Saturday, December 01, 2007

British Stealth curriculum is `threat to all toddlers'

This is rather hysterical but imposing a single uniform government requirement on every kid in the country, regardless of mental age or maturity, is nonetheless objectionable. It actually makes the Hitler Youth look tolerant. You could opt out of that. Applying the system to State-educated children only would be some improvement

A new national curriculum for all under-5s will cause untold damage to the development of young children, a powerful lobby of academics says today. The highly prescriptive regime for pre-school children, which is due to become law next year, has been introduced by stealth, they say. It will induce needless anxiety and dent children's enthusiasm for learning, according to the group of experts in childhood development. They say that the severity of the compulsory measures, which will apply to an estimated 25,000 nurseries across the private and state sectors, has gone virtually unnoticed and risks an array of educational and behavioural problems for the country's children.

A letter signed by the group, and seen by The Times, is highly critical of the Government's drive to make children aged 3 and 4 write simple sentences using punctuation, interpret phonic methods to read complex words and use mathematical ideas to solve practical problems. The group, including the leading child psychologists Richard House, Dorothy Rowe and Penelope Leach, and Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, are today launching a campaign called Open Eye to promote the message that babies and young children learn most naturally and effectively through free play, movement and imitation, rather than formal teaching.

"An overly formal, academic and/or cognitively biased `curriculum', however carefully camouflaged, distorts this learning experience," they say. "An early `head start' in literacy is now known to precipitate unforeseen difficulties later on - sometimes including unpredictable emotional and behavioural problems."

The new early-years foundation stage framework (EYFS), which becomes law next autumn, will affect all nurseries and kindergartens in England. The system requires children to be continually assessed according to 13 different learning scales, including writing, problem solving and numeracy. It could also have profound implications for thousands of non-mainstream preschool organisations, such as Steiner kindergartens, where formal learning is not introduced until children reach 6«. Montesorri schools, which also have a less academic approach, will also be affected.

Richard House, senior lecturer in psychotherapy and counselling at Roehampton University, southwest London, said that the element of compulsion surrounding the new legislation been introduced "by stealth". Unlike the national curriculum for schools, which does not apply to independent schools, the framework will apply to all pre-school settings - state, private and voluntary. "What is most objectionable is that the framework is compulsory. The central State is defining what child development is. It means that a pre-school would have to pursue the Government's defined view of healthy child development, even if it contradicts their own view," Dr House said. "Some people do not want their children doing synthetic phonics or quasi-formal learning at 3 or 4 but they could be left with little choice. There would be a very strong case for mounting a legal challenge under the human rights legislation," he said.

Experts believe that the legislation will impose a system of "audit and accountability" on children that will profoundly affect the way in which teachers interact with them. Margaret Edgington, a leading independent early-years consultant, said: "We are going to end up with lots of children who can read and decode print but who haven't got the skills to understand what the words mean."


Missouri State U Reverses Decision About Removing Christmas Tree

A Christmas tree that had been removed from the atrium of Strong Hall at Missouri State University will return, along with other religious holiday symbols in that building, school president Michael T. Nietzel said in a news release Thursday morning. A meeting that had been scheduled Friday to discuss appropriate MSU holiday decorations has been canceled, he said.

"We decided this is the right thing to do, and I am glad there was widespread agreement about it," Nietzel said in the release. "Missouri State is an institution at which many different religions are represented, and we try to be sensitive to the many views people hold." "After having had a chance to air this out a bit more and consider the various perspectives of our campus community, I am happy that the Christmas tree will be back up along with the many others that were already on campus. I hope we can have it on display before the end of the day."

The 20-foot artificial tree had been taken down Monday after Lorene Stone, dean of the College of Humanities and Public Affairs, was told by the co-chair of the president's diversity commission that a Jewish faculty member said the tree showed "a lack of sensitivity" to those of other religions. Courts have ruled that Christmas trees are secular symbols, along with the Jewish menorah.

Stone, who put the tree up the day before Thanksgiving, said she didn't use any religious symbols on it. Stone said Jewish faculty members were invited to put up a menorah display but declined, telling Stone they were worried the display would be stolen.

Daniel Kaufman, a philosophy professor, said he didn't have a complaint about the tree but has had issues with the university scheduling major events during important Jewish holidays when Jews can't participate. In the past, the school has held a major conference on the Middle East during Passover and an Ozarks Festival during Yom Kippur. Kaufman said the school "shouldn't just recognize one religion." "It's a matter of being nice," he said. "It would be nice to publicly display something (for other religions)."

Jana Estergard, who heads MSU's Office of Equity and Diversity, said the courts have held that a Christmas tree is a secular symbol "unless it has crosses on it and a baby Jesus." Earle Doman, dean of students, said the student union is decorated for the holidays but not with religious symbols. "It's not a big issue," he said. "Some people raised the question about the tree and the best way to approach it was to take it down to discuss it."


Friday, November 30, 2007

English children's literacy levels 'among the worst in the developed world'

England has plummeted down a world league table of reading standards at primary school despite Labour's billions poured into education. Our schools tumbled from third place five years ago to 19th, beaten by the U.S. and many European nations - including Germany, Italy and Bulgaria. Only Morocco and Romania suffered a sharper decline in standards since the last global reading study in 2001. Scotland also slipped down the rankings, falling from 14th to 26th. In an alarming verdict on standards in England, the study report said the performance of ten-year- olds had deteriorated "significantly", particularly among the brightest children.

The results paint a dramatically different picture to the ever-rising scores in our official national tests. The shock slide deals an embarrassing blow to ministers who have claimed that extra cash has led to continual improvement. More than 50 billion pounds a year is now spent on nurseries and schools -against 27 billion when Labour came to power.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study spanned 40 countries - Belgium was represented by its two sections - and five Canadian provinces. It found that children in England - Wales and Northern Ireland were not included - were less likely to read for pleasure outside school than youngsters almost everywhere else. But they had the highest number of computers.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls insisted last night that parents must take some blame, including those who let their children spend too much time on video games, watching TV and using mobile phones. "Parents have got to find a way to strike a balance," he added. "They need to make sure there's space for reading and learning. "Today's ten-year-olds have more choice than in 2001 about how they spend their free time. Most have their own TVs and mobiles, and 37 per cent are playing computer games for three hours or more a day - more than in most countries in the study. "There is a direct link between use of computer games and lower achievement." [Rubbish. Kids playing Sim games sometimes learn a lot more about history etc. than they do at school] Sue Hackman, chief adviser on school standards, said parents must not "suddenly cut off" reading with their children because they think they have mastered the skill.

The study, overseen by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, also implicated the school system in England's declining performance, even though more than 600 million has been spent on primary school literacy schemes alone since 1998. It revealed a tripling in the number of pupils who are never set reading homework and a decline in the time spent teaching reading. The PIRLS project involved giving reading tests to tens of thousands of ten-year-olds. The tests, which assessed pupils' comprehension of factual information and their appreciation of literature, were translated from English into more than 30 other languages.

England's performance will add to pressure on Gordon Brown and focus attention on Labour's ten-year Children's Plan, being unveiled next month. Ministers had trumpeted improving standards in the three Rs as a key success of Tony Blair's premiership. A decade of reforms has been accompanied by an increase in the schools and early-years budget from 27.2 billion in 1996 to 49.4 billion last year.

England's poor showing was also being blamed yesterday on a failure to put traditional "synthetic phonics" at the heart of literacy lessons. The back-to-basics method of teaching children to read - credited with virtually wiping out illiteracy in part of Scotland - became law in schools only last September.

Shadow Children's Secretary Michael Gove said last night: "While the Government says its policies are driving up standards, the independent auditors of our education system tell a very different story. "It's time the Government stopped blaming parents and accepted the case we've been making for a new focus on teaching reading, using tried and tested methods, with a test after two years to ensure our children are being taught properly."



Is this Columbia University? A professor of anthropology calls for a million Mogadishus, a professor of Arabic and Islamic Science tells a girl she isn't a Semite because her eyes are green, and a professor of Persian hails the destruction of the World Trade Center as the castrating of a double phallus. The most recent tenured addition to this rogues' gallery is to be an anthropologist, the principal thrust of whose magnum opus is the suggestion that archaeology in Israel is a sort of con game meant to persuade the unwary that Jews lived there in antiquity.

I could refute the claims that Nadia Abu El-Haj makes in her book, but respected specialists have done so already in Isis, the Journal of Near Eastern Studies, and elsewhere. Facts on the Ground fits firmly into the postmodern academic genre, in which facts and evidence are subordinate to, and mediated by, a "discourse." There is no right or wrong answer, just competitive discourses. It does not come as news that people employ the data of archaeology to prove points of interest to them -- information in any discipline used by human beings does not exist in a vacuum. But, as reviewers noted, Facts on the Ground expands upon this insight, quite unremarkable in itself, to propose that Israeli archaeologists use altered or falsified data and do so to a single ideological end. That purpose is to demonstrate a previous Jewish sovereignty and long historical presence that did not in fact exist, thereby to cloak the "colonial" essence of Zionism. This aspect of the book is malign fantasy.

Though alumnae of Barnard have declared they will stop giving money to Alma Mater if El-Haj is tenured, it is unlikely their protests will have any effect. She is fully supported by other ideologues in positions of power at Columbia and by outspokenly anti-Israel academics around the globe. Most of the good lack all conviction, as usual.

How did we come to this? Anti-Zionism has a long, diverse history, and the moral horror of the Nazi Holocaust in the 1940s did not diminish its appeal In the early days of Zionism, in the early 20th century, many Jewish leftists rejected the idea of mass emigration to a historical national homeland and opted instead for the Bundist programme of a Yiddish-based Jewish polity in a Diaspora environment. The Soviets opposed the Bund but Zionism and Hebrew even more, supporting Israel only briefly on tactical grounds in the late 1940's. Stalin drew away from Israel and began the anti-Semitic campaign against "rootless cosmopolitans." The word translated as "rootless" is Russian bezrodnyi, a far more potent term composed of the negating prefix bez-, "without," plus the root rod-, which means anything from "birth" to "deeply-felt intimacy" (the adjective rodnoi) to "the Motherland" (Rodina) itself. Stalinist policies re-institutionalized in Russia an anti-Semitism in which Jews were shunned as homeless -- "barely human" -- by their very nature In this way, the very qualities of selfless internationalism that Jewish leftists had assiduously cultivated in the cause of world revolution were turned against them.

The Soviet posture strengthened anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist trends in the Western Left; and when Israel, a democratic state, became increasingly alienated from the Eastern bloc and joined in alliance with France, Britain, and, later, the United States, Leftists saw this as confirmation of its imperialist nature. Winning the Six Day War in 1967 did not help: if only the Jews could be cuddly victims again. But it was hard for the New Left to remain loyal to the imbecilic Soviets, and the flirtation with Mao could not last long. The Third World became the cause du jour, and especially the Arab world and the Palestinian terrorist movement.

Further help came from Columbia, from Edward Said's 1978 book Orientalism, which proposed a vague socialist agenda, a conspiracy theory, and a new set of victims of imperialism quite unlike the Soviets. These were of course the Arabs -- and it was even better that the proximal villain was the ever-sinister, colonizing, comprador Jew. But there is a problem. Said dealt with the 18th and 19th centuries, for the most part, but the Arabs were not the political player in the region then: Ottoman Turkey, a powerful empire and seat of the Muslim Caliphate, ruled them. Millions of Christian Greeks, Romanians, Bulgarians, Serbs, and Armenians labored under Ottoman misrule too. The first four broke away, but the Armenian homeland was in Anatolia itself. So in 1915, during World War I, the Turks decided upon genocide, and carried it out.

Said did not mention the Armenians even once in his book, for it would have made his passive, victimized Islamic world look rather less passive and not at all the victim. It is a glaring omission. Said's book was properly dismissed by many prominent reviewers as amateurish and dishonest -- though on other grounds. They did not even notice the Turkish and Armenian aspect. The book might have been consigned to well-deserved oblivion.

But a year after its publication, revolution erupted in Iran. And Orientalism would become the guidebook and intellectual primer for a new wave of "anti-imperialism." Following the overthrow of the Shah, Khomeini's radical Islamic followers proclaimed an Islamic revolutionary ideology with many of the same romantic and apocalyptic features that had attracted the masses -- and armchair revolutionaries here -- to Communism. (An amusing aside: Harvard held an exhibition and symposium in May 2007, partially funded by our Provost's Office, on posters of the Iranian revolution. I was asked to present a paper on Soviet propaganda art, then hurriedly disinvited when the organizers realized, as they said to me, that comparing the Iranian masterpieces to those of an atheist rAcgime might offend President Ahmadinejad. One is touched that Harvard is so alert to the sensitivities of a Holocaust denier who murders gay people and routinely calls for the incineration of Israel. So much for academic integrity on the banks of the Charles.)

Gradually, Middle East studies as we knew it at Columbia disappeared, to be replaced by what you have now. As it seems to me, Middle East studies at Columbia and elsewhere has become politicized; and other branches of the humanities have also fallen prey to ideology. Where university administrators do not actually share such extreme views and methods, they are anxious to preserve the appearance of tranquility and due process in the interests of the institutional image, even if that appearance is utterly superficial. I therefore doubt that any challenge to El-Haj can succeed; and perhaps efforts within universities like Columbia waste energy that might more effectively be channeled elsewhere. Jewish kids will keep on taking Lit Hum and enjoying convivial Shabbat dinners, but in a real sense the battle at Columbia may be lost.

What is to be done? When Berlin was divided and the Communists seized the Humboldt University in their half of town, refugee scholars founded the Free University in West Berlin. What have you in New York City? NYU is not much different from Columbia. But there are two fine institutions of learning in Manhattan where genuine Near Eastern studies, untainted by Jew-baiting, apologia for terrorism, and unscholarly chicanery, might find a home, aided perhaps by the donations of alumnae and alumni of Barnard and Columbia. The nearer one to Columbia is the Jewish Theological Seminary on 122nd Street and Broadway. The farther one (in Arabic, al aqsa) and with its noble neo-Moorish dome and minaret the appellation almost fits) is uptown, in Washington Heights: Yeshiva University. Instead of writing angry letters to Lee Bollinger, alumni can pool their resources to help create rival MEALAC departments; and Columbia students desirous of an authentic education in subjects like Middle Eastern history can earn their transferable credits there.

But, one might say, Jews have fought so hard to get into the Ivy League. Yes, and Jews in Europe fought hard for emancipation, too: some learnt skills and lessons along the way that proved useful when they realized it was time to go and rebuild our own country. Others held on and wouldn't leave. There is an old story about people who wandered and came to a plain, where they settled and built a village. But the place turned out to be the back of a great fish: it dived, and they drowned. So, there is another great university, actually a number, but a bit farther away. I have in mind the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the other universities of Israel. It is particularly appropriate to support them now, when they are threatened by boycott.

The Free University of Berlin is a historical example of how one can cultivate an alternate research center of higher quality than ones that have been corrupted, where efforts at reform yield diminishing returns. But there is an example closer to home. I was graduated from Columbia College in 1974 and delivered the Salutatory address on a medieval Armenian mystic. Professor Nina Garsoian had developed in the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department (MEALAC) a great program in Armenian Studies, and I was the first undergraduate joint major in the subject. But the subject has languished since her retirement in 1993. (I was denied tenure at Columbia in 1992 and shortly thereafter was appointed to America's oldest chair in the field, here at Harvard.)

After a series of farcical "searches," MEALAC last semester offered the Armenian position, at only a junior level, to a former pupil of mine. Carefully considering the character of the search process itself and the state of the subject and of Near Eastern studies at Columbia overall, she declined the post, accepting instead a job as director of the Zohrab Center, a library and research and cultural institute at the Armenian Diocese in Manhattan. The Zohrab Center and Harvard's Armenian Studies program have already begun our first joint project, bypassing Columbia altogether -- leaving it behind its ideological Berlin Wall.

This latest scandal leads me finally, though, to grimmer reflections. In nazified Dresden,the Jewish professor Victor Klemperer -- not Otto, the conductor, but the academic whose book LTI (Lingua Tertii Imperii) was the first study of the jargon to which the Third Reich reduced German -- noted that people of every class and profession except his own had helped him now and then through the Hitler years. His fellow academics, though, were fascist enthusiasts, unwilling to help. Nothing of equivalent horror is going on today, but perhaps the amorality of Klemperer's colleagues should be a warning against expecting that because men are learned, they must also be right.

When I wrote "What is to be done?" I had in mind Nikolai Chernyshevsky's Chto delat, so let me close with a marvelous verse of the Russian Jewish writer Isaac Babel. I think of it when I walk down 116th & Broadway, and see all that ivy concealing all that rot. Tvorchestvo vo dvortsakh ne vodvoritsya. "Creativity will not take up residence in palaces." Or in plain American, "Include me out."


Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Quiet Defeat for College Political Correctness

Maybe this is how political correctness ends; not with a bang, but with a whimper. Across the country, universities that had abandoned in loco parentis in the 1960s because it was too oppressive and intrusive have replaced it with in loco Big Brother programs of political and cultural re-education. Last fall, for instance, the University of Wisconsin unveiled an ambitious "diversity" campaign designed to root out inappropriate speech and behaviors on campus. The "Think Respect" campaign was not as controversial as the University of Delaware's re-education program that required students to confess their racial guilt and demanded that they demonstrate "correct" attitudes toward sexuality and environmentalism.

But UW's program was just as creepy. Posters appeared around the campus that included suggestions how students could "Put Up a 'No Hate' Sign in Your Room," "Become a Big Brother or Sister," and "Confront Inappropriate Jokes." ("How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?" "That's not funny.")

When not confronting such inappropriate humor, students were also encouraged to inform on one another. At the center of "Think Respect," was a "bias reporting mechanism" that encouraged students to report oppressive and racist worst, attitudes, and behavior. Students could download a form to make their allegations, which would then be investigated by the administration. The university's website encouraged a liberal use of the system:
"A bias incident is a threat or act of bigotry, harassment or intimidation - verbal, written or physical - that is personally directed against or targets a University of Wisconsin-Madison student because of that student's race, age, gender identity or expression, disability, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, veteran status, or other actual or perceived characteristic." (Emphasis added.) "Students can report anything, from a hate crime to graffiti to verbal harassment."

When the reporting system was unveiled, UW Law professor and blogger Ann Althouse commented:
"Students can report anything? And remember [Chancellor John] Wiley's statement: "We will not tolerate bias, racism, disrespect or hate." We will not tolerate disrespect? You know, I want students to feel good about campus life, but isn't part of campus life having rowdy debates and vigorous arguments?.... This program should make students worry that anything other than bland pleasantries is going to get them in trouble with the administration."

Free speech champion Donald Downs, who is also on the UW faculty, noted that the program "encourages campus citizens to report not only acts of harassment or discrimination that constitute official misconduct, but all forms of `bias,' verbal and non-verbal, without that term being defined in a manner that is consistent with First Amendment principles. In other words, the present policy amounts to a speech code, as it encourages people to file reports on other people's attitudes and speech that informants deem insufficiently sensitive."

At the University of Delaware a legal challenge from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a media firestorm, and accompanying widespread ridicule, forced the university to abandon its North Korean-style indoctrination program.

At Wisconsin, the "Think Respect" program died from indifference. It simply withered away. Even at one of the most political righteous campuses in the nation, it turned out that students did not want to rat one another out to the diversity police. As the student newspaper the Badger Herald reported last week:
"The campaign now is relegated to its spot in the vast bank of inactive organizations occupying the Student Organization Office's web space and the bias reporting mechanism fills a similar role on the Dean of Students' website."

The dean who launched "Think Respect" now admits that the campaign "didn't gain momentum for subsequent years" and they "haven't had many reports" of bias or oppressive behavior.

UW Law student Robert Phansalkar wrote the epitaph for the program, whose origin he traced "to our downright insatiable desire to legislate and litigate everything." The diverse-o-crats assume that college students are unable to deal with issues like racism on their own. But the reality, he wrote, is that "we have the ability to do so."
"This is precisely why students did not turn to campaigns or reporting forms to deal with those who offended them during the past year. "It seems obvious; we simply do not rush to a computer to fill out a form online when someone has offended us - we confront the person. We do not go to counseling to discuss an offensive remark - we talk it through... "The assumption that students simply cannot take care of themselves is the root of the very kind of paternalism that the `Think Campaign' perpetuates. The campaign and reporting forms advance the mentality that we cannot deal with these problems on our own. "But, as lack of enthusiasm and disuse of these programs plainly show, we are more than capable of dealing with the racism of today on our own."

Even without Big Brother looking over their shoulders.



