Saturday, September 15, 2007

It's time to abolish the public schools

The public "government" school system has become a nightmare of its own making. For decades, its proponents have done everything they can to keep the public "government" education machine going. Moreover, they have claimed that, without public schools, American children would not be educated and that parents are not fit to decide how their children should be educated. They often say that public schools are needed because children need to be socialized at a very young age and that the state - not the parents or any legal guardian - has a vested interest in the learning development of our children.

The Left, unsurprisingly enough, has often complained that the public "government" schools never receive adequate amounts of funding in order for their schools to work. Obviously, that argument is always the same: we need more money for the schools so that they can do the job of "educating" our very young. Unfortunately, today's generation of Americans are unaware of the fact that the modern welfare state has polluted their minds with the belief that only the public schools can successfully provide a real learning environment for our children - one that parents are just unqualified to furnish for them. Therefore, this has become the very success story of liberal collectivists who erroneously believe that the state knows the child better than the parents. Because liberals cannot and will never be able to successfully justify the welfare statism that they brought to this country decades ago, they cannot and will never see the damage that their socialism - as well as their love for it - has done to America. In effect, they are, without question, largely and morally responsible for bringing about their brand of statism not only to our country, but also to the education system as well.

The Right, on the other hand, sees things somewhat differently. While many conservative collectivists, historically speaking, have correctly noted that the public schools are a disaster waiting to happen, they too have opined that the public schools must continue to exist, despite their view that the schools can be "reformed" via injections of what they erroneously view as "free-market" or "market-oriented" approaches in order to make the schools work. Somehow the idea of using the power of the state to strong-arm families, educators, and local schools into accepting aberrant and distorted - not to mention state-sanctioned (a.k.a. state-imposed) - socialistic machinations under the rubric of "free enterprise" is very appealing to conservatives, who push and call for them at every turn.

Because of these simple truths, it is morally and economically imperative that the government control and monopoly of our education system is dismantled immediately. It is the obligation and moral duty of the citizens of our nation to take the education monopolists and their collectivistic sycophants to task for their immoral and unconstitutional control of the education establishment. That goes for every man, woman, and child who can find it within themselves to oppose the union of education and state.

Furthermore, because of the pervasive evils of a top-down, bureaucratic, and one-size-fits-all public "government" education system that functions at the local, state, and federal levels, local parents, educators, and schools find that they are unable to retain control of their own schools, thanks to the political clout of big government politicians, teacher unions, and their collectivistic union lackeys.

School vouchers

While a number of conservatives have ardently called for disenfranchised and disillusioned parents to remove their children from Godless schools [] that refuse to allow school prayer, post copies of the Ten Commandments on the walls of the classrooms, and teach creationism over evolution, end political correctness on school grounds, and many other forms of socialistic measures, increasing numbers of them are ecstatically endorsing and even touting school vouchers for religious parents to do just that. Their contention is that, because God has been "taken out of the classroom" (largely thanks to state and federal education bureaucrats, unions, and many Supreme Court decisions [] that were handed down over the years), the schools can neither be trusted nor relied upon to inculcate school children with religious principles and moral values that ought to be a natural part of their education.

What's even more distressing is that these conservatives, including some libertarians [], are deceiving parents, students, and the public at large regarding these voucher claims by promoting them in the form of "school choice" - that is, a disguised euphemism for reform of the schools simply designed to broaden the choices for parents to educate their kids with the help of the state. This reform is intended to bring schools on a path to a separation of education and state - "intended" being the operative word here.

A tax-funded voucher system seems like a good idea on the surface, except that it's not. Why? Because there are quite a number of problems with the money. First, as almost everyone knows, vouchers are just a welfare-state scam that basically snookers parents into accepting public "government" money to send their children to a public or private school with the permission and choosing of the state. Parents who take the money will find that the state has already attached strings to the funds. It goes without saying that the state will be making demands in return. That means that the parents and their children will ultimately end up as permanent education wards of the state. Once the private schools begin accepting public money, they will no longer answer to parents but rather to the government. In the end, the private schools eventually become carbon copies of their public counterparts, resulting in their imminent oblivion.

Second, once private schools take the money, they will find themselves under the regulatory gun of the state. Let's not kid ourselves. As soon as they receive the funds, the schools will no longer be responsive to the efficiency of the free market. In a real free market, private schools would have to respond to market competition in order to remain in business. Those schools that do accept the handouts won't have to worry about the incentive to pare down costs if they are dramatically reduced or eliminated.

Third, private schools will eventually be priced out of the marketplace if the voucher system becomes mainstreamed. There are only two ways that this can occur. If the schools refuse to accept vouchers, then the families who are desperate to have the money will patronize the voucher-funded schools, leading to the closing of the non-voucher-funded schools. Moreover, if schools are coerced into embracing the funding, then they may respond by opting to go out of business in lieu of allowing themselves to be under the federal microscope.

Finally, the idea that parents need vouchers to get their children out of the ailing public schools and place them in their better-performing private counterparts perpetuates the myth that parents do not already have "school choice" for their children. On the contrary, parents certainly do have that choice today. That choice is no different than the other choices they have in their lives, choices like food, entertainment, cars, clothes, etc. When voucher proponents talk about "school choice," what they're really saying is that parents have no choice of where they can take other people's money and spend it for their children's education.

Another way of looking at the deleterious effects that vouchers bring to families and children is that the program is equivalent to food stamps for schools. Voucher advocates often say that they don't support food stamps or any other government assistance programs such as public "government" housing and public "government" medical-care programs.

There's more to this problem than meets the eye. Some parents who apply for the voucher programs to send their children to nontraditional private schools will immediately discover that they are not eligible for the state-funded program. States will never give their approval to remit the funds to schools that admit only a certain group of students (customers) of race, gender, and class. Schools that want to be acceptable will have to satisfy academic, curriculum, and textbook standards established by the state. The teachers will have to satisfy those requirements as well. If any educator is found not to possess the certifications as well as the proper degrees from state-run and state-approved colleges, they will not be hired, considering the school wants to be put on the list of government-approved schools.

Parents who choose to homeschool their children will not be allowed to receive the vouchers, considering that the state will discriminate homeschooling parents on the grounds that they do not possess a state-recognized degree from the state's own approved college or university, possess neither the experience nor the certification to educate their children, and are not able to obtain the funds to cover the costs for books, videos, software, and supplies that may have been paid for by the state's voucher program.

Other parents who choose to enroll their children in a religious or parochial school quickly learn that they are denied access to the funds, because a majority of the religious schools, in all honesty, are extremely discriminatory. These schools employ instructors and admit only pupils who adhere to their own particular religion. If a religious institution refuses to compromise its principles and values, they will be denied the vouchers. As human nature would tell us, the temptation to succumb to government demands would be too great. After all, as with all federal regulations, the demands would be meager in the beginning, but eventually they would grow to become terribly invasive.

If there's one group that's mostly overlooked, especially when "school choice" does not fit in the educational scheme of things, it's the taxpayers. They are forced to subsidize others who have the privilege of "school choice." Taxpayers may not realize this, but they are the sole source of funding used to disperse public "government" vouchers, so that parents can employ the money to furnish each school-age child an education under the rubric of "school choice." Childless married couples - that is, those who choose not to have children - already spend thousands of their tax dollars to educate the children of married couples, yet they will now be forced to drop more money, whether they like it or not. While communities at the local level are not forced to pay taxes to feed and provide clothing for the children residing in them, they are, however, forced to subsidize their education.

Not all vouchers are a bad idea though. Currently, many private voucher programs do exist. If all school taxes were dramatically slashed, or preferably repealed, then the money used to pay for the current school system would be available, giving parents a real school choice. This would immediately launch a free-market education system, in which there would be more funding for better schools that respond to consumer demand and respect consumer sovereignty. Moreover, there would be more privately-funded voucher programs, giving parents (consumers) more choices and more options to spend their private education dollars as they see fit. If a separation of education and state were enacted, the free market would immediately take over the education system, allowing parents and their children to patronize schools that consistently meet their needs. Even if such a separation was never allowed and school taxes were cut on a drastic scale, it would require the public "government" schools to compete with the private-voucher-funded private schools, forcing the government schools to either clean up their act or get out of the way.

Tuition tax credits

Another government machination that allegedly fixes the problems plaguing our education system is the tuition tax credit. It is essentially designed to alleviate the school tax burden for parents by allowing them to reduce their school or income tax liability dollar-for-dollar just so that they can enroll their children in private schools.

It is often claimed that the one advantage that tuition tax credits have over public "government" vouchers is that they do provide tax relief for parents who, if given the credits, would keep more of their money from which would most likely be taken. That is absolutely true, as tuition tax credits, on the surface, seem like a better alternative to public vouchers anytime, any day of the week.

Another claim from tax credit proponents is that such credits are superior to the public voucher system because they result in less government control of the schools and less of a chance of uniting church (through religious schools) and state, due to their indirect nature and the unintended consequences that often follow.

Except there's only one problem with this alternative: they lead to greater control and regulation [] of the private school industry. To believe otherwise is a pipe dream. Such a measure would open the door to more perverse conditions, such as cash subsidies to parents with children by childless couples, private schools complying with federal tax audits, the denial of parental authority over how the schools spend the money per pupil, and so forth.

