Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Court orders Christian child into government education

BECAUSE she is a Christian. First Amendment, anyone?

A 10-year-old homeschool girl described as "well liked, social and interactive with her peers, academically promising and intellectually at or superior to grade level" has been told by a New Hampshire court official to attend a government school because she was too "vigorous" in defense of her Christian faith. The decision from Marital Master Michael Garner reasoned that the girl's "vigorous defense of her religious beliefs to [her] counselor suggests strongly that she has not had the opportunity to seriously consider any other point of view."

The recommendation was approved by Judge Lucinda V. Sadler, but it is being challenged by attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund, who said it was "a step too far" for any court. The ADF confirmed today it has filed motions with the court seeking reconsideration of the order and a stay of the decision sending the 10-year-old student in government-run schools in Meredith, N.H.

The dispute arose as part of a modification of a parenting plan for the girl. The parents divorced in 1999 when she was a newborn, and the mother has homeschooled her daughter since first grade with texts that meet all state standards. In addition to homeschooling, the girl attends supplemental public school classes and has also been involved in a variety of extra-curricular sports activities, the ADF reported.

But during the process of negotiating the terms of the plan, a guardian ad litem appointed to participate concluded the girl "appeared to reflect her mother's rigidity on questions of faith" and that the girl's interests "would be best served by exposure to a public school setting" and "different points of view at a time when she must begin to critically evaluate multiple systems of belief ... in order to select, as a young adult, which of those systems will best suit her own needs." According to court documents, the guardian ad litem earlier had told the mother, "If I want her in public school, she'll be in public school."

The marital master hearing the case proposed the Christian girl be ordered into public school after considering "the impact of [her religious] beliefs on her interaction with others." "Parents have a fundamental right to make educational choices for their children. In this case specifically, the court is illegitimately altering a method of education that the court itself admits is working," said ADF-allied attorney John Anthony Simmons of Hampton. "The court is essentially saying that the evidence shows that, socially and academically, this girl is doing great, but her religious beliefs are a bit too sincerely held and must be sifted, tested by, and mixed among other worldviews. This is a step too far for any court to take."

"The New Hampshire Supreme Court itself has specifically declared, 'Home education is an enduring American tradition and right,'" said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Mike Johnson. "There is clearly and without question no legitimate legal basis for the court's decision, and we trust it will reconsider its conclusions."

The case, handled in the Family Division of the Judicial Court for Belknap County in Laconia, involves Martin Kurowski and Brenda Kurowski (Voydatch), and their daughter.

The ADF also argued that the issue already was raised in 2006 and rejected by the court. "Most urgent … is the issue of Amanda's schooling as the school year has begun and Amanda is being impacted by the court's decision daily," the court filing requesting a stay said. "Serious state statutory and federal constitutional concerns are implicated by the court's ruling and which need to be remedied without delay.

"It is not the proper role of the court to insist that Amanda be 'exposed to different points of view' if the primary residential parent has determined that it is in Amanda's best interest not to be exposed to secular influences that would undermine Amanda's faith, schooling, social development, etc. The court is not permitted to demonstrate hostility toward religion, and particularly the faith of Amanda and Mother, by removing Amanda from the home and thrusting her into an environment that the custodial parent deems detrimental to Amanda."

"The order assumes that because Amanda has sincerely held Christian beliefs, there must be a problem that needs solving. It is a parent's constitutionally protected right to train up their children in the religious beliefs that they hold. It is not up to the court to suggest that a 10-year-old should be 'exposed' to other religious views contrary to the faith traditions of her parents. Could it not be that this sharp 10-year-old 'vigorously' believes what she does because she knows it to be true? The court's narrative suggests that 10-year-olds are too young to form opinions and that they are not yet allowed to have sincerely held Christian beliefs," the ADF said.

"Absent any other clear and convincing evidence justifying the court's decision, it would appear that the court has indeed taken sides with regard to the issue of religion and has preferred one religious view over another (or the absence of religion). This is impermissible," the documents said.

The guardian ad litem had an anti-Christian bias, the documents said, telling the mother at one point she wouldn't even look at homeschool curriculum. "I don't want to hear it. It's all Christian based," she said.


Let’s stick up for boisterous boys

Comment from Britain: Dreary coursework and earnest women teachers have let pupils down. Many prefer the excitement of sudden-death exams

It was an axiom of 1970s feminists that, apart from a bit of irritating biology, boys and girls were the same. Girls could be motorbike engineers and corporate lawyers, boys could be homebody childminders. And so they can.

They adjured us to give our girl-babies toy power-drills and press dollies and dusters on the lads. Any female infant found wrapping her Fisher-Price workbench in a shawl and nursing it, any boy-child going “Neeeeeeowwwwwww!” and setting up aerial battles between his toy dustpan and brush, must in this theory be firmly dissuaded.

Worse still was the school of thought that did acknowledge inbuilt differences, but despised them: Jill Tweedie, of The Guardian, wrote with angry scorn even about her teenage sons, and when Jenni Murray’s first boy was born, she relates with horror that a friend hissed: “Poor you, having to raise one of the enemy!”

I never bought in to this viperous pretence, as I grew up with three brothers and spent three years in a rough-and-tumble village school. I saw that boys were not the enemy, but that on the other hand neither were they girls. Alfie at school might push me in a ditch in a fit of high spirits and say a rude word, but Annie would tell sneaky tales behind my back. On the other hand Alfie was creative and daring in the raiding of woodpiles at Guy Fawkes, and when Annie was nice we could yarn for hours.

I like boys and men. The sexes have a lot to learn from one another. Of course, rights must be equal, and of cours,e there have been terrible injustices to women. But the pretend war, the psychological war, is only for amusement — Violet Elizabeth Bott foils William and the Outlaws. We need both sexes to complete the full and fabulous picture of humanity.

Education should reflect this happy synthesis, but it hardly does. In reaction against the days when bigots argued that educating girls caused sterility, and more recent decades when girls were denied sciences other than Domestic, the system has swung over into a bias against boys. As fewer and fewer primary teachers are men (rightly scared of demonisation as child molesters), a feminised culture rises. Boys, says the staffroom, are “exhausting”: lazy, aggressive, disrupters and debunkers, too fond of rude jokes.

More seriously, as the writer Doris Lessing said in a 2001 lecture, boys are told that their gender made the world dangerous. She visited a classroom where an earnest young woman taught that war is caused by the violent nature of men. The boys “sat there crumpled, apologising for their existence”. Out of the classroom, no doubt, they hastened to the shrine of Arnie Schwarzenegger, as the most positive role model.

Meanwhile, girls — more keen to please, gentler, less driven by itching muscular energy, are seen as sugar and spice. Easier for Miss to relate to. I remember once being faintly ashamed of my own gender on arriving in a playground where the boys were tearing around in some wild happy game while a knot of little girls stood still in clean socks, testing one another on their times-tables. With a caveat about oversimplification (there are happy wrestling tomboys and gentle anxious boys), the fact is that boys’ natural behaviour prompts a belief that what they mainly need is — well, controlling.

Quite apart from the literal feminisation of the teaching profession, even school routines militate against young male biology: as fewer children walk to school, boys arrive with natural surplus energy, which it is a torment to suppress. One primary school that used to start with a quiet assembly tried replacing it with ten minutes of energetic running at the start of the day: boys’ disruption in class fell away.

Various studies confirm the way that expectations of boys (trouble! disruptive!) can damage their education. In 1964 in California an experiment was carried out in which 132 five-year-olds were taught reading by a machine: both sexes reacted in the same way and the boys scored marginally higher. Taught conventionally by women teachers, boys’ scores dipped. The plea that teachers have to spend “three times more attention” on boys is countered by researched observations (in an Australian study of 2001) that actually, a lot of this attention is devoted to berating them for “inappropriate behaviour”. Some of which, of course, may be simply boisterousness: a more exuberant style of learning and reacting. Tiring, yes: but natural. Yet even at A level the poor lads suffer punitive assaults on their whole sex as they are forced to study feminist dystopianism like The Handmaid’s Tale alongside smugly pious girls.

For those of us who have been uneasy about this for years, and hated the growing triumphalism about girls outperforming boys, there was a considerable buzz in last week’s exam figures. GCSE coursework is a plodding, dreary business, less a test of knowledge and understanding than of compliance and tidy punctuality. It has ruled the roost under new Labour, but after various scandals is gradually being cut down in favour of the more daredevil, challenging ordeal of the “sudden death” exam where you have to pull out all the stops on one hot summer day.

They cut coursework from maths for this year: and what happens? After nearly 20 years of girls outdoing boys in that subject, the moment the coursework is dropped the boys surge slightly ahead. QED. It is only one small proof, but underlines the strong probability that the style, the ethos, the expectations of schools are demoralising boyish boys.

And hear this: such a bias also damages and demoralises quite a few boyish girls, too. For just as some boys are quiet and anxious, some females are not compliant, quiet, teacher-pleasers prone to apple-polishing and recreational times-table-testing. There are swashbuckling girls who take risks, stir things up, laugh at inappropriate moments, hit deadlines in an adrenalin rush, and prefer the risky terror of the examination hall to organised, deliberative female steadiness.

When we worry about boys we should remember these girls too: just as concern about the status of female professions should include those men who join them. We need yin and yang, male and female, buccaneers and consolidators, nurses and surgeons, stevedores and embroiderers — of either sex. We should celebrate both.


Australian school bullying shame: three children a class bullied daily

But all schools have "policies" about it -- policies that are a vacuity in the absence of significant disciplinary powers

BULLYING has become such a "pervasive problem" in schools that three children in each class are bullied daily or almost daily. Startling research, held by Queensland's Education Department, shows another five children per class are bullied in some way weekly. Education Department assistant director-general of student services Patrea Walton told a community forum at the weekend that bullying was a "pervasive problem in schools" and had been identified as "one of the biggest fears parents have for their children".

The State Government has hired national bullying expert Professor Ken Rigby to help address the scourge.

Up to 70 per cent of suspensions currently handed out in Queensland schools relate to bullying. The horrific death of year 9 Mullumbimby student Jai Morcom, who suffered massive head injuries after he was allegedly targeted during a schoolyard brawl on Friday, has reignited the debate on student cruelty and violence.

Rising school violence continues to dog Education Minister Geoff Wilson, who is trying a raft of measures to tackle the problem, including hiring Prof Rigby. [Ken Rigby is a nice guy but there are severe limits on what psychology can do]

Australia's largest study of school bullying, released two months ago, showed Queensland had among the highest levels of bullying in the country. The forum, organised by the Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens Associations Metropolitan West Regional Council, heard terrifying accounts of cyber bullying in which students spoke of killing peers. Speakers also told of messages in which students wrote of hurting students' families.

Ms Walton said research showed bullying victims were more likely to be depressed, anxious, have low self-esteem, exhibit medical problems and talk about suicide than their peers. But she said it was not a recent phenomenon and not confined to schools.

Tullawong State High School principal Leonie Kearney, credited with turning her Caboolture school around through a tough stance on bullying and bad behaviour, said 70 per cent of suspensions she administered related to bullying.

Ms Walton said she didn't believe the proportion of suspensions for bullying would be as high across the state, but was unable to provide a figure, citing no agreed definition. More than 50 per cent of the 55,000 suspensions handed out to state school students in 2008 were for physical, verbal and non-verbal misconduct.


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