Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My First Amendment Class

 Mike Adams

Author’s Note: I’ll be speaking at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio on April 19. The event will start in Harrison Hall, room 111, at 6 p.m. The speech is called “Three Liberal Assaults on Free Speech (and Three Conservative Solutions)."Because it is about free speech in public forums, the speech is free and open to the public

Tyranny is never more than a generation away. Those who wish to impose tyranny prey upon the ignorance of those they wish to subjugate. Knowing that it is easier to deprive people of their rights if they are unaware of their rights, academic elites often forsake their responsibilities in order to further their own political goals. In other words, they seek to preserve ignorance, rather than advance knowledge.

Against this backdrop, last spring I decided to dedicate an entire course to teaching the First Amendment. I’m writing this column to show one way it can be done and to show how it has been received by students. I hope other professors follow a similar path. Our students need to know what they risk losing if they remain indifferent to their God-given rights.

I originally intended (pun originally intended) to call my course “The First Amendment and Original Intent.” I also intended to use David Barton’s book Original Intent as a text. Additionally, I planned on covering 53 U.S. Supreme Court decisions. You can imagine how well that proposal went over. There was a predictable administrative “suggestion” that I change the title of the course. This was followed by a “suggestion” that I use a couple of texts written by avowed Marxists.

I successfully fought both the effort to change the course title and to “suggest” Marxist texts. In the wake of that success, I am left wondering whether a Marxist professor has ever had a capitalist administrator “suggest” that he teach using Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, or Thomas Sowell. These administrators are very predictable. Dripping with hypocritical condescension, they see academic freedom as a one way street.

But I prevailed – at least until a crisis emerged. An error in scheduling resulted in a request for me to cancel the First Amendment class and teach one of our senior seminars, which is required for graduation. The crux of the problem was that only one 25-student seminar was being offered - although there were fifty seniors graduating from our department. (Author’s note: I am not certain why we choose to call a class of 25 a “seminar” but that is beside the point).

The “First Amendment and Original Intent” course could not be used as a senior seminar for criminology graduates because it simply was not sufficiently crime-related. So I created a course called “The First Amendment and Crime” and did so in just a couple of months. That meant spending hours every day reading and re-reading a new set of Supreme Court cases and developing special oral and written requirements for graduating seniors.

The result has been highly satisfactory. It is not difficult to fill an entire semester calendar with courses relating the First Amendment to the issue of crime. Consider the following:

*Our first important free speech cases – Abrams, Whitney, and Gitlow (just to name a few) – began a long struggle to determine the appropriate limitations on the right to advocate illegal conduct, including violent revolution. This struggle would last for fifty years before the Court finally settled on the Brandenberg test.

*Defining obscenity has proved to be a difficult task for the Court. Between the Roth and Miller cases, the Court would battle for 16 years before deciding on one test for defining obscenity. During this struggle, Potter Stewart would famously quip that he could not define hard-core pornography but that he knows it when he sees it! The court has also dealt with zoning issues relating to adult theaters. This is all tied in with the secondary effects (crime) that often flow from the presence of adult books stores and topless bars.

*In recent years, cases like Mitchell v. Wisconsin have tested state penalty enhancement statutes that consider race bias at sentencing hearings following criminal trials. The implication of these laws for hate speech legislation cannot be lost upon even the most casual observer of Supreme jurisprudence.

In addition to teaching those crime-related First Amendment cases, I have also taken the time to teach students about Rosenberger v. Rector, Wisconsin v. Southworth, and NAACP v. Alabama – and other cases dealing directly or indirectly with student rights. Against this backdrop, I also assign the students to a semester-end project dealing with the erosion of free speech rights in America. This is where things have become very interesting.

On the first day of class, students were asked to respond to the same question, which is “Who is responsible for censorship in America and who is being censored?” This question is asked in order for them to contemplate a hypothesis for their semester project. It has produced varied hypotheses, such as the following:

*The religious right is responsible for a disproportionate amount of censorship in America. That censorship is primarily directed towards atheists.

*Atheists are the most censorious people in America. Their censorship is generally directed towards Christians.

*Public universities restrict expression to a greater degree than private universities. First Amendment violations at public universities are usually directed towards religious rather than secular speech and organizations.

*Conservative Catholics are less tolerant of free speech than politically liberal Catholics.

