Saturday, October 25, 2008

Anatomy of an Evil Agenda

Teaching for "social justice", a la William Ayers, is intended to subvert more than educate

William Ayers has received considerable attention recently, due to his association with presidential candidate Barack Obama. Ayers' past as a member of the violent radical Weatherman faction in the 1960s is well-known. He does not repudiate his bomb-building escapades in the 1960s-he continues to refer to himself as "a radical, Leftist, small `c' communist," (as he did in 1995). Yet somehow, despite that past, and despite the occasional nose-thumbing incident, such as stomping on the American flag in 2001, he has achieved a level of respectability as a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

While some, like the New York Times' Frank Rich, might describe him as somebody involved "in education reform," the facts are that he has merely traded in his bombs for books. Quite possibly he is doing far more damage with the latter than he ever did with the former.

Ayers is an ardent and leading proponent of the American version of the "Social Justice" (or critical pedagogy) movement in education. While this philosophy might sound benevolent, it is in fact a thinly veiled mechanism intended to bring about world-wide socialism. Not only has Ayers gained entry into the educational mainstream, but the concept of Teaching for Social Justice, (the title of a popular 1998 book of essays edited by Ayers) is rapidly gaining acceptance throughout the education school establishment.

The sacred scroll of the social-justice-in-education movement is the book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, written by Paolo Freire in 1968. Freire was a Brazilian educator who developed his theories as a teacher in the impoverished hinterlands of northeast Brazil. His work has been closely linked with the liberation theology movement, which blends elements of Marxism with Catholicism. Liberation theology began in Brazil in the 1950s, spread throughout Latin America, and has been soundly condemned by the last two Popes.

Freire's book begins with a philosophical exposition on the nature of social justice. It takes some doing to cut through his dense prose, but it is necessary to understand both the movement and the pedagogy. His writing on social justice, as can be seen below, leaves no doubt that his book is a call for subversion and revolution. He then describes the foundation for his new "pedagogy." This Clarion Call article provides a concise explanation of his theory's main points, followed by some greater detail and concrete examples of the pedagogy gleaned from Ayers' Teaching for Social Justice." These later examples will reveal just how dangerous this movement is, and just how unhinged many of its proponents are.

There are four states of human existence in Freire's world. He divides the world into two primary types: oppressors and oppressed-mirroring the communist division into opposing classes of bourgeois and proletariat. There are also former oppressors who have chosen to identify with the oppressed-we are all familiar with the well-heeled revolutionaries who claim to be for the "people" (such as Ayers). Such radicals cannot, according to Freire, attempt to improve the lot of the oppressed by acting as an elite leadership seeking followers. They must instead strive for solidarity with the oppressed by sharing their existence and by learning to see the world through the eyes of the oppressed by a process of "dialogue." Only by doing so can they earn the right to share their own knowledge and experiences to enlighten the oppressed.

The ultimate goal of the oppressed is to achieve the final state, that of "humanity," (a heightened state of consciousness in which the concept of justice is the primary concern). To achieve humanity, the oppressed must raise their consciousness through dialogue with the world, then throw off their oppressors by their own efforts. Gradual reform by a benevolent government born of oppression does not help--Freire insists that it is based on a "false charity" intended to maintain the power of the oppressors. Freire regarded traditional education as an important means by which the oppressors retain authority-he wanted instead to create a pedagogy to subvert and take control away from them.

Following from the idea that there can be no gradual reform by an oppressive regime, there can only be oppression or the process of revolution. Freire did not specify that a takeover must be violent, but violence is considered acceptable-he stated that the existence of oppressors is the result of violence, therefore any violence done in return is justified: "With the establishment of oppression, violence has already begun. Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed."

And the uprising is absolved of excesses conducted in the founding of the new regime: "[T]he restraints imposed by the former oppressed on their oppressors, so that they cannot reassume their former position, does not constitute oppression."

Social justice, as defined by Freire, is a permanent process, not a final destination. For the oppressed cannot, upon achieving their liberation, develop the same sort of domineering bureaucracy and regulations as their former oppressors, or they will become oppressors themselves. They must instead continue the process of social justice, striving for further humanity and throwing off oppression wherever it exists.

This bears an eerie resemblance to the Maoist concept of "permanent revolution," possibly the worst form of governance ever created. In its most complete implementation, it cut the population of Cambodia literally in half in just a few years through genocide, forced labor, economic decline, and the voluntary exile of anybody who could escape. Maosim was popular among leftist Latin American intellectuals when Freire wrote his book-around the same time, a Peruvian professor founded the ultra-violent Maoist revolutionary group Sendero Luminosa (Shining Path) which continues to this day.

Traditional education was described by Freire as a "banking model," in which teachers "deposit" selected information "into" passive students. "Knowledge [in an oppressive society] is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing," he said of this model. "Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others [is a] characteristic of the ideology of oppression..."

The central element of teaching for social justice is intended to address the supposed tyranny of the banking model--teachers must learn from their students, much as well-heeled revolutionaries must learn from the oppressed people they wish to liberate. "Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the-students and the students-of-the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student and student-teachers" who are "jointly responsible for a process in which both grow," Freire explained.

He described the mechanics of this joint process: "The teacher presents the material to the students for their consideration, and reconsiders her earlier considerations as the students express their own." A classroom run according to such consensus-building is likely to descend into chaos. This seemed not to worry Freire-he was more concerned that a disciplined approach to teaching could be part of the oppressors' supposed plot to control the masses.

Some other important principle of Freire's pedagogy are that teaching must be relevant to the lives of students, and that students and teachers alike must act upon their new sensibilities to achieve "humanity." He suggested that "students, as they are increasingly posed with problems relating to themselves in the world," will feel increasingly challenged and obliged to respond to that challenge."

Yet, with a remarkable lack of self-awareness, or perhaps intentional disguise, he provided his readers with few examples to which they can relate-he never gave us a clear impression exactly who the oppressors are. It may be that, in rural 1960s Brazil, the gap between rich and poor was so stark that there was no cause to explain. But it is far more difficult for a resident of a prosperous modern welfare-state with a high degree of social mobility like the United States to derive meaning from "Pedagogy for the Oppressed" without concrete examples.

That missing context and clarity is provided by Freire's American followers. Maxine Greene, Ayers' former teacher at Columbia who introduced him to Freire's theories, very clearly stated who is responsible for the world's inhumanity in Teaching for Social Justice, for which she wrote an introduction. The oppressors are "ordinarily the white, the privileged, the male."

Race (specifically, the inhumanity of whites) is one of the dominant themes of Teaching for Social Justice. America's "oppressed" largely come from the inner-city minority underclass. Rachel Koch, another contributor to the book wrote, "[M]ost white people have been indoctrinated into identification with the upper-class white elites who oppress them too. As bell hooks has pointed out, in our society all whites are bonded together through white supremacy."

Race is not the only criterion for oppression, however. Greene also described oppression as what many might feel is the best of America: "the drumbeat of the free market, of individual responsibility, of the uses of efficiency, of character education and training in the `virtues.'"

