Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why charter schools should fear card check

Efforts by teachers unions to infiltrate, take over and destroy charter schools from within are at this point scattered and sporadic; something confined to a few urban areas, like New York City and Chicago, where the unions are honing their tactics and rhetoric. But expect these brushfire battles for the heart and soul of charter schools to become a full-scale assault -- an inferno that could consume the charter school movement itself -- if a federal "card check" measure (more formerly and ironically called the Employee Free Choice Act) is approved by Congress.

The focus of most debate on the issue has been card check's ramifications for the country's business climate -- on whether making it easier to unionize the workplace, by taking away secret balloting, will lead to the resurgence of a union movement that only a few years ago seemed on the ropes. But an even greater concern should be what card check will do to U.S. charter schools, which unions haven't been able to stop but are now intent on co-opting and corrupting.

Card check's implications for U.S. public education is something that hasn't been adequately examined.

The lack of union influence is one of the defining characteristics of a charter school. It's part of what allows them to innovate and excel and hold teachers accountable for performance in the classroom. It's one secret to their success. But teachers unions that long scorned the schools, and tried to block or marginalize them, now understand that the charter school movement isn't going away, so they've adopted a new strategy: If you can't beat 'em, wreck 'em.

Instead of sabotaging charters from the outside, the new gambit is to undermine them from within, by burrowing in, organizing the staff, and letting union-inspired inertia do the rest. The passage of card check would greatly facilitate and hasten that process, laying the groundwork for an all-out, national assault on charter school independence.

Where can we look for a preview of what card check might mean for charter schools? We can look to Chicago, where one effort to unionize 3 charters is making headway, helped along, not coincidently, by a card check system in Illinois that would go national if Congress passes the bill. This report on the Chicago Public Radio Blog, recounting the efforts of one charter school company to fend-off a union takeover, tipped me off to the wider, national implications.

The company that operates the charter schools is appealing the union takeover to the National Labor Relations Board, claiming it isn't legit because there was no secret balloting, which violates (current) federal law. The unions argue that Illinois law -- which doesn't require a secret vote, but simply that a requisite number of pro-union signatures be gathered -- should apply. These are the rules that will be in force nation-wide if card check is approved.

"Under federal law, the three charter campuses fighting for union representation would have to hold an election to determine whether teachers want the union," according to the report. But "state law doesn’t require an election at the schools, because a majority of teachers have already signed union cards."

While the card check debate is now mostly viewed as a battle between unions and business, backers of the measure may have an even bigger trophy in mind -- the debasement, denuding and eventual destruction of the greatest recent innovation in American public education. Perhaps if the growing number of American charter school families come to realize that they have a dog in this fight -- and that their charter school could become just like every other public school if card check passes -- the tide can still be turned against this terrible piece of legislation.


An "official" diploma mill in Britain??

A college accredited by a government-approved body as a “high-quality institution” has been selling diplomas to enable foreign students to extend their stay in Britain.

An investigation by The Times has revealed that the Pakistani-run college has 1,200 international students on its rolls, despite claiming to have only 150. King’s College of Management, in Manchester, has offered places to a further 1,575 foreigners. It kept a hidden list of 207 people who were sold diplomas that allowed them to extend their stay in this country. The Times has also obtained a secret video recording, which reveals how the college faked attendance records to fool the immigration authorities.

The revelations follow The Times’s exposure of sham colleges yesterday. Manchester College of Professional Studies, which gave places to eight of the students arrested in April for suspected involvement in an al-Qaeda terror plot, closed last summer. King’s is not only still in business but has been recognised by a government-approved body, the Accreditation Service for International Colleges, as a “high quality institution”. Despite this, The Times has discovered that individuals working at the college are under investigation by the UK Border Agency for allegedly “assisting students to gain status by deception”.

King’s has links with another ten colleges in Manchester, Bradford and London that have been investigated by The Times. All were established in the past five years and were run by young Pakistanis who came to this country on student visas. They exploited a loophole in Britain’s immigration controls to fuel a sharp rise in the number of Pakistanis who have been given leave to study in Britain. Records show that two of the terror suspects enrolled at King’s after leaving Manchester College of Professional Studies. They were among 1,178 foreign students, most of them Pakistanis, who came to King’s over a 15-month period from October 2007 and were — at least on paper — enrolled at the college to study for a range of certificates and diplomas.

Those still overseas but already offered places at King’s include 906 Pakistanis, 535 Nigerians and applicants from Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, the Sudan and Algeria. The college, which is based in the centre of Manchester, has a more respectable appearance than Manchester College of Professional Studies. It teaches a limited range of courses to a minority — at most 200 — of the students it enrols.

For many, however, a place at King’s is merely a licence to come to Britain, where they look for full-time work. The Times has a secret recording, made last week, in which a woman confides that she visited King’s last autumn to seek the college’s help in gaining a student visa for her nephew to enter Britain. She explains that a man at the college told her that for a payment of £1,000, which was duly made, he would take care of the entire visa application process, which was subsequently successful.

When she took her nephew to enrol at the college last October after his arrival in Britain, she says that the same man told her: “Okay, I’ll get him a national insurance number. “He can work from now for one year and at the end of the year he’ll get a certificate to say he’s been attending, even though he’s not attending.” Her 18-year-old nephew, she confirmed, did not attend a single lesson in Manchester, yet he is still listed on the college database as an enrolled student.

King’s is owned by Farah Anjum, a Pakistani businesswoman, but its driving force was Tahir Siddique, a 29-year-old Pakistani who came to Britain on a student visa. He was employed at Manchester College of Professional Studies and was involved in many of its visa scams before being recruited to run the new college.

Tahir Siddique left King’s last autumn to run Yorkshire College Manchester, which changed its name to Queens College International recently. The Times has learnt that King’s is currently under investigation by the UK Border Agency, which mounted a raid on its warren of offices and classrooms earlier this year, removing a haul of documents and computers. The search warrant named Tahir Siddique in connection with an investigation into those who were “assisting students to gain status by deception”.

Dr Anjum told The Times yesterday that the college’s enrolment register was not the same as its list of active students. “When they walk into your college, you enrol them,” she said, claiming that the college had subsequently reported hundreds of its enrolled student to the UK Border Agency for failing to attend lessons. King’s kept all their names on its enrolment register, she explained, in case any of them later came back to resume their studies. Dr Anjum said that as many as 800 students had been reported for nonattendance. The Times understands that the Home Office only has evidence of 60 King’s College of Management students being reported.

The Home Office confirmed last night that the UK Border Agency is making inquiries into a number of colleges as part of a continuing investigation into the alleged use of deception to facilitate the entry into the UK of foreign nationals. Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister, said that allegations of dubious practices at colleges “highlights exactly why I have brought forward changes which crackdown on abuse of the student route into the UK. “The UK Border Agency is systematically vetting colleges to clamp down on abuse of the rules. Before we tightened controls, around 4,000 UK institutions were bringing in international students. This currently stands at around 1,500. “We will act swiftly where there is credible evidence of organised abuse of the immigration system by any college — whether registered as a sponsor or not.” Opposition MPs and immigration experts yesterday expressed their astonishment that Britain’s recently reformed student visa system remained “riddled with holes”.

