Monday, December 07, 2015

Harvard Law to examine use of crest tied to slave ownership

It has long appeared in nearly every corner of the prestigious school. But now Harvard Law School’s official seal is under heavy scrutiny because it includes elements drawn from a slaveholding family’s crest.

Following an outcry from students, officials from the school are examining the continued use of the seal, in what is the latest controversy over race and historic injustices on US college campuses in recent weeks.

“Symbols are important,” Martha Minow, dean of the law school, said this week. “They become even more important when people care about them and focus on them.”

The seal includes the Harvard motto “Veritas” as well as three bushels of wheat, the coat of arms of the Royall family, which owned and brutally abused slaves. Minow has assembled a special committee to research whether the seal should be discarded. She expects the group to make a recommendation by March.

At Harvard Law, a group of students called Royall Must Fall has spoken out against the seal, which has been used to represent the law school since the shield was first adopted nearly 80 years ago.

Harvard investigating ‘White Student Union’ Facebook page
The school is looking into the authenticity of the group, which pledges to defend “the inherent rights of White Europeans.”

When someone defaced portraits of black law professors hanging in the law school’s Wasserstein Hall using strips of tape in November, an incident that is being investigated as a hate crime, the group’s message took on heightened meaning.

In a statement Tuesday, members of Royall Must Fall said they hoped that the committee would rule in their favor and recommend that the shield be rejected.

“We are pleased that [Harvard Law School] has formed this committee,” the group said. “It is a step in the right direction, and we will continue to push for accountability so that the change takes place.”

Students have said that replacing the seal would not erase the brutal history of the slave trade. “Instead, it would appropriately acknowledge the dark legacy of racism that is presently hidden in plain sight,” the students wrote in a letter to Minow.

Harvard Law, considered one of the best law schools in the country, for generations has launched graduates into positions of power in business and government. Its graduates include President Obama, the nation’s first black president. The White House said Tuesday that it had no comment on the seal controversy.

The special committee tasked with studying, discussing, and making recommendations about the seal will be composed of faculty, students, and an alumnus, according to Harvard officials. The group will review comments and input from the school’s community.

“Through that process, we will gain a better sense of what course of action should be recommended and pursued,” Minow said.

Isaac Royall was a slave owner who left in his will land for Harvard College to sell and establish the first law professorship in his name. Royall’s father “treated his slaves with extreme cruelty, including burning 77 people to death,” according to a statement from the law school.

Although the younger Royall died in 1781, the seal wasn’t designated until 1936, when the university celebrated its 300th anniversary.

The controversy surrounding the seal has recently reached a high pitch, but the seal’s deeper meaning hasn’t gone ignored in the past, according to law school professor Randall Kennedy.

“Has the relationship between the Royall family and the law school been talked about? Yes, it’s been talked about,” Kennedy said. “In the past few years, yes, it’s been more talked about.”

A 2011 study led by Harvard professors and students, called “Harvard and Slavery: Seeking a Forgotten History,” highlighted the role that Royall’s contribution played in helping to establish the law school.

“The labor of slaves underwrote the teaching of law in Cambridge,” the researchers wrote.

The book “On the Battlefield of Merit,” about Harvard Law School’s first century, coauthored by Daniel R. Coquillette and Bruce A. Kimball, and published in October, also addresses the family’s legacy.

“The last thing you want to do is deny that this happened — this did happen,” Coquillette said Tuesday. “I’m very sympathetic with the students — it’s like having the Confederate flag — but I don’t like the idea of sanitizing the past. A school as great as Harvard Law School should confront its past, and deal with it.”

Professor Janet Halley, who currently occupies the Royall Chair of Law, spoke about the chair’s past when she was appointed in 2006.

She said in a telephone interview Tuesday that it is healthy for students to engage with the law school about the Royall family legacy. But Halley, who is on the committee that will review the seal, stopped short of recommending what she believes should happen to it.

“The upside would be that there would be this cathartic moment of saying no to its origins. But the danger would be that it could facilitate a forgetting of its origins,” she said, calling the seal a visible reminder of the impure foundation of big institutions.

“I think it’s a morally compelling thing we ought to really face, and I welcome that we would do so through a discussion. It’s clear that there should be a lot of conversation about this by a lot of people, and we should consider this very thoroughly,” she said.


Hate-filled retired academic hits out at young Israeli teen

An ex-Cambridge academic has refused to answer an inquisitive 13-year-old Israeli girl's questions on horses 'until there is peace and justice for Palestinians'.

Teenager Shachar Rabinovitch emailed Dr Marsha Levine to ask her some basic questions about horses for a school assignment.

