Core ‘exemplars’ set off controversy

In Alabama and Ohio, there are calls to remove Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye from high school reading lists, even though it’s a Common Core “exemplar.” The book depicts a father raping his daughter.
bluesteye

In Arizona, the controversial exemplar is Cristina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban, which includes an explicit sex scene.

cubanThe exemplars aren’t a national reading list, writes Fordham’s Checker Finn. Appendix B of the English standards includes “examples of fiction, non-fiction, poems etc. that show the sort of thing students should be able to read with understanding at various points in the K–12 sequence.”

A short excerpt from The Bluest Eye appears along with writing by Poe, Hawthorne, Faulkner, Melville, Bronte, Shakespeare, Keats, etc., writes Finn. It’s intended for 11th graders. “I find the excerpt complex, demanding, and a bit obscure, but not offensive.” Others think the book is “pornographic, unsuitable for school kids of any age.”

It’s up to school districts to decide what students should read, concludes Finn. Don’t like the exemplars on Appendix B? Choose other works. But don’t expect to avoid offending everyone.

. . .  as Diane Ravitch showed in The Language Police, when you scrub every library, every reading list, every textbook, and every test item clean of everything that could offend anybody for any reason, you end up with the boring pablum that dominates so much of today’s curriculum. One reason American kids don’t read much is because what remains for them to read is so dull.

Noah Berlatsky has been writing textbooks and exams for two decades, he writes in The Atlantic. He’s forced to cater to a “nebulous, ill-defined fear of offending anyone.”

Obviously, when freelance writing or finding test passages for kids of whatever age, I know my work will be rejected if I mention evolution. But I’m also not allowed to mention snakes, or violent storms, or cancer, or racial discrimination, or magic. Authority figures, including teachers and Woodrow Wilson, can never be questioned. Pop culture can’t be mentioned. Living people can’t be mentioned. Death can’t be mentioned.

The Revisionaries, a 2012 documentary just released on DVD, shows how right-wing ideologues on the Texas State Board of Education pushed through changes in the standards. It’s “riveting and infuriating,” writes Berlatsky. But it ignores the fact that “idiotic, anti-intellectual regulation of content is not restricted to the far right.” The language police — he cites Ravitch too — insist on “bland colorless paste.”

College reverses ban on ‘sex’ newspaper

Central New Mexico Community College backed down this week from its decision to suspend the student newspaper for publishing a “sex issue.” Confiscated copies of the newspaper were returned to the news racks.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  Early-college high school students are more likely to earn a diploma and enroll in college, starting with an average of 36 college credits, reports Jobs for the Future.

College: Where free speech goes to die


Greg Lukianoff talks with Nick Gillespie on Reason TV.

Universities no longer encourage students to debate, disagree and dissent, writes Greg Lukianoff in Unlearning Liberty. Someone might feel uncomfortable.

As president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Lukianoff has spent more than a decade fighting against censorship, speech codes, sex codes, intrusive “orientations,” mandatory “dispositions” and other checks on free expression. FIRE has defended students, professors and staffers who’ve fallen afoul of campus groupthink. One student was suspended for a cartoon protesting the decision to build an expensive new parking garage.

Just recently, DePaul put a student on probation for publicizing the names of students who admitted to vandalizing  a pro-life display. Kristopher Del Campo was found responsible for “disorderly, violent, intimidating or dangerous” behavior, which includes ”creat[ing] a substantial risk of physical harm,” “causing significant emotional harm,” and “bullying,” because he named 13 admitted vandals on his group’s web site.

Unlearning Liberty explains that “free speech is important because debate is important” and debate is “the key tool of deliberative democracies,” writes Harry Lewis, dean of Harvard College

If we don’t train our students to argue with each other, without crying foul every time one side hurts the other’s feelings, we will wind up with … a dysfunctional Congress, maybe?

College graduates “will carry their conformist attitudes and unexamined political beliefs with them into their professions,” writes Bruce Thornton in College: Where Free Speech Goes to Die.

