Sunday, July 14, 2013

'Los Angeles Times' to Feds: Respect Campus Speech

An editorial published in today's Los Angeles Times calls on the Departments of Justice and Education to respect free speech on campus. The editorial asks the Departments to clarify their "blueprint," issued last month, that requires an expanded definition of sexual harassment and restricts speech protected by the First Amendment. The Times' editorial board writes: "Sexual harassment on campus is a serious problem, but it can be addressed without abridging free speech."

The "blueprint" the editorial refers to is, of course, the May 9 findings letter and resolution agreement authored by the Departments and concluding their investigation into the University of Montana's practices regarding sexual assault. The Departments proclaimed the letter and resolution agreement to be "a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country." FIRE has covered the blueprint's ramifications for campus speech extensively since its issuance.

In criticizing the federal blueprint—which the Times politely notes isn't "a model of clarity"—the editorial points out the blueprint's prohibition against "any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature," including "verbal conduct" (i.e., speech). The editors write that the blueprint suggests "that a college or university must punish such 'verbal conduct' if even a single, arguably oversensitive, person found it offensive or 'unwelcome.'"

The editors also note the Departments' response last week to criticisms of the blueprint, but state that the response left "questions unresolved" relating to its implications for free expression on campus, and that "[t]hose matters need to be addressed in a new 'blueprint' that is both clearer and more sensitive to the 1st Amendment than the first effort."

Citing FIRE's arguments against the blueprint's threat to freedom of speech, the editors highlight the high stakes: 

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education warned that this definition would potentially allow colleges to punish "any expression related to sexual topics that offends any person," from a performance of "The Vagina Monologues" to a classroom lecture on Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita" to a "sexually themed joke overheard by any person who finds that joke offensive for any reason." The group also argued that the new definition contradicted a 2003 advisory by the Department of Education that harassment "must include something beyond the mere expression of views, words, symbols or thoughts that some person finds offensive." That earlier qualification echoed court decisions interpreting the free-speech protections of the 1st Amendment.

FIRE thanks the Los Angeles Times for their attention to the serious threat to student and faculty speech presented by the federal government's striking overreach.


Teachers 'denied British schoolboy, 10, water on the hottest day of the year to avoid upsetting Muslim pupils during Ramadan'

An angry mother has accused a primary school of denying her child water on one of the hottest days of the year for fear of upsetting pupils observing Ramadan.

Kora Blagden, 32, claimed a teacher at her son Luke’s school refused to let the 10-year old drink from his water bottle because it was unfair to fasting classmates.

Many pupils at Charles Dickens Primary School, Portsmouth, Hampshire, are fasting during Ramadan, which means they refrain from taking food or water between sunrise and sunset for around 30 days, depending on the moon.

Mother-of-four Kora said: 'Just before bedtime me and my sons Luke, ten, and Alfie, eight, were talking about Ramadan as we had seen it on the news.

'Luke said to me he was told he wasn’t allowed to drink in class by his teacher.  'The reason being, a child who is fasting had a headache and the teacher said it would be unfair if the other children drank in front of the pupil.

'They normally have their bottles on their table but they were kept in a tray by the teacher.

'He went along with it but he was thirsty and didn’t want to offend the other children.  'Alfie said he was allowed to drink in the morning but not in the afternoon.  'Luke was dehydrated when he got home and drunk three glasses of water straight away.'

The teacher made the ruling on Thursday when temperatures soared to 28C.

Ms Blagden confronted deputy head Lisa Florence before lessons began today and was given a verbal apology for the incident.

'She said it wasn’t fair my son was refused a drink in lesson and therefore drank nothing in lesson time all day.

'She said they will be speaking with Luke and the teacher, and stated she was sorry my children felt they could not drink.

'The deputy head said it was not what they had been told to do and it is only what children of Muslim faith do.

'I have no problem with that but I don’t wish my sons to be told they can’t drink water.  'Personally I think it is very wrong.'


Poor boys in Britain 'two-and-a-half years behind wealthy peers'

Of course they are.  It has long been shown that the poor have lower IQs on average.  And chaotic British schools don't help.  The poor also get the worst schools!

The gulf in standards between bright boys from rich and poor backgrounds is wider in Britain than in any other developed nation, according to research.

Clever boys from wealthy families are around two-and-a-half years ahead of their peers in the most disadvantaged families by the age 15, it emerged.

The study showed that boys’ chances of doing well were more closely tied to social class in England and Scotland than anywhere else in the western world.

It was also revealed that the gap between the two groups was wider than that witnessed for girls.

The report – published by the Sutton Trust charity – warned that action was needed to stop bright children from working class families missing out on places at leading universities and good jobs.

It called for the reintroduction of a national programme to identify bright pupils at the age of five and give them extra tuition throughout compulsory education – similar to the “Gifted and Talented” scheme axed by Labour in 2010.

Sir Peter Lampl, the charity’s chairman, said the country had a duty to “improve the support given to highly able children in comprehensive schools and academies”.

It comes just weeks after a major inquiry by Ofsted found that non-selective schools were systematically failing the brightest children by staging mixed-ability lessons, setting mediocre homework tasks and refusing to push pupils towards top universities.

Inspectors claimed that more than 65,000 of England’s most able schoolchildren ware falling far short of their potential.

Sir Peter said: “It matters because it is clearly economically inefficient not to tap into talent wherever it exists. By not stretching our most able students from all backgrounds, we are not only failing them, we are reducing our ability to compete globally.

“Moreover, such under-achievement perpetuates those inequalities which make it so hard for bright children to move up in society.”

Researchers analysed the results of reading exams administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2009 and sat by 15-year-olds in countries around the world.

The study, led by John Jerrim of the University of London’s Institute of Education, split pupils within each nation into five groups based on parental income.

It found that the poorest 20 per cent were always outperformed by the richest fifth.

In England, the most disadvantaged pupils were the equivalent of two years and four months behind. It was the 23rd largest gap in the world, with other countries such as the US, France, Scotland and New Zealand performing worse.

But the study also broke results down by gender and focused on the very brightest pupils within each economic sub set.

Using this measure, it emerged that high-achieving boys from the poorest group were two years and six months behind the brightest boys from the wealthiest group.

The study said: “England ranks 31st and Scotland 32nd out of the 32 countries considered. England performs particularly poorly relative to countries like Finland (ranked 2nd), Germany (3rd) and Canada (5th), where the gap is (approximately) one year and three months, or less.”

When researchers repeated the same analysis for bright girls, it was revealed that the gap was two years and four months – less than that seen among boys.

The study called for a new programme in which “high potential children from low and middle income backgrounds are identified at the start of compulsory education and receive sustained interventions throughout their time at school”.

Sir Peter added: “We need to improve the support given to highly able children in comprehensive schools and academies. That is why it is so important that there is a targeted scheme that ensures that those with high potential from low and middle income backgrounds are identified and helped to thrive.

"Parents and students need to know that highly able young people will be given the backing they need to succeed regardless of which school they attend.”


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