Sunday, September 21, 2008

British child footballers banned from reading results

Children have been banned from reading their football results in local newspapers because it makes them too competitive.

Football Association laws dictate that from this season, the results of matches between children aged seven and eight must not be published, league tables must not be kept and prizes must not be given out. Some local associations have chosen to extend the regulations even further, it has emerged, banning league tables and trophies for 9, 10 and 11-year olds as well.

Scott Ager, who last season managed Priory Parkside under-9s 'A' team in Huntingdon, was sharply reprimanded after declaring that his team had won the league and having them photographed with a trophy by their local newspaper. Mr Ager said: "I find it bizarre. It seems to me to work against talented players, as the teams who may lose heavily are likely to be ones with players who just play for a bit of fun. It is very frustrating. Kids put all this effort in but there is no reward. "All the other managers in the league acknowledged that we had been the best team as we had won the most games. Football is our national sport, yet there are some strange rules around it."

A spokesman for Hunts FA said: "We were very angry. We do not allow competitive leagues until after under-11s. Mr Ager was chastened very severely and eventually left his club."

The FA handbook states: "Under-7s and Under-8s are not permitted to play in leagues where results are collected or published or winner trophies are presented." The move was designed to allow young children to nurture their skills without facing the pressure to win. Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA's director of football development, said: "In the youngest age groups there's too much emphasis on winning leagues, often to satisfy parents and coaches. "That's what we're looking to change. We need better, more skilful players coming through. Undoubtedly having league tables at this age is not helping their development."

Andy Szczepanski, whose son plays for Brampton Spartans under-8s, said: "I understand where they are coming from but I also think there is a need for competition. "It will make it more difficult for managers trying to arrange friendlies against sides of a similar standard because without seeing results there is no frame of reference."

During a visit to the Olympics in Beijing last month, Gordon Brown admitted that Labour's decision to reduce competitive school sport had been a "tragic mistake" and promised to re-introduce it. "We want to encourage competitive sports in schools, not the 'medals for all' culture we have seen in previous years," the Prime Minister said. "It was wrong because it doesn't work. In sport you get better by challenging yourself against other people."

The Conservatives said that last year 3.1 million school children - 42 per cent of all pupils - did not compete in intra-school sport. Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture secretary, said the figures showed Mr Brown's promise was hollow. He said: "Gordon Brown talks the talk on competitive sport but doesn't get past the starting blocks when it comes to delivery of policy. "If he wants to end a 'medals for all' culture, why has the number of children doing competitive sport at school gone down by nearly a million last year alone?"


"Postmodernist" English teachers in Australia: Teachers of English or ideology monomaniacs?

Of all people, you would think those who run the professional organisation representing English teachers in NSW would be able to write a clear, precise sentence. You would also think they would want students to read books. Alas, no. The English Teachers Association's submission to an HSC syllabus review by the NSW Board of studies uses the sort of incomprehensible cant George Orwell warned against, to argue against the inclusion of more Australian literature in the syllabus. "The ETA opposes the selective nomination of some types of text as this implies hierarchies in generic form and medium rather than in the quality of the texts themselves."

The nine-page document takes some effort to decipher, with its mind-numbing jargon, bolted-together phrases, pompous tone and scare quotes, all cloaking the banality of its thinking. Essentially ETA opposes the board's plan to ensure students read more Australian books, plays and poems. It's not so much the Australian part the association people dislike. It's the books, plays and poems.

In their world, as in the curriculum, "texts" can be books as we know them - words on a page that ideally have some literary merit - and can also be music videos, movies, reality TV shows, comic books ("graphic novels") or songs. To ETA, all texts are equal, and sceptical students are required to expend considerable effort trying to prove it.

The author Sophie Masson recalls her elder son having in year 11 to compare Arthur Miller's play The Crucible - "which he loves and thoroughly responded to" - with an ad for a weight-lifting gym. "If it wasn't horrible, it would be hilarious, and in fact it's both [and stems from] I believe subconscious hate and envy of writers." Masson's sons, who both sat the HSC in the past three years, "had a horrible time with [Advanced and Extension] English despite both once loving it," she says. "They were utterly contemptuous of the syllabus, and the fact they hardly had to read anything at all."

