Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Food Fight: Chicago School Bans Students From Bringing Own Lunches‏

Who would have ever thought that the youth would revolt over bringing their own lunches to school? But while young communists march against austerity in Britain, young people at one Chicago school are fighting their administrators for the opportunity to pack their own meals. All because the school wants to promote healthy choices.

“Who thinks the lunch is not good enough?” the Chicago Tribune recently observed seventh-grader Fernando Dominguez shouting to his lunch mates in Spanish and English at Little Village Academy. It‘s a public school on Chicago’s West Side.

As numerous hands reached for the ceiling, Dominguez led a chant: “We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch!”

At the school, students are only allowed to bring their own lunch if they have a medical excuse. Why? You guessed it: the school wants to protect children from food that’s unhealthy.

“Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school,”Principal Elsa Carmona told the Tribune. “It’s about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It’s milk versus a Coke. But with allergies and any medical issue, of course, we would make an exception.”

Carmona said she instituted the policy six years ago when she got tired of seeing kids bringing chips and soda. According to her, it’s a common practice in Chicago. And according to a district spokesperson, that’s okay.

“While there is no formal policy, principals use common sense judgment based on their individual school environments,” Monique Bond wrote in an email. “In this case, this principal is encouraging the healthier choices and attempting to make an impact that extends beyond the classroom.”

The ban has had two effects. First, more government money funneled to the school lunch provider. And second, ironically, less students eating the meals. The Tribune explains the not-so-shocking details:
Any school that bans homemade lunches also puts more money in the pockets of the district’s food provider, Chartwells-Thompson. The federal government pays the district for each free or reduced-price lunch taken, and the caterer receives a set fee from the district per lunch.

At Little Village, most students must take the meals served in the cafeteria or go hungry or both. During a recent visit to the school, dozens of students took the lunch but threw most of it in the garbage uneaten. Though CPS has improved the nutritional quality of its meals this year, it also has seen a drop-off in meal participation among students, many of whom say the food tastes bad.

“Some of the kids don’t like the food they give at our school for lunch or breakfast,” Little Village parent Erica Martinez told the Tribune. “So it would be a good idea if they could bring their lunch so they could at least eat something.”

“This is such a fundamental infringement on parental responsibility,” J. Justin Wilson, a senior researcher at the Washington-based Center for Consumer Freedom, told the Tribune. (The center is partially funded by the food industry, the news outlet reports.)

“Would the school balk if the parent wanted to prepare a healthier meal?” he added. “This is the perfect illustration of how the government’s one-size-fits-all mandate on nutrition fails time and time again. Some parents may want to pack a gluten-free meal for a child, and others may have no problem with a child enjoying soda.”


Don't blame Oxford. The real racists are the hand-wringing liberals who expect black pupils to fail

By Lindsay Johns

Filled with self-righteous indignation, the Prime Minister has launched a scathing attack on the apparent racism of Oxford's admissions policy. Claiming that just one black British student was given an undergraduate place for 2009, David Cameron described the university's approach as 'disgraceful' and said it 'had to do better'.

This idea of Oxford as a hotbed of racial bigotry has become part of the fashionable consensus in political circles, with such sentiments common in all three major parties.

Yesterday, the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who has taken to posing as the champion of social mobility, expressed his full support for the Prime Minister, saying this verbal assault had been 'absolutely right'.

Cameron's speech also echoed the views of the black former Labour Education Minister David Lammy, who last December wrote of Oxford's 'shocking' reluctance to admit more black students. The dons, Lammy argued, 'should be ashamed' for 'entrenching inequality' in modern Britain. According to the fulminations of the politicians, the city of dreaming spires has become the place of broken dreams for successive generations of young British black students.

As a black Oxford graduate of part-African heritage, I might be expected to welcome this condemnation of supposed prejudice within the cloisters of the ancient university.

Certainly, I loathe any form of exclusion based on narrow-minded racism. And I am passionate about the need to help black pupils realise their full academic potential, including, for the brightest, gaining admission to one of the world's great seats of learning.

But the theory, propounded by the likes of Cameron, Clegg and Lammy, that the small number of black students at Oxford is entirely the result of crude racial discrimination is absurd. The real fault lies not with the admissions tutors of the university, but with the gross inadequacy of our modern school system — which has dumbed down standards and imposed a culture of low expectations.

The true culprit is the disastrous poverty of aspiration which brands young black people as good for nothing except rap and sport.

Indeed, as a mentor of black teenagers in inner London, I think this slew of recent attacks on Oxford has been grossly irresponsible. Such outbursts might play well in the trendy liberal salons of the metropolitan elite, whose members love to see themselves as the heroic guardians of the oppressed.

But in the real world, this over-blown rhetoric will do nothing to achieve genuine equality. For a start, the figures quoted by Cameron and Lammy are misleading. Yes, only one applicant of Caribbean origin was admitted last year, but this ignores the fact that 40 other black students, of African or mixed heritage, were given places. And in total, almost 20 per cent of Oxford's student population is from ethnic minorities — hardly an indicator of rampant prejudice.

Moreover, black pupils tend to apply in the most over-subscribed three subjects: medicine, law and English literature, where there is ferocious competition for places. Last year, 44 per cent of black applicants tried for these three subjects — compared with 17 per cent of white applicants. It is therefore inevitable that, proportionately, more of them will be disappointed.

In addition, the denunciations from the Prime Minister ignore all the outreach work — such as open days and school visits — that Oxford undertakes to increase the number of black applicants.

Ultimately, however, admissions tutors are not miracle workers. They cannot give out places to those who do not apply, and the truth is that far too many young black pupils, who are just as intelligent as any white ones, are not encouraged to think of Oxbridge because of the anti-elitist, self-defeating mindset that prevails in too many state schools, especially in our inner cities.

This brings us to the most worrying aspect of Cameron's speech. Far from advancing a greater racial balance at Oxford, his remarks could prove counter-productive because they send out a negative message that might put black pupils off from even applying in the first place. Such comments feed into the depressing cliche of black victimhood, whereby teenagers are urged to believe that racism in Britain is so endemic that they will never be able to break free from their backgrounds. The shrill emphasis on alleged prejudice means that black failure can become a self-fulfilling prophecy — and an excuse for low standards.

Oxford is not a nest of racial hostility — as David Cameron should well know from his own days as an undergraduate. Indeed, I found my time as a student at Lincoln College in the mid-Nineties both intellectually stimulating and personally liberating.

I was in the heart of a wonderful city dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. It was a bastion of learning, not discrimination. The lecturers were driven by intellectual inquiry, so they wanted to work with the best students. Race did not come into it.

My devotion to the university meant that, while I was an undergraduate, I served as a volunteer in an access scheme to encourage more applications from ethnic minorities and, ever since, I have strived to give others the chance of enjoying the same enriching experience I had.

One of the ways I do that is through a mentoring scheme in the deprived district of Peckham in South London for 14 to 18-year-olds, a few miles from the private school in Croydon I was lucky enough to attend. Unlike so many inner-city schools which tolerate the shallow, hip-hop culture in the name of 'anti-racism', this programme is based on rigorous discipline, tough intellectual challenges and a refusal to accept ghetto stereotypes.

Outside school hours, we teach Shakespeare, hold a weekly vocabulary seminar and demand proper grammar rather than street vernacular. Neither do we allow the wearing of hoods and baseball caps. And contrary to the message of despair that Cameron conveys, we have had many successes.

Two of our former pupils have won places at fine universities — Warwick and Sussex — to read politics, while one girl has just been awarded a scholarship for a sixth-form place at the renowned independent school of Westminster.

What I have learnt, in my mentoring role, is that the greatest obstacle to advancement is the outlook of our state schools, which fail to challenge black pupils or instil in them an enthusiasm for learning. Instead they indulge in a form of intellectual sabotage. Everything has to be made 'relevant' to the lives of young black students.

So English literature is ignored and proper grammar avoided. Real narrative history is replaced by politically correct topic work.
The tolerance of failure I've witnessed amounts to an immense betrayal of successive generations of black pupils, who are denied the chance of a brilliant education through inadequate schooling

Teachers terrified of undermining pupils' self-esteem ignore mistakes in their work that would never be accepted at a good university, poor behaviour goes unpunished and praise is lavished indiscriminately.

Remorseless grade inflation in public exams has assisted in the destructive process, too, both by creating the illusion of progress to mask declining standards and by making it impossible for universities to pick out the truly bright pupils.

When so many university applicants get top grades, it is often the private school-educated children who are able to offer so much more than just academic excellence.

The tolerance of failure I've witnessed amounts to an immense betrayal of successive generations of black pupils, who are denied the chance of a brilliant tertiary education through inadequate schooling.

Racism is far less a problem in Britain than it was 30 years ago. But this doesn't appear to be the case when it comes to education — not in the way David Cameron thinks, though.

The real racists are often those hand-wringing liberals who pander to stereotypes — and judge people by the colour of the skin rather than their characters or their minds.

The problem isn't Oxford, and the university should not be used as an instrument of social engineering to satisfy political whims. A genuine meritocracy in Britain will be built only when we radically reform our schools.


