Saturday, December 09, 2006


Teachers unions are supposed to promote the financial interests of, well, teachers--but not in Washington state. Here, the Washington Education Association is fighting some 4,000 nonmember teachers who don't want their paychecks raided each year and used for political activities that they don't believe in. "The right of free speech is being trampled" by the union political spending, complains Scott Carlson, a business teacher in Spokane. "And that's a right I hold very precious."

Too bad the unions don't. The WEA derisively refers to teachers like Mr. Carlson who want their money back not as free-speech advocates but "dissidents." The goal is to squash these dissidents by overturning Initiative 134, a law--approved by 72% of Washington voters in 1992--that requires unions to obtain written approval from teachers before dues are spent on campaigns or candidates. Back in March, the unions got a surprising assist from the state Supreme Court, which ruled that the paycheck protection law places "too heavy" a burden on the free-speech rights of the union. The case has now been bumped up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments in January--in what could be the most important First Amendment decision in years.

At issue is whether workers have the right to effectively declare themselves conscientious objectors to the unions' multimillion-dollar political war games. "All we are saying is that no one has the right to take our money and spend it on causes we don't believe in," insists Cindy Omlin, a recently retired speech teacher in Spokane. "If you want my money, ask for it, like private charities, political candidates and businesses do." Ms. Omlin was one of 250 teachers who successfully sued the WEA in 2002 to get half their dues refunded after a Washington superior court found the union guilty of "intentional violations" of the paycheck protection law.

The union retaliated with lawsuits and other intimidation tactics to shut her up. It's one reason she's not teaching anymore. "We're constantly called 'freeloaders' and 'enemies of public education,'" she notes with a mix of frustration and resentment. Another nonunion teacher in Seattle, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, says that the WEA openly invites retaliation by widely distributing lists of the outcasts: "Believe me, sitting in the faculty lounge is no picnic. You always have to look over your shoulder."

The actual money at stake for these 4,000 teachers is relatively modest--ranging from $50 to $200 in rebated annual dues--which makes their crusade all the more principled. But it's a boatload of dollars to the unions. Since 2000, the WEA has spent nearly $10 million on political campaigns, PAC contributions and lobbying, according to the state's public disclosure commission. The union's political war chest ranks in the top five in the state in terms of money raised and spent.

The Washington Supreme Court defended its ruling by arguing that the benefit to the individual teachers was trivial compared to the "heavy administrative burden" that complying with paycheck protection would impose on the union. That attitude incenses Jeff Leer, who for 10 years has been a phys ed teacher outside Seattle. In an interview, Mr. Leer fumed: "I wonder how these justices would feel if I reached into their pockets and took $200 to support causes they don't believe in." He told me that when he investigated the candidates that his union dues were going to support, "it was nearly 100% opposite of the way I voted. How is that fair?"

Mr. Leer is by no means alone. Nationally, about one-third of union workers voted Republican in recent elections, but more than 90% of the union campaign cash that is forcibly extracted from their checks goes to help elect Democrats. The unions also know all too well that when members are given the right to opt out of paying dues for political causes, they do. In the year before Prop. 134 was enacted in Washington, 48,000 teachers made "voluntary" contributions, but in the last election cycle that number dwindled to 4,537, according to a study by the Evergreen Foundation, which has been involved in this legal tussle for about a decade. In Colorado and Utah, similar rules requiring unions to get affirmative consent from members for political activities led to a 70% to 90% reduction in dues collections. Giving workers the freedom to choose is a dose of arsenic to the union political agenda

What shouldn't be a close call is the outcome of this case. The Washington law states unambiguously that a union may not use dues "for political purposes without the affirmative consent of the nonmembers from whom the excess fees were taken." The Washington Supreme Court somehow twisted these words to mean that the unions can spend as they wish unless workers object and affirmatively opt out. That's a big distinction, because the unions make it as time-consuming and cumbersome as possible to get the money back once they snatch it.

The Supreme Court also has an opportunity to define what the First Amendment "right of association" means. What it ought to mean is that both parties voluntarily agree to associate and that Americans have a constitutional right to not associate. The unions are arguing for the right to collect dues coercively from every instructor who stands up in front of a public school classroom.

In Washington and many other states where paycheck protection is under debate, the teachers unions pass out signs and bumper stickers to their members that read: "Let Teachers' Voices Be Heard." In California last year they waved these signs at public forums while they shouted down teachers who got up to explain why they didn't want to fund the union's leftist politics. The irony was evidently lost on the union helpers. The Supreme Court can now ensure that the First Amendment means that every teacher's voice must be heard--whether they are in a union or not.


British Labour Party government fails the lower classes it claims to help

The naturally bright and those from professional homes are doing well as always. It is the average kids who are being failed by politically correct educational policies that do not work

The gap between the most and least able primary school children is widening, official figures suggest. The Department for Education figures show that there was little improvement in England's state primaries this year, although more girls achieved the standard level 4 than boys. At the top end, however, the proportion reaching level 5 - that expected of 14-year-olds - rose faster in mathematics and in English.

Nine years after Labour came to power, analysis of the results also shows that four in ten children have still not mastered the expected levels of reading, writing and arithmetic when they leave primary school. Education secretaries have consistently maintained that level 4 is the minimum standard necessary for children to be able to cope with the rigours of the national curriculum at secondary school. Overall, national curriculum tests taken last summer showed that the improvement rate among England's primaries has slowed. While the numbers achieving level 4 in English rose 12 percentage points to 75 per cent between 1997 and 2000. Six years on it has risen to only 79 per cent, with more than a quarter of boys failing to meet that standard.

Figures also show that the proportion of boys able to read properly fell by three percentage points this year to 79 per cent. In maths, 76 per cent of pupils were able to count properly compared with 75 per cent in 2005. Of those, 76 per cent of boys achieved level 4 or above, ahead of girls by one percentage point.

Both levels are far below the Government's target of 85 per cent in English and maths. There was a rise of one percentage point in science pupils reaching level 4 - 87 per cent of 11-year-olds. At level 5, girls continue to outshine boys. In English, results rose by five percentage points to 32 per cent and in maths by two percentage points, to 33 per cent, although in science they fell by one percentage point to 46 per cent.

Lord Adonis, the Schools Minister, said the results showed that Labour had come a "long way since 1997" when a third of 11-year-olds failed to reach the expected standard. But he admitted that more needed to be done for the bottom fifth of pupils, who were being left behind in English and maths. "We are determined to redouble our efforts to help the one in five 11-year-olds who are still not reaching the standard required of their age in literacy and mathematics," he said. "That is why we are renewing our literacy strategy with phonics at the heart of the teaching of reading and more demanding standards of mental arithmetic."

The Government said that from September all five-year-olds must be taught to read using a traditional "phonics" method.

With 118,000 pupils failing to meet the expected standards in English and 138,600 unable to add up properly, Nick Gibb, the Shadow Schools Minister, said league table figures showed that the National Literacy Strategy had been a "wasted opportunity". "More than a quarter of boys are leaving primary school not having mastered basic proficiency in reading and writing, despite six years of education," he said.



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 Pages are here or here or here.


Friday, December 08, 2006


The United States Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments regarding two cases that could decide the constitutionality of school desegregation policies. At issue is the legality of plans that limit the ability of public school students to attend the school of their choice so that schools meet government-mandated race-based admissions guidelines. A ruling, which could affect millions of students across the country, is expected by June of 2007.

"School admissions standards based on race and ethnicity are discriminatory. Resentment and anger stemming from government-enforced racial preferences only creates more racism," said Deneen Moore, a full-time fellow with the Project 21 black leadership network.

In Seattle, racial preferences currently limit, by race, which students can enroll in particular high schools when space is limited. In Louisville, government-run schools for all grades must adhere to a racial formula that guarantees black students compose between 15 percent to 50 percent of a school's enrollment. Both cases result in local students, usually white, having to travel outside of their normal district.

