Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fixing America's Education Problem

Some e-mail messages seem to float around the Internet forever. Most of them, especially the ones about Lindsay Lohan, low mortgage rates, or offshore pharmaceuticals, serve only to clutter up your inbasket. But every so often, a message appears with some valuable nuggets of information. One of these reappeared on my computer last week.

The message starts by listing America’s ten poorest cities, based on the percentage of people living below the poverty line. It then identifies what all ten cities have in common: They have all been run by Democrats for at least 25 years. (Is anyone surprised?) Some of these cities have never once elected a Republican Mayor in over a century! What it doesn’t say is that the school systems in these cities have been run by the Democrats for the same period – in most cases much longer.

The lesson here is that you cannot fix a problem until you come to grips with its source. Most of America has lived in denial about our public education system for at least 30 years. After all, every poll says that the public believes that Democrats are better at handling the issue of education. How can this delusion persist, when the school system in every major American city is a disaster, and every single one of them is run exclusively by a Democrat machine in cahoots with their union partners?

The professional Left was beside itself when America’s education ranking dropped in a study recently released by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a reputable organization of 34 of the world’s most advanced countries. But when you read their columns warning of the coming Armageddon for America (nothing new from the left), not one commentary mentioned the fact that their compadres are the ones principally responsible for these problems.

After all, these are the people who gave us the self-esteem movement, English as a Second Language, grade inflation, social promotion, the elimination of Western Civ and the dummying down of education requirements and the curriculum in its entirety. One has to wonder what they thought would become of our educational system after all of these maneuvers.

Interestingly, Robert J. Samuelson, columnist for the Washington Post, pinpointed the problem by breaking it down into its components. The OECD study of 15-year-olds puts America right in the middle at 17th (out of 34), with an overall score of 500, just slightly above the average (493). Samuelson pointed out that while the average score for non-Hispanic whites in America is in the top ten (at 525) and that Asian-Americans actually place second in the world, the scores that brought down American averages were among blacks (441) and Hispanics (466). Only students in Shanghai, China outperformed Asian-Americans (although the study doesn’t state how the other billion or so Chinese fared).

The vast majority of America’s blacks and Hispanics are located in the large cities, and – again, no surprise here – these are the areas where the Democrats and their union friends have the greatest control. And yet, there is very little demand from the left to do anything about this. Of course, most of them are too busy car-pooling their children to private schools.

A recent documentary, "Waiting for Superman," awakened the left to how bad the problem has become. Oprah Winfrey saw the movie and did a show on it, as if she had never known there was a problem with inner-city schools. All of a sudden the left woke up to who actually created the problem – they did.

Before "Waiting for Superman," there was a 2010 documentary by Madeleine Sackler called "The Lottery." Her film covers some of the same territory as "Waiting for Superman," with some of the same principal characters. "The Lottery" focuses on four families, each of whom is attempting to get a child enrolled into a charter school in New York City. The film illustrates the desperation and despair of those who suffer under the yoke of the New York’s education establishment – a burden and a challenge no different than those faced by parents and children in every other major city in the nation. The test scores shown by the OECD study show the devastating effects of these bureaucracies on the children of America.

Eva Moskowitz runs the charter school that is the focus of "The Lottery." The film depicts her attempt to open a second school, along with the reprehensible reaction of the teachers union, which hired ACORN protesters to try and stop the second charter from being opened (ironically, at the location of a former NYC school which was shut down due to poor performance). The interaction between Moskowitz and the school board/city council members is riveting.

Families are staking everything on getting their kids into her schools because they know their childrens’ futures depend on it. And, yet, she is treated as a pariah by politicians whose first priority is to protect the unions.

Ultimately, when the lottery takes place, you experience the elation of the winners, but worse, you share the devastation of the losers. No child in America should be forced to have their future determined by picking their name out of a hat. That is what the public education system has done to these kids.

The responsibility lies in the hands of the education establishment, their union cronies, and, yes, the teachers who vote for and accept these unions and their leaders. They are all guilty of destroying the future of urban children throughout America. The question becomes how we tear down their structure.


