Saturday, September 27, 2008

Hopeless U.S. High schools: Colleges spend billions on remedial classes to prep freshmen

It's a tough lesson for millions of students just now arriving on campus: even if you have a high school diploma, you may not be ready for college. In fact, a new study calculates, one-third of American college students have to enroll in remedial classes. The bill to colleges and taxpayers for trying to bring them up to speed on material they were supposed to learn in high school comes to between $2.3 billion and $2.9 billion annually.

"That is a very large cost, but there is an additional cost and that's the cost to the students," said former Colorado governor Roy Romer, chair of the group Strong American Schools, which is issuing the report "Diploma to Nowhere" on Monday. "These students come out of high school really misled. They think they're prepared. They got a 3.0 and got through the curriculum they needed to get admitted, but they find what they learned wasn't adequate."

Christina Jeronimo was an "A" student in high school English, but was placed in a remedial course when she arrived at Long Beach City College in California. The course was valuable in some ways but frustrating and time-consuming. Now in her third year of community college, she'd hoped to transfer to UCLA by now. Like many college students, she wishes she'd been worked a little harder in high school. "There's a gap," said Jeronimo, who hopes to study psychology. "The demands of the high school teachers aren't as great as the demands for college. Sometimes they just baby us."

The problem of colleges devoting huge amounts of time and money to remediation isn't new, though its scale and cost has been difficult to measure. The latest report gives somewhat larger estimates than some previous studies, though it is not out of line with trends suggested in others, said Hunter Boylan, an expert at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, who was not connected with the report.

Analyzing federal data, the report estimates 43% of community college students require remediation, as do 29% of students at public four-year universities, with higher numbers in some places. For instance, four in five Oklahoma community college students need remedial coursework, and three in five in the giant California State university system need help in English, math or both. The cost per student runs to as much as $2,000 per student in community colleges and $2,500 in four-year universities.

Jeronimo was hardly alone at Long Beach City College, where 95% of students need remedial coursework, according to President Eloy Oakley. "It's the number one issue to Long Beach City College and the entire California community college system, easily," Oakley said. "I don't believe that the public in general really understands the magnitude of the problem."

Simply dumping the remedial students into large classes isn't necessarily expensive for colleges, although it's also not very effective. But smaller classes typically require more attention and money. Some states have refused to fund remedial courses at the university level. In California, Oakley said, state funding for community colleges favors credit courses. Remediation (or "basic skills" as he and many educators call it) is typically noncredit.

Educators are working to improve remedial courses. Long Beach is developing "success areas" that give extra time and attention to students. Community colleges in Tennessee have completely redesigned giant introductory and remedial courses where many students were struggling.

Boylan says colleges are learning such courses must also teach study skills to be effective. Indeed, students often report that the hardest aspect of the transition to college isn't the material. It's the new rhythm and structure of college-level work. "One of the things that they don't teach in high school is time management," Jeronimo said.

Eric Paris, who earned a 3.8 high school GPA but is finding his freshman year at Virginia Tech much more challenging, says the big difference is "it's all on my own." In class, "it's up to me if I want to sit on Facebook or pay attention." He, too, wishes he'd taken more challenging high school classes but thought a high GPA was more important.

Boylan says the gap between what high schools teach and what colleges expect isn't the only problem. He says there's often a mismatch, with high schools and colleges teaching material in different ways.

It's true that only recently have K-12 and higher education begun talking seriously about aligning standards. But Romer, who has also headed the Los Angeles Unified School District, doesn't buy that it's a communication problem. "We're not expecting enough of our youngsters and the institutions that train them," he said.


Guns OK in Australian schools?

A remarkable contrast to how American schools respond. A bit TOO relaxed, maybe

THE father of the youth who took a handgun and ammunition to school said what his son did was "no big deal". The man, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, said he couldn't understand why other parents were "making such a fuss" about his 15-year-old producing the deadly weapon and ammunition during an English class.

The Daily Telegraph yesterday revealed the Year 9 student at Kurri Kurri High School had been suspended after he was found with the gun in his bag. The Education Department had tried to keep the incident quiet from other parents. The school responded late yesterday by sending a note home to parents explaining the incident -- almost four weeks after it happened.

Police confirmed they had seized an antique-looking pistol together with bullets, which had been sent for ballistic testing. But the boy's father said the incident was "old news" and people should have better things to talk about. "What's the fuss, it's no big deal. It happened a month ago. People ought to worry about something else," he said. The teenager is expected to return to school today.

Kurri-Kurri parent Debbie Thornton said she was outraged the school did not inform parents about the incident, instead leaving them to hear about it through the media. A Year 9 student, who was in the English class when the weapon was allegedly produced, said the teenage boy had been "bragging" to his mates when he produced the gun. At that stage, English teacher Alison Miller called the boy to the front of the room and asked him to hand over the weapon. The Education Department said parents were not informed because "there had been no real threat to students".

Meanhwile, a youth who pointed a pistol at his teacher's head and pulled the trigger is about to return to school - but his victim's life may be ruined. The male teacher is now on indefinite stress leave and is undergoing counselling after the 13-year-old male student at Randwick Boys High School pointed the replica gun at him on September 5. It is unknown when - or even if - the computing skills teacher will return to the school. The Year 7 student will return to class at the start of next term after a short suspension.

Sources said the student went to the front of the class and held the pistol to the teachers head. The teacher grabbed the pistol, which he did not know was a fake, from the student and the police were called. Parents at the school say they were not informed of the incident. NSW Teacher's Federation deputy president Bob Lipscombe said schools were meant to be among the safest place in the community, yet incidents like this, and a similar one at Kurri Kurri High School in the Hunter Valley, caused a great deal of stress for teachers. "We are concerned for the wellbeing of teachers, and we expect the Education Department to act appropriately when such acts occur," he said.


Australian universities dumbing down

A REVOLUTION from below is transforming Australian higher education as leading universities unleash radical course reforms in advance of the Rudd Government's policy overhaul. The University of Western Australia has joined a group including Melbourne, Macquarie, Monash, South Australia and Victoria universities undergoing radical course reform unprompted by government policy.

Melbourne, UWA and Macquarie have jettisoned the smorgasbord of credentials characterising Australian higher education in favour of a much smaller number of broad undergraduate courses integrating the humanities and science. UWA last week announced plans to cut its undergraduate courses from 70 to six, while Macquarie University plans to cut the number of undergraduate courses by 75 per cent in time for the 2010 academic year as part of an attempt to "reinvent" and "reposition" the university.

University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis, who in 2005 instigated a process of curriculum reform leading to the Melbourne graduate-school model, told the HES this was the first time in living memory universities had decided to take charge of their own futures rather than allow government to determine policy. "The move for change has come from within the sector and has been attempted without additional federal investment," he said. "This means those universities pursuing change are taking all the risk."

The reform process has strong international parallels, as individual universities such as Harvard, and entire systems such as the European universities covered by the Bologna Accord, have embraced the cause of curriculum renewal. Professor Davis said the curriculum revolution was prompted in part by the sector's internationalisation, and questions about the attractiveness of Australian degrees in the light of Asian, US and European reforms. "If we remain passive, existing markets will drift away," he said. "For universities without viable local income - which is to say all public universities - losing our international markets is slow death."

In a marked departure from Australian higher-education policy's emphasis on structural and financial reform, the curriculum revolution goes to the heart of teaching, learning and graduate competencies.

UWA vice-chancellor Alan Robson told the HES that his course review committee, whose recommendations are the culmination of an exhaustive 18-month process, had on his instructions taken the university back to first principles: "What are the best educational outcomes for our students and how can we implement them?"

At Macquarie, as at Melbourne and UWA, the proliferation of narrow undergraduate courses will be replaced by a broader undergraduate education in which all students are exposed to science and the arts, taught communication skills, and encouraged to participate in projects outside the university. Macquarie vice-chancellor Steven Schwartz told the HES the revamp was needed to ensure Macquarie graduates were better prepared professionally and also ready to take their place as engaged citizens. He said: "Of course we will continue to teach professional skills - accounting students will still learn to keep books - but we will also ensure that each of our students learns how to analyse scholarly papers, criticise research methods, solve problems and integrate information into coherent arguments."

Meanwhile, Monash University has launched an "internationalisation of the curriculum" policy to foster understanding of national and global perspectives, while the University of South Australia is preparing to mandate indigenous studies in all degrees by 2010. Victoria University is also undergoing a curriculum review aimed at strengthening its relationships with local industry and the community. Students will be required to take 25 per cent of their course on the job or in the local community.

Professor Davis remarked that the curriculum revolution in many cases registered a need on the part of Australian universities to ensure their courses were "compatible" with overseas competitors. "All this is happening in a world in which a very large number of Australian graduates expect to work overseas for part of their career," he said. "Without compatible qualifications they will choose international university choices rather than risk a local qualification, such as an Australian undergraduate law degree, that is not instantly recognised in the US." "New curriculum models, such as the 3+2 graduate school structure Melbourne has adopted and UWA is now considering, allow a university to offer foundational training alongside specialisation."


Friday, September 26, 2008

A democracy without civics?

When asked, a third of eighth-graders didn't know the significance of the Declaration of Independence.

September 17 marked the 221st anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. Students across the country spent a few minutes of their day learning about the remarkable work of our nation's founders. This is nice, but America's schools should be doing a much more thorough job of honoring the civic mission that was the reason for their founding.

Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and one of the first advocates for public education in America, argued forcefully that schools play a crucial role in preparing the citizens of a democracy. "There is but one method of rendering a republican form of government durable," he wrote, "and that is by disseminating the seeds of virtue and knowledge through education."

With young people voting at higher rates than ever before, it might seem that the founders would be pleased with our progress. Yet civic engagement requires more than voting in presidential elections every four years. A healthy democracy demands sustained citizen participation, and our schools must give students the knowledge and tools to participate. Sadly, civic education has been in steady decline over the past generation, as high-stakes testing and an emphasis on literacy and math dominate school reforms. Too many young people today do not understand how our political system works. They lack the tools to shape their communities through their own participation.

This shows up on national tests - though not, disappointingly, any of the tests our government uses to gauge school performance. On the last nationwide civics assessment, administered in 2006, two-thirds of students scored below proficiency. Not even a third of eighth-graders surveyed could identify the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence. Less than a fifth of high school seniors could explain how citizen participation benefits democracy.

Equally troubling, we face a widening civic achievement gap. Hispanic and African-American students are twice as likely as their white counterparts to lack civic knowledge and skills, while low-income students score significantly lower than middle- and upper-income students. In other words, our schools' failure when it comes to civic education is especially stark in communities most in need of civic engagement.

If we hope to sustain American democracy, we need to treat civic learning as on a par with other academic subjects. To participate fully in our democracy, students need to understand our government, our history, and our laws. They need to appreciate the skills democracy imposes on us - consensus building, compromise, civility, and rational discourse - and how they can be applied to the problems confronted by their communities and our nation as a whole. Restoring this civic mission of schools will require a concerted effort in school districts, at statehouses, and by the federal government.

The federal government should embrace civic education when it revisits education reform next year. Developing and then mandating civics standards - and increasing funding for civic learning - would go a long way toward jump-starting progress. States likewise can elevate the importance of civic learning by creating commissions to review thoroughly the state's approach to civic education, instituting civics as a graduation requirement, and funding professional and curricular development.

Schools, which the noted education reformer John Dewey called the "midwife of democracy," should include civic learning in their mission statements and incorporate civics - including discussion of controversial topics and the responsibilities of citizen engagement - into their curricula for students of all ages.

The anniversary of the Constitution and the upcoming presidential election offer a chance to reflect on the health of American democracy. Still, democracy is a sustained conversation among citizens over how best to govern their communities. It is not enough for this conversation to take place on one day, or even over the course of one campaign. Our democratic discourse must begin in America's schools, which shape the attitudes and experiences of more citizens than any other institution.

The anniversary of the Constitution should be an occasion for reaffirming our long-term commitment to civic participation. That means restoring education for democracy to its central place in our schools. Only then can we fulfill the Constitution's promise of a more perfect union.


Australian government pushing open access to research data

An excellent idea. It would stop Greenies from hiding their sloppy and dishonest research methods

INNOVATION Minister Kim Carr today will flag the possibility that researchers who win grants from public funding agencies will have to make their results freely available over the internet. "Australia may want to consider making its own competitive research grants conditional on recipients sharing their research results through open-access repositories," Senator Carr will say in a video address to the Open Access and Research conference in Brisbane.

Funding agencies overseas, including the British Wellcome Trust and the US National Institutes of Health, have adopted mandatory open-access policies. The Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council only encourage open access.

In his innovation report, consultant Terry Cutler says: "(Open access) progress in Australia has been patchy and lacking the comprehensiveness and boldness of leading countries such as the UK."

In his address Senator Carr strongly endorses Cutler's open access recommendations, saying: "If we are serious about boosting innovation, we have to get knowledge and information flowing freely." He says the push to have researchers commercialise their discoveries could "safely be declared a failure" as universities on average earned less than 1 per cent of their income from royalties, patents and licences.

But Senator Carr told the HES the Government did not want to jeopardise the business done by commercialisation offices such as UniQuest, which had made a success of technology transfer. He said: "The ARC and the NHMRC distribute more than $1 billion of research funding each year. "Very few of those dollars end up as any part of an (intellectual property) deal ... so I don't think there should be any serious adverse effect ... but we want to look at that."

UniQuest managing director David Henderson said some projects, such as the Gardasil cancer vaccine, would never get to market without the confidence that IP protection gave investors: "There needs to be an ability to exclude (from any open access policy) research that requires investment to get to product."


Thursday, September 25, 2008

California: Obscene Language Class

(Fresno, California) Check out the latest behavior course being loafed out by the progressive public school system in Fresno.
During the first week of school, the kids got a lesson on words they shouldn't use, including terms for oral sex and prostitution. The teachers and kids were focused on behavioral expectations instead of the normal subjects, but some parents say the way the school taught kids not to swear was obscene.

The first week of school included a vocabulary lesson for Phoenix Hawkins and the words he learned won't help him on the SAT. He says his history teacher wrote out 15 dirty words for the whole class to see and then asked them not to use those words.

Phoenix says he only knew a few of the words, but he and some of the other kids tried to figure out the ones they didn't know. "After school, I asked my mom what some of the words were," he said. "And she said, 'where did you hear those words?'"

His mother says it was quite a shock to her ears and that he wasn't using "standard swear words." She called the words the most vulgar and disgusting words she's ever heard. "I couldn't believe what he was saying to me," said Erin Hawkins. "I felt so violated."

Phoenix says he's heard a lot more bad words at school since the cursing class, including that same day, when he says kids were using the 'C' word.
The obscene language curricula apparently is a system-wide project to improve behavior. Unfortunately, I see significant unintended consequences, a customary attribute of progressive ideas, plus the fact that the project, contrary to intent, appears to introduce new avenues of bad behavior for the children.
First of all, the kids only learned many of the words when they were told not to use them.

Second, once the kids knew the words, they searched for explanations regarding their meaning.

Third, vigorous discussion about the words and their meanings ensued among the kids.

Fourth, the parents found out what the school is doing and they are angry.

Fifth, valuable classroom time is being wasted on the obscene language program and the kids are not learning anything that will help them score good grades.
A Fresno Unified School Board meeting has been scheduled and the issue will be discussed. I expect it will be lively as angry parents seek answers to their complaints.
Has Title VI Been Deep-Sixed?

In its Overview of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Department of Justice states:
Title VI, 42 U.S.C. ~ 2000d et seq., was enacted as part of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. As President John F. Kennedy said in 1963:
Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races [colors, and national origins] contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes or results in racial [color or national origin] discrimination.

If a recipient of federal assistance is found to have discriminated and voluntary compliance cannot be achieved, the federal agency providing the assistance should either initiate fund termination proceedings or refer the matter to the Department of Justice for appropriate legal action....

In an interesting article today on the decidedly mixed results that have been achieved by several institutions that announced with great fanfare several decades ago their determination to increase the numbers of minorities on their faculties, the Chronicle of Higher Education noted Duke had cited the "pipeline" problem - not enough highly qualified minority candidates in many fields. "The university," it said,
is taking small steps to widen the pipeline. Duke has financed two postdoctoral positions for minority candidates each year, with the hope that it will eventually hire some of them for tenure-track faculty positions.

Was Title VI repealed when I wasn't looking? Is Podberesky v. Kirwan, 38 F.3d (4th Cir. 1994) (discussed here), which barred the University of Maryland from creating an honors scholarship limited to blacks, not still good law in the Fourth Circuit?

Oh, wait. Duke is private. Maybe it's free to discriminate because it doesn't receive any public funds.

Nope, that's not it. A quick check of reveals that in Fiscal Year 2005 Duke received $454,076,071 in federal assistance.

Has our idea of "simple justice" so eloquently stated by President Kennedy in 1963 really changed so much since then?

Source (See the original for links)

Mismatched Minorities?

Addressing the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Friday, a panel of researchers discussed whether minority students are doomed to failure if admitted into highly selective science programs on the basis of racial preferences. The commission's briefing centered on the "mismatch" theory, which suggests minority students are less successful in science majors when they are placed in colleges with academic standards that far exceed the students' preparation. "Race preferences in admissions . are harming the aspirations of blacks," said Rogers Elliott, professor emeritus of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth College.

The controversial mismatch theory purports to explain, in part, why black and Hispanic students are less likely than whites to complete degrees in the so-called STEM disciplines of science.

Richard Sander, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, drew upon data from the University of Michigan's graduation rates to illustrate the mismatch theory. He noted that for black students who entered Michigan in 1999, 73 percent who were given "no preference" graduated in four years compared with 70 percent of white students with the same credentials. But for black students who were given "large preference," just 21 percent graduated in four years, compared with 35 percent of whites who were also given a large preference.

In order to determine the level of preference given to applicants, Sander used an index that included standardized test scores and grade point averages. A 50-point difference on the verbal SAT, for instance, would be considered a moderate preference under Sander's analysis. A 90-point difference would be considered a large preference. (Michigan officials could not be reached for comment, but in previous debates over affirmative action they have rejected the idea that applicants can be grouped by SAT scores alone to judge their relative ability.)

Sander introduced his mismatch analysis of black law school students in 2004. Since that time, his argument that some minority students might be better served at less prestigious institutions has been met with criticism by affirmative action advocates, who say that race-blind admissions in law schools, for instance, would ultimately undercut minority participation altogether.

California Data Shows Mismatch, Sander Says

The University of California System also served as a model for Sander's research. Citing unpublished data from the system, Sander noted that black and Latino students have far greater success rates in science when they enroll in the California's less selective campuses. Minority students were about half as likely to earn bachelor's degrees in science at Berkeley or UCLA, for instance, as they were to earn science degrees from five of the of the other six campuses in the system, according to Sander's study of those entering between 1998 and 2000. "All those [data] show very compelling evidence that there really is some mismatching going on," he said.

Michael Yaki, a member of the commission, was the lone commissioner to publicly criticize Sander's analysis at Friday's briefing. "Part of what we're talking about is the potentiality of human beings, and that's not something you can really measure," said Yaki, a rare Democrat on the Republican-dominated commission.

Richard Tapia, a panelist at the briefing and a math professor at Rice University, expressed concern about steering minorities to less rigorous academic programs - just for the sake of increasing degree production in the sciences. The net result, he argued, will be fewer minorities on faculty at prestigious institutions, which are disinclined to hire professors lacking in academic pedigree. "Our current path will lead to a permanent underclass," he said.

Tapia, a Los Angeles native whose parents emigrated from Mexico, renounced the "sink or swim" mentality that some embrace in higher education. Retention and mentoring programs can work for minorities, he argued, if they are given funding and support. "Treating everyone the same is not good enough," Tapia said.

K-12 Draws Scrutiny

As would be expected, the briefing inevitably led into discussion of improving college preparation. Thomas Fortmann, a member of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, argued that it's far too late to discuss achievement gaps by the time students are applying to college. As such, steering minority students toward less selective programs where they are more likely to get science degrees "may result in more STEM majors, but I think it masks the underlying problem," he said.

The commission also explored industry expectations for science graduates, seeking input from an IBM executive. Robin Willner, vice president of Global Community Initiatives for IBM, touted the need for creative thinkers and leaders in high tech fields. She added that it's essential that tomorrow's industry leaders reflect the diversity of the global market in which IBM operates.

In a blunt assessment, Willner said IBM would be headed for big trouble if colleges fail to produce a diverse pool of talent with knowledge of the needs and desires of a growing global consumer base. "IBM would go into the toilet immediately," she said, "because we won't be able to make products for our customers."


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The harmful mistakes of sex education in school

Comment from Britain

Those who can, do, according to the old saying, and those who can't, teach. That has always seemed to me unfair. However, I have come to think that those who can't teach, teach sex education. Judged by its results - not a bad way of judging - sex education has been an utter failure. The increase in sex education here in recent years has coincided with an explosion of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease (STD) far worse than anywhere else in Europe. Since the government's teenage pregnancy strategy was introduced in 1999, the number of girls having abortions has soared. You might well be tempted to argue that sex education causes sexual delinquency.

Only two months ago the Health Protection Agency reported that a culture of promiscuity among the young had driven the rate of STDs to a record. Almost 400,000 people - half of them under 25 - were newly diagnosed, 6% more than in 2006.

When something fails, the usual procedure is to drop it and try something else. With sex education, the worse it gets, the more people cry out for more of it and earlier. Ministers are considering whether to make schools offer more sex education, offer it earlier and deny parents the right to withdraw their children from it.

Last week the Family Planning Association - now calling itself the fpa, having joined other charities in a mad rush to reduce themselves to a couple of lower-case letters - published a comic-style sex education booklet for six-year-olds to be marketed in primary schools for use in sex and relationships lessons. It has printed 50,000 copies of Let's Grow with Nisha and Joe, and tried it out in more than 50 primary schools; it hopes to encourage schools that have shied away from sex lessons to take them on with Nisha and Joe. Oh dear.

There's nothing wrong with the pamphlet itself. Admittedly it's more of a dreary workbook than a "fun" comic, but there's nothing that would startle a child or should upset even the most conservative of "family campaigners". The rudest thing is a drawing of two children, naked, with instructions to draw lines connecting interesting bits of their bodies with the appropriate words. This is all to promote discussion of sex and relationships when children are young enough not to feel self-conscious.

It seems to me highly unrealistic (given that 25% of children leave primary school struggling to read and write) to assume that many six-year-olds could begin to read the labels "testicles" or "vagina". And it is infuriating, given that medical-style euphemism has triumphed over plain English, that the authors have chosen one that's wrong. "Vagina" does not mean the external genital organs, commonly referred to as "front bottom". It comes from the Latin for sheath or scabbard and means what that suggests. The correct word would be "vulva", but the ill-educated educationists blithely impose inaccuracy on our tiny children. However, that is not what I most object to.

What I object to about the book is what I object to about sex education as a whole (quite apart from its failures). Sex education - particularly compulsory and standardised sex education - is based on mistaken assumptions. The first is the pervasive assumption of equality - that is, that all six-year-olds or all 11-year-olds or 15-year-olds can discuss the complexities of sex in the same form in the same way. That's nonsense. Children vary in intelligence and progress. Some young children can easily decipher words such as "urethra"; others may never be able to read them.

More importantly, children and teenagers mature at different ages and come from different backgrounds with different family expectations. You cannot talk the same way to a shy 13-year-old who hasn't had her first period to another who is well acquainted with the darker recesses of the school bike shed. Some boys are men at 11 and 12, physically; others are children until much later. Some children's parents find it acceptable that their sons and daughters are having sex at 13, while others would be shocked: you cannot talk to all these children together. It would puzzle and offend them and might do them serious damage. And it undermines the authority of those parents who do not share the values of the teacher, or of the majority of the other pupils. It is wrong to assume that people want equality in such matters. They want differences.

Children and families and moral values are not equal, neither within schools nor outside them. They simply aren't the same.A sensitive teacher will try to make allowances, but there is a shortage in this country of good and sensitive teachers - hence the crisis in education.

Another mistaken assumption is that sex education ought, necessarily, to be entrusted to teachers, given how wildly they vary in ability and in moral attitudes. The thought that the government is considering making sex and relationship education compulsory in schools is terrifying. I can hardly imagine anything worse than subjecting a sensitive child to guidance on such matters from an inexperienced and politically correct teacher, who is neither well informed nor self-critical.

