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Another Perspective - Academic freedom, civility and Jesus

By Gary L. Welton

  Recently, a self-proclaimed Christian instructor at Florida Atlantic University asked his students to write “Jesus” on a piece of paper and step on it.
  The exercise was from a textbook manual and was designed to teach that “even though symbols are arbitrary, they take on very strong and emotional meanings.” The instructor indicated that he would not have stepped on the paper if he had been asked.
  Perhaps the act of stepping on a piece of paper is mundane and insipid in the 21st century. When I walk across the courtyard of the college where I teach, I step on bricks that bear the names of donors, administrators, colleagues, and students. Indeed, I even step on Christian symbols. Several decades ago when I visited St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, I sought the burial marker for the reformer John Knox, but I was unable to get a clear view because of the vehicle that was parked atop it.
  The act of stepping on the name of Jesus, however, is historically significant. In particular I recommend Shusaku Endo’s novel, “Silence.” In this historical novel, the author depicts a missionary’s dilemma. Is it permissible for me to step on the name of Jesus, and hence symbolically denounce my faith, when my refusal to do so will cause terror, torture, and even death on local believers in the village? I highly recommend the novel; I have read it several times.
  The Florida Atlantic faculty is currently suggesting that the administration’s handling of the situation has compromised the instructor’s academic freedom. On the one hand, I agree; on the other hand, I’m not convinced.
  The latest news coverage indicates that the instructor is still waiting to learn whether or not his contract is being renewed. If the administration decides not to renew his contract, on the basis of this classroom exercise, the instructor deserves a full and complete hearing. Unless due process is followed, his academic freedom has been compromised.
  On the other hand, however, I’m not convinced that the exercise is best depicted as a threat to academic freedom. At InsideHigherEd.com, academic freedom is defined first and foremost as relating to intellectual debate and intellectual commitments. The engagement of this exercise in class moves the activity from intellectual debate to a behavioral dilemma.
  The exercise of a class of students being asked to write “Jesus” on a piece of paper and then stepping on it is a ridicule of religion to some, and indeed at least one student complained. Academic freedom does not give the instructor the right to ridicule a student’s faith. However, this exercise is larger than academic freedom. It is better discussed as an issue of civility.
  The claims of Jesus are such that this exercise is not a threat to his dominion. Nevertheless, it communicates a lack of respect for others. Such lack of respect, when conveyed by an instructor, is a lack of civility. Demonstrating civility in the public arena is more critical than ever. The failure to do so will alienate students. Recent events in Boston suggest that some of our students may be living on the margin. We want them to see and experience the best of academic freedom and the liberal arts. When professors abuse their academic freedom, and ridicule (either explicitly or implicitly) the views of their students, their lack of civility is a disservice to our modern society.

  A healthy classroom engages students in a rich debate of ideas. It should not encourage students to perform symbolic gestures that ridicule the beliefs of others. This instructor should apologize for his lack of civility and then continue his task of educating his students.

Dr. Gary L. Welton is assistant dean for institutional assessment, professor of psychology at Grove City College, and a contributor to The Center for Vision & Values.© 2013 by The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. The views & opinions expressed herein may, but do not necessarily, reflect the views of Grove City College.
 

A super food that's just dandy(lion)

In Other Words

By Jill Richardson

You might not be a master gardener, but odds are you grow one of the world’s healthiest vegetables in your yard every year. It’s a superfoodthat packs more calcium, iron, magnesium, and Vitamins C, B6, E, and K than an equal amount (by weight) of spinach. And, if you notice this amazing vegetable at all, you probably get annoyed by its uninvited presence in your lawn.

I’m talking about the humble dandelion.

Yes, the very weed my dad used to pay me a penny apiece to remove from our lawn when I was a kid. Instead of tossing them out, we should have brought them into the kitchen and had them for dinner.

As an adult, I assumed the proper way to deal with weeds was to get rid of them. And, for some weeds, that’s the case. Don’t even get me started on my opinions of monsters like Bermuda grass. But after years composting just about every weed I found in my garden, I’ve realized that many of them are edible. Some are even nutritious and tasty.

For me, the biggest surprise came from stinging nettles. Several years back, I ordered stinging nettle pizza at a fancy restaurant. It took me a while to connect the gourmet delicacy I paid top dollar for with the nasty, stinging weeds I swear at in my garden. Eating them feels like the ultimate revenge for the stings they cause in the garden. And no, they don’t sting once they are cooked or dried. But until then, handle them with gloves or tongs.

These days, so-called “conventional” farmers use fertilizer and pesticides to grow most of our food. Even some of the most eco-conscious farmers use fossil fuels to operate tractors and other farm machinery. Weeds, however, flourish without any assistance from tractors, fossil fuels, pesticides, or fertilizers.

Sadly, we usually overlook this plentiful food source. Even worse, homeowners and farmers douse these weeds with poisons that pollute our waterways.

So how do you start taking advantage of the free food that appears in your yard each spring? Step one is identifying your weeds. The Internet is handy for this. In addition to dandelions and stinging nettles, some of the most common edible weeds across the nation are chickweed, plantain, mallow, lamb’s quarters, purslane, clover, and filaree.

Most taste best before they flower. An easy way to distinguish dandelions from similar plants is that dandelions have only one flower per stem whereas many similar plants have several flowers on each stem. But once you positively identify a dandelion, learn to recognize its leaves. That way, you can find the less bitter plants that haven’t flowered yet.

It’s also good to know if any potential edibles you find have poisonous lookalikes. Although dandelions have no poisonous lookalikes, you might mix up purslane — a delicious greenchock full of healthy omega-3s — with poisonous spotted spurge. To tell the difference, break off a piece of the plant. If a milky sap comes out of the stem, it isn’t purslane.

Once you’ve found edible weeds growing in an unpolluted place where you know no one has sprayed pesticides, all you need are recipes. And there are plenty of those online.

I like to mix dandelion greens with basil in pesto and use nettles in tomato-based Italian dishes. I’m waiting for the day when I have enough dandelion flowers handy to cook up a batch of dandelion fritters.

Fresh, healthy, organic vegetables can be expensive, but the superfoods we call “weeds” are free. See what they can do to spruce up your favorite salads.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. OtherWords.org
 

Why fifth-graders have rights, too

Inside the First Amendment

By Charles C. Haynes
First Amendment Center

When people ask if kids in public schools have First Amendment rights, I’m tempted to answer “only if you think they’re human.”

After all, the U.S. Constitution recognizes that every person is born with certain inalienable rights not granted by the government, including freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment.

But to be polite, I answer by re-framing the question to ask “to what extent are students free to exercise their inherent rights in public schools.”

No right, of course, is absolute. That’s why we have argued for more than 200 years over when society’s compelling interests requires limits on the exercise of our freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.

Now a three judge panel of the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has written another chapter in that debate by ruling in favor of a fifth grader who was barred by school officials from handing out invitations to a Christmas party at her church.

Other students in the Pennsylvania school district were routinely allowed to pass out fliers and messages of various kinds – from birthday party invites to Valentine’s cards. But in order to avoid allowing religious content to be distributed, school officials claimed that K.A. (as the student is described in court filings) was distributing material from an outside group – a practice school policy prohibited.

A lower court disagreed and issued a preliminary injunction ordering the school to allow K.A. to hand out her invitations during non-instructional time. On March 12, the appeals court upheld that ruling, determining that K.A. and her family would likely prevail in the litigation.  (K.A. v. Pocono Mountain School District)

Although the incident may seem minor, the court’s decision may prove to have major implications for how the First Amendment is applied in elementary schools.

That’s because both courts relied on Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, the 1969 U.S. Supreme Court ruling considered the high water mark for student rights in public schools.

In Tinker, you may recall, school officials prohibited students from wearing black armbands to school in protest the Vietnam War. Ruling in favor of the students, the U.S. Supreme Court famously stated that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

The High Court created what is now known at the Tinker standard: School officials may not censor student expression unless they can reasonably forecast that the expression would lead to a “substantial disruption” of the school environment or interfere with the rights of others.

Since that decision, high school students have fought censorship of their speech by invoking Tinker – frequently winning in court when they do.  Few judges have applied Tinker to younger students. 

But in the K.A. decision, the 3rd circuit panel held that “the Tinker analysis has sufficient flexibility to accommodate the educational, developmental, and disciplinary interests at play in the elementary school environment.”

This means that K.A. gets to hand out her invitations because the school did not show that her doing so would cause any disruption – much less a substantial disruption.

Moreover, the court said that K.A.’s flier should be treated like other fliers handed out by students. If students get to distribute materials with secular content, then students get to distribute materials with religious references as well.

Even in elementary schools, students are able to distinguish what comes from a classmate from what is sponsored by the school.

The court also made clear that elementary school administrators may place reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on student distribution of fliers and other materials – as long as all students are treated in the same way. What public schools may not do is ban student expression simply because it mentions religion.

