As a geography teacher, I have a constitutional right to teach that the earth is flat!

As I recently learned, ebay is not a venue for free speech. No matter how ridiculous a thing or a concept might appear to be, there is no right to ridicule or satirize it at ebay:

Keyword spamming occurs when members place brand names or other inappropriate keywords in a title or description for the purpose of gaining attention or diverting members to a listing. Keyword spamming in listings is not permitted on eBay. The text sellers place in listings must be directly relevant to the item being sold.
This is because things are supposed to be sold there, not debated or ridiculed. If, for example, I wanted to ridicule the concept of "shabby chic," I could not do so by deliberately listing a piece of trash for sale, putting an outlandish price on it, and labeling it "shabby chic."

This is not a free speech issue, because even though the First Amendment prevents the government from restricting my right to ridicule the ill-defined "shabby chic" phenonenon, it likewise prevents the government from restricting ebay's right to stop me.

I keep seeing "free speech" being evoked almost magically -- as a way of breathing life into bogus claims, or into the type of over-the-top political invective most people would consider morally indefensible. The other night David Lane (attorney for teacher Jay Bennish) carry on at length about "free speech" -- which he used as a characterization for Ward Churchill's "little Eichmanns" remark. Well, it is free speech. So, in this country, is Holocaust denial.

Does that mean that a school should not be allowed to fire David Irving? Or a teacher who asked his students to draw cartoons denying the Holocaust? According to David Lane, apparently so.

This is nonsense. Teaching is no more a venue for free speech than is ebay.

Nor do I think much of the argument that there are "two sides" to "every issue." (Might Bennish be heard to argue that there are "two sides" to the issue of Jews drinking children's blood?)

Similar illogic is involved in the New Jersey school plan to put President Bush on "trial" for "war crimes":

...students involved in the project, which began Monday after several weeks of research, said the decision to hold a mock trial over Bush's alleged "crimes against civilian populations" and "inhumane treatment of prisoners" had been agreed upon by all 27 classmates.

Catherine Galdun, one of the student prosecutors, told the Daily Record of Parsippany for yesterday's newspapers that she would have been upset had the trial been halted.

"I would say that we're doing this in a fair and balanced way," said Galdun, 18. "We're looking at both sides of it. If [critics] don't believe that's right to do in a classroom - to debate both sides of an issue - I don't agree with that."

Township Council Vice President James Vigilante, an Air Force reservist, said he could see both sides. "I'm a Bush fan. I don't necessarily, myself, agree with the lesson plan, but on the flip side, I wouldn't condemn the teacher," he told the newspaper.

Vigilante, a Republican, added, "For me, it's the right of free speech."

Wrong. Free speech has nothing to do with it. We live in a partisan political system, and nothing could be more inherently partisan than demanding the president be put on trial.

Does anyone seriously think the words "IMPEACH BUSH" translates into fairness and impartiality to "both sides" -- simply because Bush would be allowed an opportunity to be heard?

As I suggested in the comments to an earlier post, if we were going to be "fair to both sides" about putting American leaders on trial, we might as well try Hillary Clinton for the murder of Vincent Foster.

As David Bernstein reminds, the fact that government is involved in education means that it is sponsoring a point of view:

...the very existence of public schools means that the government will to some degree be inculcating values into minor students. Simply by choosing curriculum, textbooks, and engaging in other functions inherent in the education process, the government will inevitably be making value-laden choices that will dictate what students learn about various social, moral, and political issues
so long as we live in a second-best world with public schools, government authorities have the right to dictate to teachers what to teach, and to punish those teachers who refuse to comply.
David Bernstein also said he thought Bennish's remarks resembled satire.

Well, I did enjoy his remark about capitalism being "at odds with human rights" remark -- and I especially loved the question and answer period:

Q. Who is probably the single most violent nation on planet Earth?

A. The United States of America, and we're a democracy, quote, unquote.

Q. Who has the most weapons of mass destruction in the world?

A. United States.

Q. Who is continuing to develop new weapons of mass destruction as we speak?

A. United States."

I'm boning up on my geography here and I have a question: In what country do the citizens who pay this guy's salary live?

(Parenthetically, it has to be noted that by his own logic, Bennish's comparison of Bush to Hitler is not as self-evident an indictment of Bush as he he might think. Because, if there are "two sides" to every issue, by what moral standard can Bennish argue that even that Hitler is bad? Certainly not by the standard he articulates for al Qaida!)

MORE: Michelle Malkin thinks Bennish needs medical help. (I think he might be pinching the students' speed....)

posted by Eric on 03.05.06 at 07:16 PM


I think debate on controversial/pollitical debates are fine as long as the TEACHER DOES NOT TAKE SIDES.

So you can have mock trials for against impeachment, as long as the teacher helps keep the conversation informative.... what is an impeachement? When should an impeachment be used? What evidence can be gathered to prove your case?

I don't think it's intrinsically bad to have this conversation (and I agree that comparing bush to hitler is worthless, like learning about enthalpy by lighting gasoline on fire) however, many people will then push their idealolgy with quick jab....

We want students who are oppinionated(and hopefully become interested and informed) about public issues, what we don't want is the teacher to spout his/her particular opinion.

alchemist   ·  March 6, 2006 4:34 PM

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