Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bias at Whitman: Does Whitman college hate conservatives?

(Some insight below from one student at a very Leftist liberal arts college in Washington State. His encounter with contempt for his Texan home has alerted him to the evils of other biases)

By Jesus Vasquez

Of course not. We just think they're wrong. And barbaric. But hate is too strong of a word. We just severely dislike them with all our heart and soul.

As a first year, the question "Where are you from?" is part of the awkward initial conversations we all have. Personally, after indicating that Texas was my native state, I was met with many an `oh,' characterized by a falling tone of displeasure and slight bewilderment. Generally, students, once friendly and welcoming, immediately became suspicious and closed. I only provoked further agitation after informing the inquisitor that I was NOT from Austin. Immediately, I was subjected to an uncomfortable interrogation regarding my religious, political, social and economic beliefs.

As a result, I felt pressured to assimilate, to conform to the ideal of your average liberal kid. When sharing stories from back home, I glossed over the fact that I had befriended fundamentalist Christians, who helped re-elect George W. Bush, whose parents had a gun collection worth thousands of dollars. I would even engage in what an interviewee for this article termed "pretentious despair," feeling sorry for all those in my hometown and home state who had yet to see the light of liberal ideals. And, all the while, all I could think was, "I'm so glad I'm a liberal." But, a year later, after meeting a conservative on campus, I finally realized, "But what if I wasn't?"

It makes quite a statement when the three conservative students who chose to be interviewed also requested anonymity. It truly shows what an accepting climate we have on our campus - what grandiose, open-minded folks we have that can tolerate and accept such different viewpoints. Indeed, this triumvirate seemed to agree that if conservatives were any other minority group on campus, the marginalization and overwhelming dismissal of their point of view would NOT be tolerated. Why is it, then, that Whitman students (as a whole) are committed to allowing multi-vocality and giving credence to nearly any set of ideals OTHER than those of the American conservative?

"One of the most unfortunate things about being liberal on this campus is that it promotes conformity in opinion, without a reason to back it up," says anonymous 1. A1 then recalled an event that occurred, where this problem became quite evident. "I once got into an argument with someone from an environmental organization on campus, and, after shooting down all of her claims with my evidence, she refused to even consider re-evaluating her position. Instead, she shut down, and ignored everything I said."

Yet another student, a2, who terms their views as `conservative-leaning moderate,' insists that Whitman was initially attractive to them due to their commitment to diversity. "One of the reasons I came to Whitman is because I thought it was a pretty balanced campus, in terms of diversity of opinion. It turns out, it's not quite as diverse as I thought it would be." But, a2 continued, "What I don't want to do is complain about lack of representation - I think that's the wrong thing to do. What I do propose is the need to have intellectual balance and understanding." Likewise, a3 expressed their surprise at how sharp reactions could be to foreign points of view. "When talking about politics, there was usually this exclamation of `Oh, YOU'RE the Republican!' Personally, there were feelings of shock and alienation, and for others, it was considered odd that there was one amongst them." Indeed, a3 implored for greater patience and understanding. "I'll speak very calmly one-on-one with people. If people want to hear my point of view, I'll share it. I'm not trying to be a sensationalist, I'm just trying to be - me."

Admittedly, I'm not perfect - read my last two articles, and you'll see I'm as capable of bias as anyone else. Furthermore, though I may have spoken in general terms, I don't mean to accuse ALL Whitman students of being spiteful towards conservatives. I know that there are indeed some stellar, genuinely open-minded scholars that reside within this hallowed bubble.

If there's anything I've learned in my four years at Whitman, it's that intelligence and ignorance are quite independent of each other. Indeed, I've met the most intelligent people of my life here, and some of the most ignorant - some are the same people. A particularly damning and relevant comment came from a1, when noting, "Whitman is more interested in seeking out what they want to hear - so long as they continue this, Whitman will not be a place of education - it will be a cheerleading camp."

I propose this to you - if you believe that red states are a monolithic entity inhabited by imbeciles incapable of inculcating the lofty platitudes we so celebrate, perhaps it's time to go back to the drawing board.


Australia: Students missing out on basic literacy, numeracy skills

Too much time wasted on propaganda

STUDENTS' literacy and numeracy are suffering because they are tied up learning such life skills as bike safety and sex education, principals say. The Australian Primary Principals Association says teachers spend too much class time on lifestyle issues at the expense of reading, writing and maths, the Courier-Mail reports.

APPA president Leonie Trimper said sex, drug, car and bike safety tuition were key distractions. "We're not saying we don't have a role but we seem to be the only ones with it," she said. She said a plethora of "add-ons" had crept into overcrowded state curriculums over many years, making it "impossible to achieve" learning aims.

In a report released last month, 96 per cent of 5000 Australian principals and teachers surveyed wanted a simpler, less-crowded curriculum.

Queensland's Year 3 and 5 students came seventh out of eight states and territories in this year's first national literacy and numeracy tests. Year 7 and 9 students came sixth. At the same time, Queensland Association of State School Principals president Norm Hart said, teachers copped "another job" when Education Queensland made 2008 The Year of Physical Activity with its Smart Moves program. "If you put your focus everywhere you can't keep your focus," he said. "Literacy and numeracy should be the focus."


Friday, October 10, 2008

"Right and wrong" makes a comeback in British schools

Apparently "extremism" now joins "racism" in being one of the few things that are wrong

Schools are being given advice on how to prevent pupils becoming drawn to violent extremism and terrorism. Guidelines are being made available to primary and secondary schools in England to help them discuss the issues surrounding extremist views. Schools Secretary Ed Balls said schools could play a "key role" in getting young people to reject extremism.