Sir Andrew Green, the chairman of Migrationwatch UK, an independent think-tank, and a former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said: “It is astounding that these scams were allowed to take place under the nose of the Home Office for year after year. “What we need now is a complete reappraisal of travel to and from Pakistan and Britain, especially as conditions there deteriorate. It is now absolutely clear that greater resources are needed for effective checks on colleges in Britain. “The minister [Mr Woolas] himself admitted that there are gaping holes in the immigration system, but even he must be astonished at the scale of this chaos.”

Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: “There are still big questions about the way visas are granted to students from abroad, not just from Pakistan. The system ought to be tightened up considerably, it is riddled with holes. There are still adverts in Pakistan which promote ways for people to travel quickly and easily to the UK.”

The Home Office — specifically the Border Agency — is understood only to investigate individuals who have been named by intelligence agencies. There are no comprehensive audits of students already in the country.

All but two of the ten students arrested last month in Manchester and Liverpool over an alleged al-Qaeda bomb plot were enrolled on the books of one Manchester college.

A UK Border Agency spokesman said: “We are making life tougher than ever for those who try to stay in the UK illegally. The system in place to deal with students coming to the UK from abroad is more robust than ever before. Intelligence-led operations are conducted every day of the week across the country to detect and remove those people who have breached immigration laws. Since 2008 we have been issuing foreign students with ID cards and under e-Borders the majority of the foreign students will be tracked into and out of the country by December 2010.Additional reporting by Suzy Jagger


Australia: School results compared -- despite opposition from teachers

For the first time in Queensland, parents tomorrow will be able to compare their primary school's academic performance to others in a special liftout. More than 1300 state, Catholic and independent primary schools will be listed in The Courier-Mail with information based on school annual reports.

The Queensland Teachers Union has labelled the liftout irresponsible and "bordering on deliberate fraud" but parents and the state Opposition have welcomed it.

Professor Geoff Masters, the expert commissioned by Premier Anna Bligh to help raise Queensland students' literacy and numeracy standards, said uniform test results provided a very important "snapshot", but a snapshot only, for parents.

It follows a two-month long investigation, including numerous requests to the State Government and its authorities for a centralised list of Year 3, 5 and 7 academic data. The requests have either been ignored, refused or referred, prompting The Courier-Mail to extract the information from the latest annual reports, which are legally required to be posted on school websites. The academic information includes results from the 2007 state-based tests.

Shadow Education Minister Bruce Flegg said the publication of academic information was necessary to drive change. "The reality is nobody took the deficiencies of numeracy and literacy seriously until the NAPLAN (national tests) results were made public," Dr Flegg said.

Wilston mother-of-three Penny Williams said how a school performed academically was one of her biggest concerns and she looked forward to reading the data.

But QTU president Steve Ryan said the results were meaningless unless a full disclosure of school resources, enrolment restrictions, other assessment items and "dodgy" conditions under which the 2007 tests were administered and collated, was made.


Friday, May 22, 2009

California schools prepare for large losses of funding

This may be a blessing in disguise. It should lead to larger class sizes, which will mean that only the more able teachers will be retained, thus improving the standard of education. The benefits of small classes are mythical. See here.

After voters rejected ballot measures that would have restored state funding for schools, educators across California on Wednesday braced for $5.3 billion in cuts over the next 13 months. State and district officials predicted increased class sizes, additional teacher layoffs, more school closures and fewer arts and music offerings. Some districts could face insolvency.

"When there are such ludicrous amounts of money being cut, I don't know what other choice they are going to give us," said Steve Fish, superintendent of the Saddleback Valley Unified School District in south Orange County, which is already planning to shutter libraries and computer labs, lay off 100 teachers and eliminate nearly half its high school guidance counselors.

Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected five ballot measures intended to shore up the state's finances, leaving legislators to bridge a $21.3-billion budget gap. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting education funding by $1.6 billion for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and nearly $3.7 billion for next year.

Districts could tap their reserves and federal economic stimulus dollars to lessen the effect of the cuts, said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger's finance department. He said these reductions will be difficult but noted that schools are bearing 30% of the cuts even though they account for 40% of the state's general fund.

State officials will probably loosen regulations -- such as allowing districts to cut seven days off the school year, delay replacing old textbooks and divert class-size reduction funds to other purposes.

California already has received about $4.3 billion in education funding from the economic stimulus package approved by Congress earlier this year, but there remain billions more that will be dependent on how California uses the first round of money. States that use the money to reform troubled schools will be rewarded.

"Actions speak louder than words," said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who will meet with educators in San Francisco on Friday. "The state is at a fork in the road and they will either decide to have the courage to do the right thing by its children and create the possibility of bringing in literally hundreds of millions of dollars in competitive grants at a time of tremendous financial need, or the state can choose to perpetuate the status quo and leave those resources on the table."

He was particularly dismayed by the proposal to clip seven days off the 180-day school year. "The school day, the school week and the school year I think are all too short, and particularly hurt children who come from tougher economic backgrounds," he said in an interview.


Australian welfare changes 'will hurt rural students'

The National Party says country students will be disadvantaged by changes to the Youth Allowance. In its Budget, the Government lifted the amount of hours young people must work to qualify for an independent allowance. The move is designed to stop young people from wealthy families qualifying for the allowance by deferring university and working for a year.

Mr Truss says many country students need a gap year to save up the money required to study in the city. "Surely they could have devised a system that kept in place necessary support for country students, and not just provide additional benefits for those who live in the cities," he said. "The new arrangements requiring 30 hours of work per week for 18 months will essentially mean that people will have to take a gap two years not a gap one year. "For many they will simply not bother with a university education at all." [That might not be such a bad thing]

The Greens say they will refer the Youth Allowance changes to a Senate inquiry. South Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the Government's changes will make it harder for students to qualify for the payment. Ms Hanson-Young says the payments are vital for full-time students who are currently living below the poverty line. "The changes to the eligibility criteria, the lack of increase in financial support for young people who are studying, all of these things are inconsistent with the Government's rhetoric about an education message," she said.

"We know that the best way of pulling Australia and the world out of the global financial crisis is to retrain, re-skill and prepare ourselves for the new type of economy, and the best way of doing that is investing in education."


Australia: "Progressive" school syllabuses in the firing line in NSW

THE incoming head of the nation's most influential school curriculum body has declared the days of the vague curriculum over, saying syllabuses have to specify precisely the knowledge students should be taught. The newly appointed president of the NSW Board of Studies, Tom Alegounarias, said yesterday having explicit syllabuses setting out mandatory knowledge in a systematic course of study was the only way to ensure all students, regardless of their family background, had the same opportunities for learning.

In an interview with The Australian, Mr Alegounarias, who is the NSW Government's representative on the National Curriculum Board, said a specific syllabus enshrining the essentials all students should know would set a common reference point for all teachers, ensuring all students were offered the same curriculum. "I don't believe in a separate curriculum for groups of students, and I don't think we have been as clear as we should in the past about making sure it doesn't happen," he said. "The syllabus should set out in a systematic way the fundamentals to be taught that allow for further learning that enfranchises all students and gives them an opportunity to participate in a range of learning."

Mr Alegounarias -- a former high school economics teacher, education policy-maker and bureaucrat in the NSW Education Department -- was the founding head of the NSW Institute of Teachers, where he developed the nation's first and most comprehensive system of professional accreditation.

The appointment of a board president from outside a university education faculty or the mainstream teaching ranks -- and ahead of candidates with doctorates or professorial chairs -- is viewed as a sign the NSW Government intends to curb some of the progressivist excesses in some state and education circles.

Mr Alegounarias's reputation is for supporting rigour and quality in education, often aligned with more traditional teaching approaches. While the education debate has been characterised by often-heated disputes over what should be included in school curriculums, Mr Alegounarias believed teachers' views were more closely aligned with those of the wider community than the public debate suggested.

Intimating professional associations purporting to represent classroom teachers take a more extreme view than the majority of the profession, Mr Alegounarias said the disputes were a reaction to a perceived dichotomy. "When you get to the fundamentals of what should be in the curriculum, I think you'll find consensus," he said. "In my experience, when teachers are left to ponder questions of what is essential, their views don't depart from the general community."

On the topic of one of the most heated education debates -- the subject of English -- Mr Alegounarias favours a commonsense approach, that traditional grammar is the inalienable starting point for teaching students how to write. On the question of literature versus other types of texts such as websites, Mr Alegounarias said the starting point was written and oral language. "I don't agree that in English you study forms that aren't literature or language-related. It's not to say you don't study them at all, but not in English," he said.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Stop bailing out government schools

Across the country, politicians are responding to the inability of a population devastated by government-induced recession to support governments’ spending at levels they have grown accustomed to by threatening the closure of schools, firehouses, and other high-profile, highly-valued government “services.”

I have opined elsewhere on the reasons that such high-profile programs—rather than the thousands of highly-paid bureaucrats whose functions are absolutely inessential—are identified first for cutting as the means to cut spending. Suffice it to repeat that such extortion has worked before and politicians can only hope it will continue to allow them to line their pockets at the expense of people who actually earn their money.

Tomorrow California is holding a special election with various propositions on the ballot promising budget fixes “for the schools.” Like every tax and borrowing provision before them, these tax increases won’t fix the schools. In fact, despite widely disparate policy recommendations, virtually every non-government education researcher, from Stanford University to the Heritage Foundation, agrees that money is not the problem: in sum, government education is Just Plain Dysfunctional.

So why does the idea of a “public school” education, so clearly oxymoronic, remain such a sacred cow? Every argument used throughout history for the establishment of State-sponsored education has been rooted in ideology: the utopian ideal of creating the good citizen, from Francis Bacon:
And it is without all controversy that learning doth make the minds of men gentle, generous, malleable and pliant to government; whereas, ignorance makes them churlish, thwart, and mutinous.

To Karl Marx:
The communists have not invented the intervention of society in education; they do but seek to alter the characteristic of that intervention and to rescue education from the influence of the ruling class.

None, historically, was based in an actual or perceived lack of educational opportunities in the absence of government-provided schools. Yet today it is widely assumed that if the government didn’t provide schools the poor wouldn’t have any, and that government schools are bad because they don’t have enough money.

In fact, government spending on K–12 public education in America is at an all-time high. The national average current expenditure per student is around $10,418. Real spending per student has increased by 23.5 percent over the past decade and by 49 percent over the past 20 years. Meanwhile, test scores and graduation rates have remained low and flat, and the gap between whites and non-whites has remained wide and essentially unchanged.

If the government can’t teach reading and writing and ‘rithmetic for $10,000 per year per student, why would anyone want them to have more? Isn’t it time to just cut off government funding of education, eliminate the taxes supposedly collected for education altogether, and let the resources freed up be deployed far more effectively and creatively? Teachers and/or parents could privatize their schools (see our “Can Teachers Own Their Own Schools?”), and the market and private associations could and would otherwise create myriad alternatives just as phone companies freed from the Ma Bell monopoly have put a cell phone with functionality unimaginable 20 years ago into the hands of every 13 year old in the country.

As Adam Smith knew, freed from a public school monopoly, people “would soon find better teachers for themselves than any the state could find for them.”


Dept. of Education offers performance award

Indiana high schools that achieve the biggest graduation rate increases between now and next spring could receive up to $20,000. The money would be split among each principal and some staff members.

The principals and teachers would benefit financially, state superintendent Tony Bennett said.

The Department of Education said it will be the first time the agency has offered "performance awards" to reward school staffs and the State Teachers Association said it has "numerous concerns" about the plan.

Last year, nearly 23,000 students failed to graduate from Indiana's high schools.


Big talk achieves nothing in troubled Los Angeles schools

No improvement since Villaraigosa took control of the school along with nine other campuses he promised to rescue. 'We basically switched one bureaucracy for another one,' one teacher says.

"Judge me by what we do in these schools," Villaraigosa said in September. Three weeks ago, teachers at Roosevelt did just that, taking a poll on how things are going. With 199 teachers casting a ballot, 184 expressed no confidence in the mayor's Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS). Is "rebuke" a strong enough word? How about "revolt"?

"We basically switched one bureaucracy for another one," said English teacher Esteban Lopez, who sees no improvement over the way things were when Roosevelt was controlled by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Lopez was one of seven teachers I met with Monday night, all of whom had gripes. Four of the seven had voted to support the mayor's initiative in 2007, when it won by a 152-62 tally. But now they're giving PLAS a big thumbs down.

Decision-making by PLAS administrators is irritatingly haphazard and confusing, said English teacher Rebecca Lizardi. Can a student in one of the seven small academies take a class available only in another academy? One day yes, the next day no. "Why don't they just use a Ouija board?" Lizardi cracked.

Not that special ed teachers Yolanda Rivera and Graciela Lopez or social studies teacher Chris Berru expected miracles when they threw their support behind the mayor two years ago. "It was the lesser of two evils," Berru said. He and others knew the mayor's team was appallingly short on details as to how things would get better. There were vague references to giving teachers more say in running Roosevelt, but Berru insisted that hasn't happened. Nor have teachers seen the infusion of money the mayor promised, and they're unclear on how the transition to smaller schools will be executed. "We're not against small schools," Berru said, "but they don't seem to know what they're doing."

The teachers told me many of their colleagues at other PLAS schools are equally lathered up. "They're furious," Lizardi said.

