Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why graduates lean to the Green/Left

Comments below from a conservative student in Australia. What he says applies perhaps even more so to Britain and the USA.

Australia has a "Green" party that regularly gets seats in the Senate -- as the Australian Senate is elected by European-style proportional representation. They also recently won one seat in the lower house

Some have attributed the increasing levels of support for the Greens to centrist policies adopted by the Labor Party on climate change, refugees and gay marriage that offend its progressive base. Others argue the rising Greens vote is due to a failure by the main parties and the media to apply appropriate scrutiny to Greens policies, which they say are far more radical than many realise.

Former finance minister Lindsay Tanner, whose seat of Melbourne was lost to the Greens' Adam Bandt, has a different view. In his 2009 John Button Memorial Lecture, Tanner attributed the rise of the Greens to the expansion of higher education.

"Voting behaviour is increasingly defined as much by education as by income level. The Greens are, first and last, a product of higher education. Greens voters are overwhelmingly people with a tertiary education . . . 20 years ago this group was modest in size and overwhelmingly Labor in adherence. Now their numbers are growing rapidly and many support the Greens," he said.

Tanner went on to say this growing group had a "profound commitment to multiculturalism, gender equity and higher learning" and that this was a product of their education.

There is some empirical evidence to support Tanner's thesis. Data from the 2007 Australian Election Study, collected by the Australian National University, showed voters with higher education qualifications were much likelier than the general population to identify with the Greens.

In the overall population, the study found just 5.8 per cent of voters identified with the Greens. But among those with a bachelor's degree, that rose to 11.1 per cent, and 12.9 per cent among those with postgraduate qualifications. Postgraduates also were twice as likely to state they "strongly liked" the Greens.

The study also asked participants to rank themselves on a left-right matrix. Among the general population, about one-third of respondents identified with the broad Right, while 27.7 per cent identified with the broad Left. Yet significantly more people with university-level education self-identified as left-wing, including 42.4 per cent of people with a bachelor's degree and 44.6 per cent of postgraduate qualification holders.

So, what explains the higher levels of support for the Greens? It should not necessarily follow that more education equates to more left-wing views. After all, what does a bachelor of engineering, science or commerce teach students about gay marriage or refugees?

It is a damning indictment of the higher education system that Tanner, from the left faction of the ALP, admits our universities are churning out increasing numbers of Greens voters. It is no coincidence the institutions that churn out these graduates are dominated by left-wing academics.

There are limited studies of academic bias in Australian universities, and most of the evidence to support the notion of widespread bias is anecdotal, but that does not mean it is not a problem.

In 2008 the Senate inquired into the issue and, despite the overwhelming majority of individual submissions reporting instances of academic bias, the Labor-Greens majority on the committee dismissed the idea that bias was a problem in Australian universities.

The Liberal minority report, however, argued the evidence presented at the hearings by students and representative organisations suggested it was a problem. Students complained they were treated as pariahs if they expressed centre-right views and felt excluded and vilified because of their politics.

Studies in the US make it clear that academe is almost exclusively dominated by the Left. One, published by The New York Times in 2004, showed registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans in humanities departments seven to one.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Melbourne during the past five years, I've witnessed and been subject to multiple instances of academic bias. One of the worst examples was presented to the Senate inquiry in 2008.

An introductory politics subject, Contemporary Ideologies and Movements, devoted one week to liberalism and conservatism. For the following 11 weeks, it examined different variants of socialism and green ideology as well as feminist and lesbian political movements.

Worse, the required reading on liberalism was not John Stuart Mill or Friedrich Hayek but an expose on the social lives of Young Liberals published in The Monthly magazine. Following the inquiry the subject was abolished and replaced with a subject that, in the words of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis, would have a broader focus and include readings from Milton Friedman.

Critics note few conservatives aspire to careers in academe, preferring to enter the private sector in search of higher earnings. They argue it is only from self-selection that university faculties tilt left, not sinister design.

That may be true, but many conservatives are discouraged from seeking careers in universities because faculties appear monolithic and unwelcoming for those on the Centre-Right. And it does not absolve universities from their responsibility to teach in a non-partisan manner.

Having left-wing views or political affiliations does not automatically make an academic biased. Excellent teachers are able to put their own views aside and present a balanced appraisal of contentious issues. But many professors are not able to put their politics aside, and the lack of intellectual pluralism at many universities means academics work and socialise mostly among those who share their left-wing views.

Of course, academic bias has a more immediate effect than its capacity to skew the electorate: on the quality of education students receive. For this reason alone, it deserves much greater public scrutiny.