Schools should have a named teacher to whom pupils can report any concerns of grooming by extremist groups. Teachers should protect the well-being of pupils who may be vulnerable to being drawn to extremism, says the government's "Learning together to be safe" kit. ' Mr Balls said the initiative was a direct response to a call from schools for support and advice to tackle extremism. "This is not about asking teachers to be monitors and to be doing surveillance, that's not their job. "But if something concerns them, we want them to know who to turn to for help," he said.

"Violent extremism influenced by Al-Qaeda currently poses the greatest security threat but other forms of extremism and hate- or race-based prejudice are also affecting our communities and causing alienation and disaffection amongst young people," he added. "The toolkit shows how education can be used to tackle all forms of extremism and build a stronger, safer society."

Mr Balls said a security response to terrorism was not enough and that the underlying issues must be addressed. "Our goal must be to empower our young people to come together to expose violent extremists and reject cruelty and violence in whatever form it takes," he said.

Hatch End High School in Harrow, north-west London, is one of the schools that has been involved with producing the guidance. Head teacher Alan Jones said the important thing was to keep children safe and secure. "By bringing things into the open, by discussing these sorts of things in school, we're actually improving the safety of all our children."

Mr Jones said while schools were there to teach academic subjects, they also had a duty to develop the wider person. "It's important to teach about everything in life, to prepare young people to be world citizens," he said. The National Union of Teachers welcomed the guidance, saying violent political groups presented a significant threat to large numbers of people. Acting general secretary Christine Blower said: "Terrorist threats have to be tackled. "It's worth remembering that groups such as those from the far right can pose intimidatory threats to their communities, as serious as those from al-Qaeda."

And Chris Keates of the NASUWT teachers' union welcomed the way the government had taken on board its representations to ensure the toolkit covered the extremism of fascist and racist groups. But Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, was more critical. "We have a duty of care to try to prevent young people descending into illegal activities which could ruin their lives," she said. "But teachers are not trained to deal with radicalisation. We are not spy catchers. "School staff believe in having reasoned discussions with pupils, and will welcome the practical advice in the government's anti-extremism tool-kit which builds on the work already being done in schools and colleges. "

But despite what Ed Balls says, the tool-kit over-emphasises concerns about al-Qaeda, while the reality is that more staff in schools and colleges are trying to combat intolerance towards minority groups such as gays and lesbians and travellers, racism, and violence from animal rights extremists."

Anthony Glees, Professor of security and intelligence studies at the University of Buckingham, said it was wrong to target young children. "It's very important that the government has recognised that school teachers and their pupils need to be alerted to the growing threat of radicalisation amongst the young and MI5 has alerted us to this some time ago. "This is good. It's a sophisticated, security-led tool kit although I have to say putting this over to kids who are five-years-old is ridiculous. This is a problem for 12 years and above. "This is a mistake. You should allow all British children a certain amount of innocence and happy childhood days. They don't need to know all the things they are being told."


Latin revival

The number of students in the United States taking the National Latin Exam has risen steadily to more than 134,000 students in each of the past two years, from 124,000 in 2003 and 101,000 in 1998, with large increases in remote parts of the country like New Mexico, Alaska and Vermont. The number of students taking the Advanced Placement test in Latin, meanwhile, has nearly doubled over the past 10 years, to 8,654 in 2007. While Spanish and French still dominate student schedules - and Chinese and Arabic are trendier choices - Latin has quietly flourished in many high-performing suburbs, like New Rochelle, where Latin's virtues are sung by superintendents and principals who took it in their day. In neighboring Pelham, the 2,750-student district just hired a second full-time Latin teacher after a four-year search, learning that scarce Latin teachers have become more sought-after than ever.

On Long Island, the Jericho district is offering an Advanced Placement course in Latin for the first time this year after its Latin enrollment rose to 120 students, a 35 percent increase since 2002. In nearby Great Neck, 36 fifth graders signed up last year for before- and after-school Latin classes that were started by a 2008 graduate who has moved on to study classics at Stanford (that student's brother and a friend will continue to lead the Latin classes this year).

Latin is also thriving in New York City, where it is currently taught in about three dozen schools , including Brooklyn Latin, a high school in East Williamsburg that started in 2006. Four years of Latin, and two of Spanish, are required at the new high school, where Latin phrases adorn the walls and words like discipuli (students), magistri (teachers) and latrina (bathroom) are sprinkled into everyday conversation. "It's the language of scholars and educated people," said Jason Griffiths, headmaster of Brooklyn Latin. "It's the language of people who are successful. I think it's a draw, and that's certainly what we sell."

Adam D. Blistein, executive director of the American Philological Association at the University of Pennsylvania, which represents more than 3,000 members, including classics professors and Latin teachers, said that more high schools were recognizing the benefits of Latin. It builds vocabulary and grammar for higher SAT scores, appeals to college admissions officers as a sign of critical-thinking skills and fosters true intellectual passion, he said. "Goethe is better in German, Flaubert is better in French and Virgil is better in Latin," Dr. Blistein said. "If you stick with it, the lollipop comes at the end when you get to read the original. In many cases, it's what whets their appetite."

Latin was once required at many public and parochial schools, but fell into disfavor during the 1960s when students rebelled against traditional classroom teachings and even the Roman Catholic Church moved away from Latin as the official language of Mass. Interest in Latin was revived somewhat in the 1970s and began picking up in the 1980s with the back-to-basics movement in many schools, according to Latin scholars, but really took off in the last few years as a language long seen as a stodgy ivory tower secret infiltrated popular culture.

Harry Potter books use Latin words for names and spells, and at least two have been translated into Latin ("Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis"), as have several by Dr. Seuss ("Cattus Petasatus"). Movies like "Gladiator" and "Troy" have also lent glamour to the ancient world. "Sometimes you need to know Latin to understand that part," said Adrian McCullough, 10, a sixth grader in New Rochelle who plans to reread the Harry Potter books now that he is learning Latin.

