January 31, 2005

A swing and a miss

Reader BBeeman sent a link my way about a pretty horrifying example of one university's opposition to free speech. It seems that LeMoyne College has rescinded their acceptance of a masters-level student in education for a paper that he wrote. No, it wasn't plagiarized - it just expressed a viewpoint with which they disagreed (free reg required):

LeMoyne College expelled Scott McConnell, a student from its Masters of Education program, for writing a paper in which he advocated the use of corporal punishment in schools, he said. The paper, written for a class on classroom management, originally earned McConnell an A-. However, when he attempted to enroll in classes for the spring semester, he found he couldn't.

"LeMoyne doesn't believe students should be able to express their own views," McConnell said. "If you differ from our philosophical ideal you will be expelled from our college."

McConnell, who hopes to become an elementary school teacher, was informed last Tuesday that he couldn't continue at the school. "LeMoyne has handled the situation poorly," he said.

McConnell was raised in Oklahoma, where corporal punishment was used when he was a student, he said. In the fourth grade he was paddled by a teacher for being unruly.

"It worked. I never talked out of turn again," he said.

Let's count all the things wrong with this story, if in fact it is accurate:

(1) Arguing for corporal punishment in the classroom - not putting it into practice, just reporting that it might be useful (and legal in 22 states, if not in New York), presumably in the context of a research paper - is grounds for expulsion.

(2) The punishment for making such an argument isn't made clear in advance, otherwise it's doubtful that McConnell would have written the paper.

(3) The punishment for such an argument is not in fact even clear to the faculty, or the paper would not have originally garnered an A-.

The mysteries remain. When did paddlings in school become not only wrong, but evil, with those who dare even think about it cast out from the crowd? Who made the decision to expel McConnell? What other transgressions of thought are unacceptable at LeMoyne? If you ask me, McConnell should put the paper on the web and let the rest of us read it. I'm not a fan of corporal punishment, but I'd really like to see if it's a well-done paper that addresses the multitude of anti-corporal-punishment research that's out there. I can't find anything else out about this story via Google, so if you know of any related links, let me know.

Update: Incorrect references to Syracuse U fixed. The Education Wonks also have a roundup of other responses to this story. Captain's Quarters notes that LeMoyne is a Catholic college that follows the Jesuit tradition and found this additional news article that has much more about the decision to refuse McConnell and the details in his paper:

Dr. Cathy Leogrande, director of the Graduate Education Program, told McConnell in the letter that she had reviewed his grades and talked to his professors. "I have grave concerns regarding the mismatch between your personal beliefs regarding teaching and learning and the Le Moyne College program goals," leading to the decision not to admit him, Leogrande wrote...

[McConnell] said he's also been trying to find out what Leogrande meant by "mismatch." College administrators have told him, he said, that it stems from the four-page "Classroom Management Plan" he submitted Nov. 2 for his Planning, Assessing and Managing Inclusive Classrooms class.

In the opening paragraph of his essay, McConnell wrote: "I do not feel that multicultural education has a philosophical place or standing in an American classroom, especially one that I will teach. I also feel that corporal punishment has a place in the classroom and should be implemented when needed." He got an A for the course.

In general terms, he said, the college's teacher training includes evaluating students' teaching philosophy and approach and the way they follow state guidelines. It also looks at how the student adheres to Le Moyne's mission, he said, "one of a caring community, one that strives for diversity."

Hoo boy. So McConnell didn't fit in because he refused to toe the diversity line, eh? Interesting, because one of CQ's commenters notes that the college's mission also says that "every student needs to grow as an independent learner." Just not too independent, I suppose.

To be honest, it doesn't look like LeMoyne would have been a good match for him, not if they're unwilling to tolerate any discussion of the "diversity" principle.

McConnell said he knew he was stating a view that contradicted the curriculum when he wrote his paper. The essay stresses "strong discipline, hard work," teaching respect for adults and heavy parental involvement. Students would have basic rights in his classroom, and individual needs and abilities would be dealt with as they appear, he wrote. But all children are special, and none should get special rights, he said...

Rewards and praise would be used to build a strong work ethic. Rule breakers would have to write rules 100 times and apologize in writing to teacher and classmates. More consistent troublemakers also may get their parents called and be isolated from all but instructional activities. "The classroom environment would revolve strictly around the American culture and the state culture, not multicultural learning," he wrote. He defined multicultural learning in an interview as the notion that a student's native culture should take precedence over American culture.

Sounds like an edublogger to me.

The part that interests me is - had LeMoyne left out the more controversial aspect of corporal punishment, would he still have gotten booted out? I think he might have. In that case, the school's rigid adherence to politically-correct ideologically would have been even more evident. However, thanks to the paddling aspect, any public debate on this story will probably focus more on McConnell's alleged "pro-violent" beliefs than on the school's insistence on conformity of vision.

The Captain:

This shows that far from striving to provide students the ability to debate and discuss all points of view, colleges and their administrations have developed a thought police of almost Orwellian proportions to defend their last bastion of Utopian thought.

Posted by kswygert at January 31, 2005 08:20 PM