Saturday, September 23, 2006


Parents of truanting children at 1,000 primary schools face “fast-track” legal action and fines of £50 after figures indicated that a rise in absences among children under 12 had helped to push truancy figures to a record high. Statistics published yesterday show that, despite government spending of £900 million since 1998 to reduce the number of unauthorised absences from school, 30,000 children still skip classes regularly. These regular absences account for a third of all truancies at secondary school. The truancy rate in primary schools, measured as a percentage of half-days missed per pupil, rose by 7 per cent last year to 0.46 per cent, while in secondary schools truancy rates fell by less than 1 per cent to 1.22 per cent. Overall, the rate rose from 0.78 to 0.79 per cent in the state sector, while private schools also experienced a rise of 0.14 per cent.

The figures for primary schools will be of particular concern for ministers, just a month after primary test results fell well below government targets. Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, said that although the majority of truanting still occurred in secondary schools more effort was needed at primary level to prevent children and parents developing bad habits. Under a new scheme, 1,000 primary schools with poor attendance records will be asked to draw up a list of persistent truants. Their parents will be given 12 weeks to improve their children’s attendance or face automatic prosecution and a 50 pound fine. If this is not paid within 28 days, the fine will rise to 100 pounds.

So far the fast-track scheme has been implemented in only 200 secondary schools, where it has resulted in a 27 per cent fall in persistent truants in a year, with 3,500 of the 13,000 worst offenders returning to class. Mr Knight said that there was no single reason to explain the rise in truancy, although a contributory factor may be the high number of parents taking their children on holiday during the school term to take advantage of off-peak prices. “We have asked schools to be much tougher about authorising holidays during term time,” he said. “There are cultural things going on with truancy. The rate has increased across the board, in independent schools as well as state schools. We have to shift the culture to break the truancy habit, particularly among younger children.” To reach this age range, the Government has set up a £40 million pilot scheme of parent support advisers to help the families of truants aged 8 to 13.

Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT, a union representing teachers and head teachers, said that parents who allowed their children to play truant were denying them access to an education and a decent future. “More work has to be done to discourage those parents who condone truancy by taking their children out of school for holidays, shopping trips or telling them to stay in and wait for the gas man,” she said. Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that punitive initiatives such as the fast-track scheme could put a strain on the relationship between head teachers and parents. A better solution could be for holiday companies to work with schools to use newsletters to promote affordable holidays.

Nick Gibb, the Conservative schools spokesman, said: “We need to focus on the causes of truancy and disaffection — mixed-ability teaching, poor discipline and low levels of reading ability. That is why the Conservative Party is committed to setting children by ability.”



Within hours of victory in his party presidential race Shinzo Abe, Japan’s right-wing incoming prime minister, suffered a heavy legal blow to his nationalist agenda when a Tokyo court ruled that it was unconstitutional to force patriotism on school teachers. The ruling will undermine Mr Abe’s plans to revise Japan’s basic education law and was described by one of the teachers’ victorious lawyers as “a blow to government high-handedness” in the sphere of education. ]

In the largest such legal action in Japan’s postwar history, 401 school teachers sued the Tokyo metropolitan education board over its insistence that they should stand, visibly respect the flag and audibly chant the words to Japan’s national anthem, Kimigayo, at school ceremonies. The original idea behind the scheme was that teachers should set a clear example to pupils — a generation that Japan’s political old guard regard as lacking the sort of patriotism that supposedly drove Japan’s economic growth. Teachers who failed to comply were sent to a humiliating series of “re-education” classes.

The teacher plaintiffs, of whom 370 have been reprimanded by their schools and about a dozen sacked over “anthem infractions”, have been fighting the case since 2004 and yesterday, after two years in court, were told that the education board’s behaviour was an infringement of freedom of thought as guaranteed by Japan’s constitution.

Judge Koichi Namba said that the metropolitan government — itself under the control of Tokyo’s strongly nationalist governor Shintaro Ishihara — had been wrong to punish teachers for their failure to sing the anthem. The court ordered the board to pay 30,000 yen (about £150) to each of the teachers. The ruling said that teachers were constitutionally under no obligation to stand, sing or even play the piano as an accompaniment to the anthem.

Yoko Adachi, who has been teaching history for 35 years and was punished for failing to stand for the anthem, said: “The Hinomaru flag and Kimigayo anthem are things you should never be forced to respect. If I simply followed the directive and bowed to pressure from the education board, then I wouldn’t be able to teach real Japanese history in class.” Sawa Kawamura, a teacher in a school for the disabled, said that the education board’s directive had produced a bizarre situation where wheelchair-bound children were not allowed to collect their graduation certificates until they had been pulled up on to the school stage where the national flag was displayed.

The teachers’ court battle has become the cause célèbre of liberal Japanese who regard patriotism drives in schools as a return to dark episodes of the country’s history. Patriotism is the chief strut of the incoming prime minister’s platform. Next week Mr Abe assumes the leadership role being vacated by Junichiro Koizumi. He won the presidency of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on an overtly right-wing ticket — promoting the view that Japan’s problems could be solved by a surge of countrywide nationalism. His core position has been badly damaged by the ruling in favour of the teachers.


Breaking the Leftist stranglehold on journalism education in Australia

"Journalism courses run by the University of the Sunshine Coast, the University of Western Sydney and the private Brisbane college Jschool have been judged the best by their students"

JSchool? It's a private journalism school run by the excellent Professor John Henningham, who you might recall is the man whose famous survey established what your ears and eyes already suspected - that most journalists are far to the Left of the public they are meant to serve.

The question now is why Henningham's private school is held in higher esteem by its students than are many of the expensively maintained (by taxpayers) journalism schools run by universities such as RMIT and the University of Technology, Sydney (of which more in the next post).

Are private colleges forced to be more responsive to their students? Are they more likely through necessity if nothing else to understand the society from which they draw their students and livelihood? Are they less likely to be the rigid ideological factories that so many media employers now suspect university schools have become?

And do we really need so many taxpayer-funded journalism schools that produce far, far more graduates than will ever get media jobs and aren't much respected by the students they purport to teach?

Bravo Professor Henningham for shining another light on production of groupthink in the mainstream media.

(Comment above by Andrew Bolt)


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, September 22, 2006


During a visit in March to an honors sophomore English class in an impoverished area of Connecticut, Robyn R. Jackson heard the teacher declare proudly that her students were reading difficult texts. But Jackson noticed that their only review of those books was a set of work sheets that required little thought or analysis. Jackson, an educational consultant and former Gaithersburg High School English teacher, sought an explanation from a school district official. He sighed and told her, "We have a lot of work to do to help teachers understand what true rigor is."

