Saturday, May 12, 2007

RI Students Must Watch 'Inconvenient Truth' to Graduate

To receive a degree from Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, students are being forced to watch "An Inconvenient Truth," the documentary on global warming produced by former Vice President Al Gore. The science class requirement has prompted one conservative student to declare that "we should stop calling these schools 'bastions of knowledge' since they're really bastions of leftist thought."

The controversy at Roger Williams University (RWU) in Bristol, R.I., began the week before Earth Day, when the professors teaching the laboratory portion of "Core 101: Science, Technology and Society" required their students to watch Gore's Oscar-winning film in class. The course is one of 12 that students at the university must take in order to graduate.

However, Dana Peloso, an RWU junior and president of the school's chapter of the College Republicans, sent a letter questioning the course requirement to Jeffrey Hughes, assistant dean of marine and natural sciences. "With the issue of global warming being such a highly politicized topic, with the scientific community unsure if global warming is man-induced or part of the natural cycle of the earth, do you think that it is intellectually honest to only show the alarmist viewpoint?" Peloso asked. "If the movie is still shown, what plans are there to incorporate the ideas of leading global warming skeptics into class discussion?" he added.

In his email response, Hughes stated that "I only recently saw 'An Inconvenient Truth' and have to think that it's an ideal subject for a Core lab," because "the point of Core is to inform students of scientific principles and help them make decisions on issues with a scientific basis in their everyday lives." "After an initial and heated debate, scientists no longer question whether the atmosphere is being warmed due to human activities and instead are increasingly impressed with the speed and impact of the process," Hughes wrote. "I repeat: there is no doubt that we're warming the earth and that a continuation of our activities will lead to profound changes. "Penguins, polar bears and your unborn children have no vote in this. They must live with decisions we make today," the assistant dean said. "As educators, we're charged to encourage your intellectual growth," Hughes added. "That can (actually, will) be uncomfortable at times, and we're also here to help you deal with that discomfort. It's truly what makes being a human such a joy, privilege and challenge."

Peloso told Cybercast News Service on Tuesday that his fellow students have reacted to the situation in one of two ways. "Those who understand that there are multifaceted points of view" are "really troubled by this," he said. But others "are so naive" that they take Gore's position "as gospel, the final word on global warming. They see Al Gore is a former vice president, so it's got to be true." The RWU junior approached other members of the faculty and staff regarding the matter, but "I can count on one hand the number of conservative professors I actually know of" at the university, he stated.

Peloso also sought assistance from the conservative Young America's Foundation, and Jason Mattera, a spokesman for the group who graduated from RWU in 2005, responded that Hughes' behavior amounted to "gross intolerance" at a university that promotes itself as a place that values "collaboration of students and faculty in research" and "appreciation of global perspectives." "That aside, it's a bold-faced lie for him to argue that all scientists agree with Al Gore," Mattera added.

Cybercast News Service previously reported that climate change skeptics have called "An Inconvenient Truth" a "sci-fi disaster" movie, and scientists who do not agree with the former vice president's view claim their perspective is being shunned in favor of trying to attain a "consensus" on the subject of global warming.

Mattera told Cybercast News Service that he "wasn't surprised" to hear about the situation because liberal professors often use their positions of authority to indoctrinate young minds. "This happens all the time, so we might have to stop calling these schools bastions of knowledge since they're really bastions of leftist thought," he said.

However, Susan Rivers, vice president of public affairs for RWU, told Cybercast News Service on Tuesday that this semester is the only time the film has been shown to students and as to whether it will be shown in the future, "the faculty and the deans agree together as a group what the content of these courses will be." Rivers said Peloso was not enrolled in the course and therefore did not see the film. "He had already taken the class," she said, and in fact, "he was not enrolled during the semester in question."

Mattera acknowledged that Peloso learned of the situation from friends taking the course and decided to contact the teacher because of concern for his fellow students and the fact that he had no grade to be affected by the action. "He's just trying to be a good student and continue being part in the educational community at RWU," Mattera added. "Besides, any university should not look to limit information but to expand it and have students come to their own conclusions."


Climate-Controlled Classroom?

Steven Milloy comments on the story above

Should schools teach the global warming controversy by showing students only Al Gore's alarmist movie? Roger Williams University just learned the answer to that question the hard way. One week before Earth Day, the professors of the RWU course, "Core 101: Science, Technology and Society," required their students to watch "An Inconvenient Truth." The students were not presented with any other viewpoint on global warming.

