The Silencing of Frances Widdowson continues...
Few people at Universities, especially students, seem to understand the real purpose of Free Speech
Frances Widdowson, a former tenured professor at Mt. Royal University in Alberta, Canada, about whom I have written before, has faced another intellectual slap in the face this past week, in Lethbridge Alberta.
Invited to speak on the campus about her concerns that a mob mentality and “woke policies” increasingly threaten academic freedom, the University subsequently cancelled her lecture for precisely the reasons that caused the concerns she was set to lecture about.
They decided “her views would not advance the residential schools debate and would cause harm by minimizing the pain and suffering inflicted on First Nations children and families.”.
The existence of Residential Schools which operated during the 19th and 20th centuries in Canada, to which indigenous children were often removed from their families has become a spark that has ignited debate, recrimination, apologies, and consternation throughout the country, especially after claims were made of (as far as I can tell as yet unproven) mass graves on their grounds.
Like all such historical debates, things are rarely black and white, if you forgive the terminology. Instead there are almost always nuances of grey. While the forced anglicization of young children is surely deplorable on many grounds, one may also assume that the effort to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic benefitted at least some of them.
To suggest any positive side to these schools is, however, heretical in the current social climate, and Widdowson is no stranger to social heresy, questioning the utility of incorporating so-called indigenous knowledge into introductory university science courses.
Whatever one’s take on these issues or on her views, her right to speak about her perspective should be obvious.
Interestingly, her recent cancellation appears to have prompted action by the Conservative Provincial Government. Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides announced changes are coming to further protect free speech on campuses in a statement made in response to the Lethbridge events.
Unfortunately, the message has been lost on a number of public officials. Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Nicolaides “is being distressingly tone-deaf to students — particularly Indigenous ones — who would otherwise have to host a guest lecturer espousing the virtues of schools stained by the legacy of horrific abuse”.
Heaven forbid anyone suggest that there should be a discussion about whether there was anything positive in the experiences at Residential Schools! Once again, the point of free speech is not merely to provide rights to individuals to present views that may run counter to current orthodoxy, but, far more importantly, it is to persevere the right of students, like the Indigenous ones Notley is referring to, to hear a perspective that may cause them to rethink or moderate their own views or decide they are in error. Without this possibility, we all live in echo chambers, never having the opportunity to hear arguments that might change our minds.
In short, the sensibilities of students be damned! Those who vehemently disagree with, or who are hurt by whatever claims Widdowson may espouse, are free to either ignore her lecture, or attend the lecture and be prepared to debate her views during the question period with well thought-out criticisms.
That is what education is all about. Or should be!