Thursday, February 23, 2006

Testing adult authority

The UK government wants to turn teachers into shock troops against kids' bad behaviour. Not surprisingly, teachers aren't too keen

The attempt to reinstate teachers' authority in the classroom and instil a culture of respect among young people by allowing teachers to remove children's iPods seems doomed to failure before it starts. Few teachers seem to want the powers that Tony Blair keeps foisting upon them. Of course, a few newspaper journalists will jump on the bandwagon, calling on the government to get tough on unruly kids, but somehow those with the responsibility for actually caring for young people don't seem very keen to do so.

Schools minister Jacqui Smith announced that the government's new legislation 'will allow schools to punish pupils for unacceptable behaviour on the way to and from school...and ensure pupils are positive ambassadors for schools'. But the prospect of teachers confronting pupils on trains and buses doesn't seem to have caught the public imagination. It certainly does not seem very popular in the staffroom. As one colleague of mine put it, 'I am not confronting anyone'. There seems to be a mismatch between the government's desire for a respectful society and the practicality of instilling authority.

Just stamping your feet and declaring that you should be heard only makes your words jar awkwardly. Smith's insistence that 'A culture of disrespect will not be tolerated' might be a reasonable demand, but it rings hollow in a society that doesn't seem to have the stomach for a fight to reassert adults' authority.

The unions, long champions of the fight against unruly pupils, have gone strangely quiet over the government's agenda. The National Association of Schoolmasters / Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) even suggested that behaviour had already improved on the basis that fewer of its members had declared strikes against teaching unruly pupils. That might just mean teachers are getting on with their job rather than running shy of naughty children.

Nevertheless, the reluctance to jump up and declare support for the government's 'respect' agenda was echoed in a feeble endorsement for the proposed new powers by the Association of School and College Leaders. A survey of its members revealed that only 13 out of 100 thought the measures would significantly improve behaviour. Teachers I have spoken to think the government is raving mad. Ministers seem to expect schools to pick up the pieces in a society that seems to be paralysed to act when it comes to children. The lack of enthusiasm among head teachers for random drugs testing introduced previously by the government seems to bear that sentiment out.

Even suggesting that teachers need a law to allow them to confiscate pupil's possessions in lessons belies the frailty of adults' authority. Surely any teacher worth their salt would just take the offending object and be done with it. Where is the need for the law to intervene? It can only be because teachers fear the consequences of taking action against a child that the government is pressurised into acting. As Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), put it, 'Teachers need to be absolutely confident about their authority'. Presumably Sinnott makes this point because teachers singularly lack confidence in their own authority. The problem is, passing a law like this will not shift the balance back in adults' favour.

Of course, if we invite police patrols into the corridors to enforce teachers' demands it might start to impact upon behaviour. But I don't think we have quite got to that stage yet, even in Tony Blair's mind. However, the amount of police patrolling the school gates at the end of the day might tell a different story. It seems that the journey home has become a major political battleground against unruly children. You might be forgiven for thinking it was best to stay indoors at 3.30pm, as hordes of teenagers wearing overly large knotted ties and garish uniforms menace the streets. In fact, you can see why the government is so keen to ban mobile phones and iPods in schools if you consider that the police claim that possessing such items invites street crime.

Of course it is unfortunate that some kids have their possessions nicked, especially when those possessions cost their parents hundreds of pounds. But children having a go at each other at the end of the day is a normal fact of life. Running the gauntlet of the older children is a ritual and part of school. The fact that this now mimics adult crime and that it happens only a stone's throw from the school gates just confirms that youngsters are pretty sure adults won't do anything to intervene. Banning mobile phones and iPods is at base an admission that adults can't do anything to protect young people from each other.

The idea that as a teacher you will patrol buses and tube trains in an attempt to enforce better behaviour on the way home strikes me as absurd. Adults have given up on mass from disciplining youngsters, so it is a bit much to expect teachers to do it for us. Only a week ago it was reported that a teacher claimed damages from Birmingham council after a stranger confronted her in her own classroom. She won the case out of court, with a 330,000 pound settlement. She had not set foot in her classroom for five years, claiming she was traumatised. The response of the council was to say that it would tighten up on risk assessment procedures to protect its staff. But if teachers are reluctant to face the relatives of their charges in the classroom then how on earth are they going to face up to youngsters in public?


