Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Courageous NY Student seeks balance in teaching of controversial topics

A Rhinebeck High School sophomore is urging the school district to require alternative views be presented by teachers on controversial topics like climate change.

Michelle Dewkett said the global warming documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” was being shown in science and English classes without equal weight being given to other positions on the topic. “As of now, the teaching of controversial topics is out of control,” Dewkett told members of the Board of Education on Tuesday. She also said the district is not following its own policy of providing students with a wide range of materials.

Dewkett cited a class on global warming as an example, saying the effects of human activity on the environment are not being balanced with information about the natural course of changes on Earth. “It says (global warming) will kill us all without offering any alternative views throughout high school,” she said. “This goes against board policy which states ‘Teachers shall approach controversial topics in an impartial and unprejudiced manner.’”

Dewkett also questioned the showing of “An Inconvenient Truth” as part of an English course, saying district policy states that “material will not be introduced for their own sake and must be part of normal instruction.”

School district officials did not immediately respond to Dewkett’s comments but previously have encouraged students and parents to offer their views during annual planning sessions of the Board of Education’s Curriculum Committee.

Dewkett said afterward that there is support for presenting other viewpoints in courses but that calling for change has been difficult. “My friend and I want to start a club for young conservatives in Rhinebeck,” she said. “Right now, though, when someone wants to talk about these things, there are a lot of students that really don’t want to hear them.”


British boys aged three 'must work more': Government demands action to close the nursery school gender gap

This is absurd. Boys are later developers than girls. Ignoring that is evil

Boys aged three and four must be made to write more to stop them falling behind girls before they even reach school, the Government will order nurseries and childminders. New boy-friendly guidance is to be sent to all nurseries and childminders advising them to get the youngest boys to take more interest in writing, scribbling and drawing – basically just putting pencil to paper.

After a year of school, more than one in six boys cannot write his own name or simple words such as "mum", "dad" or "cat" – double the number of girls – official figures show.

Early-years experts condemned the move, arguing that having more targets to get children writing by the age of five would be "developmentally inappropriate" and potentially damaging, particularly for boys. But Dawn Primarolo, the Children's minister, said in an interview with The Independent that after 12 years of Labour government, the gender gap remained a "stubborn" and "worrying" problem.

"It is about readiness to learn. It is part of the development process. There is a gap, and it is a worrying gap," Ms Primarolo said. "What we can see is that boys, particularly on emotional development, lag behind girls. That emotional development is very important in language development through play before they start school and reading and writing. "Although that gap between boys and girls is closing, in writing it is still quite wide."

The guidance, which will be sent to nurseries from January, will include advice to set up role-play activities tailored to boys' interests, such as builders taking phone messages and writing up orders, post office employees writing on forms, and waiters taking orders from customers. Boys will also be encouraged to write using unusual materials such as chocolate powder and coloured sand to make marks on the floor and walls outside.

Ms Primarolo said the new guidance aims to get all nurseries and childminders to learn from those who have successfully narrowed the gender gap.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "Some boys don't enjoy writing or see it as relevant – but teachers and practitioners can make it fun and relevant. The guidance will offer practical examples about how to do this. "Because boys don't seem to be as interested as girls in drawing and mark-making, it is important that practitioners ensure that this doesn't then result in limited access to resources such as paper, crayons, paint etc, and insufficient opportunities or encouragement for boys to write."

Official figures released earlier this year showed that boys were lagging further behind girls by the age of five since the introduction of Labour's "nappy curriculum". Boys are also less likely to know the alphabet, or how to count to 10, sing simple nursery rhymes from memory, dress themselves and work well with classmates at the end of the reception year, before they start Year One.

The figures were the first results from the Early Years Foundation Stage – a compulsory programme introduced in September last year for all schools, nurseries and childminders. Overall, just over half of children reached government targets for all areas of early development, including personal and social skills, literacy, problem-solving and numeracy, physical development, and creativity.

Some 52 per cent of five-year-olds were competent in all areas – a three-percentage-point rise from last year. However, boys were significantly less likely than girls to start the first full year of school properly prepared. The gender gap widened in three key areas: writing, problem-solving and elements of personal development. The Government said that at least 23,000 more children had reached a good level of development this summer compared with 2008.

Child-development specialists have opposed the writing targets for five-year-olds since they were first proposed, arguing that many children, particularly boys, do not develop the fine motor skills needed for writing until they are six or seven.

