Friday, June 10, 2005

The Stealth Hijacking of Ground Zero

As the rebuilding process at the World Trade Center site - Ground Zero - crawls along at the snail's pace dictated by New York City's contentious politics, alert observers have detected a new element in the plans to memorialize the horrific events of September 11, 2001. In addition to the much debated and fought-over memorial to the victims of that dark day, a new International Freedom Center (IFC) has been added to the plans. On its face, the idea for such a center doesn't seem offensive, until one discovers exactly what activities it plans to host. According to Deborah Burlingame, member of the board of directors at the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, the IFC's backers, which include a roster of prominent leftist activists, including George Soros, come with a distinct agenda, one that has little interest in commemorating the more than 2,700 American civilians viciously slaughtered by Muslim terrorists at Ground Zero.

While Gov. George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and LMDC are focusing their attention on the economic revival of lower Manhattan, there has been no meaningful oversight with respect to the "cash cow of Ground Zero." Meanwhile, the Freedom Center's organizers are quickly lining up individuals, institutions and university provosts with this arrogant appeal: "The memorial to the victims will be the heart of the site, the IFC will be the brain." Indeed, they have declared the World Trade Center Memorial the perfect "magnet" for the world's "great leaders, thinkers and activists" to participate in lectures and symposiums that examine the "foundations of free and open societies." Put less grandly, these activists and academics are salivating at the prospect of holding forth on the "perfect platform" where the domestic and foreign policy they despise was born.

Less welcome to the Freedom Center are the actual beneficiaries of that policy. According to the New York Times, early renderings of the center's exhibit area created by its Norwegian architectural firm depicted a large mural of an Iraqi voter. That image was replaced by a photograph of Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson when the designs were made public. What does it mean that the "story of humankind's quest for freedom" doesn't include the kind that is fought for with the blood and tears of patriots? It means, I fear, that this is a freedom center which will not use the word "patriot" the way our Founding Fathers did.

Given the ideological predispositions of those backing the IFC, and a general understanding of New York's intellectual climate, it is no stretch of the imagination to conclude that the "activists" who will be invited to speak at the IFC will consist of the usual motley collection of leftists who will use Ground Zero as a platform from which to denounce the US foreign policy, globalism, American capitalism, US "cultural hegemony," US "imperialism," racism (always American racism, naturally) and every other target on the radical left's hit list. One would not be surprised to see representatives of Hamas or Islamic Jihad invited to the IFC to publiclly denounce Israel or praise the September 11th hijackers - to the resounding applause of students from CCNY, Columbia University and NYU brought in especially for the event. If this sounds improbable, consider that one of the IFC's contibutors is Columbia University professor Eric Foner, a radical leftist, who,
... even as the bodies were being pulled out of a smoldering Ground Zero, wrote, "I'm not sure which is more frightening: the horror that engulfed New York City or the apocalyptic rhetoric emanating daily from the White House." This is the same man who participated in a "teach-in" at Columbia to protest the Iraq war, during which a colleague exhorted students with, "The only true heroes are those who find ways to defeat the U.S. military," and called for "a million Mogadishus." The IFC website has posted Mr. Foner's statement warning that future discussions should not be "overwhelmed" by the IFC's location at the World Trade Center site itself.
Professor Foner is entitled to his odious opinions, and parents foolish enough to finance their children's indoctrination at Columbia deserve exactly what they get, but Ground Zero is no place for the sort of ideological agitation to which Professor Foner and his ilk will doubtless resort. Especially, since the IFC will be funded hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

Ms. Burlingame properly observes that the proposed IFC would occupy such a significan position in at Ground Zero that it would distract visitors from the September 11th Memorial and offer ideological confusion at a site made sacred by the loss of so many American lives. Of course, such is exactly the intention of the IFC's supporters.
The World Trade Center Memorial Cultural Complex will be an imposing edifice wedged in the place where the Twin Towers once stood. It will serve as the primary "gateway" to the underground area where the names of the lost are chiseled into concrete. The organizers of its principal tenant, the International Freedom Center (IFC), have stated that they intend to take us on "a journey through the history of freedom"--but do not be fooled into thinking that their idea of freedom is the same as that of those Marines. To the IFC's organizers, it is not only history's triumphs that illuminate, but also its failures. The public will have come to see 9/11 but will be given a high-tech, multimedia tutorial about man's inhumanity to man, from Native American genocide to the lynchings and cross-burnings of the Jim Crow South, from the Third Reich's Final Solution to the Soviet gulags and beyond. This is a history all should know and learn, but dispensing it over the ashes of Ground Zero is like creating a Museum of Tolerance over the sunken graves of the USS Arizona.

The public will be confused at first, and then feel hoodwinked and betrayed. Where, they will ask, do we go to see the September 11 Memorial? The World Trade Center Memorial Foundation will have erected a building whose only connection to September 11 is a strained, intellectual one. While the IFC is getting 300,000 square feet of space to teach us how to think about liberty, the actual Memorial Center on the opposite corner of the site will get a meager 50,000 square feet to exhibit its 9/11 artifacts, all out of sight and underground. Most of the cherished objects which were salvaged from Ground Zero in those first traumatic months will never return to the site. There is simply no room. But the International Freedom Center will have ample space to present us with exhibits about Chinese dissidents and Chilean refugees. These are important subjects, but for somewhere--anywhere--else, not the site of the worst attack on American soil in the history of the republic.

The Memorial at Ground Zero should not be co-opted for pushing anyone's ideological agenda. It should exist solely to commemorate the thousands of innocent civilians murdered by Islamist fanatics on that sunny September morning. Ms. Burlingame concludes:

The so-called lessons of September 11 should not be force-fed by ideologues hoping to use the memorial site as nothing more than a powerful visual aid to promote their agenda. Instead of exhibits and symposiums about Internationalism and Global Policy we should hear the story of the courageous young firefighter whose body, cut in half, was found with his legs entwined around the body of a woman. Recovery personnel concluded that because of their positions, the young firefighter was carrying her.

The people who visit Ground Zero in five years will come because they want to pay their respects at the place where heroes died. They will come because they want to remember what they saw that day, because they want a personal connection, to touch the place that touched them, the place that rallied the nation and changed their lives forever. I would wager that, if given a choice, they would rather walk through that dusty hangar at JFK Airport where 1,000 World Trade Center artifacts are stored than be herded through the International Freedom Center's multi-million-dollar insult.

Those interested in expressing their displeasure at the planned IFC can contact the 911 Families for America, IFC, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and New York Governor George Pataki and join in the effort to banish the IFC from Ground Zero.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Cultural Bias in Britain

Several centuries after Western Europe stopped torturing peopke accused of being "witches," African immigrants have brought the tradition back to England. Sita Kisanga, an African immigrant, was one of three people convicted of child cruelty charges after torturing an eight-year old African girl because her family decided that she was a witch.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Kisanga said she tried to prevent the abuse, but insisted the girl contained an evil spirit, know as kindoki.

"We were living really good. Then it came to one occasion I heard that the child was crying. I thought she was alone in the room and then I saw her auntie beating her with a belt.

I was really surprised and I said 'what is the problem?' and she said to me 'Sita, this child is talking about serious things, things relating to witchcraft'.

She started to explain that the girl goes to Africa in the night-time to do bad things.

I know that it is not easy for people to believe, but those people with a spiritual belief, they will know that what I am saying is true. There is the spiritual world and the material world.

She [the aunt] was beating her like that because she believes in witchcraft, kindoki. She really deeply believed it.

Ms. Kinsanga complained to the BBC that she had never actually beaten the child, but that the girl's aunt had done so over her protests. The court apparently found her denials unconvincing.

I didn't trust anyone [to come forward at the time] because no-one would believe me. Look at the problems I've got now. I've explained to them, but they don't believe me.

In our community, kindoki happens. It is killing people. It is doing bad things. It is a serious matter.