Great education available outside the mainstream

Home schooling and private and selective schools give kids the best chance at learning, says Christopher Pearson, writing from Australia

Julia Gillard [Australian PM] often tells us that Labor proposes to give every young Australian a great education. The phrase is a mantra, of course, but I wonder if there is anything remotely approaching a consensus about what constitutes a great education.

Being something of a traditionalist, when I hear those words my mind turns to the sort of elite schooling that Eton offers its boys and Geelong Grammar provides for both sexes. Although I would have hated being a boarder myself, I'm now inclining to the view that many - perhaps even most - adolescents benefit from longish spells away from the comforts and distractions of family life, in an ordered existence concentrated on study.

Schools like these offer the best of several worlds. Because they cater for grandees and rich people, many of whose children aren't especially bright, they're a model of flexibility in encouraging the extracurricular and sporting interests of pupils who aren't academically inclined. At the same time, they give everyone a good grounding in the basics and attend assiduously to anyone displaying any scholarly inclinations.

At the opposite end of the scale is private tuition at home. The days when rich people in Australia thought nothing of hiring a full-time tutor to teach their children are almost gone, except in the case of invalids and infant prodigies.

However, there is a thriving home-schooling movement, delivering most of the same benefits at a fraction of the cost and producing more than its share of outstanding students.

It was born of a warranted mistrust of the ideological baggage of the state system and, increasingly, of the Catholic parochial and independent systems.

Parents tend to rely on unfashionable textbooks that teach you how to parse a sentence, to construct a paragraph and to mount an argument in 500 words. They do not pander to the fads for dumbed-down literary studies but offer English as we once knew it.

Similarly, the maths and science books are usually at least 20 years old and quaintly insistent on the difference between a right answer and a wrong one. Because the parents learned from similar texts, they find them relatively easy to teach from.

Home-schooling parents enjoy an unenviable reputation in official educational circles as a current equivalent to the American Amish. In my experience this is seldom warranted because most of them believe in the value of a rigorous education that will let their offspring think for themselves and free them from enslavement to the zeitgeist.

Home-schooling parents include blue-collar social conservatives and middle-class people who set great store in education. Quite a lot are disenchanted former teachers who tend to pool their expertise and hold group tutorials for students in their area. This has the added advantages of getting the kids out of the house and into the company of their age-mates.

Retired Latin, French and music teachers can earn a modest supplement to the pension, instructing small groups of highly motivated youngsters. Old maths teachers are also much sought-after.

I should declare an interest here. I've found teaching English and history to individual home-schoolers one of the most rewarding experiences of recent years.

In between what many would regard as the two extremes, another example of an education that could plausibly be called great is the kind provided by NSW's James Ruse Agricultural High School. It's a selective co-ed school with a catchment area including a lot of poorer suburbs. Nonetheless, in exams its students regularly outperform every other secondary school, public or private, in the state and they excel in the arts and sport as well.

By virtue of its dedicated staff and track record of academic performance, James Ruse has broken down what's probably the biggest barrier to equality of opportunity in schooling. It has overcome the habitual under-valuing of education by generations of working-class Australian parents.

There are a few groups that have been notable exceptions to that rule: the Lutherans and the remnants of the old-fashioned Presbyterian and Methodist cultures (which maintain a strong ethos of self-help) and the Jews, known from the earliest times as "the people of the book".

Among the crucial reasons for the inequality of educational outcomes in Australia - which Gillard often conflates with the separate question of educational opportunity - is that middle-class parents tend to value schooling highly and reward good results.

The fact their children are over-represented in the professions is less a function of the advantages of their class than because those are the careers to which they and their families have historically aspired and so many of them are over-achievers.

Considering the three models of an excellent education canvassed here and the shape of a consensus that might emerge on the subject, there are a few points that can be made.

The successes of home-schooling suggest it's the quality of teaching and parental support, rather than the amount of money expended, that is critical.

In contrast, vast amounts of public funding underpinned the fad for "whole word" reading programs in primary schools that have wasted years of everyone's time and left many thousands of younger Australians functionally illiterate.

All three models assume that schooling should be a demanding exercise as well as a rewarding one and that this applies to the slow learners and the disengaged as much as the gifted and the keen.

Unless schools expect the best their pupils can achieve, they'll seldom see it and the young may never get a good grounding in the basics, let alone find out what they're capable of doing.

The surest way to avoid institutional dumbing-down is by streaming all students according to ability, as measured by IQ tests and annual exams.

However, it's well documented that the British model of an all-important 11 Plus hurdle has discriminated against late developers and bright kids from backgrounds of complex disadvantage, so there needs to be periodic opportunities to change stream.

