By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
I suspect that readers of this column have been reading about the “trigger warnings” that are being established in American colleges. George Will describes them as the “the newest campus idea for preventing victimizations.” They would be placed, he writes, “on assigned readings or announced before lectures, to provide students with a safe, supportive, and unthreatening environment.”
Great news, no? This will mean that Christian students with traditional values will now be warned before they encounter nude classmates offering them condoms at their college’s “Sex Week”; also before The Vagina Monologues or a “gay” coming-out novel is assigned by their literature professors. From now on, professors who make a habit of mocking Christianity and traditional values will take Christian students aside and permit them to skip the class where the diatribe is planned.
Sociology professors will be using triggers before they assign Manchild in the Promised Land or any of the other novels that describe in vulgar language the gritty details of violence, drugs, and sex in the inner city. Advocates of same-sex marriage will not be invited to make their case in a classroom setting without those who might take offense being given the opportunity to opt out. Likewise when their teacher decides to demonstrate sex toys to help students escape their middle-class hang-ups about sex or to read aloud one of Allen Ginsberg’s poems championing homosexual license.
You say what? That this is not how it is going to work?
I know. The above was my attempt at sarcasm. We all know that these triggers are not going to be used to protect students with traditional values. They have been designed to shield those who have adopted the secular left’s view of the world; to censor anything that can be interpreted by the politically correct guardians of campus life as sexist, racist, homophobic, or an affront to Third World sensibilities.
The hypocrisy would be laughable if not for the fact that the leftists who run our colleges continue to get away with these double-standards. One can only speculate if the campus radicals are so caught up in their ideological enthusiasms that they are unaware of the hypocrisy on display in these triggers; or if they are perfectly aware of it, and chuckle among themselves at how clever they have been in putting one over on Middle America by pretending they are not deliberately subverting American higher education for their ideological goals when that is exactly what they are up to.
While we are on the topic of hypocrisy and hidden agendas, let us take a look at the ongoing war on school vouchers being conducted by the Obama administration’s Department of Justice, under Attorney General Eric Holder. The goal seems to be to kill vouchers — by any means necessary, including dishonest ones. Consider the latest move against Wisconsin’s and Louisiana’s voucher systems.
National Review Online, in a column by Rick Esenberg and C.J. Szafir, reported that this year “over 25,000 children are taking advantage of Wisconsin’s longtime school-choice program to attend a private school of their choosing. The newer Louisiana Scholarship Program is allowing 6,755 low-income students who attend schools graded C, D, or F by the state to attend a private school.” (The C, D, and F grades indicate underperforming schools.)
Clearly, large numbers of parents are eager to escape their local public schools. One would think that our government would want to assist them, to see if these experiments in helping disadvantaged children offer a model for the future.
One might think that, but it is not the case. Instead, the Obama Justice Department is looking for any excuse it can find to shut down these alternatives to the public school system. Write Esenberg and Szafir, “The Justice Department sent a letter to the state of Wisconsin claiming that its school choice program discriminates against children with disabilities, and, therefore, is violating Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The school choice program, it declared, must be reformed, or the federal government ‘reserves its right to pursue enforcement through other means’.”
This is twisted logic, to say the least. It may be true that the schools chosen by Wisconsin families opting out of the public school system do not have the facilities to handle students with serious disabilities. They are likely to be Catholic parish schools. But neither does every public school.
To take just one example, the competitive, elite public schools in New York City, Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant High School, are open only to highly successful students. The Sidwell Friends Academy that the president’s children attend is not equipped to handle students with serious emotional and physical disabilities. Moreover, Title II of the ADA does not apply to private schools. When Wisconsin students with vouchers attend these schools, they do not become public schools bound by Title II.
The Justice Department has taken a different, but no less disingenuous, tack in Louisiana. It claimed, in Esenberg’s and Szafir’s words, that “the Louisiana Scholarship Program violated a nearly 40-year-old desegregation order that prohibits funds from going to private schools that promote segregation.” But those schools do not “promote segregation.”
“The problem was not that a school choice was enabling white children to flee public education — over 90 percent of children using a voucher are racial minorities — but that these black and Hispanic families might choose schools that do not fit the government’s preferred color palette.”
Ironically, they were likely to be far more integrated than the all-minority schools that these children left.
The Obama administration was not forced into using these dishonest arguments against the school choice programs in Wisconsin and Louisiana. The president and Eric Holder would not have had to confess in public that they were acting to serve the interests of the public school teachers unions, even if many suspect that is the case. They could have stated that they think it counterproductive to promote alternatives to the country’s public schools; that tax dollars will be better spent improving public schools than providing alternatives to them.
Many would disagree with that line of thought, but at least it would be honest. Instead, the Justice Department sought out these strained excuses about school choice programs discriminating on the basis of race and against children with disabilities.
Just for the record: If Obama and Holder feel Catholic schools deserve criticism for not being able to provide an education for severely emotionally and physically disabled children, let them provide Catholic institutions the full government funding that goes to public facilities for the disabled and see what the Church will do in response.
Talk about cheap shots: Where do Obama and Holder think a parish school would find the money to set up schools with facilities for the disabled?
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Readers are invited to submit comments and questions about this and other educational issues. The e-mail address for First Teachers is firstname.lastname@example.org, and the mailing address is P.O. Box 15, Wallingford CT 06492.