Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Top marks for U.K. sect schools that shun the modern world

Funny that! Education is one thing the modern world seems to be very bad at

A secretive religious sect that bans children from using computers or reading fiction has won praise from Ofsted for the quality of education provided by its schools. The Exclusive Brethren, which also believes that members should not go to university because it is too "worldly", runs 43 private schools educating 1,400 children.

The group, an offshoot of the Evangelical Protestant Plymouth Brethren, cuts itself off from the outside world, which it regards as evil. Members are not allowed to have friends from outside the Brethren. They work only in Brethren-owned businesses, and their meeting halls have no windows. They must follow a rigid code of behaviour set down by their leader, known as the "Elect Vessel". Television, radio, mobile telephones, newspapers and going to places of entertainment are all banned. Computers and the internet are regarded as tools of the Devil.

All private schools are now required to register either with Ofsted or the Independent Schools Council to show that they satisfy minimum criteria for education, although they are not required to follow the national curriculum. Ofsted has already accredited six of the Brethren's schools through the Focus Learning Trust, an educational group established by the church. A spokesman for the trust said it hoped to have all of them registered by the summer. He said that the schools observed the same rules as the Brethren on the use of computers and modern technology. "We don't have such things in our homes, we don't have them in our businesses and we would not have them in our schools," he said. "Children were educated extremely well, some would say better, before such things were dreamt up. There is a general perception in the educational world that the teacher who needs to employ such gimmicks to get their message across is clearly not the most committed teacher."

David Bell, the Chief Inspector of Schools in England, praised the Exclusive Brethren in his annual report last month, in which he also criticised Islamic schools for teaching a narrow curriculum that posed a potential threat to Britain's sense of national identity.

The sect, which adheres to a strict interpretation of biblical teaching, has most of its schools in the South of England. They were set up to keep children "away from damaging influences" in the state system.

Mr Bell said in his report that teaching in the Focus Learning schools visited so far by inspectors was generally good. He went on: "Focus Learning provides good support to its schools and has developed a number of common policy documents that are of very good quality . . . The quality of teaching, most of which is done by experienced practitioners, is generally good."

Most of the schools, which cater for pupils aged 11 to 17, had operated previously as tuition centres for children who were otherwise taught at home. They rely on fees from parents or donations from the Exclusive Brethren. Pupils are entered for GCSE and vocational qualifications.

The Exclusive Brethren was founded in the mid 19th century. It believes the world is the domain of the Devil, and members spend most of their time in "safe places" such as meeting rooms and their own homes.

Ofsted's praise of education standards at its schools has drawn criticism. Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said: "Denying children access to knowledge that would help them to cope in the modern world is tantamount to abuse. "It will leave them ill-equipped to cope if they later decide that life inside the Brethren is not for them. It is alarming that Ofsted, in its keenness to accommodate religion, appears to have suspended its critical faculties." Doug Harris, director of the Reachout Trust charity, which provides support for former members of religious sects, said: "The basis of Exclusive Brethren belief is separation from the rest of the world. It can be distressing for them if they try to leave."



They even regard Ward Churchill as an authority!

A university education in the humanities was once supposed to be a civilising experience. But just how antiquated are the traditional advocates of this ideal - such as Charles Badham, professor of classics at the University of Sydney from 1867 to 1884 - can be seen from two new developments at Badham's old institution.

The first is the university's invitation to Antonio Negri to speak at a conference from May 4 to 6 on Physiognomy of Origins: Multiplicities, Bodies and Radical Politics, hosted by the University of Sydney's Research Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences and funded by its school of languages and culture. And who's Negri? Well, he was one of the organisers of the Red Brigades, the terrorist group responsible for several political assassinations in Italy, the most notorious of which was the 1979 kidnapping and murder of Italian prime minister Aldo Moro. At the time, Negri was professor of political science at the University of Padua. He was arrested and charged with 17 murders, including that of Moro, as well as armed insurrection against the state. The Italian public was shocked that an academic could be involved in such events but most astonished by one bizarre detail. Forty-five days after the kidnapping, someone sounding like Negri telephoned Moro's wife, taunting her about her husband's impending death. Nine days later his body, shot in the head, was found dumped in a city lane.

In 2000, he became an academic celebrity in the US as co-author with Duke University literary theorist Michael Hardt of the book Empire, a Marxist-postmodernist thesis arguing that, despite the fall of the Soviet Union, a worldwide communist revolution is still on the political agenda. Part of the book's appeal on campus lay in the radical glamour of Negri's terrorist past and the cover note biography recording him as an inmate of Rebibbia prison, Rome.

The second development is a new book out of the same university's history department that celebrates, in part, the work of Ward Churchill of the University of Colorado. The book describes Churchill as a "Native American activist and scholar". Last month, Churchill briefly became the most famous, and most reviled, academic in the US. Shortly after September11, 2001, he wrote an essay saying those who died in New York's World Trade Centre deserved their fate. They were "a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire" who were at the time "busy braying incessantly into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions". Churchill added: "If there was a better, more effective or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it."

Churchill's "little Eichmanns" comment became public and he was excoriated not only for his offence to all of those who died but also for his implicit anti-Semitism. The governor of Colorado called for Churchill's dismissal but only succeeded in forcing his resignation as head of the university's ethnic studies department. He remains a tenured professor. During the media furore, other aspects of Churchill's background quickly became public. He was accused of academic misconduct, both in misrepresenting himself as a Native American to gain his university post and in his writings about American history.

Meanwhile in Australia, Churchill is being presented as a scholarly authority on the Aborigines. In the newly released anthology Genocide and Settler Society, editor Dirk Moses of the University of Sydney's history department quotes Churchill's 1997 book A Little Matter of Genocide as one of his main sources on the Tasmanian Aborigines. Churchill compares the fate of the Tasmanians with that of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis.

Moses contrasts this thesis with what he calls the "naive paean to British expansion" of Hannah Arendt, who denied the Nazi comparison and commended the British for bringing civilisation to the indigenous people of the US and Australia. Arendt was one of the most formidable intellectuals of the 20th century who wrote a widely admired book on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the architect of Hitler's project to exterminate the European Jews. To Moses, however, she is no match for Churchill. Another essayist in the same book, Henry Reynolds, also cites Churchill as one of the academic authorities who argue that what happened in Tasmania amounted to genocide. A third contributor, Paul Bartrop, quotes Churchill as a reliable source on the massacre of Native Americans in Colorado.

More here


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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