A 1930s Jewish joke has two Polish yeshiva students walking down the street, suddenly aware of a pair of anti-Semitic thugs behind them brandishing sticks. The boys flee, the hooligans in pursuit. As the chase continues, one Jew asks the other, "Why are we running? There are only two of them, and we are two." "Yes," says his friend, "But they are together and we are alone." That's the kind of joke the birth of the State of Israel 60 years ago was to have rendered obsolescent. A literal phoenix risen from the ashes, Israel was a source of pride to all Jews, and widely accepted throughout the West as the nail in the coffin of systematic anti-Semitism.

We mistakenly took a brief remission for a cure. A new strain of the old cancer is metastasizing throughout Western countries with large, alienated Muslim populations. The new international, Israel-focused anti-Semitism -- the 2001 Durban Conference was a classic manifestation --joins fascist Muslims and left-wing ideologues in common cause.

The new Jew-hatred isn't characterized by brutal government-sponsored Kristallnachts. It is covert and "respectable." Indeed, wearing the fig leaf of anti-Zionism, Israel hatred in Europe is more than respectable; it is fashionable. But make no mistake: Organized and aggressive anti-Zionism is, effectively, anti-Semitism filtered through an ideological spellcheck. Scapegoating Jews for the world's ills, once a tactic of the right, is today a global left-wing phenomenon.

It should go without saying that criticism of Israel is, in itself, not tantamount to anti-Semitism. Clearheaded critics treat Israel as a country like any other, including their own. They judge Israel's actions by the single standard they apply to everyone else, and speak of Israel in language appropriate to truthful exchange. But you know Israel critics have become Israel haters when: they are obsessed with Israel's moral failures and ignore others'; they respond compassionately to Arab war victims, but not to Israel's terror victims; they deny Jews' ancestral roots and continued habitation of Israel; and they employ code words, such as "neoconservatives" or "Israel Lobby," as a euphemism for Jews.

Most importantly, Israel haters maliciously appropriate the discourse of Jewish victimhood to promote hate in others through outright historical lies. They label Israel an apartheid state, call Israeli soldiers Nazis, portray Ariel Sharon eating babies (the oldest anti-Semitic blood libel), compare Gaza to Buchenwald and in short seek to normalize the idea that support for Israel is support for racism, today's ultimate taboo.

In Canada, one rarely sees open manifestations of anti-Semitism. But the noxious creed is not extinct -- as we learned during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, when various left-wing dupes -- including, shamefully, a handful of labour leaders and politicians --marched in solidarity alongside Hezbollah supporters carrying placards urging "Death to the Jews."

The new anti-Semitism is also very much in evidence on university campuses, where Israel-hatred has become an efficient industry run by professional, Islamist-funded activists posing as students, supported by a significant number of faculty sympathizers. Defending Israel on campus is an act of courage for Jewish students, who run frequent gamuts of abuse directed at Israel through a shrill barrage of agitprop, Israeli apartheid "conferences," boycott attempts, divestment campaigns and threatened or real violence directed at Israel's advocates, as in two notable cases five years ago involving Middle Eastern scholar Daniel Pipes at York University in Toronto, and former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Concordia University in Montreal.

Jewish students can choose to ignore the unremitting attacks on Israel -- most do; unlike Israel-hating activists, they are there for an education -- or combat it as best they can. Which is to say, on the whole, badly or half-heartedly. Intimidated by the slick professionalism of these full-time militants, and ill-equipped to challenge strategic lying, Jewish students on most North American campuses have ceded ideological hegemony to the insurgents.

Determined to reverse this demoralizing scenario, Montreal's Canadian Institute of Jewish Research, an independent pro-Israel think-tank (full disclosure: I sit on the board of advisors), has launched a pilot program to "take back the campus." Next week, I'll introduce you to some Jewish students and their mentors who once felt "alone" and now feel "together."


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Why we must destroy the government schools

A touching letter arrived last week from a woman in Henderson: "To the editor: The article in today's (Nov. 9) Review-Journal about" (a local elementary school principal allegedly) "putting a child in a dark closet brings back a horrible memory. My first day of kindergarten, which was 65 years ago in Detroit, was one which I have never forgotten. "When my mother left me that very first day, I was scared and so I cried. I cried so much that the teacher put me in the coat closet and left me there all morning. The only light was the light from under the door. There were lots of coats hanging because it was February. Maybe the light from under the door caused me to think all those coats were shadows of people. "To this day, I hate the dark. I sleep with two small lights, I must always have my head facing the hall so I can see out, and I am very claustrophobic. That is one of the meanest things that can be done to a small child for punishment."

And here I thought the mandatory government youth camps were "for the good of the children." On Nov. 19, a group called "ONE: The Campaign to Make Poverty History" placed a full-page ad in the Review-Journal, urging Nevadans to demand that the current crop of presidential candidates to "go on the record on where you stand on fighting extreme poverty and global disease that affect the one billion people around the world." The group urges candidates to take a number of stands, including an embrace of "universal primary education."

Notice it doesn't say "universal literacy." It seeks plans to impose "universal primary education" -- which any government or U.N. bureaucrat worth her salt will interpret as a call for universal mandatory state-run schools. The two are not identical.

Tracing the way Prussian-style statist education was brought to this country in the early 19th century by Horace Mann and his associates, Samuel L. Blumenfeld, a research fellow at the Institute for Humane Studies, made clear in his 1981 book "Is Public Education Necessary?" that the whole scheme was never about improving literacy, that "literacy in America was higher before compulsory public education than it is today. ..."

Digging into a January, 1828 edition of the American Journal of Education, Mr. Blumenfeld found an indigenous confirmation of what the visiting Alexis de Tocqueville was to confirm in 1831 about American literacy rates prior to the institution of the compulsory government school: "There is no country, (it is often said), where the means of intelligence are so generally enjoyed by all ranks and where knowledge is so generally diffused among the lower orders of the community, as in our own," the Journal reported. "With us a newspaper is the daily fare of almost every meal in almost every family."

No, "The reasons why this country adopted compulsory public education really had very little to do with education," Mr. Blumenfeld discovered. The founders of our public schools had something much bigger in mind: nothing less than the elimination -- through careful indoctrination of the young -- of the old pattern of selfishness and independent thought and action that had doomed their early communist experiments in places such as New Harmony, on the banks of the Wabash.

Mr. Blumenfeld concluded his historic 250-page book as follows: "After more than a hundred years of universal public education, we can say that it nowhere resembles the utopian vision that drove its proponents to create it. ... It has turned education into a quagmire of conflicting interests, ideologies and purposes, and created a bureaucracy that permits virtually no real learning to take place. ... "The only bright spot in the whole picture," Mr. Blumenfeld continued, "is the technological wonder that capitalism has brought to mankind.... Neither liberal altruism, not universal public education, nor socialism lifted the poor from their lower depths. Capitalism did.

"Is public education necessary?" Mr. Blumenfeld asks. "The answer is obvious; it was not needed then, and it is certainly not needed today. Schools are necessary, but they can be created by free enterprise today as they were before the public school movement achieved its fraudulent state monopoly in education. ...The failure of public education is the failure of statism as a political philosophy. It has been tried. It has been found wanting."

