Friday, April 11, 2008

Policing classroom speech

John McAdams posts about an incident in a Marquette classroom in which an instructor is alleged to have criticized a student for being racially insensitive under circumstances where the posited lack of sensitivity is far from clear. Tom Foley wonders why people take John seriously and doesn't like the post, apparently because he reads it as making a claim about racial profiling.

What interests me is how you deal with this type of thing. There are students who think that their academic freedom is supressed by the statement of views that they find offensive. I think it is the instructor's job to disabuse them of that notion. While personal attacks and unadulterated hate ought not to be permitted, too much cocooning does not prepare young people for the world.

On the other hand, there is no point in permitting a discussion to deteriorate into competing claims of offense and students are not always precise in the framing of their arguments.

In the incident in question (and we may not know what really happened), there was apparently a discussion of the way in which overcriminalization can lead to disrespect for the law. If this overcriminalization is felt more heavily in minority communities, then, it would seem to follow, disrespect for the law may be higher in minority communities. This is one of the challenges of broken windows policing. New Milwaukee police chief Ed Flynn, who supports that approach, also argues that it will not work if the cops are seen as an occupying force.

The student in question seemed to be making the point that the officer on the street feels the brunt of this disrespect, citing a case in which some officers were called racists by a group of hispanics who had been pulled over.

If the report is accurate, the instructor and class jumped on him for offering this example, with the instructor ultimately requesting that he apologize.

A better way to handle this may have been to clarify the students comments by restating it in a way that removes any unintended insinuation and asking him to buy into it before inviting response. There is, of course, a danger of censorship in that but, if the facts are as reported to John (the instructor rebuffed his attempt to get her side of the story), then it appears clear that the kid wasn't trying to say that "all hispanics disrepect the police" and it would have been pedagogically sound to help him out.

11 comments:

3rd Way said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
3rd Way said...

McAdams shouldn't try to make political points by criticizing his colleaugues attempt to control his/her classroom. It is acceptable only in academia to do such a thing.

If I blogged about one of my colleaugues missteps (I don't see any egregious missteps here BTW) I would be fired.

Anonymous said...

I think this is typical of Tom Foley (it) to be against anyone or anything that isn't in the little world or little box that he wants everyone to be in. Typical liberal thought.

The students intent by his statement is obvious and he had nothing to apoligize for. The McAdams post presented it very well.

John Foust said...

No doubt McAdams has his own axe to grind or invent, as the case may be. It would seem this student went running to the most sympathetic ear he could find. Now why would he think that was McAdams? He's writing about an incident he didn't witness, an incident that another prof wouldn't discuss with him? But "it's obvious from several accounts of the incident." Uh, OK. It's like we're witnessing the birth of another emailed glurge: "This really happened to a friend of my cousin..." As you seem to say, this sounds like a reasonable classroom exchange - and Foley did state he did not support such "forced" apologies, if that's what really happened . Maybe the future cop hasn't heard such frank and open discussion before. Maybe the other kids hadn't talked to a proto-cop before in such a fashion. Maybe they don't go to each others' parties. Maybe they all gained some perspective.

Publius said...

If you cannot make commentary in a Classroom where can you?

The point for the student’s story was that the Police pulled over a car with people in it and they accused the Police of being racist.
There was no harm intended only the illustration of a point.

As a German American, I am consistently pulled over for the smell of Bratwurst and Sauerbraten seeping out of my car. I have been cautioned multiple times for playing Oom-pah music so loud as to disturb the neighborhood I am driving thru. I do not consider this racist, the Police are merely cautious of a man with a flaming Hibachi grill in his back seat.

If we cannot discuss important issues in a classroom, without the intrusion of the Thought-Police, where will the dialog on solving problems with the Law and enforcement and race begin?

This Instructor, should have been forced to apologize publicly to the Student.

illusory tenant said...

Anonymous! Who let you out of your little box? Get back in there, at once!

Anonymous said...

it -

if it were up to you that is where I would be along with everyone else.

Honestly, I realy do believe that liberals want to micro-manage every aspect of what people do. This is just one more example of it.

You have impressed me as being a bright guy that makes it hard to believe you have bought into the liberal mentality. Perhaps there is hope for you but for now we are not on the same page.

Dad29 said...

I will grant the MU professor one thing: there is a superabundance of laws.

John McAdams said...

John,

It would seem this student went running to the most sympathetic ear he could find. Now why would he think that was McAdams?

Because McAdams believes in free speech, and doesn't like political correctness.

But you think that's bad, apparently. You think that students abused by a leftist professor should just have to take it, apparently.

He's writing about an incident he didn't witness, an incident that another prof wouldn't discuss with him?

I had, if memory serves, six students who gave me detailed accounts.

That's the way journalism is.

Why do you want to minimize this?

Maybe the future cop hasn't heard such frank and open discussion before. Maybe the other kids hadn't talked to a proto-cop before in such a fashion. Maybe they don't go to each others' parties. Maybe they all gained some perspective.

Yea, but the guy presenting the pro-cop perspective had to apologize.

Why don't you think people who attack cops should have to apologize?

jp said...

If Marquette is governed by the Jesuits, does it follow they sanction the teacher’s conduct.

illusory tenant said...

If it were up to you [in a box] is where I would be along with everyone else.

We'll all be in a box one day. Separate ones, hopefully, but I won't complain if you put me in one with Salma Hayek.

You have impressed me as being a bright guy; that makes it hard to believe you have bought into the liberal mentality.

Er ... thanks?