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Free Speech, Gay Marriage, LACC and Teachable Moments

February 18th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

free-speech-zone.jpg

If it’s all true, it’s a pretty appalling story.

Here’s the deal: Over the weekend the news broke that a Los Angeles City College student named , Jonathan Lopez, had filed suit against LACC over a Fall ’08 incident with his Speech 101 teacher.

The LA Times (my friend Gale Holland wrote the story), the Daily Breeze, and such right-leaning sites as Town Hall and even Eugene Volokh all reported or commented on this story. Putting together their accounts one is able to gather that, according to Mr. Lopez, this is what occurred:

This past fall, Lopez took Speech 101, Introduction to Public Speaking, taught by someone named John Matteson.

In Speech 101, Lopez said, the students were assigned various kinds of speeches: a “delivery speech”, a “culture speech,” an “informative” speech, and a “persuasive” speech.

The assignment in question was the informative speech. Matteson told students that they were to speak for between six and eight minutes on a topic of their choice.

Lopez, an ardent Christian, decided to talk about how God had acted in his life in ways that he saw as miraculous.

And….instead of just talking about God and miracles, Lopez slipped in a little anti gay marriage stuff, a few Bible verses, topical moralizing and so on.

The incident occurred last November, not long after the presidential election, which meant it was also right after the loathsome Proposition 8 was passed.

So Lopez’s timing was….well, let’s just say, provocative.

Moreover, the speech didn’t really fit into the category of “informative.” It sounds like it was more of an attempt at “persuasive,”—although to truly persuade, Lopez would need to find a way to avoid turning off his audience. In other words, Lopez needed some instruction, guidance and tips.

Put another way, Lopez’s speech was an opportunity for…you know….teaching. This was, after all, Speech 101. A beginners’ class.

If Lopez brought his bias to the speech. Okay. It happens only all the time in writing and reporting classes. One can only assume the same is true of a class in public speaking. That’s what teachers are for. To guide students like Lopez and his classmates into writing and speaking more skillfully, which means confronting and balancing one’s biases without losing one’s passion. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

So what did Matteson do instead? According to Lopez, his teacher interrupted his speech, and called him a “fascist bastard.”

(Note to Matteson: that’s not what we call using the teachable moment.)

Matteson then allegedly told the rest of the class they could leave if they were offended. (No one left.) After that, he dismissed the class.

Allegedly.

When Lopez looked at his evaluation sheet, which was evidently stuffed in his backpack, where there was supposed to a grade, Matteson (allegedly) scrawled. “Ask God what your grade is.”

When Lopez reported the incident to the school’s Dean, Matteson also reportedly threatened to expel the kid.

So Lopez sued. Here’s a copy of the actual complaint that was filed.

Lopez is being represented in his lawsuit by the Alliance Defense Fund, a big Christian legal organization co-founded by James Dobson. This is unfortunate. In their statements thus far, the Alliance people are presenting this as a case of religious discrimination, because I’m guessing that serves their agenda.

(One of the Alliance’s lawyers has already been on “The O’Reilly Factor”)

This case, of course, is not about religion. It is about free speech, a clear First Amendment issue. But, really, mostly it’s about teaching.

There is always a way to use the situation such as Lopez’s presentation, as a springboard for instruction without being disrespectful of the kid’s beliefs or dampening his or her courage when it comes to self-expression. The trick in writing or speaking from a strong POV is learning to do so in such a way that you don’t exclude everyone who doesn’t agree with you, but instead, hopefully, cause your listeners to think a bit or to expand their own perspectives. Lopez’s speech should have triggered a literary discussion, not a teacher’s temper tantrum.

If Matteson did what he is accused of doing, he is crappy teacher who verbally abused a student, did the rest of his class a disservice, and has no place in the classroom. Period.

*******************************************************************

And, elsewhere on Idiot Educators watch, there is this story about the drama students at Corona del Mar High School, who were excited to perform the Tony Award-winning and much beloved musical RENT—until, according to the drama teacher, the school principal told him that he couldn’t produce RENT for the school, because the administrator didn’t like the play’s…. gay characters.

Great.

Naturally lawyers were called.

*** NOTE: A chapeau tip to commenter Woody for initially flagging the Lopez story.

Posted in Education, Free Speech, LGBT | 31 Comments »

31 Responses

  1. Woody Says:

    I see you used the word “allegedly” to give give wiggle room for the teacher, but did not use that word to describe the students’s presentation. It seems that the homosexual issue was not the major focus of his presenation, but that is all that is reported. We need fairness on all sides, and the student is still not receiving it.

