Saturday, December 15, 2007

What a return on our "investment!"

One of our local collectivists wrote in recently, claiming to have had "a rip-roaring good laugh over the comments" of a reader who "thinks that because parents chose to have children they should be responsible for paying for the education of their kids. ... "What he needs to realize is that when he pays his share for education ... one of the children we are all educating might be the guy operating on us in 10 years, or the judge handing out a sentence to the guy who murdered your neighbor," asserts our cheerful would-be Young Pioneer. "Education has a trickle-down effect. Paying for a child's education now brings greater rewards for our society as a whole later. We can choose to educate them and give them a chance for a bright, productive future -- or we can use your tax dollars to build bigger prisons and more homeless shelters."

Look at that word "choose." Kind of makes it sound like we're being encouraged to voluntarily "choose" to contribute to the scholarship fund for poor kids at the local academy, doesn't it? In fact, school taxes are no more voluntary than meeting a holdup man in a dark alley, and such "investment" rhetoric is completely bogus. There's no "return on investment" -- that doctor isn't going to send you a share of his earnings (or even give you free or reduced-price care) because you "contributed" to his education by paying your property taxes years ago, any more than a Russian doctor today feels obliged to pay back the neighbors who were forced to finance his care and feeding after Comrade Stalin shot his parents.

That Russian doctor is now practicing in Miami, thank you very much, and quite rightly declares the "greater welfare of Soviet society" can go stuff itself. Russian collectivism meant medical students and their families didn't invest directly in their own educations, and weren't allowed to profit from their own educations, so the health care system worked about as well as our DMV. If you want to see the kind of wonderful care our current government schooling regime has in store for you in 40 years, go to Moscow, where male life expectancy is 59 and falling.

Compared with the illiterate young thugs with whom the letter-writer threatens us if we don't pay up (and there doesn't seem to be a current shortage of recruits for such duty), Alexis de Tocqueville found ours to be the most literate working class in the world in 1831 -- and crime was so rare that an un-escorted woman could travel the length of the Mississippi without locking her stateroom door. Before we had these collectivist, compulsion schools.

Care to try that now, after a century and a half of imposed pacifist enlightenment and busy kindling of the light of learning in the most profligate government youth camps in the history of the world? And why should this doctrine stop with schooling? Isn't it equally true that "feeding children has a trickle-down effect; paying for a child's food now brings greater rewards for our society as a whole later"? Why don't the collectivists require that I feed other people's children, too? Oh, wait, they do. I'm also made to fund "food stamps" and free hot breakfasts and lunches for school kids, too, whether I like it or not.

But once the complete care of offspring becomes a collective responsibility, doesn't the Great Collective have a right to step in and limit costs by restricting families to one child apiece, requiring the abortion of any further children -- the same way it can ban helmet-less motorcycle riding because it costs "us" too much in hospital bills? Of course it can. The Chinese communists do this, already. Anyone who objects is just being "selfish and greedy."

This returns us to our suggested experiment from last week. Let's poll a representative sampling of current high school upperclassmen or recent graduates, seeking to determine whether the government youth camps are surreptitiously propagandizing our kids on issues far afield from grammar and algebra: Ask our sample group whether marrying young -- at 19, say -- and starting a large family is a wise and admirable undertaking, or whether "teenage pregnancy is a dead-end behavior likely to trap you in permanent poverty" -- and please note the consistent absence of the important qualifier "unwed" before "teenage pregnancy."

I'm not saying either answer is necessarily right for every young person. But as the fertility rate of Americans descended from persons who came here legally before the Second World War falls toward the replacement rate, this country faces a demographic and cultural shift reminiscent of that now confronting large sections of Western Europe, where reproduction rates below 2.1 among the older racial and cultural group facilitates a de facto takeover by immigrants of massively different race, language and culture -- a nonviolent version of the intended conquest which Charles Martel so famously halted at Tours in 732. (Whoops, delete that "nonviolent" part. As I write this, "disenfranchised" black and Muslim immigrant youth are burning libraries and day care centers -- noted wellsprings of racial oppression -- in the suburbs of Paris.)

Because religions with substantial followings still advise their followers to "be fruitful and multiply," you'd expect the answer to our fertility question to be hotly debated. Instead, I suspect more than 90 percent of our test group will drone out the answer "dead-end behavior," almost as though it's memorized. How could this be, unless the schools have been actively propagandizing their charges on this issue?

If foreign enemy agents were sneaking into America and poisoning our water supplies with sterilizing agents, we'd consider that important. So why shouldn't there be a wide-ranging public debate about any doctrines concerning marriage, reproduction and family size, taught surreptitiously to our young by government agents, that have the same long-term effect?

The purpose of such surreptitious indoctrination of the young is to foreclose debate on these issues, with anyone who raises such questions being jeered as a racist, homophobe, child-hater or promoter of mass illiteracy before he or she can finish a sentence. But as Mark Twain warned us -- or was it Josh Billings? -- it's not the things we don't know that hurt us; it's the things we think we know that just ain't so.


Which Came First: The Intellectual or the Leader?

There's been a lot of talk within the past, oh three election cycles, about how the "smartest" or most "intellectual" candidate would make the best president. Coincidentally, they are all Democrats:

* In 2000, Al Gore was considered more "intellectual" than George W. Bush, despite the fact that his college transcript was rife with Cs and C-minuses. He also dropped out of the Vanderbilt Divinity School after receiving a number of Fs.

* In 2004, John Kerry was touted as being "smarter" than George W. Bush, even though his undergrad GPA was one point lower than Bush's - a fact that was conveniently unavailable until after the election.

* Hillary Clinton has been anointed the best and brightest of the class of 2008, followed closely by the "clean and articulate" Barack Obama - although don't expect to see Mrs. Clinton's grades anytime soon; they likely have been sequestered like her papers from her days as First Lady.

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the above politicians really are intellectually superior to their rivals. We can therefore ask not only why George Bush beat two "intellectuals" in their respective presidential races, but also, do intellectual types really make the best leaders? If "conventional wisdom" is correct, Al Gore didn't lose the election, it was stolen from him. Seriously, though, we must consider other factors such as personality and likability. In 2004, Bush beat Kerry in the "likability" category by large margins. Similarly, Al Gore was characterized as a "stiff campaigner," less likely to inspire that all-important likability factor.According to Richard Benedetto,

The vote for president, unlike balloting for mayor or governor, is as much a personal choice as it is an issue choice. Americans want to like their president as well as agree with him. They often will overlook differences on issues if they like or trust the person. Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower are recent cases in point. Bill Clinton's likability helped him survive the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Think about it for a moment. Political ideology aside, who would you prefer to sit down and chew the fat with? George Bush, who spends his vacations wearing jeans and wielding a shovel at his ranch in Crawford, Texas? John Kerry, who enjoys skiing at expensive resorts and slaking his thirst with bottles of vitamin-enriched water? Or Al Gore, who vacations extensively in Europe and flies around in a private jet?

Many average Americans can't afford to travel to Europe in coach, let alone private jet, nor can they enjoy pricey ski getaways. But they often can, and do, spend vacation time working around the house and yard. Yes, George Bush came from money and the size of his Texas ranch puts the modest homes of many Americans in the shade. But it's oddly comforting to see a president who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. It gives the impression that he isn't afraid of hard work, which is important for one who seeks the highest office in both America and the world.

Now obviously George Bush is not running for office again, but I use him as an example because so much emphasis has been put on the "smart" vs. the "dumb" candidate -- "dumb" being equivalent to President Bush. When you realize that an entire industry has sprung up around Bush's "inferior" intellect, with numerous books, calendars, and other items for sale that impugn his IQ (and focusing largely on his propensity for mispronouncing words like "nuclear"), he's an obvious choice for discussion. (What will these entrepreneurs do when President Bush leaves office on January 20, 2009?) If being smart was the only qualification for being a leader, one would assume from his treatment in the media that George Bush should never have gotten near the Oval Office. But there are other qualities that people look for in a leader.....

