Saturday, November 24, 2007

Canadian Catholic schools remove anti-God book

If secular schools can ban all mention of Christianity -- which they often do -- religious schools should obviously be able to ban anti-Christian books. How nice it would be, though, if both sides were mature enough to allow free exchange of ideas. I get the idea that church schools are by far the most tolerant in such matters

Halton's Catholic board has pulled The Golden Compass fantasy book – soon to be a Hollywood blockbuster starring Nicole Kidman – off school library shelves because of a complaint. Two other books in the trilogy by British author Philip Pullman have also been removed as a precaution, and principals have been ordered not to distribute December Scholastic book flyers because The Golden Compass is available to order. "(The complaint) came out of interviews that Philip Pullman had done, where he stated that he is an atheist and that he supports that," said Scott Millard, the board's manager of library services. "Since we are an educational institution, we want to be able to evaluate the material; we want to make sure we have the best material for students."

Following a recent Star story about the series, an internal memo was sent to elementary principals that said "the book is apparently written by an atheist where the characters and text are anti-God, anti-Catholic and anti-religion." Millard said if students want the books, they can ask librarians for them but the series won't be on display until a committee review is complete. The Golden Compass is the first of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy of books and have been likened to the Harry Potter series.

In the U.S., the Catholic League has accused the books of bashing Christianity and promoting atheism to children. The league is urging parents to boycott the movie, which opens Dec. 7. Catholic schools in Toronto and York Region have the books on their shelves and report no complaints. The public library in Burlington, in Halton Region, lists The Golden Compass as suggested reading for Grades 5 and 6. The award-winning tome was voted the best children's book in the past 70 years by readers across the globe. While the book was first published in 1995, complaints are surfacing now because of the buzz surrounding the movie, said Rick MacDonald, the Halton board's superintendent of curriculum services.

The Nov. 1 article in the Star prompted several emails from principals wondering if the book is appropriate for schools. Pullman has made controversial statements, telling The Washington Post in 2001 he was "trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief." In 2003, he said that compared to the Harry Potter series, his books had been "flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God."

The board is unsure how many copies of the Pullman books are in circulation at its 37 elementary schools because they were not purchased centrally and are not a part of the curriculum. "We have a policy and procedure whereby individual, parents, staff, students or community members can apply to have material reviewed. That's what happened in this case," MacDonald said, adding he did not know who lodged the complaint. The complaint was received about a week and a half ago, and it is standard procedure to remove books from the shelves during the review. Any move to ban the book would be taken to trustees. Millard said he's still trying to find additional members for the review committee, but has sent copies to those already on the committee, such as MacDonald.

Milton pastor David Wilhelm, who is also a trustee and a committee member, said hasn't read the book yet and won't make a judgement until he has. He did not know when the review would be done. Richard Brock, who heads the Halton elementary branch of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, said he's had no complaints from teachers about the books being pulled. The board, he added, is within its rights to restrict distribution of the Scholastic flyer. "With elementary students, you're always going to bend in the direction of caution anyway," he said.

Scholastic Canada received a complaint via email from the board, as well as a handful of other negative emails that appeared to be part of a campaign begun in the U.S. Halton's Catholic board has 28,500 students at 45 schools in Burlington, Halton Hills, Milton and Oakville.


Britain: Under-sevens 'too young to learn to read'

What utter garbage from this "expert"! Some children learn to read as early as age 3. The real problem is the "all kids are equal" doctrine that haunts thinking on the matter. Kids are NOT equal. What WOULD make sense is for children to be enrolled according to their mental age rather than according to their chronological age but that would be "elitism!", I suppose

Children should not start formal learning until they are seven, according to a world expert in nursery education who will suggest today that teaching reading and writing earlier can put them off for life. Teaching children at five to read and write can dent their interest in books later on, according to Lilian Katz, a professor of education at Illinois University, who will today address an international conference on nursery schooling at Oxford University. "It can be seriously damaging for children who see themselves as inept at reading too early," she told the Guardian. Boys were particularly vulnerable when rushed into reading too soon, she said.

Her comments come amid mounting concern over reading skills. In England, a quarter of all 14-year-olds now fail to reach the expected standards, and boys are struggling even more. Earlier this month a Cambridge University report strongly criticised Labour's 500m pound national literacy strategy for having a "relatively small impact". It concluded that children's reading skills had not improved in 50 years.

Moves in England to introduce more structured learning for three- and four-year-olds could store up problems in the long term, Katz suggests. English schools start formal teaching at five but there are plans to introduce a foundation stage for three- and four-year-olds which will set new learning goals, including one which specifies that by the time children start school at five they should be able to at least "use their phonic knowledge to write simple regular words". Katz, a former president of the National Association for the Education of Young Children and a respected authority on early years education, said: "Teaching younger children can look OK in the short term but in the long term children who are taught early are not better off. For a lot of children five will be too early. "That has a more negative impact for boys. For most boys they are growing up in cultures where they are expected to be assertive and active. In instruction they are passive and receptive and reactive, and in the long term that accounts for the negative effects. In most cultures girls tend to put up with instruction earlier and better."

The conference will examine the case for starting formal teaching at a later age. In Sweden children do not start formal instruction until six or seven. Professor Ingrid Pramling-Samuelsson, from the University of Goteborg, who is president-elect of the World Organisation of Preschool Education, will tell the conference that academics in Sweden have been "surprised" to hear that England is moving towards earlier formal instruction.

The children's minister Beverley Hughes will also address the conference about the early years foundation stage, which has been interpreted by some as the extension of the national curriculum to toddlers. The government is adamant that despite setting goals for children to reach they are not targets and it is not a formal curriculum.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "The formal school starting age of five has served children well for decades and standards in our primary schools have never been higher. The curriculum is age-appropriate and we actively support teachers to adapt their teaching to the needs of children. We want all children to make progress in literacy and numeracy at an early age, as these skills are critical to their ability to get the most out of learning later on."


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