Sunday, February 19, 2012

If only ....

Did an Ivy League Professor Suggest Including Anti-Israel Messaging in College Courses?

"Kaplan" is usually an Ashkenazi surname (It means "Chaplain" in German) so it looks like we have another Israel-hating Jew here. Maybe she hopes that the Muslims will come for her last. That sort of thinking did not work out too well for Trotsky

There is an audio clip making the rounds on pro-Israel blogs, purporting to reveal a University of Pennsylvania professor apparently suggesting that fellow teachers insert a boycott Israel message into their courses, even in courses not connected to Middle East politics.

The audio clip was taped at the National Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Conference earlier this month at the University of Pennsylvania about which The Blaze reported. Israel National News reports:

"In a breakout session of the “Academic Boycott of Israel” initiative, Amy Kaplan, professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania spoke about how teachers can most effectively demonize Israel in every classroom as well as the “positive aspects” of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

A member of the audience asked Kaplan how teachers could incorporate ways of de-legitimizing Israel “especially, I guess, when the course is not dealing directly with material that has to do with Palestine?”

She answered:

“Well I don’t know how you can, how you can address the issue if you’re not dealing with a course that has no content or relationship to it…but I know that, I mean, you can make courses that have content.”

“…you can teach a course on which you included prison as a really, really big thing, not only in the political life of Palestinians, but also in their literature and in their poetry. So that will be kind of an ideal way – you take a thematic course, and you bring in themes from this issue.”

Kaplan offered specific texts that could be used to drive home the point:

“…And, literature is a really great way to teach students about what’s going on, students who think they know they have an ideological line, a political line, and then they read, you know, they read Darwish, they read, you know, The Pessoptimist and it opens up a whole new world.”

Mahmoud Darwish was an influential Palestinian poet and PLO member who became a national symbol for many Palestinians. Kaplan was presumably referring to the book “The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist,” by Emile Habiby whose Amazon description reads:

"Saeed is the comic hero, the luckless fool, whose tale tells of aggression and resistance, terror and heroism, reason and loyalty that typify the hardships and struggles of Arabs in Israel…The author‘s own anger and sorrow at Palestine’s tragedy and his acquaintance with the absurdities of Israeli politics (he was once a member of Israel’s parliament himself) are here transmuted into satire both biting and funny."

The pro-Israel blogger Elder of Ziyon who originally posted the audio of Prof. Kaplan on YouTube wrote:

"Here we have a professor at an Ivy League university explicitly calling on like-minded educators to shoehorn hate of Israel into every one of their classes. For these academics, college is not about teaching but it is merely a platform for them to spout their political views at their captive audience."

Kaplan, from UPenn’s English department, teaches classes including “Contact and Conflict: Literatures of Palestine and Israel,” “19th Century US Imperialism,” and “The Vietnam War in Literature and Film.” She is also a signatory to the pro-Palestinian “U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel” which calls for boycotting Israeli universities and academics, including those who support the Palestinian cause.

Kaplan’s right to free speech is protected under the First Amendment. However, is the English department presenting alternate points of view to balance out Kaplan’s one-sided presentation? How are impressionable 18 and 19-year-old students supposed to discern the complexities of the Israel-Palestinian conflict if only one side of the story is presented?


Popular TV shows and magazine covers are "literature" in English High Schools

When he was at school, Joseph Reynolds immersed himself in literary classics such as Great Expectations, Julius Caesar and Beowulf. Now, as the father of a teenage daughter, the 45-year-old expected her to study and enjoy similarly stimulating works.

Instead, however, she has the chance to examine Britain’s Got Talent, the X Factor and Heat magazine for her English GCSE.

Mr Reynolds said the syllabus at Kingsmead School, Wiveliscombe, Somerset, flew in the face of attempts to expose children to ‘the best that has been thought and written’.

The American marine engineer, who lives near Taunton, said: ‘I remember what I had in high school and my daughter’s not getting it. ‘I have been fighting to give her the same type of stuff I had: Great Expectations, Julius Caesar, Beowulf, and Sons and Lovers.’

He was so infuriated about his daughter’s English syllabus that he complained to her school and the Education Secretary Michael Gove.

At a hearing with governors, Mr Reynolds produced a copy of Heat and asked if they thought it was a text of ‘high quality’. He said they agreed it wasn’t but then wrote to him saying pupils were only studying the cover.

Another optional unit from the English GCSE – on school dinners – invites pupils to study ‘secondary school menu week one’. Assignments from previous years include a unit on extreme sports featuring the cover of Ride BMX magazine.

The school has defended its teaching and said classics were studied elsewhere on the course.

Exams watchdogs are now investigating how students can achieve a fifth of their marks for the unit on ‘talent television’. Nearly 40,000 are taking English or English language GCSE with Edexcel, which both feature the controversial option.