In an American education system full of plans for better high schools, more and more courses have impressive labels, such as "honors," "advanced," "college prep" and "Advanced Placement." But many researchers and educators say the teaching often does not match the title. "A company selling an orange-colored beverage under the label 'orange juice' can get in legal trouble if the beverage contains little or no actual juice," said a February report from the National Center for Educational Accountability, based in Austin. "But there are no consequences for giving credit for Algebra 2 to students who have learned little algebra."

Grade inflation is a well-known issue. Many critics of public schools contend that students nowadays get better grades for less achievement than they used to. Experts also worry about courses that promise mastery in a subject but fail to follow through. Call it course-label inflation. The educational accountability center's researchers, Chrys Dougherty, Lynn Mellor and Shuling Jian, found course-label inflation particularly harmful to low-income and minority students. They said 60 percent of low-income students, 65 percent of African American students and 57 percent of Hispanic students who had received course credit for geometry or algebra 2 in Texas failed a state exam covering material from geometry and algebra 1. By contrast, the failure rates for non-low-income and white students were 36 and 32 percent, respectively.

U.S. Education Department senior researcher Clifford Adelman, the government's leading authority on the links between high school programs and college completion, said some high school transcripts apply the label "pre-calculus" to any math course before calculus. Some students who had taken "pre-calculus," according to the transcripts he inspected, had skills so rudimentary that they were forced to take basic algebra in their first year of college. The College Board's Advanced Placement program plans to ask teachers soon to fill out a form confirming that their course materials meet college-level standards. Jackson said one College Board official told her of a school that had started an AP Spanish course but was using seventh-grade workbooks.

AP courses at least have final exams, written and scored by outside experts, that reveal whether students have mastered the material. Wayne Bishop, a math professor at California State University in Los Angeles, examined an AP calculus class in a Pasadena, Calif., high school. All 23 students, Bishop found, got As and Bs from their teacher, but their grades on the AP exam were the college equivalent of 21 Fs and two Ds.

Most high school honors and advanced courses don't have independent benchmarks like the AP tests, so inflated course labels are more difficult to detect. Michael Goldstein, founder of the MATCH Charter Public School in Boston, described the sort of dialogue that often produces courses that don't keep their promises in other schools: "The principal tells the teacher, 'You're teaching algebra 2.' The teacher responds, 'But our tests show these kids haven't mastered one-fourth plus one-half, let alone algebra 1.' The principal responds, 'Well, we need to offer them algebra 2 because it helps on their college transcripts.' "

Many selective colleges defend themselves against course-label inflation by giving admitted students placement tests to see which college courses they are ready to take. A better and more far-reaching solution, many high school educators say, is to prepare students in lower grades for the demanding courses ahead of them and make sure the standards do not slip.

The center for educational accountability's report recommended that high schools help ninth-graders see the worth of taking challenging courses and find ways to build their skills so they are ready for them. Experts cite Wakefield High School in Arlington, which this year won a $25,000 Inspiration Award from the College Board for preparing large numbers of low-income and minority students for AP courses.

Wakefield junior Narciso Chavez, 16, is a product of the school's AP Network, a collection of summer programs, ninth-grade interventions and student clubs operated by teachers who look for potentially strong students who had been overlooked. Chavez's father is a bus driver and his mother a hotel supervisor; both are from El Salvador. Before Chavez arrived at Wakefield, he was told he had a learning disability. But the Wakefield teachers thought he could handle an accelerated program, including geometry and algebra 2 in his sophomore year.

Chavez said he resisted until his friend Marcelo Rejas, already in the courses, suggested that Chavez wasn't up to it. Chavez accepted the challenge, took both courses and received high scores on the state tests in geometry and algebra 2. This year, he is taking AP Spanish, AP English language and AP chemistry. He also has a special AP seminar that gives him extra time at school to confer with teachers and do homework. He does four more hours of homework a night, with an hour-long break at 9 p.m., when he reads the Bible and prays with his family. "I decided I wanted to be successful," said Chavez, who is thinking of a career in engineering, law or chemistry.

Mike Riley, superintendent of a school district in Bellevue, Wash., and a proponent of higher national high school standards, said the solution to course-label inflation was to connect tightly the curriculum of each grade, from kindergarten through high school, to the next, so it is obvious which students need more help. Several educators said external benchmarks are also necessary, pointing to state math tests that Chavez took in the spring. They showed that he had mastered geometry and algebra 2. Without such benchmarks, said Andrew Rotherham, a former White House education adviser and a member of the Virginia Board of Education, "there is too much variance, and that ultimately disadvantages students, in particular poor and minority students. It sounds very romantic to say, 'Leave it all to the schools or the teacher,' but it just doesn't work in a system as heterogeneous, in every way, as ours is."



Instead of solving the problems that their failed educational theories have created, they are just running away and hoping someone else can solve them

The worst-performing secondary schools in the country face being taken over by the best or shut down completely, The Times has learnt. Head teachers of schools with trust status, an initiative designed to give them greater independence from local authorities, will be able to act as chief executives overseeing the progress of less successful institutions. The plans come amid concerns that Labour's record investment has failed to improve standards at the bottom of school league tables, with more than one in six secondaries now providing a second-rate education.

A confidential government hitlist has identified 512 secondary schools, from a total of 3,385, that are officially classified as "underperforming" because only 25 per cent or less of pupils attain five good GCSEs. An estimated 400,000 children attend these schools, with many leaving at 16 without the skills to get a job. They include Montgomery School in Canterbury, where just 1 per cent of pupils achieved five A* to C GCSEs, including maths and English, in 2005, against a national average of 44.3 per cent. Also on the list is Ridings School in Calderdale, West Yorkshire, which achieved notoriety in 1996 after pupil behaviour and staff action plunged it into chaos. Despite the help of troubleshooting head teachers, just 5 per cent of pupils managed five A* to C GCSEs, including maths and English, last year.

Under the new plans, such schools would be taken over by high-achieving schools, linked together by a single independent trust. The trusts, set up under the new education Bill, would be run by a chief executive, usually the existing head of the lead school in the partnership. The chief executive would appoint new heads for each of the partner schools and would have the freedom to take whatever other actions were necessary to raise standards, including the removal of up to 20 per cent of staff. Sir Cyril Taylor, head of the Government's specialist schools programme and the architect of the reforms, said that a large number of heads in high- performing schools had already expressed an interest in taking over underperforming schools nearby.

The key in turning round an underperforming school was good leadership and a strong vision. "I believe that the strong should help the weak. Best practice can be replicated with good leadership in even the most challenging schools," he said. Sir Cyril said that the reforms would help to nurture new leaders and address the leadership crisis in schools. At present 1,500 English primary and secondary schools lack a permanent head. "If we are short of 1,500 head teachers, it will clearly be difficult to find sufficient outstanding head teachers for every underperforming school, and this is where collaboration and co-operation between schools can be crucial in raising performance," Sir Cyril added.

High-performing schools can already take over failing schools by forming a federation under existing legislation, but such arrangements cannot be permanent and have limited powers. Under the new education Bill, expected to receive Royal Assent this year, a new breed of independent school trust, free from local authority control, will be possible. In a speech today at the Federations and School Leadership conference in London, Sir Cyril will say that trust status will be key to making school partnerships work. Those underperforming schools that were not taken over by others should either be closed down completely, if their pupil numbers were falling, and their pupils sent to nearby schools, or they should seek private sponsorship to become academy schools, he said.

Teaching unions are generally in favour of the move towards more partnerships between schools, provided that heads and teachers from failing schools who lose their jobs are properly compensated. John Dunford, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The principle of a successful school supporting a less successful one in partnership is an excellent one." However, he questioned the idea of classifying as "failing" all schools with 25 per cent or less of pupils attaining five good GCSEs. "It will depend on the ability of the children when they join a school," he said.

Examples of successful take-overs include the Ninestiles Federation in Birmingham. In 2001 the highly successful Ninestiles School took responsibility for the Waverley School, then on the brink of special measures. The partnership finished in 2005, by which time the proportion of Waverley students gaining five good GCSEs had risen from 16 to 75 per cent.



Treating little kids kindly is obviously an alien concept for them. They might profit by reading Matthew 18:1-6

A mother is angry that her first-grader was suspended from school over a plastic toy gun. "I asked her, 'You're going to suspend my son for 10 days for this? He cannot harm a soul with this,'" said Danielle Womack, whose son, Tawann Caskey, was suspended from Milton Moore Elementary School. KMBC's Natalie Moultrie reported that Tawann was suspended over a 2-inch plastic squirt gun

"She told me it's a weapon, a little girl saw it and reported to a teacher that he had a weapon," Womack said. According to Kansas City, Mo., School District policy, the squirt gun is a simulated weapon and a class IV, which is the most serious school offense. Moultrie reported that principals have no discretion in cases like Tawaan's. It is an automatic 10-day suspension. "We ask our principals for safety of students and staff, and we do follow the code of conduct and do not give exceptions to Class IV offenses. We take it very seriously," the school district's Phyllis Budesheim said.

Moultrie reported that the incident will stay on Tawann's school record. But Womack said her son does not understand why he's not in school. "I think this could have been resolved in a different way. It's wrong to bring it school, but come on, he's 6 years old. This would not hurt a soul," Womack said. The school district said it is all policy -- one that the school told students and parents about at the start of the year. "We regret that this happened. My feeling is that by not giving any exceptions, this young man will not bring a toy gun to school again," Budesheim said.

The school district said that the incident should be a reminder to parents to check their children's backpacks before they go to school. Moultrie reported that Womack is waiting to state her case before a school district hearing Wednesday morning.



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, September 21, 2006

The California Left wants to segregate Latino schoolchildren

For now, the state Legislature's unseemly war on the gutsy, no-nonsense state Board of Education is over, with our unpopular Legislature abandoning Sacramento for its long annual vacation back in the home districts. It would be nice if the public -- left largely in the dark in this debate -- could hurl probing questions at local "progressive" legislators as to why they are waging war on the state Board of Education, why they are trying to turn back the clock on Latino kids and segregate them again, and why they are fudging numbers to make it appear that Latino kids are not improving when in fact they're improving faster than they have in decades.

If you hate politicians, you will really despise them when you find out how low our Legislature went to serve the twisted purposes of adult special-interest groups at the expense of California's poorest kids. The latest effort, Senate Bill 1769 by Southern California Democrats Martha Escutia, Judy Chu and Jackie Goldberg, is likely to be vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, just as it would have been by former Govs. Gray Davis and Pete Wilson before him, and ... well, you get the idea.

Senate Bill 1769 arises from voters' 1998 decision to ban "bilingual" education, which kept immigrant kids stuck in Spanish and stunted in English. But "progressive" and Latino-elected leaders were unanimous in insisting that, under Proposition 227, Latino kids would buckle from the intense pressure of having to perform academically while trying to learn English. Remember that? Didn't happen. Under Wilson, an emboldened state Board of Education had already begun to reform the schools. Prop. 227 was a useful tool. As The Chronicle reported in 1999, "In the past year alone, Wilson's board reinstated phonics instruction, changed how math will be taught, installed a new state achievement test, established grade-by-grade academic standards and refused to consider school district requests to teach in languages other than English."

Davis' Board of Education was just as gutsy, linking textbook content to the tougher standards -- despite pitched opposition. Tests scores are now steadily climbing. Our awful schools are doing something right. But last spring, the Latino and Democratic Caucus declared war on the Board of Education. "Progressive" legislators demand that the board adopt a faddish idea, "Option VI," to help "close the gap" between immigrant and non-immigrant kids. The board refused, so the Democrats cut the board's $1.5 million annual funding.

No serious researcher would embrace "Option VI," the latest Orwellian effort to segregate Latino kids and water down academic standards. The "books and materials" were accurately described by the Los Angeles Times as having "more pictures and simple vocabulary." Dumbed-down. Separate. Arnold, who has temporarily funded the gutsy Board of Education from funds he controls, will likely veto SB1769. When I had lunch with him several weeks ago, we didn't discuss it specifically, but he firmly opposed simpler books and separate materials. "We don't want separate, we want together," he told me.

Even so, this will not be the last we've heard from Sacramento "progressives." So what's really going on? For starters, immigrant children are so quickly becoming literate in English compared to a decade ago, that many California schools now refuse to identify them as fluent. Why? Because California rewards schools for having "English learners." Schools who admit a student has become "proficient" lose that money. That money, in turn, feeds a politicized adult lobby inside the schools whose jobs and power rely on keeping kids in the "English learner" category.

One result: 170,000 children fluent in English are stuck in the "learner" category today. Some 522,000 immigrant kids, reclassified as proficient in English, scored higher on statewide tests than average California students. Their scores strongly suggest that schools are requiring "English learners" to learn it better than average California students before they are classified as proficient.

