Saturday, May 20, 2006


An attempt to introduce anonymity for teachers facing serious accusations from pupils will be opposed by ministers, despite strong support from schools, The Times understands. The protection would include those involved in court cases - until conviction - because of the low conviction rate for teachers accused by pupils.

The Conservatives are seeking to secure confidentiality for all school staff facing claims that they have harmed a child. David Willetts, the Shadow Education Secretary, said that an amendment to the Education and Inspections Bill was needed because of the dramatic rise in malicious and unfounded allegations that have wrecked teachers' careers. The NASUWT union recorded an increase from 41 allegations of physical and sexual assault in 1991 to 192 in 2004. Conviction rates fell from 12 per cent (five teachers) in 1991 to 3.6 per cent (seven teachers) in 2004.

The Tories hope that the amendment will be given a chance to be debated when the Bill returns to the Commons next Tuesday. But even though they took legal advice in framing their amendment, the Government looks set to reject it on legal and practical grounds. Officials fear that it would trigger demands from other public sector employees, as well as proving difficult to enforce in close-knit school communities where details of serious claims are difficult to conceal.

At present, police are urged not to release the names of school staff unless they are charged. A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "There was recent guidance to the Association of Chief Police Officers making clear that anyone under investigation but not charged should not be named or details provided to the media."

The National Union of Teachers urged the Government to try to use the Tory amendment to introduce extra legal protection. Steve Sinnott, the union's general secretary, said: "The question the Government should be asking itself is whether there is a workable way of protecting teachers from mass publicity."

Mr Willetts said: "I hope they do not object to this on fundamental grounds because it is what a lot of teachers are concerned about. This is something the teacher unions have been calling for and it is a growing problem."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: "I think the level of accusations has gone up simply because children now are very aware of their rights but not their responsibilities. It has become one of the weapons in the armoury of children to make teachers' lives difficult over some sort of perceived injustice. "It has become common to have reported to me that children respond to teachers by saying, `I am going to make an allegation against you and you will lose your job'. An allegation is seen as proof of guilt and people's family lives and jobs are affected by that."

In one dramatic case this year, Charlie King, a senior technology teacher, said that his 30-year career was ruined by allegations from two teenage girls that led to a 13-month public ordeal. A jury took 30 minutes to clear him of indecent assault. Mr King said: "Any hope of resuming my career has been dashed by the adverse publicity. After all I have been through, the prospect of going back into teaching is very worrying."

Weeks earlier a judge said that the case against Lydia Gane, 63, was "weak and muddled" after she was cleared of assaulting a six-year-old pupil she had tried to restrain. The teacher, who had a 30-year unblemished record, said: "I don't know if a younger teacher would have coped with this. It is incidents like this that stop people from entering the profession."

In another dramatic case of false allegation, a music teacher who died in prison while serving an eight-year sentence for raping a pupil was posthumously cleared last month. The Court of Appeal quashed the conviction of Darryl Gee after a long campaign by his mother, Molly, 88. The alleged victim made similar allegations against another man, John Hudson, who was jailed for 12 years. His conviction was quashed last year after a psychiatric expert concluded that his accuser's recollection was "implausible".


An editorial from "The Times" on the above:

The rising tide of unfounded malicious allegations against teachers has a host of consequences. It can wreck the lives of innocent teachers who are forced to endure lengthy suspensions in the glare of publicity. It makes people even more wary of teaching as a career. And it fuels the impression that children and parents can lie and get away with it.

Schools are right to take allegations seriously. Children with a genuine grievance must know that they will always be heard. But it is time to redress the balance between teachers and those who set out to wreck their careers: by granting teachers anonymity while they are under investigation.

The figures are staggering. Of 2,210 accusations of physical or sexual abuse recorded by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers in the past 15 years, only 88 - less than 4 per cent - have led to a conviction. More than 80 per cent of cases have never come to court: the police have decided there is either insufficient evidence to mount a case, or no truth in the allegation. The vast majority of cases are utterly without foundation.

Allegations are made not only by pupils but also by parents, some of whom hope for compensation. Others wilfully misunderstand their child's story and go straight to the police without checking with the school. In the case of Pamela Mitchelhill, the head teacher whose case attracted enormous publicity when she was accused of slapping a six-year-old girl three years ago, the pupil did not mention any assault in her police interview.

Once an allegation is made, a head teacher has no choice but to alert the police and social services. While these bodies investigate, teachers endure suspension, alienation and ridicule. There is surely no reason for them also to endure the glare of publicity. Teachers should be accorded the same privilege as their pupils, whose identities are kept confidential. Only if they are found guilty should they be named. It is a tragedy that teachers have killed themselves while under investigation, protesting innocence but unable to bear the stigma.

Government guidance currently advises schools, local authorities and the police to keep names private. But teacher unions feel this does not go far enough. A Conservative amendment to the Education and Inspections Bill seeks to provide statutory anonymity. Ministers are understandably concerned about creating a precedent for teachers. But there are very strong grounds for considering them as a special case.

If anonymity is not guaranteed, the National Association of Head Teachers says that it will support teachers who sue for defamation. But few will want to take that step. It is, nevertheless, quite wrong that there are no repercussions for those who make these allegations. They should surely be treated as serious disciplinary offences that could lead to expulsion.

Last month a jury took less than an hour to clear a teacher who had been suspended for 18 months after being falsely accused of groping a pupil. The girl is thought to have made up the claims in an attempt to postpone an exam for which she had not prepared properly. This is an unacceptable state of affairs. Cases should be resolved more speedily, and teachers should know that at least they will not have to suffer public ignominy as well as malice at the school gate.



Comment by a student

There are those who say universities are festering grounds for liberal propaganda, places where teachers regularly try to indoctrinate students - covertly or openly - with their radical leftist viewpoints. I've always been a little skeptical of this theory. I don't deny that university professors, including my own, overwhelmingly lean to the left. But after spending four years in the political science department at a super-liberal university in a super-liberal city, I can honestly say that if my teachers have been trying to get me to renounce the free market, demand an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and worship at the feet of Ralph Nader, I haven't noticed it.

And not because I'm oblivious to such propaganda. Rather, the professors I've had the privilege of learning under are professionals who recognize that politics play no role in the classroom. Perhaps I just wasn't looking in the right places, however.

I received an e-mail from an economics professor, one whom teaches a class in which I am enrolled this semester, late Sunday night alerting students that class on Monday morning would be canceled. The reason, as he put in the e-mail: "Tomorrow there will be a nationwide protest of mostly hispanic [sic] immigrants against some proposed legislation that would declare illegal immigrants criminals. I am not an "illegal" immigrant and my opinion in favor or against restrictions to immigration is irrelevant. The problem is that many hispanics [sic], myself included, feel that there's a substantial racist motivation behind the proposed bill, which is not only insensitive an [sic] cruel, but also insulting."

As I wrote in a column three weeks ago, I disagree with this opinion. Illegal immigrants flagrantly disregard the laws of our society, pose potential security risks and - while filling unpopular low-wage jobs - leach on governmental services without always paying their full share in taxes and civic responsibilities (jury duty, for instance).

But that's not the point here. The bottom line is that it is wholly inappropriate for a professor to voice his opinion on a matter that bears no relation to the class subject matter, much less cancel class because of it. And it cuts both ways: while I might personally find arguments for a hard-line stance on illegal immigration more palatable, it would be no more appropriate in the context of a professor communicating to his class.

The professor even seemed to realize as much, claiming his opinion on immigration is "irrelevant." Of course, irrelevance in his book apparently necessitates the accompanying claims that immigration legislation is "insensitive," "cruel" and "insulting."

He certainly is allowed that opinion, and if he wants to shout it from the top of his lungs and drown out the religicos on Library Mall, by all means he should. But don't do it in the classroom (or via a class e-mail list).

What's vital to remember is that professors at UW are paid to teach. They are state employees in charge of educating students at Wisconsin's flagship university. To cancel class for overtly political reasons is a blatant dereliction of duties. In doing so, a professor cheats not only the students who expect to learn from him, but also the taxpayers of Wisconsin who foot his salary.

Imagine, for instance, if a police officer assigned to Monday's immigration rally at the Capitol had decided the night before that, due to his ideological views, he wished to join in the protest, as opposed to enforcing the law at it. That wouldn't fly.

Sadly, this isn't the first time such an incident has occurred at this university. In 2003, UW women's studies lecturer Susan Pastor canceled her class due to an anti-Iraq War protest occurring the same day, leading former Badger Herald columnist Matt Modell to declare that "instructors have an obligation to teach the subjects they are being paid to teach - and no more." Mr. Modell's words ring just as true today.

