Wednesday, April 23, 2008

CA Senate panel OKs bill to protect journalism teachers

A state Senate committee has approved a San Francisco lawmaker's proposed legal protections for high school and college journalism teachers after hearing instructors' complaints of retaliation for hard-hitting articles in student newspapers. "Allowing a school administration to censor in any way is contrary to the democratic process and the ability of a student newspaper to serve as the watchdog," Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, said after the Judiciary Committee sent his bill to the Senate floor Tuesday.

The measure, SB1370, would prohibit school officials from punishing teachers for allowing students to publish articles that are covered by California's guarantee of freedom of the press on campus. Teacher and student organizations and labor unions support the bill, while the Association of California School Administrators opposes it.

Despite a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing teachers and administrators to censor public school newspapers and remove articles they find objectionable, California laws protect students' right to publish articles as long as they are not libelous, obscene, or likely to lead to lawbreaking or disorder. But Yee says the protections have been undermined by retaliation against journalism teachers.

One case involved Teri Hu, who said she was removed as adviser for the Voice newspaper at Irvington High in Fremont at the end of the 2004 school year. Hu, who had received good evaluations in her three years as faculty adviser, said Wednesday that the school's stated reason for her removal - that her workload was too heavy - was transparently false, and that the real reason was administration anger at two articles her students had written. One of those articles questioned the school's compliance with district policy on teaching assistants, and the other reported on a teacher who allegedly told a student to "go back where you came from." "This is a gaping loophole in student press protection laws in California," said Hu, who now teaches at another school in the district and whose statement was presented to the Senate committee.

The school's principal, Pete Murchison, said he couldn't discuss the circumstances of Hu's departure but denied that school officials had retaliated against her or tried to censor newspaper articles. "I'll stand on my record any day with anybody on free speech," declared Murchison, who said he would support legislation like Yee's if censorship was documented in schools.

Yee presented statements from other teachers, including a Los Angeles instructor who said he had been dismissed as the newspaper adviser after an editorial that criticized school searches, and a Garden Grove (Orange County) teacher who said her principal admitted removing her from the newspaper because of student editorials.

Another teacher, Katharine Swan, who retired in 2006 after 35 years in San Francisco schools, said she had encountered several instances of attempted censorship. At one point, she said, Mission High School Principal Ted Alfaro claimed the authority to review all newspaper articles before publication. Alfaro said at the time that he supported the students and was just trying to encourage them to write positive stories. Swan said she was able to fend off Alfaro's effort to screen the articles, only to lose her post as journalism adviser when Mission's staff was overhauled in a 1997 reconstitution ordered by the district because of low performance. Alfaro made it clear that she shouldn't reapply, she said.

Yee's bill, had it been in effect, might not have saved her job, but Swan said it would help others. "Anything that supports journalism teachers gives you a feeling that you can give the kids the power to write honestly and truthfully," she said.


Struggle Si, Surrender No!

The leading article in the latest issue of The Patriot Returns was one of the funniest pieces I've read in a long time. The faculty union of the City University of New York (CUNY), the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) is at it once again, and TPR satirizes the revolutionary zeal of the leadership and their myriad political crusades, this time standing in solidarity with the Mexican teachers on strike in Oaxaca.

This current issue demonstrates that the TPR newsletter hasn't lost its satirical cutting edge. Since last September the Editor, Dr. Sharad Karkhanis has been fighting a $2 million defamation lawsuit filed against him for daring to express disapproval of PSC-CUNY union official Susan O'Malley's attempts to find teaching jobs for convicted terrorists within the CUNY system. It's a sign that TPR is still chock-full of its acclaimed spit and vinegar and Dr. Karkhanis is prepared to go the distance to fight a frivolous lawsuit that aims to silence him and shut down TPR, the only insider's watchdog of the dangerous antics of the PSC.

There has been no response from the O'Malley camp since early March, when Karkhanis's attorneys filed an answer to all accusations in the formal legal complaint, O'Malley v. Karkhanis denying every single charge and concluding that O'Malley has no case whatsoever. Dr. Karkhanis resolutely denies having published any material in TPR that was defamatory and refutes the claims that O'Malley has suffered damages and her reputation has been harmed. The answer to O'Malley's complaint states:
The Defendants' utterances here at issue are expressions of opinion that pursuant to the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States are not actionable. The defendant's utterances here at issue are legally protected satire.

