Sunday, November 29, 2009

Attack on home schooling in Sweden

An officially proposed law, set to be voted on next year, would outlaw most home-schooling in Sweden. Government officials in the alleged Scandinavian utopia explain that "there is no need for the law to offer the possibility of homeschooling because of religious or philosophical reasons in the family."

Yet increasing numbers of Swedes feel otherwise. The Swedish Association for Home Education, called ROHUS, has appealed to the international community for help in what its members regard as a concerted attack on human rights. The proposed law, according to the group, shows off the country's "worst totalitarian socialist roots."

I don't know much about Sweden's government-run schools. My wife and I home-school our kids here in Virginia. We do this mainly for reasons of security and quality control. But this is, nevertheless, a philosophic issue. Surely parents have the right to resist governments' efforts to control every aspect of their lives, especially the micromanaging of their kids' education.

Government schools tend to perform poorly. In America, we have witnessed a degradation in standards. Sweden, apparently, isn't immune to such trends. One English woman married to a Swede fears that the country's "'no-one should aspire to be better' mentality" pervades the schools; she insists the "no-grade" system degrades competitive standards.

A reason to home-school, yes. And a reason to defend a philosophic case for the home-school option: That option is a human right.


Academic Achievement and Violence Free Zones

On Monday, Bob Woodson and his team of youth mentors, along with school administrators, law enforcement and government leaders, held a summit on youth violence and the success of Woodson’s Violence Free Zones. Those in attendance at the Washington, D.C. conference testified to the efficacy of Violence Free Zones, citing a 32 percent reduction in violent incidents in Milwaukee Public Schools, a reduction in car thefts of more than 60 percent around high schools in Richmond, Virginia, and in general, a reduction in violence, suspensions, and disruptions in schools.

Violence Free Zones staff train youth mentors who come from the same cultural zip code as the children they are trying to help – many of whom are involved in gang activity and drug use. Bob Woodson, President of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, writes:
School systems rely almost exclusively upon metal detectors, cameras, and security guards or police to secure the schools. While these external approaches have their place, they are limited in the control they can exert. They may suppress some behaviors, but they do not confront the causes of those behaviors.

Violence Free Zones work because they get at the root of the problem by providing solid role models for the children who, prior to the mentor program, turned to gang activity and drug use. The mentors teach problem-solving skills, model successful behavior, and are available 24 hours a day. Not only has the Violence Free Zone program made a significant impact on reducing violence, it has also raised the academic achievement of those involved.

Researchers at Baylor University conducted a case study of the impact of the VFZ program on public schools in Milwaukee, and found that the academic achievement of students in the VFZ schools had risen nearly 4 percent. Part of this increase may have been due to a reduction in suspensions. As a result of the VFZ program, suspensions in Milwaukee public schools declined 37 percent. Those extra days spent in school likely contributed to the rise in academic achievement.

Students in Richmond, Virginia also benefited from the Violence Free Zones. Students in VFZ schools saw an 8 percent increase in GPA, and a 55 percent reduction in suspensions.

In many of the nation’s largest cities, school violence and low academic achievement persists. In Washington, D.C. for example, 1 in 8 children reports being threatened with a deadly weapon in the last 12 months. During the 2007-08 school year, there were 912 incidents of violence reported to the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. It is impossible for a child to learn in a dangerous school environment.

Every school and every city is different, and Woodson’s distinctive approach to tackling school violence meets the unique needs of students and schools across the country. While his approach meets unique needs, the VFZ approach of mentoring is entirely replicable in other troubled districts across the county.


The 'Diversity' Sham

At New York University, intellect gives way to ritualized emotion

It has been 6½ years since the U.S. Supreme Court, in Grutter v. Bollinger, upheld the legality of racial discrimination in university admissions for the purpose of realizing "the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." Longstanding precedent requires the court to apply "strict scrutiny" to any claim justifying discrimination on the basis of race. Writing for a 5-4 majority, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor asserted that the court's "deference" to the "expertise" of the defendant in this case was sufficiently strict to meet this test.

But there is reason to doubt whether "diversity," as practiced by American higher education today, has any educational benefits at all--never mind whether those benefits are sufficient to justify discrimination. Whatever its benefits in theory, diversity in practice is often anti-intellectual, replacing reasoned debate with ritualized expressions of phony emotion.

A kerfuffle at New York University is a case in point. Last week, as we noted, Tunku Varadarajan of wrote a column meditating on the Fort Hood massacre, which, he noted, appears to have been a religiously motivated "act of messianic violence."

In addition to his work in journalism, Varadarajan teaches at NYU's Stern School of Business, and his column set off predictable complaints from Muslim students and alumni. One alum, Haroon Moghul, wrote an essay at in which he accused Varadarajan of "hate-mongering." He wrote that Varadarajan's column had caused him "pain" and "feelings of marginalization," and the headline and subheadline described him as "shocked" by Varadarajan's writing.

Eventually the university president, John Sexton, was compelled to respond. While he correctly noted that it would be wrong for the university "to punish faculty officially for expressing such ideas," he also issued a declaration of disapproval:
A journalist and NYU clinical faculty member has written a piece for Forbes that many Muslims find offensive. I understand how they feel--I found it offensive, too. I am teaching Muslim students now, and I have taught them in the past; the portrayal of Muslims in the Forbes piece bears no resemblance to my experience; I disagree with the Forbes piece and think it is wrong.

I say all this because as president I have not foresworn the rights I have as a member of the NYU faculty to challenge an idea that I believe is erroneous.

Yesterday Rabbi Yehuda Sarna of NYU's Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life sent an "URGENT Letter" to his email list:
I am writing to urge you to join me today in "A Campaign Against Hate" celebrating diversity at NYU, commemorating the victims of the massacre at Fort Hood and responding to a recent article in Forbes Magazine entitled "Going Muslim". The event, dubbed "Harmonyu," is being spearheaded by the Islamic Center at NYU.

In my opinion, the article, written by an NYU professor, does not deal sensitively enough with the role and place of Muslims in America.

How's that for diversity? NYU's Jews and Muslims are ganging up on a Hindu and accusing him of promoting "hate"-- an inflammatory charge anywhere, but especially on a university campus. Yet it's clear that Rabbi Sarna knows the charge is unjustified, since his actual criticism of Varadarajan's work--it "does not deal sensitively enough"--is so tepid.

Likewise, President Sexton's claim to have been offended by Varadarajan's article has no credibility. There's no doubt he was inconvenienced by it, and we expect he's none too happy with Varadarajan for that. But his statement "I found it offensive, too" is a ritualized expression of empathy, not to be mistaken for the real thing. And if you read the entire letter, you will find that in spite of Sexton's statement that he has "not forsworn" his right "to challenge an idea that I believe is erroneous," he offers no substantive argument to rebut Varadarajan's column.

This is how "diversity" works in practice: Intellectual contention is drowned out in a sea of emotion, much of it phony. Members of designated victim groups respond to a serious argument with "pain" and "shock" and accusations of "hate," and university administrators make a show of pretending to care.

At some campuses, administrators and faculty members actually do practice censorship. NYU, at least in this instance, is not the worst offender in this respect. But this sort of emotional frenzy is nonetheless inimical to the spirit of rational inquiry that universities are supposed to encourage. Every incident of this sort makes it clearer how the University of Michigan played Justice O'Connor and her colleagues for fools.


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