Saturday, 1 February 2003

Venue-appropriate discussions

Kevin Drum (CalPundit) thinks Erin O'Connor stretches to consider the case of Jendra Loeffelman, an elementary school teacher fired for expressing what O'Connor charitably describes as “controversial views,” to be another in a long line of P.C. outrages. Those controversial views were in expressed when she told her class “that she disapproved of interracial marriage,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, because she believed that the children of such marriages are subject to persecution.

Leaving aside whether or not one can oppose interracial marriage without being a racist (Kevin certainly considers it a racist belief, and it's hard to argue that point), the larger point that I think O'Connor misses is that Loeffelman's audience was eighth graders. While kids of that age certainly are capable of some independent thought, it's one thing to bring up one's personal beliefs when teaching a college seminar, and quite another to do it in an elementary school or junior high classroom. From the published accounts it appears Loeffelman was asked a direct question, but she still could have deflected it or avoided the question entirely.

O'Connor believes avoiding the question would send the wrong message, but the implicit message to the mixed-race children in the room — in essence, “I don't think your parents should have married each other” — is hardly the right message either, and one that most parents would rightly be appalled by. It's the equivalent situation to asking your teacher what he's doing this weekend, and him announcing he's planning on marching at a Klan rally or going to smash the windows of a few SUVs to protest the administration's failure to support Kyoto. Loeffelman wasn't fired for “refusing to pander” to anyone's sensibilities — she was fired for making a virtual endorsement of returning to Jim Crow, and for contributing to the air of persecution that she used to justify her beliefs in the first place.

Erin O'Connor has a followup, in which she summarizes my viewpoint as believing “[Loeffelman's] students are only in eighth-grade, and are therefore too young to cope with her opinions.” (I'd characterize my viewpoint not so much as one of whether or not they can cope, but whether or not they are capable of critically thinking about what a teacher presents in class. The critical thinking skills of many college undergraduates are woefully poor; I'd imagine that 99% of eighth graders take whatever a teacher says as gospel truth.)

While I agree that Loeffelman has some rights under the First Amendment in this case — which wouldn't apply if she was a private school teacher — the question obviously becomes: to what extent can she exercise those rights in her position teaching a class? Does she have the right to teach whatever she wants? More to the point, where's the line between teaching and just expressing one's opinion? If I'm standing in front of my class lecturing, I'm teaching; if two students come by my office and ask me about my personal beliefs, I'm probably not; if I talk to one at the drive-thru at Burger King, I'm definitely not.

The case of the homosexual volleyball coach that O'Connor cites appears different, in that the coach was subject to a broad injunction beforehand of dubious constitutional standing and did not discuss her sexual orientation with an entire class, but rather with an individual student, apparently outside a classroom situation. Fundamentally, there's a “reasonable time, place, and manner” argument to be made in Loeffelman's case, and that's where this case is going to be decided.

Jane Galt has a post on this as well, asking “if the teacher was black, would she be disciplined or fired?” Kevin Drum has a followup comment at Jane's site:

For what it's worth, I think disapproval of interracial marriage is disgusting no matter who it comes from. I know that many blacks disapprove of it too, and I don't like it. I don't like state policies against interracial adoptions, either.

However, there's also a considerable difference between saying something as a private citizen and saying something as a government employee. High school teachers, as agents of the state, simply don't have the right to say things in a classroom that would be protected if they were saying them as private citizens. Loeffelman had been a teacher for a long time and surely knew this.

Having said all I've said, I'm surprised that the school district actually fired her — most would have probably moved her to some job in administration or shipped her off to another school, rather than court controversy.

More on LeBron's Hummer

Colby Cosh has some worthwhile thoughts on LeBron James and amateurism; I'm not sold on whether the NCAA should give up on amateurism completely. Perhaps the real issue is the lack of a real minor league system in basketball and football; at least baseball and hockey players don't have to go to college to have a shot in the pros (the occasional LeBron James or Kevin Garnett aside). On the other hand, men's college basketball and football (in Division I-A) are by far the most popular college sports, precisely because they're the venue where the future pros can make a mark, and preserving this system is what keeps Division I athletic departments in the black.

Of course, once you start paying the players in the “money sports,” that opens a whole other can of worms, particularly in the lawsuit-happy realm of Title IX. So I can certainly see why the NCAA doesn't want to go there.

Previous snarky comment on LeBron James here.

MEGAPOP seeks high-speed Internet backbone

The New Albany Gazette has a lengthy article on plans by a group called MEGAPOP to have a high-speed fiber optic link in northern Mississippi, which would have points of presence in Oxford, Tupelo, Columbus, Starkville and Meridian, mostly using an existing unused (or “dark”) link for much of the backbone; most existing commercial links in this part of state go through Jackson (there are some non-commercial Internet2 connections from the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University, however). The backbone would connect to existing fiber links in Memphis and Meridian to provide high-speed Internet access to the rest of the world.

For your edification: MEGAPOP's website.

Columbia tragedy

I don't have anything to add to the general discussion; go forth and read InstaPundit for the factual roundup and Rand Simberg's site for what this means for America's future exploring space. For a wider roundup, use Janes' Blogosphere's search feature.

Willis on America's role in the world

I heartily recommend reading Oliver Willis's latest on the coming conflict with Iraq; while I disagree about the motivations behind our Iraq policy (it would certainly be easier for us to co-opt Hussein than topple him, if expansionism was our goal), and perhaps even on the degree of politicization of 9-11 (though admittedly a game both major parties have engaged in; such is life in the current era), his conclusion is right on the money:

In the 21st century, we must end the cycle of supporting the lesser of two evils because it is expedient. Our culture grows in depth and understanding every nanosecond, yet our handling of the world and our place in it seems more regressive each passing day. America leads in ideas, and the willingness to implement them. We must not allow simple answers and blind aggression to retard the moral and spiritual growth of a nation. If our leaders always took the easy way out, the brute and the oaf’s path, we would not be the America we are today or the one we can look forward to tomorrow. To demand better of the world, the United States must take its role as leader and create an order that doesn’t oppress and subjugate (either directly or by proxy), but uplifts and educates from the poorest of the poor all the way up to the gilded gates of the elite.

These ideals, these concepts, these beliefs – are what this country stands for. Terror and fear will win when we allow the foundations of freedom to crumble.

To borrow the argument of OxBlog's David Adesnik, the business of American foreign policy should be to promote our core values of liberal democracy and the rule of law in the world; not so much to remake the world in our image as it is to ensure that free people everywhere can remake their societies in theirs. In other words, continuing the foreign policy that created modern Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan — while simultaneously rejecting the expediency of propping up the Mubaraks, Mussharafs, and Sauds of the world.

The more I think about Oliver's piece, though, the more I wonder about his “expansionism” theory for the conflict. Unlike in Afghanistan, there's no existing, credible government or military force (other than the Ba'ath Party itself, which has largely become Saddam's personality cult) that can enforce a post-Saddam order, so there has to be some “occupation force,” for a lack of a better term, to disarm the Ba'athist regime, train a new civilian police force and restructure the armed forces, and there has to be a management structure over the country's oil industry (presumably leading to eventual privatization). Obviously at some point both tasks can be handed off to the U.N. and other military forces, but for a year or so it's hard to imagine a stable Iraq without an occupation of some form.