Sunday, November 30, 2008

Florida university bans Christmas

Christmas is just 30 days away, but Santa Claus won't be stopping by Florida Gulf Coast University this holiday. He's not allowed on campus. FGCU administration has banned all holiday decorations from common spaces on campus and canceled a popular greeting card design contest, which is being replaced by an ugly sweater competition. In Griffin Hall, the university's giving tree for needy preschoolers has been transformed into a "giving garden." The moves boil down to political correctness.

"Public institutions, including FGCU, often struggle with how best to observe the season in ways that honor and respect all traditions," President Wilson Bradshaw wrote in a memo to faculty and staff Thursday. "This is a challenging issue each year at FGCU, and 2008 is no exception. While it may appear at times that a vocal majority of opinion is the only view that is held, this is not always the case."

Bradshaw's directive struck a chord with FGCU employees. The Staff Advisory Council received 44 anonymous comments on the issue; all were against the ban on holiday decorations. "It says people are very passionate about this," said council president Ruth Rodrigues, who also is director of auxiliary services. "The holidays are a joyous time, and they want to express themselves." The council voted Monday to send administration a letter outlining employees' comments.

In Bradshaw's memo, he said the decision was not an "attempt to suppress expression of the holiday spirit." Staffers will be permitted to display holiday decorations on their desks, but not on their office doors or in common spaces. Traditional workplace Christmas parties are not an issue at FGCU. "We don't generally have Christmas parties here," said Audrea Anderson, associate vice president for community relations and marketing. "There are end-of-the-semester parties or end-of-the-calendar-year parties. They are certainly not related to anyone's beliefs." Bradshaw plans to convene a committee in 2009 to address future methods of sharing traditions throughout the year.

In 2001, then-President William Merwin lit the university's official Christmas tree, a 22-foot Colorado blue spruce. Children from the college's child care center and university choir performed traditional carols. Junior Marilyn Lerner, a 20-year-old resort and hospitality management major from California, said she'll miss seeing Christmas trees in the Student Union. "I think they're pretty," said Lerner, who is Jewish. "It's just a Christmas tree. I don't mind."

Neither does junior Stephanie Tirado, 20, an education major from New York. "Christmas is no longer just a religious holiday. It's commercialized now," said Tirado, who is Wiccan. "Why don't they just add a menorah then?"


Dumbing down of exams leaves students `unable to deal with real problems'

Britain sliding towards mediocrity, says report

The "catastrophic slippage" in the standard of science exams is deplored by leading scientists in a report sent today to MPs. The Royal Society of Chemistry says that the system is failing a generation of school-leavers by setting them undemanding exams. It says: "The record-breaking results in school exam passes are illusory, with these deficiencies having to be remedied at enormous expense by universities and employers."

The society set up an online Downing Street petition that was signed in the first 24 hours by more than 1,700 people, including Susan Blackmore, the psychologist, Adam Hart-Davis, the broadcaster, and the chemistry author Peter Atkins. The petition says: "Science examination standards at UK schools have eroded so severely that the testing of problem-solving, critical thinking and the application of mathematics has almost disappeared. Even bright students with enthusiastic teachers are being compelled to learn to the test, answering undemanding questions to satisfy the needs of league tables and national targets. This system is failing an entire generation, which will be unequipped to address key issues facing society."

The society undertook an experiment by asking schools to nominate their most gifted students to sit an online examination immediately after their GCSEs. Chemistry questions were selected from O-level and GCSE papers from the 1960s to this decade. More than 1,300 pupils took part. The researchers found that many highly intelligent teenagers were unfamiliar with solving the types of questions on the older papers. They achieved, on average, 35 per cent on the most recent papers and only 15 per cent on the exams from the 1960s.

The report said: "Changes to the syllabus and to the language used in examinations since the 1960s may partially explain this progression, but are unlikely to provide a complete explanation. Questions needing multiple mathematical steps, without prompting, were answered least well."

Richard Pike, the society's chief executive, said: "The target of our campaign is a failed education system, not the youngsters it is supposed to serve. There has to be revolutionary change; otherwise, this country will continue to slide down the slippery slope to mediocrity."

The report sent to MPs said that the style of exam questions had changed over the decades. "There is now a greater emphasis on the processes and implications of scientific inquiry. Such changes should be welcomed; however, it is important that this can include stretching talented students and preparing them for a possible career in science," it said. "The 2008 GCSE results for chemistry and science were in keeping with the continuing remarkable performance of pupils."

In this summer's GCSE exams, 94 per cent of students achieved a grade C or higher in chemistry, according to provisional figures, up from 91 per cent last year. More than half were awarded the top grades of A* or A.

The report's authors said that there had been, in recent years, "increased emphasis placed on the context and application of scientific knowledge to problems in the real world". They added: "While this represents an improvement over more traditional education approaches, which relied heavily on recall of isolated chemical facts, the lack of quantitative content in the GCSE curriculum means that an A or A* can be attained with little manipulation of numbers. The inevitable outcome is that pupils will not be able to develop better logic and problem-solving abilities, and their appreciation of the context of science will be, at best, superficial."

Michael Gove, the Shadow Schools Secretary, said: "The Royal Society of Chemistry is only the latest independent body to warn of the devaluation of science education. We've slipped ten places in the international league tables for science, and children are being asked questions that show our curriculum isn't preparing them for the challenges for the 21st century."


No comments: