Tag: Education

Go Divest Yourself

When I was in college, “divestment” was a big thing. The idea was that colleges, which generally have nine or more figure endowments, should use their investments to bring political pressure on social issues, pulling their money away from “bad” companies and putting it into good ones.

As a rule, colleges and universities are reluctant to do this because the purpose of the endowment is to fund the school, not play politics. And once you start playing that game, you get lost in a morass of conflicting political squabbles trying to figure out which companies aren’t going to annoy some segment of the student population. But that didn’t stop student organizations from constantly agitating to divest from … well, whatever they were mad about that week. In my senior year, they were pressuring my college to divest from the Mall of America. Not because it was a shitty investment but because they had a Hooters there, if you can imagine such a thing. Because I’m sure the one thing that would persuade the Mall of America to boot out a profitable business was a for a small liberal arts college to pull their investment.

It turns out that, in the last twenty years, student organizations have only gotten stupider:

We have covered anti-Israel student government divestment votes the past couple of years.

Groups, typically led by Students for Justice in Palestine assisted by Jewish Voice for Peace, try to get student governments to vote to divest from specified companies doing business in Israel, such as Caterpillar and HP. Sometimes they succeed, mostly they fail. In the end, it’s purely symbolic, since student governments have no such power.

Symbolism matters, though, because the campus movement is part of a larger goal of demonizing and dehumanizing Jewish Israelis. Even when they lose a vote, the BDS crowd claims victory because they forced people to talk about their issue.

Last academic year there were a series of divestment initiatives that failed, but recently in the U. California system, several have passed. The anti-Israel groups are very strategic, taking the time to elect their supporters to student councils, and that long-term strategy has paid off in places like UCLA, which rejected divestment last spring, only to see it pass this fall after a change of board membership.

One thing that slowly is coming to light, however, is that the anti-Israel movement is not the grassroots, student-led movement it purports to be. In fact, it has a highly coordinated, well-funded action plan assisted and coordinated by outside groups.

Over $42 million has been designated for this kind of agitation, including money from the Students for Justice for Palestine, who featured a terrorist at their 2012 conference. Those of you old enough to remember the Cold War may remember that the Communists did the same thing: funding “grass roots” organizations to advance their agenda.

That’s not even the worst part:

The anti-Israel movement had another success today, at the University of California system-wide Student Council, where two divestment motions passed, 9-1-6.

The first Resolution was the usual divestment from Israel, and the Israel motion was the focus of heated protest.

Inside, the anti-Israel students also voted to support a boycott of the U.S., among other countries, through a second Resolution calling for divestment from American, Mexican, Russian, Turkish, Indonesian, Brazilian, Sri Lankan, and Egyptian government bonds.

Yes. The U Cal student government has called on the university to divest from America. As Jacobson points out, if you’re going to define Israel’s actions as worthy of divestment, you’re going to have to divest from basically the entire world.

There’s no crazy like student crazy.

Update: Speaking of divestment idiots.

Take That. And That. And That

I’ve been sitting on this story for a few days because, frankly, I couldn’t believe it. I was sure someone was putting me on. We’ve heard of really awful responses to the extremely rare school shootings that happen in this country, including simulated attacks that terrify children and serve no purpose whatsoever. But this has to be among the stupidest responses I’ve read:

School officials have gotten some criticism for sending a letter to parents asking students to bring canned goods to attack would-be intruders.

“We realize at first this may seem odd; however, it is a practice that would catch an intruder off-guard,” the letter reads, according to CNN affiliate WRBL. “The canned food item could stun the intruder or even knock him out until the police arrive. The canned food item will give the students a sense of empowerment to protect themselves and will make them feel secure in case an intruder enters the classroom.”

Chambers County School Superintendent Kelli Moore Hodge acknowledges that the middle school didn’t educate people properly before sending the letter home, but she says the cans are a very small part of the training.

“The major point of the training (which is called ALICE – Alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate) is to be able to get kids evacuated and not be sitting ducks hiding under desks,” Hodge wrote in an email.

Once the door has been locked and barricaded and students have moved to an area out of sight, students should have a plan if the attacker breaks into the room.

That’s when canned goods and other classroom items come into play.

“Start gathering several items you can use to protect yourself. Every room has something you can use to distract and defend from the aggressors’ attack,” says the Auburn video’s narrator. “Communicate with others around you and tell them your plan. Don’t wait until the aggressor gets into your safe area to have a plan of action.”

Students can throw books, book bags, computers and, yes, those canned goods to distract any aggressor.

Apparently, they thought Eddie Izzard was serious when he joked about how the British defended themselves from the Nazis at the beginning of World War II.

This is insane. As I have argued before, just about any preparation for a mass shooting is borderline insane. The odds of this happening at any school in America in any particular year are literally one in a million. I won’t say this is worse than people being paid huge salaries to play cops and robbers in a school during “drills”. But Good Lord, this is stupid.

Congratulations, W.F. Burns Middle School and ALICE. You are an early frontrunner for Turkey of the Year. And it’s only January.

Trying To Give Away the Store

Higher education has problems. It has become enormously expensive and many students find themselves tied to student loans that are predatory and can not be discharged in bankruptcy. The ranks and salaries of administrators continue to rise while faculty hires are flat and many faculty are hired as adjuncts — paid minimally and with almost no benefits. Clearly, something needs to change. And that thing is ..

… uh …

Spending more money?

Obama is proposing two years of free community college for students who attend at least half-time and maintain a grade point average of at least 2.5. That wouldn’t cover the entire cost for most students — students who finish community college in two years are rare — but the White House estimates it would save 9 million students around $3,800 per year in tuition if every state chose to participate.

The White House said details will be in the president’s 2016 budget request but declined to offer specifics on how much the program would cost. It’s not clear how the program would work, how the grants to states would be structured, or how the federal money would interact with the Pell Grant, federal aid for low-income students that about 38 percent of all community college students receive.

Obama is pitching this as helping poor people. But as even Vox has to admit, poor students are already covered by Pell Grants. What this really is is a middle class subsidy and not a particularly great one. The first two years of college will be free but two years of college is not going to do you any good. You need to graduate. What this really is about is hooking more students into college who don’t really need it so that they’ll feel obligated for the remaining two years. It’s not clear that there will be any real benefit here.

The other huge problem is that the large majority of job categories expected to grow the most in the coming years do not require postsecondary training. Of the 30 occupations that the U.S. Department of Labor projects to see the greatest total growth by 2022, only 10 typically need some sort of postsecondary education, and several of those require less than an associate’s degree. Most of the new jobs will require a high school diploma or less.

Of course, one of the biggest problems in higher ed is that for so much of it, someone other than the student is paying the bill, tamping down students’ incentives to seriously consider whether they should go to college and what they should study if they do. This proposal would only exacerbate that problem, essentially encouraging people to spend two years in community college fully on the taxpayer dime while they dabble in things they may or may not want to do—and as they maintain a pretty low 2.5 GPA—then maybe focusing a little more when the two years is up and they have to pay something themselves.

Moreover, it does nothing about the big problem, which is exploding tuition rates at private and public universities. The main reason those tuitions are exploding is because of government subsidies and guaranteed loans. There is little downside to raising tuition for universities because the government has promised to pay or guarantee whatever they charge. As Scott Shackford points out, the Obama plan would encourage community colleges — one of the few affordable areas of higher education — to follow suit with administrative bloat. California’s community college system — which have a wait list nearly half a million names long — is relatively cheap at $1500 per year. But why on Earth would they maintain such cheap tuition if the federal government has guaranteed that it will pay whatever they charge?

Actually, I’m giving Obama too much credit. There is an idea behind this but it has nothing to do with education, opportunity or community college. He’s pandering to young voters. He’s promising them a benefit that will never materialize in a transparent effort to troll for votes. Why else would he put this forward when there is precisely zero chance that Congress will do it?

Look, I like community colleges. I taught at one when I was in grad school. I earned some valuable teaching experience and a little bit of money. Teaching there made be a better instructor because people paying for their own education are going to make damned sure they get something out of it. The operation was reasonably efficient — I had exactly one boss and she was teaching classes of her own. Some of the students blew off the class, but many were motivated, interested and attentive. Some were getting two cheap years of college before going on to a major university (Clark Howard often recommends this as a way to save money on college). Others were going into trades. It was a good deal all around.

