Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hitler would be proud

Univ. of California: 'No Jews Allowed'

A U.S. State Department-funded University of California program which provides business training for residents of the Middle East specifically excluded Israeli Jews - until Jewish journalists protested.

The University of California has now altered the program's eligibility requirement that initially barred Israeli Jews. The turnaround in policy also may have saved the State Department, whose Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) finances the program, from having to provide an embarrassing explanation. MEPI also selects the participants.

Jerusalem-based marketing specialist and businesswoman Miriam Schwab uncovered the bias last week when she checked into applying to the university's San Diego branch Beyster Institute program for Middle East Entrepreneur Training (MEET). She discovered that the program was open to citizens of "Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel (limited to Israeli Arab citizens), Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, West Bank/Gaza and Yemen."

The Beyster Institute, which manages the program, offers three 10-day seminars, each one with 20 eligible participants. The program includes professional coaching and offers opportunities to make new contacts and "to help promising leaders realize their aspirations to build successful [businesses]... The participation of women is highly encouraged."

The Canadian-born Schwab, who moved to Israel 10 years ago, said she was interested in the program because she employs two women in her Illuminea company in Jerusalem. "This program sounded really interesting until I got to the part about eligibility for application," she wrote on an e-mail list. The MEET program ostensibly "does not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, color, age, religion, national origin, or handicap."

In response to an question for confirmation of the restriction in Israel, program manager Mona Yousry verified, "It is only for Arab Israelis." A subsequent question as to why Israeli Jews are not eligible for the program elicited the following reply from the Institute's Director of Entrepreneurial Programs, Rob Fuller: "I'm sorry for the unfortunate misunderstanding about eligibility for the new MEET program. To be clear, for the programs for which we are now recruiting to be held in 2008, ALL Israeli citizens are eligible to participate. Sorry for any confusion we may have inadvertently caused."

Israeli Jews originally were excluded despite the program's stated advantage as "an important cultural exchange." Fuller did not explain the initial "confusion" in barring Israeli Jews. The programs are to be held in Jordan, Egypt and Morocco, all of which have relations with Israel.

Following the e-mail complaints to Beyster, the US Embassy of Yemen online document which announces the program was down for more than a day until the words "limited to Israeli Arab citizens" were deleted. The US official who made the online edit, however, reposted the story in "track changes" format so that the document displays in the left margin, at the time of this writing, the words: "Deleted: Limited to Israeli Arab citizens."


Australian teachers: No taxation without representation

Another sign of dimwittedness from this Leftist government. At least George III had the excuse of insanity

WESTERN Australia's chronic teacher shortage could worsen as thousands of teachers face the sack if they refuse to pay a $70 registration fee. Teachers have been told by the Education Department that they have until October 26 to pay membership fees to the WA College of Teaching, their professional standards body, or face deregistration and termination of contracts. The issue sparked alarm yesterday with the Opposition predicting chaos in schools as students were preparing for their TEE exams.

It is understood that about 3000 teachers, including 1600 of the state's 33,000 classroom teachers, have refused to pay their fees because they are angry over a lack of teacher representatives on the WACOT board. They say promised elections to put 10 teachers on to the board have not been held three years after the body was established. The Education Department wrote to them on Wednesday warning they would be dismissed if they failed to comply. It also told principals to prepare contingency plans to deal with any deregistrations.

Opposition education spokesman Peter Collier said the approach was extraordinary at a time of a severe teacher shortage when the Government was desperate to recruit more teachers. "What you've got potentially are 1600 teachers who are not going to be in our classrooms in a month's time," he said. "That is hundreds of classrooms across the length and breadth of the state potentially without teachers in six weeks' time, three days before the commencement of the tertiary entrance exams."

The issue caused uproar in state parliament yesterday, with Education Minister Mark McGowan rejecting the claims of looming chaos. Teachers would pay, he said. "Do you actually think that anyone would give up their job over what is, in effect, a $50 (after tax deductions) fee," he said. "There will be very few, if any, teachers that don't pay. "A $50 fee is, in effect, a half-a-morning's pay for a teacher."

State School Teachers Union president Mike Keely told The Australian the comments were provocative and Mr McGowan might be surprised at the result. "This is a sledgehammer approach to people you want to keep," he said. "That dismissive approach is the last thing teachers need to hear from the Government."


Are you sustainability literate?

British universities must now teach students how to live a 'sustainable life'. It sounds nice, until you notice the implications for academic freedom

The three `Rs' are making a comeback in our universities. But far from meaning `reading, writing and arithmetic', they now stand for `reducing, reusing and recycling'. In place of old-fashioned literacy, we have a new goal for education: sustainability literacy. The term was first coined by the environmental consultancy Forum for the Future, an organisation that has worked extensively with the higher education sector in recent years in exploring the implications of sustainable development. They suggest that a sustainability literate person is someone who understands the need for sustainable development, has the abilities to act in favour of it, and can recognise others' decisions and actions that favour it (1).

Leading advocates of sustainability literacy are vague about content, preferring to accentuate the need for people to be `aware' of the agenda and act on it in all aspects of their lives. The influential Centre for Sustainable Futures at Plymouth University, for example, aims for students to `leave with the values and skills and knowledge to drive the sustainability agenda forward in their personal and professional lives'. The vice-chancellor of Bradford University hopes that sustainability literacy will bring about `pro-sustainability behavioural change' amongst students (2).

Sustainability literacy as policy

Though the demand for environmental education began in the early 1990s (3), the process has gathered pace in recent years. Most notably, in 2003 the Department for Education and Skills launched the Sustainable Development Action Plan. Objective one from the plan states that: `all learners will develop the skills, knowledge and value base to be active citizens in creating a more sustainable society' (4).

In 2005, the government-sponsored lecturers' body, the Higher Education Academy (HEA), commissioned research on `embedding education for sustainable development in higher education' (5). The HEA seeks to `assist institutions and subject communities in their development of curricula and pedagogy to equip students with the skills and knowledge to live and work sustainably' (6). Sustainability literacy is now identified as a `core competency' for graduates by government.

A quick look at the `learning outcomes' often quoted for sustainability literacy confirms an emphasis on changing moral attitudes and behaviour rather than improving education. These outcomes comprise: increased caring about the future of society and intergenerational equality; empowerment of students and a heightened belief that they can make a difference; and increased personal willingness to participate in solving societal and environmental problems. Elsewhere, discussions on promoting sustainability literacy feature references to `raising awareness', `changing value bases' and even `winning hearts and minds'. As such, the promotion of sustainability literacy calls into question the character of education on offer in the modern university. Should universities see it as their aim to bring about `behavioural change' through `changing value bases'? Shouldn't students, based on their exposure to ideas, decide such things for themselves?

Sustainability literacy moves seamlessly from `awareness' to prescribing action. For example, the HEA subject centre for history, classics and archaeology expresses a view central to sustainability literacy, that `education about sustainable development should go hand in hand with education for sustainable development'. (7)

Leaving aside what sustainable development has to do with classics, why not simply educate rather than advocate? The overt promotion of sustainability (whatever it might be taken to mean) as the holy grail will only discourage students from raising doubts and differences of opinion because sustainability will be seen as the official line of the university.

The need for a new pedagogy?

Sustainability literacy is often presented as a necessary compensation for the deficiencies of existing disciplines that may not be equipped or may not have moved to address environmental critiques of economic growth (8). The disciplines are argued to be `too narrow' to cope with the broad character of the environmental crisis.

The 1992 United Nations Summit on Environment and Development (the Rio Earth Summit) is widely regarded as the moment when sustainable development become orthodoxy. But well before this point, many disciplines had developed schools of thought that sought to engage with the perception and reality of environmental problems.

For example, within economics, most often criticised for its `narrow' approach to resource use, `ecological economics' was pioneered in the 1970s, as a way to factor the environment into economic calculations. The concept of `natural capital' enabled nature to acquire a value through its non-use, rather than through its consumption in the process of development. Prior to that, the concept of `externalities', and the role of the state in dealing with these, provided a way to examine the environmental impacts of economic activity.

In fact, the growth of concern with the environment has run parallel to a growing set of associated ideas and theories in sociology, geography, management and elsewhere. The triple bottom line of `economy, environment and culture' is already in evidence, across the board, in higher education.

It is therefore disingenuous to say the university, via its curriculum, is a supporter of a narrow outlook. Collegiality and open debate have ensured that the disciplines adapt to, and influence, changing times. It is important that universities remain places where we can argue the toss over issues such as nuclear power, GM food, anti-globalisation protests, the merits of cheap flights, and even the efficacy of sustainable development itself, with neither side requiring the official backing of their institution or of self-appointed guardians of the curriculum.

What of the naysayers?

Advocates of sustainability literacy often argue that those who disagree are naysayers who need to be shown the error of their ways (as opposed to people with ideas to be argued against). One discussion document from the University of Hertfordshire refers (not untypically) to the need for `carrots and sticks' to get backsliders into line (9).

Apart from the patronising tone, this could have implications for academic freedom. `Carrots and sticks' are `bribes and threats' to think the right way and do the right thing. Is that healthy for a university? What about those dissenting voices, that minority of academics (and students) who feel, and are prepared to argue, that the concept of sustainability is problematic, or who feel it represents a backward step rather than progress? What about respected academics who see `consumerism' (frequently cited as a key area for behavioural change by advocates of sustainability literacy) as a good thing, or who do not think that industrial carbon emissions are a significant factor in climate change?

With regard to rural development in the developing world, a subject I have published on myself, I often find myself in the camp of the `backsliders'. In the rural developing world, `sustainable development' often means very little development at all. Perhaps I should attend a workshop to `self-review' my `core standards', a process that has been openly argued for in one University's documentation on developing sustainable literacy.

A new etiquette

One university, as part of launching a drive for sustainability literacy, organised a `sustainable lunch', with food that was local, fairly traded and organic. This small example is typical of the understated but clear agenda of sustainability literacy - small-scale and organic food, especially when sold at farmers markets, are good, whilst genetically modified food and supermarkets are bad. Academics can, and frequently do, take sides on such issues, which is a healthy situation to be in. Yet the etiquette of sustainability literacy marks out some positions as running counter to an educational and social imperative that all universities are to uphold.

It is certainly true that there is a strong consensus around some things that tend to be considered `sustainable development'. For example, the belief that human emissions of greenhouse gases are leading to climate change is widely held, along with the assumption that the proper response is to reduce such emissions. Equally, there are other aspects of sustainability literacy that invite considerable contestation, such as localism, organic agriculture and challenging consumerism.

But even if a position is considered received wisdom for 99 per cent of academics, there are strong reasons to object to universities taking a moral stance on the views and behaviour that graduates should adopt. Universities should teach. They will reflect the prevailing body of knowledge, and they should aim to encourage students to question received wisdoms and orthodoxies. They should trust undergraduates to act and live as they choose, based upon what they have gleaned of the world through their studies and beyond.

And this is where I think that anyone - from the deepest green to the biggest champion of acquisitive growth - should be against the drive for sustainability literacy. Ideas, agendas and moral imperatives should stand or fall through an open ended, rigorous enquiry. The university is the institution that can ensure this takes place. Yet it is clear that for those promoting sustainability literacy, the agenda is about universities, as public institutions, taking a clear position on the political issue of development. Once that is enshrined in the public pronouncements or private articles of a university, then the university has diminished its commitment to open-ended academic enquiry. That bodes no good either for those who take the environmental crisis to be immanent, or for those who suspect that the planet is robust; the majority who accept that global warming is a product of human industry, or those who doubt this wisdom.

Finally, it is worthy of note that the rise of environmental education, most recently in the form of sustainability literacy, seems to parallel a decline in scientific literacy. It is far more likely to be scientists, experts in their respective fields, who produce solutions to environmental problems. A promotion of scientific literacy would be a far more worthy aim for today's academics than moralising about how we should live our lives.


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