Thursday, May 30, 2013

Schooling in Sweden

From an interview in Britain with author Karin Svanborg-Sjöval

NR: Why has the organisation and financing of childcare been a key dividing line between left and right in Sweden?

K S-S: When it comes to childcare, this was the first soft service for which private options emerged in the 1980s. Previously, competition had only been allowed for technical services, for things like snow ploughing and chimney sweeping. The left at the time - and in this respect it may be true that there has been an ideological shift within the left - believed that childcare was crucial for creating a Socialist person. The idea was to start moulding a certain kind of citizen already in childhood and so it was believed that the state should have a monopoly on childcare.

At the same time, that is an explanation for why it didn’t go too well because this is not something that the wider population has ever accepted. This is a very radical utopia around how society should be organised and what the social goals should be. So once there was more honesty around how the left viewed childcare in particular, Social Democrats were very upset, too.

NR: And in the sphere of education, one of the former Social Democrat leader Olof Palme’s favourite phrases was ‘Kentucky Fried Children’ - a reference to the US school system. But there has been a radical school reform in Sweden since then and now the UK has also introduced free schools, a combination of US Charter schools and Swedish friskolor. What would you say to Brits who are sceptical of free schools?

K S-S: Well, as far as I understand, the results have been mainly good so far and that’s hardly surprising. If you agree that education is an extremely important issue for society, then it is also reasonable to allow different types of educational solutions. Education is not just about creating a citizen. Instead, there are many fundamental reasons for having a school system which allows for different ways of operating, which allows for innovation and diversity.

If you have just one system in place then there will always be those who fit in but there will also be a whole bunch of people who do not fit in and I would say that having centrally-controlled schooling, as you do in large parts of the world, is a pretty inhumane approach to education and children.

NR: One argument against free schools has been that such a system creates new dividing lines and that privileged children, or those with parents who are very engaged in their schooling, still tend to go to the better schools.

K S-S: Sure, this happens, but can anyone seriously claim that when there was just one option available and freedom of choice was not there that it would not have mattered for a child whether their parents cared about them or not? That difference will always be there, but one way of challenging it is to give the pupil the chance to get out of his or her social context by providing a system based on freedom of choice where the pupil has the potential to access better education. And that is not possible if the child is dependent on the parents being able to afford to move to an area with better schools.

So I don’t have much respect for that view. I think it is a strange argument to make in Sweden and I think it is an absurd argument to make in Britain, where there was always freedom of choice in education - but only for those who can afford it. The great difference between the Swedish and British free-school systems is that in Sweden the schools are not allowed to take fees, so that means that the freedom of choice applies to all parents, regardless of income.


Sixth Circuit has big labor running scared in Michigan

By Nathan Mehrens

A recent federal court decision has got big labor running scared. And it should be.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a Michigan law that bars public schools from collecting union dues, overturning a district court injunction against implementation of the law. The circuit court also ordered the lowered court to uphold the law.

The law in question requires that public sector unions collect their own dues from public school teachers, rather than the school’s payroll system handling it. The unions attempted to argue that not compelling as a matter of law teachers to pay up somehow violated the labor organization’s First Amendment Rights.

The Sixth Circuit responded: “The problem with this theory is that the Supreme Court has already rejected it,” citing the 2009 Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Association ruling that stated “The First Amendment prohibits government from ‘abridging the freedom of speech’; it does not confer an affirmative right to use government payroll mechanisms for the purpose of obtaining funds for expression.”

The Sixth Circuit applied Ysursa, saying, “Public Act 53 does not restrict the unions’ speech at all: they remain free to speak about whatever they wish,” noting that nothing in the First Amendment mandates that public sector payroll deductions be given to unions.

The case clarifies the little known mechanism of mandatory dues collection that public sector unions typically have heretofore enjoyed in non-right to work states.

Now that Michigan is right to work, this offends big labor’s ability to raise money in two distinct ways. First, if workers are not compelled to join a union, they cannot furnish union dues. And if the public school payroll systems do not automatically collect union dues, there is no guarantee the teachers will hand them over, either.

These reasons alone would explain the unions’ desperation to overturn the Michigan law.

But there’s an even larger reason, as this could signal a sea change in big labor’s ability to finance Democratic Party operations, particularly in states with large public sector union presences.

Attacking compulsory collection of union dues in the public sector threatens big labor’s political power, not its free speech rights. It also levels a political playing field that once favored candidates backed by the unions. Michigan was once a Democrat stronghold with heavy union support, but has since fallen in Republican hands on a statewide basis.

That is not to suggest that Michigan’s new law is without merit. To the contrary, bloated state budgets include large defined benefit pension and health care liabilities that were won legislatively long ago largely through big labor’s political influence.

It is hardly any wonder electorates and taxpayers across the country are taking a closer look at public sector unions. When so many are struggling in the private sector, why should public sector workers be so well off?

Compulsory union dues in the public sector were just another way for government to secure its hold on power and taxpayer money. And it eventually caused resentment in the electorate, giving Governor Rick Snyder a mandate to do away with the practice.

That is why if these trends against public sector labor organizations are left unchallenged, big labor could be politically threatened in states like California, New York, and New Jersey once thought to be untouchable. And that is what has got big labor scared most of all.


Teachers fired for trivialities

A Bronx teacher has filed a lawsuit claiming she was fired for using the word 'negro' in class. 'Negro' is the Spanish word for the color black.

One of the first lessons one learns in English class is that context is everything. The same holds true in Spanish.

Take the case of Petrona Smith. She says in a lawsuit that she was fired from teaching at Bronx PS 211 in March 2012 after a seventh-grader reported that she'd used the "N" word, according to The New York Post:  'Negro.'

Smith doesn't deny using the word. But she argues that everyone uses it, when speaking Spanish. She was teaching the Spanish words for different colors, and the color "black" in Spanish is "negro." She also taught the junior high school students, in this bilingual school, that the Spanish term for black people is "moreno." And by the way, Smith, who is from the West Indies, is black.   

Smith's lawsuit brings to mind a case in Ohio earlier this year.

The Akron Public Schools Board of Education voted in January to pursue the firing of Melissa Cairns. She was a math teacher at Buchtel Community Learning Center.

The school district said that Ms. Cairns posted a photo on her personal Facebook page which showed 8 or 9 out of her 16 students with duct tape across their mouths. The caption read: "Finally found a way to get them to be quiet!!!" The district says a colleague of Cairns' notified a supervisor of the photo.

On the face of it, this sounds outrageous. But what's the context?

Cairn, a teacher for 10 years, says she gave a girl a roll of duct tape to fix her binder, but the student cut a piece of tape, placed it over her mouth and laughed.

"The other kids in the class thought it was funny also, and they proceeded to pass the tape and scissors around the class. The students, the majority of the class, ended up putting a piece of duct tape across their mouth," Cairns explained.

"I would never in a million years do anything to harm students," Cairns said.

This past week, Cairns was officially fired because "She showed a lack of good judgment. Her conduct was unbecoming of a teacher," Akron Public Schools spokesman Mark Williamson told Newsnet5.

He went on to explain it wasn't the use of the duct tape, but the posting of the photo of children on Facebook that showed poor judgement.

The punishment, as many Akron readers noted, seemed excessive in light of the mistake.

"This is wrong," wrote Lynn Webster. "The Board should take into account what really happened and she was having FUN with her students. Oh...teachers aren't allowed to do that anymore. She should have received a reprimand at most and move on. Shame on the snitch that reported her. Couldn't this have been handled privately instead of running to a supervisor? Now I hope she sues them to get her job back."


No comments: