Letter to the FIRE on Bill Maher

To Whomever This May Concern:

I would like to begin this correspondence by mentioning the fact that I greatly admire the work that FIRE does to protect the free speech rights of students and faculty on college campuses. Your organization was instrumental in helping a student organization of which I am a member beat back reactionary forces on my campus. However, I am concerned with your stated position on the push by students to disinvite Bill Maher as a commencement speaker at UC Berkeley. More generally, I am concerned with your position on the recent push by students to disinvite a number of commencement speakers at various universities across the country. This is not an issue of free speech, and by claiming that it is one you are revealing your organization to not just be a protector of free speech but also a reactionary force in your own right. Your deliberate obfuscation of the core issue here is troubling and speaks to FIRE’s ideological leanings and values. The students leading the charge to disinvite Bill Maher have made their justifications abundantly clear and not one of them has to do with free speech. In fact, in several instances, in articles and blogposts they have explicitly stated that their decision has nothing to with free speech.

http://www.dailycal.org/2014/10/31/mahers-invitation-shows-disregard-students/

“There is no question Maher has a right to speak on campus; but the question is whether commencement, a time of celebration for all students, including those victimized by Maher’s commentary, is the appropriate forum. UC Berkeley undoubtedly must remain committed to principles of free speech. But this is not a matter of free speech — Maher can iterate his beliefs on campus at a debate or club event. This is about granting Bill Maher the honor of being our commencement speaker when he clearly spreads ignorance and intolerance affecting the very people he would be addressing.

Though we strongly disagree with the substance of Bill Maher’s racist, sexist and homophobic language, we value the university’s role as a public academic institution committed to preserving the free exchange of ideas — even when those ideas are at odds with our own. If the administration worries that it is discouraging debate by revoking this invitation, the administration is welcome to invite Maher to an open forum on campus instead.”

I would encourage you to read the bold statements especially carefully. The same assertion was made in the case of Ayaan Ali Hirsi, and still FIRE continues to characterize this recent movement to force administrations to cancel commencement speakers as representative of an assault on free speech. The notion that a commencement ceremony can be characterized as a setting in which the free exchange of ideas is happening is patently absurd. The students are out the door. It is a celebration of their accomplishments. The speaker and whatever they are about to say are being honored and endorsed by the university. It is a choice to elevate one person’s voice above all others, and the notion that the students, the students whose accomplishments are being celebrated, should not have a say in choosing the speaker is anti-democratic. The plain fact of the matter is that they should decide who is going to speak because it is a celebration of their accomplishments. FIRE draws a false equivalence between commencement speakers and other speakers by asserting that this is an issue of free speech. University administrations do not endorse the views of other speakers, and, in fact, when calls for disinvitation erupt in response they are quick to assert that fact. The same can not be said for commencement speakers.

Regards,

Ephraim Hussain

Disability Perspectives: The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco

Here’s another paper I wrote for my Masters Degree course on special education for students with disabilities.  It analyzes the perspectives on disability expressed in The Junkyard Wonders, a children’s book written by Patricia Polacco.  You can find the book at a library or bookstore near you.

Trisha had hoped to be able to keep her dyslexia a secret, but unbeknownst to her, the school’s exclusionary policy on students with disabilities mirrors the one at her old school, and as a result her fellow students have already been made aware that there is something different about the new girl.  Continue reading

Disability Perspectives: Sound and Fury

I wrote this paper for one of my Masters Degree courses on special education for students with disabilities.  It analyzes the perspectives on disability expressed by the Artinian Family and featured in the documentary films Sound and Fury (2000) and Sound and Fury: 6 Years later.  You can find both films in their entirety on Youtube.  Continue reading

“Why Teach” by Mark Edmundson And The Dogma of New Criticism

Should a high school students, college student, or even an adult who has long since graduated from formal schooling be expected to value what is termed the Western literary canon just because it is held in such high regard by the individuals who first dubbed it the Western literary canon?

I pose this question after reading what I consider to be a semi-polemical work by University of Virginia English Professor, Mark Edmundson, entitled Why Teach, in which he claims in the chapter headed “Narcissus Regards His Book/ The Common Reader Now” that the devaluation of so-called Western Culture and the Western literary canon is caused by a growing “culture industry” in the United States in which the main standard by which society judges a work of literature is its ability to elicit feelings of pleasure and satisfaction from readers, Continue reading

Class, Just Call Me Ephraim: A Word On Authority

I have made the decision that once I become a teacher I will introduce myself to my students by my full name, Ephraim Hussain.  Consequently, they will have the option of either calling me Ephraim or Mr. Hussain.  My feeling is that they will opt for the former, and that is indeed my intent by opting not to impose the conventional “Mr.” title.  Now this may seem like a relatively minor aspect of my future teaching practice, and indeed one might view my concern with the matter of how students are to address the teacher as completely inconsequential and silly.  Here is why I would strongly disagree with that sentiment. Continue reading

Politics and Dialogue in Education, Students As Researchers, And Do Any of Us Have A Right To Our Opinions?

Absolutely Not!!  And in one sentence here’s why,

Whenever people use this phrase, it is usually to say that they have a right to have their opinion considered as truth, even if their argument is logically demonstrated to have serious holes in it.  You see the problem here???

Now I understand the assertion I have made here may irk most people because most tend to get very defensive when it comes to arguing for the sanctity of their opinions.  Nonetheless the forthcoming explanation of my answer to this question is not meant to satisfy raw emotions.  It is an appeal to logic…nothing more, nothing less.   Continue reading