|Below is the statement submitted to the New Trier School Board at the July 13, 2020 meeting:|
“We are living through a period of great political turmoil. And yet, while political movements may come and go, New Trier’s core mission must remain the same. Only when the minds of our students are committed to free and open inquiry in an environment that welcomes diverse viewpoints will they become the kind of citizens needed to strengthen our republic and solve complex problems.
That’s why I [NTN Board Member Jonathan Towers] submit this Freedom of Expression Resolution to the Board on behalf of New Trier Neighbors.
We believe New Trier has a unique opportunity to lead the nation by becoming the first U.S. high school to adopt a Freedom of Expression Resolution modeled on the gold standard, The Chicago Statement, which was adopted by the University of Chicago in 2015, in response to the illiberal trend of free speech intolerance on college campuses. As of June 2020, 73 colleges and universities have signed the Chicago Statement.
Freedom of speech is under assault all across our society, as a “cancel culture” takes hold in which, to cite just one example, a top editor at The New York Times just lost his job because he allowed a controversial but thoroughly fact-checked editorial to be published by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton.
The chilling of speech is highly detrimental to our children’s mental health, leading to acute anxieties.We need to take a stand against it, right here at New Trier. In consultation with the K-12 policy experts at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (theFire.org), we present The Chicago Statement adapted for New Trier High School. We respectfully ask the Board to review the statement, adopt it as a resolution and District policy, and post it on New Trier’s website. Several other high schools around the country are interested in adopting this statement as well.
Let’s do it. Let’s make history right here at New Trier. Generations to come will thank us for leading the way.
The New Trier High School Freedom of Expression Resolution, presented to the Board for adoption in its entirety, and based on The Chicago Statement:
Because New Trier High School is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the New Trier High School community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.Except insofar as limitations on that freedom are necessary to the functioning of New Trier High School, New Trier High School fully respects and supports the freedom of all members of the New Trier High School community “to discuss any problem that presents itself.”
Of course, the ideas of different members of the New Trier High School community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of New Trier High School to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even offensive. Although New Trier High School greatly values civility, and although all members of the New Trier High School community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.
The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not, of course, mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish. New Trier High School may restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of New Trier High School.In addition, New Trier High School may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of New Trier High School. But these are narrow exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression, and it is vitally important that these exceptions never be used in a manner that is inconsistent with New Trier High School’s commitment to a completely free and open discussion of ideas.
In a word, New Trier High School’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the New Trier High School community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the New Trier High School community, not for New Trier High School as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the New Trier High School community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of New Trier High School’s educational mission.
As a corollary to New Trier High School’s commitment to protect and promote free expression, members of the New Trier High School community must also act in conformity with the principle of free expression. Although members of the New Trier High School community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed on campus, and to criticize and contest speakers who are invited to express their views on campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe. To this end, New Trier High School has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.”