Part of the problem is the lack of any concrete university policy on when and for what reasons professors may cancel regularly scheduled classes. While attempting to indoctrinate students on issues irrelevant to the class's subject material is generally frowned upon, there is no policy prohibiting teachers from canceling classes for political - or indeed, any - reason.

Rather, professors are merely charged with covering the material they set out to teach during the semester. If they can still cover the syllabus despite canceling a class here or there, so be it. In a sense, this is reasonable - outside academic opportunities, such as research, speaking engagements and the like, may sometimes pop up. In another, more accurate sense, though, there need to be clearer rules - starting with a prohibition on ever canceling, rescheduling or devoting class time for political purposes.

To be fair, Assistant Professor Juan Esteban Carranza didn't have to worry about such a policy earlier this week. And that's a shame, because actions like his are unfair to the vast majority of professors on this campus who maintain their professional integrity, uphold their job responsibilities and keep their personal politics where they belong - out of the classroom.



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"

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here. My home page is here


Friday, May 19, 2006

OK to insult Christians at the University of Oregon

The usual double standards

The Insurgent didn't violate any student government or University rules by publishing material many Christians considered offensive in its March issue, according to an ASUO ruling on the most recent grievance, filed jointly by 91 students against the publication. A new coalition, Students of Faith, filed the grievance May 5, saying the publication's content violated three University policies and was "discriminatory, knowingly false, slanderous and egregious," according to the grievance.

David Goward, ASUO programs administrator, ruled in favor of The Insurgent on all three allegations and said student free speech is protected, even when it involves religious ideas or concepts, according to his ruling Monday. "Furthermore, there are no grounds for demanding an apology from the Student Insurgent," according to the ruling, which reinforced an earlier decision in favor of The Insurgent after University student Zachary White filed a grievance against the publication over the same issue.

Students of Faith member and University junior Jethro Higgins said the group members expected to lose but wanted to cover their bases before taking a complaint to the University administration. "We want to make sure the University isn't using public funds to support hate speech," he said. "They have the right to say whatever they want, but I don't want to have to pay for it."

Members of The Insurgent agree with the ASUO ruling. "If you start suspending publications because you don't like what they said, then that leads to the dictatorship and kind of things Russia used to do that we hated so much, supposedly," said Don Goldman, contributor to The Insurgent.

Higgins said Students of Faith is well organized, has lots of community support and won't go away.



The policy of educating children with special needs in mainstream schools has failed and must be changed immediately, the country's biggest teaching union said yesterday. The National Union of Teachers dramatically reversed decades of support for "inclusion" and demanded a halt to the closure of special schools. It called on the Government to carry out "an urgent review of inclusion in policy and practice". The union issued a report by academics at Cambridge University, which suggested that inclusion was harming children with special needs, undermining the education of others and leaving teachers exhausted as they struggled to cope with severe behavioural and medical conditions.

John MacBeath, one of the authors, described inclusion "as a form of abuse" for some children, who were placed in "totally inappropriate" schools where they inevitably failed. Pupils with special needs were nine times more likely to be expelled and teachers were leaving the profession because they could not cope with the pressure of working with them. Teachers were being given responsibility for tasks such as clearing out tracheotomy tubes, changing nappies and managing children prone to harming themselves in outbursts of extreme violence.

Other pupils lost out as staff devoted excessive time to special needs children. Many students witnessed highly disturbing behaviour as special needs pupils reacted in frustration and anger to their surroundings. Teachers often delegated responsibility for special needs pupils to classroom assistants. Parents felt betrayed as their children's educational needs went unmet and the children sunk into a spiral of misbehaviour that often ended in expulsion. Parents of other children were unhappy at the repeated disruptions to their education.

Steve Sinnott, the union's general secretary, said that "inclusion has failed many children". Teachers supported the idea in principle, but felt let down by the practice. He said: "It demonstrates very clearly the failures in policy and practice in our education system and in our schools."

The Cambridge researchers interviewed teachers, children and parents at 20 schools in seven local authorites. They concluded that the reality of inclusion was very far from the "world of fine intentions" inhabited by policymakers. "While there are many examples of social benefits both for children with special needs and their peers, there is much less positive evidence that learning needs are being met across the whole spectrum of ability," the report said.

But Lord Adonis, the Schools Minister, said: "Children should be taught in mainstream schools where this is what their parents want and it is not incompatible with the efficient education of other children." David Willetts, the Shadow Education Secretary, said: "This report should lead the Government to a radical rethink on its inclusion policy."



According to a study published by the U.S. Department of Education, as many as 60 percent of American college students attend more than one school before they graduate with a Bachelor's degree. The college transfer rate has been rising steadily for the last two decades, but in recent years, admissions officers have seen an explosion in transfer applications - and they say the reasons are clear.

Miranda Spradlin is a second-year student at New York University, where she is studying communications and public relations. She grew up in California, but says she decided to go to school in New York, because she wanted something different. After just two months here, though, she started to feel that the move may have been a mistake. "I just wasn't happy with NYU," Spradlin says as she sits in a coffee shop after a morning of classes. "Despite the fact that they don't have a campus, they said 'we make up for it; we're still a community; you see students all the time.' And I really didn't get that. I'd go out on the weekends, and I'd be with 30-year-old men at the bars that knew college girls were going to be there and stuff, and it just wasn't very appealing."

She stuck it out for the year, but when she found she still was not happy at the start of her second year at NYU, Miranda Spradlin decided to transfer. She has applied to three schools in the state of California's university system. "They're much more social schools, much more community-oriented," she says. "I like the idea of having Greek Life (i.e. fraternities and sororities) - not necessarily to be in a sorority, but just because it kind of brings the students together. I like the idea of having sports teams, because it does the same thing. And they're closer to home."

Homesickness and a general dissatisfaction with their social lives are two big reasons college students transfer -- but they are not the only reasons. Many switch schools because they can no longer afford to stay where they are. And according to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly two-thirds of college students who transfer these days say they are doing it because they want a more prestigious degree, or because they want an educational program that is not offered at the school they first entered.

Nicholas Sharac

That is the case with Nicholas Sharac, who is finishing his first year at Fordham University. The school has a tightly-defined core curriculum that requires students to take a number of Humanities courses. But Sharac says he has decided he wants to concentrate on the sciences. "In the beginning, when I first came to college, I was happy with the core (curriculum), because it enabled me to not have to pick a path, as far as education goes," he says. "But now that I want to get into biology and more into science courses, I don't really feel the need to learn about theology, or spend time on courses that don't really have to do with what I want to do."

Sharac says he is not surprised to learn so many college students choose to transfer. He says when you are in high school, you do not always know what you like, or what you are good at - and sometimes you are forced to make a decision about college before you really understand who you are. "You can't really know how you're going to be doing or what you're going to be thinking in college, when you're in high school," Sharac says. "So the way high school is set up now, you can't really make a great decision as far as college goes. In my case, high school didn't really motivate me to pick any direction at all. So that's kind of why I couldn't pick a direction in high school."

Indeed, that may be why some students start out at a two-year community college, where they get an Associate's degree, and then transfer to a four-year institution, to get their Bachelor's. But teenaged aimlessness is not a new thing - and by itself, it cannot explain the explosive increase in college transfer rates. Lehigh University, for example, has seen the number of transfer applications increase by 30 percent in the last three years, according to Eric Kaplan, Director of Admissions at Lehigh.

Eric Kaplan

Kaplan says the transfer rate may be up because colleges are doing a much better job of marketing themselves - and recent changes in technology have helped them do that. "There are lots of resources that are devoted to marketing," he says, "Either through institutional print pieces or through websites - which is a great example of something that in the mid 1990s students didn't have access to, that now are one of the key sources of information for high school students."

But something else may also be at work. The average cost of tuition and housing at a private university in the United States has gone up 40% in the last five years. At NYU - where Miranda Spradlin goes to school - it costs more than $43,000 a year to get a Bachelor's degree. "My parents are paying for college," she says with conviction, "And I think it's unfair to them for me to be somewhere that I don't want to be, and they're spending all this money - you know, that's just dumb."

In this sense, a college education may have become just another commodity for America's consumer-savvy young adults - who are not willing to pay good money for a jacket. a pair of shoes. or an education that does not suit them.



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"

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here. My home page is here


Thursday, May 18, 2006


In my own kindergarten year, I would occupy myself during those long long sermons by reading the hymnary. I remember being excited when I figured out the "igh" combo. Later in school, I was taught with the Dick and Jane sight word series. I was often partnered with kids who couldn't read very well, if at all.

By the time I hit teachers college I had a few firm beliefs. The way you were taught to read in school is not necessarily the way you learned. I was an early-bird reader because I picked up phonics quickly (and on my own.) Enjoying reading is not a building block for learning to read because non-readers in my classes loved being read to by the teacher, enjoyed looking at books and still didn't catch on. The poor readers I was paired with guessed at the first letter or searched the pictures for clues. I was lucky because I just got it.

