Thursday, March 22, 2012

Some apt comments on America's ever-worsening education system

With some rejoinders, mostly lame

  1. “President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.” The campaign trail has historically been a place where reason and common sense go to die, and in the 2012 election that seems to be holding true. GOP candidate Rick Santorum recently made headlines by calling President Obama a “snob” for supposedly saying every American should go to college so that he could “remake people in his image.” Apart from the fact that the president never said that, Mr. Santorum happens to hold three degrees — one more than President Obama.

  2. “Like his colleagues in the faculty lounge who think they know better, President Obama demonizes and denigrates almost every sector of our economy.” Presidential candidate Mitt Romney would like you to note that he was making odd jabs at education well before Rick Santorum. In September 2011, Romney attempted to paint a picture of the president drinking brandy with east coast intellectuals while mocking blue-collar workers. The “faculty lounge” in question was apparently another reference to Harvard’s faculty lounge, the first coming in August. Romney told veterans Obama’s foreign policy is weak, saying, “That may be what they think in that Harvard faculty lounge, but it’s not what they know on the battlefield.” There’s just one problem, Mitt old chap: you went to Harvard and Harvard people donate money to your campaign.

  3. “Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school.” Your 9-year-old doesn’t have enough money, you say? Well has he thought about being a janitor at his school? Thus proposed candidate Newt Gingrich at a Harvard (big surprise) speech in November 2011. Newt Gingrich was born 70-years-old with white hair and a tie, which explains why he had no idea it would be excruciatingly embarrassing to be a janitor at your own school. Or that the suggestion was pretty darn offensive.

  4. “The idea that they’re telling us how to educate our children or how to deliver health care or how to, for that matter, clean our air is really nonsense.” The notion of getting the government out of, well, pretty much everything has been en vogue with Republican presidential candidates this season. Before his campaign crashed and burned, Texas Governor Rick Perry was making the least convincing argument of the group. He said he doesn’t think the government has a role in children’s education, a very controversial idea considering the millions of low-income students who depend on government Pell grants to defray the rising cost of higher education.

  5. [The] Department of Education … has eviscerated the constitutional understanding that the control of education truly lies with the parents.” Another GOP flame-out, another controversial quote. Rep. Michelle Bachmann jumped on the ditch-the-department-of-education bandwagon, saying in September 2011 that the Constitution intended for parents to control their kids’ education. Of course, this begs this question: how does federal government involvement in education preclude parents from educating their kids? Is she saying because someone got a Pell grant you can’t homeschool your kid now? We’ve never heard anyone wish that American parents would get less involved in their children’s learning.

  6. “There’s no authority in the Constitution for the federal government to be dealing with education. We should get rid of the loan programs. We should get rid of the Department of Education and give tax credits, if you have to, to help people.” Never one to shy away from controversial statements, Ron Paul has been calling for the abolishment of the Department of Education for some time. Paul is much more of a respected Constitutional scholar than, say, Rick Perry, and it bears mentioning that some distinguished scholars agree with him. However, Paul’s statement that poor students pay for college with tax credits doesn’t make sense when many of them likely pay no taxes as it is.

  7. “I believe the teachers in New Jersey in the main are wonderful public servants that care deeply. But their union, their union are a group of political thugs.” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie holds a lot of weight with conservatives, and he doesn’t back down from tough talk if he thinks it will tip the scales in his favor. He has conducted a very public heavyweight bout with Jersey’s teachers unions, calling them “thugs” and claiming they care more about “putting money in their own pocket and in the pockets of members than they care about educating our most vulnerable and needy children around the country.” So teachers are in it for the money. That’s rich.

  8. “Learning about sex before learning to read? Barack Obama. Wrong on education. Wrong for your family.” This one came from the run-up to the 2008 presidential election. Sen. John McCain’s camp claimed in a TV ad that Barack Obama wanted to teach sex ed to kindergartners, making grandmothers across the nation spit their tea out all over their Reader’s Digest. The accusation came of a controversial bill Obama voted for as a senator that the left claimed was intended to protect kids from sexual predators, a claim the right denied.

  9. “People should not be coming into the state trying to intimidate lawmakers, offer up threats or anything else. That’s just not the way it’s done, at least not in the Midwest. And thankfully, again, our lawmakers stood up to those sorts of thuggery attacks, and we’re not going to allow that here in the state of Wisconsin.” Although Chris Christie may have dropped the “thugs” tag on teachers unions, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker never actually went there. Still, his reference to “thuggery” has been widely misremembered by many who were offended by what they considered a controversial statement against teachers unions.

  10. “People marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education, and now we’ve got these knuckleheads walking around … Brown or black versus the Board of Education is no longer the white person’s problem.” He’s not a politician, but Bill Cosby sailed away from the continent of political correctness when he basically said the civil rights advancements that have been made in education have been for naught. “We have million-dollar basketball players who can’t write two paragraphs,” he said. “We, as black folks, have to do a better job.”


British deputy headteacher fired for carrying pupil, 6, out of playground wins pay-out after becoming so impoverished she had to take work as a cleaner

A deputy head who was sacked for carrying a pupil back to his classroom has won a pay-out after becoming so impoverished she had to take work as a cleaner. Debbie Ellis, 51, and another teaching assistant lifted the boy by the armpits after he refused to leave the playground.

Mrs Ellis had taken action because a sex offender had recently been spotted at the school gates.

But the teacher was sacked after school governors launched an investigation. She then brought a claim for unfair dismissal against the governors of Hafod-y-Wern primary school at Wrexham, North Wales, following the 'grave injustice.'

At an employment tribunal yesterday her solicitor Tudor Williams announced that a confidential pay settlement had been reached.

Mrs Ellis, who has worked as an office cleaner since her sacking in February last year, said : 'It’s a massive weight off my shoulders. I’m pleased and relieved. 'What happened has had a huge impact on my life and my family’s life. It affected my health initially. I’m pleased it is all done and dusted.

'I will take a breather and put life back into perspective and look at my options. I don’t want to go back into teaching right now after what has happened. I need a while to think.'

Mrs Ellis, who was supported by her daughters Claire, 31, and Nicola, 29, at the hearing, added : 'I loved my job. I was very dedicated and was shattered when this happened. I’ve had letters of support, and the support of my husband Edwin throughout.'

Mrs Ellis, from Mold in Flintshire, said her troubles began when she had been in charge of Hafod-y-Wern because the headmaster was away for a day. When the boy refused to come inside after playtime, staff phoned his mother, but she was not able to come to the school, which has 250 pupils, straight away.

So Mrs Ellis and a teaching assistant went outside, lifted the boy under his armpits and carried him indoors.

The incident was reported to the headmaster and the local education authority became involved. She was suspended.

Her solicitor said last year : 'My client decided she had to do something and asked a teaching assistant to go with her. They lifted him under the armpits and carried him to the classroom.

'It’s shown on CCTV footage but the school governing body thought it showed gross misconduct by physical and emotional abuse of the pupil - it doesn’t.'

Mrs Ellis was dismissed a year ago after a two-day disciplinary hearing. She said she had a 20-year teaching career until her life was shattered by the dismissal. Another teacher was also sacked and two teaching assistants disciplined.

Mr Williams, an employment solicitor based in Wrexham, said Mrs Ellis would now have to wait to hear if the General Teaching Council for Wales will take any action. 'The council referred the dismissal to the GTCW,' he explained.

Mr Williams said the financial settlement, before any evidence was heard by the tribunal, was 'very acceptable to my client.'

The solicitor added : 'This school playground had been used as a shortcut and two weeks earlier a man had been spotted performing a sex act outside the school gates. 'Any teacher would be concerned about a pupil being outside in the playground on his own. Anything could have happened.

'Just imagine if he had been allowed to stay there and wandered off on to the main road or a stranger came in and abused or abducted him. All these things weighed on my client’s mind.'