In our community in the UK everyone believes in it. In our country they believe in it too.

It is not easy for you to accept these things because you are from a different culture.

Well, one wonders why Ms. Kisanga and the other two individuals were convicted at all. They were just following the unique and equally valid customs of their particular culture. Where are the multiculturalists to tell us how racist white, British society is to impose its racist/imperialist/xenophobic cultural standards on Ms. Kisanger and her fellow African immigrants. After all, there's nothing special about Western culture (save that in the minds of most multiculturalists, it's the sole source of evil in the world). Why should Ms. Kisanga suffer because of the intolerance of British cultural bias? Aren't all cultural practices of equal value? Isn't it racist to elevate Western ways above those of Africa? Of course, the multiculturalists are careful not to make such arguments when a child is being abused. They understand that would be going to far and would expose the true motives behind their intellectual fraud.

Ms. Kinsanga's particular mix of false compassion and self-obsession came through perfectly during the radio interview when she said:

"I feel sorry for what's happened to the child. I'm not really feeling sorry for her though. She's not feeling sorry for me."

Border Madness

So what happens if you show up at the US border carrying a "homemade sword, a hatchet, a knife, brass knuckles and a chain saw stained with what appeared to be blood"? Why, you get to enter the US!
On April 25, Gregory Despres arrived at the U.S.-Canadian border crossing at Calais, Maine, carrying a homemade sword, a hatchet, a knife, brass knuckles and a chain saw stained with what appeared to be blood. U.S. customs agents confiscated the weapons and fingerprinted Despres.

Then they let him into the United States.

As it turned out, the red stains on Mr. Despres's chain saw (please note his photograph at the above link and ponder why his appearance as well as his weaponry raised alarms) likely were composed of human blood.

The following day, a gruesome scene was discovered in Despres' hometown of Minto, New Brunswick: The decapitated body of a 74-year-old country musician named Frederick Fulton was found on Fulton's kitchen floor. The man's head was in a pillow case under a kitchen table. His common-law wife was discovered stabbed to death in a bedroom.

Despres, 22, immediately became a suspect because of a history of violence between him and his neighbors, and he was arrested April 27 after police in Massachusetts saw him wandering down a highway in a sweat shirt with red and brown stains. He is now in jail in Massachusetts on murder charges, awaiting an extradition hearing next month.

The Despres incident stands as one more example of the complete lack of border security under the Bush administration and puts the lie to all the administration's rhetoric about the "War on Terrorism" and keeping Americans safe. Observe the reasoning of the border patrol when trying to explain Mr. Despres's admission to the US.

Bill Anthony, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the Canada-born Despres could not be detained because he is a naturalized U.S. citizen and was not wanted on any criminal charges on the day in question.

Anthony said Despres was questioned for two hours before he was released. During that time, he said, customs agents employed "every conceivable method" to check for warrants or see if Despres had broken any laws in trying to re-enter the country.

"Nobody asked us to detain him," Anthony said. "Being bizarre is not a reason to keep somebody out of this country or lock them up. ... We are governed by laws and regulations, and he did not violate any regulations."

Anthony conceded it "sounds stupid" that a man wielding what appeared to be a bloody chain saw could not be detained. But he added: "Our people don't have a crime lab up there. They can't look at a chain saw and decide if it's blood or rust or red paint."

Do they need a crime lab? In the wake of September 11th, hasn't there been any alteration to US law to permit border patrol agents to refuse entry to someone whose appearance absolutely screams potential criminal activity. The border patrol really can't be blamed here. They have to follow the rules written for them by Congress and the White House - it is Washington that has dropped the ball yet again by failing to amend immigration regulations (and enforcement) so as to prevent admitting dangerous people into the US.

