Saturday, March 04, 2006

High School students continue try Bush over “war crimes”

As reported at the Drudge Report, a Parsippany, NJ high school is holding a mock court putting President Bush on trial for “war crimes.” The national attention generated by Drudge caused the school district to meet Friday to discuss the appropriateness of the exercise and to re-examine the process.

Top school officials will huddle privately this morning to discuss a classroom war crimes "trial"of President Bush at Parsippany High School that suddenly is drawing national attention.

The school board's president, Robert Perlett, said the 8:30 a.m. meeting was called by mutual agreement on Thursday as the uproar surrounding the mock tribunal escalated on the Internet and talk radio.

Perlett said no decision had been made to halt the trial, which is to enter a fourth day today after classes were canceled Thursday due to the snowstorm.

That meeting resulted in the district’s approval to proceed, albeit with some changes.

A mock war crimes trial of President George W. Bush at a Parsippany high school continued Friday, despite criticism from people across the nation who heard about the classroom exercise from a prominent Web site and talk-radio programs.

Parsippany-Troy Hills School District interim superintendent James Dwyer said the hearing in the 12th grade politics and government class would continue, but a verdict by a five-teacher "international court of justice" panel would not be rendered as originally planned.

Speaking after a two-hour meeting with school board president, the high school principal and a curriculum superintendent, Dwyer said Friday the project was in keeping with the district's curriculum and had received prior administrative approval.

The class is an advanced placement elective, he said, and the lesson explores current events and foreign policy in an interactive way.

"The focus is on the process itself, not on any outcome," Dwyer said.

I’m curious about who the 5 teachers are who were originally thought to be qualified to listen to arguments advanced by high school seniors using evidence no doubt gleaned from the pages of the New York Times and produce a legally proper verdict. Dwyer’s comment about it all being about “the process itself, not on any outcome” is the kind of patronizing crap you expect teachers to fling out toward the children under their care when they’re desperately trying to avoid discussing uncomfortable topics. Of course it was about the outcome. There is no reason to choose this particular “case” unless someone has an eye toward the outcome.

Think about it: what evidence can they bring up regarding the crimes they’re “charging” the President with? They allege the President is guilty of "crimes against civilian populations" and "inhumane treatment of prisoners.” To what classified information do these kids have access? How many of them have personally visited Abu Ghraib? Gitmo? Camp Anaconda in Afghanistan? How many have been to either Iraq or Afghanistan? How many have left the borders of the US at all? To even suggest that the President has engaged in “crimes against civilian populations” exhibits a bias. How is that charge even being defined?

So, do I think the “trial” should be stopped? Absolutely not. Under no circumstances should this exercise be aborted, delayed, or interfered with in any way. I’m all for reinstating the “verdict” of the “international court of teachers’ justice” as was originally planned. As has been said elsewhere, this is all about freedom of speech, right?

And when they’re done, the transcripts of this “court case” should be published in their entirety. Every statement, every allegation, every argument every refutation, and every single scrap of evidence offered either for or against should be released for public viewing and discussion. As Professor Glenn Reynolds would say, let’s turn loose an Army of Davids on the results of this exercise and determine whether or not it was properly conducted. After all, the school district’s focus is on the process, remember?

The key factor in instruction is the ability to accurately gauge whether the students have produced the correct result to a given exercise. If they add 2 plus 2, we know, emphatically, that they should come up with 4. If they drop sodium into a beaker with water, they’re supposed to see an energetic reaction. If we ask them to calculate how far a 1 kilogram weight will fly given a push of a particular power and vector, we will already know the answer. Instruction, at least at the levels of grades 1 through 12, does not come from asking the students to provide answers we don’t already have. If the students were to be taught the process of rational assessment of evidence and the successful argument of a conclusion based on that evidence, it makes no sense at all to ask them to do that in a case where we don’t have all the evidence and the answer has not already been defined. There are a myriad of court cases where the evidence is completely available and th correct answer already given by trained legal professionals rather than an ad hoc council of high school teachers. That’s what gives this exercise the stench of an anti-Bush witch hunt.

The deed’s done, however. We cannot simply shut this exercise down and, for the good of those students as well as for the rest of us, we shouldn’t try. Let the trial commence and then let us all see the results. Then we can make an assessment - a verdict, if you will - on whether the school’s teachers and administrators were acting appropriately or if they were (once again) teaching their political biases instead of the subjects they’re paid to teach.

(Thanks to Mudville Gazette for the open post.)