The Era of Good Feelings: Guest Speakers at GDS

GDS has long been seen as a progressive school, a place where new, less-mainstream ideas are not only accepted, but embraced. This means that when a student feels one way or another about a certain topic, the student should feel free to voice his or her opinion without the fear of being ostracized or ridiculed by peers. A large portion of GDS’s student body is politically liberal, but political conservatives also make up a significant part of our community. However, many conservatives at GDS find themselves hesitant to express their views because their ideas clash with the liberal ethos of the school. The lack of ideological diversity in our guest speakers at assemblies and other school events further discourages many from speaking their own political opinions. It is not the school’s job to coerce us into choosing one side over another in any political issue; it is the school’s job to present us with differing viewpoints and allow us to choose a side for ourselves. The overwhelming number of liberals we hear from as guest speakers at assemblies does just the opposite.

Please hear me out. I do not mean that I want to hear Donald Trump tell us that all Mexicans are rapists and that all Muslims are terrorists. I do not want to hear Senator Ted Cruz tell us that a man cannot marry a man simply because a book written nearly 2,000 years ago says it is a sin. But I would like to hear someone like Martin Feldstein advocate for the privatization of Social Security or Peter Morici calling for tax cuts or de-regulation. I would like to hear Senator John McCain argue against granting universal amnesty to immigrants living illegally living in the United States. And I would like to hear George Sher decry affirmative action on the grounds that it de-values the accomplishments of people of color who are chosen for a school or a job based on their race or ethnicity rather than on their actual qualifications. Many students at GDS believe strongly in these ideas, but they are afraid to speak up because they believe that the school and their peers do not share these feelings and that they may be shamed for holding these beliefs. A quick look back at the Benjamin Cooper Memorial Lecturers over years is further evidence of GDS’s imbalance of viewpoints.

For the Ben Cooper lecture, GDS brings in “a renowned guest lecturer to the school each year to stimulate the kind of dialogue in which Ben loved to participate.” The Ben Cooper lecturers are certainly renowned, with Pulitzer Prize-winners like Jose Antonio Vargas and MacArthur Fellows like Ta-Nehisi Coates. However, all of these lecturers share one thing in common: their liberal viewpoints. Since the Lecture Fund was founded in 1998, not once has a self-identified conservative spoken. These lecturers have addressed wide variety of topics, but we hear only one left-leaning view on each issue. GDS hardly ever hosts panels at assemblies made up of experts with diverse viewpoints on a central issue like abortion or immigration.

The idea of hosting conservative guest speakers is not unheard of at GDS. Years ago, the school hosted famed conservative political commentators David Brooks and David Frum at a number of assemblies. However, in recent times it appears our focus on this issue has faded. Our community has struggled with an imbalance of political views before, and we worked together to improve it. Now, we must take the same steps to ensure that we incorporate all sides of an issue into the discussion.

One does not have to agree with other viewpoints to understand the benefit of hearing them. One of the best ways to strengthen one’s own convictions on an issue is to hear opposing views. GDS does us a grave disservice by giving only one viewpoint on most issues in these forums. To be able to justify one’s own opinion is one of the first steps in becoming a strong thinker. As educated citizens of the world, we need to be able to process different opinions on an issue and formulate our own viewpoints. When we hear only one side of an argument, we are deprived of the ability to fully think through complex issues. In order to provide us with the best possible education, GDS must show us all sides of an argument. The school should start by hosting guest speakers with viewpoints on both ends of the political spectrum.

By: Will Gerson