Monday, December 22, 2014

Profs Have Stopped Teaching Rape Law Now That Everything 'Triggers' Students

The influence of the "trigger warnings" movement is now so pervasive that many law professors can't even teach a class on a delicate subject without facing an onslaught of requests from students for feelings accommodation.

Harvard Law School Professor Jeannie Suk sheds light on the difficulty of teaching students about rape law when the forecast for campus is always persistent offendedness:

"Students seem more anxious about classroom discussion, and about approaching the law of sexual violence in particular, than they have ever been in my eight years as a law professor. Student organizations representing women’s interests now routinely advise students that they should not feel pressured to attend or participate in class sessions that focus on the law of sexual violence, and which might therefore be traumatic. These organizations also ask criminal-law teachers to warn their classes that the rape-law unit might “trigger” traumatic memories.

Individual students often ask teachers not to include the law of rape on exams for fear that the material would cause them to perform less well. One teacher I know was recently asked by a student not to use the word “violate” in class—as in “Does this conduct violate the law?”—because the word was triggering. Some students have even suggested that rape law should not be taught because of its potential to cause distress."

Suk—who is one of the signatories on this statement of opposition to Harvard's illiberal sexual assault policy—goes on to note that the very real, terrible consequence of not teaching rape law will be the proliferation of lawyers ill-equipped to deal with such matters. Victims of sexual assault deserve competent legal representation; the legal system needs prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges who have vigorously studied the nuances of rape adjudication. Social progress on all these fronts will be rolled back if law professors stop educating students about rape. That would be a travesty of justice.

It's time to admit that appeasing students' seemingly unlimited senses of personal victimhood entitlement, unenlightened views about public discourse, and thinly-veiled laziness is not merely wrong, but actively dangerous. Colleges are supposed to prepare young people to succeed in the real world; they do students no favors by infantilizing them.

But worse than that, by bending over backwards to satisfy the illiberal mob, colleges are doling out diplomas to people who are prepared for neither real life nor their eventual professions. Should medical colleges abdicate their responsibility to instruct students on how to administer a rape kit to a victim, or ask a victim difficult questions about her trauma, because that discussion is triggering to some of the students?

It would be better for professors to instruct students on how to confront their uncomfortable emotions and grow beyond them, but alas, that seems less and less common.


Kid Suspended for Bringing an Empty Shell Casing to School

Question: What explosive device presents zero threat to anyone?

Answer: An empty rifle shell. And yet, a student at Chanute Elementary School in Chanute, Kansas, was just suspended for five days for bringing one to school. His mom told The Chanute Tribune that Principal Gary Wheeler said her son got off easy. He could have given the boy 168 days to cool his heels.

(Which sounds suspiciously like a plea bargain made by a corrupt D.A.)

But anyway: Why would a boy have a rifle shell with him at all, if he wasn't some kind of gun-crazed threat to all child-kind?

Carlson said her son, Camron Carlson, was out with her the night before, Tuesday Dec. 2, where she was sighting a rifle for deer hunting season with a friend, and he picked up one of the empty shell casings and put it in his pocket.

Carlson said her son had told his friends that they had been sighting rifles the night before, and that the shell casing fell out of his pocket.

“There was no threat,” she said. “My child’s never been in a fight at school. He was just being a boy and bragging because it’s cool.”

The reporter, Joshua Vail, does a good job of tracking down the school handbook, which states that the punishment for a minor infraction is supposed to be detention, talking to the student and/or parent notification. Punishment for carrying a weapon or ammo is 186-day expulsion.

Except a spent shell is not ammo any more than ashes are fireworks. Who's the person in this story in need of an education?

Anyway, if all this sounds eerily familiar, perhaps you are recalling the 2008 case in Winchendon, Mass., when Bradley Geslak, age 10, received a 5-day suspension for bringing a rifle shell casing he got from a vet at his town's Memorial Day celebration. In that incident, according to the local News Telegram:

"The family said they were also told that the next step might involve assigning a probation officer to Bradley"

Ah, the wisdom of our elders: Treating kids as criminals when there was zero intent and zero harm. That's zero tolerance for you.


‘We don’t feel welcome in our own universities’

Pro-Israel students on the censorship and intolerance they face

Picture the scene. A university society has organised an event on campus involving an external speaker. Then, despite following the bureaucratic students’ union procedure for getting the event approved, the society receives notification two days before the event is due to take place that it has been ‘flagged’ as controversial. Further measures, the society is told, will be required for it to be signed off. After various squabbles between society and SU over the format and provisions for the event, it goes ahead uncensored. But, as the event is about to get underway, the SU’s ‘safe-space officer’ bowls down. He appoints himself doorman. He stops certain students from entering. At one point, he asks the speaker to leave. And it culminates in him squaring off with the event’s organiser, leaving him cowed and humiliated.

The problem? This was an event organised by a pro-Israel student society - and nothing is more likely to bring out the student censors, the intolerant monitors of campus life and thought, than the issue of Israel. You want to say something positive about Israel on a UK campus? Then you do so at your own peril.

Sami Steinbock, an international politics student at King’s College London (KCL) and former president of the KCL Israel Society, was the student organiser in the scenario described above. He had organised a talk by Hen Mazzig, a lieutenant in the humanitarian unit of the Israel Defence Forces. Until, that is, the SU heavy had other ideas. Talking to me from Israel, the only place he says he ‘actually feels safe’, Steinbock describes how deeply threatening KCL has become for pro-Israel students. ‘Frankly, I do not feel welcome at my own university’, he says. ‘Why they have these safe-space officers is beyond me.’

He says this isn’t the first time anti-Israel sentiment has flared up at King’s. It began in April, when the students’ union tried to push through a motion that would align the union with the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The debate got ugly. ‘One Jewish student was labelled as “mentally retarded” and another was reduced to tears’, he says. ‘I’d never seen students been made to feel so uncomfortable for simply identifying with a certain political viewpoint.’

The BDS motion was eventually overturned by the union’s trustees, citing concerns over free speech and discrimination. But Steinbock assures me that the ‘hateful’ atmosphere around pro-Israel students persists. And it isn’t consigned to King’s. Luisa Peress, a third-year medical student at Queen Mary University in London, has had similarly grim experiences that fly against the values of inclusivity and safety that students’ unions so often trumpet. ‘When it comes to Israel, rules change – there is a double standard’, she says.

Queen Mary Students’ Union recently voted on reaffirming its twinning with the Islamic University of Gaza, an institution alleged to have links to Hamas. Peress planned to speak against the motion, but was urged to tone down her remarks by her peers. The university’s Jewish Society, of which she is a member, is frequently booed into silence at student meetings, she tells me. She took some convincing, but, in the end, she decided to self-censor. ‘This, to me, was a sign of defeat and the annihilation of freedom of speech on campus. We are being urged into silence at some of the most prestigious universities in the world, in which you would expect support for freedom of thought.’

These students are acutely aware that censoriousness is not an affliction unique to pro-Palestinian - or rather, anti-Israel - students. Sam Adari, the current president of King’s College London’s Israel Society, reflects: ‘There is a fashion at the moment among students to be anti-free speech and shout down any opinion because it is “offensive” – a word that has been given vastly too much weight and credence today.’ But it seems anti-Israel students have become somewhat more aggressive and closed-minded. Jonathan Hunter, a student at Oxford and a former campus director for the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, explains that, as the Israel-Palestine debate has become more and more hysterical – with overblown talk of a Palestinian ‘genocide’ and Israel being an ‘apartheid state’ – anti-Israel students have become increasingly intolerant. ‘The censorious nature of “pro-Palestinian” groups complements their pathological obsession with Israel and the conflict’, he says.  ‘They are so self-righteous and engrossed with the intricacies of their cause that they simply cannot allow for dissenting opinion.’