Marty Abbott, education director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, said it was possible that Latin would edge out German as the third most popular language taught in schools, behind Spanish and French, when the preliminary results of an enrollment survey are released next year. In the last survey, covering enrollment in 2000, Latin placed fourth. "In people's minds, it's coming back," she said. "But it's always been there. It's just that we continue to see interest in it."


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Utah: Charter schools far outshine public in 'No Child Left Behind' standards

Utah's charter schools performed far better than their traditional public school counterparts in meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals for the federal education program No Child Left Behind. Eighty percent of Utah's public schools met AYP goals for the 2007-08 school year, with far more meeting those goals by appeal than the previous year. By contrast, 95 percent of the 58 Utah charter schools tested met the federal requirements, with only one charter appealing, according to results released last week by the State Office of Education. Between 27,000 and 32,000 Utah students attend charter schools, which this year number 68.

Utah charter schools also outperformed traditional public schools on the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students (U-PASS) test, a state complement to AYP. Ninety-three percent of charter schools passed, compared with 87 percent of traditional schools.

Rather than tout their higher pass rates, though, most charter school administrators point to differences that may weigh in their favor. AYP requires that schools meet goals across all 10 subgroups of students in order to pass. Subgroups include special education students, English Language Learners (ELL) and groups defined as "disadvantaged minorities."

Data compiled by the state show that in traditional public schools, 39 percent are "economically disadvantaged," 12 percent are a "disadvantaged minority," and almost 11 percent are students with special education needs. The charter school numbers: 24 percent "economically disadvantaged," 8 percent "disadvantaged minority" and slightly more than 10 percent special needs. The state office could not provide current ELL enrollment figures.

Sonia Woodbury, director of City Academy charter school in Salt Lake City, said her 185 students represent many subgroups, but some are small enough to be statistically insignificant for purposes of meeting federal goals. City Academy met AYP requirements this year and last. "We have them all, pretty much, but they're smaller," Woodbury said. "The way that's calculated in AYP can sometimes make it easier for charter schools."

Judy Park, associate superintendent at the State Office of Education, said that in general, public schools tend to enroll more subgroups at greater numbers. That makes passing AYP more difficult. "If your school has 10 of those subgroups, there's 10 ways you can pass or fail in order to meet AYP," Park said. "What percentage of charter schools have ESL learners?"

Although both draw on public funds, charter schools don't have geographic boundaries and operate under a specified charter based on student needs and interests. Also, charter schools are often smaller in both school and classroom size.

Rebecca Raybould, who analyzes AYP tests for charter schools, agrees that from a statistical standpoint, the number of subgroups and their size make meeting the requirement easier for charters. Still, she said comparing public and charter school AYP performance makes for uneven comparison. AYP and U-PASS often skip certain grade levels in their assessments, and therefore large groups of students, she pointed out. "It's detrimental, even though everyone loves to do it," Raybould said. "It splits the point, which is to educate kids."

Brian Allen, chair of Utah's State Charter School Board, said that although he doesn't know details of subgroup distribution at charter schools, public schools would do better to examine what charter schools do well instead of "excusing away" the disparity in AYP goal results. "Charter schools are a fine complement to public schools in the state. We ought to be learning more from each other," Allen said.


British government attacking successful private schools

Five independent schools are to be investigated by the Charity Commission to see if they meet the Government's tough new charity requirement to offer a "public benefit" by helping poor as well as rich people. Those that fail could be required to replace their trustee boards and ordered to make changes such as allotting more cash for bursaries and sharing facilities with state school pupils.

The five include Manchester Grammar School (fees o9,000 a year), which is one of the top ten performing private boys' schools in the country at GCSE and which volunteered to be among the first fee-paying charities to undergo a public benefit test.

Charitable status brings independent schools tax breaks worth around o100 million a year and adds considerably to their fundraising credibility. New charity laws require organisations that charge fees to "earn" these benefits by offering some kind of benefit in kind to the wider community.

The other school charities being investigated are Manor House School Trust, operating in Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire; Pangbourne College in Berkshire; St Anselm's School Trust in Derbyshire; and Highfield Priory School in Lancashire. The results of the review will published in the spring.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

University Of Northern Colorado Opposes Equality

The board of trustees of the University of Northern Colorado opposes treating its applicants and students without regard to their race or ethnicity, voting unanimously to urge defeat of Amendment 46, the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative.
"We really think that the amendment, if passed, would jeopardize the ability of the university and universities across the state to attract and foster diverse student populations," said Jim Chavez, UNC trustee and director of the Latin American Education Foundation.

UNC offers several scholarships that provide preference to students on the basis of gender and ethnicity. Under the measure, Chavez said, those scholarships would be scrapped. "It would dramatically affect the financial resources for many, many different student populations," he said.

The University of Northern Colorado must be one of the few institutions in the country that attracts, funds, and fosters many, many different "populations" of diverse students.

How much money, I wonder, does it take to support these many, many different diverse populations? I also wonder if the taxpayers of Colorado are fully informed about the extent of this expense and whether they think the benefits that accrue to their non-diverse sons and daughters from being exposed to these "diverse student populations" is worth what it costs.


Paedophile hysteria preventing men from applying to work in British grade schools

The lack of male teachers may be having a serious effect on boys' performance in the classroom as many miss out on strong role models at a young age, according to Tanya Byron, the child psychologist. She said the shortage particularly hit children from single-parent families who often went without father figures in the home.

The comments came as a campaign was launched by the Government's Training and Development Agency for Schools to recruit more men into the primary sector. According to official figures, fewer than one in eight primary school teachers are male, and numbers plummet to just one in 50 among those working in reception and nursery classes.

Dr Byron is the presenter of a television show on problem children called Little Angels, as well as a Government advisor on internet safety. She said paranoia about child abuse was driving many men out of the classroom. "There is this paranoid, over-the-top concern about paedophilia and child molestation - that it is not safe to leave children with men," she said. "These themes are running through society to such an extent that attitudes have become skewed and our anxiety does ultimately discriminate against men. This puts men off from working in primary schools because they are concerned about how they will be viewed and what parents will think of them. We have to challenge these negative and unhelpful belief systems."

Research by the TDA showed almost half of men believed male primary school teachers helped them develop at a young age. In a survey of 800 adults, it was revealed a third were challenged to work harder because of men in the primary years, while 50 per cent were more likely to report problems such as bullying to male teachers.

Dr Byron said boys - many of whom struggle to sit still at a young age - worked better with men. They also needed more exposure to males in school to show that learning was not a feminine virtue, she said. She added that positive male role models were particularly important for boys from single-parent households. "The need for strong male role models as constants in the lives of young children is more apparent than ever in light of the increasing numbers of children experiencing breakdown of the traditional family unit, growing up in single-parent families or not having a male figure at home," she said. "Male primary school teachers can often be stable and reliable figures in the lives of the children that they teach. They inspire children to feel more confident, to work harder and to behave better."

The TDA today urged men to consider applying for teacher training courses, with students and jobseekers now having less than nine weeks to apply for courses which start next year. In 2006-07, fewer than a quarter of primary and secondary school teaching qualifications were obtained by men - the lowest figure in five years.


Parents concerned about low literacy levels in South Australian schools

PARENTS are raising "serious questions" about school students' basic literacy levels because they say too many are failing simple national tests. The concerns have been raised after the state's peak school parent group viewed examples of tests given to students around the country earlier this year. Parents have described questions put to Year 9 students as "primary school standard" and want a review of the curriculum following South Australia's average results in the national literacy and numeracy tests. But primary principals want the curriculum further simplified while teachers and the Education Department have defended what is being taught in schools.

The South Australian Association of State School Organisations, which represents the parents of about 90 per cent of state school students, said the test results were more worrying in light of the "not challenging" questions. "If this is the level of question, you've got to wonder why anybody would fail to meet the minimum standard," Association director David Knuckey said. "Exactly where are the 20 per cent who have just met the minimum standards? "It raises serious questions about the basic literacy levels of our high school students (in particular)." Other parents Mr Knuckey spoke to said they remembered more difficult testing when they were at school.

The Australian Primary Principals Association wants guidelines for teachers simplified when a national curriculum is developed. President Leonie Trimper said the primary curriculum "is far too crowded".

In May, about 80,000 South Australian students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 took part in the first national uniform testing of school students. The results, released last month, show up to 10.5 per cent of students failed to meet the minimum national benchmarks and up to 21.8 per cent just made the grade. SA students recorded scores below the national average in 15 of 20 categories and the state also had the highest proportion of students allowed to miss the test.

South Australian English Teachers Association president Alison Robertson said the standardised tests covered "a very narrow part of the curriculum". Flinders University senior lecturer in education Lyn Wilkinson agreed "more is being taught than is being tested" and felt most children were challenged further in class. "This (test) is really where you expect all Year 9 and all Year 7 kids to be. If they're not then there's cause for concern," said the specialist in basic skills testing.

Education Department chief executive Chris Robinson disputed the bar was set too low. "We don't believe that it's the curriculum that's deficient," Mr Robinson said. "The tests are designed by experts to work out what students should be able to do at their year level. The parents, with all due respect, may not be in the best position to judge what the standard of the test is." Mr Robinson said the department continually reviewed the curriculum.

The federal Education Department said the national tests were devised by state and federal governments, the non-government sector and independent experts.

State Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith yesterday said she expected this group "will use feedback to improve the tests in future years". At the time the results were released, Dr Lomax-Smith promised a raft of initiatives including intervention plans for every student who did not meet the minimum standards and coaches for principals and teachers at 32 of the state's most disadvantaged schools as part of a federally funded, $4 million two-year trial.

Opposition Education spokesman David Pisoni expected more children to score better, considering the standard of testing. "I certainly wouldn't say they (the questions) were difficult, if you were an average child you would have got about 90 per cent (correct)," he said. "If there are children that didn't meet the national benchmark, especially at Year 7 and 9 level, we've got to ask questions of the education system."


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

'Jesus was a Palestinian,' claims U.S. history text

Study: American public school books have 'same inaccuracies' as Arab texts

A new study reveals that if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wanted to criticize the nation of Israel before the United Nations, he could use American public school textbooks to do so. "It is shocking to find the kind of misinformation we discovered in American textbooks and supplemental materials being used by schools in every state in the country," said Dr. Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research and a co-author of the study. "Elected officials at every level should investigate how these offensive passages are creeping into our textbooks. Presenting false information in the classroom undermines the very foundation of the American educational system," he said.

Tobin teamed with insititute research associate Dennis Ybarra for the study, titled, "The Trouble with Textbooks: Distorting History and Religion." The five-year effort, which looked at 28 prominent history, geography and social studies textbooks, reveals American public school students are being loaded up with indoctrination about Christianity, Judaism, Islam and the Middle East, to the cost of Christianity and Judaism and the benefit of Islam.

The study also supports other assessments of U.S. texts on which WND has reported. According to an earlier report from the American Textbook Council, history textbooks throughout the U.S. schooling system promote Islam.