College students never have to leave the “echo chambers” of their own minds, writes Lukianoff.

 Instead, they have been subjected to a curriculum and campus life focused on “rewarding groupthink, punishing devil’s advocates, and shutting down discussions on some of the hottest and most important topics of the day.”

A “lifelong Democrat,” Lukianoff has worked for the ACLU and an environmental justice group. He backs gay marriage, abortion rights, legalizing marijuana, universal health care, etc. He belongs to a Brooklyn food co-op. Yet administrators and students assume that a defender of free speech must be a conservative — and a “fringe” conservative at that, he writes. It’s another way of shutting down debate.

Can school ban ‘boobies’ wristband?

“A full federal appeals court on Wednesday heard arguments about whether school districts may bar students from wearing the popular “I (heart) Boobies” wristbands promoting cancer awareness,” reports Ed Week.

“Boobies” is vulgar and potentially disruptive, argued administrators at Easton Area Middle School in Pennsylvania. Two students suspended for defying the ban said they had a free-speech right to wear the wristbands.

“The case prompted a provocative hour-long argument” on “boobies,” reports Ed Week. 

Idiocy implodes

After threatening a professor with disorderly conduct charges for Firefly and anti-fascism posters on his office door, administrators at the University of Wisconsin at Stout have backed down, reports FIRE.  Free speech is an important value, said the administrators in an e-mail.

It is important to note that the posters were not removed to censor the  professor in question. Rather, they were removed out of legitimate  concern for the violent messages contained in each poster and the belief  that the posters ran counter to our primary mission to provide a campus  that is welcoming, safe and secure.

In retrospect, however, it is clear that the removal of the posters -  although done with the best intent – did have the effect of casting  doubt on UW-Stout’s dedication to the principles embodied in the First  Amendment, especially the ability to express oneself freely.

UW-Stout will let Professor James Miller display his posters and will review procedures for “handling these  kinds of cases.”

Among those protesting the decision was actor Adam Baldwin, one of the stars of Firefly, who’d asked Miller if he knew of other  “violent” posters on campus. UW-Stout tolerated numerous ”Kill the Bill” posters — a take-off on the movie Kill Bill – as part of a campus-wide protest held in February against Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bill.

Warning: Idiocy at UW-Stout

A professor’s posters that call for fighting fair and warn of fascism aren’t protected by free-speech rights, claims the chancellor of University of Wisconsin-Stout (UWS).

James Miller, a theater professor, started with a poster featuring a line from the TV series Firefly. The sci-fi space pilot played by Nathan Fillion says: “You don’t know me, son, so let me explain this to you once: If I ever kill you, you’ll be awake. You’ll be facing me. And you’ll be armed.” 

A literate person would read the message: I fight fair.

Campus police removed the poster because it “refer[s] to killing” and “can be interpreted as a threat,”  reports Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). When Miller asked for respect for his First Amendment rights, the police chief responded: “If you choose to repost the article or something similar to it, it will be removed and you could face charges of disorderly conduct.”

Miller put up a “Warning: Fascism” poster. “Fascism can cause blunt head trauma and/or violent death. Keep fascism away from children and pets.”

A literate person would read the message: Fascism is bad because it leads to violence, which is bad.

Campus police removed it because it “depicts violence and mentions violence and death” and could “be constituted as a threat,” according to the university’s “threat assessment team.”

Despite FIRE’s publicity campaign, which lead to a wave of ridicule, Chancellor Charles Sorensen, Provost Julie Furst-Bowe and Vice Chancellor Ed Nieskes defended censorship in an e-mail to faculty and staff, claiming the posters “constituted an implied threat of violence.”

This was not an act of censorship.  This was an act of sensitivity to and care for our shared community, and was intended to maintain a campus climate in which everyone can feel welcome, safe and secure.

Everyone can feel welcome, safe and secure except for people who like to express their opinions.

The university administration’s idiocy boggles the mind.