The publication of political satire is a First Amendment right. Criticism of Susan O'Malley, a public official who has been trying to place terrorists on the CUNY payroll, is a free speech issue in a free market of ideas and opinions, not slander or defamation of character. American colleges have become so backward that Manhattan Institute senior fellow, Abigail Thernstrom lamented, they have become "islands of repression in a sea of freedom." Now they seek to utilize the courts to legalize their repressive status quo in order to permanently silence critics and watchdogs. In order to continue the fight until all the charges of defamation are dropped, friends of Dr. Karkhanis have set up a legal defense fund in the name of The Patriot Returns, Inc. to help defray the cost of current legal bills and to fight all the way up to the Supreme Court if necessary. They ask for your donations to help fight the battle for free speech not only for Dr. Karkhanis, but other faculty and students whose First Amendment rights are likewise being infringed by repressive campuses.

The Patriot Returns has been doggedly exposing the fanaticism of a PSC union leadership more absorbed with fomenting workers revolution against capitalism and American imperialism, than securing a good contract for the membership, and for his exemplary work, Dr. Karkhanis is being sued for $2 million. Their irregular behavior has recently manifested in numerous PSC political resolutions proposed at the 2008 NYSUT Representative Assembly opposing the "U.S. Policy of Permanent and `Preemptive' War," supporting the "Jena 6," extending "Solidarity to Peruvian Teachers," opposing "U.S. Expansion of the War into Iran," and scarcely any resolutions advancing the welfare and working conditions of the CUNY faculty membership.

The PSC has introduced resolutions in support of striking teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico at the bi-annual American Federation of Teachers convention in Boston and the 2006 PSC Delegate Assembly, which were passed without dissent. PSC also organized a couple of demonstrations at the Mexican Consulate in Manhattan to show solidarity with their comrades in Oaxaca. They widely promoted rallies on campus for their "brothers and sisters" in Oaxaca and more recently the militant striking teachers in Puerto Rico. They made CUNY campuses their base of operations, organized faculty and students and employed such tactics as "tabling, roving the cafeteria, faculty distributing flyers to their classes, getting signatures and donations in department meetings" in order to build a mass movement for international worker's struggles.

The hard work of the PSC on behalf of international striking teachers has garnered laudatory reviews on the pages of Challenge, the revolutionary communist blog of the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) which boasts that it will smash capitalism through armed revolution.

PLP is now teaming up with the PSC, bringing the lessons home to CUNY campuses of the ongoing struggle against capitalism taught by the striking teachers in Oaxaca and Puerto Rico. With their rallying cry, "­Lucha s¡! ­Entrega no!" (Struggle yes, surrender no!) and enthusiastic support from the PSC, they have organized recent CUNY PLP forums, and are planning future conferences, rallies and a Party newsletter at CUNY, in order to advance their violent communist objectives and win new believers. Heaping praise on the PSC, they show their affection to their dear comrades in arms:
comrades in the PSC know we must intensify our efforts amid these kinds of struggles to build the Party itself at CUNY. The Party is the essential weapon to win, not reform demands to be reversed by capitalists' state power, but win all workers' liberation - communism.

We must not allow this frivolous lawsuit to shut down political speech and silence TPR, or for that matter any other free press watchdog committed to exposing the dangerous machinations of the PCS on CUNY campuses.

More here

Australia: Illiteracy blamed for shortage of skills

The high level of illiteracy is contributing to Australia's dramatic skill shortage, the nation's key small business group says. The Council of Small Business of Australia chief executive Tony Steven said data which showed almost half of the adult population had difficulty with literacy and numeracy was a "major impediment" to employment. "This is a matter that deserves urgent attention to address a presently unsatisfactory situation," he said. "Inadequate literacy and numeracy skills mean that even in a time of severe skill shortage many job applicants have to be rejected."

According to the ABS Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey 2006, 45.2 per cent of South Australians aged 15 to 74 have skills below the basic level required to deal with everyday life. The survey found that 45.2 per cent have difficulty in literacy such as reading newspapers, 45.9 per cent have difficulty with document literacy such as bus timetables and 45.9 per cent have difficulty with simple mathematics. Mr Steven said the burden of this deficiency would be felt by the individual and by their family, their community and eventually by the state.

"Low levels of literacy mean that a person does not have the ability to gain adequate knowledge about any subject or matter and therefore they will always be deficient in performance in all aspects of their life," he said.


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