Monday, June 07, 2010

Equality or diversity? Which one do Leftists want?

You can't have both

by Tibor R. Machan

For the last couple or so decades the universities and colleges where I have taught–and by all accounts, most of them in the USA–have had two mutually exclusive social objectives. (Yes, Virginia, higher education is now mostly embarked upon pursuing social policies, not so much educating students.) These two are equality and diversity.

On the one hand there is a big push toward eliminating any kind of inequality in the way students are being regarded and treated. Everyone is equal, just as Barrack Obama’s Vice President Joseph Biden insisted in one of his rallying cries. As he put it in the course of a moving eulogy for his mother (according to the Associated Press), “My mother’s creed is the American creed: No one is better than you,” he said. “Everyone is your equal, and everyone is equal to you. My parents taught us to live our faith, and to treasure our families. We learned the dignity of work, and we were told that anyone can make it if they just try hard enough.”

Of course Mr. Biden didn’t mean we are all equal today or will be tomorrow. What he meant is that in a rightly ordered world, one ruled by him and his associates, there would be total equality among human beings, on the model of, say, ants in their colony (excepting the chief ant, of course, just as this would be and has been the case with any large scale egalitarian experiment). I am not exaggerating. Just go and read Vice President Biden’s comment in full (here) and check out the many very prominently published books on the issue denouncing such dastardly inequalities, among others, as being more beautiful than someone else. Take, for example, Naomi Wolff’s The Beauty Myth from the 1980s and the recently published work of Deborah L. Rhode, The Beauty Bias (2010).

But at the same time that the push for full equality among people is carried out with official support, we also find widespread academic support for the idea of diversity –an idea that assumes, of course, that people aren’t the same at all but quite different–so our various prominent institutions must be inclusive of widely different people.

The differences at issue tend, of course, to be controversial. Some support ideological or philosophical or religious differences, so that those with different ideas, faiths, convictions and the like need all to be included. Some focus upon diversity in racial or ethnic or gender membership. Some stress differences in socio-economic status.

Whatever is the sort of diversity being considered, it is evident beyond any reasonable doubt that people are not equal by a long shot and their unequal status needs to be taken account of in how the relevant institutions–universities, high schools, clubs, corporations, etc.–are being managed, administered or governed. This is not merely a fact of life but a celebrated fact of life, given how so much of educational policy and administration is devoted to doing it justice.

One need but take account of the demographics of the United States of America, let alone the globe, in order to apprehend the underlying basis of this fact. People are not only of the same species, homo sapiens, but are at the same time individuals and members of innumerable special groups, most of them entirely legitimate (unlike, say, membership in the Ku Klux Klan or the Mafia). As a favorite social philosopher of mine, Steve Martin the very inventive and funny actor and writer, put it in the novel, The Pleasure of My Company, “People, I thought. These are people. Their general uniformity was interrupted only by their individual variety.”

So, on the one hand the objective is supposed to be, as VP Biden suggests, to erase all differences and render everyone equal in all important respects. On the other hand, as much of educational administrative policy suggests, diversity is to be celebrated, and the homogeneity that would be part and parcel of an egalitarian world, is to be rejected.

So then which will it be? An acknowledgement of benign human diversity or an insistence of homogenization so as to fulfill the egalitarian dream? There is no doubt about it for me: diversity is not just a fact of human life but a highly welcome one at that.


Britain's Tories take on the leather lady

THE new government is to throw a lifeline to independent schools by softening demands for them to provide more bursaries to pupils from poor families to justify retaining their charitable status.

Michael Gove, the education secretary, has ordered his officials to talk to the Charity Commission about giving the schools more credit for community work such as sharing teachers and facilities with comprehensives.

Under a law passed by Labour, schools have to prove they provide “public benefit” to retain the tax breaks they enjoy from charitable status.

Last year two schools failed pilot inspections by the commission, headed by Dame Suzi Leather, mainly because they were not providing enough bursaries. This provoked fury from independent school heads, who claimed Leather was over-interpreting the law and pursuing a politically motivated agenda.

Some wealthy schools with large endowments may have little difficulty providing sufficient bursaries, but poorer institutions have complained that they will struggle to do so.

Gove wants to soften the commission’s approach while also exploring new ways for schools to escape its jurisdiction altogether.

Before the election he looked at a plan for schools to become “non-profit trusts”. Under this option, which would require legislation, schools would lose the tax perks of charitable status but hold on to their assets and stay independent from commercial shareholders. Asked if Gove was still considering this, a source said it was “speculation”.

Another route may be for schools to become exempt charities, which are not subject to Charity Commission jurisdiction. New state academies will be given this status.

A small number of independent schools — mainly those in financial trouble — are expected to take a third route by converting into academies.

The source said: “[Gove] wants to meet the concerns of the independent schools and provide ways of escaping the jurisdiction of the Charity Commission for schools that wish to do so.”

The government will be reluctant to repeal Labour’s public benefit legislation entirely for fear of being seen to favour wealthy schools such as Eton and Westminster — attended by David Cameron and Nick Clegg respectively.

More than 1,000 independent schools are registered charities, meaning they are exempt from income tax and stamp duty and benefit from concessions on business rates and Vat. On average, these amount to 2%-3% of a school’s income.

David Lyscom, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, said he would welcome the Charity Commission adopting “a more reasonable and legally defensible” approach, but strongly backed the introduction of legal alternatives to charitable status.

“We don’t want to have to rely on a political interpretation of public benefit depending on the whim of a particular government,” Lyscom said.

Simon Northcott, head of St Anselm’s, near Bakewell, Derbyshire, which failed its public benefit inspection for providing insufficient bursaries, said: “We’re aiming to play ball with [the commission] and pass. But I’m not sure they know what they’re doing ... after two visits to the school they have still not looked round it.”


Australia: Leftist educators still trying to dodge phonics

There is something in their addled brains which makes them hate the fact that it is the best way to teach literacy. They seem to see it as "too teacher-centred", or some such bulldust

THE place in the national curriculum for teaching letter-sound relationships to students learning to read is "submerged in a sea of competing strategies" that confuses teachers and students, say leading researchers.

In a submission on the national English curriculum, some of the nation's most respected scientists in reading research are concerned that while the requirement to teach phonics is included in the curriculum, it fails to clearly state the best way to teach it as shown by research.

The submission says the curriculum "makes reference" to sound-letter correspondences but it lacks a statement clearly specifying that all sound-letter correspondences be taught intensively and systematically. It also fails to specify the teaching of the skills of blending sounds for reading and of segmenting sounds for spelling, and that decoding skills be taught "to the level of fluency".

The signatories to the submission include Macquarie University professors Max Coltheart and Kevin Wheldall, who developed MULTILIT (Making Up for Lost Time In Literacy), a phonics-based remedial reading program that is being trialled in NSW schools this year. It is the first direct comparison in Australia between phonics-based and other teaching strategies for reading.

The submission argues that the curriculum continues to give emphasis to a discredited system for teaching reading, known as the three cues, which includes phonics as one part, but not the first step, in reading, alongside the syntax of the sentence and the shape of the word.

"The three-cueing system is a seriously flawed conception of the processes involved in skilled reading, and the practices flowing from its misconception may have contributed to the problems experienced by an unacceptably large number of students," the submission says.

"The Australian curriculum is unclear about which skills are crucial in learning to read. This leads to confusion between the processes involved in learning to read (decoding text) and the processes involved in understanding what has been read."

The dominant strategy for teaching reading in Australia since the late 1970s has been the "whole language" approach, which assumed children learned to read in the same way they learned to speak through exposure to books and reading.

Its proponents contend that children were taught to look at the picture on the page, the shape of the word, the initial letter and guess the word given its place in the sentence.

The submission quotes British studies of eye movement and brain research that have shown that, when reading takes place, decoding or sounding out always takes place before the understanding of words or sentences.


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