Sue Palmer, a former headteacher and author of the book 21st Century Boys, described the decision as "state-sponsored child abuse", arguing that boys were developmentally behind at birth and needed time to "run, jump and play, in order to acquire the physical control and capacity to focus that they will need later on". She said: "The Government's belief that they can accelerate human development is just nonsense. This is massive control freakery which will be disastrous for the children. These very young children have become hostages to political fortunes because ministers believe that their political futures depend on getting a certain number of children to reach these targets by the age of five. That is just wrong."

Dr Richard House, a senior lecturer at Roehampton University and a founder of the Open Eye campaign against the early-years curriculum, warned that many of the targets for five-year-olds were inappropriate for the age group. He added: "Many of the much-criticised 'teaching to test', assessment-driven characteristics of the primary school are now invading our nursery settings."


Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab radicalized while at a prestigious British university

British universities are breeding grounds of anti-Western attitudes too

According to, an online magazine for Muslim students, War on Terror Week at University College London was one of the events of the year in 2007. There was a slick video advertisement for the event, an eye-catching poster and packed lecture theatres for five days of discussions about Guantánamo Bay, allegations of torture and the subject of “Jihad v Terrorism”.

The website reported the week of talks as “informative, relevant and always entertaining — the audience got involved with a good mixture of Muslim and non-Muslim attendees asking tough questions of the speakers”. In a corner of the poster, the event is declared to have been “approved by Umar Farook, president of UCLU Islamic Society”. The speakers advertised included George Galloway, the Respect MP; Geoffrey Bindman, the human rights lawyer; and former Guantánamo Bay detainees.

The Nigerian student who organised “War on Terror Week” in January 2007 is now better known as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be suicide bomber who tried to blow up a transatlantic airliner last week.

Mr Galloway said last night that he did not attend any of the events in War on Terror Week and had no record in his parliamentary diary of any contact with UCL Islamic Society. Mr Bindman, a visiting professor at UCL, said that he could not recall the event or meeting Mr Abdulmutallab.

UCL has confirmed that Mr Abdulmutallab was a mechanical engineering student on its Central London campus in 2005-08 and in the academic year 2006-07 was president of the student union’s Islamic Society.

His role in organising War on Terror Week is the first indication that during his years in London he was heavily involved in radical political activity. Experts believe that this would have put him at risk of being groomed by al-Qaeda recruiters who routinely prey on such radical religious and political gatherings. “Before someone goes off for explosives training they have to be converted to the cause of al-Qaeda,” said Professor Anthony Glees, of the University of Buckingham.

“I think that happened in London in the case of Abdulmutallab, as has happened to many others. He is one of a considerable number of people who have turned to al-Qaeda after being recruited in the UK. This recruitment often goes on where political events take place. Those who speak at such events are not terrorists, but they are being irresponsible if they do not realise that what they say could contribute to the radicalisation of people who could then be recruited into terror.”

The emerging picture of Mr Abdulmutallab is of a lonely young man who arrived in London as a devout, sometimes angry, figure and became increasingly radicalised while here.

He had previously joined discussions on an internet message board that revealed a confused and alienated personality. Writing in January 2005 under the name Farouk1986, he said: “I feel depressed and lonely. I do not know what to do. And then I think this loneliness leads me to other problems.” He talked of wrestling with liberalism and extremism and striving to live according to the Koran’s teaching.

And he confessed to having “jihad fantasies”, writing: “I imagine how the great jihad will take place, how the Muslims will win (Allah willing) and rule the whole world, and establish the greatest empire once again.” But many more of his posts were about football, suggesting that he was far from being the finished article as a mujahidin.

Within a year of arriving in London Mr Abdulmutallab started to adopt a more formal religious dress code, including a white robe and skullcap.

He is reported to have attended some of the radical meetings held at London colleges and mosques. He is understood to have attended talks given by the extremist US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki at East London Mosque. Awlaki, who was later banned from Britain and is believed to be in hiding with al-Qaeda in Yemen, where Mr Abdulmutallab spent months.

Malcolm Grant, Provost of UCL, told the BBC: “We are very shocked by what has happened and we will be reflecting on it very carefully but — as presently advised — there was nothing about his conduct which gave his tutors any cause for concern.” Professor Grant said students were admitted to UCL on merit and there could not be vetting of their “political, racial or religious background or beliefs”.


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