Saturday, December 23, 2006

AZ: Schools aiming to end "senior coasting"

It's senior year and the hardest work is over. For many high school students, that means it's time to coast. The usual way is to take four hours of class in the morning - including perhaps cooking, ceramics or as a teacher's aide - then at 11:30 or so, head to a job or home to while away time on the computer. But educators have a new message: The days when seniors can slide are coming to an end.

State and district officials are taking steps to ramp up the year's value and intensity, including lengthening the school day. Within a decade, the beloved half-day option will be extinct. School officials are asking themselves why they allow so many students to ease off during their senior year when Arizona education is under fire and the global marketplace demands higher skills.

Students can expect to face more required internships and tougher courses just to graduate, such as the stepped-up math proposed by a governor's panel last week. Schools also want to persuade students to stay on campus by offering a wider variety of college courses or online courses, such as Japanese.

Next month, state schools chief Tom Horne will ask lawmakers to increase full-time student hours from a minimum of four a day to five. Because schools get more money for full-time students, the change would pressure districts to find ways to keep seniors in school at least five of the day's six hours. Some district officials said that would cost the schools more money.

Not all half-day seniors are taking light loads and playing video games. Some take serious courses and leave by noon to go to work, earning money for college or a car or to help with the bills at home. Joni Brown's three oldest children left their Peoria high school campus early during their senior years to work, and that makes her proud. Her fourth, Jesse, 17, also is attending half a day, then working at a tire store to pay his bills. Brown, a secretary, raised the kids herself. "I wasn't able to give my kids things like cars and cells," said Brown, whose three oldest became a teacher, a hairstylist and a mortgage-company worker. "My children were big achievers and worked to get those things for themselves."

Still, many educators say allowing seniors to skate on academics is not doing them any favors. The millennium generation will need higher math and language skills whether they are headed for a university, a technical school or the workplace. College recruiters advise juniors not to let up in their final year or they risk being unprepared for the college grind....

The senior day already is growing longer for students who attend special classes to help pass or excel on the AIMS exam, which they need to earn a diploma or, if they score high, a tuition waiver.

More here


The US Department of Education is planning to propose limits early next year on how much universities can charge former students in collection fees if they default on government loans.

At Northeastern University, President Joseph Aoun has asked a prominent alumnus, former Suffolk district attorney Ralph C. Martin II , to recommend changes to the school's debt collection practices after a Globe report last month that the university has charged fees as high as 66 percent of the original debt. Northeastern should "consider ways to insure compliance with financial obligations that are consistent with our values as a university and a community," Aoun wrote to faculty and students earlier this month in announcing the review. "To my mind that means we treat one another with respect and dignity."

The Globe reported that colleges routinely charge debtors collection fees between 33 percent and 50 percent of the original balance on loans or unpaid tuition. In contrast, people with other types of debts, including on credit cards, generally pay much smaller collection fees, or none at all. Some advocates for students, specialists on consumer debt, and university administrators called the fees at many colleges excessive and unreasonable.

The Department of Education caps collection fees at 25 percent for the loans that it administers. But one of the major federal programs, the Perkins loan, which gives at least $1 billion each year to low-income students, is administered by universities, which set their own collection fees. Under the Perkins program, schools are required to charge defaulted borrowers all "reasonable" collection costs incurred by the institution, but the regulations do not spell out what is reasonable. "The good government approach here is that we should specify or define what reasonable collections costs are," said Dan Madzelan , director of forecasting and policy analysis in the office of postsecondary education. The department's ombudsman's office, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings , and members of Congress have all received complaints about schools charging high collection fees, Madzelan said.

The department hopes to publish a formal proposal around May 1, seek public comment and then have the new policy in place by Nov. 1, officials said. It will create the rules in concert with representatives from universities, student and consumer groups, and loan companies. If new rules are approved, they would be binding. Although the changes would apply only to Perkins loans, schools usually follow the Perkins guidelines for other loans they administer.

Elizabeth Reardon , collection officer at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, praised the plan to establish limits. "When the department gets involved, schools often sit up and take notice," Reardon said. She said the department of education's move will probably prompt universities to change their policies even before new limits go into effect, so that schools will appear proactive. UMass, which already had lower fees than most schools, recently put its collections out to bid to try to lower costs even more, Reardon said. The new collection fees range from about 21 percent to 33 percent, rather than up to 35 percent.

College officials in the Globe report defended their collection efforts as a last resort after students failed to respond to efforts to negotiate a deal. They say that they make no profit on the fees, and need to charge as much as they do in order to balance their budgets and to replenish loan funds so other students can borrow. Department of Education officials say their collection costs are lower than the colleges' because they have powers, including wage garnishment, that schools lack.

Northeastern had the highest collection fees of any school examined by the Globe. Aoun said last night that he chose Martin to conduct the review because of his integrity and his love for Northeastern. Martin earned a Northeastern law degree in 1978. Aoun refused to say whether he thought Northeastern's collection practices were unreasonable, because he didn't want to prejudge Martin's work. He said Martin's findings, stripped of confidential information about specific students, would be made public. Aoun asked Martin, now a partner at Bingham McCutchen , to report back by March 1.



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 22, 2006


A school has had to apologise after a class of children aged 9 and 10 were told that Father Christmas does not exist. The shocking assertion was contained in a worksheet which asked the children to compose a Christmas letter. The worksheet handed to the Year 5 pupils said “many small children believe in Santa” but that his letters were actually handled by an official at the Post Office. To make matters worse, the pupils were then asked to compose a reply to one of the “small children” explaining why a request for presents was being turned down.

But the main explaining had to be done when the children went home. Their parents, some unbelievers themselves, had to explain why not everything that you are taught in school may be true.

Jackie Jackson, the head teacher of Ladysmith Junior School, Exeter, has written to parents to apologise. She said that the class teacher had downloaded the worksheet in error from an educational resources website. She said: “The choice of this worksheet was a genuine mistake by a teacher, which we are very sad about. Having three children myself, I understand how parents feel. “The last thing we wanted to do was take away the positive and magical side of Christmas and I have wished all the families a happy time. “I have apologised to the parents and this worksheet will never be used in the school again.”

The apology came after a complaint by the parents of one nine-year-old pupil. The child’s father said: “My wife and I make a special effort to keep the belief in Santa in our daughter’s mind as we believe it adds to the magic of Christmas for her and her four-year-old brother. “What gives the school the right to decide when children should know the truth about such a harmless matter when knowing the truth takes away that little bit of magic?” Other parents with children at the 490-pupil school agreed. Sam Horn, 28, whose children, Charlotte, 6, and Kieron, 8, believe in Father Christmas, said it was up to parents to discuss with a child whether he is real. “Kids grow up too quickly these days. Children should have the right to stay innocent for as long as possible. Teachers don’t have the right to decide these things.”

Another parent said that her child had brought the worksheet home with her. “When I saw it I instantly realised what it meant. It is not up to anyone apart from the parent. I have received no apology. The damage is done.” Some unbelieving parents were less concerned. Sally Jones, 32, said her children Cory, 10, James, 8, and Tasha, 6, knew “the truth” about Father Christmas. “I don’t think it will come as a shock to many children of that age,” she said. “I don’t think any harm has been done. “Children don’t care as long as they get what they want for Christmas. The only advantage of Santa for a parent is that you’ve got someone to blame if children don’t get what they want.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said that there was no official policy on Father Christmas and it was up to individual schools to decide what to tell pupils. Leaving a glimmer of hope for those of us still expecting a visit, he added that the DfES was not able to comment on the existence or otherwise of Father Christmas.


Comrade Rudd is a closet Leftie

Kevin Donnelly examines the new Australian federal Opposition Leader's record in the battle of ideas on education

Who are the authors of the following quotations?

l. "I have a plan... a national crusade for education standards representing what all our students must know to succeed in the knowledge economy of the 21st century."

2. "Our goal: to make Britain the best educated and skilled country in the world ... education, education education."

3. "We [need to] turbo-charge our national education system to create the knowledge base for the future of the Australian economy" and "We need to lift our vision and start to imagine an Australia where we turn ourselves into the most educated economy, the most educated society in the Western world."

The answers are: former US president Bill Clinton. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and new federal Labor leader Kevin Rudd respectively. It's significant that Blair and Clinton saw education as vitally important in their quest for power and as a powerful weapon in the policy arsenal of their governments. Rudd, in signalling education as a key issue in what he terms the "battle of ideas for Australia's future", is doing nothing new. As demonstrated by Blair and Clinton, concerns about education are central to aspirational voters. And calling for higher standards, accountability and a curriculum based on core knowledge resonates with the broader public.

As illustrated by the response to Mark Latham's hit list of non-government schools, taken to the last federal election, the old-style politics of envy and class war has outlived its usefulness and an essential element of the Third Way is for social democratic parties to seek the middle ground. Coupled with the destructive impact of ALP-inspired experiments such as outcomes-based education at the state level - witness the demise of Paula Wriedt as Tasmania's education minister and the slow political death of Ljiljanna Ravlich in Western Australia - it's understandable why Rudd and Stephen Smith, Labor's education spokesman, are so eager to mimic a conservative agenda on this issue.

Will Rudd be able to win the battle of ideas in education? One obstacle in copying the Howard Government's agenda on issues such as teacher accountability, defining educational success by measuring outcomes and supporting parents' right to choose non-government schools is that the ALP will antagonise its traditional supporters such as the Australian Education Union. At the 2004 federal election the AEU mounted a campaign, costing $1.5 million and targeting 28 marginal seats, to unseat the Howard Govern-ment. The AEU, evidenced by a series of speeches by the union's president, Pat Byrne, favours a cultural Left agenda in education and is opposed to the types of initiatives being put forward by team Labor.

Rudd's new-won adherence to a socially conservative view of education is also very much at odds with his track record as chief of staff to former Queensland premier Wayne Goss and his role as director-general of the state cabinet office. While it is true that during the Goss-Rudd partnership the premier argued against using the term "invasion" in relation to the arrival of the First Fleet, the period under the Goss government saw education in Queensland gain the reputation of being a bastion of the dumbed-down and politically correct approach to curriculum represented by outcomes-based education.

During the early 1990s, Queensland was given the task of writing the Keating government's national studies of society and the environment syllabus. In the words of Bill Hannan, a Victorian educationalist close to the ALP, the Queensland material was little more than a "subject of satire" and "a case of political correctness gone wild".

In 1996, after Goss lost government, I undertook a review of the Queensland Education Department for Bob Quinn, the incoming minister. The report concluded that during the Goss-Rudd partnership education in Queensland suffered from "provider capture", a situation where unions ran the agenda and schools were stifled by a rigid and insensitive centralised bureaucracy. The curriculum, as a result of educational experiments such as the new basics, critical literacy and drowning history and geography in "Studies of society and the environment", led to falling standards and to students becoming culturally illiterate.

While Rudd seeks to re-badge himself and the ALP, recently stating "I am not a socialist. I have never been a socialist and I never will be a socialist", three years ago he declared himself " old-fashioned Christian socialist". On reading his first parliamentary speech as Opposition Leader, there are elements of this socialist vision for all to see. He argues that "families are such a basic social institution that they deserve special protections" and that they should be "protected from the market".

Rudd argues, as does Byrne, that education is a public good. Those familiar with the campaign being waged against parental choice in education will understand that statist expressions such as "public good", that families deserve "special protections" and should be "protected from the market", are left- wing code for maintaining government control and denying families choice.

Ignored is the overseas evidence that charter schools, where local communities manage their schools and vouchers, where the money follows the child and more families are in a position to choose, lead to increased equity and social justice, especially among those less fortunate. While Rudd, in his parliamentary speech, seeks to differentiate himself from old-style Labor politics, the danger is that beneath the rhetoric about equity, sustainability and compassion and the argument that Labor has a monopoly over "a fair go for all, not just for some" beats the heart of Comrade Rudd.

In relation to education, this means that the initiatives guaranteed to turbo-charge the system - benchmarking curriculum to ensure that it is world's best, freeing schools from provider capture and giving more parents the right to choose - will be ignored and, while on the level of rhetoric the arguments are appealing, little of substance will change.

The above article appeared in "The Australian" newspaper on Saturday, December 16, 2006


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 21, 2006


It's parents and taxpayers who will end up footing most of the bill for all this useless do-goodery that will change nothing except generate a warm inner glow in those planning it

Somewhere in the curriculum, most colleges and universities include Henry David Thoreau. Now, many of them are trying to emulate him. Yes, sweeping the academic world is Walden Pond 101: the art of living in a sustainable manner. Think environmental and social responsibility.

One of the best examples of the ivory tower's effort to tread lightly on the land is at Arizona State University. Next month, ASU will inaugurate the nation's first School of Sustainability - whose classes will look at everything from water scarcity to urban air quality problems. It is one of many universities putting its intellect and talents to use in the name of ecology. These institutions are devoting more research to solving global climate problems, and they're redesigning their own campuses to be examples of better ways to use and protect Earth's resources. For some schools, the financial commitment to these issues has started to run into the millions of dollars, as they foot salaries for new specialists and pay the costs of creating green buildings. At the very least, many universities are creating new courses in response to student interest. "We have always looked to academia to think creatively about the larger problems of our day," says Carter Roberts, president of the World Wildlife Fund in Washington. "There is not a more complicated problem than how to survive and flourish with a growing population and finite resources."

Universities are quickly latching onto the issue as several developments show. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) has quintupled in size this year, as it went from a West Coast-based organization to a national group. Also, an increasing number of schools, from New York University to the University of Central Oklahoma, are getting 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources. And next month, a group of colleges and universities will launch an effort encouraging 200 universities to develop a plan that would make their schools "climate neutral," meaning the schools wouldn't adversely affect the environment.

Many institutions are proud of their innovations. At the University of Rochester in New York, a new optics lab will have stairwells designed to absorb heat and radiate into the building to reduce heating costs. At Berea College in Kentucky, sewage from an "Ecovillage" is treated in a series of tanks filled with plants and fish. The University of California at San Diego has identified campus rooftops where it can install 500 kilowatts of solar panels, which equals the power needed for 325 homes.

But ASU has ratcheted up the effort with "a holistic approach" that is probably unique in the nation, says Mr. Roberts. Any new building erected at ASU - a school adding facilities quickly - must be built to exacting environmental standards. Some professors in the university's labs are concentrating on understanding nature and then using the knowledge to solve problems. For example, a team of professors is growing a strain of bacteria that feast on carbon dioxide. The bacteria could then be used to convert emissions from a power plant into bio-fuels. By the fall, the university hopes to integrate its work so that students in other schools, such as the law school, can minor in sustainability. Some students will come from China as part of an agreement in August to launch a Joint Center on Urban Sustainability.

In October, ASU hosted 650 academics, administrators, and students from AASHE who took part in a conference on the role of higher education in creating a sustainable world. The university is attracting donors and business people, including heiress Julie Ann Wrigley and Rob Walton, chairman of Wal-Mart, who last month agreed to chair the board of ASU's Institute of Sustainability.
Behind the university's efforts is its president, Michael Crow, who arrived at ASU in 2002 after 11 years at Columbia University, where he played a lead role in founding the Earth Institute. (Read an interview with Mr. Crow). Like many environmentalists, he counts reading Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring" as a landmark in his life. However, he says it wasn't until he matured that he realized "all of these 70,000 chemicals and synthetics that we have put in the atmosphere and water were all derived mostly by universities with no thought given to what the other impacts may be to what they are doing." At ASU, Dr. Crow reorganized the life-science departments, and began hiring experts in sustainability. A central goal, he says, "is that we work in concert with the natural systems as opposed to in conflict with the natural systems."

And Crow goes a step further: He believes that nature, through 4 billion years of genetic change, provides "the pathway to everything we need. Nature has adapted to all kinds of problems: hot climate, cold climate, high carbon dioxide, low carbon dioxide." In May 2004, Crow organized a three-day retreat in the Yucatan, with leading experts from around the world, to brainstorm what an institute of sustainability would have to do to succeed. "We asked them, 'If you could design an entire university to attack sustainability issues, what would you do?' " recalls Crow. "What they said is that 'You can do this, and we need you to,' and they urged us to move forward."

At the meeting was Ms. Wrigley, who later wrote the university a check for $15 million as a planning grant. Crow subsequently allocated the university's resources. He committed to dozens of new faculty positions, four distinguished chairs, and a new building that would meet exacting environmental standards. Included in the mix: a $6 million "Decision Theater" that allows community leaders to see the complexities of their decisions on the environment - not just now, but also in a virtual future.

In some ways, Phoenix makes a good laboratory for studying sustainability - a fast-growing metropolis that is in the middle of a desert. "It is a daunting environment," says Patricia Gober, codirector of the Decision Center for a Desert City, part of ASU. "But we are also an open system, composed largely of migrants, so we are open to innovation, change, new ideas." Phoenix, like other cities in hot climates, confronts some major "sustainability" problems. One, the nighttime temperatures here now average 10 to 12 degrees warmer than 40 to 50 years ago when the area was less developed. Called the "urban heat island," the higher temperatures mean a greater demand for air conditioning, which requires additional power generation.

But in an ASU lab, scientists Jay Golden and Kamil Kaloush are experimenting with ways to cut down on the heat, including using coatings on street surfaces such as rubber that absorb the heat more efficiently, but also release it faster. "Reducing the urban heat island effect could mean cities like Los Angeles have fewer days when they are not in compliance with EPA air-quality standards, and that could mean more money for them since the EPA cuts funding when a city is not in attainment," says Mr. Golden. Their work is being closely watched in China, where Shanghai has the same problem.

ASU has built a $400 million Biodesign Institute on the campus, and researchers there are trying to implement Crow's vision of emulating natural systems. One example: Neal Woodbury and his colleagues are trying to mimic the way plants take sunlight and carbon dioxide to split water and produce hydrogen, a potential fuel for the future. By creating and identifying new catalysts that greatly speed up nature's process, the experiment could be commercially producing hydrogen in about two years.

Students seem excited to be part of the university's effort. One is Thad Miller of Malverne, N.Y., who has been accepted to work on a doctorate at the new School of Sustainability. "What is appealing to me is that these problems of climate change, the urban heat island, urban planning, require a real interdisciplinary way of looking at the world, and they do this more so here than any other school," says Mr. Miller, who is leaning toward working for a nonprofit or advising decision- makers when he graduates. "It's fun to be a part of it."

Eventually, Crow hopes to see thousands of new students - future Thoreaus - enrolled in the school. "I think I've read everything Thoreau wrote," says Crow. "And he would have loved this place."


Australia: Lab work being squeezed out of science teaching

Thus taking away most of the fun that enthuses kids for science

Science experiments are being squeezed out of school classrooms by tight budgets and health and safety laws that in some states require risk assessments for all laboratory work. Leading science educators say many schools no longer have specialised science laboratories, and teachers with insufficient class hours are often forced to drop experiments to ensure they finish the large amount of content they are required to teach.

The introduction of Occupational Health and Safety laws in some states is turning more students away from studying science. While Bunsen burners have not been outlawed yet, the laws particularly affect the use of chemicals in science experiments, the way they are handled and teachers' exposure to dangerous chemicals. Even an experiment to calculate the amount of calories by heating peanuts is no longer possible because peanuts are banned in many schools because of allergies.

Senior lecturer in science education at Edith Cowan University, Vaille Dawson, said practical experience of science was crucial to attracting students to the subject. "In some lower secondary classrooms, there's no practical work at all," she said. Dr Dawson said the crucial stage in arresting the falling numbers of science students was the end of primary and start of high school, when research showed students were turned off science. "When kids are 12 or 13 years old, that's when they decide not to continue with science and maths. And that's about making science practical."

A comparison of school science curriculums by Dr Dawson and colleague Grady Venville found only one state, NSW, specified the time students spend on practical experience -- 50 per cent in that state. But Dr Dawson said requirements specified in a curriculum did not necessarily translate into the classroom. Dr Dawson said science was the most expensive subject to run in schools after computer science. "Some schools are being designed without labs, or have multi-purpose rooms for art and science and other wet activities," she said.

The president of the Australian Science Teachers Association, Paul Carnemolla, said the pressure on teachers for students to pass external examinations and a crowded curriculum also affected the ability to conduct experiments. "There's been increasing emphasis on preparing students for external examinations and that can lead to a tendency to concentrate on theory," he said. "Students aren't discovering aspects of science through experimentation quite as readily and we all know through the research in science education that it's the most effective way for students to learn."

The Australian Academy of Science, funded by the federal Government, is developing a high school science course called Science by Doing to address some of the problems with the way science is taught. The course is in its early stages but is based on a pilot study of about three years ago, which found that a focus on students conducting their own investigations guided by their teacher was more effective than traditional teaching. The study, run by Denis Goodrum and Mark Hackling, found students gained a better understanding of scientific concepts when based on experience. Professor Goodrum, now at the University of Canberra, said teachers were forced to cover so much in lessons that practical experiments seemed an inefficient way of teaching. "The result is that learning is rather superficial and not deep and meaningful," 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.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Reading Shakespeare excites the brain in a way that keeps it “fit”, researchers say. A team from the University of Liverpool is investigating whether wrestling with the innovative use of language could help to prevent dementia. Monitoring participants with brain-imaging equipment, they found that certain lines from Shakespeare and other great writers such as Chaucer and Wordsworth caused the brain to spark with electrical activity because of the unusual words or sentence structure.

Referring to “functional shift” — such as when a noun is used as a verb — Philip Davis, of the university’s School of English, said that the brain reacts “in a similar way to putting a jigsaw puzzle together. By throwing odd words into seemingly normal sentences, Shakespeare surprises the brain and catches it off-guard in a manner that produces a burst of activity — a sense of drama created out of the simplest of things.”

Professor Neil Roberts, from the university’s Magnetic Resonance and Image Analysis Research Centre, said: “When the word changes the grammar of the sentence, brain readings suddenly peak. The brain is then forced to retrace its thinking process in order to understand what it is supposed to make of this unusual word.” The researchers are now investigating which areas of the brain are most affected and the implications for maintaining healthy brain activity. Professor Davis, whose book Shakespeare Thinking is published next month, believes that reading classic literature helps children in their wider studies.



Children will spend more time being taught through play rather than formal classes when they start primary school under a shake-up of the curriculum. An increasing number of children entering primary one from next August are to learn through techniques traditionally used in nursery school. Schools will still use traditional methods when necessary to teach pupils to read, write and count. But the Scottish Executive also wants teachers to use play-based techniques.

It means drama, music, art, sand and water will replace worksheets or teaching from the blackboard. The changes have already been introduced in some schools, including primaries in East Renfrewshire and Shetland, but the executive wants to see all local authorities backing the approach. The aim of the changes is to bring Scotland closer to the approach taken in Scandinavia, where children start school at the age of seven but still go on to achieve high academic standards.

Some experts feel the current system creates a gulf in a child's experience between nursery and primary as learning through play is immediately replaced by more formal techniques. Education Minister Hugh Henry said every local authority across Scotland must have reviewed, or be reviewing, their policies on P1 education by next summer. He added: "One of the things I am particularly concerned about is the tendency in Scotland to start the formal education process at too young an age. "I want to see more of a gradual transition from the nursery years into primary education. "We need to move away from the concept of teaching where pupils are given worksheets and are instructed, to a process where children can develop on their own through purposeful play."

However, Judith Gillespie, policy development officer with the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, warned the executive to take a cautious approach. She said: "I think the difficulty with these kinds of ideas is that when they are introduced there is a tendency to go overboard in one direction. "Whilst play is an important part of learning, youngsters have to do the hard work and at the end of the day there is a reward for hard work. "Learning can't always be fun - there is hard work required and it is a mistake to think that the big incentive is to make everything fun."

SNP education spokeswoman Fiona Hyslop MSP said her party had been calling for the changes for some time. She added: "However, the Lib-Lab government must ensure that there is more time for teachers to implement these proposals and work with children in structured play".


Australian science courses mystify teachers

School science curriculums are poorly written, unnecessarily complex and so laden with jargon that experienced science teachers and academics struggle to understand the intent of the courses. Education researchers from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia argue that science curriculums are overwhelming for newly qualified science teachers and the growing numbers of non-specialist teachers forced to teach science because of the shortage in expert teachers.

In an article published in Science Teacher, the journal of the Australian Science Teachers Association, Grady Venville and Vaille Dawson compared science curriculums for Years K to 10 in every state and territory. Professor Venville and Dr Dawson say the benefits of having tailor-made curriculums for each state and territory "were not immediately apparent". They were surprised by the complexity of the curriculum documents. "Although we are both experienced science teachers and academics in science education, some of the documents were extremely long (over 200 pages), the language dense, jargon-laden and exclusive," they said. "The documents were complex and difficult to interpret without assistance."

Dr Dawson said yesterday the language used to describe the science to be taught was understandable; the problem was the jargon associated with education that was difficult to understand. "There's a need for a single national curriculum, but not in the sense that we want all schools to teach the same thing because that's unrealistic," she said. "But a national curriculum would be easier to work with." The comparison says that all curriculums are structured around discipline-based learning areas, including science, except Tasmania, which lists essential learnings as desired outcomes of education in a "distinct move away from disciplines".

The Tasmanian Government is in the process of revising its essential learnings curriculum, and Education Minister David Bartlett has said disciplines with syllabuses for specific subjects, including science, will form the basis of the new curriculum framework.

The NSW curriculum was also substantially different from the other states and territories, particularly in the K-6 syllabus, which includes technology in the science curriculum.

The researchers remarked that while the curriculum documents gave guidance to teachers, "the nature of the document cannot guarantee good teaching".

Professor of education at the University of Canberra, Denis Goodrum, who is heading a report for the federal Government to identify the key issues facing science education, said 90 per cent of science curriculums across the states and territories were the same. Professor Goodrum said the main differences were within states rather than between states. "The differences between a school in Killara on Sydney's north shore and City Beach in Perth is less than the difference between a school in Killara and one in Wilcannia in western NSW," he said.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006


The mother of a high school senior who posed in chain mail and held a medieval sword for his yearbook picture sued after the school rejected the photo because of its "zero-tolerance" policy against weapons. Patrick Agin, 17, belongs to the Society for Creative Anachronism, an international organization that researches and recreates medieval history. He submitted the photo in September for the Portsmouth High School yearbook. But the school's principal refused to allow the portrait as Agin's official yearbook photo because he said it violated a policy against weapons and violence in schools, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by the Rhode Island branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The lawsuit seeks an order that would prevent the yearbook from being published without Agin's senior portrait. Agin's mother, Heidi Farrington, said she and her son believe the decision defies common sense. "He doesn't see it as promoting violence," Farrington said Tuesday. "He sees it just as a theatrical expression of the reenactment community that he's involved in right now."

According to the lawsuit, principal Robert Littlefield told Farrington she could pay to put the photo in the advertising section of the book, but he would not allow it as Agin's senior portrait. "That in and of itself demonstrates to us that there's absolutely no legitimate rationale for banning Patrick's photo," said Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island ACLU.

Littlefield said he thought there would be less editorial scrutiny given to paid advertising space, and that an ad would not be viewed as receiving the school's endorsement. The complaint says there is nothing in the weapons policy that would apply to the picture Agin submitted. It also says the weapons policy is arbitrarily enforced, noting theatrical plays at the school have included prop weapons and that the mascot — a patriot — is depicted on school grounds and publications as carrying a weapon.


An old-fashioned school system shows its worth

Though the PISA criteria are rather weak

Teenagers in NSW are outperforming students from all other states in reading, mathematics and science and are among the best in the world. Landmark analysis of test results has enabled experts for the first time to compare the Australian states on student academic achievement, taking account of differences between the education systems. Leading academic researchers Gary Marks and John Cresswell have found that differences between the states are "larger than generally assumed" and cannot be attributed to socio-economic and demographic factors.

For NSW the analysis - based on the Program for International Student Assessment for 15-year-old students in 41 countries - is good news. Mr Marks is Principal Research Fellow at the Australian Council for Educational Research and Mr Cresswell works for the OECD based in Paris. "Generally, student achievement in reading, mathematics and science is higher in NSW than the other states once demographic and grade differences are taken into account," they said. "Of concern is the increased likelihood that students from Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania have in only reaching the lowest OECD proficiency level in reading.

The analysis emerged as 66,185 students across NSW this week prepare to receive HSC results. Australian students consistently have scored well in the PISA tests, only being outperformed in literacy by Finland. But a valid comparison of the achievements of the individual states has not been available until now because researchers have not factored out the differences in education systems. About 12,500 Australian students are tested under PISA for their logical thinking and application of reading skills, mathematics and scientific understanding to everyday problems.

NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt said yesterday the state's success had not happened by chance. "The model of schooling that has been developed in NSW is based on consistent and enduring principles," she said. Within NSW, test data shows Catholic and independent schools are outperforming public schools in literacy and numeracy in Year 3, Year 5 and Year 7. But the Department of Education claims direct comparisons of the sectors have limited value because public schools have a more diverse student population.


Poor Australian civics education

The Howard Government says people who want to be Australian citizens should sit a test. The test would cover history, symbols, values and our system of government. But how would Australians do in the same test? Did you know the national floral emblem is the golden wattle or that the national gemstone is the opal? Can you do more than mutter our national anthem? Most of us remember that "We've golden soil and wealth for toil" and that "Our home is girt by sea", but what about the mysterious second verse? I'll give you a hint, it begins "Beneath our radiant Southern Cross, We'll toil with hearts and hands". Then we get to the hard stuff. Try answering these questions:

DOES Australia have a written Constitution?

WHAT is the top court in Australia?

DOES Australia have a Bill of Rights?

WHEN did Aboriginal people get the vote?

I'll give the answers later. Many, if not most Australians, would fail a test on our history, law and government. Even when we think we know, what we do know comes from the United States: from their TV shows such as Law and Order. I see this first-hand through teaching Australia's best and brightest law students. They may get over 99 in their final school exams, but they can fail to answer some of the most basic questions. Now, to the answers.

Yes, we do have a written Constitution. This is despite a survey taken in 1987 for the Constitutional Commission that found that 47 per cent of Australians were unaware of it.

Australia's top court is the High Court. Unfortunately, a 1994 report on citizenship by the Civics Expert Group found that more than a quarter of those surveyed nominated the Supreme Court instead. This is, of course, the name of the top court in the US.

Australia does not have a Bill of Rights, yet most of us think we do. A Roy Morgan poll taken for Amnesty International last July found that 61 per cent of us thought so. If the US has one, it seems people think we do.

This survey revealed more mistakes than earlier surveys. If anything, our knowledge of ourselves is worse.

Most Australians think Aborigines got the vote in 1967 after a referendum that changed the Constitution. That referendum did delete sections of the Constitution that discriminated against indigenous people, such as one that stipulated Aboriginal natives could not be counted in the census. However, they got the vote five years before. The law was changed by the Menzies government in 1962.

If you are like many Australians, the odds are that you have done poorly on this test. And this shows why more education is needed about government and history.

One of the reasons governments fail to do their job is because people simply don't know enough to hold politicians to account. That makes it easier for our elected representatives to avoid scrutiny and deflect blame. It would be good for new citizens to know all this, but before we ask them, we should take a hard look at ourselves. New citizens should know how our systems works, but so should we. We need more investment in education so we all know how to be good Australians.



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 18, 2006

The Dream Palace of Educational Theorists

By John Derbyshire

Education is a subject I find hard to contemplate without losing my temper. In the present-day U.S.A., education is basically a series of rent-seeking rackets.

* There is the public school racket, in which homeowners and taxpayers fork out stupendous sums of money to feed a socialistic extravaganza in which, when its employees can spare time from administration, "professional development" sabbaticals, and fund-raising for the Democratic Party, boys are pressed to act like girls, and dosed with calming drugs if they refuse so to act; girls are encouraged to act like boys by taking up advanced science, math, and strenuous sports, which few of them have any liking or aptitude for; and boys and girls alike are indoctrinated in the dubious dogmas of "diversity" and political correctness.

* There is the teacher-unions racket , in which people who only work half the days of the year are awarded lifetime tenure and lush pensions on the public fisc, subject to dismissal for no offense less grave than serial arson or piracy on the high seas.

* There is the federal Department of Education racket, aptly summed up by the teacher-union boss who declared, when the Department was established by Jimmy Carter, that he now belonged to the only labor union to have its very own cabinet officer. The DoE is also much beloved by politicians, who can posture as kiddie- and family-friendly by periodically voting to tip boxcar-loads of taxpayers' money into this bureaucratic black hole.