A tortured analysis in Escutia's bill claims that the "performance gap" between English learners and other California students "has remained virtually constant in most subject[s]" since Prop. 227. How absurd. In truth, California's "English learner" population of about 1.6 million swells weekly from illegal immigration. As fast as kids learn English, their numbers are replenished. The "gap" won't be narrowed anytime soon. Former Govs. Wilson and Davis get it. In July, they wrote an open letter urging Sacramento not to dumb-down standards: "Standards provide a measure of excellence regardless of one's skin color, family income or ZIPcode. ... Not every child will fully meet the challenge, but all will benefit from the effort."

Schwarzenegger will probably do the right thing. But as long as a fervently politicized mini-industry in our schools is rewarded, the progressives' misbegotten war over English immersion, textbooks, curriculum and skills will persist.



The new nine-to-five degree, which spells the end to three-month summer vacations, is proving a hit with lawyers, hoteliers and professionals keen to get ahead in the job market. As the first full-time fast-track students embarked on their courses yesterday, universities piloting the revolutionary programmes were already turning away candidates, having filled their quotas. The new degree compresses three years' work into two, as students toil through both summer vacations. They cost 3,000 pounds less than a traditional honours course and ministers hope that this will encourage more people who are put off by top-up fees and student debts to apply.

This year the proportion of state school pupils and those from low-income families at university dropped to its lowest level in three years, despite government pressure to increase numbers. Julie Smith, senior lecturer in law at Staffordshire University, said that the department had been "pleasantly surprised" by the numbers applying. With school-leavers, career-changers, European, African and Canadian students, she says that the degree has a healthy mix. "There will always be more than one tutor for every module, so they will have back-up," she said. "If any student finds it too much, they can slow down along the way and even do the three-year degree." Staffordshire is one of five universities, with Derby, Leeds Metropolitan, Northampton and the Medway partnership, offering fast-track degrees. The Higher Education Funding Council for England is pouring 3 million into the flexible learning programmes and expects about 600 students to enrol in the first year.

Andrew Haldane, who leads the fast-track learning projects in Derby, said that tutors expected to accept a full quota on each of their courses in the joint honours tourism and hospitality sector as well as in business studies. More tutors will be recruited in January. However, he said that he expected few universities to follow suit until they were properly paid for the extra tuition. "We get slightly more than two years' worth (of tuition fees), but it's a good deal less than three," he said. "So if demand is shown for these programmes, the council would need to address that."

Last week Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, suggested that universities could replace three-year residential honours degrees with flexible credit-based systems, part-time courses and programmes delivered over the internet. Cliff Allen, deputy chief executive of the Higher Education Academy, said there was a market for accelerated degrees, but added that, without extra resources, they could be seen as "cut-price". The future, he said, would probably lie in the more flexible vocational degrees centred on workplace learning.


Australia: More on pro-terrorist "Research"

The critics of my opinion piece on terrorism research allege that the status quo is fine. They also defend the ubiquitous "class, sex, race" theoretical template and similar ideological presuppositions that predetermine the outcomes of their research. These defenders of the status quo complacently think their research paradigm is irrefutable and therefore anyone who challenges them must be wrong. They typify the arrogance of the academic elites that dominate the research agenda in Australia. Fortunately, the truly lamentable state of affairs in terrorism studies is becoming clear as other scholars in the field reveal the abuses that are occurring ("Research 'blames West for terror"', The Australian, September 15).

Among the critics defending the status quo are Stuart Koschade and Luke Howie, who are doing PhDs. They claim that "during the next four years the academic community will be inundated with young Australian scholars with a special expertise in studying terrorism".

Apparently Australians are meant to think this is a good thing. On the contrary, we should be very worried about the ideologies that these researchers will be imposing on terrorism studies in the near future. In fact, these ideologies are quite bizarre, as I pointed out in my original article, and as David Martin Jones and Carl Ungerer have also recently revealed ("Delusion reigns in terror studies", The Australian, September 15). Overwhelmingly, these ideologies blame the victim for terrorism and absolve the terrorists.

Koschade and Howie proudly refer to themselves as members of "an ambitious bunch and we all plan to be significant features on the terrorism studies landscape". Let us therefore take them at their word and look at what they have achieved in this field as they have pursued their climb up the academic ladder. Koschade managed a special mention in the Best Paper by an Emerging Researcher prize, Social Change in the 21st Century conference 2005, a conference he promotes in his article. This conference is a one-day affair that appeals to postgraduates and has nothing particularly to do with terrorism. Koschade presented an essay about Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese cult that was active in the early 1990s.

Howie similarly promotes the Safeguarding Australia Summit in Canberra this week, at which he is presenting a paper on Melbourne as a Terrorist Target and the Human Response as part of a session that goes for all of 20 minutes (tomorrow, for those who don't want to miss it). This conference exemplifies the way in which terrorism research has been absorbed into the academic conference industry. Participation in this industry is open to anyone who pays a very high fee: in this case, $1195. In return, participants get the opportunity to present a micro-paper (15-18 minutes) on the subject of their choice, the big pay-off being that they can then include their presentation at an impressive-sounding conference in their CV as they proceed to climb the academic ladder.

A gang of four critics (Alex Bellamy, et al, HES, September 13) also defends the status quo, within which they are apparently doing very well, exploring such areas as the "aesthetics of terrorism", as if there is something sublime about mangled bodies. Fortunately, the ideological bias of their work has been well exposed by others, so I need waste little time on them here, beyond noting their defence of the equally questionable views of Scott Burchill. Unfortunately, they fail to disclose that one of their number, Richard Devetak, is a co-author with Burchill of a textbook on international relations: hardly the basis of an objective defence.

This group also alleges that I have an obligation to disprove Burchill's claims that "Muslim identity in Australia has been increasingly constructed as a problematic Other". Why? If Burchill (or anyone else) says that Muslim identity is constructed by Santa Claus, am I obliged to disprove such a patently absurd claim? Isn't it up to Burchill to prove such assertions in the first place? The group then writes about "the empirical basis" of these arguments about the Other, as if such a basis exists. In fact there is no empirical evidence whatsoever that this "social construction of the Other" model has any basis in reality. This obsession with the Other is simply an item of faith taken up by post-structuralists and postmodernists and inherited from Claude Levi-Strauss, Jacques Derrida and Edward Said, none of whom proved that it relates to any real aspect of human knowledge. It certainly plays no role in any reputable psychology or epistemology.

Goldie Osuri and Bobby Banerjee (HES, September 13) are explicit: they want me silenced. They also defend the theoretical template, make some observations about the Enlightenment and suggest I take a sabbatical in Kabul, without showing what any of this has to do with terrorism research in Australia. Brett Bowden's article (HES, September 13) is also simplistic and misleading, and he undermines his own credibility by misquoting the title of one of my articles. Bowden refers to What's Wrong with Terrorism? by Robert Goodin of the Australian National University, where Bowden is based. This book is notable for Goodin's claim that "terror is not only the weapon of organisations like al-Qa'ida; it also benefits democratic politicians. Political figures conducting a campaign of fear as part of their war on terrorism may therefore be committing at least one of the same wrongs as terrorists themselves."

This absurd and dangerously irresponsible argument exemplifies the crisis of terrorism studies in Australia. These critics seek to defend the ideological status quo from which they benefit, even if that ideology equates terrorism with the policies of the Australian Government and other democratic governments, and absolves vicious terrorists who have openly declared their intentions of destroying our society.



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, September 20, 2006


It's hard to get into college these days: Since the baby boomers' kids came of age, the number of students in classrooms and the level of competition have both surged. Luckily, there are still a few ways to guarantee Ivy League admission--high SAT scores, lots of extracurricular activities, alumni in the family and the name of a prestigious private prep school on your transcript. Right?

Wrong. Admissions offices broke the record this year for the greatest number of valedictorian rejections. Today, approximately 41% of America's student population has a grade point average over 3.5. Yale has approximately 21,000 applicants annually and only 1,300 available slots. Ninety-seven percent of Stanford's new freshman class were ranked in the top 20% of their high schools, and 45% ranked in the top 1% or 2%. Harvard has an abundance of candidates with strong credentials, but it now accepts an estimated all-time-low 9% of them.

So what can desperate applicants do to get into the school of their dreams, and what old tricks just won't work? Applicants continually search for a formula to attract the attention of admissions officers, but the only thing that always works is being an all-around student. "We try to understand the student as a whole person, and also to understand how he or she has performed in the context of whatever academic and community opportunities he or she has encountered," says Jeffrey Brenzel, Yale's dean of undergraduate admissions. "We seek academic excellence, evidence of leadership and integrity, and evidence of high personal impact on others."

In the past, desperate college applicants would jazz up their applications with a little volunteer work--working in a soup kitchen or cleaning up trash in public parks. But nowadays, you'd be better off tidying up your own bedroom. Colleges are aware that many high schools enforce community service requirements, and they're especially wary of students who volunteer their time for the sake of transcripts. Says Bruce J. Breimer, head of college guidance at the prestigious Collegiate School: "One admissions officer told me, 'If I read another essay about kids building houses in Costa Rica, I'm going to scream.'"

And you can forget about stacking up lots of pointless after-school activities. Among similarly qualified students, strong extracurriculars can give one candidate the edge. But admissions officers would rather see you excel in one club, rather than just show up at ten. "It's most important to do something with enthusiasm, passion and commitment," says James Miller, director of admissions at Brown University.

Maybe your plan is to wow the admissions office with a fantastic essay? Keep dreaming, Shakespeare. A stellar composition can't salvage an underwhelming application, says Harvard's current director of admissions, Dr. Marlyn McGrath Lewis. "We never base our decisions on essays. We read them carefully, but we understand how easily they can be purchased or written by anyone. They can certainly illuminate a case, but we'd be foolish to base our decisions on them."

Even good grades won't keep those thin rejection letters at bay. Admissions officers understand the difference between an A in an easy class and a B in a hard one. And increasingly, top colleges have staff members who become experts on high schools in specific regions. They know which schools engage in grade inflation, and which tough ones issue few high marks.

So what does ring a school dean's bell? Admissions officers don't have specific pre-made profiles for ideal candidates, and they don't rely on any one factor to determine admission. Instead, they aim to compose a diverse student body with a diverse group of individuals. "We define diversity as interests, experiences, values and background," says Christoph Guttentag, Duke University's head of admissions. A proficient glockenspiel player can be just as desirable as a football MVP--it simply depends on what a college is lacking.

Knowing the tricks can only get you so far. In the end, to be an ideal candidate for a college, a student must work hard, develop a sense of passion, yearn for intellectual and personal stimulation, pursue activities outside of the classrooms in a profound way--and remember to breathe in the process. Says the Collegiate School's Breimer: "Be yourself. Don't try to beat the system."



Teachers and campaigners clashed yesterday over government plans for schools to offer "wraparound" childcare that would have pupils spending 50 hours a week in school. All schools will have to open from 8am to 6pm within the next four years in an attempt to give state school pupils the same opportunities as those in the private sector. Beverley Hughes, the Children's Minister, told The Times yesterday that the initiative was so popular that 2,500 schools had signed up ahead of target.

But as the Archbishop of Canterbury expressed concern about the growing pressures on children at school, head teachers, staff, unions and campaigners questioned whether it was good for children to spend so long in school. Dr Rowan Williams said that children faced too much "pressure to achieve" and had to take too many tests. Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education,said: "This will destroy childhood and deprive children of the chance to enjoy other people or things outside the school environment." The longer school day is designed to help working parents and to give children access to activities that they might not otherwise have.

But on the day that the Church launched an inquiry into the state of childhood, education campaigners claimed that sending pupils to school for so long would deprive them of the chance to learn from other situations, and deny them the space to think about and absorb the lessons of the day. "In many ways it is an abuse of children to stick them for that many hours of the day in school. Children need to get out and see the world," Mr Seaton said.

The Children's Society inquiry has been set up because of concerns about the rising levels of depression among children, and Dr Williams said that early research had suggested that pressure in school was a factor. He highlighted "relentless testing" as well as advertisements aimed at children and "family-unfriendly" incentives for working mothers. "Allowing families to work more flexibly ought to work for the good of a family. The trouble is that very often it is presented or understood primarily just in terms of getting women back to the workplace."

The Government's Extended Schools programme is designed to offer children a range of extracurricular activities out of normal school hours, It is intended to enable youngsters to develop new skills and talents and discover activities at which children shine. "Independent schools have always done this," Ms Hughes said. "They have given children opportunities to excel by offering them a wide range of activities. "In the long run it helps build children's confidence and self-esteem. Their academic results improve as a result."

Ms Hughes's remarks coincide with the publication of a new report today, led by Alan Dyson, of the University of Manchester, which has found that extending school hours by offering breakfast clubs and after-school activities can help boost academic performance, attendance and behaviour.

But Richard Thornhill, head teacher of Loughborough Primary School in Brixton, South London, one of the government's flagship Extended Schools, gave warning that it would not be good for children to spend 50 hours a week at school. "We strongly encourage parents not to leave any child full-time five days a week," he said. "It removes the opportunity for parents to get really involved with their own children. We cannot replace parents at school. We cannot replace the love and care and nurture they should get from their parents. Giving a child the freedom to have down time does not work very well at school because we have to have rules and regulations."

