Monday, October 10, 2011

Character and Education

When I went to City College fifty-something years ago, ALL of my friends finished school within four years, unless they were interrupted by army or medical problems. Students who had financial or family problems went to school at night and worked during the day and they naturally took longer, but of all the people I knew, 0 full-time day students required six or seven years to complete an undergraduate degree.

One reason that everyone went through college pro forma is that they went through the first 12 grades of their education in the same way, except for those who finished in less time because of rapid advance classes and skipping grades.

A series of small things characterized our academic experiences. Students didn’t wear sneakers to school and neither students nor teachers wore jeans or any other informal clothing. School was a place where you lined up in size places to move through the hall quietly and where you raised your hand and waited to be called upon before speaking in class. You sat at your own desk and took responsibility for your own work. Cheating was a serious and punishable offense – as was gum chewing.

We still memorized the multiplication table and we learned to recite whole poems by heart. Our report cards reflected our achievements at “good citizenship” as well as scholarship, and teachers graded us on such things as “works & plays well with others” and “needs more self-control. “

Most children lived in a family headed by their married, biological parents. Homework was checked by the teacher and handed back with comments requiring correction. School represented authority to which you respectfully deferred or paid the penalty in two places. For children of immigrants in particular, school also represented a privilege for which you were meant to feel grateful and appreciative. Your expected payback was to work as hard as you could.

And then came the sixties when pedagogy capitulated to the generation it was supposed to lead. Just about everything mentioned in the previous paragraph was reversed and the consequences are still reverberating through every level of academia. Schools adopted the mantra of creativity and self-expression as opposed to rote learning, discipline and hard work. They became the primary laboratory for social engineering until eventually, political correctness supplanted reason and students were admitted to schools to balance the rainbow without regard to whether they could handle the curriculum.

Everyone was pushed forward regardless of ability or accomplishment so that today, the majority of college freshmen need remediation in order to do the bare minimum of their coursework. And because it wasn’t necessary to work as hard as before, students grew lazier as schools became more complacent until we ended up with college students who require high school tutoring – in over their heads till they realize how hopeless the situation is and drop out.

And now, because we have removed the source of anxieties that used to exist for children whose work was red-penciled, criticized, revised and graded – we have ended up with children who suffer no pangs of conscience as they cheat (and freely admit to it), plagiarize from the readily available internet and lack that requisite sense of guilt and shame that acts as both internal brake on anti-social behavior and strong deterrent to poor performance.

Cheating and plagiarizing have always been a part of the educational system but the cavalier attitude that they’re no big whoop is new. Cheating used to consist of copying from another student’s paper (usually without consent); now it has morphed into the type of industry where one student can earn thousands of dollars for faking multiple I.D.’s and taking the SAT’s for his shiftless friends. Cheating also extends to faculty and administration altering test scores so that their schools attain the necessary performance records to stay in business.

A recent Sunday Times magazine article detailed the efforts of the headmaster at the Riverdale Country School and one at a KIPP charter school to instill the concept of character as a necessary adjunct to success in school and life. One of the techniques is posting bold messages throughout school buildings with such exhortations as Be Nice, Work Hard, There Are No Shortcuts (at KIPP) and at Riverdale a charter-education program called CARE with such underlying touchy-feely sentiments as “Be aware of other people’s feelings and find ways to help those whose feelings have been hurt.”

Educators are just waking up to that old-fashioned notion that self-control is a pivotal factor in children’s ability to be productive at school. The old list of citizenship categories that disappeared from report cards decades ago has been retrieved and recast as slogans or lessons in sensitivity. Pop psychology has replaced morality, manners and decorum as the paradigm for measuring character.

There’s an old joke about the woman who brings her husband to a psychiatrist to stop his fetish for tearing paper into tiny pieces. She informs the doctor that the patient has already been to several other doctors without success. At the end of the hour, she returns to pick her husband up and within a day realizes that he’s been cured. She calls the psychiatrist the next day to find out how he was able to do it. He responds, “I just walked him back and forth, constantly telling him, Stop Doing That! Stop It, Stop It, Stop It Right Now!”

Schools stopped exercising that kind of authority long ago as the focus on students’ individual rights trumped the need for teachers to maintain classroom order. But the molding of character is something that evolves in small building blocks from toddler-hood on – much like the development of language. If children don’t hear sufficient language for the formative years of development, they cannot compensate for that deprivation with immersion in language later on.

Similarly, if children have not been raised with consistent lessons of right and wrong, with insistence on honesty, respect for others, discipline, hard work, delayed gratification, carrots and sticks – no amount of sloganeering on school walls can fill that fundamental void. Character is formed as an accretion of observed and learned behavior and parental and societal demands. For many of today’s children, middle class home life is chaotic as parents have lost the rudder of common sense in navigating a path between an overly permissive, media-saturated landscape and schools that worry more about diversity than educational content.

For other children, home life is a single female parent raising children without a father, a sure predictor of dropping out of school and future poverty. The one truism that does apply to our current situation is that there are no shortcuts. Without the restoration of parental and school authority, without the insistence on an honest work ethic without grade inflation, without a return to the fundamental mastery of reading, writing and arithmetic there can be no change in our bankrupt educational system. And in a society with fewer and fewer jobs for unskilled labor, the main statistic that will steadily grow is that of the unemployed and worse – the permanently unemployable.