* There is the homework racket, exposed in Alfie Kohn's book The Homework Myth -basically, a device for getting parents to do teachers' work for them.

* There is the teacher-training racket, in which the "professional" training of our nation's educators has been placed in the hands of the clinically insane. You think I exaggerate? I offer you Dr. Kamau Kambon, a product of our teacher-training colleges-an atypical product only in that he has so many "professional" degrees. According to his Wikipedia entry: "Dr. Kambon holds a B.A. degree in education/history, a master's degree in physical education, both a M.A. and a M. Ed. degree in education/administration, and an Ed. D. in urban education/curriculum and instruction." Phew! This is one very thoroughly teacher-trained dude! Listen to what Dr. Kambon has to say about the proper priorities for American educators here. There is a wellnigh infinite supply of news stories about teacher-college lunacy at websites like that of the estimable F.I.R.E and Rita Kramer wrote a fine, if horribly depressing, book on the topic.

Towering over all these lesser scams is the college racket, a vast money-swollen credentialing machine for lower-middle-class worker bees. American parents are now all resigned to the fact that they must beggar themselves to purchase college diplomas for their offspring, so that said offspring can get low-paid outsource-able office jobs, instead of having to descend to high-paid, un-outsource-able work like plumbing, carpentry, or electrical installation.

(Professionals have their own credentialing systems: You may have graduated law school, but you'll still have to pass the bar exam, and so on. Then why make aspiring lawyers go to law school? Presumably for the same reason we insist on cube jockeys having bachelor's degrees from accredited four-year colleges. Why not let them study up at home from Teaching Company DVDs, then sit for a state-refereed common exam when they feel they're ready? Why not let lawyers learn on the job from books and as articled clerks, the way they used to? I don't know. College-going is just an irrational thing we do, the way upper-class German men used to acquire dueling scars, the way women in imperial China had their feet bound. Griggs vs. Duke Power probably has something to do with it. Since, following that decision, employers are not permitted to test job applicants to see how intelligent they are, the employers seek a college degree as a proxy for intelligence.)

* * * * *

And then there is the strange, precious little world of education theorists. Readers of the New York Times were given a glimpse into that world on November 26th, when the Sunday magazine of that paper ran a piece titled "What It Takes to Make a Student," by staff journalist Paul Tough. The story is billed on the magazine's cover under the different heading: "Still Left Behind-What It Will Really Take to Close the Education Gap." Which gap would that be? "[T]he achievement gap between black and white students, and the one between poor and middle-class students." Ah. So, two gaps then, actually.

Let's cut to the chase here. What will it take to close those gaps? I turned to the end of Mr. Tough's article.

The evidence is now overwhelming that if you take an average low-income child and put him into an average American public school, he will almost certainly come out poorly educated. What the small but growing number of successful schools demonstrate [sic] is that the public-school system accomplishes that result because we have built it that way. We could also decide to create a different system, one that educates most (if not all) poor minority students to high levels of achievement. It is not yet entirely clear what that system might look like-it might include not only KIPP-like structures and practices but also high-quality early-childhood education, as well as incentives to bring the best teachers to the worst schools-but what is clear is that it is within reach.

"KIPP" is an acronym for Knowledge is Power Program, a network of intensive college-preparatory schools for inner-city kids started up in 1994 by two idealistic young teachers, David Levin and Michael Feinberg, in Houston. There are now 52 of these schools nationwide. They get good results, but this is not very surprising. KIPP schools have long hours (typically 7:30am to 5:00pm), a longer than average school year, and strict standards of behavior. KIPP schools are covered in Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom's 2003 book No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning, where more of the game is given away: "[T]here is an application process that tends to-and is intended to-discourage families unlikely to cooperate with the school. Indeed, one of the five pillars upon which the KIPP schools rest is `choice and commitment.' ...the fact that these are schools of choice is not incidental to their success." For sure it is not.

All the recommendations offered by Mr. Tough-and by other education theorists, like the Thernstroms-have little trapdoors built into them like this. Look back at Mr. Tough's prescription: "...but also high-quality early-childhood education." Oh, like Head Start? That landmark Great Society educational program, launched in 1965, is still going strong. The Thernstroms reported that 20 million children had passed through it when they wrote their book, at a cost to the federal taxpayer of $60 billion. They go on to report that while there is some slight, disputable evidence of marginal benefits for white children from Head Start, "It does not seem to have improved the educational achievement of African-American children in any substantial way." Whether it has done anything for Hispanic children is not known.

Similarly with "incentives to bring the best teachers to the worst schools." Setting aside the fact that you are dealing with a line of work whose labor union is armed with thermonuclear weapons, even supposing you could establish a free market in public-school teachers, how could the worst schools-inner-city schools serving black neighborhoods-ever outbid leafy, affluent suburbs for those "best teachers"? And how many "best teachers" are there, anyway? As the Thernstroms point out, a lot of these prescriptions for school reform assume an unlimited supply of "saints and masochists"-teachers like those in the KIPPS schools, who, Mr. Tough tells us, work 15 to 16 hours a day. I am sure there are some people who enter the teaching profession with the desire to crunch their way daily across the crack-vial-littered streets of crime-wrecked inner-city neighborhoods in order to put in 15-hour working days, but I doubt there are many such.

* * * * *

If you read much Ed Biz theorizing, you find yourself wondering how a single field of human enquiry can contain so much error and folly. One answer is that educationalists wilfully-ideologically, in fact-ignore the understanding of human nature that the modern human sciences are gradually attaining, and cling doggedly to long-exploded theories about how human beings develop from infancy to adulthood. From false premises they proceed to false conclusions.

The long and short of this new understanding is that human beings are much less malleable than everyone supposed half a century ago, and much less malleable than "blank slate" leftists-a category that includes practically all education theorists-have ever, for reasons not difficult to fathom, been willing to contemplate.

Reading recent results out of the human sciences always brings to my mind those "shape memory alloys" that so fascinate materials scientists. These are metal alloys that "remember" their original geometry, and can be made to return to it, or something close to it, usually by heating, after any amount of deformation and pressure. So it is with humanity. We come into the world with a good deal of our life course pre-ordained in our genes. At age three or so we begin to interact with other children outside our home, with results that depend in part on us, and in part on where our home is situated. We pass through various educational processes-formalized extensions of that out-of-home environment, and also highly location-dependent. We end up as adults with personalities and prospects that are, according to the latest understandings, around 50 percent innate and pre-ordained, around 50 percent formed by "non-shared environment" (not shared, that is, with siblings raised in the same home by the same parents-a somewhat controversial concept in its precise contents, but clearly consisting mostly of those out-of-home experiences), and 0-5 percent formed by "shared environment"-mainly parenting style.

(And we then, having reached adulthood, regress a little to our pre-ordained shape, like one of those peculiar alloys. It is a curious fact, well supported by a mass of evidence, that the heritable components of our personality and intelligence become more marked as we age. The IQs of 40-year-olds correlate better with those of their parents or siblings than do the IQs of 20-year-olds. The advice traditionally given to young men contemplating marriage-"Get a good look at her mother"-is very sound.)

You would never know any of this from reading Ed Biz propaganda pieces like Paul Tough's in the New York Times magazine. For example, he gives good coverage of some research on parenting. However, all the research he cites is premised on the notion that parents can mold their children in different ways by treating them differently. Parents do this and the kids turn out like this; if the parents had done that, then the kids would have turned out like that. He does not cite any of the research showing that aside from very extreme approaches-e.g. locking a child in a broom cupboard for the first four years of its life-parenting style makes very little difference to life outcomes. (Though parental decisions influencing the non-shared environment-e.g. where parents choose to live-may make a great deal of difference.) Parents behave aggressively towards children; the children grow up aggressive; See!-the parents' aggression caused that outcome! Well, not necessarily. What about child-to-parent effects-innately difficult kids drive their parents to aggressive distraction? What about genes? The kids have their parents' genes, and most features of human personality-including aggressiveness-are highly heritable.

None of that for Mr. Tough. Genes? What are you, some kind of Klansman or Nazi? No, no, no, the kids are little blank slates for teachers, parents, and politicians to work their magic on, These undesirable outcomes-these mysterious test-score gaps, these dropping-outs and delinquencies-arise only because we are chanting the wrong spells!

A very good rule of thumb when reading child-development literature is that any study that has not taken careful account of heritable factors-by comparing identical twins raised together or separately, fraternal twins ditto ditto, non-twin siblings ditto ditto-is utterly and completely worthless. That sentence is (a) true, and (b) guaranteed to get you thrown out of a high window if spoken aloud at any gathering of education theorists.

Certainly Mr. Tough will have none of it. The child is a blank slate. Parents act on it, causing this and this. Then teachers act on it, causing that and that. Bingo!-you have a finished adult. Or, as Mr. Tough summarizes the interesting (but perfectly gene-free) work of sociologist Annette Lareau: "[G]ive a child X, and you get Y." So simple! One wonders if there has ever been an education theorist who has actually raised children, or retained any memory of his own childhood.

* * * * *

In the end, all left-liberal prescriptions for educational improvement end up with two demands: that governments should spend more money on schools, and that parents should work harder at parenting. Never mind that the spending-improves-education theory has been tested to destruction. Never mind that the demographics of the Western world are in free fall because of the ever-increasing demands in time and money placed on parents. (Raising two children in suburban America, I dream fondly but futilely of my own 1950s English childhood, when by far the commonest words I heard from my parents were: "Go out and play. Make sure you're back in time for supper." How on earth did civilization survive?)

Never mind that obstructionist, feather-bedding teacher unions firmly control one of our nation's two big political parties. Never mind the mountains of evidence from the human sciences that everything education theorists and their liberal camp followers like Mr. Tough believe about human nature is false. Never mind, never mind. The Ed Biz show must go on-for the sake of the children, you know



Some notes from Australia

News that the University of Sydney will soon possess the sole remaining chair in Australian literature signals a genuine crisis in our literary culture. In Australia we seem to be witnessing a disinheriting of the national mind - the alternately rapid and gradual, wilful and accidental disappearing of our literary heritage, from Beowulf to Virginia Woolf. I say "our" advisedly, for this heritage, which stretches back to medieval times, is certainly ours, as much as Henry Lawson or Patrick White is. The language of Milton's long poem Paradise Lost is still the tongue of people living today in this country. Milton's works are the birthright of anyone who understands English.

The state of literary education in Australia may be even more dishevelled than Rosemary Neill's sorry story, "Lost for words" (The Weekend Australian Review, December 2-3) made out. That article pointed up a lack of commitment to the teaching and professional study of acknowledged classics of Australian literature. I suspect, however, that the formal study of literature generally is imperilled at most levels of the educational system. How much classic English literature of any kind is now vigorously and creatively taught by well-trained experts anywhere in Australia? If Christina Stead and A.D. Hope are becoming invisible in many schools and universities, the picture is unlikely to be different with Chaucer or Shakespeare, Blake or Wordsworth, Austen or the Brontes, F. Scott Fitzgerald or Sylvia Plath, Derek Walcott or Toni Morrison. I mention only English-speaking authors. I doubt Euripides, Dante or Chekhov are faring any better than English-language ones. How many graduates can enjoy foreign authors in the original? How many children have had opened to them the wonderful Aladdin's cave of our myths and fairytales, rhymes and stories?

Explaining what has led to the disarray of literary education in this country is difficult. I offer one explanation, which takes me back to my epigraph. Milton gambled that, should he write a great poem, succeeding generations would "not willingly let it die". They would feel a responsibility to introduce new readers to this awesome example of the power of theimagination. During perhaps the past century, schools and universities were places in which this attitude of care for the cultural monuments of the past was cultivated. But, worryingly, and for complex reasons, the commitment of our society to the project of tending the cultural and literary heritage seems to be waning. We are in danger of losing that attitude of care that all authors who hope to be read in the future rely on, the attitude that transmits works of literary genius to future readers and writers. Our educational institutions need firmly and confidently to rediscover their role as indispensable stewards of the literary and cultural heritage. Nothing less than the future of Australian literature is at stake.

For if the formal study of great literature, ancient and modern, is neglected, the outlook for literary creativity here is dim. A significant literary culture needs educated readers, discriminating and cosmopolitan critics, informed editors and sound scholars. Every substantial creative writer was once an enthusiastic reader. No readers, no writers. And knowledgeable, passionate readers do not just happen. They are formed by schools and universities that know their mission to include the expert teaching of the best that has been written.

Milton trusted Paradise Lost would survive. People would understand its value and not recklessly let it fall into oblivion. But contemporary Australian poets, novelists and playwrights have reason to be pessimistic about the long-term survival of their works, no matter how excellent those works may be. For we seem to be shrugging off our curatorial responsibilities towards the literary tradition. We can hardly, then, expect "after times", as Milton put it, carefully to study and teach the works of our present-day writers.

Reversing the disappearance of our literary heritage will require wise and bold leadership from university administrators, politicians, educators of all kinds and public servants, and the support of all who love imaginative writing. A first step should be a comprehensive audit of the state of literary education in Australia.