David Willetts, the Shadow Education Secretary, agreed that children might suffer from being kept at school for so long. "It's bad for children who are unhappy at school to keep them there," he said. Others welcomed the move. Frank Gulley, headteacher of Temple Sutton Primary School in Southend-on-Sea, which provides ten hours of services each day for children aged as young as six weeks, said: "It would be great if all children went home and had a smashing experience and sat down for a meal with their parents, but they don't. Many of them just go to a childminder or are sat down in from of the television. "If we were providing all lessons and no play it would be bad for them. But we provide many opportunities for play, do sport or learn an instrument."


Princeton drops early admissions

They want less sophisticated applicants???

Princeton University on Monday became the second elite university to drop its early admissions program, following Harvard in a move the Ivy League schools say will benefit disadvantaged students and reduce anxiety. Harvard`s announcement last week that it would evaluate all applicants in a single pool prompted speculation about whether other universities would follow suit - a change that could transform the admissions process for high-achieving students.

Such programs - particularly early decision - have been criticized for increasing the anxiety of the application process and informally discriminating against less sophisticated applicants.

Princeton was considered the most likely of the prominent private universities to follow Harvard. Yale, MIT, Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania, among others, have all indicated they would likely keep their current systems - at least for now.

Princeton admitted about half of this year`s entering freshman class of 1,230 through early decision. At most universities with early decision, a higher proportion of applicants are admitted in the early round, but the applicant pool itself is also stronger. The decision was discussed by Princeton`s board over the weekend, the university said, and announced to faculty at a meeting late Monday.



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, September 19, 2006

Math wars end in sight?

It’s a pleasure to welcome the prospect of not just a ceasefire but a peace treaty in some of the major pedagogical hostilities in our time: the math wars. A report from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics could satisfy both the faction that insists on competence in basic arithmetical operations and the faction that insists that understanding is essential and is gained by making the students ‘‘discover’’ important concepts.

The council is not making much of the fact that one of its reports in 1989 stressing the importance of discovery was widely — and perhaps badly — adopted, leading many parents to complain that weeks of graph-paper manipulation ending in the Pythagorean Theorem was ridiculous when their high school kids couldn’t calculate a simple tip in a restaurant or calculate a discount at a hardware store checkout.

The new report, Curriculum Focal Points for Prekindergarten through Grade 8 Mathematics, is a major retreat.It concludes that mastery of basic concepts and operations is best achieved through focusing on those basics.(Funny how long that took to sink in.)

A common and true criticism of analysts who compare American teaching to that of nations whose students always lead the international competitions — nations such as Singapore, Japan and South Korea — is that mathematics in American schools is ‘‘a mile wide and an inch deep.’’ Usually dozens of topics, varying greatly from state to state, are touched on in each grade, leading to much forgetting over the summer and not much mastery of anything.

The council now has chosen three ‘‘focal points’’ for each grade, and shows teachers how each set builds on those that came before and prepares for those to come.For example, in sixth grade students would learn how to multiply and divide fractions and decimals, how ratios and rates are connected to multiplication and division, and what an equation is and how to write a simple one.

Nothing is said about teaching methods, which is probably wise.After all, there are dozens of ways to illustrate ratios.If teachers take the new insights to heart, their students could very well understand math better and yet be more skilled in arithmetic, too.Who knows, maybe fewer remedial classes would be needed in college — and waiters and waitresses might get adequate tips.



A fine line exists between stability and stagnation. In education policy, we have been content to sail well past that line. For too long our answer to education challenges has been "just spend more money." In 1960, average public school spending per pupil was $375 (around $2300 in inflation adjusted dollars). Today, Arizona spends over $8,000. Spending per pupil has more than tripled since the first baby-boomers attended schools. How many baby-boomers think today's schools are three times better?

Author Andrew Coulson notes that the last great innovation to transform American classroom instruction was the invention of the chalkboard in 1801. Consider this in comparison to the computer industry. Today, you'd be hard pressed to find a PC that is not more powerful and less expensive than the model its manufacturer offered just two years ago. But the school system continues to plod along, always spending more but often producing less.

Fortunately, this status-quo will not endure. Nationwide, nearly a fourth of K-12 students won't attend their neighborhood public schools this fall, choosing instead from an array of public and private options, including magnet, charter, private and home schooling. But for many, especially for low-income children, these options remain far too scarce. The momentum to innovate must accelerate.

In the past, a lack of data enabled stagnation. Armchair observations of real-estate agents were often the most sophisticated opinions regarding the quality of local schools. Today, online services like provide a mountain of comparative testing and parental review data in a few short clicks. New technologies and practices, such as self-paced computer-based instruction and data-based merit pay for instructors, hold enormous promise which has only begun to be explored. That said, disadvantaged children in KIPP Academy schools, among others, have achieved phenomenal academic results not with new technologies, but rather with old-fashioned "time on task" hard work and extended school days.

In short, we now have the primordial soup of a market for schools. The biggest winners will be those suffering most under the status-quo. A market system will embrace and replicate reforms which produce results, and discard those that fail. The current top-down, political system cannot perform this function. Where bureaucrats and politicians have failed, a market of parents pursuing the best interests of their children will succeed.

We cannot feel satisfied with a system that watches helplessly as a third of students drop out before graduation each year. We can do much better. ... We have nothing to lose and everything to gain from the coming education renaissance.



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, September 18, 2006

The right question about school choice

Dishonest polling again

Phi Delta Kappa, a national public school advocacy organization, recently released its annual education poll, claiming once again that American support for school vouchers is low and declining -- from 38 percent last year to 36 percent this year. These results are highly misleading, telling you more about the people asking than answering the question. And the Indiana University Center for Evaluation and Education Policy might be following in PDK's footsteps. In 2003, CEEP asked Indiana residents who had heard of school vouchers whether they supported the idea; 57 percent favored vouchers, with only 24 percent opposed. But CEEP is part of IU's Department of Education, whose main revenue stream is training future public school teachers, so it has a vested interest in finding school choice unpopular. Private school teachers in Indiana need no education degrees, so vouchers could make college education departments obsolete.

After that first year of positive findings, CEEP took a year off -- asking Hoosiers how much they knew about vouchers, but not about their attitudes toward them. The next time it asked about attitudes toward vouchers, it used a different wording. In 2005, CEEP asked only about a targeted voucher program for students in failing schools. Such programs tend to enjoy less public support than universally available ones; sure enough, only 48 percent of respondents favored them with 44 percent opposed.

