Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Freedom of Speech Opinion

The second thing the judge objected to in last week's ruling is much more dangerous -- I mean, MCPS can add or remove teachers resources and/or references to religion, that's not a show-stopper. But Judge Williams seems to have had another reason for terminating the pilot testing. Besides the Establishment Clause problem having to do with the promotion of a particular religious view, he discusses a "First Amendment - Freedom of Speech" issue that could turn the education world on its head.

He says:
In this case, Defendants open up the classroom to the subject of homosexuality, and specifically, the moral rightness of the homosexual lifestyle. However, the Revised Curriculum presents only one view on the subject — that homosexuality is a natural and morally correct lifestyle — to the exclusion of other perspectives. Indeed, the Revised Curriculum advises teachers that the information concerning homosexuality is to be presented to students as facts and that "no additional information, interpretation or examples are to be provided by the teacher." As such, the Court is deeply concerned that the Revised Curriculum violates Plaintiffs' free speech rights under the First Amendment, and believes that Plaintiffs' free speech allegations merit future and further investigation.

Now, I'm no lawyer, but this is ... clearly ... not real clear. I can take an "Oh, okay" interpretation, or I can take an "OMG" interpretation of it.

"Oh, okay" says this: there were materials in the teachers' resources that advocate a moral position regarding homosexuality -- they say it is not an evil thing, not a sin, just another normal way for people to be. Maybe the judge is saying that materials that explicitly advocate a moral position are only acceptable if the opposite moral position is also presented: the view of evangelical Christians that homosexuality is a sin, and is morally wrong.

If this is the case, then, well, MCPS removes any comments on the morality of homosexuality, and simply presents it as it is, objectively. Give the scientific terminology for it, some statistics perhaps on prevalence, and go ahead on. I mean, it is a fact that there are families with same-sex parents, that's not a moral judgment. So they simply take out anything that moralizes. (This is much better than adding the evangelist spin to the curriculum.)

The "OMG" interpretation is: any time a controversial topic is raised in a classroom, both sides have to be presented equally.

This could mean, for instance, that by law "intelligent design" would have to be taught alongside evolution. It would mean that the Ku Klux Klan's viewpoint would have to be taught alongside Martin Luther King's in History class. Read what the judge said:
The wisdom of approving a curriculum which prohibits students from discussing one viewpoint of a controversial subject goes to the very essence of that First Amendment faith. The merit of Plaintiffs' viewpoint — be it right, wrong, discriminatory, or just — is of no consequence. Rather, the Court is concerned with ensuring that Plaintiffs' free speech rights are not restricted merely because they voice an unpopular viewpoint. No matter the importance of an idea to its believers, or how objectionable it may be to its detractors, the diversity of our democratic fabric is sewn together by the belief that the path to freedom lies in the opportunity for rival positions to be equally heard and discussed.

He does not here seem to be addressing only moral imbalance, but any imbalance in "discussing one viewpoint of a controversial subject."

If this is the new standard for classroom discussions, then it means the destruction of American education. It means that for any fact that is taught in a classroom, all contradictory beliefs must also be taught. It means that the Flat Earth Society gets its ten minutes, along with everybody else, in Science class. It would mean that the Klan and the Black Panthers both get equal time when students learn about civil rights.

When the D.A.R.E. cop comes to school -- if what this judge says is taken literally -- the drug dealers should get equal time. Their opinion is "unpopular," but Judge Williams' judgment will make it necessary to include that unpopular opinion in the classroom. You're going to have anarchists in Government classes, Noah's Ark as well as How the Leopard Got His Spots in Biology, the Eco-Faeries will get to speak about what George Washington did to that cherry tree... I hope this is isn't what he meant, don't you?

It may be that the judge is responding to the "no additional information" clause only, and is concerned about prohibiting discussion. In that case, cool, I'm sure teachers will know how to handle situations when they come up. But his words are ambiguous enough to suggest that he may advocate presentation of all viewpoints, wacko and rational equally weighted, in the interest of protecting free speech.

The educational process, we hope, is one that leads students through the thicket of superstition and uninformed belief, along the path of reason and fact. Science is our society's guardian of the distinction between fact and superstition. Scientists are not all of one mind on any given topic, but some theories and some hypotheses have been eliminated by scientific consensus. Education should enlighten students, not expose them to every crackpot hallucination that anybody proposes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, you should probably dial back the hysteria too. This court decision is not going to be the end of public education in the U.S.

Stick with the former alternative, which is probably what should have been done in the first place.

May 12, 2005 1:22 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

I hope the hysteria is unnecessary, but if you look at what he says, he seems to go beyond the simple question of moralizing, into the matter of presenting all sides of every controversial subject.

And it doesn't take much to see where that would lead. --As much as the anti-gay crowd thinks that would be nice in this situation, for instance, so "ex-gays" get equal time, in the long run it will work against them, as the atheists need to get into the classroom every time the pledge of allegiance is said... y'know?

May 12, 2005 4:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh, you're the one who's inserting "every" before "controversial subject." Not the judge. Presumably there is some standard, and it's really not safe to guess the extreme.

May 12, 2005 7:10 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

So the Klan goes to court to get their part put into the MLK section of the History class, just like, say, PFOX, of all the crazy groups of bigots around. Substitute "Klan" for "ex-gay", and see if Judge Williams' argument changes. (At least we know that the Klan exists.)

May 12, 2005 9:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, without knowing the judge's test for what would and wouldn't be a subject for which both sides should be presented, you're just reverting to extremism.

May 13, 2005 2:31 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

To me, putting "ex-gay" information of any sort including "reparative therapy" in the classroom, would be the equivalent of having psychic surgery or crystal placement being taught in health class. To one person, that is an "extreme" comparison but to me, it is the same- both fakes. And no - we will not stick with the MCPS gag rule on homosexuality- it was wrong and to me, almost as bad as saying now we will have to talk about how to be an "ex-gay".

May 13, 2005 10:09 PM  
Blogger Kay2898 said...


Is there such a thing as exgay?

Or are you either gay or straight?

If you are calling yourself exgay...were you not straight all along and never were gay?

May 14, 2005 11:17 AM  

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