Friday, February 23, 2007

You Will Comment... And Like It

Here's a moral dilemma for those of you who, like me, value both tolerance and freedom of speech:

First: read this news article about a bigot invited to speak by a teacher at Raleigh's Enloe high school.

Should the school be subjected to some sort of punishment? What is the appropriate response here? Should the crazy dude be held responsible? Or the administration?

Here's my take: first off, the law shouldn't be getting involved. Enloe teachers should have the right to invite whoever they want to and the crazy dude has a right to be crazy. But the Enloe administrators and teachers should look at this teacher and see if inviting this guy to speak was part of an effective teaching strategy or is part of a ridiculous attempt to spread hatred. If the latter, the school administrators should fire the teacher. The anger voiced at WCPSS by the Muslim advocacy groups, however, is misplaced - I doubt the school system actively encourages discriminatory speakers, and the school system shouldn't have veto power over what visitors to a school can say anyway.

But that's just me. What's your opinion?

Also, in the interesting moments in journalism department, contrast the N&O headline above with the headline on the Fox News story. Note the tone that each sets. The Fox headline, says that Person A believes that Person B's actions are not freedom of speech. Americans, most of whom value their own freedom of speech, are more likely to instinctually side with Person B after reading that headline. This is especially true since many Americans believe (in general, incorrectly) that Muslims are opposed to our freedom of speech. Contrast this with the N&O headline, "Students Told To Shun Muslims," which makes the reader think "crazy intolerant person trying to infect our kids with his/her crap." The articles are written similarly. I find this interesting.


Mike said...

I'm also trying to determine whether Fox added the "e" to Butt's last name, or whether the N&O subtracted it. In other words, is Fox trying to preach against acknowledgement of the derriere region, or is the N&O trying to corrupt its readers?

This is a tough one. Offhand, I'm inclined to agree with your take, but I'll have to think on it further. I may be back.

Ben said...

When it's college professors, I believe - and I think Jeff would agree - that their academic freedom is precious and they shouldn't be forced to muzzle their opinions...even if others accuse them of trying to "convert" their students to their ideology. If they want to invite a bigot, that's their prerogative. And it's the students' prerogative to fight back. No one should be fired.

Is it different with high school students and high school teachers? Perhaps, but on what basis? That high school students are inherently different than college students, and should be treated as impressionable youngsters by the schools acting "in loco parentis"? I actually happen to agree with that view of high schoolers (that they are, in fact, still kids), but I happen to remember Mike and Jeff disagreeing with me when we discussed a TV show which showed a high school teacher in a romantic relationship with a student. I said I would have wanted to kill the teacher if I were the student's father, and Jeff and Mike argued the student - at least in this TV show - was mature enough to make her own decisions.

If so, Jeff, then what's the difference here? Why do you say the teacher should be fired for attempting to spread her bigoted views - if that is indeed what was happening - when I doubt you would say that about a college professor?

Maybe I'm wrong, maybe you would say that about a college professor. I'm not really agreeing with anything I just said, by the way...I'm just playing Devil's Advocate.

Jeff said...

Ben, excellent point. I think my response would be this - teachers should be held accountable if they are not teaching effectively. I wouldn't fire the teacher because of his viewpoint - I'd fire him because he's a crappy teacher. The same goes for college professors too. If a professor goes off on an anti-Bush (or anti-Pelosi or whoever) rant in class and it has little to do with the course material, and students are not encouraged to react and interact with the professor, I'd say the professor's not doing his/her job.

My ideal for academic freedom was exemplified by an experience I had at Vandy. I was taking Professor Michael Bess' World War II history course, which met directly after lunch. During lunch, I watched Dr. Bess rip into Dubya for what he thought was his awful foreign policy. Minutes later, in class, Dr. Bess spoke about the use of the nuclear bomb in Hiroshima. He still had an opinion, and shared this opinion with the class, but did so in a way that encouraged us to think about the issue and disagree with him if we so chose. This is what I expect out of teachers.

Context is important in this case, and sadly the news articles did not provide it. Most of us agree that the teacher should be allowed to go off on as many anti-Muslim rants as he wants outside the classroom. Inside the classroom, however, his first duty is to the education of his students, and if this tactic was not part of an overall strategy to encourage critical thinking on the part of his students, he should be punished for being a bad teacher.

That having been said, if this tactic was intended to either force students to confront and react to hate, or to engender discussion about freedom of speech, he has succeeded and should be commended.