Monday, March 12, 2007

Legalized irresponsibility

Suppose you sent your children to an organization that negligently caused them to be injured, incurring large medical bills. Would it seem unreasonable to expect that organization to admit their negligence and foot the medical costs? If they didn't do so willingly, you might well file a lawsuit to cover the damages. That sort of scenario plays out every day, and damages usually get paid if the organization is truly negligent.

Except... when the organization is the Minneapolis Public School system, the largest in Minnesota. Their response to such a situation? "We have immunity from such lawsuits". Take your children, their injuries, the medical costs, and just lump it.

How can they claim immunity? They discovered an obscure piece of legislation from 1969 that should have been updated or removed but wasn't. It allowed MPS to claim immunity from liability, which also left them free to not purchase liability insurance. How obscure was the law? Evidently MPS was the only district in the state that knew about it, and they carefully avoided telling anyone else. They knew that if the law came to the attention of other districts, they would use it too, causing an outcry that would result in rescinding it. So... they kept it quiet, until the inevitable happened, and the children of two families ran headlong into it.

The injuries happened during an exercise that, in retrospect, seems almost designed to cause problems; having children run around in a dark room, trying to avoid the flashlight beams from each other. Two girls rammed head-first into each other, a not-surprising outcome for running in the dark.

This, unfortunately, is a vivid and typical example of government in action. For most people, it is virtually impossible to avoid sending children to a "public" government school. We are forced to support those schools with our taxes, whether we like it or not, and whether we have children or not. To send our children to a private school, we must still pay for the public schools. Even if we choose to homeschool our children ourselves, as an ever-increasing number of people are doing, we are still paying the same taxes to support the schools our children don't attend. So most of us are forced to send our kids off to public schools.

"It's for the kids" is a mantra the school systems use frequently... especially when they want more tax money. As citizens and parents, we are expected to think about public schools as "our" schools, and of ourselves as part of the school's "community". Here's a quote from the Community section of the website of the Minneapolis Public School system

Our goal is to keep our community informed about various school matters, aware of news and happenings, and engaged in various events district-wide. We are determined to get these messages across through various communications channels, including the use of our very-own radio station KBEM 88.5 FM, as well as our TV station, Cable Channel 15.

Don't they make it all sound cozy and friendly? Keep our community informed? MPS sure used their resources to inform parents about their intent to avoid responsibility for negligent injuries, didn't they?

It isn't just the government schools to blame for this shameful position... the legislature fouled up repeatedly to make it possible. The 1969 legislation shouldn't have been there in the first place, but legislators did "sunset" the immunity after a year. That didn't work either, for when, 30 years later, they went back to delete obsolete laws, they deleted the sunset but not the immunity law, putting the original immunity back into force.

We all make mistakes, and, as private citizens, we have to pay for them. For example, we're required by law to carry liability insurance on our auto policies. If we negligently injure others, we can rightfully be sued for damages. Most of us would do so without laws or lawsuits, as part of our personal moral code.

Government plays by different rules. Many parts of government claim immunity for their actions, but we usually don't know about it until it hits us in the face personally. When you or I make a bad investment or choose a business path that doesn't work, we suffer the consequences. When government does the same, it usually just takes even more money from us to cover up their bad judgement. With no consequences to face, government makes the same stupid mistakes over and over.

Of course, even when the government action is not a mistake, but a deliberate, even immoral, act, the same results occur... no consequences and no change. Sometimes government's actions are obviously planned deceptions, such as the repeated financial bailouts of "public" arenas.

Government is but one of many organizations we deal with on a daily basis, but it is unique in that it holds itself immune from its own actions. For each of us, as individuals, it thus makes great sense to deal with private, responsible entities rather than with government. It is the only way we can be assured of being treated fairly and justly. Logical as that is, government has intruded into almost every aspect of our lives, driving away private options, often leaving us no choice but to deal with them, even when we know that we cannot count on being treated justly.


Leftist avoidance of the education issues

Kevin Donnelly responds to a critique of his new book, saying that Macintyre's review is penned with a "thumbnail dipped in bile". Kevin Donnelly is director of Melbourne-based Education Strategies and author of "Why Our Schools are Failing and Dumbing Down" (Hardie Grant Books). Stuart Macintyre's review of "Dumbing Down" appeared in "The Australian Literary Review" on March 7.

Stuart Macintyre's so-called review of my book Dumbing Down, about the parlous state of Australia's education system, in The Australian Literary Review this month unfortunately teaches the reader more about Macintyre's prejudices and idiosyncrasies than what the book is about.

Macintyre begins his critique by detailing the central role he played in civics projects under the Keating and Howard governments. In the first 880 or so words, we learn that then prime minister Paul Keating personally selected Macintyre to head a review of civics education; that Macintyre, given his unfamiliarity with school curriculum, travelled Australia at taxpayers' expense, researching how civics was taught in schools and how the Kennett government's "draconian policies", to use his words, destroyed Victoria's system of school education.

