Monday, February 01, 2010

So your freedom-loving kid is going to college, part 2

Taking the anxiety out of picking a congenial school

In Part I last week I offered a few suggestions on finding a congenial school for a freedom-loving college-bound child. The focus there was on “fit” and the importance of teaching. This week, I elaborate on both and offer some other suggestions.

It is simply impossible, short of attending Hillsdale or Grove City College or some religious colleges, to avoid the fact that the vast majority of college faculty members will have a worldview different from yours and your child’s. The classroom will inevitably reflect their views, just as my classes are colored by my views. The concern about potential “indoctrination,” however, should arise only if agreement with the teacher’s views determines the evaluation of the student’s work. In my experience such behavior is more the exception than the rule. The majority of left-leaning faculty, especially where teaching is valued, are not after students who agree with them but rather students who show a capacity for critical thinking, can express their views cogently in writing and in speech, and support them with evidence.

To gauge this, explore how focused the school is on helping their students acquire skills in writing, speaking, critical thinking, and research. Are these goals featured prominently in the college’s promotional materials? Are there clear places in the curriculum where those skills are taught? And notice that “taught” is not the same thing as “assigned.” Teachers who assign papers and speeches might assume students already have adequate skills. Actually teaching them how to become better writers, speakers, and researchers is much harder (and more necessary) work. Also ask if the institution commits resources to helping faculty engage in such instruction.

Where faculty members are publicly committed to teaching communication skills, their evaluation is far more likely to be on the process by which students create their work and the skills they demonstrate in doing so, rather than on the particular content.

Fairness Is Possible

Another useful strategy is to have your child ask other students if they feel they are graded on the basis of their ideological views. It’s perfectly possible for a faculty member to have strong views yet grade student papers purely on how effectively they argue for their own views. This tends to happen when the teaching of writing and speaking is a priority, but it’s always worth seeing what the students themselves say.

It is worth investigating whether other students and/or faculty members share your child’s political interests. The presence of libertarian or conservative student groups can provide not only fellow students to share ideas and concerns with, but also a potential source of extra-curricular learning. Such groups often invite guest speakers or organize book discussions. Various freedom-oriented organizations are funding student groups on an increasing number of campuses, including smaller ones.

Finding libertarian-leaning faculty can be important as well, even if the student has no interest in the faculty member’s specialty. Often those teachers serve as formal or informal advisers for student groups and can be important advocates for students if they find themselves being treated unfairly for what appear to be ideological reasons. How well that faculty member has been treated by the institution can also be a guide to the college’s openness to diverse opinions.

Beware the Victim Mentality

Finally, a word of caution: It is important not to fall into the victim mentality. I have seen too many cases where conservative students complain about “ideological discrimination” when the real problem is that they are not offering arguments and evidence that are sophisticated enough for the college classroom. Even if you think, as I do, that left-leaning faculty sometimes let left-leaning students get away with lazy arguments, be above reproach. The more that freedom lovers whine about being victims, the less seriously will our ideas be taken.

So to students I say: Find the college that is best for you academically and socially, and make sure it has a commitment to teaching generally and to instructing students in communication skills and critical thinking specifically. If it does, see if there are other freedom-minded students and faculty on campus and get a sense of the institutional tolerance for diverse ideas. Then read my earlier column “The Low Road and the High Ground” and follow its suggestions on knowing both sides of major issues inside and out, arguing your views clearly and with evidence, and doing it all with a smile.

Conservative and libertarian students can have a very good experience in most colleges in the United States if they take their work seriously and respect those with whom they disagree.


Britain pays hefty bribes to keep its dysfunctional public schools staffed

THE salaries of the best-paid state school headteachers have risen to almost £200,000, overtaking the pay packet of the headmaster of Eton College, according to new figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The data show that two principals at academies, Labour’s semi-independent state comprehensives, were paid between £190,000 and £199,999 in 2008/09. Tony Little of Eton, is paid £180,000—£189,999 and is believed to be the highest-paid private-sector head.

The data show the emergence of an elite of at least 11 academy principals, condemned by critics as “fat cats” paid more than £150,000. This was an increase from six the previous year. A third of academies have yet to submit accounts.