Support for school choice varies dramatically based on how survey questions are phrased. Between 1970 and 1991, Phi Delta Kappan magazine periodically asked Americans the following: "In some nations, the government allots a certain amount of money for each child for his or her education. The parents can then send the child to any public, parochial or private school they choose. This is called the "voucher system." Would you like to see such an idea adopted in this country?"

The public reacted cautiously at first, but eventually warmed up to the idea. From 1981 on, every time Phi Delta Kappan asked the question, those in favor outnumbered those opposed. By 1991, support had reached 50 percent, and opposition had fallen to 39 percent. That was the last time they asked the question.

But it wasn't the last time the question was asked. The following year, the Gallup polling organization asked it again, and the public's reaction was more positive than ever: Seventy percent of respondents said they supported school vouchers and only 27 percent opposed them. PDK subsequently revised its question as follows: "Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense?" This new wording, in use since 1993, emphasizes that the program would be financed "at public expense" without drawing respondents' attention to two highly relevant facts: that vouchers are economical and that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld their constitutionality.

A study published in January by the Cato Institute and the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation found that the Washington, D.C., school voucher program saves taxpayers money and would continue to do so if it were expanded to include all children in the District. And when Cleveland's voucher program went before the Supreme Court in 2002, the majority ruled that it permitted "genuine choice among options public and private, secular and religious," and so did not run afoul of the First Amendment.

Not surprisingly, PDK's revised wording elicits considerably lower support than its original question. On this year's survey, 36 percent favored the idea, while 60 percent opposed it. To demonstrate the bias of Phi Delta Kappan's current phrasing, the Friedman Foundation commissioned its own poll in August 2005, asking: "Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose any school, public or private, to attend using public funds?" A solid 60 percent of Americans surveyed were in favor of such a program, while only 33 percent opposed it. A 2004 Gallup poll found that of those who knew about school vouchers, nearly one-and-a-half times as many supported them as opposed them, but 62 percent of respondents didn't know enough to say.

Phi Delta Kappan and CEEP could do their part to remedy that knowledge gap by using PDK's original question wording when asking about vouchers. In doing so, they would ensure that at least their own survey respondents were informed of established school choice programs. We shouldn't hold our breath. Phi Delta Kappa is a self-described advocacy organization for the public school monopoly, and the Center for Evaluation and Education policy has a vested interest in the status quo. It's unlikely either group would want to remind people that in other places, families enjoy real educational choices, and schools have to compete for the privilege of serving them.


The school choice movement's greatest failure

Both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times jumped on the July 15 release of a new study by the National Center for Education Statistics. The WSJ's headline was particularly dramatic: "Long-Delayed Education Study Casts Doubt on Value of Vouchers."

No, it doesn't. And it is a failure on my part, as well as a failure of the school choice movement as a whole, that the media don't understand why. Taking the study entirely at face value, what it says is this: Private school students consistently score better in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) than public school students, but their advantage essentially goes away if you apply a particular set of controls for the differing student characteristics between the two sectors (things such as wealth, race, etc.).

Okay, you say, but if private schools don't significantly outscore public schools, what's the point of school voucher programs or other reforms that would give all parents access to the public or private school of their choice? Why, in other words, is the Journal's headline wrong?

It is wrong because the point of voucher programs is to create a competitive education industry, and the existing population of U.S. private schools does not constitute such an industry. A vigorous, free market in education requires that all families have easy access to the schools of their choice (whether public or private); that schools are not burdened with extensive regulations on what they can teach, whom they can hire, what they can charge, etc.; that consumers directly pay at least some of the cost of the service; that private schools not be discriminated against financially by the state in the distribution of education funding; and that at least a substantial minority of private schools be operated for profit.

This set of conditions does not exist in any state in the nation. Instead, American education is dominated by a 90 percent government monopoly that is funded entirely through taxation. The private sector occupies the remaining 10 percent niche, is almost exclusively operated on a nonprofit basis, and is forced to charge thousands of dollars in tuition in the face of the "free" monopoly schools that spend an average of $10,000 per pupil per year. This is not a market, and no study was necessary to point this out.

Competitive markets are characterized by innovation, inexorable improvements in cost effectiveness and the quality of goods and services, and the rapid growth of the most successful providers. None of this has occurred in the U.S. private education sector, precisely because that sector does not constitute a competitive market.

The last great innovation to transform classroom instruction occurred during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson (the invention of the chalkboard, around 1801). Since that time, the pace of innovation has been so slow that a student from the mid 1800s would immediately recognize a modern classroom setting. The most sought-after private schools enroll only about a thousand more students today than they did a century ago.

This degree of stagnation is unheard of outside of the education sector, because it is only there (at least in liberal democracies) that market activity has been so thoroughly extinguished by government monopoly provision. Hence, the NCES study of our current small, non-market niche of private schools does not allow any generalization to the sort of outcomes to be expected from a truly free market in education--and the creation of such a market is the primary justification for voucher and other school choice policies. That justification extends well beyond academic and cost-effectiveness benefits.

A free market in education allows all families to obtain the sort of education they want for their own children without having to foist their preferences on their neighbors. That, in turn, eliminates the endless cultural conflict that accompanies one-size-fits-all, state-run systems (think school prayer, book selection and censorship, the teaching of human origins, etc.). If I were better at my job, and if the school choice movement as a whole had a more effective media machine, this fact would be widely understood, and we wouldn't see fallacious headlines like the one cited above.



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


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Why students don't value school

This is my first week of teaching as a full-time faculty member and not as an adjunct or TA. While most of the new experiences have been positive, I'm seeing things in a new light. The most intriguing facet of my new "education" experience is confirmation that economists do indeed think and act differently than "normal" folk. Being fresh out of grad school, I often times feel as though I have a unique perspective; able to think like a student and teacher all at the same time. Unfortunately, my experience with current undergrads is proving me wrong.

During my first-day soapbox session, I ranted on and on about the virtues of things such as class participation, studying, group work, taking advantage of extra help, etc. While I am an eternal optimist, I know deep down this message is mostly ignored. However, I continued on with my rant to include the phrase, "Delivering what you've paid for." Now I realize that my salary is not specifically tied to class attendance and actual dollars paid; but indirectly, student's tuition is in fact my main source of income.

