Friday, June 14, 2013

Gun play: 'Zero tolerance' toward schoolkids could backfire, says expert

Little boys around the nation keep getting in trouble for guns – whether they’re made of plastic, formed by fingers or even fashioned from Pop-Tarts – but some experts say having “zero tolerance” for games children have played for centuries is turning the adults into bullies and backfiring on kids.

Elementary educators trying to discourage children from settling pretend beefs with pretend guns is nothing new. But in the aftermath of the Connecticut school shooting, and with the grownups increasingly polarized over the Second Amendment, rules for recess, on the bus and in the classroom have become stricter than ever.

Some say too strict.  “These zero-tolerance policies are psychotic, in the strict sense of the word: psychotic means ‘out of touch with reality,’” Dr. Leonard Sax, a Pennsylvania psychologist and family physician, and author of “Boys Adrift,” told

In recent months, there have been several examples of children being disciplined for what was once seen as innocent role play.

A group of students was suspended this month from a Washington state elementary school for using Nerf dart guns as part of a math lesson, despite having permission from their teacher.

In March, second-grader Josh Welch was suspended from a Maryland elementary school after unknowingly biting a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun.  "I just kept on biting it and biting it and tore off the top of it, and it kind of looked like a gun," Welch told a local Fox affiliate.

Last month, also in Maryland, a 5-year-old boy who brought an orange-tipped cap gun onto his Calvert County school bus was suspended for 10 days, according to his family and a lawyer. The child was grilled for more than two hours by a school principal and wet himself, according to his family.

Girls have been swept up in the phenomenon as well. In January, a fifth-grade student in Philadelphia broke down in tears after being scolded in front of her classmates for accidentally bringing to school a piece of paper that was folded into the shape of a gun and given to her by her grandfather.

And a 6-year-old South Carolina girl was expelled after bringing a toy gun to school.

Sax said he worries about the long-term effect, particularly on boys, of being told the games they play make them bad.   “Out-of-touch policies such as these, which criminalize behaviors which have always been common among young kids, are contributing to the growing proportion of American kids, especially boys, who regard school as a stupid waste of time and who can’t wait to get out of school so that they can get back to playing their video games,” Sax said.

“There are more effective ways to encourage good behavior and to discourage criminal behavior, without disengaging boys from school altogether,” Sax said.

A Hayward, Calif., elementary school is planning a toy gun exchange for later this month, modeled after the exchanges law enforcement authorities hold to collect real guns. Kids who hand in the play weapons will get a book and a raffle ticket for a bicycle. Strobridge Elementary Principal Charles Hill said he hopes rounding up the toy guns will stop kids from growing up to play with real ones.

“Playing with toy guns, saying ‘I’m going to shoot you,’ desensitizes them, so as they get older, it’s easier for them to use a real gun,” Hill told the Mercury News.

While the toy gun trade-in may be a more reasonable way to address the issue than suspending or expelling children, Yih-Chau Chang, spokesman for Responsible Citizens of California, said kids can handle make-believe games, even if their educators can't.  "Having a group of children playing cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians is a normal part of growing up,” Chang said.


Put pupils in sets (ability-based groups) at 11 to help brightest, says British schools inspectorate: Call for pupils to be separated to make sure top students don't slip back academically

Children should be placed in sets from the age of 11 because state schools are failing to help the most gifted reach their potential, the chief inspector of schools said yesterday.

Pupils need to be separated according to ability as soon as they reach secondary school because too many top students are being allowed to slip back academically and coast, according to Michael Wilshaw.

Mixed ability classes in particular are responsible for stunting their development because they are pitched at average pupils, he said.

As a result, tens of thousands miss out on top grades they were expected to achieve in GCSEs.

The Ofsted chief said it was ‘shocking’ that many teachers were unaware who their most able children were.

At present, the practice of separating children into sets does not become widespread until they are 14, which is too late according to Sir Michael.

He also called for annual reports to inform parents whether their children are achieving what is expected of them, and for teachers to assign tougher work to bright pupils in classes and at home.

Primaries should identify star students and make secondary schools aware of them to prevent them ‘becoming used to performing at a lower level than they are capable of’.

The recommendations followed an Ofsted report which showed two-thirds of high-attaining primary pupils in non-selective schools are not going on to get an A or A* grade in GCSE maths and English. This represents 65,000 children.  Around a quarter even failed to obtain a B grade in the subjects last year.

Sir Michael said: ‘I’d set from the word go [in secondary schools] .... from Year 7 in core subjects.’  But he insisted he was not attacking the comprehensive system, which has largely been based on mixed ability classes.

He explained: ‘Too many non-selective schools are failing to nurture scholastic excellence. While the best of these schools provide excellent opportunities, many of our most able students receive mediocre provision.

‘Put simply, they are not doing well enough because their secondary schools fail to challenge and support them sufficiently from the beginning.

‘I believe the term “special needs” should be as relevant to the most able as it is to those who require support for their learning difficulties.'