Think back to the know-it-alls in your experience, both in school and the workplace. Just because they may have more actual knowledge than you in a particular area, does that automatically mean they are the best choice for a leadership role?

Liberals were, remember, in high dudgeon both in 2000 and 2004. They felt, by rights, that the candidate they believed to be the smartest one should have won. Those who place a high premium on intellectualism automatically assume that, as the best and the brightest, they deserve all the accolades society has to offer. But in a capitalist society like ours, this is not always the case. Robert Nozick, writing for the Cato Institute, has a hypothesis that goes back to one's schooldays

The intellectual wants the whole society to be a school writ large, to be like the environment where he did so well and was so well appreciated. By incorporating standards of reward that are different from the wider society, the schools guarantee that some will experience downward mobility later. Those at the top of the school's hierarchy will feel entitled to a top position, not only in that micro-society but in the wider one, a society whose system they will resent when it fails to treat them according to their self-prescribed wants and entitlements. The school system thereby produces anti-capitalist feeling among intellectuals. Rather, it produces anti-capitalist feeling among verbal intellectuals. Why do the numbersmiths not develop the same attitudes as these wordsmiths? I conjecture that these quantitatively bright children, although they get good grades on the relevant examinations, do not receive the same face-to-face attention and approval from the teachers as do the verbally bright children. It is the verbal skills that bring these personal rewards from the teacher, and apparently it is these rewards that especially shape the sense of entitlement.

Nozick is writing here about why intellectuals at large oppose capitalism, but his ideas about those who excelled in school expecting to excel in other areas of life (and feeling cheated when they don't) is very telling.

This brings us to the role of schools in today's leaders. I asked Dr. Candace de Russy, a nationally recognized writer and lecturer on education and cultural issues, for her thoughts on the subject:

For some decades our academic system has been indoctrinating rather than truly educating students, thus producing intellectuals whose minds are clouded with ideology and whose judgment is impaired. Given the usurpation of higher education and K-12 teacher hiring processes by the left, it is also now in the self-interest of many intellectuals to exercise poor judgment, in scholarly matters as well as in the political realm. Some of the great declinists connected weak and pusillanimous - decadent - leadership with societal affluence. Perhaps many of our intellectuals are too materialistic and self-centered to bother with the rigors of exercising leadership and wise judgment.

Rather than teaching students to think, many educators take it upon themselves to fill their students' heads with propaganda and groupthink. This explains why conservative campus clubs such as the College Republicans have relatively small memberships, while you can count on large numbers of college students to turn up at anti-war rallies sponsored by International ANSWER and other Communist front groups. Ben Shapiro, author of the bestselling book Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America's Youth, discusses the phenomenon of elitist liberal professors that seem to dominate higher education:

This [second] group [of liberals] feels that conservatism is simply dumb. Professors tend to be intellectually arrogant anyway, and liberalism by its nature is an extremely elitist ideology. Many professors feel that conservatism is too simplistic to waste time on in the classroom. I cite numerous examples of this in Brainwashed. Professors say that if you're conservative, you're unqualified to clean highways, much less teach a classroom of students. Four professors even created a fully funded study designed to conclude that conservatives are less "integratively complex." Of course, they had to lump together Stalin, Castro, Hitler, and Reagan in order to do this, but the end justifies the means.

Being spoon-fed a particular ideology (one that espouses a worldview where entitlement plays a major role), coupled with the assumption that higher education automatically confers superiority, and you have people who wonder why a "dummy" like George W. Bush could ascend to the presidency not once, but twice. And rather than take a look at the qualities and convictions that played a major role in his electoral success, they whine and cry about "stolen" and "rigged" elections - because, as Dr. de Russy says, indoctrination - not education - is the name of the game.

Intellectuals will likely always feel as though they are more deserving of leadership roles in our society. But if we take a serious look at our educational system from the bottom up and revamp it to highlight problem solving and critical thinking skills over ideological brainwashing, perhaps that group will shrink to a more manageable size. For not only do we need independent thinkers in our political class, we also need independent thinkers in the electorate. Our future as a democratic republic depends on it.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Video Games Gain Support from Educators

USC Professor Developing Game for Preteens that Intends to Teach Outside-the-Box Lessons

Many parents wish their kids would spend less time at the computer playing games and messaging, and concentrate more on homework, sports or family activities. One university professor, however, has come up with a combined solution that would integrate educational role-playing video games into the classroom. Doug Thomas, an associate professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, is developing a game for students ages 10 to 12 that aims to teach ideas and skills not found in traditional textbooks, Reuters reports.

"Because games are experiential they might be good at teaching things that you learn through experience, and that are difficult to teach through books," Thomas told Reuters writer Nichola Groom. His game, "Modern Prometheus," uses the story of "Frankenstein" to teach ethical decision making. The player assumes the role of Dr. Frankenstein's assistant, who is forced to make a series of difficult choices that impact the game's outcome.

To complicate matters, Thomas and his team added a twist—the assistant must help the doctor cure a plague that is threatening the town's residents. One dilemma is whether or not to steal body parts from a cemetery—a key requirement for curing the disease. "Stealing a brain is hard to justify ethically, but doing all this work that seems kind of shady in the present is actually going to save the town in the long run," Thomas said. "We want them to really wrestle with doing things and ask 'Is it good for me, or is it good for everyone else?' There is no right way or wrong way to play it.”

The aim, Thomas said, is for students to play the hour-long game individually, then discuss the choices they made with their teachers and classmates. "It's not just a game but also the conversation that happens around it," Thomas told Reuters. "When kids play games they don't just play them, they also talk about them with each other. There's a huge amount of informal learning that goes on."

One challenge for "Modern Prometheus" and other classroom games is finding teachers willing to incorporate them in their lesson plans. "It's really hard for teachers to work with an unfamiliar technology that the kids know more about than they do," Thomas said. "They feel like 'my job is hard enough already."' He also acknowledges that the game doesn't quite fit into many established middle-school curricula. To overcome that obstacle, Thomas is collaborating with Indiana University Professor Sasha Barab, whose "Quest Atlantis" game is used by 4,500 students around the world. Currently in beta testing, "Modern Prometheus" is expected to be in some U.S. classrooms by spring.


Drugged up students

A pity that no-one tells them that in the end there are no shortcuts

As final exams approach, many students are facing deadlines for papers, research projects, group projects, theses and, for a lucky few, take-home exams. As colleges have made their curricula more demanding, students are falling behind in classes, grades and health. The need to keep up with an ever more competitive field of students in academia has taken a toll on the mental and physical health of students. Striking a balance between a social life, studying, sleep and, often, a professional life has become increasingly difficult. "You can choose two of three things in college," said Barbara Criag, a Latin professor at LSU, "sleep, party, or study. It's all about time management."

A recent study by Harvard University indicated that more people are sleeping less than six hours every night, and 75 percent of students are troubled by insomnia a few times every week. Sleep deprivation can lead to many health problems such as high blood pressure, weight gain and a decrease in the immune system's power to fight off infection, which often is the culprit for outbreaks of the cold and flu each year. Most students have seen at least one person fall asleep during class at some point in their career, but according to health experts, it is becoming an all too common sight. Sleep deprivation can lead to falling asleep during the daytime, which can cause injuries, traffic accidents and, more common among students, mental errors which lead to misunderstanding a question and subsequently giving the wrong answer.

To circumvent the lack of time for sleep, some students have taken to experimenting with prescription drugs such as Adderall. "I split a 20 milligram pill the night before the exam to study, then another one an hour before the exam to cram and focus during the test," said Jenna, who wishes to have her identity withheld. "I don't have a [prescription], so I just ask friends who have them and buy them lunch in exchange."

Though the pill may give an edge to students who are in desperate need of a study aid, it doesn't come without risks. Adderall, or amphetamine-dextroamphetamine, includes side-effects such as hot flashes, profuse sweating, nausea, stomach pains and even involuntary movements. Doctors say not to take the drug unless it has been prescribed to you. "I'm not worried about any side-effects anymore," said Jenna. "I was the first couple times I tried it, but now it's a pretty smooth ordeal with no issues, except that I can't sleep for about six hours after I've taken one."

Another alternative to sleep is the new generation of caffeine, chiefly, Red Bull. It emerged from the dawn of the dotcom era, and somehow managed to survive the extinction of so many 2 a.m. conference calls and offices with fold-out beds. Now it is marketed toward college students, and not just at bars, which mix it with cheap vodka so that patrons can get a buzz and maintain awareness. But at $1.99 for just 8.3 ounces, it isn't a very cheap alternative to old-fashioned dozing. Students across America and Europe have given billions of dollars to the company by downing its product, which has only endured one change to its line-up: sugar free. The brand is so successful that it has never printed an ad or launched a Web campaign.

Caffeine, however, also has its side effects, such as diarrhea, frequent urination, and even facial flushing. The biggest problem with caffeine is that it is addictive, and if a consumer stops drinking it cold-turkey, he or she can experience withdrawal symptoms, like headaches, anxiety, depression and fatigue. "I try not to drink it too often, but a cup at CC's in the library every morning is all I need to get a quick pick-me-up," said Michelle Port, an English junior. "Eventually, the guys behind the counter memorize what you get every day, which reminds me of how much money I spend on coffee." At about $2 for a cup of Joe, it's not difficult to spend more than $40 a month to get a few jitters before and/or during class, but when a student has a hang-over from too much Red Bull and vodka the night before, coffee is often the next vice to which they turn for help.

Doctors say that staying in shape is the best way to consistently get a good night's sleep and to maintain a healthy metabolism. Exercising produces endorphins, which allow the body to be able to relax more easily and be better prepared to cope with stress.

In a study by the University of Chicago, reducing the amount of sleep to just four hours a night for a week produced dramatic changes in glucose tolerance and endocrine function, which resembled the early stages of diabetes, just within one week. Getting at least six to eight hours of sleep each night, doctors recommend, is the best way to stay sane and healthy throughout college. Using stimulants to stay focused may work every now and then, but it will eventually take a toll on the health of students. Finally, to be clear, there is presently no evidence that supports the theory of learning by osmosis, so it is not necessary to sleep with a book as a pillow.


Australia: WA dumps Leftist Outcomes Based Education (OBE)

WESTERN Australia has officially dumped the controversial Outcomes Based Education (OBE) program with the introduction of a new syllabus. WA Education Minister Mark McGowan today announced the reintroduction of a kindergarten to year 10 syllabus at the beginning of the 2008 school year. In a reference to the controversial OBE program, which was heavily criticised by teachers, Mr McGowan said the new content would mark the end of ``content free and woolly objectives in education''. "We want to assure parents that students are being provided with the highest standard of course content possible,'' Mr McGowan said. "The fad of the 1990s to dispense with syllabus caused considerable anxiety among teachers, many of whom were left without any clear guidance about what to teach or how to assess students.''

The minister said the new syllabuses were developed in consultation with more than 6,000 teachers, administrators and academics. Among the changes, the new syllabus places a greater emphasis on history teaching, and the importance of play for kindergarten to year three children. State School Teachers Union of Western Australia president Mike Keely welcomed the move, saying it would bring certainty and support to teachers.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Saudis Funding Islamic Curriculum at U.S. Colleges

Two years ago this month, a Saudi prince caused a media splash — and raised eyebrows — when he donated $20 million each to Georgetown and Harvard universities to fund Islamic studies. Although few details have been released about how the money has been spent, at Georgetown, the money helped pay for a recent symposium on Islamic-Western relations held in the university's Copley Formal Lounge. The event attracted about 120 persons: students, Catholic priests, men in business suits and several women in colorful head scarves who all came to hear religion experts from several American universities, as well as from Bosnia, Ireland and Malaysia.

A member of the Norwegian royal family said he flew in just for the event. "I just came here to learn the language scholars are using about these things," Prince Haakon of Norway said.

Some call the Saudi gift Arab generosity and gratitude for the years American universities have educated the elite of the Arab world. Others say the sheer size of the donations amounts to buying influence and creating bastions of noncritical pro-Islamic scholarship within academia.

"There's a possibility these campuses aren't getting gifts, they're getting investments," said Clifford May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. "Departments on Middle Eastern studies tend to be dominated by professors tuned to the concerns of Arab and Muslim rulers. It's very difficult for scholars who don't follow this line to get jobs and tenure on college campuses. "The relationship between these departments and the money that pours in is hard to establish, but like campaign finance reform, sometimes money is a bribe. Sometimes it's a tip."


The Scapegoats of Khartoum and CUNY Faculty Union

The Sudanese regime officially pardoned British teacher Gillian Gibbons for the “crime” of insulting the prophet Mohammed by allowing her seven-year-old students to choose the name Mohammed for the class teddy bear. But will the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) regime of CUNY in like manner grant a pardon to Dr. Sharad Karkhanis who is being slammed with a $2 million lawsuit for the “crime” of insulting a prominent PSC faculty union leader, Professor Susan O’Malley? Both Gibbons and Karkhanis were used as scapegoats to distract attention from the menacing issues confronting both these troublespots in the East and here in the West.

Now that the failed strategy of the clerics and scholars of the Sudanese regime has backfired and brought mounting international focus on the Darfur genocide and widespread clamor to free Gibbons, Sudan President Omar al-Bashir has dropped all charges and freed Gibbons from prison. The strategy of the academic elites and scholars of the PSC to persecute and silence a defiant critic with a lawsuit filed by O’Malley has also backfired bringing a resumption of interest in the fraud and abuses of the PSC and further support for Karkhanis’s case from both the left (e.g. John Wilson) and the right.

In Sudan, one of the most barbaric places on Earth and the safe haven for every Islamic terrorist organization on the planet, genocide continues unabated after four years of mass murder, violence and forced exile of millions directed by Khartoum. In a land ruled by Sharia law, Gibbons was sentenced to 15 days in prison and deportation for the offense of blasphemy and threatened with 40 lashes and six months in prison for inciting religious hatred. According to Times of London columnist Ben Macintyre, this was an orchestrated attempt by President Bashir and his regime to scapegoat an infidel Western woman and stir up fiery Muslim rage over her offensive actions toward their religion, in order to deflect world attention from the murder and mayhem in Darfur, and to demonstrate Sudan’s hard-line Islamic credentials to the fundamentalist world. When the plan was bamboozled by the mounting focus on Darfur and the county’s medieval system of Islamic law, and British diplomats were sent to persuade the Sudanese government to release Gibbons, Bashir had no choice but to grant a presidential pardon.

Taking a page out of Khartoum’s playbook, PSC leader O’Malley, notorious for trying to censor The Patriot Returns, has now filed a lawsuit charging her most outspoken critic with libel and defamation to scare him and any other would-be dissenters into silence, in order to distract attention from the fraud, abuse and incompetence of the PSC leadership. The PSC, also notorious for shutting down forums for free speech when they became too critical, now wants to hide damaging disclosures before the upcoming elections for some union stalwarts. It was initially reported in the New York Sun that the PSC failed to deliver a decent contract and they squandered the member’s welfare fund by the sum of 97% on political causes and contributions to the legal funds of terrorists. Now O’Malley, former chair of the University Faculty Senate (UFS), who sits on the PSC executive board, is running for election for the Kingsborough Community College seat on the UFS in the next two weeks. Trying desperately to duck bad press and avoid the glare of the media spotlight, she has maintained a low profile saying nothing about the lawsuit except that it is “very, very silly” in an interview with New York Sun reporter, Annie Karni.

But the plan for scapegoating Karkhanis has backfired and failed to scare him into silence. Rather it has put O’Malley in the spotlight of bad publicity hurting her chances for election. There has been considerable buzz from the blogosphere, including FIRE, Free Speech at CUNY, Mitchell Langbert’s Blog, History News Network, Phi Beta Cons, Inside Higher Ed, and many others, as well as New York media, New York Post, and New York Sun.