    Celeste: The trick in writing or speaking from a strong POV is learning to do so in such a way that you don’t exclude anyone who doesn’t agree with you, but instead cause them to think or to expand their own perspectives. Lopez’s speech should have triggered a literary discussion, not a teacher’s temper tantrum.

    Which assumes that you’re dealing with rational adults…. There are plenty of times that reasoned points are made from a conservative standpoint on this site only to find reg throwing vile, four-letter word temper tamtrums in retaliation.

    However, some people who are doing wrong need to be “offended” (a term they loosely use to try to force submission by the speaker). Changes in attitudes sometimes can only be achieved with repetiton of the points (which you call moralizing) and one’s life-time experiences until the clueless catch on.

    The style the student uses is not the issue, as he is still learning and his “style” is a matter of opinion. However, the FACT (presumably to be supported in court) is that the professor verbally attacked and humiliated the student and called him a “fascist bastard” and wanted him expelled–which shows me tht the professor didn’t learn, himself, what he should have in school.

    It’s funny that many liberals, particularly in colleges, defend free expression only as long as it agrees with their views.

  2. reg Says:

    Having read the Volokh column, it’s clear that this episode is being handled properly by the college and that Dobson – an authentic fascist bastard, incidentally – has jumped in opportunistically to blow smoke up our collective asses about the alleged victimization of crazy people who call label themselves “Christians.” Now public funds will be expended to satisfy the paranoia of nutcases desperate for attention, like Woody.

    Clearly the teacher is being disciplined and obviously handled the situation poorly, but Lopez just as obviously isn’t some naive victim and it’s obvious there’s absolutely no violation of free speech involved. There was an incident of a teacher withholdiing a grade and speaking to a student in a way that was inappropriate given his position. Lopez, of course, is a nasty little bigot who ran his fould mouth in front of the wrong people. Shit happens. The teacher should have risen to the occasion, but the other students were well within their own free speech rights to give this little prick some shit.

    I disagree that there was an imperative in the classroom in general that other students respond to bigotry “without being disrespectful of the kid’s beliefs or dampening his or her courage when it comes to self-expression.” If little Davey Duke were in a class I were taking and he started spouting his vile bullshit, I’d do my damnedest to dampen his fucking courage. Lopez was obviously acting provocatively – his running to the professional hatemonger Dobson to file a lawsuit rather than protest the teacher’s specific comments and refusal to grade his performance (which were, in fact, apparently unprofessional) to the administration confirms this IMHO.

    Maybe there was a “teachable moment” here – but IMHO if other students clarified to this creep Lopez what they thought of his garbage, that’s about as “teachable” as it gets. Bigots deserve to be intimidated.

  3. Woody Says:

    Two groups who won’t be persuaded – Senator compares some gays to radical Muslims

  4. reg Says:

    That this was “brought to our attention” by an unrepentant racist who spent the Presidential campaign providing us with stuff like pictures of Senator Obama shining Sarah Palin’s shoes is instructive. He demands the “right” to express racism and homophobia without even the mildest of social sanctions from those who he’s intentionally trying to offend for a reason. Folks whose world view collapses around them – ideological zombies like Woody – have little recourse other than to claim “victim” status in order to validate their irrelevancec. It’s a descent into madness that we’re forced to witness in real time in these comment threads. Some might call it sad, but at this point I have to admit – aside from the annoyance factor – I’m sort of enjoying it. The desperation on display here and at Marc’s blog is palpable.

  5. Woody Says:

    Woody: There are plenty of times that reasoned points are made from a conservative standpoint on this site only to find reg throwing vile, four-letter word temper tamtrums in retaliation. …It’s funny that many liberals, particularly in colleges, defend free expression only as long as it agrees with their views.

    reg: …paranoia of nutcases desperate for attention, like Woody. …Lopez, of course, is a nasty little bigot who ran his fould mouth in front of the wrong people. Shit happens. The teacher should have risen to the occasion, but the other students were well within their own free speech rights to give this little prick some shit.

    reg made my point. With his attitude, maybe we have insight as to why he couldn’t make it through college.

    As long as reg wishes to make a psychological conclusion, may I join him and simply suggest that he is “Psycho” with a capital “P”.

    BTW, free speech is an individual right, but it stops at the door of your employer and at the door to the classroom. The student was completing the assignment as he saw best. Anyone disrupting or threatening him would be out of line and interfering with the contract for which the student paid the school for instruction and with his right to safety.