The relationships between sex, love, babies, crime and disease are too explosive to be left primarily to such a person, or to any person apart from the parents. Of course where parents can't, or won't, guide their children on such matters, the duty falls on teachers. Some may do a good job, although the evidence isn't encouraging. But none should take it on without parental consent.

It always amazes me when people complain that people don't talk about sex and there's not enough information about it. The truth is, you can hardly avoid it. Newspapers, magazines, chat shows, blogs, internet information sites, doctors' surgeries and all the rest are groaning under the weight of information about sex, contraception and relationships. Some of it I think is good; some of it you might think is better. And that's the point. Schools shouldn't be required to impose sex education, still less a standard sex curriculum on us. We should be able to pick and choose for our children among the infinity of information out there.

Channel 4's The Sex Education Show, for instance, strikes me as informative and helpful but depressingly vulgar. Others might find it tastefully frank. It's up to us to choose. Teacher, leave that child alone.


In Praise of Educational Pluralism

I often hear it said that if the government did not determine what our children are taught, we would have no way to assure they learned the right things. The idea here is that every child deserves a proper education and that, although government education has its share of problems, at least we can keep an eye on who is being allowed to teach and what they are teaching. The free market, on the other hand, would supposedly allow us no such control; schools could simply teach whatever they wanted, and our children might grow up thinking that up is down, black is white, and right is wrong.

While this argument comes from the best of intentions, it is completely misguided for two basic reasons. The first, which has been widely discussed elsewhere, is that it gives an unreasonably pessimistic view of how a free-market education system would look. In a free market, competition would force producers to cater to their customers or risk losing business to other firms. This should lead us to expect that when customers are free to choose, producers will end up creating better products, not worse.

And in fact we can see this happening in the real world. For example, the success of graduates from particular universities reflects on the quality of the education there, with the consequence that universities are constantly trying to better themselves and their current students in order to compete for the best students in the future. The same seems to be true of private and preparatory schools at the high-school level and below. Although the government funds a number of these schools, universities and private schools are generally permitted to make their own decisions about what they will teach and who will be doing the teaching. And yet we do not see these institutions systematically teaching their students poorly or indoctrinating them with false ideologies. On the contrary, it seems fair to say that these more laissez-faire systems generally perform far better than our centralized public-school system.

But there is another reason to question the idea that governments must be involved to ensure that our children receive a proper education. That reason is that there is no such thing as a proper education. Different people have different conceptions about what kind of lives they want to lead, what kind of knowledge is important, and how they want their children to be raised. These differences do not represent one group's being right and the other's being wrong. Rather, a free society will always be characterized by reasonable pluralism in values and worldviews. But if this is the case, then it seems the idea that we should all get together under one roof and democratically decide how to educate our children is a bad one. Instead, it's sensible to welcome a number of different approaches to education, with the crucial decisions about how children are to be educated ultimately being left to their parents. As philosopher David Schmidtz writes in Elements of Justice:

In effect, there are two ways to agree: We agree on what is correct, or on who has jurisdiction -- who gets to decide. Freedom of religion took the latter form; we learned to be liberals in matters of religion, reaching consensus not on what to believe but on who gets to decide. So too with freedom of speech. Isn't it odd that our greatest successes in learning to live together stem not from agreeing on what is correct but from agreeing to let people decide for themselves?

For far too long we have ignored the possibility that in a society which embraces freedom of belief, religion, and expression, it is best to respect people's freedom to decide for themselves how they want their children educated. I understand that some may feel shocked by the suggestion that they do not know what is best for everyone else's children. But for the rest of us, it is clear that the only fair and equitable solution to the differences in our values and worldviews is to reject the flawed model of centralized government education and to put the power to choose back in the hands of parents.


Far-Leftist sympathy for terrorists being preached to future Australian army officers

A RETIRED Australian general has dismissed as "unmitigated rubbish" a defence force course which teaches soldiers that terrorists are "victims". A Bali bombing victim has also expressed dismay at the Australian Defence Force Academy's terror studies degree. Maj-Gen Jim Molan, who in 2004 was Chief of Operations of Coalition forces in Iraq, has hit out at the lecturers who run the security and terror course.

Prof Anthony Burke, senior lecturer at the University of NSW where ADFA classes are held, in his book Beyond Security, Ethics and Violence, said students should try to understand terrorists rather than fight them. "In the wake of 9/11, our critical task is not to help power seek out and destroy the 'enemies of freedom' but to question how they were constructed AS enemies of freedom . . . It is to wonder if we, the free, might already be enemies of freedom in the very process of imagining and defending it," he wrote. In another book, Fear of Security, Australia's Invasion Anxiety, Prof Burke said we should "abandon selfish visions of security, sovereignty and national interest".

Maj-Gen Molan said Prof Burke was "naive in the extreme". In 2004, he commanded major battles in Iraq during one of the most turbulent periods of the war. He said the experience taught him that Australia needed to heighten security, not go softly-softly with terrorists, but the ADFA degree seemed to be teaching surrender to a ruthless enemy. "It is like saying Churchill could have avoided World War II by surrendering to the Germans," he said.

He also rejected the idea that terrorists were victims. "Even if some of these people have had it tough, they are still making the choice to strap a bomb to their body, go to a location packed with innocent civilians and detonate," he said. "I didn't see any morality (in Iraq). These Islamic extremists are prepared to use extraordinary levels of violence. "If this is the view of ADFA staff then it is naive in the extreme."

Bali bombing victim Dale Atkins said he was shocked and upset that academics were excusing those terrorists who bombed the Sari nightclub killing 200 people. "Maybe this wouldn't have happened if we didn't go to war, but it's wrong to say it's our fault. We didn't deserve to go through such pain," he said.

Maj-Gen Molan, author of Running the War in Iraq, advocates a tightening in security and is shocked that ADFA is proposing the opposite. And Dr Mervyn Bendle, senior history lecturer at James Cook University, said the ADFA's course was being mimicked at other universities. "They are avoiding using terms like Muslim, Islam or Jihad as if we have to ignore the obvious religious connection that has been confirmed by the terrorists themselves," he said.

The Department of Defence said it encouraged "robust debate among ADF personnel at all levels". [I wonder if "robust debate" about the level of African immigration into Australia would also be permitted? I suspect that debate on that topic would be too robust altogether!]


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Social class 'determines child's success' in Britain

Given the woeful standards of government schools, it's no surprise. People with a bit of money in Britain send their kids private

Children's social class is still the most significant factor in determining their exam success in state schools, the Government's head of teacher training acknowledges today. In an interview with The Independent, Graham Holley, the chief executive of the Training and Development Agency, said: "The performance of a school and a child in it is highly linked to social class. "If you turn the clock back on pupils in school today 15 years and predict their outcomes from where they were born, you can do it.

"We need to change that. It's not something this government has done. It's not something the last government has done. It's something that has been there since the Second World War and probably even before that."

Mr Holley also warned that as many as three in every 10 secondary schools (around 1,000 state schools) were "arguably still performing unsatisfactorily". But he distanced himself from the claim made by Gordon Brown that schools that failed to get 30 per cent of their pupils to achieve five A* to C grade passes at GCSE were "failing". "I'm not saying they [the three in ten] are failing and I'm not saying that these schools all have a challenging intake. There are some schools whose results do not look bad on paper that are complacent and coasting and they're not doing as well with their children as are schools in very similar circumstances. "We have to ask why is that? It is not down to individual teachers' competence. It is down to they way they are managed."

Mr Holley was speaking after presenting his views to a high level private meeting of senior educationalists in an attempt to improve the impact teaching can have on the quality of children's lives. He called for moves to ensure the most highly qualified teachers were persuaded to teach in the country's most disadvantaged schools.

He said the Training and Development Agency was examining ways of achieving this - including the prospect of paying "golden hellos" and "golden handcuffs" (where newly-qualified teachers are paid extra provided they sign a contract committing themselves to working for a certain period of time in a school). But he insisted: "It's not just about money. We need to ensure they have the professional support to deal with issues as they arise. "It takes some time to manage a class well and control and manage behaviour - including poor behaviour. It is quite possible to tolerate a level of disruption in a class and for there still to be learning taking place. Also, just because pupils have stopped throwing things about, it doesn't mean they're now learning well. "It is a very difficult challenge for a teacher to learn this. They will not have had this experience and they will need continuing professional development."

