Media Law Test

I had a setback in Media Law yesterday. I tried to do mini-mock trials: twelve of them simultaneously. It was not a pretty sight. I may write more on this on Tuesday.

I also decided to talk politics on the class site. How can we be going to war and expect to ignore it? It seems pretty clear to me that the pro-war position is one of fear. Just like any bully, our fear is manifested as violence. Many people seem to think that going to war will somehow make us safer, and given our culture, this seems like a difficult idea to unseat.

Which is a very roundabout way to get to the point of this posting. I gave a short answer test. Two reasons not to do this. The first is that it is taking many, many hours to grade. The second is that it shows that there exists a frightening lack of depth among our undergraduates.

This is most clear in a question about the Alien & Sedition Acts of 1798. It is very easy to confuse these with the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act passed in 1917 and 1918, so I wasn’t too surprised about people who confused these. I was pretty surprised by those who suggested that:

a) Jefferson came to power after WW1
b) WW1 ended in the 1860s
c) The Civil War occurred at the end of the 1700s
d) The acts were meant to defend against Communists infiltrating in 1798
e) The president was worried that the French Revolution, which happened in the 1920s, would spread to the US.

One of these alone would be frightening, but together they constitute a truly scary lack of any feel for history. And what makes this perhaps the most scary is that this represents the bottom 20% of a class in which the top 20% ranges from pretty bright to brilliant. We serve neither of these demographics well, and do a mediocre job of the mediocre middle 60%. Back in my day…. uphill both ways in snow… yada-yada-yada.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted 2/22/2003 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Frightening, but is it really surprising?
    Some of comments on the Media Law class entry about the war are incredibly insightful and well argued (they, fortunately, seem to outnumber the spiteful, thoughtless ones). That’s a wonderful forum for students to actually think about a problem/topic and express their opinions and thoughts. But when you look around UB and the COM department, there are very few outlets like this. If they’re never asked about historical (or current) events, there is absolutely no motivation to consider them, and even less incentive to act on their opinions.
    And as kind of a serious question, did anyone answer that the Alien and Sedition acts had to do with defending the U.S. against an extraterrestrial attack? :)

  2. alex
    Posted 2/22/2003 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Only one so far. He suggested it was enacted in the 70s to stop the influx of martians. With over 200 students, you have to expect one of them to think this is a clever way of saying “I don’t know.” A couple suggested they were passed in the 80s (the decade in which most of these students were born) as a way to deal with illegal immigrants.

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