My first Faculty of Education course on reading was selling whole language. I could make neither hide nor hair of it all, and it seemed to lack commonsense. Trying to understand where all this came from, I learned that whole language travelled through the International Reading Asociation. In North America, the big poobah was Ken Goodman. (Smith came a little later) Many faculty members belonged to the IRA and carried WL back to their home turf. Many had never taught children to read, or had not taught long enough to grasp the tough spots. They became gurus themselves and flogged their WL ideas on the innocent, and made lots of money writing new WL reading series and speaking at teachers' professional development events. They were death on phonics. Period. Reputations and egos were now strongly in the picture. Primary teachers, who are characteristically caregivers and gentle folk, got confused by the edugabble and meekly followed the NEW WAY. After all, who wanted to be accused of teaching "half" language" or of being "teacher focused". ("Balanced literacy" today is another one of those terms that suggests anything else would be "unbalanced".) Things got ugly. Phonics holdouts were vilified publicly when they raised questions. The word "dinosaur" became the most popular insult. (What other profession treats its veterans like this.) Fear entered the scene. Older teachers retreated quietly into their classrooms and waited to retire.

Publishers liked the new WL readers. They could market a entirely new sets of readers and WL sells lots of books. Quickly, both phonics and sight word readers were removed from print and only WL were published . As teachers can only select from Mnistry-approved texts, the choice had disappeared. When I plagued the various Ministry bureaucrats as to why there was no phonics-based reading program on the list, I was told repeatedly "that's all the publishers send us". I didn't speak to a single bureaucrat over that 15 year span who knew the differences between the texts of the three methodogies or who had ever taught children to read. So now publishers were determining the method for teaching children to read.

The WL gurus (letters after their names gave them a lot of clout) grabbed the ears of the Ministers. Education Ministers didn't bother to investigate or question. They were far far too busy and it all sounded pretty rosy. Politicians weren't really interested at all. Most letters I got back were "thanks for your interest."

In time, the phonics-based readers and sight-word readers hit the dumpsters or were shipped off to third world countries. The preamble in the teacher's guides to my phonics readers were filled with creative ideas (art,drama, poetry etc) and teachers were encouraged to fill their classrooms with books. The evidence is no longer there to show younger teachers that phonics reading programs were not just about drills, workbooks and booklets focussing on one phonics skill at a time, but were full-fledged reading programs with all the good stuff now thought to be exclusive to WL.

It was the growing number of children identified as "learning disabled" and complaints from the high school teachers that they were getting too many poor readers and non readers that finally caught the attention of the politicians. (Parents and grassroots organizations got very little attention.) Once again, they listened to the WL gurus, still holding the reins at the faculties of ed. By now, the gurus were getting nervous with the increase in research pointing to phonics. Knowing that sticking to the ideas they'd been teaching for years might cause others to question their credibility, they attempted to slime their way back to some middle ground calling it "balanced literacy": "Of course we always meant teachers should use phonics ". Meanwhile their old articles and dissertations say the complete opposite. Politicians bought it, because, once again they simply had absolutely no time to do their homework and get the terms straight.

Now, the public doesn't know who to believe. Smith and Goodman blew their confidence in research. Blind acceptance by teachers of WL made this group suspect. Parents whose kids learn to read early took up the WL banner in drives and forgot about the unfortunates. And then there are the faculty members. Who can trust a bunch who have come up with ideas like open-concept, multi-age grouping, multi-generational grouping, discovery math, whole language,and who just recently were flogging Gardners Theory of Multiple intelligences as a cure-all. (Like, duh, people are good at different things).

So the reading wars continue here. (It really was and is a phonics massacre.) The only ray of hope seems to be in the UK. They are prepared to say on public TV: "We know whole language was very bad for children".


In 1950, a U.S. Senate committee released a report on the "employment of homosexuals and other sex perverts" in the federal government. The report warned that gays "lack the emotional stability of normal persons," so they could be easily blackmailed by communist spies. Newspapers claimed that 10,000 gays had infiltrated federal agencies, posing what Senator Joseph McCarthy called a "homosexual menace" to national security.

So if the Legislature passes a bill requiring instruction about gays in history, will students hear about this sordid chapter of our past? I doubt it. That's because the bill's supporters - like so many of us - regard history as therapy. They want the gay kids to feel good.

Listen to the bill's author, Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, one of the Legislature's six openly gay lawmakers: "Teaching materials mostly contain negative or adverse views of us, and that's when they mention us at all." By requiring schools to teach about the "role and contributions" of homosexuals, Kuehl argues, her bill would help gay kids overcome the stigmas that surround them.

Maybe so. But it would also distort the past, exaggerating the exploits of heroic gays and neglecting the continued discrimination against them. Most of all, this approach would allow all of us - straights as well as gays - to evade the complex and painful history that we share.

It has happened before. In the 1920s, when anti-immigrant sentiment was at its zenith, a wide range of ethnic groups fought to insert their own heroes into America's grand national narrative. Polish-Americans demanded that textbooks include Thaddeus Kosciusko, the Polish nobleman who aided our Revolution; Jewish-Americans pressed for Haym Solomon, a merchant who helped finance it; and blacks celebrated Crispus Attucks, the first American to die in it.

Oh, yes, and German-Americans wanted textbooks to include Molly Pitcher. Why? You guessed it: She was German. Her birth name, some said, was Maria Ludwig; and eventually, thanks to German pressure, the textbooks said so as well.

Germans also claimed Abraham Lincoln as one of their own, providing an easy target for satirists in the press. "The German origin of Honest Abe clashes with the Italian theory [of] L'Inchiostro, meaning 'the ink,' " one newspaper teased. "The Chinese theory proves direct descent from the famous Lin family. Abraham Llyncollyn was Welsh beyond a doubt, and the origin of Abraham Linsky-Cohen needs no further explanation."

Worst of all, these ethnic groups helped block a more critical, complicated reading of the Revolution itself. During these same years, historians began to question the long-standing myth of freedom-loving Continentals against tyrannical Red coats. Roughly a third of Americans fought on the British side, we discovered, while many people in England supported the Revolutionary cause. Even more, the leaders of America's freedom struggle often practiced - and defended - the enslavement of African-Americans.

But very little of this complexity entered the textbooks, thanks to the combined efforts of our newly multicultural patriots. If we rejected the glorious tale of America's birth, ethnic activists said, we would diminish ethnic contributions to it. Each group "could have its heroes sung," as one editorialist observed, but no group could question the underlying melody that united them all.

Fast-forward to the 1960s and 1970s, when blacks and Hispanics inserted a whole new set of great men - and even a few great women - into our history texts. Crispus Attucks took a bit part, or disappeared altogether; leading roles went to Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez.

Even as textbooks included these new activists, however, the books gave little sense of what the heroes were acting against: white racism. A real examination of racism would interfere with the optimistic themes that still permeated the texts, as reflected in their sunny titles: "Quest for Liberty," "Rise of the American Nation," and so on. Nor did the books discuss the less-than-heroic involvement of Africans in the slave trade, or of Hispanics in the genocide of Native Americans. After all, the purpose was to make the kids feel "positive" about themselves. And only "positive" information would do the trick.

So if the bill about gay history passes, we can expect another round of heroes - this time, of course, gay heroes - to enter the books. But that won't help us address the really tough questions about American history writ large. Why have gays suffered so much discrimination, during the McCarthy era and into the present? What does that say about our nation - about its conceptions of love, of family, and of "freedom" itself?

Nor can we expect any criticism of homosexuals: Once heroes enter the pantheon, they become as sacred as all of the other gods. So the texts might discuss how gays bravely fought AIDS during its early years, promoting education and safe sex. But we'll never hear the unlovely coda to this happy tale: In the era of protease inhibitors and the Internet, many gays have reverted to the destructive practices that spread the disease in the first place. It happens to be true, but it isn't nice. Forget about it.

So say it loud, and say it proud: Walt Whitman! James Baldwin! Harvey Milk! But please, don't say anything bad about these gay Americans - or about anyone, really. Remember, the first goal here is to feel good. The truth comes second.



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"

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here. My home page is here


Wednesday, May 17, 2006


An editorial in The Guardian this week noted that Britain's two major faculty unions are engaged in a protracted and bitter fight with the government over salaries. Faced with the need to keep unity strong and to win concessions from the government, the editorial explained that some union leaders thought they had found a perfect solution: Attacking Israeli academics.

One of the faculty unions - the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education - is getting ready to vote on a resolution that would call on members to consider staying away from Israeli colleges or professors unless they specifically oppose a series of policies opposed by the union. The proposal has reignited tensions over anti-Israel boycotts that became quite intense last year when the other major union in British academe started its own boycott and then called it off - amid widespread criticism from American faculty groups.

