Education

Fake News and Media Evaluation

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In a world where “fake news” is a thing, whether on social media or on an actual network, and lots of people are looking for ways to back up their own opinion YOU can do something to be aware of your own bias. Everyone needs a wider view of the world and being informed in a well-rounded manner could only make things better.

I used to tell my students there was no such thing as unbiased media – everyone has a slant – and I stand by that statement. However, there are media resources/outlets that do their best to remain “neutral”, as hard as that may be. One thing we know, even if an outlet tries to remain bias free the person/people contributing the media still have a bias.

I recently found a source I wish I had known about while I was in the classroom. It would have been incredibly valuable! The site is called AllSides.com. The cool thing is that you can get news from across the political spectrum – the Left, Center, and the Right. So, if you are a news hound like I am, you can get your news from all perspectives, not just the ones Google thinks you want to see (remember, Google logs your clicks and searches so it progressively narrows the results you get based on your selections).

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AllSides.com site banner

An interesting part of this website is the ability to check your own bias. It has you take their short bias survey, but you also have the ability to complete a bias survey from Pew Research as well as a political party quiz from Pew (for confirmation of where you fall, specifically, or seriously have no idea). All together those surveys give you a pretty complete picture of your social and political bias.

From there, you can rate the numerous media outlets based on your perception of their bias. Of course, your opinion is only a small part of the overall bias rating. They take all the submissions (a sort of crowd-sourcing) and then use statistical research and methodologies to develop on over-all rating for the media source. The methods they are using is really quite interesting. For me, I agreed with the bias rating on about 70% of the media outlets. I gave my input and added it to the aggregate results.

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An example of what you would see at AllSides.com

The important thing here is that you are contributing to bias awareness. Why is that important? Well, too many American’s get their information from too few sources. If more Americans took time to look at the same topic from different sources/perspectives, they might understand the topic in a more well-rounded way. Instead, many Americans fall into or use a confirmation bias. This is dangerous, especially in a technological, highly connected society that is hyper-sensitive and hyper-politicized.

We have to (no, really NEED to) stop using just one source to support our argument. Or, even better, we need to stop using sources that fit our point of view. We need to encourage more media sources to go back to what they used to do – report, without editorial and bias. We need to stop trying to argue our points over social media and instead demand truthful, unbiased reporting.

I know. Maybe I am too hopeful that we can “turn this ship around”. But, I believe that if we are more aware of our own bias we might have a chance. I think using websites like this is a good first step in the right direction.

**Disclaimer: This is not a paid endorsement for the website mentioned above and I am in no way affiliated with the organization. Just a satisfied new user.**

Vote today, make a difference tomorrow

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

A vote cast today, means your voice will make a difference tomorrow.

Your civic duty, no, your Constitutional right is to be used.

I don’t care which “side” you are on, as long as you’re legally allowed to vote. As an American citizen you should care.

Use your voice, or hold it until the next election, because whining about the results after not having cast your vote is just plain stupidity.

So, don’t be stupid.

Vote.

 

Loss of voice

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Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

I am not talking about my voice in the physical sense, though some would probably like it if I actually did but that is a discussion for a different day.

I am talking about “the voice” in my writing.

I have struggled over the last several months to find something to post about. Over that time, I have recycled writing I did in the past but that I thought was worth visiting again. It seems I have just tried to keep the blog afloat on topics that were on my on my radar at the time it was written. I have started and deleted so many posts, mostly based on current events and my take on them.

When I was teaching I was having conversations about these things on a daily basis with my students and the conversations were worth rehashing in another forum, collecting my thoughts from the conversations and things students were thinking and then writing about that. It worked for me because it was something thrived on.

Now, well, those conversations just aren’t happening and I feel like the lack of conversation has finally caught up with me. I have lost my voice. It isn’t that I don’t have things to say, I just don’t have the ability to express them in a way that I have in the past and it is confounding me.

Or, maybe I am just overthinking it and caring too much about what I put out there. I have always struggled with a balance between putting content out there and putting content out that is researched and supported. Sure, I can write opinions all day long but as I always used to tell my students, “No one will care about your opinion unless you can back it up.” Therein lies the challenge for me, just write or write well?

So, I feel like my voice is bottled up. I want to express myself but to what end? Is it just to hear myself or is it to be listened to?

Anyone else dealing with this? Or dealt with it? How do/did you deal with it?

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Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

1 year later: Branching out, er, expanding?

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It’s been a little over a year and the project keeps growing! More people have looked at the page and more people have joined me on Instagram so see what comes up next. Have you taken a look yet? Have you followed on Instagram yet? I bet you get a giggle or two if you do! Go ahead, grab a morning coffee, and go visit and take a scroll.


Just a quick note to have you take a look at the new page on the blog. You’ll find it up there in the top next two “Home,” “About,” and “Contact.” If you can’t figure it out from all the hints, try looking for “Stupid Board: Classroom Quotes.” There is an explanation about what it is and where to look as well.

Happy viewing, and I hope you will be intrigued enough to join me on Instagram as well!

School Picture Thievery

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It’s that time of year again, folks!

This school picture thing is a pretty big racket if you ask me, and if you’re a parent you know what I am talking about. If there is any place you know it and can feel yourself being ripped off but can’t do anything about it, it is definitely with school pictures and sports team photos.

I have felt this frustration in the past, but it kind of boiled to a head this year when I went to order my daughter’s school pictures. It usually isn’t a big deal trying to order them, but being the “non-custodial” parent who usually gets the information second-hand sometimes it takes a while to get it done. (Yes, I realize I could just have photographer friend take the photo and avoid all the trouble so I guess I am a glutton for punishment).

Anyway, I logged onto the website with my special code and wanted to just download the image to my computer and then go have them printed in the quantities and styles I desired. So, I selected the outrageously overpriced digital image – $22. Say what? Yeah, you read that right…let’s do some quick math…

If a school has 300 hundred students and the photographer can get 60 students through a line and photographed per hour, then the photographer would work for five hours. The photographer is, most likely, using a digital camera to take said digital images @ $22 each, therefore making $1320/hr, or $6600/day. That is of course presuming that each parent purchases just the digital image, let alone one of the other overpriced packages they offer. Now we know not all parents purchase the pictures, but you get the idea.

So, after choosing the digital image for download I get to the check out page only to see that I am going to be charged a “Shipping and Handling” fee of $7. Uh, wait, what? I am downloading a digital image. Why is there a shipping and handling fee? What’s worse is that I can’t remove the fee either. The radial button is greyed out. I either pay the fee right now, or wait until the next day to call them. So, I opted to call the company the next day since surely the fee for a digital download isn’t $7 bucks…

I called the next day and waded through their automated answering system until I got to a real person to talk to. I explained my situation and asked if there was some kind of error on their website that wouldn’t allow me to remove the shipping and handling fee. The response?

“No, that is a flat fee we charge for all late orders.” 

Late? Yes, it is true I didn’t order when the pictures were taken in the fall, but your website says they can be ordered at any time until the following fall AND there is nothing to indicate this is a “late” order on the website. I was a little dumbfounded. I said, “You’re joking right? How does downloading a digital image warrant a $7 late fee or even a shipping and handling fee?”

“Well, we do have to mail you the rights release so you can have the picture printed.”

So what you’re saying is that you are going to charge me $7 to mail me a sheet of paper and an envelope that costs, at best, a stamp or maybe two? I said, “Listen, I understand it costs money to send a piece of paper and envelope out to me but I have ordered digital images from other photographers in the past and they didn’t charge me an extra fee for the rights release, they included it with the digital image download. Surely you have the ability to do that right? So, why would I need a piece of paper mailed to me? It takes less than three minutes to compose a generic email and attach two image files to it.”

“Ok, I suppose I could waive the shipping and handling fee. What email address would you like the images sent to?”

Thank you. Now was that so hard and how about you waive all shipping and handling fees for all digital downloads from here on out? I probably speak for everyone who has encountered this ridiculous fee. There is no reason for it other than you can, and you have families over a barrel. I would venture a guess that many people just pay the fee, which is sad.

