Thursday, May 19, 2011

School Boots Boy Scouts for Mother Earth

The school in my neighborhood told the Cub Scouts this week that their flyer cannot be distributed because it mentions God in the 12 core values.

While this constitutional misstep is unseemly, it is somehow made worse when contrasted with the always-welcome creed of environmentalism.

Like any normal American, I appreciate living in clean, healthy surroundings. But the green movement went past the point of preachy years ago.

Environmental respect advanced from the “don’t be a litterbug” messages of the 1960s to that crying indian commercial of 1970 to the recycle obsession of the past thirty years. Somewhere along the tour, the movement got mystical. For some time now, environmentalism has looked, walked, and quacked like a religion.

While bothered at what appears to be government-established religion in public schools, I had not made the effort to analyze it until the rejected Cub Scout flyer became an issue in our local school this week.

The message of reverence for “Mother Earth” has unquestionably been presented in this same school district for years. Still on the school website from 2009 are photos, videos and quotes from a local high school assembly where all 2,000 students gathered for a hero’s welcome for visiting Nobel Laureate Rigoberta Menchú Tum.

Ms. Tum is quoted as telling the students, “The Mayan calendar teaches that the earth is our mother.” Then, “Wherever you go in life, get your group together and do something. Teach other young people. If we were to gather a million young people that care for Mother Earth, we’ve done something very successful. Young people need to say: Here we are. We are here to stand for the health of our Mother Earth.”

Does this worship of the environment constitute a religion? Turns out that it does -- since 1998. Merriam-Webster defines Pantheism as “a doctrine that equates God with the forces and laws of the universe.” A bit of search-engine query reveals that the World Pantheist Movement officially established themselves as a religion on June 29, 1998 when they were issued a certificate of incorporation as a non-profit corporation in Colorado. Their website domain name,, was first created on January 23 of that same year.

The salient quotes from the World Pantheist Movement website include, “Why call this a religion rather than a philosophy? Like Buddhism or Taoism, it is both. It is clearly a philosophy. However, it deals with areas of life - especially our feelings of awe and wonder at the universe and love for nature - which are emotional and aesthetic and go beyond philosophy.

These are the proper realm of religion. Unlike straight philosophical systems, pantheism also has its own characteristic approach to meditation and religious ceremony.”

The site goes on to describe the legal benefits of being a religion, including tax advantages, and “being allowed to perform legal marriage and funeral ceremonies.”

I believe that my instincts are confirmed. Strictly controlling every move of the Cub Scouts on campus while celebrating “Mother’s Day for Mother Earth,” as one high school poster reads, is a double violation of the First Amendment.


British university admissions overhaul sparks panic among markers

Plans to overhaul the university admissions system could destroy the accuracy of A-level grades, experts have warned. Pupils currently apply for university courses on the basis of the grades their teachers predict they will achieve. Under Government proposals, from 2014 they will apply after they have received their results.

Universities Minister David Willetts believes the change will help disadvantaged teenagers who are routinely predicted lower grades than they achieve.

But the plans would necessitate a far swifter marking system, and exam boards have said the only way they can do this is by increasing the use of electronic and online marking. This has prompted fears that new systems will be rushed through before the technology is thoroughly tested, possibly leading to inaccurate grades and students wrongly missing out on university places.

Last year a technical glitch in exam board AQA’s system led to the incorrect marking of thousands of papers.

David Vanstone, headmaster of fee-paying North Cestrian Grammar School in Altrincham, Cheshire, and former chairman of the Independent Schools Association, said: ‘It is wholly wrong to rush in a system that isn’t tried and tested. ‘You have to protect the integrity of the exam system to makes sure everybody has faith in it. Accuracy is more important than speed.’

Professor Alan Smithers, of Buckingham University, said: ‘In principle it is an excellent idea but I would like to voice caution. In a bid for efficient marking, rigorous questions may be dropped.’ The proposal is to be included in the Higher Education White Paper.


Australia: A university determined to destroy its reputation for excellence

Choosing its academic staff on non-academic criteria: No men allowed for top teaching jobs in engineering

MELBOURNE University has won the right to bypass anti-discrimination laws so it can choose women for senior academic jobs in engineering. VCAT granted an exemption to the university to advertise two women-only research fellowships worth up to $100,000 a year each because of a "gender imbalance" in academic staff.

