Sunday, May 12, 2013

VA: Two boys suspended for using pencils as “guns”

Two Suffolk second graders have been suspended for making shooting noises while pointing pencils at each other.

Media outlets report the 7-year-old boys were suspended for two days for a violation of the Suffolk school system’s zero-tolerance policy on weapons. They were playing with one another in class Friday at Driver Elementary.

“When I asked him about it, he said, ‘Well I was being a Marine and the other guy was being a bad guy,’” said Paul Marshall, one of the boys’ fathers. “It’s as simple as that.”

Marshall, a former Marine, said he believes school officials overreacted.

But Suffolk Public Schools spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw said a pencil is considered a weapon when it’s pointed at someone in a threatening way and gun noises are made.

“Some children would consider it threatening, who are scared about shootings in schools or shootings in the community,” Bradshaw said. “Kids don’t think about ‘Cowboys and Indians’ anymore, they think about drive-by shootings and murders and everything they see on television news every day.”

Bradshaw said the policy has been in place for at least two decades. It also bans drawing a picture of a gun and pointing a finger in a threatening manner.

Marshall said his son has good grades and no history of being disruptive in class. On the suspension note, the teacher noted that the boy stopped when she told him to do so.

He said school administrators failed to use common sense.  “Enough is enough,” said Paul Marshall. “I see it as the tail is now wagging the dog.”

Bradshaw said the suspensions were effective Monday and Tuesday.

“It’s an effort to try to get kids not to bring any form of violence, even if it’s violent play, into the classroom,” Bradshaw said. “There has to be a consequence because it’s a rule. And it’s a rule that the principals go over.”


Imagine Hitler as one of the Mr Men: Michael Gove slams history teaching in scathing attack on Britain's 'play-based' lessons

Children are being ‘infantalised’ by teachers who encourage them to learn history through Mr Men characters and Disney films, Michael Gove said yesterday.

In a blistering attack on school teaching, the Education Secretary claimed pupils were being told to compare Hitler and his henchmen to Mr Men characters and to learn about the Middle Ages by watching Disney’s Robin Hood.

Mr Gove also criticised the debasement of English lessons, saying some schools were telling pupils to read ‘transient vampire books’ like the Twilight series instead of ‘transcendent Victorian novels’ such as Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.

He said teaching was being ‘crushed under the weight of play-based pedagogy which infantilises children, teachers and our culture’.

In his speech to an education conference in Brighton Mr Gove referred to a website which suggests teenagers should translate the story of Nazi Germany into a tale in the style of Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Men books.

The website,, written by a teacher working in France, tells students they should ‘discuss which characters are the best match’.  ‘The activity is a great way of rounding off or revising the rise of Hitler,’ it says, adding the exercise could also help primary pupils learn about the period.

Mr Gove said: ‘I may be unfamiliar with all of Roger Hargreaves’ work but I am not sure he ever got round to producing Mr Anti-Semitic Dictator, Mr Junker General or Mr Dutch Communist Scapegoat.’

He also referred to a 2012 issue of Primary History, produced by the Historical Association, which suggests students learn about the Middle Ages through Disney’s portrayal of King John as a cowardly lion.

‘If that proves too taxing then they are asked to organise a fashion parade or make plasticine models,’ he said.

Mr Gove’s comments come amid criticism of his proposed changes to the national curriculum from teachers and education academics.

His plans for history teaching, in particular, have come under fire from critics who claim the new focus on key dates and characters is too narrow and will impede children’s ability to think for themselves.

English lessons were also being dumbed down, Mr Gove warned, with the ‘overwhelming majority’ of GCSE pupils studying 20th century texts, rather than books from an earlier period.

Mr Gove added: ‘Under this Government...the Department for Education is setting higher expectations for every child. Because that is what parents want.’

Russell Tarr, who is responsible for the activehistory website, said: ‘The purpose of the activity is a further challenge to get them (students) to think about it in a different way and to take a complex story which they have written an in-depth essay about and turn it into something that can be used for other students.’


Branson tells Australian forum not to waste money on degrees

Billionaire Sir Richard Branson used a university-sponsored lunch to tell a room full of MBAs, undergraduates and high schoolers not to waste money on business degrees.

The entrepreneur and businessman also said the Australian economy would benefit from the adoption of a formal quota system to get more women on big company boards.

Speaking as a guest of the University of Queensland Business School, Sir Richard said there was an argument to be made in favour of redirecting government funding from the tertiary system into the hands of would-be business students by way of an entrepreneurial fund.

His comments come as the Gillard Government propsoses $2.8 billion worth of cuts to universities and self education to free up funds for its Gonski school reforms.

“When it comes to things like business education, we have an interesting debate," Sir Richard said.  “[Success] is far tougher to teach at university.

“As an entrepreneur, you just need to be able to add up, subtract and multiply.  "You should be able to do that by the time you're 15.

"What matters is you create products that people really want.  "You can always get someone else to add up the figures for you.”

Mick Spencer, a young business leader and successful entrepreneur who sat with Sir Richard on the panel, agreed with the Virgin boss's appraisal.

The 22-year-old OnTheGo founder said universities teach people to become employees, not employers, and that undergraduates interning at his company often said they learned more on the job than in the lecture theatre.

"It would be better if there was more real-life experience put into universities," he said.

But Professor Andrew Griffiths, Dean of the UQ Business School and fellow panel member said that's exactly what modern tertiary institutions offered.

"Part of that is saying that as a university, as a business school, we're about lifelong learning," Professor Griffiths said.

His view was echoed by Professor Iain Watson, Executive Dean, Faculty of Business, Economics and Law from the UQ Business School who listed several of the university's programs that connected students with the “real world”.

"We pride ourselves on our educational program," he said.

"It's without question the relevance of that and the recognition of that that's really important to us."

On the subject of what could be done to improve Australia's business culture Sir Richard said now was the time to tap into the Asian market and take advantage of its geographical proximity to booming South East Asian economies.

However it was another recommendation that stirred whoops from the room. "I think that companies as a whole should embrace ... women more," he said.  "It's incredible that most boardrooms have a maximum of one or two women in them."

He says since Scandinavia "forced" businesses to include women on boards, there had been significant improvements to their business culture, society and bottom line.

"I haven't managed to get that in our own companies," he says. "I think it's something that needs to be forced through by law."


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