Wrexham council have not yet commented on the settlement.


Government schools as middle-class welfare

Australian commentator Gerard Henderson is really stirring the pot below. But what he is implicitly advocating would move even more kids into private schools, which would undoubtedly be a good thing

These days, it's all the fashion to condemn middle class welfare - except when such largesse is enjoyed by relatively well-off parents who educate their children in a government school.

Last week, a friend who lives on Sydney's lower north shore received a wanted-to-buy letter from a real estate agent. The agent had a client "who is currently looking to buy a 3-4 bedroom house in the North Sydney area". The potential purchasers have two requirements: first, "they are looking to spend $1.3 to $2 million". Second, they are "looking to move into the catchment area for North Sydney Demonstration School".

So the purchasers expect to spend up to $2 million on a house. Good luck to them. And they expect that taxpayers will fund the education of their children virtually free of charge at a well-regarded comprehensive government primary school. After that, the children would still be in the "catchment area" for one or more of the well-regarded government secondary schools on the lower north shore.

If well-off Australians choose to forgo private health insurance and rely on Medicare and the public hospital system, they are required to pay a higher Medicare levy. However, when well-off Australians avoid private education and rely on the government system for the education of their children, there is no financial disincentive of any kind. The taxpayer pays all.

The concept of free education is so ingrained in the Australian national psyche that it is rarely, if ever, challenged. So even the rich can have their children educated for free without economics journalists who bang on about middle class welfare saying a word.

The expert panel headed by David Gonski, whose final report on the Review of Funding for Schooling was recently handed to the Gillard government, did not tackle this issue. Why? Well, it was not in their terms of reference because this is not a discussable matter. That's why.

Gonski and his colleagues recommended that "in a new model for funding non-government schools, the assessment of a non-government school's need for public funding should be based on the anticipated capacity of the parents enrolling their children to contribute financially towards the school's resource requirements".

This is a fair point. However, if the parents' capacity to pay is a relevant criterion when assessing government funding of private schools, why is it irrelevant when assessing the taxpayer funding of government schools?

In other words, why should a person who lives in a $2 million house in North Sydney pay nothing to educate his or her children - while a person of modest means living in a rented flat be required to make a financial contribution to educating their children in the local Catholic primary school or some similar entity?

The question is never answered because it is rarely asked. I made this point some years ago when I received a rare invitation to address a literary festival. The atheist-inclined, sandal-wearing Byron Bay set became most upset when I suggested that in a truly egalitarian society the middle class should make a contribution to the education of their children, perhaps even grandchildren, attending government schools.

The issue of state aid to non-government schools was an issue throughout much of the 20th century. The demand came from Catholics who had established their own separate education system in the late 19th century. A convenient brief account of this controversy can be found in the book A History of State Aid by, among others, Ian R. Wilkinson and published by the Education Department in 2006, when Julie Bishop was the federal minister.

The Catholic campaign achieved two major breakthroughs in the 1960s, when the governing Liberal Party was anxious to ensure preferences from the Democratic Labor Party, which had substantial Catholic support in Victoria and Queensland.

In late 1963, Robert Menzies announced that the Commonwealth would provide all secondary schools with money for science laboratories. Then, in 1967, Henry Bolte's Liberal government in Victoria provided per capita funding for children attending non-government schools. In time, all non-government schools benefited from these initiatives.

Initially, opposition to state aid came from those opposed to Catholic schools. In more recent times, opponents of state aid have consisted of individuals opposed to non-government schools - sometimes because they oppose religious schools, whether Catholic, Jewish, Muslim or Protestant - and sometimes because they believe government always knows best.

What the critics of the non-government sector overlook is the fact that less well-off parents who make a contribution to their children's education reduce the financial burden on the taxpayer. Whereas well-off parents who send their children to comprehensive or selective government schools get a free ride on the taxpayer. Not only on Sydney's lower north shore.


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