The last thing community colleges need is a river of free federal money. They have their job and they do it reasonably well. They don’t need to be turned into big bloated universities. Not everyone needs to go to college. And they certainly don’t need to go to a poor man’s Yale.

Update: Tyler Cowen:

Overall my take is that the significant gains are to be had at the family level and at the primary education level, and that the price of community college is not a major bottleneck under the status quo.

Ding! But solving problems at the primary education level is hard and involves unions. Easier to throw money at community colleges.

The Future of Law

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot:

Columbia Law School is allowing students to postpone their final exams this month if they feel unnerved by the recent grand jury decisions not to indict police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men.

The policy was announced by the school’s interim dean, Robert E. Scott, in an email on Saturday to the school community. A small number of students have received postponements, a Columbia spokeswoman, Elizabeth Schmalz, said on Monday, though she declined to say how many.

In his email, Mr. Scott wrote that following existing policies for “trauma during exam period,” students who felt their performance could suffer because of the decisions in the Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island cases could request a delay.

“The grand juries’ determinations to return nonindictments in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases have shaken the faith of some in the integrity of the grand jury system and in the law more generally,” he wrote. “For some law students, particularly, though not only, students of color, this chain of events is all the more profound as it threatens to undermine a sense that the law is a fundamental pillar of society designed to protect fairness, due process and equality.”

Other schools have announced or been asked to consider similar policies.

You know, a lot of people were upset about the Ferguson verdict and especially the Garner verdict. But you know what? We learn to go on with our lives despite trauma that does not personally involve us. And if this is going to “shake your faith” in the legal system so badly that you can’t take an exam, what the hell are you going to do when you’re the attorney on the business end of a bad jury decision? Putting aside the specifics of these two cases, no one has ever claimed that our justice system is perfect. If you’re exposed to it for any length of time, you’re going to have to deal with crushing disappointment. In fact, there is no profession in the world where one does not have to deal, at some point, with disappointment. There is no person in the world who will go through life with dealing without pain a lot more intense than a grand jury verdict involving strangers.

What’s next? Time off for final exams if their team loses the Super Bowl? I’ve had it with college and graduate school students who are made of eggshells. Everyone’s “offended”. Everyone has “triggers”. Everyone is obsessed with “microagressions“. We have thousands of students around this country who can’t get through a day without a fainting couch. Amy Alkon:

This behavior is coming from students who have grown up in what, at any other time in history, would be considered luxurious comfort. And that is true of almost most people who grow up in America, even those who do not grow up in middle-class families.

I believe that so much comfort — and the notion that even the slightest discomfort is a form of injustice — has played a role in both many people’s unwillingness to stand up for our civil liberties and in the witch hunts going on on campus. Oh, the horror that a professor would correct your grammar!

And yes, there’s obviously all sorts of multi-culti victim studies-think behind this, too — of course — but I think the perceived “right” to comfort at all times is something we’ve overlooked.

But you know what? I strongly suspect this is bullshit. I would bet the euros left in my wallet that this is mainly law students trying to weasel out a few more study days. And I suspect the school knows this, if their faculty aren’t complete morons (always a possibility). I suspect they’ve allowed this because they want to “make a statement” about the verdicts.

The 13-year-old Desperado

Avery Gagliano is in trouble. Having more than ten unexcused absences from school in the Washington DC public school system, she’s been declared truant. What was she doing? Was she hanging out at the mall? Was she smoking with a bunch of loser? Doing drugs? Voting Republican?

Um, she was being a world-class piano prodigy:

The prodigy, who just turned 13, was one of 12 musicians selected from across the globe to play at a prestigious event in Munich last year and has won competitions and headlined with orchestras nationwide.

But to the D.C. public school system, the eighth-grader from Mount Pleasant is also a truant. Yes, you read that right. Avery’s amazing talent and straight-A grades at Alice Deal Middle School earned her no slack from school officials, despite her parents’ begging and pleading for an exception.

Avery’s parents say they did everything they could to persuade the school system. They created a portfolio of her musical achievements and academic record and drafted an independent study plan for the days she’d miss while touring the world as one of the star pianists selected by a prestigious Lang Lang Music Foundation, run by Chinese pianist Lang Lang, who handpicked Avery to be an international music ambassador.

But the school officials wouldn’t budge, even though the truancy law gives them the option to decide what an unexcused absence is. The law states that an excused absence can be “an emergency or other circumstances approved by an educational institution.”

Avery’s parents can’t afford private school. But I’m hoping some private school will read this article and fall over themselves to give them a discount. I would if I ran a school. It’s also possible that the school will cave now that their idiocy has been splashed all over a newspaper.

The key to understanding the problems in our public education system is the realization that the system does not see kids as individuals who should be enabled to rise to the peak level of their abilities. Nor does it see teachers as the people that can open and develop a child’s mind. It sees the schools as a factory, the teachers as grunt labor and docile little future workers as the product. It sees conformity as the ideal. It exists, in the exact words of “educators” like Arne Duncan, to produce workers for American businesses. Thus the tremendous enthusiasm for universal standards and testing: specification and quality control of the product. Thus the willingness to micromanage teachers and throw the latest greatest education fad at them: what you expect those commoners to know how to teach? Thus the enthusiasm for year-round schooling: more product is better product. Thus the hatred for school choice: it could liberate children from the government system (or even worse, force the system to reform).

Little Avery is a piano genius and a straight-A student and that’s great. But the system doesn’t exist to create piano geniuses or straight-A students. She’s not being an obedient little drone, hobbling her way to the quality-controlled, overmanaged, top-down lesson some Washington bureaucrat has decreed for her. And for that, she must be punished.

Update: The DC schools are claiming it was all a big misunderstanding. The reporter disagrees.

The School to Prison Pipeline Becomes Literal

Eh, what?

We’ve received reports that yesterday, a Belleville school teacher was locked in a bathroom at the High School due to the RFID system malfunctioning. Since school policy is to not allow the use of cell phones, no one knew where she was, or what happened to her until they went looking for her. Luckily, the teacher was carrying her purse, with her phone inside. When her co-workers retrieved their phones to try to call her, they found that she had been frantically trying to call and text people to come help her.

By the way, this is the same RFID system that the Board of Education pushed through as part of their controversial surveillance system, installed and managed by Clarity Technologies Group, at a cost of $2 million.

Even worse, when they actually discovered that she was locked in the bathroom, they could not open the door by swiping with their own RFID cards because the system had malfunctioned. Apparently someone had to come and pry open the door to finally get her out.

So … let me get this straight. In an effort, presumably, to protect schoolchildren from being abducted by aliens or something, this school spent $2 million — remember how our schools are supposedly strapped for cash? — to build an RFID system. This system is so awesome that it apparently doesn’t include a panic bar on the inside of locked room so that can people can get out in case of malfunction, loss of card or a damned fire?! We are literally locking kids into rooms they may not be able to get out of in the name of safety?

I honestly hope this report turns out to be garbled. Because I can not believe a school system could be that dumb.

Wait a minute. Yes, I can.

The NOLA Experiment Forges Ahead

Hmm:

Benjamin Banneker Elementary closed Wednesday as New Orleans’s Recovery School District permanently shuttered its last five traditional public schools this week.

With the start of the next school year, the Recovery School District will be the first in the country made up completely of public charter schools, a milestone for New Orleans and a grand experiment in urban education for the nation.

It has been two decades since the first public charter school opened in Minnesota, conceived as a laboratory where innovations could be tested before their introduction into public schools. Now, 42 states encourage charters as an alternative to conventional schools, and enrollment has been growing, particularly in cities. In the District of Columbia, 44 percent of the city’s students attend charter schools.

But in New Orleans, under the Recovery School District, the Louisiana state agency that seized control of almost all public schools after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city in 2005, the traditional system has been swept away.

This move is naturally drawing fire from the Left, some of which is misinformed. They are claiming that the entire school district has been turned over to “fundamentalist schools”, confusing Louisiana’s experiment in vouchers with their experiment in charter schools. They are claiming that the RSD fired 7,000 mostly black teachers in favor of white ones. In fact, those teachers were fired immediately after Katrina (as the WaPo later corrects) and most found employment in whatever areas the escaped to after Katrina. They claim that this is “re-segregating” New Orleans because some charter schools are mostly white. There may be some validity to that, but dysfunctional schools that don’t teach anything are probably the most effective means of resegregation you could imagine.