    My suggestion to immoral liberals…shut-up and take it, as conservatives are forced to do every day in almost every college. If not, get rid of the left-wing professors who stifle free expression, creativity, and other points of view.

  6. reg Says:

    Note there’s a difference in the two stories mentioned – in one students were censored and there was no recourse within the institution so…lawyers were called.

    In the other a student was treated unprofessionally by a teacher AFTER speaking openly, the teacher was in the process of being disciplined by the administraton and…a hate-group was contacted which brought lawyers into play to promote a bogus agenda.

    It would take someone who lives in Bizarro World not to see that the Lopez case is, in the main, bogus ant that the notion of Christian “victimhood” and denial of rights at the hands of rampant homosexuals as some “societal problem” is akin to the notion that Lester Maddox was a victim of black people who tried to eat in his restaurant. That the perverted little cracker who posted serial racist links against President Obama in recent months is attempting to push this line of horseshit in the comments threads he has chosen to infest is hardly surprising.

  7. reg Says:

    And the little cracker makes MY point by continuing to protest the “victimhood” of racist morons such as himself. There’s nothing in the consitution that dictates we treat scumbags politely. Have all of the “free speech” you want. And I’ll have mine. You’re a racist, homophobic piece of garbage. Even your son thinks you’re nuts. Your “contributions” to these threads are so repetitious and predictable I dread clicking on the comments. Occasionally I get irritated enough to respond in kind. Those days you get what you want – undeserved attention. Most days you’re not worth the spit. Tomorrow will be better for me – I’ll ignore you along with 99% of the other folks who see your name attached to juvenile, embarrassing rants.

  8. Woody Says:

    reg concerning the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal organization: …a hate-group.

    If reg doesn’t agree with someone (always conservative and/or Christian), he just calls them names and tries to mislabel their goals. However, he bends over to take whatever radical queers are pushing.

    Rather than accept reg’s decision that this was being handled properly, we’ll let the court decide.

    As I said, “Psycho.”

  9. Woody Says:

    reg: You’re a racist, homophobic piece of garbage.

    REALLLLLLY Psycho.

  10. reg Says:

    Woody – you’re a Dead Man Walking. You have NEVER exhibited an ounce of intellectual honesty, integrity or moral responsibility here or at Marc’s blog. You’re a crank who has nothing to offer except wingnut talking points. You admit you don’t read or have any intellectual or cultural interests beyond the usual couch potato fetishes or your surfing wingnut blogs to reinforce your own monumental insecurities as the world passes you by. The pestering and performances you produce here and at Coopers are little more than psychodramas that resonate more as cultural and political versons of “Night of the Living Dead” than engaged discourse. Your dishonesty is monumental. The lack of even minimal self-awareness is stupefying. You are willfully ignorant and utterly empty – totally depleted morally and intellectually – but you keep on coming. It’s rather remarkable. That you’re an object of derision seems not to bother you at all. I have to add, for all of your infantile, distasteful traits – even the sense of humor is stale and childish – the worst one is that you’ve become boring beyond belief.

  11. Woody Says:

    Watch out, everyone. reg is off his meds again.

  12. reg Says:

    “he bends over to take whatever radical queers are pushing”

    This from a guy who spends most of his liesure time watching other men grapple with each other. As I said, the lack of self-awareness…

  13. reg Says:

    Unfortunately for you, there is no medication to treat your chronic condition. Okay, I’m done with you, you racist, homophobic little punk.

  14. Woody Says:

    Don’t play with any knives today, reg.

  15. lou aclu Says:

    I hope Celeste isn’t tempted to delete any of the above comments and violating the God given write to blog comment !!!! If she does I will be taking legal action forthwith !!!!!

  16. Kevin Says:

    Isn’t it interesting how Woody doesn’t actually deny being a racist?

  17. Pokey Says:

    Lopez’s speech was only ridiculed by a lone professor, and I congratulate LACC in dealing with the complaint professionally and perhaps disciplining the professor regarding this incident in Speech Class 101.

    But, I request your assistance in ending the regulation of free speech, which is rampant on our nation’s college campuses and help to eliminate censorship on college campuses and restore respect for free expression in higher education.

    Currently 77 percent of public colleges and universities have speech codes that are unconstitutional when gauged against legal precedent and in many cases would prohibit by official policy Lopez’s right to offend the professor and students.