If this court got it right – and I think it did – elementary school children not only have First Amendment rights, they get to exercise them as well.


Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C., 20001. Web: firstamendmentcenter.org. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
 

Readership of smaller papers strong

Guest Column

'60 Minutes' reporter sings same old song about newspapers

By Cheryl Wormley

Back in 1897, James Ross Clemens was ill. Not-so-careful passing on of information resulted in word that Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name of Mark Twain, was dying in London. When an enterprising reporter decided to check on Twain before publishing his demise, the author responded, "The report of my death was greatly exaggerated."

Morley Safer, during his Jan. 6 "60 Minutes" report about the newspaper industry, glibly stated, "The facts of life are that newspapers are folding all over the country. It's a dying business." His example was the New Orleans newspaper, The Times-Picayune, which recently cut back from publishing seven days a week to three days.

When it comes to newspapers, there are two cousins - large metro dailies and community newspapers. The latter includes weeklies and small dailies. Safer as well as reporters and broadcasters from media giants across the United States and around the world owe it to the public - and to community newspaper owners and staffers - to perform due diligence to determine which of the newspaper cousins is near death and which is alive. Only then should they report their findings.

It is the large metro daily newspapers, which make up less than 5 percent of all U.S. newspapers, that are struggling from declines in readership and advertising, printing less often or ceasing publication entirely.

While it is painful to see our metro-daily-newspaper cousins faltering, we, the community newspapers, are not dying. Like Twain, community newspapers say, "Reports of our dying are greatly exaggerated."

Much has been published and broadcast about the decline of metro dailies. It is time to shine a spotlight on the health and vigor of community newspapers and on our role in rural and suburban communities across the country.

Readership of our newspapers, mostly weeklies, is increasing, and new community newspapers are being birthed. That the great investor Warren Buffett bought more than 60 community newspapers in 2012 suggests there is present and future value in the weekly and small-daily arm of the industry.

Community newspapers are doing well because people want to read about the actions of their town council and local school board, the results of high school sporting events and what's happening in the business community. Readers turn to community newspapers for public notices, for obituaries and police reports and for engagement, wedding, anniversary and birth announcements. They expect keen and thoughtful editorials as well as a forum for their own opinions - letters to the editor. They read the advertisements, look at every photo and clip articles and photos to post on bulletin boards and hang on refrigeration.

A 2011 survey by the National Newspaper Association and the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism found that 74 percent of people in areas served by newspapers with circulations under 15,000 read one of those papers each week. They spend nearly 40 minutes reading the paper. Then, they share their newspaper with 2.3 more people.

We are watchdogs in our communities. We protect the public's right to know and keep our readers informed about their communities - essential elements in a democracy.

As 21st century technology keeps enhancing the gathering and dissemination of news and information, community newspapers aren't standing idly by. We are in the fray, taking advantage of the immediacy that technology offers. We have developed revenue-producing websites, and we interact with our communities and our readers on email, Facebook and Twitter.

Community newspapers are very much alive. As Bill Tubbs, publisher of The North Scott Press and a member of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, wrote in an editorial Jan. 16, "Morley Safer, you've done us wrong, but here's an offer you can't refuse. Come to Eldridge (Iowa) and spend a week with our staff."

Any of the more than 8,000 community weekly newspapers in the U.S. extend a similar invitation not just to Safer but also to everyone who wants to see the healthy cousin. Interview the folks in Freeman, S.D., about the Freeman Courier, the high school students in Pittsfield, Ill., about the Pike Press, the families in Falmouth, Maine, about The Forecaster; the government officials in Espanola, N.M., about the Rio Grade Sun; or the business owners in Woodstock, Ga., about The Cherokee Ledger-News and set the record straight.

C heryl Wormley is publisher of The Woodstock Independent and president of the International Society of Weekly Newspapers Editors. She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

T he column appeared in the Missouri Press News, February 2013.

Happy Blue Year

Guest Column

By Don White
Contributing Columnist

We're a little bit into 2013 now, and several months past the November election, which the blue team won again. For me it was a blue, blue day.

Since then I have felt indescribably blue. I know it sounds like sour grapes and just maybe it is. The great state of Illinois is so blue that we might as well not even hold elections in the future. (Just joking.) Of course, it wasn't always this way. I can remember in my lifetime when the state could truly be called the "Land of Lincoln." Now it just seems to be the slogan on our license plates.

Were things better back then? I would like to think so, and they certainly were for my family and me. The state recently observed its 194th happy birthday blues. Did you notice no one seemed overjoyed as there was nothing to celebrate?

