Saturday, March 15, 2008

Homeschooling and Parental Rights Under Attack in California

Declaring that "parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children," the Second District Court of Appeal for the state of California recently issued a ruling that effectively bans families from homeschooling their children and threatens parents with criminal penalties for daring to do so. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HDSLA) this court decision has made "almost all forms of homeschooling in California" a violation of state law. Once again our judicial system moves to restrict religious and personal liberties, severely limit parental rights, and significantly increase the power, scope, and control of the state over our lives.

There are approximately 166,000 homeschooled children in California. With the stroke of a pen the appellate court criminalized the lawful educational choices of tens of thousands of innocent families across the state, subjected them to possible fines, and labeled their children as potential truants. This activist court chose to bypass the will of the people and legislated from the bench based on anecdotal evidence and its own clearly biased and subjective opinions about the constitutionality of parental rights and the quality of a homeschooled education. This decision attacks the freedom of parents to decide on the best educational environment for their children, restricts their religious rights to practice their faith without governmental interference, and violates their freedom to raise their offspring as they see fit without the ideological pollution and atheistic/leftist indoctrination so prevalent in our public school system.

In a state that allows minors to have abortions without parental notification and consent, having the court complain about the welfare and safety of children who are homeschooled is laughable. The court also conveniently turned a blind eye to the increasing levels of violence and murder in many California public schools, as well as the abysmal quality of education in those very same schools. With California ranking near the bottom in the quality of its public education system, a state-wide illiteracy rate of approximately 24 percent, and drop-out rates hovering around 30 percent, the California public education system is not the shining example and standard the courts should be applying and measuring against.

The appellate court reviewed the decision reached by a juvenile court regarding the quality of education provided to homeschooled children of the Phillip and Mary Long family. The children were homeschooled by Mrs. Long with assistance from the Sunland Christian School (SCS), a private religious academy in the Los Angeles area. According to its website, SCS "is a private school in the State of California and is an accredited home school program offering independent home schooling study, correspondence home schooling and online home school." The Long children were enrolled in the independent study program at SCS. While the lower court had concerns about the quality of the education received by two of the eight children, the trial court did not order the parents to enroll their children into a private or public school, and stated in its opinion that "parents have a constitutional right to school their children in their own home."

Rather than confine its ruling to the specifics of the Long case, the court of appeals instead chose to considerably broaden the scope of its decision, further strengthen state power over individuals, and deny California parents the right to homeschool their children. In his written opinion, filed on February 28, 2008, Justice H. Walter Croskey, joined by the other two members of the appellate panel, categorically asserted that: "parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children." Furthermore, in the section ominously named "Consequences of Parental Denial of a Legal Education" the judge states:

Because parents have a legal duty to see to their children's schooling within the provisions of these laws, parents who fail to do so may be subject to a criminal complaint against them, found guilty of an infraction, and subject to imposition of fines\... Additionally, the parents are subject to being ordered to enroll their children in an appropriate school or education program and provide proof of enrollment to the court, and willful failure to comply with such an order may be punished by a fine for civil contempt.

The totalitarian impulses of the court were further evidenced by the arguments it used to justify its decision: "A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare." As someone who has lived and suffered under a communist regime (I grew up in Romania), the "good citizenship," "patriotism," and "loyalty to the state" justifications have struck a little too close to home. These were precisely the kinds of arguments the communist party used to broaden the power of the state, increase the leadership's iron grip on the people, and justify just about every conceivable violation of human rights, restrictions on individual liberties, and abuses perpetrated by government officials.

Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, got it right when he said that the "scope of this decision by the appellate court is breathtaking. It not only attacks traditional home schooling, but also calls into question home schooling through charter schools and teaching children at home via independent study through public and private schools." The sentiment was echoed by Michael Smith, president of HDSLA: "California is now on the path to being the only state to deny the vast majority of homeschooling parents their fundamental right to teach their own children at home," he said. This is exactly what the judges have done and the precedent they have set for California and possibly for the rest of the country.

The appellate court also chose to ignore the many studies and solid research data showing that homeschooling is a well-established and exceptional method of education that overwhelmingly produces superior academic results and well-adjusted individuals. According to David Barfield's review of the available data on home education "dozens of studies have yielded the consistent result showing home educated students average 15-30 percentile points above the national average. Research demonstrates that, unlike their public school counterparts, the performance of home educated students bears little correlation to family income, the degree of state regulation of homeschooling, teacher certification, the educational level achieved by parents, sex, or race." In another study by Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) he shows that "home educated students excelled on nationally-normed standardized achievement exams. On average, home schoolers outperformed their public school peers by 30 to 37 percentile points across all subjects."

Similar studies documented by the HDSLA also confirm that the poor "socialization" objection by the court is a red herring. Numerous studies have shown that homeschooled youngsters have excellent social skills, are active in groups and community activities outside the home, engage in many extracurricular activities and sports, are exceptionally prepared to deal with the real world, interact better with adults and a variety of age-groups, and take their civic duties more seriously than their public school counterparts.

Fortunately the people of California and homeschooling associations across the country, outraged by these latest developments, are taking steps to proactively deal with and redress the situation. Many homeschooling families are determined to fight for their parental rights and countermand the court's decision. The HDSLA has followed a two-prong approach to help. It has advised the Long family to appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court and it will file "an amicus brief on behalf of our 13,500 member families in California" arguing that the proper interpretation of California statutes allow parents to teach their own children under the private-school exemption. The HDSLA will also seek to have this decision "depublished," which can only be done by the California Supreme Court. According to them, depublishing the case "would mean that the case is not binding precedent in California and has no effect on any other family."

Even Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has issued a statement in full support of homeschooling families. "Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children's education. This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts and if the courts don't protect parents' rights then, as elected officials, we will," he said. It remains to be seen if reason and common sense will prevail in this latest battle for the individual God-given liberties and freedoms of American families. The relentless march towards full government control of all areas of our lives must be halted. The people must push back. Our children's lives and their future are too precious to surrender to government bureaucrats and teacher's unions. For their sake and ours, freedom must prevail.


Ruling Against the School: California vs. homeschooling

And this in a State where the failure of public education is most notorious

A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, tells us that California's Second District Court of Appeal was correct to rule last week that parents without teaching credentials cannot educate their children at home - i.e., that most of the 166,000-odd homeschooled students in the Golden State could be truants and their parents may be violating the law.

Duffy missed a fine opportunity to keep quiet when he said, "What's best for a child is to be taught by a credentialed teacher." This echoes other union honchos and even former California Superintendent for Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, who wrote in 2002 that all schooling in her state needed to be supervised by professionally trained teachers. Furthermore, Eastin noted, "Home schools are not even subject to competition from private schools, where the marketplace would presumably ensure some level of quality and innovation."

Such statements are risible. Los Angeles Unified School District enrolls some 700,000 students taught by the credentialed teachers that Duffy represents, and a mere 33 percent of those pupils are proficient in reading, only 38 make the grade in math, and only 44 percent ever graduate. What's best for a child, it seems, has little or nothing to do with the credentials Duffy cherishes.

Furthermore, it is particularly noxious for the head of a big-city teachers' union, the members of which are failing to educate a stunning number of their pupils, to cheer a court decision that denies the competence of parent educators. Duffy - whose motivations for pushing more students into L.A.'s classrooms may be laudable, but may also stem from a desire to swell the ranks of public-school students to force the district to hire more dues-paying teachers - ought not lecture parents about "what's best" for their own children.

Eastin's ideas are less distasteful than Duffy's but just as brazen. To complain that home schools are not "subject to competition" is 1) wrong and 2) quite rich coming from a former higher-up of a state-run, public-school bureaucracy that actively tries to eliminate competition that might entice families away from it.

The specifics of the court case in question are these: The eldest of Phillip and Mary Long's eight children reported the father as physically and emotionally abusive. All eight children were hitherto homeschooled. An attorney representing the two youngest siblings asked a juvenile court to order that they be enrolled in a public or private school where teachers could monitor them daily. The lower court declined to issue such an order, noting that California parents have a right to home school their children. The Second District Court of Appeal disagreed.

It found that People v. Turner (1953) mandated that California parents have either to send their children to a full-time private school or a full-time public school, or they must have them educated by a credentialed tutor. Turner, wrote Justice H. Walter Croskey in his decision for the appellate court, "specifically rejected the argument that it is unconstitutional to require that parents possess the [teaching] qualifications prescribed by statute."

California law does not require that private-school teachers possess such qualifications, however - only that they be "persons capable of teaching." Turner acknowledges no contradiction here. Why not? Apparently it's a question of oversight. It is unreasonable for the state to monitor individual parents who homeschool their children, Turner maintains, but far less so for it to monitor private-school instruction. This logic suggests that California's government surveils - or at least, that it could surveil - its multitude of private schools, which the state neither does nor could it ever hope to do. But no matter.

According to Turner, private-school teachers need not possess educational credentials because they'll be overseen by managers who, motivated by the desire to run a successful school, will brook no incompetence from the teachers in their employ. Parents, one must presume from this reasoning, are less motivated to ensure that their own children receive a solid education than are anonymous private or public-school principals. By affirming this goofy logic, Croskey upholds the thinking of Duffy - that parents are incapable of doing right by their kids.


Friday, March 14, 2008

NYC disgrace

Handcuffing tiny kids! I remember when I was in Grade 1 that they wanted me to sleep after lunch and I never could. I am great at afternoon naps now though!

The parents of two Bronx preschoolers are suing the city, charging that their kids were tossed out of class - and handcuffed by a school-safety officer - for refusing to take a nap. Lawyer Scott Agulnick said Jaden Diaz and Christopher Brito - both then 4 and students at CS 211, The Bilingual School - told their parents that a substitute teacher took them and another boy to an empty classroom on Nov. 17, 2006, and left them there alone. Soon, the lawyer said, the school-safety officer entered the room, cuffed the boys' wrists - and further terrified them by telling they that they would never see their parents again.

"I wasn't shot, but my hands were tied," Christopher, now 5, recalled, according to his mother, Vasso Brito, a 34- year-old office worker - who says the little guy is now scared of police officers.

Brito, who's trying to transfer Christopher to another public school, said she was "shocked" to learn of what she considers to have been an absolute abuse of authority. "Right now, I feel [there are] monsters in school," she said. "I'm still perturbed. As I'm talking to you, I'm shaking."

Jaden, now 6, remembers that a man who was dressed like a cop walked in, sat at a big desk - "like the one the judge is on" - and threatened them. "He was police," Jaden said. "He said, 'You know what happens when you don't go to sleep in there? . . . 'When you go to jail, you're not going to have no fun, no TV, no toys.' " Jaden - who asked his dad to move far enough away from him so as not to be able to hear his account of what happened-whispered to a reporter that he got a "little scared" when he saw the handcuffs attached to the safety officer's "costume."

He insisted that he was not handcuffed - though his mom, Sasha Diaz, said he confided in her that he was. "It took me about a day to get it out of him. He didn't want to tell me . . . I don't know if he thought it was his fault," said Diaz, 27, an assistant teacher who now finds herself suddenly struggling to pay for her only child to attend Catholic school.

The families are seeking unspecified damages, said Agulnick, adding: "Failure to comply with nap time is hardly an offense that warrants being handcuffed, or threatened, for that matter. Nothing would've warranted that."

The city Department of Education and the NYPD, which oversees school-safety officers, did not return requests for comment. The boys' claims recall two other recent cases. In one, a mentally challenged 10-year-old Brooklyn girl said a school-safety officer handcuffed her outside school. In the other, a 5-year-old Queens boy said a school-safety officer snapped the cuffs on him inside his school.


Comment on the latest California Fascism

This week's outrage concerns the ruling of an appellate court that "parents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children" and that those who do so might be subject to severe penalties.

Now the judges in this case may actually have a legal leg to stand on, given that California really has no concrete provisions either for or against homeschooling on the books, but of course, that is not really the issue at hand. That more and more parents are taking direct responsibility for the raising of their own children is naturally troubling to the proprietors of the Nanny State.

The father in the case said that he withdrew his children from the public school system because "[w]e just don't want them teaching our children. They teach things that are totally contrary to what we believe." This is an affront to those who would wean our children on their secular, socialist agenda. Here is the real kicker from Judge H. Walter Croskey, writing the unanimous opinion (emphasis mine):
The parents in the instant case have asserted in a declaration that it is because of their "sincerely held religious beliefs" that they home school their children and those religious beliefs "are based on Biblical teachings and principles" [T]hose assertions are not the quality of evidence that permits us to say that application of California's compulsory public school education law to them violates their First Amendment rights. Their statements are conclusional, not factually specific. Moreover, such sparse representations are too easily asserted by any parent who wishes to home school his or her child.

One of the many reasons that Judge Croskey and friends fear additional "easily asserted" claims, just might have something to do with a law recently passed in California which states: "'Gender' means sex, and includes a person's gender identity and gender related appearance and behavior whether or not stereotypically associated with the person's assigned sex at birth."

Yep, this law basically says that God might have erred when handing out sex assignments and that the little kiddies -- no doubt aided by their state-sponsored counselors and teachers -- can now assume whatever gender they choose. The bill also deals with revised "activities and instructional materials" to be used in class. I'll leave it to you to figure out what that means.

Homeschooling is a threat to these folks because in states that continue to refuse to permit realistic school "choice," concerned parents must look elsewhere. This particularly bucks the feminist agenda, which is huge in the educational field, because homeschooling allows moms to stay at home and make the raising and educating of their children their number one priority instead of going out to do battle with the dreaded "glass ceiling." And it has the anti-God squad foaming at the mouth as well.

Liberals get really testy when some folks, devout Christians for example, choose to live their lives under God's laws; but have no compunction in compelling others to live under the tender mercies of the Nanny State where they make the rules. They seem genuinely shocked when citizens refuse to cede their parental rights to them so they can fashion their children into liberal clones.

The case in California might unfortunately lead to more government regulation of homeschooling, but hopefully it will be overturned on appeal. In his opinion, Judge Croskey cited parts of Wisconsin v. Yoder, a 1972 Supreme Court case dealing with an Amish family who wanted to withdraw their children from public school after the eighth grade. What Croskey didn't cite was this from the majority opinion written by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger:
This case involves the fundamental interest of parents, as contrasted with that of the state, to guide the religious future and education of their children. The history and culture of Western civilization reflect a strong tradition of parental concern for the nurture and upbringing of their children. This primary role of the parents in the upbringing of their children is now established beyond debate as an enduring tradition.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

School bans picture of gun

One day in December, Donald Miller III wore a gun to school. As you might imagine, it got him in trouble. But the gun wasn't loaded; indeed, it wasn't a real gun at all. It was the image of a gun, printed on the front and back of a T-shirt - a shirt the Penn Manor freshman wore to honor his uncle, a soldier in the U.S. Army fighting in Iraq.

On the front pocket, in addition to the picture of the military sidearm, were the words: "Volunteer Homeland Security." On the back, superimposed over another image of the weapon, the words "Special issue - Resident - Lifetime License - United States Terrorist Hunting Permit - Permit No. 91101 Gun Owner - No Bag Limit." They are, said Miller, 14, patriotic sentiments in a time of war. He feels pretty strongly about these things.

So do officials at the Penn Manor School District, who wanted him to turn his shirt inside out. When Miller refused, he got two days of detention. His parents, Donald and Tina Miller of Holtwood, got angry and called a lawyer. And now a lawsuit has been filed in federal court, accusing Penn Manor of violating Miller's First Amendment rights. The Millers and their attorney, Leonard G. Brown III of the Lancaster firm Clymer & Musser, accuse the school district of following a "vague Orwellian policy" that throttles both patriotism and free speech.

Penn Manor says the case has less to do with free speech than it does guns. In the post-Columbine era, said Kevin French, an attorney for Penn Manor, school districts are duty-bound to create a safe environment for students, a place where intimations of violence aren't permitted. District officials aren't trying to impugn Miller's patriotism, said French. But when someone brings even the image of a gun to school, he says, that violates school policy. And the district, he said, will fight to keep it intact.

The incident happened Dec. 4, according to the federal complaint. But the story actually begins last spring. That's when Miller's uncle, Brian Souders, shipped out to Iraq. He had been stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., and bought the shirt at the base post exchange, or PX, and gave it to Donald as a gift. With his uncle on the front lines of the "War on Terror," Donald said he wanted to show his support. And so one day toward the end of eighth grade, he wore the shirt to school - and was admonished by Penn Manor Middle School officials. Donald didn't want to get in trouble, so he turned the shirt inside out.

But he didn't think that was right. In early December, he wore the shirt to Penn Manor High School. No one said a word about it all day, he said, until his final period, when a classmate complained to the teacher. The teacher asked him to turn the shirt inside out, but he refused. Miller was sent to the principal's office. Once there, he said he was again told to turn the shirt inside out. "I told them to call my parents," said Miller. And his refusal to comply resulted in detention.

Three days later attorney Brown sent a letter to Penn Manor Superintendent Donald Stewart asserting that the "strong-arm censorship by school officials amounts to content discrimination and is unconstitutional." But, wrote Brown, the Millers wished to "resolve this issue amicably" and "avoid unnecessary litigation and media attention." Brown asked that the district rescind the detention, allow Miller to wear the shirt, provide training to district employees on the subject of students' constitutional rights - and pay attorney fees, about $2,500.

Initially, the district decided to make a concession: It agreed to drop a line from its "student expression policy" that prohibited speech seeking "to establish the supremacy of a particular religious denomination, sect or point of view." And in a Jan. 8 letter to Brown, district solicitor Robert J. Frankhouser, of the Lancaster law firm of Hartman Underhill & Brubaker, said Penn Manor might be willing to consider tinkering with other, similar policies.

But on the issue of guns, and the advocating of violence, the district vowed to "vigorously defend its policy and the application of policy in this instance," wrote Frankhouser. Students, he wrote, "may not wear clothing to school that advocates the use of force or urges the violation of law or school regulations. "The shirt in question contains the image of a firearm and clearly advocates illegal behavior," he wrote. That, he concluded, should be the end of the matter.

It wasn't. A week later Brown filed the lawsuit, asking the federal courts to declare Penn Manor's policies unconstitutional and to grant a permanent injunction forcing Penn Manor to let Miller to wear his shirt. The suit also seeks "nominal damages and compensatory damages," attorneys fees and costs, and "further relief as it is just and proper." "Donald Miller wears the T-shirt to make the political and emotional statement that he supports his uncle, and all our armed forces, as they bravely exercise their duty to defend this great nation," Brown wrote in the federal complaint.

"The message that Mr. Miller's shirt conveyed was simply that the United States military and law enforcement personnel are actively engaged in a war against terrorists who seek to destroy this country.... Mr. Miller's shirt makes a political statement that he agrees with and supports the efforts of his uncle and the rest of our military," Brown wrote. "Such a viewpoint may not be politically correct in Mr. Miller's classrooms, but his right to express his viewpoint is constitutionally protected."

A federal judge will hold a conference on the case March 31, to either reach a settlement or proceed. The case is beginning to generate interest online, where the conservative news site published an article on the lawsuit last week. That story, like the federal complaint itself, focused on the alleged attempt to censor political, patriotic speech.

Contacted by the Sunday News, Penn Manor Superintendent Stewart said he had "nothing to add to the comments of our solicitor." He did, however, tell WorldNet Daily that, "It's the district's position the wording on the T-shirt advocated violation of the law and acts of violence. "The district," he told WorldNet Daily, "feels it's taken an appropriate stance in terms of T-shirts or anything a student would wear that advocates acts of violence."

But Brown countered last week: "If you believe something is going to create violence, you have to show a history of that in Penn Manor," Brown said. "If this shirt was truly something creating a [dangerous] environment in school, it should have been picked up first thing." School board president C. Willis Herr did not respond to a message seeking comment.


The big bang implosion of Physics

In cutting their funding of the physical sciences, and devaluing science education, the US and UK governments are committing `scientific vandalism'.

We are on the cusp of some of the biggest breakthroughs in physics in over three decades. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a massive particle collider built deep beneath the Swiss/French border, is nearing completion. Together with Fermilab's Tevatron, a proton-antiproton collider near Chicago, the European and US facilities are in a race to discover the Higg's Boson. This is the gaping hole in our theory of everything, the standard model of matter. Predicted by Peter Higgs in Edinburgh in 1964, the Higgs Boson is our best bet at explaining the nature of mass, that ubiquitous property of matter that has evaded explanation to date.

Now, particle physics is about to be kicked out of its speculative doldrums by the influx of long-awaited experimental data that may result in the revelation of a new fundamental force of nature, and could even allow us to create mini black holes here on Earth. But just as physics is about to receive a massive shot in the arm, its political masters seem prepared to pull the plug on fundamental research, introducing massive budget cutbacks both in the UK and in the US. Is this the beginning of the end for Big Physics?

Both Fermilab and the Standford Linear Accelerator (SLAC) in California, the two big particle physics labs in the US, are in near meltdown. Fermilab is cutting 10 per cent of its staff and has had the budgets for both its next generation projects cut to zero this year. SLAC looks likely to lose 300 staff at its facility. As Pier Oddone, Fermilab's director put it: `The greatest impact is on the future of the lab, we have no ability now to develop our future.' (1)

In the UK, the budget cuts imposed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) are even more detrimental. In removing o80million from the physics budget, the UK faces losing its participation in the next generation particle physics projects to which it has already committed; it is also pulling out of two telescope collaborations: the Isaac Newton facility in the Canary Islands and the new o8million Gemini telescope in Hawaii. There are no equivalent facilities for UK astronomers to use in the northern hemisphere. Brian Foster, professor of experimental physics at Oxford University, described the cuts as `scientific vandalism' (2).

There has been considerable discussion within the scientific community as to whether the swingeing cutbacks occurring on both sides of the Atlantic are the product, in the words of Manchester University's Dr Brian Cox, of `accident, design or just sheer incompetence'. But even if you believe that, given better financial circumstances, things will right themselves in the future, we should be aware that something significant has changed.

Big Physics no longer has the same kudos with our political rulers as it once did. In the UK, the recent Sainsbury Review of the government's science and innovation policies made it clear that the days of universities focusing on basic research are numbered. The key emphasis is now on `knowledge transfer'. The government is now only interested in the capacity of university research departments to kickstart high-end product development or `useful' spin-offs from basic research. As Lord Sainsbury put it: `Today, we are seeing a transformation in the purpose and self-image of universities. Politicians, industrialists and economists are beginning to see universities as major agents of economic growth as well as creators of knowledge, developers of young minds and transmitters of culture.' (3)

Over the past two or three decades, the era of backing for knowledge for its own sake has been dispensed with, both on economic and educational grounds. So even though US President George W Bush has promised increased spending in the physical sciences in 2009, no one is holding their breath in the US; the president promised the same in 2007 and 2008, but it did not materialise.

In truth, in the US Big Physics no longer has the political protection it once had when it comes to pushing a budget through Congress. In Britain, scientists have been promised a review of current spending priorities in the summer, but there is little chance that the STFC will rescind its decision to withdraw from the major international collaborations.

A petition on the Downing Street website to `reverse the decision to cut vital UK contributions to Particle Physics and Astronomy' has attracted 17,380 signatures (4). But the petition has somewhat missed the point, since the writing has been on the wall for some time: physics just isn't a vital priority for the political class. The UK government has happily turned our school science curriculum into a course on scientific literacy for the masses, allowed numerous university physics departments to close, and sponsored the creation of physics degrees that don't require mathematics.

In the US, this is not the first time that funding priorities have forced drastic cuts in investment in fundamental physics research. In 1993, despite protestations from then president Bill Clinton, Congress cancelled the proposed Superconducting Super Collider, which would have challenged the dominance of the LHC in Europe.

Britain has until now retained its participation at the front-end of particle physics with its contribution to the LHC. The International Linear Collider was to be the next big step forward beyond the LHC. It would be able to explore matter at a finer detail than the LHC. The UK initially contributed to this project, yet it now seems stillborn: the UK pulled out last month, and the US is removing any further funding for it.

Even more perplexing is the American decision to cancel its funding for ITER, the new international fusion reactor to be built in France. This is the next stage in the project to develop commercial fusion power which will potentially produce energy from water by mimicking the action of the sun. This clean nuclear energy could replace the more conventional nuclear fission reactors in 30 years time.

Robert Wilson, Fermilab's first director, when asked by a congressional committee if the lab would aid national defence, famously responded: `No, but it will help keep the nation worth defending.' Today, such a strident belief in the quest for knowledge does not fit well within the constraints of an education system orientated towards skills, not knowledge, and access, not excellence. The political class does not think young people are interested enough in science to believe that any youngster could aspire to an understanding of the nature of the universe without somehow making it relevant to their everyday lives.

Even the physicists at the European Programme for Nuclear Research (CERN) and Fermilab are prone to justify their work feebly in terms of the potential spin-offs to medical research. That is like trying to justify the Apollo space programme because it gave us Teflon non-stick saucepans. Rationalising fundamental research on the basis of a few spin-offs just won't wash. As Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, put it, the discovery of magnetic resonance imaging, a powerful way of identifying cancers, was discovered by a physicist `whose work would never have been possible without funding or basic physics' (5).

