Friday, December 05, 2008


Very similar to UK and US problems. Three current articles below

Academic bias in Australia

This has been going on for a long time. When I was a university student I was an outspoken conservative and was well aware that I was as a result looked at askance by the academics. So I ended up in 1967 with only a lower second class honours degree. Yet the thesis for that degree was eventually published as an academic journal article and I had over 200 journal articles published in a writing career of only 20 years -- something that would put me in the top 1% of academics. The degree I got therefore clearly was not an accurate testimony to my ability.

'Like the characters Winston Smith and Julia in George Orwell's classic anti-totalitarian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, students with non-Left views need to learn to outwardly conform to inwardly remain free." This is how a high school tutor, Mark Lopez, describes the plight of Australian students in his submission to the Senate inquiry into academic freedom, which is due to table its report today. In 18 years tutoring English and the humanities, Lopez has seen a "subtle, unstated pressure for students to ideologically conform if they want to succeed academically".

He said the "beliefs of the politically correct, which are seen by them as so noble and emancipating, especially when . touted by radical students in the 1960s" have become a "means for compromising the intellectual freedom of the young in the 21st century".

Many academics have derided the Senate inquiry, begun in June by the Victorian Liberal Senator Mitch Fifield, as a "witch-hunt", an exercise in "mud-slinging", the dying throes of the Howard regime and a "McCarthyist" attempt to curtail the freedom of academics. The National Tertiary Education Union was typical in its submission asserting that bias does not exist.

But the submissions - some anonymous - tell a different story and paint a chilling portrait of an often unconscious academic bias in schools and universities, and of students too intimidated to say or write what they think. Joshua Koonin, a third-year law student, told the inquiry: "I have .consistently felt intimidated that if I express views other than those [of my] tutors and lecturers . my marks will suffer." He told of readings on "the immorality of the United States . with no countervailing position" and a lecturer who said, "nobody in Australia supports John Howard and his crimes".

Professor Brian Martin, of the University of Wollongong and vice-president of Whistleblowers Australia, who researches the suppression of dissent and is hardly what you would describe as a conservative, was among the most powerful witnesses to the inquiry. He told a public hearing in Sydney in October that students have become "strategic" at working the biases of their teachers. "For someone like me, teaching social science, I actually would like the students to be speaking out much more, disagreeing with me . But they are afraid . They are trying to find out what the lecturers are looking for because then they will give it to them. These are strategic students . They want to get good marks, so they are trying to figure out what their lecturers want. That is a far bigger problem, in my mind, than the bias that may exist."

Together, the submissions form a story of an academic world plagued by what the James Cook University academic Merv Bendle described in a public hearing in Canberra as an "intellectual monoculture". "In another age this could be a fascist, far right intellectual monoculture and it would do just as much damage to our society as a left-wing or far left intellectual monoculture. It is not so much the politics of the thing; it is the fact that it is an intellectual monoculture, that it is one voice being heard over and over again unrelentingly."

The inquiry split early along party lines, with a minority report due to be released today by Coalition senators, who are expected to recommend reform of ideologically driven university education faculties, as well as a "charter of academic freedoms".

While the concerns of Young Liberals, who inspired the inquiry with their "Make Education Fair" campaign, are expected to be dismissed in today's Senate majority report as an "undergraduate exercise", the federal president, Noel McCoy, said yesterday the inquiry had established the existence of "a radical orthodoxy which pervades the development of university courses and school curriculums, stifles debate and prevents genuine balance or diversity of opinions". McCoy reserves special scorn for university education faculties, which he says are crucial to the "long march through the institutions", which the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci said was necessary for socialism to take hold.

The inquiry discussed the problem of education being used as a tool for social change rather than to impart skills. One result is that Monash University has just announced remedial English courses for students who arrive "functionally illiterate" after 12 years of school.

And committee member, Liberal Senator Brett Mason, complained about a Brisbane high school he visited in which Mao Zedong was displayed as a "freedom fighter" alongside George Washington and Mahatma Gandhi.

Gideon Rozner, president of the University of Melbourne's Liberal Club, told the inquiry about a course on "contemporary ideologies", comprising 12 lectures, 11 "dedicated to different variations of socialism". The solitary lecture about liberalism and conservatism had as its compulsory reading an article from the left-wing Monthly magazine titled "Young Liberals in the chocolate factory". "The entire liberal or conservative tradition [was] summed up by that article . When students enrol in a contemporary ideology subject and finish it not knowing any of the works of Adam Smith or John Stuart Mill or Milton Friedman or any of the great thinkers of our time, that is a significant quality issue."

A month after Rozner's testimony, on November 4, the inquiry committee received a letter from a "disappointed" University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis, who defended the subject. But he said it was to be replaced next year with a "broader introduction to political ideas subject [with readings from such] liberal authors such as John Stuart Mill and Milton Friedman". Chalk up a victory to the Young Liberals, even if no one will ever admit it.


Google generation doesn't need to know facts?

What an addle-headed and destructive Leftist moron! If kids don't have a solid base of knowledge to start with they cannot make good judgments about what is nonsense and what is not. You have got to have that basic grounding. And calling it "rote" or "memorizing" is just abuse

School children no longer need to memorise facts and figures because everything they need is just a mouse click away, an internet educator says. It would be better to teach children to think creatively so they could interpret and apply knowledge they gained online, said Don Tapscott, author of the bestselling book Wikinomics and a champion of the "net generation".

"Teachers are no longer the fountain of knowledge; the internet is," Mr Tapscott told Times Online. "Kids should learn about history to understand the world and why things are the way they are. But they don't need to know all the dates. It is enough that they know about the Battle of Hastings, without having to memorise that it was in 1066. They can look that up and position it in history with a click on Google," he said.

But Mr Tapscott said he was not rejecting education. The ability to learn new things was more important than ever "in a world where you have to process new information at lightning speed," he said. "Children are going to have to reinvent their knowledge base multiple times. So for them memorising facts and figures is a waste of time."

Mr Tapscott, who coined the term "the net generation", based his observations in his latest book, Grown Up Digital, on a study of nearly 8000 people in 12 countries born between 1978 and 1994. He said the prevailing education model was designed for the industrial age. "This might have been good for the mass production economy, but it doesn't deliver for the challenges of the digital economy, or for the `net gen' mind," he said.

He suggested the brains of young people worked differently from those of their parents and said "digital immersion", in which children may be texting while surfing the internet and listening to their MP3 player, could help them to develop critical thinking skills.

Brighton College headmaster Richard Cairns told Times Online that a core level of knowledge was essential: "It's important that children learn facts. If you have no store of knowledge in your head to draw from, you cannot easily engage in discussions or make informed decisions."


Federal education boss has the right ideas but can she deliver?

It was telling that on the Monday morning after the weekend Council of Australian Governments meeting, ABC local radio in Sydney excitedly declared it day one in the education revolution. For ABC broadcaster Deborah Cameron, the revolution was about computers. Was this the Great Leap Forward? she asked rhetorically. Cameron should have googled, if only to remind herself that Mao Zedong's program led to the deaths of many millions of Chinese. Historical quibbles aside, for the next few minutes Cameron and NSW Education Minister Verity Firth applauded the coming revolution for delivering a laptop to every high school student in years nine to 12.

Completely off their inner-city Mao-focused radar is the real revolution cautiously started by Julia Gillard at the weekend. Far more important than the underfunded election gimmick of computers that still excites the ABC is Gillard's grassroots change to education. There was no coincidence to the visit to our shores in the lead-up to COAG by New York City education chancellor Joel Klein. In Sydney late last week, he told me, with a cheeky smile, that he enjoyed being described by 2GB radio broadcaster Alan Jones as Julia's pin-up boy. And it's not hard to understand why Gillard is enamoured with Klein, who has run the largest public school system in the US - more than 1400 schools - for the past six years.

