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Pedagocial Slavery

Today, a professor from my law school alma mater was asked to take a leave of absence. The long and the short of the situation was apparently this (if you read through the comments, a student in the class enlightened everyone, in detail, as to what happened and it is not the same as the article itself): during a class discussing legal remedies available to plaintiffs, the professor asked whether descendants of slaves today were better off than their counterparts still living in Africa. Since the purpose of remedies is to make people equal to where they would have been without the injustice, the extreme argument is that if ancestors were never brought here, then their descendants would still be in Africa. At the same time, he showed a video with an interview by a pimp showing how the pimp treated prostitutes as his slaves, controlling their money and living situation. His point was that slavery still exists in this country. When the interview ended, it overlapped with a screen shot of a woman in a provocative stance, scantily clad.

Apparently, several students were incensed not just over the video but also over comments made by other students in the room. Those not in the room are unable to attest as to the comments made. One of the many issues is that the professor was asked to take a leave of absence for the rest of the semester starting immediately. This particular professor is well-known on campus for many things – being a bit of a lech, being intellectually provacative, pushing students’ buttons, being loved, and being hated. Regardless of whether one likes or dislikes his pedagogical philosophy, the issues seem to be partly of academic freedom and partly of administrative respect.

Academic freedom, agreed, needs to flow in two directions. Teachers in higher education need to be allowed to present information in the way they feel will best educate their students. Now, when faced with a roomful of students staring back blankly, a professor will often do whatever he/she can to incite students to participate. Birmingham, the professor in question, is one of those educators. His pedagogical approach is to present an extreme argument meant to inflame emotions. Often, he pushes students to the extreme in class to make them articulate an argument. Students are/were often insulted by his point of view. However, it should be noted that his personal point of view was never made public to students until after graduation. He would often play both sides of a single argument tryiing to elicit a logical, reasoned response from a student.

This particular professor disregards arguments that have no logical reasoning behind them. His goal is to incite riot, then shake out the gut reactions in a logical fashion. Although his classes are not formal in the sense that they are not rote memorization, they teach valuable skills such as thinking on one’s feet and explaining oneself clearly and logically. For some students, his methods open their minds in ways that they have not previously experienced.

His methods may be unorthodox. Indeed, he may even have sexually harassed some female students. Both of these arguments have supporting evidence or testimony, be it formal or informal. His reputation precedes him on the campus. There is a choice whether to take his classes or not, except for the one required class he teaches every two or three years. There is merit in having someone such as him in an academic environment intended to elicit new thinking and problem solving.

While students must feel comfortable expressing their opinions in class, one of the issues that seems to be creeping into the conversations attached to the article is that the students whose views insulted others in the classroom were not shut down to restore calm in the classroom. This is a thin line to walk. At what point does not allowing students to voice potentially insulting viewpoints compromise their abilities to feel comfortable expressing their opinions and participate in their education? Moreover, if students are offended in a classroom setting in which the educator openly welcomes debate, why can they not speak up for themselves to debate students who are making the obnoxious comments? Yes, the educator is in control of the room. Yes, the educator should be aware of classroom dynamics. However, since these are law school students, they are at least 22 years of age and already well-educated adults. At this age, they should be able to stand up for themselves. This seems to be a symptom of young people not being willing to take responsibility for their feelings but to expect someone else to intervene on their behalf to make things better for them. At some point, students need to be able to take responsibility and stand up for themselves as opposed to hoping someone else will fix the problem. Part of the educational process is learning how to respond to others in society.

The second major issue in this situation is that of the reaction of the administration. The comment by a current student indicates that this incident took place in an Evening Class (there are Evening and Day Divisions at the school). The current Dean decided to request that the professor leave. A campus meeting was held for students to discuss their concerns. The meeting was at 5pm on a week night. At 5pm, most Evening Division students are still at work. Most cannot afford to take time off of work to attend a meeting on a campus to air feelings. They have other responsibilities. This is just one incident of treating one group of students as “less than” on the campus.

The disconcerting aspect of this situation is that the cause of the request to leave lies in insulting a group of students. However, the administration feels that it is not necessary to incorporate the views of another group of students that could not attend the campus meeting. There was no attempt to make the meeting convenient for the Evening Division students who were directly affected. This is a pattern of behavior with this Dean that existed back when he was Dean of Students, and Evening Division education requirements were not as elaborate as Day Division, thus creating a “less than” education. The requirement issue has since been rectified after students fought for their rights; however, this willingness to only listen to those students whose opinion he respects and agrees with continues.