    “Controversial expression is the First Amendment’s highest duty to protect. By political definition, popular views need no protection. It is unpopular notions that are in the greatest peril – and it was primarily to protect their expression that the First Amendment was adopted. The Framers of our Constitution believed that a democracy could remain healthy over time only if it citizens felt free both to invent new ideas and to vent thoughts and feeling that were thoroughly out of fashion. Fashion, it was understood, is an agent of repression – and repression is an agent of democracy’s death.”

    Please join me in condemning ALL campus speech codes (liberal or conservative in nature).

    Colleges and universities nation wide routinely punish students and faculty for their speech, writings, and membership in campus groups. Administrators create and enforce speech codes in an attempt to outlaw free speech and free expression that do not conform to their liberal orthodoxies. Below are current or recent examples.
    Bowdoin College banned jokes and stories “experienced by others as harassing.”

    Brown University banned “verbal behavior” that produces “feelings of impotence, anger, or disenfranchisement,” whether “intentional or unintentional.”

    Colby College outlawed speech that causes “a vague sense of danger” or a loss of “self-esteem.”

    Davidson College has as sexual harassment policy which prohibits the use of “patronizing remarks” and explicitly prohibits “comments or inquiries about dating.”

    Jackson State University has a harassment policy that bans, among other things, speech which “degrades,” “insults,” or “taunts” another, “use of profanity,” and “verbal assaults.”

    Northeastern University in Boston, which prohibits students from using campus e-mail accounts or servers to send any message that, “in the sole judgment of the University,” is “annoying” or “offensive.”

    Ohio State University, which warns that words, actions, and behaviors that inflict or threaten infliction of bodily or emotional harm, whether done intentionally or with reckless disregard, are not permitted.”

    University of Connecticut outlawed “inconsiderate jokes,” “stereotyping” and even “inappropriately directed laughter.”

    University of Buffalo Law School stated that students’ free speech is limited by “the responsibility to promote equality and justice.”

    University of Cincinnati, which limits the free speech activities of 37,000 students to only one area of campus, requires that activities in that area be formally scheduled with the university, and threatens students who violate the policy with criminal trespassing charges.

    University of Iowa defines sexual harassment as something that “occurs when somebody says or does something sexually related that you don’t want them to say or do, regardless of who it is.”

    University of the Pacific has a harassment policy that prohibits conduct “that undermines the emotional, physical, or ethical integrity of any community member.”

    Syracuse University outlawed “offensive remarks…sexually suggestive staring…[and] sexual, sexist, or heterosexist remarks or jokes.”

    Texas A&M University, which prohibits students from violating others’ “rights” to “respect for personal feelings” and “freedom from indignity of any type.”

    West Virginia University instructed incoming students and faculty that they must “use language that is not gender specific…. Instead of referring to anyone’s romantic partner as ‘girlfriend’ or ‘boyfriend,’ use positive generic terms such as ‘friend,’ ‘lover,’ or partner.’” Until recently, WVU enforced “free speech zones” (in reality, “censorship zones”) that comprised only one percent of the public campus.

    The University of North Dakota defined as harassment anything that intentionally produces “psychological discomfort, embarrassment, or ridicule” (a category of no small scope).

    http://www.thefire.org/Fire_speech_codes_report_2009.pdf

  18. Pokey Says:

    The following institutions have at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.

    A “substantial” restriction on free speech is one that is broadly applicable
    to important categories of campus expression. For example, a ban on “Offensive
    Speech” would be a clear violation (in that it is unambiguous) as well as a substantial violation (in that it covers a great deal of what would be protected expression in the larger society). Such a policy would earn a university a red light.

    Haters of Free Speech (in California)

    University of California, Riverside
    University of California, Davis
    University of California, Los Angeles
    University of California, San Diego
    University of California, Santa Barbara
    University of California, Santa Cruz
    California Institute of Technology
    California Polytechnic State University
    California State University–Bakersfield
    California State University–Fullerton
    California State University–Long Beach
    California State University–Monterey Bay
    California State University–Northridge
    California State University–Sacramento
    California State University–San Bernardino
    San Diego State University
    San Francisco State University
    San Jose State University

    Likes Free Speech (in California)

    University of California, Berkeley
    University of California, Irvine
    University of Southern California

  19. Pokey Says:

    Virginia Tech Daze

    The impact of the Virginia Tech shootings have a major impact on freedom of speech in our universities and colleges, but additionally now administrators feel the need to have Crazed Coed Killer Drills at our local college where Mrs. Pokey attends.

