Friday, March 27, 2009

Combating Defamation of Religions

Once you know the name of the U.N. Resolution, it's easy to find online.

The question is, now, how bad is it?

If we adopt this resolution in to Canadian Law, what will become illegal? Will I still be allowed to say that I find Christianity ridiculous because it depends upon the debauchery of a teenage virgin and the eating of a cracker that adherents pretend is her son's flesh? Will I be jailed if I say that Judaism is based on the false premise of an Exodus from Egypt? Will I suffer punishment if I say that Islam is an unjust religion because it places such a large share of the responsibility for preventing lust upon women?

The problem comes with the word "defamation". At, it says, "false or unjustified injury of the good reputation of another".

False or unjustified? How do you hope to prove that? If there a billion followers of Religion X, then there are a billion different versions of X. One Christian will tell you that abortion isn't all that bad an idea in some cases. I know Muslims who drink alcohol.

And yes, I know, the devout will say these aren't Real Christians (TM) or Real Muslims (TM). They could probably argue, at that point, that I have "defamed" their religions just by attributing such opinions and actions to fake members of their respective religions.

What does the text of the resolution say, regarding defamation of religions? Most of it is actually pretty good, boilerplate, tolerance-based stuff. Most of it simply implores member States to prevent craziness. Some of it, however, goes over the line.
“Stressing that defamation of religions is a serious affront to human dignity leading to the restriction of the freedom of religion of their adherents and incitement to religious hatred and violence,

Here, we note that they never defined "Defamation" in regards to religion. Defamation of a religion, if you wanted to be technical, could happen when an Anglican attributes something to Catholicism that a Catholic says is false. Now what? Do our courts become crammed with every case of doctrinal schism that anyone feels like litigating?
“Recognizing the valuable contributions of all religions and beliefs to modern civilization

I most certainly will do no such thing. Did religion bring us some good things? Probably. Here and there. It also brought us Crusades and Jihads and almost everything that's wrong in the Middle East. It brought intentional ignorance, manipulation of the populace and people who want to wipe out scientific education and research.
“16. Underscores the need to combat defamation of religions, and incitement to religious hatred in general,

This is a smooth move. Saying bad things about a religion - such as citing contradictions in its holy book or pointing out dangerous side effects of its teachings - could be considered defamation. For example, I might argue that "The Holocaust was a direct result of centuries of Catholic anti-Semitism". A Christian who doesn't feel this is fair could accuse me of this new crime "defamation of religion".

What this part of the resolution is saying is that pointing out this flaw in Catholic history is a subset of "incitement to religious hatred".

Do we understand what this means? Pointing out the violence caused by a religion will now fall under the column of a hate crime.

That's dangerous. It gives the religious people the authority to do whatever they want and be exempt from criticism on the grounds that any such criticism will be "defamation of religion" to any follower who can say that he or she did not support that action.

You can't criticize the dangers of Christianity (abortion clinic bombing, creationism in schools, the Crusades, the Holocaust) because some Christians will call that defamation. You can't criticize the dangers of Judaism (circumcision, the Promised Land) because some Jews don't support all of those effects. You can't criticize Islam for promoting suicide bombings or covering women in potato sacks because not all Muslims support that.

This is a dangerous, dangerous road they're walking with this resolution. I understand that the Muslim states are tired and angry at the fact that their citizens are the victims of such discrimination. But this is not the solution.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

KIPP: Margaret Wente and Education

Down in the states, they've created an educational program called "KIPP" (Knowledge is Power Program) and Margaret Wente wants you to know how wonderful it is.

She tells us that "Nearly 80 per cent of KIPP alumni - who are overwhelmingly black and Hispanic - go to college." Now I'll grant that getting 80% of a minority population in the United States in to post secondary education would be a wonderful achievement.

Unfortunately, KIPP does not come close to achieving this. What KIPP does is first weed out 40% of its population, preventing them from being "alumni" of KIPP. Of the 60% that remain, 80% go on to college or university. 80% of 60% is actually 48%. So it would be more accurate to say that "slightly less than half of KIPP students go to college or university".

On the good side, students are scoring well on standardizes tests. Margaret dedicates a large chunk of text to a set of claims in this regard. "Almost every KIPP school decisively outperforms its district", she says, failing to add the phrase "on standardized tests". Believe it or not, it's easy to have your school get good marks on standardized tests. You just drop the rest of the curriculum and do nothing but focus on the standardized tests. It's a very typical technique and it's ironically destroying education everywhere.

Now you might wonder why 40% of students drop out and a lot of the teachers "move on, too". That might have something to do with burnout. Students go to school for over 8 hours a day, are given homework every night, classes on alternating Saturdays and 3 weeks of school in the summer. Teachers are on call at all times of day, accessible to students by cellphone.

Of course you're going to do well on standardized tests. But you're also going to burn students out and make them hate learning. No wonder only half of them make it to college or university.

What is good about KIPP? Apparently the KIPP administrators have convinced the parents of their students that discipline is very important. They have created a culture of pro-educational behaviour that has been removed from a lot of other places in North America. If you can actually force students to pay attention, discipline those who don't and have parents who agree to that discipline, you can get a lot further in education. That cultural shift, more than the sweatshop mentality, is undoubtedly what is propelling KIPP students forward.

Yes, KIPP sounds like a wonderful, equalizing education system. But it isn't. It's just a sweatshop that makes children do well on standardized tests.

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