The new study by the IJCR found more than 500 erroneous passages in the books, including one textbook that charged that early Jewish civilization contributed little to the arts and sciences. An excerpt from "World Civilizations," published by Thomson Wadsworth, for example, said, "Excepting the Old Testament's poetry, the Jews produced very little of note in any of the art forms ... There is no record of any important [early] Jewish contributions to the sciences." The level of outrageousness grew: "Christianity was started by a young Palestinian named Jesus," claims "The World," published by Scott Foresman.

"The textbooks tend to be critical of Jews and Israel, disrespectful about Christianity, and rather than represent Islam in an objective way, tend to glorify it," said co-author Ybarra. "To teach children, for instance, that Jesus was a Palestinian and de-emphasize his Jewishness does a disservice to Christians and Jews as well as anyone who cares about historical accuracy."

The institute analyzes issues such as racial and religious identity, philanthropy and higher education. Its full report is available at, where all 28 books that came under its review are listed.

The organization said its study revealed textbooks include routinely negative stereotypes of Jews, Judaism and Israel. For example, Israel is blamed for starting wars in the Middle East and Jews are charged with deicide, and the problems are rife through the three mega-publishers that have deep enough pockets to get approval and publish a textbook in the major states of Texas and California.

"The 'Trouble with Textbooks' is a very important book not only for Jews but for the entire Christian community," said Rev. John J. Keane, ecumenical officer for the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. "This volume is an excellent tool for anyone who is interested in balanced information that is fair and reliable concerning Judaism, Christianity and Islam." The authors found textbooks that stated or suggested:
Jesus was a "Palestinian," not a Jew.

The Arab nations never attacked Israel. Arab-Israeli wars "just broke out," or Israel started them

Arabs nations want peace, but Israel does not

Israel expelled all Palestinian refugees

Israel put the Palestinians in refugee camps in Arab lands, not Arab governments

Palestinian terrorism is nonexistent or minimal

Israel is not a victim of terrorism, or terrorism against Israel is justified

U.S. support of Israel causes terrorism, including 9/11

The intifadas were children's revolts not involving adults or terrorism

They also found that Judaism and Christianity are treated as matters of believing, while Islam is treated as a matter of fact. In the glossary of "World History: Continuity and Change," the Ten Commandments are described as, "Moral laws Moses claimed to have received from the Hebrew God Yahweh on Mount Sinai." But the same glossary states as fact the Quran is a, "Holy Book of Islam containing revelations received by Muhammad from God."

The study found, "Islam is treated with a devotional tone in some textbooks, less detached and analytical than it ought to be. Muslim beliefs are described in several instances as fact, without any clear qualifier such as 'Muslims believe. . . .'"

Likewise, the Islamic empire of the Middle Ages was "a time of unqualified glory without blemishes," and Muslims "always tolerated Jews," unlike their Christian counterparts. The texts use terms such as "stories," "legends" and "tales" to talk about Jewish writings. "If the president of Iran wants to blast Israel at the U.N., he can use American textbooks to do so," Tobin concluded.

The earlier ATC report took two years to study textbooks, and its author, Gilbert T. Sewall, found the problems regarding Islam "are uniquely disturbing." "History textbooks present an incomplete and confected view of Islam that misrepresents its foundations and challenges to international security," the ATC report said."Islamic activists use multiculturalism and ready-made American-made political movements, especially those on campus, to advance and justify the makeover of Islam-related textbook content." "Particular fault rests with the publishing corporations, boards of directors, and executives who decide what editorial policies their companies will pursue," the report said.

One of the executives for a text critiqued by ATC, Bert Bower, founder of TCI, told WND at the time not only did his company have experts review the book, but the state of California also reviewed it and has approved it for use in public schools. "Keep in mind when looking at this particular book scholars from all over California (reviewed it)," he said.

One of the experts who contributed to the text, according to the ATC, was Ayad Al-Qazzaz. "Al-Qazzaz is a Muslim apologist, a frequent speaker in Northern California school districts promoting Islam and Arab causes," the ATC review said. "Al-Qazzaz also co-wrote AWAIR's 'Arab World Notebook.' AWAIR stands for Arab World and Islamic Resources, an opaque, proselytizing 'non-profit organization' that conducts teacher workshops and sells supplementary materials to schools."


On the importance of grammar

There are schools of grammar, and I belong to none of them. Among the schools are traditional grammar, modern grammar and what is sometimes called transformational-generative grammar, the scientific-sounding grammar linguistics students learn these days. I'm uneasy with the diction of this (dominant) school of grammar - it's hard going for a writer on deadline - and I'm uncomfortable with its claim to "correct" the "errors" of older traditional grammar.

I'm more comfortable with the commonsense and plain-spokenness of modern grammar. Like others, I look at what the postmodern grammarians have to say, and I look back to the ancients, and I look in the middle, to acknowledge disagreements and developments, to discuss differences of view, and in the end to come as close as I can to a clear and useful description of everything important.

The larger part of grammar isn't especially mysterious or contentious. But there are controversies, and there are areas where even now the scholars are trying to agree how best to make sense of usages that have been in the language since Chaucer's April showers [An allusion to the opening line of the Canterbury Tales: "Whan that Aprill with his schoures sote" - according to Skeat]. (How do we properly understand the infinite phrase, for instance, in "I'd love you to love me"?)

Grammar doesn't construct language; it describes the way it goes. Grammar tries to explain how language works, so that we might use language, especially on paper, with some insight and consistency, and in doing so keep it strong. Because grammar scares some of us witless, even though we practise it most of the moments of our waking lives, talking or writing, and because there's a school of thought that looks on grammar as a kind of tyranny imposed on our creativity by a cardigan-wearing cadre of joyless pedants, I offer you this metaphor for grammar.