Now Clegg is attacking Oxbridge

Nick Clegg stepped up the Government’s attacks on elite universities tonight accusing Oxford and Cambridge of being biased against poor students.

The Deputy Prime Minister brushed off a furious response from academics over David Cameron’s claim this week that Oxford has a ‘disgraceful’ record on admitting black youngsters. Instead, Mr Clegg upped the ante, condemning both Oxford and Cambridge, where he was a student, for failing to accept significant numbers of students from the poorest homes.

The Cambridge educated Deputy Prime Minister said only 40 students from families which qualify for free school meals, meaning their income is around £16,000 or less, qualified for Oxbridge last year. He told universities they would have to do ‘a lot more’ to admit students from poorer and minority backgrounds if they wanted to charge tuition fees of £9,000 a year.

‘I think the wider point that the Prime Minister was making is absolutely right,’ Mr Clegg said. ‘One of the objectives behind our controversial reforms in the funding of universities is we’re saying to universities, “look, if you want to charge graduates more money for having the benefit of going to university, you’re going to have to do a lot, lot more to get under-represented youngsters from poor backgrounds, from black, minority ethnic backgrounds into your university”.

‘And here’s a fact: last year, only 40 – four zero – children who had been on free school meals – in other words from the more disadvantaged families in this country – got into either Oxford or Cambridge, and that was a lower number than the year before.

‘So we do need to make real efforts to say to universities, if you want to continue to get support from the taxpayer to educate our young people, you’ve got to make sure that British society is better reflected in the people you take into the university in the first place.’

Mr Clegg’s remarks risk further inflaming the Government’s row with Oxford over admissions following Mr Cameron’s intervention on Monday.

The president of Trinity College, Oxford, launched a counter-attack on the Oxford-educated Prime Minister, warning that his ‘ill-informed’ comments could deter black students from applying to Oxford in future. Sir Ivor Roberts said: ‘I thought it was an extraordinarily misguided comment. ‘It seems to be based on zero understanding of what’s actually happening in the real world. ‘It’s unhelpful to have inaccurate, misleading information out in the public domain because I think it does act as a depressant and discourager for just the sort of people we are trying to attract.

‘If you are told by a public official like the Prime Minister that your chances of getting in are zero or virtually zero, you would be rather put off applying. ‘It makes our job harder in terms of encouraging people from ethnic minority backgrounds and I think ill-informed comments like those smack of trying to force a political agenda when a little more careful thought and attention to the facts and the context would be wiser.’

Sir Ivor said he agreed with those who argue that the problem rests not with university admissions policies, but with state schools not providing a good enough education for pupils. He said: ‘That seems to be exactly right. The education in our schools is where we let people down. ‘You can’t socially engineer places for people. I think there’s an element of teachers in schools discouraging people from minority backgrounds (from applying) and that compounds the whole problem.

‘Of course it’s highly competitive, but if you want to get to the best university you have to be prepared to throw your hat into the ring.’

Tony Spence, president of Magdalen College when Gordon Brown publicly attacked dons for rejecting Laura Spence, a would-be medical student from a Tyneside comprehensive school, expressed dismay that Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg had followed suit. ‘The criticism of Oxbridge admission used to come exclusively from the left, but now, as we see, it comes from the right and the centre too,’ he said.

‘National educational policy for the last 40 years has dug an ever wider ditch through the level playing field of university admissions, across which the underprivileged have to try ever harder to jump.’

Thomas Cole, 18, a first year history undergraduate at University College, Oxford, who is of mixed white/Afro-Caribbean race, agreed Mr Cameron’s comments were ‘fairly unhelpful’. He said: ‘Even though there aren’t that many ethnic minority students, I don’t think it’s because the university is discriminatory. I would rather have a university that picks on merit rather than race.

‘His comments give a negative perception of Oxford and from everything I’ve seen they’re doing a lot of access work to get students from ethnic minorities in.’

But Labour MP David Lammy, one of Britain’s first black ministers, said: ‘Of course it’s a disgrace that there are over 400 young black children in the country getting straight As and they’re not making their way to Oxford, but this isn’t just about race. ‘There are whole cities in Britain - Barnsley, Middlesbrough, Rochdale, Stoke, Hartlepool - where there are not young people making their way to this university.

‘All of us pay our taxes, and Oxford and Cambridge receive around £560 million worth of British taxpayers’ money and yet there are more young people from the London borough of Richmond going than the entire city of Birmingham.

‘Why is it that Oxford is doing outreach events at Eton, nine outreach events in Eton last year? Why is it that they are doing 12 at Marlborough College? That’s why these young people from working class backgrounds, often black backgrounds and in terms of geography particularly from the North of England are not making their way to this university. The Prime Minister is right.’


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