Pupils answer questions on source materials, including the home page of the BGT website and a Heat cover which features the headline ‘Yes! It’s Jedmania! The week Britain fell in love with Jedward!’

They assess how the texts ‘use presentation and language to communicate ideas and perspectives’ and write an essay setting out their ideas for a new TV talent show.

A spokesman for Edexcel said the ‘talent television’ theme was optional for schools and the range of sources studied was ‘entirely appropriate’.

GCSE courses are being revised for September in line with reforms introduced by Mr Gove.


Private schooling a big priority for Australian parents

39% of Australian teenagers are sent to private high schools. It makes Britain's 7% look pretty sad. Australian public schools are now largely for the children of the poor, who are more likely to have behaviour problems -- and discipline-phobic public schools now do little to address such problems (though they huff and puff a lot), leading to deaths in extreme cases. Who would not want a safer and more collegial environment for their kid? I sent my son to a private High School, with excellent results

Next time you're walking past a playground or picking up breakfast at a cafe or at the council pool at the weekend, listen in on the conversation of any group of parents with young children. You will probably find them discussing "which school to choose". In fact, "kids' schools" is up there with "housing prices" as the topic my peer group cannot stop talking about.

Education - including the relative merits of public versus private schools - has been well canvassed over several decades. The clear difference today, however, is that the "right school" discussion is being had by parents earlier, even when their children are still in nappies. And there is an anxious edge to the conversation. Concern about finding the right school has crept beyond the elite and spread throughout society. With the Gonski school funding review due to release its findings on Monday and the new My School website launched soon after, parents will have even more to think and fret about in coming months.

Last year I conducted a group discussion involving five men in their late 30s; all of them mates. The topics were open-ended. Tell us about your life, the things that keep you up at night, the things you talk about over beers and barbecues. In groups like this, the conversation often veers towards the economy, work, sport and politics. But these men spent most of their time talking about schools. And only two of them had children and they weren't even ready for kindergarten.

They started with a review of public and private schools in the area. These men were prepared to pay substantially more for a house if it was located near decent schools. They had visited the My School website, knew which zone they fell into and the NAPLAN scores of the schools in the area. One man questioned the quality of the public options. "I wasn't aware there were any good public schools around here," he said. He recalled the public school children in his neighbourhood as "complete tools" and "total knuckleheads". There was no way he was sending his offspring to a school with "ordinary units" like that. Another friend agreed. "As a parent you want to give them every chance."

One of the five men was English, married and had been living in Australia for some time. He was puzzled by the extent to which his friends were focused on where they were sending their children to. "I have had so many conversations about private education since coming to Australia,",he said. "Everyone is very private-focused." When the time came, he and his wife were planning to send their children to any local school closest to them. A few of his mates looked at him blankly. "Sure, you could do that," one of them said eventually. But his tone was cautionary, implying his friend was taking a risk with his child's future. The English bloke began to look worried.

These men accept that a private education does not guarantee great marks in the HSC, achievement at university or career success. "There is an argument that just because you go to a private school you don't necessarily get on in life," one of them remarked. Would it be better to send your child to a public school and spend the money you save on travel, tutoring and other meaningful activities? Despite all this conjecture, the conclusion was that good private education trumps public education every time.

What is driving parent perceptions about schools and the growing preference towards private over public? And why are we talking about it so often and so soon?

Research conducted by Dr Adrian Beavis for the Herald in 2004 sought to identify the factors that influenced parental choice about schools. It showed that one factor stood out when it came to the parental selection of a school. This was "the extent to which the school embraced traditional values to do with discipline, religious or moral values, the traditions of the school itself, and the requirement that a uniform be worn".

To me, this means we have to look beneath some of the upfront reasons parents give about why they choose private schools over public (namely, a better education) and search for other reasons.

Undoubtedly, peer pressure is at work here. If you can afford private education and all your friends are opting for the same, what does choosing the public path say about you as a parent?

Perhaps there is also a fear element. We are looking for peace of mind and are prepared to pay for it, even if we do not have any hard evidence it is going to work. We constantly hear from parents that they believe private education provides a "nicer" learning environment - less bullying, violence, sex and drugs and anti-social behaviour.

To be fair, I have met parents whose aversion to public education is based on experience. I interviewed a young mother of primary school-age twins with learning difficulties, who was prepared to take a second job to send them to a private school. She told me: "I hate the local school. My girls are getting behind and their confidence is getting lower and lower every year. There is bullying. The school is too big. You go and see the teachers about getting some support for your kids and they don't want to hear." This woman felt she would have more leverage as a fee payer at a private school than she would as a taxpayer in a public school.

But there are also many who believe parents have more influence on their children than schools do, and that paying tens of thousands of dollars for a child's school education puts too much strain on families and is not worth it.


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