In truth, fundamental research is a necessity, not a luxury. Most of the technological developments made in the past 100 years have been fuelled by fundamental research into science. Albert Einstein famously dismissed Enrico Fermi's idea that massive amounts of energy could be released by splitting the atom. The unintended consequences of the theory of relativity gave us nuclear power. Similarly, from the esoteric beauty of the theory of quantum mechanics has emerged electronics, computing and laser optics, to name but a few developments.

We cannot foretell where research into the fundamental constituents of matter will take us, but to not travel down that path is to shut the door on the future. Our ability to understand and control nature is what gives us the capacity to carve out a different future not constrained by the fetters of the immediate problems of finite resources. It is our lack of vision and our preoccupation with the limitations of our society that holds us back from venturing further.

As a society, if we relinquish our quest to understand the universe within which we live, we curtail our ambition. This reflects a lesser view of humanity, capable at best of patching up the damage we have done to the planet, rather than seeking to expand our horizons. It seems that in a world dominated by the politics of eco-doom and sustainable development, there is little room for the ambition of Big Physics and the capacity it gives us to transform our future destiny. Now, more than ever, scientists need to argue for the vision to allow such research to continue.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Noble Lies: At Harvard, affirmative action takes its toll

Comment from a Harvard student who does not know the difference between "uninterested" and "disinterested". What he/she writes is sensible but he/she has been betrayed by today's education system.

Whatever the benefits of affirmative action, one undeniable downside is the element of disrespect it introduces onto our campus. This week's appointment of Professor of the History of Science and of African and African American Studies Evelynn M. Hammonds as Dean of Harvard College was greeted mostly with disinterest; students tend to ignore the vicissitudes of administrative hiring.

But on one Harvard mailing list to which I subscribe, an impassioned 28-message e-brawl broke out. The subject was the relevance of the most visible attributes of our new dean-her race and gender-to her appointment. " Evelyn Hammonds?" the provocative e-mail began, "I've never seen her even mentioned in connection with undergraduate affairs, and it seems.crazy that they passed over people like [Harvard College Professor] Jay [M.] Harris to choose her." This was followed by a coda intended to provoke: "Wait, hold the phone, she's black? And a woman? Oh, nevermind then."

A reply arrived within six minutes. "Right, you know nothing about her, ergo it's affirmative action. Why don't you try engaging on substance instead of crass identity politics?" A second respondent was simply incredulous: "Did that implication really just go over the list? Really?"

One is not supposed to speak of such things; it has been considered impolite, even wicked, to register doubts as to a candidate's viability beyond meeting arbitrary demographic demands. But precedent suggests they are not unreasonable. An Oct. 14, 2002 New Yorker article quoted the former president of Stanford as saying of the decision to hire former provost Condoleezza Rice that, "it would be disingenuous for me to say that the fact that she was a woman, the fact that she was black.weren't in my mind. They were." It took some honesty and candor to say that, just as it did to call attention to the mechanics of identity politics at work at Harvard (though, to any astute observer of university politics, their influence is sort of obvious).

Yet the university is terrified of any suggestion of race- or sex-based biases. The administration immediately distanced itself from this association, and their dread was conspicuous. "Evelynn is my choice as the College dean because, first and foremost, she's the best person for the job," said Dean of the Faculty Michael D. Smith, "independent of the fact that she's a woman and an African-American."

Why did Dean Smith have to add such a humiliating and terrible caveat? Dean Hammonds, after all, is a respected scholar within both her departments and was well-regarded in her previous administrative position. But he knows what other people are thinking (and saying, however privately). To defend, after all, is to deflect. He must deny the weight of affirmative action on Hammonds' hiring precisely because its significant role in decision-making at Harvard is an open secret.

In fact, Hammonds herself deserves some credit for this disrespect. It was in the mandate of her previous job to ensure "greater diversity in faculty ranks." The irony sings with starkness: Harvard's coordinator of affirmative action now finds herself demeaned by it, and the implications it carries. The misfortune lies is this: no matter how talented and capable an administrator Hammonds is, doubts over the initial appointment will remain-even if only one or two provocateurs dare to voice them aloud.

In this sly, wafting doubt is the greatest injury done. When perfectly able minorities must constantly disprove a default presumption of being unqualified for their jobs-that is a problem. When, to remedy racial and gender barriers in society, we conjure up new negative associations-that is a problem. These are affirmative action's damning downsides. We usually weigh these against other ends, like improving social mobility or exposing the homogeneous majority to diversity. But at some point the program's negatives will counterbalance the positives.

Meanwhile, for some, a new Dean's tenure begins in a haze of doubt and disrespect.


Changes to rules governing homeschooling irk advocates

The D.C. State Superintendent's Office is proposing regulations for homeschoolers that are among the strictest in the country and, in the view of the homeschooling community, completely unconstitutional. For years, parents in the District have been largely free to educate their children as they wished. But that could drastically change with the new rules, which authorize public school officials to make home visits several times a year, mandate the subject areas families cover and require parents to submit evidence that their children have been immunized.

The issue became a pressing priority after a high-profile January case in which Banita Jacks was charged with killing her children who had been pulled out of the public school system. Michael Donnelly, staff attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association, said he was shocked to see the rigid guidelines that will be vetted during a public hearing tonight. Particularly egregious is the notion that parents have to let school representatives into their residence to demonstrate their teachings, he said. "Unless you agree to let them in, you can't privately instruct your own kids, and that's wrong," he said. Donnelly said he's never had to go to court over homeschooling regulations. But if the proposal makes it past the State Board of Education, he said he would file suit.

John Stokes, spokesman for the State Superintendent's Office, emphasized the regulation won't be finalized for another month while the public weighs in. He declined to comment on the specific concerns raised by homeschooling advocates. What's being proposed is patterned on Maryland's homeschooling law, only with tougher rules, experts said. For instance, the regulations would give education administrators the authority to order children back into the public system if they were unsatisfied with their parents' competency or to start a remediation plan if they don't agree with the students' work portfolio.

Both steps are unusual in other jurisdictions. A D.C. father who homeschools his 5-year-old daughter and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he felt unfairly targeted. "Nationally homeschoolers are performing better than kids in school," he said. "This is just overstepping."


Nutty Jewish studies professor

Officials at a Columbia University department established in 2005 to balance an anti-Israel tilt in Middle Eastern scholarship at the university have appointed as its director a professor who signed a letter labeling Israeli policy "the occupation and oppression of another people." Supporters of Israel on campus say they are disappointed about the appointment of Yinon Cohen as the new director of the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies, in light of his previous statements.

A Columbia business professor and co-chair of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Awi Federgruen, called the administration's decision "deeply, deeply troubling." "It's clear that he represents a very extreme segment of the political spectrum in Israel," Mr. Federgruen said. "I also think he is in fact distorting in a major way the history of the region and the history of the country."

In May 2002, Mr. Cohen, then a professor at Tel Aviv University, endorsed a statement that supported Israelis who refused to serve in military operations in Gaza and the West Bank during a violent uprising by Palestinian Arabs. The letter was signed by 358 faculty members at 21 Israeli colleges and universities. "Such service too often involves carrying out orders that have no place in a democratic society founded on the sanctity of human life," the letter read. "For thirty five years an entire people, some three and a half million in number, have been held without basic human rights. The occupation and oppression of another people have brought the State of Israel to where it is today."

A Columbia professor of epidemiology and vice president of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Judith Jacobson, called Mr. Cohen's letter "very insulting." "I am offended because in May 2002, the Intifada was going on actively, and people within Israel, not beyond the green line, were being killed. The idea of the refusal to serve as soldiers in the occupied territories was so harmful to Israel. I'm offended," she said.

Mr. Cohen began his academic career at Tel Aviv University after receiving his Ph.D. in sociology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He joined Columbia's sociology department last year, and his recent research projects have explored income inequality in Israel, the transformation of the Israeli labor system, and sociological patterns of immigrants in Israel, Germany, and America. At Columbia, Mr. Cohen teaches a graduate course on Israeli society.

Students on campus are reacting to the news of Mr. Cohen's appointment, which was reported earlier by Martin Kramer's Web log, Sandstorm, with respect for academic freedom. "Professor Cohen voiced his criticism of Israel in a reasoned and responsible manner," a spokesman for a pro-Israel student group, LionPAC, Jacob Shapiro, said in an e-mail message. "Regardless of his personal beliefs, we hope that Professor Cohen will continue to demonstrate his commitment to meaningful discussion about Israel and its role in the international community."

The New York Sun previously reported that the Columbia search committee responsible for hiring a director included one of academia's most outspoken critics of Israel, Rashid Khalidi, as well as a professor who supported an anti-Israel divestment campaign on campus, Lila Abu-Lughod. The Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies was created with $3 million from donors that included the commissioner of the NBA, David Stern, and financiers Richard Witten, Philip Milstein, and Mark Kingdon.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

White flight from "multicultural" schools now in Australia too

Australia's stupid bitch of a Deputy Prime Minster deliberately ignores the safety and educational quality issues behind the "flight"

PARENTS should be happy for their children to undergo a multicultural experience in NSW public schools, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said. Ms Gillard was responding to a report that public schools in NSW were suffering "white flight" as Anglo-European students avoided racially diverse institutions.

Ms Gillard, the federal education minister, said parents always had the choice of the best school for their children. "Part of growing up and part of being an adult in Australia today is you have got to have the ability to mix in multicultural Australia," she told ABC Radio. "I would have thought that parents would value as part of the education experience, their child being in multicultural Australia, learning about different cultures, learning about diversity because that is the nation they are going to live in."

The 2006 survey conducted by the NSW Secondary Principals' Council found that in some parts of Sydney and NSW the students were avoiding public schools in favour of independent ones. Fairfax newspapers reported that public schools were being avoided because they were predominantly attended by Lebanese, Muslim, Asian or Aboriginal students. "This is almost certainly white flight from towns in which the public school's enrolment consists increasingly of indigenous students," the report said. "The pattern is repeated in the Sydney region. Based on comments from principals, this most likely consists of flight to avoid Islamic students and communities."


Kids removed from violent school and frog-like bureaucrats go crap, crap, crap

A third of the school's students are black -- so nothing can be done, of course. The mother just needs to appreciate multiculturalism and ignore the fact that her kids are getting beaten up

Violence at Cooktown State School has forced one mum into a daily 160km [100 mile] dirt-road trek in a bid to keep her children safe. Zachery Tholen, 8, and his sister Charlotte , 7, are now thriving at Rossville State School, 300km north of Cairns, their mother Dayna Tholen, 32, told The Cairns Post.

But after the family moved to Cooktown in April 2007, the children endured months of physical abuse, Ms Tholen said. "They were scared to go to school," she said. "It was a constant thing. He (Zac) got hit in the face six times. "One side of his face was all swollen. "He was all shaken up." Zachery was also kicked repeatedly in the crotch by a six-year-old student, sworn at, pushed and slapped, his mother said. Charlotte suffered cuts after being shoved off playground equipment. "It's an everyday occurrence," Ms Tholen said. "It happens to everybody."

Other parents reported excessive swearing, teachers forced to resort to yelling, a child head-butting a teacher, students spitting on each other and students selling marijuana at the gate of the adjoining high school, Ms Tholen said.

"They're not acknowledging that there is a problem," she said. "People say it happens everywhere, but this is our fourth school and no it doesn't happen everywhere." More teachers could help instil discipline at the school, she said. "I'd be happy to see the cane brought back, but that's never going to happen," she said.

The school run to Rossville, 40km each way, twice a day, was "hairy" Ms Tholen acknowledged. "The roads have been washed away and we've moved debris off the road so we could pass. "We were out moving logs back into the river." But since starting the new year at Rossville in January, she said: "They're enjoying school, that's the main thing. I'd do anything for them."

In a statement, Education Queensland said a review of Cooktown State School's Responsible Behaviour Plan would be complete by the end of Term One. Staff were available to address behaviour management issues which included a second deputy principal, a guidance officer and a part-time teacher who provided behaviour support, the department said. The school principal was also happy to meet concerned parents or community members.


Jindal education proposals opposed by teacher unions

Comment from a Louisiana reader: "Governor Jindal continues to bring change. Seems the teacher unions are a little disturbed by Gov. Jindal's new proposals. He is advocating for a “school choice” program, merit pay, and a tax credit of up to $5,000 per student for parents who send children to private schools, or teach them at home. The education battles begin in a special session starting Sunday. It will be interesting to see if Louisiana is the next state to advance the school choice movement in our country. This is an example of how government has to really get bad before it gets better - remember the weak leadership of Kathleen Blanco and the utter failure during Hurricane Katrina.

Teacher unions say Gov. Bobby Jindal's education proposals will steer money from public schools and won't offer adequate pay for teachers or support workers. The Republican governor's proposals include several that unions have repeatedly opposed over the years, including a "school choice" program, merit pay, and a tax credit of up to $5,000 per student for parents who send children to private schools or teach them at home. "I didn't expect what is now appearing to be, it looks like to me, an ideological agenda. This is right off the pages of what I would expect (Washington) to roll down," Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said Wednesday.

A $1,000 pay raise proposed for teachers falls below the amount sought by the unions. And Jindal isn't recommending any raises for cafeteria workers, teacher's aides and other support workers, though union leaders say many barely earn above the poverty level. The unions supported a Democrat in the fall election.

The first education battle between the governor's office and the teacher groups begins in a special session that starts Sunday. Jindal wants lawmakers to give families with children in private schools an individual income tax deduction for tuition costs, with parents of homeschooled children getting a tax deduction for education expenses. The deduction, capped at $5,000 per student, would cost about $20 million a year. "We want to make sure that every family is able to find a school that best fits their needs," Jindal said.

Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco vetoed a similar proposal last year. Teacher unions and public school advocacy groups called the tax break a backdoor "voucher" proposal to funnel state dollars to private schools.

Monaghan said a similar proposal in Arizona widened the gap between poor students and those whose parents made enough money to send them to private schools. He said it appears to violate the constitutional mandate that the state provide a sound education for every child. The program "would move our focus and our attention to providing an incentive for folks to move to private, parochial education and a reward for folks that already have their children there," he said.

Louisiana Association of Educators President Joyce Haynes said her union disagrees with any proposals that provide incentives to steer state dollars to private schools that don't have to take every student or meet the same testing standards as public schools. "We want great public schools for every child, so we must continue to fight any issue that would take moneys from our public schools. We should be pouring money into our public schools and into educating our children," Haynes said.

Monaghan and Haynes also oppose two items tucked into the governor's budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1: a $20 million "flexible funding" pool for local school districts to distribute to teachers based on their performance and a $10 million "School Choice Initiative" that would let students use state money to attend private and parochial schools in New Orleans. Those items will be debated during budget discussions in the regular legislative session that begins March 31.

Teachers don't believe their performance can be fairly measured against each other because of the differing situations by district and classroom, and they don't think their pay should be tied to test scores, Monagahan said. He said the program was proposed without discussions with teacher groups and without clear definitions of how performance would be judged. Jindal administration officials said they will provide clear explanations of the policy plans for the money as lawmakers comb through the budget in greater detail.

The two union leaders also said while Jindal's budget crafters may call the $10 million pilot program a "School Choice Initiative," it's a voucher program — and the unions oppose voucher programs. "What's the difference between this and vouchers?" Rep. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, asked Jindal administration officials Wednesday.

The governor's top budget adviser, Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis, said the program would offer scholarships to students in New Orleans that they could use to go to any school of their choice. She said it was new money being provided for the program, not diverted money from public education. "We're not taking money away from the public school system," Davis said. She told Peterson the administration was still working to develop the policies for the program.


Texas Bible class lawsuit ends with agreement

ODESSA, Texas - Both sides in a lawsuit challenging a school district's Bible course claimed victory after they agreed to allow the course to continue but with curriculum developed by a superintendent-appointed committee of local educators. A mediator developed the proposal, which was approved Wednesday by the Ector County Independent School District's trustees and earlier in the week by plaintiffs.

The high school elective, approved in 2005, teaches the King James version of the sacred text using material produced by the Greensboro, N.C.-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. Plaintiffs had claimed the Bible course violated their religious liberty.

The mediator's plan calls for a committee of seven local educators to develop the coursework. The curriculum must meet criteria set by state law and the class will be offered beginning in the 2008-09 school year.


Monday, March 10, 2008

It happens in Ireland too: Free speech successfully repressed in Cork ... again

Post below lifted from Hibernia Girl. See the original for links

Bullies and their threats prevail once again. From
Irving appearance at UCC debate cancelled

The appearance of controversial historian David Irving at a university debate has been cancelled, it has emerged.

The convicted Holocaust-denier had been scheduled to appear on Monday night in favour of the motion "That this house believes free speech should be free from restraint".

However, a representative of the UCC Philosophical Society, the organisers of the debate, revealed on last night's `Late Late Show' that due to security concerns and pressure from college authorities, Irving will not now be speaking at the debate....

"That this house believes free speech should be free from restraint". Pretty ironic, eh?

The bullies, no doubt, come from the left as they did last time round over Irving speaking at UCC:
The society had invited Mr Irving to UCC in 1999 but the lecture was cancelled at the last minute amid security concerns. About 600 protesters gathered outside the UCC venue where Mr Irving was to deliver a lecture, Myths of the Second World War.

Scuffles broke out with garda [police] before reinforcements were called in. Two college security guards and a number of students were injured in the scuffles.

The incident led to the removal of college facilities and privileges from Young Sinn Fein, the Socialist Party, the Socialist Society and the Socialist Worker Society, which had all been involved in the protest....

Irving was on The Late Late Show last night but I didn't catch it (did anybody see it?) and there's no video of the interview up on the RTE's site yet (if they do put it up, that is).

Greedy teachers

When you think of Nevada, odds are that you don't think of a battleground state in the public education wars. But an insurgency against the teachers union is underway here. The trouble started last year when the teachers union, the Nevada State Education Association (NSEA), decided it wanted to raise taxes to increase teacher salaries. Faced with the reality that over the past decade their clout had fallen in the state legislature -- and in 2006 Nevada voters put in office a governor determined to stand by his "no new taxes" pledge -- union officials came to the conclusion that the only way they would be likely to get the money is through a direct appeal to the people.

The problem is that "the people" don't want to hike their own taxes any more than Gov. Jim Gibbons wants to hike taxes on them. So the only way to achieve their goal is to stick someone with deep pockets, but who isn't overly popular, with the bill. In Nevada, that's the casino industry.

The NSEA ran some polls and discovered that by a 2-1 margin, voters might favor a ballot initiative that would raise business taxes on the state's largest casinos to 9.75%, up from 6.75%, as long as the additional money was spent on education. Perhaps a little overeagerly, the union drew up an initiative that did more than earmark new funds for education in general. It specifically designated the money for teacher pay raises. "There is nothing more important than increasing educators' salaries, benefits and improving their working conditions," NSEA president Lynn Warne told the Las Vegas Review Journal.

The gaming industry sued on the grounds that the initiative violated state rules requiring initiatives be limited to a "single subject." State Supreme Court Justice Mariam Shearing sided with the casinos, ruling that it's OK to have an initiative on raising gaming taxes, but it can't specifically designate the money for raises for teachers.

The union has since refiled its initiative with new language designed to satisfy the judge. While we wait to see if the new language will pass muster with the courts, the clock is ticking. The NSEA only has until mid-May to collect 58,836 valid signatures to qualify the initiative for the November ballot -- not an easy task in a state with just 2.5 million residents.

Making matters worse for the NSEA, in recent months an otherwise natural ally has become a bitter enemy of the union, thanks to the state's Jan. 19 Democratic presidential caucuses. The teachers backed Hillary Clinton. But the Culinary Workers Union, representing casino workers, threw in behind Barack Obama. Things got nasty between the two unions when the teachers union sued the Nevada Democratic Party shortly before the caucuses, in an effort to shut down caucus locations in casinos which the NSEA considered too friendly to the culinary workers.

Mrs. Clinton won the state's caucuses, but bad blood and hard feelings remain. And since raising taxes on the industry that provides casino and construction jobs would likely force massive layoffs of union workers, don't be surprised to see both the culinary union and the Nevada AFL-CIO coming out to oppose the tax hike.

Taxpayer groups are also opposing the teachers' initiative. Carole Vilardo of the Nevada Taxpayers Association has warned against using the initiative process to put "tax and expenditure policies that are that specific in the constitution," pointing out that this sort of thing is already causing major budgetary headaches in California -- an argument sure to resonate with the large number of California refugees who fled the high-tax Golden State in recent years.

Others normally in the unions' corner are also against the tax hike. The Reno Gazette-Journal recently editorialized that the NSEA should "drop this proposal," calling it a "bad idea" and "unethical" for relying "on a popular and necessary element -- student achievement to get an unpopular part -- teacher pay, benefits and incentives -- passed." Ouch. Jon Ralston, Nevada's dean of political pundits, put it this way: "The teachers have few friends."

Even worse for the union, the public may no longer buy the "everything's great" spin by union leaders over the dismal state of public education. A recent survey by the Friedman Foundation and the Nevada Policy Research Institute found that 89% of Nevadans would send their kids somewhere other than a public school if they had a choice.

The union is also finding itself fighting opposition from within as well as from without. Last spring the Clark County Education Association -- which represents teachers in the Las Vegas metro area -- had to fend off a takeover attempt by the Teamsters, while the nonunion Association of American Educators -- a professional association offering liability insurance and other benefits for a fraction of the dues paid to the union and without the political agenda -- recently opened a chapter in Nevada and is recruiting members from union ranks.

If all this wasn't enough to keep union leaders awake at night, there is a well-funded school-choice ballot initiative being drafted which might, under present circumstances, have a shot at passing in November. And the union knows full well that any proposal that gives parents a real choice in education works against their self interest.

Could Nevada become the first state to approve a statewide, universal school voucher bill? That has about as much chance as the Giants beating the Patriots, John McCain winning the Republican presidential nomination, or Barack Obama beating Hillary Clinton.


Australian university forgets that lectures need to be understood

I am sure that the Chinese man concerned is a perfectly fine person but why was he hired for a job he could barely do? It sounds to me that a compulsion to do "diverse" hiring trumped all sense

The University of Queensland's prestigious law school had to sideline a new academic recruit from overseas because of poor English speaking skills. Qiao Liu was hired as a School of Law lecturer last semester but drew complaints from students that they could not understand his classes. Executive Dean Ian Zimmer confirmed Mr Liu, an Oxford graduate, had to be stood down from lectures to be given time to improve his language skills. "The School of Law acted quickly on student concerns," Prof Zimmer said.

Mr Liu began teaching Contract B to about 400 students in a large lecture theatre at UQ last July. After complaints from students, the school's then deputy head Prof Ross Grantham sat in on two lectures. He was accompanied by another law professor during the second lecture. They agreed Mr Liu's accent "seemed to be pronounced by the sound system in the large lecture theatre, creating communication problems," Prof Zimmer said.

Mr Liu agreed he should take time out from teaching in order to improve his language skills. Former Law School Dean Charles Rickett took over Mr Liu's classes for the remainder of last semester. Mr Liu resumed teaching at the start of this semester, on February 25. Under changes to the Bachelor of Law structure, he now takes on about 25 students at a time, as opposed to 400 last year, Prof Zimmer said. "No concern about Mr Liu's 2008 teaching has been raised with Prof Grantham (now head of the Law School), however he plans to sit in on Mr Liu's next class," he said.

Prof Zimmer, who was chairman of the selection committee that hired Mr Liu, said the recruit "came to us with excellent references, presented well during his interview, and was hired as a junior lecturer". At the time of his appointment he was a lecturer in law at the University of the West of England. Since July last year he has published two major articles on the law of contract in one of the world's most prestigious law journals, the Cambridge Law Journal.

The university declined to reveal Mr Liu's salary package, but Prof Zimmer said the lecturer had continued to contribute last semester through tutorials, research and an increased marking load. Mr Liu's university profile says he "teaches and researches in contract law, Chinese law, with a particular interest in comparative study of Chinese and Anglo-Australian private law".


Sunday, March 09, 2008

Next on school agenda: Teaching communism

Family advocate: 'Just when we thought indoctrination couldn't get any worse'

A new plan by a California lawmaker would allow schools to be used to promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, and let teachers in public district classrooms "inculcate in the mind of any pupil a preference for communism," according to a traditional values advocacy organization. "Just when we thought the indoctrination in California's public schools couldn't get any worse, state lawmakers introduce bills that will further brainwash innocent children," said a statement from Capitol Resource Institute, a traditional values and family advocacy organization based in California. "We're in California. Of course it has a chance of succeeding," CRI spokeswoman Karen England told WND. "These people get bolder and bolder every year."

