Tuesday, December 13, 2016

UK: Why I’m fighting my University's ban on popular newspapers

Banning the sale of tabloids is slippery censorship and should be opposed

I feel like I watched campus democracy finally die last night. In an extraordinary act of authoritarian virtue-signalling at Queen Mary University in London (QMUL), where I’m a student, 13 student councillors revealed their inner tinpot totalitarian by deciding to ban the sale of newspapers on campus.

Like medieval cardinals, these censorious 13 decreed that the content of newspapers such as the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Express is unacceptable, and therefore such papers cannot be sold or bought.

Their illiberal stance echoes a recent similar ban on tabloid newspapers by City University’s Students’ Union (SU), and a ban on the sale of tabloids by Plymouth’s SU. I feel ashamed that QMUL has joined this paternalistic ban-happy club.

The council meeting had a staggering turnout of 25 student representatives. Complete with jazz hands to replace clapping – clapping can trigger distress, apparently – the gathering voted 13-3 in favour of the proposed motion to ban the sale of papers that contain ‘hateful discourse’. The other council members awkwardly chose to abstain from the vote. Cowards.

The representatives claimed that, as the elected spokespeople for QMUL students, they have a mandate to ban the sale of tabloids. One assured us that this motion is ‘supported by an array of migrant-solidarity, refugee-action and international student groups’. Notably, however, not a single one of these talked-up minority groups turned up to defend the motion.

There was much opposition to these student reps haughtily claiming to be censoring in the name of marginalised groups. There was a larger turnout of non-council members (who sadly couldn’t vote on the motion) than at any council meeting in ages. Others expressed their opposition to the ban online – until the council decided to stop (ie, ban) the livecast, too.

I used my two minutes on the platform to defend the right of students to buy and read whatever they like on campus, free from the diktat of a student council telling us which ideas are acceptable and which are not. I suggested that if we are going to ban the sale of newspapers that publish anti-migration stories, then surely we should ban the Labour Party, too? Who can forget that one of Labour’s main policies in the 2015 General Election was to cut immigration, as emblazoned on its ‘controls on immigration’ mugs? This is how ridiculous it is to allow a student council, or anyone, to decide what is offensive, and then to ban it.

Council members said the motion wasn’t about censorship. One said the motion was simply a statement that ‘as a union, we do not support that kind of “journalism”’. They compared their motion to the earlier boycott of Robin Thicke’s song ‘Blurred Lines’ by QMUL’s SU. ‘Idiots were in uproar. [But that] was a statement against rape culture. A gesture. Not censorship’, they insisted.

They protest too much. Make no mistake: a motion to ban the sale and stock of tabloid papers is an act of censorship. It is an attempt to control the distribution of literature on campus. It is about denying the right of students to buy, and also to sell, certain publications. Imagine if a student bookshop were told it could not sell a radical left-wing book or stock the New Statesman: that would be recognised as a political restriction on the right to promote certain material. This is the exact same.

The council members said they were devoted to ‘upholding our values of diversity and inclusivity’. Yet how can an SU be diverse if it restrains certain ways of thinking? By clamping down on newspapers and ‘offensive’ speakers and pop songs and so on, SUs around Britain have shown that they are deeply hostile to diversity of opinion. By ‘diversity’ they really mean ‘we accept everyone so long as they agree with us’.

Student officials love bans. It makes them feel powerful to control what students may buy and read and hear. QMUL’s anti-tabloid warriors received a tweet from the National Union of Students congratulating them on their ban.

What happened at QMUL last night was a disgrace. Thirteen council members, claiming to speak for a population of 22,000 students, expunged newspapers from campus shops. This is not radical; it’s deeply conservative. I’d like to propose my own motion to my fellow students: defy these bans. Bring tabloids on to campus, stock them in your union’s cafes, keep selling them in campus shops, and stand up for free speech. No one, least of all 13 council worthies, should get to tell us what’s ‘acceptable’.


Professor’s anti-Trump classroom rant snowballs into college scandal

A California college student and professor who he recorded criticizing Trump during the class have both fallen under fire amid threats of expulsion and legal action. It is the latest in string of incidences involving teachers expressing their views on President-elect Donald Trump in the classroom.

During a political discussion, Orange Coast College professor Ogla Perez Stable Cox is heard on a recording calling Trump’s election “an act of terrorism.”  “Our nation is divided. We have been assaulted. It is an act of terrorism,” she told the students.

College student, Josh Recalde-Martinez, a member of the school’s Young Republicans Club, told CBSLA he found the remarks insulting and made a video recording of the critique which he posted on YouTube, and it was later shared on Facebook.

Cox, who teaches a course on human sexuality, went on to critique Trump’s cabinet picks, advisers and vice-president elect, Mike Pence. “A white supremacist and a vice president that is one of the most anti-gay humans in this country,” she said.

Recalde-Martinez told CBSLA at that point “it’s not even education anymore. It's indoctrination.”

A lawyer for the Republicans Club filed a formal complaint against the professor accusing her of “hate speech and bullying tactics.”

Coast Federation of Educations circulated a letter on Thursday defending Cox. “This video violates the Coast District student code of conduct and California Education code,” they wrote. “The student(s) involved will be facing discipline.”

The California Education code says a recording in a classroom is prohibited without the prior consent of an instructor.

OCC President Dennis Harkins argued Cox had academic freedom to talk about things and that students aren’t legally allowed to record lectures unless the teacher indicated that it was acceptable. “It’s my understanding that the teacher’s syllabus indicated that recording is not permitted,” Harkins told Coast Report Online.

Cox’s class is one of the most popular on campus and covers topics of gender identity and sexually transmitted diseases.

While in this case it does seem the student violated recording prohibitions, it is the latest instance of a teacher getting into trouble for expressing their views, both left and right, in the classroom.

A teacher in Wesley Chapel, Florida is on administrative leave for reportedly threatening students with deportation. According to a post on by a parent on a student’s Facebook page, the high school teacher and coach John Sousa approached several African-American students in the hallway to ask them what they were doing. He then told them, “don’t make me call Donald Trump to get you sent back to Africa.”

In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a teacher is on paid administrative leave for using an image of President-elect Donald Trump to criticize President Barack Obama. Northridge High School math teacher Scott Johnson projected an image of Trump in the style of the famous ‘Hope’ poster made famous during Obama’s first campaign. Instead of saying “hope,” though, the image used Trump’s famous tagline from ‘The Apprentice’: “Obama, you’re fired!”

While public school teachers are afforded the right to free speech under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, the freedom doesn’t extend to the classroom because according to the American Civil Liberties Union, public school students are considered “a captive audience.”

“What you say or communicate inside the classroom is considered speech on behalf of the school district and therefore will not be entitled to much protection,” ACLU notes. “Certain types of speech outside the school might also not be protected if the school can show that your speech created a substantial adverse impact on school functioning.”


The classroom is for teaching, not indoctrination

One would have expected the article below to come from a conservative but it is from Karen Brooks, an active Australian Lefty. Is the Trump effect making the Left more cautious?

From today “Teachers for Refugees”, a movement organised by Melbournian Lucy Honan, plan to wear T-shirts to work inscribed with slogans such as “Close the Camps, Bring Them Here” in certain Victorian schools.

They also intend to hold informal discussions with their students about Australia’s shabby treatment of refugees.

While there’s no doubt many Australians who support these sentiments, school is not the place for teachers to propagate personal political opinions.

Queensland teachers have been cautioned not to follow suit and all teachers have been told wearing a piece of politicised clothing could be in breach of their code of conduct.

Honan says those involved are committed to raising awareness of the conditions in offshore detention centres and aligning themselves with refugees, and has accused those admonishing teachers of “bullying”.

I’m disappointed the word “bullying” is being deployed to staunch criticism of what is, frankly, an act that defies both common sense and completely undermines the role and credibility of teachers — who already cop so much (unfair) flack.

The classroom is for teaching, not indoctrination. Even if it’s simply in the form of a slogan on cloth. Words, as we know, are powerful and influential. When it comes to young minds, so is the person in the T-shirt.

Let me make something very clear. Like many Australians, I’m completely sympathetic to the teachers’ views. I abhor our treatment of refugees and my heart aches for children in detention centres.

As any regular reader of this column knows, I’m passionately committed to a range of politically fraught issues. But do I want teachers wearing catchphrases addressing these issues to school? Absolutely not.

Just as I wouldn’t want them wearing shirts shouting: “Stop the boats” or, as Channel 10’s The Project suggested, “Kids deserve a mum and dad”, or anti-abortion mantras.

And herein lies part of the problem. If teachers wanting to instigate change and raise awareness about the atrocious plight of refugees start bringing their opinions so overtly into the classroom, where does it end?

What if the political views of the parents, kids, let alone other colleagues, don’t align with theirs? Will a student speak up? An anxious parent?

Appearing on The Project, Honan argued, “It’s definitely a teacher’s job to stand up to the abuse that’s happening in offshore detention; we’re mandatory reporters...”

No, you’re not. You must report suspected abuse of kids in your direct care but expressing your politics in such an overt way by wearing your heart on your sleeve isn’t “reporting”. It’s emphasising a specific political position. Which is your prerogative — in your private life.

It’s also fine for teachers to share their views with students — of course they should — but in context with others’ and invite students to offer theirs. The classroom isn’t a politically neutral space. The government intervenes in curriculum — what can and cannot be taught; it doles out funding, among other measures. Most subjects have political currency — some more than others, and teachers would be doing students a huge disservice if they didn’t encourage the sharing of distinctive facts and alternate viewpoints in order to help shape opinions.

However, there are so many ways of imparting knowledge, teaching respect for diversity (cultural, religious, racial, ecological, economic, sexual), reasoning how compassion and tolerance are worthy emotions and tools for change, and about consequences for inaction, fascism, wilful ignorance etc.

Teaching great literature, world history, geography, global politics, about war and its aftermath, genocide, science, deforestation, industrialisation and encouraging students to critically think, weigh the pros and cons of a debate and offer a range of perspectives on issues, allows them to form their own conclusions.

These teachers claim they’re professional when approaching the politically sensitive topic of asylum seekers and refugees, offering a range of sources. But, when they wear one standpoint over their hearts, then they privilege this above any others and undermine the appearance of heterogeneity.

We want our kids to make up their own minds (and they do) by being informed, stimulated, and challenged, not by having their often-beloved teachers “recruit” them to political causes.

School is about broadening young minds, not turning them into mini-activists. (Though, if that’s the outcome of a whole education, then so be it.)

With Australian students’ recent drop in global education rankings, this teacher-led crusade, as well-intentioned as it is, could not have come at a worse time.

These privately held, fervent political views reflect a personal humanitarianism to which many of us subscribe. But these should not be used by teachers exploiting their trusted position to promote political crusading or to use our kids as fodder in an ongoing ideological warfare.

This merely provides those who look to denigrate and blame teachers for every social ill with solid ammunition


No comments: