Sunday, January 10, 2010

I guess this is "inclusiveness": Australian schoolkids to sing New Zealand national anthem!

I am not sure when inclusiveness became a good thing. I recollect no debate about it and I have been following politics for 50 years. It used to be exclusiveness that was honoured. But asking school students to sing the national anthem of another country on Australia's most solemn day of commemoration is certainly rather odd. Australians, however, generally have positive attitudes toward New Zealanders (though the converse is notably different) so I expect the idea will be accepted to some extent

QUEENSLAND state school students will for the first time be encouraged to sing the New Zealand national anthem to commemorate Anzac Day. Premier Anna Bligh will write to principals asking them to play God Defend New Zealand, along with the Australian national anthem, at school ceremonies. Her request, as chairwoman of the Anzac Day Commemoration Committee, could be controversial considering the rivalry between the Tasman neighbours, particularly in sport.

Queensland continues to be a magnet for Kiwis, with 11,700 settling here in the past year. More than 150,000 live in the Sunshine State, about 40 per cent of all New Zealanders in Australia. Trade between the countries is worth about $2.8 billion.

Ms Bligh said it was time to mark NZ's contribution to Australia by playing God Defend New Zealand. "This would be a fitting tribute and suitable recognition of the members of the New Zealand armed forces who have served alongside the men and women of our Australian armed forces during wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations," Ms Bligh said. "I encourage you to give favourable consideration to this request when planning the 2010 Anzac Day ceremony."

The Premier said schools could obtain free copies of the Kiwi anthem on CD or the sheet music. It would be up to individual schools whether they got the children to sing the song or just listen to God Defend New Zealand.

The New Zealand consulate office in Brisbane said it was unlikely that schools in NZ would reciprocate [THAT'S for sure!], but a spokesman said Ms Bligh's direction to state schools was a "wonderful gesture".

Anzac Day – April 25 – falls on a Sunday this year, so the public holiday will be held the following day.

Queensland Principals Association chairman Norm Hart said it was "an interesting idea". He said Ms Bligh had called on schools to improve numeracy and literacy, with a target of being one of the top three states in the country, and the focus was on that rather that extracurricular activities. "If she is saying our students have to learn the lyrics and sing it, then I am less impressed," Mr Hart said.


More choice coming in California

The greatest revolution in education in the United States today is taking place in Los Angeles. It is the mandate of the Los Angeles Unified School District School Board to convert almost a third of its schools either to charter schools, the public schools of choice that are the one shining light in an otherwise dysfunctional system, or other alternatives such as magnet schools. The change is not only a mighty one for the state's largest school district, but in time it could double the number of public schools of choice in California.

What is remarkable is not just the magnitude of this earth-shaking change, but the complete shift of the paradigm about how we think about public education. The driving force behind this revolution is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is not only a Democrat but also a former organizer for the United Teachers of Los Angeles, Los Angeles teachers' union. Villaraigosa took his nontraditional stand because, as he noted, LAUSD was racked with violence and plagued with a dropout rate of 50 percent, and showed no signs of improving.

Even more astounding: With the doors open to making bids to the school board to launch pioneering schools, groups of public school teachers and the teachers' unions themselves are submitting proposals. "This is the power that teachers have always been asking for, the authority to choose what is happening in our schools," Monterey Park English teacher Patricia Jauregui told the Los Angeles Times. She added, "With power comes responsibility. We are accountable for the results, and I don't mind that."

In his 1978 book, "Education by Choice," John Coons, UC Berkeley School of Law professor and father of the American charter school movement, predicted that one day public school teachers would see the benefit of teaching in schools in which they had professional autonomy, and in which every child wanted to be there and valued what that school had to offer. It has taken 32 years for that prediction to come to pass.

California public schools, once the envy of the nation, have students performing on some tests of reading skills barely above Mississippi students. Our once-vaunted high technology sector must import engineers from Asia. And our state budget has been busted in large part because of a bulging prison system, with more than 85 percent of the convicts high school dropouts.

At the state level too, school choice has become a far more bipartisan issue than could have been imagined even a year ago. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and his colleague Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, teamed up to get legislation passed that mandates more complete reporting of dropout rates. Four of the candidates for governor of California, Republicans and Democrats both, are charter school advocates.

This is public education's fall of the Berlin Wall. The old model of the compulsory, one-size-fits-all, factory-style public school is being tossed on the scrap heap of history, to be replaced by upholding the U.N. Charter of Universal Human Rights, which guarantees the right of parents to direct the education of their children.

Someday soon, all of our children will be enrolled in schools that their families have freely chosen and that give them the sense of community, even of family, that will keep them in school and get them safely to graduation day.


More than 230 British schools have ditched Christian assemblies

Almost 100,000 pupils are being taught in schools which have dropped Christian assemblies in favour of Islamic or multi-faith worship. More than 230 schools have applied to councils for exemption from the legal requirement to hold a daily act of collective worship of a "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character". In some of these schools, Islamic assemblies are held instead, with readings from the Koran. Other schools run secular or multi-faith assemblies where Christianity is avoided or relegated to just one example of a faith among many.

Religious organisations said Christianity in schools was being marginalised and accused schools of failing children. "The worst thing of all that schools can do, whether they have a determination or not, is a multi-faith mish mash," said Colin Hart, the director of the Christian Institute. "The British Social Attitudes survey found that 69 per cent of parents backed daily prayers in schools. Yet Christianity in schools is being marginalised. Parents do not want assemblies to be either secular or a confusing amalgam of faiths. Look at the massive number of parents of other faiths who apply to Church schools. They don't like the secularism that is pervading community schools."

The scale of the opt-out can be revealed for the first time after 105 councils in England responded to a Freedom of Information request from The Sunday Telegraph. Between them, the local authorities had granted "determinations" to 185 primaries and 45 secondaries, teaching an estimated 96,000 pupils. In most schools with opt-outs, the vast majority of pupils were from ethnic minorities. However, in some, white British pupils formed a sizeable minority.

Inner city authorities, such as Birmingham, Bradford, Leicester and the London boroughs of Brent, Hounslow and Ealing, had dozens of schools which had dropped Christian assemblies. Government figures show that the number of ethnic minority pupils in English schools is growing. One in four primary schoolchildren is from an ethnic minority – double the figure a decade ago.

A number of councils with high numbers of ethnic minority pupils, such as Tower Hamlets and Hackney, in London, had no exemptions. But religious experts said this did not necessarily mean that Christian worship was taking place. The Church of England said the law was flexible enough to cater for mixed school intakes, without the need for opt-outs. "Collective worship within a broadly Christian framework rarely poses an issue for students of other faith backgrounds, which tend to share the same core values," said a spokesman.

"The law is sufficient flexibility for schools to be able to reflect the nature of a multicultural intake without needing a determination. For instance, almost half of the content could be from a non-Christian faith. If parents are uncomfortable with what is on offer, they have the legal right to withdraw their child from what is provided by the school."

The duty on schools to provide a daily act of Christian worship dates back to 1944 but was strengthened in the 1988 education act. Schools can apply to the local authority Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE), made up of school and faith representatives, for an exemption from the "broadly Christian" requirement for some or all of their pupils. If this "determination" is granted, the school must provide alternative worship for these pupils. In 2007, sixth forms were given the right to opt-out of collective worship and in 2008, a committee of MPs recommended that under-16s should also be given the choice.

Many head teachers and their staff object to the requirement and bend or break the rules, particularly in secondary schools. Ofsed is supposed to check that schools do comply but some critics said inspectors took too broad a view. In 2004, David Bell, the then chief inspector and now the permanent secretary of the Department of Children, Schools and Families, suggested that the law on Christian worship be repealed.

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College leaders, said: "The concept of compulsory worship has always been a nonsense. Schools have long wanted the government to take on the bishops in the House of Lords and change the law. School assemblies are a valuable way to reinforce the ethos of the school. They often contain the spiritual element that is missing in many children's lives but having a law which imposes Christian collective worship is nonsense."

Terry Sanderson, the president of the National Secular Society, said: "Requiring children to worship, as our law does, is a breach of their human rights. In many schools, children from other creeds and none are in the majority and the proportion is rising. Enforced Christian Collective worship has therefore gone beyond being an embarrassment to becoming a needless source of conflict."

Bordesley Green Girls' Specialist and Enterprise School, in Birmingham, was granted a determination in 2004 which allows it to hold a daily act of worship which is Islamic in character. Nearly all the pupils at the smaller than average secondary are from minority ethnic groups, the vast majority are Muslim.

Girls at the school, rated "outstanding" by Ofsted, receive a five minute broadcast each morning from the public address system in the head teacher's office. The broadcasts include readings from the Koran and presentations on moral, religious and ethical issues from the pupils themselves. The scripts are agreed in advance by the head teacher. In one broadcast for instance, girls discussed bullying: "Please Allah, we should not bully as this is not following the prophet's way of life," said one. Clare Considine, the head teacher, said: "We have a system in school which works really well and which has the full support of parents."


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