When I checked Mayor Villaraigosa's daily schedule to see whether he might be available to talk about all this, I saw that he was on tap to address "the nation's leading education reformers, funders and scholars" at a summit Tuesday in Pasadena. I saw the schedule too late, unfortunately. I would have loved to have heard what wisdom the mayor passed on to the assembled scholars. I did get a hold of PLAS officials Marshall Tuck and Angela Bass, and they were rather cooperative, I have to say. Yes, they admitted, there are grievances of varying degrees at PLAS schools, and they did indeed take a whomping from the teachers at Roosevelt with that landslide vote of no confidence. "They're unhappy with the work of the partnership, and they told it to us loud and clear," Tuck said.

He added that he and Bass went to campus to let teachers have their say, and now they intend to make many of the adjustments and improvements the teachers are demanding. I have a summary of that meeting, by the way, including complaints from teachers. They blast PLAS administrators for "top-down" decision-making "with little involvement of or respect for the teachers, community, students." They tell bosses: "Your role is not clearly defined and it is not known by most teachers." They decry a lack of communication and transparency, complaining of closed-door decision-making. "I haven't seen any real changes or differences from the year before other than more meetings, a mug and a shirt," one teacher said.

"What happened to all the money?" another asked in reference to the $50 million raised by the mayor to support the transformation of PLAS schools. Tuck said $290,000 of that money has been directed to Roosevelt so far for transitional expenses, but some of it is being held in reserve to save jobs when the budget cuts hit. He and Bass didn't sound terribly optimistic that Roosevelt would meet the mayor's goal of a 30-point improvement on the state's Academic Performance Index, but they said the long-term objective is to get far more students into college-prep courses.

PLAS took on some of the lowest-performing schools, Tuck said. At Roosevelt, only 3% of the 4,700 students were proficient in math last year and 18% in English. "We're trying to transform schools that have been broken for a long time," Bass said.

Understood. Villaraigosa was anything but modest, though, in his criticism of the LAUSD and in boasting that he could do a much better job. He's not exactly acing any tests thus far. Is he even showing up for class? Tuck said the mayor visits schools "at least once a week." But at Roosevelt, teachers said they haven't seen much of him since he sold them on the partnership in 2007.

On that occasion, Esteban Lopez said, a mouse ran in front of the mayor as he spoke, and Villaraigosa said that was one of the problems he was going to fix. "The mouse is still there," Lopez said, "but [the mayor] has never come back."


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

JROTC Restored in San Francisco Schools

(San Francisco, California) In 2006, the San Francisco School Board voted to phase out the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) curriculum in its schools because of the military's discrimination against homosexuals. The program was due to end in less than a month.

Last week, the JROTC issue was voted on one last time before its scheduled expiration.
On Tuesday night, students who fought for the program waited for more than five hours to see their three-year lesson in real-life civics end in victory.

The students filled the board chambers to capacity as they crowded into seats, on the floor and along walls, some doing homework while they waited for the vote. Others spilled out into the lobby, where a television broadcast the meeting.

Prior to Tuesday's meeting, four board members said they were prepared to reinstate the program. The four who voted to get rid of JROTC three years ago are no longer in office.
Students cheered when the 4-3 vote was announced, continuing the JROTC program. Good.

New GI Bill: Too popular for the Pentagon’s own good?

Veterans are scrambling to sign up for a generous new GI Bill, accepting a nation's collective thanks for serving in the military since 9/11. But there are questions about whether the government's magnanimity will create a military exodus.

Since May 1, more than 25,000 veterans have signed up for the new GI Bill, which will pay 100 percent of in-state college tuition, housing, and other expenses. When the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) opened the online registration site two weeks ago, the system crashed from the weight of interest. The stream of applicants has been steady ever since.

The concern is that the program could be so enticing that many service members will leave the military to go to school. "Some observers believe there is going to be a giant sucking sound from a large number of individuals saying, 'Why wouldn't I go to college, this is a great opportunity,' " says Cindy Williams, a security analyst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "I would say nobody knows – in particular, the VA doesn't know and the Department of Defense doesn't really know."

The new GI Bill is an overhaul of the original 1944 law that was responsible for sending a generation of veterans to college. It will not replace the World War II-vintage bill, known as the Montgomery GI Bill. It is an additional offering by the VA.

The new bill is proving more popular, though, because it pays the full cost of tuition for public undergraduate schools. The Montgomery bill pays a flat rate. This bill will cost taxpayers $62 billion during the next decade as it aims to reward some of the 2.1 million veterans who served any time after 9/11 for at least 30 days.

The VA points to Mike Dakduk as a poster boy for the program. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2004 after traveling from Nevada to see the remains of the World Trade Center. Inspired to serve by the destruction he saw, he enlisted in New York City. His four years in the Marines included a tour in Iraq followed by another in Afghanistan.

Now, he is studying public policy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The government is already picking up some of his expenses, because he is on the old GI Bill. But when the new one kicks in on Aug. 1, the federal government will pay all his tuition, as well as a living allowance of as much as $1,400 per month – in a city where he now pays $600 per month to live. "This is probably one of the most beneficial benefits packages. This is a major breakthrough," he says.

He thinks the program may encourage some to get out of the service to attend school, like he did. But others will want to stay in the military. A Marine buddy, for example, opted to stay in the corps, because he liked his life there. "For me, it was education, for him it may be continuing down the path he was on in the military," says Mr. Dakduk.

But Dakduk adds that he may yet return to the service: When he gets his degree in two years, rejoining the corps as an officer is among his top three choices. "I had a great time in the military," he says.

Pentagon personnel officials won't have a sense of the impact of the new GI Bill until a few months after the Aug. 1 start date, when trends should become clearer. But one provision added to the bill could encourage members of the military to remain in the force for at least one more four-year term. If they do, they can transfer the benefits of the GI Bill to an immediate family member. The provision gives veterans 36 months of benefits that can be divided among a spouse and children.

In addition to improving retention, the transferability clause of the GI Bill could also be a strong recruiting tool. "The GI Bill, as we see it, will be a net positive for retention," says Bill Carr, deputy under secretary for military policy at the Pentagon. About 88 percent of service members who participated in a Pentagon survey about the GI Bill say the transferability option is "important," says Mr. Carr.

The GI Bill comes at a time when the effort to recruit and retain troops is in flux. All four services are meeting or exceeding their active-duty recruiting and retention goals this year. But cost-cutting at the Pentagon could undermine those successes, because recruiting and retention rates are buttressed by billions of dollars in bonuses.

On the other hand, recruiting always improves during hard economic times as military jobs become more desirable. That has reduced the need to spend so much money on recruiting and retention. Military pay also has kept military service attractive, increasing by more than 28 percent since 2001.


School neckties are dangerous? Only in Britain

At least 10 schools a week are adopting clip-on ties amid fears conventional knots pose an injury risk, it was claimed. Concerns have been raised over children pulling them too tight for a joke and getting them caught in machinery.

Headteachers also claim they look scruffy as pupils wear fat knots or short tails as part of the latest fashion craze.

