Monday, April 01, 2013

Chicago Teachers Union President Laughs About Lying to Parents, Turning Students Into “Hostages”

Why is our government education system so dysfunctional? Perhaps because parents often don’t get the truth and administrators and teachers are constantly fighting each other.

That much can be discerned from the words of Karen Lewis, president of the radical Chicago Teachers Union.

Lewis appeared before the New York Collective of Radical Educators (an appropriate audience, to be sure) March 16 to give the keynote address at the group’s annual conference.

Lewis reminisced about her teaching days, when she would lie to parents when it came time to discuss their child’s performance. She then said – because of her lies – the student became her “hostage” who would do what she wanted.

Is this what parents want? Teachers lying to them about their children’s performance and behavior in school? Should the leader of one of the nation’s largest teachers unions be advocating such behavior?

Lewis also urged the attendees to make life difficult for their building principals.

“Do you have an insane principal?” she said, to laughs and clapping. “Anybody have an insane principal? Take ‘em out. What that means is remove them, by the way, Fox News … How do you do that? You organize to make their lives so miserable.”

Lewis is suggesting that educators should spend their time making the lives of their bosses miserable, apparently to the point where they choose to resign.

Is this the best use of teachers’ time and energy? Shouldn’t they be focused on helping kids learn and working with their principals to do what’s best for students?

Lewis’ rhetoric underscores the fact that teachers and school leaders are frequently at odds, to the detriment of the learning environment. It exposes the ugly truth about public schools - they’re often acrimonious places where the adults are fighting about adult issues and the children are left behind.


Lawmakers: Anti-Bullying Conference Bullies Conservatives, Christians

A group of nearly two dozen Republican lawmakers is threatening to pull state funding from an Iowa community college unless they defund an anti-bullying program that the lawmakers say bullies Christians and conservatives.

The Des Moines Area Community College is one of several sponsors of the Iowa Governors Conference on LGBTQ Youth – scheduled to be held next week. The program was founded by Iowa Safe Schools.

The college’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter filed a Freedom of Information Act request and discovered that tax and tuition dollars were being used to cover the costs.

“It’s outrageous,” said Jake Dagel, chairman of the YAF chapter at the college. “My school has decided to use the money that I funded them – to go out and fund an event that’s bullying people with my beliefs.”

Dagel took issue with several of the workshops being offered at the conference – and said they were anti-Christian and anti-conservative.

“Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Right Wing?” is the title of one workshop.

“Learn messages and methods to fight back against propaganda from the extreme right-wing, from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh to Bob Vander Plaats and Jan Mickelson,” read the workshop’s description.

Vander Plaats is president of The Family Leader, an Iowa-based socially conservative organization. Mickelson is a talk radio host at WHO in Des Moines.

A workshop about LGBTQ and the Bible ponders questions like, “Is the Bible an excuse to hate?” and “Can the love between two people ever be an abomination?”

“I have a problem because they are using taxpayer funds to bully people at an anti-bullying conference,” Dagel told Fox News.

Republican lawmakers released a statement denouncing the use of taxpayer funds to support the conference.

“We cannot in good conscience vote to give taxpayer dollars to people or groups who pervert the Bible, teach our youth to engage in dangerous behavior, and target individuals like Jan Mickelson for hatred and bullying,” their statement read.

The lawmakers vowed to vote against funding the community college unless they pull tax dollars from the LGBTQ conference.

Rob Denson, president of the college, told Fox News he will not withdraw funding from the event.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “All I know is the intent of Iowa Safe Schools is to support diversity and protect children.”

Denson confirmed they are sponsoring 50 students so they can attend the conference – costing $1,000.

“We want to make this conference available to a certain number of our students that might not otherwise be able to go,” he said. “As a community college we have many students who represent many of the different categories and we are supportive of all of them.”

Denson said the college’s diversity commission signed off on the contribution.

“We respect everyone’s right to live the life they want to live,” he said.

But Dagel questioned whether Christians or conservatives would be welcomed at the event.

“Being a Christian or a conservative – you would feel like an outcast,” he said. “This is not diversity. Any organization or event that targets individuals is absolutely not diverse.”

President Denson refuted that suggestion – and said the conference “promotes diversity and opposes bullying or any behavior toward diverse populations that is unfair, inappropriate or illegal.”

So what about the conferences targeting conservatives and Christians?

“We don’t have enough information to know that those titles are anything more than attention getters,” he said.”You try to put a title on a conference that develops interest.”

An Iowa Safe Schools spokesperson did not return calls seeking comment.



It’s not just school grades that British parents buy

Is there a single public figure in Britain who did not go to private school? With the Prime Minister, the Mayor of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury all owners of the black and pale-blue striped Old Etonian tie, it can sometimes seem that way.

Half the Cabinet, more than half of the country’s top medics and 70 per cent of judges went to fee-paying schools – compared to just 7 per cent of the overall population. It is not just men in suits, wigs and white coats who are likely to have been privately educated. Over a third of Team GB’s Olympic medallists from last summer went to private schools.

This week, the debate was reignited by the improbable figure of Sandie Shaw. The 1960s singer, of Puppet on a String and lack of shoes fame, was in front of the culture, media and sport select committee at the House of Commons. She claimed that it would be impossible for her, the daughter of a Dagenham car worker, to repeat her success in today’s world.

“At the moment, unless you are Mumford & Sons and come from a public school and have a rich family that can support you, you’re on the dole and you’re trying to work and by the time you get a sniff of a record contract you just grab anything they might offer you,” she said.

