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The importance of dissenting voices


John Stuart Mill forwarded the importance of the Free Exchange of Ideas in 1859. But how does this exchange of ideas matter today? Some may argue it’s more important to understand in today’s society of political correctness. In fact, according to the Knight Foundation, “There is a real perception that campuses are not fully open environments. A slight majority of students, 54 percent, say the climate on their campus prevents some people from saying what they believe because others might find it offensive.” Using examples from current events, such as protests at the University of Missouri, students will examine and discuss the impact of dissenting voices.


  • Students will be able to identify and explain recent examples of dissent and describe a relationship between dissent and the free exchange of ideas.
  • Students will be able to draw connections to how this idea of dissenting voices works in their high school environment.
  • Students will reflect on the importance of listening to and sharing their own dissenting opinions.

Common Core State Standards



Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue; clarify, verify or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives.


Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify or challenge ideas and conclusions.




Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.6 Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.


50 minutes


Slideshow: Importance of dissent

Lesson step-by-step
1. Slideshow — 30 minutes

Direct students through the presentation, which includes a CNN timeline and video embedded in the slideshow. If needed, pause to have students conduct quick online research about the University of Missouri example or other examples as they arise.

2. Check for understanding — 10 minutes

Pause on the Frederick Douglass quote at the end of the slideshow. Ask students to write two-to-five sentences about their reaction to the quote. You may also want to ask students if their views have changed.

3. Discussion and debrief — 10 minutes

Ask students what they can do next time someone disagrees with them. What if they are in the minority? Why is it important for them to speak up if they disagree? How can they ask questions honestly in the future? What might their approach be?

4. Assessment

If you would like an additional assessment or need to issue a daily grade, consider using an exit ticket to ask students to summarize the takeaways from today’s lesson, or invite them to draw a connection between today’s discussion and an example from current events.


In addition to providing struggling learners a version of the lesson that includes the teacher notes, the lesson could be separated into two days. For this, students could research not only the University of Missouri student protest, but also the attempt to constrain the free speech rights of Georgetown law students. Students could present on these topics.

You may also want to ask the class to set rules concerning how students will contribute in this discussion.