Learning and education are wonderful. The question is whether it's wise to allow this truism to justify the creation of a vast schooling monopoly and unionized jobs program for reliably thankful socialist worker-voters by a state which has obvious incentives to use the resultant vastly expensive propaganda academies to turn a once free people into a docile and malleable mob, eager to trade our dwindling wealth and freedoms for the largely mythological "services" of a burgeoning government master that sends us shrieking from pillar to post, seeking "protection" from global warming or Iranian nuclear power plants or whatever it is they've dreamed up this month.

For "The whole aim of practical politics," as the great iconoclast H.L. Mencken warned us, 80 years ago, "is to keep the populace alarmed -- and thus clamorous to be led to safety -- by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

Reform? One wave of "reform" has followed another for generations. An institution cannot be "reformed" if its bad results are inherent in its underlying structure. We cannot see that the problem is the government schools, because after a century and a half we find it hard to imagine what our society would be like without them. But we must try.

We recoil in horror from the practices of more "primitive" peoples who routinely subject their children to genital mutilation and other painful rituals, insisting the continuity of such practices is necessary to maintain their cultures. Yet how much more are each succeeding American generation's views and values warped to accept the "normalcy" of collectivism, enforced mediocrity, and government dependence by 10 to 15 years of incarceration in these state Conformity Camps?

Each year millions of moms wipe away tears as they launch their firstborn 5 or 6-year-olds into the terrifying maw of this trillion-dollar government make-work program, inhabited by older inmates already inured to the culture of violence, toadying, extortion and intimidation. Admonished to be brave, these courageous little troopers do their best to adjust to a frightening and inherently insane world of clanging bells and rushing bodies, reeking of poster paints and floor-sweeping compound and cafeteria mashed potatoes.

Failing, they burst into tears, and -- like our 71-year-old correspondent from Henderson -- quickly learn indelible lessons about how "the system" deals with those who won't knuckle down, "get with the program," learn to tease and torture and steal the lunch money of the next smallest kid in line. We must do the unthinkable. We must destroy the tax-funded, government-run, compulsory public schools.


Britain: Schools minister neglects homework

Desmond Swayne, MP for New Forest West, tells me of a fearful problem affecting Hampshire schools, which have been told by the county education officer, Ian Beacham, that under new rules teachers must no longer drive pupils in mini-buses unless they have a full "passenger vehicle licence" - "a huge and expensive undertaking which entitles them to drive a coach or bus".

Threatening many extra-curricular activities, such as away sporting fixtures, this is causing such grief that Mr Swayne has asked in Parliament whether it is right that teachers should be forbidden to drive children in this way.

Schools minister Jim Knight didn't know the answer but said he would look into it. Harriet Harman, Leader of the House, suggested that Mr Swayne should move for a debate on the issue.

Had those ministers or Hampshire's education officer learned to use Google, they might have found in seconds that this is all a fuss about nothing. The two relevant EU directives on driving licences, 91/439 and 2003/59, make clear that teachers are exempted from the licensing requirements, as does a leaflet available at the click of a mouse on the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency website.

But does it not say something about the way we now allow our laws to be made in Brussels that neither ministers nor a council official responsible for enforcing them appear to know what those laws say?


Latin America's education gap

Here's a new statistic that should sound alarm bells in Latin America: The region is falling increasingly behind China, India and other Asian countries in the number of students it sends to U.S. universities, which are still ranked in international studies as the best in the world. According to the new Open Doors report by the New York-based Institute of International Education (IIE), India remains the country that sends the most students to U.S. universities, with nearly 84,000 students, followed by China with 68,000 students – 76,000 if one includes Hong Kong – and South Korea with 62,000. By comparison, Mexico has 14,000 students in U.S. universities; Brazil, 7,000; Colombia, 6,700; Venezuela, 4,500; Peru, 3,700; Argentina, 2,800; Ecuador, 2,200; and Chile, 1,570.

While the number of Indian students in U.S. universities grew by 10 percent last year, and that of Chinese students by 8 percent, the number of Latin American students fell by 0.3 percent. These are startling numbers: Even communist-ruled Vietnam, which until recently was in the stone ages in terms of its insertion in the world economy, has more than 6,000 students in U.S. universities – twice the number of Argentina, whose economy is nearly three times bigger.

Why are there fewer Latin American than Asian students in U.S. universities? It's not because of economic reasons: While Latin America is not growing as fast as Asia, its economies have grown by an average of nearly 5 percent over the last four years, which is the region's best performance in 25 years. And it's not because the governments of China, India, South Korea and other Asian countries are paying for the foreign studies. To my surprise, when I asked Chinese education officials about this during a visit to Beijing two years ago, I was told that less than 5 percent of the Chinese students in the United States had government grants. Virtually all of the Chinese students' expenses are paid for by their families, they said.

IIE officials say Asian families have a long-standing culture of investing in their children's education, a tradition that may date back to Confucius, the Chinese philosopher born in the sixth century B.C. who advocated focusing on education as a key pillar of social progress.

Peggy Blumenthal, a senior official of the IIE, told me this month in a telephone interview that Asian students are also more likely than Latin American students to get financial help from their U.S. universities because they tend to come with part-time jobs as assistants to professors. While nearly 70 percent of Asian students are graduate students, and nearly half of them can pay part of their tuition by working as assistants to professors, most Latin American students in U.S. universities are undergraduates who rarely get teaching jobs, she said.

What may be even more troubling for Latin America, Asian students tend to concentrate in business, science and technology. "Overwhelmingly, Asians are graduate students and pick business, management and engineering," she said. "Among Latin American students, there are more undergraduates, and they tend to concentrate in humanities, communications and social sciences." My opinion: This is a troubling trend for Latin America because in a knowledge-based world economy in which countries that produce sophisticated goods get the biggest income, you need scientists, engineers and business managers trained at the world's best universities.

And if you look at the two best-known rankings of the world's best universities – the London Times' Higher Education Supplement's list of the 200 best universities in the world, and the University of Shanghai's ranking of the world's 500 best universities – U.S. universities overwhelmingly dominate the first 100 places. Unless Latin American families follow the steps of their Asian counterparts and invest more in their children's education – including graduate studies in the United States, Europe or wherever the best universities in their fields of study are located – they will continue losing competitiveness, and the gap separating them from Asia's booming economies will continue to widen.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Conservative students more practically oriented

Colleges have been increasingly competing to offer "family friendly" policies - in the hopes of attracting the best academic talent from a pool of Ph.D.'s that includes both more women than ever before as well as many men who take parenting responsibilities seriously. A new study suggests that such policies may be important for another group that believes its needs aren't fully addressed in academe: conservatives.

The study - "Left Pipeline: Why Conservatives Don't Get Doctorates" - argues that the much debated minority status for conservatives in higher education may be the result of differing priorities of graduating college seniors of different political persuasions. The study presents evidence that conservatives are significantly more likely than liberals - at the point when college students decide whether to apply to graduate school - to value raising a family and having money. In contrast, liberals at that point in their lives are significantly more likely to value writing original works.

The authors of the study do not dispute that conservatives are a distinct minority in academe and that the imbalance is problematic. They also hold open the possibility - much proclaimed by other authors at the conference of the American Enterprise Institute where all of the work was presented - that there may be bias against conservatives (although they question whether this has been proven). But the authors of the work on the pipeline say there is considerable evidence that could show conservative self-selection out of academic careers.

"We're not suggesting causality," said Matthew Woessner, an assistant professor of public policy at Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg. "There's much more work that needs to be done." But he said that the evidence in the paper pointed away from any one explanation for the ideological imbalance. "There's a lot of nuance in the findings. What we are showing is that there are a lot of little pieces that contribute to the overall imbalance, not one single thing," he said. Woessner wrote the paper with April Kelly-Woessner, an associate professor of political science at Elizabethtown College.

The husband-and-wife social science team based their findings on analysis they did from national surveys of freshmen and seniors conducted by the University of California at Los Angeles's Higher Education Research Institute. They found that in both choices of majors and in personal values, conservatives seem to be taking themselves off the track for academic careers well before graduate school. The authors did not find evidence of statistically significant differences in grades or measures of academic performance, so most of the report is based on the premise that interests and experiences are at play, not aptitude.

For starters, the paper finds that conservatives are much more likely to pick majors in professional fields - areas that tend to put students on the fast track for an M.B.A. (or for a job) more than a Ph.D. Only 9 percent of students on the far left and 18 percent of liberals major in professional fields, compared to 33 percent of conservatives and 37 percent of those who identify as being on the far right.

Further, the study finds that not only (as has been reported many times previously) do students who identify as liberal outnumber those who identify as conservative, but that those who are liberal are much more likely to consider a Ph.D. The UCLA survey of seniors found that only 13 percent of all students were considering a Ph.D. But the numbers were significantly higher for those on the left (24 percent of the far left and 18 percent of liberals) than on the right (11 percent of the far right and 9 percent of conservatives).

More here

"Doctorates" in name only

Crappy teacher-training colleges again

Arthur Levine, former President of Columbia University's Teachers College, has issued a no-holds barred critique of doctoral-level research in the nation's colleges of education. The report is pretty long and technical, but the punch line is significant for both parents and policymakers. The short story is that our colleges of education are giving Ph.D.s to researchers who aren't qualified to hold a Ph.D. These people, in turn, are providing the research on which public school policy decisions and teacher training is based.

Levine surveyed deans, faculty, education school alumni, K-12 school principals, and reviewed 1,300 doctoral dissertations and finds the research seriously lacking. He ultimately recommends that policymakers close many doctoral programs at education colleges and instead suggests a two-year M.B.A. type of degree for would-be school administrators.

Just how bad is the quality of doctoral-level research in colleges of education? Levine's review doesn't pull any punches: In general, the research questions were unworthy of a doctoral dissertation, literature reviews were dated and cursory, study designs were seriously flawed, samples were small and particularistic, confounding variables were not taken into account, perceptions were commonly used as proxies for reality, statistical analyses were performed frequently on meaningless data, and conclusions and recommendations were often superficial and without merit...

Frederick Hess, education policy director at the American Enterprise Institute, reported on papers presented by college of education faculty from around the country at their most recent national scholarly convention. Hess had more than a little fun with paper titles such as "Identity, Positioning, Knowledge, and Rhetoric in the Pedagogical Practices of Elderly African-American Bridge Players" and "The Educational Lives of Alaska Native Alumni of the University of Alaska-Anchorage."

There were even papers on outer space, such as "Education Policy, Space, and the `Colonial Present.'" Beam me up, Scotty. This might all go for a good laugh, if it weren't for the fact that these are your tax dollars at work, and that college of education faculty have the rather serious task of training future teachers.

In his report, Levine writes, "Most universities, after a barrage of reports over the past two decades on the need to strengthen teacher education, did little or nothing." Levine notes that many universities use colleges of education as a "cash cow"-enrolling far more students than they should by lowering admissions requirements for the program, while simultaneously cutting education college expenses.

I recently reviewed the course requirements at Arizona State University for teacher certification. ASU's elementary education program requires as many hours in fine arts as it requires in reading instruction. This in a state where 44 percent of fourth graders are functionally illiterate.

In 1998, Massachusetts required an academic skills exam for prospective teachers near the completion of their college careers. Fifty-nine percent failed the test. The state Board of Education chairman rated the exam at about the eighth grade level. Newspapers reported misspellings worthy of 9-year-olds, an inability to describe nouns and verbs, and the inability to define words such as `imminent.'

Clearly, a complete rethinking of teacher training and certification is overdue. But the need for reform goes far beyond simply revamping college of education courses and admissions standards and opening up new routes to teacher certification. Policymakers must make the teaching profession itself more attractive to academically talented students, vast swathes of whom avoid the profession completely.

There was a time when schools benefited from gender discrimination, but those days are over. Bright and capable women today rightly have their pick of career opportunities, and are unlikely to enter a profession completely divorced from any recognition of merit. Teachers typically receive compensation based upon a union negotiated pay scale that recognizes length of service, not effectiveness.

Education schools are cash cows for universities, and the public education system is a cash cow for unions. The beneficiaries of the status quo have thrown children and taxpayers under the hooves of a stampede. If we want our children to have access to the education they need, improved teacher training, new routes to teacher certification, and a compensation system that rewards merit must be pieces of the puzzle.


Monday, November 26, 2007

The Asian "problem"

Post below excerpted from Discriminations. See the original for links

I have referred to Asian-American resistance to racial preferences many times before. My very last post, in fact, mentions criticism of similar Canadian programs by the Asian Pacific Post. I discussed some of these old and ongoing complaints here, and have pointed out a number of times that when racial preferences in admissions are eliminated the proportion of admitted whites stays the same or actually declines while the proportion of Asians increases dramatically, as I noted here:
... the racial group most affected by the ending of race preferences in California is whites: their proportion of entering freshmen [in the University of California] fell from 40% in 1997 to 34% in 2005. Two minority groups saw their proportion of entering freshmen increase: Asians, whose proportion rose from 37% in 1997 to 41% in 2005; and Latinos, who rose from 13% to 16%. The proportion of blacks fell from 4% in 1997 to 3% in 2005.

[ADDENDUM: As I discussed here, a recent study published in the Social Science Quarterly found that "if preferences based on race, legacy status, and athletic talent were all done away with, Asian-American enrollment would jump 40 percent (while white enrollment would drop by 1 percent)."]

I have the impression - so far it is no more than that the pace and volume of Asian-American opposition to racial preference policies may be increasing. If so, an article reported earlier this week in the New York Post, "In `Wrong' Minority," may be a harbinger of things to come.
November 19, 2007 -- Three Chinese parents in Brooklyn are expected to file a federal lawsuit today challenging a popular city-run tutoring program on the grounds it discriminates against Asians, The Post has learned. The Specialized High School Institute preps gifted but "underrepresented" minorities to ace the competitive exam to get into top city high schools like Stuyvesant or Brooklyn Tech.

But the parents say it is unfair - and illegal - for the Department of Education to limit eligibility to blacks and Latinos. "The program only selects certain kinds of minorities and unfortunately my daughter didn't fall into that category," said Peggy Foo-Ching, 47, a mom from Bensonhurst who said her 12-year-old daughter's application last year was ignored.....