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 17, 2006


Socialist evil must not be mentioned (Unless you can pretend that it wasn't Leftist -- and that's hard to do where Communism is concerned)

A choir from a suburban Chicago high school came to the Jewish Museum in Berlin not long ago to sing in commemoration of the 68th anniversary of Kristallnacht ("the Night of Broken Glass"), recalling the pogrom in 1938 when the Nazis broke into houses and stores, destroyed more than 1,000 synagogues, murdered 91 Jews and arrested over 30,000 Jewish men. It was a brutal foreshadowing of the Holocaust to come.

The Chicago teenagers sang songs in Yiddish, Hebrew and English, interspersed with narrated recollections of Jews who survived the Holocaust, talking of their lives and losses. Beautiful young voices soared on hymns and spirituals from slave times, powerful modern protests against prejudice old and new. German schoolchildren peppered the Americans with questions in a lively dialogue after the singing.

The German hosts described the occasion as "sensitive and evocative," but one of them told the American teacher who accompanied the choir that it was too bad that the kids hadn't taken note of another important date that fell on the anniversary of Kristallnacht. Nov. 9-10 marked the 17th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The visiting teacher conceded ruefully that he had been unaware of all that.

These bright and earnest Americans had studied minute details of anti-Semitism in Germany during the decades of the '30s and 40's, but were ignorant of the history of Germany in the years after the war, of the yearning for freedom that led ordinary people to confront communist tyranny and that eventually led to the tumbling of the wall.

How unfortunate that classroom time is rarely given to the history of a divided Germany before the Iron Curtain finally collapsed. All over Berlin, tourists are reminded of the fate of the 6 million Jews who died in Hitler's "final solution." But the grim history of Soviet tyranny in East Germany -- and specifically in East Berlin -- is only now getting the tourist attention it deserves, as many German museums have begun to document life in the police state from 1949 to 1989.

The Berlin Wall museum exposes the chilling effects on Berliners on both sides of the wall, as well as those murdered trying to escape from East Germany. After the wall fell, the Germans planned a permanent exhibition of 2,000 years of their history, to replace a tawdry East Berlin museum whose mission was to guide the German Democratic Republic (GDR) toward a national identity shaped by the "virtues" of socialism.

In June, the German Historical Museum at last opened in the beautifully renovated Armory on Unter den Linden in the heart of Berlin. Its exhibitions begin with portrayals of the Celts, Romans and early German tribes, and move forward through the 20th century to the present day, dealing with the contrasting ways of life in the communist East and the democratic Federal Republic in the West. The pain of national unification gets its due.

A small museum a few blocks away on the River Spree is devoted entirely to life under socialism in East Germany, including the terror inside the commonplace. One exhibition illustrates the work of the Stasi, the secret police who spied on everybody. Books by Orwell and Kafka were banned because they cut too close to reality. Visitors can even eavesdrop on conversations as the Stasi did, with hidden microphones. The Stasi, according to some estimates, employed more than 90,000 full-time employees and more than twice as many as informers. (Other museums expose the sinister Stasi bureaucracy and prison.)

Visitors to the GDR museum can also sit in the cramped socialist car of metal and plastic called the Trabant ("Trabi"). Junk though it was, there was a waiting list for six years, and the car cost 7,400 German marks in 1962, a price equal to the annual salary of a skilled industrial worker. East German adolescents who couldn't get coveted American jeans had to be satisfied with baggy synthetic imitations made with typical socialist skill.

In one sad photograph illustrating socialist day care, five tiny girls and boys sit in a row on a collective potty, where they must stay until all have finished their "business." A Freudian criminologist blames this potty ritual for an outburst of adult "right wing extremism" in 1999, but you don't have to misread Freud to recognize cruel collective conformity.


Report Finds Rampant Censorship at American Colleges and Universities

A report released today by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reveals that burdensome restrictions on speech are commonplace at America's colleges and universities. The report, entitled Spotlight on Speech Codes 2006: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation's Campuses, surveyed more than 330 schools and found that an overwhelming majority of them explicitly prohibit speech that, outside the borders of campus, is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

"There is a common misconception that `speech codes' are a thing of the past-a relic of the heyday of political correctness of the 1980s and 90s-but the public needs to know that speech codes are perhaps more pervasive and restrictive than ever," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said.

FIRE's report is the most comprehensive effort to date to quantify both the number of colleges and universities that restrict free speech and the severity of those restrictions. The report surveyed publicly available policies at the 100 "Best National Universities" and at the 50 "Best Liberal Arts Colleges," as rated in the August 29, 2005 "America's Best Colleges" issue of U.S. News & World Report, as well as at an additional 184 major public universities. The research was conducted between September 2005 and September 2006. All of the policies cited in the report are available on FIRE's searchable speech codes database, Spotlight: The Campus Freedom Resource. The report's findings include:

* Public colleges and universities are disregarding their constitutional obligations. More than 73% of public universities surveyed maintain unconstitutional speech codes, despite numerous federal court decisions striking down similar or identical policies.

* Most private colleges and universities promise free speech, but usually do not deliver. Unlike public universities, private universities are not legally bound by the First Amendment. However, most of them explicitly promise free speech rights to their students and faculty. For example, Boston University promises "the right to teach and to learn in an atmosphere of unfettered free inquiry and exposition." Unfortunately, it also prohibits speech that would be constitutionally protected in society at large, such as "annoying" electronic communications and expressions of opinion that do not "show respect for the aesthetic, social, moral, and religious feelings of others."

Overall, the report reveals that more than 68% of the colleges and universities surveyed maintain policies that "both clearly and substantially restrict[] freedom of speech." Overbroad and vague speech codes from the 2005-2006 academic year include:

* Macalester College bans "speech that makes use of inappropriate words or non-verbals."

* Furman University bans any "offensive communication not in keeping with community standards."

* At the University of Mississippi, "offensive language is not to be used" over the telephone.

* The University of North Carolina-Greensboro prohibits "disrespect for persons."

At the report's conclusion, FIRE suggests several potential solutions to the problem of speech codes. As the report notes, many of the speech codes cited at public universities would likely not survive a legal challenge. FIRE's Speech Codes Litigation Project has already led to the demise of similar codes at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, Texas Tech University, Citrus College, and the State University of New York at Brockport. The report also suggests that public exposure is a highly effective weapon against speech codes, since "neither our nation's courts nor its people look favorably upon speech codes or other restrictions on basic freedoms."

"Speech codes have lost in the courts whenever they have been challenged, and they are a failure with the public who rightfully believe that colleges and universities rely on free speech in order to function. Speech codes should be relegated to the dustbin of history, and FIRE will keep fighting until they are gone," Lukianoff 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.