Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ariz schools' ethnic studies program ruled illegal

An administrative law judge ruled Tuesday that a Tucson school district's ethnic studies program violates state law, agreeing with the findings of Arizona's public schools chief.

Judge Lewis Kowal's ruling marked a defeat for the Tucson Unified School District, which appealed the findings issued in June by Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal.

Kowal's ruling, first reported by The Arizona Daily Star, said the district's Mexican-American Studies program violated state law by having one or more classes designed primarily for one ethnic group, promoting racial resentment and advocating ethnic solidarity instead of treating students as individuals.

The judge, who found grounds to withhold 10 percent of the district's monthly state aid until it comes into compliance, said the law permits the objective instruction about the oppression of people that may result in racial resentment or ethnic solidarity.

"However, teaching oppression objectively is quite different than actively presenting material in a biased, political and emotionally charged manner, which is what occurred in (Mexican-American Studies) classes," Kowal wrote.

The judge said such teaching promotes activism against white people, promotes racial resentment and advocates ethnic solidarity.

Huppenthal has 30 days to accept, reject or modify the ruling. If he accepts the judge's decision, the district has about 30 days to appeal the ruling in Superior Court.

"In the end, I made a decision based on the totality of the information and facts gathered during my investigation — a decision that I felt was best for all students in the Tucson Unified School District." Huppenthal said in a written statement.

Messages left for a district spokeswoman Tuesday night weren't immediately returned. In the past, district officials have said they can't afford the financial hit that Huppenthal's decision would bring.

The battle over the ethnic studies program escalated shortly after Arizona's heavily scrutinized immigration enforcement law was passed in April 2010.

The program's supporters have called challenges to the courses an attack on the state's Hispanic population, while critics say the program demonizes white people as oppressors of Hispanics.

Huppenthal ordered a review of the program when he took office in January after his predecessor, Tom Horne, said the Mexican-American Studies program violated state law and that Huppenthal would have to decide whether to withhold funding.

Huppenthal, a Republican, had voted in favor of the ethnic studies law as a state senator before becoming the state's schools chief.


How a little-heralded, old-fashioned history book about great Britons has struck a nerve

Almost ten years ago, a survey was launched to find the most significant individuals in our nation’s proud history. More than a million people took part, and, not surprisingly, the winner was Sir Winston Churchill, unquestionably the greatest statesman of the last century.

Yet for one observer, who had served in the British Army before working in the City, the results of the Great Britons poll were deeply depressing.

Appalled that Princess Diana had somehow finished third, John Lennon seventh and the actor Michael Crawford in 17th place, Adrian Sykes decided to write a book celebrating the men and women who had really contributed to Britain’s glittering past.

Not even Mr Sykes, however, could have imagined how successful his enterprise would be. The result, Made In Britain, has not only attracted rave reviews from historians, it even has an endorsement from the most influential reader of all, the Prime Minister.

Asked what books were on his bedside table, David Cameron replied: ‘I’m reading something called Made In Britain. It’s a very nice, rather old-fashioned history book about the great figures and inventions of British history. ‘It’s just rather good — I’ve been reading bits with my children.’

There is something rather heartening in the fact that Mr Cameron has been whiling away the evening hours with such a patriotic tome. And, no doubt, Mr Sykes’s stirring accounts of the battles of Agincourt, Trafalgar and Waterloo helped to stiffen the Prime Minister’s sinews before he stood up to France’s latest two-bit Napoleon, the preposterous Nicolas Sarkozy, at this month’s European summit.

Yet behind the success of Made In Britain — which is, as Mr Cameron admitted, a rather old-fashioned kind of book, albeit a splendidly colourful and entertaining one — there is a profoundly depressing reality.

Recent polls show that nine out of ten adults can name all David Beckham’s children, yet one in three thinks Churchill was a fictional character and one in four believes Hadrian’s Wall was built to keep out the French.

Of course, historical ignorance is as old as history itself: even the Victorians used to berate their children for not knowing the difference between Robert the Bruce and Sir Robert Walpole. And yet behind these figures lies a deeply troubling modern malaise.

A report last week by the Commons All-Party Group on History found that, more and more, history is concentrated in private schools and grammar schools, while comprehensives opt for supposedly less difficult subjects.

