Wednesday, December 08, 2010

University: Dump Christian beliefs on homosexuality, or else;
Demands student get re-educated, attend 'pride' event

Augusta State University graduate student Jen Keeton alleges school officials demand she be re-educated in morality, giving her the choice of giving up her Christian beliefs on homosexuality or being expelled from the school's counseling program. But now, after months of battling the university in court, a pair of free-speech organizations have joined her in the fight.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the National Association of Scholars have filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, asserting it a violation of the First Amendment for the Georgia university's officials to require Keeton's beliefs be "influenced" by remedial sensitivity training or face expulsion.

According to a complaint filed against the school earlier this year, school officials demanded Keeton, 24, go through a "remediation" program after she asserted homosexuality is a behavioral choice, not a "state of being" as a professor said.

Specifically, the remediation program was to include "sensitivity training" on homosexual issues, additional outside study on literature promoting homosexuality and the plan that she attend a "gay pride parade" and report on it.

"Besides violating Keeton's own First Amendment rights," writes University of California Los Angeles law professor Eugene Volokh in the brief, "the university's retaliation also sent a powerful message to other students: If you express views like Keeton's, prepare to suffer the same consequences – prepare to incur many hours of extra obligations, and to put yourself at risk of expulsion."

Keeton's original lawsuit, filed by attorneys working with the Alliance Defense Fund, asserted the school cannot violate the Constitution by demanding that a person's beliefs be changed.

University "faculty have promised to expel Miss Keeton from the graduate Counselor Education program, not because of poor academic showing or demonstrated deficiencies in clinical performance, but simply because she has communicated both inside and outside the classroom that she holds to Christian ethical convictions on matters of human sexuality and gender identity," the law firm explained.

Keeton's own e-mail response to the faculty members who allegedly were pressuring her to adopt a pro-homosexual belief system defines the dispute.

"At times you said that I must alter my beliefs because they are unethical. ... Other times you said that I can keep my beliefs so long as they are only personal and I don't believe that anyone else should believe like me. But that is just another way of saying that I must alter my beliefs, because my beliefs are about absolute truth. ... In order to finish the counseling program you are requiring me to alter my objective beliefs and also to commit now that if I ever may have a client who wants me to affirm their decision to have an abortion or engage in gay, lesbian or transgender behavior, I will do that. I can't alter my biblical beliefs, and I will not affirm the morality of those behaviors in a counseling situation," she wrote.

According to court documents, Keeton faces the "remediation" requirement because she supposedly (1) "voiced disagreement in several class discussions and in written assignments with the gay and lesbian 'lifestyle,'" (2) "stated in one paper that she believes GLBTQ 'lifestyles' to be identity confusion," (3) "relayed [to another student] her interest in conversion therapy for GLBTQ populations" and (4) "tried to convince other students to support and believe her views."

School authorities cited the American Counseling Association's code of ethics and said students would be required to adopt its provisions to obtain a degree in counseling.

Faculty members, therefore, had demanded Keeton "attend at least three workshops … which emphasize … diversity training sensitive toward working with GLBTQ populations." They also wanted her to "develop" her knowledge of homosexuality by reading 10 articles and increasing her exposure to homosexuals and lesbians by attending "the Gay Pride Parade."

"Simply put, the university is imposing thought reform," said ADF Senior Counsel David French. "Abandoning one's own religious beliefs should not be a precondition at a public university for obtaining a degree. This type of leftist zero-tolerance policy is in place at far too many universities, and it must stop. Jennifer's only crime was to have the beliefs that she does."

He added that a public university student "shouldn't be threatened with expulsion for being a Christian and refusing to publicly renounce her faith, but that's exactly what's happening here."

Keeton's original request for an injunction preventing Augusta State from expelling her over refusal to comply with the remediation program was denied in August by U.S. District Judge J. Randal Hall. "[T]his is not a case pitting Christianity against homosexuality," Hall wrote in his opinion. "Matters of educational policy should be left to educators, and it is not the proper role of federal judges to second guess an educator's professional judgment."

He added, "Whether I would have imposed the remediation plan, or what I would have included in the plan itself, is not the question, for the Supreme Court instructs that educators, not federal judges, are the ones that choose among pedagogical approaches."

The FIRE and NAS friend-of-the-court brief explains, however, "A university does have great latitude in deciding what all of its students in a particular program or course must learn. But it does not have such latitude in imposing special curricular burdens on students who express certain views, whether anti-homosexuality, anti-war, pro-gun rights, anti-religious, or whatever else."

The brief concludes, "Unless the district court's decision is reversed, it threatens to become a road map for other public universities that want to restrict a wide range of speech (not at all limited to anti-homosexuality speech) by a wide range of students (not at all limited to counseling students)."


Travesty of Britain's 'stagnating' schools: In a damning indictment of Labour, OECD condemns British education which is now inferior to Estonia's

Britain has plummeted down worldwide education rankings in the last decade, according to definitive figures which shame Labour’s record on schools. Despite doubled spending since 2000, the education of teenagers has ‘stagnated at best’.

The verdict is a damning indictment of Tony Blair’s mantra that his three top priorities in government were ‘education, education, education’. Britain has now fallen behind such relatively poor nations as Estonia, Poland and the Slovak Republic in reading, maths and science.

Although spending has risen from £35.8billion to £71billion, the education of teenagers has failed to register any improvement and in some areas has deteriorated rapidly.

In stunning proof that taxpayers did not get value for money, the UK slipped from eighth to 28th in maths, from seventh to 25th in reading and from fourth to 16th in science over the same period. Poland now ranks ten places ahead of the UK in reading and is three ahead in maths.

Even more disturbingly, the study found that a fifth of 15-year-old Britons are ‘functionally illiterate’, which ‘significantly reduces their chances of success in later life’.

The figures were released yesterday by the highly respected Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which compared the standards of 15-year-olds in 65 developed countries.

British children’s poor reading skills are said to be partly because they spend too much time on computers rather than reading books, but are also a tragic reflection of the education they have received.

Nor has it helped that the UK has a relatively low proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. And having some of the world’s ‘best-educated’ parents has not improved the standards of Britain’s children – raising serious questions about the effective role of parents in UK schools.

The study was based on two-hour tests of 500,000 15-year-old schoolchildren by the OECD. Some 65 countries were listed in this year’s rankings compared with 54 three years ago.

Andreas Schleicher of the OECD said overall scores achieved by UK pupils were ‘stagnant at best, or marginally lower, whereas many other countries have seen quite significant improvements’.

The UK, despite being the eighth-biggest spender per pupil on education, with an average of £8,892 a year at secondary level, performed below the international average in maths, only just above in reading and slightly better in science.

The Far East had strong performers with the region of Shanghai-China coming top in all three subjects and Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan all ranking high.

Finland, which places strong emphasis on teacher quality, was ranked highest European nation.

The study comes a week after Education Secretary Michael Gove detailed his plans for schools reform in a White Paper. He seeks to overhaul the curriculum, make exams tougher, give schools more autonomy and improve teaching standards.

The Coalition seized on the OECD’s results as proof that Labour had failed in education. Mr Gove said an increase in spending under the last government was ‘tied up in bureaucracy and didn’t go to the front line’. He added: ‘Today’s report underlines the urgent need to reform our school system. We need to learn from the best performing countries. Other regions and nations have succeeded in closing the gap and in raising attainment for all students at the same time.’

The minister stressed the importance of using nations such as Poland, Singapore and Finland as ‘our inspiration’. But he admitted that the size of the task was ‘daunting’ and, like Gordon Brown before him, refused to set a target for UK performance in the next international survey, in 2012.

Sir Terry Leahy, head of Tesco, has frequently attacked the education system saying school leavers do not have the basic skills needed for jobs.

And yesterday business leaders expressed horror at the figures showing a fifth of 15-year-olds failed to gain even the minimum standard expected for their age in literacy and maths. Susan Anderson, of the CBI, said: ‘It is increasingly clear that the UK is a long way behind its key competitors in education.’

The UK’s dire record on reading was blamed, in part, on the overuse of computers. In the UK 54 per cent of pupils never go to the library. This compares with the OECD average of 34 per cent.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said teenagers spend too much time communicating through email or online chat. ‘We cannot allow our youngsters to neglect the basic hobby of picking up a book and reading it simply for the enjoyment of it.’

The OECD said immigration played a factor in the UK’s low ranking. Some 10.6 per cent of students are from an immigrant background – the 14th-highest proportion in the list.

The findings showed that the UK’s score for reading was 494, just above the OECD average of 493. For maths skills, the score was 492 – slightly beneath the international average of 496 – as pupils were outperformed by those in Slovakia and Slovenia. In science the UK achieved a result of 514 – higher than the 501 average score but still a disappointment.

According to the OECD, scores gained by Scotland were marginally above those in the rest of the UK, while Wales performed worst in the three disciplines.

Eastern Bloc countries have put Britain to shame by overtaking them since the end of Communist rule


Australia: School building program rip-offs revealed by auditor

Peter Achterstraat tells it like it is

The NSW government accepted building contracts for school programs under the Building the Education Revolution that were inflated and did not meet the preferences of local communities, an audit has found.

The federal government's major program for schools has come under renewed criticism for its high costs in a report released today by the NSW Auditor-General, Peter Achterstraat.

A detailed study of spending at 1270 primary schools found the government accepted building contracts that were $188 million higher than their own costings, according to the report.
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"Irrespective of time constraints, the Department [of Education] should not approve estimated construction costs that are substantially higher than the department's own assessments," Mr Achterstraat said.

"They should investigate significant variances, negotiate with the managing contractors and set the estimated costs based on their own assessment, not the managing contractor's assessment."

Mr Achterstraat said he examined nine schools closely, and found eight had costs between 2 and 40 per cent higher than an independent surveyor's estimate.

Of a further 68 schools surveyed, just 40 per cent thought the project was value for money, he said.

"The department strictly adhered to the Australian government's guidelines and their own standards, which meant some schools got a library when they wanted a hall," Mr Achterstraat said.


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