The PSC and UFS leadership has utterly misjudged Karkhanis’ character. Instead of groveling to the whims of an elitist PSC regime and pleading for forgiveness, as they must have surmised, he has determined to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court. He will fight forever for his First Amendment right to dissent, to criticize and satirize in written expression, and so will I, as well as many other friends and unsolicited defenders of free speech and freedom of the press.

It remains to be seen whether or not the PSC will follow in the footsteps of their Sudanese cohorts and grant a pardon to Karkhanis and retract this “silly” lawsuit or continue routine illegal activities defrauding the dues paying members, in this case funneling the union dues to pay for Susan O’Malley’s lawyers in a protracted highly visible court case. This private legal affair, which will be under the lens of severe scrutiny, is not a PSC or UFS case and any CUNY union funds used for O’Malley’s frivolous libel suit to censor free speech will be brought to light.

The PSC leadership has erred by not taking the time to research the political and literary background of Dr. Karkhanis. Examination of his background would have revealed a long distinguished career championing the inviolable rights of freedom of speech and conscience and especially fighting for freedom of the press in his native land, India. He published a book, Indian Politics and the Role of the Press highly critical of Mrs. Indira Gandhi's emergency regime, which censored the press. In a repressive environment he dared to challenge the ruling establishment, admonishing India’s Prime Minister that “press censorship was resented all over the world” and despite deteriorating social conditions as the justification for invoking emergency rule, defending freedom of the press is vital for safeguarding democratic institutions. But instead of meeting with a hostile reaction or punishment, Karkhanis’s remonstration was amicably received in a candid meeting with Mrs.Gandhi. Why should we expect anything less critical from him as a professor at CUNY with respect to the censorship and fraud of the PSC?

Karkahnis’s wise counsel to all of us is to stick to principles and don’t be afraid to speak out and rock the boat. Most people keep their lips sealed and won’t criticize when they see something wrong, because they feel they may be penalized or their careers may suffer. Karkhanis proved them wrong in the past and will prove them wrong again in the present legal case. In the long run, only benefit will ensue if one is bold enough to expose the flagrant abuses and hold their leaders accountable for their actions. His message to Susan O’Malley, whom he has long held to account on the pages of The Patriot Returns, is that her obsession to censor critics in addition to “her obsession with finding jobs for terrorists” to teach in the City University system is harmful to CUNY as well as her own career. Perhaps to demonstrate how the outrage has spread, the NYPD message board said it best recently in this officer’s quote regarding the lawsuit: “O'Malley forgot that when you're in a snake pit, you're going to be bit by a snake. And she's hanging out in a snake pit of terrorist(s).”


Child games: Another backflip by British Labor

Millions of pounds will be spent on new play and leisure facilities as part of a government plan to reverse the decline of childhood and make sure that children in England are both seen and heard. Ed Balls, the Children’s Secretary, said yesterday that he wanted to move away from the “no ball games” culture of the past, which curtailed the freedom of children and young people to learn and develop by playing independently outside the home.

Outlining details of the Government’s ambitious ten-year Children’s Plan, Mr Balls said: “The main message that children and young people have given us is that they wanted more and better things to do, particularly after school and at the weekends,” he said.

Most young people recognised their responsibilities towards society, but felt their own contributions were too often undervalued or ignored. “We want kids to be seen and heard,” Mr Balls told the House of Commons, adding that he wanted to make Britain the best place in the world for children to grow up. The plan aims to strengthen the children’s workforce by requiring all newly qualified teachers to gain a masters degree in education during their first year in the job.

The suggestion received a cautious welcome from teachers, who were pleased at the increased professionalism this will allow, but concerned about the timing, since the first year of teaching is the hardest for most new recruits. The plan also seeks to find better ways of dismissing poor teachers and striking them from the professional register maintained by the General Teaching Council.

There will also be a review of the way sex and relationships education is delivered in school. This is in response to concerns raised by young people in a recent report suggesting that sex education is taught so badly that many teenagers are left in complete ignorance about how to avoid sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.

The plan also set out options to help children born in the summer months, who often lag behind classmates born the previous autumn. Although the difference is most pronounced in the reception year, there is evidence that it lasts right up until the age of 16 in some children. Ministers will examine whether summer babies would benefit from the option of starting school the following January, or even the next September when they are five. Although the law already allows for some flexibility, many local authorities have withdrawn January starts saying that it makes it even harder for summer babies to catch up. As part of his curriculum review, Sir Jim Rose will examine whether it would be appropriate for even greater flexibility in start dates.

Free nursery education will be available for some two-year-olds in particularly deprived areas. The most recent research found that children from disadvantaged homes are up to a year behind in their learning than those from more privileged backgrounds by the age of three. From next year, every family will be entitled to 15 hours of free nursery education, up from 12½.

As part of the plan, the government also said that 90 per cent of five-year-olds would meet the agreed standard across the 13-part early years foundation stage by 2020. The most up-to-date figures from the Office for National Statistics found that only 45 per cent of children met the correct standards in the key areas of personal, social and emotional development, and communication, language and literacy this year. The department said across all 13 parts, 71 per cent of children had passed. The plan, which has the backing of Gordon Brown, aims to shift policy from the narrow confines of education to a broader focus on children.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007


York University saw the worst antisemitic display ever on that campus last week, said Ben Feferman, senior campus coordinator for the Canadian region of Hasbara Fellowships, an Israel advocacy organization spearheaded by Aish Hatorah. The Betar-supported Campus Coalition of Zionists (CCZ), together with Hasbarah, manned a table in Vari Hall, with permission from the university, with pamphlets and brochures about the danger emanating from Iran. However, the situation became very difficult for the students who participated. They were vastly outnumbered by pro-Arab students who surrounded them, and eventually the pro-Israel activists fled. As they left, there was cheering by the pro-Arab mob.

According to Feferman, "I've never seen anything like this at York. We weren't even discussing the issues anymore. It was pure Jew hatred. That's what it's come to."In fact, Feferman noticed an acquaintance there and said hello, but received no acknowledgement. She emailed him later that day to apologize, explaining that she didn't want everyone to know she was Jewish. To Feferman, this episode is a red light. "We know there's a crisis when a student on campus is afraid to reveal she's Jewish and feels unsafe," he said.

Another disturbing issue that day, according to Feferman, was that a Hillel executive was standing nearby, watching. Feferman can't understand why he didn't take action or get his students to help out.

When asked why they didn't offer to support Hasbarah and CCZ, Tilly Shames, associate director, Hillel of Greater Toronto, did not answer the question directly referencing a program Hillel had held previously that experienced no protest.

Shames said, "Hillel @ York ran an extremely successful Israel program in a very public space (Vari Hall) on campus last Thursday. The Israel program was received positively and embraced by the student body. Hillel experienced no protest for running a public Israel program."

"This is one of the first issues we've moved forward with in a pro-advocacy way, rather than being put in a reactive situation later on," said Orna Hollander, executive director of Betar Canada.

The following day, Palestinian Media Watch's Itamar Marcus addressed York students on the daily indoctrination of children living under the Palestinian Authority to hate Jews. "It was absolute chaos," Hollander declared. "It was impossible to moderate. People would ask loaded questions. Marcus wasn't given an opportunity to respond. He refused to get into a screaming match. One girl, raised in Canada, said she herself would gladly be a suicide bomber and would have no qualms raising her daughter to become a shahid."

A couple of weeks ago, when US-based anti-Israel professor of linguistics Noam Chomsky was scheduled to address York students via satellite, CCZ and Hasbarah joined forces to provide information about what Chomsky stands for.

"We wanted to do a protest," Feferman said, "but the university administration wouldn't allow it, saying they didn't want a lot of noise and they were afraid that signs could be used as weapons." The students settled for a table with handouts about Chomsky and two large posters, one depicting Chomsky with [Hezbollah leader] Nasrallah. One poster quoted Chomsky's statement: "I see no antisemitic implications in denial of the existence of gas chambers, or even in denial of the Holocaust."

