Thursday, May 20, 2010

Starving for Attention at UC Berkeley

When some 20 UC Berkeley students announced on May 3 that they were launching a hunger strike to protest the new Arizona immigration law, they also issued a set of "demands." They demanded that Chancellor Robert Birgeneau denounce the Arizona law, rehire laid-off janitors and drop disciplinary actions against students arrested after a violent protest.

You knew how the story would end before it ended. The administration would kowtow to student activists by agreeing to meet with them and behave as if their demands merited serious consideration. Most of the activists' impossible demands would remain unmet.

Then -- as happened after 10 days -- in order to save face, both sides would agree to act as if they had accomplished something important, and then congratulate themselves for, well, preening.

And once again, the public would see UC Berkeley less as an institution of higher learning and more as a camp for the politically correct.

Start with the student demand that Birgeneau denounce the Arizona law. _Forget all that high-minded talk about the free exchange of ideas. These students hold university solons in such low regard that they felt free to demand that university leaders parrot their political beliefs.

No worries. The chancellor happily caved. "I made it widely known last week to our campus community that I was horrified by this law," Birgeneau wrote May 7.

Why push a California university toff to make a statement on an Arizona law? Hunger striker Alejandro Lara-Briséno told me, "We don't abide by these geographical divisions." Did Lara-Briséno read Arizona Senate Bill 1070? "I've read parts of it," he answered. "I'm in the middle of my academic cycle."

It's only 17 pages long. He replied, "It may be 17 pages, but I also have many academic responsibilities."

Many have lauded Lara-Briséno for his personal sacrifice. Indeed, he says he will not eat until May 20, when he visits a sister in Arizona. (I hope he changes his mind for the sake of his health.)

I would be more impressed if he had read the bill and demonstrated an understanding of federal immigration law. But after two weeks of protest, it still hasn't occurred to him that he ought to be informed about the very law he is protesting.

There is some light in this dark tale. The university did not give in to the hunger strikers' demands on student discipline. But I don't see why Birgeneau released his Arizona statement or why he agreed to meet the students. "We were concerned about their health and welfare," spokeswoman Claire Holmes explained, "and also, they raised some important issues for key members of our community." And: "It was congruent with his values to take this very seriously."

Problem: This demandfest represents the sort of behavior an institution of higher learning should not take seriously -- unless the administration wants to pay to police more of the same.

Lesson learned: You can't go wrong making childish demands and flouting the rules at UC Berkeley. Intellectual rigor not required.


British teacher cleared over glue stick ‘assault’

There is a British legal principle which says that the law does not concern itself with trivialities. One wonders how that got forgotten in the matter below

A teacher sobbed in the dock yesterday as a jury cleared her of assaulting an unruly pupil with a glue stick.

Lynda May, 54, an art teacher at a school in South Wales, was alleged to have injured the 12-year-old boy by slamming a Pritt Stick down on his thumb. She was cleared by a jury after less than three hours of deliberation.

Mrs May’s union questioned whether the case should ever have come to court. The prosecution at Swansea Crown Court is estimated to have cost at least £50,000, not including the eight months Mrs May was suspended on full pay.

Outside court David Evans, the secretary of the National Union of Teachers Wales, welcomed the verdict. He said: “The fact that Lynda has now been fully vindicated and cleared of the criminal charge is a great relief. But we need to consider whether this whole process was justified in terms of the evidence brought, the cost, the time and the expense and the personal cost to Lynda and her family in terms of anxiety and worry.”

During the three-day trial the jury heard that the boy had been reprimanded for himself slamming the glue stick down on a desk. Mrs May said that she imitated the action to demonstrate to the boy what he had done wrong, and caught his thumb by mistake. She did not find out that he was claiming to be injured until he made a formal complaint five weeks after the incident.

Before she was vindicated today Mrs May had to endure prolonged questioning by police officers and two previous court appearances.