After students form a hypothesis in Part I of their paper, they must get down to business. In Part II, they must turn to scholarly sources in order to explain (theoretically) their proposed hypothesis. In Part III, they must examine empirical evidence in support of (or opposition to) their hypothesis.

Since many of my students have decided to study campus free speech issues, they will soon have to evaluate and critique academic studies of campus censorship. When they do, they will find that the topic has been ignored by scholars at our institutions of higher learning. Imagine that: universities rarely speak about the issue of free speech at universities. (However, they do talk about free speech problems occurring elsewhere).

I’ve gotten the ball rolling by teaching specifically about First Amendment issues. But what we need now is an entire course explaining why censorship is so much worse among academic elites than among normal Americans. We could call it “The Sociology of Censorship.” But that will never happen. The censors of sociology would never allow it.


Educational attainment  as a signal of conformity

Tyler wants to use my little signaling model to predict the future of online education.  At risk of looking a gift horse in the mouth, I'm afraid a much richer model is required to address Tyler's question.

In the interest of parsimony, my model assumes that education is purely a signal of IQ; Tyler also considers a variant where education signals conscientiousness instead.  So far, so good.  But as I've said several times, in the real world education is also a signal of conformity.  One of the main things a stack of degrees says about you is, "I uncomplainingly submit to social expectations."

This makes educational innovation inherently difficult.  Why?  Because the first people to sign up for innovative alternatives to traditional education are usually people who have a beef with the powers that be.  As I've told Arnold before:
    [E]ducation doesn't just signal intelligence and conscientiousness; it's also signals another character trait employers pragmatically cherish: conformity.  This leaves us in a catch-22, because experimenting with new ways to signal conformity is a strong signal of... non-conformity!

You could of course reply, "All that's going to change.  The future is coming."  I'll bet against it.  In fact, I already have.  It's easy to imagine a society where traditional educational credentials could collapse at a moment's notice.  But that society is not ours.

Take out your sociological goggles and look around.  In our society, smart, hard-working, conformist kids go to old-fashioned brick-and-mortar colleges.  Their elders expect them to do so.  Their peers expect them to do so.  They feel like losers in their own eyes if they don't go.

The normativity of conventional education isn't a passing phase.  College attendance is a central tenet of our society's secular religion.  A student who scoffs at all these expectations probably has a serious problem with authority.  Would-be employers treat him accordingly.

There may well be a niche for online education.  Maybe it will attract the best students who currently don't go to college and the worst students who currently do: the top of the bottom plus the bottom of the top.  But until we sharply reduce subsidies for traditional education, traditional education will continue to dominate, warts and all.  Middle class jobs will no longer require college only after middle class kids can no longer afford college.  Hail austerity!


British education boss  urges church to extend role in education

The Church of England has been urged to establish a new generation of academies [charter schools] after Michael Gove said he wanted to 'extend' its role in educating children.

Mr Gove said he “cherished” the education currently provided by the Church to more than a million children.

His remarks in the Commons yesterday have been interpreted as backing for the Church to set up a new generation of faith schools.  There had been concerns that Mr Gove’s support for faith schools was wavering, but yesterday’s comments are expected to be welcomed by bishops who are currently considering the future role of the Church.

The Education Secretary backed an increased role after a review by the Bishop of Oxford which looked at the potential for new academies.

Mr Gove said: “We praise and cherish the role of the Church of England in making sure children have an outstanding and inclusive education.  “I welcome the report and look forward to working with Bishop John Pritchard to extend the role of the Church in the provision of schools.”  He also praised the Church for “driving in the first instance” the provision of education.

The Church of England is still the biggest single provider of education in Britain, teaching one million pupils in 4,800 schools. It is involved in 154 academies in England. The Church’s review came after a reduction in local authority provision of education, which gives potential for a new generation of faith schools.

There had been some concerns over Mr Gove’s commitment to faith in the schools after allegations that the importance of religious education has been downgraded. He has also supported attempts by some faith schools to keep more than half their places for religious families.

David Cameron has previously been a vocal backer of faith schools and his daughter was educated at a Church of England school.

He has called for an increased role for religion in public life and Baroness Warsi, the Cabinet Office minister, has warned of the dangers of “aggressive secularism”.


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