Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Weird British school

Another untested theory being imposed on kids

Britain's most expensive state school is being built without a playground because those running it believe that pupils should be treated like company employees and do not need unstructured play time. The authorities at the 46.4m pound Thomas Deacon city academy in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, due to open this autumn, also believe that the absence of a playground will avoid the risk of "uncontrollable" numbers of children running around in breaks at the 2,200-pupil school. "We are not intending to have any play time," said Alan McMurdo, the head teacher. "Pupils won't need to let off steam because they will not be bored."

The absence of play time has angered some parents whose children will attend the school, designed by Lord Foster, architect of the "gherkin" office tower in London. But staff insist that it will have the added benefit of avoiding pupils falling victim to playground bullies. Miles Delap, project manager at the academy, said: "For a school of this size, a playground would have had to be huge. That would have been almost uncontrollable. We have taken away an uncontrollable space to prevent bullying and truancy."

Anne Kerrison, who has three children, said her 14-year-old son Matthew was devastated when he discovered that he would not be able to kick a football around at lunchtime. "All children need fresh air and a chance to exercise during the school day. Break times are the only unstructured time they get," she said.

Another city academy, Unity in Middlesbrough, opened in 2002 without a playground, prompting criticism from government inspectors about poor design. The school later built a playground.

Thomas Deacon, nicknamed "the blancmange" because of its rounded shape, will be one of the biggest schools in Europe. Its features will include a "wetland eco-pool" designed "for rain-water collection" planted with wild flowers. It will replace three schools in Peterborough and is one of the showcases of Tony Blair's academies programme. Academy schools remain in the state sector but are independent of local councils. They are sponsored by private sector firms which have some say in the management.

The academy's timetable will be tightly structured and exercise for pupils will take place in PE classes and organised games on adjacent playing fields. There will be a 30-minute lunch period when pupils will be taken to the dining room by their teacher, ensuring they do not sneak away to run around. McMurdo said refreshments, often taken in break periods at other schools, could be drunk during the school day. "[Pupils] will be able to hydrate during the learning experience," he said.

Other head teachers questioned the wisdom of the playground ban. Ian Andain, head at a comprehensive in Liverpool, said: "There has to be bit of open space to play football. It is important that pupils can have a run around and expend energy." However, Delap, who has run the academy project on behalf of its sponsor, Perkins Engines, and the Deacon school trust, said that playgrounds did not fit into the concept.


FIRE defends campus speech-code survey

An April 20 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education criticized the work of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education after it published a survey of speech codes at colleges and universities across the nation. Jon B. Gould, the author of the article and an assistant professor of government and politics at George Mason University, challenged FIRE's December 2006 survey of speech codes. The report compiled FIRE's analysis of 330 schools and said more than 68% of them had unconstitutional speech codes.

Calling FIRE "an increasingly ideological organization that exaggerates the facts to make political hay," Gould branded its staffers "ideological opportunists." Gould made a four-fold argument against FIRE's findings, to which the organization responded with a series of articles on its Web site.

First, Gould said that the inclusion of both public and private schools in the report showed inconsistency. Second, he compared FIRE's results with the results of a similar survey that he had conducted and challenged the group's methodology. Third, Gould disagreed with FIRE's characterization of sexual-harassment policies as speech codes. Fourth, Gould accused FIRE of making judgments based on selective quotations from university policies.

Inconsistency: Gould asserted that, by including both public and private schools in its survey, FIRE mixes apples and oranges, enjoying "any opportunity - whether at public or private institutions - to challenge what it considers `thought control' from self-appointed, and not inconsequentially liberal, academic censors." He cited its recent campaigns against Brown University, Pace University and Johns Hopkins University - all three private institutions, which are not bound to provide First Amendment speech protections as public campuses are. Chris Perez, a program officer at FIRE, responded, "We at FIRE believe that when a school, public or private, makes a promise to a student - whether in a student handbook or a brochure or a speech from the president, that school is morally and legally bound to honor that promise."

FIRE included 104 private schools in its survey, evaluating them on the basis of the values listed in their mission statements or handbooks instead of on the Bill of Rights, which binds public universities. FIRE Vice President of Operations Robert Shibley wrote, "When we find a school that professes to value free expression or academic freedom, we evaluate its speech codes to see if its choices reflect those values."

Survey comparison: Gould challenged FIRE's research paradigm by comparing it with his similar survey. Using criteria from a similar First Amendment Center survey, Gould evaluated the hate-speech codes at 100 schools from 1992-1997. He found that 46% of schools had policies that restricted hate speech, but only 9% of them were unconstitutional. In contrast, he said FIRE found that 96% of schools had unconstitutional policies.

