Thursday, February 18, 2010

"Green" Student Indoctrination in Michigan

Michigan eighth-graders are 36th in the nation in math and 33rd in reading. But legislators are making sure they excel at what matters — like greening school buses by checking their tire pressures.

In 2006, Michigan created a bipartisan “Green School” law that tasked government to recognize schools with green programs. To qualify, an institution must task its students to complete half of a list of 20 green options, including:

— Making sure their school “has adopted an endangered species animal and posted a picture of it in a main traffic area.”

— That students participate in “a planned program of energy savings, including dusting coils on cafeteria refrigerators, placing film on windows, setting hot water heaters one degree lower, seeing how plants and trees strategically placed can save energy, and checking proper inflation on bus tires and other school vehicles once a month.”

— That the school be visited by an “ecological spokesperson, a representative of the Sierra Club, an endangered animal species show, or a similar presentation.”

— That “the school has solar power presentations or experiments, such as a solar cookout.”

— That “the school has science class projects in which students do several home energy improvements, such as . . . clean coils on home refrigerators, and install draft guards for the doors.”

— That “the school's classes visit internet sites where clicking saves rainforest habitat.”

In short, a program to indoctrinate students as green missionaries spreading the green gospel in school, home, and the community. Some 500 schools now participate in the program, reports the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, with legislation pending [PDF] this year to upgrade schools to “Emerald School” status (15 tasks completed) and “Evergreen School” status for completing all 20.

Michigan is one of a handful of states with a green-school program. Call it America’s Race to the Bottom.


Christian views on health matters not allowed to be mentioned?

Brad Lopez is one of several Fresno City College instructors who teach Health Science I, which the catalog describes as a survey of "contemporary science concepts and medical information designed to promote health." Topics include sexuality, nutrition, substance abuse, physical fitness and heredity. One would reasonably expect to encounter a variety of scientific explanations and discussions in such a setting. After all, the goal of education is not merely to impart politically correct pablum but rather to help students learn to evaluate data and think for themselves.

Unfortunately for Mr. Lopez, he is also a Christian, a designation which seems to have gotten under the skin of the ACLU and two of Lopez's students. Therefore, the ACLU is calling into question his ability to express his opinions, scientific theories and interpretations. Were he a mere Marxist at an American college, it is doubtful anyone would have taken notice of his interpretation of scientific data.

The ACLU of Northern California has written a letter to the school's administration complaining that Lopez quoted the Bible as proof that human life begins at conception and that he characterized homosexuality as a mental illness. The letter claims that such teaching violates California laws protecting gays from discrimination and prohibiting religious indoctrination at public schools. The ACLU asks Fresno City College "to act immediately to ensure that all its health classes provide only accurate and unbiased information."

First, such a statement about homosexuality is certainly one of a number of scientific positions regarding the “health” of gay behavior. For example, both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association maintained such a position well into the 1970's. It is now a minority opinion but one still held nonetheless by a number of scientists. There is no such thing as “unbiased” information when it comes to assessing homosexuality. Sexual behavior is hardly comparable to the law of gravity. All scientists and thinkers interpret the data and emerging research. Shall Mr. Lopez not offer his own interpretation or should he instead ask what interpretation the ACLU would categorize as “unbiased” and “accurate”? After all, he is the teacher of the class, and that is what teachers do – share their opinions and interpretations of the data.

Jacqueline Mahaffey, 24, had Lopez as a teacher last semester, and said his personal beliefs appeared on the first day of class when he made a point of contradicting their textbook, which listed cancer as the leading cause of death. Lopez told the class that abortions kill more human beings than cancer. Of course, Mr. Lopez is technically correct although that fact seems not to hold much weight against a tidal wave of political correctness. Again, what might be “accurate and unbiased” information regarding the beginning of human life?

Most scientists (and theologians) agree that human life begins at conception. What they dispute is when a human receives a “soul.” But few scientists deviate from the idea of human life's beginning at conception.

Ms. Mahaffey said she nonetheless stayed in the class and earned an A. Lopez clearly was not inculcating religious belief, or Ms. Mahaffey's disagreements with his positions would surely have prevented her from earning an A in the course.

