Monthly Archives: August 2005

teaching the First Amendment

According to a Knight Foundation study released earlier this year (based on more than 100,000 surveys) only 51 percent of high school students believe that “newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.” This kind of finding brings to mind Judge Learned Hand’s caution, delivered to a large crowd in Central Park on ?I Am an American Day,? May 21, 1944–two weeks before D-Day. Judge Hand said, “I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.”

If young people don’t believe in the First Amendment, free speech may not be safe for long, especially since attitudes toward rights (and other large social issues) tend to form in adolescence and remain pretty durable.

However, good work is underway. Knight is behind a new Teach the First Amendment website that provides access to free course materials and lesson plans, a quiz of student knowledge, links to advocacy work in support of civic education (including the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools), and assistance in helping to start student media projects. The last element is important: the Knight study found that students who were personally involved in newspapers or broadcast work were more supportive of free speech.

service-learning: latest research

Service-learning, which is present in 44 percent of American high schools, means a combination of community service with academic work on the same topic. For example, students may volunteer in a homeless shelter while reading articles about homelessness and writing papers on the subject. I am a proponent of this approach, having devoted much of my own discretionary time to a service-learning project. However, I think we proponents should squarely face research findings about service-learning that raise serious questions. In the light of these findings, not our message but our practice probably needs to change.

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the EPA and public involvement

On several occasions, the US Environmental Protection Agency has managed to involve a wide variety of citizens in addressing local problems. This approach was already evident in 1983, when EPA Administrator William Rickelshaus created a deliberative forum that allowed the citizens of Takoma, WA to make their own collective decision about whether to close a dangerous copper smelter at the cost of local jobs. Recently, EPA launched a Public Involvement website that summarizes the Agency’s experience and provides questionnaires and other tools for practical use.

Perhaps the most interesting feature for a non-specialist is the list of case-studies, and particularly the cases of “community-based environmental protection.” When environmental problems broaden beyond “point-sources” (such as factories and large sewage pipes) and include homes and small businesses, it is necessary to get whole communities involved in environmental protection. Participation must be voluntary or it will never work. Fortunately, it is sometimes possible to find common ground among people with different interests and cultures–for example, environmentalists and ranchers in the West. The by-product of such successful deliberations and collaborations can be stronger communities. The EPA’s database is full of good examples.

Tony Blair and the Doctrine of Double Effect

Reflecting on the July 7 bombings, the leftist MP George Galloway (on whom I have written before) said, “London has reaped the involvement of Mr. Blair’s involvement in Iraq.” Most people to Galloway’s right–which means most people–think he is wrong to blame Blair for the terrorism. Yet it seems likely that a causal chain does connect the bombings to British participation in the Iraq invasion. Extremist Muslim radicals attacked UK targets only once they had become incensed by the presence of British “crusaders” in Iraq. The use of terrorism against civilian British targets was a fairly foreseeable result of the invasion and occupation.

I wouldn’t try to deny Blair’s causal role, but I would argue that someone can be a cause of something without being morally responsible for it. Blair set in motion a chain of events that led to the bombings, but the bombers are completely responsible for what they did, and Blair is completely innocent of it. Thomas Aquinas’ Doctrine of Double Effect comes in handy here. The New Catholic Encyclopedia, as quoted in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, explains that the Doctrine excuses an act (in this case, the invasion) that has bad results under these conditions:

1. The act itself must be morally good or at least indifferent. 2. The agent may not positively will the bad effect but may permit it. If he could attain the good effect without the bad effect he should do so. The bad effect is sometimes said to be indirectly voluntary. 3. The good effect must flow from the action at least as immediately (in the order of causality, though not necessarily in the order of time) as the bad effect. In other words the good effect must be produced directly by the action, not by the bad effect. Otherwise the agent would be using a bad means to a good end, which is never allowed. 4. The good effect must be sufficiently desirable to compensate for the allowing of the bad effect.

Thus, to take Tony Blair’s side, we would say: The act of invading Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein was morally good. Even if its net consequences turn out to be bad for Iraq (mainly because of the incompetent US leadership), British participation was well-intentioned and reasonable. Blair did not will a terrorist response to the invasion, even if he had reason to predict it. The removal of Saddam was a direct consequence of the invasion; the London bombings were highly indirect results. Finally, the end that Blair willed was sufficiently good to compensate for the death of Londoners.

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