She says defenders of the syllabus point to "heaps of great books on the curriculum [but what] they fail to say is that hardly ever are more than a tiny, tiny proportion of these books studied, because there is no time. What students have to do - and the poor teachers have to enforce - is a whole lot of crappy assignments that are all to do with themes, ideologies, frameworks and outcomes but no originality, curiosity, imagination or thinking for yourself . The students generally loathe it."

So do most teachers, she says, from her experience of hosting writing workshops at schools. "Most of them absolutely hate the new HSC and its heavy emphasis on theory, themes and so on, rather than character, story and response . But they are bound to do it. There is a huge burden on them to comply with curriculum rules and what has to be accomplished in a year."

In the 1980s, when Dr Kevin Donnelly taught high school English in Victoria, his students were hungry for literature. "Kids are like water. They'll find the lowest level. But if you challenge them, and help them, they just love it because they're mastering something difficult." At one boys' school, he said the student favourite was Shane, a short novel made into the classic 1953 cowboy movie. They loved a passage in which a gun slinger and a farmer dig out a tree root and act all "male and aggressive". But it became too politically incorrect to teach Shane and Donnelly was accused of reinforcing masculine stereotypes.

Donnelly, author of Dumbing Down, says Australian curriculums are suffused with a debased neo-Marxist and postmodernist theory that became fashionable among academics 30 years ago. This is the ideology that underpins the ETA submission. It is pure social activism, not aimed at helping children gain wisdom, but to "emancipate" them from blind belief in Western civilisation, especially what they might learn from "literature".

The association is "most concerned at the use of the term 'literature' [and the] privileging of 'print medium' ", its submission states. "This stipulation harnesses Australian literary achievements to an important technology, but one that no longer enjoys the cultural predominance it once enjoyed."

Well, words are words, whether they are on a computer screen, Kindle, iPod or papyrus. They are the marks we recognise as the 26 letters of the English alphabet in combinations to form words, which are then combined to form sentences, in groupings we call paragraphs, with additional marks we know as punctuation, all of which are combined to create meaning. Written language is the highest form of expression, the purest way of communicating ideas, of pinning down the abstract, describing the concrete, explaining the world.

While oral language and iconography - pictures - are important, it is the written word that has helped us most to think. To elevate pictures and sounds to equal status is to rewind human evolution and primitivise the brain. Orwell wrote in his 1946 essay Politics And The English Language that if you can't write you can't think.

English becomes "ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts". "If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself."

Which, of course, is why ETA people write the way they do. If they wrote in their submission: "students should not read good books because literature is elitist", everyone would laugh at them and parents would bite their heads off.

Of the 1800 English teachers the association professes to have as members, just 43 responded to the survey that informed the board submission. This is a clear sign the membership has switched off, as well it should.


Far-Leftist academic teaching at Australia's defence academy

Some of Australia's top thinkers on national security have opened a new front in the culture wars - over whether a postmodernist interpretation of terrorism is brainwashing our next generation of military leaders. At the centre of the intensely personal battle is the appointment as an associate professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy of Anthony Burke - who after claiming he was being misrepresented as "pro-terrorist", has demanded his chief critic be investigated for academic misconduct. Dr Burke, 42, complained to James Cook University over an article in Quadrant magazine by Merv Bendle, a senior lecturer in history and communications, which claimed university terrorism studies had been hijacked by a "neo-Marxist, postmodernist orthodoxy" among academics.

Another senior Canberra academic, Paul Pickering, of the Australian National University, fired off a separate protest to the Townsville-based university, but stopped short of calling for action against Dr Bendle.

The barrage of complaints and counter-claims brought to a head a row that began two months ago when Carl Ungerer, former national security adviser to the federal Labor leadership, questioned Dr Burke's appointment to the defence force academy as "eyebrow-raising". Dr Burke withdrew his complaint against Dr Bendle yesterday after conceding "it may be that administrative action is not the best way to address the problem". He told The Weekend Australian: "I remain deeply unhappy about Dr Bendle's accusations, and the violation of scholarly protocols they represent."

Dr Bendle, 57, turned up the heat on Dr Burke, who describes his political orientation as "liberal-left", by singling him out for being part of an academic clique that had compromised university terrorism studies. "In the war on terror, a main battleground has become the universities where Islamist groups openly recruit members while an updated, post-9/11 version of the old neo-Marxist, postmodernist orthodoxy on terrorism dominates among academics," Dr Bendle wrote in the latest edition of Quadrant, a standard-bearer for Australia's conservative intelligentsia.

Dr Bendle accused Dr Burke of trying to deny the right of countries such as Australia to defend themselves against attack by terrorists. In doing so, "one wonders how students at the ADFA would feel if they are asked to place their lives on the line for Australia in Afghanistan, Iraq or other battlegrounds in the war on terror", Dr Bendle wrote.

Describing the ADFA man's published writings as "astonishing" for someone who was responsible for educating military officer cadets, Dr Bendle said Dr Burke had presented national security in "post-modernist terms, not as a concrete state of affairs or balance of political forces". He turned Dr Burke's words back on him, saying it was clear he doubted that "terrorists are enemies of freedom or that freedom has any particular value". Dr Bendle said Dr Burke's take on Australia's counter-terrorism polices was that they provoked "the very thing they claimed to defend us from - i.e. terrorism is Australia's own fault".

Dr Bendle quoted his fellow academic as saying that Australia's national values and way of life were merely "vast ideological abstractions". Talking up "fundamental freedoms" was actually a "narcissistic performance of self in which Australia is represented as pure and good, as falsely superior to the religion of Islam," Dr Bendle wrote of Dr Burke's work.

Dr Burke told The Weekend Australian that while Dr Bendle had quoted him accurately, he had misrepresented his broader view that terrorism was immoral and politically counter-productive. "The quotes are accurate, but the characterisation is not," he insisted. The inference that he was pro-terrorist was an outrageous slur, Dr Burke said.

In his letter of complaint to JCU vice-chancellor Sandra Harding, dated last Monday, the Canberra academic hit out at Dr Bendle for claiming that he and Dr Pickering, among others, had "relentless sympathy for terrorists, defend the Islamist terrorists who conducted the July 2005 London bombings and are generally pro-terrorist".

Dr Burke initially complained that the Quadrant article raised "serious concerns about the integrity and honesty of Dr Bendle's research", and invited a "formal and transparent investigation by JCU as to whether or not it constitutes a case of serious academic misconduct". Dr Burke, in withdrawing his demand yesterday, said he had decided that a university investigation was not warranted. "I think there is still a matter of principle there," he said. "But I don't believe that asking for administrative action is the best way to respond."

Dr Bendle said he was relieved, but stood by his criticism of Dr Burke's supposedly post-modernist interpretation of terrorism. He disputed Dr Burke's assertion that their altercation was an extension of the culture wars, "very much in the American strain where people see the university as a battleground". Dr Bendle said the issue was actually academic freedom. Dr Burke and Dr Pickering should have approached him with their concerns before going over his head at James Cook University. "It is a basic rule of academic etiquette for parties in an academic dispute to respect the right of free inquiry and free speech," he said. "These gentlemen could easily have emailed or telephoned me with their concerns and I would have done everything possible to reach some compromise."

Dr Pickering did not return calls yesterday.

Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon shied away from comment, referring questions on Dr Bendle's complaints to the Australian Defence Force. In a statement, the ADF said academic staff at the defence force academy were employed on their research and teaching record, according to the rules of the University of NSW. "Taking any course out of context of the whole degree program does not truly reflect the overall education being provided to students at ADFA," a defence spokesperson said.

However, the battlelines were hardening among supporters of the two feuding academics. Dr Ungerer, now director of national security for Canberra-based think tank, the Australian Strategic Policy Unit, yesterday backed Dr Burke's concerns. Many academics teaching terrorism-related courses at university were "off on a tangent", which had no relevance to real-world security issues, he said. Dr Burke's immediate boss at ADFA, humanities and social sciences head David Lovell, said the lecturer had his full confidence. He said the academy, which operates academically as an offshoot of the University of NSW, produced graduates for the military "with no particular ideological views ... who approach issues with an open mind, in a critical spirit".

Dr Burke said ADFA had a balanced mix of teachers. "If everyone was like me, it wouldn't be appropriate ... you don't force your views on students. You must teach a range of perspectives," he said.


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