GOOD QUESTION! “Why Are High Schoolers Afraid to Speak Up in Class?” Pretty sure I know the answer:
Viewpoint diversity is not alive and well, and students often lack the ability to speak openly and question freely without worrying about repercussions. Politically correct speech codes have had a chilling effect on open discourse in many high schools, public and private, in New York City, where the two of us live and work.
As educators, we are very concerned about young people’s development and identities being stunted by the suppression of their ability to express ideas outside a narrow orthodoxy. While one of us identifies as liberal and the other as more conservative, we agree that narrowing of speech is harmful to everyone. . . .
The survey data also reveal that a significant number of student respondents are not comfortable sharing their thoughts in school. Sixty percent of students surveyed say that they have felt they could not express their opinions on a subject because of how students, teachers, or the administration would respond. This figure is identical to the 60% of college students who report self-censoring on campuses. In-depth analysis of the data shows that significant numbers of students are self-censoring both inside and outside the classroom. High school students tell us that they crave dissent in dialogue, yet they are intimidated from expressing it themselves for fear of being shunned or canceled. This reality is untenable: almost every student, no matter where they stand on the political spectrum, talks about how refreshing it is NOT to have to fear being attacked for their views. This repressive climate is toxic for our educational system, which is anchored on the classically liberal idea that people can disagree and still find common ground.
In short, our high schoolers have been dealt a rough hand. We need to help them play it well if we are to address the multiple crises of our time. With students and teachers returning to school this fall, and as parents support their children in addressing educational deficits, let us not overlook the deficits that come with being exposed to only a narrow range of ideas. We encourage all stakeholders to do as much as they can to nourish productive dissent. Our democracy and civil society depend on it.