In late November, the federal U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a report that cited that "there is little evidence that racial and ethnic diversity in elementary and secondary schools results in significant improvements in academic performance," and noted that any benefits are "modest and inconsistent." Commission Chairman Gerald A. Reynolds further said: "In my view, the evidence suggests that these preferences do not provide significant academic benefits to minority children that would compensate for the moral costs of government's use of racial classifications."

"Not only is using racial preferences for admission unfair, but there is little data that shows racial mandates yield better education for minorities. If schools provided students with a quality education, admissions based on racial quotas would be non-existent," added Moore.


Creativity by numbers

The UK Creative Partnerships scheme for deprived schools seems more interested in exercising children’s bodies rather than their minds.

‘School should be anything but uniform’, says Creative Partnerships (CP), a £140million scheme brought in by the UK government in 2002 to put the arts back into the timetable for schools in deprived areas. CP was conceived because many teachers were complaining about the straitjacket conformism produced by grade targets, literacy hours and league tables. As former arts minister Estelle Morris said in 2003: ‘It is often said that arts and creative work in schools have been squeezed out…. There is a need to build on that and to recognise the place of arts and culture in our curriculum.’

Schools play a vital role in bringing cultural experience to the next generation. But a closer inspection of CP raises serious questions about what ‘creativity’ has come to mean today, and how teachers are supposed to engage with young people’s minds.

CP’s stated aim is to widen pupils’ cultural experiences and ‘develop imaginative ways of thinking and learning’. Its focus has not been on strengthening traditional subjects, such as art and design, drama or music, but on the more vague concept of ‘creativity’. The scheme has worked with 2,500 schools, setting up partnerships with organisations so that pupils can have the experience of working alongside creative practitioners, such as writers, designers, entrepreneurs, artists and performers.

But a glance through a sample of projects shows that while there is much stress on creativity, risk-taking, innovation and imagination, there is very little attention given to the importance of cultural knowledge. This seems to lead to a preoccupation with how to develop students psychologically, rather than how to give them greater knowledge of the world in order to engage in it.

For instance, in one CP project, Reigate Primary School in Derby took 120 children from years four and five off timetable for a whole week to run an imaginary recycling plant, ‘taking on different roles and responding to events in a rapidly unfolding narrative, with the help of a theatre company’. Sounds like fun, but is this creative learning or play-acting? What are students learning except how they, as inexperienced children, might react to a slightly unreal situation?

CP also seems to be about telling students how to live their lives. CP Black Country sent pupils to a nightclub where they worked with a theatre company to ‘get students to talk about what a bad night out might be like’. After flashing lights and loud music, they were given talks by the police and community safety officers about the risks of carrying weapons, getting home safely, drink-spiking and teenage pregnancy. Usually young people will do anything to get out of the classroom for a day, but it is hard to believe their imaginations are really ignited by this stuff.

Although the original idea of CP was to return arts and culture back to the school timetable, the word ‘creativity’ has become more about a particular style of education, rather than an understanding of arts practice. One London-based filmmaker I spoke to was very positive about CP but stressed that her role was more about encouraging creative thinking and ‘school change’. She said it didn’t matter if the creative person was an artist or a doctor or a scientist – so long as they were ‘creative’. She valued CP because it showed that not all pupils learn by pen and paper; in other words, not all students can be expected to achieve good academic standards because they have different kinds of ‘intelligences’.

The fascination with creativity reflects the influence of modern educational theories since the 1970s, which privilege the psychological process and ‘student-centred’ education. The thrust of these theories was to suggest that each child has a different way of learning, which makes them more or less receptive to different kinds of knowledge. Probably the most influential in popularising this approach is Howard Gardner’s 1983 book Frames of Mind, which promoted the notion of numerous ‘intelligences’ (linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic, intrapersonal, interpersonal). Implicit within this approach was a belief that some students were inherently unsuited to academic teaching.

The importance of personalised learning has been rapidly institutionalised under New Labour (see for instance the Department for Education and Skills’ policy document Every Child Matters), with dramatic effect. As Mark Taylor, a history teacher and commentator on educational trends has noted, ‘The re-orientated education system is increasingly interested in diagnosing the intelligences of the particular child rather than educating the general child to be intelligent’ (2). The particular mind of the child determines the teaching content, not the general body of knowledge judged to be worth imparting. Teachers are preoccupied with the process of engagement over what the child is actually learning.

With this in mind, creative education projects are now self-consciously designed to be the opposite of ‘conventional’ teaching methods – getting children out of the classroom, talking and moving around, using mixed media, relaxing with teachers, and even in some cases asking the children what they want to do. The assumption is that children are more engaged if they’re moving around and talking than if they are sitting quietly and learning from a book.

It is certainly difficult to get young people to sit down and read without distraction, but to give up on this as a form of education and act as if it is ‘second best’ is to fundamentally misunderstand the process of learning. Engagement is ultimately gauged by what goes on in the head, not the classroom.

Few teachers want to admit this to their students, but acquiring knowledge often requires self-discipline, working quietly, memorising information, and repeated practice. Without some of these elements, it is impossible to give young people the ability to grasp complex ideas, deal in abstract thought, and remember vast amounts of information. These capacities are not opposed to creative experiences; they are a necessary part of creative experiences. Indeed, it is this ability to master language that makes literature interesting, or listening to an orchestra a newly discovered pleasure.

In fact, scanning the CP projects, one has to wonder whether they are actually more interesting than normal lessons. Year threes at Accrington Peel Park Primary School are designing banners which will ‘illustrate the themes of aspiration, creativity, communication and play’, as well as providing an ‘experience of working in the creative industries’ and ‘developing their team work skills’. CP projects often seem more like training to become a New Labour citizen: decision-making, consultation, risk assessment, emotionally engaging with others, participating and developing dialogue. Yet while personal development is important in schooling, it is hard to see how this can be taught as an end in itself. As Oftsed’s report into CP noted, the students ‘were often unclear about how to apply these qualities independently to develop original ideas and outcomes’.

It would be wrong to dismiss CP altogether – many of the projects are impressive, ambitious and seem enjoyable for all involved. For example, schools in Manchester have teamed up with the prestigious Halle Orchestra to ‘adopt a player’ so that children can experience (often for the first time) a visit to a music concert. Schools in Plymouth have teamed up with the Plymouth Symphony Orchestra to give their A-level music students a chance to hear their digital compositions played on string instruments. These are no doubt valuable experiences pushed through by teachers and artists who are passionate about art. For many headteachers, CP can offer a much-needed pot of money that allows them to run imaginative schemes they could not otherwise afford. Yet at the same time, CP reinforces the notion that ‘creativity’ is something one does outside normal learning, as a wacky project in a different environment and not something that can be developed through teaching itself.

And while the CP machine rumbles on with praise, other areas of musical instrument training, technical drawing and art history are practically non-existent in schools in deprived areas. For instance, half of all students in the independent sector learn a musical instrument, while only eight per cent of students in the state sector do so. The government has made some positive moves to address this problem, but there is still a long way to go.

Everyone agrees that young people need access to varied cultural experiences and should be taught in a way that stretches their hearts and minds. The better projects of CP might allow some teachers to do this, but the overall philosophy of ‘creativity’ and personalised learning might make things worse.



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 Pages are here or here or here.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Cheating in British schools

Schools should consider using signal blocking devices to prevent pupils using mobile phone text messaging and two-way pagers to cheat in examinations, a leading expert on exam fraud said yesterday. Jean Underwood, a Professor of Psychology at Nottingham Trent University, also called for the introduction of photoidentity checks to prevent pupils getting someone else to sit their exams for them.

In a report published yesterday by the exams watchdog, the Qualification and Curriculum Authority (QCA), Professor Underwood said that although most of the debate on the use of new technology and cheating had focused on universities, the problem was likely to be more widespread in schools. "The problems of academic dishonesty may be less well researched in the school system than in the tertiary education sector, but all the evidence points to the problem being both real and on a significant and growing scale," she said.

The report by Professor Underwood, Digital Technologies and Dishonesty in Examinations and Tests, lists a range of digital techniques that students routinely use to cheat. Some have been caught getting friends outside the examinations hall to text or page answers cribbed from the internet; others have used hand-held electronic personal organisers to store notes and to exchange answers with other exam takers in the same hall.

During coursework, students routinely cut and paste essays bought over the internet and present them as their own work. In one survey, three quarters admitted to cheating: 15 per cent had obtained a paper from the internet, while 52 per cent had copied a few sentences from a website without revealing the source.

Professor Underwood noted that while digital technology may have made cheating easier, it does not seem to be the sole cause. About 90 per cent of students who use the internet to plagiarise have also plagiarised from books. Younger students are more likely to use digital devices to cheat, possibly because their understanding of the technology is more sophisticated.

While the introduction of "honour codes" for students can reduce cheating, Professor Underwood also calls for a more practical approach. Most mobile phone jamming devices are illegal, because they may interfere with other equipment, but devices that detect signals are available and schools should investigate their use, she said. The banning of mobile phones in exam halls tends not to be effective. "There are now very inexpensive devices (about 100 pounds) which can silently detect mobile technology devices as they are switched on or off and when in use. These devices have a limited range so would need to be walked around an examination hall."

Her report also highlights more low-tech, traditional forms of cheating. Because teachers no longer routinely invigilate in examinations and the job is often carried out by external examiners who do not know pupils personally, the scope for impersonation was greater than before. Photo-identity checks and biometric identification methods could be used to combat this, she suggested.

Isabel Nisbet, director of regulation and standards at the QCA, said that last year 1,900 pupils were caught taking a mobile phone into an exam hall. "This is only a minute proportion of the numbers taking exams and these are just the cases we know about - we don't know what the actual position is, but we do need to be aware of it," she said. She said that the QCA would look into the recommendations. "We can use technology to foil technology, but that is not the whole answer. The real answer is to create an attitude and culture among young people that they should not cheat," she said.

More here

Australia: The disgrace of bad teachers

Failure to sack bad teachers is a scandal that has festered in our schools for decades, writes Judith Wheeldon

A shock headline in last Monday's The Daily Telegraph in NSW is good news: "104 teachers sacked, staff criminal and inept". Those who value good teaching for their children will be encouraged. The efforts and reputation of good teachers, the overwhelming majority, are undermined by the negative attributes of a small number of their colleagues. Given that there are almost 50,000 government teachers in NSW alone and there have been few successful sackings in the past, clearing a backlog of 104 government teachers is not a big achievement and more might be welcome. But it is a good start.

The need to remove non-performing or dangerous teachers is not exclusively a NSW issue. Other states have suffered the same difficulties in maintaining standards by terminating the employment of those who cannot or will not mend their ways. Nor is this a government school issue. It applies to faith-based, independent and government schools equally. There are about 60,000 teachers in non-government schools and about 144,000 in government schools nationally.

Removing bad teachers from our schools is a national issue of great importance. It is obvious that we fail our children if we make them spend a precious year trying to learn under the influence of a bad teacher or one who may damage them for life, but there are other reasons as well. English-speaking countries are facing a shortage of teachers and especially of school leaders. The threat to education systems is so significant that teacher poaching has become common, but stealing good teachers from each other is no solution to shortages.

Anecdote and research repeatedly demonstrate that good teachers suffer from the bad reputation easily given to their schools and their profession by a few poor performers. Many school leavers who would make splendid teachers are discouraged from taking up the challenge by their own justified lack of respect for the teachers who inflicted unprofitable lessons on them and by the low social status accorded a profession that is not allowed to assert standards and weed itself out.

When teachers fail, their students carry tales of their malfeasance home. Parents complain but school authorities, knowing it is extremely difficult to terminate a bad teacher, must find a modus vivendi. Parents then form an impression that the principal lacks resolve or judgment. The principal cannot commiserate with parents or student because of defamation dangers. The school loses credibility.

Loss of trust in a handful of teachers leads to undervaluation of them all. This undervaluation becomes a short-sighted excuse for a depression of salaries, which of course lowers the quality of intake of new teachers, and so the spiral goes on. Now we do not have enough teachers to teach our children, largely because of our inability to terminate those who have lost our confidence. Sack the bad ones, pay the good ones professional salaries. Give teachers respect. Then stand back and watch intelligent people, including men, line up for a very rewarding career.

Why have schools been powerless to sack bad teachers, child abusers and thieves? In government schools, where principals have few powers to hire and fire, teachers may eventually be transferred to another school. In non-government schools, heads can try to terminate persistently poor teachers. A principal concerned about a teacher's performance or behaviour may in a very circumspect and careful way begin a process of discussion and counselling, aiming first to improve the teacher's performance. Many careers have been rescued by a well-focused program of counselling and professional development. Termination of employment becomes the logical goal if rescue doesn't work.

Inevitably, the union steps in with vigorous defence. It is certainly valid for the union to ensure that any process that may threaten employment is fair. Too often, however, unions defend the indefensible. They claim to have rescued a poor, victimised teacher from the jaws of a marauding school principal. But the damage done by over-exuberant defence of incompetent or even pedophile teachers has already done great harm to individual children and to our school system.

Threats of legal challenge, publicity for the child as well as the school, and great expense mean schools have learned not to try. Courts seem to believe that teachers have a right to keep their jobs in spite of refusal to update skills, for example by learning to use a computer, or threatening children through abuse, physical, psychological or sexual.

Whether the grounds for termination are based on incompetence or child abuse, in the few arguments non-government schools win against unions, the mechanism for terminating a teacher requires a kind of no-fault agreement, a favourable reference for the should-have-been-disgraced teacher and a significant payout that could amount to a year's salary. A confidentiality agreement signed by both parties is somehow binding on the school but often ignored by the teacher, who with impunity talks about the dismissal and how unfair it is. The school, upholding the agreement, has no right of reply.

Schools do not have to agree to the above conditions and could proceed in an industrial court to press the case for outright dismissal, but legal advice too often takes the coward's way, pointing out that the chance of success is slight and publicity will be damaging to the school and in some cases to children who could be locally identified through the reported circumstances. With a school to run and lacking support from the school's legal advisers, the principal reluctantly joins the game of pass the parcel, sending an incompetent teacher out to a job at another school. It seems more certain, quicker and better for the school in the short run for the teacher to leave gracefully. The price seems cheap: a payout and a good reference. The real price is in the lower quality of our schools.

When the prospective new employer phones, the principal is constrained to support the faulty reference. Sometimes a long silence on the phone or a cryptic comment suggests a problem that cannot be uttered, but too often the penny does not drop. Another parcel has been passed.

The NSW Coalition education spokesman Brad Hazzard has suggested classroom inspections as a means of weeding out teachers and of quality assurance. However, inspection proved to be a false comfort during the 20th century. Many poor teachers can give one good lesson, or even many, when there is an audience. The worst teachers, the pedophiles, are likely to shine during inspection, as pleasing youthful audiences is their stock in trade. It is the long haul we need to judge. We need real thinking about how to rid our schools of poor teachers, not facile headline grabbers.

Now the NSW Department of Education has found ways as well as the courage to take on the unions and terminate teachers who do not deserve to teach our children. I say congratulations to them. Our children deserve a united effort from governments, schools, unions and the media in developing a nationwide strategy to ensure that only the best are given the honour of teaching your child and mine.

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop has alluded to the need to remove those teachers who drag down the quality of our schools. She is absolutely right. Bishop is the only person who is in a position to bring all parties together to outline a strategy to ensure justice for all: a fair hearing and result for challenged teachers, and termination of those who have failed to be good enough to teach the next generation of Australians. Minister, you will be supported when you take up this challenge.



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 Pages are here or here or here.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Private schools are 'no better for A levels' (?)

Read the article below and work out what is wrong with the headline that appeared on it (as above but without the question mark). 'A' levels are final High School exams in Britain and are widely relied on for university entry

Private schools often do little better than state schools at A level, according to research suggesting that the brightest pupils perform just as well whatever type of school they attend. The findings, from David Jesson, of York University, raise serious questions about whether parents who make immense financial sacrifices to pay private school fees of up to £20,000 a year are getting good value for money.

Professor Jesson said that he had been surprised by his own research, which showed very little difference between the state and independent sectors in the proportion of the most able students gaining three grade As at A level, now almost essential for gaining a place at Oxford or Cambridge. “This is the demolition of the myth that independent school education is of itself creating better results,” he said.

“State schools are doing an absolutely comparable job with helping the progression of pupils from GCSE to A level. There is very little difference in the outcomes of more able pupils between the two types of school.”

The findings, which contradict recent research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, showing that British independent schools achieve the best results in the world, have already provoked controversy. Alan Smithers, the director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, was sceptical about the findings, which he said went against common sense.

Professor Jesson’s results could also have far-reaching implications for fee-paying parents and for independent schools. Both rely on students at fee-paying schools making up 30 to 40 per cent of Oxbridge entrants.

The Government encourages universities to accept more students from the state sector and parents may start to question the value of keeping their children in the private sector after GCSE.

Professor Jesson’s research is based on the A-level results for the whole country between 2004 and this year and looks specifically at the brightest top 10 per cent of pupils, defined by their performance at GCSE. He compared results in independent schools, state schools, sixth-form colleges and further education colleges.

Among the brightest 5 per cent of children, 75 per cent of those at private school attained three grade As, compared with 74 per cent at sixth-form college and 71 per cent at state school. In the next brightest 5 per cent, 45 per cent of private school pupils gained three grade As, compared with 47 and 41 per cent at sixth-form college and state school students respectively.

“The public expectation is that because people pay a lot of money to go to independent schools, their results should be much better, but they do not appear to be,” said Professor Jesson, an education evaluator and economist, who presented his findings to the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust’s annual conference last week.

He had not explored why independent schools seem to offer very little premium value to the brightest A-level students. But he noted a trend for pupils to leave the private sector after their GCSEs to study A levels at sixth-form college. Many state school A-level students could therefore have already benefited from five years in the private sector. He conceded that independent schools may still produce better results than the state sector in subjects most valued by the elite universities, such as science, maths and languages.

A study published by Professor Jesson last year found that the most able 5 per cent at age 11 were only half as likely as those educated privately to achieve three A grades at A level at state schools. His latest research suggests that, by the age of 16, either the most able students may be less affected by their learning environment than younger children, or any disadvantage in the state sector is already over.

Professor Smithers questioned whether using A levels as a comparator between different types of school was sufficiently discriminating, given that A grades were achieved in nearly a quarter of all A levels. “If I were a parent with a child in independent school, I would go with my instincts of what is a good school, rather than be unduly influenced by these figures,” he said.


What the headline should have said is: "Private schools are 'no better for A levels' -- if you are naturally very bright", or "If you are very bright, you will do well in any system" -- which has long been said and which is also what 100 years of IQ research have shown -- that problem-solving ability is highly generalizable from setting to setting. The article does not even purport to address what is true for average pupils or pupils in general. It is the average Joe that the education system makes a difference to. The only thing surprising about Professor Jesson's findings is Professor Jesson's surprise

Friends of Israel dubious about Australian academe

There are fears our universities will produce a generation biased against the Jewish state, writes associate editor Cameron Stewart

The aftershocks of Israel's war against Hezbollah in Lebanon beginning last July are being felt in Australian universities with ugly consequences. Jewish Labor MP Michael Danby and pro-Israeli groups say students of Middle Eastern studies are being fed an increasingly biased and distorted anti-Israeli view of the region by "Arabist" academics.

Their blunt claims, aired in parliament and in the Jewish press, have prompted one of these alleged Arabists, Andrew Vincent of Sydney's Macquarie University, to hit back at his accusers. "(They) are trying to frogmarch not just the whole Jewish community but the whole community in general into supporting a government which not all Israelis support, let's face it," said Vincent, who heads the university's Centre for Middle East Studies, on SBS's Dateline program last month.

This dispute over academic balance in relation to Israel has been simmering for years on Australian campuses but it is the war in Lebanon that has brought it to a flashpoint. It is a clash that raises raw and sensitive questions about the freedoms and the responsibilities of academe as well as the power of the pro-Israel lobby. "Because of public commentaries about Israel's war in Lebanon in July, a lot of Israel's supporters thought that Israel was being unfairly attacked," Vincent tells Inquirer. "So they circled the wagons and attacked the attackers."

Danby entered the fray in August after hearing a radio interview in which Vincent called on Prime Minister John Howard to de-list Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. It was a provocative comment to make in the heat of the Lebanon war and one that was sharply at odds with both sides of Australian politics at the time. So Danby stood up in federal parliament and let rip: "I grieve for the state of Middle Eastern studies in Australia, and the effect that some poor judgments and poor teaching have had on policy decisions as it affects decision-making in Australia." He was joined by conservative analyst Ted Lapkin of the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council, who wrote a scathing piece in Quadrant magazine saying that Australian academe was a "rogue's gallery of anti-Zionists".

This ideological row might be dismissed as an academic storm in a teacup, except Danby and Lapkin believe it could have very real implications for Australian policy in the years ahead. Danby says Australian universities are guilty of producing "endless one-sided propaganda" that "produces graduates who move into the Department of Foreign Affairs and other organs of government with a one-sided view of the conflict in the Middle East". Lapkin is more blunt, warning: "The best and brightest of Australia's youth are exposed to virulent anti-Zionism throughout their university years. It remains to be seen what effect this indoctrination will have on the next generation of Australian leaders."

But what precisely is the basis for these claims that universities are running courses that are pro-Arab and anti-Israeli? Danby's and Lapkin's criticisms are focused largely on the two best known Middle East study courses in the country: Vincent's Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Macquarie and the Australian National University's Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, directed by Amin Saikal.

Lapkin accuses Saikal of pursuing an "anti-Zionist agenda" that decrees that "Israel can do no right and the Palestinians can do no wrong". Among other things, Saikal is said to be highly critical of Israel's conduct in Lebanon while praising aspects of Iranian democracy in an Islamic context. Saikal does not dispute this, but says his criticisms of Israel in Lebanon are not unreasonable and they do not mean he is anti-Israeli. "Most of the things we have said in terms of criticising Israel have been voiced by Israelis themselves inside Israel," he says. "But the (pro-Israel) lobby group here cannot tolerate any form of criticism whatsoever. They don't want an objective assessment of Israel in this country and if you make one then they attack you and call you anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist. "I think at times, particularly in the wake of the Lebanese crisis, they have said some things which could be interpreted as crossing the line."

Saikal and Vincent say hostile emails have been sent to their respective university vice-chancellors calling for them to be sacked. However, ANU vice-chancellor Ian Chubb defends Saikal, saying he has been "attacked personally ... because (his) views are unsavoury to others who have closed their mind. This is a fragile period in world relations, the very time when understanding and reason are needed to prevail over prejudice and ideology."

Danby strongly disputes suggestions that he or other pro-Israel advocates are trying to stifle free speech or otherwise censor debate on Israel and the Middle East. "I encourage debate," he says. "It is through criticism of these courses that the public will arrive at a judgment themselves about their worth. My concern is that you are not getting a full range of opinions on campus, you are not getting a wide range of views." Danby says undergraduate students are frustrated by what they see as a pro-Arab bias in these courses. "Undergraduates feel very disadvantaged, their lectures are often very anti-Israel and very anti-American," he says.

Vincent questions this, saying he has not received any complaints from his students about bias despite having many Jewish students in his course. Australia's Jewish community is politically conservative - often more so than in Israel - and it has long been frustrated with the inherently left-wing bias perceived in Australian universities. It hopes that this public challenge to the nation's universities will ultimately lead to less strident criticism of Israel in academe.

But the pro-Israel lobby also risks overplaying its hand and being perceived as using bullying to impose its own agenda. Their complaints inevitably will be interpreted by some as an attempt to muzzle academic debate rather than simply encourage greater diversity of ideas on campus. Regardless of one's views on the war in Lebanon, which ended in August, the reality is that the conflict has done great harm to Israel's international image. This will naturally be reflected in academic studies, just as it has in the media and in mainstream public opinion. The question is to determine when such views go beyond reasoned argument and into the realm of anti-Israeli bias. The answer, like so many Middle Eastern issues, lies squarely in the eyes of the beholder.

Danby accuses Vincent of selectively inviting guest lecturers who are pro-Arab and anti-Israel. "Speakers at Macquarie University this year have included the Syrian ambassador, (left-wing journalist and author) Robert Fisk, former Australian ambassador Peter Rogers and a United Arab Emirates minister, Sheikha Lubna al-Qassimi," Danby says. "All of these people seem to be putting only one side of the debate."

Vincent argues that his speakers have included "a variety of Israelis who are very much in tune with current Israeli thinking". He says that earlier this year he invited Israeli's ambassador in Canberra to speak but the offer was never taken up. But Vincent has been under growing pressure since NSW schools last year dropped a simulation exercise devised by his centre after parents complained it was creating racial tension and painted terrorists in a sympathetic light. Parents alleged the exercise, in which students played Arabs and Israelis, gave positive descriptions of groups such as Hamas's Qassam Brigades and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad without telling students that the groups were listed terrorist organisations.

Tertiary students who take Vincent's course Introduction to Middle East Politics are also asked questions that some may consider loaded against Israeli and US policy in the Middle East. These include: "Israel is sometimes accused of intransigence, why is this?"; "Should local opposition to (a democratic Iraq) be dismissed as terrorism?"; and "What is the neo-conservative agenda, and is it still in place in President Bush's second term?" Yet the same questionnaire also asks: "Do the governments of the Arab world lack legitimacy? Why?" Vincent fears that this debate, if unchecked, could take Australia down the path of the US, where an aggressive website called Campus Watch asks students to expose academics who they believe are anti-Israel. The website, run by influential Israel supporter Daniel Pipes, admits that it pays special attention to those academics who are up for tenure or promotion. "Campus Watch is frightening," Vincent says. "I am sure some people in Australia would like to have Campus Watch here."

But Danby distances himself from Campus Watch, saying there is no parallel with that organisation and the present debate in Australia. "We need to have a balanced view on the issue of the Middle East. As pressure has been on the ABC (not to show bias), so should it be on these faculties of Middle Eastern studies."



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 Pages are here or here or here.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006


It allowed merit to show and anybody who knows anything about Asian IQ and hard work will not be surprised at the result

Ten years ago, Californians banned the state from choosing one race over another. The initiative they voted for, Proposition 209, was broadly (and blandly) phrased. But everybody knew what it meant. The practice of affirmative action, whereby some university applicants were favoured simply because of race or ethnicity, was outlawed, and a long attempt to salve the nation's racial wounds ended.

Washington state's voters went on to ban racial preferences in 1998, Michigan just last month. But what happened in the state that started the trend? Ten years ago, the abolition of affirmative action was widely expected to transform the racial mix of California's top universities and turn them into less diverse places. The first prediction turned out to be right; the second did not.

In 1995, the University of California's eight undergraduate colleges enrolled 945 black students. In 1998, the first year when the colour-blind regime was fully enforced, they enrolled 739—a drop of 22% in a period when the number of new students rose by more than a tenth. In the two most prestigious colleges, Berkeley and UCLA, the number of blacks fell by 47%.

The proportion of black students has never returned to the level of the mid-1990s. But the University of California's campuses have become more diverse anyway. Last year, 15% of newly admitted students were Hispanic and an astonishing 41% were Asian. Whites, who were supposed to benefit most from the demise of affirmative action, comprised 34% of the new intake—a smaller proportion than in 1995, and less than their share of California's high-school graduates.

Asians are packing California's lecture halls partly because they do so well in tests, and partly because they are less welcome elsewhere. Elite universities on the east coast continue to favour black and Hispanic candidates. They also favour the children of donors and alumni, most of whom are white. Last year, 47% of whites and 46% of blacks who were offered a place at the University of California took it up, compared with 65% of Asians.

California's universities are at least providing a route to the upper-middle class for an immigrant group that suffers discrimination in other parts of America. And there are other changes, hard to imagine without Proposition 209, of which they can also be proud.

The decade-ago row over how many fairly successful black 18-year-olds ought to be admitted to the state's top universities was always somewhat beside the point. The real scandal was, and is, the tiny numbers of successful black 18-year-olds. Thanks to strong unions and decades of underfunding, California may rank well above average in teachers' pay: but it is below average on staff-to-student ratios and spending per pupil. Blacks and Hispanics are particularly badly served.

As soon as it became clear that affirmative action would be done away with, the state's public universities began to concentrate their attentions on California's schools. They sent their trainee teachers to some of the most troubled ones, and, by entering into partnerships, nudged them to improve. They offered places to the top 4% of pupils in every school that offered the right courses, regardless of how bad it was, on the ground that those who prevail in bad environments have at least shown gumption.

Ward Connerly, a black businessman who backed Proposition 209, dislikes such outreach efforts, calling them a Trojan horse for racial preferences. But they are much less controversial than affirmative action. And because they are targeted at the least privileged pupils, rather than well-schooled ones who happen not to be white or Asian, they may prove a better way of solving the state's real inequities.


Risky for an Australian professor to criticize terrorists

Three months after accusing university lecturers of dishonestly skewing the study of terrorism to blame the West for carnage wreaked by suicidal fanatics, a senior Queensland academic believes he is the latest casualty of a campus purge. Merv Bendle, an expert on militant religion and a senior lecturer at James Cook University, has been at the centre of a debate over how terrorism, its origins and outcomes are taught on campuses since he attacked fellow academics for what he saw as their anti-West bias. In his writings, including several published in The Australian, Dr Bendle describes a crisis in history education and criticises academic elites for distorting teaching on fanaticism and avoiding "any facts that might disturb (their) comfort zone".

He now suspects his outspoken views will lead to the loss of his position at the university he has worked for since the early 1990s. A proposal, part of a restructure by Colin Ryan as head of the new School of Arts and Social Sciences, would lead to the scrapping of six of the seven subjects Dr Bendle teaches at the Townsville university. "Why strip me of my teaching load? I'm not toeing the right political line. I'm not anti-American and I'm not anti-West," he said. "The main reason for the antipathy against me is my stand on the teaching of history and my anti-terrorist stand. "People should look at terrorists in the same way they look at pedophiles. How many lecturers do you see defending pedophiles? They don't. But they defend terrorism. I have an intense antipathy to the romanticisation of terrorism. I don't see anything romantic about blowing people to bits because of an ideology that a suicide bomber has become fanatical about."

Dr Bendle's concerns over his tenure were dismissed yesterday by the faculty's pro-vice chancellor, Janet Greeley, who said more than 150 subjects were being reviewed for possible deletion to reduce workload. "We have undergone a restructure and reduced some staff, so we have to remove some of the teaching burden for lecturers," said Professor Greeley, who is married to Dr Ryan. "Unfortunately, it happened that a number of the subjects were Dr Bendle's subjects, but it has absolutely nothing to do with what he has published. Dr Bendle will be given every opportunity to teach and be part of research initiatives that the new school will put forward. "He offers so many subjects across quite a range and that's probably why he might have been hit more than others. "I may or may not disagree with all of his positions but that has no influence on the subjects that he teaches." Professor Greeley, who said her husband managed the school at arm's length from her role as faculty head, said she hoped to persuade Dr Bendle that the proposal to take away about 85per cent of his teaching load was not a conspiracy.

But Dr Bendle said he was singled out for adopting a politically incorrect position at odds with the mainstream. He said he had been previously targeted by two colleagues in an "act of bastardry", leading to an investigation, which found insufficient evidence to support complaints that Dr Bendle or others in the sociology discipline at JCU had been bullying and intimidatory. "Townsville is a Labor Party city and the side of the university that I'm dealing with is radical Labor, far left. But I'm not going to go quietly," he said. "I'll scratch and fight the whole way. All I want to do is get back to teaching what I'm well qualified and good at teaching."

In a paper titled Don't Mention The Terror, Dr Bendle says academic contributions frequently have a political agenda. Academic forums are used to denounce the war on terror, the US, Israel, Australia and their leaders, while insisting that Islam is a religion of peace and is being unfairly targeted, he says. In response, academics including Macquarie University's Goldie Osuri and Bobby Banerjee of the University of South Australia said in a published article: "Australian academe may be better served by Merv Bendle's silence on terrorism."

However, the University of Queensland's Carl Ungerer and David Martin Jones, who lecture in the School of Political Science and International Studies, said the "polysyllabic howl of outrage" from the academic lobby was predictable. They said Australian Research Council funding of social sciences was skewed "to maintain the fashionable line that, despite empirical evidence to the contrary in the form of attacks on Western civilian targets, it is all our fault". "In this Alice in Wonderland world of ... journals read only by participants in this mutually reinforcing discourse, the focus of study is not Islamist ideology and its propensity to violence, but our own long-repressed responsibility for the cause of Islamist rage," they said.

Professor Greeley denied the university had a position on the controversy that arose from Dr Bendle's published stand three months ago. "I was a bit concerned for Merv because he was harshly criticised in the national media by his colleagues," she said. "We all like to see our staff engage in public debate, but one does not like to see them criticised too harshly."


Australian universities abandon Australian literature

Academics receive more funds to study Norse poems than Australian novels; Patrick White is unfashionable; creative writing classes flourish while Australian literature courses disappear. Rosemary Neill charts the abandonment of Oz lit

Peter Pierce is the inaugural professor of Australian literature at James Cook University in Queensland's deep north. He may also be the last. As Pierce, 56, prepares to leave James Cook, questions hover over the position he has held for the past decade. The university's school of humanities is being vacuumed up into a bigger department and - at least in the short term - its chair in Australian literature will cease to exist.

Pierce's departure at the end of this month will leave the number of permanent professorships of Australian literature in the country at ... one. The retiring professor is far from retiring about this. "It's a scandal," he says down the line from Townsville, his voice flaring with indignation.

Three decades after we shook off the colonial hangover, Pierce and others claim a new cultural cringe is infesting our halls of higher learning, encouraging the neglect of Australian literature.

A Review investigation has found:

  • When Pierce leaves James Cook, the University of Sydney will host the nation's only remaining chair in Australian literature. Sydney is the sole tertiary institution where undergraduates can major in Australian literature. Yet recently, there were moves within the university to undermine the chair and the teaching of Australian literature as a separate subject.

  • In recent years, British/European literary projects have claimed a far bigger share of academic research grants than Australian ones. In 2002, one academic was granted $600,000 to produce editions of Old Norse poetry, while a venture to produce new editions of Henry Handel Richardson's novels received $130,000. Handel Richardson is one of Australia's most important early 20th century novelists.

  • Students today seem far more interested in becoming writers than studying them: while creative writing courses flourish, the number of undergraduates studying Australian literature has fallen away dramatically on some campuses. Next year, the University of Sydney may have no students taking up the country's only honours program in Australian literature.


THE decline of Australian literature is also blamed on funding cuts and the inexorable rise of postmodern theory, a charge that supporters of that theory deny strenuously.

The Oz lit crisis is playing out on campus at a time when Australian books outsell imported ones and our first-rank authors punch above their weight in the Pulitzer, Commonwealth and Booker prizes.

Pierce says: "Sometimes it seems to me that a vigorous interest in and enthusiasm for Australian literature, including the teaching and translation of it, is to be found more offshore thanonshore." Australian literature, he says, is studied from China to Hungary, France to Singapore, because "it has always been the standard-bearer for Australian studies and a very important instrument of cultural diplomacy in this country". "If you were travelling the world, you'd think Australian literature is thriving, but when you come home, you find that the literature is without honour (at universities in) its own country."

The professor of Australian literature at the University of Sydney, Elizabeth Webby, like Pierce, is poised to retire. Asked if she can think of other countries whose academics have so little time for their native literature, she says: "Oh no, I don't think it's true of anywhere else." (As an afterthought, she says it might be true of New Zealand.)

Almost nun-like in her unfussy dark clothes, hands folded in front and feet tucked neatly under her, it is hard to imagine Webby's voice - let alone her hackles - being raised. Yet this mild-mannered woman of 65 reveals that at one point recently, she was steeling herself to go public to defend the country's only chair in Australian literature.

Review understands that rival academics saw Webby's retirement, and falling student numbers, as an opportunity to demand that Australian literature no longer be taught as a separate subject at Sydney. The detractors - whom Webby declines to identify - were unsuccessful. She has a successor in the respected scholar Robert Dixon, and Australian literature lives on as a subdiscipline amid the gothic spires and ruthlessly clipped lawns of Australia's oldest university.

Even so, in her office lined with what must be one of the nation's biggest collections of Australian fiction, Webby says ruefully: "That is what Australian literature is up against. It's also up against other people in the discipline." She confesses that after 16 years in her job, she will retire disappointed that Australian plays, poems and novels still are not regarded as a core discipline by most Australian universities.

Indeed, it seems the cultural cringe Webby encountered 44 years ago when she wrote a thesis on a yet-to-be-famous Australian is still flourishing inside lecture theatres. "I wrote my honours thesis in 1962 on Patrick White, which people believed was an aberration. One of my fellow students said to me many years later, 'Elizabeth, we all thought you were mad'," she says with a knowing half-smile.

Webby's thesis on White was written well before the novelist won the Nobel Prize in 1973. Today, Australia's only literary Nobel laureate is unfashionable again on Australian campuses.

But this indifference doesn't just come from the pincer movement of academics - Eurocentric traditionalists on one flank, postmodern theorists on the other - who have pushed Australian literature to the periphery.

With a rueful chuckle, Webby says the majority of her literature students "find it difficult to get through long novels". By long, she means anything over 200 pages, "which disqualifies most Patrick White".

Then again, if you were a fresher and wanted to study White - or indeed any other major Australian writer - at our other leading sandstone university, Melbourne, you wouldn't get very far. This year, first-year literary studies students at Melbourne were offered just two Australian works of fiction (Murray Bail's Eucalyptus and John Forbes's Collected Poems). There were no first-year subjects devoted to Australian literature, and of 31 second and third-year subjects on offer, three were specifically about Australian writing.

Pierce says of this: "This is the university, along with two or three others, that attracts the best students, and almost completely starves them of Australian literature. The danger is that it will become an accessory." At James Cook, things are no better. This year, the university offered 50 literature subjects, yet second and third-year students could study just one subject devoted to Australian literature.

