Saturday, January 26, 2008

Polar Fiction: More MLA nonsense

Assuming the verifiable truth of global warming, some academics wish to circumvent the climate change debate and start teaching college students about importance of combatting this imminent disaster.

Just as some environmentalists have co-opted the polar bear as a symbol for the predicted ecological crisis, Britt Rusert, a doctoral candidate at Duke University, visualizes polar exploration literature as a new outlet for this discourse: "How, I wonder, might such a polar canon help us conceptualize and historicize ecological crises, specifically the master discourse of global warming and their contemporary moments?," she told a Modern Language Association (MLA) audience this December.

She believes that "polar fiction is a potentially exciting place" to "certify climate change." "What new types of inquiry could be activated...pedagogically to new environmental reality?," she said.

The panel's title, "Rethinking Polar Fictions in an Age of Inconvenient Truth," insinuates a desire to revise history to include "evidence" of global warming. Similarly, Rusert denied the anachronisms of her approach, telling the audience that "American literature shows, in many ways, climate change is nothing new." No historical revisionism is necessary to advance the climate change agenda.


More corruption of what is supposed to be education

The holiday season can be filled with surprises. Of course, when it comes to the public school system, those surprises aren't always wrapped with colorful ribbons. One morning a few weeks ago, I got a frantic call from my 14-year old daughter from school. "Mom, can you bring in some canned food?" she frantically inquired. "What for?" I asked. "It's for English class. We get 10 bonus points for bringing in canned food for the poor." "What???!!" "Please Mom. I can really use the extra credit!" "I can't believe this."

So what do I do? I hate this on so many levels, but all the other students will be doing it and getting the advantage of the bonus points for something that does absolutely nothing to develop the English skills I pray my daughter is somehow acquiring in this system. So I resentfully and begrudgingly dig out some canned food out of my pantry and run on over to the Junior High building like some kind of hoop-jumping sheeple.

Of course, I immediately shoot off an email to teacher and ask if it is true that the students have been offered extra credit in Honors English class for bringing in cans of food. She confirms unapologetically that it is true. But don't worry, she responds to an additional email of clarification and complaint, 10 bonus points doesn't really amount to much in the whole grade. Then why offer it at all? Because she can, because she gets away with it, and it allows her to manipulate her students into doing what she wants with her all-powerful grade-giving authority (my response, not hers.) Later I find out that my daughter's friend's math teacher offers extra credit to the math class, also for bringing in cans of food.

Why does this bother me so much? Is it really such a big deal? Before we write this off as a fairly innocuous and forgettable act of poor judgment by a few misguided school teachers, let's take a look at what our young minds have learned from this lesson.

First the teacher asks them to please bring in canned food for the poor. Her request goes ignored, and she is annoyed that the students can be so thoughtless of others this holiday season when they themselves have so much. So if they are not going to do the right thing on their own, she is going to offer them a bribe to do the "right" thing. After all, that is how morality is learned, right? Not through reason or from ones parents, but through bribes! She is going to offer to lift their grades in English in exchange for them doing something good for the community!

So the students learn that there are ways to game the system. Don't do something because it's right or good. If you hold out long enough, someone will offer you something in return, which completely changes the nature of your so-called "donation." Now you have made a purchase - some cans for some bonus points. What could be easier or more clearly in one's self interest? And you learn that you can get credit for something, namely English class, without actually performing anything at all in that area. You can get ahead in life not by getting good at something and acquiring skills that add value, but by doing something completely unrelated for someone in power.

You learn not to differentiate between charity and service, bribery and extortion, the quid pro quo. You learn that people in power can get you to do things that you don't really want to do through manipulation and misuse of that power.

You learn to lose respect for "educators", and by association, anyone trying to teach anything. If this is what education is, let's just get it over with as quickly as possible and with as little effort as necessary, and please, don't ask me to learn anything unless you can prove to me that there's really something in it for me in the end. Because we all know it's just a game, and it's really just wasting my time. And indeed it is.



British police have offered to train university staff to spot extremists operating on campus despite complaints from Muslim students that they could be unfairly targeted, a government document said Tuesday. Lecturers have been urged to scrutinize both students and invited speakers for signs they could be involved in radicalizing young people, according to new government guidelines.

Bill Rammell, the higher education minister, published advice to universities Tuesday on tackling extremism, requesting institutions share information on suspected radical speakers. "There is a real and serious threat, and we must all take responsibility for protecting ourselves," Rammell said. Al-Qaida influenced terrorism was the government's primary concern, he said, warning schools of the threat posed by far-right groups, animal-rights activists, anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic speakers.

Rammell said he believed some controversial speakers should be allowed to appear at universities, to allow moderate academics to debunk their claims through debate. "We prize academic freedom and freedom of speech as ends in themselves and as the most effective way of challenging the views which we may find abhorrent but that remain within the law," he said. But staff should compile details of speakers they fear may be exhorting students to violence - even in meetings held off campus - and share their concerns with counterparts, Rammell recommended.

British government security officials said Tuesday that radicalization is now much less likely to take place in mosques or formal settings, but instead in homes, gyms or at meetings on the fringes of campus. Jonathan Evans, head of the domestic spy agency MI5, warned in November that there is evidence extremists are grooming children and teenagers for attacks against Britain.

But some students and staff argue that Rammell's guidelines could lead to the victimization of Muslim students. "There is no evidence to suggest that Muslim students at university are particularly vulnerable to radicalization," said Faisal Hanjra of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies in the United Kingdom and Ireland. "Nor is there any evidence to suggest that university campuses are hotbeds of extremist activity." Sally Hunt, general secretary of academic labor organization University and College Union, said university staff should not be expected to police their students. "No student should ever think they are being spied on and no staff member should ever be pressurized into treating any group of students differently from another," she said.


Milwaukee Parental Choice Program Under Attack

Wisconsin state Rep. Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) is pushing a proposal to oust 7,000 students from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP)--the nation's oldest and most successful school voucher program.

In a January 7 memorandum to legislative colleagues, Kessler said the purpose of his idea was to decrease enrollment in the voucher program by 40 percent. He says the MPCP has created a "funding inequity" in Milwaukee that could be alleviated by kicking students out of the program and returning the subsequent "savings" to Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). According to an analysis by School Choice Wisconsin, Kessler is calling for:

1) All teachers in schools of choice to hold bachelor's degrees from accredited colleges or universities. A bill passed in 2005 to lift the cap on enrollment in the MPCP imposed independent accreditation requirements on all participating schools.

2) All voucher recipients to take the same tests as MPS students, with the results "given to MPS for publication." The 2005 measure requires all MPCP schools to "administer a recognized test of their choosing" to measure student proficiency and allows for independent research that will produce reliable comparisons between MPCP and MPS students using MPS tests.

3) Parents applying for vouchers to submit tax returns as proof of eligibility. This requirement is already met by the MPCP.

4) Voucher payments not to exceed tuition charged to non-voucher students. Under current law, the maximum voucher payment is $6,501 per child. Schools that spend less per pupil receive less money. MPS spends $11,000 per pupil.

5) Schools of choice to admit special-needs siblings of students already enrolled. Schools participating in the MPCP already are prohibited from discriminating against special-needs students. The only information private schools can use to determine voucher eligibility is household income and residency.


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