Monday, November 28, 2011

More Incompetence in SAT-Land, But This One's Not All on Them

As an educator at the post-secondary level, I have deeply ambivalent feelings about standardized testing. The teach-to-the-test mentality engendered by high-stakes exams like the fetishistic stupidity propagated in my adopted state of Texas, for example, is as antithetical to real education as it is possible to be. There also are, or at least have been, serious concerns about cultural bias. Still, I won’t pretend that I don’t look pretty carefully at ACT and SAT scores when evaluating prospective students for admission into our program or scholarships.

This is a function of two things. First, there is the wide disparity between schools and their populations—being at the top of a weak class might be better or worse than being in the middle of a strong one. It’s useful to have some means of comparing such students.

Second, most recommendations written by high school teachers and administrators are utterly useless. I do understand that writing an effective, accurate recommendation takes time; I’ve written a fair number of them, after all. But in my time as coordinator of Theatre Day (that’s our tri-annual on-campus recruitment event) I’ve read recs that are a single sentence long, that are incoherent and/or ungrammatical, that praise a student in the bottom 20% of her class for excelling in the classroom (without any explanation why the little darling consistently gets C’s and D’s, including in that teacher’s classes), that talk more about the student’s parents than about him. One teacher in Dallas obviously has a template singing the praises of some generic student; she just swaps out one student name for another and sends it along. (We once had two students at the same Theatre Day with recs from her. The letters were identical except for the students’ names and the gender-specific pronouns.)

Standardized test scores aren’t the only criterion by which to measure a student’s academic skills, of course. Grades (and class rank relative to class size) count a lot; if we happen to get a well-crafted, individualized, recommendation that actually gives us insight into the student, that’s incredibly helpful. The résumé counts: both how it’s structured and what it contains. If you want to be a designer and your layout is cluttered, unimaginative, and unattractive, you’ve got some work to do. If you want to be an actor, your teacher can talk about how wonderful you are all she wants, but if you’ve never played anything but Chorus in a musical or Third Spear-Carrier from the Left, she’s really not all that impressed with your work.

Nor do minor differences in scores matter. A 550 and a 560 in Critical Reading are, for our purposes, identical. A 440 and a 650 aren’t. If you’re smart and can really handle the language, it doesn’t matter if your acting skills are marginal: a). you’re teachable and b). there are plenty of non-acting jobs in theatre (mine, for instance). On the other hand, you may audition well with carefully-chosen pieces, but if we’re not reasonably certain you can handle the work of a freshman-level Play Analysis course, we’re not going to invest our limited scholarship money on you.

Good scores matter, in other words. And whereas a fair number of high school seniors don’t seem to comprehend much else, they do get that much. All of which means there’s a lot of pressure to perform well. For those with more money than brains or morality, that means an increased temptation to cheat: specifically, to hire a similarly immoral, but intelligent, surrogate to take the test in your stead. And that is what happened, repeatedly, in an upscale suburban area of Long Island over at least a three-year period.

The New York Times reports that some 20 people have been arrested over the past two months for being at one or the other end of such transactions: either paying someone to take the exam or accepting payment to impersonate someone else in order to take the test. The group faces felony charges of scheming to defraud, as well as misdemeanor charges of falsifying business records and criminal impersonation.

The victims here are of two kinds: the middling but honest students whose chances of getting entrance to the university of their choice or receive a scholarship to do so have been compromised by a competition that cheats, and (now) every honest and gifted kid in the area, whose own good scores, the product of native intelligence and hard work, are now (alas, quite reasonably) viewed as suspect.

There are two problems here. One is that the College Board/Educational Testing Service folks (who administer the SAT), in particular, have been more than somewhat less than diligent in preventing or prosecuting cheating. An earlier NYT article quotes Bernard Kaplan, principal of Great Neck North High School, lambasting the administrators of the SAT: “The procedures E.T.S. uses to give the test are grossly inadequate in terms of security. Furthermore, E.T.S.’s response when the inevitable cheating occurs is grossly inadequate. Very simply, E.T.S. has made it very easy to cheat, very difficult to get caught.” Mr. Kaplan adds:
It is ridiculously easy to take the test for someone else. That’s why when E.T.S. says this kind of impersonation is a rare occurrence, you just have to laugh. How would they know? All they can say is they are unaware of a large number of impersonations. I’m sure, that’s true. They are most assuredly unaware.
OK, you know how this blog consistently reams high school principals and school superintendents? Credit where it’s due: Mr. Kaplan seems to be the exception that proves the rule. It was his initial investigation that led to the arrests: “I think it’s [cheating] widespread across the country,” he said Tuesday. “We were the school that stood up to it.” And to say that the security has been lax with respect to ensuring that test-takers are who they claim to be is sort of like saying that NBA power forwards tend to be large men. [Side note: sign off on the damned agreement and play ball!]

After all, Samuel Eshaghoff is accused of impersonating six different students, including a girl to take the SAT for them at $3500 a pop, earning scores up to the 97th percentile. (I guess it wouldn’t have been worth it for me to hire him, as I did better than that on my own.) And, write the Times’s Jenny Anderson and Winnie Hu, “Currently, if a score is suspect, E.T.S. investigates. If cheating is uncovered, the score is canceled and the student is permitted to get a refund and take the test again. Neither the student’s high school nor any college is notified.” Seriously? No penalty at all?

Here’s the College Board’s attitude:
You got sick and couldn’t make the test? Sorry, no refund. Need to change the date of your test more than two weeks in advance? Well, OK, but it’ll cost you $25. Oh, you’re an immoral, self-entitled little weasel who thinks rules are for other people? Sorry, sir/madam, we thought you might be an honest kid with a legitimate excuse. Of course you can have a refund. Of course we won’t notify anyone who might be interested in whether you’ve already proven that you have no intention of actually learning anything at their academic institution. Would you like us to give you the names of a few really smart, dishonest people whom we’re far too stupid to catch if they impersonate you next time?
Not being a lawyer, I don’t know whether this qualifies as “criminal negligence” according to our legal system. But in a just universe, the cretinous yahoos at the CB/ETS who decided on this policy would lose their jobs, have “unethical moron” branded into their foreheads, and be publicly pilloried. Preferably literally.

Still, the fact that everyone in the ETS hierarchy seems to be terminally incompetent does not absolve the little urchins from taking responsibility for their actions. The recent economic meltdown may have been facilitated by de-regulation, but it was caused by specific immoral, greedy wheeler-dealers. Whether what these students did was criminal may be up for debate (I can’t imagine that there’s a legitimate legal argument there, but Dickens’s Mr. Bumble is, alas, too often correct in his assertion that “the law is an ass”). If not, every college that admitted one of these lying little bastards based on false information should immediately expel those students and sue the ETS. Actually, they should do that, anyway.

The defendants’ lawyers are paid to defend their clients, and they should do so as vigorously as they can. They are not, however, entitled to spew forth such rubbish as this from Gerald McCloskey: “My feeling is that it should be handled administratively by the College Board and the school board, not criminally, especially when the county is experiencing budget issues and resources are limited to begin with.” How noble of him to be so concerned with the county’s fiscal restraints. Translation: “My client is guilty as sin. Obfuscate!” Or Melvin Roth: “I think this is overkill for this kind of thing.” Yes, stealing is only stealing when someone other than Mr. Roth’s client does it. These guys are why there are lawyer jokes.

I strongly suspect that the ETS’s estimate of perhaps 150 cases of cheating a year is off by a factor of 100 or so. So it’s up to people like me to make sure no one gets a college diploma without earning one. Time to go to work…

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Walter Vance and the Expansiveness of Culpability

Want to know what’s wrong with America? Two words: Walter Vance. No, not the man himself, who was apparently a lovely person. No, it was the manner of Mr. Vance’s death in the early hours of Friday morning that ought to send shivers up our collective spines.

Mr. Vance, a pharmacist in Logan County, WV, was shopping for some Christmas decorations for his drug store shortly after midnight, i.e. at the very beginning of “Black Friday,” when he collapsed onto the floor of a Target store in South Charleston. And then… nothing.

Multiple reports suggest that shoppers and employees alike paid no attention, even stepping over him as he struggled for his life. Finally, a nurse and a paramedic who happened to be shopping in the store came to his aid. 911 was called, but Mr. Vance died at the hospital. Frankly, he may not have made it, anyway. He had a history of heart trouble, and, in his widow’s words, “I think it was time for him to go. The Lord called him home.”

But here’s the point: It doesn’t matter. A man needed help, and the overwhelming majority of people who were in position to offer it, even to the extent of comforting a dying man, did precisely bupkes. There was a sale on, after all. Gotta get that crappy over-priced toy or the tacky outfit for a couple bucks less than normal. “Sorry, old man. Geez, would you get the hell out of the way. You’re dying? You think that’s an excuse? Get out of the damned aisle!”