Greene nearly indicates that almost anything can be defined as oppression, as long as the person defining it is sympathetic to the cause of social justice. She offered some concrete examples that range from the out-of-date to the silly. Real past injustices, such as Frederick Douglass' experiences with slavery in the early 19th century, are equated to an American woman poet in 1994 claiming to suffer an "imposed passivity" and "media indoctrination" and feelings of being controlled by the "airwaves and classrooms."

This blurring of emotions and facts is common in the social justice movement, and extends to the classroom as well. Several contributors to Teaching for Social Justice" described their use of the "storyline method," in which all the children in their class communally create a narrative on a topic relevant to their lives, and "academic skills such as writing, computation and research are woven throughout this integrated approach." That topic chosen was homelessness-the children all created homeless characters for themselves.....

More here

California school holds surprise 'Gay' Day for kindergartners

Parents outraged at public elementary's secretive 'coming out' event

Some parents are shocked to find their children are learning to be homosexual allies and will participate in "Coming Out Day" at a public elementary school tomorrow - and they claim the school failed to notify parents. One mother of a kindergartner who attends Faith Ringgold School of Art and Science, a K-8 charter school in Hayward, Calif., said she asked her 5-year-old daughter what she was learning at school. The little girl replied, "We're learning to be allies."

The mother also said a Gay Straight Alliance club regularly meets in the kindergarten classroom during lunch. According to a Pacific Justice Institute report, Faith Ringgold opted not to inform the parents of its pro-homosexual activities beforehand. The school is celebrating "Gay and Lesbian History Month" and is in the process of observing "Ally Week," a pro-"gay" occasion usually geared toward high school students.

The school is scheduled to host discussions about families and has posted fliers on school grounds portraying only homosexuals. According to the report, a "TransAction Gender-Bender Read-Aloud" will take place Nov. 20. Students will listen to traditional stories with "gay" or transgender twists, to include "Jane and the Beanstalk."

Some parents only recently noticed posters promoting the school's "Coming Out Day" tomorrow - celebrated 12 days after the national "Coming Out Day" usually observed on Oct. 11. When WND contacted the school to confirm the event, a female representative replied, "Yes, it is scheduled on our calendar."

When asked if the school made any efforts to inform parents, she refused to answer and said Hayward Unified School District would have to respond to additional questions. However, the district did not answer its phones or e-mails, and a voicemail recording would not take messages. "Coming Out Day" is not listed on the district's online school calendar.

Some of the parents contacted Pacific Justice Institute for representation when they learned the school was pushing pro-"gay" events for young children without warning. Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, said opponents of California's proposed ban on same-sex marriage, or Proposition 8, often say the measure would not have an effect on public schools - but this is one of many recent developments that prove otherwise.

"Do we need any further proof that gay activists will target children as early as possible?" he asked. "Opponents of traditional marriage keep telling us that Prop. 8 has nothing to do with education. In reality, they want to push the gay lifestyle on kindergartners, and we can only imagine how much worse it will be if Prop. 8 is defeated. This is not a scenario most Californians want replayed in their elementary schools."


Friday, October 24, 2008

Effective Interactions With African-American Males

There is a new course being offered at UNC-Wilmington in the spring semester of 2009. Before I go any further, let me assure you that I'm not making this up. The course, called "Effective Interactions with African-American Males," is offered for credit in both the Social Work and Education departments. Unbelievably, it is offered, not just for senior credit, but for potential graduate credit, too. A brief course description may help readers understand why I've asserted for years that social work and education are in a tight race to determine which can become the most intellectually vacuous and least relevant discipline in academia. I've reprinted each of the two paragraphs of the course description with a few questions for the professor (Dr. Lethardus Goggins II) following each paragraph:

"Using an African-centered philosophical worldview and a racial socialization framework, this class will use participatory education to equip undergraduate and/or graduate students, to "better" understand and effectively work alongside and with young adult African-American men. The core tenets underlying this class are racial oppression exists, matters, is ubiquitous and pernicious and that those most affected are often ignorant of this reality."

1. A university course using an "African-centered worldview" is deemed to be chic. Could a course call itself "white-centered" or even "European-centered" and garner the same enthusiasm from the diversity crowd?

2. If your answer to #1 was "no," is the diversity crowd really diverse?

3. Does "racial socialization" include constant discussion of race on behalf of social work professors? If they could ever shut up, could we as a country experience "racial un-socialization"? Wouldn't that be better?

4. Why the derisive quotes around "better"? Is there some suggestion that whites are not at all good at understanding and working around black males?

5. What if I am a postmodernist and believe that racial oppression really isn't an objective truth? What if my truth is that racial oppression exists only in social work and education classes?

6. Are the terms "ubiquitous" and "pernicious" African-centered or European-centered? What about the term "ignorant"?

7. Blacks (about 12% of the population) usually choose a white victim when committing armed robbery. Aside from carrying a handgun, how do whites make those interactions with African-American males more effective?

"Students will critically examine the social and emotional effects of racism on academic, occupational, cultural and relational well-being of African-American males. Students will discuss relevant readings, media analysis, community-based research, and self-reflection. Students will also examine and develop strategies to restore a healthy definition of African-American manhood and its significance for self, family, and community relationships; culminating in a community restoration initiative proposal."

8. Will students in "Effective Interactions with African-American Males" critically examine split infinitives?

9. Will the "relevant readings" in this course include articles by Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, and John McWhorter?

10. How much class time will be spent on self-reflection?

11. Does today's college student really need to spend more time thinking about himself?

12. Does self-reflection ever lead to self-absorption? Does it ever lead to greater social consciousness, or concern for others?

13. Has there not already been enough talk about African American males' "manhood"? Isn't most of it stereotypical?

14. What would happen if you talked to a member of the Crips or the Bloods about "self," "family," and "community relationships"? Do you think he might pop a cap in your ass? Do you think he might make you his girlfriend?

15. How do I learn more about this "community restoration initiative proposal"? Will it be submitted to a community organizer?

16. And, finally, why were copies of your new course description sent to the Upperman African American Cultural Center? How can we have effective interactions with you when you continue to segregate yourselves from us?

I once believed the diversity crowd when it claimed an interest in bringing blacks and whites together for more meaningful interaction. Now I see them as specious and downright deceptive. I almost detect a colored quality in their statements.


Bill Ayers' Scary Plans for Public Schools

Will William Ayers be secretary of education in a Barack Obama administration? All parents should ponder that possibility before making their choice for president on Nov. 4. After all, Ayers is a friend of Obama, and professor Ayers's expertise is training teachers and developing public school curriculum. That's been his mission since he gave up planting bombs in government buildings (including the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon) and assaulting police officers.

Ayers brashly admitted that he was "guilty as hell" in planting bombs in the 1970s, and that he has no regrets and feels that he and his Weather Underground associates "didn't do enough." After successfully avoiding trial and prison because of legal technicalities, he picked up his Ph.D. at Columbia Teachers College for a second career, landing a tenured job as distinguished professor of education at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

Ayers's political views are as radical now as they were in the 1970s. "Viva President Chavez!" he exclaimed in a speech in Venezuela in 2006, in which he also declared, "education is the motor-force of revolution."