Controversy erupted when the president of RWU's College Republicans club complained to assistant dean Jeffrey Hughes, "With the issue of global warming being such a highly politicized topic, with the scientific community unsure if global warming is man-induced or part of the natural cycle of the earth, do you think that it is intellectually honest to only show the alarmist viewpoint?"

Hughes responded that Gore's movie is an "ideal subject for a Core lab" because "the point of Core is to inform students of scientific principles and help them make decisions on issues with a scientific basis in their everyday lives," according to a report. Dean Hughes continued, "After an initial and heated debate, scientists no longer question whether the atmosphere is being warmed due to human activities and instead are increasingly impressed with the speed and impact of the process. "I repeat: There is no doubt that we're warming the earth and that a continuation of our activities will lead to profound changes. Penguins, polar bears and your unborn children have no vote in this. They must live with decisions we make today. As educators, we're charged to encourage your intellectual growth. "That can (actually, will) be uncomfortable at times, and we're also here to help you deal with that discomfort. It's truly what makes being a human such a joy, privilege and challenge."

But if anyone has learned about how "uncomfortable" learning can be, it is Dean Hughes, who seems to have changed his mind about RWU's one-sided global warming curriculum. An RWU spokesman told me that the backlash against the required viewing of Gore's movie prompted Dean Hughes to "explore alternatives" to teaching global warming. The spokesman said that one alternative includes the presentation this fall of the counter-alarmism movie, "The Great Global Warming Swindle," a Channel 4 (U.K.) documentary that is best described as must-see global warming TV.

As the chastened Dean Hughes learned, while many people have made up their minds about global warming, many others have not. Further, there is evidence that, when presented with both sides of the debate, many believers end up changing their mindset from alarmism to skepticism about the alleged climate crisis.

Last March, the prestigious New York debating society Intelligence Squared sponsored a debate on global warming. On the alarmist side of the debate were the Union of Concerned Scientists Brenda Ekwurzel, NASA climate modeler Gavin Schmidt and University of California oceanographer Richard C. J. Somerville. The skeptical view of global warming alarmism was presented by Massachusetts Institute of Technology meteorologist Richard S. Lindzen, University of London bio-geographer Philip Stott, and "State of Fear" author Michael Crichton, who is also a Harvard-trained physician and an instructor at Cambridge University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

A pre-debate poll indicated that, by 2-to-1 (57 percent to 29 percent, with 14 percent undecided), the audience believed that manmade global warming was a crisis. But in the post-debate poll, the audience reversed its pre-debate views - the ranks of the skeptics swelled to 46 percent, the believers plummeted to 42 percent and the undecided declined slightly to 12 percent. That's the power of debate. It follows that schools, if they choose to teach the global warming controversy at all, ought to be teaching both sides of the controversy, not just Al Gore's alarmism.

Last fall, the National Science Teachers Association rejected Al Gore's offer of 50,000 free DVDs of "An Inconvenient Truth" for use in classrooms. Recognizing that Al Gore and his global warming viewpoint is just that, opinion rather than undisputed fact, the NSTA expressed concern that other "special interests" might also want to distribute materials and that it didn't want to offer "political" endorsement of the film, according to a Washington Post report. The NSTA probably made the correct decision at the time simply because it would be egregiously biased to present just one particular viewpoint about a controversy as heated and important as global warming. Now that the counter-viewpoints are available, however, schools ought to show their students "An Inconvenient Truth," "The Great Global Warming Swindle" and the Intelligence Squared debate.

According to a recent front-page Washington Post story, one-sided teaching about global warming is taking a terrible emotional toll on children. "For many children and young adults, global warming is the atomic bomb of today.Parents say they're searching for `productive' outlets for their 8-year-olds' obsessions with dying polar bears. Teachers say enrollment in high school and college environmental studies classes is doubling year after year. And psychologists say they're seeing an increasing number of young patients preoccupied by a climactic Armageddon." It's time to learn that bias plus teaching does not equal education.


Return of the Thought Police?

The history of teacher attitude adjustment

College campus battles over academic freedom and free speech have become a media staple. One widely publicized 2004 case concerned Ed Swan, an education student at Washington State University (WSU), who openly espoused conservative views, including opposition to affirmative action and permitting gays to adopt. The school's "professional disposition evaluation" required that students demonstrate, along with a professional demeanor, written communication, and problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, an "understanding of the complexities of race, power, gender, class, sexual orientation and privilege in American society."