The university says girls need more role models at the highest levels of engineering, but critics argue gender shouldn't be an issue when choosing suitable staff.

The School of Engineering said less than one-in-five lecturers and research fellows and only 3 per cent of professors were female.

The head of mechanical engineering at Melbourne, Prof Doreen Thomas, said the exemption was needed to encourage more female PhD graduates to further their careers. "Often women don't apply for the positions. They don't think they're good enough for them," she said. "We need to have women as role models to go out to schools and say: 'Consider doing engineering'."

Former Engineers Australia state president Madeleine McManus said the profession struggled to attract women because of image problems, lack of role models and work-life balance issues.

But labour market analyst Rodney Stinson said it was ludicrous to offer women-only academic jobs when female employment in some engineering fields was as low as 4 per cent. "Why should 4 per cent have representation on what should be an elite group at university level," he said. "Within an academic framework, unless you're studying gender matters, it's ludicrous to look at gender."


New Zealand Schools arrange secret abortions

A MOTHER is angry her 16-year-old daughter had a secret abortion arranged by a school counsellor. Helen, not her real name, found out about the termination four days after it had happened. "I was horrified. Horrified that she'd had to go through that on her own, and horrified her friends and counsellors had felt that she shouldn't talk to us," she said.

She had suspected something was wrong, but her daughter insisted her tears were over everyday teenage dramas.

But Helen confronted her daughter's friends, who said the counsellor had taken the girl for a scan and to doctors. "I didn't know that they could do that."

Helen said teachers could discuss how a student was doing in school or phone parents when their child misbehaved, but would then keep life-changing situations such as abortions secret.

Her daughter had since told her the counsellor "wasn't very forthcoming" with advice. The counsellor did ask the girl if she had talked to her parents, but never pursued it.

Helen said follow-up counselling for her daughter was "nonexistent". She concedes patient confidentiality is a tricky issue and said her child feared she'd be disowned. "She's come to realise that's not the case. But if you're responsible for them, surely you should be told."

Helen has been too upset to approach the school. "Afterwards I was too wild, and I probably still am."

Another mother who was worried for her 15-year-old daughter "hit a brick wall" when she approached the school, and eventually discovered it was a friend of her daughter's who had undergone an abortion. "But I went through the horror of knowing that under the legislation, they did not need to say anything to me."

One teacher told the Sunday Star-Times she had seen parents become "absolutely livid" after finding out they had been kept out of abortion decisions. She knew of a Year 13 student who had had two abortions – one with her parents' knowledge, and one without.

She said the law catered for the "lowest common denominator" – pregnancy as a result of incest or rape, but girls sometimes did not want to tell their parents for fear they would react badly or demand prosecutions for statutory rape if their daughters were under 16.

Christchurch lawyer Kathryn Dalziel, who wrote Privacy In Schools: A guide to the Privacy Act for principals, teachers and boards of trustees, said students who saw counsellors were promised confidentiality, and the service was bound by the Health Privacy Code. "When it comes to contraception and abortion, they [counsellors] would need the consent of the person before they could share information with a parent or the school," she said.

"If that protection disappeared, you can pretty well guarantee the young person won't tell the counsellor a thing – particularly the thing you need them to talk about." And a counsellor who broke the rules and told a parent without the child's consent could be struck off.

Dalziel said she would be devastated if any of her daughters had an abortion without her support. "But knowing it is something that could happen, my whole thing about raising my children is to know how to listen and learn and get information."

Guidance counsellor Helen Bissett said the situation could be an "ethical nightmare", and a number of schools now had wellness centres so girls could see a nurse, not a counsellor. Not knowing how a parent would react was one of the main reasons girls wanted to hide the truth, she said.

"In the heat of the moment, parents can say some pretty rough stuff but once they've got through that, they're often really supportive."

She talked to students "long and hard" about getting a family member involved. Girls had to see a doctor for tests, scans and see two certifying consultants before they could have an abortion. The consultants explained the health risks and the girl had to sign a form saying she understood and consented. "I don't organise any and I never want to," Bissett said. "I go with them to the doctor, but I won't go to a termination."


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