Mr. Anthony was right, however, it does "sound stupid" that the border patrol could not detain a man carrying a blood-stained chain saw (and panoply of other weapons). It sounds stupid because it is stupid. But that's what passes for "homeland security" under the Bush administration and the GOP controlled Congress.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Europe Rushes to Outlaw Free Speech

The recent indictment of left-wing writer Oriana Fallaci by an Italian court represents only the latest manifestation of a trend amongst European elites to silence opinions that run counter to the politically correct/multiculturalist orthodoxy which has become official government policy throughout most of Europe. Ms. Fallaci was charged with "defaming Islam" for passages in her 2004 book, The Force of Reason, which criticized Islamic culture and religious doctrine for breeding violence. The judge that affirmed the indictment wrote that some passages from Ms. Fallaci's book were "without doubt offensive to Islam and to those who practice that religious faith." Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli objected to the indictment, arguing that it endangered freedom of expression, but the judge's ruling stands. Muslim activists were delighted, and most European pundits remained silent. Ms. Fallaci's ordeal, however, is merely the first step in creating officially sanctioned boundaries to speech. In a recent Spiked Online essay, Sandy Starr makes clear that the Internet, that American-style bastion of free speech, is the next target of the European PC police.
The rush to find new legislation outlawing 'hate speech' on the internet has become a Europe-wide project. The 'Brussels Declaration' issued by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - which came out of the proceedings of its Conference on Tolerance and the Fight against Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination, in which I participated in Brussels in September 2004 - commits OSCE member states to 'combat hate crimes, which can be fuelled by racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic propaganda in the media and on the internet'
The chair of the European Network Against Racism, a prominent network of non-governmental organisations, argued at the same Brussels conference that 'any effective instrument to fight racism' in law should criminalise 'incitement to racial violence and hatred', 'public insults on the ground of race', 'the condoning of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes', 'the denial or trivialisation of the Holocaust', 'public dissemination of racist or xenophobic material', and 'directing, supporting or participating in the activities of a racist or xenophobic group'. Additionally, 'racist motivation in common crimes should be considered an aggravating circumstance' - as it already is in UK law.

As the idea that 'hate speech' is a growing problem in need of official regulation and censorship has reached prominence across Europe, it is not surprising that the internet has emerged as a particular focus for concern. The internet poses a challenge to older forms of regulation and makes a nonsense of boundaries between jurisdictions. There have been calls for the authorities to close down websites such as Redwatch and Noncewatch - both of which are linked to the fascist organisation Combat 18, and which contain hitlists of supposed Marxists and paedophiles respectively. More humorous websites, such as I Hate Hawick (now defunct) - which consisted largely of strongly-worded invective against the Scottish town of Hawick and its rugby fans - have also come under fire for preaching hate (which is ironic, given that one of the things the website took Hawick's residents to task for was their alleged racism).
While mitigating racism may seem a laudable goal, supressing speech to do so has never proven an effective means. Nor is it moral to forcibly silence opinions - even odious ones - simply because one disagrees with them. Driving politically unacceptable opinions underground only feeds the anger and resentment of those who hold them, and serves to confirm by the taint of conspiracy the validity of such ideas among their advocates.

The European zeal to prohibit opinions that fall askance of the current PC/multiculuralist dogma risks far more than simply increasing the appeal of truly racist or fascist propaganda. In trying to craft regulations that will legally stamp out such objectionable materrials, the definition of proscribed speech has been made sufficiently broad that virtually anything can fall under its scope.
The Council of Europe's Additional Protocol to the Convention On Cybercrime, which seeks to prohibit 'racist and xenophobic material' on the internet, defines such material as 'any written material, any image or any other representation of ideas or theories, which advocates, promotes or incites hatred, discrimination or violence, against any individual or group of individuals, based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, as well as religion if used as a pretext for any of these factors'. Can we presume that online versions of the Bible and the Koran will be the first things to go, under this regime? Certainly, there are countless artistic and documentary works that could fall afoul of such all-encompassing regulation.
Under such a ridiculously broad definition, anyone arguing to limit immigration could be charged with xenophobia. Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch MP, who has warned of the danger of Muslim immigration and urged Europe to drastically reduce the number of Muslims entering their countries, could be silenced under this rule. Doubly so, since she has also criticized the treatment of women in Islamic culture - criticism which many Muslims do find offensive and for which she has received many death threats. Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker murdered in Amsterdam by militant Muslims angered by his film "Submission" which depicted the plight of Islamic women, would also have been silenced by European bureaucrats. How can truth survive when argument is suppressed?

