Sunday, March 14, 2010

TX adopts more conservative social studies standards

The Texas State Board of Education agreed to new social studies standards on Friday after the far-right faction wielded its power to shape the lessons that will be taught to millions of students on American history, the U.S. free enterprise system, religion and other topics. In a vote of 10-5, the board preliminarily adopted the new curriculum after days of charged debate marked by race and politics. In dozens of smaller votes passed over the three days, the ultra-conservatives who dominate the board nixed all but a few efforts to recognize the diversity of race and religion in Texas.

Decisions by the board -- long led by the social conservatives who have advocated ideas such as teaching more about the weaknesses of evolutionary theory -- affects textbook content nationwide because Texas is one of publishers' biggest clients. As part of the new curriculum, the elected board -- made up of lawyers, a dentist and a weekly newspaper publisher among others -- rejected an attempt to ensure that children learn why the U.S. was founded on the principle of religious freedom. But, it agreed to strengthen nods to Christianity by adding references to "laws of nature and nature's God" to a section in U.S. history that requires students to explain major political ideas. They also agreed to strike the word "democratic" in references to the form of U.S. government, opting instead to call it a "constitutional republic."

In addition to learning the Bill of Rights, the board specified a reference to the Second Amendment right to bear arms in a section about citizenship in a U.S. government class and agreed to require economics students to "analyze the decline of the U.S. dollar including abandonment of the gold standard."

Conservatives beat back multiple attempts to include hip-hop as an example of a significant cultural movement that already includes country music. "We have been about conservatism versus liberalism," said Democrat Mavis Knight of Dallas, explaining her vote against the standards. "We have manipulated strands to insert what we want it to be in the document, regardless as to whether or not it's appropriate."

Republican Terri Leo, a member of the powerful Christian conservative voting bloc, called the standards "world class" and "exceptional."

Over the past three days, the board also argued over how historic periods should be classified (still B.C. and A.D., rather than B.C.E. and C.E.); whether or not students should be required to explain the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its impact on global politics (they will); and whether former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir should be required learning (she will). Numerous attempts to add the names or references to important Hispanics throughout history also were denied, inducing one amendment that would specify that Tejanos died at the Alamo alongside Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie.

A day earlier, longtime board member Mary Helen Berlanga accused her colleagues of "whitewashing" the standards and walked out of the panel's meeting in frustration. Berlanga voted against the standards on Friday. Berlanga also bristled when the board approved an amendment that deletes a requirement that sociology students "explain how institutional racism is evident in American society."

The three-day meeting that began Wednesday was the first since voters in last week's Republican primary handed defeats to two veteran conservatives, including former board chairman Don McLeroy, who lost to a moderate GOP lobbyist. Two other conservatives -- a Republican and a Democrat -- did not seek re-election. All four terms end in January. McLeroy, a 10-year board veteran, has been one of the most prolific and polarizing members. The devout Christian conservative has been adamant on several issues, including that the Christian influences of the nation's Founding Fathers are important to studying American history.

In Texas alone, the board's decisions will set guideposts for teaching history and social studies to some 4.8 million K-12 students during the next 10 years. In almost six hours of public testimony on Wednesday, the board heard repeated pleas that the Christian heritage of the U.S. be reflected in the new standards as well as other requests that students learn more Hispanic examples of prominent historic figures.


British private schools attack Government interference

Independent schools will launch an attack this week on Government interference in how they are run and what they teach. The Independent Schools Council has drawn up a manifesto demanding that the party that wins the election strips away the unprecedented layers of regulation that have been imposed on the sector. It will say that the independence of schools is being worn away by Government interference, threatening their successful running and undermining the characteristics of private education that parents value.

At its annual conference next week it will call for Contactpoint, Labour's database of all children in England, to be scrapped; the controversial new vetting and barring scheme, which regulates who is deemed to be suitable to work with children, to be slimmed down; and school inspections to be streamlined. "Our excellent results are down to our independence and our ability to do things differently," said David Lyscom, the chief executive of the Independent Schools Council (ISC). "But over the last few years we have seen that independence whittled away in all sorts of areas.

