From the time we were small children we have heard expressions such as, “This is a free country,” and “everyone has a right to his own opinion.” We have also been taught that “the freedom to swing your fist stops at the other guy’s nose.” One of the old standards of childhood is, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” To take the sayings in reverse order, the “sticks and stones” saying just isn’t true. Names do hurt and sometimes influence developmental problems that still exist in adulthood. Swinging your fist or shooting off your gun in a crowded room may not only get you in trouble it may get you in jail or dead. The “free country” and “right to an opinion” sayings are comments we still hear in adulthood but each requires some responsibility on the part of the person sharing their opinion.
In a recent “Speak Out” column in a local newspaper a writer said, “Children in our elementary schools are being taught that your government provides all your services.” A sentence later he said, “At the college level students are taught by leftist professors that socialism and communism are the best forms of government. The Constitution and its meanings are not taught anymore.” Most who know my background are aware that I spent my life in education teaching young people. I taught in junior high, high school, college, and was President of four colleges/universities over a 35-year career. I taught history and government and know what is required to be taught in our schools regarding government and the Constitution. I spent two decades working with college professors who were neither leftist nor in the practice of teaching that socialism and communism are best. What the writer said just isn’t true.
Yhe issue to think about is why he wanted to write something that he doesn’t know from his own research or experience to be true. Isn’t it incumbent on someone to know the truth of something before spreading deceit to the unknowing public? Shouldn’t someone have some first-hand information before writing something that attacks our fellow citizens, our teachers, who are working hard for our benefit?
In the same “Speak Out” column there was a letter that repeated the oft-heard comment, “I don’t care who we elect this coming November, it’s got to be better than what we have had for the past seven years.” Such a comment makes one wonder what criteria a person uses to evaluate our times and the leaders we hold responsible for our current situation. Surely, he isn’t using unemployment statistics, health care issues, number of wars being fought and military lives put in danger as criteria. We are better off today in most statistical categories than we were seven years ago. Is it the ISIS threat that hasn’t been handled properly? Is it the gridlock in Congress? If one is going to express such an opinion doesn’t a writer have the obligation to tell us what foundation he is using to make such a statement?
One of the sad truths of today’s politics is that the more times something is repeated, no matter how untrue, the more likely it will become “fact” in the minds of the voters. In short, if we say “Lying Ted,” or “Crooked Hillary,” enough times people began to think that Ted lies and Hillary is crooked.
I believe in letters to the editor. I believe in the freedom of someone to form opinions and share those wherever and whenever he desires. I believe this is a free country and educated discussion and debate is the way to find answers and reach new conclusions. However, I do not believe it is in the public interest to swing wildly whether it is in a crowded room or with an unsubstantiated opinion.
Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. You will find Hopkins’ latest book, “Journey to Gettysburg,” on Amazon.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.