With all the problems associated with the public "government" schools, isn't it time to pull the plug on them and put an end to the pervasive evil that is the bedrock of the public "government" school monopoly?


Forced integration has not produced its intended results

Shifts in policy, because the world is complex, often result in unexpected consequences. Some consequences are negative. The net impact of the forced integration of schools in Nashville, and other urban areas, has been negative. First, it prompted an exodus of whites from the public system via non-public academic options and moves to ring counties. Second, it had a deleterious impact on an institution, the black school, which helped anchor a minority culture. Third, it failed to achieve either better educational outcomes or genuine integration.

After a federal judge ordered, in 1971, Nashville schools to bus students in order to achieve racial balance, white enrollment in Metro Public Schools declined by 20,000 in the next eight years. We are left today with a strange sort of educational apartheid, based on class more than race. The middle class voted with its feet and now seven in 10 Metro students qualify for free or reduced lunch. The dubious, and implicitly racist, idea that blacks would do better if given the opportunity to sit next to white children becomes a problem when so many of those white kids are no longer in those public school desks.

There were many examples of successful black schools before forced integration. These schools, run by blacks, with black teachers, and unencumbered by stifling bureaucracies, produced good students despite stingy funding from white-run school districts. Economist Thomas Sowell points out that the black high school, Dunbar, in Washington D.C., scored higher than the average of the white schools and that they had less tardiness and absenteeism. Three out of four Dunbar graduates went to college, much higher than the national rate for whites, through 1955. Dunbar was not an aberration. The parents were not middle class but comprised primarily of laborers and maids. Today, after desegregation, Dunbar is characterized, crudely but honestly, as a ghetto school with all the problems associated with that observation.

The schoolhouse played an important role in the neighborhood, in a culture. The Catholic experience is instructive. The emergence of the parochial school system was a response to discrimination. In 1852, every parish was encouraged to establish a school. Parish life revolved largely around the school. Like the black experience, they did more with less, better outcomes with less funding.

The founding of Bridges Academy is an assertion that culture matters and, contra the views of the black and white elitists who forced integration, that black culture is equipped to achieve excellence.

Forced integration has not led to improved educational outcomes for blacks. In Detroit a black male is more likely to go to jail than to go to college. And, anyone who believes busing has brought us closer together needs to visit a school cafeteria at lunchtime.

The decision of a few helped fuel racial animosity and served to undermine the strength of a minority culture. Providing enhanced opportunity and fostering genuine racial harmony depends on the decisions of many. The many must be free to make those decisions.


Friday, September 14, 2007

U Michigan Resumes Distribution of Anti-Israel Book

Any negative Leftist utterance about groups is "free speech". Any negative conservative utterance about groups is "hate speech"

The University of Michigan announced late Tuesday that the University of Michigan Press would resume distribution of Overcoming Zionism, a book that calls the creation of Israel a mistake and that prompted several pro-Israel groups to complain to the university about its role in making the available a book they characterized as "hate speech." The University of Michigan Press stopped distribution last month, following those complaints, and setting off complaints of censorship by others. Michigan was not the publisher, but distributed the book for Pluto Press, a British publisher specializing in leftist social science for an academic audience. The author of the book is Joel Kovel, distinguished professor of social studies at Bard College.

In a statement released by the university, the press Executive Board (a faculty body) said that while it "has deep reservations about Overcoming Zionism, it would be a blow against free speech to remove the book from distribution on that basis. We conclude that we should not fail to honor our distribution agreement based on our reservations about the content of a single book." The statement continued: "Such a course raises both First Amendment issues and concerns about the appearance of censorship. As members of the university community dedicated to academic freedom and open debate among differing views, the Executive Board stands firmly for freedom of expression, and against even the appearance of censorship. In this instance, both legal and value considerations lead us to the decision to resume distribution of the book."

At the same time, the board tried to distance itself from the book and its publisher. "Had the manuscript gone through the standard review process used by the University of Michigan Press, the board would not have recommended publication. But the arrangement with Pluto Press is for distribution only; the UM Press never intended to review individually every title published by Pluto (or any other press for which it holds distribution rights). By resuming distribution, the board in no way endorses the content of the book." In addition, the board announced that Pluto's decision to publish Overcoming Zionism "brings into question the viability of UM Press's distribution agreement with Pluto Press. The board intends to look into these matters and decide, later this fall, whether the distribution contract with Pluto Press should be continued."

Jonathan Schwartz, a Michigan alumnus who has been blogging critically about the Kovel book at Anti-Racist Blog: Exposing Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism on American College Campuses, said he was disappointed in the university's decision to resume distribution of the book. The university press board "dodged the issue of the racist content of Mr. Kovel's book, and his incredibly offensive messages," Schwartz said. "The University of Michigan made a conscious decision to serve as the distributor of Mr. Kovel's anti-Zionist propaganda. It is shameful that Overcoming Zionism is being distributed with U. of M.'s imprimatur and complicity." Kovel could not be reached Tuesday night.

Roger van Zwanenberg, chairman and commissioning editor at Pluto, said he found the decision about distribution of Overcoming Zionism to be "reassuring," but that he found the statements about the "deep reservations" on the book and the questions about his press to be "less reassuring." And he questioned whether these statements are consistent with academic freedom. "These so called `deep reservations', stem from what is acceptable scholarship and what is unacceptable," he said. Tenure and academic freedom should protect the tradition of "critical scholarship" and assure that "unpopular scholarship can thrive," van Zwanenberg said. Pluto has always worked within the "critical scholarship" framework, he said, publishing Marxist and anarchist theorists, among others, and such well known figures in American academe as Noam Chomsky. "The University of Michigan Press always knew Pluto published scholars under this frame," he said. (Even a brief look at the Pluto Web site shows that the press makes no attempt to hide its views or the political nature of its authors.)

From Michigan's statement, van Zwanenberg said, it appears that "Pluto may be accused that a single volume does not come up to the standards of more traditional scholarship. It would be shameful if this were to occur, as to be accused of something we never set out to achieve by a scholarly community serves no one." Pluto books, he said, "add to the richness of publishing within any university arena."


Major US Catholic University Caught Deceiving Diocese: Diocese Losing Patience

Vice-chancellor of archdiocese states, "there's a Catholic ethos in this town that rightly smells a rat"

Just a few weeks ago, LifeSiteNews and several online blogs reported on Creighton University's shameful invitation, and then hasty 'disinvitation' of ardently pro-abortion and pro-euthanasia speaker, Ann Lamott. According to several recent news reports, the hasty 'statement' published on the University website to announce the cancellation has not appeased the powers that be at the Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha.

The official Creighton statement announcing the lecture cancellation on the University's website is quoted in part saying, "After careful review of Ms. Lamott's most recent writings (which postdated her contract agreement), we have concluded that key points are in opposition to Catholic teaching which, in our judgment, makes her an inappropriate choice for the Women and Health Lecture Series."

Reverend Joseph Taphorn, chancellor for the Omaha archdiocese, took issue with such an assertion. "Everybody knew what they were getting so it is hard to understand a last minute disinvitation. All you have to do is put the name in Google and you see what she believes."

Creighton's President and Jesuit priest, John P. Schlegel, S.J. penned a memo last week to his colleagues, supposedly justifying the cancellation. Schlegel,s memo reiterates that the decision was made after seeing only the newest material produced by Ann Lamott. "The decision to cancel the lecture was not the result of outside pressure from any group. I made this decision last Friday, August 24, after prayerful reflection upon reading from her latest book, the publication of which post-dated the invitation and in discussion with Amy Haddad, director of the Center for Health Policy and Ethics.

Rev. Schlegel goes on to disparagingly dismiss the 'bloggers' influence on his decision saying "To put it more frankly: my reflection on this question started well before the bloggers latched upon the invitation," while applauding Ms. Lamott for her outspokenness on issues. "I certainly respect [Lamott's] right to express those views, and admire her frankness in doing so[.]"

He referred to her belief in assisted suicide as "troubling" but insists that his misgivings only stemmed from her most recent work. As reported in, Lamott had openly admitted and documented her direct participation in helping a terminally ill friend kill himself as early as June 2006.

According to the local Lincoln Journal Star, Lamott's own booking agent, Steven Barclay, stands by a different story that that issued from the desk of President Schlegel. Barclay claims that university officials originally confirmed Lamott's lecture but requested that she not speak about assisted suicide and abortion. Barclay unapologetically stated, "It's very evident what her work stands for."

This is not the first time that Creighton and the archdiocese have come head to head on ethical issues. Earlier this year, the archdiocese severed its relationship with the Creighton's Center for Marriage and Family for its proposal in support of premarital cohabitation.

Vice-chancellor of the archdiocese, Reverend Ryan Lewis, commented on Creighton's deception saying, "If you are seeing a pattern, you are seeing correctly." He expressed appreciation that "there's a Catholic ethos in this town that rightly smells a rat."

While Reverend Taphorn would not comment on whether the archdiocese would consider removing the status of "Catholic University" from Creighton, Rev. Lewis acknowledged that "Catholic Omaha is starting to lose patience with some of this stuff."