From his prestigious and safe university position, Ayers has been teaching teachers and students in rebellion against American capitalism and what he calls "imperialism" and "oppression." The code words for the Ayers curriculum are "social justice," a "transformative" vision, "critical pedagogy," "liberation," "capitalist injustices," "critical race theory," "queer theory," and of course multiculturalism and feminism.

That language is typical in the readings that Ayers assigns in his university courses. He admits he is a "communist street fighter" who has been influenced by Karl Marx, as well as Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh and Malcolm X.

Ayers speaks openly of his desire to use America's public school classrooms to train a generation of revolutionaries who will overturn the U.S. social and economic regime. He teaches that America is oppressive and unjust, socialism is the solution, and wealth and resources should be redistributed.

In Ayers's course called "On Urban Education," he calls for a "distribution of material and human resources." His left-wing notions would be very compatible with those of Obama, who publicly told Joe the Plumber that we should "spread the wealth."

Ayers's books are among the most widely used in America's education schools. Ayers even uses science and math courses as part of his "transformative" political strategy to teach that the American economic system is unjust.

Ayers is an endorser of a book called "Queering Elementary Education" by William J. Letts IV and James T. Sears, a collection of essays to teach adults and children to "think queerly." The blurb on the cover quotes Ayers as saying this is "a book for all teachers . and, yes, it has an agenda."

Unfortunately, Ayers's far-out education theories are already having an effect in education schools. One after another, teachers colleges are using their courses to promote socialist notions of wealth distribution, "social justice," diversity and environmentalism, and to punish students who resist this indoctrination by giving them low grades or even denying them graduation.

The U.S. Department of Education lists 15 high schools whose mission statements declare that their curricula center on "social justice."

Propaganda about Obama is already finding favor with textbook publishers. The McDougal Littell 8th-grade advanced-English literature book (copyright 2008, Houghton Mifflin Co.) has 15 pages featuring Obama and his "life of service."

Most of Ayers's socialist propaganda is financed with taxpayer money at state universities and teachers colleges. Some of the schools that have adopted Ayers-style pedagogy have received grants from ACORN or from Bill Gates' charitable foundation.

You might assume that Ayers's political ideas would put him on the outer fringe of the left-wing education establishment. However, his peers recently elected him to serve as vice president for curriculum in the American Education Research Association, the largest organization of education school professors and researchers.

Is an appointment to the U.S. Department of Education his next career advancement? Is Ayers's transformative public school curriculum the kind of "change" Obama will bring us?


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Quis docebit ipsos magistes?

Literacy tests for trainee British teachers show that those who can't spell, teach

Thousands of trainee teachers are struggling to pass literacy tests that require them to spell words such as anxiety, relieved and mathematical. More than 11,000 trainee teachers, just over a quarter of the annual intake, failed to pass the literacy test last year at their first attempt, an increase of 16 per cent since 2001. The findings have prompted concern that new teachers may be struggling with the basic skills they will be charged with passing on to pupils.

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat schools spokesman, said: "Spelling is a key basic skill. We need a renewed focus on getting the basics right. "As the number of applicants being accepted on to teaching courses rises, we need to be sure that this isn't being coupled with a decline in standards. The existing minimum qualifications for people wanting to become teachers are too low." Mr Laws said that the economic slowdown should be used as an opportunity to promote teaching as a profession and attract top graduates.

The tests, which are taken online by students training for primary and secondary schools, are designed to raise standards in the profession. Trainees can take them as many times as they want.

Although teachers must have good GCSE passes in English, maths and science and a degree to work in English state schools, the tests were introduced in 2000/01 amid concerns that teacher training did not provide a sufficient grounding in the basics. The figures, obtained by the Liberal Democrats in a Commons written answer, show that the failure rate in numeracy has also risen since the tests were first introduced. Last year 20,000 trainee teachers failed to pass the numeracy test at the first attempt. On average, around half the students had to take the test twice before passing. In ICT, 4,000 failed the test first time.

Research this year from the Spelling Society found that more than half of adults could not spell embarrassed or millennium. A quarter struggled with definitely, accidentally and separate.

The survey found that Britons blame the current state of poor spelling on parents and teachers, with three out of four people believing that spelling among children is worse now than it was ten years ago.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families said that the quality of teacher training had never been higher. "The vast majority of trainee teachers pass all three tests first time round and the bottom line is that no one can start teaching until they have passed them," the department said. "More top-quality teachers than ever before are entering the profession from industry, the public sector and universities, thanks to highest-ever pay levels, golden hellos, better behaviour and discipline, and slashed paperwork."

The Training and Development Agency for Schools said that the average pass rate across all three subjects was more than 83 per cent.



Three current articles below

Literacy skills shock for NSW public schools

Only North shore (affluent area) kids do well. Once again "modern" methods fail the poor

One in five children at NSW public schools is at or below minimum literacy levels, with little real improvement despite a large increase in Government spending, a new report has found. And children in country areas generally fare worse than their city cousins, with the gap increasing. "Compared to 10 years ago, the NSW Government has spent over three times more money on improving literacy and numeracy, yet there has been little real improvement," NSW Auditor-General Peter Achterstraat said in his report. "The problem is that children that are at risk are not being adequately identified and are difficult to track through the education system."

The report found that the NSW Department of Education should have a greater focus on the child at risk, not on the school in which he or she is enrolled, and that there needs to be better training for teachers of those children most at risk. "Our children are the most important asset that our society has, and if we don't focus more closely on them now as individuals, then we are failing in our responsibility to the next generation," Mr Achterstraat said. "Just as importantly, we have a responsibility to the community in planning a better future for NSW."

The report found that the percentage of students below the minimum level for literacy was 14 per cent for western NSW, the worst in the state, followed by 12.2 per cent in New England and 11.4 per cent in both the Riverina and on the North Coast. The best area for literacy was northern Sydney's 1.4 per cent, in contrast to 10.8 per cent in the city's south-west.

With numeracy, the percentage of students below the minimum level was 13.5 per cent in western NSW, while the best was 2 per cent in northern Sydney, and 10.8 per cent in the south-west of the city. In broad terms, indigenous students were two to three times worse than other students.


Out of control schools in poor area

Nothing that old-fashioned discipline wouldn't cure.

UP to 22 students a day are suspended from a school in Brisbane's south which can't cope with soaring levels of violent and extreme behaviour. The Queensland Teachers' Union made the shocking claim as 3000 of its members continued rolling strikes to highlight disadvantage at 54 Logan-Albert-Beaudesert schools. [A lower socio-economic area]

The union said inadequate funding contributed to escalating violence at schools in the region where students regularly assaulted or threatened staff and their peers. Smoking, drugs, truancy, abusive language and unsafe behaviours like tackling were other common triggers for suspension. The Courier-Mail recently reported suspensions were up 25 per cent at Gold Coast and Ipswich schools, which includes those in Logan and Beaudesert, since 2005-06.

"A Logan high school has had up to 22 suspensions a day," former Logan teacher and QTU organiser Penny Spalding said. "For some of those schools it's not uncommon, so (an administrator's and teacher's) workload is tremendous. "It's getting worse and I think society understands teenage behaviour is getting more challenging."

QTU president Steve Ryan said this week's strikes, which end today, were aimed at drawing an additional $40 million from the Government in a "needs-based" approach to unique problems facing Logan-Albert and Beaudesert schools.

Education Queensland said yesterday it could not confirm nor deny that a Logan school handed out 22 suspensions a day because it had no school-by-school data. A spokeswoman for Education Minister Rod Welford said he recognised the challenges of schools in low socio-economic areas. She said the department had invested $1.7 million to tackle truancy and improve outcomes at large state schools in economically disadvantaged areas.

It is common practice to put suspended students into out-of-school Positive Learning Centres, where trained behavioural teachers implement behaviour modification programs. However, when a student's behaviour disrupts the class but does not warrant suspension they are often sent to what Education Queensland has dubbed Responsible Thinking Classrooms. "Schools are having to beg, borrow and steal to run them," Ms Spalding said. "They are the lifeline of some of these Logan schools."

The union claimed the region's schools needed more behaviour management resources and staff, particularly for Prep to Year 3 and Year 8 classes. A Queensland Teachers' Union spokeswoman said the parents of some Logan/Beaudesert region students spoke little English and were not involved enough in their child's education, both traits associated with low socio-economic areas.


Leftist bigotry in schools

At one of Sydney's best private girls schools, Year 8 geography students opened their term three materials on changing global relationships to read the following definition: "Globalisation is what happens when you lose your job in Brunswick, Bankstown or Elizabeth because the company for which you work has been bought out by the Australian subsidiary of a Dallas-based transnational company that has decided to relocate its production of T-shirts to Mexico because of cheaper wage costs and lower health and safety standards."

Assuming it was a scholarly attempt to provoke robust debate, I searched the students' materials for the other side to the globalisation and free-trade story. Alas, there wasn't one. No facts explaining how globalisation and trade have lifted millions of people out of poverty, improving living standards, mortality rates, education, training and the like.

The geography teacher who stands in front of his teenage students is surely entitled to his view that globalisation is an evil force. He is not, however, entitled to use his position to indoctrinate his young charges. And that is why, as his students edge towards their final school years, facing assessments and exams that will determine their future, they should have a copy of Mark Lopez's The Little Black Schoolbook tucked away in their schoolbags. Launched last week in Melbourne, Lopez's book is aimed at exposing the bias within the classroom so that students can turn it to their advantage rather than bombing in exams by courageously trying to tackle the received political wisdom in schools and universities.

Expect howls of derision from critics who deny that teachers express and impose political orthodoxy in the classroom. But Lopez, a high school tutor, has seen many of his students submit brilliant work only to receive mediocre marks because an essay did not accord with their teacher's views on a subject. Just as I, and many parents, have watched in disbelief when students have crafted thoughtful opposition to orthodoxies such as Al Gore's position on climate change, only to be marked down for no other reason than the teacher's personal views.

Just as we have read about it in this newspaper, where educators such as Kevin Donnelly have exposed education bureaucrats politicising school curriculums by requiring a "critical-postmodernist pedagogy".

Refreshingly, Lopez's book is not a whinge about the classroom being infected with Marxist, feminist and postmodern perspectives. Instead it offers up constructive lessons for students to beat the bias in the system. That means more than learning conventional study skills. It means being street-smart enough to recognise the limitations of some teachers. And it means knowing that some teachers will ask for a well-argued essay but reward essays that reflect their own biases.

One of his Year 12 students was asked to do a research essay on Lenin's New Economic Policy. His first draft was a well-researched, well-argued essay that received a C. Lopez told his student to go back to his notes, work out his teacher's understanding of the topic and then redraft the essay to omit everything that differed from his teacher's opinions. The teacher awarded the redraft an A grade.

In many respects, Lopez's book is a depressing read. We should not need a book that advises students that "your campaign for straight As must begin by establishing a psychological profile of your examiner. Make your teacher's bias your friend, because if you do not it will be a formidable enemy."

We should not need a book that explains the continuing effect of the 1960s counter-culture on teaching and school curriculums. Or a book that draws on real-life experiences within the education system to help students identify how political ideology affects the examination and assessment, how to hunt for clues from prescribed reading materials and decipher questions to work out what answer would align with a teacher's views.

Or a book that helps students identify the politically correct answers: if you are asked to take a side in the "women in combat" debate, argue in favour, using feminist grounds of equal opportunity. "In a dispute between animal rights groups and duck hunters, if you side with the hunters you are a dead duck," he writes.

But students do need precisely such a book. Better to be aware of the realities and learn to play the game. Those who have used Lopez's advice have used it wisely. "Rather than being buffeted by fate, these students took responsibility for their education and succeeded," he writes.

Neither should we need a Senate hearing into academic freedom. But, again, reality trumps hope. In his submission to the inquiry a few weeks ago, historian Keith Windschuttle revealed why he is detested by his academic opponents. There is no emotion, no hyperbole from Windschuttle. Just a devastating list of facts, quoting academics to prove the politicisation of scholarship and skewering any pretence of objectivity. He cites Australian historian Henry Reynolds, who admits that his first major work, The Other Side of the Frontier, "was not conceived, researched or written in a mood of detached scholarship". And this from Reynolds: "History should not only be relevant but politically utilitarian."

Windschuttle exposes feminist historian Marilyn Lake for admitting "the writing of history is a political activity". He reveals how the search for truth was abandoned by academics who treat the alleged genocidal activities in Australia as equivalent to the Nazi Holocaust. Name after name, extract after extract, the bias of history teaching by prominent Australian academics is laid bare.

The inquiry is a Stalinist exercise, say critics. Wrong. Windschuttle is no fan of government intervention. He told The Australian that it is a fundamental tenet of Western civilisation that institutions must remain independent of the state. The purpose of the inquiry, like Lopez's book, is to expose political orthodoxy in the education system. Sunlight, after all, can be a powerful disinfectant.

We should name and shame academics who breach their scholarly duty to objectivity. And university vice-chancellors with spine should do more to promote intellectual diversity rather than caving in to the rigid orthodoxy of political academics.

That said, overzealousness won't help the cause of exposing classroom indoctrination. Nitpicking over trivial episodes won't either. It will only serve to undermine the genuine cases of blatant political bias that should be exposed.

In an ideal world, the classroom and lecture theatre would not be used as tools of indoctrination. In the real world, it happens too often. Students may as well know about it, understand why it exists and learn how to play the game to win. If that process improves the education system by reminding educators that they, too, are being assessed for their intellectual rigour or lack of it, so much the better.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Obama ubiquitous in American schools

The Obama Campaign has infiltrated college and graduate school campuses throughout the United States. One day last week, on my way to class I was asked if I wanted to sign-up to volunteer for the Obama Campaign. On my way to my seat, I passed a student with an Obama button pinned to her shirt. Before my evening seminar, one of my fellow classmates handed out Obama bumper stickers.

