"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, April 13, 2006

All Your Base Are Belong to Us

The courts vs. society, once again. We are wise. You are stupid. You lose.

Judge says student can recite poem at state competition

A federal judge Thursday gave a Reno ninth-grader permission to recite a poem at a state competition that administrators at his charter school sought to block because they said it contained profanity.

In his ruling, US District Judge Brian Sandoval said "hell" and "damn" in W.H. Auden's, "The More Loving One," does not constitute vulgar, lewd or offensive language that could disrupt the Coral Academy of Science's educational priorities.

Sandoval issued a temporary restraining order against the school sought by 14-year-old Jacob Behymer-Smith, who will recite the poem April 22nd during Poetry Out Loud, a recitation contest sponsored by the National Endowment of the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


Now, I happen to share the judge's sensibilities. But where the hell do the courts get the right to make this any of their damn business? Society has the right to define itself, to limn its own mores. To govern itself. The kid's fourteen, for crissakes, and it's a scholastic competition.

Judges are not philosopher-kings. Their job is to interpret the law, but how this became a First Amendment issue, or how it became a federal case, I do not know.

Between you and me, the kid should just read "Howl", which is a much better poem. If the judge allows Auden, he must allow Ginsberg. Let's just defenestrate all of society's proprieties for children and adults alike, and get it over with.

9 comments:

James Elliott said...

"Judges are not philosopher-kings. Their job is to interpret the law, but how this became a First Amendment issue, or how it became a federal case, I do not know."

Because the contest is funded by the National Endowment of the Arts. Federal dollars, federal issue, public sphere. Ergo, First Amendment and federal court. Hope that helps with the jurisdiction question.

James Elliott said...

By the way:

You have no chance to survive. Make your time.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ah, yes, federal money, of course. The Roach Motel of our polity. Thank you, Mr. Elliott. That certainly pulls a leg off my screed.

Since all schools get federal money in some form, I suppose that means that school newspapers are now subject to the First Amendment and the wisdom of the courts. How about cussing in the classroom? I don't see why the hell not.

Matt Huisman said...

Let's see, vouchers are no good because the money would go to an institution that is unaccountable to the public and imposes a religious value system on its students.

Hmmm. Aren't we in the same boat once the 'friggin' federal judges get involved?

James Elliott said...

"Since all schools get federal money in some form, I suppose that means that school newspapers are now subject to the First Amendment and the wisdom of the courts."

Yes, they are. In fact, they always have been. There's an immense amount of caselaw behind this. Mountains. Continents.

Any place that receives public funds is subject to the courts' jurisdiction. Further, any case involving the infringement of certain rights, even by a non-federal actor (i.e. civil rights), falls under federal jurisdiction. In the case of schools, you have a publicly funded entity banning something that has been found to have redeeming artistic value. It's kind of like the pornography cases, only with actual artistic value. Same principal.

"How about cussing in the classroom? I don't see why the hell not."

That's kind of a fifth-grade understanding of the First Amendment. Free speech isn't "anything goes," much as many on the right and left would wish it so. See, "yelling 'fire,' crowded theater."

Tom Van Dyke said...

I assure you that not only did I complete the fifth grade, James, but a number of others as well.

And I have no doubt there is copious case law documenting the encroachment of the courts on virtually every facet of public life. That is my point, after all.

However, as the facts come trickling in, it appears that the courts granted an injunction permitting the kid to read the Auden poem because if he didn't, he would suffer some irreparable harm.

OK. (The Auden poem was on the national "approved" list, however, it violated his charter school's rule against profanity. It was they who tried to stop him.)

But before we derive some cosmic or legal truth from the decision, it's yet to be litigated whether an institution has any authority over the conduct of its representatives.

Or whether there is an unalienable right for a 14-year-old to say "damn," and "hell." ("Howl" has artistic merit, too, or so they tell me.)

And even though the capriciousness of the courts may conclude one way or the other, they are not infallible, or even necessarily wise.

What I will say is that as "standards" are nationalized, and as we approach the Universal Homogeneous State, all will be measured and judged by the lowest common denominator, at the cost of obliterating the highest.