Schlegel concluded his colleague memorandum encouraging all faculty to "pursue truth as he or she conceives of it." He also concluded with an assurance for the Creighton community: "I know that many of you will be concerned that the logical end of this position is that we will never have a sponsored speaker other than ones by those who agree in every respect with Church teaching. I understand and respect that concern and can assure that it is manifestly not my intent to impose uniformity of this sort. Questions of these kinds are difficult and laden with context."

Over the past years, Schlegel's philosophy seems to have been employed in deciding on past lecturers at the University. In 1995, The Women & Health Lecture Series featured feminist and ardent abortion supporter, Susan Sherwin, PhD as she presented her lecture entitled "Exploring the Ethical Dimensions of Women's Role in Medical Research."

The lecture series also gave platform to former Nebraska Senator Debra Suttle who was well-known for her work in trying to pass legislation that would have mandated insurance companies pay for artificial contraception. Her efforts were widely opposed by pro-life forces in the area and were ultimately defeated.


Indianapolis: Out of school, out of touch

The high rate of school suspensions and expulsions highlights the need for more discipline options. If there is little that a white female teacher can do to discipline a big and disruptive black student, all the school can do is suspend the offender -- which does very little good for anyone. Heavy use of corporal punishment by an appropriately delegated person would almost certainly improve discipline marvellously

Students at Lynhurst 7th and 8th Grade Center were suspended at a rate of 79 per 100 students during the 2005-06 school year, further burnishing the Wayne Township middle school's notoriety for being among the highest-suspending schools in the state. Most of those suspensions, however, weren't meted out to dangerous troublemakers. Nineteen percent of suspensions were for such obviously dangerous activities as brandishing guns, possessing drugs or injuring teachers and fellow students. Half of all suspensions, on the other hand, were for subjective charges such as "defiance," the catch-all category of "other" -- which can include nonviolent offenses such as chronic truancy -- and one-time schoolyard brawls.

Lynhurst exemplifies the reality that, far too often, schools overuse out-of-school suspensions and expulsions for behaviors that can be better handled through other means. The overuse, in turn, contributes to the state's dropout crisis. Sixth-graders who were suspended at least once had just a one-in-six chance of graduating, according to a study of Philadelphia students led by Johns Hopkins researcher Robert Balfanz. The overuse of suspension and expulsion, along with the presence of zero-tolerance policies, is a national problem. Most cases aren't like high-profile examples such as the three Knightstown High students who were expelled from (and later readmitted to) school for producing a film in which a teddy bear threatened the life of a teacher.

But Indiana's schools have had a particularly nasty reputation for suspending and expelling more students than those in other states: Most suspensions are for matters other than drugs, weapons possession and violent behavior: Forty-seven percent of out-of-school suspensions at Lawrence North High School during the 2005-06 school year were for "other" unlisted reasons. Just 9 percent of suspensions were for drugs and weapons possession. Statewide, less than 3 percent of in-school and out-of-school suspensions were for possession of weapons, drugs, alcohol and tobacco. While schools are categorizing fewer suspensions under the subjective category "disruptive behavior", they are categorizing those punishments under "defiance," a category created as a result of a round of anti-dropout legislation that can be just as subjective as the former.

Schools are suspending more students: Some 819 out-of school suspensions were meted out each day of the 2005-06 school year, a 15 percent increase over the suspensions handed down seven years ago. Meanwhile, the state retains its reputation for expelling more students than any other in the nation. Expulsions have increased by 11 percent between 2003-04 and 2005-06 school years after a four-year decline.

Marion County middle schools suspend more students than high schools: On average, middle schools have a suspension rate of 58 per 100 students, four times the statewide average. The rate for high schools is just 29 per 100. Shortridge Middle School, now being converted by Indianapolis Public Schools into a magnet program, has an astonishing rate of 91 per 100 students.

Black students are suspended more often than their white peers: Revelations by The Star's Andy Gammill and Mark Nichols that black students are suspended three times more often than white students confirm conclusions reached 12 years ago by the Indianapolis Commission on African-American Males. This is a national problem: Blacks accounted for 33 percent of suspensions despite accounting for 17 percent of public school enrollment.

Fears over school safety, arising from real day-to-day concerns and high-profile incidents, is partly to blame for rising suspension numbers. The methods teachers and administrators use to deal with school behavior are also a culprit. The lack of training on how to handle students in real-world classroom settings -- an issue that former Teachers College President Arthur Levine and teaching guru Martin Haberman argue has fostered problems in other aspects of education -- is also a factor in discipline. Frustrated teachers opt to toss students out of classrooms -- and hand them over to academic deans and principals -- before availing themselves of other options.

This lack of training also exacerbates cultural differences between minority students and teachers, most of who remain white and female. The problem grows in middle schools, no matter the race of the teacher, as children develop into teenagers who, despite their emotional development, begin to take on the physical characteristics of adults.

Flexibility in state law governing school discipline, which grants principals the chief decision-making role, contributes to the disparities in discipline. Depending on the district or even the school, a student can be suspended for using a cell phone on school grounds. While the need to maintain safe, orderly schools is important, the overuse of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions does little to address bad behavior and its underlying causes. Suspended students simply end up at home without parental supervision -- and falling behind in school.

Solving those underlying issues and stemming the use of harsh school discipline is one of the many keys to improving the odds of students graduating from school and being prepared for college and the working world. The initiatives taken up by IPS over the past three years, including the creation this year of alternative programs for wayward students, can help, but only if properly implemented. Such programs have a history of being little more than dumping grounds for students that schools have given up on teaching.

More importantly, teachers, principals and even parents will have to take different approaches to discipline. Engaging students, especially those at risk of academic failure [Like how? The success of such approaches is very marginal], is key to keeping students out of trouble and on track towards graduation. Mentoring arrangements, along with music and art programs, can help in this regard. Applying alternative programs such as those used by the Knowledge Is Power Program of charter schools, in which a student can lose his seat and desk for misbehavior and rewards positive behavior, can also help. A student who isn't in school will not learn. Figuring out alternatives to suspensions and expulsions is key to keeping students on the path to finishing school.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Homeschooling comes of age

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the modern home education movement was in its infancy. At that time, most Americans viewed home-styled education as a quaint tourist attraction or the lifestyle choice of those willing to endure more hardship than necessary. What a difference a few decades makes. Homeschooling has undergone an extreme makeover. From maverick to mainstream, the movement has acquired a glamorous, populist sheen.

Flip through a few issues of Sports Illustrated, circa 2007, and there's no shortage of news about photogenic homeschoolers who make the athletic cut. Like Jessica Long who was born in Russia, resides in Baltimore, and is an accomplished swimmer. At 15, Jessica became the first paralympian to win the prestigious Sullivan Award, which honors the country's top amateur athlete. Then there's the dashing Joey Logano who, at 17, has already won a NASCAR race.

Even presidential hopefuls and their spouses have jumped on the school-thine-own bandwagon. Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) has offered enthusiastic support for homeschooling families, and Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Senator John Edwards (D-North Carolina) told the Wall Street Journal that this fall she plans to home educate the couple's two youngest children "with the help of a tutor."

As for scholastic achievements, this national competition season was remarkable, seeing home scholars crowned as champs in three major events. A twelve-year-old New Mexican named Matthew Evans won the National Word Power competition, sponsored by Reader's Digest. Thirteen-year-old Evan O'Dorney of California won the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and fourteen-year-old Caitlin Snaring of Washington was christened the National Geographic Bee champ.

Then there's Micah Stanley of Minnesota who has yet to receive any lessons in a brick-and-mortar classroom building. For the past few years, he's been enrolled in the Oak Brook College of Law, a distance learning law school headquartered in Sacramento. This past February, he took the grueling, three-day California general bar examination (California allows correspondence law students to sit for the bar), and he can now add "attorney" to his resume. In his spare time, he's finishing up a book titled, How to Escape the Holding Tank: A Guide to Help You Get What You Want. Micah is 19.

A teenage lawyer/budding author, however, wouldn't surprise John Taylor Gatto, an outspoken critic of compulsory education laws and a former New York State Teacher of the Year. Writing in Harper's Magazine, Gatto forthrightly argued that "genius is as common as dirt." Perhaps. But it's also understandable that when everyday folks hear about the homeschooled Joeys and Caitlins and Micahs, they become a tad intimidated — as if this educational choice were the exclusive domain of obsessive-compulsive moms and dads with money to burn, time to spare, and a brood of driven, Type-A offspring.

Although it's commendable when the young achieve Herculean goals, homeschooling has always been more about freedom and personal responsibility than winning an Ivy League scholarship or playing at Wimbledon. In general, it has attracted working-class families of all ethnicities and faiths, who have been eager to provide a nurturing, stimulating learning experience. Of course, the unabashedly adventuresome are always an endearing staple of the movement. The Burns family, of Alaska, set out on a 36-foot sailboat this summer to travel the world for three years. Chris Burns (the dad) told the Juneau Empire he hopes "to connect with Juneau classrooms and host question-and-answer sessions while at sea," as well as homeschool the two Burns children.