Her organization, along with several others, already has been battling over lawmakers' orders, already placed in law, that public schools in the state teach nothing but positive messages about homosexuality, transsexuality, bisexuality and other alternative lifestyles. Those plans are being challenged in court, by citizens' attempts to place the issue on the 2008 election ballot and by family advocates who say the best option is for families to abandon public schools for private schools or other alternatives.

Now comes the plan, SB 1322, from state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, a Democrat elected from the state's 27th District, including the towns of Artesia, Avalon, Bellflower, Cerritos, Downey, Lakewood, Long Beach, Lynwood, Paramount, Signal Hill, South Gate and others. "This bill would actually allow the promotion of communism in public schools," CRI said. That's because the state's Civic Center Act already requires a school district to grant the use of school property, when an alternative isn't available, to nonprofit groups, clubs or associations set up for youth and school activities.

"But the law also states that the property may not be used by anyone intent on overthrowing the government," CRI said. Now, the group said, "SB 1322 would delete the requirement that an individual or organization wanting to use the school property is not a Communist action organization or Communist front organization. "This bill would also strike the law that a public school or community college employee may be fired if he or she is a member of the Communist Party," the group said. Worse yet, the group said, "the bill would also strike the law that prohibits a teacher giving instruction in a school or on public school property from teaching communism with the intent to indoctrinate or to inculcate in the mind of any pupil a preference for communism," CRI said.

"SB 1322 is simply shocking," said Meredith Turney, legislative liaison for the affiliated Capitol Resource Family Impact. "The socialist members of the legislature are now advocating that communism, one of the most brutal forms of government in history, be taught favorably to government school students. Anyone espousing communism, which does advocate for the violent overthrow of existing government, will be permitted to not only use government property, but work in schools and colleges, and teach their freedom-hating propaganda to impressionable young people." "Less than 20 years after the fall of the communist Soviet Union, California lawmakers are eager to once again begin advancing a political ideology responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent people," England said. "Instead of promoting communism in our schools, lawmakers should be focused on actually teaching students to read, write and think for themselves."

On a blog on the Red County website, Mike Spence concluded: "I know there is plenty of indoctrination goin' on already but I gues (sic) they won't be staisfied (sic) until all school children are gay loving (SB777) and Communist. If only they could all read at grade level."

The bill itself explains that it would delete provisions "regarding a person who intends to use school property on behalf of an organization to deliver a statement, signed under penalty of perjury, that the organization is not a Communist action organization or Communist front organization required to be registered with the Attorney General of the United States or does not, to the best of that person's knowledge, advocate the overthrow of the government of the United States or of the State of California by force, violence, or other unlawful means." The plan also outlines it would drop provisions that school and college employees could be dismissed for being a part of the Communist Party and drop a ban on "teaching communism with the intent to indoctrinate or to inculcate in the mind of any pupil a preference for communism."

The proposal itself noted that the teaching about the facts of communism was allowed, and the previous requirement banned teaching "for the purpose of undermining patriotism for, and the belief in, the government of the United States and of this state." However, the new plan drops that. Also deleted was: "For the purposes of this section, communism is the political theory that the presently existing form of government of the United States or of this state should be changed, by force, violence, or other unconstitutional means, to a totalitarian dictatorship which is based on the principles of communism as expounded by Marx, Lenin, and Stalin."

Also deleted was the conclusion from the California Legislature other nations already had fallen into totalitarian dictatorships through the establishment of communism as well as the recognition that "the successful establishment of totalitarian dictatorships has consistently been aided, accompanied, or accomplished by repeated acts of treachery, deceit, teaching of false doctrines, teaching untruth, together with organized confusion, insubordination, and disloyalty, fostered, directed, instigated, or employed by communist organizations and their members." Also tossed out of California law was the recognition that communism even presents "a clear and present danger."

The earlier school indoctrination into alternative sexual lifestyles has prompted creation of Rescue Your Child a coalition of various groups encouraging parents to withdraw their children from the state's public school system. That's the result of the California Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who wrote and signed into law Senate Bill 777 and Assembly Bill 394 as law, plans that institutionalize the promotion of homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism and other alternative lifestyle choices. The Discover Christian Schools website reports getting thousands of hits daily from parents and others seeking information about alternatives to California's public schools. WND reported leaders of the campaign called California Exodus say they hope to encourage parents of 600,000 children to withdraw them from the public districts this year.


Court's homeschool ban creating 'panic'

Ruling, if unchanged, could be used against tens of thousands

A ruling from an appeals court in California that a homeschooling family must enroll their children in a public school or "legally qualified" private school is alarming because of the way the court opted to order those results, according to a team of legislative analysts who have worked on homeschooling issues in California for decades. The ruling, when it was released several days ago, sent ripples of shock through the homeschooling community.

WND has reported on the order handed down to Phillip and Mary Long over the education being provided to two of their eight children. The decision from the 2nd Appellate Court in Los Angeles granted a special petition brought by lawyers appointed to represent the two youngest children after the family's homeschooling was brought to the attention of child advocates. The lawyers appointed by the state were unhappy with a lower court's ruling that allowed the family to continue homeschooling, and specifically challenged that on appeal.

Roy Hanson, chief of the Private and Home Educators of California, said the circumstances of the Long family left the court with the option of handling such a ruling for their particular circumstances in a juvenile court setting. "Normally in a dependency court action, they simply make a ruling that will affect that family. It accomplishes the same thing, meaning they would force [the family] to place their minor children into school," he said. Such rulings on a variety of issues always are "done in the best interests of the child" and are not unusual, he said.

But in this case, the court said went much further, essentially concluding that the state provided no circumstance that allowed parents to school their own children at home. "We find no reason to strike down the Legislature's evaluation of what constitutes an adequate education scheme sufficient to promote the 'general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence.' We agree . 'the educational program of the State of California was designed to promote the general welfare of all the people and was not designed to accommodate the personal ideas of any individual in the field of education,'" the ruling said.

Specifically, the appeals court said, the trial court had found that "keeping the children at home deprived them of situations where (1) they could interact with people outside the family, (2) there are people who could provide help if something is amiss in the children's lives, and (3) they could develop emotionally in a broader world than the parents' 'cloistered' setting." Further, the appeals ruling said, California law requires "persons between the ages of six and 18" to be in school, "the public full-time day school," with exemptions allowed only for those in a "private full-time day school" or those "instructed by a tutor who holds a valid state teaching credential for the grade being taught."

Such a holding, if unchanged, could ultimately be used against the tens of thousands who currently are homeschooling in California by fulfilling the state's requirements to establish a private school in a home, and enrolling the family's children in that school, observers said.

For homeschoolers in California, Hanson said, "there may be everywhere from concern to panic, just based on not knowing what the [ultimate] results will be." He said his group has worked to defeat similar arguments in the past, and because of those previous results, he wondered whether the court or the children's lawyers were pursuing some sort of "agenda" with the case. "They either were trying to put on an agenda, or they were so frustrated they felt this was their only option," he said. But in either case, the decision is "not very sound."

The Home School Legal Defense Association, the world's premiere international advocacy organization for homeschoolers, emphasized that the ruling made no changes in California law regarding homeschooling at this time. While the decision from the appeals court "has caused much concern among California homeschoolers," the HSLDA said, there are no immediate changes any homeschoolers need to address. The group said it is looking at the background of the case to determine its "implications," and will be releasing its analysis soon.

The Longs earlier told WND they were considering an appeal to the state Supreme Court because of the impact of the order for their family, as well as the precedent that could be construed. They have disputed with local officials over homeschooling and other issues for years, they said. In at least two previous decisions, courts affirmed their right to homeschool, they said.

The current case was brought by two attorneys who had been appointed by the state to represent the family's minor children in a dependency case stemming from accusations of abuse that resulted from the parents' decision to impose discipline on their children with spankings. The case actually had been closed out by the court as resolved when the lawyers filed their special appeal.

According to unpublished court documents, there also are in the past a series of other allegations that a family acquaintance molested one of the children as well as claims regarding physical punishment relating to one child's decision to disobey household rules about being out at night. Many of the allegations contained in the unpublished documents are, according to the court itself, disputed by different people involved. But the results of the situation, until this point, always had been court rulings that affirmed the parents' right to homeschool their children.

Phillip Long told WND one of the early disputes arose some 15 years ago because his family was homeschooling with no "umbrella" organization. That's why the youngest children most recently had been working under an independent study program with Sunland Christian Academy, he said. The court ruling, however, revealed a judicial dislike of that school, since the judges specifically ordered the children would not be allowed to participate in its programs. Phillip Long also told WND his children had written to the court objecting to the attorneys' actions, without effect.

