Tuesday, December 09, 2008

UNC libraries ban Christmas trees

Chapel Hill library chief says staffers complained about the display

For as long as anyone can remember, Christmas trees adorned with lights and ornaments have greeted holiday season visitors to UNC Chapel Hill's two main libraries. Not this year. The trees, which have stood in the lobby areas of Wilson and Davis libraries each December, were kept in storage this year at the behest of Sarah Michalak, the associate provost for university libraries. Michalak's decision followed several years of queries and complaints from library employees and patrons bothered by the Christian display, Michalak said this week.

Michalak said that banishing the Christmas displays was not an easy decision but that she asked around to library colleagues at Duke, N.C. State and elsewhere and found no other one where Christmas trees were displayed.

Aside from the fact that a UNC Chapel Hill library is a public facility, Michalak said, libraries are places where information from all corners of the world and all belief systems is offered without judgment. Displaying one particular religion's symbols is antithetical to that philosophy, she said. "We strive in our collection to have a wide variety of ideas," she said. "It doesn't seem right to celebrate one particular set of customs."

Michalak, chief librarian for four years, said at least a dozen library employees have complained over the last few years about the display. She hasn't heard similar criticism from students, though they may have voiced concerns to other library staff.

Public libraries generally shy away from creating displays promoting any single religion, said Catherine Mau, deputy director of the Durham County library system, where poinsettias provided by a library booster group provide holiday cheer.


Women Abroad and Men at Home -- a big puzzle with a simple answer

The simple answer is that study is more recreational for women than for men. That's why women so often take useless humanities courses. Men have less time to go swanning around the word because travel is not important for their career development. But that explanation is avoided below

Truett Cates was scanning a wall of study abroad brochures across from his desk. "Let me put on my bifocals here - just a quick impression - I see one brochure for Australia and New Zealand, which has one guy on the cover of it," said Cates, the director of study abroad and January term, and a professor of German, at Austin College. "Of course, if you're a guy who doesn't do languages, Australia and New Zealand are attractive and you can do guy things like kayaking and bungee jumping and so forth, pub crawling."

"Some of them do have groups of students which are like, five girls and one guy, or three girls - or I guess also pictures of girls that attract guys. Maybe that's part of it," Cates continued.

"What I've done is look at all the brochures that the providers, the third-party providers, put out, and in the brochures and the nice color photographs they use to sell their programs, it's almost all women and I ask them, `Why do they do that?' They say it's just a marketing decision; that's who our customers are."

It's truth in advertising. Take Austin, for example, which, at about 80 percent, sends one of the highest proportions of its students abroad. But even with that critical mass, out of 390 total in 2006-7, 248 were women and 142 were men (like at many liberal arts colleges, Austin's overall undergraduate population skews somewhat female, but not to the same degree).

In recent years, as study abroad has ballooned across the nation, fueled by growth in short-term programs and increasing diversity in participating students' majors and destinations, a 2-to-1 female-to-male ratio has stayed remarkably stagnant. In 2006-7, the most recent year for which data are available, 65.1 percent of Americans studying abroad were women, and 34.9 percent men. A decade earlier - when the total number of study abroad students was less than half its current total - the breakdown was 64.9 percent female, 35.1 percent male, according to Institute of International Education Open Doors statistics.

"I wouldn't put it up there among the top issues or problems in the field, but I think it's a puzzlement, to use an old term, and it's sort of a persistent consideration, a persistent sort of annoying feeling that there's something not right about it," said William Hoffa, an independent practitioner in study abroad, retired from Amherst College, who wrote a history of study abroad and is now editing a second volume.

"Initially the problem was perceived to be curricular, meaning the curriculum of study abroad was likely to be in the humanities, social sciences, with a strong language dimension. To the degree that women were more likely to study in those areas, and the curriculum of study abroad was in those areas, it meant men that were studying more in science and business and technologies didn't have the curriculum overseas," said Hoffa. He continued, however, that while there's likely still a bias toward the humanities and social sciences in study abroad, "The curriculum of study abroad is actually pretty much across the spectrum these days."

The most popular majors among study abroad participants are, according to IIE, the social sciences, then business and management, and humanities third. Participation among students in the physical and life sciences jumped 14.5 percent in 2006-7, in engineering by 13.1 percent. The overall gender breakdown, meanwhile, has basically stayed flat. "To some degree," said Hoffa, "it can't just be the curriculum."

Much more here

Traditional subjects go in British schools shake-up

Primary pupils switch to "theme-based" learning

Traditional subjects such as history, geography and religious studies will be removed from the primary school curriculum and merged into a "human, social and environmental" learning programme as part of a series of radical education reforms. Under the plans, information technology classes would be given as much prominence as literacy and numeracy, and foreign languages would be taught in tandem with English. The reforms are the most sweeping for 20 years and aim to slim down the curriculum so that younger children can be taught fewer subjects in greater depth.

Sir Jim Rose, author of the interim report to be published today by the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, said that the changes were aimed at producing a curriculum for the 21st century. His proposals are to undergo further consultation but are understood to have the backing of the Government. Sir Jim said that combining traditional subjects in themed "learning areas" and introducing more practical and applied teaching would help pupils to make use of their knowledge in real-life situations, such as in managing their own finances.

He said that traditional subjects needed to be taught in a different way to make lessons more relevant to children. "We are certainly not getting rid of subjects such as history and geography," he told The Times. "We are trying to give primary schools flexibility to do less, but to do it better. The history they will be doing will be more in-depth."

The six learning areas defined by Sir Jim are: understanding English, communication and languages; mathematical understanding; scientific and technological understanding; human, social and environmental understanding; understanding physical health and well-being; and understanding arts and design.

While some teachers will welcome the proposals as giving them more flexibility and a chance to move away from a system first imposed in 1904, others have said that abandoning traditional subjects could lead to a dilution of specialist knowledge.

History, geography and religious studies would come under the banner of human, social and environmental understanding. The advantage of not having them as distinct subjects would allow teachers to introduce them in other parts of the curriculum, Sir Jim said. "The starting point of a lesson could be a historical point of study, but it could lead to other elements too, such as geography or citizenship," he said. Similarly, an English lesson could include French through a comparison of English and French words with common roots.

Sir Jim is particularly keen that children learn more practical skills for everyday life. "In maths, we often teach children to do sums, but then when they are faced with a problem in real life they don't know what sum to do. We should teach knowledge and skills as thoroughly as we can, and then we get in lots of applications and uses," he said.

He will also recommend that children in the last two years of primary school - years five and six - should have more lessons from teachers with specialist subjects, who could be hired from neighbouring secondary schools or the private sector.

Although his review did not cover testing, he said that he hoped that the Government would continue to explore alternatives to the key stage 2 tests for 11-year-olds.


No comments: