Thursday, June 14, 2007

Connecticut teacher to get retrial over Internet porn popups

A US judge yesterday ordered a retrial of a schoolteacher found guilty of computer porn charges after a sustained campaign by internet specialists proclaiming her innocence. Julie Amero, 40, was convicted in January of being responsible for a series of sex advertisements that popped up on a classroom computer and were seen by pupils, in a case that has caught nationwide attention and raised important questions about content control on computers.

The prosecution at the trial in Connecticut had claimed she must have clicked on the websites for the adverts to begin appearing. But after the trial, 28 computer science academics in the state sought to prove that the rapid-fire sequence of pop-up sex advertisements could have appeared automatically. Sympathetic campaigners argue such pop-ups are one of the scourges of the internet and claim she is the victim of a witchhunt.

Ms Amero appeared in court yesterday for sentencing on charges that carry a 40-year jail sentence. But Judge Hillary Strackbein told the court in New London that she was ordering a retrial. The computer was sent to a state laboratory after the trial, and Judge Strackbein said the lab report might contradict evidence presented by the state computer expert, a police detective. "The jury may have relied, at least in part, on that faulty information," she said. In the face of the nationwide campaign, the prosecution service backed off and did not oppose the defence motion for retrial.

Neither the prosecution nor the jury appear to have been fully aware of the extent to which computers can be infiltrated, especially old ones - as used by the school - which do not have "firewall" protection.

Outside the court, Ms Amero said: "A great weight has been lifted off my back." Her lawyer, William Dow, commended the prosecutors for acting responsibly. "The lesson from this is all of us are subject to the whims of these computers," he said.

Ms Amero, who was pregnant at the time of the incident on October 19 2004, was a supply teacher at the Kew middle school, Norwich, Connecticut. She denied clicking on the sex websites. The defence argued the computer was used by pupils while she was out the class, and that, on her return, the screen began showing the sex scenes. Pupils, some of whom were as young as 12, told the police that the computer was left on for several hours and they had seen men and women engaged in oral sex.

The prosecution said Ms Amero was too slow to close the computer down, though she argued she had been told earlier in the day by another teacher that the computer had to be left on. She was found guilty of four counts of risk of injury to a minor or impairing the morals of a child.


No friend of the family

They pose as the chummy cohorts of mums and dads. Yet family liaison officers in British schools are undermining teachers and keeping a suspicious eye on parents.

The first time I heard mention of the school family liaison officer was when, in the morning rush of dropping our children off at school, a close friend tearfully confided that she had been `asked' by the headteacher to `have a chat' with the family liaison officer. Two days later and another friend revealed exactly the same news. Who was this family liaison officer to make two of my friends, both with bright, healthy, much-loved children, somehow feel they had `failed' at being good parents?

British parents are going to have to get used to them. If your local school doesn't have a family liaison officer, it will soon. The exact job description of officers is difficult to pin down; they are often presented in recruitment adverts as neutral mediators between teachers and parents, helping families in `accessing relevant information' (1). Allison Shepherd, the family liaison officer at a school in Thanet, Kent, describes her role as being `to provide support, help, friendship and act as a link between families and school' (2). Jo Green from a primary school in Folkestone is similarly friendly: `My job is to help you. Should you be having personal problems or school related problems I am here as your listening ear.' (3)

Behind the chummy `I just want to be your friend' image, the role of the family liaison officer is to work with the parents of children considered to be at risk due to child protection concerns or at risk of social exclusion. They will work with the parents of children who truant or misbehave as well as parents with poor literacy and numeracy skills.

The aim of providing `parenting and family support' was first raised in the UK government's Green Paper, Every Child Matters, which was published in September 2003 in response to the investigation into the murder of eight-year-old Victoria Climbi, by her aunt and her aunt's boyfriend in London in 2000 (4). Every Child Matters argues for the need for `specialist parenting support', involving a range of home visiting programmes to teach parents how to best support their child's development, and parent education programmes to provide training in `behavioural techniques'.

The message to emerge from Every Child Matters is that parents need to be monitored and taught how to behave if they are not to be a potential risk to their own children. Rejecting the friendly advances and offers of support from the family liaison officer may be enough to mark your child out as being `at risk' in which case `compulsory action' could be taken in the form of Parenting Orders.

The role of the family liaison officer may be presented as a means of protecting children considered to be at risk through supporting families, but the effect of such liaison serves only to undermine families at every stage. By stressing so emphatically that families need help to carry out the everyday demands of parenting (the word `support' appears 176 times in Every Child Matters), the implication is that families do not do a good enough job when left to their own devices.