Research by the Schoolwear Association, which represents uniform manufacturers, said there had been rising demand for "safer" ties since January. Around 25 British schools change their ties every week, it said, with almost half of those opting for clip-ons.

The Campaign for Real Education condemned the move as "health and safety gone mad".

The Schoolwear Association, which surveyed members about the latest uniform "trends" also reported schools adding high visibility and reflective strips to school bags and scarves. The move is designed to improve road safety as children travel to and from school.

In a further development, the association said an "increasing number" of state schools were adopting house systems, which are traditionally associated with the fee-paying sector. They are ordering ties, polo shirts and scarves in house colours to differentiate between pupils, it was disclosed.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Texas Teacher Bribes Student to Cheat

(Alief, Texas) A teacher at Alexander Elementary School offered a bribe to a 9-year-old fourth-grade student to take a reading test while impersonating another student.
“He said he’d give me a hundred balloon bucks if I pretended to be somebody else,” said Vecino Rogers, a 9-year-old fourth grade student at Alexander Elementary School. “I knew it sounded funny, but I wanted the money.”

Balloon bucks are used as currency by students to purchase items on campus.

Vecino’s mother, Erika Sodie, says she learned about what happened a few days later.

“To think a teacher would tell my boy to cheat and lie is something I can’t even imagine,” said Sodie. “It’s not the kind of lesson I want my boy to be receiving at school.”
Alief school officials confirmed that the incident did happen and said that disciplinary measures have been taken. However, the teacher was not fired as has been called for by activist Quanell X. School officials said the episode stemmed from "a friendly competition between teachers who earn bragging rights for having students who read the most books."

The mother fears that her son has been corrupted by the incident. Frankly, the real fear should be in placing any trust whatsoever in the teacher. He appears to have a solidly dishonest element in his professional character.
British insanity again

Teacher's 'assault' hell: 'All I did was touch a pupil on the arm... so why was I barred from school?

A teacher with nearly 50 years' experience yesterday spoke of her 'devastation' after being banned from her school over a claim she assaulted a pupil. Thelma Hoskins, 67, said she simply put her hand on the boy's shoulder after telling him off for disrupting a lesson. One of his parents made a complaint and she was told to stay away from St Winefride's Catholic Primary School in Bradford. The headmistress, Maureen Cairns, has been suspended over the same incident.

The move is thought to relate to her alleged failure to follow reporting procedures after the accusation was made. Mrs Hoskins, who has taught music part-time at the school for the past two and a half years, said: 'There was a small incident in the first week of March when I chastised a child who would not shut up. We had been doing some work and each group was showing what they were doing. 'I had him out in the front and told him: "Do you know you are doing wrong? Shut up and listen".'

She said she told the nine-year-old that his behaviour was spoiling the lesson for other pupils. 'He said he was sorry and apologised to the rest of the class,' she said. 'I told him to return to his seat and I put my hand on his shoulder and said "Join in properly". Later a parent made a complaint to the head. 'Mrs Cairns and I spoke to the little boy together and he agreed that he had been disruptive and said sorry to Mrs Cairns. 'I went off on holiday for Easter assuming it was all done with.'

But when Mrs Hoskins returned she was told the parent had written to Father Kieron Walker, chairman of the governors. The deputy head, Brenda O'Connor, told her that the board had asked her to stay away. 'I have not been told for how long and I have not had any contact from the school since,' she said. 'I have not heard the word " suspended" and have not received anything in writing from anyone. 'It is terrible when you know you have done nothing wrong.'

Mrs Hoskins, who is employed by the school to take Friday afternoon music lessons, added that during her long time in teaching she had 'worked with hundreds of children with never a moment's trouble'. 'I'm extremely baffled by the accusation and absolutely perturbed by the whole thing,' she said. 'I have been a teacher for 48 years and have never been accused of anything.'

A spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Leeds confirmed an incident was under investigation, adding: 'The council and the diocese are working together to resolve the situation.' Ian Beck, regional officer for the National Association of Head Teachers, said: 'I'm aware that there are some issues at the school which are being investigated by the proper authorities. 'It's possible that Mrs Cairns didn't report the incident because it didn't happen.'

While the full facts have yet to be determined, last week the Mail revealed that just 2 per cent of allegations levelled at teachers result in a caution or conviction. New guidance is being developed, stressing that schools should not suspend staff automatically after an allegation has been received or allow investigations to drag on.

A spokesman for Bradford Council said: 'It would inappropriate for us to comment until the investigation has been concluded.'


Australia: Teachers subject to harrowing attacks by students

Lots of British schools have police permanently stationed onsite. That would seem to be the future for Australia too

TEACHERS are being terrorised by students who have assaulted them with bricks, furniture, threatened with death, spat on and held hostage. A shocking list of assaults and harrowing attacks by students on teachers since January last year has been supplied to The Courier-Mail. It comes as state school teachers across Queensland get ready to strike tomorrow.

The list of assaults, provided by the Queensland Teachers Union, shows teachers are bearing the brunt of a current wave of violence in state schools. One special school teacher had her jaw broken and multiple teeth knocked out in an attack by a student using fists, feet and furniture. Another suffered extensive eye socket and rib damage after a student's assault. Students terrorised one primary teacher and the teacher's young family for three nights in a row at the family home, throwing rocks on the roof.

Another teacher was forced into a storage room and then terrorised by a student whose hat she had confiscated in class. "The teacher tried to use a phone in the room to call for help but the student repeatedly disconnected the call by pressing the hook switch on the phone. The teacher was eventually able to pass the student and sought help from the school admin," the list states.

It follows revelations in The Courier-Mail over the past two months of violence in schools, including more than 150 attacks on staff and students across the state from intruders last year and rising violence against teachers inside Prep classes.

A teacher specialising in behaviour management contacted The Courier-Mail last week to detail a barrage of attacks over the past fortnight. "I've had a brick thrown at me, been threatened with dangerous weapons, had a chair thrown at me, a classroom window smashed, received very specific and detailed death threats and an assurance that, after I was dead, my classroom would be burned down," she wrote.

QTU president Steve Ryan said the account was not unusual. But, he said, teaching was still a career he could not recommend highly enough. "About 5 per cent of the population gives you about 95 per cent of the problem," he said. Mr Ryan blamed rising disrespect for authority, a lack of resources and student behavioural problems for the violence.

Education Queensland has 325 full-time equivalent behavioural staff across the state - more than one for every four state schools. An EQ spokeswoman said violence had no place in the sector. More than 17,000 students were suspended for violence in Queensland state schools in 2007-2008, with almost 300 expelled.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Britain: The battle to find a good school

They cheat. They lie. They give a false address. . . No, not our MPs - just parents trying to find a decent school for their children, finds Julia Llewellyn Smith. Many of Britain's "sink" government schools would make any responsible parent quail

The letter was a shock. "Dear parent/guardian, Thank you for your primary-school application for the 2009/2010 school year. I am sorry to inform you that we are unable to offer you a place at any of your preferred schools."