In a legal sense, homeschools serve as a glaring reminder of a complex issue that has become the stuff of landmark Supreme Court cases: does the state have the authority to coerce a youngster to attend school and sit at a desk for 12 years? Whether said child has the aptitude and maturity for such a long-term contract (or is it involuntary servitude?) remains an uncomfortable topic because, in the acceptable mantra of the day, "education is a right." Such a national conversation is long overdue, as there are plenty of signs — costly remedial education and rising dropout rates, to name two — to indicate that the status quo public school model isn't kid-friendly.

Homeschooling, after all, began to catch on with the masses because a former US Department of Education employee argued that children, like delicate hothouse plants, required a certain type of environment to grow shoots and blossoms, and that loving parents, not institutions, could best create the greenhouses. It was 1969 when the late Dr. Raymond Moore initiated an inquiry into previously neglected areas of educational research. Two of the questions that Moore and a team of like-minded colleagues set out to answer were (1) Is institutionalizing young children a sound, educational trend? and (2) What is the best timing for school entrance?

In the process of analyzing thousands of studies, twenty of which compared early school entrants with late starters, Moore concluded that developmental problems, such as hyperactivity, nearsightedness, and dyslexia, are often the result of prematurely taxing a child's nervous system and mind with continuous academic tasks, like reading and writing. The bulk of the research convinced Moore that formal schooling should be delayed until at least age 8 or 10, or even as late as 12. As he explained, "These findings sparked our concern and convinced us to focus our investigation on two primary areas: formal learning and socializing. Eventually, this work led to an unexpected interest in homeschools." Moore went on to write Home Grown Kids and Home-Spun Schools. The rest, as they say, is history. The books, published in the 1980s, have sold hundreds of thousands of copies and offer practical advice to potential parent educators.

Nowadays, there's a sea of such self-help material, scores of commercial products, and online opportunities solely dedicated to encouraging families to learn together in the convenience of their homes. Homeschooling has graduated into a time-tested choice that allows children to thrive, learn at their own pace, and which frequently inspires other success stories. As our nation is famous for encouraging immigrants to reinvent themselves and achieve the American Dream, so home education does for youngsters whether they are late bloomers or are candidates for Mensa.

Above all, the merit of homeschooling is that it allows for experimentation, flexibility, and trial and error. Here is the great contrast with state-provided education. As with all systems hammered out by bureaucracies, public schools get stuck in a rut, perpetuate failures, respond slowly to changing times, and resist all reforms. Errors are not localized and contained, but all consuming and system wide. It's bad enough when such a system is used to govern labor contracts or postal service; it is a tragic loss when it is used to manage kids' minds.


It is not racist to insist on language skills

Gordon Brown is ruling that medium-skilled migrants from outside the EU must speak and understand English. The “highly skilled” already have to; the unskilled, it seems, may remain uncomprehending. The Home Secretary adds enthusiastically that it will help integration if we “expect people coming through the skilled and slightly less-skilled route to actually be able to speak English”.

Well, duh! This is good news (though met with whingeing from employers who fear for their cheap labour, and from Tories who find it not fierce enough). It would be even better news if there were some mechanism to put the same onus on EU citizens who plan to stay, but since that is impossible we could at least refrain from gratuitously featherbedding them by putting up diversion signs in Polish to prevent lorry drivers “coming into conflict with road workers”.

The idea that residents and workers in a country should understand its language is hardly startling, nor is it innately right-wing. This present move, announced to the TUC, has a deliberately protectionist edge to it, but it need not have had. Linguistic cohesion is more important than “British jobs for British people”. Mutual understanding is a deep, vital necessity for any society. The wonder is that for so long, perhaps for the kindliest of reasons, governments have shied away from saying so.

Perhaps it is post-colonial guilt, perhaps an uneasy awareness that we ourselves, as tourists, are chronically bad at foreign languages. Either way, we have connived at a situation that promotes waste, confusion and mutual suspicion. Ignoring linguistic incompetence just extends alienation. It is not really kind at all; it has gone on for too long, and the whistle needs blowing.

It was in December that the BBC revealed the 100 million pound cost of translation services routinely provided by local authorities, courts and the NHS. It became clear that we do not translate only for tourists and asylum-seekers (which is obvious, courteous and kind). Settled residents too are not expected to understand us: in Peterborough refuse collection leaflets appear in 15 languages, and in many boroughs it is routine for all council services to be multilingual. In Islington the NHS provided a Turkish woman with one-to-one counselling, in Turkish, to stop her smoking. She had lived here for five years. A Bangladeshi woman, speaking through a translator after 22 years, memorably said: “When you are trying to help us you are actually harming. Even before we ask, all we have to do is say hello, they are here with their interpreters. We just sit here doing nothing and we don’t need to speak in English at all.”

Trevor Philllips, formerly of the Commission for Racial Equality, huffily insisted that this is globalisation, and that translation is “not a disincentive” to learning the host language. Yeah, right. Any seasoned tourist knows perfectly well that it is, even if you are only there for a week. I feel the usual sneaking British shame at not speaking Spanish, though I have been there a dozen times; but finding myself in a small central town with a healthy resistance to ignorant Brits, I learnt more Spanish in 24 hours than ever before. It was the only way to get food, drink or a train ticket. If you have to struggle into a language, you will. If “Habla Ingles?” suffices, you won’t. And if your “community” of Turks, Poles, Bangladeshis or Brits abroad is geographically tight, you can live 20 years in surly ignorance.

The other day I heard a consumer programme complaining, in righteous PC tones, that not enough banks in Wales offer Polish language leaflets and onsite translators. It made the reasonable point that this would be good business for the banks, but went beyond that into an implication of entitlement, a sense that the Polish arrivals had a “human right” to open accounts without speaking English.

I couldn’t see it. As a tourist I humbly hope for consideration as I battle through some jungle of Croatian consonants or Russian script. But if I went to live and work in a foreign country, I would assume it was my job to grab a phrasebook and limp bravely through the administrative processes. I would not assume it was their job to accommodate me. Most Poles I meet speak good English. Those who don’t – after decades of free BBC English By Radio broadcasts – should find their own translator.

Asylum-seekers – frightened, weary and poor – need special consideration: they have complex cases to make in a country they never wanted to end up in. But we are not talking here about refugees and victims, but about people who work and thrive yet sometimes have so little interest in where they are, and who we are, that they can’t be bothered to speak to us. The assumption that services must be delivered in their own language, as of right, for years on end, needs overturning.

And no, it is not racist to say so. I love those proud school signs saying “32 languages are spoken here”, provided they all speak English too. I feel just as scornful and puzzled about British expats in Southern Spain who can say only “sangria”, and about those bygone colonial memsahibs who in half a lifetime learned nothing beyond a few scolding words of kitchen Urdu. I admire the Turkish cab driver who makes conversation to improve his English, the Polish backpacker who demands “tell when I mistake”, and our Romanian friends who crossed Europe in a rusty Trabant after the fall of Ceaucescu, speaking four languages learnt off the radio and not daring to stop because a round of sandwiches in Germany would cost a month’s salary.

Migrants are often the cream of the human race, hardy and adaptable. We should not insult and emasculate them for the sake of our own liberal angst.


Australian Feds increasing support for private universities

THE latest round of higher education place allocations cements a plan by John Howard for private providers to be as important in tertiary education as they are in school education. Of 375 new teaching places announced by federal Education, Science and Training Minister Julie Bishop yesterday, more than 50 per cent went to Christian institutions including Avondale College (NSW), Tabor College (Adelaide and Melbourne), the University of Notre Dame (Sydney and Perth) and the Christian Heritage College (Brisbane). These colleges won just over 10 per cent of the 2300 new commonwealth-supported places, or 260 places, including 200 for teaching and 60 for nursing. Last year private colleges received a lower proportion, just 6 per cent of 4600places. Ms Bishop defended the allocations, saying they were for places in accredited courses in areas of national priority.

In contrast with recent years, when regional and outer metropolitan campuses subject to low student demand have been favoured in the allocation of new places, Group of Eight universities featured prominently this year. The University of NSW, Sydney, Adelaide, Monash, Melbourne and the University of Western Australia all were granted more than 100 places each.

Ms Bishop said allocations were based on national and state priorities and fields of workforce shortage. There are more new places in engineering than any other discipline, at 560, followed by nursing (395) and science (390). Ms Bishop said all institutions that applied and were eligible had been granted places. An unprecedented number, 15, did not apply. "This is strong evidence that we have now created as many commonwealth-supported places that are needed to meet eligible student demand," Ms Bishop said. These were the last places to be allocated under the Backing Australia's Future plan for more than 39,000 places over 10 years.

Alan Robson, vice-chancellor of the UWA and incoming president of the Group of Eight research intensive universities, said it was not surprising that Go8 universities had applied for and received more places. "I think the Group of Eight mainly are the universities of first choice for students and hence, when there is a weakening of demand, it filters less into the Group of Eight," he said.

Among regional universities, only Sunshine Coast, Charles Darwin and Ballarat applied for 2008 places. Last year several regional universities including Southern Queensland and James Cook struggled to fill their places, as did Edith Cowan University in Perth. The Government has also revealed figures showing private providers are blitzing public universities in the market for full-fee paying domestic undergraduate places.

Contrary to a recent erroneous media report seized on by the Australian Labor Party and National Union of Students, the number of domestic full-fee paying students in award courses at public universities has risen a modest 6.9 per cent, comparing enrolments for the first half of 2005 with the first half of 2006. That category of enrolments increased by 24 per cent for the private universities, Bond and Notre Dame, during the same period. Among other private higher education providers accredited for the FEE-HELP student loan scheme, domestic full-fee paying enrolments rose by 95 per cent to more than 8000.

Ms Bishop said this showed students were discerning in their choice of educators. "No eligible student is forced to take a place at a private university because there are now sufficient commonwealth-supported places. This is evidence that students are making choices based on factors other than (the availability of government places)." Quality, flexibility in course provision and the availability of niche courses might be among the factors, she said.

University of Adelaide acting vice-chancellor Fred McDougall said the institution was very happy with the additional 235 places, which fit with the university's strategic plan to increase student numbers from 16,000 to 20,000. He said most of the courses targeted areas of high demand such as engineering and mining as well as nursing and other health sciences. "Clearly, given the mining boom, it was important to get extra places in engineering," Professor McDougall said. He said the extra federal funding also allowed the university to establish South Australia's first veterinary school. "We know there is unmet demand nationally for students wanting to study veterinary science," Professor McDougall said. "A new school will help to slow the brain drain of students from South Australia who are leaving to study at vet schools interstate or overseas." ...


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Epidemic of Ignorance: Back-to-school blues

By Victor Davis Hanson

Last week I went shopping in our small rural hometown, where my family has attended the same public schools since 1896. Without exception, all six generations of us - whether farmers, housewives, day laborers, business people, writers, lawyers, or educators - were given a good, competitive K-12 education.

But after a haircut, I noticed that the 20-something cashier could not count out change. The next day, at the electronic outlet store, another young clerk could not read - much less explain - the basic English of the buyer's warranty. At the food market, I listened as a young couple argued over the price of a cut of tri-tip - unable to calculate the meat's real value from its price per pound.

As another school year is set to get under way, it's worth pondering where this epidemic of ignorance came from.

Our presidential candidates sense the danger of this dumbing down of American society and are arguing over the dismal status of contemporary education: poor graduation rates, weak test scores, and suspect literacy among the general population. Politicians warn that America's edge in global research and productivity will disappear, and with it our high standard of living.

Yet the bleak statistics - whether a 70-percent high-school graduation rate as measured in a study a few years ago by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, or poor math rankings in comparison with other industrial nations - come at a time when our schools inflate grades and often honor multiple valedictorians at high school graduation ceremonies. Aggregate state and federal education budgets are high. Too few A's, too few top awards, and too little funding apparently don't seem to be our real problems.

Of course, most critics agree that the root causes for our undereducated youth are not all the schools' fault. Our present ambition to make every American youth college material - in a way our forefathers would have thought ludicrous - ensures that we will both fail in that utopian goal and lack enough literate Americans with critical vocational skills.

The disintegration of the American nuclear family is also at fault. Too many students don't have two parents reminding them of the value of both abstract and practical learning.

What then can our elementary and secondary schools do, when many of their students' problems begin at home or arise from our warped popular culture?

We should first scrap the popular therapeutic curriculum that in the scarce hours of the school day crams in sermons on race, class, gender, drugs, sex, self-esteem, or environmentalism. These are well-intentioned efforts to make a kinder and gentler generation more sensitive to our nation's supposed past and present sins. But they only squeeze out far more important subjects.

The old approach to education saw things differently than we do. Education ("to lead out" or "to bring up") was not defined as being "sensitive" to, or "correct" on, particular issues. It was instead the rational ability to make sense of the chaotic present through the abstract wisdom of the past.

So literature, history, math and science gave students plenty of facts, theorems, people, and dates to draw on. Then training in logic, language, and philosophy provided the tools to use and express that accumulated wisdom. Teachers usually did not care where all that training led their students politically - only that their pupils' ideas and views were supported with facts and argued rationally.

What else can we do to restore such traditional learning before the United States loses it global primacy?

To encourage our best minds to become teachers, we should also change the qualifications for becoming one. Students should be able to pursue careers in teaching either by getting a standard teaching credential or by substituting a master's degree in an academic subject. That way we will eventually end up with more instructors with real academic knowledge rather than prepped with theories about how to teach.

And once hired, K-12 teachers should accept that tenure has outlived its usefulness. Near-guaranteed lifelong employment has become an archaic institution that shields educators from answerability. And tenure has not ensured ideological diversity and independence. Nearly the exact opposite - a herd mentality - presides within many school faculties. Periodic and renewable contracts - with requirements, goals and incentives - would far better ensure teacher credibility and accountability.

Athletics, counseling and social activism may be desirable in schools. But they are not crucial. Our pay scales should reflect that reality. Our top classroom teachers should earn as much as - if not more than - administrators, bureaucrats, coaches, and advisers.

Liberal education of the type my farming grandfather got was the reason why the United States grew wealthy, free, and stable. But without it, the nation of his great-grandchildren will become poor, docile, and insecure.


Australian Leftists defend selective schools

In the State of Victoria

LABOR has launched an assault on the Greens for their policy to phase out selective government high schools such as MacRobertson Girls High. The ALP has funded a mail-out highlighting Greens education policy ahead of this weekend's Albert Park and Williamstown by-elections. Labor's claims have been branded a lie by the Greens.

Former MacRob student Sue Loukomitis yesterday said she approached the ALP to assist after hearing of the "kooky" Greens policy. The policy states that the Greens would work towards "phasing out selective schools, streaming and other models in the government system".

Ms Loukomitis is a former Labor member who works for Auspoll, which is the party's pollster. She does not live in the Albert Park electorate where the letter was distributed. ALP candidate Martin Foley said education had emerged as one of the key issues in Albert Park. "People want to see a good-quality public school option in their community," Mr Foley said.

Labor state secretary Stephen Newnham yesterday compared the Greens' education blueprint with their now-abandoned policy of decriminalising drugs. "The letter is completely accurate. They actually want to shut these schools," Mr Newnham said. The letter does not mention the ALP or Mr Foley, and the only indication the letter is from Labor is fine print declaring it was authorised by Mr Newnham. Labor made a dramatic U-turn on selective schools just before the November election last year, promising two new schools for talented students.

Greens MP Greg Barber dismissed Labor's interpretation of its education policy. "This is a lie. The Greens won't shut down any school," Mr Barber said. Voters this Saturday will choose replacement MPs for former premier Steve Bracks and his deputy, John Thwaites.


Learn from Asia

Comment from Australia

THERE is much to learn from successful overseas systems, but some Australian educationalists argue that all is well and we need not change. Education, especially in the classroom, in countries such as Japan, Singapore and South Korea is characterised as inflexible, outdated and conservative. Not so. Research published in The Chinese Learner, edited by David Watkins and John Biggs, as well as Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study-related videotapes of Japanese classrooms demonstrate that Asian classrooms are interactive and lessons deal with concepts and skills as well as facts.

APEC has a role in strengthening education, a source of prosperity, in member economies, including ours. Beginning in 1993, the APEC Education Network has met regularly to collect information describing the education systems of members and to research topics such as mathematics and science education, the place of information and communication technologies in the classroom and ways to achieve an increase in the number of multilingual citizens. Australia has much to learn from members' education systems that achieve world's-best results in international tests such as the TIMSS. Held every four years, the TIMSS tests measure student performance in mathematics and science curriculums at middle-primary and lower and final years of secondary school.

Since the tests began in 1995, Australian students have performed above average, but we are in the second XI when it comes to results. While we like to win in sport, in education we are consistently beaten by students from Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan. In the 2003 TIMSS test, out of 49 countries, Australia was ranked 14th in Year8 mathematics and 10th in science. At Year4 level, our students were placed 16th in mathematics and 11th in science. Of concern, when compared with Australia's results in the 1999 tests, is that countries we once outperformed now achieve better results. Indeed, notwithstanding the millions spent on curriculum development and the changes forced on hapless teachers, such was Australia's relatively poor performance that Geoff Masters, the chief executive of the Australian Council for Educational Research and a strong supporter of outcomes-based education, has admitted that all is not well.

"During the 1990s, considerable effort went into the reform of curriculums for the primary and middle years of schooling in Australia, resulting in new state curriculum and standards frameworks," he says. "In the same period, education systems introduced system-wide testing programs to monitor student and school achievement. It is not clear that these efforts have improved levels of mathematics and science performance in Australian primary schools."

Some other APEC-member education systems are able to get more students to perform at the highest level when compared with Australia. In the 2003 test, only 9 per cent of Year8 students reached the advanced level, compared with 25 per cent from Taiwan and 15per cent from Japan. In mathematics, only 7per cent of our Year8 students achieved the advanced level, compared with 44 per cent of students from Singapore.

It also needs to be noted that while Australian students are in the second XI -- as a result of OBE's focus on nurturing self-esteem rather than telling children when they have failed -- our students regard themselves as highly confident and successful. By comparison, students from Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong, even though they perform at the top of the table, do not feel as confident. Why are Australian students underperforming? One reason is that, since the early 1990s, Australian states and territories, to varying degrees, have adopted an OBE model of curriculum. With this model, the focus is on teachers facilitating rather than teaching information. Students are described as "knowledge navigators"' and essential content gives way to new-age generic competency and skills.

As noted last year with Tasmania's so-called Essential Learnings and the debacle represented by forcing OBE into years 11 and 12 in Western Australia, it is also the case that the types of syllabus documents given to Australian teachers are second-rate. Not only are OBE curriculum documents full of jargon and edubabble, but what students are expected to learn is couched in hundreds of vague, confusing and vacuous learning statements that drown teachers in useless detail.

Stronger-performing education systems within APEC never experimented with OBE. More formal approaches to teaching are emphasised and, as a result, students have a clear idea of what is expected of them. There is less disruption and students, given regular testing and feedback, know where they stand in the class. The curriculum is academically based, competition is valued and students are rewarded for success. Teachers are also given clear, concise, year-level syllabuses that detail what needs to be taught. The last point is critical. Unlike in Australia, where teachers are supposed to be curriculum experts and each school has to reinvent the wheel in terms of mapping out what is to be taught, overseas education systems make more time available for teachers to mentor one another and to strengthen classroom practice.

The federal Labor Party and the Coalition Government have both announced that Australia is to have a national curriculum. One approach is to rely on those responsible for Australia's adoption of the OBE model to do the work, in particular the Australian Council for Educational Research and the Curriculum Corporation. As an alternative, given those APEC systems that consistently achieve results that place them at the top of the table in the TIMSS mathematics and science tests, why not look internationally and evaluate any new model of curriculum against overseas best practice?


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Corporal (bodily) punishment has a role

Wimpy Leftists call it "barbaric" but still have a kind word for the vast barbarity of Communism so their real motive is, as usual, not what they say. It is more like a wish to make real education as difficult as possible. In today's barely-educated society, I guess that a lot of readers wonder what corporal punishment has got to do with corporals. The answer: Nothing. The word is from the Latin "corpus", meaning "body". Article below by Julian Tomlinson -- from the magazine supplement to the "Gold Coast Weekend Bulletin" of Sept. 8, 2007.

There's always been talk of bringing corporal punishment back into schools and I'm all for it - the sooner, the better. In fact, most blokes who came through the corporal punishment system hardly have a bad word to say about it. They seem to talk about it more as a badge of honour than something which has scarred them for life.

Of course, you hear the horror stories from the old days of Christian Brothers maybe going a bit overboard with the cane or strap, but 99 per cent of people appear to have well and truly got over it. They're not sitting in the foetal position or suing their old headmaster. Hell, we knew we were being bad and we knew the consequences of our actions was getting flogged as hard as possible. Our only concern was hoping the strap or cane didn't nick the tips of our fingers because then it really, really, really hurt.

My old man tells this story: Attending a Melbourne school. he had forgotten his footy boots and was required to explain why. There was another bloke who'd forgotten his boots, too - they made a pretty miserable pair. Dad reckons, the old Brother stood about an inch from his face and said: "Tomlinson, why haven't you got your boots?"

"I forgot them and left them at home, sir," said Dad The old Brother walked to the next bloke and asked him the same thing. "Same reason, sir," said the other fella. Well, Dad reckons this old Brother's feet left the ground as he delivered a massive open-handed clip over the ear which knocked the kid over. "That's not a reason, now tell me why you haven't got your boots," he scowled.

Well that's what the old man reckons anyway. Most blokes who graduated from school, particularly, private school, in 1995 or before have probably had their hands stung by some implement of torture. Sometimes, the reasons for being strapped or caned border on the utterly ridiculous, others are just downright funny.

Once, when I was struggling to keep my eyes open in Year 12 modern history, the teacher turned off the fans because they kept blowing papers off his desk. It was a stinking hot day. One kid had already asked to go to the toilet and just never came back, another bloke had snuck under his desk at the back of the room and was having a sleep and the rest of us were frantically fanning ourselves with whatever we could find.

Finally, one lad, Gav `The Sav', put up his hand and asked Br Smith if he could turn the ceiling fans back on. "No, you can when I'm finished," said Br Smith. After another five minutes of sitting in a pool of sweat that had formed in his plastic chair, Gav just stood up on his desk and began spinning the fan by hand. We laughed,

Br Smith didn't and sent him away to be punished by `Killer' Couani, the hardest strap in the west. It was rumoured he kept his leather strap in an envlope in the freezer just to make it especially hard and painful.

Another Brother's jack was made of two pieces of vulcanised rubber with a hacksaw blade stuck between them to ensure maximum pain. But I don't care how many times Gav was strapped, we all still laugh about that day. By the time we were in Year 10, the strap or `jack'. as it was known, stopped being something to be feared. Blokes used to even have competitions to see if they could get the jack more times than their mate. One bloke even begged one of the Brothers to give him 'six of the best' for no reason just so he could claim the record for the most straps in a calendar year.

Is that a sign that corporal punishment permanently scars its recipients? I don't think so. When we hit our senior year the jack had been completely phased out and it just so happened to coincide with a marked increase in us noticing the younger kids being absolute mongrels. Those parents who began marching straight to the principal's office to demand an apology for hitting poor little Johnny `just because he called the teacher a d-head' have a lot of explaining to do.

We now have a generation of school leavers who got away with absolute murder at school and who now have no concept of discipline until they're lying in a gutter bleeding from a broken nose. Bring back the strap, bring back the cane and make men of these boys. If anything, it makes school life a hell of a lot more interesting.

French President Calls for Educational 'Renaissance': "Religion Should Not Be Left at the School Room Door."

Reminds teachers that they are responsible to form students intellectually, morally and physically

Newly elected French President Nicholas Sarkozy did not shy away from tackling controversial issues in his campaign and he has, once again, engaged a politically hot topic in a nation previously renowned for its secularism. In a letter written by Sarkozy and publicized yesterday, he addressed the teachers of France, calling on them to take part in a "renaissance" and to reflect on the huge responsibility placed in their hands - the responsibility to "guide and to protect the spirit and the sensibilities that are not yet completely formed, that have not yet attained maturity, which are searching, which are still fragile and vulnerable."

Sarkozy explained that such a national rebirth would only be possible through a reform of the French education system. Sarkozy clarified that such a reform must include "rewarding the good, punishing the faults, cultivating an admiration of that which is good, just, beautiful, great, true and profound and [cultivating] a detestation of that which is bad, unjust, ugly, insignificant, untrue, superficial and mediocre. That is how a teacher renders his service to a child in his care."

In his letter, Sarkozy bucked the secularist establishment that has long mandated a total rejection of religion presence in any French schools or curricula. "I am convinced that we should not leave the issue of religion at the school door." He cautioned that he was not advocating for proselytizing in schools or teaching solely "within the framework of a theological approach." Rather, Sarkozy explained, "The spiritual and the sacred always accompany human experiences. They are the source of all civilization. One can open up [more] easily to others and one can dialogue more easily with people of other religions when one understands their religion."

French secularist forces argue that teaching religion or allowing the presence of religion in any form in educational facilities only serves to foster confrontation and animosity.

Sarkozy continued in his letter to remind educators that they must instill the virtue of patriotism in their young charges so that they will grow to be responsible citizens of France, of Europe and of the world. He also called on educators to work to inspire an appreciation for culture in France's young people.

Sarkozy drew his letter to a conclusion, echoing a teaching of the Catholic Church in this regard. He said, "Parents, vous ˆtes les premiers des ‚ducateurs." Translated, it means "Parents, you are the primary educators." Sarkozy encouraged parents to be intimately involved in the education of their children. Alluding to the many difficulties that parents of today face in an age of broken homes, expensive education and high unemployment rates. Sarkozy promised governmental effort to make education possible for all young French citizens. Sarkozy concluded his letter, "The time for a new beginning has come. It is to this new beginning that I invite you. We will navigate it together. We are already slow [in beginning]."

As previously reported by, this is not the first time that the present president has called for a more public acceptance of religion in France. In 2006, Sarkozy, then acting as the French interior minister, called for France to repudiate its anti-religious prejudice and look again at a positive relationship between Church and state.

In a book-length interview entitled La Republique, les religions, l'esperance [The Republic, the Religions, and Hope], Sarkozy recalls critically "the preceding generations" that "scorned, despised, and ridiculed priests and friars."

Sarkozy also previously called for permission for religious organizations to take advantage of state funding for charitable work. He criticizes those who "think it is natural for the state to finance a soccer field, a library, a theatre, a childcare center; but whenever it is a matter of the needs of a place of worship, the state should not spend so much as a penny."

All too often, election candidates employ strong political platforms during campaigns that then discreetly morph into watered down versions of a previous promise to constituents. So far, newly elected French President Nicholas Sarkozy is staying true to his campaign promises to "give the place of honor back to the nation and national identity [of France]."


Thousands of Spanish Families Boycott Homosexual Indoctrination Program

Whole Provinces and Schools Declare their Unwillingness to Teach the Material

Spain's socialist government is facing a bitter back-to-school fight this September as thousands of families boycott the pro-homosexual course "Education for Citizenship and Human Rights". The Spanish Family Forum reports that at least 15,000 "conscientious objections" out of 200,000 students have been officially registered with school authorities. However, the number is understated because whole provinces have not yet reported figures from their areas.

Esperanza Aguirre, the president of the Community of Madrid (Spain's largest province), blasted the program, calling it "indoctrination" and said that her government would only teach those portions that were not objectionable to anyone. "The Catholic Church, the churches in general, the doctrines are doctrines, and therefore, because the parents so choose, in the religious schools religion is taught," said Aguirre. "But Alfonso Guerra [a prominent socialist and former vice-president of Spain] has admitted to us that what the government wants to do is to indoctrinate, it wants to create a lay religion for which compliance is obligatory in the schools."

According to the National Catholic Confederation of Heads of Families and Parents of Students (Concapa), one school in the province of Andalucia has decided to list the course, but has privately told them that it will not actually teach it. Concapa says that five parents are suing the government in the Supreme Court of Andalucia to prevent the program's implementation, and that there are 200 more families who wish to join them. Many Catholic schools are implementing the program in name, but are simply ignoring the elements that promote homosexual behavior. Some are using textbooks that positively denounce it.

The program's guidelines state that children are to be taught to reject "existing discrimination for reason of sex, origin, social differences, affective-sexual, or whatever other type" and to exercise a "critical evaluation of the social and sexual division of labor and racist, xenophobic, sexist, and homophobic social prejudices." It also instructs teachers to "revisit the students' attitude to homosexuality" and suggests that a good exercise is to make a list of every type of disrespectful expression referring to foreigners, people of other races, homosexuals, etc., and open a dialog over how they are used in daily life and if they are or are not disrespectful."

The Catholic archbishop of Toledo, Antonio Ca¤izares, denounced the program as students returned to school, stating that "the government is acting in an unconstitutional manner because it is imposing morals." He encouraged Spaniards to resist the program with the means available to them.


Australia: Amazing defence of false allegations

With constant false allegations against teachers by vindictive girls, it is minimal justice for all allegations to be shielded from publicity unless and until a guilty verdict is reached

A PARENTS' group has attacked union calls for teachers accused of misconduct to be spared being named and shamed.

The Australian Education Union said teachers who were hauled before disciplinary hearings, including those being investigated for sexual misconduct with minors, should remain anonymous unless found guilty. The union suggested the ban in its submission to a government review of the Victorian Institute of Teaching. AEU state president Mary Bluett said the VIT's practice of naming accused teachers who were found not guilty was ruining careers. "Anyone can make an accusation to the VIT and the VIT must investigate it," Ms Bluett said. "For a teacher who is not guilty, simply being named can be enough for some schools to avoid employing that teacher."

Gail McHardy from Parents Victoria said the ban could make a teacher think twice about the consequences of making a wrong choice. "Why should teachers be treated any differently than any other professional or member of the public?" she said.


Monday, September 10, 2007

What have the Democrats got against Pell grants?

Pell grants are money for poor students and Democrats make a great show of caring for the poor so they should be all for the Pell grant program, right? Wrong! The Pell grants have been allowed to decay into near-uselessness while ever more complex bureucratic schemes to "aid" students have been devised. Just giving poor kids fee money does not give the bureaucrats enough of that lovely CONTROL, apparently. Press release below from Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA), senior Republican member of the Congressional Education and Labor Committee

Congressional Democrats yesterday rejected key Republican proposals to make college more affordable, instead proposing complex new entitlement and loan benefit programs. In closed door meetings, Democrats assembled a legislative proposal that creates new benefits for college graduates, new spending on institutions, and an untested student loan auction that eliminates parental choice in selecting a student loan provider. Republicans had advocated a straightforward investment in the Pell Grant program in order to provide assistance to low-income students.

"This year, Congress had an historic opportunity to reform federal student aid programs. Yet when presented with a choice between low-income students and big government spending, the Democratic majority put special interests above student interests," said Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA), senior Republican member of the Education and Labor Committee. "The Democrat proposal sets program participants up for failure, imposing impossible deadlines for implementation of complex new programs and policies."

"Seven months ago, the Administration helped put us on this crash course by proposing misguided policies that threaten the stability of our nation's financial aid system," continued McKeon. "Then, rather than embracing House Republicans' straightforward approach to reform - making the student loan program more efficient and plowing available resources into Pell Grants - Congressional Democrats made things even worse as they added billions in additional program cuts and went on an entitlement program spending spree."

McKeon has championed efforts to increase college affordability by increasing Pell Grant funding while holding colleges and universities accountable for skyrocketing costs. Since 2003, he has backed proposals to increase transparency in college costs in order to protect and inform consumers. At the same time, he has called for reforms that would generate billions in savings from the federal student loan programs and reinvest them in the Pell Grant program, which serves low-income students.

After weeks of negotiations that excluded Republicans, Congressional Democrats last night released a final conference agreement that misses several key opportunities to strengthen the Pell Grant program and assist students and families. The bill:

* Diverts nearly $9 billion that could have been spent on Pell Grants in order to provide temporary interest rate reductions and complex new repayment benefits to some college graduates, as well as to create new programs that allocate funds to institutions and philanthropic organizations instead of low-income students;

* Fails to provide Pell Grants for students attending college on a year-round basis, creating a particular hardship for nontraditional students;

* Denies parents and students access to more information about college costs; and

* Imposes a complex auction mechanism to limit options for parents seeking low-cost loans to help their children pay for college.

The agreement reached by Democrats calls for a temporary phase down in the interest rate charged to some graduates repaying their loans. The plan falls far short of the promise Democrats made during the 2006 campaign to cut interest rates in half, rendering the claims of proponents that students would save $4,400 meaningless. Indeed, not a single borrower would be eligible for the halved interest rate for more than a single year of college. Moreover, if Democrats were to enact future legislation to extend the 3.4 percent interest rate - half the current 6.8 percent rate - to make good on their promise, it would cost taxpayers an estimated $20 - $30 billion.

Democrats also included in their proposal a radical plan to force parent borrowers to choose between just two lenders selected on the basis of an auction. The untested proposal would institute at least fifty separate auctions, one in each state, every two years to determine which lenders parents would be allowed to work with to take out low-cost federal loans to help their children pay for college.

The Democrat agreement creates a complex new loan forgiveness program for borrowers working for 10 years in the government, other public sector fields or at a nonprofit organization. In order to receive this benefit, the borrower must be in the Direct Loan program. A similar benefit is not available to similarly situated borrowers in the FFEL program. This new program also deliberately excludes teachers at private schools, while including other educators.

"The one positive feature in the Democrat-negotiated reform package is the increase in Pell Grant funding, heeding the calls of Republicans to increase support for this critical program," said McKeon. "While I wish the Democrats had adopted the Republican proposal to invest all the savings from this bill in the Pell Grant program, I'm pleased to see that progress was made on the most fundamental component of this bill - the investment in today's college students."

Maryland: Blacks failing in droves -- so water down the exams

Mustn't make them sit up and pay attention, of course

When Maryland's top school officer proposed that the state back away from its tough high school testing program last week, one reason might have been the troubling performance of some suburban schools. An alarming pattern of failure is surfacing: Minority students, especially African-Americans, are struggling to pass the exams in the suburban classrooms their families had hoped would provide a better education. "It is a wake-up call to African-Americans in Maryland," said Dunbar Brooks, president of the state school board and former president of the Baltimore County school board. "For many African-Americans, the mere fact that your child attends a suburban school district does not make academic achievement automatic." [What an amazing discovery!]

Baltimore City and its suburbs released school-by-school results last week for the Class of 2009 - the first group that must pass the statewide High School Assessments in algebra, English, biology and government to get a diploma. What they show is that in Baltimore County alone, nearly a third of the system's roughly two dozen high schools had pass rates of 60 percent or less. Also, high schools with predominantly African-American populations, such as Randallstown and Woodlawn, had passing rates mostly below 50 percent.

The results were similar, if not so pronounced, in Anne Arundel County, where some of the most urbanized schools - North County, Annapolis, Glen Burnie and Meade - performed well below the rest of the system. Educators point to the gap in achievement between African-Americans and whites as one reason for the slump among inner suburban schools - although not the only one.

Until now, the achievement gap in Baltimore County has been masked by county averages. Some of Maryland's highest-performing schools are in the county's largely white and well-to-do northern corridor, including Towson, Dulaney, Carver and Hereford high schools. Those schools, along with the Eastern and Western technical magnets, boost the county averages.

In Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, disparities between the highest- and lowest- performing schools were not so apparent. Most high schools there had passing rates of 80 percent or more.

African-Americans have long been migrating from Baltimore City to county neighborhoods. The number of African-Americans enrolled in county public schools has increased by 21 percent since 2000, and minorities account for almost 50 percent of the school population.

To be sure, Baltimore City's neighborhood high schools reported bleak results this year, with some pass rates lower than 20 percent. On the other hand, the city's perennial high performers, the citywide academic magnets - Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Western High, the School for the Arts and City College - had pass rates similar to top suburban schools.