Refusing to consent to the underlying ideology, Swan failed repeatedly. The college threatened to expel him from the teacher training program unless he signed a contract agreeing to undergo diversity training and accept extra scrutiny of his student teaching. After a national civil-liberties group intervened on his behalf, Swan was allowed to continue in the program, and WSU has since revised its evaluation form. The new version requires professors to evaluate students' "willingness to consider multiple perspectives on social and institutional factors that can impede or enhance students' learning." Dean of Education Judy Mitchell explained, "We've changed the format and clarified the words, but we haven't changed the standards."

Advocates of dispositions assessments of the kind in place at WSU defend the screening of pre-service teachers, whether at program entry or later on in the certification process, as standard practice and argue that "dispositions" are merely those attitudes and behaviors necessary to successful teaching. Critics see the combination of program accreditation standards, revised by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) in 2000; a growing curricular emphasis on "social justice" issues; and a left-leaning education professoriate as yielding a one-sided approach to teacher education and the certification of teachers based on ideology, rather than teaching skills or mastery of content knowledge.

As a historian, I am most struck by the parallels between the dispositions assessments of today's aspiring teachers and the evaluations of teachers' mental hygiene and personality that began in the 1940s and continued for two decades. As is the case today, from 1940 to 1960 teacher educators sought to protect the interests of schoolchildren by socially engineering "desirable" characteristics in their teachers. What have changed are the personal qualities deemed most important for success in the classroom.

Assessing Teacher Dispositions

What is the purpose of dispositions assessment? What entity or body is in the best position to make this assessment? If the purpose is to ensure that access to children is denied to those who are truly deviant (sexual predators) or those who could harm children (drug dealers, felony offenders, child abusers), then it seems the assessment is best made by the government, which has the resources and responsibility to identify these people. If the purpose is to ensure that potential teachers have basic characteristics like honesty or fairness, existing standards such as university honor codes in higher education should suffice. If the purpose is to see how a teacher acts in a certain environment (be it an urban, suburban, or rural school, with a diverse or homogeneous student body), then perhaps those in that environment can best perform that assessment, taking into account the standards, mores, and preferences of the community. The ultimate employers of teachers, local school districts, can and do screen for the characteristics they want in their employees. Why, then, is it also necessary for teacher educators to assess the personal and political beliefs of aspiring teachers? Perhaps the policing of teacher personality and dispositions is just a way for teacher educators to extend their control even further into the public school classroom.

The harshest critics of dispositions assessment accuse education schools of acting as ideological gatekeepers to employment in public schools. Indeed, web site after web site shows schools of education that list among their teacher-education program goals the inculcation of political views alongside intellectual curiosity and such work habits as punctuality. The University of Alabama's College of Education is "committed to preparing individuals to promote social justice, to be change agents, and to recognize individual and institutional racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism.." In the teacher education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, students are asked to "act as leaders and agents for organizational change in their classrooms, schools, and society, continually examine their own identities, biases, and social locations, seeking knowledge of students' cultures and communities, and pursuing a complex understanding of societal inequities as mediated through classism, heterosexism, racism, and other systems of advantage." Some program descriptions explain that requiring awareness of these issues and a commitment to addressing them ensures teachers will teach all children. In an October 2006 letter defending the conceptual framework of Teachers College, Columbia University, against accusations of political screening, President Susan H. Furhman wrote, "We believe that responsiveness to the diversity of students' backgrounds and previous experiences are [sic] essential for effective teaching"

Not all universities make the leap from classroom behavior to ideology: The "Teacher Education Professional Dispositions and Skills Criteria" at Winthrop University in South Carolina are only basic indicators of professional commitment, communication skills, interpersonal skills (among them, "Shows sensitivity to all students and is committed to teaching all students"), emotional maturity, and academic integrity; acknowledging social inequities is not mentioned. The difficulty, however, in assessing dispositions, whether they espouse social justice or are seemingly harmless as at Winthrop, arises when the assessors make value judgments rather than encourage academic freedom and respect freedom of conscience. As the Swan case at Washington State University shows, some teacher education programs clearly demand allegiance to a particular perspective on the politics of education.

If schools encourage students to respond honestly to teacher education assignments, and then use any responses that differ from accepted beliefs as grounds for dismissal, that is political screening and a clear denial of academic freedom. A student accused Le Moyne College, a private, Jesuit-run school, of doing just that. In 2004, administrators dismissed the politically conservative graduate student after he wrote a paper on classroom management that questioned the value of multicultural education and expressed limited support for the use of corporal punishment in the classroom.

