All Things Considerered: Freedom of Speech, Diversity of Ideas

A broad scope of ideas and perspectives is essential for a school that seeks to inspire a diverse range of students who are committed to the betterment of self and society, as stated in the Hotchkiss mission statement. Yet in an increasingly polarized political culture, difference can lead to discord. Enter Hotchkiss’s long-standing commitment to reasoned and reasonable free speech. 

“Hotchkiss’s history of critical thinking goes back to our very roots. It is profoundly important that we continue to cultivate this skill in a way that challenges assumptions and leads to deeper understanding for us all,” explained Tom Drake, instructor in history and director of the Center for Global Understanding and Independent Thinking.

In the fall of 2019, Drake joined a group of three then-upper mids and two other faculty members to attend the Freedom of Expression and Open Discourse in High School conference at the University of Chicago. The event focused on the Chicago Principles, a set of criteria developed by the university that encourages a commitment to free, robust, and uninhibited debate. Participants examined how these principles could be implemented within secondary schools.

“Our focus in incorporating these principles is to create a culture where no voice or point of view is marginalized, provided it doesn’t cause harm,” explained Drake. “Doing so requires striking a balance between the advantages of unfettered debate and its potential risks to adolescents in a school environment.”

Since the conference, Hotchkiss has continued to prioritize opportunities for open discourse within the School community. Student clubs, open to all students, and affinity groups, which primarily serve the interests of a particular group of students, hold discussions focused on a broad spectrum of topics.

This year’s U.S. presidential election allowed the School to put the Chicago Principles into action. In the weeks leading up to the election, the students who had attended the conference in Chicago — Felix Bao, Ivy Bhandari, and Max Grossman, all from the Class of 2021 — engaged in planning sessions and spoke in All-School Meetings about the importance of open debate. The Edsel Ford Memorial Library developed a detailed “Lib Guide” comprising a variety of resources on the political process in the U.S. All members of the Hotchkiss community also watched The Social Dilemma, a film by Netflix that explores the profound effect of social media on the world as a result of the way information is increasingly distributed and consumed.

On November 4, the School cancelled classes in order to engage in a long-planned day of civics programming. As states across the nation continued to tally ballots, Hotchkiss students, faculty, and staff spent the morning engaged in a bi-partisan panel discussion that covered anticipated election outcomes, the nation’s electoral system, evolving ideology across both major political parties, and the importance of informed media consumption. The panelists included:

Charley Cooper ’90, who currently leads external affairs for R3, a premier enterprise software firm. Earlier in his career, Cooper served as senior advisor to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz at the Pentagon. In 2005, he was awarded the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service.

Adam Sharp ’96, who is the president and CEO of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Previously, Sharp was head of news, government and elections at Twitter. He is a noted expert and speaker on digital communications and marketing, political affairs, and strategy.

Dr. Katie Fleishman, an instructor in English, who joined the Hotchkiss faculty in 2019 after teaching at UC Berkeley, among other institutions. Her essays have appeared in numerous publications.

Tom Drake, instructor in history, served as the panel facilitator.


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