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November 25, 2006 [feather]
Finger lickin' good?

U.S. law is quite clear that one's expressive freedoms extend to burning the flag. But a Clarksville, Tennessee curator does not think those freedoms include frying it:

An art exhibit featuring deep-fried American flags, complete with peanut oil and black pepper, has been removed by a museum director in this military-friendly town.

Art student William Gentry said his piece, "The Fat Is in the Fire," was a commentary on obesity in America. "I deep-fried the flag because I'm concerned about America and about America's health," Gentry said.

Ned Crouch, the Customs House Museum's executive director, took down the artwork on Nov. 15, less than 18 hours after it went up in this community next to Fort Campbell.

"It's about what the community values," Crouch said. "I'm representing 99% of our membership-- educators, doctors, lawyers, military families."

Crouch was quoted in The Tennessean as saying: "Over half my funding is public funding.... I don't want to rock a boat that's hard to keep floating. It's not worth jeopardizing for an exhibit."

He also said the timing of the piece could cause "incendiary reactions."

"Never in the history of the country has the flag been more hated or more loved," Crouch said.

"I feel extremely censored," Gentry told the newspaper.

As a pragmatist, Crouch has a point: Politicians with axes to grind could vote to shrink his museum's funding if he posts exhibits that offend them. But Crouch's is not a principled decision, and seems geared both to chill artistic expression and to encourage the kinds of punishments he fears.

At least one Clarksville resident sees the decision to remove the exhibit as an act of cowardice that dishonors the First Amendment: "Clarksville resident and Navy veteran Bill Larson said the museum should not restrict the free speech of an artist based on public response. 'The museum is obligated to the citizens of the community to present art, and it totally failed in that regard.'

I tend to agree, although I note that looking at the issue from a moral and legal perspective begs the aesthetic question that begs to be asked here: Can a deep-fried flag ever count as art?

The news report notes that the student's "exhibit featured three U.S. flags imprinted with phrases such as 'Poor people are obese because they eat poorly' and more than 40 smaller flags fried in peanut oil, egg batter, flour and black pepper."

Erin O'Connor, 5:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Faking the hate

A Boise State student has confessed to staging a hate crime against himself--and now faces criminal charges:

The Boise State student who reported being beaten on the Greenbelt last week, now says the attack never happened.

The student, a 20-year-old man, first told police he had been targeted and beaten because he was gay. He made the claim a week ago, saying he had been attacked on the Greenbelt near the BSU campus. He said several other students beat him up.

He said made it clear they targeted him because of his sexual orientation.

In response to the report of an on-campus attack, BSU administration issued a safety alert. The student government organized a huge rally on Tuesday and this candlelight vigil was held Wednesday -- both to speak out against hate and show support for the alleged victim.

That student confessed to police today he wasn't beat up by others, but used sticks and his own fists to self-inflict his injuries. The 20-year-old had also initially reported his car was vandalized with anti-gay statements, but now police say all other evidence the student claimed was connected to the attack was fabricated.

Very soon after he reported being beaten up, the student sent out two e-mails asking the media not to give the incident any more attention, saying he "wanted it to go away."

It may be too late for that. Boise police say they will turn over all the information they have to Ada County prosecutors, who could charge the student with filing a false police report.

Filing a false police report is a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

There have been several cases of faked hate crimes on campus in recent years -- and at least one of the fakers has gone to jail.

Erin O'Connor, 5:02 PM | Permalink

November 22, 2006 [feather]
Ideological classrooms at Duke? Say it ain't so!

KC Johnson, who maintains an exhaustive account of the ever-unravelling Duke lacrosse scandal at Durham in Wonderland, has written a provocative post about how some Duke faculty members might be using their course offerings to justify their unsubstantiated--and possibly libelous--conviction that the Duke players, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, really are rapists.

Worth a read--not just for KC's thoughts about how certain women's studies courses look like ideological justifications for bad faith responses to last spring's events, but also for insight into just how shallow some of Duke's women's studies offerings are.

Erin O'Connor, 7:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

November 21, 2006 [feather]
Theatrical activism

Conservative student activists have, in the past few years, begun taking pages out of their progressive counterparts' playbook--staging "in your face" protests with mixed results. You might remember the affirmative action bake sales that sprang up at schools around the country a couple of years ago; you might also recall the anger and shock they induced (intended) and the censorship they incurred (not intended). FIRE kept a comprehensive case file on these sales and their administrative aftermaths; the bottom line was that schools seeking to shut such sales down were operating according to an ideological double standard in which campus policies on free expression took a back seat to administrative desire to protect the sensibilities of under-represented groups.

That was the legal side of things, anyhow. There remained the question of whether the affirmative action bake sales would have any constructive impact on debates about affirmative action on campus and elsewhere. And there remained the question of whether the campus conservative groups who staged these protests did more to hurt their own reputations than to advance either insight or dialogue.

My own feelings about these sales were mixed. I thought they were a sad way to say something substantive about affirmative action, but a very effective--if inadvertent--way to say something about procedural double standards on campus.

I have similar mixed feelings about another sort of "in your face" conservative agitprop, the mock scholarship dedicated to white people. A couple of years ago, Roger Williams students made national news when the College Republicans sponsored a "whites only" scholarship as a way of protesting the use of race in decisions that ought ostensibly to be merit-based. The CRs created the scholarship--for which about 15 people applied--in response to the administration's compilation of a list of scholarships reserved for people of color. Controversy ensued ... and, interestingly, the national and state branches of the Republican party severed ties with the Roger Williams CRs shortly after. The scholarship--which died out after the first year--was designed to provoke reaction. As the leader of the CRs explained it, anyone attempting such a move must "be ready for hypocritical charges of racism, and be ready to be attacked ... but once they attack you, the hypocrisy is exposed."

That's just what the College Republicans at Boston University are doing. With the approval--though not endorsement--of administrators, they have created a "Caucasian Achievement and Recognition Scholarship" that is aimed at protesting racial preference-style affirmative action as the "worst form of bigotry confronting America today." Applicants must have a 3.2 GPA, must be at least 25% white, and must submit as part of their applications essays on their ancestry and on "what it means to you to be a Caucasian-American today." The winner will receive $250. "If you give out a white scholarship, it's racist, and if you give out a Hispanic scholarship, it is OK," says the CR president. "It is the main point. We are not doing this scholarship as a white-supremacy scholarship." I believe him--but there are many who will not, and he is clearly aware of that. Hence his rationalization, and hence my own reservations about the wisdom and utility of the CR's project.

My issue with undertakings such as these is that they strike me as being of limited intellectual value. They are confrontational where they should be reasoned; they are simplistic where they should be nuanced. They do little to advance understanding, and plenty to encourage people to operate according to gut reaction rather than to think with their heads.

Affirmative action is something this country is actively debating--or trying to debate. Doing so constructively requires temperate, intellectually solid defenses of both sides of the issue. Agitprop is not that, and when applied to issues such as affirmative action, it seems to me to do little more than further polarize an already terribly polarized situation. For the same reason, I have no patience for anti-military protesters who disrupt campus job fairs by holding queer kiss-ins and so on. No one learns from behavior like that. But plenty of people are angered. And that takes us that much further from the kind of civil, reasoned exchange that we should be trying to have about our country's hot button issues.

I'd love to know what readers think about styles of protest on both left and right, as well as about how students who want to raise awareness about issues--which usually amounts to promoting a particular view of an issue--can do so responsibly, with the greatest prospect of real, lasting success.

Erin O'Connor, 9:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

November 19, 2006 [feather]
Childhood reading

I got this meme from Terry Teachout, who got it from Kate's Book Blog:

1. How old were you when you learned to read and who taught you? Just six. I recall spending a lot of time as an old five-year-old earnestly trying to figure out how to read. I was very, very impatient to be able to enjoy books without the parental middleman. I remember sitting in the passenger's seat of our family's old green VW bus, during a move from California to Indiana, trying to get my mother to explain to me how reading worked. She was driving, and I was poring over a battered purple copy of Mouse Tales, determined to get this thing figured out. That was about two months before I started first grade.

2. Did you own any books as a child? If so, what's the first one that you remember owning? If not, do you recall any of the first titles that you borrowed from the library? I was lucky to have lots and lots of books. Often, birthdays and Christmases amounted to stacks of books, and, as I got a bit older, to trips to the bookstore to choose my own stack. Earliest memories of owned books center on the Oz books. I treasured my books, and respected my parents' admonitions not to draw in them or otherwise mutilate them--but at the same time I had a bad streak in me, and I once colored all over a copy of The Wizard of Oz just to see what it was like to do that. It wasn't a great experience, and the parental annoyance that followed wasn't, either. I was four. Not long after, my mother gave me a perfectly stunning copy of Snow White, illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert. I still have it and it is still in perfect condition. And when I look through the pictures, I am still moved by them.

3. What's the first book that you bought with your own money? When I was five, my father endowed me with a weekly allowance of 25 cents (quarters went a lot further in the early seventies than they do now!). I saved and saved, and then bought the little long-playing record of Alice in Wonderland, complete with Disnified picture book and a Tinkerbell signal to turn the page. I have since graduated to John Tenniel's much more interesting illustrations for the Alice books.

4. Were you a re-reader as a child? If so, which book did you re-read most often? Yes. Charlotte's Web and Harriet the Spy were very well thumbed indeed. Later, I read and read and read again the Judy Blume books, especially Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.

5. What's the first adult book that captured your interest and how old were you when you read it? When I was nine, I read Alex Haley's Roots and Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind in rapid succession. I still remember them vividly--much more so than I remember what I read last month--and I also remember exactly how many pages were in each: My edition of Roots had 759 pages, and my edition of Gone With the Wind had 1029.

6. Are there children's books that you passed by as a child that you have learned to love as an adult? Which ones? That's a tough one. I read everything I could get my hands on as a kid. I was utterly indiscriminate and preferred reading to just about everything else, including being with people. I will say that there are some books I have been able to return to as an adult, and that are renewed in wonderful ways by the change in my own perspective--A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. And I am a die-hard Harry Potter fan.

Readers are welcome to play along in the comments.
Erin O'Connor, 8:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

November 14, 2006 [feather]
Crunching numbers

How a parent discovered that her child was not being taught math properly in school:

"When my oldest child, an A-plus stellar student, was in sixth grade, I realized he had no idea, no idea at all, how to do long division. ... so I went to school and talked to the teacher, who said, 'We don't teach long division; it stifles their creativity.'

The New York Times is all over the reform math curriculum that has, for more than a decade now, "crippled students with its de-emphasizing of basic drills and memorization in favor of allowing children to find their own ways to solve problems." The article is worth reading to see how the debate is shaping up, and also to get a sense of how much more involved parents need to be in their kids' education.

The mother who found that her sixth grade son could not do long division is an involved mother--and when she learned that her son was being groomed by his teachers for a lifetime of innumeracy, she struck back by founding Where's the Math, a parents' group dedicated to ensuring that kids get decent math instruction in schools. But she was a bit slow off the mark -- I learned long division in an Indiana public school in the fourth grade, when I was nine. Granted, that was during the seventies, but my guess is that in states that still believe in long division, that's still when kids learn it. Parents need to be checking in much more regularly and inquisitively with their kids about what they are learning when--and what they aren't learning at all.

And parents shouldn't only be concerned about math instruction. They should be looking hard at the reading and writing parts of their kids' educations, too. Are they learning grammar? Can they spell? Punctuate? Understand what they are reading? Most of the Ivy League English majors whose writing I grade have trouble in these areas, which suggests to me that most everyone their age does. I tend to assume that the students I see are among the most linguistically competent students of their generation--but there are still a lot of issues with things such as run-on sentences, comma splices, murky phrasing, limited vocabulary, dangling modifiers, spelling, and so on. That's the legacy of a pedagogical attitude toward literacy that mirrors the one the mother above encountered when she inquired why her son wasn't being taught basic math skills. When I taught high school English in a boarding school a couple of years ago, I found that a great many students there had abysmal language skills. Some bordered on functional illiteracy. When I asked whether the school taught grammar at any point, the head of school told me that teaching grammar thwarted students' creativity and stifled their interest in reading. The utter inadequacy of that outlook really hits home when you realize that it amounts to lying to parents and kids about their kids' abilities, and that it involves sending kids off to college without the skills they will need to succeed there.

Erin O'Connor, 7:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

November 10, 2006 [feather]
Educating for terror

From the London Telegraph:

...the next crop of terrorists are still at school, preparing for their GCSEs or A-levels. They are probably bright, politically interested and easily susceptible to the ideology of victimhood. They receive a daily diet of anti-western propaganda through TV stations and websites.

Almost certainly, they will be of Pakistani background, though some will be white converts to Islam. It is the Pakistan link that makes Britain so important to al-Qa'eda.

What has become increasingly clear to MI5 in recent months is that most of the plots are being run directly by al-Qa'eda leaders based in Pakistan. British Muslims whose families are from the area can travel to and fro to visit relatives without arousing any obvious suspicion.

It means potential jihadis can be identified and recruited in Pakistan or those who have already been radicalised can go to training camps there.

It also means that al-Qa'eda can use Britain as a springboard for attacks on America, as they allegedly tried to in the summer.

In short, Britain has become al-Qa'eda's most important western base and that explains the regularity of warnings about plots. It also explains why there is so much exhortation, resented though it is, of Muslim parents to keep a watch on their offspring for signs that they may have fallen into the clutches of the jihadists.

Mr Reid last month caused a huge fuss when said that ''fanatics are looking to groom and brainwash children, including your children, for suicide bombings".

Dame Eliza said young Muslims still at school were among those linked to terrorist conspiracies. The path from adolescent dreamer interested in cricket to radicalised jihadi ready to blow up himself and others can be frighteningly short.

The occasion for this piece is a speech delivered yesterday by Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, director-general of MI5, to the Mile End Group, an academic organization affiliated with East London's Queen Mary College.

I'm struck by the frankness here--and also by the matter-of-fact awareness that in Britain, terror often wears a throughly assimilated face. Unspoken, but underwriting this piece, is the question of what, if anything, British schools can or should be doing to detect and/or mitigate the threat described here. Comments are welcome.

Erin O'Connor, 8:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)