Saturday, March 03, 2012

Black Eighth Grader Defends Essay about slack white teachers

When 13-year-old Jada Williams was given a copy of Frederick Douglass’ book “The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass,” she was inspired. So inspired that she decided to write an essay that drew a parallel between the abhorrent illiteracy in city schools and slavery. And she took aim at her teachers.

But that, apparently, is where she went wrong. The teacher took exception to the essay — which was supposed to be for a contest but was never submitted — and even confronted her. And according to her mother, that started a chain of hostility by the school — located in Rochester, NY — which eventually forced the mother to remove Jada from the school.

“My advice to my peers, people of color, and my generation, start making these white teachers accountable for instructing you,” Jada wrote. “They tooled this profession, they brag about their credentials, they brag about their tenure, so if you have so much experience then find a more productive way to teach the so called ‘unteachable.’”

On Wednesday, Jada and her mother, Karla, joined Glenn Beck on GBTV to discuss those words and the incident. It was an emotional interview that covered Jada’s original intent, the school’s reaction, and even her thoughts on what she’s learned.

You may be wondering what young Jada meant by singling out “white teachers.” That’s exactly the question Beck was wondering, and one that sparked debate among his staff. Jada’s response?

She was simply using the language of Frederick Douglass’ book, published in the 1800s.

“I feel misunderstood, because most grownups are making it a racial issue, when it’s a learning issue,” a tearful Jada said later. “I also feel hurt, because I’m not in school right now. They’re taking from me the one thing that I do love, and I feel confused because I thought I lived in a country of freedom of speech.”

“I know this is absolutely not about racism, it’s about the education of our children, and that’s what needs to be the focus,” Jada’s mother added, later saying “if that’s all it’s about [color] then how far will we ever get?”

Beck agreed with Jada’s remarks on freedom of speech. “Jada, I’ve been talking about this this week, about freedom of speech, and they’re trying to get people to sit down and be afraid,” Beck said. “If there’s one thing you should get from Frederick Douglass is, her’s a man that refused to be a slave.”

“Don’t you let them bully you, and don’t you give up on the promise of America,” Beck concluded later. “It is always just over the horizon, but it requires each of us to reach for it.”

In the end, Jada’s essay did make it into the essay contest for the Frederick Douglass Foundation, and they recognized her essay with an award. As for the school, Rochester School District Interim Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas acknowledged Wednesday to local media that Williams‘ teacher didn’t encourage the free-flow of ideas.

“Of course that’s not the best way to handle a situation like this,” he said. And while he didn’t address specific disciplinary action, he did say, “Suffice it to say I am addressing the situation.”


Can American universities help break down Britain's social barriers?

As the cost of going to university soars, British students may find Ivy League colleges a cheaper alternative.

There used to be, in the not-so-distant past, stereotypes of American and British university education that went something like this: American students, except for the really rich ones, had to borrow their way through higher education, flipping burgers into the wee small hours just to make ends meet. British students, by contrast, were lucky. Even wealthy ones had their tuition fees paid by the state, and most could expect help with living costs in the form of grants. They left university virtually debt-free, ready to enjoy the fruits of a career bought with a solid 2:1 in Economics and Something Else. That situation is being turned on its head.

Britain is now the place to acquire a socking great graduate debt, with tuition fees commonly £9,000 per year and loans taking the place of grants. A British student can borrow up to £50,000 from the taxpayer to finance his or her degree, ensuring a relative level of indebtedness not unlike that confronting the Greek finance minister. But win a place at Harvard or Yale, or one of the many wealthy higher education institutions in the United States, and you could walk away with no debt at all. So generous are the scholarships available at Ivy League universities that some even cover flights home.

Sir Peter Lampl wants to offer this opportunity to talented youngsters from British comprehensives, and has organised a summer school at Yale to help potential applicants master the US system. The founder of the Sutton Trust, which aims to extend educational opportunity to those from low-income households, the businessman believes American universities are part of the answer to a British higher-education funding regime that threatens to re-erect social barriers.

“We are not talking about the kid who will go to Liverpool John Moores or the University of East London, we are talking about those who can make it to Oxford, Cambridge or Bristol,” he says. “We are aiming at the very selective American universities, the Ivy League. I think people who come out of these universities are better prepared for a career. They have more breadth and depth and have studied a wider range of subjects. You get to look at another culture, and you also become part of a very powerful alumni network. A lot of parents are choosing to send their kids to an American university rather than a British one.”

Each year some 4,500 British students take up undergraduate places at American universities and colleges, 80 per cent of them from private schools. That is a drop in the ocean compared with the half-million applicants of all ages accepted each year by Britain’s 300 universities and colleges, but it is significant in terms of elite institutions, such as those of the Russell Group.

A quarter of sixth-formers at Wellington College in Berkshire are expected to opt for an American university this year, but for pupils from state schools the US entry system is a daunting prospect. The summer school at Yale is meant to help, providing advice on the SAT –the Standard Aptitude Test – which applicants must sit. Applicants must also provide a school record, personal statement and references.

Josh McTaggart, from Weston-super-Mare, studied at sixth-form college and was offered a place at University College London, but chose Harvard instead. He receives some £35,000 a year in help from the university, which this year will award £100 million in “needs-based” grants to 60 per cent of its students.

