Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Importance of Idiot "Experts" In Journalism

Where would journalists be without willing "experts" to espouse idiotic positions that constitute the "other side of the story"? Today's ever-so-helpful idiot is Charles P.Ewing, professor of law and psychology at the world-famous University of Buffalo Law School.

Professor Ewing serves the important function of idiot in a NYT story that begins...:
"Finding character witnesses when you are 6 years old is not easy. But there was Zachary Christie last week at a school disciplinary committee hearing with his karate instructor and his mother’s fiancĂ© by his side to vouch for him.

Zachary’s offense? Taking a Cub Scout utensil that can serve as a knife, fork and spoon to school. He was so excited about joining the Scouts that he wanted to use it at lunch. School officials concluded that he had violated their zero-tolerance policy on weapons, and Zachary now faces 45 days in the district’s reform school."
The piece by Ian Urbina goes on to recount other incredibly stupid overreactions to "weapons" at other schools, including a case where a third-grader was expelled for a year because her grandmother sent her to school with a cake and a knife to cut it with.

So fifteen or so paragraphs of this and the only problem is that we haven't heard the "other side of the story". Who can possibly think it's a good idea to expel a student for a year because of a cake knife? Who with any "expertise" outside a good working knowledge of a crack pipe could possibly agree with a decision that suspends a six-year old 45 days for a Cub Scout multi-utensil?

Professor Charles P. Ewing, that's who. He's your man, Times writer Ian Urbina, and one can only imagine how many six-packs of beer Mr. Urbina owes Professor Ewing for:
“'There are still serious threats every day in schools,' Dr. Ewing said, adding that giving school officials discretion holds the potential for discrimination and requires the kind of threat assessments that only law enforcement is equipped to make."
One can only imagine how long journalist Ian Urbina had to dig finding someone stupid enough to say the above (and, notably, the only direct quote is very generic and doesn't say anything about the specific cases mentioned).

So let us this morning salute idiot "expert" Professor Charles P. Ewing. One doesn't need to be a working journalist to see how important the work of idiots like Ewing is to our understanding of the world around us.

Thanks Chuck Ewing. Can I call you Chuck? Trust me, it's better than some other terms I'd like to use.


Steve said...

"There is just no telling what could be done with a spork in the hands of an angry cub scout."
--Tough Love Administrator

Anonymous said...

For money, lawyers will say just about anything...

CPE said...

Thanks for caring enough to write about this case. With all due respect, perhaps you should read the article. Where in it do you see it stated that I agree with this absolutely ridiculous application of zero tolerance, if that is even what happened in this case? This is the kind of extreme case that has given zero tolerance a bad name. I absolutely disagree with school officials who would suspend a 6 year old boy under these circumstances. On the other hand, I have no problem with -- indeed support -- zero tolerance when there is an imminent threat or threatening situation. As I have written -- e.g., in the Harvard Education Letter -- in those cases, school officials need an absolute mandate to temporarily separate the potential theat from the other students and then call law enforcement to investigate. Our teachers are not police officers or detectives. Their jobs are hard enough without making them decide what is and what isn't a legitimate threat. That, by the way, is also the road to the kind of racial and ethnic discrimination mentioned in the NYT article. If you'd like a copy of the Harvard article I published on this subject, please let me know.

Best regards,

Charles Patrick Ewing, J.D., Ph.D.
SUNY Distinguished Service Professor

Steve said...

There are two problems with zero tolerance. First, its usually politicians who come up with the idea as a way to sound like they're tough of crime, but they don't really understand what goes on in classrooms and schools, and often use education as a political pawn. Second,it categorizes all potential threats as actual threats. This seems pretty foolish and paranoid. With all due repect to Dr. Ewing and his credentials, it is the teachers and school administrators who act as the responisble agents and first-line defenders of their learning communities. Tying everyone's hands with zero tolerance creates many more problems than it solves. We need some leeway to create appropriate consequences for behaviors that might seem foolish, immature, or silly rather than pre-meditated and violent. Of course we need the authority to act and call in outside support. But as a teacher, I feel like zero tolerance is more a political, than practical policy for most circumstances.

jscotkey said...

Professor Ewing:

Thanks for dropping by and thanks for your suggestion that I read the article.

Actually, I did read the article, a number of times, and in every rereading you come off looking equally "bad". Last time just as bad as the first.

Perhaps we can both agree the NYT reporter did you zero favors, especially as your direct quote is vague and has no specific reference to the case studies presented.

On top of that, the paraphrased stating of your position about "the potential for discrimination" being a strong case for zero-tolerance doesn't look too good in the context of the ultra-ridiculous cases presented throughout the article.

Bottom line: You end up being the butt of the joke here, pure and simple. It might not be fair, and zero-tolerance may or may not be the silliest over-reaction policy ever, but in the Marx Brothers' movie that is Ian Urbina's NYT story on school zero-tolerance you play Margaret Dumont.

Sorry, but it's still looking that way to me after several readings.

P.S.: I'd be happy to read, several times, the article you mention. Please feel free to email it to me using the link provided somewhere around here.