The Sydney riots show that multicultural brainwashing in the schools has failed to lead to the "tolerance" that was preached

Cultural diversity is uncritically celebrated in the classroom, while our Anglo-Celtic heritage is thoroughly repudiated, writes Kevin Donnelly

If there is one positive thing to come out of the violence in Cronulla, it will be a long hard look at how schoolchildren are educated about Australian culture and what they are taught about their responsibilities as members of a civil society.

Judged by the age of many of those involved in abusing women, the mob violence at Cronulla beach and the subsequent destruction of personal property, many would have been of school age during the 1980s and '90s. While Al Grassby and Gough Whitlam sowed the seeds, this was a time when governments under the leadership of Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating spent millions on the multicultural industry. With the support of left-liberal academics, teacher unions and curriculum writers, the prevailing orthodoxy uncritically promoted cultural diversity, denigrated or ignored Australia's mainstream Anglo-Celtic tradition and taught children that our society is riddled with racism, inequality and social injustice.

The national Studies of Society and Environment curriculum developed during the Keating years argued that children must be taught "an awareness of and pride in Australia's multicultural society" and "develop an understanding of Australia's cultural and linguistic diversity". The 1993 Australian Education Union's curriculum policy argued that children must be taught that they "are living in a multicultural and class-based society that is diverse and characterised by inequality and social conflict".

Not only was the then academically-based school curriculum, especially in subjects such as history and literature, condemned as Eurocentric, patriarchal and socially unjust, but examinations were seen as favouring rich, white kids and culturally biased against recent migrants. Fast forward to more recent years and little has changed. The 1999 Australian Education Union policy on combating racism argues that government polices "are founded upon a legal system which is inherently racist in so much as its prime purpose is to serve the needs of the dominant Anglo-Australian culture". The AEU also states that racism in Australia is both overt and covert and that "both forms of racism are still widely practised in Australian society", especially as a result of the school curriculum supposedly being based on "the knowledge and values of the Anglo-Australian culture".

Politically correct

On reading curriculum documents developed during the '90s, once again, it becomes obvious that all adopt a politically correct approach to issues such as multiculturalism and how we define ourselves as a nation. Cultural diversity is uncritically celebrated and students are taught, in the words of the Queensland curriculum, to "deconstruct dominant views of society" on the basis that the Australian community is riven with "privilege and marginalisation".

In Western Australia, as evidenced by the Curriculum Framework document, students are told they must value "the perspective of different cultures" and "recognise the cultural mores that underpin groups and appreciate why these are valued and important".

The curriculum policy of the South Australian branch of the AEU is underpinned by "five core values". One of the underlying values is that there should be respect for diversity and "no discrimination on any grounds".

The contradictions and weaknesses evident in the way multiculturalism has been taught in schools are manifold. Tolerance, the rule of law and a commitment to the common good are the very values needed if people are to live peacefully together. Cultural relativism and an uncritical acceptance of diversity deny such values and lead to what Robert Hughes terms, in his book The Culture of Complaint, the balkanisation of society.

It's also the case that Australia's legal and political system, while imperfect, best safeguards such values. Instead of denigrating Australian society, students should be taught the benefits of our Anglo-Celtic culture: a culture strongly influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition and from which our laws and morality have grown.

Much of the way history and politics is now taught also centres on the rights of the individual. Instead of emphasising responsibilities and giving allegiance to what we hold in common, individuals are free to define themselves how they will and to act as they wish.

By defining Australian society as socially unjust and divisive there is also the danger of promoting a victim mentality. Whereas past generations felt part of a wider community and believed that hard work would be rewarded, recent generations see only inequality and their right to be supported.

Nobody should condone the violence in Cronulla perpetrated by those wearing the Australian flag or the actions of young Lebanese Muslims abusing women, destroying property and burning churches. But we also need to recognise that the PC approach to teaching multiculturalism in schools in part underpins the recent violence.

As the American liberal historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr has argued: "The militants of ethnicity now contend that the main objective of public education should be the protection, strengthening, celebration and perpetuation of ethnic origins and identities. Separatism, however, nourishes prejudice, magnifies differences and stirs antagonisms."



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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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