Grammar is the rules of democracy, which regulate and perpetuate this imperfect paradise of ours. It's the bundle of shared values, etiquettes, codified or inherited rights and obligations, along with a certain amount of governance infrastructure, all of which helps keep us in the freedom (of speech) to which we are accustomed.

Now, as someone has said - with the activities of the CIA in mind - democracy can be overdone, and so can grammar. But we need some rules if we want what democracy allows us, if we want to prevent anarchy and tyranny. And we want some rules and we need to practise them if we want meaning to abound.

The rules of grammar are the rules for paradise. The institutions and articles of democracy manufacture and conserve freedom. The rules of grammar manufacture and conserve language, with its power to make and share meaning. Grammar is the system inside the language; it is the constitution of the tongue. And if we want a community of sense - if we want to continue the vigorous and sometimes absurd and sometimes glorious conversation about ourselves and our world that we carry on in literature and government and everyday speech - then we'll need to know and observe our language's bill of rights: we'll need to learn and practise our grammar.

Now, I don't care for undue formality, the kind that pedantic insistence on grammar can foster. Grammar, like democracy, can be overdone. I like intelligent informality. We need a diversity of styles; each of us needs to find our unique voice and native syntax. That's the kind of democracy I'd fight for. I'm drawn, in particular, to the beauty of authentic vernacular, and some of that disobeys grammar.

If you're writing, though, you'll need to obey more rules. Readers demand it; if they're to follow you without your waving arms and your twinkling eyes and the acts that accompany speech, readers need you to take more care with the words and how you lay them down. But you don't have to sound pompous. Good writers sound like good talkers - but a little tidier.

My point is this: getting your grammar down shouldn't make you sound like the Queen of England. Correctness doesn't entail formality. Sound sentences needn't sound stilted. Indeed, such writing will fail. It's a lapse of taste, a want of cool, no matter how correct it is. So, relax your diction, but straighten your syntax. Stay cool; write like you speak, only better. The "better" is where the grammar comes in.


Forgetting the Past

My radio partner Brian Ward of Fraters Libertas noted an appalling instance of historical ignorance in the Minneapolis public schools, and added his thoughts on the current epidemic of amnesia:
When asked what historical figure they'd most like to study this year, an astounding 22 of the 35 students in Ms. Ellingham's eighth-grade history class at Susan B. Anthony middle school in Minneapolis answered, "Yoko Ono" and/or "John Lennon."

I weep for the future. The great historian David McCullough was on C-SPAN this past week, looking like a beaten man while describing the crushing level of historical ignorance among America's youth. He summed up with the warning that one can never love a country one doesn't know. It sounded like an epitaph.
Brian quotes from McCullough's address when he accepted the National Book Award:
We, in our time, are raising a new generation of Americans who, to an alarming degree, are historically illiterate. ...

Warning signals, in special studies and reports, have been sounded for years, and most emphatically by the Bradley Report of 1988. Now, we have the blunt conclusions of a new survey by the Education Department: The decided majority, some 60 percent, of the nation's high school seniors haven't even the most basic understanding of American history. The statistical breakdowns on specific examples are appalling.

But I speak also from experience. On a winter morning on the campus of one of our finest colleges, in a lively Ivy League setting with the snow falling outside the window, I sat with a seminar of some twenty-five students, all seniors majoring in history, all honors students-the cream of the crop. "How many of you know who George Marshall was?" I asked. None. Not one.

We have noted several times Barack Obama's surprising ignorance of American history. But in that context, maybe it isn't surprising at all. Maybe Obama is above average by today's standards.

My youngest daughter started middle school this year. After around a month of classes, as far as I can tell the curriculum consists largely of propaganda about recycling. My high school age daughter told me tonight that in Spanish class she has been taught to say "global warming," "acid rain" and "greenhouse effect" in Spanish. I don't think they've gotten around to translating "hoax" yet.

The schools can teach anything if they care about it. The problem is that they don't care about teaching history, least of all American history. Public education is agenda-driven, and American history--the facts of American history--is not on the agenda.

Which leaves us with McCullough's sad conclusion. The heritage that our forefathers sacrificed so much to leave us will most likely soon be lost, because the next generation won't even know what that heritage is.


Monday, October 06, 2008

Transgender students force restroom change in British university

No privacy at the University of Manchester. I wonder how many sexual assaults it will take before they reverse this policy?

The ladies' lavatory is now simply labelled "toilet" while the mens' has become "toilets with urinals". The student union decided to change the signs during a meeting of its executive in the summer following a number of complaints from transgender students. Women's officer Jennie Killip refused to say how many people had complained, and there are no figures for how many transgender people there are among the university's 35,000 population. She said: "If you were born female, still presently quite feminine, but defined as a man you should be able to go into the men's toilets.

"You don't necessarily have to have had gender reassignment surgery, but you could just define yourself as a man, feel very masculine in yourself, feel that in fact being a woman is not who you are. "Transgender people can face violence and abuse when they go into toilets and we wanted to provide a place where they can feel comfortable. "I have had complaints from people who said we didn't have any facilities for them."

But the switch has caused consternation among many of the students returning from their summer break. Second-year student Jane McConnell, 19, a news editor on the Student Direct student newspaper, said: "While these signs might be appropriate for people with different sexualities, I also think that many people from different religious and ethnic groups are going to feel uncomfortable using these facilities. "Even though they're just two signs, at the end of the day, toilets should be for women and for men specifically, not for both." Another student said: "This is ridiculous. It is just too much political correctness".


Scotland: Infant pupils to get "free" meals

"There aint no such thing as a free lunch" -- just something somebody else pays for

All pupils will receive free meals in the first three years of primary school, the Scottish Government has announced. The service will begin in 2010 after a pilot in several areas, which saw the take-up of meals rise from 53% to 75%. Council umbrella group Cosla denied claims from some authorities that services would have to be cut to pay for the move.