Mr Holley also called for more investment in schools offering extended services - such as breakfast and homework clubs - to help deprived children overcome the handicaps of working at home. "Children are turning up to school, cold hungry and not in the right frame of mind to learn," he said. "There also may be nowhere for them to do homework at home - their parents may be working or a single parent could be pre-occupied with other things."

He also revealed that the agency is increasing the number of "enhancement" courses to boost the number of maths and science teachers in schools. Under this initiative, graduates with an allied degree - in engineering or, say, oceanography - can spend up to six months topping up their skills to become science teachers. They would be paid a bursary of œ225 a week while on the course.


1 in 5 fail portion of Grade 10 Massachusetts exam

The percentage of sophomores who passed the MCAS exam on the first try this year declined for the first time because thousands of students failed the science section, a new graduation requirement, according to statewide scores released yesterday. Twenty percent of the class of 2010 failed at least one portion of the test, compared with 13 percent last year, when sophomores needed to pass only the math and English portions.

One of the few bright spots in the latest results of the 10-year-old Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam was math, where scores hit a historic high for all grade levels. But even there, state education officials expressed concern that middle school math performance remained stubbornly sluggish. Subpar math scores have largely caused the state to designate two-thirds of the state's middle schools for improvement under a federal accountability law, according to a recent Globe analysis.

Overall, the results of the spring exams showed a persistent achievement gap, with white and Asian students outperforming other students at all grade levels, often by a wide margin, while reading scores for the youngest test-takers declined.

The mixed results prompted many state education advocates to highlight the urgent need to jump-start the state's 15-year-old effort to overhaul education, which they contend has sputtered in recent years. "State policy makers are getting wobbly in their support for education and high standards," said Jamie Gass, director of the Center for School Reform at the Pioneer Institute.

The results could also provide fodder for next year's debate on Governor Deval Patrick's sweeping 10-year plan to better prepare students for college and jobs in the fields that drive the state's economy: biotechnology, engineering, healthcare, and other science-related fields.

State education officials were mostly upbeat about the results during a press conference yesterday morning. They applauded improvement in performance among student groups who historically struggle on the exam, such as black and Latino students, although the officials voiced frustration that the achievement gap remains wide. For instance, in Grade 4 math, Latinos scoring in the top two categories improved by 4 percentage points, to 28 percent. White students improved by 2 percentage points, to 56 percent. The four scoring categories are advanced, proficient, needs improvement, and warning/failing. "Students of color and low-income backgrounds have made more progress than their counterparts . . . but we need to do a better job," said Mitchell Chester, the state's commissioner of elementary and secondary education.

Yesterday the state released only statewide results for the exam, which is given each spring to students in grades 3 through 8 and in Grade 10. Individual district and school scores are scheduled for release next week. The exam, part of the 1993 Education Reform Act, was first given to students in 1998.

Students in the class of 2010, who took the MCAS this past spring as sophomores, will be the first group that must pass the science exam to graduate, adding to a five-year-old graduation requirement for passing the math and English exams. Students have the choice of testing in biology, chemistry, physics, or technology/engineering, and must take at least one of those exams either their freshman or sophomore year.

While the decrease in the percentage of students passing the test disappointed many educators and advocates, many believed that students did much better than expected on the science exam. The 17 percent of sophomores who failed the science exam this year represented a decrease from the 25 percent who flunked last year. "This is a great start," said Jill Norton, executive director of the Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy. "As people become more familiar with the science exam, we'll see scores increase in the coming years."

However, many student groups who typically struggle in school are in jeopardy of not graduating because of the science exam, alarming many educators and advocates. Overall pass rates for English, math, and science show barely half of black and Latino 10th-graders and less than half of students with disabilities passed. Even more staggering, just 28 percent of students who speak limited English passed all three tests. By contrast, 85 percent or more of Asian and white students passed.

"A tremendous amount of work remains," said Lance Hartford, executive director of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation. "I'm increasingly concerned about the gap between inner-city students and what's going on with students in the rest of the state."

Boosting performance, educators and advocates said, may have to start as early as kindergarten to foster a genuine interest in the sciences among students. That, they said, will require devoting more time to the subject in elementary schools and more training for those teachers.

In secondary schools, the state is facing a critical shortage of qualified science teachers. Yesterday, educators and advocates said the state needs to do more to bolster the numbers by creating mentoring programs or paying those teachers more. Science labs, many of which date to the 1960s, also require updating.

In the short term, students who fail the science exam once can file an appeal with the state based on passing grades in a comparable high school course, under emergency rules adopted last week by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Students have to take the math and English exams three times before appealing. Prospects for a successful appeal are slim. The department has granted only 2,800 appeals in the last five years, rejecting roughly 20 percent to 30 percent in recent years. A rejected appeal would force students to take the science test again.

Reading scores for younger students also raised concern. They dropped for grades 3, 4, and 5 after largely stagnating in recent years, prompting state education leaders once again to call for a renewed focus on the lower grades. A student's ability to master reading is widely considered the best gauge of future academic success. Chester said he believes schools are doing a good job in teaching the fundamentals of reading, such as letter and word identification, but more attention needs to be devoted to teaching students to read for meaning.

State Representative Patricia Haddad, a Somerset Democrat who is chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Education, said she found the flatness in the middle school scores in English to be the most worrisome. "The middle school scores are a really good indicator of where kids are heading," she said.

Yesterday Chester and Education Secretary Paul Reville reaffirmed their support for MCAS testing as the governor embarks on a host of initiatives aimed at overhauling the education system. They were attempting to quash speculation within the state's education community that the less stringent appeals process on the science exam was a sign that the agency was softening its stance on MCAS as a graduation requirement. "When you are adding a new requirement, like science," Chester said, "it's hard for me to see how that's backing off standards."


Shock! Horror! Politician speaks the truth!

It's only part of the truth but we have to be thankful for small mercies. This story is from Australia but could easily be from the USA. The previously unmentionable fact is that blacks are, by and large, educationally hopeless. And Queensland has a lot of blacks. But that is not of course the whole story. The other half is that Left-run educational systems don't educate very well and there is a lot of "postmodernist" nonsense in Qld. schools

STATE Education Minister Rod Welford has blamed indigenous and remote area students for dragging down Queensland's academic performance. In comments to the Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens Associations' annual general meeting, Mr Welford said the state had been "weighed down" in the national literacy and numeracy tests for Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students. Queensland finished second last among the eight states and territories, prompting calls for a parliamentary inquiry into the state education system.

Mr Welford yesterday said he was simply making the observation that "statistically there are groups that get lower scores", which affected average scores. "This isn't a reflection on any of those communities," he said. Mr Welford also acknowledged more had to be done to lift indigenous and remote area classroom standards.

However Mr Welford's remarks have sparked an angry backlash from Aboriginal education leaders, who say Education Queensland has badly failed disadvantaged children. "I find it offensive," Indigenous Education Leadership Institute executive director Dr Chris Sarra said. "I acknowledge the lag associated with indigenous performance (but) the system is failing indigenous kids quite dramatically."

Dr Sarra, leader of a successful national program to raise classroom performance through self-belief, said that accepting low standards and poor use of current resources were at the core of problems.

Indigenous scholarship program founder and Yalari chief executive Waverley Stanley said Mr Welford was trying hard but repeated failures called for a new approach. "It's about time we gave the education system a big kick up the bum," he said. "The definition of insanity is doing things over and over and not expecting the same result."

Academics such as Dr Peter Ridd, of Queensland's James Cook University, claim a wider overhaul of education in Queensland is needed. "There is clearly a problem ... you have to fix the syllabus," he said. Dr Ridd said the Queensland Studies Authority - the statutory body responsible for syllabuses and testing - was "woolly eyed" and corrupted by modern teaching philosophies inferior to traditional approaches in other states and countries that get results.

Opposition education spokesman John-Paul Langbroek, the MP for Surfers Paradise, said Mr Welford's remarks were a sign of failure. The Isolated Children's Parents Association of Australia has been campaigning for more teachers and teacher aides in remote area schools for 18 months.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Underhand racial preferences at UCLA

A UCLA professor blows the whistle on the persistence of racial preferences.

