Argument By Mantra

Since Norah Vincent, in her Higher Ed column headlined "Core Values" [August 8] , wrote about a debate in which I was involved with CUNY chair Herman Badillo, but essentially reported only one voice speaking (that of Fred Siegel of the National Association of Scholars), I will try to respond to those questions that a professional reporter would have asked me.

Ms. Vincent seems to have problems with my phrase "ways of knowing" and with the word "factoid," so I will repeat what I said at the Hotel Roosevelt discussion about a core curriculum at CUNY.

There are many different processes for addressing the world. For example, physical scientists and sociologists use different methodologies for apprehending knowledge. (What absolutists like me would refer to as "truth.") These methodologies (ways of knowing) are what a student will retain long after he or she forgets the algebraic expressions for a particular physical law or the names of the Northwest Native American tribes (factoids).

Siegel, as Vincent noted, seems to be saying that a serious measure of education is success on a collection of multiple-choice tests such as the GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT. Siegel dismisses that which he disagrees with by using the shibboleth of "race, class, and gender," which is argument by mantra.

For the sake of a student's future intellectual development, the understanding of the social and economic causes of the American Revolution is indeed more significant than a collection of dates.

Bernard Sohmer
Chair, Faculty Senate
City University of New York

Shtick Talk

Nat Hentoff's August 1 column regarding Laura Schlessinger's right to free speech ["Boomeranging Dr. Laura Off the Air"] begs me to exercise mine. Indeed, Hentoff's references to my candor are correct, as is his position that the First Amendment is fundamental to our civil liberties. However, apart from those two points, Hentoff and I differ not only about what the issue is here but about who has what corresponding responsibility.

To us at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the rub is—and has always been—our disagreement with what Schlessinger says in her public comments: It is about defamatory speech and her unwillingness to take responsibility for it. When I met with Schlessinger and then with the producers of her upcoming television program at Paramount Television Group, no one was willing to accept responsibility for what Schlessinger says—no matter how unfounded, how indefensible, how defamatory. On her August 3 radio broadcast, Schlessinger said, "I am so tired of people picketing about their damn rights, when I have never seen a picket line for responsibilities." Well, GLAAD is and has been at the front of both lines.

Schlessinger uses pseudo-clinical terms to denigrate and dehumanize a whole category of people without producing any validated evidence. Our community has been shuttled down this road before. We have the right—no, the obligation—to speak out and say, "This is the limit; this is wrong; this should not be given a forum to spread."

Laura Schlessinger makes a living by passing her opinions off as the truth. Her shtick is her opinions. But her responsibility to the public should be the truth in her words.

Joan M. Garry
Executive Director
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation

Nat Hentoff replies: I agree with Garry's valid point that Laura Schlessinger has not accepted responsibility for her unfounded statements. However, Louis Farrakhan and various racists also do not accept responsibility for their unfounded statements. But the First Amendment protects them too. Garry says my references to her were accurate. One of them quoted her as saying that if all else fails, including boycotts, Schlessinger "should not be allowed on the air." That is where we disagree.

Correctional Center

I was surprised to see Cathy Hong acting as the mouthpiece for law-breaking city agencies in her article "Prisoner's Dilemma" [Education Supplement, [August 8]. As Hong states, the Board of Education opened Horizon Academy at Rikers Island in 1998 under pressure of a lawsuit brought by my office, the Legal Aid Society's Prisoners' Rights Project. While the opening of Horizon had salutary effects, it did not cure the city's myriad failures to follow the law. Indeed, as Hong failed to note, in January 2000, a federal court held that the schools at Rikers Island, including Horizon, did not meet the minimum constitutional and statutory requirements.

Moreover, as a review of court papers makes clear, the city has resisted making the needed reforms to provide education to incarcerated youth. Yet Hong apparently took at face value the city's assertions about the adequacy of their programs, without consulting the court record or the opposing side in the suit. As a result, the article makes several inaccurate or misleading statements:

Hong incorrectly states that youth in punitive segregation may opt to receive "one-on-one tutoring." Only a fraction of these students receive such assistance. For the vast majority, "education" consists of an occasional phone call to a teacher or lessons shouted to 30 inmates through solid cell doors; and for others, nothing at all.

The statement that a "Horizon facility almost looks like a normal school" indicates that Hong saw only selected Horizon sites. This statement would never describe the Otis Bantum Correctional Center, in which "school" consists of a few small rooms in a noisy, chaotic area simultaneously used for a barbershop and religious services. Last fall, two low-functioning classes were taught in two languages at the same time in one tiny room.

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