Saturday, August 06, 2011

Beware Those "Radical" Ideas

Anticipating his entry into the presidential race, the Washington Post ran a long piece on Texas Governor Rick Perry's ideas about higher education. "A man of grand plans," the headline warned, "criticized as not sweating the details." Are the headline writers at the Post on summer break? Did the temps have to dust off headlines from the Reagan era? Reagan's ideas were constantly dismissed by the bien passant as "simplistic." So anyone who gets tagged as simplistic by the Post gets an immediate benefit-of-the-doubt from me. As Margaret Thatcher said at Reagan's funeral, " . . . his ideas, though clear, were never simplistic. He saw the many sides of truth."

So what has Perry done to earn this epithet? He's taken on the higher education establishment in Texas. He has proposed - gasp -- that Texas's four-year institutions develop a plan to offer bachelor's degrees for no more than $10,000. "Skeptics," the Post tells us, say that the goal cannot be achieved without sacrificing "academic quality and prestige." It shows, these same unnamed critics assert, that the governor has a "record of plunging into splashy ventures, at times, despite the complexities, constituencies, or sensitivities involved."

So it's half-cocked to suggest that universities, even public universities, reduce their fees. But when President Obama suggests digging ourselves ever deeper into debt to further subsidize higher education, that's a complex and nuanced approach? Has Obama thought deeply about the problem of the higher education bubble? Has he considered that for decades the federal government has been subsidizing college and graduate work (through grants and loans) and that as a consequence, institutions of higher learning have been jacking up their fees?

Mark Perry, at The Enterprise Blog, has offered a handy chart showing the trend lines for the consumer price index, housing prices and college tuition from 1978 to 2011.

"Between 1978 and 1997, home prices increased annually at about the same rate as general prices, but then appreciated at a faster pace over the next decade. In the ten-year period starting in 1997, home prices increased by 68 percent, or more than twice the 29 percent increase in overall prices, and that home price appreciation caused an unsustainable housing bubble that burst in 2007 and contributed to the financial crisis of 2008-2009.

During that same 1997-2007 decade that home prices increased by 68 percent and created a housing bubble, college tuition and fees rose even higher -- by 83 percent. In fact, college tuition and fees have never increased by less than 73 percent in any ten-year period back to the 1980s. And in the decades ending in 2009 and 2010, college tuition increased by more than 90 percent. The still-inflating increases in the price of higher education are starting to make the housing bubble look pretty tame by comparison."

In addition to suggesting that tuition be reduced, a panel appointed by Governor Perry suggested that professors were "wasting time and money churning out esoteric, unproductive research." Shocking. The panel suggested dividing the research and teaching budgets to encourage excellence in both, while also introducing merit pay for exceptional classroom teachers.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports that students are flocking to colleges and universities in flat, freezing North Dakota to take advantage of lower tuition rates. Enrollment at public colleges has jumped 38 percent in the last decade, led by a 56 percent increase in out of state students. Colleges around the nation, the Journal advises, must now compete for a new kind of student: "the out-of-state bargain hunter."

Admittedly, North Dakota benefited from oil revenue and spent generously on its colleges and universities over the past 12 years. But in a time of straightened circumstances for everyone, how does it not make sense to have colleges and universities compete on price?

Obama seeks to forestall this commonsense solution by once again increasing government subsidies. Student loans, courtesy of Obama, can now be "forgiven" after 20 years of payment, or after 10 years if students choose "public service." Who pays the difference? You know who.

Just as it seemed to be such a great idea for everyone to own a home, we've spent decades subsidizing everyone who wanted to go to college. The result has been an upward spiral of prices, which in turn causes politicians like Obama to call for more subsidies.

And Perry is the simplistic one?


Brainless British school authorities

British bureaucrats just love finding excuses to put other people out.

When her seven-year-old daughter complained of dry lips, Joanne Wilkins gave her a tiny tin of Vaseline to apply at school. But when Ellie-Maye went to use it, it was confiscated – because it is not a prescribed medicine.

And when Mrs Wilkins queried the decision, she was told if she wanted her daughter to moisturise her lips, she would need to take her out of school to apply the Vaseline.

‘This is health and safety gone mad,’ said Mrs Wilkins, 28, a project manager, yesterday. ‘Where has common sense gone? I can’t believe how my daughter was humiliated. ‘This harmless ointment was taken away in front of all her friends. She was made to feel naughty and as a result was close to tears – all over a tiny pot of Vaseline.’

Mrs Wilkins took advice over her daughter’s dry lips from her pharmacist. She said: ‘She recommended Vaseline Lip Therapy. It is the basic original Vaseline – just petroleum jelly - and is colourless and odourless. ‘She could apply it as often as she wished and it comes in a tiny pocket-sized tin that Ellie-Maye could easily carry in her schoolbag.

‘In fact, Ellie-Maye needed help opening the tin and the first teacher of the day helped her and had no problem with the Vaseline at all. But at lunchtime, when she went to apply the Vaseline again, a second teacher she asked to help open it said she shouldn’t have it in school at all. ‘Then in front of all Ellie-Maye’s friends, she took it away.’

The next day, puzzled as to why the Vaseline had been confiscated, Mrs Wilkins went to see Graham Prince, headmaster of Wistaston Church Lane Primary School near her home in Sandbach, Cheshire.

Mrs Wilkins, who also has a son Issac, two months, with her husband Nick, said: ‘Ellie-Maye was really upset and I thought there must be some mistake. ‘But he just confirmed that unless the Vaseline was prescribed then she was not allowed to use it in school.

‘I was shocked – especially when he suggested one way round it was to “medicate” Ellie-Maye by taking her out of school. ‘Alternatively, I could come to the school to apply it. I thought this was ridiculous that I would be expected to find time off work or that Ellie-Maye’s education should suffer in some way.

‘Anyone of any age can buy Vaseline in the supermarket. As she had my permission to use it and you don’t even need to buy it from a chemist, it seemed such an over-the-top reaction.’

Mrs Wilkins has now been forced to have the Vaseline prescribed with a doctor’s note – at a cost of £15. She said: ‘My GP said that as it wasn’t a medicine and doesn’t need to be prescribed, it shouldn’t be done under the NHS. It would therefore need a private doctor’s note.

‘It seemed ridiculous as the little tin to buy costs under £1. However, as Ellie-Maye still suffers from dry lips and I don’t want her to suffer, I’ve had no choice.’

Last night the school head refused to comment. However, a spokesman from Cheshire East Council said on behalf of the school: ‘The school has to be one hundred per cent certain that any ointment or medication that a child brings into school is safe to use.

‘Our school policy sets out that any type of oral ointment or medicine to be self-administered in school should be prescribed by a physician. ‘Our only interest is the protection of children in our care and it is with this in mind that we applied our school policy.’ [Rubbish!]


Political pastor stands up for morality in Australian schools

THE Christian Democratic Party MP Fred Nile has used a parliamentary debate on his bill to remove ethics classes from schools to claim they teach the philosophy behind Nazism and communism.

The O'Farrell government used its numbers in the upper house to give Mr Nile's bill priority yesterday morning, allowing it to be introduced ahead of all other legislation.

It followed a meeting between the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, and Mr Nile 10 days ago where it was agreed that the government would allow the bill to proceed after Mr Nile threatened to use his party's votes to "torpedo " the government's wages policy.

Introducing the bill, Mr Nile said he did not believe children were being taught the difference between right and wrong in the ethics classes, which are being taught as an alternative to special religious education lessons.

"It's relative ethics, which is the basis of secular humanism, " Mr Nile told parliament. "I believe this is the philosophy that we saw during World War II with the Nazis and with the Communists. " The comments were branded "outrageous " and "an act of extreme cowardice " by opposition and Greens MPs.

The move to allow debate on the bill sparked renewed accusations that Mr O'Farrell had done a "deal " with Mr Nile in return for his support for the wages policy.

The Opposition Leader, John Robertson, said the arrangement was "the first down payment " and was "clear evidence that a deal has been done ". The Greens MP, John Kaye, said the government was "clearly delivering for [Mr Nile] on this. How far does this deal go? ".

The government supported a move by Mr Nile's colleague, Paul Green, to adjourn debate on the ethics bill until September 16. Mr Nile said the adjournment was "so that the Coalition can give further consideration to it".

Despite saying he would take Mr Nile's bill to cabinet and the party room for consideration, Mr O'Farrell insists the government will not support removing the classes from schools. Such action had been an election promise.

Mr O'Farrell has defended the decision to allow the debate by arguing that every MP has the right to have every bill they present debated in parliament.

Yesterday Mr Nile gave notice of a new bill that would close the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in Kings Cross, which was made permanent by the Labor government last year.

Asked during question time if he would support closure of the centre, Mr O'Farrell said the government "has no plans to close the MSIC" but that if it comes into the parliament Coalition MPs would be granted a conscience vote. He said Mr Nile had not raised the issue with him.

Earlier, the government combined with crossbench MPs in the upper house to block an attempt by the Greens to force it to table any documents relating to Mr Nile's meeting with Mr O'Farrell.


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