And this belligerence, Steinbock says, can sometimes slip into anti-Semitism. ‘I know a lot of students who are scared to be identified as a Jew on our campus and refuse to wear their kippah due to anti-Semitic remarks being made’, he says.

The rage against pro-Israel students exposes the farce that student politics descends into when intolerance seeps in. While keffiyeh-waving campus politicos may feel they’re helping the Palestinian cause by shouting down the other side, actually such intolerant behaviour devalues their position. By refusing to argue, to pit their ideas against those of the opposition, they display weakness, not strength.

Elliot Miller, president of University College London’s Jewish Society, tells me of his and his peers’ ceaseless attempts to get the pro-Palestinian society to share a platform. In the end, the UCL Friends of Israel Society posted an open letter to the Friends of Palestine Society, pleading for a chance ‘for students at UCL to hear both sides of the debate on an equal and civil platform, from which they can form their own opinions’. As yet, they’ve had no response.

These students’ experiences of being shouted down or shut up are repeated on campuses across Britain, and increasingly in other Western countries, too. Zionist speakers are no-platformed or booed off campus, while both students and academics agitate for their universities to have nothing to do with Israeli universities or thinkers. The end result is a climate of intolerance around the issue of Israel, making students who are pro-Israel, or who are in Jewish societies sympathetic to Israel, feel that it is a risk to express themselves and hold public debates.

One of the most pernicious ways in which pro-Israel sentiment is shut down is through the branding of it as ‘offensive’ or ‘distressing’ to the student body. SUs and others are now obsessed with keeping students ‘safe’ - by which they mean safe from certain ideas. Safe Space policies, now on statute at students’ unions across the UK, mandate, to quote one example, that the university should be ‘free from intimidation or judgement’; students, it says, should ‘feel comfortable, safe and able to get involved in all aspects of the organisation’. The message here is clear: debate is dangerous, and students shouldn’t be challenged.

The rise of the Safe Space policy has unleashed an unhinged and rootless form of campus censorship. Any idea that has the potential to upset students, or simply cause them discomfort, is seen as a problem, potentially needing to be stamped out. SU attacks on Israel societies and meetings is sometimes justified under the banner of protecting students from ‘harm’ and keeping them within ‘the safe space’ - and the flipside of this is the implicit depiction of any student who is pro-Israel as harmful and unsafe. In a move that would make Orwell proud, certain students’ beliefs are rebranded as dangerous, toxic things that must be closely policed. It’s no wonder some pro-Israel students feel surrounded by hostility on campus: their very belief system is presented as harmful.

But university should never be a ‘safe space’. From the lecture hall to the campus-quad picket lines, university is a space in which ideas should be fiercely contested. This is sometimes convivial, amicable and constructive, but at other times it can be forthright, unrelenting and aggressive. Students should be exposed to all sorts of ideas, including ‘unsafe’ ones, and all student societies must have the freedom to express themselves. However much it tries to sell itself as radical action to strike a blow for the Palestinian cause, the current crusade against pro-Israel students in Britain is blatant political censorship cynically dressed up as concern for students’ safety.


Phonics anyone?

Comment from Australia

Changing entrenched attitudes in education is like trying to turn an ocean liner -- the momentum has to be maintained for a long time. Such is the case with reading instruction, where it has taken decades to see real recognition of the need for teachers to be trained in proven, effective methods.

While there have been glimmers of hope in the past -- the 2005 National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy, for example -- this year there were strong signs the ship is finally turning. Increasing numbers of schools are adopting explicit teaching methods.

The NSW government announced it will only accredit teaching degrees that include evidence-based methods of reading instruction. The national curriculum review and the federal government endorsed an emphasis on explicit, effective teaching methods. New executives of the board of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) are evidence-driven reformers. The potential for significant reform in 2015 is great


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