The Problem with Single-Opinion Morning Meeting Speakers by Liz Carlson

Educate the whole student. Listen to all opinions. Practice civil discourse. These tenets are fundamental to the Taft community and the school claims to uphold them. However, the selection of morning meeting speakers shows the school feels otherwise.The vast majority of outside speakers at morning meeting this year have all offered a similar progressive point of view on controversial political and social issues such as social justice and intersectionality. Students and faculty are too often drowned in an ideological echo chamber resulting from the constant flow of left of center speakers.

Our all school gatherings are a major element of what cultivates the wonderful Taft community in which we thrive. What we don’t often realize is the impact Morning Meeting speakers have on our daily thoughts and discussions. When we are called into Bingham on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we are often opening ourselves to the ideas of someone outside our community. It is important to have a range of speakers to present new ideas. Today’s political climate creates a wide divide between the Democrat and Republican parties. Both sides are culprits in stifling productive discussion and Taft needs to help close the political gap, rather than widen it. But when Taft’s administration invites almost exclusively speakers with a particular bias, the administration makes an indirect claim that the left’s point of view is the correct one. In fact, it even ignores all other opinions that do not fall in line with a left-leaning agenda. Those who don’t agree with the outspoken majority feel silenced and unrepresented. What does this say about the school community and its supposed “inclusion of all opinions”? When students and faculty hear what Taft deems “the correct opinion,” it becomes very difficult to encourage dialogue. Hostility and intolerance for alternative viewpoints surge. Aggressive a claim as that may be, I aim not to accuse the outspoken majority. I am not against left-of-center speakers. I instead aim to address how the Taft community lacks the ability to maintain respectful conversation based on the opinions presented by morning meeting speakers. Taft must introduce a more diverse range of speakers so that students are presented with all opinions which lie on today’s broad political spectrum.

The consequences of not addressing this issue go beyond Morning Meeting and into the classroom. At one January meeting, we explored the multi-façeted issues of social justice and equality. Undoubtedly an important and compelling speech, the most valuable slide highlighted Taft’s idealized “classroom discussion norms.” According to these norms, students and faculty are supposed to, “lean into discomfort, accept conflict and its resolution as a catalyst for learning, and suspend judgement of yourself and others.” These ideals cater to the current hypocrisy; all opinions are valued until someone disagrees. The hypocrisy must end. Right-of-center opinions are often drowned out by those whose views are deemed acceptable. And those who provide an alternative viewpoint which sometimes contradicts the outspoken majority must not be silenced or unfairly labeled as bigoted, racist, sexist, or homophobic. If the discussion norms are the ideal, then every opinion must be respected. The sooner the outspoken majority realizes the value in listening respectfully to all opinions, the better the Taft community will be. One student who considers herself a young Democrat remarks, “Coming to boarding school is an opportunity to explore more ideas. It’s hard though when Taft pushes you to one side of an argument while claiming to let you form your own opinion. Personally, I used to get so heated in debates, but when I stepped back from that I realized that both sides are at fault. I’ve learned more from civil conversation than I ever would have from shutting someone down in a discussion.” It is toxic to be in a classroom where a student cannot express his or her own ideas for fear of being silenced.

A positive solution to this problem would be starting a committee to discuss and help choose Morning Meeting speakers. Students should have a say in who speaks at morning meeting, as it is an event that encompasses our entire community every Tuesday and Thursday morning. On this committee, students, teachers, and administrators of differing races, genders, sexuality, and political affiliations would come together each spring to decide upon the speakers for the next year. Every month, the committee would meet and briefly discuss each speaker who had spoken during that month. If a committee such as this takes root in our school community, there is hope that one day Taft will introduce speakers with more diverse opinions. It is imperative that we fix this problem, not only so our conversations are informed, but also to live up to the values of our school to “educate the whole student.”