With the exception of the two professionals who did what they could (another report suggests as many as six nurses offered aid), and the woman who apparently fished Vance’s cell phone out of his pocket to call his wife, everyone else in that building deserves coal in their stocking this year: not enough to heat their home with, however. Seriously, how many people don’t have cell phones with which to call 911? How many of the phoneless don’t have a voice with which to demand that someone else make that call? How many of us are really so important that we can’t spare a few words of comfort for a fellow traveler in distress?

There are, apparently, lots of eye-witness reports about other people’s inhumanity. But… uh… if you were there to see it, what did you do to help? Not much, I’d be willing to bet. True, once there’s someone who knows what s/he’s doing on the scene, it’s better to stay out of the way. But stepping over a prostrate body to get to the great mark-downs on Chia Pets doesn’t qualify as ethical behavior.

Target employees told television station WSAZ that “company policy” forbids them from offering physical assistance. (Interestingly, that detail is omitted from the updated written story on the station’s website, but the broadcast story includes it.) This leaves us with two alternatives: either the employees are lying to cover up their own inadequacies as human beings, or there really is such a policy.

It terrifies me that I believe the latter. That sounds exactly like the kind of inanity cooked up by the litigation-shy and utterly amoral jackals that run all too many corporations. Still, that doesn’t let the employees off the hook. A man is dying and you don’t help because you might lose your barely-above-minimum-wage (if that) job at a store that insists you work the graveyard shift on Black Friday because they’ve got to unload their stock of crap that will actually be cheaper in a couple of weeks? Really? That’s what you’re going to tell St. Peter at the Pearly Gates?

Mr. Vance’s friend and colleague Sue Compton sums the whole business up pretty well: “Where is the good Samaritan side of people? How could you not notice someone was in trouble? I just don’t understand if people didn’t help, what their reason was, other than greed because of a sale.”

Christmas in America. Bah, humbug.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Flying While Islamic Is the New Driving While Black

One of the sadder legacies of 9/11 is the legitimization of cowardice in the name of prudence. True, both political parties are trying to out-macho each other with respect to foreign policy, but when it comes down to real, day-to-day existence, Americans behave like the schoolyard bully confronted with an antagonist who doesn’t just meekly hand over his lunch money.

We’ll drive way too fast for the conditions, even after having one beer too many. We’ll eat crappy “food” with levels of saturated fat, sodium, and sugar so high that just talking about them can cause heart attacks. We’ll swagger around talking about how tough we are because “we” managed to capture or kill the likes of Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden.

But ask us to get on a plane that might also be carrying someone named Mohammed or Abdul, and we’ll cheerfully relinquish all our Constitutional rights and meekly slink into the corner with our proverbial tail between our legs while some idiot with a TSA (which, contrary to popular opinion, does not, in fact, stand for “Terminally Stupid and Arrogant”) badge ostentatiously goes through the motions of “protecting the public.” The agency does this by invading our privacy, fondling us, proclaiming our toothpaste a potential weapon, and generally doing everything possible to instill a feeling of Exceeding Great Trepidation.

Trouble is, it’s all a charade. The system itself acknowledges that all the shoelessness and shampoo confiscations don’t mean anything: what else is a no-fly list, or a random (or not-so-random) search at the gate if not a tacit admission that any serious terrorist with an IQ above room temperature can get past the security screening without breaking a sweat? I’ve been saying this for years, of course. Here’s me in 2005:
The idea that someone who can pass through security can still remain a threat is in fact an admission that the security screenings don't work except as a cosmetic deterrent. It is difficult to go a month without the news that some test of security at some airport has demonstrated conclusively that the average TSA screener lacks the training, the intelligence, or the vigilance to actually thwart a real threat. We'd be better off hiring out of Central Casting: at least they'd look like they might be able to stop a terrorist. Of course, news reports that yet another fake bomb made it through security at a major American airport are slowly gravitating towards the back of the newspaper, because it no longer shocks us that airport security is intrusive and demeaning, but completely ineffective.
But we continue, as a nation, to pretend that the false security offered by TSA is “worth it” somehow. It is not.

