In Defense of Free Speech


Meets once a week for 8 weeks
4 – 9 learners, ages 15-19




Traditionally, our society has broadly agreed that good schools should teach the intellectual skills students need to become citizens who are intelligently critical of their own beliefs and of the narratives presented by politicians, society, the media, and, indeed, schools themselves. The freedom to debate is essential to the development of critical thought, but on social media and university campuses today free speech is increasingly restricted for fear of causing offense.

Looming over this whole debate is a terrible temptation: the assumption that since you know that virtue is on your side, truth must be on your side – and that an honest effort to perceive the truth is immoral. (James Flynn, 2019)

Freedom of speech has been one of the driving forces behind moral progress through science and reason because it enables the search for truth.

As J. Robert Oppenheimer wrote in 1949,

“There must be no barriers to freedom of inquiry. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors.

Our political life is also predicated on openness. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it and that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. And we know that as long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost, and science can never regress.”

In an age where the freedom of speech is increasingly restricted by social media giants and universities, this course examines the argument for a return to unfettered critical thought and unrestricted freedom of speech.

This course was developed in partnership with James R. Flynn before he passed away in December of 2020. He was a giant of an intellectual – an intelligence researcher who gave his name to the Flynn Effect and Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at the University of Otago. 

Polyhistoria classes emphasize critical thinking, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. We believe that students learn best by doing what scholars do.

(Read more about our approach to history.)

Our approach to academics helps learners view traditional disciplines in unconventional ways. With immersive classes that cross disciplines, learners stretch themselves both within and beyond conventional academic pathways, while small classes encourage close collaboration between learners and instructors. Today, Polyhistoria is the only comprehensive online learning platform teaching in-depth, cutting-edge social science scholarship to teenagers.

(Read more about our teaching philosophy.)

Learning is not a spectator sport. Interaction and intellectual exchanges involving all students and the instructor enrich learning for all. Studying history involves an accumulation of knowledge about the past. But it also requires that we communicate that knowledge to others. You must be ready to share your views in class. A worthwhile course depends upon active participation by all students in class discussions.

The goal here is to advance an intelligent conversation from which we all learn. The most obvious way to do that is to say smart things and say them clearly. But that is not the only meaningful way to participate. Asking a question, connecting something already on the table to another thing, clarifying something that someone else has said, and offering evidence from the text under discussion are also all valuable. Bonus points are awarded for contributions that draw on what others have said. Other things to keep in mind: aim for clarity, keep in mind the value of an amicable classroom environment, and try not to monopolize the conversation.

1) Students’ cameras and microphones must be turned on during the class.
2) This class requires the continuous use of logical thinking & hypothetical reasoning skills to critically and creatively analyze the topics covered in the class. These cognitive functions are generally not sufficiently developed until a student is 14+ years old. Students must have the ability to think critically and logically to analyze the topics covered in the class.

Assignments will be posted in the Discord server each week for students and may include reading, researching, and watching select videos. It will also include required weekly discussions and debates.

1 hour per week in class, and an estimated 1 – 2 hours per week outside of class.

Meets once a week for 8 weeks
4 – 9 learners, ages 15-19