Silencing culture has become a significant component of our campus culture at CCHS. Politics have recently become normalized in our curriculums over the past couple years evidently due to the political division that has been plaguing the country — creating a sense of ideological conformity amongst our students.
Whether or not you as a student have experienced or witnessed political bias in the classroom in socratic seminars, in discussion and essay topics, in book assignments, in grading personal writing assignments, and even in friend groups, silencing culture has been creating a stigma amongst students who do not hold completely liberal outlooks.
Whether or not you agree with the notion of a prevalent silencing culture or the following interviewees perspectives, it is important to hear everyone’s story and understand members of our academic community — seeing both sides of a political opinion or a personal ideology.
The students interviewed for this article come from a variety of ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds and have experienced social and personal threats from merely discussing their views in an open and “safe” setting. Most of the following students wished to remain anonymous for their own safety, but have chosen to participate in the interview process.
“Would you like to state your unpopular opinion, viewpoint, or ideology that you feel is silenced by your peers and staff?”
Student 1: As a Black male, I feel that the Black Lives Matter movement does not actually care about Black people. The movement has become a pawn of the Democratic Party and has moved on from the cause of police brutality. It is destructive and not productive and actually harms Black communities.
Student 2: So I’m a moderate conservative, which at our school basically means you’re a racist, which isn’t true.
Student 3: I’m a woman, and I’m also Muslim, so I get to have a valid say on the reproductive rights of women. So, I don’t think that abortion should be widely available to every single scenario because I fear that it could be exploited and people won’t be careful. I’m definitely pro-choice but I think it needs to be regulated. I’m pretty much a centrist and I like to consider the political opinions on both sides. Liberals hate me and conservatives hate me and I’m okay with it.
“Can you recall an example of a time when you felt criticized or scrutinized for expressing your outlook?”
Student 1: I have stated the way I feel about the movement and will have respectful discussions with people, I hear them and they hear me, but then it would end with me being called a racist — like what? — for not following the movement and jumping on the bandwagon. That would just turn into a domino effect of social suicide and even being called a racial slur because I am part African American. They actually say those things, which is bizarre because people claim they’re part of a not-racist movement that is literally an organization started by a White guy who profits and has said anti-Jewish slurs, and then go and turn around and use a racial slur.
A lot of the time when I’m talking with people at school or after school and they start talking about some political thing and I think about it but I just don’t say anything and push what I want to say to the side because I don’t want people to think negatively about me just because we disagree, even though what I have to say is actually valid. It’s crazy how everyone preaches free speech and listening to people but don’t care when it’s something they don’t agree with. Oftentimes I don’t agree with what people have to say, but I still respect them and just don’t add to the conversation, yet when I try to say something they go off and refuse to respect me. I just stay silent and just try to be nice to people.
People tend to spread rumors about what I say and take it out of context and it turns friends against me because they feel like they’ll be cancelled in a way if they associate with me so I have to explain myself in front of a group of angry people to make them understand my actual perspective. So yeah, that hurts.
Student 2: A big one for me is you know with everything on social media. People are not exactly subtle about the fact that they don’t like my content. I have received all sorts of threats, even death threats, I’ve gotten everything. I’ve even had to turn off my camera in zooms to avoid harassment on social media when people take pictures of me in class and post it.
In socratic seminars too, I find that this is both at the fault of teachers and students. It’s very difficult to discuss or express a conservative opinion when discussing political topics or in an argument essay without receiving more than just criticism but also hatred.
In terms of political divisiveness, I knew things were bad but I never would have thought they would’ve gotten this bad in the past few months of 2020.
I’ve honestly had a lot of students text me after class and tell me that they agree with my perspectives but they can’t say anything because they will be scrutinized for expressing their beliefs and that’s especially true for Black conservatives. Like I thought being a White conservative was hard in Culver but being a Black conservative is something else. It ruins the idea that all conservatives are racists so leftist people are especially angry with them which is ironic because the left claims they want to treat everyone equally. We live in an echo-chamber that projects the idea that conservative people believe in this evil ideology made up of racism and bigotry and people who just don’t understand the world. They look at out of context Trump quotes and assume that it reflects the views of every right-leaning person. It’s frustrating to have to explain to people that you’re not a bad person because I disagree with you; that we both want to make the world a better place. We both agree that we want to end racism in America but just disagree on its root, how it operates, and how to solve the actual issues. People just don’t see it as a difference of opinion, they see it as one side is evil and one side is good.