University of Los Angeles political science professor Tim Groseclose publishes studies that get noticed, and even participated on the school's faculty admissions committee, which oversees the staff that chooses each year's new undergrads.

Still, he's lucky he has tenure. Last Thursday, Groseclose resigned from the admissions committee, in protest of the school's behavior when it comes to racial preferences.

Such preferences ought not to be an issue at UCLA - according to California's Proposition 209, "The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of . . . public education." Prop 209 was passed in 1996, but it's no secret that campuses in the left-leaning state - Berkeley and UCLA in particular - have been defying the will of California's electorate.

Heather Mac Donald detailed as much in City Journal last year; and now, Groseclose has made public an 89-page report blowing the whistle, complete with closed-door conversations, private e-mails, and a chronicle of his school's sketchy handling of data that could prove or disprove his suspicions. Basically, Groseclose alleges that changes to the scoring system improved the likelihood that a personal essay - in which applicants often mention their race - would get a student admitted.

Groseclose's documentation makes clear that the committee - despite Prop 209's clear injunction against public institutions using race-based preferences - soldiered on in its drive to engineer each class's racial makeup. Without the individual-level data Groseclose seeks, it's impossible to tell how much the racial bean-counters were able to distort the school's admissions process, but the available numbers strongly suggest that race played a significant role in shaping the school's 2007 freshman class.

Groseclose joined the admissions committee in September of 2005. "At least 75 percent of what we discussed related to race and improving diversity," he said in a phone interview. "There's pressure on the admissions staff [to let in more minorities]. They're constrained by Prop 209. So it's a very tough situation for those staff, and I kind of feel sorry for them."

In June 2006, the Los Angeles Times ratcheted up the intensity with "A Startling Statistic at UCLA," a front-page story revealing that of the 4,853 freshmen expected to enroll at the school, only 96, or 2 percent, were black. (Eventually, four more blacks enrolled than were expected to, for a total of 100.)

"At the end-of-summer meeting of my committee, the chancellor [Norm Abrams] shows up, which never happens," Groseclose says. "He said the number of African-Americans was too low. He said, `I don't want to pressure you, but here's what I want you to do.'"

The chancellor suggested the committee adopt a "holistic" system, which Berkeley was using at the time. The New York Times would later describe the change thus:

In the past, the admissions office divided every application between two readers: one evaluated a student's academic record, the other looked at extracurricular activities and "life challenges." Berkeley, by contrast, had taken a more holistic approach, with a single reader judging an entire application, and Berkeley was attracting more black students than U.C.L.A. Why? Maybe the holistic approach takes better account of the subtle obstacles that black students face - or maybe the readers, when looking at a full application, ended up practicing a little under-the-table affirmative action.

The Times reporter interviewed two application readers - about a quarter of readers were black, and Groseclose writes that some were selected under explicit direction to "hire underrepresented minorities" - who had been told not to consider race and claimed they hadn't. But one reader noticed that more students mentioned race in their essays.

Some weird things happened statistically the following year. The 100 black students who enrolled in 2006 came from an applicant pool of 2,173 and an acceptance pool of 249, meaning that 11.5 percent of black students who applied got in - but only about 40 percent of those chose to attend. But in 2007, 2,460 blacks applied, 407 were admitted, and 204 enrolled - an outsize 16.5 percent of applicants got in, 50 percent of whom matriculated.

One might argue that the school's recruiting efforts simply paid off - it is not illegal to target minority areas in recruiting. Perhaps recruiters not only got more blacks to apply, but got enough high-achieving blacks to apply to significantly and legitimately boost blacks' admission rate. But then, why would admitted blacks' average SAT score drop 45 points?

Alternately, one could say the university just considered disadvantage in general more than it had in the past - this would let in more poor, lower-scoring students, raising the acceptance rates but lowering the average scores of disproportionately poor groups. But acceptance rates for American Indians, Hispanics, and other minorities actually fell.

"If you take a random Vietnamese applicant, the probability of acceptance went down significantly, from 28.6 to 21.4 percent," Groseclose says. "And when you look at these applications, the ones who have faced documented, verifiable family hardships are very often Vietnamese."

A detailed statistical analysis is the only way to know for sure what role race played in the admissions process. So in April of this year, Groseclose made waves by requesting a random sample of 1,000 applications, 500 each from 2006 and 2007. This would let him compare, within each year and between years, how similarly situated individuals of different races fared in the admissions process.

"The reaction was immediate - within 18 hours, the chair suggested we have the whole committee do the study. I said I'd be happy to participate, but I'd like to do my own as well," Groseclose recalls. He didn't get data for his own study, "and it turned out the committee would not get the data, either. We'd hire an outside expert to do the study - despite the fact that nearly all of us have the statistical ability needed."

Groseclose tried other methods. He made a motion to get all committee members a sample of random applications, which failed on a 3-3 vote (three other non-voting members wrote letters supporting Groseclose). He appealed to higher authorities at the university, who denied him access, purportedly for privacy reasons.

Four member of the admissions committee - Groseclose, and the three who voted against his motion to give all members the data - formed a work group to choose an outside academic and devise research questions. They chose sociologist Robert Mare, but directed Mare not to look at the 2006 or 2007 data - just the 2008 applications. Thus, Mare will be unable to determine how the "holistic" approach changed admissions, and to detect any illegal behavior that occurred in 2007 but not 2008.

Groseclose doubts the staff stopped using preferences in 2008; all the admissions decisions were probably made before he came forward with his objections. But 2007 might have been a particularly egregious year: "We had [pro-affirmative action] protests at the chancellor's office, and we had an acting chancellor at the time - he was the one who showed up at our meeting. He was a lot more likely to put pressure on people."

In the report, Groseclose provides a transcription of a meeting where one committee member slipped up while discussing the 2007 applications: "The readers in the first year, given the change, were not doing exactly what they were supposed to do. They were motivated by other concerns. . . . maybe the training wasn't as rigorous." Another replied, "All those T-shirts that said, `Got black students?'"

Mare's data collection won't begin until spring of 2009. In the meantime, the conversations and statistics in Groseclose's report should be more than enough to make California voters suspicious about their public universities' commitment to adhering to colorblind admissions. They deserve better than the evasion they're getting.


Why today's British children just can't win

With the Olympics still fresh in their little minds, my daughter and a few more seven-year-olds staged their own truncated athletics gala in the back garden recently. I almost choked on my coffee when I heard the words: "You're the loser. Here, have the bronze." When I explained to her later that medals are only for the winners and that losers get no awards, she was incredulous. Bronze, being the least exciting prize, must surely be for the person whose performance is the worst, she explained. Is it any wonder that she might labour under this misapprehension? For today's British child, life is one long awards ceremony. It's not whether you win or lose, it's the taking part that gets you the trophy.

At any children's party, it's often hard to work out who is the birthday boy or girl. Every child is weighed down with gifts from stage-managed pass-the-parcel games and overflowing loot bags. It's everyone's special day.

Yesterday we learnt that the results of children's football matches will no longer be published and there will be no league tables in case it makes the mini soccer players too competitive. I could write everything I know of the beautiful game on a postage stamp in large letters, but I am pretty certain that the competitive aspect is something common to many sports and sometimes known as The Whole Point. Yet the Football Association has said the results of matches for seven- and eight-year-olds will not be disseminated and there will be no silver cups.

Talk about moving the goal posts; in this case they've disappeared. The FA handbook says: "Under-sevens and under-eights are not permitted to play in leagues where results are collected or published or winner trophies are presented."

The reason for the move, according to the organisation, is that children ought to learn to play the game without facing the pressure to win. The FA is not trying to ban winners - in fact, it appears it wants all the players to enjoy a sort of diluted victory. It is losing that is feared here and non-competitive football is a natural consequence of the non-competitive culture being forced upon children.

Contemporary child-rearing mores conspire against all forms of losing. The amateur psychologist in all of us tells us it is bad for a child's confidence. Everything from coming last to spelling in indecipherable text lingo must, we are told, get a "Well done!" sticker. As a consequence, the taste of genuine victory and the thrill of true excellence is a rare and illicit treat for today's children.

It is grown-ups, however, not children, who fear defeat. Children, particularly younger ones, are the greatest champions of the school of hard knocks and hierarchy - often frighteningly so. Though our education system tries to conceal it, every child knows who is "top of the class". On the CBBC website yesterday, young commentators were largely up in arms about the FA spoilsports. Some blamed the scourge of pushy parents for the ruling: "Parents are very competitive and I think this spoils the game. But this shouldn't be taken out on the kids as it is not fair. It is the parents."

Parents of my generation have, quite rightly, largely given up forms of chastisement that involve humiliating little people. Most of us agree that smacking children and bullying them is wrong. The idea that we must avoid telling them anything they don't want to hear has somehow become tacked on to this. Wouldn't we do more for their self-worth if we let them win? Wouldn't we teach them more about life if we showed them how to recover from losing?

"Some you win, some you lose" is not the harshest of truths and we do our children no favours in protecting them from it. It's a lazy kind of love that doesn't teach a child to win with grace and lose with courage. Everybody loses if nobody can win.


Prof tells students: 'Undermine' Palin

Metro State class assignment compares VP candidate to 'fairy tale'

Students in an English class at Metropolitan State College in Denver have been told to assemble criticisms of GOP vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin that "undermine" her, and students say they are concerned about the apparent bias. "This so-called 'assignment' represents indoctrination in its purest form," said Matt Barber, director of Cultural Affairs with Liberty Counsel, whose sister, Janna, is taking the class from Andrew Hallam, a new instructor at the school.

The instructor also, according to students, is harshly critical of President Bush during his classroom English presentations. He reportedly has allowed students who identify themselves as "liberal" to deride and ridicule those who identify themselves as "conservative" or Republican. "So much for critical thinking. What's happening in that classroom represents a microcosm for what's happening with the angry left around the country," Matt Barber told WND. "The visceral and even abusive reaction Hallam and some of his students are having against Sarah Palin and Republican students in the class is occurring on a much larger scale among left-wing elitists throughout the media, academia and the larger Democratic Party."

The assignment was just one issue that several students raised. Hallam, who previously told students he expected them to be "courteous," assigned an essay about Palin's nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.

"Arguably, the entire event was designed to present Sarah Palin in an idealized – indeed, as if her life is like a fairy tale in which America could be included if she is voted into office with John McCain," he wrote in a copy of the assignment provided to WND by students. "Note her body language, facial expressions, the way she dressed, what she said and who she pointed out or talked about in her speech. How do these elements form a 'fairy tale' image about Sarah Palin as a person and as a politician that the Republican Party may wish its members and the American public to believe? How may the story 'Sleeping Beauty' and/or Tanith Lee's 'Awake' be used to compare the image of Palin with fairy tales, especially as they portray women, their behavior, and their lives?"

He said students should find commentaries that criticize Palin. "Using clear reasoning, explain how these sources may undermine or otherwise paint a different picture of Palin as a person and as a politician than what she or the Republican Party may wish the American public to believe," he said. There was no opening for students to find commentaries or statements supporting Palin or her positions. But Janna Barber, who is among the students who have raised concerns about the instructor, said she would do the assignment and include a number of supportive arguments as well.

There was no answer at Hallam's phone number, and a WND e-mail to him did not generate a response over four days. Cindy Carlson, the head of the Metro State English department, said she was unaware of the concerns. She said Hallam was available for two hours a week, one hour each on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

"People who irrationally lash out in such a way do so for a reason. In this case, I believe the reason is fear," Matt Barber told WND. "Sarah Palin has connected with a majority percentage of Americans and the polls reflect that connection. She poses a direct threat to Barack Obama's candidacy and they know it. She's about to upset the applecart. She's about to undo much of what they've accomplished. Imagine Sarah Palin as a role model for millions upon millions of young girls. Imagine those young girls embracing life over death on the abortion issue, embracing true feminism over radical feminism. They absolutely can't allow that to happen and will stop at nothing to destroy her. We expect liberal bias from the media and those in academia. But this time around, the bias is off the charts. It's exposed the left for who they truly are, and we have Sarah Palin to thank for it."

Matt Barber told WND his sister is one of five students who have been belittled by the teacher, and "bullied and harassed" by other students "because they support McCain-Palin." The students had documented a series of incidents in which Hallam reportedly told his class, "Bush-bashing is one of my favorite things to do."


Sunday, September 21, 2008

British child footballers banned from reading results

Children have been banned from reading their football results in local newspapers because it makes them too competitive.

Football Association laws dictate that from this season, the results of matches between children aged seven and eight must not be published, league tables must not be kept and prizes must not be given out. Some local associations have chosen to extend the regulations even further, it has emerged, banning league tables and trophies for 9, 10 and 11-year olds as well.

Scott Ager, who last season managed Priory Parkside under-9s 'A' team in Huntingdon, was sharply reprimanded after declaring that his team had won the league and having them photographed with a trophy by their local newspaper. Mr Ager said: "I find it bizarre. It seems to me to work against talented players, as the teams who may lose heavily are likely to be ones with players who just play for a bit of fun. It is very frustrating. Kids put all this effort in but there is no reward. "All the other managers in the league acknowledged that we had been the best team as we had won the most games. Football is our national sport, yet there are some strange rules around it."

A spokesman for Hunts FA said: "We were very angry. We do not allow competitive leagues until after under-11s. Mr Ager was chastened very severely and eventually left his club."

The FA handbook states: "Under-7s and Under-8s are not permitted to play in leagues where results are collected or published or winner trophies are presented." The move was designed to allow young children to nurture their skills without facing the pressure to win. Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA's director of football development, said: "In the youngest age groups there's too much emphasis on winning leagues, often to satisfy parents and coaches. "That's what we're looking to change. We need better, more skilful players coming through. Undoubtedly having league tables at this age is not helping their development."

Andy Szczepanski, whose son plays for Brampton Spartans under-8s, said: "I understand where they are coming from but I also think there is a need for competition. "It will make it more difficult for managers trying to arrange friendlies against sides of a similar standard because without seeing results there is no frame of reference."

During a visit to the Olympics in Beijing last month, Gordon Brown admitted that Labour's decision to reduce competitive school sport had been a "tragic mistake" and promised to re-introduce it. "We want to encourage competitive sports in schools, not the 'medals for all' culture we have seen in previous years," the Prime Minister said. "It was wrong because it doesn't work. In sport you get better by challenging yourself against other people."

The Conservatives said that last year 3.1 million school children - 42 per cent of all pupils - did not compete in intra-school sport. Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture secretary, said the figures showed Mr Brown's promise was hollow. He said: "Gordon Brown talks the talk on competitive sport but doesn't get past the starting blocks when it comes to delivery of policy. "If he wants to end a 'medals for all' culture, why has the number of children doing competitive sport at school gone down by nearly a million last year alone?"


"Postmodernist" English teachers in Australia: Teachers of English or ideology monomaniacs?

Of all people, you would think those who run the professional organisation representing English teachers in NSW would be able to write a clear, precise sentence. You would also think they would want students to read books. Alas, no. The English Teachers Association's submission to an HSC syllabus review by the NSW Board of studies uses the sort of incomprehensible cant George Orwell warned against, to argue against the inclusion of more Australian literature in the syllabus. "The ETA opposes the selective nomination of some types of text as this implies hierarchies in generic form and medium rather than in the quality of the texts themselves."

The nine-page document takes some effort to decipher, with its mind-numbing jargon, bolted-together phrases, pompous tone and scare quotes, all cloaking the banality of its thinking. Essentially ETA opposes the board's plan to ensure students read more Australian books, plays and poems. It's not so much the Australian part the association people dislike. It's the books, plays and poems.

In their world, as in the curriculum, "texts" can be books as we know them - words on a page that ideally have some literary merit - and can also be music videos, movies, reality TV shows, comic books ("graphic novels") or songs. To ETA, all texts are equal, and sceptical students are required to expend considerable effort trying to prove it.

The author Sophie Masson recalls her elder son having in year 11 to compare Arthur Miller's play The Crucible - "which he loves and thoroughly responded to" - with an ad for a weight-lifting gym. "If it wasn't horrible, it would be hilarious, and in fact it's both [and stems from] I believe subconscious hate and envy of writers." Masson's sons, who both sat the HSC in the past three years, "had a horrible time with [Advanced and Extension] English despite both once loving it," she says. "They were utterly contemptuous of the syllabus, and the fact they hardly had to read anything at all."

