Saturday, November 27, 2004


Some more data:

A Nov. 9 staff-written editorial in the Columbia Spectator, the mainstream student newspaper at New York's Columbia University, called for a greater range of views on campus. "In all other areas of campus life, students do not hesitate to call for diversity," the editorial said in pointing out the complete absence of conservatives from history, philosophy and humanities departments. "It should be self-evident that a faculty that speaks with unanimity on some of the most divisive issues of the day is not fulfilling its duty. Students across the ideological spectrum must demand that Columbia address this need."

Conservatives contend that assurances by liberals that the professional ethics of professors will keep them having their politics dominate the classroom and smothering alternative views just doesn't pass muster. A forthcoming study by Stanley Rothman of Smith College looked at a random sample of more than 1,600 undergraduate faculty members from 183 institutions of higher learning. He found that across all faculty departments, including business and engineering, academics were over five times as likely to be liberals as conservatives.

Mr. Rothman used statistical analysis to determine what factors explained how academics ended up working at elite universities. Marital status, sexual orientation and race didn't play a statistically significant role. Academic excellence, as measured by papers published and awards conferred, did. But the next best predictor was whether the professor was a liberal. To critics that argue his methodology is flawed, Mr. Rothman points out that he used the same research tools long used in courts by liberal faculty members to prove race and sex bias at universities. Liberals criticizing his methods may find themselves hoist by their own petard.

Furthermore, a new national study by Swedish sociologist Charlotta Stern and Santa Clara University economist Daniel Klein found that in a random national sample of 1,678 responses from university professors Democratic professors outnumber Republicans 3 to 1 in economics. 28 to 1 in sociology and 30 to 1 in anthropology. Their findings will be published in Academic Questions, the journal of the National Association of Scholars.

A separate study by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture in Los Angeles, run by conservative activist David Horowitz, looked at voter registration records of faculty members in six academic departments in 32 top schools. It found there were 10 Democrats for every Republican. Mr. Klein says a second study he co-authored looked at voter registration records for faculty at Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley. It found that among assistant and associate professors, there were 183 Democrats and only six Republicans. Since many of the Republicans were full professors close to retirement, Mr. Klein concluded that "in the coming decade the lopsidedness must become even more extreme. At Berkeley and Stanford, the Republican is an endangered species."

More here

Rhetoric hides the human face of illiteracy

An education system that should be regarded as criminal because of the needless harm it does:

"Let me introduce Roy, one of the human faces behind the reading wars. He is the same age as me. Like me, he has parents who were migrants to Australia, he went to a public school and was part of the whole word experiment that schools embraced more than 30 years ago, where teachers read books to the class, pointing to words and expecting children to follow and learn to read. Whereas I learned to read, Roy didn't. Once he fell behind in reading, he never caught up but was pushed along by a system that did not recognise or treat failure. He was never asked to repeat a year, yet by high school, he could do little more than write his name.

Roy told me stories that should shame any educator. His life reflects the heavy price of illiteracy. Classroom humiliation ended when Roy left school but the lies told to hide his illiteracy continued. When his first job required him to purchase materials from a hardware store, Roy would wrap his hand in bandages. "Can you help me write the cheque because I've hurt my hand," he would ask the shop assistant. When his boss wanted to promote him, Roy left. He couldn't take that responsibility because he couldn't read or write. He never worked for another person again because he feared somebody might discover he was illiterate. Roy is an intelligent man who became a cement renderer, not because he wanted to, but because he felt he had no other choice.

Roy is the face behind the studies that show that those who fall behind in the literacy stakes at school will often fall behind in the life stakes later on. Work prospects, relationships and self-confidence all take a battering. For Roy, the last straw came when his young son grew impatient at his father's faltering effort at reading: "I don't want Daddy to read to me anymore," his son told Roy's wife. Roy is angry about the lies, the deception and the manipulation he has used to hide his illiteracy. But just over two years ago he met Helen Grant, or Miss Grant to her former charges at Ascham, an eastern suburbs school in Sydney where she taught for more than 30 years. That same day he was also introduced to two simple ideas - words are made up of sounds and you need to learn the sounds to learn to read.

The milestones have mounted ever since that September meeting. A few months later Roy read his first novel. Then, unprompted, he wrote his first full page essay. It took two hours. In December he wrote his first Christmas card - to "Dear Helen", of course. The following year he gave a reading at his new son's christening.

Teachers will say much has changed. They will point to school curricula that mentions phonics and will say that a combination of methods is now used in the classroom to teach children to read. Yet this new hybrid rhetoric is mere camouflage to keep critics at bay. Soon to be published research by Ruth Fielding-Barnsley, from Queensland University of Technology, suggests that not enough has changed since the heyday of whole language when young trainee teachers like her were trained to teach reading without the alphabet being mentioned.

With co-author Nola Purdie, their study of 340 Queensland teachers found that while teachers now have a positive attitude to children learning the basic building blocks of language - like sounds and language rules - teachers' knowledge of those blocks is deficient. And interestingly there was a gap between what teachers think they know and what they do know. While most primary school teachers (92 per cent) can spot a short vowel sound in the word "slip," only 24 per cent can recognise the number of speech sounds in a given word. More than half could not tell you what a syllable is. If teachers have not been taught and cannot explain basic things such as sounds and syllables, then regardless of what a curriculum says, how can they teach their students?

Of course, phonics-based systems must recognise that not all words play by the rules. So these systems include ways to cope with the rare exceptions. Whole language says that because exceptions exist, phonics is invalid and children are better off guessing and memorising words. It is a theory premised on the abnormal, not the normal, and one that requires very little from teachers. At most, these teachers, untrained in the basic rules of language, end up dabbling in phonics, rather than giving children explicit, structured phonics instruction. And that's why nearly a third of Australian schoolchildren - another generation of Roys - reach high school with poor literacy standards.

Yet many teachers question the need for the review, announced last week by Education Minister Brendan Nelson, into how we train teachers to teach children to read and into what is happening in the classroom. They say the money should be spent on employing more teachers. So let me introduce you to one final voice in this debate. The voice of a dedicated teacher who spoke with me at length one Friday afternoon about the remarkable success enjoyed by children through a phonics-based system. Children in her public school in Tasmania, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, now read well beyond their age level. She talked also about the emotion infusing the debate, the lack of logic or evidence behind the whole language ideology that teachers stubbornly adhere.

Early on Monday morning, the teacher rang to say she could not put her name to her comments. She had a career to consider - a career that could be jeopardised in a state education system where the anti-phonics boffins still dominate. That trepidation tells you that something is still dreadfully wrong in our schools and that should shame us all. A review of what's happening in the classroom and at the teachers' colleges is the easy part. The real test will be taking on the teachers who teach our teachers.

From Janet Albrechtsen


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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