Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Speech Impediments

The nonprofit, California-based Center for the Study of Popular Culture, led by recovering leftist David Horowitz (author of such apologetic confessionals as "Radical Son" and "Hating Whitey") has officially endorsed the as-yet-unratified Academic Bill of Rights. And all I can say to that is, phew! It's about time somebody, or rather, a bunch of somebodies, did.

Because, let's face it: When it comes to education, the Golden State's reputation is less-than-sterling.

Which I wouldn't lose any sleep over (after all, even a state's entitled to a wild night on the town now and then, as the fine people of Florida know all too well), if we didn't seem hell-bent on tarnishing it further.

What's the difference between an educational system like, say, Afghanistan's -- that is, Afghanistan's pre-2002 "system," when no boy was left behind and every teacher was Taliban-credentialed -- and California's?

The answer, if you ask California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo student Steve Hinkle, whose attempted posting of a Cal Poly College Republican-sponsored flier in the school's Multicultural Center was deemed "disruptive" and "insensitive," is a resounding "not much."

Indeed, one of the five students who'd interrupted Hinkle's constitutionally-protected right to post the flier on the Center's public bulletin board alerted campus police, so offended was she by the flier's content.

That was in November. So imagine Hinkle's surprise when, in January, he was fingered as the "suspicious white male passing out literature of an offensive racial nature."

Confused? So was Hinkle. I mean, the race card was just so elementary school, so yesterday, so Gray Davis (see the "English in the Classroom" initiative, roundly condemned by the childless; out-of-touch empty nesters; a bunch of upwardly mobile white men whose own kids attended private schools and, of course, pandering politicians of indeterminate orientation like Davis.)

Weren't colleges supposed to be hipper than that?

Apparently not.

On March 12, Cal Poly's vice provost, W. David Conn, convicted Hinkle of the crime of "offending several students," sentencing him to "write each offended student a letter of apology...subject to the approval of the Office of Judicial Affairs," else risk suspension and/or expulsion.

Duly appalled, Hinkle appealed to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which in turn appealed to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

It wasn't the first such appeal, according to UC Berkeley's "Daily Californian" writer Regina Chen, whose August 15 editorial on the subject is -- not at all surprisingly --subtitled, "Potentially Offensive Speech Must be Allowed."

What is surprising is that a paper like "The Worker," er, "Daily Californian," would publish such a propaganda-free piece like Chen's, a piece that opens with this factual-yet-catatonia-inducing statement: "Responding to letters from across the nation about the state of free speech on college campuses, the Department of Education recently sent a strong reminder to universities that campus speech regulations should not infringe upon First Amendment rights."

Chen goes on to cite the Hinkle/Cal Poly "conflict," which, she rightly declares, began when Hinkle went to post a flier "publicizing a conservative speaker" (who just so happened to be a, gasp, UC Berkeley alumnus).

What Chen doesn't say is that the conservative speaker and Berkeley alumnus, Mason Weaver, is black; nor does she mention the fact that the offended students were all black, or that Weaver, a best-selling author, is one of the most sought-after speakers, black or white, in the nation.

Hmm, has anyone ever seen Michael Newdow -- the guy who wants "under God" taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance? I'll bet he's got horns. Ditto the "educators" who took the words "Christmas" and "Easter" out of public school vacation calendars. Or else just really thin skins, unlike the skins of my junior and senior high school classmates: sixty percent of the former and fifty-five percent of the latter were Jewish, i.e., didn't "celebrate" Christmas or Easter. They didn't care what you called a two-week break, just as long as there was one.

But back to the Hinkle case.

Until as recently as three weeks ago, Cal Poly was denying any wrongdoing. Perhaps the Department of Education's letter hadn't yet arrived, or had been misrouted. But as of August 7, as Chen notes, "the school published a message entitled, 'Cal Poly, the First Amendment and Free Speech,' reminding students that the university remains an open forum for free speech."

Okay, so maybe everyone with half a brain, that is, everyone who'd understood, right from the start, that "The West Wing" wasn't a documentary, knows that college is where conservative thought goes to die, that an institution of higher learning is no place for a Republican.

But what about the people who don't know? The people who, bless their hearts, entered the California public school system the year the "New Math" was launched; were taught that "school prayer" was something only oppressive regimes imposed; who never learned how to use a locker, never having had one themselves; who graduated not only with scoliosis (from never having had a locker to keep their books in) but without ever having heard the "i before e except after c" rule?

Who's going to stand up for them?

Then again, who wants to?



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