This is, perhaps, a more insidious issue example of student academic freedom. One group of students being considered less than the others – less dedicated, less worthy – implies that only certain viewpoints will be heard. This compromises the education of these students who pay equal tuition to those who are there full time. Why is it that these students’ views are considered not equal to those of the full time students? Why is it that their voices were not allowed to be heard? This is a situation in which beliefs and rights are stifled. This is no different than what Birmingham allegedly did by not controlling one group of ideas in support of another. This makes the administration, in some respects, worse than the professor being asked to take a leave of absence. The administration is, in effect, hypocritcal. It will request a professor resign for not being sensitive to student concerns and yet does the same thing.

In the end, the issue regarding reparations for descendants of slaves was the issue being discussed in the class. The professor’s tactics and control of classroom dynamics may have been an issue; however, it is his right as the professor to conduct his class the way he wishes. It is the right of the students to complain. To request him to leave because he did not require students to conform to one set of beliefs, however, is a version of slavery. The Dean is the pedagogical pimp, controlling the teacher’s money and his teaching situation. It is nothing more than pedagogical slavery.

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Vicktory For Puppies

Today, Michael Vick announced that he would be taking a plea deal. Less than a month after wanting to clear his name, Vick announced that he will take a plea deal that would give him up to 18 months of jail time. The NFL indicates that Vick’s representations to them are not the same actions as those being revealed through his legal discussions.

The question as to whether this single high profile case will bring greater awareness and attention to animal abuse is one that is entirely separate from the Vick case itself. The CEO of the Humane Society said, “The only good that can come from this case is that the American people dedicate themselves to the task of rooting out dogfighting in every infected area where it thrives.” However, Michael Vick’s dogfighting case is not the usual circumstance. A majority of dog fighting occurs in tandem with drugs and other violent crimes in urban areas. A detailed discussion of the history of dog fighting and legal fight to end dog fighting can be read here. For those who are not concerned about the animals, the article discusses non-animal effects of dog-fighting, such as how dog fighting desensitizes children to violence and how, as an integral part of drug culture, it harms the communities in which it takes place.

What can be most disturbing, as an extension of these discussions, is the idea of how violence such as this, particularly from one who engages in a physically demanding and occasionally violent sport, speaks to how Vick would act on the field. Small children who torture animals are often viewed as dangerous. Violence towards animals by young children is considered an early sign of Conduct Disorder, which is defined as “a repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in which the basic rights of others or major age-appropriate societal norms or rules are violated.” Although three of fifteen symptoms are required for a diagnosis, and no one is indicating that Vick suffers from this disorder, people should nonetheless be concerned about the safety of others on the field with Vick. Michael Vick, an adult with an even greater sense of right and wrong than the average child, should be held to a higher standard than a child. Football is, by its definition, a sport that involves physical interaction. An opponent could well question Vick’s intentions on the field in light of his inhumane treatment of animals. Again, not to say that Vick suffers from Conduct Disorder, but he does, at minimum, show a disrespect for life and health, albeit dogs not humans. In a field that requires the utilization of controlled violence, both opponents on the field and fans of the sport should be concerned about how Vick’s actions off the field could affect his actions on the field. The manner in which the dogs were slaughtered shows general disregard for their lives. Vick’s actions on the football field should be questioned, should he ever be allowed to return to the game. The NFL has several decisions to make regarding the future of Vick as a player. At some point, it will have to take a stand. Hopefully, one of the aspects reviewed will be the implications of Vick’s play on the field in light of his disregard for health and well-being of other living creatures.

All of this being said, dogs, too, should have their say. As such, JD and Max would like to express their feelings on this subject since they consider today’s plea a vicktory, of sorts.

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Back in 2000, Malcolm Gladwell wrote The Tipping Point. Having seen him speak at Connecticut Forum in 2006, I decided I wanted to read the book. It is, so far, an excellent book. The main premise laid out in the book is that social phenomena in the world can be explained as epidemics. Starting with the Hush Puppies revolution in NYC and including all manner of cultural phenomenon such as Paul Revere’s ride and Sesame Street, the book is both accessable and interesting. However, as go all things lately, this book got the knitting and blogging juices flowing. Most recently, both knitting and various electronic knitting forums have exploded in our culture. The New York Times recently did an article about the rise in young knitters and craftsters. An explosion of novels and pattern books has splattered across Borders, Barnes and Noble, and other bookstores nationwide. The immense number of individuals going to see the  Yarn Harlot at her books signings can attest to this explosion.  

This got me thinking about the importance of the rise of the internet in our society. Most recently, the Mystery Stole 3 managed to capture national and international attention. The first year, according to the blog, about 760 or so were involved. The second year there were 1061. This year, the number more than sextupled such that the Yahoo! group has 6654 people in it. What caused this? Why are so many people signed up?