Pierce declares that the tertiary sector's neglect of our literature exposes a disconnect between the public and academics: "It isn't as if people have stopped reading Australian literature. It's a dissociation of the readership from the formal study of Australian literature."

He says the rot set in when academics who "abased" themselves before the altar of literary theory acquired institutional power and "captured literature departments in the '80s".

Postmodern literary theory - and its near-relation, cultural studies - do not accord canonical works, Australian or otherwise, a privileged place. Such theories hold that everything from Big Brother to Charles Dickens's Bleak House and Peter Carey's Bliss is a text, thus diminishing the role of serious literature as a defining cultural force.

The bitter divisions provoked by the rise of theory are well known. Yale University professor Harold Bloom has attacked cultural studies as an enemy of reading and part of the "lunatic destruction of literary studies". In Australia, what remains largely unexplored is the role imported, voguish theories have played in the destruction of our literature.


PETER Kirkpatrick is president of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, set up in the late 1970s to take on the academy's stifling Anglophilia. Thirty years on, he says the dominance of theory "has put a big dent in Australian literary studies".

Although ASAL's executive now includes fans of literary theory and cultural studies, Kirkpatrick says: "I find cultural studies absolutely excruciating. You can only read so many accounts of the semiotics of shopping malls or Paris Hilton before you think 'Oh, there's got to be more to life than this!"' (He stresses this is a personal view.) Kirkpatrick, who teaches at the University of Western Sydney, explains that as the influence of cultural studies and post-colonial theory grew, Australia's literature was put in the same box as that of other post-imperialist powers.

But there was a crucial - and for Australian literature, a disabling - difference. Former imperialists such as the US, France and Britain had long-established canons that survived the onslaught of theory. But Australian literature, which had only just gained a toehold, was elbowed aside as the new wave of theories washed over campuses from the '80s. The mission to entrench Australian literature in our universities - considered courageous and fashionable in the '70s - was seen as unfashionable and even reactionary a decade later.

Kirkpatrick believes that today the notion that universities should encourage the development of a national canon is "certainly dead". "Canons aren't really very fashionable at the moment," he says. And White? "He's certainly unfashionable." He claims that today there is probably more interest among Australia's academics in "capital-I Indigenous literature than in indigenous literature".

Webby adds that the rise of post-colonial theory - preoccupied with how colonialism impacted on Western and non-Western cultures - has led to a suspicion of nationalism, and so of national literatures, among academics. But John Frow, head of the English department at

the University of Melbourne - soon to be renamed the culture and communications department - says the view that the rise of critical theory has harmed Australian literature "is absolute garbage".

"There is no incompatibility between teaching theory and teaching Australian literature. All our teaching is theoretically informed, and it shouldn't be otherwise," he says.

Frow says it "probably is a scandal" that there is only one chair in Australian literature. And he admits "the University of Melbourne is teaching much less Australian literature than we used to, essentially because student demand has fallen off". "It is a problem that students just seem to be less interested in Australian literature than they were 10 years ago.

"There is an economic imperative there: if student numbers fall off dramatically, we have to respond to that." (In spite of this, Sydney and Melbourne universities plan to introduce a new Australian literature subject from 2008.)

Frow has a point. At a time when universities are expected to be increasingly self-sufficient, academics must compete for students, or rather, for the HECS and other fees they generate. If student numbers fall too far, courses can come under threat, no matter how pivotal they might be to Australian life or culture.

Like Frow, Webby blames the marginalisation of Australian fiction primarily on funding cuts and lack of student interest. She says that at a time when the federal Government spends more money on private schools than on universities, "the main issue, really, is funding".

"When funding is cut, academics have to program for bums on seats, basically, and for various reasons Australian literature is not attractive at the present time to Australian students. The students we have now do not read as much as students did 20 years ago, let alone 40 years ago. That is simply because they've grown up in a culture where there are so many other things competing for their time."

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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 Pages are here or here or here.


Monday, December 04, 2006

NEA Leader Says Home School Parents `Well-Meaning Amateurs'

Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, says home schooling parents are "well-meaning amateurs" who should leave the education of their children to the professionals. In "Home Schools Run By Well-Meaning Amateurs," Arnold says: ". why would some parents assume they know enough about every academic subject to home-school their children? You would think that they might leave this - the shaping of their children's minds, careers, and futures - to trained professionals. That is, to those who have worked steadily at their profession for 10, 20, 30 years! Teachers!"

Arnold concludes his attack on home school parents by stating: "Don't most parents have a tough enough job teaching their children social, disciplinary and behavioral skills? They would be wise to help their children and themselves by leaving the responsibility of teaching math, science, art, writing, history, geography and other subjects to those who are knowledgeable, trained and motivated to do the best job possible."

"Dave Arnold's elitist view of parents as untrained buffoons who should leave the education of their children to his liberal minions, is clear evidence that home school parents are wise to protect their children from leftist and pro-homosexual propaganda in schools," said TVC's Executive Director Andrea Lafferty. "The NEA has been the enemy of parents and a supporter of abortion, obscene sex education and homosexual indoctrination of innocent public school children. Why should parents trust their children to teachers who are anti-Christian, pro-baby killing and pro-homosexuality?

The Home School Legal Defense Association released a report in 2004 that shows the academic excellence achieved by home-schooled children. A study released in 1997, for example, showed that home-schooled children outperformed their public school counterparts by 30-37 percentile points in all subjects.

"It would appear that the `well-meaning amateur' parents criticized by Dave Arnold, are doing a better job of educating their own children than the so-called `professionals' in the NEA," said Lafferty. "Perhaps if NEA teachers spent more time on academics and less time on training children to experiment with homosexual sodomy, children might actually get an education in public schools."


Who killed the school trip?

The UK government wants children to get out and about - but it was its own suspicious regulation of adults that cast a cloud over such adventures.

Today, the UK government will issue a call to bring back the school trip. It is launching a new independent council, because it wants to reassure teachers (who are apparently afraid of being sued) and parents (afraid that children could come to harm) that school trips are safe, and that they are good for kids, too.

Yet the government has just waved through legislation that makes organising a school trip very difficult, if not impossible. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill – against which I am coordinating a campaign - will make it compulsory for any adult who comes into contact with a child as part of his or her working day to undergo criminal records vetting.

For the average school trip, this will mean bus drivers who drive the kids, workers at the hotel where the children are staying, any parent or adult volunteers, and any foreign exchange families. (Foreign exchange families cannot presently be vetted, which is why one Scottish local authority decided to cancel all overseas trips for its local schoolchildren.)

Vetting is costly and time-consuming – and it is part of the growing official regulation of relationships between adults and children. These regulations call into question the open encounters that kids experience on school trips, whether it’s the cranky geologist telling you about rocks or French or German parents showing you around their town. To go anywhere near a child now, adults require a Criminal Records Bureau certificate and various other certificates showing that they have been on the requisite child protection courses.

Relating to children is becoming a specialised profession, rather than the job of any adult with a bit of common sense and some experience from which children might benefit. Official regulations treat anything that takes kids away from the classroom as a problem. Even university interviews now have special guidelines on how tutors should relate to 17-year-old interviewees (see Just 17? Then forget university, by Josie Appleton).

In the midst of this, how dare the government call for more adventurous school trips? It’s true that officials frequently launch big campaigns against trends that bear their fingerprints – the Health and Safety Commission launches initiatives against safety-first regulations, for example, while the Commission for Racial Equality takes on multicultural politics.

Yet these are all managerial reactions to a problem. Indeed, the government campaign to save the school trip is as dull as can be. There will be a new independent council, which will give teachers special training and provide them with special ‘out and about’ packs. These officials even manage to make the school trip sound boring, by calling it ‘learning outside the classroom’.

