Friday, October 10, 2008

"Right and wrong" makes a comeback in British schools

Apparently "extremism" now joins "racism" in being one of the few things that are wrong

Schools are being given advice on how to prevent pupils becoming drawn to violent extremism and terrorism. Guidelines are being made available to primary and secondary schools in England to help them discuss the issues surrounding extremist views. Schools Secretary Ed Balls said schools could play a "key role" in getting young people to reject extremism.

Schools should have a named teacher to whom pupils can report any concerns of grooming by extremist groups. Teachers should protect the well-being of pupils who may be vulnerable to being drawn to extremism, says the government's "Learning together to be safe" kit. ' Mr Balls said the initiative was a direct response to a call from schools for support and advice to tackle extremism. "This is not about asking teachers to be monitors and to be doing surveillance, that's not their job. "But if something concerns them, we want them to know who to turn to for help," he said.

"Violent extremism influenced by Al-Qaeda currently poses the greatest security threat but other forms of extremism and hate- or race-based prejudice are also affecting our communities and causing alienation and disaffection amongst young people," he added. "The toolkit shows how education can be used to tackle all forms of extremism and build a stronger, safer society."

Mr Balls said a security response to terrorism was not enough and that the underlying issues must be addressed. "Our goal must be to empower our young people to come together to expose violent extremists and reject cruelty and violence in whatever form it takes," he said.

Hatch End High School in Harrow, north-west London, is one of the schools that has been involved with producing the guidance. Head teacher Alan Jones said the important thing was to keep children safe and secure. "By bringing things into the open, by discussing these sorts of things in school, we're actually improving the safety of all our children."

Mr Jones said while schools were there to teach academic subjects, they also had a duty to develop the wider person. "It's important to teach about everything in life, to prepare young people to be world citizens," he said. The National Union of Teachers welcomed the guidance, saying violent political groups presented a significant threat to large numbers of people. Acting general secretary Christine Blower said: "Terrorist threats have to be tackled. "It's worth remembering that groups such as those from the far right can pose intimidatory threats to their communities, as serious as those from al-Qaeda."

And Chris Keates of the NASUWT teachers' union welcomed the way the government had taken on board its representations to ensure the toolkit covered the extremism of fascist and racist groups. But Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, was more critical. "We have a duty of care to try to prevent young people descending into illegal activities which could ruin their lives," she said. "But teachers are not trained to deal with radicalisation. We are not spy catchers. "School staff believe in having reasoned discussions with pupils, and will welcome the practical advice in the government's anti-extremism tool-kit which builds on the work already being done in schools and colleges. "

But despite what Ed Balls says, the tool-kit over-emphasises concerns about al-Qaeda, while the reality is that more staff in schools and colleges are trying to combat intolerance towards minority groups such as gays and lesbians and travellers, racism, and violence from animal rights extremists."

Anthony Glees, Professor of security and intelligence studies at the University of Buckingham, said it was wrong to target young children. "It's very important that the government has recognised that school teachers and their pupils need to be alerted to the growing threat of radicalisation amongst the young and MI5 has alerted us to this some time ago. "This is good. It's a sophisticated, security-led tool kit although I have to say putting this over to kids who are five-years-old is ridiculous. This is a problem for 12 years and above. "This is a mistake. You should allow all British children a certain amount of innocence and happy childhood days. They don't need to know all the things they are being told."


Latin revival

The number of students in the United States taking the National Latin Exam has risen steadily to more than 134,000 students in each of the past two years, from 124,000 in 2003 and 101,000 in 1998, with large increases in remote parts of the country like New Mexico, Alaska and Vermont. The number of students taking the Advanced Placement test in Latin, meanwhile, has nearly doubled over the past 10 years, to 8,654 in 2007. While Spanish and French still dominate student schedules - and Chinese and Arabic are trendier choices - Latin has quietly flourished in many high-performing suburbs, like New Rochelle, where Latin's virtues are sung by superintendents and principals who took it in their day. In neighboring Pelham, the 2,750-student district just hired a second full-time Latin teacher after a four-year search, learning that scarce Latin teachers have become more sought-after than ever.

On Long Island, the Jericho district is offering an Advanced Placement course in Latin for the first time this year after its Latin enrollment rose to 120 students, a 35 percent increase since 2002. In nearby Great Neck, 36 fifth graders signed up last year for before- and after-school Latin classes that were started by a 2008 graduate who has moved on to study classics at Stanford (that student's brother and a friend will continue to lead the Latin classes this year).

Latin is also thriving in New York City, where it is currently taught in about three dozen schools , including Brooklyn Latin, a high school in East Williamsburg that started in 2006. Four years of Latin, and two of Spanish, are required at the new high school, where Latin phrases adorn the walls and words like discipuli (students), magistri (teachers) and latrina (bathroom) are sprinkled into everyday conversation. "It's the language of scholars and educated people," said Jason Griffiths, headmaster of Brooklyn Latin. "It's the language of people who are successful. I think it's a draw, and that's certainly what we sell."

Adam D. Blistein, executive director of the American Philological Association at the University of Pennsylvania, which represents more than 3,000 members, including classics professors and Latin teachers, said that more high schools were recognizing the benefits of Latin. It builds vocabulary and grammar for higher SAT scores, appeals to college admissions officers as a sign of critical-thinking skills and fosters true intellectual passion, he said. "Goethe is better in German, Flaubert is better in French and Virgil is better in Latin," Dr. Blistein said. "If you stick with it, the lollipop comes at the end when you get to read the original. In many cases, it's what whets their appetite."

Latin was once required at many public and parochial schools, but fell into disfavor during the 1960s when students rebelled against traditional classroom teachings and even the Roman Catholic Church moved away from Latin as the official language of Mass. Interest in Latin was revived somewhat in the 1970s and began picking up in the 1980s with the back-to-basics movement in many schools, according to Latin scholars, but really took off in the last few years as a language long seen as a stodgy ivory tower secret infiltrated popular culture.

Harry Potter books use Latin words for names and spells, and at least two have been translated into Latin ("Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis"), as have several by Dr. Seuss ("Cattus Petasatus"). Movies like "Gladiator" and "Troy" have also lent glamour to the ancient world. "Sometimes you need to know Latin to understand that part," said Adrian McCullough, 10, a sixth grader in New Rochelle who plans to reread the Harry Potter books now that he is learning Latin.

Marty Abbott, education director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, said it was possible that Latin would edge out German as the third most popular language taught in schools, behind Spanish and French, when the preliminary results of an enrollment survey are released next year. In the last survey, covering enrollment in 2000, Latin placed fourth. "In people's minds, it's coming back," she said. "But it's always been there. It's just that we continue to see interest in it."


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