Oxford will shave off £1,000 from its £9,000 fees... but only if your parents earn less than £25,000

Students whose parents earn more than £25,000 will pay full fees of £9,000 at Oxford University, it has emerged. And up to £2,100 of this annual amount will fund the fees and living costs of poorer students.

Observers have branded the move a ‘clunky, clumsy and unfair’ attempt at social engineering and an assault on the squeezed middle classes. They also warn the low threshold for full fees will benefit divorced parents and even encourage couples to split before their child goes to university.

Oxford University is the latest to declare that it will charge up to £9,000 for students in 2012, after Cambridge, Exeter and Imperial College London. But it is the first to explain exactly how the figures will add up.

It also announced an array of fee waivers and bursaries for poor students – totalling £7million – designed to comply with the Coalition’s requirements for broadening access. These say that any university wishing to charge fees of more than £6,000 must sign a ‘fair access’ agreement with the Office for Fair Access setting out measures to recruit teenagers from impoverished backgrounds.

OFFA guidelines state universities must spend 15 to 30 per cent of each tuition fee above £6,000 on schemes to broaden access – around £900.

However, under Oxford’s proposals this percentage will represent up to 70 per cent of fees above £6,000, more than doubling the guideline maximum to £2,100.

Oxford will admit 3,150 undergraduates in 2012. Of these, 2,646 will come from households with incomes of more than £25,000.
What a degree will cost

They will contribute £7million every year to bursaries and fee waivers aimed at impoverished students. Just 504 of next year’s students will be charged less than £9,000. Their fees will be staggered in line with household income.

In addition, Oxford will give a raft of cash awards – ranging from £4,300 in the first year for those with a household income of less than £16,000, up to £1,000 for between £40,000 to £42,600.

There will be no concessions for any student whose parents earn more than £42,600.

Social mobility expert Peter Saunders, emeritus professor of sociology at Sussex University, criticised the measure, saying: ‘It’s brazen and overt social engineering and clearly a clunky and clumsy and unfair attempt to redistribute wealth from the lower middle to the bottom.

‘Fees are repayable when people earn above a threshold so parents’ earnings are irrelevant.’

He added that the policy ‘will actively encourage (parents to) split as it could halve their child’s university debts’.

However, Oxford University’s vice-chancellor, Professor Andrew Hamilton, insisted: ‘These proposals show the strength of our commitment to being accessible for all, and to attracting the very brightest students, whatever their circumstances.’

The university states that it costs an average of £16,000 a year to teach a student at Oxford – double the cost of other institutions, bar Cambridge.


Australia's proposed national school curriculum is full of Leftist indoctrination

by Kevin Donnelly

In the lead-up to the 2007 federal election, ALP leader Kevin Rudd staked the middle ground in education by advocating a conservative agenda, embracing a back-to-basics curriculum and a return to traditional subjects.

During her time as Education Minister Julia Gillard also defined herself as an education conservative and described the ALP’s national curriculum as exemplifying a return to academic standards and rigour.

In one speech Gillard described herself as “a passionate believer in the benefits of a rigorous study of traditional disciplines”, and in a second speech she boasted, “What we’re on about is making sure that the absolute basics of knowledge, absolute basics of education are taught right across the country.”

On replacing her as Minister for Education, Peter Garrett maintained the ALP line that education is a major priority and described the national curriculum as “world-class” and “vital to our goal of giving every child a great education”.

Has the ALP government delivered on its promise to develop a national curriculum that embraces the “traditional disciplines” and “the absolute basics of knowledge”? Based on the English, mathematics, history and science documents (dated December 8, 2010) the answer is “No”.

Instead of heralding a return to traditional learning, the proposed national curriculum represents a continuation of the type of substandard, politically correct approach to education that has bedevilled Australian schools over the last 30 to 40 years.

The more traditional approach to the curriculum, while acknowledging the importance of the learner and the fact that disciplines evolve over time, places subjects like history, mathematics, the sciences, the arts, music and languages and literature centre stage.

Matthew Arnold’s view that education should introduce students to the “best which has been thought and said” is often referred to in this context, as is Michael Oakeshott’s metaphor of education involving a conversation that is larger than the individual and that has been going on for hundreds of years.