Readers are also told, notwithstanding an undergraduate degree in English and politics, 18 years teaching secondary school English and social studies and an MEd and PhD in curriculum, that my contribution to discussions about civics education in shared meetings was "restricted to generalities" and "sometimes naive and tendentious". After wading through additional irrelevant and gratuitous comments, such as Kennett government education bureaucrats supposedly describing me as Rasputin and the federal Government employing me as a consultant to the civics education program for a "substantial sum", never quantified but not as much, I would suggest, as some academics earn as a result of Australian Research Council grants, Macintyre finally realises that what he should be doing is reviewing Dumbing Down.

After pointing out some grammatical and other mistakes, Macintyre all too briefly summarises the book's central concerns about falling standards and the politically correct nature of the curriculum. Macintyre also provides a superficial summary of the book's argument that the culture wars of the 1960s and '70s help to explain educational experiments such as outcomes-based education. Macintyre's diatribe finishes with the claim that debates about falling standards and the politically correct nature of the curriculum represent a strategy to divert public attention from the fact that the federal Coalition Government supposedly fails to fund education properly.

Ignored is that state ALP governments have the primary responsibility for funding school education and that the reason federal government funding to non-government schools has increased is because increasing numbers of parents are deserting government schools; the reality, as it should be, is that the money follows the child.

Those who have read Macintyre's book The History Wars, in which he famously compares Prime Minister John Howard with Caligula and extols Keating's big-picture politics on issues such as reconciliation, multiculturalism and the republic, will know, notwithstanding his arguments in support of "academic honesty" and against resorting to "personal abuse", that Macintyre often fails to follow his own advice. When referring to my involvement in civics education, comments such as "He was retained to assist our work by offering specialist expertise but he didn't do much of that" and "Someone from the other side of the table muttered darkly that he was always invigilating the work of the department. Hence his nickname, Rasputin" demonstrate a decided lack of professional integrity.

In arguing that I fail to explain what is meant by outcomes-based education, Macintyre also shows he has either not read the book or, if he has, is guilty of misrepresentation. Not only does the book provide a definition of OBE in its glossary but it also gives a detailed analysis and description of Australia's adoption of OBE in recent years.

Macintyre writes: "The suggestion that outcomes-based education licensed an abandonment of education standards is false: on the contrary, it was an application of evidence-based methodology to the measurement of standards." Not only is such a sentence a prime example of the type of edu-babble that bedevils education, but the claim that Australia's adoption of outcomes-based education is based on evidence that it has been successful, here or overseas, also is wrong. As outlined in Dumbing Down, when outcomes-based education was introduced into Australia, it was experimental, it had been adopted by only a handful of countries and, according to NSW's Eltis report, there appeared little evidence that it had been successfully implemented elsewhere.

Macintyre is also incorrect when he states: "It had taken considerable negotiation for the states and territories to reach agreement in the late 1980s on a set of national statements and profiles that at least identified 'key learning areas'." The facts are that the development ofthe Keating government's national curriculum occurred during the early '90s and most education ministers at the July 1993 meeting inPerth refused to endorse the statements and profiles.

Macintyre states that I am wrong in suggesting Australian students do not perform well internationally, when he writes: "Nor do the standard international studies of student achievement support Donnelly's claims that Australia trails well behind other countries." An unbiased reading of Dumbing Down will show, in relation to achievement, that I never argue that Australia is "well behind other countries"; what I state is that we are in the "second eleven" and consistently outperformed by five to six other countries. I also acknowledge that Australian "students did very well" in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Program for International Student Assessments for 15-year-old students.

Of greater concern, if it were true, would be Macintyre's claim that there is a "paucity of evidence" for my claim, as a result of Australia's adoption of OBE, that standards are falling. Not only do I quote many examples demonstrating that standards have fallen, including a commonwealth study that reveals that almost half the academics interviewed agreed that standards had fallen over time, but I quote from the 1996 national literacy tests showing that 29 per cent of Year 5 children could not read at the minimum level and 33 per cent of Year 5 children did not meet the minimum standard in writing.

In suggesting that I restrict arguments about the curriculum being dumbed down to subjects such as English, history and mathematics, Macintyre conveniently ignores that a good deal of the book addresses broader, but no less important, issues such as the deleterious effect of non-competitive assessment and OBE-inspired approaches to learning such as constructivism and developmentalism.

On the concluding page of The History Wars, Macintyre admonishes those he describes as conservative history warriors for acting like bullies and for forsaking reasoned argument in favour of caricaturing opponents and impugning their motives. On reading what he has to say about Dumbing Down, it is clear he fails to follow his own advice and, to paraphrase Banjo Paterson, Macintyre's review, instead of being balanced, is penned with a thumbnail dipped in bile. [For the victims of a modern education, Donnelly is here alluding to a line in the famous A.B. Paterson poem "Clancy of the Overflow"]

It is also ironic, while Macintyre bewails my contribution to the education debate as "oversimplified, alarmist and opportunist", that the ALP, at both state and national levels, has recently and somewhat belatedly embraced what I have argued since the early '90s, often as a lone voice; that is, that curriculums should be teacher-friendly, concise, written in plain English and based on the academic disciplines.



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"

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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