FIRE Senior Program Officer William Creeley responded to Gould's methodological critiques. He said that Gould combined FIRE's red- and yellow-light ratings to reach the 96%, whereas FIRE's report said only 69% of schools had unconstitutional policies. (A red-light rating was given to a school with a policy that clearly and substantially restricts free speech. A yellow-light rating was for policies that may be interpreted to restrict speech or prohibit only narrow types of speech.) Creeley said two main factors contributed to the discrepancy in the two surveys' results. First, they used different rating systems and different criteria. Second, FIRE surveyed a larger number of universities - 330 to Gould's 100.

Creeley also observed differences in the policies surveyed. "We [FIRE] review any written policy maintained by the school with an impact on campus speech. . Gould's study, on the other hand, is shockingly vague about what exactly constitutes a `college hate speech code' or a `speech policy,' and proper definitions of either term are never supplied."

Sexual harassment: Gould disagreed with the characterization of sexual-harassment policies as speech codes. The debate between FIRE and Gould centers on the definition of sexual harassment and what speech is protected by the First Amendment. Gould cited Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to define harassment, which according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "includes practices ranging from direct requests for sexual favors to workplace conditions that create a hostile environment for persons of either gender."

Gould also noted the Supreme Court's 1992 opinion in R.A.V. v. St. Paul, which says "that sexist or sexually degrading expression could be litigated as `a proscribable class of speech . within the reach of a statute [Title VII] directed at conduct rather than speech.' More recently courts have created a private right of action under Title IX to apply sexual-harassment standards to academe."

In an April 30 column in The New York Times, Stanley Fish, a professor of law at Florida International University, attempted to clarify the differing views on sexual harassment offered by Gould and FIRE. He wrote: "Much of the disagreement between Professor Gould and FIRE turns on the technical question of what does and does not amount to harassment. FIRE follows a 1999 Supreme Court decision (Davis v. Monroe County) in asserting that speech is harassing, as opposed to being merely offensive, if it is `so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim's access to an educational opportunity or benefit.' Professor Gould's threshold for deeming a form of speech harassing would be lower and would be tied to what he considers to be the prevailing norms of `civil society'."

Gould said the problem with FIRE's criticism of sexual-harassment policies was that they are necessary to defend against Title VII and IX lawsuits. Samantha Harris, FIRE's director of legal and public advocacy, said that FIRE's criticism of sexual-harassment policies stems from universities' broad definitions of harassment, which she considers outside of the legal definition. As an example, she cited the Kansas State University policy, which says: "Examples include sexual teasing, jokes, remarks or questions . facial expressions, winking, throwing kisses or licking lips, spreading rumors . staring, looking a person up and down."

Harris said, "The problem is that a large number of colleges and universities define sexual harassment to include speech that categorically does not meet the stringent legal definition of harassment. . Universities cannot simply make protected speech unprotected by deeming it `sexual harassment'." Creeley also said that from 1989 to 2007, seven federal cases have challenged university speech codes. Six of them overturned unconstitutional harassment policies.

Selective quotations: Gould accused FIRE of evaluating selective quotations from speech codes. He cited the speech code at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor as an example. FIRE criticized the portion of the code that reads, "Individuals should not be unwittingly exposed to offensive material by the deliberate and knowing acts of others." However, Gould noted that this was just a portion of the code and that it also says, "Freedom of expression and an open environment for sharing information are valued, encouraged, supported, and protected. . Individuals must be able to choose what they wish to access for their own purposes."

Shibley said the other statements, which FIRE did not include, were modifiers of the original rule. If a student broke that rule, he or she could still be punished in spite of the other clauses. "A public university cannot constitutionally punish one student for merely `offending' other students, via electronic communication or otherwise, and the fact that students have permission to access whatever they like when they are by themselves is immaterial."

The debate between Gould and FIRE has caught the attention of others who have spoken out in support of FIRE. Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, wrote in an email to the Free Expression Network, "By our [SPLC's] measure, colleges could use a lot of improvement when it comes to protecting unpopular expression on both the right and the left. The `ideological opportunists' out there fighting against restrictions on speech are responsible for prompting policy changes that protect the speech of everyone. For that, they deserve to be commended."

David French, former president of FIRE and current senior legal counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund and director of ADF's Center for Academic Freedom, wrote on National Review Online, "I will believe that FIRE exaggerates the prevalence of speech codes the day that a federal judge upholds as lawful a code that FIRE labels `red' in the Spotlight database. We can argue about legal interpretations all day long, but federal judges make the ultimate decision, and so far FIRE hasn't gotten one wrong yet."

In response to Gould's claims that FIRE is "increasingly ideological," FIRE president Greg Lukianoff said, "FIRE defends the rights of those from all points of the political spectrum and we take flack from all points of the political spectrum about one case or another - which indicates to me that we are doing something right."



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 blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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