Category Archives: Education

Comment of the Day: “Rationalization List Update: 29 (a). The Gruber Variation and 47. Contrived Consent, or ‘The Rapist’s Defense’”

Magician, hoax-exposer, historian, truth-seeker James Randi

Magician, hoax-exposer, historian, truth-seeker James Randi

Alexander Cheezem weighed in with a wonderful expansion on The Gruber Variation (and its parent, Rationalization #29,  The Altruistic Switcheroo). It speaks for itself: the gist involves the situations when deception really does have  beneficial results for the deceived,  intended by the deceiver—in which case, the claim that an otherwise unethical act was “for his own good” mean that the act not have been unethical, and thus the claim is not rationalization, but truth.

One immediate result of Alexander’s comment is that I’m editing the text in #29. I wrote:

It is true that misfortune carries many life lessons, that what doesn’t kill us often makes us stronger, and that what hurts today may be the source of valuable wisdom and perspective later, but it really takes a lot of gall to cheat, lie to, steal from or otherwise harm someone and claim it will be a good thing in the long term. Yet an amazingly large number of people possess this much gall, because the Altruistic Switcheroo is very common, especially among parents who want to convince themselves that bad parenting is really the opposite. A marker for this rationalization is the statement, “You’ll thank me some day”—the specious theory of the sadistic parent who named his son “Sue” in the famous Shel Silverstein song made famous by Johnny Cash. No, he won’t.

“A Boy Named Sue” is a lousy example. It is true that the singer ends the song by saying he isn’t thankful, and I don’t blame him, but the father’s theory was borne out: the name did make his son tougher. There’s nothing in the lyrics to suggest that he name choice was sadistic, and if the only rationale for the song was what the father claimed it was, it’s no rationalization. Oh, it was cruel, irresponsible and unfair—and stupid— but the father did name the boy “Sue” for his own good. (The fact that his cruel tactic worked still doesn’t make it right: that would be 3. Consequentialism, or  “It Worked Out for the Best.”

I’ll end the passage before the dash.

Here is Alexander’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Rationalization List Update: 29 (a). The Gruber Variation and 47. Contrived Consent, or ‘The Rapist’s Defense’”:

Interesting additions, but I think that the Gruber Variation needs a bit of a caveat in nuance regarding its description: it needs to be distinguished from both legitimate teaching techniques which involve parallels and certain grey areas.

To handle the last first, I’ll just give a few examples, starting with Project Alpha ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Alpha ) and the Sokal Hoax (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair ). Both involved presenting people who were supposed to safeguard against deception with a hoax in order to expose the holes in said safeguards. Both involved rationales which closely paralleled the Gruber Variation in several respects, and were criticized for actually following that sort of logic (I disagree, although I do think that both were ethically “grey”). Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Childhood and children, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Research and Scholarship

Unethical Quote Of The Month (Lawyer Representing A Hypocritical And Unethical Client Division): Keith Wyatt

“She lied to her mother so she could have sex with her teacher. She went to a motel in which she engaged in voluntary consensual sex with her teacher. Why shouldn’t she be responsible for that?”

—-Lawyer Keith Wyatt, L.A. Unified School District’s trial attorney who successfully defended it in a law suit by the family of a middle school girl who had been engaged in a six month sexual relationship with her math teacher. The girl’s family claimed the district negligently permitted the teacher’s criminal conduct to occur and that the teacher’s exploitation of the girl had caused emotional damage to their daughter. Wyatt also told a radio interviewer that it was a more dangerous for a 14-year-old to cross a street in traffic than to have sex with her middle-school teacher.

Yes, he’s an idiot.

Yeah, those middle school tarts all want it, right, Keith?

Yeah, those middle school tarts all want it, right, Keith?

The school district fired him, disavowing and apologizing for his comments. Yet they were willing to let Wyatt argue in court—on the school’s behalf, remember— that a 14-year-old middle school student was mature enough to consent to having sex with her 28-year-old teacher, and that she shared responsibility for what happened. Wyatt introduced the girl’s sexual history into evidence as proof of his client’s lack of culpability.