Student 3: Basically in an AP Lang fishbowl or socratic seminar, I gave my views on abortion and before I could finish like 10 people jumped on me and just started going after me and associating me with these evil, evil, horrible things. Like I’m a bit progressive so I definitely consider that lower income and minority groups have higher rates of unwanted pregnancy that hinders the progress of communities as a whole but I also have more Republican views that want to impose restrictions. I just think that having only one perspective or point of view is counter productive because a single take on an issue isn’t going to be the best solution. I don’t ask people to believe in what I believe in, I just ask them to understand me.
Student 3: I have had a lot of people come after me and almost like socially cancel me for muttering a single word about restricting accessibility of abortion. People think that because I am a minority that I should believe every piece of liberal ideology whole heartedly. Some of it I do because I don’t believe that it’s possible to fully identify with every single view of just one party so I am a centrist, but I have my own mind and my own struggles and that doesn’t make me less of a minority. I have been attacked and yelled at for expressing my religion in Culver, not necessarily in CCHS, but on the street. People have hit me with cars on purpose and yelled at me pointing at my scarf and honked at me going down the street. But I always just stay positive, in class if people don’t like what I have to say or on the street. I just say ‘Have a good day!’
“Do you think that it’s important for people to hear others’ perspectives in order to create a more tolerant community?”
Student 1: Absolutely, because not everyone is right about everything, but the real solutions come from when people come together and discuss civilly what the opinions are on each side and then come to a compromise rather than just shutting out who you don’t agree with and going with the majority opinion and thinking it must be the right one, when it may not even be based in factual evidence or statistics.
Student 2: I think that we need to pride ourselves on not just racial diversity but intellectual diversity. One of the things that makes the academic atmosphere at any academic institution an actual marketplace of ideas is having people from every side, politically or otherwise. We need to interact with people who have drastically different opinions than us and we need to learn how to respond to people with these views and understand them. This liberal echo-chamber that we have at CCHS hurts both the democrats and republicans on campus. At least, being a right-wing person who has to interact with left-wing peers on a daily basis, I have been forced to understand their perspectives and have respectful conversations and sharpen my debate skills, but I can’t say the same for the other students at CCHS with different views from me. We need to learn how to respect each other and work with each other because in the real world outside of the CCHS uniform political bubble, there is a range of opinions that people need to learn to respect.
Student 3: My parents raised me with the understanding that I should always listen to other people’s perspectives and opinions, even when it is something that I don’t agree with, and I feel like that’s the only way that we can actually have tolerance. I am a minority in so many different ways, from my sexuality, to the way I present myself, to me wearing a scarf. I’m a minority in a minority and I find it ridiculous that the majority ideology — liberalism — at our school preaches like listening to the stories of oppressed minorities and helping under-priveleged people, just except when it’s something they don’t necessarily agree with. It’s hypocritical. And I don’t mean that to create tension politically I just think that it needs to be recognized so that we can actually be tolerant. Not every minority member thinks the same thing and I am not going to just think a certain way because the majority of liberals tells me I should feel a certain way.
“How do you think this bandwagon effect has created division in CCHS?”
Student 1: When the George Floyd case first started gaining traction there was this whole thing when people were almost forced to post political images on social media and instagram stories because if they didn’t they would be called racist — regardless of if what they were reposting was even true or if they even agreed with it or even if they weren’t racist in the first place. People are more concerned with their own image and fitting in with a group than the actual movement or their own morality and individualism. It doesn’t help at all and it just shuts people up and there isn’t any actual progress because people are just being brainwashed into thinking something they don’t understand and not being [equipped] to participate and make a change for what they believe in. I think it has a lot to do with cancel culture.
“Although CCHS prides itself in being a democracy school and hosts a lot of socratic seminars in classrooms specifically to stimulate open and safe discussions, do these actually create a more hostile environment to voice a non-typical opinion?”
Student 2: I do have to give a lot of credit to CCHS, like I’m not a fan of the administration or the things they do but they have done some good things when it comes to being a democracy school. They have been happy to have a conservative on campus, such as me, who expresses their beliefs and they have worked with me to try to get republican speakers to try to make things more neutral, so credit is given where credit is due right. But on the other hand when you come into a community that is 99% Democratic and 1% Republican, like that’s not accurate but you get the point, like almost all of the right-wing people will not admit it, so you only have like 3 openly Republican people. So when you come into a socratic seminar it is very very hard to have a circle with diverse opinions and when that one conservative student tries to voice their opinion they are met with no respect and anger because students aren’t encouraged or taught how to deal with different political beliefs, like the teachers don’t intervene when a student is getting bashed in a discussion. Most of the teachers conducting these discussions infuse their own politics into the prompts and topics. So CCHS admins have done a pretty good job trying to make things neutral but there’s only so much you can do when taking into account the influence of the student and teacher opinions.
“How has silencing culture influenced your willingness to participate in peer discussions like socratic seminars and argumentative essays?”
Student 1: Yeah, in English class, there have been moments when I want to say something but I feel like the whole circle is going to come after me, so I try to limit what I want to say or maybe phrase it as a joke without targeting the situation directly like in a subtle way so at least I can show that people have been making baseless statements and getting riled up about it and so I ridicule it a bit to show that the majority opinion isn’t always the only side.
Student 2: Well at this point because of all the social and personal threats I’ve gotten, my participation in school is much less. Even if we go back to school it’s going to be difficult for me to figure out a way if it’s even safe for me to return because my social media and youtube channel has gained a lot of traction. So yeah that’s definitely a really big way that my school participation and ability to learn is affected.
I have also had a lot of experience with teachers grading essays with more right-leaning opinions poorly. So I know that this is just my experience so it’s not enough to draw a conclusion but just by observing essays that aren’t in agreement with a majority political opinion they are generally scored lower and the teachers are less compassionate when grading, Like some of these essays are actually good. I have seen, almost every time, teachers giving lower grades to conservative opinion papers and higher grades to any other opinion regardless of the writing quality. It’s definitely enough to be suspicious because teachers don’t really hold back bias as much as they should.
“How has the curriculum imparted a political influence on the classrooms?”
Student 1: In AP Lang we watch a lot of liberal and Democratic news outlet streams and then have to base discussions and form opinions and arguments based off of what they show us. So I think English classes need to incorporate perspectives from all sides like right-wing views too because you know half of America is right wing, they have to have some reason for having those values right so we might as well hear them. Honestly, politics just shouldn’t be involved in school at all. I don’t know why teachers are allowed to bring it in all of a sudden. I don’t want to be taught what to think, we need to be shown that there are always different arguments. That way we can come to socratic seminars and feel safe about talking about either side.
Silencing culture exists not only in political ideologies, but social culture and in everyday discussions. It is important that we recognize our suppression of others’ opinions and avoid confirmation bias, regardless of whether your opinion may identify why a majority or minority ideology. It is also important to understand that you are not alone in your opinion or idea, just the same as when you are in class and have a question, it’s likely that a couple other students are confused about the same thing you are, except in this situation, voicing your opinion may only strengthen the cancel and silencing culture, compromizing the ‘minority opinion’-holder’s social or safety status. Therefore, listening to others fully and getting to know the root of their views can not only mend the social tension within our society, but allow greater intellectual diversity, paving the way to true intellectual and social equality.
‘If half of America believes in something, there’s a reason behind it. You might as well hear them and understand their perspective. Our society can’t progress if opposition isn’t heard, regardless of the ideology you identify with — right or left.
*With several hours worth of interview time and almost a dozen volunteers whose anecdotes could not be included in this piece for reasons of length. If you would like to hear more perspectives on silencing culture, check out episode 1 of Centaurcast on the @cchscentaurian instagram (IGTV), airing December 6.