Highway robbery, I tell ya, only there was no highway and the bandit holds parents and other family members hostage every dang year around school picture time.

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Truman and Free Speech

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“There is no more fundamental axiom of American freedom than the familiar statement: In a free country, we punish men for the crimes they commit, but never for the opinions they have. And the reason this is so fundamental to freedom is not, as many suppose, that it protects the few unorthodox from suppression by the majority. To permit freedom of expression is primarily for the benefit of the majority because it protects criticism, and criticism leads to progress…But we would betray our finest traditions if we attempted…to curb the simple expression of opinion. This we should never do, no matter how distasteful the opinion may be to the vast majority of our people…We need not fear the expression of ideas—we do need to fear their suppression.”

– President Harry S. Truman

Context: fighting communism in the United States and around the world.

The emphasis above is mine. One of the most important freedoms we have is under attack and I’m afraid it will only get worse. The attacks are coming fast and furious and from every side. I doubt there will be a turn from this trend, only a charging straight into an unknown and dark future.

“We punish men for the crimes they commit, but never for the opinions they have”

We have sunk so low these days that we are punishing people for their opinions. I don’t mean we are legally punishing them, though I suspect we aren’t far off from this. (On second thought, maybe we are – see the baker, the florist, the photographer, the wedding venue, etc. being prosecuted because of their beliefs and opinions.)

We are now punishing people in the public arena via social media, sometimes even to the point of violence off-line. There is no crime in holding an opinion and expressing it, yet many people apparently believe it is these days. The trend to punish people for their opinions has gone to name calling, bullying, harassing, taunting, threatening, unfriending, embarrassing, humiliating, and in some cases even following through with physical violence simply because someone disagrees with another person’s opinion or disagrees with their extreme viewpoint.

Take this student photo article as an example. No harm done, to anyone, by her posting a photo she is proud of. It is easy to imagine that anyone would post a picture they have when they got it while interacting with someone famous. So, when did it become acceptable to treat someone so poorly because you disagree with them?

We teach our kids in school not to bully, harass, threaten, or otherwise make someone uncomfortable (Really? Because that’s reality…). Yet, there is no reasonable expectation among the adult world that this will carry forth into daily life. We aren’t practicing what we preach. It brings to mind that whole “Do what I say, not what I do” adage.

Now, it appears at least as adults, we celebrate people who go out of their way to bully, harass, or even attack others who have opinions that don’t line up with mainstream opinion. We are teaching our kids that it is ok to fight detestable and offensive opinions with violence and intimidation and bullying and harassment, etc. as long as we believe it to be repugnant.

The whole point of the United States and it’s foundation was to protect free speech, even the kind we find repugnant. Our Founders, who were persecuted for their beliefs and opinions, are celebrated because they fought against a society that believed their ideas were repugnant. (Back to the whole historical argument – were our Founders patriots or terrorists? It depends on your point of view.) Our Constitution is meant to protect all ideas and opinions, even the ones we don’t like, because we are supposed to have a “marketplace of ideas”. Take the ones you like and leave the ones you don’t. There is nothing in the Constitution about convincing others they are wrong by bullying and harassing them into changing their idea.

Truman understood that “To permit freedom of expression is primarily for the benefit of the majority because it protects criticism, and criticism leads to progress…”  He understood that if there is a problem in society it needed to be discussed and worked on until it was fixed. If there is a belief that our country is going in the wrong direction, then there needs to be open dialogue about it not suppression and violence.

If we become a society that suppresses ideas we don’t like or find repugnant, how do we move forward? Censorship at every corner and in every facet of life? I know everyone hates the cliche “slippery slope,” but we are seeing some prime examples these days. Where does the suppression of ideas or thoughts, or opinions end? What one person finds objectionable, another finds acceptable. Who gets to decide in a open and free society?

 

 

 

Bullying – Do Children Need to be Taught to Cope Better?

*Originally posted on the blog 10/21/2013

I had an interesting conversation with my senior students (this is a Contemporary Issues class) this morning. We were watching the NBC Nightly News broadcast from October 20, 2013. There was a story about a student who was bullied and how it was handled, including how it is helping others around the country. Following their viewing of the broadcast, I asked them if there was anything that that caught their attention, something that they wanted to discuss further. One student raised his hand and asked, “Should we be teaching our students to cope better with bullying?” What do you think? Is this a valid question or just insensitivity?