She says defenders of the syllabus point to "heaps of great books on the curriculum [but what] they fail to say is that hardly ever are more than a tiny, tiny proportion of these books studied, because there is no time. What students have to do - and the poor teachers have to enforce - is a whole lot of crappy assignments that are all to do with themes, ideologies, frameworks and outcomes but no originality, curiosity, imagination or thinking for yourself . The students generally loathe it."

So do most teachers, she says, from her experience of hosting writing workshops at schools. "Most of them absolutely hate the new HSC and its heavy emphasis on theory, themes and so on, rather than character, story and response . But they are bound to do it. There is a huge burden on them to comply with curriculum rules and what has to be accomplished in a year."

In the 1980s, when Dr Kevin Donnelly taught high school English in Victoria, his students were hungry for literature. "Kids are like water. They'll find the lowest level. But if you challenge them, and help them, they just love it because they're mastering something difficult." At one boys' school, he said the student favourite was Shane, a short novel made into the classic 1953 cowboy movie. They loved a passage in which a gun slinger and a farmer dig out a tree root and act all "male and aggressive". But it became too politically incorrect to teach Shane and Donnelly was accused of reinforcing masculine stereotypes.

Donnelly, author of Dumbing Down, says Australian curriculums are suffused with a debased neo-Marxist and postmodernist theory that became fashionable among academics 30 years ago. This is the ideology that underpins the ETA submission. It is pure social activism, not aimed at helping children gain wisdom, but to "emancipate" them from blind belief in Western civilisation, especially what they might learn from "literature".

The association is "most concerned at the use of the term 'literature' [and the] privileging of 'print medium' ", its submission states. "This stipulation harnesses Australian literary achievements to an important technology, but one that no longer enjoys the cultural predominance it once enjoyed."

Well, words are words, whether they are on a computer screen, Kindle, iPod or papyrus. They are the marks we recognise as the 26 letters of the English alphabet in combinations to form words, which are then combined to form sentences, in groupings we call paragraphs, with additional marks we know as punctuation, all of which are combined to create meaning. Written language is the highest form of expression, the purest way of communicating ideas, of pinning down the abstract, describing the concrete, explaining the world.

While oral language and iconography - pictures - are important, it is the written word that has helped us most to think. To elevate pictures and sounds to equal status is to rewind human evolution and primitivise the brain. Orwell wrote in his 1946 essay Politics And The English Language that if you can't write you can't think.

English becomes "ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts". "If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself."

Which, of course, is why ETA people write the way they do. If they wrote in their submission: "students should not read good books because literature is elitist", everyone would laugh at them and parents would bite their heads off.

Of the 1800 English teachers the association professes to have as members, just 43 responded to the survey that informed the board submission. This is a clear sign the membership has switched off, as well it should.


Far-Leftist academic teaching at Australia's defence academy

Some of Australia's top thinkers on national security have opened a new front in the culture wars - over whether a postmodernist interpretation of terrorism is brainwashing our next generation of military leaders. At the centre of the intensely personal battle is the appointment as an associate professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy of Anthony Burke - who after claiming he was being misrepresented as "pro-terrorist", has demanded his chief critic be investigated for academic misconduct. Dr Burke, 42, complained to James Cook University over an article in Quadrant magazine by Merv Bendle, a senior lecturer in history and communications, which claimed university terrorism studies had been hijacked by a "neo-Marxist, postmodernist orthodoxy" among academics.

Another senior Canberra academic, Paul Pickering, of the Australian National University, fired off a separate protest to the Townsville-based university, but stopped short of calling for action against Dr Bendle.

The barrage of complaints and counter-claims brought to a head a row that began two months ago when Carl Ungerer, former national security adviser to the federal Labor leadership, questioned Dr Burke's appointment to the defence force academy as "eyebrow-raising". Dr Burke withdrew his complaint against Dr Bendle yesterday after conceding "it may be that administrative action is not the best way to address the problem". He told The Weekend Australian: "I remain deeply unhappy about Dr Bendle's accusations, and the violation of scholarly protocols they represent."

Dr Bendle, 57, turned up the heat on Dr Burke, who describes his political orientation as "liberal-left", by singling him out for being part of an academic clique that had compromised university terrorism studies. "In the war on terror, a main battleground has become the universities where Islamist groups openly recruit members while an updated, post-9/11 version of the old neo-Marxist, postmodernist orthodoxy on terrorism dominates among academics," Dr Bendle wrote in the latest edition of Quadrant, a standard-bearer for Australia's conservative intelligentsia.

Dr Bendle accused Dr Burke of trying to deny the right of countries such as Australia to defend themselves against attack by terrorists. In doing so, "one wonders how students at the ADFA would feel if they are asked to place their lives on the line for Australia in Afghanistan, Iraq or other battlegrounds in the war on terror", Dr Bendle wrote.

Describing the ADFA man's published writings as "astonishing" for someone who was responsible for educating military officer cadets, Dr Bendle said Dr Burke had presented national security in "post-modernist terms, not as a concrete state of affairs or balance of political forces". He turned Dr Burke's words back on him, saying it was clear he doubted that "terrorists are enemies of freedom or that freedom has any particular value". Dr Bendle said Dr Burke's take on Australia's counter-terrorism polices was that they provoked "the very thing they claimed to defend us from - i.e. terrorism is Australia's own fault".

Dr Bendle quoted his fellow academic as saying that Australia's national values and way of life were merely "vast ideological abstractions". Talking up "fundamental freedoms" was actually a "narcissistic performance of self in which Australia is represented as pure and good, as falsely superior to the religion of Islam," Dr Bendle wrote of Dr Burke's work.

Dr Burke told The Weekend Australian that while Dr Bendle had quoted him accurately, he had misrepresented his broader view that terrorism was immoral and politically counter-productive. "The quotes are accurate, but the characterisation is not," he insisted. The inference that he was pro-terrorist was an outrageous slur, Dr Burke said.

In his letter of complaint to JCU vice-chancellor Sandra Harding, dated last Monday, the Canberra academic hit out at Dr Bendle for claiming that he and Dr Pickering, among others, had "relentless sympathy for terrorists, defend the Islamist terrorists who conducted the July 2005 London bombings and are generally pro-terrorist".

Dr Burke initially complained that the Quadrant article raised "serious concerns about the integrity and honesty of Dr Bendle's research", and invited a "formal and transparent investigation by JCU as to whether or not it constitutes a case of serious academic misconduct". Dr Burke, in withdrawing his demand yesterday, said he had decided that a university investigation was not warranted. "I think there is still a matter of principle there," he said. "But I don't believe that asking for administrative action is the best way to respond."

Dr Bendle said he was relieved, but stood by his criticism of Dr Burke's supposedly post-modernist interpretation of terrorism. He disputed Dr Burke's assertion that their altercation was an extension of the culture wars, "very much in the American strain where people see the university as a battleground". Dr Bendle said the issue was actually academic freedom. Dr Burke and Dr Pickering should have approached him with their concerns before going over his head at James Cook University. "It is a basic rule of academic etiquette for parties in an academic dispute to respect the right of free inquiry and free speech," he said. "These gentlemen could easily have emailed or telephoned me with their concerns and I would have done everything possible to reach some compromise."

Dr Pickering did not return calls yesterday.

Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon shied away from comment, referring questions on Dr Bendle's complaints to the Australian Defence Force. In a statement, the ADF said academic staff at the defence force academy were employed on their research and teaching record, according to the rules of the University of NSW. "Taking any course out of context of the whole degree program does not truly reflect the overall education being provided to students at ADFA," a defence spokesperson said.

However, the battlelines were hardening among supporters of the two feuding academics. Dr Ungerer, now director of national security for Canberra-based think tank, the Australian Strategic Policy Unit, yesterday backed Dr Burke's concerns. Many academics teaching terrorism-related courses at university were "off on a tangent", which had no relevance to real-world security issues, he said. Dr Burke's immediate boss at ADFA, humanities and social sciences head David Lovell, said the lecturer had his full confidence. He said the academy, which operates academically as an offshoot of the University of NSW, produced graduates for the military "with no particular ideological views ... who approach issues with an open mind, in a critical spirit".

Dr Burke said ADFA had a balanced mix of teachers. "If everyone was like me, it wouldn't be appropriate ... you don't force your views on students. You must teach a range of perspectives," he said.