Of course, our collective cravenness is really a manifestation of xenophobia more than anything else. Homeland Security and all its various permutations exist for the sole reason of feeding the populace’s quaking terror at The Other. Oh, sure, they’ll annoy the rest of us—virtually anyone who has travelled very much at all will have been subjected to some form of humiliation to distract the agents from what a pathetic job they have re-affirm the security of the nation. But it’s the spectre of actually sharing an airplane with (gasp!) a Muslim that can be counted on to legitimize the most outrageous over-reach of authority.

I remember flying home from a conference in New York several years ago. As it happened, I was seated immediately behind two men who clearly fit the profile of a “terrorist,” at least as conjured up in the fevered imaginings of a TSA agent: young, obviously middle-Eastern, male. One was bearded; the other had a thick mustache. I don’t recall their names, but they were stereotypically Arab: Ali and Farooq, or something like that. They were laughing about the difficulties they’d had in passing through security, based solely on the way they look. And, hearing them speak, I can assure you that the fear and trembling of the security folks was entirely visual: two more readily identifiable New York accents would be difficult to imagine.

But the latest victims of TSA over-reaction weren’t New Yorkers. They were students from the United Arab Emirates who were removed from a Charlotte-to-Washington flight and questioned for nearly five hours, embarrassing them (despite the fact that they had clearly not done anything to deserve this treatment) and—of course—inconveniencing every other passenger on that flight, not to mention the family, friends, and business associates of everyone who should have been in DC in time for dinner but didn’t arrive until close to midnight. And for what?

Well, according to WSOC-TV, U.S. Airways is calling it simply a “security issue” that led to the students’ being led from the plane and all their bags being re-screened. (Again, how about we screen them right the first time?) The story says that “passengers reported they heard the group talking about airplanes and the military while on board. Sources said that's when some passengers reported them.” It’s unclear exactly who initiated the process of removing the UAE students, but it appears to have been the airline, whose employees are perfectly well trained to distribute tiny packets of pretzels, but perhaps not to judge the severity or likelihood of a potential terrorist threat. Forgive me if I don’t choose to live my life based on the prognostications of the most wild-eyed, xenophobic paranoid in the room.

I do understand that a student named Yaqoob Al-Shamsi is probably a higher risk than a grandmother named Cindy Robinson would be. But there are literally hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world who pose precisely zero threat. A little acknowledgment of that would not come amiss. What is troubling here is that the Islamophobia of the more ignorant members of society will eventually create a self-fulfilling prophecy. This seems to be the lesson of Guantánamo, which has apparently more than once transformed petty nuisances into card-carrying Bad Guys. And if we keep down the present path, the next Hadef Al-Dhaheri won’t simply be upset that “they treated us different than the others”; he’ll want to do something about it. It’s a delicate balancing act, and we need someone with a little more sophistication in charge of the operation.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Teenager Reveals Brownback's Real (Lack of) Character

It has become something of a specialty of this blog to highlight stories involving controversies with no good guys. This is another one. Almost.

Attending a Kansas Youth in Government event in Topeka this week, registered Democrat Emma Sullivan (pictured here), a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School, tweeted “Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”

Had she actually engaged in the conduct she describes, one could reasonably criticize her for vulgarity but, considering what a disaster Governor Sam Brownback is for the citizens of my former state, not for inaccuracy. He does indeed suck. She hadn’t actually made those comments, of course, but she’s 18. There are two types of people who claim to have never engaged in a little adolescent braggadocio: those who aren’t yet adolescent, and liars.

Moreover, her Twitter account has (well, had) only a few dozen followers. So what’s the problem, right? Ah, Gentle Reader, you’re forgetting the Twin Towers of contemporary GOP politics: paranoia and hubris. What happened, you ask? Well, according to the Wichita Eagle,
... Brownback’s office watches Twitter for comments about him. Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag told the event organizers about the comment, “so that they were aware what their students were saying in regards to the governor’s appearance…. We monitor social media so we can see what Kansans are thinking and saying about the governor and his policies…. We just felt it was appropriate for the organizers to be aware … because of what was said in the tweet.”
OK, so it’s perfectly reasonable that the governor’s staff monitors the ‘Net for commentary on his performance. But to call up event organizers to complain about what a high school kid says to a few friends on Twitter suggests a level of perceived entitlement that is staggering even by the lofty standards of Republican politicians. One might have hoped that the governor’s staff might have something more constructive to do. Engaging in this kind of petty strutting might, after all, suggest to those of a cynical disposition that Gov. Brownback is more interested in throwing his weight around than in actually listening to his constituents. Oh, yeah, that’s right: he is more concerned with suppressing dissent than with responding to Kansans’ concerns. Sorry.

Still, the pomposity and arrogance of the terminally officious Ms. Jones-Sontag would have had no real-world effects had not those event organizers capitulated rather than, as they should have done, telling the pushy politico to take a long walk on a short pier. But they’re craven idiots, so they contacted the principal at Shawnee Mission East. They needn’t have bothered, of course. Turns out another Brownback minion, scheduling secretary Niomi Burget, had already e-mailed a screenshot of Sullivan’s tweet to the SME Youth in Government sponsor, sniveling, “I don’t know if this was someone with your group, but thought if it was, you might want it brought to your attention.” Really? Why? And while we’re on the subject, what the hell business is it of the scheduling secretary? And does it really take two different staffers to whinge that a post-adolescent has the audacity to say something unkind about your sorry-ass boss?

Here’s the thing. For the past seven years, I administered a One-Act Play Festival which brought as many as 400 or more high school students to our campus each year. During that time, I contacted teachers about student behavior exactly twice: once when a group of students were disruptive during another school’s production, once when a school pretty well vandalized one of our dressing rooms. I didn’t call the principal; I talked to the responsible teacher directly. More to the point, I’m willing to bet that some kid tweeted something unkind about our facility, our people, whatever. But you know what? I don’t care. I’m a grown-up. I have more important things to worry about. Apparently the Governor of Kansas isn’t thus encumbered with actual responsibilities, however.

Once again, of course, we’re at another crossroads. All that had to happen for this not to be an embarrassment for all concerned would be for the high school officials to respond to the political interference with a politer version of the following: “We’ll handle it. Fuck off.” But that would pre-suppose a high school principal somewhere in the country who isn’t a gutless moron. Karl Krawitz is not such an exception to the rule: far from it, in fact. He complained that he was expected to do his damned job he had to do damage control, and insisted that Sullivan write apologetic letters to everyone this side of the Easter Bunny. “Censorship” isn’t quite the right word, but “repressive self-importance” sure seems apt.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to portray Sullivan as a hero: her tweet was inappropriate, after all, although I do give her credit for not bowing to pressure to remove it from her account, and she appears to be considering not writing those apologies. Still, she’s not guilty of anything in particular, either. She’s 18, and sometimes she acts it. Stop the presses!

On the other hand, the adults in this story—Jones-Sontag, Burget, Krawitz—all come off as boorish, self-entitled, authoritarian jackasses. It’s unclear whether Gov. Brownback didn't know what his staff was up to (one set of problems) or if he endorsed their pretentious meddling (a different set of problems). Any way you slice it, though, the lesson learned by Ms. Sullivan and all the other high school students in the state had a lot more to do with the way the political system really works than anything the Youth in Government folks ever offered.

[By the way, I just found a good post on the subject on that noted left-wing rag, Forbes. Not bad, Alex Knapp!]

UPDATE (11/27 @ 8:15 pm): Ms. Sullivan has decided not to apologize, saying that she in fact isn't sorry, and that any letter suggesting that she was would be insincere. Now she's a hero.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sorry: Patriotism Is Not Welcome Here

It has been too long since I posted here, and much has happened in the interim. I do want to talk about the #Occupy movement, both in theory and in practice, but that post will require more time than I have tonight, and I want to get something posted (among other things, I promised someone who included me on their blogroll that I’d post at least once a month… a promise I technically didn’t quite keep, as it is).

Anyway, one of the stories that attracted little attention amidst the horrific actions of police across the country and the antics of whoever happens to be the current GOP Flavor of the Month, is the follow-up to an incident I outlined a year and a half ago. Here was my take at the time:
In Morgan Hill, CA, a group of five boys wore American flag clothing—bandanas, shirts, shorts—and were told that such apparel was inappropriate. So far, it sounds like something from my youth: in those halcyon days, clothing featuring a flag motif was often worn by protesters against the Vietnam War, and, because such designs tended to be found on the seats of jeans, or in other places where the symbol might touch the ground or otherwise be defaced, we were forbidden to wear anything with an American flag. Now, of course, such apparel is considered patriotic.