In accordance with the commonly stated aim of hate speech regulation, to avert the threat of fascism, the Additional Protocol also seeks to outlaw the 'denial, gross minimisation, approval or justification of genocide or crimes against humanity'. According to the Council of Europe, 'the drafters considered it necessary not to limit the scope of this provision only to the crimes committed by the Nazi regime during the Second World War and established as such by the Nuremberg Tribunal, but also to genocides and crimes against humanity established by other international courts set up since 1945 by relevant international legal instruments'.

This is an instance in which the proponents of hate speech regulation, while ostensibly guarding against the spectre of totalitarianism, are acting in a disconcertingly authoritarian manner themselves. Holocaust denial is one thing - debate over the scale and causes of later atrocities, such as those in the Sudan or the former Yugoslavia, and whether it is right to describe such conflicts in terms of genocide, is another, and there is an ongoing and legitimate debate about these issues. Yet the European authorities stand to gain new powers that will entitle them to impose upon us their definitive account of recent history, which we must accept as true on pain of prosecution.
As pernicious as Holocaust deniers are, they are best refuted by an open debate where the facts are aired honestly. Holocaust denial may flourish amongst extremists, where ideology compels acceptance regardless of fact, but it has no chance of gaining mainstream acceptance because of the overwhelming amount of evidence available against it. However, suppressing Holocaust deniers, instead freely debating them, paints their position with a patina of government persecution, which increases their credibility, especially with people who grow disenchanted with the government for other reasons. Worse, by suppressing Holocaust deniers, one creates an official, legally uncontestable version of history. If such an official version of history can be created for the Holocaust, where else can such official government sponsored doctrines spring up? What about people who question the numbers of slaves exported from Africa, or the number of people killed in the Armenian genocide? The Turkish government - which is pushing hard for European Union membership - denies there even was an Armenian genocide. Should Turkey receive EU membership, it might use its political muscle to accuse those who document the atrocities committed by Turks against Armenians as "defaming" Turkey and promoting "racism" against Turks. What if the idea of official doctrines spill over into the sciences? If researchers find genetic differences in ability of features between racial groups, is that racism per say? Even if they can prove it? If European governments get to silence research they find politically inconvenient, what happens to European science. To the Enlightenment concept of free inquiry? The Inquisition that silenced Galileo will be back, this time wearing EU robes. Nor is this idle speculation, the EU apparently is considering such things.