Not everyone belongs in the top streams and not everyone belongs in their local secondary school. Selective schools with competitive entry may offend the politically correct pieties of the teachers unions, which say they want every school to be a centre of excellence.

But in the meantime, until that happy day dawns, selective schools are the best chance of a great education for students in the public system. They are the leaven in the lump.

There should be more of them and they should encourage their youngsters in academic competition as fierce as the kind we take for granted in sport.


New grammar (selective) schools could be built in Britain after all

Grammar schools could soon be given the green light to expand under the Government's flagship education reforms. Michael Gove, the education secretary, has signalled to campaigners that existing grammars will be able to create more places but also, crucially, could be given permission to build new premises and start "satellite" schools.

The move is a significant shift for David Cameron who controversially ruled out building new grammar schools before the election. The Prime Minister has repeatedly said there will be no expansion of selective education in the state sector.

But ministers now accept that Mr Gove's free schools policy – allowing parents and teachers to start their own establishments – has "let the genie out of the bottle".

A senior Government source said that where there was increasing demand from parents in areas of population growth, existing grammars would be able to expand places.

One option being considered is to allow existing grammars to build new premises and expand into additional sites. In this way, they might set up and run "satellite" schools that are also selective.

The move is bound to increase tensions in the coalition as the Liberal Democrats oppose grammar schools and vowed in their manifesto to oppose the setting up of new ones.

However, after a growing campaign by Tory MPs, Mr Gove last week signalled a possible u-turn at a packed reception held by the Friends Of Grammar Schools group at the House of Commons.

He told the meeting that his foot was "hovering over the pedal" of allowing parents more access to selective education. MPs present, including Graham Brady, chair of the powerful 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, seized on Mr Gove's remarks.

Dozens of MPs, teachers and governors attended the meeting, including Katharine Birbalsingh, the teacher who was suspended from her job after describing Britain's education system as "fundamentally broken".

Speaking at the gathering, Mr Brady, who resigned from the front bench in 2007 over Mr Cameron's policy on grammar schools, applauded the Government for pushing ahead with free schools and more academies but asked Mr Gove to go further with the expansion of selective education where parents wanted it.

Mr Gove said: "My foot is hovering over the pedal. I'll have to see what my co-driver Nick Clegg has to say."

Last night Mr Brady said: "I was hugely encouraged by what Michael Gove had to say. There is enormous demand for selective education.

"The new government's commitment to extending parental choice, allowing parents to set up new schools where they want them and to enhance local decision-making, is extremely welcome.

"I hope that all parties who believe in localism will accept that they should not be standing in the way where parents, schools or local authorities want to offer more choice of academically selective schools."

There are 164 grammar schools in England but the demand for places far outstrips capacity and competition is becoming ever fiercer. In a ruling last week, the schools adjudicator backed three "super-selective" grammars which admit only those children with the very highest 11 Plus scores, sometimes from outside the county.

The decision of the adjudicator to back the head teachers using such strict admission criteria was seen as a major victory for selection. Many areas are demanding more grammar schools be built to cope with rising demand.

In Kent, the county with the largest remaining concentration of grammars, this year's 11 Plus results, published last week, show that the number of children from outside the area, mostly from London and East Sussex, who passed the test rose by 16 per cent this year as parents nearby scramble to get their children admitted.

Support for grammars remains strong in the Conservative Party. Over 50 MPs attended the meeting last week including Michael Fallon, the Conservative deputy chairman, Lord Ashcroft, and many MPs from the new intake.

Frank Field, the former Labour welfare secretary who is conducting a social justice review for Mr Cameron, was also present.

The Prime Minister has been under growing pressure to change his mind on the issue since May 2007 when he ditched his party's traditional support for selective education, declaring: "It is delusional to think that a policy of expanding a number of grammar schools is a good idea." He said then that a pledge to build more grammar schools "would be an electoral albatross. Labour want to hang it round our neck."

The Sunday Telegraph led the way in campaigning to overturn the decision. The row threatened to engulf Mr Cameron at the time, with some even describing it as his "clause four moment".

But Tory MPs say the game has been changed by legislation allowing parents, charities and businesses to set up new schools – similar to systems in the US and Sweden – which was passed in the summer. "It would be very odd if we were saying to parents 'you can set up any kind of school you want so long as it's not like a grammar school'", said one Tory insider.

As part of the first wave of the free schools programme, Mr Gove said he expected 16 new schools to open by September 2011.

However he faces an uphill battle to convince Liberal Democrat members of the coalition opposed to selection to back grammars. The party was explicit in its opposition to selection in its manifesto, although the issue was not mentioned in the coalition agreement.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said last night: “There are no plans to increase selection.”


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