Monday, March 11, 2013

School Offers Counseling to Kids "Troubled" by Gun-Shaped Pastry

By now you've probably heard about the seven-year-old Maryland boy who was suspended for chewing a breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun. What you might not have heard about is the school's conscientious effort to ensure that no kids were traumatized by a glimpse at the weaponized Pop-Tart.

From a letter sent home to parents:

"During breakfast this morning, one of our students used food to make inappropriate gestures that disrupted the class. While no physical threats were made and no one was harmed, the student had to be removed from the classroom....

If your children express that they are troubled by today’s incident, please talk with them and help them share their feelings. Our school counselor is available to meet with any students who have the need to do so next week."

To be fair, the phrasing leaves open the possibility that the students would be "troubled" not by the imaginary gun but by the suspension, and by the ensuing realization that they're powerless pawns in a vast, incomprehensible game run by madmen.


School Confiscates Cupcakes Decorated with Toy Soldiers

A Michigan elementary school is defending its decision to confiscate a third-graders batch of homemade cupcakes because the birthday treats were decorated with plastic green Army soldiers.

Casey Fountain tells me that the principal of his son's elementary school called the cupcakes "insensitive" -- in light of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

"It disgusted me," he said. "It's vile they lump true American heroes with psychopathic killers."

Fountain's wife made a batch of 30 chocolate cupcakes for their son Hunter's classmates at Schall Elementary School in the town of Caro. The 9-year-old helped decorate the treats with plastic figurines representing World War Two soldiers.

The following morning Fountain said his wife delivered the cupcakes to the front office. The secretary complimented her on the decorations and then took the cakes to Hunter's class.

"About 15 minutes later the school called my wife and told her the couldn't serve the cupcakes because the soldiers had guns," Fountain said. "My wife told them to remove the soldiers and serve the cupcakes anyway -- and I believe she may have used more colorful language."

The school complied and confiscated the soldiers -- sending them home with Hunter in a bag.

"I was offended," Fountain said. "I support our soldiers and what they stand for. These (plastic soldiers) are representations of World War Two soldiers - our greatest generation. If they aren't allowed in our schools -- who is?"

Principal Susan Wright released a statement to local media defending the decision.

"These are toys that were commonplace in the past," she wrote. "However, some parents prohibit all guns as toys. In light of that difference, the school offered to replace the soldiers with another item and the soldiers were returned home with the student."

"Living in a democratic society entails respect for opposing opinions," she stated. "In the climate of recent events in schools we walk a delicate balance in teaching non-violence in our buildings and trying to ensure a safe, peaceful atmosphere."

Fountain said it was beyond outrageous to compare American soldiers to deranged mass murderers.

"In our politically correct society they can't separate the good from the bad," he said. "I'm sure hammers are allowed in schools -- although a lot of people are killed by hammers."

Principal Wright explained in her statement that she meant no disrespect to the military.

"By not permitting toy soldiers on cupcakes at school, no disrespect for our military or for the brave men and women who defend our rights to have our differences was intended," she wrote. "Our commitment is always to our children and creating a safe place for them to learn, grow and have respectful dialogues about their differences."

Fountain said his little boy is aware of the controversy but doesn't quite understand what all the fuss is about.

"He's nine-years-old," Fountain said. "He was just glad to get his soldiers back."

"It's not about a toy," he said. "It's not about a cupcake. It's what the toy represents -- and we're just taking political correctness too far."


More wisdom for schools

Top British university awards places irrespective of final A-levels

One of Britain’s top universities has become the first institution in the country to award large numbers of places to bright students irrespective of their final A-level grades, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.

Birmingham – a member of the elite Russell Group – will distribute up to a quarter of undergraduate places this year based on teachers’ own predictions of pupils’ performance.

It is making 1,000 “unconditional offers” to students expected to score straight As in exams as part of a large-scale pilot programme.

The university insisted the move was intended to reward students with the most potential and take the pressure off teenagers in their final year.

But the policy underlines the scale of the competition between universities to recruit bright students in a bid to drive up standards and ensure places do not lie empty.

Students taking up an unconditional offer on one of 12 courses at Birmingham will be expected to name the university as their “firm choice” on UCAS application forms.

It comes after a drop in the number of undergraduates starting universities nationally last autumn amid a backlash over the near tripling of tuition fees and radical changes to Government policies regulating student numbers.

One vice-chancellor warned that Russell Group universities had started the academic year with around 11,500 vacancies.

The competition for students has now led some universities to offer scholarships worth up to £10,000-a-year for bright students starting degrees in 2013.

Prof David Eastwood, Birmingham's vice-chancellor and Russell Group chairman, insisted the university’s applications were up this year, adding: “I think the issue here is less about filling our quotas and more about attracting the best possible students to a highly-selective university.”

Universities such as Oxford and Cambridge have traditionally made a number of unconditional offers, dependent on students scoring highly in their own entrance exams. But this is believed to be the first time the policy has been adopted en masse by a university.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Prof Eastwood insisted the move was intended to make pupils perform even better in end-of-course A-level exams.

“It’s a time when there are lots of pressures on young people and we are trying to take some of those pressures off,” he said. “We believe that the effect of this is that they will do better in the summer. They have already got very strong performance in the bag… and we think there is no danger of them coasting.

“After all, their A-levels will be with them for the rest of their lives – their future employers will be very interested in them – and these are intensely serious young people.”

Students normally apply to university using teachers’ predictions, which are based on prior performance in GCSEs and AS-level exams.

Universities usually make offers of places that are conditional on teenagers scoring certain grades in final exams sat in May and June.

But Birmingham said it was making 1,000 unconditional offers to students who are predicted to score at least three As in their exams – irrespective of final performance. In total, 4,300 students are accepted each year.

Twelve courses will be involved: classics, maths, modern languages, philosophy, sociology, economics, materials engineering, political science, accounting and finance, business management, international relations and European politics, society and economics.

Pupils taking up maths places must be predicted to score three elite A* grades.

Prof Eastwood said: "These are very good students with a range of [course] choices. Some other universities will be trying to attract them with discounted offers on accommodation and with scholarships."


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