The event was successful in providing information, Feferman said. "Over the course of four hours, a few hundred people came by. About half of them were moderate people who said they had heard about Chomsky in their English class and didn't know he had these views. The other half were people who condemned Israel and insisted Hezbollah isn't a terrorist organization. At one point they came together and surrounded us, argued about issues and blamed America and Israel. We had good security, including non-uniformed security guards. We succeeded in raising awareness of Chomsky's worldviews, although at times it was confrontational. We're now organizing a protest for the Finkelstein event at U of T on Thursday."

Hasbarah and CCZ are making plans to launch a presence at Ryerson University, where the vice-president of the student union has made several unsuccessful attempts in recent months to impose a boycott, divestment and sanctions motion against Israel and has organized a number of anti-Israel programs on campus.

(Last week, when a couple of Ryerson Student Union leaders tried to introduce a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel at the annual congress of the Canadian Federation of Students, more than two-thirds of the voting plenary rejected the call. B'nai Brith had called on the Federation to reject categorically the boycott proposal.)

"Two [Ryerson] students in the past few weeks called me and said they need help doing something," Feferman said. "We're going to try to find the students there and hope to start advocating properly on campus."

After the anti-Jewish near-rioting at York last week, one student representing the "Independent Body and Advocates of Peace and Humanity," handed out flyers stating its opposition to any comparison of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmanidejad with Hitler and claiming that CCZ was marginalizing Iranians by attacking Iran's leader. It should be noted that the same students who resent any criticism of Ahmanidejad and worry about a negative impact on Iranian students are active proponents of anti-Israel activity. "Freedom of speech is only for them," Feferman said. "The right to censure a country's leader is only for them."

At the senate meeting, no discussion followed the statement in favour of removing CCZ from campus. However, in a Facebook chat room later that evening, a member of the Independent Body and Advocates of Peace and Humanity wrote: "I just wanted the top authorities of the university to be informed.. Right after the meeting, other senators approached me and showed me their FULL support, whom of which [sic] control many things at the university."

According to Feferman, "that group wanted to use its freedom of speech in their anti-Israel campaign. Now they're adding a new element: Pursuing political and administrative means. They feel they have had success in reaching so many people over the years for their cause. They feel they can succeed further. Because of a lack of overall pro-Israel advocacy on campus, they have been `educated' by them. "At the end of the day, there's the issue of dignity," he added. "We have soldiers dying to protect us in Israel. We have to protect Israel's image on campus."


American Education Fails Because It Isn't Education

The debate over public education grows more heated. Regularly, reports are released showing that the academic abilities of American students continue to fall when compared to those in other countries.

Twenty years ago the U.S. ranked first in the world in the number of young adults who had high school diplomas and college degrees. Today we rank ninth and seventh, respectively, among industrialized nations. Compared to Europe and Asia, 15-year-olds in the United States are below average in applying math skills to real-life tasks. The United States ranks 18 out of 24 industrialized nations in terms of relative effectiveness of its education system. Knowledge in history, geography, grammar, civics and literature are all in decline in terms of academic understanding and achievement.

To solve the crisis, politicians, community leaders, and the education community all preach the same mantra. Students fail, they tell us, because "expectations haven't been set high enough." We need more "accountability," they say. And every education leader and nearly every politician presents the same "solution" to the education crisis: more money, better pay for teachers, and smaller classroom numbers so the children get enough attention from the teachers.

Consequently, there are two specific categories in which the U.S. excels, compared to the rest of the world. First, the U.S. ranks second in the world in the amount we spend per student per year on education = $11,152. The U.S. is also a leader in having some of the smallest classroom numbers in the world. Yet the slide continues. American students grow more illiterate by the year. How can that be? We're doing everything the "experts" tell us to do. We're spending the money. We're building more and more schools. We're raising teachers' pay.

Every American should understand that these three items: higher pay, smaller classrooms and more money for schools are the specific agenda of the National Education Association (NEA). The NEA is not a professional organization for teachers. It is a labor union and its sole job is to get more money into the education system, and more pay for its members. It also seeks to make work easier for its members - smaller classrooms. Clearly the NEA is not about education - it's about money and a political agenda.

Clearly the nation's education system is not teaching the children. They can't read or work math problems without a calculator. They can't spell, find their own country on a map, name the president of the United States or quote a single founding father. America's children are becoming just plain dumb.

Yet we have been focusing on a massive national campaign to "fix" the schools for the past decade or more. Now we have ultra high-tech, carpeted, air-conditioned school buildings with computers and television sets. We have education programs full of new ideas, new methods, and new directions. In the 1990's we set "national standards," accountability through "national testing" through Goals 2000. Through that program we declared that every child would come to school "ready to learn," "no child would be left behind," and pledged that our kids would be "second to none" in the world. Above all, we've spent money, money and more money. The result, American students have fallen further behind, placing 19th out of 21 nations in math, 16th in science, and dead last in physics.

With all the programs and attention on education, how can that be? To coin a well-worn cliche - "it's the programs, stupid." More precisely, it's the federal programs and the education bureaucracy that run them. It is simply a fact that over the past twenty years America's education system has been completely restructured to deliberately move away from teaching basic academics to a system that focuses on little more than training students for menial jobs. The fact is, the restructured education system has been designed to deliberately dumb-down the children. (Note: the NEA hates that phrase!)

Most Americans find that statement to be astonishing and, in fact, to be beyond belief. Parents don't want to let go of their child-like faith that the American education system is the best in the world, designed to give their children the academic strength to make them the smartest in the world. Politicians continue to offer old solutions of more money and more federal attention, almost stamping their feet, demanding that kids learn something. Programs are being proposed that call for teacher testing to hold them accountable for producing educated children. More programs call for annual tests to find out if children have learned anything. The nation is in panic. But none of these hysterical responses will improve education - because none of them address the very root of the problem.

The truth is, none of the problems will go away, nor will children learn until both parents and politicians stop trusting the education establishment and start ridding the system of its failed ideas and programs. Parents and politicians must stop believing the propaganda handed down by the education establishment that says teaching a child in the twenty-first century is different and must be more high tech than in days past. It simply isn't so.


Today's education system is driven by money from the federal government and private foundations, both working hand-in-hand with the education establishment headquartered in the federal Department of Education and manned by the National Education Association (NEA). These forces have combined with psychologists, huge textbook publishers, teacher colleges, the healthcare profession, government bureaucrats, big corporations, pharmaceutical companies and social workers to invade local school boards, classrooms and private homes in the name of "fixing" education.

The record shows that each of these entities has benefited from this alliance through enriched coffers and increased political power. In fact, the new education restructuring is working wonders for everyone involved - except for the children and their parents. As a result of this combined invasion force, today's classroom is a very different place from only a few years ago.

There is simply not enough room on these pages to tell the entire history of education restructuring and transformation. It dates back to the early efforts by psychologists like John Dewey, whose work began to change how teachers were taught to teach in the nation's teacher colleges. The changes were drastic as education moved away from an age-old system that taught teachers how to motivate students to accept the whole scope of academic information available. Instead the new system explored methods to maneuver students through psychological behavior modification processes. Rather than to instill knowledge, once such a power was established the education process became more of a method to instill specific agendas into the minds of children.

As fantastic as it seems, the entire history of the education restructuring effort is carefully and thoroughly documented in a book called The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America. The book was written by Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt, a former official at the Department of Education in the Reagan Administration. While there in 1981 - 1982, Charlotte found the "mother lode" hidden away at the Department. In short, she found all of the education establishment's plans for restructuring America's classrooms. Not only did she find the plans for what they intended to do, she discovered how they were going to do it and most importantly why. Since uncovering this monstrous plan, Charlotte Iserbyt has dedicated her life to getting that information into the hands of parents, politicians and the news media....