The initial results are impressive:

Before the storm, the city’s high school graduation rate was 54.4 percent. In 2013, the rate for the Recovery School District was 77.6 percent. On average, 57 percent of students performed at grade level in math and reading in 2013, up from 23 percent in 2007, according to the state.

There is a big caveat to this: the population of the RSD is different so a direct comparison is tenuous. And charter schools elsewhere have had mixed results. So we’ll have to see how this pans out in the years ahead.

I do know that this idea is better than anything the Left has had for the last half century. Those ideas have included spending more money, spending more money, spending more money, spending more money and spending more money. They have included changing to a new paradigm every few years just as the teachers get used to the old one. They have included standardized testing, which encourages teachers to “teach to the test”. They have included the new Core Standards, which are becoming highly controversial. The results have been … well, nothing. Educational accomplishment has remained flat despite ever-increasing funding. Even when they have been given free reign to do whatever they want, the results have been unimpressive:

For decades critics of the public schools have been saying, “You can’t solve educational problems by throwing money at them.” The education establishment and its supporters have replied, “No one’s ever tried.” In Kansas City they did try. To improve the education of black students and encourage desegregation, a federal judge invited the Kansas City, Missouri, School District to come up with a cost-is-no-object educational plan and ordered local and state taxpayers to find the money to pay for it.

Kansas City spent as much as $11,700 per pupil–more money per pupil, on a cost of living adjusted basis, than any other of the 280 largest districts in the country. The money bought higher teachers’ salaries, 15 new schools, and such amenities as an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, television and animation studios, a robotics lab, a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability, and field trips to Mexico and Senegal. The student-teacher ratio was 12 or 13 to 1, the lowest of any major school district in the country.

The results were dismal. Test scores did not rise; the black-white gap did not diminish; and there was less, not greater, integration.

The Kansas City experiment suggests that, indeed, educational problems can’t be solved by throwing money at them, that the structural problems of our current educational system are far more important than a lack of material resources, and that the focus on desegregation diverted attention from the real problem, low achievement.

That was 20 years ago. We’re spending twice as much per student now. You can look at a more recent example in Newark where hundreds of millions of private funds were poured into the school district to accomplish nothing except enriching some consultants. You can also check out Hot Air, which has some details about DeBlasio shutting down charters that are performing well to send funds to traditional schools that aren’t.

Maybe New Orleans’ experiment won’t work. But when your schools cost a fortune and accomplish nothing, you’ve got to try something other than burning more money. I hope this does work because the state of our education system is maddening to everyone … especially the people working in it.

Over at the Lefty blogs, you can find plenty of people hoping it doesn’t work (that is, hoping that poor children don’t get educated) and flinging racist insults against supporters of the model. It’s not hard to see why the Left wing is so terrified. If this works, it will undermine basically everything they’ve been saying about education for the last fifty years. And severely weaken one of the Democrats’ principle sources of campaign contributions.

Update: I was thinking about this some more and thought about something Megan McArdle said in the context of reforming the VA:

This is the sort of turnaround that a lot of corporate chief executive officers promise: We’ll handle more customers, but faster! Most of them fail, too. And corporate CEOs have a weapon that the president doesn’t: They can fire most of the staff. When looking at corporate turnarounds for my book on failure, I came across a lot of stories of successful turnarounds, and a lot of them started with just that step.

I know, that sounds cruel. Capital against labor! And actually, it is pretty terrible for workers who get the sack. On the other hand, it may be necessary to save the company.

Over time, institutions develop a strong culture, a set of institutional practices, customs and norms that control what the organization is capable of doing. To see what I mean, imagine the staff of the New York Times producing Gawker — or the staff of Gawker Media producing the New York Times. This is functionally what companies are often trying to do in a turnaround situation: transform a company that had a profitable niche in one part of the industry into the very different sort of company that competes in a different niche.

But the inability to make this kind of radical change does hamper would-be government reformers. So does the way that our government now functions after decade upon decade of prior reform: which is to say, it prioritizes processes, which can be measured, over outcomes, which often can’t be; rules over discretion; and rights over trade-offs.