They are, of course, aware of the case, and others like it, where a middle school student jumped from the top of the abandoned cement factory because of the bullying she endured from kids at school.  Some of them also admitted to instances in their past where they were being bullied and how they dealt with the situations. But, many of the students agreed with the first student that asked the question. Many agreed that if students were taught skills to cope with adversity in life, kids might not react so drastically.

Before I get too deep into that part of the conversation, let me also mention that the students, nearly to the person, said that bullying was a problem in society and that is has rightly gotten the attention that is deserves. Several students brought up the fact that there is a fine line between playful teasing, something that can happen between friends or family, and becoming mean – usually where bullying resides. They acknowledge that students need to be sensitive to others’ feelings and they also agreed that laws protecting those who are being bullied are necessary.

However, many of the students said that we live in a hypersensitive society. Too many people today, they felt, are too quickly offended, too quick to sue, too quick to play the victim. They said that we have become “soft” and that one of the reasons we are this way is because we have failed to develop “thick skin” when it comes to what other people do or say to us. Several examples they used (again, we watch the news) to demonstrate their point were the case where a school banned balls of any kind on the playground, the school that banned playing tag on the playground because children get hurt, or even from their own school where a former superintendent banned dodge ball because a student broke his wrist in a freak accident be stepping on a ball as he jumped out of the way. All of these cases, they felt, were from people overreacting to incidents because they were afraid that someone might sue. While these cases don’t have a direct connection to bullying, the point was well taken. Adults have been a bad example of how do deal with instances of conflict and our kids see how it has been handled and they act accordingly.

So, how do we teach our kids to have thicker skin? Better yet, how do we, as adults, begin to demonstrate that trait? Surely there is a need in our society to have thicker skin.

I am short and I get short jokes all the time. I have always been teased, maybe even ridiculed. But it hasn’t ever bothered me. It is a fact of my life. It isn’t something I can change so I accept it and make jokes about my own height as well. How did I develop the skill to cope with such treatment? I am not sure. But I am sure that there must be some value in teaching others the skills to cope in similar situations as well.

Admittedly, we all are different and what might set one person off doesn’t set another off. We all have different “breaking points” or we all have a threshold for tolerance. But why is that threshold so low in some and so high in others?

I would like to hear your thoughts. What do you think? Did my senior student have a valid point or was he just being insensitive?

Conquered, not stolen

Misappropriation of history.

This has got to be one of the dumbest images I have seen. Not only is it inaccurate about immigration (if you didn’t follow the law, you’re illegal), but also about history and the Native Americans.

The land (and people) was not stolen, it was conquered.

It was conquered. Let’s be clear, it was conquered. The people who lived here before the Europeans arrived were conquered and there is no disputing it. That’s not to say there weren’t ugly periods of time where we, as a (formerly) Christian nation, shouldn’t be upset about the treatment of people. However, war is war. When you are trying to conquer a people, a land, a continent – there is really no fair play. Before you get all up in arms about that statement, remember that even the people who lived here before did exactly the same things now being misrepresented. They fought, the pillaged, they slaughtered, they enslaved, and they assimilated. This it not new history, so the image above is inaccurate at best and a gross misrepresentation of the facts.

If you look at world history, there were only several outcomes possible for a conquered people: total annihilation (as in death of the people, society, and culture), slavery, or assimilation. Name a civilization, or nation, that didn’t do this? The greatest (at least in the classical sense) nations and peoples have always done this. It is human nature. From the smallest tribes and clans in third world countries to the biggest and most powerful empires known to man, the quest for power and more land has been the same. As such, the quest to conquer has been the same.

So, let’s get history straight, shall we?

 

I built a fence and I bet you have one too

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The fence, while under construction.

I built a fence. Well, when you get right down to it, it really works more like a wall. But it serves a purpose and it does it very well.

Raise your hand if you have a fence around your place too!

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Why did I built a fence?

The new neighbor. Actually, he really isn’t all that bad but, for various reasons, I have wanted to put a fence up for a while now. So why now?

  1. His place is a little run down. It is a bit unsightly with junk laying around, overgrown flower beds, a lawn that isn’t mowed (assuming there is lawn), garbage, house is falling apart, etc. To his credit, he is a new occupant so he is working on cleaning it up. Despite of his efforts, I just really don’t want to see it.
  2. His pets. He has two big dogs. They are well behaved, but they are dogs and they get excited. So, they wander into our yard. They also crap in it…which again, isn’t his fault, per se, but I hate cleaning up after other people’s animals. I just don’t want them in my yard.
  3. My privacy, and by extension his. So, I don’t really want people looking in my back yard, or my windows, or my garage, or my front yard. Well, ok, to be fair they can look in the front yard, but not the windows. They are off limits. Anyway, I am kind of a private person and without some way to block the view of my neighbor or anyone else it feels like my life is on display. Not that I have anything to hide, but why does it have to be on display? Know what I mean?
  4. Having an open yard is not an open invitation to visit, for my neighbor or anyone else. Unfortunately, not everyone feels that way. Just because I don’t have a fence doesn’t mean you can come into my yard any time you want and it doesn’t mean you can come over for a visit any time you want. There has to be an invitation, otherwise it is just trespassing (and that is against the law, ya know?).

Obviously, these things also apply to me. The fence keeps my privacy and keeps unwanted people out of my yard but it also goes both ways. It keeps me from being in his yard and keeps me from being able to see what he is doing. I respect the fact that I know there is a border between us and that we can live in harmony that way.

Besides my neighbor, there are other things to keep out of my yard too.

  1. In the fall, fewer fallen leaves blow into my yard. That means less time raking for me.
  2. Fewer deer come into the yard. Don’t get me wrong, I like deer. They are so gentle and docile and really aren’t hurting anything major. But, they would come through the yard in the spring and eat the new buds on the apple tree, which then meant fewer apples later in the year. Or, they would eat the apples off the lower branches of the tree, which meant fewer apples at harvest time. Not a big deal, but annoying to some degree.
  3. It keeps some of the garbage from the neighborhood out. I have a couple of neighbors who insist on overloading their garbage cans before it can be picked up. As such, the can gets knocked over or the birds open the bags or raccoons spill the contents as they dig. Either way, garbage then blows into my yard on occasion. The fence helps prevent that.
  4. It just provides a sense of security. Maybe it is a false sense to some degree, but it feels like if there is a barrier then those who are only moderately motivated will attempt to cross it – thus, a discouragement to most.

If a fence can do all that, it is no wonder when you drive through neighborhoods in ANY city (or state) in America that you will find fences in yard after yard, or drive through the country and you will find fence around property after property. Why? Because they work!

So here’s a thought…if it is OK to build a fence or a wall around my house or property, etc…

Why is it not OK to build a wall or fence on our nation’s borders? Aren’t the goals the same?

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It seems a bit hypocritical to me if you have a fence around your property and oppose having one on the nation’s border. If is, after all, a property line that should be protected as well.

A Liberal Double Standard

**I first published this five, almost six, years ago, while I was teaching senior high school students. I am no longer a teacher, but the subject is still relevant so I am reposting it today.**

Let me first start, right from the top, by saying that this has nothing to do with political parties and everything to do with the small erosion of our rights.

Recently in class we have been studying the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments added to the Constitution in 1791. This is a yearly occurrence in my classroom with seniors and I try to get them to think about their rights in a different ways. I also try to point out areas in our society where the Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights, makes the news almost on a daily basis. I try to impress upon them that this is still a living and active document. Some days are more successful than others.

The 1st Amendment has five clauses: freedom of religion, press, and speech; the right to assemble and petition the government. We focus on all of these, admittedly some more in-depth than others, but the one that usually makes me ponder more deeply about the state of our society is our “Freedom of Speech.” Because of our discussions in class, I can’t help but notice that our freedom seems to be getting eroded piece by piece, making this natural right harder and harder to use. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the government is taking away that freedom, we are actually doing it to ourselves.

It is generally believed that the only real limits to our speech are those that pose an imminent danger to society (i.e. shouting fire in a theater), statements of libel, or when there are certain national security interests involved (though there has been a flood of classified info on the government/national security in print lately). With these limitations in mind, why do we censor ourselves and others in society? The discussions with my seniors always make me wonder this. They believe that it is wrong to utter words that hurt someone’s feelings or that offend the sensitivities of others. They have all bought into that old adage that our mothers used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.                     – Voltaire (though attributed to Evelyn Beatrice Hall, his biographer)

Our debate in class usually begins with a discussion about the quote above. Based on the discussion, I can gauge that it appears to make sense to them and yet they still want to qualify it. They get stuck on the idea that something that may be offensive and, yes, even hurt someone’s feelings still shouldn’t be spoken. Have we gotten to be that sensitive, that thin-skinned, that mere words can hurt? What happened to the old “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” chant we used to hear on the playground? OK, yes, I admit it. Words can hurt. We all know that truth and I am sure we all have experienced it at some point in our lives. However, no matter how much they hurt, or are offensive to someone, don’t we (or they) have a right to say them if we choose to do so?

As of now, many of the words that have been CENSORED from society are still legal to say. We have taken it upon ourselves to declare them socially irresponsible, thus socially “illegal.” (Plug your ears or cover your eyes if you are sensitive because I am about to be socially irresponsible and politically incorrect). “Oh, that’s gay!” and “Man, that is so retarded.” There are other words out there but we don’t need to get into all of them. I think you understand my point. Now, we have seen our society jump all over people in the media or celebrities for using these words and typically there is an apology issued because of the pressure put on them via social media, etc. If directed at an individual and intended as an insult, these statements would obviously hurt an individual’s feelings or offend. If said as a general statement of disgust or disappointment, someone may get offended but in general there was no specific hurt intended or group targeted. This is the where the first part of Voltaire’s statement applies – “I disapprove of what you say, but…” Many people will say things that we don’t like or approve of. Many of us will be hurt by what others say or hurt others by what we say ourselves, but that is the crux of our liberty. We have the right to do so, if we choose, and we shouldn’t be made to censor ourselves because of someone else’s sensitivities.

This is one place where a liberal double standard comes in. In general, liberals are all about being open and permissive. “Who are you to tell me what I can and can’t do?” “I’ll do what makes me happy.” “Hey, live and let live.” “It’s MY truth.” We can see this attitude in our society as things that once were seen as unacceptable have become, increasingly, more acceptable. The list is long and I won’t even try to make it complete but I offer a few examples: abortion, tattoos, divorce, same-sex marriage, legal marijuana, assisted suicide, casual sex, atheism, nudity and cursing on television. As our society has grown more open and permissive in most areas, we have become more restrictive in others, language being one of them. So how far do we go in accepting these limitations? How much erosion of our freedom of speech can we tolerate? If it hurts someone’s feelings (and we are all a bit too sensitive these days), it is now off limits…I disapprove of what you say, but…

Let me be clear, I am not condoning the use of offensive or hurtful language. No one has a compelling need to use their words in that manner and certainly we should work to hone our own internal filters when it comes to the use of language. However, I am condoning a careful examination of the external censorship we allow others to exert on us. I have a right to say what I please and I have a right to choose not to talk that way. It was bestowed upon me at the foundation of my country. However, others do not have the right to tell me what I can and can’t say. The freedom of speech, as written in the Constitution, wasn’t intended to be abridged. There wasn’t supposed to be a limit on it, ever. Infringing my rights, or the rights of others, lets others censor us in the name of stamping out insensitivity. That sounds callous, I know, but the fact is that even in callousness there is freedom. “…but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

It is better to be angry than to be silenced.”  Megan O

The quote above is from one of my senior students. She reworded and summarized Voltaire’s statement with a rather profound statement of her own. She realizes that being angered by someone’s voice is better than not hearing their voice, no matter how much she may disagree with what she hears. She understands that as soon as she silences the voice of another, her voice could be silenced as well. Her voice, as of now and into the future, isn’t something she is willing to give up.