Gladwell’s concept of the Tipping Point, more eleoquently put in his book with greater detail, is that you need a collection of three types of people – Mavens (people with information), Connectors (people who know people), and Salesmen (people who can keep you interested in the idea and sell it to you) – and a certain “stickiness factor” in order to attain a tipping point. The MS3 poses a unique version of this in that 1) it has been spread both online and in person and 2) although it occurred over three years, it occurs for a limited period of time, then stops, and has only really happened three times so is not a continuous phenomena like fashion.

The Mavens in this case may or may not be obvious. The fascinating aspect of this is that the Mavens are people that many do not know in person, bloggers living in the world of the internet. Mavens obtain the information. Melanie at Pink Lemon Twist put out the word. People who have been involved in the past knew it was coming. These people had the information. However, the Connectors here are the interesting part of this. The Internet has created a new type of Connector. Access to new people has expanded immensely. Information was spread through numerous blogs, which connect people in different states and countries. Information was spread through different online communities such as myspace, Ravelry (which is its own interesting application of The Tipping Point), and Get Stitchy!, among others. These online communities create a forum for Connectors and Salesmen to connect with others.

Connectors are people who know people in many different groups. Connectors are, according to Gladwell, the “glue” amongst different groups of people. In online communties, the need for Connectors diminishes to a great extent. A posting board, for example, with a title labeled Mystery Stole 3 does not depend on one reader knowing the original poster. Additionally, the communities themselves become the Connectors. The Connectors are no longer people who glue people together, but they are the html codes that connect people with similar interests.

MS3 is an interesting application of this principal in that it is a specific type of knitting, lace knitting. Not everyone is a lace knitter. Indeed, I myself have never knit lace. I joined MS3, but for various reasons have yet to actually buy the yarn yet (the new puppy, mainly, has kept me too busy thus far). However, a friend of mine nearby was into it. Then, Amy from my myspace group was all into it, so I read about it online. Then Yarn Harlot got sucked into it. Then I got suckered. Like a little lemming. However, no single individual was the “Connector”. Indeed, for me the connector was not an individual person, but the link to the internet which allowed for a metabrowser search for last year’s project. Frighteningly enough, the need for “people” Connectors may be diminishing due to the rise of the internet in the last ten years.

An even more interesting note to all of this is that much of what Gladwell discusses about Salesmen is their ability to interact with others in person. Salesmen have unique charismatic properties to their personalities. For example, Salesmen know innately how to involve people in conversation, how to use body language to express themselves, and how to make people feel comfortable.  How, then, does this translate to online communities where people are disconnected physically but connected emotionally? This becomes hard to explain. For example, it was not my local friend whom I see once a week who got me interested in MS3. It was a friend I have never met in person and a person who has no idea I exist.  How do these people manage to have this charismatic property that sells me on the idea of doing something I would normally have no interest in? In all honesty, I have no idea. It begs the question as to whether the written presentation of information has a draw based on language choice alone.

Knitting and its ability to help people form bonds around a common interest poses a unique application of many things in life. Knitting is, in itself, both solitary and community oriented. People can knit by themselves. People look to join knitting groups where socializing and connecting is the main goal, as opposed to getting a lot of knitting accomplished.  Perhaps the explosion of MS3 is due to it being part of a niche community. However, 6654 people is still a large number, especially for a niche community. At the beginning of the explosion, a major newspaper in the United States interviewed the woman running MS3 for an article. This, then, places interest in MS3 outside of the niche knitting community and into the general populace. This movement from niche to general is the heart of The Tipping Point. However, while people are involved, the majority of the elements that make something “tip” are not based on the traditional methods. The MS3 phenomenon relies entirely on electronic connections as opposed to interpersonal connections. The mystery of the Mystery Stole phenomenon, then, lies not in the traditional human Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen, but in the electronic Connector of the internet.

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Oh Those Words

A great big thanks to Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, the Yarn Harlot,  for pointing this out to her readers in her blog. Here However, it makes me question why I need to read about the words “rape” and “victim” being banned in a courtroom in Nebraska on a knitting blog (not that knitting blogs are nonesense, but still…what happened to front page news in my local paper?)

In case you were wondering, here are links to the only article in the US that I found when I typed “Nebraska” and “rape” into Google news. The CNN video is here.  When I looked further, there were four articles on the search page and a total of 187 filed away here.

In the page of headlines located by Google news, only two major headers with a few other links beneath were located. Google Don Imus. Go ahead. I dare you. Yeah, more than two months later there is still mention of his 90 second gaffe on his radio show.

Now, background: the basic tenet of the Nebraska rape case goes like this: Girl goes to bar. Girl has drinks – in the articles the Yarn Harlot read, she had “a drink”. According to the Washington Post, the victim says she was too drunk to consent. Washington Post Article  Regardless, she woke up the next day in the defendant’s bed not knowing or not recollecting her consent to the previous evening’s activities. The judge has since banned several words, including, but not limited to, “rape” and “sexual assault.” The first trial resulted in a hung jury, and the second trial is underway.

Here’s my basic issue, aside from the general unfairness of the situation. OK, several issues which will be illuminated in the following paragraphs. First, we as a country have apparently decided that an insult on a limited audience radio show is more important than a legal decision that has long standing ramifications if it is not overruled. Don Imus was, as I’ve said in my personal life, not correct in his statement. That being said, his statement lasted a sum total of 45 – 90 seconds. Say the words “nappy headed ho’s” and see how long it takes. Again, I dare you. While insulting, the statement had no legal, long-term ramifications. They were the words of a shock jock who spent his life trying to insult people in an attempt to make money. The appropriateness of this and our inclination to listen to it is irrelevant. The internet buzzed. The story caught on. The man was fired. If the first trial resulted in a hung jury and the second is about to start, that means that the first trial should have ended at least three months ago. Why, then, has this only recently caught a buzz in the news? Few people seem to appreciate the fact that the decision by this judge has legal ramifications for all involved. Imus’ remarks were not going to send someone to jail or allow anyone who had committed a crime to walk free. They were insensitive. They were unintelligent. They were incorrect. However, they were personal, not legal. Don Imus, due to popular outrage, was fired. Nebraska’s judiciary is not elected. It is based on merit selection. Therefore we cannot “vote” this judge out as we did Imus. However, his actions are equally inappropriate, if not more so. Attention must be paid.

Second, this situation brings to the forefront the importance of words in society. When a person – woman, man, martian, whatever – cannot face his/her/its attacker in court and accuse him/her/it of the crime alleged all are wronged. The Constitution requires that defendants be allowed to face their accusers. If the accuser cannot state the crime being alleged, the defendant loses his/her Constitutional right and the accuser loses his/her reason for facing the demons involved in the crime. A rape or other victim has no reason to face the traumas of a trial if no satisfaction or vindication will be allowed. Words are important. These words have legal, as well as social, meaning. I can understand, to an extent, not allowing the use of rape or sexual assault by an accuser to the extent that those words imply actions and those actions have legal definitions. Those legal definitions require specific actions and intents to be proved as truths in a court of law. I am, after all, a licensed attorney who can see both sides of the situation and was forced to learn the archaic definition of burglary (a breaking and entering into a residence at night). As an attorney, I find this to be a travesty to the justice system, not just to women. Our legal system cannot work when we disregard the rights of the citizens to both accuse and be appropriately accused.

Third, there is the issue as to whether this judge would have placed the same restrictions on a man accusing another man of assault. Were this a situation in which one man had attacked another in a bar fight, I wonder serioulsy whether the restrictions would have applied. If the judge can honestly say that he has barred the words “burglary”, “assault”, “homicide” and “murder” in his courtroom, then I can stand behind his ruling. Those words, too, have legal definitions that require specific acts to have been fulfilled to be considered true. However, the difference is that they are not gender defined. They are gender blind. Men assault men. Women burglarize women. Men murder women. Women commit homicide against men. If the judge removed the gender bias to the legal term, thus barring all legally defined terms from the court of law, then this would not be an issue. Until that time, all understood terms should be allowed in the courtroom unless they are inflammatory and thusly, legally, denied in a court of law.

Why has this not gained more national attention? The answer is likely that this is Nebraska and not New York City. To many Americans, Nebraska is a state with low population and not much happening (I was introduced to a person from Nebraska once and was as fascinated as if the person had come from Djbuti). This should not matter. The number of people ultimately directly affected by this decision far surpasses the number involved in the Don Imus case. As long as this stands, it becomes legal precedent for all other rape cases in Nebraska to the extent that other judges choose to invoke it. Women and African Americans may have been insulted by Don Imus. However, in that case an idiot was fired. In this case, women may be insulted, but more importantly, a rapist (whether this individual if he committed the crime or another who commits a crime at a later date) more likely will go free.

The words rape and sexual assault have strong connotations. They imply violence, as well they should. They imply force. They imply illegal activities. Not being allowed to use them in the courtroom to describe, or even accuse an individual of, an illegal action places us as Americans all the more at a disadvantage. The meanings of these words and their connotations must be allowed to stand if we are to remain a nation of freedom and equality for all.

On that note, I am going to go to sleep, I mean, close my eyes and enter a comatose state for eight hours so that I may gain the requisite mental distance from the world to be able to function in the morning. Right, and words have no meaning or importance.

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