But Dr Levine - a former Cambridge academic considered an expert on the history of domestication of horses - responded with a link to the homepage of lobby group Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

In the email exchange, the teenager said she was working a school assessment about horses and it would be 'great' if Dr Levine could help her.

She said: ‘I know you are a very important person and I’ve read your article about horses (Domestication, Breed Diversification and Early History of the Horse).

‘I love horses and it will be an honour if you will answer my questions.’

She then asked four basic questions about ancient horse breeds - including where they lived and what were the most common types.

But Dr Levine's response stated: 'You might be a child, but if you are old enough to write to me, you are old enough to learn about Israeli history and how it has impacted on the lives of Palestinian people.

'Maybe your family has the same views as I do, but I doubt it. So, I suggest that you look at this link.'

She included a link to the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the website of the Jews for Justice for Palestinians - of which she is a member.

The original email, along with Dr Levine's response, was posted on Facebook by Shachar's father Shamir Rabinovitch.

He told Camilla Turner and Raf Sanchez from The Daily Telegraph he was shocked at the academic's reply, and questioned if her response was productive.

Mr Rabinovitch told the paper: 'I think it's OK to have different opinions about Israel and we make a lot of mistakes in this country, like in all countries. But it's not OK to involve children in this stuff.

'How can she make all these assumptions about what we think and who we are?'

In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle, Dr Levine defended her response, claiming that the 'Jews have become the Nazis.'

'Jews are behaving just like the people who treated them. It’s not all Israelis or all Jews. I gave her useful information which might help her for the rest of her life. I have to stand up for what I believe in.'

Shachar’s father, Shamir Rabinovitch, said children should be ‘out of the equation’ when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The family live in a mixed Jewish and Arab area north of Tel Aviv, near a school for Jews and Arabs.

Mr Rabinovitch said: ‘I was so angry. We live in an area which is very mixed — the claim of racism doesn’t fit us at all. Political arguments should be conducted by adults. It was an apolitical and innocent question from a girl. She’s not responsible for bad things that happen around her.’

Dr Levine told the Mail she had been targeted because of her response to Shachar, adding: ‘I have been getting hate mail.’

Asked if she thought it unfair to bring a child into a political debate she said: ‘Children are the future, children should understand.

‘I think her parents set her up. They would have checked on Facebook and they would have known my position on Israel.

‘It is insane. The real issue isn’t the horribleness of a woman who refuses to talk about horses. The issue is why is Israel, on a daily basis, is trying to destroy Palestinian society.’

A Cambridge spokesman said of Dr Levine: ‘She is no longer part of the McDonald Institute and is not employed by the university. The views expressed are her own.’


Australia's illiterate generation:  Teachers don't know grammar either

ENGLISH grammar has bamboozled children through the ages, but now it’s teachers who are admitting they need help.

Just as some of next year’s Year 7 students will start high school with shockingly poor literacy skills, there will be teachers struggling to know how to help them, says Melbourne linguist and author Lyn Stone.

But it’s not the teachers’ fault, she says. Teachers are not being taught how to teach grammar properly. “We have a situation of the blind leading the blind — and they admit that fully. Teachers are my favourite people in the world. They are underpaid and overworked and they don’t mean to not know how to teach grammar, they are just not given the tools to do it.”

Her comments come as Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham prepares to release the results of the first “literacy and numeracy test” of graduate teachers, designed to instil public confidence in teachers.

Ms Stone has written the book on grammar. Picture: Jason Sammon
But Ms Stone said she could wallpaper her house with the examples of grammatical and spelling errors she saw in her Mornington Penisula clinic, such as a 12 year-old who, when asked what help he needed, wrote: “to git thinks rihgt”.

Another 12 year-old wrote: “to no the rells [rules]”.

More than half of her child clients were Year 4 boys struggling with spelling and reading books without pictures.

Ms Stone, who has just written a handbook for teachers called “Language for Life”, said ill-equipped teachers were a key reason people were confused by apostrophes well into adulthood.

“Apostrophes have different meanings, but they are taught at the same time,” she said.

Children would have a better chance of understanding and using apostrophes correctly if teachers stopped “lumping together” those two uses.

Full stops were also problematic.

“Students are loath to use them. They will have massively long sentences with no full stops. They master the grammar of language, and want to make huge, long, wonderful sentences in one breath. The judicious use of a full stop is difficult.

She urged teachers to tell students that verbs were more than just active “doing” words like “kick”, they were also “being” and “having” words, like “is” and “own”.

Mrs Stone said the curriculum was well set out, but said it was teachers lacking the tools and funding for professional development that was a problem.


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