There is nothing wrong or unethical about Wyatt’s tactics in the trial itself. State law is weird in this area—this is California, after all, home of Hollywood, Roman Polanski fans, Woody Allen enablers, Miley Cyrus and the Kardashians—for while the age of consent is 18 in criminal cases, two appellate court rulings have held that the argument that a minor can consent to sex with an adult is permissible in civil law suits. He did what the law permitted him to do in defense of his client. That’s not just ethical lawyering, it is at the core of legal ethics. The argument won. Wyatt did what he was trained to do, paid to do, and obligated to do if he agreed to take the case

However, it is a revolting and irresponsible argument for any school or school district to make. Wyatt should have made this clear, and maybe he did (though that quote doesn’t support such a supposition.) Who in their right mind–well, OK, this is L.A.–would send their child to a school system that takes the position that a 14-year-old student is responsible when she is raped by her 28-year-old teacher, and that she’s really not being harmed if he does? The teacher, Elkis Hermida, was convicted of lewd acts against a child and sentenced in July 2011 to three years in state prison.  Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Education, Ethics Quotes, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions

When Ethical Causes Are Pursued By Unethical Means: The Anthony Porter-Alstory Simon Mess

What does this picture have in common with the Alstory Simon case and the Illinois criminal justice system? Read on...

What does this picture have in common with the Alstory Simon case and the Illinois criminal justice system? Read on…

All Americans owe a debt to the many non-profit organizations across the country dedicated to freeing innocent prisoners, some of them sentenced to die, who were wrongly prosecuted and convicted as a result of breakdowns in the justice system or prosecutorial corruption. Their work has served as an invaluable fail-safe, it has focused attention on needed reforms, and it has rescued innocent lives before they were completely destroyed. As a reminder of the corruptive power of good intentions, however, the recent release of a convicted murderer put in prison by one of these organizations serves as an ethics cautionary tale. Apparently one such “innocence project” believed that it was worth sending an innocent man to prison for a murder he did not commit in order to save the man originally convicted of the crime from execution.

In 1998,* Illinois death row inmate Anthony Porter, convicted in the 1982 murders of Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard, was apparently proven innocent 48 hours before his scheduled execution. A Northwestern University professor and his students working with the Medill Innocence Project had obtained a videotaped confession by a man named Alstory Simon, admitting that he, not Porter, was the real killer. Porter was ultimately released, in 1999.

The governor of Illinois at the time, George Ryan, a longtime supporter of the death penalty, claimed that he was so shocked by the near fatal miscarriage of justice that he halted all executions less than a year after Porter’s exoneration. Eventually he commuted the sentences of every prisoner on death row, saying the state’s capital punishment system  could not be trusted. The Simon confession leading to Porter’s exoneration drove the shift in public opinion that caused the Illinois death penalty’s demise in 2011.

Happy ending? Not exactly. In 2005, witnesses who implicated Simon announced that they had fabricated their stories in exchange for money and a promise by the Northwestern professor, David Protess, that he would work to free two incarcerated relatives of one of the witnesses. Then Alstory Simon recanted his confession, saying that he had been persuaded by a faked videotape of witnesses implicating him in the crime, and promises of a short prison sentence and a movie deal if he confessed to a crime he didn’t commit. Last week, an Illinois judge ordered Simon released from prison after  prosecutors agreed that he was probably not guilty. He had spent almost 15 years in prison. Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement

The Bill Maher Ethical Conundrum

Wits

“One of these things is not like the other…”

 

The Bill Maher Ethics Conundrum is not what you probably think it is.

Maher, the alleged comic and anti-conservative scold who hosts an HBO program, was chosen by a student committee to be the  commencement speaker for the University of California-Berkeley’s December graduation. This was a lazy, embarrassingly juvenile and politically-loaded selection, but Maher had also just recently used his show to join fellow atheist and neuroscientist Sam Harris in a condemnation of Islam, calling it  “the only religion that acts like the mafia that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book.” Later on Maher nodded approvingly  as Harris also called Islam”the mother lode of bad ideas.”

This caused Muslim students at Berkeley to prove Maher correct about their religion’s entrenched intolerance of opposition, and they have been joined by other political correctness censors in the student body—there are a lot of them—to demand that the university rescind Maher’s invitation because of his “hate speech.”A  Change.org petition—-now THAT site is the real mother lode of bad ideas—now urges students to boycott the decision and asks the campus to stop him from speaking. It has gathered more than 1,400 signatures. The committee that chose Maher, naturally, backed down, but the University, so far at least, is sticking to its decision to invite him.

