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November 11, 2007

Congratulations, You've Just Been Expelled From the Universe

By: Bernard Chazelle

The Morton-West case raises an interesting issue:

Should a student ever be expelled from a public school? The obvious answer is yes. The correct answer, alas, is not obvious.

Starting from first principles, we can all agree that a student has to be somewhere. (Like it or not, LSD-induced many-minds Gothic multiverses still count as "somewhere.") Unlike kidney stones, high school students are not really expelled: they are transferred. Expulsion from school A means, in leafy suburban environments, transfer to private school B, and, in more urban settings, transfer to public jail C. The purpose of expulsion, therefore, is not to solve a problem but, rather, to spread it around. Outlaws are run out of Dodge so the next town down the river can be graced with their presence.

In 1978, Stanford math student Theodore Streleski celebrated his 19th year in the PhD program by bludgeoning his advisor to death. Not only had the advisor kept him in school for 19 years, but he had also made an inopportune comment about his shoes (some folks just never learn when not to cross that line). Streleski was turned down for parole three times because of his rejection of a court-ordered ban from the Stanford campus. The judge's logic was unmistakable. It was not "don't kill again." It was "If you must kill again, Sir, please try Berkeley."

Or, just to stick to Santa Clara County, take the case of that incorrigible mischief maker, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In typical kick-and-spread fashion, the Soviets stripped him of his citizenship and packed him off to the Hoover Institution, right in the heart of the Stanford campus. In no time, the great prophet climbed on his new soapbox to brand Daniel Ellsberg a traitor and call former antiwar students genocidal maniacs. Everyone agrees: this was disruption of the educational process at its disruptive worst. And yet -take note Morton West High- Stanford did not expel the bearded disrupter, nor did President Jimmy Carter kick him out of the country.

Which brings us to the main problem about expulsion: where would you go if every country on earth had a ban on you? The Arctic is melting fast and Antarctica is in the hands of Brits trying to teach the penguins how to pledge allegiance to the Union Jack. So forget about Planet Earth.

Your only option, I'm afraid, would be to become a human extraterrestrial: in other words, a Palestinian. Not a bad move actually, if you ever considered applying for admission to the one place on earth from which no one gets expelled. Ever.

Posted at November 11, 2007 08:32 PM | TrackBack

I want to thank Jon for giving me the opportunity to deface his blog.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at November 11, 2007 09:28 PM

The things I learn on this blog! I had never heard of Theodore Streleski. This makes me feel much better about my own eight-year ordeal. Thanks, Bernard!

Also, what planet shall we set up on? New Scientist reported recently that large, rocky planets may be good places to support life for long time spans. Not that I'm expecting us to make it until our own sun explodes....

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at November 11, 2007 09:48 PM

Aaron: But Streleski had an unfair advantage in the job market. I mean, who was going to say to his face: "No" ?

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at November 11, 2007 10:11 PM

Re: A student has to be somewhere

Many students are now "home-schooled", and there are strong proponents of that method. Now, you say, a home has to be somewhere. Well, that's only technically, and not actually, true.

I belong to a sub-set of humans called "full-time RVers". Our actual home is whever the RV is, and our technical, government-pleasing home is an address belonging to a mail forwarder. That's where we're "from". If I had a student in my "household", which I don't, then that student doesn't have to be somewhere. He can be. . . wherever he is! Anywhere! How cool is that?

Now, to extend this line of "thinking", since a student probably owns no property, nor has a job, with the advantages of anonymity from government oversight that those actions burden the average person with, then said student can, like the RVer, be anywhere, not somewhere. Not like Philip Nolan, a man without a country, but a student without a somewhere.

This student, unburdened as he now is by normal physical ties, and not forced to attend a school/jail, now has the freedom to reach his full potential by taking full advantage of all the virtual learning assets that flood the marketplace. How cool is that?

Posted by: Don Bacon at November 11, 2007 11:30 PM

Iraq comes to mind as a place for wayward students to be sent.

Just a thought. And try it on your own kids: "Clean up your damn room or you'll be sent to Iraq!"

Posted by: SteveB at November 11, 2007 11:34 PM

Don: I thought being a citizen meant paying one's taxes and being always available for arrest. Full-time RVers would then appear to be only half citizens.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at November 12, 2007 01:46 AM

i think the children should be deported to the pacific ocean trash island.

Posted by: hapa at November 12, 2007 01:54 AM

a mathematician was looking at someone else's shoes??!!

Must have been an extrovert.

(I'll get my coat).

Posted by: mathpants at November 12, 2007 04:57 AM

What do you mean "Wow, I'd never heard of Theodore Streleski either" - aren't you the one who wrote the post?

Posted by: abb1 at November 12, 2007 06:42 AM

Oh, sorry, Bernard Chazelle did. Never mind.

Posted by: abb1 at November 12, 2007 06:45 AM

The Jews were Palestinians before the Palestinians were Palestinians. Now, at least in Washington and on Wall Street, they are insiders.
But then, they felt themselves to be insiders in the Weimar Republic too.
For many years I was a "stateless" person, without a national identity or passport. Instead, we had a huge white piece of paper, on which border guards zestfully stamped their country's entry and exit permits. A kind of tabula rasa of nationality. Sort of fun, unless you crave national belonging (like NFL fandom), which most do.
Who still wants to be an outsider? Intellectuals want to be taken seriously, so they must come and work inside--mostly in the academy. There are hardly any rebels, most are tribal warriors or mercenaries. Only Che gets romanticised as one, and howlong ago was that?
As ee cummings wrote, there must be a better universe next door.

Posted by: donescobar at November 12, 2007 09:34 AM

Loved Chazelle from the first word I read. Now have delved into a lot of his other stuff--political, as I have to take off my shoes to count over ten--and they're so good, so true, therefore, so ghastly. Congrats on attracting a mind--and spirit--like his.

Posted by: Rosemary Molloy at November 12, 2007 10:11 AM


Posted by: abb1 at November 12, 2007 12:20 PM

Bernard - If this is the letter you volunteered to write on behalf of the Morton West High School students, I think perhaps they will be better off if they rely upon their Scoutmasters and clergy instead!

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at November 12, 2007 12:56 PM

It's good to see you at ATR, Bernard! Looking forward to reading more from you.

Posted by: Krinn DNZ at November 12, 2007 02:08 PM

Great writing, Mr. Chazelle.

Posted by: BRG at November 12, 2007 03:10 PM

It's good to see Bernard Chazelle will be posting here and I enjoyed his website too. I was not familiar with his work before. .


Posted by: at November 12, 2007 03:26 PM