Evidently, in the ACLU's world, only one interpretation is welcome: An interpretation where abortion is not viewed as destroying a human life and one where homosexuality is seen as a lifestyle equivalent to any other. That is their definition of “accurate” and “unbiased;” to disagree invites censoring. And I thought universities were places for the free exchange of ideas and thought. Silly me.

It is little wonder that American college campuses contain the last vestiges of Marxism in the world. Free speech is refused, free inquiry is denied and free thinking is squelched, all in the name of political correctness. Bill Ayers would be proud. And the ACLU should be embarrassed.

Some thoughts and ideas simply cannot be explored. Feelings are more important than truth. And that is a scary place to be.


British government school rejects educational excellence in favour of Leftist ideology

Labour Party member Joanna Leapman became a governor at her children's school to make state education better for everyone. Here she explains how the system has failed and why she ended up resigning

The appointment of our new junior school head teacher in 2008 seemed too good to be true. For the last few years, I had slowly come to accept my children would never benefit from the same sort of education that I had had in a small village school. The school my three children attend, in a multiracial London neighbourhood, has its fair share of problems, and head teachers had long brushed off its below-average results with excuses of 'pupil mobility’, 'high need area’ and 'vulnerable children’. Everyone had seemed too busy dealing with discipline to give anyone a chance to shine, flourish or even enjoy their education.

In 2006, I had been elected on to the governing body which served both the infant and junior schools – but I soon felt I was banging my head against a brick wall. In our area of London, there are a fair number of middle-class families but many opt for church schools or private education instead. Yet my ideas for attracting more of these parents were ignored. I was told it was not the done thing to compete with other schools or play the same game as private schools by selling ourselves. I had eventually persuaded the infant school, which had a separate head teacher, to host open days for prospective new parents but when they turned up they received a lengthy presentation on our 'strong inclusion agenda’, meaning that we catered well for children with special needs or behaviour problems. Got a bright child? Look elsewhere.

The number of disruptive and violent children in our children’s classes was high. They were never excluded — even temporarily. And their behaviour was made worse by disruptions to their learning, such as job-shares often used to accommodate weak teachers whom the head couldn’t bring herself to get rid of.

But suddenly in 2008 we had a new head at the junior school. A former banker turned teacher, he was full of determination and spark. His language was refreshingly jargon-free and optimistic. He ripped the school budget apart, weeded out ineffective staff, came down hard on poor behaviour with temporary exclusions, reorganised the classes to put similar children together, introduced setting in Year 6, brought in excellent teachers and built a science lab.

More importantly, he gave children an enthusiasm for learning. For the first time in a long time, my eldest child, aged eight at the time, had a smile on her face. And it wasn’t just our child. Other bright children such as our daughter felt they were being challenged, not just biding their time while the teacher dealt with the difficult kids. For once, I saw children leaving the school gates enthused, excited and motivated. Even parents of the 'difficult kids’ were pleased. They told me they were happy their children were finally being dealt with, not being given a series of mixed messages by a stream of educational welfare officers, educational psychologists and behaviour specialists.

Within a year, the junior school’s SAT results had turned round. With a 17 per cent increase in maths results, it was ranked the fourth most improved primary in Croydon. The authority’s own inspectors had moved it from a 'notice to improve’ school to 'good’ in just two terms of his headship.

And the head’s new projects and ideas were just flowing in. Now a specialist science school, we had a school house system named after Galileo, Newton and Darwin, with children competing to sit on top table at lunch. Enlisting a local inventor, pupils pitched their ideas to join a mini Dragon’s Den club and became the only school to take inventions to the Inventors’ Fair in Alexandra Palace last year. The best scientists in the school were treated to an astronomy day at University College London. And money was coming in left, right and centre too. The head knew how to draw up a bid and attracted sponsorships for a variety of projects including a new amphitheatre in the school grounds. And there was talk of a deal with a coffee shop to put in a quiet area for staff and parents.

He just did things. When he needed a classroom, he found a disused area and created one. Storage areas and medical rooms were not being used, so he brought in a builder during the holidays to knock them through. He even sold an unused kiln on eBay for school funds.

Parents at neighbouring schools pulled their children out and put them into ours, some even moved from private prep schools. Suddenly we were full, with a waiting list. The school was on a fast track to being outstanding. And at last, as a senior governor, my work with the new head was starting to make a difference.

It was in stark contrast to our sister infant school, whose head teacher – like many others – went along with the institutionalised box-ticking and consultation exercises that are squeezing the creativity and excellence out of our public services. Several highly disruptive and violent children were still in the school in the name of 'inclusion’ and had contributed to the resignation of a couple of excellent teachers. Many classes were being run by supply teachers or job-shares, as teachers took time out to train or help out at a nearby struggling school, as part of some new Government strategy.

The needs of higher ability pupils were never a priority in the infant school. The Government’s Gifted and Talented scheme was set up to address this but were never fully implemented. Under the scheme, the top 10 per cent of children are supposed to be identified, tracked and specially catered for in every lesson. But the infant school’s most able pupils attend a 10-week course run by a teaching assistant and are then taken off it to give the less able a chance. Run properly, a good Gifted and Talented programme should keep the more academic children challenged and enthusiastic about school but many teachers don’t believe in it, and now, it seems the Government is following their lead. As The Sunday Telegraph revealed last month, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) intends to scrap the scheme entirely.

So, when our governing body took the decision last year to merge both our infant and junior schools under one head teacher, and both head teachers competed for the job, some of us parents assumed there could only be one winner. This new superhead should have just walked into the job, right? Wrong.

Instead the governing body chose the head teacher who had been at the infant school for 14 years but had not worked with junior schoolchildren since at least 1995, predating the introduction of SATs. Our chance of becoming something very special had just been snatched away. The superhead will be out of a job this summer – after just two years in the post.

Here was fresh life being breathed into a stale education system weighed down by paperwork, statistics, targets and policies. But the governors, and ultimately the local authority, who had to verify the appointment, didn’t want it.

But I had seen it coming. Other governors didn’t like his ideas because they were not in keeping with “the way things are done in education”; his confidence and determination for excellence was put down as 'arrogance’; and they were angry that things such as the House System had happened without endless weeks of consultation with every parent and 'stakeholder’.

Instead they were happy to congratulate the infant head teacher for signing off policies, involvement in Government initiatives, producing the right graphs, analysing the performance of every minority group and gaining an Inclusion Charter Mark – an enormous box-ticking project that was a pat on the back for accommodating difficult kids at the expense of other children. This new logo that can be added to our headed paper is just one of a number of awards that have become part of the culture, including Healthy Schools Award, Arts Mark, Investors in People, Sports Award, Basic Skills Award and the Eco-schools Green Flag. All of these take teachers away from the business of teaching – not to mention the misdirection of DCSF resources....

During my time as chair of the personnel committee, I was astonished at the lack of commitment to tackling poor teaching standards and practice. The calibre of candidates at interviews was very low. Four candidates applying for a deputy headship had two A-levels between them. The people running our schools should at least be reasonably bright, not people who have cobbled together Mickey Mouse GCSE passes in textiles and media studies and then took conversion courses at the local college. David Cameron was on to something when he announced last month that Tory policy would not allow graduates with a Third to enter the profession. Many primary schools are lucky to attract graduates at all.

My case is not unique. Throughout the system we see new targets being pushed instead of the actual job of teaching. The inclusion agenda has turned many of our state schools into places preoccupied with the needs of difficult and disruptive kids. Teaching has become second-place, with many senior teachers seeing themselves as social workers. Heads are even fined in some areas for excluding troublemakers.

I’m a Labour Party member who became a school governor because I had a firm belief in state education and was determined to do my bit to make it better for everyone. But the system has let me down. Some of our local head teachers are hell-bent on pushing inclusion but have their own children in private schools. They seem happy to accept state schools as sink schools which should not be catering for the middle classes.

But the ones who suffer most are the bright kids from working-class families who can’t afford to move or go private. They are the ones left behind, along with those heads who accept mediocrity instead of pushing for excellence.

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