Remedial math is ‘burial ground’

Remedial math is a “burial ground for the aspirations” of college students, says a speaker at a Carnegie webinar on redesigning developmental math at community colleges. Only 6 to 8 percent of  remedial algebra students go on to  college-level math.

Also on Community College SpotlightFree speech is under fire at community colleges, charges FIRE (Foundation on Individual Rights in Education).  An Ohio college told a student she can’t hand out anti-abortion pamphlets after class. A Georgia college removed an anti-Confederacy painting from a faculty art show.

Life’s a carnival

The Education Buzz is back at Bellringers with a State of the Carnival theme.

People With Small Vocabularies Also Have Small. . . . Brains writes Mamacita, who’s angry about people “dumbing down the vocabulary in classic literature.”

The only person who has the right to change a piece of writing is the writer. Period. If you are so over-sensitive and culturally illiterate that you are offended because back in a certain period of history, people spoke and acted in a particular way, and you don’t want anybody to know about it because it hurts your feelings even though it was quite ordinary for the times, and you’re unable, due to your low brain cell count, to create a valuable lesson with such facts, you’re batshit stupid. I pity your poor children. I hope you’re not a teacher.

And if you belong to the school of thought that still thinks that “soporific” is a word that small children can’t handle and you want it removed from Beatrix Potter’s “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” there are no words in any thesaurus to adequately describe your ignorance.

Bring parents back into the schools, writes loonyhiker at Successful Teaching.

“Welcome to the world” is the theme of this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling, hosted by Misty at Homeschool Bytes.

Banned in Connecticut

For fear of “the n-word,” a Connecticut superintendent has banned a play by a leading black playwright, reports the New York Times. August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” was selected by drama teacher Nina Smith at the Waterbury Arts Magnet School.  In addition to going through the normal channels for approval, she read the play to parents of the mostly black cast and discussed its language with the principal and with a former president of the Waterbury NAACP.

“Joe Turner,” about the big dreams and tumultuous lives of the residents of a Pittsburgh boarding house, drew critical acclaim for both its first Broadway run, in 1988, and a revival there in 2009. It is widely considered one of the best plays in Wilson’s cycle of 10 works about the African-American experience in each decade of the 20th century; Wilson died in 2005.

Smith “prepared a study guide for classes to talk about the play, and was organizing post-performance talkbacks so the cast and audience members could discuss the work,”  according to the Times.

“Joe Turner” was chosen for performance in February to celebrate black history month. After seven years, the magnet school has students with the maturity to do the play, Smith said. There are enough black actors to fill the roles.

Superintendent David Snead, who’s black, banned the play. However, the Waterbury school board will consider a new policy for school plays on Tuesday, according to the  Republican-American.

FIRE: Anti-bullying law restricts free speech

Congress is considering an anti-bullying bill that “gravely threatens free speech,” argues the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).  The bill is named for Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student who killed himself after his sexual encounter with a male student in his dorm room was filmed and put online.

“Tyler Clementi was subjected to an unconscionable violation of privacy, but that conduct was already criminal and prohibited by every college in America,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “For decades, colleges have used vague, broad harassment codes to silence even the most innocuous speech on campus. The proposed law requires universities to police even more student speech under a hopelessly vague standard that will be a disaster for open debate and discourse on campus. And all this in response to student behavior that was already illegal.”

Balancing free-speech rights with the desire to protect students from abuse, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that harassment can be banned only if it is “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive.” The bill removes the requirement that the behavior be objectively offensive.

The loss of this crucial “reasonable person” standard means that those most interested in silencing viewpoints they don’t like will effectively determine what speech should be banned from campus. Unconstitutional definitions of “harassment” have already provided the most commonly abused rationale justifying censorship, having been applied to a student magazine at Tufts University that published true if unflattering facts about Islam, a Brandeis professor who used an epithet in order to explain its origins and condemn its use as a slur, and even a student at an Indiana college simply for publicly reading a book.

Clementi’s roommate and an alleged accomplice are facing criminal charges for invasion of privacy.