A Department of Education internal memo obtained by lawyers trying the case indicated that eligibility criteria excludes whites and Asians. "What this memo reveals is blatant and categorical discrimination by race. If you are white or Asian, you're not supposed to get an application," said Christopher Hajec, an attorney with the Center for Individual Rights, a conservative advocacy group. "It's not the business of the government of New York City to be counting up the Asians or whites in, say, Stuyvesant High School and concluding there are too many of them."

In an odd twist, the short notice of this lawsuit in the New York Times noted that "[s]ince the institute's creation more than a decade ago, the proportion of black and Hispanic students at the city's most elite high schools has actually decreased; last year, 2.2 percent of Stuyvesant students were black." The Center for Individual Rights, as usual, is invaluable, in part because it is indefatigable. Its press release explains that
White and Asian students are prevented from even applying to the program. One parent, Stanley Ng (pron. "Ing") was denied an application by his daughter's junior high school guidance counselor. When Ng contacted the Office of Teaching and Learning in November 2006, an official told him the program was not open to white or Asian applicants.

Read CIR's entire complaint here.

Asians As The "New Jews"

I have written before about Asians as the "New Jews." See here and here. In the first of those I quoted the following from an impressive article in the Detroit News:
Until the early 20th century, even the most elite American universities, such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton, were largely regional campuses. But faced with a high influx of academically talented Jewish students, they sought to reduce the numbers of that group. Aware that Jews (and to a lesser extent Roman Catholics) were concentrated in Northeast cities, they devised a system of national recruitment to restrict numbers of Jews while avoiding charges of overt discrimination.

Then as now, a key concept was diversity, only then it meant (in public) geographic diversity. Then as now, quotas were publicly denied even while an elaborate system to maintain de facto quotas evolved. Then as now, administrators argued that other things besides grades and examinations mattered as much or more - character, for example, or obstacles overcome. Then as now, the result was to transfer places that would have gone disproportionately to members of an academically talented minority group to members of other groups.
And then as now, the ends were felt to justify the means.... There is a final "then as now" worth noting: In both cases, administrators sought to hide their practices.

As Jerome Karabel demonstrates in The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton (discussed here, here, and here and here), when the Ivies decided to restrict the number of Jews they admitted early in the 20th Century, they did so by de-emphasizing pure academic merit as measured by grades, tests, etc., and elevating the importance of intangibles such as "character" and "leadership," along with taking care to cast their admissions net in waters less populated by the pesky Jews.

That process continues, or has resumed, now aimed at Asians, who are stereotyped as math/science nerds, grinds, etc. In that regard, reader Ed Chin, who gathers and distributes via email reams of interesting information dealing with discrimination against Asians, recently sent this fascinating Harvard senior thesis by Social Studies major Jenny Tsai, "Too Many Asians at this School": Racialized Perceptions and Identity Formation, about attempts to restrict Asian enrollment at New York City's highly selective Hunter College High School. From Ms. Tsai's Introduction:
My thesis investigates the origins of the perception that there are "too many Asians" in magnet public high schools....

This question grew out of my own personal experience. I attended Hunter College High School (HCHS), a magnet high school in New York City. My entering class in 1997 was 30 percent Asian, but the incoming class when I was a senior in 2003 was over 50 percent Asian. During my senior year, the view emerged among both the students and the principal was that there were too many Asian students, to the detriment of the school.1 The school's 2003 curricular review had a sub-committee devoted to HCHS's admissions process. The main concern of the admissions sub-committee was to determine the school's success in educating the brightest young talent in New York City. After comparing the demographic of the primarily white and Asian student body with that of New York City as a whole, the sub-committee deemed that the current admissions process unsatisfactory. Suggestions for improvement focused on ways to increase diversity at HCHS. Proposals included eliminating automatic admissions from Hunter College Elementary School, capping high school admissions per district in New York City, increasing the percentage of low-income students, which was hen at 10 percent, and increasing outreach to underrepresented neighborhoods.

The Chinese Parent Teacher Association reacted negatively to the proposal of capping the number of students by district, as many of the Asian students were from three or four neighborhoods in Queens-Flushing, Forest Hills, Bayside, and Fresh Meadows. They argued that the proposals would directly target the number of Asian students.... Discussions revealed that students from a variety of racial backgrounds felt that the increasing percentage of Asian students at the school threatened the culture of the school. HCHS prided itself on being a school that fostered student leadership through a plethora of student clubs, sports teams, and artistic groups. Students attested that the growing Asian student population had detracted from the creativity and independence that had defined HCHS's activity scene as the Asian students focused primarily on their academic studies. Those Asian students who were active in extracurricular activities were perceived to be disingenuous. Students felt that Asian students knew how to manipulate the college admissions committees, but lacked passion for the activities they participated in.

Sounds like deja vu (or deja Jew) all over again.

Disruptive children are prison fodder

Most prisoners have always been on the bottom rungs of the education ladder. The claim that discipline turns kids into criminals is just politically correct propaganda. The article below admits that the problem is mainly a black one and blacks have an extraordinarily high rate of offending anyhow

Something went horribly wrong after Texas decided to crack down on mayhem in public schools by mandating zero tolerance for weapons, drugs and violence on campus. Given broad discretion to remove unruly pupils from class, teachers and administrators restored order. But they also created a terribly efficient fast track to prison for a shocking number of Texas schoolchildren.

According to an analysis of statewide data for 2001-2006 and thorough studies of more than a dozen Texas school districts, the number of students suspended and the number removed to alternative discipline campuses skyrocketed after the Legislature's 1995 overhaul of school discipline laws. This, the public interest law group Texas Appleseed states, has caused a "school-to-prison pipeline" that puts inordinate numbers of youngsters on a path to dropping out of school and into the juvenile justice system. The far end of the pipe pours into Texas' massive adult prison system.

Appleseed's report, "Texas' School-to-Prison Pipeline, The Impact of School Discipline and Zero Tolerance," argues that schools that suspend and expel students to Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs for minor misbehavior not covered by the zero-tolerance mandates unwittingly funnel kids into this life-stunting pipeline. Infractions that have gotten children suspended or expelled include profanity, rough play, bringing prescription medicine to school and disrupting class.

For many at-risk youths, suspensions lead to lost academic ground and more behavior problems. Once in a DAEP, students are five times more likely than mainstream counterparts to drop out. The link to crime is clear: In Texas, one in three juveniles in a Texas Youth Commission lockup is a dropout. Dropouts comprise 80 percent of the adult prison population.

The school-to-prison pipeline is filled with black, Hispanic and special education students, who are far more likely to be given discretionary referrals for discipline than their numbers in the school population would predict. Also, contends the American Civil Liberties Union, pressure to do well on high-stakes standardized tests pressures schools to suspend poor academic performers in order to raise overall scores.

Much of this damage is avoidable: Fully two-thirds of Texas students sent from their school to a DAEP campus are transferred at campus officials' discretion. (The remaining third are mandatory removals under state law.) What's more, the harm is haphazard. Some school districts employ discretionary referrals at much higher rates than others, so where a child goes to school, rather than the offense, is a better predictor of whether a student ends up at an alternative campus.