British Special needs teacher wins five-year battle to clear name over unfounded sex and race claims

Bitchy female accuser

A teacher who was accused of abusing the special-needs pupils in her care has been cleared of all charges after an agonising five year fight.

A former colleague of Alison Addison, 51, who taught at the Russett School, a special school near Northwich, Cheshire claimed the teacher had physically abused children, used racist words in the classroom and had sex with the caretaker in the school pool.

She was finally cleared by the General Teaching Council for England last month when it ruled that her accusers were 'not to be relied on', it was reported in The Sunday Telegraph.

Ms Addison's ordeal started when she was suspended from the post she had held for 15 years over the claims made by another member of staff on her birthday in June 2006.

It was alleged that she had force-fed peas to children with severe learning difficulties, strapped them into buggies, deliberately tipped them up, used inappropriate discipline, talked about sex in front of pupils and staff and verbally abused children by swearing and using racist language.

The first claims were made in an anonymous phone call to the NSPCC, which it passed to Cheshire County Council prompting a police investigation.

Ms Addison who had been teaching for 24 years told The Sunday Telegraph: 'When the head teacher, who was a good friend, called me over she had a strange look on her face. 'When I got to the office there was a Cheshire county council official sitting on the sofa and I was told I was suspended. 'Disbelief was my overwhelming feeling. I didn't know the details of the allegations and I didn't find out for another four months.' 'The list of things made me look like a monster.

Sue Foy, 49, a trainee teacher who was a teaching assistant in Ms Addison's class, had said in the staffroom that she disliked the teacher and disagreed with her methods.

She denied calling the NSPCC but told police she had caught Ms Addison having intercourse with the caretaker, Phil Abbott, 53, in a cupboard, on the head teacher's desk and in the hydro-pool, used to treat severely disabled pupils, it was reported in The Sunday Telegraph. Retired Mr Abbott denied the claims.

Ms Addison, 51, a divorced mother of a grown-up son, said: 'The list of things made me look like a monster. 'I was good friends with the caretaker, whose wife had just died of cancer. I hugged him in a corridor one day, but to suggest these things – it was appalling and outrageous.'

She started a new job selling beauty products, at a chemist where she met human resources management specialist Emma Kate Lomax, a customer who became determined to help her clear her name. Mrs Lomax knew the evidence against Ms Addison was suspect because in 2009 the Independent Safeguarding Authority had ruled that she should not be barred from working with children.

In May, a week-long GTC hearing received further warnings that the accusations were false.

Last week Mrs Foy, who now manages a charity nursery in Didsbury, Manchester, stood by her claims, telling the Sunday Telegraph: 'I don't know why the GTC didn't believe my evidence'. 'I felt I had to do something for the sake of the children, who could not speak up for themselves.'


Poor students to get expert tuition from top British private schools

Poor teenagers will be given expert tuition by teachers from Britain’s top private schools under a significant expansion of the Government’s controversial free school programme.

Staff from Eton, Highgate, City of London School and Brighton College will lead lessons at a new sixth-form college being established in east London, it is announced today(MON).

The college will focus on tough A-level subjects such as maths, science, history and geography in an attempt to push more disadvantaged teenagers into top universities.

The project is among a wave of 55 new taxpayer-funded “free schools” to be given approval by the Government today.

Under the scheme, parents groups, charities, faith organisations and entrepreneurs are given cash to open their own state school free of local authority interference. They get almost complete control over admissions, the curriculum, staff appointments, length of the school day and shape of the academic year.

The first 16 free schools – including primaries, secondaries and all-through establishments for three- to 18-year-olds – opened last month.

Today, the Department for Education will announce that another eight will open in 2012, with more being given outline approval to open after that.

This includes England’s first state-funded bilingual primary school that aims to teach in English for half of the time and Spanish for the rest.

In a further move, a new sixth-form college – the London Academy of Excellence – will be set up in a deprived area of the East End.

The college – which will eventually teach 400 students – is being backed by 11 independent schools in the south-east, led by Brighton College.

Staff from Eton will take responsibility for the teaching of English, while Highgate School will take the lead in maths and City of London will teach PE, it was revealed.

In a statement, Brighton College said: “Only 12 ‘hard’ subjects will be offered; students will not be able to take media studies, food technology or sociology, for example. Instead they will be choosing from the likes of maths, physics, chemistry or history.

“This is to be a robustly academic institution. With expert pastoral care and careful university guidance, the aim is to secure places for the students at the very top universities.”

All students attending the college will be required to wear business-like suits and the school day will last until 5pm. All students will be required to work in the community for half a day each week.

In a further announcement, the Government will today propose the establishment of 13 new-style University Technical Colleges.

Under the plans, pupils will be able to opt out of mainstream schools at the age of 14 to enrol at a technical college and learn a trade.

The institutions – also opening from 2012 onwards – will teach a range of courses including engineering, motor skills and business, alongside mainstream subjects.

One of the UTCs will be established at Silverstone, the Formula One circuit in Northamptonshire, and specialise in high-performance engineering, motorsports and event management and hospitality. It will be co-sponsored by Tresham College of Further and Higher Education.

Two UTCs have already opened in England – including one sponsored by heavy plant manufacturers JCB – with a further three in development.


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