Friday, October 06, 2017

Black Lives Matter Students Shut Down the ACLU's Campus Free Speech Event Because 'Liberalism Is White Supremacy'

Students affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement crashed an event at the College of William & Mary, rushed the stage, and prevented the invited guest—the American Civil Liberties Union's Claire Gastañaga, a W & M alum—from speaking.

Ironically, Gastañaga had intended to speak on the subject, "Students and the First Amendment."

The disruption was livestreamed on BLM at W&M's Facebook page. Students took to the stage just a few moments after Gastañaga began her remarks. At first, she attempted to spin the demonstration as a welcome example of the kind of thing she had come to campus to discuss, commenting "Good, I like this," as they lined up and raised their signs. "I'm going to talk to you about knowing your rights, and protests and demonstrations, which this illustrates very well. Then I'm going to respond to questions from the moderators, and then questions from the audience."

It was the last remark she was able to make before protesters drowned her out with cries of, "ACLU, you protect Hitler, too." They also chanted, "the oppressed are not impressed," "shame, shame, shame, shame," (an ode to the Faith Militant's treatment of Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones, though why anyone would want to be associated with the religious fanatics in that particular conflict is beyond me), "blood on your hands," "the revolution will not uphold the Constitution," and, uh, "liberalism is white supremacy."

This went on for nearly 20 minutes. Eventually, according to the campus's Flat Hat News, one of the college's co-organizers of the event handed a microphone to the protest's leader, who delivered a prepared statement. The disruption was apparently payback for the ACLU's principled First Amendment defense of the Charlottesville alt-right's civil liberties.

Organizers then canceled the event; some members of the audience approached the podium in an attempt to speak with Gastañaga, but the protesters would not permit it. They surrounded Gastañaga, raised their voices even louder, and drove everybody else away.

The college released what can only be described as an incredibly tepid statement:

William & Mary has a powerful commitment to the free play of ideas. We have a campus where respectful dialogue, especially in disagreement, is encouraged so that we can listen and learn from views that differ from our own, so that we can freely express our own views, and so that debate can occur. Unfortunately, that type of exchange was unable to take place Wednesday night when an event to discuss a very important matter – the meaning of the First Amendment — could not be held as planned. …

Silencing certain voices in order to advance the cause of others is not acceptable in our community. This stifles debate and prevents those who've come to hear a speaker, our students in particular, from asking questions, often hard questions, and from engaging in debate where the strength of ideas, not the power of shouting, is the currency. William & Mary must be a campus that welcomes difficult conversations, honest debate and civil dialogue.

Absent a promise to identify the perpetrators and make sure this never happens again, the college's statement is meaningless. If officials are just going to stand by while students make it impossible to even have a conversation about free speech on campus, the matter is already settled: there is no free speech at William & Mary.

These students have clearly made up their minds about free speech: they don't want to share it with anyone else—especially Nazis, but also civil liberties lawyers who happen to be experts on the thing they are willfully misunderstanding: the First Amendment. Their ideological position is obviously incoherent—Liberalism is white supremacy? What?—and would not stand up to scrutiny, which is probably why they have decided to make open debate an impossibility on campus. They really shouldn't get away with this.


SAT Casts a Shadow on American Education

Proficency levels in basic subjects are at dismaying lows, and test-makers are fixing ... the tests

One metric colleges use (to a formerly greater extent) to determine a student’s academic ability is the SAT test. These scores not only help determine acceptance letters, they also provide a snapshot of trends in academic testing. In this regard, the trend is not good. Scores have been stagnant at best and lower overall.

This isn’t entirely surprising when considering other statistics. As economist Walter Williams has reported, “According to The Nation’s Report Card, only 37 percent of 12th-graders were proficient in reading in 2015, and just 25 percent were proficient in math. For black students, achievement levels were a disgrace. Nationally, 17 percent of black students scored proficient in reading, and 7 percent scored proficient in math. In some cities, such as Detroit, black academic proficiency is worse; among eighth-graders, only 4 percent were proficient in math, and only 7 percent were proficient in reading.”

It’s almost hard — if not impossible — to imagine SAT scores getting any better with such paltry literacy rates, like the ones above, absent significant overhauls. These would not include the overhauls made recently to the SAT, which appear to be creating unfounded optimism. According to The Washington Post’s Nick Anderson, “Last year, the College Board eliminated the notorious guessing penalty on the SAT, jettisoned some tricky vocabulary and took other steps, hoping to make the test a more straightforward measure of achievement. The board also returned the top score to the iconic number parents and grandparents remember: 1600. What resulted were apparently higher marks. But that doesn’t necessarily mean students are smarter.”

Unfortunately, this new method — which shows seemingly “improving” scores, though probably erroneously — is only part of a broader problem. Even if test scores rose dramatically in 2017, a comparison of past and present exam questions suggests that today’s students aren’t nearly as literate as previous generations. Researcher Annie Holmquist shows that while today’s SAT may provide a range of basic multiple choice questions, students in years past were compelled to be far more articulate.

“Consider the 1912 history exam from the College Board, the precursor to the modern SAT,” writes Holmquist. “It not only seeks written, essay-like answers, it also expects students to come prepared to draw on knowledge that they have learned beyond a textbook.” Holmquist opines, “It’s not hard to guess the type of outcry which would be raised if today’s students were expected to pass a test such as the above, which not only features difficult questions, but appears to give extra consideration to students who demonstrate ability to connect the dots of learning without being spoon-fed pre-formed answers.”

It’s not just scores that have changed, but the nature of testing as well. Both are demonstrable proof that our education system needs a significant revamping. And it’s as easy as getting back to our roots.


The dam holding back school choice will soon collapse

The teachers' unions blockade, which deprives poor children of good education, is starting to crack.

The latest fissures are created by a study of the country's largest private school choice program. According to researchers, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, which provides vouchers, increased college enrollment rates by about 6 percentage points for students who participated at all. For those who were in the program for four or more years, the college enrollment rate was as much as 17 points higher.

Before anyone leaps to suggest that this really just means those schools cream off the best students, opponents of school choice should know that children in the program disproportionately come from families with low incomes and, before joining the program, were mostly at bad public schools and did poorly on tests.

The source of this new information is not what opponents might think of as one of the usual suspects. It was not some conservative think-tank, but the left-leaning Urban Institute, a think-tank founded by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

It won't change minds at the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers, of course, for nothing does that. But it is pleasing to be able to report that the teachers' unions may soon have less clout. This probability comes not from any new open-mindedness on education among their Democratic allies, but from the judicial system.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a suit challenging a 1977 ruling that said public-sector unions may force non-union employees to pay for bargaining costs. Unions probably got lucky when Justice Antonin Scalia's death led to a 4-4 split in a 2016 case that made the same challenge. Now that Justice Neil Gorsuch is on the court, they seem unlikely to have the same luck.

Without a flood of plundered money, unions will be a diminished force, and their power over Democratic politicians will likewise decline. As polling increasingly shows bipartisan support for school choice, especially for the type of program in Florida, politicians are likely to swing that way too. They go where they can get votes.

Empirical data is convincing, but the strongest argument for school choice is one of principle. Parents, not the state, should decide what school is best for their child. Bureaucrat neither know nor, on the evidence of their failure over decades, care anything like so much.

There are 52 private school choice programs in 26 states and Washington serving 430,000 students. Nearly 3 million more students exercise a form of public school choice by attending charter schools. For the tens of millions of students who don't yet have any choice, especially those trapped in awful public schools, the end of the status quo can't come soon enough.


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