At the Brooklyn College School of Education, some students complained after a teacher showed the Michael Moore film Fahrenheit 9/11 on the day before the 2004 presidential election. The university asked one student to leave, accused two others of plagiarism, and then denied the two students the right to bring a witness or an attorney to their hearing. K. C. Johnson, a faculty member who questioned the accusation of plagiarism and defended the students in Inside Higher Ed, then faced possible investigation by the university. The hallmarks of a professional program of teacher preparation within a university should be the free exploration of ideas. Yet it seems some teacher preparation programs substitute professional socialization, and the political conformity it requires, for a commitment to academic freedom.

The controversy over political screening of prospective teachers by teacher educators came to a head at the June 2006 reauthorization hearing for the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) with the U.S. Department of Education. Within the list of dispositions aspiring teachers might be required to possess, the agency had included "social justice," a phrase that, to many, signals a value-laden ideology. Under pressure from a number of groups, NCATE president Arthur Wise announced that the agency would drop "social justice" from its accreditation standards; he maintains that social justice was never a required disposition.

NCATE's definition of "dispositions" and its inclusion of social justice as part of that definition had caused considerable consternation. Among the groups represented at the hearing were the National Association of Scholars, which had filed the complaint, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), founded and headed by civil libertarians Alan Charles Kors, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvey Silverglate, a criminal defense attorney. FIRE, an organization dedicated to the preservation of free speech, has accused a number of universities, including Washington State University on behalf of Edward Swan, of evaluating students on the basis of their political views and thereby violating their First Amendment rights.

Arthur Wise has staked out NCATE's position that dispositions are only "commonsense expectations" for teacher behavior and insists that the accrediting agency does not condone the evaluation of attitudes. Whether or not that is the case, most teacher education programs in this country receive accreditation from NCATE and follow its lead. Even though NCATE has now dropped "social justice" as a disposition, the agency stands behind dispositions assessment and institutions' use of "social justice" as a curricular theme. The phrase appears in countless teacher-preparation program and course descriptions. Critics are not hopeful that NCATE's action will curb abuses. In her testimony at the NCATE hearing, American Council of Trustees and Alumni president Anne D. Neal asked that the agency's reauthorization be denied "until it affirmatively makes clear that teacher preparation programs are not expected to judge the values and political beliefs of teacher candidates and asks that its members review and revise their standards accordingly." ....

Learning from History

The screening of prospective teachers for maladjustment 50 years ago and the dispositions assessments going on today have remarkable similarities. As William Damon of Stanford has noted, dispositions assessment "opens virtually all of a candidate's thoughts and actions to scrutiny...[and] brings under the examiner's purview a key element of the candidate's very personality." The same underlying assumption-that scientific means of selection and training could guarantee good teachers-held sway at mid-century with respect to mental hygiene. Teacher educators who guarded entry to the profession used the techniques of science to study, measure, and evaluate the teacher candidate as do those who guard entry today. Only the specific values and attitudes they appraise have changed. Advocates of dispositions assessment claim that their methods are "standards-based" and provide "accountability" -scientific-sounding catchwords that hold considerable weight in the current political climate. Both sets of desirable characteristics-summed up in the terms mental hygiene and social justice-are tied to progressivism and appear as core components of the teacher preparation curriculum, with the effect of de-emphasizing academic knowledge, or at least requiring subject-matter learning and even pedagogy to make room for them. And hard evidence was and still is lacking. Researchers could never link with any certainty particular personality traits with effective teaching. Nor, as Frederick Hess explains, is there any scientific evidence that requiring teachers to have certain views about "sexuality or social class" ensures that they teach all students: "Screening on `dispositions' serves primarily to cloak academia's biases in the garb of professional necessity."

The history of teacher screening reveals how deeply rooted such practices are in American teacher education. Whether the standard is mental hygiene or possessing the proper political and ideological disposition, the elimination of candidates who do not pass muster gives teacher educators the power to determine who gains access to a classroom based on the values the teacher educators prefer. While the courts have permitted certifying agencies to require "good moral character" of teacher applicants, as legal scholars Martha McCarthy and Nelda Cambron-McCabe note, they "will intervene...if statutory or constitutional rights are abridged." Thus, while pledging loyalty to federal and state constitutions is a permissible condition for obtaining a teacher license, swearing an oath to progressivism is not. Given the evidence and the history, there should be real concern, as teacher educator Gary Galluzzo has said, that "students' views and personalities are being used against them" whenever dispositions are assessed. Those committed to academic freedom within higher education should be concerned when professional socialization trumps freedom of conscience in teacher education programs.

Much more here


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

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

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