The latest boycott proposal - which will be voted on later this month and which calls Israel's policies ones of "apartheid" - differs from last year's in several ways. Last year's boycott was stated as general policy, but applied only to two Israeli universities: Bar-Ilan University and the University of Haifa. This year's resolution (#198C from this link) is at once more narrow and more broad. It calls only for individual faculty members to consider "their own responsibility" and to "consider the appropriateness of a boycott." But it appears to apply to all Israeli academics and institutions - and it exempts those Israeli academics who "publicly dissociate themselves" from the positions of the Israeli government.

That provision may seem like an acknowledgment of something pointed out by boycott critics last year and this year: Israeli academics as a group are among those in Israeli society most sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and among those most likely to question decisions of Israel's government. But the provision has also infuriated many academics in Britain and elsewhere because it effectively sets up a political litmus test for Israeli academics (if they take certain stands, they are OK to deal with), and the idea of subjecting academics to political tests offends standards of academic freedom in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere.

It is unclear whether the boycott proposal will pass - and there have been press projections both ways. Generally, the leadership of British academic unions is very supportive of Palestinians and to the left of the rank and file. For example, another resolution on which the faculty union will be voting seeks to condemn those who question Hamas with "hysterical reporting."

If the resolution does pass, the practical impact may be minimal. The two faculty unions in Britain merge this summer, and so the boycott would not apply. But many academics in Britain and elsewhere say that there is a larger impact from having professors there seen as obsessed with the Middle East when they are unable to achieve their goals at home. "People start to think of the unions as nothing by Israel-haters," said David Hirsh, a lecturer in sociology at Goldsmith College of the University of London. "At this moment, we're in quite a difficult dispute with management" over wages and some professors are saying "why do we want to listen to the union" when it is viewed as having misplaced priorities, said Hirsh, who is a member of the union at his institution. "This kind of boycott motion gets in the way of the core business of academic unions."

Hirsh is one of the leaders of Engage, a group of British academics opposed to the boycott. Hirsh said that, if the boycott is approved, "the world will think of British academic unions as anti-Semitic." He said he does not believe that to be true, but thinks that many of the most active members of the union "see America and Israel as the greatest evils in the world."

Leaders of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education declined to answer questions about the boycott proposal, saying that they did not have time to do so. One of the most prominent British academic supporters of the boycott is Sue Blackwell, who teaches English at the University of Birmingham. Blackwell maintains a Web site with text and links about why she backs a boycott, as well as links to Palestinian calls for a boycott of Israeli higher education.

The dispute in Britain last year crossed the pond to American academe and is already doing so again this year, as scholars take note of what is going on. Major scholarly associations and faculty unions in the United States all denounced the boycott last year. The American Association of University Professors drafted a statement condemning academic boycotts and organized an international conference about academic boycotts. But the conference was called off amid criticism that too many pro-boycott academics had been invited and after anti-Semitic materials were accidentally distributed to conference attendees.

Cary Nelson, who was recently elected as the AAUP's next president, said that he couldn't say for sure how the association would respond to a new boycott but that he had long been opposed to such boycotts and that AAUP policies strongly opposed them. "Dialogue is almost always preferred to the cessation of dialogue," he said.

Nelson also criticized the idea of any boycott that would ask professors to consider which Israeli professors were sufficiently distanced from their government to merit continued contact. "People have a whole range of complex positions," Nelson said, and shouldn't be considered as either supportive or critical of Israel. "People's positions don't fall into simple categories," he said.

The return of the boycott movement to British academe is taking place "at the worst possible time," Nelson said. He said that "on so many grounds," professors' groups worldwide are finding how much they have in common in terms of salaries, the growth of part-time positions, and academic freedom. He noted that he has received numerous resolutions and other gestures of support from international academic groups since he was arrested as part of a protest against New York University, which has stopped recognizing a union of teaching assistants. "This kind of international solidarity is very important," he said.

One sign of that solidarity: In the current British dispute over faculty salaries, one of the professors' associations that has sent a letter of support is the primary faculty group in Israel.


Nutty Boston College professor resigns over bee in his bonnet

Good riddance! Below is his open letter to William P. Leahy, SJ, president of Boston College

I am writing to resign my post as an adjunct professor of English at Boston College. I am doing so -- after five years at BC, and with tremendous regret -- as a direct result of your decision to invite Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to be the commencement speaker at this year's graduation. Many members of the faculty and student body already have voiced their objection to the invitation, arguing that Rice's actions as secretary of state are inconsistent with the broader humanistic values of the university and the Catholic and Jesuit traditions from which those values derive. But I am not writing this letter simply because of an objection to the war against Iraq. My concern is more fundamental. Simply put, Rice is a liar.

She has lied to the American people knowingly, repeatedly, often extravagantly over the past five years, in an effort to justify a pathologically misguided foreign policy. The public record of her deceits is extensive. During the ramp-up to the Iraq war, she made 29 false or misleading public statements concerning Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda, according to a congressional investigation by the House Committee on Government Reform. To cite one example: In an effort to build the case for war, then-National Security Adviser Rice repeatedly asserted that Iraq was pursuing a nuclear weapon, and specifically seeking uranium in Africa.

In July of 2003, after these claims were disproved, Rice said: ''Now if there were doubts about the underlying intelligence . . . those doubts were not communicated to the president, the vice president, or to me." Rice's own deputy, Stephen Hadley, later admitted that the CIA had sent her a memo eight months earlier warning against the use of this claim. In the three years since the war began, Rice has continued to misrepresent or simply ignore the truth about our deadly adventure in Iraq. Like the president whom she serves so faithfully, she refuses to recognize her errors or the tragic consequences of those errors to the young soldiers and civilians dying in Iraq. She is a diplomat whose central allegiance is not to the democratic cause of this nation, but absolute power.

This is the woman to whom you will be bestowing an honorary degree, along with the privilege of addressing the graduating class of 2006. It is this last notion I find most reprehensible: that Boston College would entrust to Rice the role of moral exemplar. To be clear: I am not questioning her intellectual gifts or academic accomplishments. Nor her potentially inspiring role as a powerful woman of color. But these are not the factors by which a commencement speaker should be judged. It is the content of one's character that matters here -- the reverence for truth and knowledge that Boston College purports to champion. Rice does not personify these values; she repudiates them. Whatever inspiring rhetoric she might present to the graduating class, her actions as a citizen and politician tell a different story.

Honestly, Father Leahy, what lessons do you expect her to impart to impressionable seniors? That hard work in the corporate sector might gain them a spot on the board of Chevron? That they, too, might someday have an oil tanker named after them? That it is acceptable to lie to the American people for political gain?

Given the widespread objection to inviting Rice, I would like to think you will rescind the offer. But that is clearly not going to happen. Like the administration in Washington, you appear too proud to admit to your mistake. Instead, you will mouth a bunch of platitudes, all of which boil down to: You don't want to lose face. In this sense, you leave me no choice. I cannot, in good conscience, exhort my students to pursue truth and knowledge, then collect a paycheck from an institution that displays such flagrant disregard for both.

I would like to apologize to my students and prospective students. I would also urge them to investigate the words and actions of Rice, and to exercise their own First Amendment rights at her speech.


Middle East Wars on U.S. Campuses

The Muslim Student Union has a full slate of activities planned for this week on the theme of "Holocaust in the Holy Land." Among today's events are a rally around the idea of "Hamas: The People's Choice." And if you missed the point of the week's theme of equating Israel to Nazi Germany, there is a lecture/rally on Thursday called "Israel: the Fourth Reich."

Not surprisingly, many Jewish students at Irvine are angry. They are not calling for events to be banned, but have asked Irvine's leaders to condemn the language being used as offensive and as a way to hurt Jewish students, not to engage in debate about Israel's policies. Irvine officials are refusing to do so - saying that they can't get into picking which campus events to disagree with or pick sides between the vocal critics and supporters of Israel on the campus.

Irvine in many ways reflects the way debates about diversity and respecting different groups of students are no longer issues of black and white. A majority of undergraduates at Irvine are Asian American - and largely uninvolved in a series of Middle East wars that have taken place at Irvine for years. But campus leaders who have spent their careers focused on how to encourage black and white students to get along (and of course Latino students and at some institutions Native Americans or foreign students) are finding that they may have their biggest challenge with religious differences among groups of American students. (While there are some campuses where strong criticism of Israel comes from students from the Middle East, the students at Irvine and many campuses are American citizens.)

"All of our institutions are just so much more complex than they used to be, and the tensions are very different," said Robert M. O'Neil, who is leading the Ford Foundation's "Difficult Dialogues" program to encourage colleges to find ways to debate touchy issues in civil, open-minded ways. "And right now, tensions about the Middle East happen to be most acute."

Irvine has a history of tense Jewish-Muslim relations. Many other campuses are experiencing sharp debates over the Middle East and these debates frequently also focus on issues of free speech. At Pennsylvania State University last month, the president overturned a decision by the art school director, who had called off a student art exhibit that criticized Palestinian terrorist groups. Brandeis University is under fire, meanwhile, for pulling an art exhibit that shows the violence suffered of late by Palestinians.

The tensions are by no means limited to student activities and art exhibits. A scholarly paper that is highly critical of the Israel lobby set off a furor soon after it appeared on the Web site of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. The paper - by professors at Harvard and the University of Chicago - has been called bigoted and inaccurate by some, and praised by others as on target.

Some academic defenders of the article - led by Juan Cole, a professor at the University of Michigan - have started a petition to protest the "character assassination" of the authors of the paper and to call on Jewish leaders to respect academic freedom by not "smearing" such "eminent political scientists" by stating or implying that they are anti-Semitic. And critics of Cole's analysis of the Middle East are up in arms over his possible appointment to a professorship at Yale University.

The situation at Irvine is a good illustration of how relations can deteriorate, leaving campuses in messy situations. After years of back-and-forth complaints and accusations, the Zionist Organization of America filed a complaint in 2004 with the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, charging that Jewish students were being harassed and intimidated. The complaint - still under review by the department - cites incidents in which, the organization says, a Jewish student wearing an Israeli flag lapel pin was followed by group of Muslim students who made death threats, and another student wearing a T-shirt that identified him as Jewish had a rock thrown at him. The complaint also noted the frequent use of materials by Muslim students equating Israel with Nazi Germany.

Irvine officials said that they tried to investigate all the allegations, but that most were made well after the incidents are alleged to have taken place, and as a result they could not be verified. Muslim students have also complained about opposition that violates their rights. A year ago, students at Irvine built a wall to symbolize and protest the wall being built by Israel to separate itself from Palestinian territories. Shortly after the wall was set up at Irvine, it was burned to the ground. Police investigated the incident as arson, but never had leads on who set the fire.

Muslim students make no apologies for their use of Holocaust imagery in their programs designed to criticize Israel. Kareem Elsayed, a student who is a former president of the Muslim Student Union, said in an e-mail interview that "the pro-Zionist media has allowed for the monopolization of the term `holocaust'" to refer to what the Nazis did to the Jews. But he said that there have been many holocausts, and that the group looks to link Israel to the Nazis for specific reasons. "We are using this title to emphasize the fact that the apartheid state of Israel has moved from oppressed to oppressor," he said. "We refer to the apartheid state as the fourth reich to emphasize the fascist and oppressive policies, and genocidal tendencies, of the apartheid state." Those who criticize the use of language linking Israel to the Nazis "are using the issue of the name as a cloak to cover their true intentions of silencing anyone that would reveal the realities of the oppression of the indigenous Palestinian people."

Jeffrey T. Rips, executive director of the Hillel Foundation of Orange County, which includes Irvine, said that the hidden agenda had nothing to do with open debate about the Middle East. "These aren't lectures or the kinds of events you see on campuses. These are rallies to incite hate," he said. Rips said that Jewish students at Irvine have a range of reactions on how to respond to these events. Some think they are best ignored, others say that's not an option. Jewish groups plan to set up booths on campus, take out ads in the student newspaper, and hand out leaflets offering alternative views about the Middle East. But no attempt will be made to interfere with the events. "Jews here have no issue with questioning Israel's policies. "But this is about things that incite hate and that make people feel unsafe."

Rips said that there is much to be proud of in the Jewish community at Irvine, but that the university is losing prospective Jewish students because of a perception that the entire campus is anti-Semitic (which he doesn't think is true). "I hear from parents [of prospective students] all the time and that's what they hear," Rips said.

Sally Peterson, dean of students at Irvine, has worked at the university since 1974 and she said that she's seen a gradual shift away from students tensions based on race to the point today where issues of religion, international affairs, or ideology can set off a controversy - and are more likely to do so than issues of race.

Irvine has so many potentially controversial events that the student affairs staff has a Free Speech Advocacy Team, members of which attend all such meetings or lectures to make sure that university rules are followed and to witness what happens. If, after the fact, there is a dispute, the university doesn't want to rely on second-hand reports, Peterson said. "We want our eyes there."

As a public university, Irvine also opens most of its events to the public, and while Peterson said that is appropriate for a state institution, it complicates her job. At controversial events, she said, problems are more likely to be caused by non-students than students. Beyond dealing with controversy, Irvine also tries to promote discussion of issues like the Middle East that involve balanced panels and programs that are not focused on the question of declaring one side or the other to be" right." Some of these events have been quite successful, she said, drawing large audiences. In contrast, she said, events sponsored by partisans of the Palestinians or Israelis tend to draw people who agree with the program organizers.

Officials at Irvine have been criticized by many Jewish groups for not publicly criticizing the repeated use of Holocaust language and imagery to criticize Israel.

Rips, of Hillel, said that Jewish students accept the idea that "the university has to protect free speech and can't stop programs." But he said that the request he and others have made repeatedly of Irvine isn't that it stop programs. "The university has been consistent in protecting free speech, but the university has its own free speech. They can say that these events are going on but they condemn them."

Having events semester after semester where Israel is compared to Nazi Germany "gives the perception" that Irvine accepts such a view as legitimate, Rips said. "Silence sometimes makes a statement," he said.

Peterson said that there is no way Irvine can get in the business of commenting on individual programs or their titles. "If we were to comment on this particular speaker, we'd have groups saying `why aren't you commenting on that speaker?'" she said. "When you are a large university, there are lots of issues that people want us to say something about, and we're not there to do that."

Some academic leaders who think university leaders can condemn offensive speech think there is good reason to avoid the Middle East debate. O'Neil, who is running the Difficult Dialogues program, is also director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and is a former university president (University of Virginia and University of Wisconsin System). O'Neil is a strong believer that speech must never be limited and that campuses must be open to a full range of ideas - however infuriating or even hurtful they may be to some people.

O'Neil said, however, that colleges need to look at offensive events not just as events, but as opportunities to learn. This is a conviction O'Neil said he has had since he worked as a truck driver at a Jewish summer camp in New Hampshire in 1957. One morning he arrived to start his day, and he found the remains of a burning cross. The camp director wanted the ashes cleaned up right away and O'Neil said that's what he did, feeling that it would have been presumptuous for him, as one of the few non-Jews working there, to tell the director what to do.

But clearly a professor-in-making even as a truck driver, O'Neil said that the course of action bothered him. "There was a possible lesson here - you could really see something," he said, about the nature of bigotry, and he wishes that the camp participants had all talked about it. So when bigoted speakers come to campuses, O'Neil said, you start by defending their right to speak, but you can go beyond that - or at least you do when you can. "In general I tend to be a strong defender of the power of university presidents and chancellors to condemn," he said. "But in the particular Middle East context, the risk is so high that what may appear to be a neutral, principled condemnation may appear to partisans on both sides to be taking sides in an inappropriate way," he said. As a result, O'Neil said, a president who might not hesitate to speak out about a racially charged event "might feel constrained."

O'Neil recalled that in 2002, when the late James O. Freedman, former president of Dartmouth College, prepared an open letter opposing the intimidation of Jewish college students, several hundreds college presidents signed. But hundreds of others declined to sign the statement, which was published in The New York Times, because it didn't also comment about bias problems faced by Muslim and Arab students. "There is unique volatility on this particular issue," he said.

Since this issue shows no sign of going away, O'Neil said that he hopes Ford's Difficult Dialogues project - through which colleges were selected in December to receive $100,000 grants to promote civil, open discussion on tough topics - has a positive impact. Many of the first 27 grants focused on issues of religion, and a number related specifically to the Middle East. Macalester College, for example, is receiving a grant to promote work on a dig in Israel and planning "peace summits" on the Middle East, to bring together various thinkers at the college's Minnesota campus.

Caryn McTighe Musil, who leads the Office of Diversity, Equity and Global Initiatives at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, said that promoting tough conversations is essential - and vexing - for colleges. Take the issue of comparing Israel with Nazi Germany. "I don't think one says to a group that you may never use a word in a certain way because it would offend me," Musil said.

The job of colleges is to explain why using "holocaust" as Irvine's Muslim groups does causes offense - and also explaining why they are doing so. "I think colleges should talk about why comparing Israel to the Nazis is not defensible," Musil said. "But I also think you have to explain why a Palestian might see parallels," she said. There is not genocide, but there are identification passes, borders changing, and more. "Higher education has to provide a space for this discussion." But college leaders shouldn't expect it to be easy, she said. "There are issues on which there are irreconcilable differences and that really tests the limits of what a campus community is about."



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"

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here. My home page is here


Tuesday, May 16, 2006


A Seminole County principal said a boy was drunk at a school dance, but his parents, a doctor, and a police officer all said he wasn't. However, until Thursday, he was still at home serving a suspension. The eighth grade student at Lawton Chiles Middle School in Seminole County got violently ill at the dance last Friday. On Monday, his principal suspended him because he suspected the 14-year-old was drunk. The school district would not talk about the specifics of the case, but said that a principal only has to have reasonable suspicion to suspend a student.

The boy's mom said that's not enough for her, especially when her son's doctor said otherwise. "I just want to get back to school so I can finish my work so I can pass," 14-year-old Joey Muller said. He has spent two and a half days working at his kitchen table instead of Lawton Chiles Middle School. His mom said he's learning the wrong lesson about fairness. "I just feel you shouldn't point a finger without actual evidence," said Michelle Hernandez, the boy's mother.

It all started Friday night at the eighth grade dance. Joey was driven there by a friend's parents and he felt fine at first. "I went inside, was talking with friends, went and got some punch and food," he said. But half an hour later while dancing, Joey felt violently ill. Friends had to help him to the bathroom. "My stomach was just turning the whole time and I felt like I had to throw up," he said.

School administrators and the resource officer called his mom to pick him up. He went to the doctor that night, but Monday morning the school principal called him in and suspended him for being drunk. Off camera, the resource officer said Joey did have trouble balancing and seemed like he could be intoxicated, but he did not see or smell any alcohol. The doctor wrote a note saying there was no evidence to justify the suspension from school.

"I just don't feel it's fair to suspend a child without actual evidence that they know for sure that's why he was sick," Hernandez said. The school district said, under state and federal policies, evidence isn't necessarily needed. "It's the sole prerogative of the principal and that's based on the professional training and educational experience that they make wise decisions," said Regina Klaers, Seminole County School District.

But the principal did shorten the suspension from ten days to five when Joey's mom complained he'd miss his final exams. Then, after Channel 9 started asking questions, suddenly the suspension was lifted. His mom brought him right to school on Thursday. There were rumors going around that the punch may have been spiked with alcohol or Visine. The officer said he found no evidence of that. About ten other children later told the officer they felt ill after the dance, but none of them were vomiting or sent home. The district wouldn't say why Joey's suspension was suddenly dropped Thursday. His mom's just glad he's back at school.



What nobody seems to be mentioning is that "whole language" seems to work for the children of more affluent families because the parents take their kids aside at some stage and explain phonics to them. Kids with less involved parents are not given those clues and so flounder. A particular interest of the excerpt below is that it does try to explain what motivates the "whole language" religion

The reading wars, of course, aren't only about reading. Yes, reading skills matter tremendously to New York parents, whether they aim to get their children into Harvard or just to their age-appropriate reading level. But the Reading Wars are also about race and class. Everyone stands to gain from phonics, advocates say, but no one figures to benefit more than children from low-income families who-unlike, say, the kids at elite private schools, most of which use a whole-language approach-often can't get extra tutoring in the basics. Parents of children with learning disabilities say their children benefit similarly from phonics.

There's also a political component to the Reading Wars. To phonics advocates, whole language is rooted in the worst liberal traditions: It's a freewheeling approach that lacks rigor and standards and could even, some say, be the first step down the slippery slope to abominations like Ebonics. And the entire New York City education culture, they say, is permeated by such soft thinking. Whole-language proponents, in turn, say phonics perpetuates authoritarian, patronizing "drill and kill" strategies that insult the art of teaching and turn kids into fifties-style robots, putting them off learning for life.

Where George W. Bush and many red states are phonics supporters, New York is dyed-in-the-wool whole-language country. Influential programs at Columbia and Bank Street College developed variations of the approach before it even had a name. Balanced Literacy, or at least the way it's practiced in New York, is largely the brainchild of Lucy Calkins, founder of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, who is looked upon nationally as a godmother of whole-language learning.

The issue in New York is that at the exact moment that Bloomberg and Klein made Balanced Literacy the cornerstone of the curriculum here, phonics scored several major victories in the Reading Wars. A National Institutes of Health-created commission of Ph.D.'s came down squarely on the side of phonics in a 2000 report, influencing the Bush administration to crack down-some say improperly, perhaps even scandalously-on non-phonics programs. And where hard science once had little to say about how various reading methods affected kids, a series of MRI studies done at Yale starting in the late nineties appeared to show that as many as one in every four children, regardless of class, race, or other demographic factors, needs direct instruction in basic skills before he can read. When kids with learning difficulties read with phonics, their brains light up on MRI scans like a Christmas tree. The conclusion, phonics advocates say, is clear: Kids need technical instruction in the basics before being immersed in the world of literature.

That argument doesn't persuade Klein. He's cultivating mindful, curious readers, he's said, not vanilla word-decoders. "I'm quite convinced the curriculum we're using, with inquiry-based learning, will serve our students throughout the city well over time," he says. In particular, Klein likes that Balanced Literacy looks a lot like the reading approaches in successful school districts on the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side and in most of the city's elite private schools. In a system where so many great schools coexist with so many horrible ones, Klein is convinced that the solution is not to adopt the practices of the worst schools but to export the best practices of the successful ones and end the educational apartheid.

To phonics advocates, this is like turning your back on the invention of the wheel or the secret of fire. Despite the modest improvements in city reading scores, they say, the reading crisis isn't going away here: The city's high-school-graduation rate is still only 54 percent. Phonics, supporters say, could be the closest thing New York gets to a vaccine that can stop kids' reading difficulties before they start. Why, they demand to know, isn't New York using it?

It's safe to say that when Michael Bloomberg came to City Hall in 2002, one of the last things on his mind was the best way to teach kids how to read. Taking over the public schools, as he improbably persuaded the state to let him do in his first six months in office, was more about management changes to him than pedagogy. In the summer of 2002, he hired Klein, a fellow outsider, as his chancellor, and Klein recruited a career superintendent named Diana Lam as his deputy for instruction. It was Lam who brought in Balanced Literacy. Neither Klein nor Bloomberg knew much about the program at the time, except that Lam had used it in cities where test scores went up, like San Antonio, Texas, and Providence, Rhode Island. For a mayor who wanted his first term judged on what he did with the schools, this was a clear plus. In what would be one of their only moments of agreement, Randi Weingarten, the teachers-union chief, agreed at first with Klein's plan and even went out of her way to praise his bravery. "If the system isn't working and someone has an idea that could theoretically make things much better," she said in an interview, "why not try it?"

It didn't take long-just days, actually-for the phonics camp to open fire. When Lam and Klein unveiled their reading program in January 2003-Balanced Literacy, with a small supplemental program called Month by Month Phonics-seven reading researchers unconnected to the public schools wrote an open letter to the mayor and Klein, blasting Month by Month Phonics as a phonics program in name only. They called Month by Month "woefully inadequate," lacking "a research base" and "the ingredients of a systematic phonics program" and putting "beginning readers at risk of failure in learning to read." Others were still less kind: Sol Stern of the conservative Manhattan Institute and the education historian Diane Ravitch berated Balanced Literacy's whole-language roots. "Many of the programs and methods now being crammed down the teachers' throats have no record of success," wrote Stern, "and are particularly ill suited for disadvantaged minority children. In fact, a cabal of progressive educators chose them for ideological reasons, in total disregard of what the scientific evidence says about the most effective teaching methods-particularly in the critically important area of early reading."

Parents in the more politically connected parts of town didn't need to be won over by Balanced Literacy, since more than 200 elementary schools already used it. But the ones who sent their kids to the other public schools were bewildered by a reading program that didn't have a textbook. "I held four days of hearings on reading," recalls Eva Moskowitz, then the City Council's Education Committee chair. In the hearings, she says, the city was hammered for what some called its "loosey-goosey" approach to teaching basic skills.

Phonics could be the closest thing New York gets to a vaccine that can stop kids' reading difficulties before they start. Why, advocates demand to know, isn't New York using it?

Parents' outrage was matched by that of teachers who had been asked to switch curricula in real time with just a few days of training and little day-to-day support. Instead, principals were handing them daily directives from the Tweed Courthouse to reconfigure their classrooms and lesson plans. The workload became staggering, and many teachers resisted, blasting Lam in the press for punishing teachers who didn't rearrange their rows of desks into cozy clusters or lay "reading rugs" in the corners. To some, Balanced Literacy became a buzzword for a new, bizarre form of tyranny. What was supposed to have been a progressive, flexible technique to unleash a child's inner reader had become something so claustrophobically scripted that critics predicted Klein would drive the most talented teachers out of the system.