The restrictions on free speech contained in the Additional Protocol could have been even more severe than they currently are. Apparently, 'the committee drafting the Convention discussed the possibility of including other content-related offences', but 'was not in a position to reach consensus on the criminalisation of such conduct'. Still, the Additional Protocol as it stands is a significant impediment to free speech, and an impediment to the process of contesting bigoted opinions in open debate.
As one of the Additional Protocol's more acerbic critics remarks: 'Criminalising certain forms of speech is scientifically proven to eliminate the underlying sentiment. Really, I read that on a match cover.' (7) Proof, perhaps, that you cannot believe everything that you read in the bar. The idea that censorship leads people to speak and act in the correct way is a highly dubious and contested concept. What is certainly true, though, is that once free speech is limited it ceases to be free.
Those advocating restrictions on free speech usually claim that speech is always tied to action, whether that action be immediate or distant. The advocacy of racist, xenophobic, sexist or anti-semetic ideas today, lays the groundwork for violence tomorrow. By this line of thinking any idea that someone else finds offensive constitutes incitement against that person or group. Of course, this abrogates any concept of personal responsibility, a notion that leftist elites abandoned a long time ago.
In the vast majority of instances, however - including incitement to commit a hateful act - no such immediate fear exists. Rather, there is an opportunity for the individual to assess the words that they hear, and to decide whether or not to act upon them. It is therefore the individual who bears responsibility for his actions, and not some third party who incited that individual to behave in a particular way. While it's understandably disconcerting, to take one example, for Nick Ryan - who writes books and makes programmes exposing the far right - to encounter a message board posting about him saying 'someone should knife this cunt', such words are not in themselves a legitimate pretext for censoring internet content.
The issue is not about the right of a handful of individuals to peddle hateful content. Who really cares if they have a voice or not? But what the concern about online hate speech reveals is the level of official contempt for users of the internet. There is a fear that people reading hateful content on their computer will unwittingly take those ideas on board, and be incited to commit violent acts as a result. Therefore, it is assumed that the public needs protection from hateful ideas online in much the same way that children are protected from sites containing pornography and violence. But adult internet users are not children, and nor are they stupid or so easily influenced.
There are legitimate cases of incitement of violence. The demogauge who bays like a wolf in front of an angry mob with weapons at hand, calling for bloodshed, bears responsibility if his exhortations strike an immediate effect, especially if he has good reason to believe they will. And those who openly advocate violence against other persons and groups are inciting violence against them and may be reasonably prosecuted if their listeners heed their call. But to call statements that others merely find "offensive" abandons all reason. If Catholics in the US were offended by articles in the Boston Globe exposing the pedophile priest scandal, should those articles be censored? If news organization cannot report the truth because it might offend someone, what good would they serve?
The British academic David Miller, an advocate of hate crime legislation, complains that 'advocates of free speech tend to assume that speech can be clearly separated from action'. But outside of the obscurer reaches of academic postmodernism, one would be hard-pressed to dispute that there is a distinction between what people say and think on the one hand, and what they do on the other.
Certainly, it becomes difficult, in the absence of this basic distinction, to sustain an equitable system of law. If our actions are not distinct from our words and our thoughts, then there ceases to be a basis upon which we can be held responsible for those actions. Once speech and action are confused, then we can always pass the buck for our actions, no matter how grievous they are - an excuse commonly known as 'the Devil made me do it'.
It is not words in themselves that make things happen, but the estimation in which we hold those words. And if ideas that we disagree with are held in high estimation by others, then we're not going to remedy this situation by trying to prevent those ideas from being expressed. Rather, the only legitimate way we can tackle support for abhorrent ideas, is to seek to persuade the public of our own point of view, through political debate. When the authorities start resorting to hate speech regulation, in order to suppress ideas that they object to, this is an indication that the state of political debate is far from healthy.
As well as distinguishing between speech and action, when assessing the validity of hate speech as a regulatory category, it is also useful to make a distinction between forms of prejudice such as racism, and generic emotions. Whereas racism is a prejudice that deserves to be contested, hatred is not objectionable in itself. Hatred is merely an emotion, and it can be an entirely legitimate and appropriate emotion at that.
It is appropriate to feel hatred at times. Hatred and suspicion are products of our evolutionary past, adapted to protect us from people who have or might do us harm. After September 11th, it remains just an appropriate for Americans (and all civilized people) to hate the Islamist terrorists who planned and committed the attacks, and the Muslims who supported the terrorists and celebrated the attacks. It is not appropriate to hate all Muslims, as the US government went out of its way to make clear. It is also appropriate to feel a certain amount of suspicion toward Muslims, since it is clear that sympathy for the terrorists is manifest among a sizable percentage of Muslims. Acting on that suspicion, however, is constrained by the normal civilized laws governing human behavior and individual violence can never be tolerated. But airing criticism of Muslim culture, motives and behavior and of Islamic doctrine does not constitute violence, nor does it constitute incitement if there is no call to violence. Protecting official versions of the truth - those that correspond to the current politically fashionable consensus - demeans the very notion of truth and addles the collective mind of a society by shackling thought. Worse, it permits bad ideas to escape the winnowing process of debate and scruitiny, while granting them the exalted mantle of "persecuted."
Labelling speech that we disagree with 'hate speech', and seeking to prohibit it instead of taking up the challenge of disputing it, points to a world in which we resort to 'protective stupidity' to prevent the spread of objectionable ideas. Not only is this inimical to freedom, but it gives objectionable ideas a credibility that they often don't deserve, by entitling them to assume the righteous attitude of challenging an authoritarian status quo. This is particularly stark when applied to the internet - where so many ideas float around, and many of these deserve no credibility at all.