I didn't think I'd asked for too much. With my eldest daughter, Sasha, due to start reception in September, I'd applied to my nearest state primary school. We live in the wealthy borough of Richmond, west London, and until this year the school had always been undersubscribed with most neighbours choosing to send their children private from the age of four.

However, we were impressed by the school's new, glowing Ofsted report, by the dynamic head and its happy, motivated children. We applied, congratulating ourselves on the fees we'd save, delighted our children would be able to walk to school and enjoy a circle of local friends.

We were far from alone. Everywhere, job-fearing parents, shocked at extortionate school fees, have decided to chance the state system. "Oxbridge favours state applicants," they convince each other. "We don't want our children to grow up in a privileged ghetto." The result is school places everywhere are being pursued as hotly as premier-league footballers in a nightclub. Two thirds of local authorities have reported a surge in primary-school applications, while the number of children aged five to seven in classes bigger than the legal limit of 30 has risen to 10,010, more than double the 2007 figure of 4,280.

At secondary level, 92,000 children have been denied their first choice of school, while 30,000 have been offered none anywhere. Official figures for primary schools have not yet been published, but a huge shortfall of places is reported in, among others, Birmingham, Bristol and Surrey. In London, 25 out of 33 boroughs are unable to cope with demand.

To win an elusive place, parents are using tactics that make Machiavelli look like Snow White. "These are extreme times and they push people into extreme measures," says Janette Wallis, an editor of the Good Schools Guide. "People have always been willing to stretch the truth for a good school. There's no question we are seeing the most highly driven parents, who would have done anything to get their children in a private school in normal times, use the same dedication and drive to get them into a good state school."

Last week, Harrow Council, in north-west London, said that it was prosecuting Mranil Patel for fraud, after she pretended she lived at her mother's address to win her son a place at a popular school. In fact, Mrs Patel was living at her husband's house two miles away. She claimed she was living at her mother's during a brief split with her husband, but reconciled with him shortly after the school's application deadline. If found guilty, she risks a fine of up to £5,000 – or a prison sentence.

Outwardly, parents tutted; secretly, many felt: "There but for the grace of God…" A recent YouGov survey showed that one in four parents would lie or cheat to win a school place. Since many are as coy about their deviousness as Hollywood starlets are about Botox, the real figure is probably higher.

In my madder moments, I have plotted how my husband and I could "separate" so I could temporarily move into a flat near a sought-after girls' comprehensive. Once Sasha's place was won (guaranteeing her sister's), we'd "reconcile". My more scrupulous husband will not consent, however; just as he refused to find God (we are both atheists) in order to get Sasha into the Ofsted-rated "outstanding" church primary yards from the house we used to live in.

Other parents had no such qualms. On Sundays, the ugly church at which they were required to worship three out of four Sundays a month for at least a year to secure a place, was surrounded by double-parked four-by-fours driven from as far as 10 miles away. The outfits and air-kissing on the pavement outside reminded me of Henley. "Of course the vicar knows most of us are agnostics at best," says Jane, who has three children at the school, despite living six miles away, and is a secret atheist. "His attitude is so long as there are bums on seats, who cares? We're all frantically volunteering for Sunday school, organising bake sales and having him over for drinks to keep him onside. It's totally hypocritical and everyone's in on it."

After all, an example is set from on high. No one doubts Tony Blair's or David Cameron's faith, but both shunned local primaries for their children in favour of distant church schools.

Other common ploys include having children "statemented" for special needs, which gives them priority in many entrance policies. "My child's a bit of a tearaway, but with the help of an educational psychologist, we're hoping to transform it into serious dyslexia and ADHD so he can get into ------," a neighbour cheerfully told me recently. Some put the "wrong" postcode with a correct address, knowing councils use the postcode to measure distance between home and school. If they are detected, they claim a slip of the pen. Others forge necessary council tax documents.

Some stay within the limits, if not the spirit, of the law by buying or renting a second home, or even a caravan, as close as possible (since catchments change from year to year) to their preferred school gates. Recently, John Burton, chair of governors of St Peter's, Eaton Square, a C of E primary much loved by politicians' children, admitted his family had twice moved into rented accommodation, while keeping his original home, to win his daughter a place at popular church secondary schools. "Parents pay money [for private schools] and everyone thinks that's fine, yet people think it's odd we'd want to move to stay in the state sector," he said, defending himself.

Parents in Devon, a grammar [selective school] hot spot, report an influx of pupils from as far as London, who live in their parents' second homes in term time and return to the capital for holidays.

Schools are fighting back with councils such as Poole using measures to spy on possible cheats. Friends of mine who have applied to church schools have got used to the vicar "unexpectedly" dropping in to check they are actually living at the address on their application forms. These vicars also demand to see parents' Baptism certificates and quiz children on the intricacies of their alleged faith.

Fiona Millar, partner of Tony Blair's former spin doctor Alastair Campbell and vice-chairwoman of Comprehensive Futures, an organisation that lobbies for fair admissions, says it's unfair to blame parents for wanting the best for their children. "The Government has set schools up as a market, so people are automatically going to gravitate to what they perceive to be the best. But the problem with creating a marketplace is you need complete elasticity of supply and demand. It works for baked beans when if more people want them you can produce more, but you can't magically conjure up more school places in a crisis year like this."

After years of pious hectoring by the likes of Millar about supporting the state system, I am more than a little disillusioned to discover that option is not practically available. The council is legally obliged to find Sasha a place, but with the five nearest schools to me oversubscribed, the one they will eventually offer seems certain to be miles away.

So Sasha's going to a private prep school. As for secondary school, I wonder if the vicar needs help with the flower rota? Or maybe I'll call the divorce lawyers after all.


Australia: Rookie teachers quitting

You'd quit too if you had to stand up in front of an undisciplined rabble every day

YOUNG teachers are leaving the profession at an "alarming" rate, new figures reveal, threatening a staffing crisis in NSW public schools, with half of the teaching workforce approaching retirement. The number of teachers resigning after four years or less in the job has increased by nearly 20 per cent over two years, according to official government figures obtained by the NSW Opposition under freedom of information laws. The figures show a similar increase in the rate of resignations among teachers with five to nine years' experience. The overall number of teachers resigning from public schools has increased by nearly 10 per cent over the same period, between 2006 and 2008.

The Opposition's education spokesman Adrian Piccoli said the figures were "alarming" and suggested the State Government had failed to provide young teachers with enough support. "The NSW Labor Government thinks they can churn out graduates, send them into schools that are under-resourced and without support, and hope for the best. These statistics show that theory is not working," Mr Piccoli said.

"The way to deal with it is to support young teachers with more mentors, help them deal with challenging students and give them more opportunity for professional development." Mr Piccoli said the Government had "turned a blind eye" to the looming teacher shortage crisis and that teachers were being asked to do "more with fewer resources". "No one lasts in a climate like that," he said.

