PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Monday encouraged students to engage others with respect and not to “be nasty” while hiding behind Twitter handles, leading one student to wonder why her boss, President Donald Trump, doesn’t appear to abide by those rules.
DeVos appeared at the National Constitution Center at a student Town Hall to talk about the First Amendment as part of the center’s annual Constitution Day, commemorating the 231st anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution.
Free speech on college campuses is being threatened, she said, and listening to people with differing views is an important part of education.
College administrators too often try to shield students from ideas they “subjectively decide are hateful or offensive” and wrongly assume students are incapable of grappling with or learning from these ideas, she told the students, ranging from elementary to college age.
Part of the problem, she said, is that as a nation “we have abandoned truth,” and it’s now often seen as a personal point of view.
“Learning is about thinking, reasoned argument and discovering facts,” she said. “If there is no objective truth, then there is no real learning.”
She urged students to take it upon themselves to approach others with respect and to engage with those who might have differing views.
“It is easy to be nasty hiding behind screens and Twitter handles,” she said. “It’s not so easy face to face.”
In a question-and-answer session, one college student, 21-year-old Kaileigh Murphy, told DeVos that Trump, well known for his Twitter screeds, doesn’t appear to be following that advice.
DeVos responded that “the separation that occurs between someone who puts something out on social media without really considering the receiving end of that communication doesn’t help with the overall discourse.” People are best off, she said, when they can sit down and talk together.
Murphy, a senior majoring in education at the College of New Jersey, said after the town hall that she agreed with much of what DeVos said about the importance of free speech and being open to people with differing opinions.
“It just seems like our current president is the prime example of hiding behind Twitter handles,” she said. “So I wanted to ask her, if she feels this way, why isn’t it coming out in the other levels of our government?”
Other questions included an 11-year-old public school boy asking: “Did your parents motivate you to become what you are?”
Answer: Yes, they wanted her to pursue what she was interested in, but they didn’t love that she played the drums in high school.
This year, the National Constitution Center is also piloting constitutional exchanges for classrooms. They give 500 high school students across the country the opportunity to engage in virtual conversations about the Constitution with their peers.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)