Monday, June 06, 2005

LA: City of America's Future

If the future of a country can be found in its schools, then America's outlook is bleak indeed. A plan to introduce college preparatory courses for all high school students in the LA Unified school district has run into opposition from teachers who complain that most of their students can't handle basic subjects as it is.
They say a Los Angeles school board proposal to require all high school students to take college prep courses is intellectually valid but practically impossible. The Los Angeles Unified School District, they say, doesn't understand what they are up against.

"In L.A. Unified, we can't teach these kids to multiply," said math instructor Geoff Buck, who has been teaching for 19 years. By expecting them to meet more difficult standards "we're forcing them to drop out. We're actually doing them harm."

The Board of Education is expected to vote in June on the proposal, which would require all students to take the 15 high school courses needed for acceptance into the University of California or California State University systems. Students would be required to take four years of English, three years of math, two years of history, science and foreign language, and a year of visual and performing arts and advanced electives.
Those promoting the plan say adding college preparatory courses would raise standards and encourage students toward higher achievement.
Board of Education President Jose Huizar, who is co-sponsoring the resolution, believes more rigor will lead to higher graduation rates. Board member Jon Lauritzen, Supt. Roy Romer and State Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell strongly support the idea, along with a coalition of more than 2,000 Los Angeles parents, students and community members.

If approved, the plan would be implemented beginning with the freshman class in 2008, allowing the district three years to improve math instruction for middle school students who would enter high school facing the more rigorous requirements. The district also could use that time to hire teachers and put tutoring and other support systems in place to help students with the additional coursework, Huizar said.

"We have to set high expectations for these students," Huizar said. "It's a psychological and cultural change."
Despite Mr. Huizar's optimism, teachers at Hollywood High tell a different story.
But at schools such as Hollywood High, teachers and counselors say the district's focus needs to be shifted more toward middle schools, where even failing students are promoted to the next grade level.

"A lot of students just never receive these basic skills in middle school," said Hollywood High counselor Elizabeth Payne. "Kids come to me and say 'I don't understand anything he's telling me to do.' This is understanding simple things like percentages and ratios."

During one Hollywood High math class on a recent afternoon, Buck went over a lesson on parallel slopes and positive integers. He was vying for the attention of two girls whispering about Spanish soap operas in the back of the room.

"Guys, I've lost you completely," said Buck, who was teaching a basic class required for high school graduation. "I've lost you."

Another student flipped through a magazine with pictures of Jennifer Lopez. A 20-year-old sophomore gazed through a window, twirling a ruler around his pencil.

Buck tried again: "This is not hard."

Most had already failed algebra once. Buck worries what would happen to students like them if the district approved the college track plan.

Patty Iniguez, 18, a senior at Hollywood, doesn't have much faith in her classmates. "They're going to fail," she said.
School counselors have encountered the same attitude - and lack of ability - amongst students.
Hollywood High college counselor Judy Campbell said one student had failed algebra six times. He should have graduated a year ago, she said, but "he just can't get it."

Every student should have access to college prep courses, Campbell said, but "they have a hard time now just meeting regular graduation requirements."

In her office, Campbell flipped through a 13-page list of this year's 538 seniors and their grade point averages. Students who had between a 2.0 and 3.0 took up six pages; students receiving lower than a 2.0 filled four pages.

Campbell pointed out that some of the students excel in the school's culinary and performing arts classes. But because most of those classes don't qualify as college prep courses, she worries that students will miss out on those subjects.