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Letters : Teach-In on Central America

October 12, 1985

As one of the organizers of the recent Central American Teach-In at California State University, Northridge, I take great exception to James Quinn's description of Martin Sheen's appearance (Oct. 1) and the attitudes of students.

Perhaps Sheen was the "lure" for some of the 300 who heard him, but on the following three days crowds of 200 persons filled meeting rooms to learn more from firsthand observers about El Salvador, Nicaragua and the sanctuary movement, giving evidence of their desire to be informed. There were no movie stars on those days, but the presentations were dramatic.

Students were told why organizers did not plan "equal time" for Fascists to praise the Contras who are financed by the U.S. government to murder Nicaraguan citizens. As clearly stated in the university newspaper prior to the event, the purpose of a teach-in is to give a perspective different from that presented by the government through the media.

As for Quinn's comments that the students threw up "friendly" questions to Sheen, it would have been more fair to say they seemed surprised by some of his statements about the intensity of the U.S. effort to aid the Contras . A number of these questions were innocent ones. As could be expected, a few political activists also asked questions.

Overall, Quinn's picture of shallow students being lured into a one-sided anti-American propaganda show was unfair to all of those who participated. Incidentally, guests engaged in sharp debates on two of the other three days--as they often did during the Vietnam War (contrary to Quinn's opinion).

Since The Times did not report that Sheen led off a four-day series of presentations, Valley residents were denied the chance to meet the speakers who followed, persons of integrity who risked their lives to tour these disputed areas.

Some of the students may have "clamored for his autograph," but they and their friends went away with new facts about the Central American tragedy. It is too bad that the reporter's cynicism kept him from understanding the role of a teach-in at a university.



Emery is a member of the university's journalism faculty.

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