Critical Thinking and Freedom of Speech

Quote:  We who officially value freedom of speech above life itself seem to have nothing to talk about but the weather.  Barbara Ehrenreich


Bassem Youssef, a television comedian and heart surgeon, who airs a show modeled after The Daily Show in Egypt, was recently arrested for making fun of the government.  He’s back on the air, but may face trial. As I watched this segment on NBC Nightly News, April 6, I was struck by this man’s courage and conviction to freedom of speech, something often taken for granted.

Freedom of speech sometimes surfaces when speech is decisive or provocative that gets the attention of others.  In education, critical thinking skills are deemed important to teach to our students.  One might say that learning to think critically might lead to student speech that is decisive or provocative, even challenging the status quo or generally accepted beliefs.  Do we want students to challenge the status quo, generally accepted beliefs, even authority? Or, do we want students to match their responses to the answer key?

Teaching literature provides teachers with opportunities to facilitate critical thinking among their students, regardless of students’ ages.  When adults discuss literature, they don’t give each other multiple choice/short answer tests to determine if they read the book.  Adults discuss and argue over plot, characters, author’s style, themes, and connections. And, sometimes they just marvel at a well turned phrase or a description that takes one’s breath away.  That’s the gift teachers can give to students by asking critical questions and providing provocative prompts that give voice to students’ opinions, thoughts, and ideas about what they are reading.

It is what we are striving to do with our work with The Hunger Games, Wonder, and soon Son by Lois Lowry.  Our work employs a constructivist approach that is student-centered because we believe that students are really smart given the opportunity to engage in work that is relevant and meaningful.  Learning to think critically takes time and lots of practice, but the result just may be one way to ensure our freedom of speech endures.  And, once students engage in critical conversations, they like it, and don’t want to talk about the weather.

NBC Nightly News April 6, 2013

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