Learning to say what we think

British media outlets reported this week that a Kent Grammar school has established an “unsafe space” in which to discuss matters that might be considered politically incorrect or are controversial. From Brexit, to the voting age and political correctness, nothing will be off the agenda for discussion in this place.  One pupil reacted to the news saying that she felt this plan would legitimise extreme views.  Such discussion is not new, after all Socrates was accused of corrupting the young of Athens with his unconventional and unsafe views.
Our School includes a diverse population.  Many views are represented here.  Our classrooms should be political in the sense that we should teach our young people to deliberate about political questions, they need to learn to weigh evidence, construct arguments and draw their own reasonable conclusions.  We have an extraordinary community in which our varied experiences add depth to our discussions and thus affect our learning.  Therefore we are in a privileged position in educating a group of young people who will I believe go on to play an important role in their community, wherever that may be.  We need to ensure that all our young people find a voice and that they learn to participate in debate to express their views in a civil and constructive manner.  There will be times when they express views that others find irrational or unbelievable, but this is to be expected and is all part of the wider learning process.  Some of our students will, over time, change their perspectives.  This can only happen in a supportive environment.  I’m not sure why an “unsafe space” is required. The idea of creating an unsafe space seems to me to be missing the point.  Anything that might encourage individuals to provoke for provocation’s sake is not required.  Our classrooms should be places where the vital lessons of consideration are learned.  
This school will, I believe, develop the leaders of communities in the future. The experience of being in a school in which there are many views has, it would seem, distinct advantages.  A quick look around the world today would suggest that discord occurs when insularity is dominant, when suspicion of other views trumps an understanding of another perspective.  Do I believe that we all have to think the same way? Of course I don’t.  Are we right to equip young people with the necessary skills to understand the world around them? Yes we are.  But the School can only do so much, there is a responsibility among our pupils to ensure that they make the most of this remarkable opportunity to seek to appreciate the reasons behind the views that others espouse.  When they succeed we may well find leaders that this world sorely needs.
Nicholas Hammond

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