The appeals court words held echoes of similar ideas expressed by officials from Germany, where homeschooling has been outlawed since 1938 under a law adopted when Adolf Hitler decided he wanted the state, and no one else, to control the minds of the nation's youth. Wolfgang Drautz, consul general for the Federal Republic of Germany, has said "school teaches not only knowledge but also social conduct, encourages dialogue among people of different beliefs and cultures, and helps students to become responsible citizens."

Phillip Long earlier told WND that he would be working on an appeal. He has re-confirmed that is one of his goals. The appeals decision also rejected religious concerns. The family's "sincerely held religious beliefs" are "not the quality of evidence that permits us to say that application of California's compulsory public school education law to them violates their First Amendment rights." The father said he objects to the pro-homosexual, pro-bisexual, pro-transgender agenda of California's public schools, on which WND previously has reported. "We just don't want them teaching our children," he told WND. "They teach things that are totally contrary to what we believe. They put questions in our children's minds we don't feel they're ready for. "When they are much more mature, they can deal with these issues, alternative lifestyles, and such, or whether they came from primordial slop. At the present time it's my job to teach them the correct way of thinking," he said.

A number of groups already have assembled in California under the Rescue Your Child slogan to encourage parents to withdraw their children from the state's public school system. It's because the California Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger worked together to establish Senate Bill 777 and Assembly Bill 394 as law, plans that institutionalize the promotion of homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism and other alternative lifestyle choices. "First, [California] law allowed public schools to voluntarily promote homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexuality. Then, the law required public schools to accept homosexual, bisexual and transsexual teachers as role models for impressionable children. Now, the law has been changed to effectively require the positive portrayal of homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexuality to 6 million children in California government-controlled schools," said Thomasson.

Even insiders joined in the call for an abandonment of California's public districts. Veteran public school teacher Nadine Williams of Torrance said the sexual indoctrination laws have motivated her to keep her grandchildren out of the very public schools she used to support. The Discover Christian Schools website reports getting thousands of hits daily from parents and others seeking information about alternatives to California's public schools. WND reported leaders of the campaign called California Exodus say they hope to encourage parents of 600,000 children to withdraw them from the public districts this year.

The new law itself technically bans in any school texts, events, class or activities any discriminatory bias against those who have chosen alternative sexual lifestyles, said Meredith Turney, legislative liaison for Capitol Resource Institute. There are no similar protections for students with traditional or conservative lifestyles and beliefs, however. Offenders will face the wrath of the state Department of Education, up to and including lawsuits. "SB 777 will result in reverse discrimination against students with religious and traditional family values. These students have lost their voice as the direct result of Gov. Schwarzenegger's unbelievable decision. The terms 'mom and dad' or 'husband and wife' could promote discrimination against homosexuals if a same-sex couple is not also featured," she said.

Karen England, chief of CRI, told WND that the law is not a list of banned words, including "mom" and "dad." But she said the requirement is that the law bans discriminatory bias and the effect will be to ban such terminology. "Having 'mom' and 'dad' promotes a discriminatory bias. You have to either get rid of 'mom' and 'dad' or include everything when talking about [parental issues]," she said. "They [promoters of sexual alternative lifestyles] do consider that discriminatory." The California plan still is facing a court challenge on its constitutionality and a possible vote of the people of California if an initiative effort succeeds.


British government refusal to recognize the grim and dangerous state of many State schools

Caring parents have good reason to avoid certain schools. In their brainless way the British government think they can fix it all by allocating school places randomly (by a lottery)!

What is this middle-class panic over school lotteries really about? Does it stem from fear about long-off GCSE results, expecting a place at the league table equivalent of Chelsea but ending up with Crewe? Or is it something more primal and tribal, something never explicitly acknowledged for all its un-PC implications of snobbery and racism: anxiety that our children will not be educated among People Like Us?

It is an impulse that, when given a religious expression, garners unquestioning support from the State. Of course Catholic parents should be allowed to raise children among fellow reciters of the rosary or Muslim parents to choose Islamic faith schools where their properly shrouded girls can be educated free from uppity secular ways.

Yet what if your beliefs are not religious, but amorphous (if heartfelt), encompassing any or all of the following: piano lessons, harvest festivals, emotional continence, the power of books, a bristling at Margaret Hodge for attacking the Proms (though you'd rather put pins in your eyes than go yourself), a repulsion at slutty kiddy clobber, a bossy sense of responsibility for public spaces, an absolute belief in education ... How hard it is to express what being middle-class means, yet how obvious when you see it.

The reason such folk move to the country or suddenly fill church pews or buy houses around a chosen school like wagons encircling to keep out Injuns is not to perpetuate their own privilege per se, but to ensure their type of children constitute a majority and thus their own values remain uppermost. In London, when a state primary school is signalled by the bush telegraph as "up and coming" it may mean the new head is magnificent but more likely it means that Parents Like Us have established base camp. There will be a few other mums with Orla Kiely bags to talk to in the playground. Little Josh is guaranteed playdates with an Oliver and a Fred. And so a tipping point occurs, as aspirational parents rush into Foxtons waving catchment area maps.

In my experience of an inner London primary school, there can be deep respect and goodwill between different ethnic groups and social classes. We smile hellos, chat at the school fair, gladly exchange favours. But deeper interracial or cross-class friendships are rare. Children have a hardwired instinct to seek out those like themselves, a suspicion or at least unease with difference. Yet understanding that disparate folks can coexist is a vital lesson; and children educated wholly in the white prep-school bubble - and with a vile, largely unchallenged tendency to mock poorer kids as "chavs" - are, for all their nice manners and grade 8 piano, in this sense less equipped for adult life.

But the question the lottery idea throws up is: do middle-class parents hog the best schools or are schools best because middle-class parents hog them? The Government assumes the former and demands that the most coveted places are more evenly divvied up. Yet it also counts on lesser schools being improved because middle-class parents are randomly forced on to their rolls. At primary level this task is not so irksome: parents are perpetually in the playground, can agitate for improvement, raise cash for nicer loos, nag a head to raise her game. (Although they also demand teachers give their precious ones a disproportionate amount of energy.) But above all their children helpfully skew a class's number of keen, manageable pupils.

But at secondary level, who feels equal to improving a failing local school? So big and daunting and scary. The odds so stacked, the culture so alien. At one open evening the head boasted how new CCTV cameras had made his school less prone to intrusion by gangs and emphasised that pupils were only permitted one piercing and no tattoos. A bubble of warm feelings about the fab new science block and improving results abruptly popped. Was this induction day at a borstal? You could sense other hopeful, socially minded but aspirational parents scrub it from their list.

Yet it is often said that bright kids with supportive parents thrive anywhere. Don't worry, we're told, they'll be fine. Indeed, professors of education from three British universities, studying 124 middle-class families from London and two other cities with kids at average and below-average comprehensives discovered they mostly achieved brilliant results, a clutch of places at top universities. Teachers leapt to help them to fulfil potential, even devising special courses so they could stay on.

But, blimey, the investment of parental time and energy required. Many were already activists politically committed to state education, more than half became governors, all monitored their children's progress hawkishly. And ironically, although enrolled in melting-pot schools so they would be better socially integrated, these middle-class students clustered together in the top sets, making few friends with poorer peers.

So is that "fine"? Is it OK for your son or daughter, in practice, to have only a tiny pool of potential pals? Maybe they'll get lucky with classmates or stick to their best mate from primary. Blessed with social dexterity they might develop that unteachable, priceless life-skill of getting on with anyone. But what if they are eccentric, bookish, off-the-wall? Will a few years of mockery and bullying knock off their corners, put a little grit in the old oyster? Or will it break their spirits? Fine if they are the kind of easygoing yet focused child who can zone out anti-learning static. But what if they are budding alpha males, magnetised towards the bad boys?

Frankly they all have less cause for sympathy than clever, potentially high-achieving working-class children who lack financial resources and parents confident and wily enough to work the system. A friend of mine, a Jewish grammar school boy from Leeds, is writing a book about social mobility. Where today, he asks, are the stories of local boy/girl made good, the inspiring heroes of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Room at the Top, A Taste of Honey, who burst through the limits of their backgrounds? Now all we have is Shameless, rap videos and other nihilistic, ghetto wallowings.

But if the Government believes middle-class parents are useful agents of change, they should address their fears and stop treating them like the enemy. In Brighton, the rush of the disaffected into the private sector is a catastrophe for state schools. And, at root, it has surprisingly little to do with education.