License to Teach Ignorance

By Doug Geogerian

Remember the civics class you took in junior high school–where you learned the workings of the constitution–including the amendmen’s that guarantee free expression and equal protection under the law? If the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) had its way–it would have these courses simultaneously expose students to the value of fascism and the need to deny basic human rights–thus including Turkey’s point of view on good government.

The ATAA reached a new level of hypocrisy when it filed a lawsuit last week–claiming the Massachusetts Department of Education violated the First and Fourteenth Amendmen’s by removing links to Web sites that deny the Armenian genocide from the state’s "Guide to Choosing and Using Curricular Materials on Genocide and Human Rights Issues." Orhan Pamuk–Hrant Dink–and hundreds of other victims of Ankara’s denial of free speech must be shocked at how the biggest apologist for the Turkish government is filing legal complaints about the right to speak one’s mind.

Harvey Silverglate–a well-known First Amendment Attorney–is representing ATAA–along with two public school teachers–a student and his parent. Silverglate argues in the complaint that removing the Turkish sites went against the guide’s statement of providing "differing points of view on controversial issues," and amounted to "censorship" and enforcing "state orthodoxy." I suppose health courses–which indicate that students also learn about alternative forms of medicine–must expose students to the smoking lobby’s point of view about cigarettes neither being addictive nor carcinogenic.

It is puzzling to think about how the First Amendment would prevent a State’s Department of Education and Legislature from exercising their authority over how public school students learn history–something that involves identifying certain views as not being supported by sufficient evidence. "If there were intelligent–credible works of history that provide independent and academically sound treatment of these events that did not necessarily characterize them as genocide–I would certainly be willing to include them in the guidelines–but I haven’t received any such material at this point–and the Web sites don’t qualify," explained State Board of Education Chairman–James Peyser in a news report.

When studying the origins of life–should the courts require that students learn intelligent design alongside the theory of evolution? Should a course on ecology be required to expose students to the view that global warming is based on fuzzy science? How school curricula present controversial subjects has been the legal purview of state government–not federal courts. The Massachusetts Board of Education excluded the ATAA’s revisionism from the curriculum guide based on its lack of merit–not because of the identity of its adherents.

Meanwhile–the Boston Globe continues to do the bidding of Washington and Ankara regarding coverage of the Armenian genocide instead of serving its readers and observing journalistic integrity.

Please write a letter to the editor for its grossly biased reporting about the lawsuit on October 28. Below is a sample letter.

Dear Editor:

Power relations–most unfortunately–dictate how safe a people is from genocide. Vulnerable minorities viewed outside the "universe of moral obligation," to use scholar Helen Fein’s term–have consistently found themselves abandoned by the world–leaving them to face mass extermination. Denise Lavoie’s article about a lawsuit filed by a Turkish group regarding a Massachusetts law for teaching about genocide implies that power relations also determine how accurately genocide will be remembered.

The historicity of the Armenian genocide has not been affirmed merely by Armenia’s–but by authorities like the International Association of Genocide Scholars and the leading North American organization of historians concerned with the study of genocide. Just as the U.S. District Court in Boston will need to rule impartially–the Globe should report on it objectively. Obfuscating the fact of the Armenian genocide undermines public awareness of genocide in general.

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