Groups such as Texas Zero Tolerance, a statewide organization to reform public school disciplinary codes, complain that schools have taken zero tolerance to extremes, often involving police in minor student misconduct - even in elementary school. Students are being arrested at school for breaking campus rules and prosecuted in court. Schools fail to immediately notify parents when their children are interrogated by police.

School districts can improve this grim picture by employing research-based strategies and offering teachers more classroom management training. Parents must be more involved in their children's education, and schools should provide them the tools to do so, informing parents right away about behavior issues.

Appleseed says it will urge lawmakers to improve oversight over alternative education programs to ensure that minimum education standards are enforced, and to intervene at schools that make inordinate numbers of disciplinary referrals. Furthermore, lawmakers should revive a bill that passed in the House last session but died in the Senate that would have made it mandatory for districts to consider a student's intent when determining punishment. Such a law might have kept a young Katy Independent School District student out of the criminal justice system for writing "I love Alex" in small letters on a school wall.

Texas can do better. Schools can be safe for learning without turning students into criminals for minor infractions, exacerbating an out-of-control dropout problem and setting kids who are merely unruly on a path toward prison.


Australia: Only a government would provide a third-world school in a first-world country

PARENTS at Victoria's most forgotten school have issued a plea for help as its dilapidated classrooms crumble around their children. Wodonga South Primary School is old, inadequate and unsafe. For 15 years the State Government has promised to rebuild or relocate the ageing school in Victoria's northeast. But, despite significant sections of the school falling down and failing to meet the Government's minimum standards, nothing has been done to fix it. The school has no heating, no counselling room, no canteen and no physical education facilities.

It has seven permanent classrooms - fewer than half the prescribed minimum. Classrooms show signs of structural faults, cracked walls and peeling paint and many have mildew, leaky roofs and broken windows. And the school is so crowded the music teacher has to conduct lessons in a storeroom at the back of the library.

School council president Stephen Hudson said businesses would be fined or shut down if they provided work conditions as poor as those of the school. "It's not fair on the kids," he said. "We're going to have two generations of children that have gone through primary school without the basic things that most kids take for granted."

The school is only 2.2ha, well below the Department of Education's 3.5ha standard. Teachers are so scared some of the school's 500 children will be injured in the tiny schoolyard that they are forced to stagger lunch breaks. Principal David Hinton said parents, teachers and students were desperate for a new school and an end to the government inaction. "It's untenable for teachers to teach in and it's unsafe for children to learn in," he said.

Education Department spokeswoman Melissa Arch said the school would receive funding in the next three years. "The school will be rebuilt on another site and the department is currently negotiating to secure land for the site," she said.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

A report from the University of Dallas

The 21st century offers us the iPhone, 24-hour Super Wal-Marts and a completely warped view of the world. Standards have been upended, and our word choice proves it. Peacefully arguing for your beliefs has been redefined as "fear tactics." Any insult is "hate speech." Supporting the law is demeaning and derogatory. And this only applies selectively, of course. Modern society has thrown out reasonable, universal standards to protect many of those who least deserve it.

At many of the large Catholic universities in this country pro-abortion groups have been holding the blatantly anti-Catholic play "The Vagina Monologues." Various individuals and conservative groups have lobbied to remove the pornographic play from Catholic universities. They have peacefully voiced their disapproval with letters and petitions, raising concerns that holding such an event would betray their schools' Catholic identities. These efforts have been deemed "fear tactics" by abortion advocates.

When Saddam Hussein abuses the family of a national team athlete who plays poorly it is no longer called fear tactics.

Nor is Iran's enforcement policy of its no-dating rule: beating a teen boy in public for being near a girl. There was no mention of fear tactics when protesters at a speech at Michigan State screamed in the faces of the conservative students putting on the event and had to be restrained by police. This pro-border enforcement speech was overrun by protesters who yelled and banged on the walls, inside the event, during the prayer and pledge of allegiance. They then rushed the stage and the event had to be canceled with the protesters in handcuffs. Fear tactics? No, asking friends to have pizza in a patriotically decorated room is much more coercive.

Hate speech usually accompanies fear tactics, in a sentence on a blog or in an article describing conservative events. Insulting Ms. Sheehan as "scum" is unnecessary and unhelpful, but is it hate? Sheehan wrote in her book Peace Mom, "I fantasize about killing Bush when he was a baby." Society considers Sheehan's words an expression of her free speech rights, while any insult of a minority viewpoint is called "hate speech."

Sensitivity has become skewed, and emotional rhetoric has become a societal norm. Denying the poor of the world the opportunity to come to America whenever they like feels unfair. But not all who come under the radar are the innocent poor. Illegal aliens in America kill 12 people per day. Those pushing for immigration enforcement are not racist, and their arguments are not demeaning. The families of the victims do not care about the race of the killer, just that the untraceable perpetrator will elude justice.

In defending the future of our society, we must reexamine our diction. The deliberate use or omission of the terms "fear tactics," "hate speech" and "racist" frame the debates in a certain light. None of these, as they actually occur, can be cured until they are again properly defined.


Class project's use of prayer irks parent

A class craft project with the Lord's Prayer attached to it has riled a parent in Shoreline whose 9-year-old son made the cardboard item in his classroom this week. But the Shoreline School District is standing behind the project, saying it is a traditional hornbook intended to teach students about life as a Pilgrim.

Glenn Creech, of Shoreline, said he was shocked when his son, Derek, brought home the project he made at Ridgecrest Elementary Tuesday with a preprinted copy of the Lord's Prayer stapled onto it. The item had a string attached to it, and his son was wearing it around his neck as he came off the bus. "I thought that it was against the law for public schools to preach a specific religion," said Glenn Creech. "This is just outrageous."

Shoreline School District spokesman Craig Degginger said the craft was part of a larger learning project on the Pilgrims. Third-graders from two classes went around various stations manned by parent volunteers, tasting food of the period, churning butter, writing with a quill, dressing in period costumes and making a period toy. Another station was for making a hornbook — a tool once used to teach Pilgrim children how to read. It traditionally consists of a page printed with the alphabet and the Lord's Prayer protected by a layer of transparent horn.

Derek Creech's teacher, who has worked in the district for more than 20 years, has done a similar activity since she started at Ridgecrest in 1999, Degginger said. "It was a certainly legitimate lesson, well taught by a group of veteran teachers. ... This is the first time there has been a complaint, according to the principal," he said.

Schools are required by law to remain free of sectarian control or influence, according to the state constitution. The Shoreline School District policy states that subjects taught in school "may have a religious dimension" and that the study of these disciplines "shall give neither preferential nor disparaging treatment to any single religion or to religion in general and must not be introduced or utilized for devotional purposes." Degginger said the Pilgrim project, as well as the hornbook, "is in keeping with our policy."

Creech, who said his family is "not strongly religious," disagrees. "Giving someone a copy of a prayer, that could be implied that the prayer should be utilized for devotional purposes," he said. Creech said the principal of Ridgecrest has scheduled a meeting with him next week to review the activity and craft.