Thursday, July 28, 2011

Leftist stranglehold on teacher training under attack

A slew of organizations representing colleges and universities have lined up to oppose a recently introduced federal teacher- and principal-training bill, urging the the chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee not to support the proposal.

The bill, introduced in late June, would authorize grants to states to begin teacher and principal "academies" run by nonprofits, with or without participation of higher education. The academies could offer either degrees or a certificate of completion roughly equivalent to a master's degree, and would not be subject to a state's teacher-preparation regulatory apparatus.

The idea is similar to changes in New York state's approach to teacher education.

In a letter to Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the American Council on Education, and other groups argue that the bill would duplicate other federal programs such as the Teacher Quality Partnership grants, and lower academic standards for preparation.

The groups' major concern is the idea that a certificate would equal a master's degree, "while not obligating the academies to meet the same requirements as traditional higher education providers," the letter says. "This bill discourages states from leveling the playing field for all providers of educator preparation."

They contend the bill would "devalue the M.A. degree," and they object that such programs would be excused from credit-hour requirements and the hiring of academic faculty with advanced degrees.

The proposal is clearly a more threatening proposition for these groups than today's alternative routes, most of which require some coursework at teacher colleges or offer only a teaching certificate, not an M.A. or its equivalent.

One has to wonder if this kind of pushback was inevitable. We've seen a few training programs of late that have sought to distance themselves from higher education altogether, as was the case with New York City's Teacher U program, now the Relay School of Education.

There is a decided lack of solid evidence about what kinds of teacher preparation seem to be the most effective. This is a real concern for those inside traditional education programs: AACTE's president recently called on M.A. programs to improve their ability to show they're effective.

There's a subtext here that also seems worthy of mention. An ongoing debate continues to rage within the educator preparation field about whether schools of education should focus on practical training, clearly the focus of this federal bill; on the production of theorists and scholars, as the author of a recent EdWeek Commentary recently argued; or on some marriage of the two.


Some British High Schools reverting to old-style courses and exams

Schools are preparing to ditch GCSEs in favour of a more rigorous qualification similar to the O-level, figures suggest. One in 20 state schools, roughly 198, now teach international GCSEs instead of traditional exams – double the number from last year.

They are a mix of comprehensives, grammars and academies. In total 550 schools are teaching the qualification in at least one subject. Individual exam entries for IGCSEs increased by 106 per cent this summer.

The figures were released by the University of Cambridge International Examinations, one of the main awarding bodies offering the courses.

IGCSEs, like the O-level, are tested with a single exam at the end of the two-year course and involve little or no coursework, whereas GCSEs are taught in modules and rely heavily on coursework. Each year the number of GCSE students getting A*s has increased, leading to claims that the exam is too easy.

The IGCSE has long been taught in fee-paying schools where it is considered a better preparation for A-levels. But Labour banned the state sector from offering it in core subjects such as English, maths and science. However, Education Secretary Michael Gove decided to reverse that ban in June last year.


A confident secularist society would tolerate school religion

Can a half-hour chat about God really warp children's minds? Listening to Australia's increasingly irate secularists, you could be forgiven for thinking so.

They have upped the ante in their war against "special religious instruction" in public schools, depicting it as the modern-day equivalent of a Christian crusade arriving on horseback to convert young Aussies to a lifetime of Bible-bashing.

It's worth reminding ourselves that special religious instruction, where church volunteers teach children about religion, doesn't take place in all public primary schools. And in those schools where it does, it only takes up half an hour a week - far less time than the average kid spends pretending to kill people in video games or being preached to by SpongeBob SquarePants.

Even the most fervent nun or red-eyed pastor would struggle to indoctrinate children in such time-restricted weekly hook-ups.

That is the word most commonly used by secularists opposed to special religious instruction: indoctrination. They believe, as a Sunday Age report summed it up, that these lessons are "designed to convert, not educate".

The Commonwealth Ombudsman demanded this week that the federal government clarify when a chaplain crosses the line, from teaching kids about Christianity to trying to convert them to it.

There is a ban on proselytising in schools, but the Ombudsman says it isn't clear what counts as proselytising. For example, what if a chaplain says to a schoolchild "God loves you" - is that attempted conversion?

I say calm down. Secularists' panic reveals what really lies behind their disdain for these harmless half-hour lessons: a lack of faith in their own creed, in their own ability to win over the next generation to the grounded, rational, Enlightened outlook.

The notion that children can easily be indoctrinated seriously underestimates their robustness. Even before they have reached intellectual maturity, kids have a healthy inner demon telling them not to believe everything they're told.

I attended convent schools in London from the ages of three to 18. The Dominican sisters charged with turning me from a grubby-knee'd son of Irish immigrants into something approximating a civilised man gave us far more than weekly half-hour doses of religious instruction.

But were we "indoctrinated", turned into Catholic drones? Were we hell. A friend and I beheaded a statue of St Vincent de Paul. The school Bibles were awash with the most obscene and blasphemous graffiti, including the scrawling of bodily appendages on to pictures of Christ and the insertion of speech bubbles above disciples' heads saying things like "I AM GAY".

As to the warnings against masturbation when we got to secondary school, we responded to those by writing on the walls of the boys' toilet: "Masturbation is evil/Evil is a sin/Sins are forgiven/So get stuck in."

In my experience, those subjected to more than their fair share of religious instruction during their school years now tend to be, if anything, more healthily sceptical than what we might call "normal people". Everyone I went to school with is now either an atheist (like me) or an agnostic. Perhaps years of being religiously instructed boosted our BS-detection skills. Certainly no one I know from my school days went on to embrace any other religions or New Age nonsense or end-of-days environmentalism.

"The world is coming to an end and we will all be judged for our carbon-use, you say? Yeah, yeah, I've heard it all before."

A far more confident secular society, one that trusted in its rationalist public institutions, would have no problem whatsoever with occasional church-run classes. It would be able to cope with having Christians briefly converse with children, secure in the knowledge that there is a better secular alternative out there which will one day surely win the loyalty of the majority of these children.

Today, however, in our downbeat, misanthropic times, when man is more likely to be branded a polluter and a problem than a rational being capable of profound thought, humanists are on the backfoot. And they find it easier to have a pop at the religious, to mock and harry faith-based institutions, than they do to get their own humanist house in order.

In essence, when secularists call on state bodies to expel church volunteers from public schools, they are admitting defeat in the battle of ideas. Lacking the moral cojones to lay out their secularist views and to stand by them through thick and thin, they instead run to the authorities and plead with them to rap the knuckles of those alleged Christian bully boys invading their classrooms.

It is unbecoming of the great tradition of secularism for its adherents to behave like overgrown school snitches.


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