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Student Calls Radio Show, Mentions My Course

  • This morning, driving to work, I was listening to a discussion on a comedy morning radio talk show, The Wease Show on 95.1 The Brew, about the town of Greece, NY and a recent Supreme Court ruling (Town of Greece v Galloway) that the town could continue to hold prayers to open town meetings. They played a clip of Town Supervisor William D. Reilich stating that while the town would allow different faiths to participate, the town wouldn't let a guy who worshiped spaghetti give the prayer.

    As the conversation went on, it focused on the Pastarfarians, worshippers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. At this point, a caller mentioned he learned about Pastafarians in the Civil Liberties class he took at the local community college. Since I am the only one who has taught that particular class at that particular school for a number of years, and that I do cover the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and his voice seemed familiar, I surmised that he must be talking about my Civil Liberties class. Cool!

    The Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Pastafarians were part of our class discussion on the Establishment Clause (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion) of the First Amendment. The Pastafarians began as a reaction to the proposal by the School Board of Kansas (a government entity) to have taught in public school science classes, Intelligent Design (Biblical Creationism under a different name) as an alternative to the scientific Theory of Evolution. Their Open Letter to the Kansas School Board asks that the Pastafarian creation story be taught as science also, in addition to Evolution and Intelligent Design. It's a fantastic letter and brings out thoughtful classroom discussions.

    My student went on to talk about what he learned in class. He didn’t get it quite right though. He thought our discussion was about the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment [Congress shall make no law...prohibiting the free exercise (of religion.] He did at least remember and seem to understand some of the fundamental First Amendment issues we had discussed.

    I didn’t know whether to feel thrilled that the class was mentioned, that he had learned something, or be a tiny bit disappointed that he had gotten the concepts mixed up a little bit. Granted, he could have taken the class several years ago, and his current occupation likely doesn’t have too much to do with First Amendment concepts, so it might not be something he’s thinking about regularly.

    I’m Facebook friends with a number of former students. I occasionally see them posting items that relate to course topics. They’ll post something, about a current event perhaps, that shows that they think they understand a concept we’ve gone over...that they at least remember learning something about it, but then they swing and whiff when it comes down to their explanations. Of course, other times they knock the ball out of the park.

    Some of my students have gone on to top tier law schools, others have dropped out of school, and of course, there are hundreds who are in between those extremes. I like to think that they get something out of my courses, and mostly I want to encourage them to become critical thinkers. Are my classes accomplishing this? I hope so.

    It makes me ask myself, what, if anything, have my students actually gained from my classes? And what about you? What do you think students have gained from your classes?

    (By the way, Supervisor Reilich, with his statement, may have violated the Supreme Court decision in Cantwell v. Connecticut and the First and Fourteenth Amendments by having the government decide what is and what is not a religion.)

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