Monday, March 25, 2013

Principal Ditches ‘Honors Night’ for More Inclusive Student Assembly to Avoid ‘Devastating’ Average Kids‏

In recent years, there’s been an odd cultural trend emerging. As parents seek to shield their children from negativity, there’s been a major push in some circles to rid schools and youth groups of competitive spirit — all in the name of inclusiveness and protecting kids’ emotions.

Considering this ongoing dynamic — one that tends to anger parents who believe in the rewards associated with hard work and dedication — David Fabrizio, the principal at Ipswich Middle School in Ipswich, Mass., came under fire this week after local and national news outlets reported that he canceled an honors awards night to hold a more inclusive event.

Rather than inviting only those students who have outperformed their peers, the Daily Mail reports that Fabrizio has reorganized the event, called “Honors Night,” and is ensuring that every individual in the school can take part.

In an e-mail announcement to parents, Fabrizio purportedly said that the decision was made in an effort to avoid “devastating” those individuals who did not perform well and were, thus, not invited to the traditional awards event. Parents purportedly shared this note with Fox affiliate WFXT-TV.

“The Honors Night, which can be a great sense of pride for the recipients’ families, can also be devastating to a child who has worked extremely hard in a difficult class but who, despite growth, has not been able to maintain a high grade point average,” Fabrizio wrote to parents.

According to WFXT-TV, the principal’s decision was also predicated upon the fact that academic success is also tied to the support that students get at home. And since not every student gets the same level of academic and emotional support from parents, there’s potential inequality.

Naturally, many parents both in the school district and beyond disagree with this re-organization of an annual event that was meant to herald children’s stellar performance.

Dave Morin, a parent in the district, voiced his frustration in an interview with WFXT-TV.

“It’s been a tradition in Ipswich,” he said. “And you’re very proud as a parent to go into that night and see your child, as well as some of the other children who made, really, some great efforts.”

Parental outrage was apparently so intense that Fabrizio took to the school’s web site to write a statement about the incident. In addition to rebuffing the WFXT-TV report, the principal clarified how the Honors Night program changes were being handled.

“Ipswich Middle School is dedicated to high achievement in every facet of our students’ lives. We did not cancel honors recognition as erroneously reported by FOX News Boston,” he wrote. “We changed our Honors Night from an exclusive ceremony at night to an all-inclusive ceremony during the day in the presence of the entire student body.”

So, students who excel will still be recognized for their accomplishments — and in front of the entire student body on June 17.

“During this ceremony we will honor those who have excelled in academics, in athletics, in the arts and in the related arts. Any reports to the contrary are incorrect,” the principal’s statement on the school’s web site continues.

On one hand, this can be seen as a valiant effort to recognize students who have excelled, while also motivating those who have not. Rather than having children accept their awards in front of families in a closed, evening event, these students will be shining examples to their peers.

Plus, Fabrizio notes that it’s important to expose kids who aren’t excelling to inspirational speakers — something this new-found assembly will allow.

“We had a situation where our best students were being honored exclusively away from the rest of the school. The problem was, those who needed that motivation weren’t there,” Fabrizio told the IPSwich.

But there’s also some interesting counter arguments to consider.

On the flip side, there’s also the fact that holding an evening event was special and offered children who deserve praise the necessary accolades. By simply merging this event with the larger, end-of-year assembly, the unique nature of the awards disappears.


Repeat after me: If 100 experts say it's wrong for children to learn by rote, they must all be nitwits

One of the lessons we all learn eventually, whether from history or personal experience, is the correct answer to the question: can 100 leading experts really be wrong? That answer, of course, is a most emphatic ‘Yes’.

As yesterday’s paper reminded us, the point was deliciously illustrated after Sir Geoffrey Howe’s 1981 Budget. This was when not just 100 but 364 of the country’s most eminent economists wrote to The Times, saying that the Thatcher government’s austerity measures would ‘deepen the depression’.

Of course, we can now date the start of the boom of the Eighties, and Britain’s return from bankruptcy and paralysis to robust economic health, almost exactly to the moment when Sir Geoffrey sat down after delivering his package to the Commons.

Oh, what a comfort it is, to those of us who don’t begin to understand economics, to know that our greatest economists haven’t a clue either.

Climatologists also spring to mind. I’m old enough to remember when you would have had no trouble rounding up 100 of the most distinguished academics in the field to sign an open letter warning that humanity was sleep-walking towards a new Ice Age.

Today, of course, the experts sing from a very different hymn sheet. The trouble is that, as before, the mercury in the world’s thermometers stubbornly refuses to obey their predictions.

I’m not saying there’s nothing in the theory of global warming. Indeed, I find it plausible that if we go on belching pollutants into the atmosphere, they’ll have the greenhouse effect of heating us up — just as it was always believable that they would freeze our pants off by blocking out the sun.

All I’m saying is that no matter how many climatologists tell us the globe is warming up or cooling down, I’ll find their warnings a great deal more convincing if just one of them manages to produce a predictive temperature chart that turns out to be roughly accurate. Until then — or until Mr Miligrant’s new Press commissariat bans me from expressing unfashionable views — I’ll keep an open mind.

There comes a time, however, when a theory has been so comprehensively exploded by the facts, as we’ve observed and experienced ourselves, that even people who are prepared to believe almost anything must come off the fence and declare that it’s plain false.

Such a moment came for me this week when I read the open letter from 100 distinguished academics — 51 of them professors, no less — in which they repeated dogmas that have been accepted as Holy Writ by the educational establishment since they caught on widely during the Sixties.

‘As academics,’ they wrote [although they might, with equal truth, have begun ‘As nitwits.....’] ‘we are writing to warn of the dangers posed by Michael Gove’s new National Curriculum, which could severely erode educational standards.

‘The proposed curriculum consists of endless lists of spellings, facts and rules. This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think, including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity.’

They went on to air the familiar complaint that Mr Gove’s curriculum was demanding ‘too much, too young’.

It would put pressure on teachers, they said, to rely on ‘rote learning without understanding’, adding: ‘Little account is taken of children’s potential interests and capacities, or that young children need to relate abstract ideas to their experience, lives and activity.’

Now, despite what I’ve said so far, I accept that a mere layman should, in general, be hesitant about challenging authorities who have devoted their whole lives to the question at issue. And I should admit at once that my own career as a teacher was so brief and atypical that I can claim no sort of expertise.

It began while I was a teenager and still at school myself, when I volunteered to help out at a deprived North London primary school as a means of getting out of playing football.

I was meant to be teaching children with special needs how to read. But, as I remember, my chief duty was to prevent the boys from hurling scissors at each other.

Otherwise, I spent much of my time rejecting, as tactfully as I could, a series of imploring proposals of marriage from a seven-year-old West Indian girl, who had taken a shine to me.

Later, I taught for a couple of terms at fiendishly expensive boarding schools for boys aged eight to 13. I’ll never forget the conversation I overheard one morning when I sat at the breakfast table between the heir to a cereals fortune and Lord Christopher Wellesley, son of the Duke of Wellington.

Cereals heir: ‘How many swimming pools have you got, Wellesley? We’ve got three.’  Wellesley (mentally scanning the family estates): ‘I’m not sure. Seven, I think.’

Hardly the experiences of a teacher at the average school, I admit — although the violent North London primary comes much closer to today’s norm than the exclusive Berkshire prep school.

So, no, I’m no expert in educational theory or practice. But I was on the receiving end of a formal education for many years. I also have four children of my own, whom I observed through the 60 years they chalked up between them at both state and independent schools.

And although a lot of what I learned was taught by rote, I flatter myself that I remain just about capable of thinking.

So I’m emboldened to tell those 100 eminent educationalists that when they rail against schools being made to teach ‘endless lists of spellings, facts and rules’, what they are actually attacking is education.

Indeed, they raise an entirely false dichotomy when they suggest that teaching children rules and facts by rote stifles creativity and understanding. Doesn’t all our experience tell us that facts and the ability to think about them go hand in hand, like rules and creativity?

Do those nitwit educationalists really believe that Mozart would have been a more creative composer if he hadn’t been taught the rules of music when he was in short pants? Or that Turner would have been a greater artist if he’d jumped straight to his more abstract stuff, without first being taught the disciplines of perspective, line and colour?