Even away from law school in the comfort of my home I am told that as a young person I should be voting for Obama. In a spoof of ads encouraging parents to talk to their children about drugs, smoking and sex, Penn Badgley and Blake Lively, stars of Gossip Girl, along with some other young people implore young people to, "talk to your parents about John McCain." Sponsored by, the ad opens with Badgley saying, "Mom, Dad, I found this in your room today," as he holds up a trucker hat that reads, "Drill Baby Drill, McCain-Palin 2008." It ends with Lively offering, "And if you're ever out somewhere and you're considering voting for McCain, just call me, and I'll pick you up. No questions asked."

Students are being pressured by their peers and young Hollywood actors to vote for Obama. Voting for Obama is being sold as the cool thing to do. According to the ad, it is time for young people to even have "The Talk" with their parents to convince them to vote for Obama. It should be the other way around: Parents should be initiating another version of "The Talk" with their college-aged children, but this time not about drugs, alcohol or sex-instead, about the upcoming election.

And if parents think this is a difficult topic to cover, author Hugh Hewitt has articulated the case for young people to think again about voting for Barack Obama in his pamphlet, Letter to a Young Obama Supporter.

Hewitt approaches this topic with the seriousness it deserves, laying out the arguments specifically to appeal to young people. He writes, "There are tremendously appealing reasons to support Senator Obama, especially for young people who think the country is broken, its politics bitter and boring, elected officials stupid and President Bush and Vice President Cheney at best incompetent and at worst evil. The only way to change a young voter's mind about supporting Obama will be to sincerely and persuasively explain to them why the charismatic senator from Illinois would be a disaster as the president and how that will gravely impact their future. In short, you have to make an adult case to your adult children based on the facts."

Ultimately, Hewitt argues that Obama is not ready to be President in a time of war and economic uncertainty. His writing style is easy to digest and he gets straight to the point, "Let me be blunt: The government never gives productive people their money back in equivalent economic benefits."

Rather than writing in the abstract, Hewitt uses examples that resonate with young voters. For instance, instead of getting bogged down in the details of Social Security and Medicare, he addresses these topics by asking, "In fact, if your parents are relatively healthy and relatively young, the retirement system isn't even going to be able to keep the commitments it made to them unless those changes are made. Are you ready to step in? Are you ready to have them move in with you?" This question should wake up young people.

Discussing politics can be challenging. But parents should not leave it to other students or Hollywood actors to educate their children on sensitive topics. They should play an active role in educating their children on the candidates. We may roll our eyes, but we are listening.


Lockstep Leftism in Australian academe

Have a different opinion? Think again. The debate is over. A highly politicised ideological bias exists in academia - one harmful to students, damaging to standards and which threatens intellectual diversity - according to the majority of submissions to the Senate's academic freedom inquiry. In nearly all cases, this bias comes from one direction - the left. A prominent academic, Mervyn Bendle, in his submission says it "dominates research programs, publications and textbooks at all levels and therefore influences every aspect of education in Australia".

Pick any controversial issue today - Work Choices, anti-terror laws, Israel-Palestine, or climate change - and in academia these issues have been decided. There is only one accepted view on each - no debate is allowed.

Ask the Cardinal Newman Society at the University of Queensland. Earlier this year it had stalls outlining pregnancy-support options for women - a move that contradicted the student union's policy of safe, free abortion on demand. The Catholic student group was reprimanded, threatened with disaffiliation and faced formal disciplinary proceedings.

Heaven help anyone on campus, academic or student, who dares to question what Dr Bendle calls a "radical orthodoxy", characterised by "theories associated with neo-Marxism, postmodernism, feminism, radical environmentalism, anti-Americanism, anti-Christianity, and related ideologies". Bendle argues this entrenched left-wing culture has its roots in the counterculture of the 1960s. Yesterday's radicals are today's establishment, and now they will tolerate no dissent. Resistance is futile. You will be indoctrinated.

No recent research has been conducted into the ideological leanings of Australian educators, but in the US a 1999 study found more than 70 per cent of academics identified as left wing, compared to only 15 per cent as conservative. In some humanities departments, conservatives are outnumbered by up to 30 to one. The situation is so bad the University of Colorado recently debated creating a "chair of conservative thought" in a desperate attempt to restore some balance.

The scarcity of conservative intellectuals explains the barrage of attacks that emanated from academia during almost the entire term of the former government. These criticisms were on a wide range of different issues, from immigration to industrial relations. Some were justified, yet were almost always from a critical left-wing perspective. This lack of balance demonstrates the much-touted commitment to "diversity" mouthed by all academic institutions is only skin deep. Gender, ethnic and sexual diversity are all the rage, but intellectual diversity is ignored.

Many Australian educators are activists masquerading as academics, agitating for radical far-left causes well outside, and profoundly hostile to, the values of mainstream Australia. One example is Damien Riggs, of the University of Adelaide, who heads an association of academics that seek to "expose and challenge white-race privilege in Australia and elsewhere". His area of interest is "what it means to speak as a white queer person in a colonial nation".

Academics, like any other citizens, are perfectly entitled to their political opinions, however bizarre. The problem arises when these political views influence the content of their teaching. Take the former education union president Pat Byrne who in 2005 boasted that so-called progressive educators "had succeeded in influencing curriculum development in schools, education departments and universities".

Then there are the hundreds of subjects in the humanities, most of which reflect the Marxist obsessions of their lecturers. One subject on tourism "explores travel through themes such as gender, class, race, imperialism, war and . sexuality". Another on design considers "how architecture perpetuates the social order of gender".

One former trainee teacher, Beccy Merzi, told the inquiry: "I became so fed up and disgusted by the continual barrage of criticism of mainstream values, the lack of focus on practical ways of teaching, and the continual focus on minority groups, postmodernism, gender, queer and other studies that I abandoned my teaching degree. "

But it's not only the course content that is biased - it's lecturers' conduct. Submission after submission documented educators using their classrooms to promote their political views and belittling or marking down students who disagreed. "I have been abused and mocked by a lecturer in front of others for refusing to acknowledge the 'genocide occurring in Lebanon' during the Israeli-Lebanese war," one student, Joshua Koonin, told the inquiry.

It's high time that educators learnt that the principles of academic freedom apply equally to students as they do to their lecturers.


Unbalanced history teaching in Australian schools

A column about Australia by David Dale. (For non-Australian readers, witchetty grubs were traditionally regarded as a delicacy by Aborigines; 1770 was the first landing on the Eastern Australian coast by the British)

Think the unthinkable and say the unsayable. That's this column's readers. In recent days, they have advanced these propositions: 1) The best way to make school history lessons more interesting is to teach less about boomerangs and witchetty grubs and more about the Chinese communist party; 2) the best way to make the planet healthier and happier is not eating more kangaroos but eating vegans, ideally with ginger and black bean sauce. Yes, that was vegans, not veggies.