The NSW Teachers Federation president, Bob Lipscombe, said the new figures presented a worrying future for state education. "This is particularly alarming because we know that 50 per cent of the teaching service will reach retirement age by 2016," he said. "If we can't hold these early-career teachers in our system then the future will be bleak."

Mr Lipscombe said the new figures reinforced the findings from an Auditor-General's report released early last year, which showed that 41 per cent of schoolteachers were aged 50 and over. A third of schoolteachers - more than 16,000 - would reach retirement age in three years. It was estimated that by 2016, 25,000 staff would reach retirement age.

A national audit conducted by the Australian Education Union of more than 1500 new teachers, released this year, showed that more than half those surveyed did not believe they would be teaching in 10 years. The main reasons cited for dissatisfaction with teaching included the workload and behaviour management.

Mr Lipscombe said despite repeated warnings the NSW Department of Education was not doing enough to attract and retain teachers. "The State Government must take action," he said. "It can't just hope there are going to be sufficient teachers in the future."

The teachers' union has lobbied the State Government to reduce classroom teaching time by one hour for all new teachers. It says the Government has released permanent teachers from an hour of teaching time, but it has not given thousands of beginning teachers, who work on a temporary basis, the same allowance.

The union has asked for more mentoring for teachers but says the Department of Education had not increased the number of mentors from 50 full-time positions it provided in 2003.

Last year, Mr Lipscombe said the State Government issued a press release saying there were 110 people on a waiting list to fill vacancies at a school in a country town. "Yet they were unable to fill two vacancies the next day and the following week they had three vacancies," Mr Lipscombe said.

Australian Education Union president Angelo Gavrielatos said experienced teachers also needed to be rewarded with extra pay to ensure they remained in the profession. Starting teachers in NSW earn $52,745 and classroom teachers earn a maximum of $78,667. Teachers need to be promoted out of the classroom to head a department before they can earn $90,532. "Teachers are overworked, undervalued and continue to be underpaid," Mr Gavrielatos said.

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Verity Firth said that for a workforce of about 50,000 permanent schoolteachers, resignation rates were very low. "Last year, the retention rate of teachers in NSW public schools in their first year of service was 96 per cent and the retention rate of teachers in their first five years of service was nearly 88 per cent," she said. "There are a vast range of initiatives in place to support our teachers, particularly those just starting out. This financial year we are investing $5 million in the Teacher Mentor Program, which began in 2003.

"NSW public school classroom teachers are among the highest paid public school classroom teachers in Australia. "The Rees Government is not complacent about our strong teacher retention rates and will continue to investigate further ways to ensure teaching remains an attractive and rewarding career."


Sunday, May 17, 2009

College graduates entering worst job market in decades

ASU graduates will have to hope that President Barack Obama is able to inspire them during his commencement speech tonight. They may have little else to lift them as they head into the worst job market since the early 1980s.

A recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers revealed that slightly fewer than 20 percent of graduates nationally had lined up a job. Two years ago, that figure was around 50 percent.

Still, most respondents are not electing to stay in school. "Surprisingly, at this time we do not see a strong indication of increases in the number of students planning to go to graduate school," said Marilyn Mackes, executive director of the association.

So, after spending thousands of dollars to earn a degree, grads are worried about paying off credit-card debt and obtaining health insurance. They're taking unpaid internships. They're considering moving back home.

Finding a steady-paying job may be particularly difficult in Arizona, which has shed nearly 200,000 jobs since the recession began in December 2007. A positive Labor Department report last week showed April job losses nationally slowed to 539,000 layoffs compared with 699,000 in March. Yet economists expect the unemployment rate to continue rising through early 2010, nearing the 10 percent mark.

"We should expect further job losses in the months to come," Obama told reporters on Friday. Maybe ASU should include the names of local head hunters with the degrees it hands out.


What’s happened to “higher” education?

The encomium to the humanities below is a bit idealistic. As a humanities graduate myself and a lover of much in the humanities, I see little in humanities teaching today which corresponds to the ideals set out below. Astoundingly ignorant Leftist propaganda would be a better description of what is actually taught. Nonetheless, I am a little sad that my son has chosen to study mathematics subjects only. One hopes that there are still some good philosophy and literature courses around -- and the study of Latin is of course hard to corrupt

If the term "higher education" is to be distinguished from other forms of learning or training, surely the distinguishing feature cannot simply be the number of years students have devoted to the cultivation of an ability. Were that the case, the longer one worked at the grinding wheel or in the paint shop, the higher one's education would be.

No, what the term refers to is the study of things that are themselves higher; higher in the order of abstraction, higher in that plane of thought and of action on which the examined life is lived. Understood in these terms, higher education found itself a century and a half ago on a collision course with what the general public was equally pleased to call "the real world," the world of commerce, careers, and popular estimations of success.

The collision finally occurred on Oct. 4, 1957, when the Western democracies awakened to the news that the Soviet Union had launched the satellite Sputnik. This event, more than any other in recent times, seemed to vindicate criticisms that had been directed at colleges and universities for decades, namely, that the prevailing curriculum of study, except for the parts that were expressly preprofessional, were irrelevant to life, indifferent to the real needs of society, out of step with the modern world, and plagued by the perspective of the prep school headmaster.

Our arch adversaries in Moscow knew better than to squander the national brainpower on idle chatter. It was time for the US to know better, or else! Several days after Sputnik was launched, The New York Times carried ominous warnings from Dr. Elmer Hutchisson, director of the American Institute of Physics: Unless future generations appreciate the role of science in modern society and understand the conditions under which science thrives, he said, "our way of life is, I am certain, doomed to rapid extinction."

Within a decade, stimulated by the civil rights movement and an unpopular war, criticism moved to a decidedly shrill part of the register, dismissing all traditional features of higher education as simply irrelevant and – shame of shames – elitist.

All this, of course, had been said long before. In 1692, the great English philosopher John Locke warned against an education that would trade "your son's innocence and virtue for a little Greek and Latin." He disparaged "the learning now in fashion in the schools of Europe," insisting that "a gentleman" can well do without it.

We see as early as the Age of Newton, and in the writing of Newton's most committed disciple, an impatience with attention to the remote past at the expense of a future that stands to benefit from the achievements of science and the practical arts. One does not reach the moon by way of Plato's dialogues.

"The learning now in fashion," as Locke put it, was the bequest of the first great and true universities established in the High Middle Ages. These evolved from the abbey schools mandated in the 9th Century by Alfred the Great in Britain and by Charlemagne in Europe. By the 11th Century some of these were already centers of serious scholarship and teaching. The University of Paris, by the 12th century, would come to define the genre, so much so that when Jesuit founder St. Ignatius of Loyola judged his own scholarly preparation to be hopelessly defective, he took himself to Paris.

From the first, the very atmosphere of higher education was alive with criticism, with the "Sic et non" that conduces not to skepticism but to inquiry; with the "viva voce" that every aspiring don must endure as more seasoned minds test and taunt for the purpose of cleansing and empowering.

