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.

Hong also describes a student enrolled in special-education courses. Such courses do not exist at most Horizon sites. As the federal court found, even though approximately 40 percent of youths on Rikers need special education, the Rikers schools do not provide special education as required by law.

There are indeed some dedicated staff at Rikers schools. But it's a shame that Hong did not go beyond the city's self-serving presentation of its school programs and gather more accurate information about the significant violations of law and the city's failure to remedy them.

Mary Lynne Werlwas
Staff Attorney
Legal Aid Society

Cathy Hong replies: If Werlwas carefully reads my article, she will notice my specific criticisms of Horizon Academy's shortcomings. I wrote that its $2 million annual funding "hardly covers the special-education needs of the many learning-disabled prisoners." I also pointed out that Horizon Academy is short-staffed, with only five of 27 teachers trained for special education and that it offers virtually no guidance counseling. Furthermore, in observing that Horizon "almost looks like a school," I was emphasizing that the program's pleasant aspects are often merely cosmetic. Despite the school's attempt at normalcy, I stressed that the high attrition rate indicates that students are thwarted from learning by the lack of funding and relentless conflicts with the Department of Correction (the class described at the end of my story was actually in the Otis Bantum Correctional Center and the physical description is hardly a glorification). Overall, my article does not serve as a mouthpiece for the Board of Education or for the Department of Correction, but for the few students I met who manage to learn despite the challenges inherent in the prison system.

Needles Impinged

Thanks for Carla Spartos's thought-provoking article about vaccinations to combat drug abuse ["Injecting Big Brother," July 18]. I do, however, wonder: If, as the article indicated, the shots work by "attacking" the pleasure-inducing chemicals in the body that the drug produces, might they not also affect the pleasure-inducing chemicals that are naturally produced by the brain?

Having worked in a rehab program for mentally ill, chemically addicted criminals, I am wholeheartedly in favor of anything that can help them overcome their cravings. It appears that kicking cocaine addiction—especially crack cocaine—is heartbreakingly difficult to do. Perhaps a vaccine would allow addicts to at least battle the cravings successfully enough to stay in the program.

Maybe the answer is not widespread vaccination, but vaccination of anyone who has committed antisocial acts to support their habit. Then the treatment could be regulated by the courts and parole or probation officials. But mandatory vaccination? No way!

Chris Knioum
Corpus Christi, Texas

Disney U

As a stage manager for Peculiar Works Project's memorial for Judson House, I appreciated C.Carr's column on the rich history of this space and our memorial [On Edge, August 1]. As a student at New York University, I resent seeing my tuition dollars going to feed the spread of downtown institutional Disneyfication. NYU loses respect with every closing of a small business.

At least between the eviction of Judson House and the demolition of the building, NYU has allowed a bunch of artists to memorialize the space. With more in the bank and less on the line, what has Disney done for downtown theater lately?

Sarah Kramer

Umpire State

Thank you for Paul Lukas's column "Uni Watch: Men in Blue" [August 1]: As a high school and college umpire, I can tell you that the world of umpires was abuzz with anticipation for this year's all-star game, since it was rumored that the umpires would sport new uniforms—dusty rose polo shirts and olive-drab khaki pants—for the game and the rest of the season to proclaim a new day and the end of the old union. It may still happen next year, if a new contract is worked out. Luckily, I have those duds in my closet already.  

Joshua Perry
Chicago, Illinois

Kid Rock

When Nick Catucci took over the music-editing reins at NYU's Culture Shock arts newspaper, coverage of heavy metal sank into the woodwork. Now that he is under the tutelage of Voice music editor Chuck Eddy, one can only assume that he seeks to treat that musical style with the same condescension as his mentor/ass-kissee.

Catucci's blurb regarding the July 31 appearance of black-metal pioneers Mayhem at Wetlands [Music Choices, August 1] was only too indicative of his and the rest of the mainstream press's ignorance and lust for sound-bite sensationalism. Hilariously rehashing tales of suicide and murder from seven years ago brings to mind Spin magazine's "discovery" of the church-burnings in 1996, by which point the European press had already considered the story a dead issue, so to speak.

In his readiness to ignore the quality of the music itself (in case he didn't bother reading the press bio, the new album is titled Grand Declaration of War), it's clear that Catucci is grooming himself as the next hack cut from the Bangs/ Christgau/Eddy mold of cynics. Good luck, kid.

Matthew Kirshner
Yonkers, New York

Open Shop

Kate Mattingly's article on Martha Graham ["Maelstrom at Martha's: Embattled Dancers Send a Letter to the World," [August 8] indicated the company's summer workshop at Frostburg State University in Maryland had been canceled. In fact, it took place very successfully, with the substitution of works by Jane Dudley and Pearl Lang (and others) for Graham's Panorama. Although Ron Protas, the company's recently fired director, threatened to destroy the program, he never showed up.

Alice Helpern

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