The way this column works is that we raise questions about national identity, and the readers answer them, usually by shredding conventional wisdoms. When I observed that Australian history, as traditionally taught, was likely to leave students with the impression that they lived in one of the most boring countries on earth, 57 readers replied.

Many urged the inclusion of more information about the people who were here before 1770. But Kate, who finished high school in 2005, complained: "Every year between year 3 and year 10 it was witchetty grubs, boomerangs, dispossession or reconciliation depending on how old you were. These are all very valuable topics and should be studied, but on and off for SEVEN YEARS? The statement that we were about to study either Australian or Aboriginal history was usually met with a groan.

"My favourite topics were the Cold War (and the Cuban Missile Crisis), the historiography (not history) of the Crusades, China under the CCP and the Industrial Revolution. Everything I've learnt in those subjects I've used a hundredfold since entering university. No one has asked me about witchetty grubs though...."

More here

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Australia: 'Activist' academics black-list under fire

Academics named as militant left-wing ideologues in a black list tabled in federal parliament claim they are victims of a Young Liberals "witch-hunt". While many of the black-listed academics admit that humanities and social science faculties are dominated by progressives, they say bias is not a serious problem in Australian universities. The list of more than 30 academics who are described as "unashamed activists for political and ideological causes such as radical feminism, animal rights and gay rights" has been published on the Young Liberals' website. It was submitted to a Senate inquiry on academic freedom in schools and universities.

Among those on the Young Liberals' list are controversial philosopher Peter Singer, feminist and activist Eva Cox, former ABC Four Corners producer and now journalism lecturer Peter Manning, and UNSW's Sarah Maddison. [What? The openly Communist Hannah Middleton is missed out?]

"The way they've gone about this has the smell of a witch-hunt," said Dr Maddison, senior associate dean in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of NSW. "They don't want to create public discussion about the quality of education, they want to score political points." Dr Maddison - an expert in women's rights and indigenous politics - said "there is probably a grain of truth" in the notion that humanities academics are more left-wing than the general population. Regular student feedback surveys and existing grievance policies already protected against bias, she said. [How?]

UNSW deputy vice-chancellor (academic) Richard Henry said he had full confidence in the independence and integrity of his staff. "It's ironic that in the name of academic freedom people have created a black list that decreases academic freedom." He said the Senate inquiry into academic freedom - due to report on November 11 - was a waste of taxpayers' money.

Young Liberals national president Noel McCoy, who compiled the list from student complaints and his own Google searching, disagreed. "We don't want a dependent society of zombies who have only had the opportunity to hear one set of ideas," he said. Mr McCoy said that 49 out of the 68 submissions to the inquiry argued that bias was a problem in Australian schools and universities.

Wendy Bacon, program director of journalism at Sydney's University of Technology, said the list was about "mud-slinging and branding", not academic freedom. [Wendy comes from an old Communist family and has been far-Left as long as anyone can remember]


I am guilty as charged of bias and prejudice

By Peter Slezak

Sleazy Peter is not joking in the article excerpted below. He is indeed a far-Leftist bigot, though one with a nice voice. He is even one of those most execrable characters: An anti-Israel Jew. But everything he says below is reasonable -- on one condition: That viewpoints opposed to his are also frequently presented to students. That does not happen, of course. If he really believed in the sorts of things he advocates below, he would be preaching conservatism and reaction to his students -- because no-one else is. When will his students hear a lecture from Peter on the good points of the old White Australia policy, for instance? There is a philosophically-sophisticated lecture outline for him here. Such a lecture would be a REAL Socratic challenge to authority

I should probably be writing under a pseudonym. If submissions to the [Australian] Senate inquiry into bias and academic freedom are taken seriously, I'm in trouble. As a university lecturer, I confess my teaching and publications are thoroughly biased, riddled with prejudice and entirely lacking in even-handedness.

I am undeniably guilty of the sins the submissions warn against. My reading lists are not representative of all points of view. My lectures not only criticise but sometimes ridicule views I regard as misguided and pernicious nonsense - often the views of other colleagues. I vigorously assert my prejudices without any pretence of neutrality. I confront my students and provoke them to defend their views, especially when I disagree with them, which is most of the time. In short, I am precisely the kind of academic who some submissions propose to deal with by means that include disciplinary procedures and even sacking.....

Like regular charges of left-wing bias against the ABC, the moral panic evident in submissions to the Senate inquiry rests on a certain implicit, though questionable, assumption - namely, that only deviation from prevailing orthodoxy constitutes bias. Conventional views are presumed neutral, and the possibility is never entertained they may be invisibly, systematically biased in the other direction. It follows that the regular complaints of bias and proposed remedies are a form of harassment designed to maintain doctrinal conformity....

However, the highest educational ideals require precisely the reverse attitude - that is, encouraging the exploration of alternatives to preferred, taken-for-granted views. As Bertrand Russell remarked, education should make students think, not to think what their teacher (or government) thinks.....

In his classic 1859 essay On Liberty, J.S. Mill famously articulated the principles at stake: the need to protect and, indeed, encourage unpopular opinion against the "tyranny of the majority". This tyranny may be "more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since... it leaves fewer means of escape .... enslaving the soul itself".

Mill argues counter-intuitively that preventing opinions from being heard because they are regarded as not merely false but immoral, impious or pernicious is the case that is "most fatal", for "these are exactly the occasions on which the men of one generation commit those dreadful mistakes, which excite the astonishment and horror of posterity".

Socrates and Christ were put to death for challenging authority. Mill says their executors were not bad men; on the contrary they were "men who possessed in a full, or somewhat more than a full measure, the religious, moral, and patriotic feelings of their time and people".


Monday, October 20, 2008

Academics sign on in support of Bill Ayers

In academic leftist circles, it has become a badge of honor to proclaim support for unrepentant terror bomber Bill Ayers. Thousands of people claiming scholarly affiliation have already put up their names as signatories on a website in support of the man who wishes he had done more. See the remarkable website .

The much self-righteous posturing, of course, but the nub of the matter lies in this sentence.
The current characterizations of Professor Ayers---"unrepentant terrorist," "lunatic leftist"---are unrecognizable to those who know or work with him.

For alleged scholars to dispute the accuracy of "unrepentant terrorist" is remarkable. By his own word he did indeed commit terrorist acts, and he has never indicated any penance. He may well be a dedicated worker and a hail fellow well met. He is also a revolutionary who put down the gun only because it didn't work, but is dedicated to the same cause through means of subversion. He aligns with Hugo Chavez and Castro's Cuba against the United States.

The scholars mobilizing in support of Ayers are not protesting his jailing, torture, or physical abuse. They are protesting people criticizing him. Apparently, to them, he is a noble individual who should be above criticism. In a world in which even Mother Teresa is the subject of a scathing biography, criticism of a man who bombed the United States Capitol is beyond the pale.

The fact that academic is rife with these sentiments demonstrates the triumph of the left in implementing the plans of Antonio Gramsci. I wonder how many of them se nothing wrong with this?


