The last time an election got this heated, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton was shot by Vice President Aaron Burr. And although, as of late, the American public may not be strangers to political banter, a sense of intolerance has been established that is questioning the very fabric of American values. Intolerance, that is, for differing opinions. Ugly words like bigot, racist, and narrow-minded are thrown around arbitrarily, creating an environment where the First Amendment has become more a mere suggestion than an actual right.
Throughout the entire country and within High School West itself, this problem has become abundantly clear. Although the right to civil discourse is fundamentally guaranteed by the constitution, it is being used and abused. Discussion has given way to shouting matches, with opponents attacking one another on a personal level instead of logically defending their beliefs. This issue has come to light both in the hallways and in the classroom. “I think when people become really passionate about something,” says Mrs. Dohnert, “they lose the ability to engage in civil discourse. And I think that’s because they truly care. But it also means that people aren’t listening to one another.” The cornerstone focus of debate -to learn- is being forgotten as we’ve become engulfed in the belligerent culture that has come into existence today.
Perhaps the issue is a lack of understanding. “I feel that the lack of knowledge in debates is more of the problem… It can become disrespectful at times. I think that people, more than attacking each other, discredit the other person,” Mr. Lamb said when asked about the topic. Some suggest the problem lies in children following the beliefs of their families or peers without understanding the issues themselves. Others say that celebrities and the media play a major role in influencing the beliefs of the public. Startlingly, in a poll taken of the High School West student body, 42% of people surveyed said that their political perspectives are the same as that of their parents, with only 31% of people having a different opinion than their parents, 27% being somewhere in the middle. Before aligning with one point of view, it is important to understand what it is that you are believing. With the massive trend of liberalism sweeping the millennial generation–especially in New York state– it has become “uncool” to be a conservative. There is a very important distinction that must be made between conservative values and the stereotypes that have been established to overshadow them, depicting Republicans as bible-thumping, homosexual-denouncing bigots. It is unfair to make this generalization. Of course, there are extremists of every belief, but that is only indicative of a mere percentage of the group. Conservative values are the support of the right to bare arms, the protection of life, the belief in small government, and the freedom of businesses. Yet, far too often, Republicans are made out to be monsters, which is quite disconcerting.
But it is more than just an issue among the student body. Students are finding themselves reluctant to voice their opinion in class, fearful that teachers will disagree and consequently penalize their GPA. Sophomore Steven Secreti said, “I wouldn’t wear my ‘Make America Great Again’ hat to school, because I feel teachers would give me bad grades.” The very idea that one’s political opinion could affect their education is both astounding and quite concerning. The United States stands for freedom. Freedom of choice. Freedom of beliefs. Freedom of religion. That sets America apart and should make the classroom a forum for bipartisan discussion, not a one-sided indoctrination of viewpoint. Such countries as Russia and South Korea are censored so much so, that simply voicing one’s opinion aloud can result in persecution. Journalists are punished left and right, losing their lives for revealing a story. Still, more and more people are afraid to voice their opinion, leaving us to ask one important question: Is freedom of speech still free?