Sunday, January 02, 2011

Propaganda as Education: The Left’s Long March Through Children’s Television Continues

After the cultural terrorism of the environmentalist group 1010s exploding children, one could be forgiven for asking “what next?” Indeed, it seems that the longer one lives (I was born in 1959), the farther and deeper the intellectual, psychological, and moral corruption wrought by the Left’s politicization of virtually everything penetrates and takes root within our cultural environment. Nothing, ultimately, is spared the relentless tectonic drive of ideology.

With the Green Dragon still prowling about, and as yet another record breaking winter makes Gisele’s Green Team don their winter gear as they fight the capitalist evils of creeping development and strip mining, the pop cultural Left’s interest in the impressionable minds of American children continues.

So here we are at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, and its finally happened. The venerable “Sesame Street” has “gone green.” A new two year curriculum known as “My World is Green and Growing,” intended to celebrate the show’s 40th season, is now in the works. But this is only the tip of the CO2 laden melting iceberg. In point of fact, “Sesame Street” has been somewhat “green” for quite sometime, as have a number of other “old school” children’s programs, as a recent Huffington Post article makes clear.

Why would the HuffPo wish to remind us now of the historical politicization of children’s television? Why, as 2011 is upon us, is the HuffPo interested in pointing out to us the “green” aspects of a 20-year-old “Sesame Street” episode? Could it be that, after years of unusually long and harsh winters, the long, progressive empirical demolition of the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) hypothesis, and two years after the revelations of the Climategate emails and computer code, the pop cultural Left perceives the need to double down on the all pervasive theme of “green” this and “green” that?

The very first sentence in the Huffington Post‘s recent article on the greening of children’s “educational” programming is perhaps as startlingly revealing as anything numerous conservative/libertarian intellectuals have long been saying about the overall meaning and intellectual origins of the environmental movement:

Teaching kids about the environment is most effective when they’re unaware that they’re being taught…

Well…yes, and this is true as well of innumerable concepts and beliefs when they comprise the kind of dissemination of ideas we call propaganda. The term “propaganda” doesn’t necessarily imply poor arguments, wrong beliefs, or intellectual deception. I may propagandize for true beliefs and I may use rigorous, critical argumentation in my propaganda. What it does connote, under most circumstances in which it is used, is a form of idea dissemination the purpose of which is to influence attitudes, beliefs, and ultimately, behavior in the name of a cause or ideological vision.

Even more critical here is the dissemination of ideas in the guise of education to influence attitudes and assumptions about various aspects of the world that come from worldview specific movements such as environmentalism. Such movements seek to indoctrinate others – including intellectually uncritical children – into that worldview, not simply to provide “education” about otherwise unremarkable phenomena.

The HuffPo piece provide 7 examples here, from Sesame Street’s green growing world, to “Widget the World Watcher” (a show with an uncanny resemblance to the new Gisele and the Green Team), and Bill Nye the AGW guy’s leftist cause activism. Some of these shows provided “green” themed episodes, while others (Captain Planet etc.) were entirely ideological in nature.

Nye himself stands out not for any particular episode of his popular show but for his general background of issue advocacy. Nye was a member of the advisory board of the leftist advocacy group the Union of Concerned Scientists from 1979 to 2009, and an active promulgator of global warming ideology (see the distinguished climate scientist Dr. Richard Lindzen surgically dismantle Nye here).

And yet, with all of this, could even Elmo have really “gone green?” Yes, and an article at the very fashionably green National Geographic Web site tells us, again in revealing terms, what motivates the new “two year curriculum”:

…the show’s producers hope that children who develop positive feelings about the environment at a young age will grow up to be advocates for the earth. Truglio explained that ”when you love something, you want to take care of it.”

Yes, and the rest of us want very much to take care of our children’s minds and want to ensure that, when we are gone, they will still be living in a free, prosperous, and civil society governed by both the rule of law and endowed by their creator with those pesky inalienable rights that stand, like towering glaciers, between the Left and its better world.


Mandarin might be all the rage, but Spanish makes a lot more sense

I don't often agree with Kristof but I think he is realistic on this one

A quiz: If a person who speaks three languages is trilingual, and one who speaks four languages is quadrilingual, what is someone called who speaks no foreign languages at all? Answer: an American.

Yet these days, we're seeing Americans engaged in a headlong and ambitious rush to learn Chinese - or, more precisely, to get their children to learn Chinese. Everywhere I turn, people are asking me the best way for their children to learn Chinese.

Partly that's because Chinese classes have replaced violin classes as the latest in competitive parenting, and partly because my wife and I speak Chinese and I have tortured our three kids by trying to raise them bilingual. Chinese is still far less common in schools or universities than Spanish or French, but it is surging and has the ''cool factor'' behind it - so public and private schools alike are hastening to add Chinese to the curriculum.

In New York city alone, about 80 schools offer Chinese. Some programs begin in kindergarten. And let's be frank: if your child hasn't started Mandarin classes by third grade, he or she will never amount to anything.

Just kidding. In fact, I think the rush to Chinese is missing something closer to home: the paramount importance for American children of learning Spanish.

I'm a fervent believer in more children learning Chinese. But the language that will be essential for Americans and has far more day-to-day applications is Spanish. Every child should learn Spanish, beginning in elementary school; Chinese makes a terrific addition to Spanish, but not a substitute.

Spanish may not be as prestigious as Mandarin, but it is an everyday presence in the US - and will become even more so. Hispanics made up 16 per cent of the population in 2009, but that is forecast to reach 29 per cent by 2050, according to estimates by the Pew Research Centre.

As the US increasingly integrates economically with Latin America, Spanish will become more crucial. More Americans will take holidays in Latin America, do business in Spanish, and eventually move south to retire in countries where the cost of living is far cheaper. We are already seeing growing numbers of Americans retire in Costa Rica, drawn by weather and lifestyle as well as low costs and good health care. We will also see more and more little bits of Florida that just happen to be located in Mexico, Panama or the Dominican Republic.

Another reason to bet on Spanish is that Latin America is, finally, getting its act together. Of all regions of the world, it was arguably Latin America that rode the economic crisis most comfortably. That means Spanish study does more than facilitate pina coladas on the beach at Cozumel. It will be a language of business opportunity. We need to turn our competitive minds not only east, but also south.

Moreover, Spanish is easy enough that children really can emerge from high school with a very useful command of the language that they will retain for life, while Mandarin takes about four times as long to make the same progress. Chinese has negligible grammar - no singular or plural, no verb conjugations, no pesky masculine and feminine nouns - but there are thousands of characters to memorise as well as the landmines of any tonal language.

The standard way to ask somebody a question in Chinese is ''qing wen,'' with the ''wen'' in a falling tone. That means roughly: May I ask something? But ask the same ''qing wen'' with the ''wen'' first falling and then rising, and it means roughly: May I have a kiss?

That's probably why trade relations are so strained between our countries. Our negotiators think they are asking questions about tariffs, and the Chinese respond indignantly that kissing would be inappropriate. Leaving both sides confused.

In effect, Chinese is typically a career. Spanish is a practical add-on to your daily life, meshing with whatever career you choose. If you become a mechanic, you will be able to communicate better with some customers. If you are the president, you will campaign more effectively in Texas and Florida.

China will probably be the world's largest economy within our children's life times and a monumental force in every dimension of life. Studying Chinese gives you insight into one of the world's great civilisations and creates a wealth of opportunities - and it will be a godsend if you are ever called upon to pronounce a name like, say, Qin Qiuxue.

So, by all means, have your children dive into the glamorous world of Mandarin. But don't forget the language that will likely be far more important in their lives: el idioma mas importante es Espanol!


Dumbing down of British university grades revealed

By David Barrett

The full extent to which British universities have inflated degree grades and are awarding far more firsts and upper seconds than in previous decades have been revealed.

At my graduation ceremony in 1992 there was only one graduate who was awarded a first in my subject. It made an impression on me because the young woman concerned was rewarded with far greater applause -- in volume and duration -- plus a few words with the vice-chancellor.

Degree results obtained by The Sunday Telegraph show six out of 10 students were handed either a first or an upper second in 2010, compared with just one in three graduates in 1970.

The results for last summer's graduates, due to be published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency later this month, will increase pressure for reform of the degree grading system in Britain, which an official inquiry has already condemned as "not fit for purpose".

The latest data shows that the criteria for awarding degrees has changed dramatically - despite complaints from many universities that grade inflation at A-level has made it hard for them to select candidates.

Traditionally, first class honours have been awarded sparingly to students who show exceptional depth of knowledge and originality.

But the new figures add further weight to a report by MPs last year which found that "inconsistency in standards is rife" and accused vice-chancellors of "defensive complacency".

Prof Alan Smithers, director of Buckingham University's centre for education and employment research, and a long-standing critic of falling standards, said: "There has been the most extraordinary grade inflation. "As the system has expanded and a wider ability range has taken degree courses, the universities have altered their standards. "Institutions are under pressure to improve their place in league tables and also need good results to compete for research grants.

"Giving university status to the polytechnics, some of which are very good, freed them to award their own degrees and they have exercised that freedom to award high degrees to relatively poorly-qualified entrants."

The university which awarded the highest proportion of firsts in 2010 was Imperial, with 29 per cent compared with the 20 per cent it granted in 1970, although these higher-than-average figures may be partly explained by the fact that science and engineering, the subjects in which Imperial specialises, generally award more first class honours - and that the institution sets very high entry requirements.

Imperial was followed by Warwick, Bath and Cambridge, which all awarded firsts to 23 per cent of graduates. In comparison, in 1970 Warwick awarded firsts to just 6 per cent of graduates, Bath 8 per cent and Cambridge 13 per cent.

Among 20 institutions which provided their figures for 1970, the average proportion awarded firsts was just 7 per cent. By 1997, the year Labour took power, it was 8 per cent but in the last 13 years the proportion of firsts at the institutions has risen to 14 per cent.

Lord Willis of Knaresborough, the Lib Dem peer who criticised degree grade inflation when he chaired the Commons science and technology select committee, said: "The rise in tuition fees is a huge gamble and if we are going to award degrees that are not at the same academic standards as they were 20 or even 10 years ago then we will be short-changing the individual students and short-changing the nation. "I was disappointed when my committee made its report that we received a snooty response from the university sector, which amounted to 'Keep your nose out of our business.'"

Some of the most consistent universities in terms of degree gradings have been Portsmouth, where the proportion of firsts and 2:1 was actually slightly lower last year than in 1997, and Royal Holloway, where the proportion remained at 69 per cent.

Professor Smithers said universities had been awarding more firsts and upper seconds because of competition for research grants, places for which are only awarded to students with higher grades. He said: "There has been compromise across the system and employers no longer fully trust degree results, and tend to look back to A-level results as a more reliable indicator. "A first is no longer a first. I think that just as we have A-star grades at A-level we now need to introduce a starred first class honours."

In February last year an archaeology professor who took a stand against "dumbing down" the quality of university degrees won a legal battle when the Court of Appeal accepted that he was forced out of his job. Dr Paul Buckland accused Bournemouth University of cheapening degrees and making "a complete mockery of the examination process".

He failed 18 out of 60 papers he marked in 2006 but when the university later regraded the papers the professor complained he was being undermined. Yesterday Dr Buckland said: "These figures show that even in the top institutions there has clearly been dumbing down. They are not explained by a sudden burst of intellectual evolution, but by a devalued system."

The Burgess Group, commissioned by higher education umbrella group Universities UK, concluded in 2007 that the current honours degree classification system was "no longer fit for purpose".

A spokesperson for Universities UK said: "The proportion of firsts and 2:1s awarded has increased marginally in recent years, reflecting increases in entry levels. "A-level performance has improved, so it is unsurprising that degree results would also show an improvement.

"However, the sector has recognised for some time that the current degree classification system is a blunt instrument, hence the current trialling of the Higher Education Achievement Report.

"The aim of the HEAR is to provide a more detailed account of what a student has actually achieved during their studies, rather than just a one-off degree classification."


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