“It’s cheaper to study in the US than London,” says Josh, who hopes to graduate with debts of hundreds rather than thousands of pounds. “Studying at Harvard has opened up a world of opportunity, yet in doing so I haven’t been crippled by debt. I receive a financial aid scholarship that covers the entirety of my costs. This aid is needs-based and, since my household income is under £30,000, I am entitled to full cover.”

In opting for Harvard, Josh has bypassed a British system that threatens to become more polarised as costs escalate. Pupils whose parents earn less than £25,000 a year are eligible for maintenance grants to help meet living costs, but the prospect of a debt measured in the tens of thousands can only be a deterrent to poor families.

The middle classes are also beginning to suffer. There has been a 2.5 per cent fall in university applications by pupils from the wealthiest fifth of households, part of a five per cent decline overall.

“Loading up low and middle-income kids with debt is not a good idea,” says Sir Peter, who after grammar school and Oxford made millions in management consultancy and private equity. “I talk to American friends and they say, 'What are you doing loading up these kids with debt? We wouldn’t do that.’ The average level of graduate debt in America is far lower than people think – £16,000. So it’s lower than for our kids.”

At £40,000 a year for some courses, Harvard’s fees are vastly higher than British ones, but the university’s wealth allows it to indulge students it considers worthy of admission. Harvard’s endowment fund – investments bought with donations from alumni and other bodies – stands at more than £20 billion, greater by far than all the endowment funds controlled by British universities.

Those of Cambridge (£4 billion) and Oxford (£3 billion) are the only ones in the UK that bear comparison with the US sector. Edinburgh, in third place, comes in well below £200 million. Yale, second to Harvard in wealth, enjoys an endowment of some £12 billion, the fruit of long-term relationships with alumni and generous tax breaks for donors.

“If you go to Yale and you come from a family earning less than £40,000, you come out of there completely debt-free,” says Sir Peter. “If your family is earning over £150,000 a year, you pay full whack. In between, they means-test. For a lower-income kid it is very attractive.

“Kids who haven’t been lighting up the school board with A-levels can do very well on the American SAT. I spent half a day on the Harvard selections committee and saw how much they take background into account. The Ivy League universities don’t get many applications from British comprehensive kids and they would like more.

“A diverse student body is one of their objectives. You don’t have a class system over there like you do here. It’s much easier for a working-class kid to integrate into an American university because he’s not pigeonholed in the same way.”

Not that American higher education is free of social elitism. There has long been a taste, never expressed overtly, for “library builders”, applicants from super-wealthy families prepared to stump up the cost of an infrastructure project to ensure admission. Preference is also given to children of alumni.

“This is going to be a big success,” says Sir Peter of the summer school. “We’re doing what the Americans call soup to nuts, getting the kids in for orientation in London in June, then out to the States in July.”

He hopes it will be the beginning of something big. But the question is, why should it be necessary?


British school music lessons with no… music

Thousands of school music lessons involve barely a note of music, a damning report revealed today. Ofsted inspectors condemned poor standards of music education in English schools after discovering that classes are dominated by teachers talking and written exercises. Pupils are given few opportunities to play or listen to music or sing, they found.

‘Put simply, in too many cases there was not enough music in music lessons,’ the report said. ‘In many instances there was insufficient emphasis on active music-making or on the use of musical sound as the dominant language of learning. ‘Too much use was made of verbal communication and non-musical activities.’

Inspectors observed music lessons 184 primary, secondary and special schools. They found that standards had barely improved since the last inspection of music provision three years ago.

Nearly two thirds of schools were failing to provide a good standard of music education - and lessons in one in five were ‘inadequate’.

‘In too many of the lessons observed, teachers spent significant amounts of time talking pupils through lengthy learning objectives that were not related to the language of musical sound,’ the report said.

‘Survey evidence showed, very clearly, that pupils made the most musical progress when they were taught in music, rather than about music.’

Even in instrumental lessons, too much teaching was poor. Inspectors found examples where ensembles were allowed to carry on making a ‘dreadful sound’. In some cases, teachers had not shown children how to hold instruments correctly - and couldn’t even hold them properly themselves.

Boys were significantly less likely to take part in orchestras, choirs and ensembles than girls. Just 14 per cent of primary school boys were involved, against 32 per cent of girls.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools, said: ‘Inspectors looking at music teaching in nearly 200 schools saw quality ranging from outstandingly good to extremely poor.

Too often, inspectors simply did not see enough music in music lessons. ‘Too much use was made of non-musical activities such as writing without any reference to musical sound.

‘Too much time was spent talking about tasks without teachers actually demonstrating what was required musically, or allowing the pupils to get on with their music making.’

In one lesson seen by inspectors, pupils simply copied down information about Eric Clapton and Johnny Cash rather than taking part in a musical activity.

The report said: ‘In one class seen by inspectors, pupils spent the first 20 minutes of a one-hour lesson - the only music lesson of the week for many students - completing “written tasks about the life and work of Eric Clapton and Johnny Cash, using printed ‘factsheets’ from which they had to extract and copy information”.’


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