Friday, November 07, 2008

A middle-school education in shelf-filling in Britain

I guess it's an improvement on learning how wonderful homosexuality is

Sainsbury's supermarket will offer a qualification in shelf-stacking and stock-taking as well as a GCSE in literacy and numeracy, it will announce today. On-the-job training, open to all staff, will count towards a final NVQ, worth five good (graded A-C) GCSEs, in the retail skills of stock control, merchandising and health and safety.

The company, which has 150,000 employees, is the first retailer to be granted "awarding body" status, allowing it to confer nationally accredited certificates. It is also offering staff the chance to improve their English and maths up to grade D equivalent at GCSE, which they can take without their colleagues' or immediate bosses' knowledge. The first 2,000 will get a $100 voucher.

Rebecca Hales, 25, who works at the branch in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, has already started maths under a pilot version of the scheme. Illness had prevented her doing as well as she would have liked at school, she said. "I've got an online tutor who rings me up to check on me and give me new activities every week," she said. "I know all about fractions and denominators and numerators now. It's a great confidence boost."

The company believes that 25 per cent of its workforce will get one of the new qualifications, endorsed by the awarding body EDI, in the next five years. Justin King, the chief executive, said: "Every one of our colleagues can improve their skills, which not only benefits our customers but also supports our colleagues, to achieve their full potential."

In January McDonald's, Network Rail and Flybe were given powers to award qualifications up to PhD level as part of the Government's drive to improve employer-based training. Critics questioned the worth of "McGCSEs", and said that they could devalue academic qualifications. Professor Alan Smithers, the director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, said: "Employees may find they are locked into that business because these awards don't have credibility outside the company." However educational experts believe that it will become increasingly common for private institutions to award qualifications.

John Denham, the Skills Secretary, congratulated Sainsbury's on the move. "We know that those companies that invest in skills are best equipped to weather tough economic times, and are also best placed to capitalise on opportunities for growth," he said. Richard Wainer, head of education and skills at the CBI, said of the initiative: "It shows how employers can play a valuable role creating opportunities for people."


A Tale of Two Activists

Thanks to Stanley Kurtz, most of us are aware now that, as chair of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC), Barack Obama had little interest in the educational success of young Chicago area schoolchildren. Funds intended for school reform efforts in Chicago were in some cases diverted to liberationist causes such as the Arab American Action Network, ACORN, and Reverend Jeremiah Wright's Trinity United Church.

Indeed, in two reports totaling well over 100 pages, The Chicago Annenberg Challenge: The First Three Years (1999) and The Chicago Annenberg Challenge: Successes, Failures, and Lessons for the Future (2003), very little is mentioned about the fortunes of specific academic programs but quite a bit of ink is devoted to "making learning environments more intimate" and "reducing school isolation from communities." School communities are encouraged to "think boldly" in order to "further development" with respect to educational variables such as "time, size, and isolation." One Chicago area business leader criticized CAC's goals as "abstract to the point of irrelevancy."

Furthermore, the 1999 report "examines the development of the CAC's theory of action." Among the five educational methodologies considered in the report one was cryptically entitled "Redistributing Resources." Supporters of this theory identified "economic and racial inequality" as the central problem in American public school education. Their "action plan" includes fostering "dialogue about underlying causes of inequality." They mention that the "key resources" at their disposal include "public spirited media, political bully pulpits, and Federal and State government entities." The "impediments" to the implementation of their action plan include "resistance from the currently privileged."

In short, CAC money was spent examining how to use the media, bully pulpits, and electoral office to shame Americans into thinking that the "currently privileged" were responsible for the nation's failing schools. Indeed, the CAC report analysts seem to lament the shift in focus from the kids to the activists when they conclude the following:

The development of the CAC into an activist foundation seeking to achieve policy influence while remaining faithful to its initial vision, should it succeed, may ultimately restrain its long-term reform legacy to one less deep and thorough than it might have hoped.

We know that the chief proponent of the "Redistributing Resources" faction of the CAC, Barack Obama, has had astonishing success of late using "public spirited media, political bully pulpits and Federal and State government entities" to advance a class warfare theory of education. But he was an abject failure when it came to actually helping kids in Chicago develop a passion for learning. For Americans about to vote on Tuesday this is a telling and profound sign: had Barack Obama and his colleague Bill Ayers been genuine about their commitment to children the CAC would have been a model of success rather than a 50 million dollar failure.

While the "Messiah" was busy in Chicago softening the rough edges of Marxist educational theory, another African-American activist was working quietly in San Antonio, Texas, improving the lives of children one at a time. His name is David Robinson, former NBA champion center for the San Antonio Spurs and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. Robinson's nickname "The Admiral" is a byproduct of his stellar performance as a student-athlete at the United States Naval Academy, the prestigious institution he entered with a 1320 SAT score in 1983.

Back in 2001, a couple of years before he retired from the NBA, Robinson, and his wife Valerie, provided the inspiration and financial support to create the kind of school kids in Chicago can only dream about. It's named the Carver Academy after George Washington Carver, the man Time Magazine dubbed in 1941 the "Black Leonardo" because of his genius in science, education, botany and many other fields. Carver also had little patience with whiners ("Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses"). This is why Carver, who endured plenty of discrimination in his life, has never been embraced by our "diversity" engineers. His name, therefore, is a fitting moniker for one of our nation's more successful private schools.

When parents click on "Curriculum Overview" at the Carver Academy website they won't find hundreds of pages of Ed School jargon regarding structural inequality and racism. They will find a couple of short paragraphs describing the "skills mastery approach" to education and how that encompasses science, math, literature, history and languages. Clicking on "Foreign Languages" reveals one sentence telling prospective parents that "all students, pre-kindergarten through 6th grade, take three different foreign language classes. All students attend Spanish, German and Japanese each week." The "Music/Band" link consists of just two paragraphs describing the benefits of music education in other fields of study and that "every Carver Academy student learns to read and write music" as well as "has an opportunity to be in the band."

Parents should know that anyone with a sincere interest in child development is going to keep a healthy distance from an ideologue like Barack Obama. While academics and educrats thrill over the theoretical intricacies of competing learning methodologies, kid-friendly activists like David Robinson believe that education is about young people learning the skills to master their own lives. Simply put, to Obama, kids seem to be abstractions - grist for some personal philosophical vision.

The magnificent English writer Samuel Johnson once penned a penetrating analysis of what he called "self-deception." One of the chief signs, according to Johnson, of a self-deceiver is his tendency to "confound the praise of goodness with the practice." These are people who think they are "mild and moderate, charitable and faithful, because they have exerted their eloquence in commendation of mildness, fidelity, and other virtues." This kind of self-deception says Johnson is "almost universal among those who converse with dependents."

Since Barack Obama has spent most of his life as a professor, community organizer, and politician "conversing with dependents" we must take seriously Johnson's warning that these people will "rate themselves by their opinions" rather than by their good works. The tragedy of the CAC was that the entire project was organized by a gaggle of intellectuals who, according to Johnson, tend to "show their virtue in their talk rather than in their actions." How else does one explain hundreds of pages of analysis and little in the way of results?


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