Saturday, August 05, 2006

$40,000 numbskulls

Colleges and universities will start their fall semester soon. You might be interested in what parents' and taxpayers' money is going for at far too many "institutions of higher learning."

At Occidental College in Los Angeles, a mandatory course for some freshmen is "The Unbearable Whiteness of Barbie." It's a course where professor Elizabeth J. Chin explores ways in "which scientific racism has been put to use in the making of Barbie [and] to an interpretation of the film 'The Matrix' as a Marxist critique of capitalism." Johns Hopkins University students can enroll in a course called "Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll in Ancient Egypt." Part of the course includes slide shows of women in ancient Egypt "vomiting on each other," "having intercourse" and "fixing their hair."

Harvard University students can take "Marxist Concepts of Racism," which examines "the role of capitalist development and expansion in creating racial inequality." You can bet there's no mention of the genocide in Africa and former communist regimes like Yugoslavia. Young America's Foundation and Accuracy in Academia publish lists of courses like these, at many other colleges, that are nothing less than student indoctrination through academic dishonesty.

Parents are paying an average tuition of $21,000, and at some colleges over $40,000, to have their children exposed to anti-Americanism and academic nonsense. According to a 2000 American Council of Trustees and Alumni study, "Losing America's Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century," not one of the top 50 colleges and universities today requires American history of its graduates.

A survey conducted by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut gave 81 percent of the seniors a D or F in their knowledge of American history. The students could not identify Valley Forge, or words from the Gettysburg Address, or even the basic principles of the U.S. Constitution. A survey released by the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that American adults could more readily identify Simpson cartoon characters than name freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment.

The academic dishonesty doesn't end with phony courses and lack of a solid core curriculum; there's grossly fraudulent grading, euphemistically called grade inflation. For example, Harvard's Educational Policy Committee found that some professors award As for average work. A Boston Globe study found that 91 percent of Harvard seniors graduated with honors, that means all As and a few Bs.

I doubt whether these "honor" students could pass a 1950 high-school graduation examination. According to the Department of Education's 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy, only 31 percent of college graduates were proficient in prose, only 25 percent proficient in reading documents and 31 percent proficient in math.

Who's to blame for the increasingly sad state of affairs at America's colleges and universities? It's tempting to blame professors and campus administrators, and yes, they share a bit of the blame for shirking their academic duty. But the bulk of the blame rests with trustees, who bear the ultimate responsibility for what goes on at the college.

Unfortunately, trustees know little detail about what goes on at their institutions. Most of them have their time taken up by their non-college obligations. As such, they are simply yes-men who, in making decisions, must rely on information, often incomplete or biased, given to them by the president and the provost. A good remedy would be for boards of trustees to hire a campus ombudsman and staff that's accountable only to the trustees. During my brief tenure as a trustee of a major East Coast university, I made this suggestion only to be asked by the president whether I trusted him. My response was yes I trusted him, but I wanted verification.



Scotland's law schools were yesterday charged by a leading lawyer with turning out sub-standard graduates. He also accused universities of putting profits before standards. Professor Alastair Bonnington claimed legal education was being dumbed down and accused law schools of making the subject an easy option to increase their profits with boosted student numbers. In a scathing article in the current issue of the Law Society Journal, written to reflect on his retirement after 25 years' teaching, Prof Bonnington said that studying law had become much easier than it was 30 years ago and that law schools hand out 2:1 honours degrees almost as a matter of course. He also complained there was a paucity of teachers who had actually practised law employed at Scottish law schools.

The article, which the Law Society of Scotland was quick to point out was Prof Bonnington's "personal opinion", provoked outrage at Scotland's university law schools. Professor David Carey-Miller, head of the law school at Aberdeen University, said: "I would vehemently disagree with almost everything Alastair is saying." He said that in a recent survey five out of the top 20 law schools in the whole of the UK were Scottish. "The fundamental reason for these schools appearing in this list is high standards," said Prof Carey-Miller.