Public Schools Are a Threat to Our Freedom

In 1940 teachers reported their major problems were talking, gum chewing, noise, running in halls, and cutting in line. In 1990 the problems were assault, robbery, drug abuse, and pregnancy. Forty-three percent of teachers now say they spend more time trying to keep order than teaching. A United States Department of Education 2006 report disclosed that the average is 45 crimes per 1000 students in public schools---and ONLY 28 violent crimes per 1000 students. School shootings are extreme cases of a grimmer fact---public schools have grown increasingly dangerous.

Just looking at my home state is alarming. A 2005 Associated Press report revealed that during the period of 2000-2004 West Virginia dismissed 41 teachers for sexual misconduct.

A Hofstra University professor believes that educator sexual misconduct is "woefully understudied". The Sexuality Information and Education Council (SIECUS for short) produces lessons for "sex ed" classes known as "Programs That Work". Parents probably do not know that SIECUS criticizes "abstinence-only-until-marriage" curricula as "based on religious beliefs (that) rely on fear and shame". SIECUS also complains that these abstinence programs do not view homosexuality as normal. SIECUS promotes policies, like what we have in West Virginia, where the school can provide birth control without consulting parents.

Trying to reform public schools is like putting a finger in a bucket of water. After the finger is removed the water returns to where it was originally. In the meantime our children remain in danger zones. Loving parents would not allow their children to walk through a mine field just because they see some children making it through without getting maimed. Once the mine explodes it is too late. It is time for thinking parents to remove their children from the public schools and either homeschool them or place them in private schools.

A critic of public schools once said, "Humanist taxidermists have done well. Public schools are hollow shells, a stuffed charade, a glass-eyed cadaver. They have knowledge without wisdom and facts without truth."

Parents are usually unaware of messages that are conveyed to their children "under the radar". For example, the Early Childhood Equity Alliance (ECEA), a network of activist educators promotes a teachers guide for teachers of young children (pre-kindergarten) that portrays the Navy's Blue Angels as heartless killers who could bomb innocent American kids.

Public schools are operated like prisons with medical sedation, metal detectors, uniformed officers, searches by drug sniffing dogs, and video surveillance. Totalitarian regimes have always claimed that children belong to them. "For this reason we have set before ourselves the task of inoculating our youth with the spirit of this community of the people at a very early age.and this Reich will give its youth to no one, but will itself take the youth and give to youth its own education and its own upbringing." Everyone knows who made that statement.

Public schools are really government schools and the more the government controls of any thing, the less effective it becomes. A monopolistic system of education that is controlled by the State is far more efficient in crushing our liberty than weapons of war.

We do not need more reform. We have wasted millions (perhaps billions) of dollars on utopian efforts to reform public schools. Every president, since the Department of Education was formed, has had a utopian plan to solve the problems raging through the public schools. History has proven, beyond all reasonable doubt, that pouring money into public schools is crazy. We merely pay for our own subjugation! The time is now for parents to seek educational freedom by placing their children in home or private schools.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Model of Successful Education Reform

For years, education reformers have struggled to find strategies to improve opportunities for disadvantaged children and eliminate the achievement gap between minority students and their peers. On Capitol Hill, decades of new programs and increased government spending on education have failed to achieve significant improvement.

But, there is new reason for hope that serious education reforms can make a lasting difference. After a decade of aggressive statewide reforms, students in Florida have made impressive strides on national exams, which should cause policymakers from around the country to study what's happening in the Sunshine State.

On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Florida students are outpacing the national average on improvement in reading and math. Between 1998 and 2007, Florida 4th graders gained nearly 9 percent on the NAEP reading test compared to 4 percent improvement across the nation. Florida students are also outpacing the nation in progress on math exams.Importantly, the greatest gains have been made by Hispanic and African American students. For example, African American and Hispanic students' 4th grade reading scores have risen by 12 percent and 10 percent respectively since 1998, ahead of their peers across the nation.Compared to students around the nation, Florida's minority children are making dramatic progress. In fact, Hispanic 4th graders in Florida now have higher reading scores than the statewide average of all students in 15 states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

What is responsible for this progress? We tried to answer that question in a new paper for the Goldwater Institute: "Demography Defeated: Florida's K-12 Reforms and Their Lessons for the Nation." Thanks largely to the leadership of former Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida implemented sweeping education reforms to set challenging standards, expand school choice options, hold public schools and students accountable for results, and improve teacher quality. Some of Florida's most promising reforms include:

- Standards and Accountability: Three years before state-testing was required by No Child Left Behind, Florida implemented a plan to test the majority of public school students annually and grade schools based on students' achievement. Test scores track students' progress over time to allow parents and teachers to gauge whether a child is learning.

- Ending Social Promotion: Students are held accountable for results, too. Third-grade students must be able to pass the state's reading test before moving on to fourth grade. In 2006, approximately 29,000 were identified for retention. Struggling students are provided remedial instruction.

- Focusing on Reading: Florida launched a statewide initiative to improve reading instruction. New reading academies were created to train teachers about how to provide better instruction. Two thousand reading coaches were hired to improve learning in schools across the state. Older students in grades 6 through 12 have access to reading instruction to provide remediation.

- Expanding School Choice Options: Florida is a leader in offering families school choice options. The state has more than 300 charter schools which are educating more than 100,000 students. Thousands of disadvantaged children and special education students are attending private schools using tuition scholarships.

- Improving Teacher Quality: Florida has implemented policies to attract talented teachers and reward those who are succeeding in the classroom. An alternative certification program allows talented professionals who don't have traditional teaching credentials to enter the classroom. Approximately half of all new teachers are being hired this way. Performance bonuses are awarded to successful schools to reward teachers who are lifting students' academic achievement.

It is impossible to conclude which of these reforms has made the biggest contribution to improving students' academic achievement and reducing the achievement gap. In all likelihood, the combination of these reforms is responsible for the improvement. But we review the existing academic research evidence in our study and find that studies report that reforms like holding schools accountable, ending social promotion, and expanding school choice are contributing to the improvement.

Given the breadth of Florida's reforms and the encouraging test scores as evidence, we hope that researchers continue to study the Sunshine State to help policymakers understand just how these reforms are making a difference. In the meantime, policymakers across the country would be wise to follow Florida's path in implementing this broad range of promising education reforms.Florida is proving that all children can succeed. If states across the nation can follow Florida's lead and replicate this success, millions of children - especially low-income and ethnic minority students - will have hope for a brighter future


Math Skills Suffer in U.S., Study Finds

The United States is failing to develop the math skills of both girls and boys, especially among those who could excel at the highest levels, a new study asserts, and girls who do succeed in the field are almost all immigrants or the daughters of immigrants from countries where mathematics is more highly valued.

The study suggests that while many girls have exceptional talent in math - the talent to become top math researchers, scientists and engineers - they are rarely identified in the United States. A major reason, according to the study, is that American culture does not highly value talent in math, and so discourages girls - and boys, for that matter - from excelling in the field. The study will be published Friday in Notices of the American Mathematical Society.