Poor old Mumford & Sons – forever destined to be wheeled out as an example of the public-school mafia that dominate the Top 40. Most of the members of the “nu-folk” band met while pupils at King’s College Wimbledon, incidentally the same private school attended by Nick D’Aloisio, the 17-year-old who landed himself a £20 million internet fortune this week. Then there are Chris Martin of Coldplay, Florence Welch, Dido, Lily Allen, Radiohead and nice, fresh-faced Will Young – public school educated one and all. Even the Saturdays, the girl band currently occupying the number one slot in the singles chart, contains two members whose parents paid for their education.

How private schools have continued to attract pupils during the downturn has baffled some economists, particularly considering fees have increased by 75 per cent in the last decade. But this sheer weight of success – across the full spectrum of British life, from the track of Sir Chris Hoy’s Olympic velodrome to the stage of the Birmingham hippodrome – is one of the reasons why parents seem willing to dig deep into their pockets. Sandie Shaw’s comment struck home: a private school education increases your child’s chances, even their artistic ones.

The Sutton Trust, which monitors the rusty wheels of Britain’s social mobility, carried out a snapshot survey of the school backgrounds of 8,000 “notable people” deemed important enough to have their birthdays announced in the broadsheet newspapers. Even the arts – where you might think raw talent rather than education would be the deciding factor in a successful career – were dominated by private school pupils. Half of the 135 theatre producers and directors went to private school, and four out of 10 actors too (including Old Etonians Eddie Redmayne and Damian Lewis).

Pop stars, in fact, were one of the least privileged groups, only out-plebbed by policemen. The government-funded Brit School, the performing arts college in Croydon whose alumni include Amy Winehouse, Leona Lewis and Adele, has a far better track record than Eton, which hasn’t had a chart-topper since Humphrey Lyttelton. Even so, a considerable 19 per cent of singers and band members went to private school.

The success of private schools in the so-called “soft” areas such as sport and the arts is partly down to facilities, which have tended to mushroom over the last generation as schools have entered into sports-hall and recording studio “arms races”. Ed Smith, the former England cricketer, pointed out in his book Luck that when England toured Pakistan in 1987-1988 all but one of the 13 players selected were state-educated. When England played India in the summer of 2011, eight of the team’s 11 were privately educated, including Stuart Broad, an alumnus of Oakham and Andrew Strauss, the captain, who went to Radley.

This happens to be my old school (yes, I am one of the 52 per cent of newspaper journalists who went to private school), an institution where the playing fields stretch almost as far as the eye can see – certainly far enough for every single one of its 640 pupils to be playing cricket on a summer afternoon. It also boasts a state-of-the-art theatre, studio space for smaller productions, a music school and concert hall. My hackles rise when a begging letter arrives asking me to help fund yet another Olympic-standard fencing gallery.

Phil DeFreitas, the cricket all-rounder from the 1988 era, went to Willesden High School in north London. Its playing fields were dug up to build a new City Academy, with a glittering building by Sir Norman Foster. It has a basketball court and an Astro Turf pitch for football, but no lovingly watered cricket wicket. It is no surprise that when DeFreitas retired he ended up as a cricket coach not at his old school, but at Oakham, where his experience was used to train future privately educated Stuart Broads, not comp kids like himself.

It is not just the equipment, however. Lee Elliot Major, at the Sutton Trust, says: “There are just not enough state schools that have an aspirational culture. The grammar schools, whatever you may have thought of them, created pupils who aspired, and most independent schools share that. This is as true for pop stars as it is for doctors and lawyers.”

Jo Dickinson, an accountant and mother of three, is about to send her 11-year-old daughter to a private girls’ school. Both she and her husband, a banker, attended comprehensive schools. “My school was good, but it did nothing to nurture me or give me confidence,” she says. “My daughter’s school prides itself on inviting artists and actors as well as doctors and lawyers to give talks to the girls. It’s just something I never had.”

Rachel Johnson, the journalist and sister of Boris, says: “It’s peace of mind. That’s what you are getting when you take on that third mortgage to pay for fees. It’s the peace of mind that you can’t do anything more for your children.”

She thinks the fabled confidence that private schools give their pupils is more of a “veneer”. She, like many parents, frets that this comes with a major disadvantage. Namely, that children will mix in too narrow a social group, shut off from the real world. But this is usually outweighed by the hope that, articulate or not, they will get a leg-up, often in the form of an unpaid internship. In the 1980s, just five per cent of the film industry workforce had under-taken unpaid work, but this rose to 45 per cent over the last decade.

Ryan Shorthouse, at the Social Market Foundation, and author of a report about access to the creative industries, says it is not the unpaid element that is the key barrier. “Bright, talented and enthusiastic people will always find the means and ways to fund an unpaid internship; but they don’t all have access to the network of these internships. This is particularly the case in the creative industries, which tend to be made up of small firms, without the large-scale work experience schemes accountancy or law firms have.”

The confidence that privately educated children are supposed to possess is generated not just by small class sizes, world-class facilities and an encouragement to aspire. It comes from an innate understanding that they will grow up knowing the right people, that there is a network they can tap into. As Dr Elliot Major says: “Politicians talk of soft skills; it’s more than that. They are life-defining skills – that is what the top private schools are so good at giving their pupils.”

This is something that parents who are lucky enough to have money understand. For all the promises from Michael Gove’s education department to inject academic rigour into the state school system, governments will always struggle to compete with the “life-defining skills” on offer in the private system.


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