He added: 'Yet some of the schools visited for this survey did not even know who their most able students were.  'This is completely unacceptable.’

Failure to act would have grave consequences for our ability to compete with our main economic competitors in the future, he added.

Some primary schools have sets for maths and English and the practice becomes more commonplace in secondary schools.

But it is not until children start studying for their GCSEs when they are 14 that it becomes widespread. ‘If things go wrong early on at Key Stage 3 then it makes it more difficult to build expectations,’ Sir Michael said.

Just 62 per cent of the ‘most able’ students who attained a Level 5 at Key Stage 2 tests went on to gain an A or A* in their English GCSE last year.  The figure dropped to 53 per cent for maths. Some 25 per cent got a C or less in English and 22 per cent in maths.

Official figures released last year showed the number of children being taught in sets was declining. Some 45 per cent of lessons involved some form of ability setting in 2010/2011, compared with 47 per cent in 2000/2001.

Last night NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates dismissed Sir Michael’s comments as ‘another ideological report condemning our education system’.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers said research showed grouping pupils by ability risks widening the gap between the highest and lowest achieving pupils.  [So it should]


Australian university and corruption watchdog in bed together over corruption scandal

In the original scandal, Deputy university boss Keniger admitted the stepdaughter of boss Greenfield into the medical school even though she was not qualified.  Greenfield did nothing to reverse or disown that, relying instead on it being covered up.  But Procopis blew the whistle and ended up being fired for doing so.  So on top of all that corruption, the CMC is now involved with corruption and secrecy of its own in the matter.  No wonder all the principal figures have now resigned

THE state's independent anti-corruption body helped the University of Queensland manage the fallout from its nepotism scandal at the same time it was investigating the educational facility.

Documents show the Crime and Misconduct Commission and the state's leading university co-ordinated their media responses even as the CMC was probing UQ's actions, including its public statements about the scandal that forced out its two most senior members of staff.

Queenslanders are still waiting for the CMC report more than 18 months after vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield and his deputy, Michael Keniger, left UQ over an "irregularity" in the enrolment into the medical faculty of a relative of Mr Greenfield.

The CMC last night said its actions were normal protocol. It said its internal rules obliged it to disclose inquiries relating to UQ internal investigations to the public bodies involved and any "heads-up" alerts were also a courtesy.

But emails obtained by The Courier-Mail under Right to Information laws show the CMC last year gave the university advance warning of questions about Phil Procopis, the senior UQ staffer who brought the nepotism scandal to light and was later made redundant.

Mr Procopis, who was never the subject of an investigation, also had a part-time job as head of the CMC's audit committee.

In an email forwarded to then-vice-chancellor Debbie Terry on July 3, heavily redacted by UQ to remove references to Mr Procopis, Ms King wrote: "Hi all, just to keep you in the loop, Siobhan Barry of the CMC has just rung to advise she spoke to Mark Solomons yesterday about (redacted) ... She was unable to provide us with a written copy of the statement as it related to (redacted) CMC role but provided this verbal summary instead."

And in an April 2012 email, UQ communications manager Jan King wrote to Ms Terry and executive director (operations) Maurie McNarn: "Shelley Thomas of the CMC has given us a heads-up that she has taken a call from Leisa Scott of The Courier-Mail in relation to a complaint about the offer of a place in the dentistry program and a staff appointment in the School of Psychology ... So we may receive a call."

UQ in turn routinely copied in the CMC on its responses to inquiries from media outlets.

Mr McNarn, when asked to comment on a proposed statement to The Courier-Mail about Mr Procopis, wrote to Prof Terry on July 1: "Looks good to me. CMC media were the only ones that spring to mind, however if the article is unfair or inaccurate we might wish to send it to key government ministers media (both levels, but emphasis on state) with a covering note stating that this is what we provided and what is inaccurate to pre-empt their questions."

Earlier, the university had considered using the crime-fighting body's involvement as an excuse not to answer questions.

In a December 2011 email exchange, Kelly Robinson, executive general manager of Rowland, the company hired by UQ to give advice on public relations crisis management, wrote to UQ bosses: "Given the CMC is quoted as saying they have requested further information (as per The Courier-Mail story on Saturday), we could simply say `given the CMC has requested further information on this matter, it would be inappropriate to comment further'."

UQ, which promised greater transparency and accountability in the wake of the 2011 scandal, initially refused to deal with The Courier-Mail's Right To Information request in February on the grounds it would be "a substantial and unreasonable diversion of university resources". Many of the documents eventually provided are entirely blanked out, including in some cases the identity of the senders and recipients.

The CMC is struggling for survival after a damning review this year.

Its misconduct arm, which has been probing UQ since 2011, has come under fire for the slow pace of investigations and misplaced priorities.

CMC chairman Ross Martin stepped down in April for health reasons and acting chair Warren Strange quit in May.

The Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said last night it was "critical that the state continues to have an independent statutory body to oversee crime and misconduct".

"We want to ensure this body is able to operate efficiently and with the highest level of integrity, by being open and accountable itself," he said.


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