The curriculum, in fact, became a lightning rod for the mayor's entire overhaul of the schools. Every criticism of the reforms, it seemed, circled back to the reading program. When the mayor tangled with the teachers union over contract negotiations, Weingarten abandoned her early enthusiasm for Balanced Literacy and demanded it be abolished. When the mayor ended social promotion for third-graders in 2004, Ravitch insisted that Klein ditch the scientifically flimsy curriculum. And when Lam abruptly resigned from her job in disgrace-exposed for getting her husband a job in the school system and trying to cover it up-it surprised no one when Sol Stern and others argued that it was time to scrap the "unproven" curriculum Lam brought in.

Cognition experts like Harvard's Steven Pinker have argued for some time that while learning to talk is an organic process you can generally learn on your own, like walking, reading is more like riding a bike or driving a car. Someone has to take you through the initial steps and get you over the unfamiliarity of the experience; then you have to spend time on your own perfecting the skills until it becomes second nature. The question at the heart of the Reading Wars is how much direct instruction do children really need.

The debate has raged, back and forth, across the country-phonics was out in California, then in again, and battled over in Texas and elsewhere-until finally, in the mid-nineties, NIH launched a project intended to settle the matter. In 1997, Congress asked NIH to create the National Reading Panel (a commission of academics) to consider the question. The panel took three years to review and scrutinize 1,000 recent academic studies of phonics-related reading programs, eliminating all but the most carefully constructed. In 2000, the panel released its "meta-analysis" and concluded that in order to learn to read, all children must master five separate skills: phonemic awareness (separating words into distinct sounds, like the c, a, and t in cat), phonics (learning the sounds letters and letter combinations make), fluency (the ability to read with speed and accuracy), vocabulary (learning new words), and comprehension (understanding what you're reading). These basic skills were nothing new to most people who taught elementary-school English. What the NRP added to the debate was the notion that direct instruction of these skills was the only proven method for teaching reading.

As a direct result of the NRP, those directing federal educational policy held up phonics as a sort of magic bullet, even though the data, critics say, fell well short of supporting such a blanket conclusion. For example, while the full NRP report acknowledged that "phonics instruction failed to exert a significant impact on the reading performance of low-achieving readers in second through sixth grade" and "there were insufficient data to draw conclusions about the effects of phonics instruction with normally developing readers above first grade," the more widely distributed NRP summary report endorsed phonics without qualification. "Phonics instruction," it read, "produces significant benefits for students in K through sixth grade and for students having difficulty learning to read."....

In the years after the NRP report, phonics racked up more scientific support. In the Yale MRI studies, researcher Sally Shaywitz, a member of the NRP, demonstrated that kids learning the NRP way developed their occipital-temporal parts of the brain (the part responsible for reading) more dramatically than the other children did. (Shaywitz was one of three members of the NRP to co-sign the open letter to the mayor in 2003 lambasting Month by Month Phonics.) "Learning to read used to be catch-as-catch-can, but now it is real science," she says. "There is evidence now that if you use evidence-based teaching methods, you can really rewire the brain." Faced with these results, Shaywitz says, it's foolish to hang on to whole language. "If you had a program that you know works, and something else you just feel pretty good about, would you volunteer your child for the one you weren't sure worked?"....


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"

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here. My home page is here


Monday, May 15, 2006

Shame! Eighth Grade In Mexico Sounds as good as a Low-Ranked American University

From Fred Reed

Just now the furor over illegal immigration from Mexico is most wonderfullt a'boil, with much billingsgate and vituperation emanating from practically everywhere. Well and good. People should all afflict each other as vigorously as they can. I mean, why were we put on earth if not to be disagreeable?

Howsomever, I've received email telling me how poorly educated the Mexicans are. Hmmm. Maybe. You can make a case for it. I know that immigrant kids do terribly in school in the US, which augurs ill indeed. Most kids don't read here either. Still, I found myself wondering just how bad the Mexican schools really are.

My stepdaughter, Natalia, aged fourteen and in the eighth grade, attends a public school in downtown Guadalajara, La Escuela Estatal Secundaria Manuel M. Dieguez Numero 7 para Senoritas. I am not an authority on Mexican education and cannot say whether hers is typical of urban Mexican schools. Nor do I know enough about American middle schools in general to make comparisons. The following are scans of pages from her texts of mathematics and biology accompanied by a few observations. I found them interesting. The translations are mine. Please excuse the sloppy scans and slow loads.

From Mathematicas 2 (ISBN 970-642-210-2)

“Consider two urns, one with 13 balls numbered from 1 to 13, and the other with 4 balls marked with the following figures: a red triangle, a red square, a black circle, or a black rhombus. How many combinations can be obtained by drawing one ball from each urn?

The possibilities can be represented by ordered pairs. For example, if from the first urn is drawn the ball marked with 2, and from the second, the ball with the square, the result is expressed thus: (2, square).The 52 pairs listed in the column to the left represent all possibilities…The probability of drawing an even number from the first urn is P(even) = 6/13 and the probability of drawing a red shape from the second urn is P(red) = 2/4 = ½. If the two probabilities are multiplied, the following is the result:

P(even) P(red) = (6/13)(1/2) = 6/26”

Not Nobel math, but not too bad, I thought.

From Biologia 2, her biology text:


"An important property of phospholipid bilayers is that they behave as liquid crystals; the carbohydrates and proteins can turn, and move laterally...." Note internal hydrophobic tails and external hydrophilic heads. This is not too shabby.

In the next pages is an account of both aerobic and anaerobic respiration, the 36 molecules of adenosine triphosphate resulting from aerobic glycolysis, and so on.

Early in Biologia 2 is a treatment of the role of RNA, including the substitution of uracil for thymine, transcription as distinct from translation, and the functions of messenger, transfer, and ribosomal RNA. Polypeptides are described and peptide bonds mentioned, but not with the NH3-COOH dehydration synthesis. A typical vocab list: “Endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi apparatus, endocytosis, ribosomes, cellular membrane.

Then, “The synthesis proceeds only in the 5’-3’ sense, which means that the chain that is being copied is read...."

Also, (above) "DNA is formed by the union of five atoms: carbon (C), oxygen (O), hydrogen (H), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P). The DNA molecule can be decomposed into the monomers that form it. There are called nucleotides, each of which contains three parts: a sugar of five carbons, deoxyribose; the phosphate; and a nitrogenous base, either adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), or thymine (T). Two of these bases, adenine and guanine, are structures of two rings and are called purines, while the other two, thymine and cytosine, have only one ring and are called pyrimidines.”

All of this has a notable resemblance to real if basic molecular biology. I'm not sure that it is anything to be embarrassed about.

Biologia 2 has a 31-page section on human reproduction that is purely scientific as distinct from socially propagandistic. There is no indoctrination about homosexual rights or oppression of the transgendered. The coverage is detailed and complete, with cutaway drawings of the genitalia, detailed discussion of meiosis as compared with mitosis, primary meiotic division, secondary meiotic division with prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase nicely laid out; chromatin, centromeres, and centrioles explained, and so on at length. There is an explanation of the menstrual cycle complete with a graph of variations of body temperature; description of embryonic growth; a table of tissues and organs arising from endoderm, ectoderm, and mesoderm; and explanations of various venereal diseases and how to avoid them. The treatment is neither prurient nor prissy. It is just biological : Here is how the lungs work, here is how the heart works, here is how the reproductive organs work.

Consequences however are presented straightforwardly. For example, there is a photograph of a primary syphilitic sore, which doubtless persuades students that they don’t want any and, in the section of what we would call “substance abuse,” a photo of a badly cirrhotic liver, sectioned. There are no pretty pictures for the sake of having pretty picture. All graphics have a direct bearing on the material being studied.

It may be that all of this is now standard in the eighth-grade in the United States. For all I know, American texts may be more advanced. I can’t make comparisons with things I don’t know about. But these do not seem to me to be bad books. Certainly when I was an eight-grader we didn’t get much of this; when I went on a physiology kick, I had to find a university text.

Still, I have my doubts as to whether the big-city schools in America are greatly ahead of Guadalajara. Detroit recently had, and probably still has, a forty-seven per cent rate of functional illiteracy. Guadalajara doesn’t. If someone were inspired to compare the foregoing material with what students, if so they can be called, are learning in downtown schools in, say, Washington, DC, Chicago, and New York, I would be interested to see the results.

It will be said, correctly, that the cities of America are populated by extensive underclasses of blacks and Hispanics. True enough. However, they are still American kids (now or soon to be) who are learning nothing. Natalia would eat them alive. I have some familiarity with the suburban, mostly white schools of Arlington County, Virginia, just outside of Washington, because my daughters went to them. At least one of these schools served populations living in very pricey neighborhoods.

