others, listening to and learning from each other while holding true to their convictions. Teachers have a responsibility to encourage difficult and productive conversations while guiding their students as they learn how to be thoughtful citizens of a community and nation. As individuals with influence, faculty members must work to create an environment in which students do not fear repercussions or judgment for holding or communicating their beliefs. Administrators, the leaders of the community, must create a culture that protects and values the exchange of ideas. The institutions of the Close must realize that simply allowing debate and discourse, while positive, is not enough; the schools must actively protect, defend, and encourage freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and the respectful exchange of ideas.