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Cancel Wars

How Universities Can Foster Free Speech, Promote Inclusion, and Renew Democracy

Cancel Wars

How Universities Can Foster Free Speech, Promote Inclusion, and Renew Democracy

An even-handed exploration of the polarized state of campus politics that suggests ways for schools and universities to encourage discourse across difference. 

College campuses have become flashpoints of the current culture war and, consequently, much ink has been spilled over the relationship between universities and the cultivation or coddling of young American minds. Philosopher Sigal R. Ben-Porath takes head-on arguments that infantilize students who speak out against violent and racist discourse on campus or rehash interpretations of the First Amendment. Ben-Porath sets out to demonstrate the role of the university in American society and, specifically, how it can model free speech in ways that promote democratic ideals.

In Cancel Wars, she argues that the escalating struggles over “cancel culture,” “safe spaces,” and free speech on campus are a manifestation of broader democratic erosion in the United States. At the same time, she takes a nuanced approach to the legitimate claims of harm put forward by those who are targeted by hate speech. Ben-Porath’s focus on the boundaries of acceptable speech (and on the disproportional impact that hate speech has on marginalized groups) sheds light on the responsibility of institutions to respond to extreme speech in ways that proactively establish conversations across difference. Establishing these conversations has profound implications for political discourse beyond the boundaries of collegiate institutions. If we can draw on the truth, expertise, and reliable sources of information that are within the work of academic institutions, we might harness the shared construction of knowledge that takes place at schools, colleges, and universities against truth decay. Of interest to teachers and school leaders, this book shows that by expanding and disseminating knowledge, universities can help rekindle the civic trust that is necessary for revitalizing democracy.
 

208 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2023

Education: Higher Education, Philosophy of Education

Philosophy: Philosophy of Society

Political Science: American Government and Politics, Political Behavior and Public Opinion

Reviews

“Timely and important, Cancel Wars is a first-rate book with practical recommendations for educators and relevance for our current era of democratic backsliding and political polarization. Sigal R. Ben-Porath rejects the dominant framing of the controversies over free speech, which divides the two sides in the culture wars over education, and provides a menu of creative alternatives that schools, colleges, and universities can use to fulfill their joint mission of supporting free speech while mitigating the harms of harmful speech.” 

Elizabeth Anderson, University of Michigan

“In Cancel Wars, Sigal R. Ben-Porath offers an insightful, original, and powerful analysis of how colleges, universities, and lower schools must play an ever-more central role in fostering a free and open educational process in order to redress the increasing polarization that has seriously damaged our democracy. This is a must-read for anyone concerned with these profoundly important issues.”

Geoffrey R. Stone, University of Chicago

"A guide to the issues surrounding free speech and censorship on college campuses as well as strategies for faculty and students to deal with them constructively. . . . The book ends with solid advice for students, staff, and university boards to help deal with a host of issues, including contentious public speakers and hate speech. . . .Useful reading for college administrators and others involved in navigating thorny challenges facing colleges today."

Kirkus

"The premise of this book is that colleges and universities can serve as laboratories for democracy; campuses are common crossroads for many different people. . . . she argues that it’s possible if all campus members understand that the First Amendment makes no general exception for offensive, repugnant, or hateful expression. In the United States, hate speech is not a legal term. These ideas are illustrated with real-life examples throughout, followed by a list of practical suggestions for implementing change. "

Library Journal

Table of Contents

Introduction
1 A Polarized Democracy
2 Scientific Truth, Partisan Facts, and Knowledge We Can Share
3 Do I Belong Here? Inclusion and Harm
4 Freedom of Speech and Habits of Democracy in K–12 Schools
5 Campus Speech and Democratic Renewal
A Final Word
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index
 

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