Last year, fewer than one in three 16-year-olds in Britain’s comprehensives were entered for GCSE history, compared with 55 per cent of grammar school pupils. And in 159 state schools, almost incredibly, not one pupil was entered for the GCSE history exam.

In the poor Knowsley area of Merseyside, for example, just 11 out of a potential 2,000 pupils took A-level history last year — and just four of them passed.

At the root of all this is the unforgivable fact that, almost alone in Europe, British youngsters can drop history before they turn 16.

As a result, modern schoolchildren are force-fed with facts about the Nazis and the U.S. Civil Rights movement, but often know little about the rise and fall of the British Empire, the origins of Parliament or major events such as the Hundred Years War.

Even many high achievers now leave school with only the vaguest knowledge of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which the our last Catholic monarch, the despotic James II, was forced off the throne and replaced by his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange.

In that moment, our constitutional monarchy was born; but how many youngsters are aware of it today?

Indeed, how many know about the Great Reform Act of 1832, which outlawed the corrupt rotten boroughs and paved the way for the expansion of the franchise, the rise of women’s suffrage and the birth of our modern mass democracy?

Through no fault of their own, thousands of our children are leaving school every year ignorant of what their parents and grandparents once took for granted: the inspirational, heart-warming knowledge of what we all once recognised as our national story.

Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that so many modern youngsters feel rootless and alienated, adrift in a landscape they do not understand.

But the study of our nation’s past is more than mere antiquarianism. The truth is that history is the fundamental subject from which everything else flows. All that we know, all that we are, is built on the legacy of our predecessors, from the language we speak to the latest technological gadgets.

The study of the past is more than the dry recital of half- forgotten facts. It is a debate without end, offering youngsters the chance to develop their powers of deduction and to challenge the received wisdom.

And in an age of growing individualism, when greedy self-interest too often trumps social responsibility, history offers a rare chance to come together.

For contrary to the progressive doctrines fashionable since the Seventies, there is nothing reactionary or old-fashioned about teaching your own national history, or about inviting youngsters to be proud of their country’s past.

Indeed, it is baffling that so many card-carrying left- wingers, who spend so much time preaching about the values of community, are so indifferent to the one thing around which all decent British people can rally: our splendidly colourful, rousing and inspirational history.

For 13 years, New Labour, which positively gloried in its commitment to modernity and its scorn for history, spent much of its time bleating about Britishness lessons and citizenship classes. It would have done better to teach our children their own national story — the subject most likely to inculcate a real sense of community and identity.

For too long, in fact, our intellectual classes have been engaged in a gigantic cultural cringe, abasing themselves before unreadable Continental theorists and queuing up to disavow Britain’s imperial past.

Faced with this exhibition of masochistic servility, it is no wonder so many teenagers feel there is little to be proud of in our national story. Yet as Adrian Sykes’s book shows, the truth could not be more different.

Of course all nations love to think themselves important, and every country’s past is dotted with jaw-dropping landmarks, colourful characters and pulse-speeding stories.

But you merely have to scan the pages of Made In Britain to realise that for excitement, incident and sheer worldwide influence, our splendid history is second to none.

No drama, after all, can compare with the spectacle of the Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I and claimant to the English throne, besieged by her rival King Stephen in Oxford Castle in the winter of 1142, only to mount a stunningly audacious overnight escape through the snow, lit only by moonlight.

Nor could any scene in a novel compete with the excitement of the future Charles II, fleeing from the victorious Roundheads after the Civil War battle of Worcester, hiding from his pursuers up an old oak tree.

No fictional character can compete with Alfred the Great, the Anglo-Saxon warrior king who united the English people, smashed the Vikings, and spent his spare time translating books of philosophy, or with Oliver Cromwell, the great commoner who was called by God to cast out tyranny and superstition and in the process created parliamentary democracy.

Then there was Captain Cook, the eighteenth-century explorer coursing through the uncharted seas of the South Pacific, to discover the east coast of Australia, circumnavigate New Zealand and meet his death in a fight with natives on the sands of Hawaii.

And even modern history teems with unforgettably colourful characters, from Douglas Bader, the RAF air ace who won 20 dogfights despite having had both legs amputated, to Margaret Thatcher, the Grantham grocer’s daughter who defied the odds to become our first woman Prime Minister.

But there is more to the rich pageant of our national story than the great and the good.

One of Mr Sykes’s most memorable characters, for example, is the bare-knuckle boxer Tom Cribb, born near Bristol in 1781, who moved to London at the age of just 13 to work as a coal porter.

Known as the ‘Black Diamond’, Cribb won the national boxing championship in 1805 after fighting George Maddox for a staggering 76 rounds. And five years later, he became world champion after beating the American ex-slave Tom Molineaux in 35 rounds, although, in fairness, Molineaux was injured when the overexcited crowd invaded the ring.

To his credit, Mr Sykes finds room for our peerless literary and cultural heritage, from Shakespeare’s glittering verse to Dickens’s pungent social criticism. And as a real treat, there is a whole page of witticisms by my favourite Englishman of all, that supreme Tory maverick, Dr Samuel Johnson, the greatest literary figure of the 18th century.

‘The expense is damnable, the position is ridiculous and the pleasure fleeting,’ ran the great man’s view on sex — one unlikely to be shared by another colourful Johnson, today’s Mayor of London.

And in a remark that would no doubt strike horror into today’s politically correct Anglican clergy, Dr Johnson had firm views on women priests. ‘A woman preaching is like a dog walking on its hind legs,’ he observed. ‘It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.’

For all the jokes, though, Mr Sykes’s book reminds us that more than any other people on earth, it is the British who have contributed most to the comfort, ingenuity and enterprise of the modern age.

Where, after, all, would modern science be without Sir Isaac Newton, the passionately religious Lincolnshire boy, whose ideas about gravity and the laws of motion, first proposed in 1687, utterly transformed humanity’s understanding of the physical world?

Where, for that matter, would we be without the extraordinary polymath Robert Hooke, who surveyed the buildings of the City of London after the Great Fire of 1666, discovered the law of elasticity, built some of the first modern telescopes and virtually invented the first modern plan-form map?

Then there was Michael Faraday, the self-taught Southwark youngster who transformed Victorian technology through his discovery of the electromagnetic field, his invention of an early Bunsen burner and his discovery of the principle of induction. Not for nothing did Einstein keep a picture of Faraday on his wall, next to that of Newton.

And perhaps above all, there was Charles Darwin, the Shropshire lad whose five-year voyage to South America, the Pacific Islands and Australia on HMS Beagle fuelled his ground-breaking ideas about evolution and natural selection, smashing the old theories about life on earth and utterly revolutionizing the way millions of people made sense of their place in the world.

On top of all that, where would the world be without the seed drill, the power loom, the sewing machine, the Valentine’s card, the typewriter, the pram, the corkscrew, the postage stamp, the flushing toilet, the smallpox vaccine, or, indeed, the computer? All these things were invented in Britain — yet very few of us know it.

Yes, our national story has its fair share of crimes and misdemeanours. But the truth is that, from free trade and parliamentary democracy to the glories of the English language and the reassurance of the rule of law, British history is a jewel without compare.

‘The past is a foreign country’, wrote L. P. Hartley at the beginning of his great novel The Go-Between. ‘They do things differently there.’

But while Adrian Sykes’s book makes a wonderfully old-fashioned introduction to that vast and impossibly rich continent, it can never compensate for the pleasures of a full guided tour, led by passionate and committed teachers.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has already spoken of his desire to reinstate history at the heart of the curriculum.

He must ensure that the journey back in time becomes the centrepiece of our children’s schooldays: a chance not just to tread the fields of Waterloo or the Somme, or to see Jane Austen and Isambard Kingdom Brunel at work, but to encounter an uproariously varied range of characters, to make lifelong friends, to draw lessons and parallels, and to meet humanity in the raw.

Without our history, we are nothing. It is precisely the record of our tremendous past that has inspired so many of our greatest names, including modern-day pioneers such as physicist Stephen Hawking and internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee, to expand the boundaries of human achievement.

For too long, generations of British children have been denied the opportunity to enjoy the richest heritage of any nation on earth. Cheated of their birthright, they have been starved of the sheer intellectual pleasure that only history brings.

Putting Adrian Sykes’s labour of love in every teenager’s hands would be a fine start. But the task of inspiring our nation’s youngsters should not be left to retired City executives, no matter how enjoyable the results.
Mr Gove must take inspiration from the days when every child, rich and poor alike, grew up with a deep love of Britain’s magnificent history. In this respect, at least, it is time we turned back the clock.


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