I?ve heard that old saying dozens of times since then but, lately, I?ve been having my doubts about its validity. Some reasons for those doubts follow:
Nearly three years ago, a feminist student asked me why she should support the First Amendment rights of the ?religious right? since ?those people? prevented her mother and grandmother from exercising the right to choose an abortion. That was the kind of brilliant question that only an honor student could ask. Surely, she would be less resentful had her mother or grandmother decided to have an abortion.
Another student asked me why the prosecution couldn?t use a past rape conviction to impeach the character of a murder defendant who was exercising his Fifth Amendment right to refrain from testifying. I explained to the student (as best I could) that you can?t impeach a witness who isn?t testifying. I reminded him that people who don?t testify aren?t really witnesses. His follow-up question was equally brilliant: ?Could the prosecution bring it up on re-direct??
And then there was the student who asked me why all the crime victimization surveys seemed to lack good data on murder victimization experiences. As delicately as I could, I reminded the student that murder victims can?t fill out surveys. At least they cannot fill them out as well as they could when they were actually living.
Once, a student asked why he could not bring his cell phone to class on a test day and leave it on. It seems it was his grandmother?s 79th birthday and he needed to hear from her. ?But she lives in Kenya? he explained for emphasis. My rebuttal took the form of another question, ?Does your cell phone have a text messaging function?? I think we both know the answer to that pointed question. No student would use text messaging to cheat on an exam. What would grandma think of that?
And, of course, there was the student who complained to me that his roommate stole a bag of marijuana from his closet. ?Should I report it to the police?? he asked innocently.
Once I asked the following question on an exam: ?Are index crimes primarily inter-racial or intra-racial?? This prompted one student to ask two questions in response: 1) ?What is an ?index crime?? and, 2) ?What does intra-racial mean?? He was really mad when I asked whether he knew the meaning of the word ?or.?