Courage Of Convictions; p4c News

A behind-the-scenes note to MidWeek readers:

As a political independent (lower-case i), every week I edit and publish columns with which I disagree, on both the right and left. I believe it is my duty to present MidWeek readers with a wide range of thoughts and opinions. Freedom of speech means nothing if you don’t exercise that freedom. And from what readers tell me, most folks appreciate that.

A recent example of a column with which I disagreed is Jerry Coffee’s column calling President Obama the greatest domestic threat to America. A lot of MidWeek readers apparently disagreed as well, because in coming days I received a flood of letters decrying the notion that President Obama is out to destroy America, and we published a few of the most cogent letters. (Name-calling hate mail says as much about the sender as the subject, regardless of the side from which it emanates.)

Let me emphasize that MidWeek did not receive one letter supporting Jerry’s position. But several folks wrote directly to Jerry, praising his commentary and his courage to voice such an opinion, and he forwarded them to me.

Wanting MidWeek to express this diversity of opinion, I chose three that I deemed most cogent. (I’ll say it again: Name-calling hate mail says as much about the sender as the subject, regardless of the side from which it emanates.) I contacted the three letter writers by email and said I wanted to include their missives on our Letters page. In each case, they said they did not want their names used, one because he is a federal government contractor. Another asked if he could submit his letter anonymously.

The answer to that is a firm but polite no. MidWeek columnists put their names (and faces) on their opinions, and we do not publish letters that are unsigned. It’s called having the courage of your convictions. An anonymous letter, to me, is next to cowardly – it’s easy to spew venom while hiding behind a veil of secrecy. Frankly, I was flabbergasted that people who voiced such ardent opinions did not want to be publicly associated with them.

So whether you agree or disagree with our columnists, as I do with Jerry on this issue, at least give him and all our columnists credit and respect for having the courage to express their convictions for our half-million readers, and to take the heat afterward.

Likewise for readers who write us a letter and sign their name to it, proudly exercising their freedom of speech. They include this week a letter sent originally to Jerry by a woman who agreed to have her name published.

* Here’s some very good news to follow up on my cover story about the Dalai Lama’s visit to Kailua High in April, because of the remarkable Philosophy for Children (p4c) program there:

Last week the Uehiro Foundation on Ethics and Education in Tokyo pledged $1.25 million to establish the UH-Manoa Uehiro Academy for Philosophy and Ethics in Education. The academy will be based at the College of Arts & Humanities.

“The creation of the Uehiro Academy will greatly enhance the work of p4c in Hawai’i,” Dr. Tom Jackson, executive director of the p4c program in the Department of Philosophy at UH-Manoa, said in a UH press release. “It will expand to four the number of educators who will be working full time to extend the reach of p4c to more schools and teachers in Hawai’i and abroad who have shown great interest in this philosophical approach to educational transformation.”

Later in an email exchange, “Dr. J” wrote to me: “I’m just back from a successful trip to Switzerland and Austria, where I made presentations and sat together with some kids to do p4c together. Your MidWeek article has become a centerpiece of presenting to others the powerful impact of this work on students. I know it was a factor in the success of this recent visit to the University (by the Uehiro Foundation) to expand p4c here and elsewhere.”

That’s gratifying, to say the least.