Yes, yes, universities ought to be marketplaces of ideas where all views are welcome, and yes, it is hypocritical and offends the traditions of liberal education to stop Maher from stating his views on Islam, or re-telling “The Aristocrats,” or making a fool of himself, or whatever he’s going to do because some students or all students disagree with him, just as it was for Rutgers students to force Condolezza Rice into withdrawing after she was invited to speak at Rutgers. The dilemma illustrated by this flap is a classic ethics problem, which I will henceforth call the Bill Maher Conundrum, which has been long debated and never decisively settled:

Is the ethical nature of an act defined by its intent, or by an objective assessment of the act alone without reference to motive? Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Education, Etiquette and manners, Religion and Philosophy

Misleading Legal Website Headline Of The Millenium: “Above The Law”

Here is the headline:

Wait---didn't I just hear the President say that the economic recovery was going just great? Someone tell Danielle, quick!

Wait—didn’t I just hear the President say that the economic recovery was going just great? Someone tell Danielle, quick!

“Graduate Of Elite Law School Forced To Live Off Welfare Due To Terrible State Of Job Market”

The law school is my alma mater, Georgetown Law Center; the student is a 2010 grad who subsequently passed the bar, Danielle Owens. The author of the overwrought article in Above the Law is Staci Zaretsky. Her tone made my mind flash back to “Queen for a Day.”

I don’t particularly want to poke the Lawscam hornet’s nest again, because I don’t especially enjoy having giant photos of my head placed on-line accompanied by obscenities, and I know a lot of bitter out of work lawyers with shaky interpersonal skills, huge debts, a computer and time on their hands have nothing better to do but to blame me and anyone else they can find for their plight (and yes, if I see a couple of them posting a photo like this on Facebook with the caption, “Hello, Ethics Alarms!” I am calling the police.). Nonetheless, I can’t let this pass without noting that the headline is dishonest, and Zaretsky’s commentary on Owens’ problems is exaggerated to the point of hysteria. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Education, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Workplace

Instant Mini-Train Wreck in Taunton: The Facebook Airsoft Homecoming Photo

Homecoming photo

From ABC:

1. The photo was beyond irresponsible and stupid, and looks more so in the wake of the recent school shooting. It’s creepy, Bonny and Clyde-ish, and the caption, “Homecoming 2014,” could be reasonably seen as a threat.

2. The fact that the guns were Airsoft replicas is irrelevant. My son left one of his Airsoft rifles in a car outside our house, and a virtual police S.W.A.T. team showed up. These toys are close enough to the real thing to be threatening.

3. Generally, punishing students for what they say on Facebook exceeds a school’s authority, but not in a case like this.

4. The punishment is wildly excessive. No threat was intended, no weapons were brought on school grounds. The kids broke no laws. They just used terrible judgment.

5. They needed to get a lecture, an assignment, and maybe a suspension of a single day. Hitting them with ten days and possible expulsion is just typical anti-gun bias and hysteria.

________________________________

Pointer: Jeremy Wiggins

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Filed under Childhood and children, Education

Cowardice, Censorship And Betrayal At Maiden (N.C.) High

Almost Maine

Here is a strong candidate for teacher/blogger Rick Jones’ annual Curmie Awards on his blog Curmudgeon Central. He recognizes the most despicable conduct by teachers and school administrators, and while this year’s award may go to some fourth grade teacher who sets autistic kids on fire, I know he will share my disgust at this story.

The theater club at Maiden High School in North Carolina was in production of John Cariani’s newly-popular stage dramedy “Almost, Maine,” a series of vignettes about bittersweet love and romance. A brief scene touches on a budding same-sex relationship, and this so worried school administrators that before green-lighting the production, Principal Rob Bliss and Catawba County Schools Superintendent Dan Brigman decreed that every student wishing to audition or assist with the production must turn in signed parental permission letters. Only one student was prevented from auditioning through this screening process, and production commenced. The club to reserved the rights, rented the scripts, cast the parts and began rehearsals.  The local churches learned that that the show contained (Ewww!) gay people, and the school abruptly reversed course, cancelling the production. Principle Bliss issued this weasel-worthy statement:

“In regards to the request for students to perform the play “Almost Maine,” careful review and consideration was given to the contents of this play. The play contained sexually-explicit overtones and multiple sexual innuendos that are not aligned with our mission and educational objectives. As principal of Maiden High School, I have an obligation to ensure that all material, including drama performances is appropriate and educationally sound for students of all ages.”

He did not mention that the production had already been approved, and that he and the school caved to community censorship by right-wing bullies, intolerant religious jerks, or local jerks who didn’t have the resources to go to New York City and picket “The Death of Klinghoffer.” He had one, and exactly one, response available to him once complaints began rolling in from anti-gay, anti-same sex marriage citizens of fair Maiden. It would be this... Continue reading

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