A handful of other academic and technical high schools in the city - such as Dunbar High, Merganthaler Voc-Tech and several new specialty high schools - performed as well as or better than some predominantly African-American suburban high schools.

Critics and activists in Baltimore County see the results in some schools, such as ultramodern New Town High in Owings Mills, as grossly out-of-step with area demographics not related to race.

More than 90.5 percent of area residents have earned a high school diploma and 42.8 percent have at least a bachelor's degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and median household income is $53,000.

"It's inexcusable," said Ella White Campbell, a retired city educator and executive director of the Liberty Road Community Council. "You can't say it's income that's the problem. And education levels are very high. ... The disconnect is in the fact that you have an educated community that has not realized kids are not getting the basics."

New Town High, which opened in 2003, has about 1,000 students, 92 percent of whom are African-American.

Walking the hallways yesterday at New Town High, Principal Barbara Cheswick said she knows the school's high school assessment results don't paint a pretty picture. But her staff is working on the problem.

"It's about establishing expectations and communicating those to parents, teachers and students," said Cheswick, in her second year at the helm of the four-year-old school. "As a principal, I have high expectations of students, regardless of their background."

Alexandria Foy, a 16-year-old junior from Owings Mills, said she passed all but the English exam, missing by only two points. To help her pass it the next time around, the school has enrolled her in a "coach class."

Junior Evan Watson, 15, said students should take more responsibility. He said teachers provided plenty of opportunities to prepare with practice exams, but too many students didn't take them seriously.


Sunday, September 09, 2007

U.K.: Many degrees not worth it

The expansion of university education has reduced the value of some degrees to zero, as more young people join the workforce as graduates, research suggests. Recent male graduates in arts and humanities are earning no more than those who left education after A levels High School], a study from the Institute of Education has found. The results will add to pressure from universities to be allowed to set student tuition fees according to how much a degree subject is valued by employers. At present the majority of universities charge 3,000 pounds a year, the maximum permitted by the Government. Research universities have pressed for a minimum of 6,000.

The research also calls into question the Government’s long-term aim of increasing university participation to 50 per cent of the adult population, up from 43 per cent at present. Anna Vignoles, Reader in Economics of Education in the department of economic, social and human development at the Institute of Education, who led the study, said that a university degree still had a high value in the labour market. However, a surplus of graduates in some nonscientific subjects could mean that those with degrees in the arts or humanities may soon find that they are not able to earn enough to compensate for the amount that they paid for their university education.

“New graduates in these subject areas are earning similar amounts to those with just A levels High school diploma],” she said. “Some graduates in highly valued subjects, such as accountancy, will continue to profit from the amount they spent on their degrees. But others may gain only a small, or even a nil, return to their investment in higher education.” She added that graduates in arts and humanities subjects, such as history, art, French or English literature, had among the lowest earnings.

Accountancy graduates were earning at least 40 per cent more than them over the course of a lifetime. Dr Vignoles, who will present her findings to the annual conference of the British Educational Research Association in London today, suggested that tuition fees should vary according to subject and institution in order to make students realise what different subjects are worth.

The study draws together a number of research papers into the subject, notably a study of graduate earnings by Professor Peter Sloane and Dr Nigel O’Leary at Swansea University. Dr Vignoles’s findings follow earlier research by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), the consultant, which found that the average university leaver can expect to make 160,000 more between the age of 21 and 60 than those who enter the job market with only A levels. Those with degrees in medicine have the highest earnings premium at 340,315, engineering graduates can expect to make 243,730 more, while those with degrees in geography or history make 51,549 more.

But the PWC report also found that with government grants, bursaries, low interest rates and long repayments, graduates could still expect an average financial return on their investment in their degree of 13.2 per cent a year. Bill Rammell, the Minister for Higher Education, said that despite the expansion of higher education, the financial returns to graduates were high by international standards. “Independent analysis suggests the average premium over a working life remains comfortably over 100,000 (before tax) in today’s valuation,” he said. “I’m glad that potential students are increasingly aware of their likely earnings when choosing a course, but it’s also right that they consider the wider nonfinancial benefits like job satisfaction.”


Germany: Pupils set up own school

Frustrated German pupils have opened their own school, employing teachers and setting up their own timetables. The school, named the Methodos School, was started by nine pupils who were unhappy about the way they were being taught and with the success rates of their teachers. As a result the final year pupils started their own school, where they felt they would improve their A level [High school diploma] exam chances.

The young adults from Freiburg, all 18, have rented rooms, employed 10 teachers, founded a society and set up a budget. The group will bear the total costs for the school year of 34 000 euros. Their parents have agreed to chip in 10 000 euros, and the pupils hope to find sponsors for the remaining amount.

So far the costs are covered by a loan, but "we all carry the risk to have massive debts after our exams", says Alwin Franke, 19, one of the project's organisers. The Methodos project is not for slackers - Franke explains: "We will study in small groups of four or five from 9am to 5pm, six days a week."


Australia's know-nothing generation

This is a pretty clear proof that the educational system no longer teaches the basics

The last time Neville Wran sued The Sun newspaper it was over a picture that cast him as Adolf Hitler. The news shot, circa 1982, captures the then NSW premier with dark, slicked hair and square-rimmed glasses, speaking from a lectern with a bulbous black microphone. The microphone looms over Wran's upper lip like a Hitler-style moustache. The accompanying story speaks of Neville Hitler and Adolf Wran and a matter of rising interest rates. Back then it caused outrage on Macquarie Street. It also cost the now-defunct Sun some serious cash.

These days it makes a humorous case for students of media law. Yet each time I show the clipping to a university class, I have to explain who Wran was. I choose not to explain who Hitler was, but it would not surprise me if some students needed reminding.

For centuries universities have been held up as hallowed halls of light and learning. Even in this country, where a decade of budget cuts has crippled classics departments and left research funding pools in drought, universities are valued for their contribution to intellectual debate. They are also seen as a salve for unemployment and social disharmony. But Australian educators face a serious problem: how to enliven a student body that thinks googling a wiki is a serious academic endeavour. In a world swamped by information, many students have little interest in accessing it. We have law students who have never read a case, English students who do not read books and journalism students who do not buy newspapers. Don't laugh, it's true.

Each semester I ask my students how many of them buy newspapers. Five at most raise their hands. The showing is even more dismal when it comes to listening to radio. Television and online news sites are more popular. But when I ask how many get their main news from headlines on their Yahoo! webmail there is a round of sheepish laughter. For journalism students in particular, the past month has been a great time to be following the news. First there was Rupert Murdoch's controversial take-over of The Wall Street Journal. Then there was the biggest ethical issue since the cash-for-comment debate, when the ABC journalist Michael Brissenden broke an off-the-record agreement with the Treasurer, Peter Costello. The sad reality is that many students do not know who Murdoch is. Let alone Brissenden and Costello. Cash for comment, huh?

When the information technology revolution crashed onto our shores, educators were excited about the possibilities of online learning. They saw the internet as a way of moving learning into the 21st century and online forums as a way of bolstering flagging classroom discussions. Instead, what we have experienced is an information tsunami. Too much data is as dangerous as too little data. We're drowning, not waving. And students have simply tuned out. One NSW lecturer recalls asking a class of second-year law students to name a radio station on the AM band. Not one could. Another law faculty lecturer recalls how her discussion about Nixon and Watergate drew a blank. No one had any idea about either. A health sciences lecturer recalls how she played her students a YouTube clip of geriatric musicians covering the Who's My Generation. "My students had no idea who the Who were," she says. "And no idea why it was significant that the single was recorded at Abbey Road."

In my classes, eyes glaze over when I talk about Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus and the case for journalistic shield laws. There are yawns when I question whether Fairfax journalists should have pounced on the Kevin Rudd strip-club scandal first. And when I argue the importance of leaks in the Mohamed Haneef case, I see the worried brows before me. Mohamed who?

Recently, ABC TV's Media Watch took issue with a Today Tonight story in which Chinese students were interviewed about Australian values. The story, dubbed "Passing The Pavlova Test", featured two young women who admitted they had never eaten pavlova and did not know Don Bradman. Sadly, it is not only international students who admit a gaping lack of general knowledge. Spelling among local students is atrocious. Plagiarism is rife. Academic references include wikis and lecturers' notes. Cut-and-paste technology has made libraries redundant. Many students do not know where the library is and some leave their laptops only reluctantly to attend classes. Some academics believe that in an industry worth almost $10 billion, as many as one in two students are cheating.

It must be said, this is not a criticism of students. Students for the most part are doing it tough. Most full-timers work part-time jobs and all part-timers arrive straight from work. International students are grappling with homesickness and language barriers. What must be addressed is the ideology of the ignorance. Students know what needs to be done and they'll be damned if they'll do any more. One colleague pointed me to the book Age of Extremes, in which the historian Eric Hobsbawm recalls a student asking whether the description "World War II" meant there had also been a first world war.

Contemporary curriculums must move with the times. Completing the assessment and working through the required readings is not enough. If we require students to consider the past, we must also allow them the opportunity to consider the future. Neville Hitler and Adolf Wran would both probably have something to say about that.