Ignatius was not simply studying in "Paris" for some seven years. His principal collegiate affiliation within the University was Sainte Barbe, which, by the time of his arrival, had taken the lead in developing the long-opposed program of humanistic study, and chiefly the study of classical Greek and Latin sources.

These were understood as foundational for all other studies. But defenders had to argue this curriculum into being. One might say that what they were arguing into being was the spirit of the Renaissance itself. Thus, as early as 1542, Ignatius is found writing to students that it is to be their Latin studies that will ground all the rest, and that these studies are therefore mandatory. The study of Greek would soon be added and for the same reason. All this was in specific opposition to prevailing practices at Italian colleges where students were free to choose to study whatever they wished, in any order and, we might surmise, with no compelling purpose or reason (how contemporary!).

By 1599, there were nearly 250 Jesuit schools. All of them called for scholars in scripture, Hebrew, Greek, theology, mathematics, philosophy, and moral philosophy. Nothing in the curriculum was "sectarian," for a common humanity erases the traditional barriers of sect and party.

All in all, in the long and still intense struggle between urbanity and provincialism, it would be the university that would revise the maps of thought and set loose the instructed mind. Locke's reference to "the learning now in fashion in the schools of Europe" was chiefly a reference to this education, which had been his own: an education that shaped the Anglo-European mind and bequeathed it, with refinements and ever more daring possibilities, to the Founders of the American Republic.


The intellectual and philosophical sources of greatest use to and influence upon the American Founders were the productions of the classical world, interpreted and systematically presented in the major works of British – primarily Scottish – and Continental scholars. Much of this was delivered by way of the Scottish Enlightenment and, indeed, by native Scots.

Scottish education, with its distinctively "humanistic Calvinism," was widely adopted in the Colonies and then in the states of the Union. The diffuse influence of Scottish thought, itself beholden to classical sources, did much to immunize the Founders against metaphysical extremes, which were all too often followed by extremes of action. This same influence protected the colonial consumer from most of the products still minted in Europe's frippery shops.

A balance was sought and even found between the speculative and the practical, between lofty and sincerely held principles and the dangerous business of genuine self-governance. To speak of this influence is indirectly to speak of that culture of criticism and of piety that can be traced to Homer, to Plato and Aristotle, to the Stoics, to Cicero, and to so many others in the long list of those who do what is finally "the work of the world."

The century that supplied our contemporary world with the most compelling arguments for liberty, for self-government, for the authority of reason over that of mere tradition or even revelation; the century that hosted tumultuous revolutions under the banner of the Age of Reason, never lost sight of the classical past, and generally invoked its models to render its own conclusions and aspiration more credible. Alas, there is a lesson here. We do not reach the moon by way of Plato and Aristotle but, without them, we might not know what to do when we get there, or why we should even make the attempt.


Thanks to Sputnik, American colleges and universities came to host what now is called "big science," once the exclusive preserve of the largest corporations. After Sputnik, there was less room for and less patience with the mere dilettante. Vocation gave way to profession, and profession to career.

The ethos of the academic world, for so long collegial and perhaps even a bit unworldly, metamorphosed into something ever more focused, ever more entrepreneurial. America entered something called "the Space Race," thought at the time to be an event within that larger and macabre Olympiad known as the cold war. With all this going on, and in light of the great stakes, there could be little room for Latin or Greek.

But of course there is always something going on and, if only for this reason, it may be that there must always be room for a literature, a culture, a means of self-critical appraisal found in purer form within the classical context. If Sputnik awakened the complacent West in the middle of the 20th century, it was Darwin who did the same a century earlier.

By the time "On the Origin of Species" appeared, the divorce between science and the humanities was effectively complete, so much so that when the Birmingham Technical Institute, thanks to a large gift from Josiah Mason, emerged as Mason College, the very terms of the gift would include the stipulation that humanities not be taught.

The college's founder's day address, titled "Science and Culture," was given by Thomas Henry Huxley. Known as "Darwin's bulldog," he was one of the most acute intelligences of the Victorian era. Huxley tested his audience with a question: Suppose a youngster hoping to have some good effect on the world had to choose between two curriculums while at university? One, says Huxley, featuring a pair of dead languages, perhaps of use to some future reviewer of books, the other based on the laws and principles of science by which one can comprehend the operations of the natural world. Huxley took this to be an easy question. Is there any doubt, he asked, in anyone's mind, as to which of these should be chosen? He answered that the only ones who could doubt were those famous "Levites in charge of the ark of culture," notably Matthew Arnold.

It would not be long before Arnold accepted the challenge and published his instructive reply, "Literature and Science." There Arnold politely acknowledged Huxley's authority as a man of science, not to mention a "prince of debaters." He then shared with his readers some lines he had read in Darwin's "The Descent of Man," where we learn that "our ancestor was a hairy quadruped, with pointed ears and a tail, probably arboreal in his habits."

Arnold is prepared to accept this characterization of our common ancestry. But he went on to note that, regarding "this good fellow," this hairy quadruped with pointed ears and a tail, no doubt arboreal in his habits, he must have carried in his nature something that inclined him to Greek! There must have been in him a veritable necessity to Greek.

The point should be clear enough. To know thyself, in the full meaning of that command, is not to look back upon a primordial past when the very marks of humanity are few and doubtful. It is to look instead at what has been achieved in our finest hour and what it was that nurtured and impelled such achievement.

Huxley was not unaware of the need to understand the human condition within its political and social context. This very understanding, however, was, on his account, not to be enlightened by higher education but by science. Let's listen to him again: "I confess, I should like to see one addition made to the excellent scheme of education propounded for the College, in the shape of provision for the teaching of Sociology."

Think of that: delete the classics and add sociology. The commitment to relevance and to practicality inescapably leads to politicized and trendy teaching, for to be "contemporary" is, alas, to be contemporary in one's knowledge, one's methods, and one's passions. To follow Huxley is to leave the world of ancient Greece and partake of the methods – the methodology – of the social sciences. Thus did the biblical king Rehoboam trade gold for brass.

It is a higher education that pulls us up out of the distractions of the moment and allows us to see further; to see more clearly where we've been, what we've done, who we are, who we might become. Higher education exposes to a bright light all forms of counterfeit: ingratiating talk as the counterfeit of teaching, rote learning as the counterfeit of thought, mere opinion as the counterfeit of judgment, enthusiasm as the counterfeit of principle.

Perhaps under prevailing conditions such an education is simply beyond the resources – material, personal, even moral – of our colleges and universities. Perhaps the now universal practice of counting publications and tracking grant revenue as the means by which to establish and reward members of a faculty is so deeply entrenched that there can be no genuine community of scholars, no systematic and disciplined examination of the moral dimensions of life. Perhaps the very organization of today's colleges has gone too far to be reversed. Might an acceptable compensation be a successful lunar landing?