    The other day Mrs. Pokey reported that about 11:00 AM an attendant with official looking vest and Clip board burst into their noisy class room and admonished the professor for not paying more attention to the public address system which had announced the Crazed Coed Killer Drill was taking place now! She told the professor to barricade the door as soon as she leaves.

    Mrs. Pokey said “you mean barricade the door that opens out to the hall?”

    The official looking attendant looked confused and unsure how to answer the laughter that erupted in the classroom, but just left quietly.

  20. John Moore Says:

    Allowing the students and professors to be armed, if they qualify by normal standards, would negate the need for Crazed Coed killer Drills.

  21. John Moore Says:

    Hi Reg. Did you doctor change your meds?

  22. John Moore Says:

    Calling the Alliance Defense Fund a hate group is like calling the Southern Poverty Law Center a hate group.

    Oh wait….

  23. "reg" Says:

    The musings of a one-man “hate group” who has called for American journalists to be hanged on his blog. Very cutting… Next up – I get attacked by David Duke.

  24. "reg" Says:

    The tyranny of safety drills…

  25. Mavis Beacon Says:

    Just a brief response to Pokey since I think he’s posting in good faith. Campus speech codes, as you call them, are no more unconstitutional than office speech codes. Any institution is going to make determinations about what type of discourse is acceptable and productive. When colleges and universities decide they want to prevent nasty or derrogatory speech, I think that’s pretty reasonable defense of the institution they’re running. You wouldn’t want a student to get up in class, or in the hallway, and say, “Faggots like Jake are the problem with America.” That’s not helpful to running a school and it doesn’t promote the exchange of ideas. Now those prohibitions shouldn’t extend to varying political or social views aired decently. I don’t think you’re presenting evidence that these schools are prohibiting political speech. If they do, you’ll have my support in condemning them. Otherwise, I think you need to relax.

  26. Woody Says:

    Kevin: Isn’t it interesting how Woody doesn’t actually deny being a racist?

    Kevin, I don’t honor such name-calling with a response.

    I’ve probably done more to help black people with my own money than certain liberals on this site who prefer to help black people with my money, too, rather than their own.

  27. Woody Says:

    Have you noticed (certainly, you have) that liberals immediately call one a racist to stop honest discussions on race?

    ….(Atty Gen.) Holder says, “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

    ….What if I were to gather some statistics detailing the fact that blacks commit violent crimes way out of proportion to their percentage of the population? How do you think that is going to go over?

    Now just why would I bring these subjects up on my show? I like to illustrate that these problems are not race-based, they’re culture-based. I like to show that some people get outraged when these problems are based on culture rather than race. Why? Because if you’re part of the problem you can change cultural mores – but you can’t change your color. Showing these problems to be culture-based erases black’s claims to victimization.

    Trust me … I try to bring these things up on the air, and I’m a racist. Nation of cowards? Hardly. There are a lot of people who are ready to address these issues – but as soon as they do the “racism” word is pulled out. End of conversation.

  28. John Moore Says:

    Campus speech codes, as you call them, are no more unconstitutional than office speech codes

    This is utterly untrue if the campus is a government institution.

  29. dacalicious Says:

    Hmmm. What an quasi-entertaining spectacle this comments section has been! I would have to give this round hands-down TKO to Woody. I often look askance upon many of his views, but he’s absolutely being the reasonable, mature one here.

    Reg’s childish, jingoistic and ripely over-dramatic epithets do absolutely no service to either his cause or my impression of his emotional maturity and intelligence. You do realize, reg, that you’re giving Woody multiple orgasms of pleasure at having facilitated your public meltdown?

    As well, I can’t say that I’m impressed by your knee-jerk reaction of judging this situation seemingly solely on a right-wing organization’s post-incident involvement. You make it clear that fighting the Communist Menace — excuse me, Christian Conservative Threat — supercedes for you any real interest in a public institution being a truly open forum for the exchange of ideas, including the ones that personally vex you.

  30. Ruth Peters Says:

    Let us reason like adults. If the ADF is a hate group then what is the ACLU and GLAAD…? I can’t wait to hear this one…

  31. GM Says:

    My oh my!

    “Lopez, of course, is a nasty little bigot who ran his fould [sic] mouth in front of the wrong people. Shit happens. The teacher should have risen to the occasion, but the other students were well within their own free speech rights to give this little prick some shit.”[emphasis added]

    I notice that reg doesn’t see the irony in his own little foul mouthed speech here.

    As to Woody not denying he is a racist, I wonder why the author of that little tidbit didn’t also note that reg didn’t deny being psycho. Guess that must make reg psycho in the eyes of that commenter.

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