Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Training them to deal with feeling bad 

Egene Volokh makes a very good point on speech codes for teachers, using a possible code forthcoming at the Berkeley law school:
On the other hand, read literally "racist, sexist or homophobic expressions" [which they are told are things that "will not be tolerated" --kb] seems to cover any expressions of opinion that convey a racist, sexist or homophobic message, potentially including, for instance:
  1. Asking whether some or all of the underrepresentation of men or women in certain fields might be caused not by sex discrimination, but rather by biological differences between the sexes that make men's and women's temperaments, intellectual capacities, and performance different.
  2. Discussing in class on the book The Bell Curve, and suggesting that the authors might have been right in their conclusion that there are race-based differences in intelligence.
  3. Suggesting in class (whether on constitutional law, family law, or sexual orientation and the law) that one possible argument against allowing same-sex marriage is that opposite-sex couples are better parents than same-sex couples.

If the policy would include such statements, that seems to be quite troubling: The statements may be right or wrong, or good or bad, but it seems to me that they are eminently legitimate issues to raise in class ... Any prohibition on such speech would be a severe blow to free and open discussions of ideas in class. UC Berkeley should be trying to foster free and open discussion, and to train students to deal with it even when the discussion makes them "feel" bad, rather than trying to suppress it.