"The irony is that while promoting the idea of 'independence', the current Government has operated in the opposite direction. "We share the concerns of the state sector that layer upon layer of regulation has been added. These layers conflict and overlap and make the running of a school very, very difficult." As The Sunday Telegraph revealed in December, the deluge of new regulations dictates to schools everything from the height of site walls to the specific wording of school policies, to what has to be taught to toddlers in private school nurseries.

The ISC will also criticise the Charity Commission's interpretation of the new law which requires schools to prove they provide a public benefit if they are to continue to benefit from lucrative charitable tax breaks. Its rulings have concentrated on private schools' provision of bursaries for the poor and little else. "What the Charity Commission is trying to do is tell schools how to run themselves in terms of how many bursaries they have to offer and whether they are 100 per cent or not," said Mr Lyscom.

Claims from the left that private school elitism is undermining social mobility in the UK will also be challenged. "The whole debate on social mobility is based on a false premise – that only 7 per cent of children go to independent schools," said Mr Lyscom. "Even that figure means a lot of families but our research shows that 14 per cent of adults have had part of their education in the independent sector. "This is a big and significant minority that cannot be dismissed as rich kids in posh schools. We have 1,250 schools that range from the big-name institutions to very small local schools that charge £5,000 a year. "We have been very successful at giving individual children, whatever their background, an excellent start in life, equipping them with the right sort of skills to get them good results, get them to university and on to life. It is not about privilege."

Drawn up by the eight associations that make up the ISC, the manifesto is the first produced by fee-paying schools. It comes as the Conservatives promised that the state sector would be allowed to mirror independents by setting up "state prep schools". The "free school" policy, which encourages parents, voluntary organisations and groups to establish their own state-funded schools, would move away from the uniformity of primary and secondary schools teaching fixed age ranges. Instead, "state prep schools" catering for children from seven to 13, for instance, would be allowed to be set up.

Michael Gove, the shadow children's secretary, said: "In the private sector they keep children at prep schools until the age of 13 before they move to secondary. "As a result, they have a particularly tailored form of specialised teaching in an intimate environment which allows these children to soar. "Why shouldn't we have state preps that allow children to stay in such an environment until they reach the age of 13? "If it is right in the private sector, why wouldn't it be right in the state sector? We will give parents that choice and teachers that opportunity to innovate."

The Tories have already said they would instruct the Charity Commission to adopt a broader vision of what constitutes public benefit, including partnerships with state schools.


Australia: Old-style teacher investigated for challenging the self-esteem gospel

A TEACHER accused of verbally abusing students by telling one he should die believes he is being punished because modern kids are too sensitive. Former Doncaster Secondary College teacher Edward Wolf, who has 40 years' experience in education, said when he moved from an Altona school to the Doncaster school, he believed the children had an air of "self-entitlement" and the student and parent population was like "Footscray with money".

Mr Wolf, who is facing misconduct charges before a Victorian Institute of Teaching disciplinary panel, said he used firm words with unruly students who disrupted class or left the classroom without permission. He denied telling misbehaving Year 10 pupils they were "idiots", but admitted telling one troublesome boy to "shut the f--k up" and another that "just because your dad wanted to get his rocks off, I have to deal with you".

Mr Wolf admitted kicking a student's table from under her feet because she refused to take them down from the desk when her dress and raised legs were "immodest". He also admitted telling a boy named Dyson, who refused to stop banging on a wall during class, to "do what your name says - die, son".

"Considering what they have said to me and other teachers, I don't see them as that sensitive," Mr Wolf said. "If you give it, you should be able to take it. Teachers only have words as a means to work with students and if those words are efficacious, then in that context I consider them appropriate."

Mr Wolf, 61, who wants to retain his teaching registration, said he now realised there was an emotional impact to his strong language. "I am aware that students are now very much more sensitive than they have (been) in the past," he said.

Several alleged incidents of coarse or highly personal language occurred from 1998 to 2008. The panel heard this week that Mr Wolf became angry when a group of Year 10 students left his class without permission in 2008. One male student, now 18, said Mr Wolf started abusing him and two other students when they returned to the room, but the boys knew they had mucked up. "Personally, I did not take it to heart, it was just a teacher lashing out. In one ear, out the other," one student told the hearing. Another said: "We were very rowdy, we were hard to control. We, one time, took it too far and Mr Wolf snapped."

The VIT panel will hand down its findings on a date to be set.


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