Thursday, April 11, 2013

Maine:  355-Page Mega Report That Reveals the Radical Curriculum of an elite American College

Bowdoin President Barry Mills reportedly engaged in a golf game during the summer of last year with philanthropist and investor Thomas Klingenstein who, while not being a graduate of Bowdoin, was himself interested in the college’s approach to education. The result was an apparently awkward conversation during which Klingenstein complained of Bowdoin’s excessive celebration of “racial and ethnic difference,” in his words, rather than of “common American identity.”

It is unclear precisely how sharp the conversation got, but it evidently distressed Mills enough that he decided to mention Klingenstein (albeit not by name) in his subsequent commencement address as a particularly unpleasant golfing partner who’d interrupted his backswing to spout racist platitudes.

Needless to say, Klingenstein found this response galling. What he decided to do about it, however, is almost certainly unprecedented: Klingenstein decided to commission researchers to do an academic report on Bowdoin’s culture, both academically and outside the classroom, to see just what the college was teaching its students. The result was a 355 page report by the conservative National Association of Scholars that systematically broke down Bowdoin’s entire culture and worldview with extreme frankness.

What did that report find? That Bowdoin College, and indeed most of its peers in the elite liberal arts college community, is in fact:

A) Obsessed with identity politics to the point of using them as an excuse to teach irrelevant and/or trivial courses, and to admit underqualified and undereducated students

B) At once entirely unconcerned with fostering healthy sexual behavior in students and consumed with making sure they follow inconsistent and ideologically motivated norms; and

C) Disingenuous in their purported support for critical thinking, which only extends as far as thinking critically about topics which the college finds institutionally inconvenient

The report, which runs 355 pages, is split into two sections — first, there is the preface, which assesses the facts regarding Bowdoin and makes specific value judgments regarding those facts. Second, there is the report itself, which only explains the college’s behavior without passing judgment on it....

Bowdoin professes to support “critical thinking” in classroom discussions, and to encourage ideological diversity in order to speed this process. In fact, given that President Mills’ speeches apparently make reference to a relativistic conception of “the common good” with fair frequency, some might even argue the school’s commitment to “critical thinking” and independent-decision making could err too far in one direction. Fortunately, in practice, this philosophical problem is avoided. Unfortunately, it is avoided in a way that the report’s authors suggest hamstrings critical thought far more than it ought:
  Official Bowdoin projects two broad purposes: it aims to teach students to think critically and it aims to help them to develop into good citizens. Our claim that critical thinking is a Bowdoin goal is not likely to be contested by either the Bowdoin community or outside observers. Bowdoin is explicit and emphatic in its promotion of this goal. The first requirement for critical thinking is a genuinely open mind. “Openness” and “critical thinking” aren’t quite the same thing, of course. The first is really a precondition of the second. But for the moment we will treat them as near synonyms and bring in other requirements of critical thinking only as needed.[...]

    The two Bowdoin goals—global citizenship and openness—actually push against each other. Openness requires skepticism and a sincere willingness to look for hidden assumptions, but Bowdoin’s understanding of global citizenship requires that some very large questions be settled in advance. A commitment to global citizenship requires a commitment to diversity (in its current understanding, the notion that each of us is defined in the most meaningful ways by the group to which we belong) and to the racial preferences that follow from diversity; to multiculturalism (all cultures are equal); to the idea that gender and social norms are all simply social constructs (an assumption that justifies virtually unlimited government intervention necessary to achieve the global citizen’s understanding of sexual justice); and to “sustainability” (which assumes that free market economic systems, and the materialistic, bourgeois values that drive them, are destroying the planet).

These are notions that are not meaningfully “open to  debate” at Bowdoin; indeed, a commitment to global citizenship requires that they not be open to debate. Students are encouraged to “think critically” about anything that threatens the college’s dogmas on diversity, multiculturalism, gender, and sustainability, etc., but, for the most part, not to think critically about those dogmas themselves.

This problem is so pervasive, the report alleges, that not only is there an absence of openness to conservative ideas, but the campus actively stereotypes them as “boorish,” and many classes treat liberal dogma as settled truth


These three problems barely scratch the surface of the full report, which also points out problems with Bowdoin’s uncritical attitude toward environmentalism, its ambivalence about the free market, the persistently opinionated stances of its President despite his apparent role as a neutral arbiter, or the uniformly Democratic voting habits of its professoriate. The report’s impact on Bowdoin as yet is unknown, but as criticisms go, it is quite possibly the most harsh analysis of a college’s culture since William F. Buckley’s book “God and Man at Yale” in the early 20th century.

More here

As Education Secretary and then PM, Margaret Thatcher battled resistance from university leaders every step of the way

Margaret Thatcher’s legacy to the universities was revolutionary. Her legacy to the schools, though, was mixed. And it is was as Prime Minister rather than in her earlier role as Secretary of State for Education and Science (1970-74) that she exercised her greatest influence.

Margaret Thatcher’s views on education were driven in large part by her personal experiences as a student; she was, in the main, satisfied with the school education she received in Grantham, but she was dissatisfied with some aspects of Oxford. In particular she felt that the universities were complacent because they were over-protected from the market. She therefore introduced them to greater accountability and to market forces.

Her first major step to galvanise the universities was to introduce fees for international students: before 1981, international students were educated effectively for free. When the fees were introduced, they were denounced by the leadership of the British universities which, with one voice, predicted no international student would apply to a British university again.

The leadership of British universities often being wrong on important issues, it was no surprise that Mrs Thatcher’s policy was a success. After a transient dip in international student numbers, they have soared ever since, to provide a vast influx of funding and the beginnings of a market to British universities.

Margaret Thatcher’s next step was to cut infrastructural support monies for research to the university sector: she felt that some universities were not using their research monies well. When the cuts were introduced, they were denounced by the leadership of the British universities which, with one voice, predicted that they would be a disaster from which the British economy in general and British universities in particular, would never recover.

The leadership of British universities often being wrong on important issues, it was no surprise that Mrs Thatcher’s policy was a success. By introducing accountability for research – a policy that became known as the Research Assessment Exercise – Margaret Thatcher so galvanised the British universities that they now come second only to America’s in every international league table.

And Margaret Thatcher left a lasting legacy: when Tony Blair and then David Cameron came to power, they each continued her privatisation policies, in particular by introducing top-up fees for home undergraduates. When the fees were introduced, they were denounced by the leadership of the British universities which, with one voice, predicted that they would be a disaster from which the British economy in general and British universities in particular, would never recover.

The leadership of British universities often being wrong on important issues, it was no surprise that fees have been a success. The later fee hikes having been so recently introduced, we are currently witnessing a dip in some numbers, but on past form they will recover, to leave the universities better funded and more receptive to student needs than before.

Margaret Thatcher’s schools record is mixed. She wanted to protect the grammar schools from comprehensivisation, she wanted to increase parents’ choice over which schools to send their children, and she wanted to free schools to have more say over their own admissions and educational policies. But on all these points she was thwarted by the Department of Education and Science and by the local authorities – indeed, as Secretary of State she presided over the destruction of more grammar schools than any other Secretary of State – and she never privatised the schools the way we are now seeing the universities being privatised.

Yet even those failures bore good fruit because they increased her resolve, when Prime Minister, not to fail again at the hands of the Civil Service or of local authorities. Nonetheless, state education in Britain today has had to look to Thatcher’s disciples such as Michael Gove rather than to the lady herself for improvements.

But at least she left us her disciples. She will be missed.


Australia:  School behaviour contracts get tougher

TOUGH new behaviour contracts will be introduced in Queensland public schools from next year as part of the state's new $535 million education reforms.

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said the contracts would be a more stringent version of current behaviour plans.

Mr Langbroek has pledged to give principals more power to crack down on misbehaving students with figures released this week revealing 64,324 suspensions and exclusions were handed out last year. He said parents would also be called on to play a greater role in their children's education.

"We do have a contract about behaviour at the moment which people sign off on when they join a school. We are looking at making it a lot more stringent," Mr Langbroek said.

It is yet to be determined exactly what the contracts would involve. Schools are expected to be given a choice as to whether or not they use them, but they still have to have a behaviour plan in place as well.

Mr Langbroek said the contracts would be partly modelled on a version being used in a North Queensland school which has seen student performances soar.

Cairns West State School principal Michael Hansen said the academic success guarantee contracts, in place at his school since 2008, compelled parents to ensure their children had a 95 per cent attendance rate.

In exchange, the school guaranteed their child would meet or beat year-level benchmarks in literacy and numeracy, he said.

And it is working.

While discipline was not part of the contract, Mr Hansen said the work his teachers were doing with parents and students had helped improve behaviour as well. Grattan Institute school education program director Dr Ben Jensen said discipline was a significant issue in classrooms, but it was also important to focus on good learning behaviour.

"A bigger issue is understanding that any sort of improvement in learning and teaching over time is a behavioural change process," he said.

"We have a problem in Australia that we focus too narrowly on just learning outcomes and not also on learning behaviours."

The Newman Government's reforms also include bonuses for top-performing teachers and principals, scholarships and the deployment of master teachers to schools identified as in need of extra help to lift student performance.

The Queensland Teachers' Union has called on teachers to rally outside Parliament House on April 17 against the plan. It is also considering further action in a meeting on April 15.


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