Ministers said helping children in their early years was a priority. The Scottish Government said councils would be expected to find the money for the scheme from the funding settlement already agreed. Scottish Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop said the year-long, $10m pilot scheme, involving 35,000 pupils in Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire, East Ayrshire, Fife and the Borders, was a success. The pilot also reported that parents and teachers were positive about the scheme, while some pupils enjoyed trying new foods. "This government has made it a priority to help children in their early years and this initiative does just that, providing every child with a free school meal in their first years at primary school," said Ms Hyslop.

The Scottish Government has already published guidance to help school catering staff produce healthy meals. According to Labour, the education conveners of several local authorities - including North Lanarkshire, East Dunbartonshire, Edinburgh and the leader of Inverclyde Council - raised concern over whether they could pay for the service, with some saying they would have to make cuts to fund it. But Cosla president Pat Watters told BBC Scotland there was $80m in the budget to provide free school meals to primaries one, two and three. He added: "There is no reason why anyone should have to cut anything to fund this. This is a government funded project."

Labour education spokeswoman Rhona Brankin also raised concerns about the funding, adding: "Local authorities are already struggling to employ newly qualified teachers and reduce class sizes, but some schools can't even afford photocopying."

Liz Smith, of the Scottish Tories, questioned whether a blanket free meals policy would target the right pupils, while the Liberal Democrats' Margaret Smith said ministers had "failed to make the case" that the plan was the best way to tackle poor diets.

But John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said the announcement was "a massive step forward" in the campaign to ensure healthy meals for children, whatever their home circumstances. "It will help boost children's health, education and wellbeing and provide a really welcome benefit to hard pressed families across Scotland," he said.

A two-year free school meals pilot in primaries is due to start in England next year, while the Welsh Assembly administration said it was currently focussing on improving nutritional standards.


Australia: Government-supported pedophilia?

Interesting to see who the teachers side with

PARENTS have expressed outrage over revelations that controversial artist Bill Henson was allowed into a primary school by its principal to search for models. Victorian Premier John Brumby said yesterday it was "completely inappropriate" that Henson was escorted onto a Melbourne school yard. The Victorian Education Department has launched an official investigation into the incident.

Federation of P&C Associations of NSW president Dianne Giblin said it had been a "betrayal of trust of parents". "Schools should not be a place to access for commercial purposes," Mrs Giblin said. "Any outside person or group coming into the school must do so for an educational purpose only and it supports our concerns of principals making these decisions and not having sectoral approval."

Henson was denounced by political leaders and his photographs seized by police and pulled from the Roslyn Oxley Gallery in Sydney in May following outrage over the picture of a naked 12-year-old girl on the invitation to his show. Fresh controversy has ensued following details from a new book, by Fairfax Media journalist David Marr, that Henson has been invited into the Melbourne primary school in his search for models.

Mr Brumby said: "Such activity taking place in a Victorian state school is completely inappropriate. "Like all parents, I have a deep concern about this sort of behaviour and I have asked the Education Minister for a full report from the department and the school on this matter."

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull expressed disgust and outrage yesterday. "I think parents would be revolted and horrified if this were true," Mr Rudd said. Mr Turnbull said: "There are very big issues here relating to the protection of children, their privacy and informed consent. The matters that have been described in the media are totally inappropriate and unacceptable and I share the outrage that has been expressed by many people at these events."

But Maree O'Halloran, the outgoing president of the NSW Teachers Federation, said it was a complex issue and there was a risk Henson could be unduly tarred. "There are very strict rules governing who can come into a school and principals and teachers follow those carefully," she said. "I think we do need to be careful not to tar someone as being a perpetrator of some sort of child abuse when we're talking about an artist. "We've got a person's reputation at stake here and a person who is a respected, professional artist."

However, Henson's supporters have rejected claims he was allowed to wander the grounds of the Melbourne primary school. Henson was accompanied by the principal at all times when he visited St Kilda Primary School looking for child models to pose for his artwork. He has lectured to school groups and his artwork is a part of the Victorian school curriculum. The artist declined to comment on the matter yesterday but it is understood he is horrified by claims he acted inappropriately.

His supporters are particularly upset by a cartoon that appeared in The Weekend Australian yesterday depicting the artist in a school playground while children hide behind bushes, saying: "Psst . maybe he's one of those arts bandits."


Sunday, October 05, 2008

CA: San Francisco schools trying to boot Junior ROTC

In this city long associated with the peace movement, some teens are taking an unlikely stance - campaigning to keep the armed forces' Junior ROTC program in public schools. If a school board decision stands, San Francisco would become the first city to remove a Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program. But supporters, including many college-bound Asian-American students who make up the majority of cadets here, initiated an advisory measure on the November ballot. They hope it will persuade a new school board to save JROTC.

Board members who decided to kick JROTC out of town see it as arm of the military that reaches into schools, discriminating against gays by enforcing the "don't ask, don't tell" mandate, and recruiting teenagers for an unpopular war. "It's a broader issue about the Bush administration and military recruiting through JROTC," said board member Eric Mar. "It's clear with the military, if you're gay and out, you don't get the same opportunities," he added. He was among board members who voted two years ago to phase out JROTC and replace it with programs not linked to the military. The deadline was set for 2008, but the board later extended JROTC until next June because an alternative was not developed in time.

Participants, called cadets, wear uniforms, study military history, practice marching and drilling and can win awards for things like marksmanship. Armed forces retirees serve as instructors, and cadets can get academic credit in fields such as physical education.

If the aim is recruitment, however, JROTC in San Francisco is a failure. Only two of the 1,465 cadets there signed up for the armed forces after graduation in 2006-2007, the latest year for which numbers are available.