What that means in plain English is that when you put reforms in place, you can’t just rip out the stuff that’s not working and do something different. What you’re actually reforming is the process, and because many of the current elements of the process are functionally mandated by other government rules, or court rulings, or bits of legislation that your reform effort didn’t amend, you have to layer your reform on top of the system you wanted to reform, rather than in place of it. Many of your reforms simply stack another layer of bureaucracy on top of the bureaucracy that was already causing problems. This is a problem that CEOs don’t face, unless they’re in some heavily regulated business such as banking or oil refining.

Eventually, almost every organization gets to the point where you have to burn it down and start all over. It’s not the people are evil or stupid or incompetent. It’s that they think a certain way and approach problems a certain way even if that way no longer works. They do this because that is the way it has always been done. Look at what happened in Newark. A truckload of money was backed up and it went to the same old stuff and devolved into the same political battles.

Again, maybe remaking the RSD school system won’t work. But it’s the first time we’re going to completely reboot a school system. That’s at least worth a shot, isn’t it?

The Purge

For the last few months, Stephen Bainbridge has been talking about “the Purge”, what he perceives as an increased effort to rid campuses of ideas and people that the Left does not approve of. It has manifested in universities cutting funding for conservative groups and preventing them from hosting speakers that some students don’t approve of (lest anyone be “offended”). It has manifested in Rutgers withdrawing an invitation to Condi Rice to speak at their commencement (a precedent followed by other schools). It has manifested in Brandeis withdrawing a speaking invitation to Ayan Hirsi Ali. It has manifested in Charles Murray’s speech at Azusa Pacific being postponed indefinitely.

In isolation, these things wouldn’t be a concern. No one has a right to speak, after all (although I doubt the people who objected to Rutgers hosting “war criminal” Condi Rice would object to hosting a member of the Administration that has droned American citizens to death without trial). But we’re now seeing the second stage: legal harassment of people who may harbor politically incorrect views:

Douglas Laycock, School of Law faculty member and husband of UVA President Teresa Sullivan, is one of the country’s leading experts on religious liberty, and is well-known for a legal stance that often puts him on opposite sides of polarizing political issues: He supports individual religious rights, but also a total separation of church and state, and he’s argued several Supreme Court cases from that position, defending conservative Lutherans and Santería sect members alike.

Some of his recent writings have been heavily cited by members of the religious right, and now he’s facing the ire of activists on the other end of the political spectrum.

“His work, whether he understands it or realizes it or not, is being used by folks who want to institute discrimination into law,” said Heather Cronk, co-director of Berkeley, California-based LGBT activist group GetEQUAL.

Through the activist group Virginia Student Power Network, GetEQUAL found two UVA students willing to take up the cause of calling out Laycock: rising fourth-year Greg Lewis and now-alum Stephanie Montenegro. Last week, the pair sent an open letter to Laycock asking him to consider the “real-world consequences that [his] work is having.” They also submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking e-mails between Laycock and various right-wing and religious liberty groups.

They say they just want to “start a dialogue”. Many of you will recognize that language. “Starting a dialogue” frequently translates out of Leftese into English as “you will shut up while I berate you.” Bainbridge calls them out:

Bullshit. You don’t start a dialogue with FOIA requests. This is a blatant effort at deterring public participation by anyone who does not hew 100% to the most radical version of the gay rights movement.

FOIA requests should sound familiar. That was the tactic that, when used in an attempt to fish around in Michael Mann’s records, was denounced by the Left as an Orwellian attack on academic freedom. And it was. But now that it is being applied to someone who isn’t even conservative, but is insufficiently liberal, it’s OK again. And that’s not the first time they’ve flipped on this. When Greenpeace used FOIA to go after climate skeptical Patrick Michaels, the academic-freedom-loving Left cheered them on. They then used the information Greenpeace dredged up to attack Michaels. (To be fair, as Walter Olson notes, some conservative groups are also using FOIA to attack profs they don’t like).

Look, you either believe in academic freedom or you don’t. You either believe in the free exchange of ideas or you don’t. And a significant and vocal part of the Left has made it clear, sometimes very explicitly, that they only believe in academic freedom for ideas they approve of.

I don’t think you win arguments by silencing dissenters. Argue … shout … scream … protest … sure. Make your case; make it forcefully; mock your opponents. That’s fighting bad speech with more free speech. But the tenor of these attacks is edging closer and closer to censorship, closer and closer to ridding the academy of ideas that are considered dangerous or subversive (at least by a small group of like-minded people).

The justification is usually given as protecting people from being offended. But no one has a right to not be offended. Hell, it’s good to be offended sometimes. It can motivate you. The most linked blog post I ever wrote was a debunking of Mother Jones’ claim that mass shooting were on the rise. I wrote it because I was infuriated by their abuse of statistics.

Moreover college is where you should be exposed to a broad array of ideas, some of which may offend you. Being taken out of your comfort zone is how you learn. Sometimes, you learn that you were wrong (of course, nothing offends people more than being wrong). Sometimes you learn that you were right. I always despised communism. It wasn’t until I was exposed to communist writings in college that if found it offended me with its awful understanding of economics and explicit embrace of totalitarianism.

Another justification given is that we don’t want to contaminate impressionable young minds with bad ideas. More garbage. The best time to encounter bad ideas is when you’re in college, when your entire life revolves around ingesting and either accepting or rejecting ideas.

You don’t immunize people from “bad” ideas by hiding them away. You argue, you debate, you explain why those ideas are wrong, you put forward better ideas. If you think Douglas Laycock is wrong on religious freedom, file your own amicus briefs. But don’t abuse the FOIA laws to try to harass and intimidate him. That’s not “starting a dialogue”. That just thuggery.

Critical Thinking in Critical Condition

Great googley moogley:

The Rialto school district planned to revise an eighth-grade assignment that raised red flags by asking students to consider arguments about whether the Holocaust — the systematic killing by the Nazis of some 6 million Jews and millions of others — was not an “actual event” but instead a “propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain.”

In a statement released Monday, a spokeswoman for the Rialto Unified School District said an academic team was meeting to revise the assignment.

Interim Superintendent Mohammad Z. Islam was set to talk with administrators to “assure that any references to the holocaust ‘not occurring’ will be stricken on any current or future Argumentative Research assignments,” a statement from district spokeswoman Syeda Jafri read.

“The holocaust should be taught in classrooms with sensitivity and profound consideration to the victims who endured the atrocities committed,” Jafri said.

The English/Language Arts assignment, first reported Sunday by the San Bernardino Sun and provided to KTLA by the newspaper, asked students to write an argumentative essay about the Holocaust describing “whether or not you believe this was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth.”

Ed Morrissey has more details. Apparently, the “source materials” included a reference to a crackpot Holocaust denial site. The counter-sources were wikipedia and about.com.

Seriously.

I’ll be as fair as possible to the school and assume that they wanted to teach critical thinking and writing skills by having students address some piece of conspiratorial garbage and find the flaws. But … really even that fails as an excuse. If you want to teach students critical thinking, why on Earth would start with the giant pile of flaming shit that is Holocaust denial? Responding to that is either shooting fish in a barrel or wallowing in some of the foulest pits of conspiracy theory nonsense.

If you want to teach critical thinking skills, take on something that is not settled, like an ongoing scientific or economic debate. Have them read articles for and against the stimulus, for example. Or for and against socialized medicine. Or about climate change. Or about something besides garbage theories that pretend ten million people weren’t murdered by the Nazis.

The Heckler’s Veto

A few weeks ago, the 9th Circus ruled that it was acceptable for a school to ban shirts displaying the American flag. Their reasoning was that high school students do not have full Constitution liberties, which is a well-established precedent, and that the shirts would have caused disruption in the school by angering Mexican students.

Yeah.

This was the end of a series of confrontations between Mexican-American students and white ones alternatively displaying Mexican and American flags. The confrontations had been growing more alarming and the school said they acted to defuse the situation. But here’s what Eugene Volokh had to say:

This is a classic “heckler’s veto” — thugs threatening to attack the speaker, and government officials suppressing the speech to prevent such violence. “Heckler’s vetoes” are generally not allowed under First Amendment law; the government should generally protect the speaker and threaten to arrest the thugs, not suppress the speaker’s speech. But under Tinker‘s “forecast substantial disruption” test, such a heckler’s veto is indeed allowed.

Yet even if the judges are right, the situation in the school seems very bad. Somehow, we’ve reached the point that students can’t safely display the American flag in an American school, because of a fear that other students will attack them for it — and the school feels unable to prevent such attacks (by punishing the threateners and the attackers, and by teaching students tolerance for other students’ speech). Something is badly wrong, whether such an incident happens on May 5 or any other day.

