Saturday, March 28, 2009

Jeffrey Maxwell’s Silver Hammer

by Mike S. Adams

I like teaching police officers because it virtually assures that no one will ever go on a shooting spree in my building at UNC-Wilmington. The officers I teach are, of course, allowed to carry guns – and many do as they go on duty directly after attending classes. Because criminals a) are aware of this, and b) are generally rational, the next shooting rampage will not be happening in my general vicinity.

The fact that most academics are generally ignorant of the benefits of guns on campus is readily apparent to those following a recent case at Western Oregon University located in Monmouth, Oregon. The case involves a former Marine named Jeffrey Maxwell who used to carry a derringer to school along with a small knife. He carried both concealed.

Maxwell carries his gun because, like many former Marines, he has a license to do so. His permit allows him to carry although not in federal buildings or in courthouses. He was studying in the student union when Monmouth Police officers approached him to ask whether he was armed.

Maxwell admitted he had a gun and knife in his pocket and an unloaded rifle in his truck. He was arrested and cited for possessing a firearm in public. Of course, he was let go by a district attorney who recognized that Maxwell simply had not committed any crime. But the fact of his complete innocence didn’t stop the university from going after Maxwell.

The university should have apologized to Maxwell. Instead, a student judicial panel suspended him from school for violating a student conduct rule banning the possession of weapons on campus.

The Oregon legislature could try to pass a law banning firearms possession - even for those with concealed carry permits - in places other than courthouses or federally owned buildings. If they tried to pass such a law they could well succeed.

But, in this case, Maxwell’s decision to carry was not challenged by any change in state law. It was challenged by yet another lawless university trying to trump state law with its own handbook. (For those who have not noticed, universities also try frequently to trump federal law with their handbooks. Often, they try to do both at once. It’s an old trick that often succeeds without challenge).

But the Maxwell case involves a more novel trick. It involves having this falsely accused man (who, remember, served his country in the Marines) get a mental health evaluation before returning to school. This may be worse than Hamline University’s decision to suspend a student simply for advocating concealed weapons permits on campus. That student was also ordered to submit to a psychological evaluation before returning to school.

To make matters in this case even worse, Maxwell is being told to write a 10-page paper on following the law and accepting responsibility for his actions. This requirement is coming from a university that did not follow the law and, in fact, is trying to trump it. And the university seems unwilling to take responsibility for doing so.

Speaking for the Oregon university system, Di Saunders correctly asserts that the question of allowing concealed weapons on campus is one of student safety. But she incorrectly asserts that allowing permit holders to carry on campus will make the campus more dangerous. No peer-reviewed publication has ever come to that conclusion based on actual evidence. And many have come to a contrary conclusion.

But university administrators rarely make decisions based on evidence. Instead, they make decisions based upon feelings. How will they feel when the next Jeffrey Maxwell is unable to stop the next Seung-Hui Cho?


Teachers attack 'absurd' British plans to measure pupil happiness

Plans to grade schools based on pupils' happiness have been branded "meaningless" and "absurd". Headteachers said Government proposals for a radical overhaul of school inspections were too bureaucratic and would lead to schools in deprived areas being "castigated".

Under plans, schools will be rated on a range of measures including the take-up of lunches in canteens, the proportion of pupils doing two hours of sport a week, the quality of sex education lessons and relationship advice. Schools will also be measured on truancy, exclusions and the ability to promote "emotional resilience" in their pupils. The so-called wellbeing indicators could also be used in a "report card" system being proposed by the Government as a new way of ranking schools.

It follows a recent report from the Children's Society that said that competitive schooling, league tables and selfish parenting was creating a generation of miserable young people.

But the "happiness" measures are being opposed by teachers' leaders, who claim they are almost impossible to quantify. In response to an official Government consultation on the plan, the Association of School and College Leaders, which represents more than 14,000 secondary heads and deputies, said they were creating "widespread anxiety" in schools. The use of school lunches as a proxy for pupil wellbeing was "absurd", claimed the association, while exclusion rates said little about whether pupils were happy. Officials also warned that schools in the poorest areas would suffer because they admitted large numbers of problematic pupils.

The National Association of Head Teachers, which represents primary heads, said the plans were "fundamentally flawed".

The National Union of Teachers said the proposals would "simply reduce schools' work in this area to a checklist of Ofsted indicators". Another union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "We are disappointed that the Government is spending time and money developing indicators which will indicate nothing of any substance."

But Phil Revell, chief executive of the National Governors' Association, said: "The aim behind what the Government is trying to do – that schools should be reporting to parents on the basis of more holistic indicators than simply pupils' exam performance – is right. But the current set of measures are not good enough."

The comments come days after Carol Craig, chief executive of the Centre for Confidence and Wellbeing in Glasgow, said that teachers' drive to build their pupils' self-esteem had gone too far, with many parents unwilling to have their children criticised for fear it might damage their feelings.

Ofsted and the Government are due to respond to their consultation by the end of the month. An Ofsted spokeswoman said: "Early analysis of the consultation responses shows broad support for many aspects of the consultation. Many of the indicators proposed, including those derived from surveys of parents/carers and pupils and information about attendance and exclusions, are invaluable. They will help schools to evaluate and compare aspects of their own practice with schools nationally, as well providing evidence for Ofsted inspections."


Filipino teachers for America

More than 100 school districts, including at least 20 in California, are recruiting in the Philippines to fill teacher shortages in math, science and special education.

Filipino exchange teacher Ferdinand Nakila landed in Los Angeles expecting "Pretty Woman" scenes of swank Beverly Hills boulevards and glittering celebrities. What he got was Inglewood, where he stayed for two weeks in temporary housing and encountered drunkards, beggars, trash-filled streets and nightly police sirens.

It got worse. In training sessions about American classrooms he received in the Philippines, he was told his students might not be quite as polite and respectful as those in his homeland. Nothing, however, prepared him for the furious brawl that broke out in one of his Los Angeles classrooms, where two girls rolled around on the floor clawing at each other while the other students jumped on the desks and cheered.

But Nakila said his American sojourn has transformed him into a far better educator than when he arrived in August 2007. In the Philippines, he was imperious and demanding, throwing students out of his classroom for inadequate preparation with little thought of their plight.

In Los Angeles, his daily encounters with students struggling to learn despite shattered homes, sexual abuse, physical violence or hunger have humbled him into a new vision of teaching. "I realize we are servants and teaching is more about touching lives and helping students own their own learning," said Nakila, 38, a special education teacher in English at Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles.

Nakila is part of a recent wave of foreign exchange teachers from the Philippines, who are primarily being recruited to fill chronic teacher shortages in math, science and special education throughout the United States. More than 100 school districts, including at least 20 in California, are recruiting from the Philippines, said Los Angeles immigration attorney Carl Shusterman.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has hired 250 to 300 teachers from the Philippines -- the largest contingent among more than 600 foreign exchange teachers overall, a district official said. The statewide budget crisis and impending layoffs, however, have prompted L.A. Unified to suspend its foreign recruitment this year, said Deborah Ignagni, a district human resources administrator.

Ignagni said the L.A. district first began recruiting foreign exchange teachers in the 1980s from Mexico and Spain to help with bilingual elementary education. But it shifted to the Philippines and Canada for math, science and special education teachers in the last four years, she said. L.A. school officials have tapped the Philippines for several reasons, Ignagni said. The higher education system is similar, so credits are easily transferable for U.S. teaching credentials.

The Philippines has an abundance of teachers, which allows U.S. recruiters to avoid perceptions that they are taking educational resources needed by Filipinos, Ignagni said. And most Filipinos speak English and can understand some Spanish, which is embedded in the Filipino language as a result of Spain's 300-year colonization of the islands.

Many of the teachers themselves say they jumped at the chance to work in the United States, lured primarily by far better pay. Most teachers in the Philippines earn $300 to $400 a month, less than one-tenth what they can pull down in Los Angeles. But high processing fees from recruitment and visa sponsoring agencies have strapped many with debts of $10,000 or more. Some, such as Gelacio Aguilar, sold land in the Philippines to finance their ventures. Others scraped up money from family and friends; still others took out loans.

To be hired in L.A. Unified, the teachers must pass basic skills exams and interviews, fulfill the requirements for a California teaching credential and have three to five years of successful teaching experience in public schools.

The teachers had hoped for work visas that would potentially lead to green cards. But L.A. Unified brings them in on three-year teacher exchange visas known as J-1s because they are easier to obtain, Ignagni said. The district is now applying for work visas for some teachers whose exchange visas have expired.

Once the teachers arrive in Los Angeles, school officials give them a two-week orientation and offer job fairs to connect them with schools. But many describe a rocky start: loneliness, befuddlement over bus routes, apartment hunting, dealing with U.S. currency, American-style resume-writing. And, once in the classroom, utter shock.

Asked to describe his first year, Garcia leaned back in his chair, covered his face with his hands and murmured, "Oh, God." His ninth-graders' average math skills were sixth-grade level. While he was trying to teach, students roamed the classroom, applied makeup, chatted with one other, tuned out with iPods. A hallway fight started spilling into his class, and when he tried to push the brawlers back out, he said, he was reprimanded for touching them.

During a recent evening interview at his Washington Boulevard apartment, Nelson de la Cruz pulled up his shirt to reveal a black and blue bruise. He got it, he said, after a student threw a book at him. Another teacher suffered injuries after a chair was thrown at her, said Daniel Gumarang of the Filipino American Educators Assn. of Los Angeles, which is aiding the teachers. Some teachers have given up and headed back to the Philippines, but Ignagni estimated them at "less than a handful."

Nakila, for instance, said he learned something every day about how to handle his students. One lesson: be sensitive to their backgrounds. Aiming to inspire them, he presented Latino success stories and asked students to write about their own heroes, but the reaction was negative, even angry. When he told them about his own heroic father and asked them to describe their own, Nakila said one lashed out, "I don't even know his name, and I don't want to know." Now he avoids lessons that might cause them to feel inadequacies in their own families.

He keeps cookies in the classroom to feed students who come to school without breakfast, a situation he said he never imagined he would find in wealthy America. He calls parents to ask why they're giving their children Kool-Aid rather than something more nutritious. He tells students he will never give up on them, even if they show their worst. "I used to wake up thinking 'Oh, my God, let me survive this day,' " Nakila said. "Now I wake up excited, eager to meet my students."


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