Should a university city defend open debate or protect their community from abusive speech? That’s the question that over 1,000 young people were discussing during an interactive, virtual event run by The Economist Educational Foundation on Friday 1st February 2019. The majority of schools (63%) voted to defend open debate.
Crampton Primary School in London said:
“After a hard and well-fought debate, we decided that freedom of speech was more important than censorship no matter how controversial people’s views are.”
Over 1000 young people in schools all over the UK joined an interactive, virtual discussion about free speech and 'no-platforming' at university. We stimulated discussion with a fictional choose-your-own-adventure story, which we streamed into classrooms via an online platform throughout the day. The story included fictional breaking news bulletins with ITV News' Alastair Stewart.
They heard from:
– A university professor saying that the best way to challenge offensive viewpoints is to debate them
– A university welfare officer saying that the writer’s views could cause harm to students
– A Turkish journalist who said stopping someone speaking is censorship
– A local MP saying that allowing the writer to speak would make her views seem legitimate
After each film, students carried out activities in their classrooms, and discussed the topic online with young people in other schools. At the end of the day, classes voted on whether they should defend open debate or protect their community from abusive speech.
Portobello High School in Edinburgh said:
“The vote is in. Like most other schools, we felt we should protect free speech. One of our students summed up the day by declaring that ‘we have proved we are not the snowflake generation.’ Boom!”
The Farnley Academy teacher in Leeds said:
“This will undoubtedly have a profoundly positive impact on students, building confidence and scepticism in their studies and life.”