In Washington, D.C., the "rump session" of Congress was unable to resolve the "fiscal cliff" problem until the very last minute. Even though they did make a deal it still left me feeling bluer than blue. President Barack Obama's and John Boehner's posturing even had the talk show hosts singing the blues.

As the nation inched toward the fiscal cliff it didn't stop Mr. Blue Sky Obama from having a Blue Hawaii Christmas. I wish we all could have a pair of glasses like he wears so we too could experience the lavender blue world he lives in.

I know many folks that had another blue Christmas in 2012. Then, contrary to what we had been told, that only the rich were going to be taxed more, every working stiff got stiffed. This happened when the 2 percent temporary reduction on the Social Security tax ended on Dec. 31, a reduction to our Social Security system that is going broke. So as many of us were learning the blues, I hope those who voted for Obama were wondering why.

But I know they weren't. As I was writing some of this our 44th President had just been sworn in for his second term. I am feeling like The Little Blue Man with nowhere to turn.

Well, are you ready for four years of "revenge?" "Second time, a harder line" and no-time-to-waste-style politics? In my opinion it will be red roses for a Blue Lady, the lady being Lady Liberty. Can things get any worse than they are? I hope not, but don't say I didn't warn you that this could be a misty blue four years.

From what little I have heard about this inauguration, it was party time in Washington, D.C. It sometimes seems like that's all they do in D.C. But this time there were invited guests. No, not me, but don't panic I am not having a blue blue day over it. The Illinois parade float had the "Land of Lincoln" on it. The Democrats from our great state were all doing "The Swingin' Shephard Blues" as they partied all day and night.

When the party's over mosey on back to Illinois and get some work done. As the pension deal fizzles, the education system in Illinois got a C-, up slightly from the D it had earned and the state paid out over $23 million to state workers for not working. Rome is burning while the fools in Springfield are fiddling around with our tax dollars.

Here's something else that really has me talking to the blues: I read in one of our other local newspapers that a person was very upset that Obama was being compared to Adolf Hitler. Talk like that really had me wanting to try a little crystal blue persuasion to level the playing field. Oh! I forgot, liberals take offense when their people are called names, yet they are allowed to call conservatives any names they want and that's okay. So soon they forget what people called President Bush.

While those in the state and federal government dawdle over important matters, many families are hoping the New Year will not be another bluer than blue year for them. We elected these men and women to go to the seat of government and take care of business for us. Instead they give us more of their white lies, blue eyes. When the Christmas recess came many of our elected officials would normally hopped on a plane for a blue Hawaii or fancy resort holiday. This past Christmas I hope they had a blue bayou holiday like many other people did.

Obama tries so hard to be like Lincoln. This year he again used the Lincoln Bible and also Martin Luther King's for the swearing-in ceremony. Early in his life, Lincoln embraced a new emphasis on personal initiative, risk-taking and ambition. King had a dream and finally, 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Lincoln, that dream has almost been realized.

Obama now has the chance of his life to bring the country together. Yet in his inauguration speech he made it clear that only government could fix the nation's problems. He said, "We are made for the moment. The journey is not over." Does this mean he will try to work together in peace and harmony so the rest of the world knows that what our Founding Fathers fought for was well worth the sacrifices they made? Does this mean that those words, "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness," will take on a new meaning for the 300 million-plus citizens who live in the United States of America?

My hope, my dream and my prayer, are that Obama uses these next four years not to get his "revenge," not to take the country deeper into debt, not to use class warfare to divide us any further. He needs to stand by the constitution, not on it for key issues such as guns, gays and immigration. He needs to stand in the middle and reach across both aisles to bring those 545 men and women who take their seats in the House and Senate to work for us, the 300 million citizens who are counting on them to keep America safe, secure and strong. Just don't keep spending money we don't have.

We don't need more laws, more government handouts, more special interest groups and more big government to keep this country strong. We do need fair tax laws, major cuts in government spending, a strong military to protect our citizens and leadership that will come together to keep America great. And we don't need a secretary of the treasury who can't write his name legibly.

As we all know from his first four years, Obama talks a good fight. But now he has to stand and deliver. His legacy is waiting in the wings. The country can't survive another four years like we just had - but you know what? The people have spoken and they elected him to carry on.

The incivility in government here in Illinois and in Washington must not continue.

Flash back to Jan. 26, 2013, "Illinois credit bottoms out." God Bless America and all her ships at sea.

Don White lives in Palos Hills.