Both of my friends were asked to chat with the family liaison officer after their children got into fairly minor playground scraps. The very fact of being asked to discuss these incidents with a professional suggests, firstly, that children kicking each other in the dinner queue is something shockingly bad that requires intervention from at least five adults and, secondly, that it is something parents cannot be trusted to deal with on their own.

Presumably, within the context of much agonising as to why the child should demonstrate such behaviour, the family liaison officer will make some clich,d suggestion such as `reward their good behaviour' or `put them on the naughty step'. At issue is not the value of the advice but the fact that by not allowing parents to work out these things for themselves, their confidence is undermined and the autonomy of the family unit is called into question.

Furthermore, having family liaison officers based in schools undermines the authority of teachers in dealing with unruly pupils. In the not-too-distant past, such a trivial incident as kicking a child in the dinner queue would have been dealt with by the class teacher, if it were actually deemed worthy of being dealt with at all. Go back a couple of years further and any sensible adult would have laughed at the notion of getting involved. Parents trusted teachers to deal with such minor offences.

Parents also trusted teachers to get on with the job of educating their children. Far from family liaison officers freeing up more time for teachers to spend on education, they will require paperwork referrals to be completed and formal mediation meetings to be attended. Teachers are no longer limited to the role of educating children but are expected to extend their responsibilities to an assessment of how well the children in their class are being brought up. The purpose of the school becomes renegotiated away from the academic education of the child to the social (re)education of the whole family.

Family liaison officers suggest teachers cannot sort out minor breaches of discipline by pupils and that parents and teachers cannot communicate with each other without the need for someone else to `mediate'. Formalising relationships between parents and teachers with the presumed necessity for third party mediation does nothing at all to help protect children. Far too much time is taken up with the dinner-queue-kickers who are neither a risk to others or at risk themselves. The informal end-of-the-day conversations in the school playground, where teachers and parents can pass on any concerns to each other, suddenly take on a new complexion if the parent fears anything they say may be reported to the family liaison officer.

Let's not forget that the role of the family liaison officer originated from the police service where their aim is to mediate with families in order to better secure convictions. (5) The introduction of such policing techniques in schools heralds unprecedented interference into the autonomy of families - rather than supporting families this serves only to undermine them. Parents, when asked to meet with the family liaison officer, will only become less confident in their own ability to bring up their children as they see fit. This cannot possibly be to the benefit of the child. The best way for schools to support families is to leave them alone and concentrate on the job of educating their children.



The never-ending campaign by the Left to prevent kids acquiring any depth of knowledge (so that voters are less likely to see through their deceptive claims) is very advanced in Britain

I am a physics teacher. Or, at least I used to be. My subject is still called physics. My pupils will sit an exam and earn a GCSE in physics, but that exam doesn't cover anything I recognize as physics. Over the past year the UK Department for Education and the AQA board changed the subject. They took the physics out of physics and replaced it with... something else, something nebulous and ill defined.

I worry about this change. I worry about my pupils, I worry about the state of science education in this country, and I worry about the future physics teachers - if there will be any. I graduated from a prestigious university with a degree in physics and pursued a lucrative career in economics which I eventually abandoned to teach. Economics and business, though vastly easier than my subject, and more financially rewarding, bored me. I went into teaching to return to the world of science and to, in what extent I could, convey to pupils why one would love a subject so difficult.

For a time I did. For a time, I was happy. But this past academic year things changed. The Department for Education and the AQA board brought in a new syllabus for the sciences. One which greatly increased the teaching of `how science works.' While my colleagues expressed scepticism, I was hopeful. After all, most pupils will not follow science at a higher level, so we should at least impart them with a sense of what it can tell us about our universe. That did not happen. The result is a fiasco that will destroy physics in England.

The thing that attracts pupils to physics is its precision. Here, at last, is a discipline that gives real answers that apply to the physical world. But that precision is now gone. Calculations - the very soul of physics - are absent from the new GCSE. Physics is a subject unpolluted by a torrent of malleable words, but now everything must be described in words.

In this course, pupils debate topics like global warming and nuclear power. Debate drives science, but pupils do not learn meaningful information about the topics they debate. Scientific argument is based on quantifiable evidence. The person with the better evidence, not the better rhetoric or talking points, wins. But my pupils now discuss the benefits and drawbacks of nuclear power plants, without any real understanding of how they work or what radiation is.

I want to teach my subject, to pass on my love of physics to those few who would appreciate it. But I can't. There is nothing to love in the new course. I see no reason that anyone taking this new GCSE would want to pursue the subject. This is the death of physics.

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"

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 INTERNATIONAL 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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