This liberal view of education, while drawing on a range of cultures and traditions, is closely associated with the rise of Western civilisation and our Judeo-Christian heritage. In the same way that the nation’s legal and political systems and language and literature owe a great debt to and can only be understood in the context of this Western heritage, so to with education.

Instead of respecting and acknowledging this liberal view of education, the national curriculum gives primacy to three politically correct “cross-curriculum priorities” (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and cultures, Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia, and sustainability) and seven “general capabilities” (including intercultural understanding, competence in information and communication technology, and critical and creative thinking).

Every subject in the national curriculum must incorporate the aforementioned perspectives and capabilities. As a result, the disciplines of knowledge are undervalued and distorted to make them conform to the ALP’s and the Left-intelligentsia’s preoccupation with Asia, indigenous Australians, and teaching so-called work-related generic skills.

Instead of Asia and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, why not define the curriculum in terms of Australia’s Western heritage and Judeo-Christian tradition?

In relation to the seven capabilities (most of which are subject-specific and impossible to teach as abstracted skills) the case can also be put that it is more important that students commit themselves to the qualities and dispositions associated with a liberal education, such as civility, morality, objectivity, compassion, kindness, humility, creativity and truth-telling.

The history curriculum provides a clear example of this unwillingness to acknowledge the grand narrative associated with the rise of Western civilisation and the importance of Christianity. In one section the document asks students to act with “moral integrity” and to “work for the common good” but the curriculum writers refuse to acknowledge that such ethical values are culturally specific and can only be understood in Australia in the context of the Western tradition.

In an early draft of the history curriculum, while “Christian” appeared once, there was no mention of Christianity. While the most recent document refers to Christianity a number of times (and once to the Catholic Church) the focus is very much on diversity, difference and cultural relativism. When Christianity is mentioned it is usually in the context of other religions (Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam) and there is no attempt to detail the historical and cultural significance of Christianity.

When studying ancient Rome, for example, students are asked to consider the rise of the Roman empire and the spread of religious beliefs, but there is no mention of Christianity. In the study of Medieval Europe, Christianity is included, but the stated aims, that students should learn about “the dominance of the Catholic Church and the role of significant individuals such as Charlemagne”, “the Church’s power in terms of wealth and labour” and “the nature and power of the Church in this period”, indicate that students will be left with a less than favourable impression.

The decision by the curriculum writers to ignore the terms BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini) in favour of the politically correct alternatives, BCE (Before the Common Era), BP (Before Present) and CE (Common Era) further illustrates the extent to which Christianity is ignored and undervalued.

It should be noted that the most recent history document represents a slight improvement on earlier drafts. While the draft dated March 2010 made no mention of the Magna Carta, the Westminster system of government and concepts like the separation of powers, the most recent edition does when stating that Year 6 children should learn about “the Westminster system”, “constitutional monarchy” and “federalism”.

Unfortunately, though, instead of representing a balanced approach by recognising the debt Australia owes to its Anglo-Celtic heritage, it is clear that the curriculum writers are still committed to a view of history that uncritically promotes diversity and difference (code for multiculturalism) and that presents Australia as a nation of tribes.

The document’s treatment of migration provides a good example of this bias. Even though migration to Australia since the First Fleet has been primarily Anglo-Celtic and European in origin, teachers are told that students must be taught about “the long history of migration to Australia by people from Asia and appreciate the contributions made over time by Asian Australians to the development of Australia’s culture and society”.

Instead of praising the fact that Australia has welcomed so many immigrants from often hostile foreign shores and allowed them to live in peace and prosperity, the history document, when asking students to study migration, refers to “internment camps”, “assimilation policies” and “mandatory detention”.

Another example relates to slavery, where the history document is happy to refer to slavery during the Roman empire and to the European trans-Atlantic slave trade but, no mention is made of slavery under Islam. It is also no surprise that, when dealing with ideas and movements during the period 1750–1918, Year 9 students are only expected to study “progressive” ideas, with no mention of classical liberal philosophy or the type of conservative ideas associated with Edmund Burke.


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