Jewish World Review Dec. 1, 2004 / 18 Kislev 5765

Joanne Jacobs

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Consumer Reports

Suppressing Free Speech for Credit; Vandalism for Credit; Disabled or Unwilling? | Some students at Rutgers' all-female Douglass College received college credit for a petition drive to ban a student weekly, The Medium, which published photos of nude women.

Paul Mulshine, a Newark Star-Ledger columnist who once was The Medium's editor, writes:

As part of a required "activism" project, (Douglass) students in a class called "Woman, Culture and Society" decided to petition for the Medium to be banned from campus. If you are a student of the First Amendment, as I am, you will note that such a ban would be in violation of the Constitution. Nonetheless, the students set up a table on campus and began gathering signatures on a petition. (Medium editor Mike) Stanley and a few other editors went to Douglass to find out what the women were so worked up about.

"One of the women said she was upset that we had pictures of nude women in the paper," he said. He pointed out that there were some nudes in the Douglass newspaper, the Caellian, as well as lesbian erotic writing. But the women weren't calling for the Caellian to be suppressed.

"When I found out this was part of a class, I thought, 'How can a teacher be encouraging something that is against the Constitution?'"

Mulshine put that question to Barbara Balliet, acting director of the women's studies department at Douglass.

"That's not what they're getting credit for," Balliet responded. She agreed that a ban on distribution would be unconstitutional, "but in the process of trying to do this thing which they think they can do, they will learn they can't do it," she said.

A few days after the anti-Medium demonstration, 5,000 copies of the Medium, out of a 6,000-copy print run, were stolen. Last time students stole copies of a newspaper they didn't like, the culprits were told not to do it again. That was it.

Rutgers spokesman Sandy Lanman assures me that this time around if the miscreants are caught they will be prosecuted under the college judicial code.

"Hopefully, this will lead to a constructive dialogue," Lanman told me.

Mulshine hopes it will lead to felony indictments.

Vandalism for Credit

Blogger Right Reason links to another weird story from the Claremont colleges: Two students painted anti-SUV slogans on SUVs as a class assignment. (They used some sort of washable paint.) The professor initially said the students misinterpreted her instructions to express their "political voice." Student Life, the college newspaper, reports:

The students expressed environmental concerns about SUVs by writing statements such as “I use 33% more gas than a car,” “consumption machine,” and “I heart pollution.”

“It was not a well thought out action,” said Professor Yvonne Houy, who teaches a course titled Political Activism in Film and Media at Pomona. Recently, she told students in the class to exercise their political voice, not imagining that the two students in question would decide to fulfill the assignment in such an atypical — and illegal — manner.

Later, a memo from the dean said the students had received written approval for the vandalism before defacing the cars; Houy said she'd "inadvertently" approved the idea. Houy is a professor of German Studies.

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Disabled or Unwilling?

Mild learning disabilities sometimes aren't diagnosed until high school, says this Boston Globe story. Bright students may hide their disabilities by memorizing or simply working harder than their classmates. They run into trouble when the work gets more complex.

But some educators and psychologists are skeptical of disabilities diagnosed in high school, the Globe reports.

They chalk up the majority to panicking parents or families seeking to ''game the system" for advantages such as untimed SATs.

...The diagnostic tools schools use muddies the situation, particularly if the student undergoing the analysis is an adolescent. Schools typically test a student for learning disabilities if there's a significant gap between a student's ability (usually determined with an IQ test) and his or her achievement in school. They look for various warning signs, including struggles with homework, giving up on school, behavior problems, and unexpected failure. Those same signs can appear if a teen is dealing with family stress, substance abuse, depression, or conflict with parents who have a different view on the importance of education.

Is the disorganized student disabled or just disorganized?

On a bipartisan vote, Congress has revised the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). Blogger Glittering Eye approves of the reforms.

Changes in the new legislation include paperwork reduction, stronger enforcement, and more flexibility for schools. In what may prove to be one of the more controversial provisions, the bill allows states and school districts to recover legal fees if a parent's complaint is deemed frivolous. In my opinion this is a needed reform to level the playing field. Since the enacting of the previous law, it's been possible for determined (and well-to-do or legally connected) parents to get pretty nearly anything they want using legal strong-arm techniques, particularly threat of suit. The new law may reduce this and let districts spend their limited funds on actually teaching kids rather than paying legal fees.

A friend of mine worked as a school psychologist in a district where many parents had a strong sense of entitlement; they all had lawyers, and some were lawyers themselves. The district had to fight to set limits on special treatment for not-so-special students.

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JWR contributor Joanne Jacobs, a former Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer, blogs daily at She is currently finishing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. Comment by clicking here.


© 2004, Joanne Jacobs