Anyway, these guys show up at school wearing this stuff and the Head Moron Assistant Principal tells them they’ve got to take it off, go home, or face suspension. You see, it was Cinco de Mayo, and expressions of American patriotism were deemed insensitive to Hispanic students. OK, I’ll say this once: Give me a damned break.
A month or so later, the boys’ parents filed suit: their lawyer spelled out what they wanted: “‘We’re not seeking money damages, we are asking the court for an order that the school acted unconstitutionally by restricting the students first amendment rights. And we are also asking the court for an injunctive relief, indicating the school is forbidden from practicing those policies in the future,’ said Attorney William Becker.”

All things considered, that was a pretty reasonable demand, given the state of the American judicial system, in which suing people for the most insignificant of slights has become de rigeur.

Now comes word that the suit was dismissed by federal judge James Ware (yes, that would be the James Ware whose nomination to the Court of Appeals in 1997-98 was derailed by evidence that he is a serial liar. For the record, he was appointed to his current post by Bush I and subsequently nominated to the Court of Appeals by Clinton: he is, then, a non-partisan incompetent). The defendants—the school district and the (now former) Principal and (still, apparently) Assistant Principal—argued:
• that the claim against the district was banned by the 11th amendment
• that free speech rights don’t apply in this case because the school officials suspected the potential for “disruption”
• that the plaintiffs offered no evidence they were discriminated against
• that the school’s dress code provides “adequate notice of what attire is prohibited”
OK, I’m not a lawyer, so I look at what makes sense, not what legal precedent might be. The fact that “the Ninth Circuit has consistently held in California, because of the manner in which funds are dispersed to school districts by the state, school districts are agencies of the state for sovereign immunity purposes” tells me only that the Ninth Circuit may well have been home to some rather dim bulbs over the years.

More importantly, the whole “potential for disruption” argument is now, and frankly always has been, little more than an excuse for intellectual cowardice. It’s what gets controversial speakers uninvited from college campuses. It’s what justifies the worst excesses of “political correctness.” It’s what craven administrators, mayors, and police chiefs hide behind when they really, really, really want to censor speech (cf. the #Occupy folks) but know they have to circumvent that pesky First Amendment somehow.

Which brings us to the most colossally, stupendously, mind-meltingly inane part of Judge Ware’s cretinous decision:
Defendants have provided a non-discriminatory basis for asking Plaintiffs to remove their American flag attire. Defendants have put forth significant evidence demonstrating that Plaintiffs were asked to change clothes in order to protect their own safety. Plaintiffs have not offered any evidence demonstrating that students wearing the colors of the Mexican flag were targeted for violence. To the contrary, the undisputed evidence shows that Plaintiffs were the only students on campus whose safety was threatened that day, at least to the knowledge of Defendants. In addition, Defendant Rodriguez [the Assistant Principal] has testified that he did not see any students wearing the Mexican flag on their clothing during the day. He also testified that he did not see any students with Mexican flags displayed on their person until he saw photos in the newspaper in the days following Cinco de Mayo.
Ware therefore dismissed the “equal protection” argument. Please, someone, tell me that Ware is indeed the stupidest federal judge in the country, because if he isn’t, then all is lost. Let’s parse out what passes for argument here. Basically, it boils down to this:

“You have freedom of speech unless you do something completely inoffensive—as evidenced by the statement at the time that the students are free to wear American flag clothing any other day of the school year—that some over-sensitive jackass who disagrees with you might use as a pretense for violence. In that case, of course, it is not that student’s right to commit a felony that ought to be curtailed, but your 1st Amendment rights to free expression. Moreover, since the Assistant Principal can’t be expected to do his damned job and know what’s going on in the school, he can claim that your self-evident claim to unequal treatment doesn’t really hold because he didn’t see what everyone else in the school saw... and what appeared in the local media.” [I think he’s bucking for a job in the UC-Davis administration.]

Seriously, what would happen if the roles were reversed: if it were the Hispanic students who were prevented from expressing their ethnic pride on this trumped-up holiday little celebrated in their ancestral homeland because of the threat of violence from a gang of Anglo punks? How condescending would the “for your own protection” pabulum sound? How stupid would suppressing the inoffensive in order to pander to the potentially violent seem? How outraged would the left-leaning punditry (other than moi, bien sûr) be?

I have little doubt that the plaintiffs in this case are right little assholes, and quite possibly racists. But anyone who thinks Judge Ware would have ruled the same way had it been the “minority” students whose rights were being infringed is stupider than he is. And that’s saying rather a lot.