Thursday, June 12, 2008

No Child Left Behind and Free Speech

Today in the New York Times there were side by side articles about the First Amendment and free speech issues and the worth and continuation of No Child Left Behind

Their side by sideness got me to thinking about them together and their relevancy to ADF's attack on GS and why the administration of Governor's School is acceding to the demands of the ADF.

The Alliance Defense Fund often uses First Amendment and religious freedom arguments in their litigation. Part of their argument is that is you don't allow them to say vile things about homosexuals you are violating their First Amendment rights. (They may have a point about this. like it or not, in this country hate speech is covered under the First Amendment up to the point where that speech may reasonable cause acts of violence.)

Another stance they often take though is simply talking about homosexuality in any way that doesn't directly reflect their religous standpoint on it violates their freedom of religious expression. This makes no sense, particularly in combination with their above argument.

So why doesn't Governor's School and DPI simply allow ADF to file litigation then and take them on in court? This is where NCLB becomes important. DPI fears that if GS became more well known, had attention called to it, that it wouldn't be able to get funding through the NC legisature. (That may be true but i doubt it- this is where you call in the long arm of the alumni and put them to work.) One reason they think they would not be publically supported is because we don't create any numbers.

GS has no grades, no rankings, no tests. We produce no numbers beyond numbers of people that attend. We don't track the alumni to see how "successful" they are. And of course, this is what most faculty and students like about GS. A successful summer looks different for every single student. One student may have a successful summer by making friends, another by mastering ideas behind game theory, another by writing and directing a theatre performance, another by experiencing what a life of the mind looks like. Every single student has to define their own version of success and work towards that. As a program, we simply provide the tools, space, support, and safety for that work to take place. Most of thos successes are not reproducible in number, only is narrative and often not until years later.

And that's what I fear is getting lost, why GS will no longer truly work by these and other GS values. It seems unlikely (although not impossible) that there will be a movement towards the production/business model of education in which GS has to prove it's worth each summer by documenting how students are "better" at the end of the 6 weeks than at the beginning. But if you treat an entire academic discipline as if it has no value, if you don't illustrate to students how to vigorously think about and interrogate what makes up themselves and their world, if you present to students that one class of people is worth less than another, then GS isn't GS.

It becomes an actively dangerous place for queer studnts, queer friendly students, or students who wish to think about what it is to be a person with a sex, a gender, or desire. You present to students the idea that there are some things that should not be talked about or thought about. "Question everything. Accept nothing" (a popular GS motto) morphs into "Question the things that won't attract the attention of bullys. Accept the things that will help you hide from yourself and from others in the world." (That will not fit as well on a t-shirt either.) You model for them that there are topics that are so hard that they can never be talked about or disagreed about with a level of respect and reponsibility by people.

And in the end that's not GS. It's CNN and talk shows and most other public schools and a growing number of universities. It's what the students swim in each and every day. Why would they have to go to Raleigh or Winston-Salem to spend 6 weeks being exposed to that? They already know that. It's what bashes them over the head, every single day.

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