And this is especially so because behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated. The school taught its students a simple lesson: If you dislike speech and want it suppressed, then you can get what you want by threatening violence against the speakers. The school will cave in, the speakers will be shut up, and you and your ideology will win. When thuggery pays, the result is more thuggery. Is that the education we want our students to be getting?

It’s not clear to me if Mexican flag shirts were banned too. That would at least be … somewhat defensible, I guess, if you ignore which country this was taking place in. But it would still set a dangerous Heckler’s Veto precedent in our schools. A veto that at least one North Carolina school is taking up:

WLOS-TV reports that 9-year-old Grayson Bruce was being “punch[ed],” “push[ed]” and “call[ed] … horrible names” for bringing a “My Little Pony” bag to school — so school officials told him to stop bringing the bag:

[Bruce’s mother, Noreen, says] the school asked him to leave the bag at home because it had become a distraction and was a “trigger for bullying.” …

Buncombe County Schools declined an interview, but sent us this statement, “an initial step was taken to immediately address a situation that had created a disruption in the classroom. Buncombe County Schools takes bullying very seriously, and we will continue to take steps to resolve this issue.”

So let’s get this straight. Boy brings My Little Pony bag to school. Assholes call it girly and bully him. And the school … tells him not to bring My Little Pony bag to school anymore.

I’m not sure what we would have done with a My Little Pony-carrying kid in my school. I’ve seen quite a bit of My Little Pony since Sal 11000 Beta loves the show. It’s girly, but not ridiculously so. And there is, in fact, an online community of male fans of the show called “bronies” although the less said about them the better (I was once at a conference and told a colleague about the brony thing. He thought I was making it up until he googled it.)

I’m sure the bully-defenders will claim he was provoking them; deliberately bring the bag to create this situation (since we all know how much kids love being bullied). But let me ask a straight-forward question. If you allow students to enforce some kind of social norm this way, where does it end? If a kid is being harassed because he is gay, do you tell him to pretend to be straight? If he’s being punched for being openly religious, do you tell him to stop wearing a cross? If he’s being called horrible names for his political views, do you tell him to wear an Obama button? At what point will you finally concede that the bullies might be the problem and not the victim?

Granted, it’s just a book bag. But notice the word “trigger”. The school officials are acting like the My Little Pony bag, by its very presence, provokes an uncontrollable rage in the students. If only we removed the evil talisman of My Little Pony, the bullying would stop.

But it won’t. That’s the gripping hand here: removing the My Little Pony bag will not stop the bullying. As anyone who has witnessed or experienced bullying can tell you, stopping the behavior that “invites” bullying only invites bullying on some other subject. And it goes on until the bullies find something the victim can’t change. If they get rid of a My Little Pony bag, the bullies will get on him about his unfashionable shoes. And if he gets rid of the shoes, they’ll find something else until they end up on something like race, religion or grades. Removing “triggers” for bullying doesn’t stop bullying any more than making women wear burkhas stops rape. Bullying is a choice, not an uncontrollable reflex.

Amy Alkon, in the comments:

You don’t stop bullying by giving the bullies a free pass on their behavioe[sic]. I think the best way to put an end to this particular incident is to sit down with the kids causing the problem and their parents

This is how the bullying of me in junior high stopped. A gang of girls followed me around, taunted me, threw things at me. My dad went to the principal.

I have a similar story, but from another perspective.

When I was in Hebrew High School, there was one kid who was the target of relentless abuse. Everyone made fun of him, even me, probably because we ourselves were picked on so often in regular school. One day, one of the teachers pulled the entire class into a room and laid into us something fierce. He pulled no punches in telling us that we were behaving horribly, that the kid had attempted suicide before and that he would not put with any more of our bullshit.

Thinking back on it, he had little authority to really do anything. But no one said a word. Everyone was looking at the floor or the wall, ashamed. And, in the end, we backed the hell off the kid. Confrontation from an authority figure worked. And I don’t think the kid “tattled”; the teacher just saw what was going on and did something about it because he was a good and decent man.

I still think about that to this day, thirty years later. I still hope he got everything together and is living a happy life. And I am still extremely grateful to the teacher who did not let us get away with it, who did something to stop the bullying.