In addition, seven heads working for local authority-controlled schools were paid in excess of this figure in 2008, the latest year for which figures were available.

The salaries may even understate the total packages received, because many heads receive generous bonuses and add-on payments for running spin-off businesses based on school premises. Some also charge consultancy fees for advising other schools on how to improve results.

Vernon Coaker, the schools minister, said: “Being the head of a school is a very challenging, but also very rewarding role. We know that the best heads deliver leadership which raises aspirations for all pupils and makes everyone feel part of a team. The difference good leadership can make is beyond measure; it can make or break a school. “That’s why it’s right salaries are competitive and we allow schools further flexibility to reward the best candidates meaning schools that are underperforming or have challenging circumstances can actually recruit and retain the best heads.”

Academies, which are often among the toughest inner-city schools to run, are not subject to the same salary restrictions that apply to mainstream state schools and they pay high figures to attract the best candidates.

Alasdair Smith, national secretary of the Anti-Academies Alliance, said: “In addition to millions squandered on consultancies, we now have unaccountable, fat-cat headteachers shamelessly enriching themselves at public expense. “It is yet more evidence that the academies programme is not fit for purpose and it is a pointer to what will happen if the next government extend the market in education.”

According to a study received last week, the average secondary school head earns £74,000. Although the maximum salary possible is in theory £109,658 for inner London and £102,734 elsewhere, pay is in practice raised far higher by bonuses and other deals.

State school teachers were once seen as under-paid, but have seen salaries soar under Labour. This helped plug shortages in key areas of teaching, but has led to a series of rows over “excessive” pay packets for heads.

Sir Alan Davies, former headmaster of Copland, a comprehensive in Brent, west London, is being investigated by Scotland Yard over a series of generous payments. In a single year, he was allegedly paid more than £400,000 in a single year after clinching a series of lucrative deals including a contract to work as “project manager” on a development at his own school. His extra payments are said to have totalled £600,000 over five years in addition to his six-figure salary. Davies resigned amid claims of financial mismanagement by the governors.

Greg Martin, head at Durand primary school in Stockwell, south London, more than doubled his £70,000 salary by charging fees for managing the school’s health spa and other facilities.


Australia: Catholic schools teach Catholicism! How shocking!

Why send your kid to a Catholic school if that's a problem? I sent my son to a Catholic school despite my Protestant background and he enjoyed his religion lessons greatly -- and got high marks in them. Should I have expected anything else?

CATHOLIC schools are forcing Year 12 students to sit a TEE religion subject that will count towards their university entrance score. Outraged parents are taking their children out of Catholic schools because they believe the now mandatory Religion and Life subject will create an unfair workload on students. Students already studying courses like physics and chemistry will have an extra three-hour exam to cram for. And non-religious students will be forced to rigorously study Catholic values if they wish to get into university.

The Sunday Times understands that the idea to make all Catholic school students sit a religion exam came from Archbishop Barry Hickey. Catholic Education Office of WA director Ron Dullard conceded the decision had upset some parents. "Initially, there was some concern," he said. "I don't think the parents totally understood the implications that it actually does count towards their (child's) TEE and university entrance - and the fact that, irrespective of whether they were doing the exam, they still had to devote that amount of time as part of the policy of their Catholic education obligation to religion anyway."

One southern suburbs parent told The Sunday Times they had pulled their son out of a Catholic school. "My son didn't want the added pressure of juggling his religion exam studies with subjects like physics and chemistry," she said.

Mr Dullard said the mandatory religion exams should be a benefit for students. "It should give them an advantage, particularly if they've been doing RE (religious education) for 12 years in a Catholic school," he said. "I think the students will be better prepared for RE than any other of the new courses of study."

The subject Religion and Life was designed to be non-denominational by the Curriculum Council so that students from every school could study it. Curriculum Council chief executive David Wood said Catholic students would answer questions from the perspective of their faith. "The course is set up so that kids can draw on their knowledge and experiences in whatever faith they're in to respond to the questions," Mr Wood said.


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