Saturday, March 11, 2006

Spintelligent Design Update

The Dover Area School Board now has to pay a million dollars in legal fees because of the foolishness and dishonesty of those members (all but one of whom are no longer on the Board) who tried to shove creationism down students' throats and then lied in court about their intentions in doing so.

It is likely that, in order to come up with that money (which is only half of the billable total, thanks to some generosity on the part of the law firm in question), the Board will either have to push for a tax increase, or make cuts. Given the political inviability of tax increases, program, salary and service cuts are much more likely, meaning that the damage to education facilitated by religious thugs is no longer confined to the intellectual and intangible alone. Now their destruction is material as well.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Jay Bennish Update

Fortunately, it appears cooler heads have prevailed. I always suspected school admistrators, who knew Bennish had done nothing wrong, would let him back into the classroom with no discipline whatsoever. And he won't apologize. And he has nothing to apologize for. Bennish was engaging in the most time-proven learning technique ever deployed by good teachers: He was generating controversy in order to make students think.

He's not completely out of the woods...Republican members of Colorado's state board of education want his head. But they won't get it. Disciplining teachers is the province of local administrators. And Bennish hasn't violated any policies.

The warborgs who called for Bennish's lynching (and pretty much all of them did) kept repeating the extremely ignorant argument that what Bennish said had nothing to do with geography. Not so, I kept screaming. But this excellent editorial puts it better than I did:
This was the most common attack across the right-wing blogosphere and radio world—-that Bennish had no right to discuss geopolitics in a class on geopolitics.
After elementary school, geography moves beyond “name that country” map study. Geography is multidisciplinary. It explores, among other things, how and why countries came into existence, and it studies the continuing evolution of the earth’s political geography. Scholars earn doctorates in geography, not because they are extremely proficient with colored crayons or have memorized all of the world’s capitol cities but because they have endeavored to explain how we got to where we are and where, perhaps, we’re going.
Bennish teaches Accelerated World Geography, an honors class designed to prepare students for college. In his course syllabus, Bennish explains that his course will “look into the geographical—or spatial—relationships between human societies and cultures, the natural environment, and historical changes that have shaped the contemporary world. More than answering the question ‘what is where,’ this course adopts a conceptual approach to understanding and explaining the dynamic human and natural features of the earth’s surface.” Themes covered during the semester, he explains, include “population, religion, human rights, notions of development and underdevelopment, impact of colonialism historically and currently, sustainability, impacts of modernization on developing countries, globalization of economy and culture, political and international conflict, cultural diversity, and global environmental concerns.” In order to effectively teach this stuff, he explains, “A deeper understanding of current events from a historical and geographical perspective is imperative. Thus, timely issues and events in the news will be tied into the overall framework of the course.”

The thing is, I'd go to the wall to defend this guy if he had been "guilty" of expressing leftist opinions in the classroom. As I opined earlier this week, right now there is absolutely no check on unfiltered super-pro-Bushite-patriotism in public school classrooms. There is no "balance" to restore, and I've yet to hear any conservatives with the proverbial walnuts to offer some argument saying that it's okay to shove rightist opinions down students' throats without allowing them to hear the other side (I have no doubt that's what most of them believe, but that lack of walnuts hinders their honesty on this point).

But the thing really is, I don't have to go to the wall to defend Jay Bennish. He wasn't doing what the warborgs said he was doing. He was, in fact, teaching. God bless him, and may he return to the classroom more enthusiastic and emboldened than ever.

Monday, March 06, 2006

More Sheehananigans

This morning AOL News led with "'Peace Mom' Still Campaigning Against War" complete with a poll (recording overwhelming disapproval of Cindy Sheehan) and an article summarizing why some people like her and others don't. The AOL polls, by the way, baffle me. They are admittedly self-selecting and only poll those with AOL accounts, but sometimes they turn up crazy rightward numbers and sometimes crazy leftward numbers.*

Occasionally the moderate mainstream media reports on something Sheehan is doing and they seem baffled. The right periodically trots her out for a ritual round of insults, some tasteful, others quite openly sexist, but all off the mark. The mainstream and conservative press and pundits still don't know how to talk to her, how to talk about her, how to listen to her, how to explain her, or how to silence her. Each and every criticism misses the mark. To really answer her, you'd have to defend not only the Iraq occupation, but also the decisionmaking process that preceded it, and in light of that reasoned defense, make whatever arguments about the "ethics of anti-war protest" you like. Her face and story (which, contrary to convoluted attempts to prove otherwise, has been consistent from the beginning) call into question the sacrifice of those we love for the sake of a cynical political process, and an illegitimate occupation, clumsily disguised as a righteous war. She is not "speaking for" Casey Sheehan. She is speaking her pain and universalizing it to the pain of everyone who loses someone they love in a process they had no voice in creating. So to really answer her, you'd also have to defend such a process.

