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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Vive Voltaire! Vive Free Speech!

Each year, I spend a day with my tenth graders examining some quotes from Voltaire.  It is part of a unit on the Enlightenment.  His most famous quote reads, "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."    

Of course, Voltaire lived in a time and place without the luxury of free speech.  He repeatedly faced exile and imprisonment.  He understood the price for his boldness:  "It is dangerous to be right on matters on which the established authorities are wrong."

Let me conclude here with a final quote from Voltaire.  "God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give the gift of living well."  If we are to live well, we must not be afraid to speak our minds.  It is the reasoning behind our country.  It is the reason many of our ancestors ended up here.  Only by allowing all ideas to freely compete will some rise to the top and others sink to the bottom.  The minute a government or individual blocks this free competition, it is a tell-tale sign.

Vive Voltaire!  Vive Charlie Hebdo!  Vive Liberte D'Expression!

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