Friday, January 26, 2007


A daily dose of mental arithmetic has been placed on the curriculum for primary and even nursery schools in France, under a government scheme to sharpen young minds dulled by television. Gilles de Robien, the Education Minister, has ordered children to carry out between 15 and 20 minutes of calcul mental every day from the age of 5, when they are in the final year of nursery school, as part of a back-to-basics programme. He also wants five-year-olds to resume the study of multiplication and division, as well as addition and subtraction, for the first time since the 1970s.

Mr de Robien moved after a report from the French Science Academy said that children who practised sums in their heads had better memories and quicker brains. "This subject has been neglected in primary schools much too much," he said. "It's time to bring it back." The minister said that the discipline would develop pupils' intellect and serve them in adult life. "It's important not to forget to link exercises to daily life. How do you calculate a reduction during the sales, for example?" Mr de Robien's initiative followed claims that mental arithmetic had been on the wane since the 1960s because of modern methods - a claim denied by teaching unions.

Pierre Luna, education delegate at the academy, pinned responsibility for the decline on pupils rather than teachers. "With children watching more than three hours of television a day there is a real problem of attention span and the mobilisation of memories," he said. "Their memories are more cluttered up than they were 50 years ago." He said that mental arithmetic necessitated a return to learning by rote - including, for instance, of multiplication tables. This liberated brain space for other subjects. "If a child takes two seconds to tell you that 7 x 8 is 56, it's obvious that the effort is less than if it takes two minutes of reflection."

The report went on to recommend the reintroduction of multiplication and division from the age of 5. Under the present curriculum five-year-olds are taught only to add and subtract. Unions say that mental arithmetic has never been neglected by teachers, and accuse Mr de Robien of trying to dictate a minute-by-minute timetable in schools.

His back-to-basics includes three hours of grammar in primary schools every week and a return to the "syllabic" method for teaching pupils how to read, rather than the more modern "global method".



Rhode Island's education commissioner ordered a high school on Friday to publish a yearbook photo showing a teenage medieval enthusiast with a sword. Portsmouth High School authorities can regulate editorial content in the yearbook, but they acted unreasonably by rejecting Patrick Agin's photo, hearing officer Paul Pontarelli wrote in a ruling approved by Education Commissioner Peter McWalters.

Agin, a 17-year-old fan of the Middle Ages, wore chain mail and slung a prop sword over his shoulder for his senior portrait at Portsmouth High School. School officials said the picture violated a zero-tolerance policy on weapons and rejected the picture for the yearbook.

The Rhode Island branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Algin's family, has argued that the school has allowed students to pose for more than a decade with props that show their interests, including musical instruments and horses.

Portsmouth Schools Superintendent Susan Lusi did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Friday night. In the ruling, state education officials wrote that school officials offered to publish Agin's photo if it was part of a paid yearbook advertisement. "Tolerance for weapons can be purchased," Pontarelli wrote. "This is illogical."


Democrats pass a sham student loan bill

Democrats last Wednesday were extolling their student loan bill for opening college to modest-income Americans when Rep. Tom Price, a second-term Republican from Georgia, took the House floor. "If only this bill did what they say," Price declared. His admonition constituted more than the usual hyperbole of congressional debate. The bill, passed by an overwhelming bipartisan House vote, was headlined as reducing the interest on federally subsidized student loans from the present 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent. Actually, it gradually reaches the 3.4 percent level on July 1, 2011. A student taking out a loan July 1 this year would pay 6.12 percent after graduation. Only 29 percent of all students getting loans would be eligible for this gradual cut. Other student loan programs will be cut to help pay for the $7 billion cost over five years. And, contrary to Democratic implications, the bill does nothing to slow skyrocketing college tuition.

Such details are obscured, however, by the brilliant success of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's "first 100 hours." The student loan bill is one of the politically popular measures rushed through opening days of the first Democratic-controlled House session in 12 years -- without hearings, without committee authorization and without meaningful debate. While Democratic support has been unanimous, Republicans are divided and listless.

In contrast to ideologically diverse Democrats who controlled Congress in the past, today's House majority members look like automatons not only in the way they look but how they talk. The hand of Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, was apparent as Democrats newly elected under his chairmanship took the floor to deliver nearly identical speeches of how this bill will help poor students.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who won a previously Republican-held district in Colorado, in his floor speech used the now-common anonymous anecdote. He told of seeing "a woman whose kids have gone to school with mine" at a swim meet in Arvada, Colo. "She told me that one of her kids is in college now, and she has another that will be going in a couple of years. She is a single mom, and her kids have done well in school, but the cost of college has become prohibitive for their entire family. She said her kids have been excellent students, but she was fearful they could not get into college and be able to pay for it." Perlmutter added that this "single mom" thanked him for this bill changing "the cost of higher education." In fact, it has nothing to do with the prohibitive cost of college. It will have no effect whatever on her child now in college. If her second child is literally enrolling in a couple of years (January 2009), the interest rate would be 4.76 percent, to be paid after the student leaves college. The mom may have thanked Perlmutter too soon.

Because Democrats are now committed to "pay-go" (offsetting all spending increases), this bill means cutting $6 billion from other federally subsidized student loan programs on top of a net $12 billion cut by the last Republican-controlled Congress. On the eve of last Wednesday's House debate, the Consumer Bankers Association and the Financial Services Roundtable sent a joint letter to members of Congress. The offset cuts in loan funding, the organizations warned, "cannot be absorbed by the nation's loan providers without compromising the kinds of benefits and services now provided to college students and their families."

This warning was not expected to impact heady Democrats, but should have promoted caution among Republicans. It did not. While Democrats were 232 to 0 for the bill, only 71 Republicans followed their leadership to vote against it. The 124 Republicans voting aye included such erstwhile conservative stalwarts as Todd Akin (Mo.), Virgil Goode (Va.), Chip Pickering (Miss.), Joe Pitts (Pa.), Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.), Ed Royce (Calif.) and Todd Tiahrt (Kan.). The once militant, united House Republicans are demoralized and on the run. They were battered in the last campaign for cutting school loans in the previous Congress and are willing to go along with a sham bill, hoping for Senate gridlock and a Presidential veto.



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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