In the fall of 2020, the New Trier High School Board of Education adopted a statement officially setting expectations for civil, diverse discourse at New Trier, both today and into the future. They have called it a “Civil Discourse and Critical Thinking Statement.”
As far as we know, New Trier’s statement, found here in its Annual Plan, and below, is the first to be adopted by any American high school. We hope that it serves as a model for other schools which want to teach students how to think wisely, converse civilly, and engage productively in a world of competing ideas.
The text of the statement reads:
New Trier Township High School believes that a fundamental aspect of our mission is to develop critical thinkers who can navigate a complex world through civil discourse, respectful inquiry, engaged listening and open consideration of multiple perspectives. Key to fulfilling this charge is the cultivation of a school environment in which all students feel welcome and free to explore a wide range of ideas. Our firm commitment to this principle reflects not only New Trier’s obligation to prepare our students for their future but our belief that the open exchange of ideas lies at the core of a democratic society in which individuals are accountable for their actions and treat one another with dignity, compassion, and respect.
Peter Tragos, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, explained the statement this way:
“The purpose of this [statement] is not only to integrate it into the annual plan, if not preface the annual plan, but really take an institutional stand or statement on civil discourse and critical thinking, staking out a claim that we engage and challenge students to think, to listen, to discuss real and controversial issues of the world and develop the skills to navigate multiple perspectives and think through our own assumptions, beliefs and biases.”
New Trier Neighbors, who proposed a free speech statement to the New Trier Board of Education at its July 2020 meeting, is “wholly supportive of this new statement. We believe adhering to the statement will foster in the New Trier community the tools needed to engage in civil discourse and the robust, diverse thinking that results in a free and productive citizenry.”
As Benjamin Franklin said: “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech.”
To read the University of Chicago’s statement of principles, click here.