And here is where the anti-Sheehanites (nice new word) show the only colors they can fly: If the war and its political process were ultimately, or even contingently defensible, far fewer otherwise decent pundits wouldn't feel the need to hurl the insults at her, question her sanity, or make the ethically incoherent claim that she shouldn't be speaking "for" her dead son. They wouldn't feel the need to call anyone's patriotism into question, insist that mothers be War Mothers, throw the "treason" bomb around, any of that. They would just make and defend their case. But making and defending cases through reasoned argument, the essence of even representative democracy, has been declared treasonous and out of fashion by the same people who then get upset when Sheehan then plays "dirty" by using her emotional existence as an argument.

And now, some bonus material:

The top five arguments against Cindy Sheehan:

1. She is unethically speaking in her son's name when he actually supported the war.

(Nope. She is exploiting her pain for a political cause, but not claiming to speak for anyone but herself and, perhaps, other mothers who lose children in war. More importantly, in speaking for herself, she is not attempting to silence anyone else, including the pro-war mothers who disagree with her. Others are free to disagree with her and she doesn't call them treasonous.)

2. She met with Hugo Chavez, who is a crazy leftist (and alleged antisemite)

(Irrelevant, unless you believe that only leftist activists should be condemned for meeting with alleged antisemites; and, the charges against Chavez are being disputed by, among others, the American Jewish Congress, the federation of Jewish groups in Venezuela, and most other Jews on the left.)

3. Everyone else in her family, including her ex-husband, Casey's father, disapprove of her behavior and support the war.

(Irrelevant. They are free to publicize their opinions, or not.)

4. She changed her story.

(Nope. Been there, refuted that, again and again.)

5. She is funded and influenced by leftist special interests.

(She is working with other groups. The influence is mutual. Some of them give her money. This is never a good argument for people on the right to be making.)

*This raises an important point: I am not arguing that Sheehan's tactics are universally effective, in some functional way that will result in her getting a majority of Americans to look at her in a favorable light. My argument about her message is twofold: First, it just isn't unethical. Second, it's very persuasive to some people, because of the way in which she universalizes the "private" suffering of motherhood. Even in a world of powerful counternarratives about mothers proud of their fighting soldier sons, Sheehan's message is at least equally powerful: These sons of whom we are so proud, what are they fighting for?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Jay Bennish Case

Please tell me what this teacher did wrong. You can't, because whether your knowledge of his case is deep or shallow, you know he did nothing wrong. Even if you conclude he was one-sided in his views concerning capitalism, Bush, Iraq, torture, and WMD (concluding that means disregarding or minimizing the impact of his recorded statements that he was only giving this view to solicit open discussion and that he appreciated remarks to the contrary) that one-sidedness shouldn't get him fired as a high school teacher, period. In order for you to convince me that it should, I need the positive justification for it, as well as proof that the banning of high school teachers' one-sided politics will be applied equally to the pro-capitalist and/or pro-war sides. It won't be, or at least it hasn't been for the past oh, couple of hundred years, so unless your argument is that school administrators should allow only one side of the political spectrum (again, I'm going to need some positive justification)...well, you see where I'm going with this.

Now here's why it's important to defend this guy even if you're queasy about anti-war rhetoric in high school classrooms (you're only queasy because you know it almost never happens): If you have kids or are going to have kids, if you teach or know someone who does, imagine with me a world where Jay Bennishes did not exist, but teachers with a bias the other way did. The latter teachers will never be banned, because they can say their thing (in this context, go Bush!, yay Iraq war!, etc.) under the guise of patriotism. If we don't speak up for Jay Bennish now, it's going to make it easier to maintain the current role of schools as glorified baby sitters and ideology factories. The counter-tendency, of schools as places honing critical thinking and genuine life skills, is struggling to stay alive in the "war forever" culture of the current epoch. If Jay Bennish loses, that's one less breath for that counter-tendency. There's zero chance that if Jay Bennish loses this will validate the kind of balancing called for by some of the same people who complain about leftism in universities.

Sean Hannity's delight in the possibility of student tape recorder vigilantism is another reason we should all fight for Bennish:
Sean. I want to thank you for something, because kids have suffered under this indoctrination for years. I get tons of calls to my radio show, lots of letters about it. Now every left-wing teacher knows that there might be a Sean in their class that might be recording their statements. Now, if they are so confident to say it in front of a captive audience of students, young students, then they ought to be able to debate them publicly. So I want to applaud you. You may have done more for the educational system than anybody has done in years. And I say thank you.

Of course, there is no evidence indicating Bennish is afraid to debate his ideas in public (and in a fair debate he would give Hannity the country ass whippin Hannity calculatively avoids on his radio and TV shows). But my larger point is still the stakes in this fight: If Bennish loses, "balance" and "objectivity" and "fairness" don't win, not in the high schools. Silencing Bennish isn't a victory for balance. Instead, Hannity wins. Students tape-recording their teachers wins.

Speaking of which, I've seen and heard absolutely nothing about the Bennish case from the "academic freedom" outfits who bemoan "leftist" discourse in academia, but I know someone who's going to try to stir up that pot and when that happens I'll link to it.

Here's the deal: An injury to one really is an injury to all, and especially an injury like this one.