Mr Evans added: “Of course all allegations, particularly when they are brought by children, must be investigated but it is the nature of the investigation and its processes and the fact that it should be pursued through to a crown court trial that must questioned.”

Mrs May whispered “Thank you” to Judge John Diehl when he told her: “You can leave the dock.” She then broke down in tears.

During the trial the jury heard that the pupil had a history of disruptive behaviour. Shortly before the incident he had told Mrs May “F*** off, I don’t f***ing have to” when she told him it was time to get some work done. The boy had learning and behavioural difficulties and had joined the school less than two weeks before the incident in Mrs May’s art class.

Patrick Griffiths, prosecuting, had admitted the boy was a demanding pupil. He said: “He was a child with special needs, in particular learning difficulties and behavioural problems. He can be very well behaved at times but on other occasions he is prone to have outbursts of temper. “When he has one of his outbursts he bangs his hand or fist down on the table or desk in front of him.”

Members of the jury were told that Mrs May had been assaulted several times in her 30-year teaching career but had never made a formal complaint. They were shown photographs of her badly bruised upper arm after she had been repeatedly bitten by an angry pupil in 2007.

Mr Evans said that an increasing number of teachers were facing the possible ruination of their careers because of false allegations by pupils. “Although Lynda has won this court case, we must never forget she is a victim. Lynda is not the only teacher who has faced or is facing such procedures,” he said.

“The vast majority of cases where allegations of this nature are brought get dismissed without further process. It is the very few that come this far. Fortunately, common sense has finally prevailed. “Lynda has asked me to particularly acknowledge the unwavering support she has had from her husband, family, friends and past pupils.”

Asked if she would return to the classroom, Mrs May replied: “I need a rest, I think I deserve it.”


Australia: NSW school heater madness finally winding down?

They can only be used safely if the windows are wide open -- which means that almost all the heat escapes immediately, without warming the classroom! Only a government could be so stupid.

Coutts-Trotter is also the man most responsible for the vast waste of "stimulus" money in NSW schools. Coutts-Trotter should trot off into the sunset ASAP

The NSW government is being accused of a cover-up after refusing to release test results it admitted showed "health effects" from unflued gas heaters on children in public schools.

It insisted fumes from the heaters did not pose "major health dangers". But the Asthma Foundation of NSW attacked the government's "vague comments" and said the results of an unreleased study should be made public urgently in the interests of tens of thousands of students and parents.

"Existing scientific studies do not support the thesis that these heaters are safe to operate in NSW classrooms," said the Asthma Foundation's chief executive, Greg Smith.

The report the government is holding is understood to show significant correlation between the unflued heaters and respiratory illness in children. The heaters are banned in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and the ACT, and in most developed countries, but 51,000 of them are used in NSW schools.

Draft findings from the government-commissioned report, which measured the health of students in 20 NSW schools, were presented to the NSW Education Department in March.

Some test results were emailed to researchers and public servants involved in the study, but they were followed immediately by another email asking them to delete the results.

It was not until a memo outlining the findings was considered by the NSW cabinet last week that the department quietly ordered a halt to the installation of 2500 new unflued gas heaters under the Building the Education Revolution program. The schools will now be fitted with heaters that are safer but in some cases at least twice as expensive.

The report, undertaken by the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research last winter, may be tabled in Parliament today after the upper house passed a NSW Greens motion calling for its release.

The director-general of the Education Department, Michael Coutts-Trotter, said he would not authorise the release of the report until it had been published in a peer-reviewed journal, even though the results the government had seen were enough to put the installation of new heaters on hold.

"What we had hoped was that the process of peer-review would be complete by now," Mr Coutts-Trotter said. The department's advice is that the heaters are safe as long as classroom doors and windows are left open, he said.

He said the results he had seen pointed to "health effects but not major health dangers".

The Asthma Foundation said the Woolcock study was paid for by taxpayers and the findings should be released now.

The NSW Greens MP, John Kaye, also said it should be made public. "It is overwhelmingly in the public interest that this report is in the public domain."


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