"We're living in a culture that is telling girls you can't do math - that's telling everybody that only Asians and nerds do math," said the study's lead author, Janet E. Mertz, an oncology professor at the University of Wisconsin, whose son is a winner of what is viewed as the world's most-demanding math competitions. "Kids in high school, where social interactions are really important, think, `If I'm not an Asian or a nerd, I'd better not be on the math team.' Kids are self selecting. For social reasons they're not even trying."

Many studies have examined and debated gender differences and math, but most rely on the results of the SAT and other standardized tests, Dr. Mertz and many mathematicians say. But those tests were never intended to measure the dazzling creativity, insight and reasoning skills required to solve math problems at the highest levels, Dr. Mertz and others say.

Dr. Mertz asserts that the new study is the first to examine data from the most difficult math competitions for young people, including the USA and International Mathematical Olympiads for high school students, and the Putnam Mathematical Competition for college undergraduates. For winners of these competitions, the Michael Phelpses and Kobe Bryants of math, getting an 800 on the math SAT is routine. The study found that many students from the United States in these competitions are immigrants or children of immigrants from countries where education in mathematics is prized and mathematical talent is thought to be widely distributed and able to be cultivated through hard work and persistence.

The International Olympiad, which began in Romania in 1959, is considered to be the world's toughest math competition for high school students. About 500 students from as many as 95 countries compete each year, with contestants solving six problems in nine hours. (Question 5 from the 1996 test was famously difficult, with only six students out of several hundred able to solve it fully.)

The United States has competed in the Olympiad since 1974. Its six-member teams are selected over years of high-level contests, and trained during intensive summer math camps.

One two-time Olympiad gold medalist, 22-year-old Daniel M. Kane, now a graduate student at Harvard, is the son of Dr. Mertz and her husband, Jonathan M. Kane, a professor of mathematics and computer science at the University of Wisconsin, and a co-author of the study. The other two co-authors are Joseph A. Gallian, a math professor at the University of Minnesota and president of the Mathematical Association of America, and Titu Andreescu, a professor of math education at the University of Texas at Dallas and a former leader of the United States Olympiad team.

All members of the United States team were boys until 1998, when 16-year-old Melanie Wood, a cheerleader, student newspaper editor and math whiz from a public high school in Indianapolis, made the team. She won a silver medal, missing the gold by a single point. Since then, two female high school students, Alison Miller, from upstate New York, and Sherry Gong, whose parents emigrated to the United States from China, have made the United States team (they both won gold).

By comparison, relatively small Bulgaria has sent 21 girls to the competition since 1959 (six since 1988), according to the study, and since 1974 the highly ranked Bulgarian, East German/German and Soviet Union/Russian IMO teams have included 9, 10 and 13 girls respectively. "What most of these countries have in common," the study says, "are rigorous national mathematics curricula along with cultures and educational systems that value, encourage and support students who excel in mathematics."

Ms. Wood is now 27 and completing her doctorate in math at Princeton University. "There's just a stigma in this country about math being really hard and feared, and people who do it being strange," she said in a telephone interview. "It's particularly hard for girls, especially at the ages when people start doing competitions. If you look at schools, there is often a social group of nerdy boys. There's that image of what it is to be a nerdy boy in mathematics. It's still in some way socially unacceptable for boys, but at least it's a position and it's clearly defined."

More here

Fewer than half of British teenagers achieve basic set of A to C grades at GCSE (Middle school qualification)

Fewer than half of teenagers finish compulsory schooling with a basic set of GCSE qualifications including English and maths, official figures have revealed. Results for the first pupils to go through an entire education under Labour showed that 345,000 last year failed to meet the Government's benchmark for secondary school achievement. Despite a rise on 2007, only 47.2 per cent of pupils achieved the desired five A* to C-grade GCSEs including English and maths, leaving ministers struggling to hit a 53 per cent Treasury target by 2011. One in six pupils finished 11 years of compulsory schooling without achieving a single C grade in any subject.

The GCSE gender gap widened again with girls pulling further ahead. Teachers' leaders declared the scale of failure shameful but ministers insisted trends over the long term showed 'sustained improvement'. Figures for core subjects such as the three Rs, however, showed that attainment is rising more slowly than for other subjects. The proportion gaining any five GCSEs rose sharply to 64.6 per cent - 3.2 percentage points up on last year.

But the numbers able to count English and maths towards those five qualifications - the Government's preferred measure - went up just 0.9 per cent. Only 50 per cent of teenagers were awarded the Government's desired two Cs in science - up just 0.2 per cent on last year.

While the top-performing teenagers celebrated record numbers of A and A* grades, the figures sparked renewed concern over the fate of those at the other end of the spectrum. They showed that the proportion of pupils gaining five GCSEs including English and maths at any level - A* to G - fell 0.1 per cent to 87 per cent.

There was a mixed picture at A-level. The proportion of candidates achieving at least two A-levels was slightly down from last year's 95.2 per cent to 94.6 per cent. However the average point score per candidate was 733.5, up from 731.2 last year.

The gulf between independent schools and state comprehensives continued, with almost one in three pupils at fee-paying schools - 30.3 per cent - emerging with three As at A-level, against 7.6 per cent at comprehensives.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: 'It is good to see an improvement on last year's results, reflecting the hard work put in by teachers and pupils. 'But there are still far too many pupils leaving school without five A* to C grades including English and maths at GCSE. 'It is truly shameful that half the pupils in England do not achieve this level.'

David Laws, Liberal Democrat schools spokesman, said: 'It's completely unacceptable that so many children are still not getting a good basic set of qualifications. 'After 11 years of Labour promises, whatever happened to "education, education, education"?'

The Tories said the gap between rich and poor areas had widened. According to the figures, GCSE results will need to improve at twice their current rate if the Government is to meet its 2011 target. Ministers have introduced a new secondary curriculum with increased flexibility for schools to focus on the three Rs. Schools Minister Jim Knight said: 'These are very positive results that build on the improvements of the last decade.'

Only three in ten school-leavers score C grade or above in a languages GCSE The Government published the figure for the first time this year, aiming to shame schools which neglect languages. Only 30.6 per cent of pupils nationally achieved a good grade in a language this summer and school league tables due out next year will show the proportion at individual secondaries. These will allow parents to judge schools on their performance in languages for the first time. The poor showing follows a 2004 Government decision to make language learning optional for 14-year-olds. The slump in entries for language GCSEs has led to fears our school-leavers will be ill-equipped on the job market.

This summer only 382,228 took GCSEs in languages - down from 559,115 in 2002. French and German suffered particularly while Spanish entries rose but from a lower base. Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Turkish, Russian and Polish also rose but only a few thousand pupils took them. Fewer than a quarter of state schools require GCSE students to learn languages, according to a report last year. It found they are fast becoming the preserve of grammar and fee-paying schools as many comprehensives allow them to decline to 'extremely low levels'. Under plans to reduce academic demands on students, teenagers will be able to gain a 'short' course GCSE in a foreign language without having to show they can speak it. A second short course - worth half a GCSE - will focus only on speaking and listening, meaning students can pass it without ever reading or writing the language.