Sunday, March 13, 2011

Can American universities keep the minority students they woo?

It doesn't sound like any fault of the university that the young lady below dropped out. Other minorities (e.g. Asians and Jews) manage despite being "different". During my long-gone schooldays in a small country town, I was VERY different because I took no interest in sport -- but I still did well at school. And I got real obloquy and none of the propping up that the young woman below received. It's crystal clear that innate ability is the real factor at work -- and that is essentially unchangeable

Lehigh University did a good job wooing Nezy Smith here. She was the sort of student colleges compete for these days – an African-American youngster raised by a single mom who took honors and AP classes but still found time for the yearbook and German club. A Lehigh admissions officer met her at her high school in Lebanon, Pa. then kept in touch for a year, urging her to visit the campus and helping her to fill out complex financial-aid forms.

“He was like my guardian angel, transitioning from high school to college,” Smith said.

She arrived at Lehigh in 2008, elated to experience college life. She dismissed cautions by some upperclassmen that as a minority student she might sometimes feel unwelcome on the 146-year-old campus – for instance, at parties in the hilltop fraternity houses. “No way,” she responded.

But a few months into her freshman year, it happened. She and a group of black friends waited in vain outside a frat house, she recalled, while a member waved others in. Despite doing well in her business and German courses, she felt uneasy being the only black face, at times, in the classroom.

By the next winter, she was gone, joining the roughly 25 to 40 percent of black and Hispanic students who start at Lehigh but don’t finish, depending on the year. The institution that had worked so hard to attract Smith hadn’t done such a good job of keeping her, spotlighting a problem seen at colleges nationwide.

Perhaps no one could have made Nezy Smith feel at home at Lehigh. Perhaps the school simply wasn’t the right fit for her.

Feeling snubbed at frat parties wasn’t the worst part. She would watch white students drive around campus in their cars and see the slender girls trek up and down the hill on which the campus sits. Her family couldn’t afford for her to have a car. And she had curves. “That’s when color came into play. I couldn’t accept the fact that I was black,”

Smith said, recalling how this grew into a full-blown identity crisis by the start of her sophomore year. “I started to not like myself because I wanted to be like other students.”

Nezy Smith took nearly a year off to “recover” before officially withdrawing from Lehigh in November 2009. This past fall she enrolled at Temple University in Philadelphia, where 17 percent of the student body is black. “There are a lot of people who look like me,” she said.


Individual liberty cannot survive a republic of dunces

In an era noteworthy for Muslim terrorists plotting future 9/11s and nukes in the hands of fanatical nut jobs like Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and North Korea's Kim Jong il, you might think there couldn't possibly be a more serious problem to ponder.

You would be wrong. Consider what happened recently when the Intercollegiate Studies Institute gave a 60-question civic literacy test to more than 28,000 college students:

"Less than half knew about federalism, judicial review, the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and NATO. And this was a multiple-choice test, with the answers staring them right in the face," said political scientist Richard Bake, co-chairman of ISI's Civic Literacy Board.

"Ten percent thought that 'we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal' came from the Communist Manifesto," Bake added during a recent interview with my Examiner colleague Barbara Hollingsworth.

Even the smart kids at Harvard failed the test, scoring on average 69, which is a D. Since the vast majority of the students tested are products of public schools, the results represent a comprehensive indictment of public education, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

These are the people who year after year graduate classes in which one of every four kids cannot read at even a basic level. If you can't read the Constitution, or the Declaration, or The Federalist Papers, you won't understand their essential concepts or why they represent so much wisdom.

When even our elite colleges and universities aren't teaching the next generation the basic concepts of the American republic like federalism or the difference between Thomas Jefferson and Karl Marx, it ought to be obvious that American public education is failing American democracy.

Does anybody on America's college faculties remember or care that once liberty is lost, it is almost never regained?

As with so much else, James Madison captures in a wonderfully succinct couple of sentences the profoundly serious implications of raising a generation that is politically crippled by its gross civic ignorance. Madison wrote of the difference between Europe and America, saying: "In Europe, charters of liberty have been granted by power. America has set the example ... of charters of power granted by liberty."

If you don't grasp how Madison's simple equation makes all the difference in the world for the manner in which this country is governed, then you probably don't understand why liberals and conservatives disagree on just about everything that is fundamental to contemporary public policy.

Take health care. Liberals love the European welfare state, epitomized by Britain's National Health Service, aka a "single-payer system" or the "public option." That is why Obamacare erects hundreds of new bureaucratic agencies to regulate every detail of health care research, delivery and pricing.

That includes hiring thousands of new Internal Revenue Service agents to enforce the individual mandate federal District Judge Roger Vinson just declared unconstitutional. And those 1,040 waivers granted so far under Obamacare are the modern illustration of those European "charters of liberty ... granted by power."

For conservatives, the ideal health care reform is embodied in the Health Savings Account that puts the power of choice in the hands of individuals. That makes insurance providers compete to satisfy customers instead of government bureaucrats.

The bureaucrats are limited to enforcing contracts honestly made and assuring sufficient transparency of services and products to enable individuals to make informed choices. Or, as Madison would say, those with liberty grant a limited charter of power to government to do specific things and only those things.

But a generation that is not taught to recognize the irreconcilable differences represented by the Declaration of Independence and the Communist Manifesto, between Madison and Marx, the Federalist Papers and Rules for Radicals is doomed to be ruled, not to rule.

Individual liberty will not long survive in a republic of civic dunces.


History teaching in Britain fails to give pupils proper view of the past, says watchdog

Schoolchildren fail to grasp how events in history are linked because the subject is taught in “episodes”, an official report has warned. The Ofsted report said many primary and secondary pupils are being let down by a curriculum which does not give them a “chronological understanding” of the subject - instead concentrating on individual topics from ancient Egypt to post-war Britain.

The education watchdog also said that history teaching is being marginalised in state schools, while A-levels are not adequately preparing sixth-formers for more rigorous university courses.

The verdict will be seen as further damaging Labour’s legacy on education and add weight to calls for reform of the national curriculum, which is currently being reviewed by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, with the help of Simon Schama, the historian and television presenter.

Pupils in a typical primary school will study the Romans and Celts, Ancient Egypt, Henry VIII and the Tudors, Victorian life, World War II, the Ancient Greeks, and Britain since 1948 between years three and six - but not what order they are in.

A “fundamental weakness” in primary schools was that some teachers “did not teach to establish a clear mental map of the past for pupils”. The report said: “Some pupils found it difficult to place the historical episodes they had studied within any coherent, long-term narrative. “They knew about particular events, characters and periods but did not have an overview. Their chronological understanding was often underdeveloped and so they found it difficult to link developments together.”

Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, said: “Pupils need to experience history as a coherent subject which develops their knowledge, thinking and understanding, especially their chronological understanding, and I hope the current review of the national curriculum will recognise the importance of this.”

In primary schools where history teaching was rated “satisfactory”, inspectors said there was “an unbalanced curriculum with too much attention paid to particular topics at the expense of others” and many teachers lacked specialist knowledge of the subject.

The report also criticised changes introduced by the previous government which allow schools to ditch history as a self-contained subject and instead incorporate it in a general humanities course alongside geography and arts subjects. “Where these developments had taken place, curriculum time for teaching had been reduced and history was becoming marginalised,” the inspectors said. “This resulted in significant gaps and encouraged an episodic understanding of the past.”

England is the only European country which does not teach compulsory history to the age of 15 or 16, with growing numbers of pupils now allowed to drop the subject at 13.

Ofsted stopped short of recommending that history should again be made compulsory at GCSE, but it did urge ministers to ensure pupils receive a “significant amount” of tuition in history to “at least the age of 14”.

Regarding history at secondary school level the report said: “One of the most serious concerns about poor provision was the tendency for teachers to try to cover too much content and 'spoon-feed’ students.” In some cases at Key Stage Three - for pupils aged 11 to 14 - some teachers gave only cursory checks to children’s work books so that “basic errors of spelling, grammar and punctuation were uncorrected”.

The inspectors found an over-dependence on text books at sixth form level, meaning students were unprepared for studying the subject at university.

And the report detailed falling numbers of schools offering history at GCSE. In 2010, 102 maintained secondary schools entered no students at all to sit GCSE history, compared with 77 schools the year before. In State schools, only 30 per cent of pupils took history at GCSE last year - and 20 per cent at academies - compared with half in the independent [private] sector.

The most able students are being let down, the report indicated. History teaching for the brightest was good or outstanding in only 16 of 32 schools analysed, with the rest only satisfactory, it said.


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