Professor Colin Reid, Dean of the Faculty of Law and Accountancy at Dundee University, said: "It is hardly surprising that many students are achieving good honours results since well-qualified students enter the law schools where more thought is being given to teaching and learning than ever before. "Moreover Dundee is unique in offering qualifying law degrees for Scotland, England and Wales and Northern Ireland. We are, therefore, very conscious of the differences between the various legal systems."

Prof Bonnington, solicitor to BBC Scotland and a visiting professor at Glasgow Law School, said he had major concerns that students today did not understand Scottish law as "it is taught little and seldom" by academics who lack "necessary practical skills". And lamenting the lack of intellectual rigour and vocational training, he noted that 2:1 degrees are dished out to "almost everyone", while university administrations milk law schools as "cash cows". Prof Bonnington said: "Today, Scottish law schools admit almost everyone to study honours and award almost everyone a 2:1 degree. It appears that Scots law is taught little and seldom in some law schools."


The (digital) camera lies

School photos digitally 'fixed'

The class of 2006 will be the best lookers yet, with parents getting the option to digitally remove pimples and marks from their teenagers' school photos. For $8, parents can buy a touch-up option for official school portraits. Even parents of grade one children are asking for blemishes to be airbrushed.

The company offering the service said it was popular with many parents and children. National School Photography services state and private schools across Melbourne. Owner Peter Gillahan said the pressure to look good was growing. "People are very conscious of their image these days. They're bombarded with beautiful people in the media who all look fantastic and parents and students want to look like that themselves," he said. Mr Gillahan said many parents asked for the touch-up because they didn't want a permanent reminder of their children's pimples. "They say 'get rid of that pimple, it's not going to be there forever it's going to come and go, so it's not really part of their personality'," he said. "One mum said in 20 years' time her son is going to be different and she didn't want to be looking at that forever."

The digital make-over option was tested at one school last year before being offered to all students photographed by the company. For $8, the company will remove obvious pimples, scratches or other blemishes, even going the extra mile for children suffering severe skin problems. "It's pretty hard if you've got a young lad with acne all over his face, so the retouchers will do more than what we charge for it because we want a nice photo to go out to our customers," Mr Gillahan said.

But teen health experts were shocked to hear of the touch-up service. "My immediate reaction is that I'm appalled," said Susan Sawyer, director of the Centre for Adolescent Health at the Royal Children's Hospital. "It's suggesting that this is not normal, that you should not look like this, that no one should have pimples. "I think it gives a very unsavoury message that you are not OK." Prof Sawyer said that the pressure from media on both parents and children was behind the push for perfection. "What we see around us is airbrushed perfection in every magazine," she said. "If we accept that it is fine for celebrities to cut inches off their bottoms and thighs and upper arms . . . then should we be surprised about this?" Prof Sawyer even questioned whether the use of electronic photography aids would end at smoother skin. "First pimples, next teeth, next ethnicity or colour of the skin -- who knows?" she said.

But Mr Gillahan said more sophisticated digital alterations were too complicated to be offered on a widespread basis. "That would become a minefield because then people would want you to whiten their teeth and remove the braces," he said. But digital imaging allows photographers to manipulate school portrait images like never before. "We often open eyes by swapping eyes from one photo of a student to another photo of the same student . . . if they've blinked in one we'll swap the eyes over," Mr Gillahan said. "It's the same in the class photos . . . we'll combine a number of photos to make it the best one we can. "Pull the socks up, plant a tree in the background if a car has pulled up when it shouldn't have."

Mr Gillahan said no photos were retouched without consent. "It's a parent's choice, we don't just retouch because sometimes students have a birthmark on their face . . . that is part of them." Mr Gillahan said he expected plenty of repeat customers from the digitally perfect class of '06. "It will only grow because if you've had Jimmy's or Jenny's photo done this year, when they go to school in following years they will have to have them done then as well," he said. Basic school portraits start at $18. But some parents were taking the desire for perfection to extreme levels. "When we get requests for a retouching on a six-year-old you think what can you do to a six-year-old?"



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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