Little islands of merit like the kid's charter school will and must be swept away, in the name of not justice, but mediocrity.

Jay D. Homnick said...

Congratulations, Tom, for going out on a 'limn'. I used that word in an article for The American Spectator and people acted like I used a four-letter word.

Ed Darrell said...

1. Where do you get off claiming "hell" is profane? Are you so unschooled in Kipling, Virgil and Shakespeare as to support such bizarre attempts to stifle poetry? Perhaps you should call the kid and let him lecture you on what literature is, and how it can lift the soul.

2. Anytime a kid in Nevada's rights under the Nevada Constitution are threatened, and the right is mirrored in the U.S. Constitution, to prevent unnecessary duplication of suits and to speed the wheels of justice, the case may be tried in the federal courts. Federal money has nothing to do with it. In point of fact, federal money in the public schools is vanishingly small. The question is the kid's rights under the First Amendment. Unalienable rights work even when they are not financed by federal dollars -- as you would know were you a blogger on the internet, say . . . oh, well, I guess that blows my example.

3. Yes, school newspapers are subject to the First Amendment. The crabby Court we have now has backtracked a bit, but basically, school authorities may not censor views without some great cause. Of course, there is a difference between censoring views and complaining about profanity, but such subtleties appear to be lost on this unliterate blog (I'm quite surprised at the unliteracy here -- one would think that with so many years of schooling, something would have sunk in).

4. Vouchers are good so long as they bring new money to schools. Vouchers that suck the blood out of the education of poor kids are accurately thought of as vampires on the soul of America.

5. The school slept on any right it may have had to censor the national list of poems. Where was the school 60 days ago when the kid started to work on it? The school was apparently drunk and passed out on the couch. The school is only in loco parentis, but apparently it's an absentee version.

6. I suspect your real concern is the obvious call to be loving in the Auden poem: "If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me." I am assuming you are familiar with Auden, as an educated person, and knew that, and so your complaint about profanity is as the complaints about the use of the "N" word in Huckleberry Finn, a stalking horse to strike at the obvious moral lessons in the work.

Why do you think we should not strive to be more loving? Why do you hide behind this obvious screen of distaste for faux profanity to complain about it?

The kid said, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal: "I feel a real connection to it [the poem]," Behymer-Smith said. "It is asking how do you love something that doesn't love you back or how do you love something that hates you?"

It's a question we would all do well to ponder. Why don't you think we should?

7. Defend your claim that "Howl" is a better poem, especially for recitation from memory by a 14-year-old kid, or for instilling a love of poetry in people. I'm assuming you've actually read this one, too -- though, truth be told, there is an impressive, implicit case in your post that you're not much on poetry at all.

8. You need to see a "limnologist" to get your limning fixed. Society's standards endorse poetry such as Auden's. Is all your taste in your mouth, or what? Since when is loving those who don't love us back contrary to society's standards? You will be surprised to learn, it appears, that many people regard this as a Christian nation. You should be ashamed.

9. (Really a continuation of 8) -- Brian Sandoval, a Republican, elected to several offices in Nevada including, most recently, attorney general, is in a better place to determine what Nevadan's think is profane than this blog is. Moreover, as a Bush appointee who enjoyed backing from both of Nevada's senators, it appears he's got much better finger on the pulse of the nation than this blog. He's eminently qualified to make a decision on whether an internationally-acclaimed poem approved by Bush's political appointees is profane, or good.

If you share the judge's sensibilities, where do you get the idea that anyone else disagrees, or should? The question isn't where a judge gets the "right" to rule on whether a kid can recite a poem, but instead the question should be, where does the school get a right to act as censor, and how well tuned is their profanity detector?

Sometimes federal judges have to intervene when ill-informed prudes strike out at American culture. That's why they are there.

Evanston said...

My taxpayer money goes to poetry contests and judges telling us what should/not be allowed. Ed Darrell, this is why vouchers continue to creep forward. Unnacountable agencies and judges traipsing around in robes tell us what we should think. Once upon a time public schools represented their communities. No more, you say, they should reflect national mores. This brand of activism separates the culture in public schools from the communities that support them, so don't be surprised when communities no longer support the schools.