Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Peace Studies Stirs Dissent

Students in a Maryland high school are campaigning to get a "Peace Studies" course taught by retired newspaper reporter Colman McCarthy eliminated from the curriculum:

Last Saturday, Andrew Saraf sat down at his computer and typed out his thoughts on why the course -- offered for almost two decades as an elective to seniors at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School -- should be banned from the school. "I know I'm not the first to bring this up but why has there been no concerted effort to remove Peace Studies from among the B-CC courses?" he wrote in his post to the school's group e-mail list. "The 'class' is headed by an individual with a political agenda, who wants to teach students the 'right' way of thinking by giving them facts that are skewed in one direction."

He hit send.

Within a few hours, the normally staid e-mail list BCCnet -- a site for announcements, job postings and other housekeeping details in the life of a school -- was ablaze with chatter. By the time Principal Sean Bulson checked his BlackBerry on Sunday evening, there were more than 150 postings from parents and students -- some ardently in support, some ardently against the course.

Since its launch at the school in 1988, Peace Studies has provoked lively debate, but the attempt to have the course removed from the curriculum is a first, Bulson said. The challenge by two students comes as universities and even some high schools across the country are under close scrutiny by a growing number of critics who believe that the U.S. education system is being hijacked by liberal activists.

At Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Peace Studies is taught by Colman McCarthy, a former Washington Post reporter and founder and president of the Center for Teaching Peace. Though the course is taught at seven other Montgomery County high schools, some say B-CC's is perhaps the most personal and ideological of the offerings because McCarthy makes no effort to disguise his opposition to war, violence and animal testing.

"I do recognize that it is a fairly popular class," Saraf said. "But it's clear that the teacher is only giving one side of the story. He's only offering facts that fit his point of view."

... the Peace Studies course at Bethesda-Chevy Chase is unique for a number of reasons. Although a staff teacher takes roll and issues grades, it is McCarthy as a volunteer, unpaid guest lecturer who does the bulk of the teaching. He does not work from lesson plans, although he does use a school system-approved textbook -- a collection of essays on peace that he edited.

Uh, oh. This sounds to us as though the individual who is the primary instructor in the classroom is an uncertified teacher. In some states, like Pennsylvania, such insults to the protocols set forth by the educational bureaucracy can land a school district a substantial fine. We wonder how Bethesda-Chevy Chase is getting around this regulation, if indeed it is a regulation in Maryland, besides employing a certified teacher to take roll. Using a certified teacher as an attendance monitor certainly seems like a transparent, and cynical, ploy which may itself be a violation of the certification requirement.

Where's the Maryland State Education Association on this? Most state teacher associations demand that only certified teachers be allowed to teach in public school classrooms. Maybe this case is different because the teacher is volunteering. Or maybe it's different because the teacher happens to be a bona fide lefty. Who knows?

Whither Dick Cheney?

This will have the Left dancing in the streets like Palestinians after 9/11. Insight Magazine is reporting that Dick Cheney will step down from the Vice Presidency soon after the midterm elections in the Fall of this year. The reasons they give make sense:

The sources reported a growing rift between the president and vice president as well as their staffs. They cited Mr. Cheney's failure to immediately tell the president of the accidental shooting of the vice president's hunting colleague earlier this month. The White House didn't learn of the incident until 18 hours later.

Mr. Cheney's next crisis could take place by the end of the year, the sources said. They said the White House was expecting Mr. Cheney to defend himself against charges from his former chief of staff, Lewis Libby, that the vice president ordered him to relay classified information. Such a charge could lead to a congressional investigation and even impeachment proceedings.

If Mr. Cheney is indeed in legal trouble then he will be a liability to the administration and probably should resign. Even so, we hate to see him go. In addition to his hard-headed common sense, he brings a refreshing disdain for the enthusiasms of the MSM to the White House, a disdain that only someone with no future political ambitions could afford to indulge. We hope he stays, and if he doesn't we'll miss him.

The Culture Wars Shift Battlefields

Now that Sandra Day O'Connor has left the Supreme Court the cultural conflict over abortion is heating back up. The Supreme Court has decided to hear a case next Fall that will determine whether a federal ban on partial birth abortion will be upheld. Partial birth abortion is called that because it involves a procedure:

...generally carried out in the second or third trimester, in which a fetus is partially removed from the womb, and the skull is punctured or crushed.

You might think that sounds a lot like infanticide. If so, you understand why the legislature has been trying to ban the practice for fifteen years. Two previous attempts were vetoed by President Clinton who could see no contradiction at all between this practice and the widespread belief that we live in a civilized nation.

South Dakota has passed legislation that would ban all abortions in the state except in cases where the mother's life is in physical jeopardy if she takes the baby to term. Challenges to this law will surely wend their way through the court system and, in due course, make their way before the Supreme Court. If so, there are four almost certain votes to strike down the South Dakota law (Ginsberg, Souter, Stevens, and Breyer) and two almost certain votes to uphold it (Thomas and Scalia). The three unknowns are Kennedy, Roberts, and Alito. If just one of them joins the four liberals then Roe will survive, at least for a few more years. The most likely of the unknowns to join the liberals seems to be Anthony Kennedy, but it's not clear that he would. If there's another retirement (Stevens and Ginsberg are most likely) before South Dakota makes it to the Supreme Court then everything will depend on who takes the retiree's place. The Alito hearings will seem like a cub scout initiation by comparison to the hearings that that nominee will face.

Even if the court eventually fails to sustain South Dakota's law the issue is going to keep coming back. It required a complete abandonment of common sense for the majority in Roe to find in the constitution a justification for taking abortion law out of the purview of the states and enough state legislatures are willing to test the newly constituted court that more of them can be expected to advance their own attempts to curb the practice of abortion.

It has always intrigued me that pro-choicers were so afraid to have states decide this issue. Up until recently they have insisted that the overwhelming majority of people in this country supported a "woman's right to choose," but if they truly believe this, why do they worry about allowing state legislatures, which are quite sensitive to the will of the voters, to legislate what the law on abortion will be in the several states? They should be confident that the legislatures will vote to keep abortion safe and legal. They are not confident, however, because they don't really believe that abortion rights enjoy the popularity and support that their rhetoric claims they do.

If Roe is ultimately overturned then the people will decide, through their state legislators, whether, and to what extent, they want abortion legal in their state. It'll be refreshing to see law actually being made by the people elected to perform that task instead of by nine justices who are accountable to no one.