The girls came home with misspelled handouts from affirmative-action science teachers, and they learned about Harriet Tubman and oppression. Of the sciences they learned very little. I knew bright kids who had trouble with the multiplication tables. Yes, there are schools and schools, some better than others, and advanced-placement and such. I do not suggest that Mexico has a great school system, because it doesn’t. Yet Natalia, in her particular school, is better off than she would be in Washington, heaven knows, or the Virginia suburbs. Ain’t that something?


More than 47,000 California high school seniors will be able to graduate next month after a state judge blocked a law requiring students to pass an exit exam. Judge Robert Freedman in Oakland today ruled the California High School Exit Examination, required for the first time this year, is unfair because some teachers aren't certified in the subjects tested, according to Arturo Gonzalez, a lawyer for the students.

Freedman's decision upholds an injunction blocking the state department of education from denying a diploma to any high school seniors who passed all required courses. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said lawyers for the schools have asked the court to stay the injunction as they prepare an appeal to Freedman's decision. The ruling is ``bad news for employers who want meaning restored to our high school diplomas,'' O'Connell said in a conference call with reporters. ``We do no favors to unprepared students by handing them a diploma without the skills needed to back them up.''

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said he supports O'Connell's decision to appeal the ruling, adding in a statement that the exit exam is the ``best resource'' for ensuring students are learning the ``skills they need to begin successful lives.''

Gonzalez cautioned students that they need to pass their classes in order to graduate. Freedman's decision gives ``47,000 students an opportunity to walk the stage with their classmates and to receive their high school diplomas,'' he said in a statement.


Kick politics out of education: It is only when Britain's leaders are in trouble that they start marching into schools

'Since I became leader of the Labour Party, I have emphasised that education will be a priority for me in government.... Our economic success and our social cohesion depend on it. An age of achievement is within our grasp - but it depends on an ethic of education.' (Twentieth-anniversary Ruskin College lecture given by UK prime minister Tony Blair on 16 December 1996.)

Nothing better illustrates modern politicians' retreat from politics than the images of US president George W Bush sitting in a primary school classroom, absorbed in the children's story My Pet Goat, on 11 September 2001, after he was informed that the country was under terrorist attack. For a few minutes he looked completely lost, as if he had suddenly been reminded that there was a big bad world outside.

Many have commented on Bush's lack of leadership on that occasion, but the problem is not so much that he was not ready when the terrorists struck. The real problem is that modern heads of government seem to be spending more and more of their time in classrooms. Governments are devoting time and energy to determining the minute details of children's educational experience.

There would be nothing wrong with improving standards in education if this had not replaced the more important task of improving society through politics. Annual school examination results, together with other public sector performance measures, have all but replaced ideology and political principles as a measure of government performance.

Public examinations' main aim now is not so much to measure student learning but rather to measure teachers, schools and government performance. This became obvious during the A-level scandal of summer 2002 that led to education secretary Estelle Morris' resignation. Government agencies and examination boards were clearly more worried about the political repercussions of a sudden rise in A-level marks, with the inevitable accusation of grade inflation, than they were in assessing the actual performance of students in England and Wales.

It is now common for government ministers to celebrate examination results as if they themselves, and not the students, had passed the exams. The Guardian website, for instance, informs us that 'Ministers celebrated hitting an education target a year earlier today'. The target the government had set for itself was 69.8 per cent of 19-year-olds obtaining at least five good GCSEs. The government had originally set the target at 70 per cent by 2006, but hit it a year earlier after it had revised it downwards by 0.2 percentage points, following its realisation that the 2004 results had been overestimated.

It is only 30 years ago but it seems like a different geological age when chief inspector of schools Sheila Browne could tell Labour prime minister James Callaghan: 'What are you doing interfering in education? This is none of your business.'

Callaghan's famous speech at Ruskin College, Oxford, on 18 October 1976, is widely credited with having started government meddling in education. Before Callaghan, 'the principle remained that government did not interfere in how, what or how well schools taught - it was enough to ensure that education was provided'. As Callaghan explained 20 years later: 'It was not normal for prime ministers to interfere openly in such questions. Obviously I must have ulterior motives.'

Obviously he did. Callaghan argued that education should be at the centre of political discussion: 'Everyone is allowed to put his oar in on how to overcome our economic problems.. Very important too...but not as important in the long run as preparing future generations for life.' For Callaghan, education was the main means to economic and social prosperity: 'the endowment of our children is the most precious of the natural resources of this community. So I do not hesitate to discuss how these endowments should be nurtured.'

It is not surprising that Callaghan, with his dire economic record, should have wanted to deflect public attention away from economics and on to education as a means of planning the country's future. What is extraordinary is that 20 years later New Labour should have embraced these same principles, elaborated in a moment of great crisis by a leader who has since told the press that he expected to be considered 'the worst prime minister since Sir Robert Walpole [1721-1742]'.

Today Blair proudly proclaims from the Downing Street website that 'education is now the centre of economic policymaking for the future'. He explains that education is 'central to everything we stand for - making our nation strong and competitive, enlarging opportunity, building successful families and responsible citizens, and eliminating social exclusion'.

Free universal education is certainly the mark of a civilised society, so perhaps we should welcome the fact that the government devotes so much interest, time and effort to it. Unfortunately, the use of education for political ends corrupts both education and politics. It corrupts education by twisting its purpose - from the intellectual emancipation of the child through the transmission of knowledge, to the attempt to create responsible citizens and workers, with the correct skills, attitudes and opinions. By using knowledge in an instrumental way, it devalues its importance.

Schools now consider knowledge as virtually useless unless it leads to an official outcome or objective, both within each lesson and at the end of the educational process, usually in the form of a state qualification, a job skill, or an awareness of some pet government issue such as teenage pregnancy or obesity.

Even universities are finding it increasingly difficult to justify knowledge as an end in itself. Higher education minister Bill Rammell's response in February 2006 to the news that university applications are down on subjects such as history, philosophy and classics, is typical. 'If students are making a calculation about which degree is going to get them the best job and the best opportunity in life, I see that as being no bad thing', he told the Press Association. One would have thought that it was the job of the minister for higher education at the very least to pretend to take an interest in the value of philosophical, historical and classical knowledge.

Rammell's philistine attitude, however, is not too surprising if one considers that his critics in the universities were also unable to defend the intrinsic value of their disciplines. 'I think the minister is just out of date', said Professor Douglas Cairns, who is honorary secretary of the Classical Association and head of history and classics at Edinburgh University. 'Like every other arts subject, we provide the full range of transferable skills that have been expected of us for the last 10 to 15 years. A degree in any humanities subject is an excellent training for the world of work.'

Jonathan Wolff, philosophy professor at University College London and honorary secretary of the British Philosophical Association, stated: 'It is a bad mistake to think that subjects like philosophy, history and classics do not prepare students for the workplace. In the modern world, detailed factual information goes out of date so quickly that employees need the skills to conduct research, and the flexibility of mind and imagination to see problems and possible solutions from many points of views. This is what philosophy and similar subjects provide so well.' And talking of skills, whoever said that university professors are not good salesmen?

The use of education for political ends also corrupts politics, by treating adult citizens as 'lifelong learners' in constant need of education. The call for education, education and education to be the first three priorities of a New Labour government represents a recognition of the limits of political debate to influence the economy and the direction of the country - and it therefore represents a change in the relationship between the government and its citizens. Where politics is based on argument and persuasion, education as a political tool is a form of behaviour modification.

Through political debate, citizens make important decisions about their country's future. The purpose of education is not to arrive at political decisions, but only to make children think so they can arrive at the conclusion that the educator already has in mind. The uneducated citizen by definition cannot have a valid opinion.

As the political theorist Hannah Arendt has explained: 'Education can play no part in politics, because in politics we have to deal with those who are already educated. Whoever wants to educate adults really wants to act as their guardian and prevent them from political activity.... The word "education" has an evil sound in politics; there is a pretence of education, when the real purpose is coercion without the use of force.'

It is perhaps not a coincidence, then, that Callaghan at the start of his speech addressed the trade unionists in the audience as incompetent adults in need of education: 'The work of a trade union official becomes ever more onerous, because he has to master continuing new legislation on health and safety at work, employment protection and industrial change. This lays obligations on trade unionists which can only be met by a greatly expanded programme of education and understanding. Higher standards than ever before are required in the trade union field.'

Unfortunately, the frenzied political debate on education has little to do with improving children's access to knowledge. Rather, it is an expression of anti-politics. It is our society's disillusionment with politics and democracy that makes us look to the education system as the only hope for a better society and a better future for the individual.



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"

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here. My home page is here