Worst of all, the government’s main justification for rescuing school trips is that they can help tackle childhood obesity. Aside from the fact that one of the defining features of school trips is that you eat a lot of unhealthy food (I remember many a happy hour with platefuls of German ‘Spaghetti ice’), this is an extraordinarily narrow-spirited logic.

The point about school trips is that they expand your mind, not that they limit your waistline. You are travelling to new places with your friends and without your parents, and with teachers who are a little less uptight than normal. You always come back a bit more independent, and a bit more inspired by geography or German now that you can see how such subjects might actually be useful. I recall one biology fieldtrip where we counted seaweed species by day and whisky species by night: a liberal education that has left all branches of the fucus family imprinted on my brain.

So three cheers for the school trip, and boo to the Better School Trip Commission! School trips thrive on the spirit of adventure, not on ‘out-and-about’ packs about how ‘learning outside the classroom’ can help meet obesity targets.



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 Pages are here or here or here.


Sunday, December 03, 2006


Diversity in higher education was a major topic of discussion at a recent conference in Cambridge . The focus, however, was not on the familiar concept of diversity as a desirable mix of races, genders, and ethnic groups. Rather, participants deplored the lack of intellectual and political diversity on college campuses. The National Organization of Scholars, which held the conference Nov. 17-19, emerged in the late 1980s in response to "political correctness" in the academy. The group is widely perceived as conservative, much to the consternation of some members who are liberal Democrats but are put off by the prevailing orthodoxy in the universities. One star speaker at the event was Boston-based lawyer Harvey Silverglate, a liberal champion of civil liberties, who noted that many statements that would be considered normal, if debatable, expressions of opinion anywhere else are regarded as discriminatory on college campuses.

Numerous studies confirm that most college faculty lean left, especially in the more prestigious institutions. At a time when political discourse in American society in general has shifted noticeably to the right, some people wonder why an academy that tilts left is a problem: The universities, they argue, are islands in a sea of conservatism. But no academic institution can thrive on uniformity; liberalism itself can turn illiberal when isolated from different ideas. What's more, the marginalization of right-of-center ideas in the academy may have a lot to do modern conservatism's transformation into a caricature of itself.

That marginalization is evident. Some academic programs, particularly in such areas as women's studies, education, and social work, explicitly push for left-leaning social change. On one panel, Brooklyn College historian Robert Johnson offered a striking example of intellectual uniformity. He noted that, according to its website, the University of Michigan history department has 26 full-time professors teaching American history. Eleven of them focus on race and ethnicity in America, while another nine specialize in women's history. There are no military or diplomatic historians.

To what extent this imbalance penalizes alternative viewpoints is hard to establish. In a recent survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni at 50 top colleges and universities, nearly half of students said the presentation of contemporary political issues and controversies in classes, campus panels, and lecture series was too one-sided, and nearly a third felt they had to agree with a professor's political views in order to get good grades. On many campuses, there is a general sense that you have to be a liberal to fit in. In a post-conference interview, Johnson said that the problem was not so much retaliation against students with dissenting opinions as "one-sided instruction to students that don't have the educational or intellectual background to detect the bias and challenge a professor's viewpoint."

Some conservatives advocate legislative interference as a solution. Activist David Horowitz has been pushing for an "Academic Bill of Rights" that would not only protect dissenting students from classroom retaliation but also guarantee the inclusion of balanced viewpoints in the curriculum. This effort has gone nowhere.

In his talk at the conference, Johnson took a dim view of such efforts. Given conservative support for including "intelligent design" in the biology curriculum, he noted, a mandate of "balance" in teaching could be used to smuggle creationism into science classrooms at public universities. Yet he also outlined legislative remedies that could work: Fund programs that would expose students to ideas currently neglected or marginalized in the academy; conduct oversight hearings on the lack of intellectual diversity on campuses; abolish speech codes that often result in suppressing politically incorrect opinions on race, gender, and sexuality within college courses.

When stifled on campuses, right-of-center ideas don't just go away. These days, they are expressed -- in pungent manner -- on talk radio, and in overtly political journalism and publishing. Such outlets have increased in prominence, and universities have lost influence over American politics. When intellectual life is seen as a bastion of the left, conservatism devolves from intellectual giants like the late Milton Friedman to intellectual thugs like Ann Coulter -- with dangerous consequences for the political climate.


Australian education: An amusing but revealing rant from a Leftist

He points out that poor kids do particularly badly out of an Australian education but neglects to say why: Because the kids of poor parents go to Left-dominated and dumbed-down State schools. Any Australian with a cent to spare (40% of the population) sends his/her kids to a private High School -- where there is some survival of traditional standards

It is not that schools are turning out dumbos. On the contrary. Our students in general are high performers. Of children from 27 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), Australian 15-year-olds on average ranked second in literacy, sixth in mathematics and fourth in problem-solving in international tests in 2000 and 2003. No, the problem is the system lets down youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds. For all our pride in being egalitarian, our education system and the way it is organised and financed is unfair compared to many others.

Unpicking the test results reveals that who your parents are and how well off your family is counts for more in Australia than elsewhere. School systems in Canada, Ireland, Finland, Korea, Iceland, Sweden, Austria, Norway and Japan have managed to ameliorate the effects of class and social background much better than the Australian system. And they have done so without sacrificing high performance, says Professor Barry McGaw, a former director of education at the OECD, now at the University of Melbourne. While the average Australian student is almost as clever as the average Finn (who topped the literacy test), the Australian from a disadvantaged background is 1® years behind a Finn from similar poor background. (The US is an example of the worst of both worlds - poor-to-middling results on average and inequitable.)

So while our attention is diverted by the latest education furore - a Marxist interpretation of Shakespeare, or the paucity of dates to be memorised in history - the real problem has slipped under the radar. We spend too much money on the elite students who do well, and not enough to lift the disadvantaged who tend to drop out in alarming numbers.

While we were dotting the land with flagpoles, our year 12 retention rate was flagging. It is low by internationals standards, stuck at about 75 per cent for a decade, and falling in some states. Meanwhile, 17 comparable countries surpassed the 80 per cent retention rate years ago. One OECD measure shows our upper secondary school retention has slipped to 20th position while Canada, for example, directly comparable to us, is seventh.

As a result, Australia has a large underclass of alienated early school leavers who can't get full-time jobs. Our teenage unemployment rate is worse than the OECD average. In the midst of a boom we have more than half a million teenagers and young adults neither in education full-time nor working full-time. They are on the dole, or in part-time jobs in retail and hospitality. Employers don't want to hire them full-time, however pressing the skills shortage, because they lack adequate education and training.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence and Mission Australia have both drawn attention in recent reports to the huge economic and personal waste of this pool of alienated youth. As Richard Sweet, a former OECD analyst, has pointed out: "Australia seems to have the worst of both worlds: both a relatively high number of young people without an upper secondary qualification or better, and these young people being at a significant disadvantage in the labour market. The result is that Australia's penalty for not completing year 12 or its equivalent is one of the highest in the OECD."

School has to be interesting to keep more youngsters there [And there is nothing more boring than Greenie and politically correct preaching]. What is taught and how it is taught are crucial though I doubt more rote learning of historical dates will do the trick.

But money is crucial, too, and here, Australia does poorly. In 2003 Australia ranked 18th out of 30 OECD countries for education expenditure as a proportion of gross domestic product. It spent 5.8 per cent compared to 7.5 per cent in Korea and 7 per cent in New Zealand. Government expenditure is actually lower - the 5.8 per cent includes private expenditure, which is the third highest in the OECD. Low government expenditure and high private expenditure have delivered a mixed result - high-performing students at one end and a forgotten ill-educated and underemployed class at the other. We could do better if we directed more resources to those who need it. The nation's failure to spread education's bounty to all is a more serious lapse than a student's inability to explain why the Union Jack is on our national flag.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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

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