My realization came to me at approximately 1:38 PM. At this point in the class, I had spent the previous 38 minutes doing introductions, and explaining every last detail of the syllabus. At this point, approximately 50% of the class started to pack up their material in preparation for an early departure. While it was disappointing, it did provide me my first non soap-box rant opportunity to show students how seriously I considered the value of academic rigor. The first thing I did was shoot the meanest, dirtiest look I could to the offending students. Apparently the "teacher look" is a skill I have yet to master. So I did the next logical thing, I threw my arms in the air yelling, "whoaaaaaaaa." I don't know if it was the volume, tone, or crazy arms, but this seemed to work. They sat back down; I ranted, and then finished my lecture.

Around midnight the realization of the perverse nature of classroom utility hit me: students would be happier if I didn't show up. It wasn't just my class, it's all classes. Nearly all students welcome the absence of their teachers, and subsequent cancellation of class. This is logical in some settings — for instance the day of a hard exam — but for the most part seems quite irrational. Irrational by my values, of course! To that point, I just have to consider the fact that students are not well-informed enough to be disappointed about the cancellation of class. To be clear, this theory does break down. I'm simply referring to sporadic unexpected class dismissals, not constant ones.

I have several explanations for this theory. The first is that college education is not viewed as a privilege; it is often times taken for granted. As with high school, students are no longer worried about graduating. Graduating after four years is simply given, and classes along the way are a necessary evil interfering with an awesome four-year party. Along those same lines is the reasoning for my second explanation: unexpected fun. When students realize they have a free hour, they're overwhelmed with the many opportunities for fun that previously did not exist. This amazing amount of "feel-goodedness," almost always outweighs the cost of attending class.

I attribute a large part of this phenomenon to the climate of the region. In the temperate state of Iowa, kids grow up with the anticipation of the two best words to be uttered upon waking up each winter morning: snow day. The difference is obvious. The result of a snow day is obvious fun: playing in the snow! Unfortunately, snow is only around part of the year, and most 18-22 year olds have made their quota of snowpersons. Still, this feeling of possible unexpected fun lingers, even if students fill the time honing their video game skills.

This leads me to my final explanation: the rising price of college. Because the price of attending a four-year institution has increased so much faster than inflation, nearly all students are unable to afford school on their own. In fact, nearly all students rely on financial aid in the form of scholarships and loans to finance their education. In the case of loans, the actual payment for education is timed accounting style. That is, persons pay for school while they're reaping the benefits of higher education. This total disregard for actual cost skews the current cost-benefit analysis within the minds of students.

Originally, my overall goal for this semester was to foster economic thought, and less negative feelings towards the dismal science. Now I can add one more specific goal for the semester: making students demand the education they've paid for.


Modern technology gives a different education

I nodded gravely at the radio on Tuesday when Michael Morpurgo, the sainted author of children's books,spoke passionately about children needing time to dream. But I was baffled by Baroness Greenfield burbling about "icons replacing ideas". She kept calling for "conceptual frameworks" to offset the evils of technology.

We cannot turn the clock back to the days when the world stopped to Listen With Mother at 1.45. We cannot wish technology back into its Xbox. The internet has brought alive everything from nature to molecules to engineering. It has enabled pupils in some classrooms to learn at their own pace, not feeling they are a drag on the rest or waiting for everyone else to catch up. That is a liberation.

But are other bits of technology - TV shows, videos, computer games - bad for the brain? Michael Shayer, Professor of Applied Psychology at King's College London, claims that 11 and 12-year-olds are now two to three years behind where they were 15 years go in terms of cognitive and conceptual development. In his volume and heaviness test, children are asked to hold a brass block and a Plasticine block of identical size, one in each hand. In 1976, 57 per cent of boys and 27 per cent of girls realised that the Plasticine block would displace the same amount of water, if immersed, as the brass block.

Thirty years later only 17 per cent of either sex get it right. That is a staggering change. But Professor Shayer is reluctant to speculate on the causes. He thinks a decline in hands-on play, more TV and less outside play space may be factors. But he is not sure.

If the screen is a problem, why can't adults just switch it off? You don't need a "conceptual framework" to find the off button. What comes through every discussion on this subject is the extraordinary weakness of parents, who simply can't face the hassle of saying no. And when they try, they face increasingly strong resistance. For the real, hidden danger of many TV channels and video games is that they are designed to feed an anti-authority culture.

Sue Palmer's book Toxic Childhood quotes the psychologist Mark Crispin-Miller: "It's part of the official advertising world view that your parents are creeps, teachers are weirdos and idiots, authority figures laughable and nobody can really understand children except the corporate sponsor." This may sound overblown, unless you've watched Nickelodeon. The Rugrats are pulling the rug from under parents who weren't too sure of their footing anyway. Guess which TV character a recent BBC poll of 5,000 parents found was the "role model" who most influenced their children? Gulp. Bart Simpson.

On CBeebies, the BBC's channel for children, I recently watched two dim, nasty elves mocking a wise old owl who was trying to teach them. It was Elves 1 Owl 0, every time. I switched it off. I don't intend to make my particular perch any more precarious.

Few of us want to admit that we use TV as an anaesthetic, so we gratefully guzzle the line that it is educational. Yet most programming is surely far too hyperactive, rushing from one segment to the next, to be anything of the kind. Blue's Clues, the American series, is the only one I have found that is designed to help children to concentrate rather than lure them with perpetual distraction. Each episode is supposed to be watched on five consecutive days before moving on to the next - so by the end of the week children know the songs and stories and are able to recap with the presenter what they have learnt. Unusually for such series, it has no subplot for parents. Children adore it. Parents are bored stiff. But perhaps that is the point.

I have always believed that boredom is a great stimulator. Not fearful boredom, not the waiting in an empty house for the key to turn in the lock, but the kind of boredom that inspires children to read books, build boats in cupboards, and sail to a make-believe island. Boredom is cheap to create: just switch off the gadgets and limit the plastic toys. Imaginations soar. But parents must be prepared to be bored themselves, to be told what role to play, not to control the game, to endure repetition after repetition after repetition. And many of us, obsessed with using time "productively", are not.

Dreaming is probably easiest when you feel secure. Yet just as they are now assailed by a host of characters on screen, many children also face a constantly shifting cast of characters in real life. I am not talking just about family breakdown. The turnover of staff in schools, at playgroups and crŠches is momentous. Even top-class nannies often move on after a few years. One told me of a four-year-old who said every Monday morning: "See you on Friday, Mummy." We working parents are always nipping in, nipping out. How does that feel from the perspective of the one who stays put?

Children are adaptable. I would imagine that most feel far less threatened by changes in technology than adults. But more so by changes in people they have become attached to. There is no point in getting hysterical about the pace of change. We parents cannot stop it. But we can do more to make children's lives more stable and predictable.



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