Supporters view the elective course as valuable self-improvement - teaching them discipline, responsibility and leadership skills they say they do not get in other classes. JROTC rules prevent instructors from trying to recruit participants. "It's helped me stand up for myself, have more confidence, and to fight for what I want," said Trina Mao, 16, standing on a corner in Union Square passing out fliers about the program.

They also say the arguments about the war in Iraq and the Pentagon's policy toward gays miss the point: The program in San Francisco is inclusive, with 90 percent minorities and 40 percent women, they say.

Some gay and lesbian student groups have come out in support of JROTC and the ballot measure, saying some of their members have found a home in the program.

Even as the debate went on and board members held their ground, students and their parents gathered enough signatures to put an advisory measure on the ballot asking voters to show their support for keeping JROTC. "It's become a 'Bonfire of the Vanities,' San Francisco-style - a lot of people want to use JROTC for their own purposes," said Mike Bernick, co-chair of a campaign to keep JROTC here and father of an ROTC graduate.

With confusion over the future of the program, enrollment in San Francisco's JROTC has declined by about two-thirds in the past year. But participation in JROTC has climbed steadily around the country, with additional funding approved by Congress. The program reached 3,351 schools and 503,306 cadets in 2006 - the latest numbers available from the Pentagon - and there is a waiting list of more than 700 schools that have requested JROTC. "We're watching the San Francisco situation very closely," said Curtis Gilroy, an official in the Defense Department's office for personnel and readiness.

The U.S. Department of Defense does not keep track of how many cadets later enlist in the military, but ROTC critic Mar said that, no matter the numbers, "14- and 15-year-olds are too young to be susceptible to their recruitment."'

The American Civil Liberties Union and the American Friends Service Committee agree that military-backed programs are not appropriate for public schools. The ACLU intervened in cases where entire classes were enrolled in JROTC without giving students a choice, or where cash-strapped schools used JROTC to substitute for physical education, said Jennifer Turner, a researcher with the group's Human Rights Program. "The United States is unique in the world in having this type of program that targets kids as young as 14 operating in public school, where students sometimes don't even have a choice," she said. "It is apparent that the JROTC program is a recruiting tool."


British teacher junket cancelled

It could not stand the light of publicity

Teachers who planned to hold a training conference at a Costa del Sol resort will instead attend sessions in classrooms at their school in Staffordshire after complaints from parents. The trip to Marbella by staff at Edensor Technology College in Longton, planned for today and tomorrow, was cancelled yesterday morning. The school could be liable for costs of up to $40,000 because of the short notice, according to Stoke-on-Trent council. Mark Meredith, the mayor, said that it was unclear whether money spent in advance could be reclaimed. "There are guesstimates going around - it could be $40,000 or more," he said in a radio interview. ""The school is investigating this. But these are the questions that the governors will be putting to the head teacher."

Richard Mercer, the headmaster, said in a statement: "Following the publicity concerning the proposed visit to Marbella for training purposes by staff, it has been decided to cancel the trip. The training programme will now take place at the school. It was felt that due to the pressure from media interest in the trip it would be unfair to the staff, the pupils and parents." About 80 members of the teaching staff were to have stayed at the hotel until Sunday, the Stoke Sentinel had disclosed on Wednesday.

The trip angered parents, whose children would have been off school while the teachers were away at the beachside resort. Andy Sales, 34, said: "Why isn't this money being spent on our kids? Parents are having to take time off work or are paying for extra childcare while the staff are enjoying the sun at the school's expense."

Mr Mercer said that it was "more cost-effective" to go abroad as it is the end of Marbella's peak season. "If parents think this is a `jolly', they should join us and find out how hard the staff work." [Give us a break!] In a further statement, released through the council yesterday, Mr Mercer said that the school budget allowed for an annual staff conference. Governors considered nine quotes for Britain and abroad and the Marbella hotel was "the best value for money".

Mr Meredith said: "My personal view is that it was a barmy decision to hold the session in Spain. I'm pleased that they have come to their senses."


Australian literacy, numeracy standards stuck at '70s levels

And much worse than the '50s, I'll warrant

TODAY'S students are no better at English or maths than those of the 1970s, despite the billions of dollars annually pumped into schools. Australian Council for Educational Research findings, presented in Brisbane recently, showed no improvement in young people's literacy and numeracy skills from 1975 to 1998. The most instructive study asked identical and similar questions of 14-year-olds across the country over the 23-year period. There was no increase in averaged scores. Boys' literacy dropped and girls' rose slightly.

Other, more recent, findings collated by the Australian National University confirmed the trend in classrooms around the country has continued since 2000, in particular a decline in reading skills. The results make Queensland's second last placing among the states and territories at this year's first national tests even more alarming.

Education agitator Kevin Donnelly, who wrote Dumbing Down and Why Our Schools Are Failing, slammed Queensland's education establishment for its lack of progress. Dr Donnelly said the Queensland Studies Authority, and successive education ministers and departments, had failed for 20 years by adopting "pretty new-age" methods. "Kids just aren't being taught formal grammar," he said. "Ministers come and go, governments come and go but bureaucrats don't change. The minister jumps up and down for a week but the people given the job to fix it are the same people who created the mess."

Dr Andrew Leigh, an ANU economist and author of the report, said Australian governments proved it was easy to waste money on education. A report by Dr Leigh and Chris Ryan showed government spending per student in Australia had more than doubled between 1964 and 2003. "The real question is why we've increased school funding so dramatically yet seen no improvement in literacy and numeracy," Dr Leigh said.

Education Minister Rod Welford refused to comment yesterday, two weeks after admitting his department's entrenched funding practices had failed to improve results in low socio-economic areas.