Speaking for myself, I owe a huge debt for my understanding of the way languages work to the doggerel rhymes I was made to learn from the back of my Latin grammar book before I was ten.

I still remember most of them: ‘For indirect command the laws/ Are ut and ne like a final clause .....’; ‘Determine, wish, prefer, try, strive / Take the plain infinitive .....’.

In English, I was made to learn great chunks of poetry off by heart — quite apart from the hymns then sung by rich and poor alike, from north to south.

In history, I learned the dates of the kings and queens of England, along with a salient fact about each one’s reign, from another very bad poem my teacher drummed into me. Here’s a snatch of it: ‘Richard, 1189/ Who fought the Turks in Palestine’; ‘John, 1199/Who did the Magna Carta sign.’

How can knowing that rhyme, which sketches out the basic chronology of the past 1,000 years, be anything but an aid to understanding history? If only children learned it today — instead of being told to imagine they’re a refugee from Nazi Germany one day, and an 18th-century African slave the next — they might have a clearer picture of how our world came to be.

No, those academics are spouting dangerous and discredited claptrap that has demonstrably betrayed generations of children as British schools have slipped relentlessly down the international league tables.

‘Too much, too young’? Why don’t teachers raise their expectations of their charges, as Mr Gove is trying to make them do? They may find they’re amazed by what young minds can absorb.

Meanwhile, I’m beginning to think I should amend my opening question. Perhaps I should have asked: ‘Can 100 leading experts ever be right?’


Australia:  'Why didn't they help my girl?'

A HOBART father is considering legal action against the Education Department after he says his 13-year-old daughter was subjected to eight months of bullying at her school, culminating in her nose being broken and an attempt made to set her on fire.

The father, whose name has been withheld to protect his daughter's identity, said he was left dumbstruck by the failure of school authorities to provide the most basic duty of care. "I'm shattered," he said of the school's inability to deal with the repeated bullying of his daughter.

The distraught father said he could not believe his daughter's tormentors – five 13-year-old girls -- were not expelled.

Rather, the man's daughter has become a victim again by being forced to change schools.

"I was in the army, I protected my country and now I can't protect my little girl," he said.

After being contacted for a response by the Mercury, the Education Department said it would investigate.

"The department takes all incidents of violence seriously and has procedures in place to deal with them," Education Department deputy secretary Liz Banks said.

"In this instance, the school acted promptly and the actions included suspension, mediation and appropriate counselling and support for the students involved."

However, the victim's father rejected Ms Banks' claims that the school had acted "promptly".

He said the school principal failed to meet with him, despite repeated requests.

The father said the school failed to contact police when his daughter, a Year 7 student, was punched in the face by her main tormentor in the school playground on March 6.

The attack resulted in his daughter having surgery last Wednesday to reset her nose, after a week waiting for the swelling to go down.

That assault occurred on her 13th birthday and her father had allowed her to mark it by having her naturally red hair dyed brown the day before.

"The teasing had started off last year with name-calling the usual 'ranga' and the like, and she wanted to dye her hair. I held out for a long time but it didn't stop and I gave in for her birthday," he said.

"I couldn't believe they didn't call the police after my daughter was punched in the face.

"I took her to the doctor on March 6 ... She told me [my daughter's] nose was broken and I took her to the police station."

He said police had been very supportive and were dealing with the matter and the offender was suspended from school for a week.

"The day after she returned from that suspension, [my daughter] was in what was supposed to be a safe zone classroom during the lunch break," he said.

"The teacher's aide supervising the room had not been told that the girls weren't allowed near her and she let them in.

"They walked straight up to [my daughter], sprayed her with aerosol cans of hairspray and deodorant and tried to light her on fire with cigarette lighters."

The terrified girl managed to push her way through the group and run to safety with her clothing singed.

The father again met with the school and it was suggested the best option would be to remove his daughter from the school and place her elsewhere.

"I can't believe it," he said.  "I'm afraid for her life."

He said the Education Department had phoned him yesterday after it was approached by the Mercury.   "They say they're looking into it but they're eight months too late. This is going to scar her for the rest of her life."


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