His bold reforms have challenged the status quo, lifting the prospects of thousands of children. Based on accountability, transparency and leadership, Klein's system tests literacy and numeracy, and tracks the progress of students in every school and the outcomes delivered by every teacher. Critics who complain that Klein's reforms teach students to master mindless tests miss the point, he says. Every mark of progress students earn in the tests increases their probability of graduating. And lifting the outcomes of students stuck in the tail of educational disadvantage is Klein's driving focus. Importantly, parents can access all the information on the New York City education department's website. Schools are awarded a grade for student progress, from A to D or F forfail. The D and F schools face restructure or closure unless they improve. Principals and parents are surveyed regularly. That, too, is all public.

As Klein said, transparency means the public becomes your ally in reform, "so that parents can raise hell" about schools that are failing their children. Added to that powerful cocktail of transparency and accountability is competition from small, independent charter schools.

Parents with students at failing schools have the option to move their children to other schools. Underperforming schools stop taking students for granted. "We wanted to be the Silicon Valley for charter schools," Klein told The Australian, so he recruited the great charter school leaders to NYC. People such as Dacia Toll, who is the director and co-founder of the Amistad Academy, came to NYC to open schools that unapologetically use student performance as a factor in student, principal and teacher evaluation.

When Klein took up his post, disadvantaged students had little choice. There were 16 charter schools. There are now more than 100, all in high-poverty areas such as Harlem and central Brooklyn, educating the most disadvantaged black and Hispanic students in NYC.

Klein told me about meeting a child in kindergarten at Excellence Academy, a red-bricked charter school in an impoverished part of Brooklyn. The boy told Klein he was in a University of Pennsylvania program. "Hang on, you're in kindergarten," Klein said to the boy. "What do you mean?" "I'm on my way to college. It's never too young to think about that," replied the little boy.

Klein's key concern is the inequitable distribution of high-quality teachers. So he also encouraged quality school leadership by raising $US70million from the private sector to train what he calls "get-up-and-go, tackle the problem" leaders who, in turn, would attract motivated teachers to their cause. Leaders such as Marc Sternberg, who graduated near the top of his class at Princeton and went on to business and education degrees at Harvard. When, at 29, Sternberg returned to New York, Klein appointed him principal of a small school where every child is black or Latino.

Klein copped the usual criticism about appointing a young guy. Longevity is the key to being a good school principal, said the critics. When Sternberg joined Bronx Lab School in 2004, it had graduation rates of about 35 per cent. Now the graduation rate is 94 per cent. "That's the power of leadership," says Klein. He has also introduced a trial into 200 high-poverty schools of bonuses for teachers where student progress improves, and greater freedom for principals to achieve better outcomes.

At COAG on Saturday, Gillard dipped her toe in the water of a Klein-inspired education revolution by scoring agreement with the states to publish data about the relative performance of schools. The commonwealth can then identify struggling schools and inject further resources into them. "What Labor has never used before is full transparency," Gillard said. Klein said that "once this genie (of transparency) is out of the bottle, it's very hard to put it back in".

But if Gillard is serious about reforming education and confronting the tail of education underachievement, she will need to do more. The model of rewards and penalties that she has previously ruled out will, ultimately, need to be on the table. Handing out money to disadvantaged schools cannot be the end game if student outcomes do not improve. Closing down consistently failing schools, encouraging competition and providing incentives to schools that achieve have proven to be critical reforms in NYC.

Klein's bold agenda is to position education of the most disadvantaged as the civil rights issue of the 21st century. If Gillard can do the same, she will, in the process, position herself as a true leader and Kevin Rudd's natural successor. Sometimes the best reforms are done from within. For all the bluster about reforming education, none of the Coalition education ministers, including most recently Julie Bishop, could win over teachers unions to this cause. Gillard, from the Labor Party's Left faction, is uniquely placed to woo her power base to see the sense of reforms they have long opposed.

For now, unions are mouthing the same old nonsensical objections driven by their vested interests. And Gillard can expect much more feral and misguided criticism. But if, as Klein has done, she can build on the present moves towards transparency with tougher reforms in the future aimed at greater accountability, she will deliver a real education revolution. And she will have earned the thanks of those who count: parents and students, especially those most disadvantaged among us who deserve a quality education. Stirring the pot - and delivering real outcomes - is, as Klein would say, the power of leadership.


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