Professor Benjamin Bloom, called the Father of Outcome-based Education (OBE) said: "The purpose of education and the schools is to change the thoughts, feelings and actions of students." B.F. Skinner determined that applied psychology in the class curriculum was the means to bring about such changes in the students values and beliefs simply by relentlessly inputting specific programmed messages. Skinner once bragged: "I could make a pigeon a high achiever by reinforcing it on a proper schedule." Whole psychological studies were produced to prove that individuals could be made to believe anything, even to accept that black was white, given the proper programming.

The education system is now a captive of the Skinner model of behavior modification programming. In 1990, Dr. M. Donald Thomas perfectly outlined the new education system in an article in "The Effective School Report" entitled "Education 90: A Framework for the Future." Thomas said: "From Washington to modern times, literacy has meant the ability to read and write, the ability to understand numbers, and the capacity to appreciate factual material. The world, however, has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. The introduction of technology in information processing, the compression of the world into a single economic system, and the revolution in political organizations are influences never imagined to be possible in our lifetime. Literacy, therefore, will be different in the year 2000. It will mean that students will need to follow

*Appreciation of different cultures, differences in belief systems and differences in political structures.

* An understanding of communications and the ability of people to live in one world as one community of nations.

* In a compressed world with one economic is especially important that all our people be more highly educated and that the differences between low and high socio-economic students be significantly narrowed.

* Education begins at birth and ends at death.

* Education is a responsibility to be assumed by the whole community.

* Learning how to learn is more important than memorizing facts

* Schools form partnerships with community agencies for public service projects to be a part of schooling.

* Rewards are provided for encouraging young people to perform community service."

In this one outline, Dr. Thomas provides the blueprint for today's education system that is designed to de-emphasis academic knowledge; establish the one-world agenda with the United Nations as its center and away from belief in national sovereignty; replace individual achievement with collectivist group-think ideology and invade the family with an "It takes a village" mind-set. Dr. Thomas' outline for education is the root of why today's children aren't learning. These ideas permeate every federal program, every national standard, every textbook and every moment of your child's school day.

Much more here

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


There are quite a lot of education bloggers around so I am pleased to say that this blog survives the competition well enough to get around 150 hits per day. That may not seem much but it is better than 99% of all blogs.

What I put up here is basically whatever I come across in my days's reading that interests me both from a libertarian/conservative point of view and from my point of view as a former teacher at both the High School and University levels.

Education is however a huge field and I am acutely aware that I cover only a small fraction of what I could cover. And I think that a wider coverage would lead to more readers. So I would be very pleased if I could get a co-blogger who would help expand what the blog covers. Getting access to an established blog is a lot easier than starting a new blog so I hope someone will contact me about this.

Their general orientation would of course have to be libertarian/conservative but I think that any regular reader of this blog would fill the bill. The most consistent message of the blog so far has been that there should be much more privatization of schooling. I write from a country where over 40% of High School students already go to private schools so that is not totally blue-sky.

Academic Free Speech For Me, But Not For Thee

By Richard L. Cravatts

As evidence of what Professor Edward Alexander has called "the explosive power of boredom" in rousing the liberal professoriate to its ideological feet, Harvard's own Professor of Anthropology and of African and African American Studies, L. Roland Matory, called upon his academic peers once again in a November faculty meeting to foster

"a civil dialogue in which people with a broad range of perspectives feel safe and are encouraged to express their reasoned and evidence-based ideas."

And what were those "reasoned" ideas that had caused professor Matory to feel "unsafe" on Harvard's insulated campus? Criticism of Zionism and Israel, of course, an issue about which Professor Matory and others have many notorious opinions, but which are being suppressed, in his view, through "widespread censorship of dissent about Israel-Palestine." Professor Matory's implication is that on this one issue-criticism of Israel-the sacrosanct notion of "academic freedom" is being threatened by those pro-Israel opponents who wish to stifle all speech critical of the Jewish state.

But like many of his fellow travelers on the academic left, Professor Matory makes the mistake of assuming that academic freedom, and its stepchild academic free speech, is a bundle of rights that can be exercised without regard to those two other fundamental principles of higher education: academic responsibility and a fervent commitment to actual scholarship, as opposed to ideology parading as what he calls "reasoned and evidence-based ideas." With great regularity, academic imbecility and fraudulent scholarship have been substituted for reasoned inquiry on our campuses, and, observes Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, "academic freedom is meant to protect scholarship, not replace it."

Professor Matory is not the first academic to bemoan the oppressive and fearful might of pro-Israel forces in stifling any criticism or discussion of Israel; and his outrage and trepidations might inspire sympathy save for the inconvenient fact that the sheer volume and frequency of chronic, unrelenting, vitriolic, and one-sided demonization of Zionism and Israel on campuses worldwide makes Professor Matory's claims of being cowered into silence by Israel's supporters a bit disingenuous.

In that respect, Professor Matory shares a similar view with the Kennedy School's Stephen Walt, who, with University of Chicago's John Mearsheimer, recently published The Israel Lobby, a book-length version of an earlier paper that revealed the existence, in their minds, of a powerful, cabalistic lobby in America working to sway public policy and jeopardize America's international standing, all to Israel's advantage.

"The goal [of the Israel Lobby]," they wrote, in words similar to Matory's own wild observations, "is to prevent critical commentary about Israel from getting a fair hearing in the political arena." While their insidious bit of scholarship, which Eliot A. Cohen, a professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, called an "inept, even kooky academic work," soared to the top of the non-fiction bestseller's list and sent the pair off on a nationwide book tour, they still manage without embarrassment to proclaim that they are, like Matory," touching the "third rail" of political discussion and fearfully go public with criticism of Israel.

Professor Matory also recalled how another luminary of the academic netherworld, Norman Finkelstein, was disinvited from Harvard because of his unrelenting criticism of Israel. Finkelstein is a man who Professor Steven Plaut of the University of Haifa has called a "pseudo-scholar and Holocaust trivializer" who "used his position at DePaul University in Chicago to promote his open celebration of Middle East terrorism." His best known screed, The Holocaust Industry: Reflections On The Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, minimizes the magnitude of the Holocaust while simultaneously making the perverse accusation that it is used by Zionists to extract sympathy from the world community and to justify the oppression and subjugation of the Palestinians by Israelis.

Finkelstein, who was recently denied tenure at DePaul, has now also adopted the position that his failure to thrive, academically speaking, is the direct result for being bold enough to speak up against Zionism and Israel-and he has been punished into silence accordingly, even while he regularly visit college campuses nationwide where his forbidden speech apparently is heard by eager audiences.

What Professors Finkelstein, Walt, Mearsheimer, and Matory have all apparently failed to realize is that they have not been silenced at all in their unrelenting rants against Israel; in fact, the very opposite is true: they have achieved world-wide notoriety and, in some quarters, wide acclaim for their views. More importantly, in their zeal to preempt the insulating force of this notion of "academic freedom," they have sought to deprive their ideological opponents of the same rights and protection; that is, while they want to be able to utter any calumny against the Jewish state and suffer no recriminations for their speech, they view any speech from those challenging their views to be oppressive, stifling, unreasonable, and, in the popular term used by those who frequently utter second-rate ideas, "chilling."

But the issue is far more obvious than the professors care to realize, and much less insidious. Those who speak back to ideologues such as Matory, Finkelstein, Walt, and Mearsheimer do so not to suppress criticism of Israel; academic freedom grants the professors the right to spew forth any academic meanderings they wish, but it does not make them free from being challenged for their thoughts.

"Free speech does not absolve anyone from professional incompetence," says Michael Rubin; and those who question divestment petitions, or critique the anti-Israel and anti-American "scholarship" parading on campuses as Middle Eastern Studies, or answer back when a work purports to reveal a sinister Jewish cabal controlling U.S. foreign policy, or correct such notions as Professor Matory's that Israel is "quashing the rights of millions of Palestinians refugees to lands, houses, and goods stolen as a condition of Israel's founding in the late 1940s" are not stifling debate about Israel. They are using their own academic freedom to rebut what they see as distortions, half-truths, propaganda, mistakes about history, or outright lies.

There is nothing unseemly about countering speech-even hateful speech-with more speech. In fact, that is the very heart of the university's mission. Professor Matory claims that he is seeking a greater civility on campus through reasoned academic discourse, but his real intention seems to be to create that civility by having only his side of the discussion be heard-without the uncomfortable necessity of hearing other, dissenting views. Like many of his fellow academics, he proclaims widely the virtues of open expression, but only for those who utter those thoughts with which he agrees. But true intellectual diversity-the ideal that is often bandied about but rarely achieved-must be dedicated to the protection of unfettered speech, representing opposing viewpoints, where the best ideas become clear through the utterance of weaker ones.


Professor Matory and Larry Summers

Professor L. Roland Matory of Harvard, the subject of Richard L. Cravatts' AT article today, is further revealed in this post by Hillel Stavis, owner of the former Wordsworth Bookstore, a favorite hangout of mine in Harvard Square in years past, on Solomonia (hate tip: Powerline).

Attending a recent lecture by Matory, Stavis was stunned to find himself attacked by name on apparently false grounds. He goes on to describe this other and even more disturbing aspect of the lecture:
But what is most disturbing about Professor Matory's apparent obsession with Israel and Jews (at one point he referred to "a moneyed and media connected American Israeli defense force" - I guess we can dispense with the usual coded language observation) is the unavoidable realization that for Professor Matory who was at the epicenter of ousting Larry Summers, ostensibly for sexist remarks, Israel was the primary trigger. It seems clear that for Professor Matory, Summers' original sin was his opposition to the Harvard divestment - from - Israel campaign expressed long before his (in)famous speech on women in the sciences.

It would seem that Professor Matory has a bad case of Jews-on-the brain. He is beset by Israeli colonizers and their minions on campus: Practitioners of "character assassination, dis-invitation, and other losses of career opportunities campaign contributions, income or friends, and, above all, the damage done by fervent Zionists to the process of intellectual inquiry and debate in this university". By dis-invitation, he was referring to the wide opposition to the Harvard English Department's invitation to Tom Paulin, an Irish poet who has called for the murder of all Jewish settlers, including men, women and children (a position predictably skipped over by the Professor). Continuing his breathless rant he claimed that even his teaching compensation was not off limits for the vaporous cabal: "Even my annual salary is set by officials who appear to feel threatened by my bringing up this issue."


Yet more messing around with British primary schooling

The Labour government just runs around in circles. Nothing is ever thoroughly pretested. What is right today is wrong tomorrow

Children are to be taught and tested at their own pace and primary school pupils will study fewer subjects to concentrate more on the basics and a foreign language, under a radical shake-up to be announced tomorrow. Some of the traditional subjects such as history and geography, or art and music, could be rolled into one, The Times has been told. As well as French and German, primary pupils may get the chance to learn Urdu and Mandarin.

The system of "one size fits all" national curriculum tests taken annually by all 11-year-olds and 14-year-olds will be swept away and replaced by twice-yearly tests pitched at the level of individual children. The changes will come in a ten-year "children's plan" to be outlined by Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, who admitted yesterday that the British system was not yet "world class".

The aim of the changes will be to ensure that the very bright are continually stretched and the stragglers are given sufficient support. The rigidity of the present national testing system, which challenges schools to ensure that as many as possible reach minimum levels of achievement for their age, will go. Instead a child would take a level four test, for example, not at a given age but when they reach that level.

The new system would allow most pupils to take two shorter tests when they are ready, instead of one longer test fixed at age 11. Pupils could sit their tests either in the summer or the winter, instead of all during one week in May. The reforms are intended to stop teachers spending too much time drilling pupils to pass the tests because children will only sit the assessments when their teachers believe that they are ready. The results will still be published in tables to show parents and authorities how schools are progressing.

Head teachers welcomed the reform but gave warning that schools would still face too much pressure if the results are used to compile league tables. Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "We think the concept of when-ready testing is the right concept. I agree we want to get away from the rigidity of the current system."

Mr Balls wants to take out "some of the clutter" from the timetable and make the teaching of a language at primary school compulsory. Sir James Rose, who led the review that promoted phonics as the primary way to teach reading, is to head the first "root-and-branch" review of the primary curriculum for ten years. Mr Balls told BBC 1's Andrew Marr programme yesterday that the curriculum needed to have "more space for maths and more space for reading and also to make sure that every child is being taught a foreign language in primary school."

Recent research from Manchester University suggested that around 51 per cent of teaching time is already devoted purely to English and mathematics as teachers drill young children to pass their SATs tests. The plans respond to concerns that, after ten years of steady improvement, progress in the three `r's at primary school has come to a standstill.

Mr Balls denied that the need for a Children's Plan after ten years in government was an admission of failure. There had been "a sea-change" under Labour, he insisted, adding: "We are doing better than we were, but it's not good enough. We aren't world class. "I want to move to a much more flexible approach to testing which will take the burdens off children and be better for teachers to track the individual progress of every child."


Monday, December 10, 2007

No need to read a book to pass an English exam in England

Teenagers could soon be able to pass an English exam at GCSE level without having to read a single novel, poem or play. Instead of studying the canon of English literature, they would study practical use of the language. This could include the use of English in travel brochures or marketing material. The course, which is being developed by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, would result in a BTEC qualification, equivalent to a GCSE. The proposal, reported in The Times Educational Supplement (TES), comes after the reading skills of Britain’s 15-year-olds were criticised this week after the UK dropped from 7th to 17th in an international ranking. A separate study last week found that England’s 10-year-olds had fallen from 3rd to 19th place.

The trust sees the BTEC as a solution to these disappointing results by adopting a totally fresh approach to English teaching. The new examination would be very different from existing English GCSE courses, which require students to study set texts, from a list provided by the examination board. The idea of the new qualification is to build up the functional English language skills of students who may be daunted by the requirement to read a whole book. The course would focus instead on the kind of writing that students would encounter in their daily lives.

But Ian McNeilly, director of the National Association for the Teaching of English, questioned the plan. “It seems to me that promoting an English qualification that does not involve picking up books, plays or poems is losing sight of what the subject is about. “If there is a case to answer that English teaching is not inspiring kids, I don’t see how creating a new qualification would improve that,” he told the TES.

The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust is already piloting a similar course in functional maths in 50 schools. That course is designed specifically to engage with young people who feel that they are no good at the subject. It does this by applying maths skills to real-life situations, such as collecting data on sporting performance or designing a Formula One car. David Crossley, the trust’s director of achievement, said: “Every child has talent and aptitude and we need to find their strengths. This will help give students confidence to continue studying.” He added: “The BTEC qualifications would be designed to run alongside GCSEs, not replace them. It would also complement the diplomas, which will be offered from next year and will have a functional skills component.”

A spokesman for the trust added that the new qualification was in the very early stages of development. “The BTEC Maths pilot has proved successful and popular in supporting students taking their maths GCSE and we are interested to see if this can be replicated in other subjects. “English is the obvious next step, but it is very early days and we haven’t even started to look at its possible content. However, if this does go ahead it will follow the principle of motivating students and focusing on their strengths by teaching it in an applied way.” It will discuss the plan with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the Edexcel examination board and hopes to give the English BTEC a trial in 2009.

A spokeswoman for Edexcel said that it had not yet got plans for a new qualification. She added: “We believe that any new qualification that engages and rewards students for whom the GCSE English language and literature are not appropriate would be well received.” The BTEC would not count towards a school’s league table position for pupils achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths, although ultimately the trust hopes to persuade the Government to include it.


Australia: Muslim school raided and shut down

A MUSLIM school in Perth has been raided by police and shut down by WA Education Minister Mark McGowan. The school's head faces a stealing charge. Mr McGowan said he had taken the extraordinary step of closing Muslim Ladies' College in Kenwick because of allegations, including fraud and the use of unregistered teachers who were focusing mainly on religion, rather than the WA curriculum.

The school's acting director, Zubair Sayed, appeared in East Perth Magistrates Court charged with stealing. The court was told the charge related to an alleged theft offence - of $355,934 - in April, when Mr Sayed, of Sarah Close, Canning Vale, was a company director of Muslim Links Australia Ltd.

It is alleged the school was overclaiming for state and federal government funds for students. Police prosecutor Sgt Scott McCormick told the court that detectives had discovered the money had been sent to Pakistan. "This is a matter which is of extreme seriousness, whereby Mr Sayed obtained public money from the commonwealth by deceit," Sgt McCormick said. "The state wishes to put on the record that this is a very serious charge."

The court was told that Mr Sayed wrote a Commonwealth Bank cheque for money from the Federal Government that was meant for the Muslim Ladies' College to educate students. At the time, Mr Sayed's brother was principal of the college. Magistrate Vicki Stewart granted Mr Sayed bail, with conditions he surrender his passport, not be within 1km of international sea or air ports, report to a police station each Wednesday and reside at his home address. He was released on $100,000 bail and a $100,000 surety to reappear in Perth Magistrates Court on January 2 next year.

On Friday, Mr McGowan said: "I want to make it clear that this decision (to close the school) has not been made because this is a Muslim school. "This decision has been made because this is a school that is not educating students properly. "An investigation into the operations of the college by the Department of Educational Services began in December 2006 - following complaints about the conduct of the principal-administrator, staffing of the college and the educational program.'' Key areas investigated included whether teachers were registered, the appropriateness of qualifications of teachers, inadequate educational leadership and standard of education, and the sufficiency of the school's resources.

Mr McGowan said other concerns were about the college's governance structure, the condition of buildings, and facilities and enrolment, and attendance procedures. He said it was found that teachers were inexperienced in teaching and understanding the curriculum framework, and students weren't being taught all required subjects. "The college has employed a number of unregistered teachers and many with limited authority to teach,'' he said. "Teachers are not spending 50 per cent of the school day on literacy and numeracy, as required. "Instead (they) spend a large amount of time on religious studies. This is clearly unacceptable and seriously damaging to the student's academic well-being. "The school is not being properly led because the director of the college (Anwar Sayed) is in Afghanistan and has been for most of the year."

Mr McGowan wrote to the school's governing body to notify them of his decision, which took effect from Friday. He said enrolments had declined in the past year, from about 90 students at the beginning of 2007 to about 50 or 60 students currently.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

How Leftist teachers hate classical literature!

The “Jabberwocky approach” to poetry teaching in schools, which relies too heavily on “lightweight” nonsense verse and too little on the classics, risks turning an entire generation away from the art form. A report from the schools inspectorate Ofsted gives warning today that poetry teaching in England can be repetitive and dull, with the same few poems chosen time and again for study. In primary school teachers tended to chose nonsense or whimsical poems such as Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat and Spike Milligan’s On the Ning, Nang, Nong, poems that tell a strong story, such as Walter de la Mare’s The Listeners, or poems that are easy to imitate, such as Roger McGough’s The Sounds Collector.

William Blake’s Tyger was the most popular classic poem taught in primary schools. Only a minority tried poems such as Wordsworth’s Daffodils or Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. As many secondary schools also included The Listeners and Jabberwocky, it is therefore likely that some pupils study the same small number of poems.

Secondary pupils also often studied individual poems rather than poets, so their experience of poetry tended to be of single poems written by different writers. Common choices were Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et decorum est, W. H. Auden’s Funeral Blues and Dylan Thomas’s Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.

There was widespread agreement that Shakespeare, Blake, Hughes and Heaney should be taught in secondary schools, with John Agard and Benjamin Zephaniah named as the most-popular poets from other cultures. But few teachers could give inspectors a satisfactory explanation for their choice of poetry and inspectors cited a survey by the United Kingdom Literacy Association, which found that more than half of teachers could not name more than two poets.

The National Curriculum requires primary pupils to cover both modern and classic poetry. Secondary students should read poetry from the English literary heritage and poems written for young people and adults. At both stages, pupils should also study poetry from different cultures and traditions. In primary schools teachers often knew too little about poetry to teach it properly and are unsure how to respond to pupils’ own writing, a report found. At secondary level, pupils spent too much time trying to imitate the work of popular poets, but were given too little encouragement to develop their own style. Inspectors noted with regret that at GCSE level, pupils spent large amounts of time studying poetry, but almost never composed anything of their own. One girl aged 16, told inspectors: “I can’t remember the last time I wrote a poem.”

While younger children told inspectors that they liked poetry, those in secondary school found the subject dull. In some cases, little more was required of pupils than to count the lines or list the rhymes. “The overuse of tasks like this means that pupils’ enjoyment diminishes and poetry becomes a chore rather than a pleasure,” inspectors concluded. While inspectors found that the standard of teaching poetry was good in two thirds of schools, overall it was weaker than other aspects of English teaching. Lessons were rated “outstanding” in only seven of the 86 schools inspected.

The report, Poetry in Schools, urged teachers to make sure they allow children to study a wider range of poems from classic writers and other cultures. It also suggested that schools provide more opportunities for pupils to write independently. Lord Adonis, the Schools Minister, said it was vital that poetry was taught in an engaging way. “Teachers should embrace but not be confined to the classics. There is a myth that poetry is obscure, which teachers can explode by introducing pupils to a broad range of poets.”


The value of history

We have been here before. Almost every event has a precedent, never exact, but often revealing. Politicians and the media, however, often behave as if everything is new, risking a repeat of past mistakes. Demonstrating the relevance of history is the goal of the History and Policy website, a collaboration of Cambridge University, the Institute of Historical Research and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. This involves a network of historians and 60 short briefing papers on topics such as climate change and national identity.

What history can contribute was the theme of a lively symposium in the Churchill Museum in London on Wednesday. Professor David Reynolds argued that historians could help via case studies from the past, such as by providing a larger sense of process, beyond the short-termism of normal politics; and thinking in time. The right question, he said, was not “What’s the problem?”, but “What’s the story?” – meaning: “How did we get into this mess?” Tracing the way in may help to point the way out.

Professor Reynolds, a diplomatic historian, gave some pertinent examples: “Beware nods and winks” – Tony Blair’s sometimes self-deluding hopes after his meetings with George Bush; “Watch your stereotypes” – Baroness Thatcher’s view of the Germans; “Cultivate teamwork” – like Ronald Reagan and George Shultz; and “Play it long” – John Major and Mr Blair’s successful efforts in Northern Ireland.

Professor Pat Thane, a social historian, stressed recurring challenges and arguments: for example, debates over means testing or targeting go back well before the Beveridge report of 1942, and those on the children of single mothers to the Poor Law in the late 16th century. Both Peter Lilley, the Social Security Security in the Major years and Baroness (Patricia) Hollis, a junior minister in that department after 1997, complained about the lack of past or international experience available to them.

Professor David Cannadine argued that Whitehall departments should have historical advisers and that the Government should have a chief historical adviser. This would go well beyond safeguarding records. It would be especially valuable in areas such as constitutional reform, where debates about the Union and Home Rule have long antecedents.

The role could be like a historical conscience, akin to the Chief Scientific Adviser. But the public statements of the Chief Scientific Adviser have to be in line with government policy, though Sir David King, the outgoing adviser, has interpreted that broadly with his attacks on antiscience prejudice. Would a historical adviser be speaking truth unto power in secret? And should not historical insights be an automatic part of policymaking and done by permanent secretaries, embodying the institutional memory of departments? Hence, Professor Reynolds’s suggestion that ministers make more use of historically trained advisers.

The implicit target of many comments was Mr Blair (who knew little history before 1997) and the explicit hope was Gordon Brown (with his PhD in history). The key, however, is being willing not just to think historically but to discuss parallels and precedents openly. That is much harder for any minister.