“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”–First Amendment
My favorite unit in Government classes isn’t taught anymore. I don’t support too many Social Studies classes these days. For some reason, someone in the school seems to think I know how to teach writing. Goodness knows what gave them that idea. However, I have supported classes in World Geography, U.S. History, Government, and Economics. None of them addressed rights and responsibilities.
I certainly did when I taught Government. I found that it was the only unit the students were actually interested in. They were particularly interested in the fourth amendment because many of them had already had run ins with law enforcement. Either that, or they expected to have run ins. That’s largely part of the populations that I have taught over the years.
We have an epidemic where people seem to misunderstand both rights and responsibilities. It’s really very simple. Every right that we have comes with adjacent responsibilities. Speech is really no different and in fact speech brings the most important responsibility of all. Goodness knows too many people seem to think they have speech rights that they simply don’t have.
Aaron Rodgers seems to be relishing his new role as a sports villain. His shots at Joe Biden seem to be a great example of everything we are talking about. Free speech does not mean that you have an absolute right of having that speech amplified. It also does not mean that you have the right to have everyone see that speech as beautiful and perfect. Freedom of speech means everyone has the right to respond to your speech as well. Sometimes they aren’t going to like it and sometimes you won’t like their response.
However, the part which gets completely missed are the responsibilities that come with free speech. This is usually where I started talking to my classes about slander, libel, and hate speech. Those are legal responsibilities and encompass the bare minimum of what is required from us as citizens. If we are going to do more than merely pass citizenship we are expected to actually contribute to the marketplace of ideas.
This is often where we delve into topics that we would cover in a basic philosophy class. I taught that one as well in high school, but they aren’t being taught at most schools. The fundamental question is what is the difference between facts and truth. The obvious difference is that facts are verifiable and truth isn’t. Naturally, any good philosophy teacher would go beyond that obvious statement to more complex questions, but we can stop there for today.
The responsibility of citizens and speech is simple. We take available facts and we try to arrive at our own truth. People can take a set of facts and reach any number of conclusions. That’s normal discourse. What isn’t normal is making up facts and poisoning the body politic with a barrage of bullshit. Yet, that seems to be exactly where we are.
Too many people start with the statement that I have the right to and then simply stop there. Living in a society comes with rights, but also comes with responsibilities. We have to at least coexist with those around us and ideally we would do more than that. Of course, if no one bothers to teach that in civics classes anymore then it makes perfect sense that people would not know these things.