Free Speech in the Classroom: Conflict and Contradiction

In 1963 a young volunteer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) wrote a short proposal to create a number of Freedom Schools throughout Mississippi in order to revitalize and refocus the Black Freedom Movement. While Black youth were denied many things—decent school facilities, honest and forward-looking curriculum, fully qualified teachers—the fundamental injury, according to the proposal, was “a complete absence of academic freedom and students are forced to live in an environment that is geared to squashing intellectual curiosity, and different thinking.” The challenge was “to fill an intellectual and creative vacuum in the lives of young Negro Mississippi, and to get them to articulate their own desires, demands and questions.”

This revolutionary proposal is as relevant today as it was 60 years ago. How shall we respond to the desires, demands, and questions of young people in classrooms today? What contradictions and conflicts, complexities and controversies emerge when we consider free speech in the classroom?

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