Friday, July 26, 2013

Vouchers: My Personal Case

Larry Elder

"I think you should check out the APEX program," my high school counselor Mrs. Workman suggested.

APEX stood for Area Program Enrichment Exchange, and involved several L.A. area high schools, including Fairfax High. Intended for "advanced" students, the program allowed them to take courses not offered at their home school.

In my case, I had exhausted all of the Spanish courses at Crenshaw High, the predominately black inner-city school I attended. But Fairfax, predominately Jewish, had higher-level courses and would accept me.

"It'll be a way for you to continue your Spanish -- where, I see from your transcript, you excel. I'd suggest you do this," she said.

"How does the program work?"

Each morning, she explained, a school bus would pick up the APEX students -- by definition a group of supposedly "high-level, college-bound kids" -- and bus them to their chosen school. We would attend two classes each morning at the APEX school, after which we would be bused back to Crenshaw.

"Where do I sign?"

Mrs. Workman laughed, "I expect you to do well."

About that I had little doubt. After all, I made mostly A's, and did particularly well in Spanish. I ranked sixth or seventh in a class of 250. Of course I would do well.

But I didn't.

I knew I was in for a ride when I walked into class that first day at Fairfax. The teacher greeted me in Spanish. But I noticed that everyone in the class spoke in Spanish. I don't mean the halting way I spoke, with iffy grammar and conjugation. These kids were fluent! I was shocked.

Despite the stack of Spanish course A's I had piled up since middle school, I never really thought achieving fluency in a class setting was possible -- unless you lived in Mexico or Spain or had Spanish-speaking parents.

But it became clear that from the time these Fairfax kids took their first Spanish course -- and, for that matter, every other course -- teachers demanded far more from students than Crenshaw teachers demanded of us. The Fairfax kids also demanded more of themselves. And they were matter-of-fact about the high expectations their parents had for them.

When I came home from that first day at Fairfax, I cried.

"These A's I'd been getting," I told my mom, "were crap. Probably C's at Fairfax. It's as if I'd been playing Little League baseball -- and now I'm playing against the Dodgers."

"You're right," she said, "it's not fair -- but do your best. You'll rise to the occasion."

I got an F on my first test. This was followed by more F's and D's. There was a lot of oral class participation, and the teacher and students were patient as I butchered the language. They felt sorry for me.

The final exam, which accounted for most of the grade, was a written book report on Don Quixote -- also to be given orally, without notes, while standing in front of the class. Holy bleep!

I busted my butt, worked my way through the book, and wrote and memorized my presentation. I checked and rechecked my report. Then I practiced it in front of the bathroom mirror. Never had I worked as hard on anything in school. I vowed not to be embarrassed.

I spoke third. After each student spoke, the no-nonsense teacher immediately critiqued the speech, corrected grammar and syntax, and offered ways to improve.

My turn. The walk to the front of the class took forever. "I'll show them," I said over and over. I cleared my throat and let it rip. I knew I had rocked when, after I finished, no one said anything, not even the teacher. Who was that fluent guy in Larry's body?

"Bien, senor Elder," the teacher finally said. "Muy bien."

I told my mom what happened. She didn't use the word "voucher," but she wondered why parents couldn't choose the school to which they send their kids, rather than the one -- good or bad -- that happens to be the closest.

"Doesn't seem right," said Mom. My Fairfax experience, she said, "shows what happens when kids are pushed. I can't do anything about this. But maybe someday you can."

Hopefully, I just did.


You Might Be at a Liberal College If ...

As students go back to school this month, some will be facing a completely new environment: a college campus. For freshmen, the adjustment is huge: being away from home, fending for yourself when it comes to meals and doing laundry, and balancing the late hours of studying and writing papers with an exploding social life.

Then there’s the actual classroom environment. College is a laboratory of ideas, where countless viewpoints are argued, discussed and evaluated. Conservatives, however, often find themselves in an environment hostile to their opinions. From the things they are learning in class, to who they are learning from, to the groups they join, to the speakers who come to campus, it’s a seemingly never-ending barrage of liberal tripe.

Parents are extremely invested in their children’s education, often emotionally and financially. Yet conservative parents can likely expect three things for their child in those four years: one, people that don’t share their beliefs, whether peers or professors; two, a school administration not terribly concerned with fostering debate; and three, classes that waste their kids’ time and their parents’ money on topics that range from the harebrained to the openly hostile.


Just a cursory look at course listings at the top 50 private, public and Ivy League schools, according to U.S. News and World Report, will find countless examples of classes that will make parents ask why they’re sending a child to that school. Take, for instance, a class at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill titled “Paying for Green Government: Financing and Implementing Sustainability Initiative.” The course description says the class is “designed to provide an in-depth introduction to planning and funding greener government operations.” It gets better:

“The Environmental Finance Center will lead a participatory workshop that focuses on the finance and policy challenges that arise when local governments consider implementing energy efficiency, green building, fuel efficiency, waste reduction, alternative energy projects, and other sustainability initiatives. Participants will learn how to select green projects for their community; what basic finance tools are available for green projects; how to leverage third-party equity to take advantage of tax credits; and how to apply for guaranteed energy savings contracts. The course will also cover relevant information on how to apply federal stimulus money to greener government.” Solyndra, anyone?

That’s only the start. At Georgetown University, a class in its Women and Gender Studies program titled, “The Breast: Image, Myth and Legend,” is where students will analyze how the breast has been depicted in Western art and culture. If that’s not something your son or daughter should be “exposed” to, maybe show them what’s going on over at Dartmouth College, where they can take a class called “Queer Marriage, Hate Crimes, and Will and Grace: Contemporary Issues in LBGTQ Studies.” In this course, a student will examine, among other things, “how pop culture movies like Basic Instinct, Scary Movie, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and television’s Will and Grace and Six Feet Under both reflect and shape popular opinion.”

Young America’s Foundation’s study, “The Dirty Dozen,” provides a collection of the worst classes offered by Ivy League, public and private schools. At Harvard University, students can take a course called “Inequality and American Democracy.” The course description talks about how inequalities of wealth and income have grown since the 1970s, and it asks how changing social and economic inequalities influence American democracy.

Conversely, Stanford University took a bold step forward with their “Moral Foundations of Capitalism” course, but it didn’t last long. In that case, the popular class was discontinued because, as the school claimed, they wanted to refocus resources elsewhere. However, the Stanford Review reported Brown University invited the course’s professor to give the same class at their school.


If the courses are skewing Left, the professors are the driving force. Granted, not all professors push their own ideological slant into their curriculum, but recent research backs up the claim that students are dealing with a decidedly liberal plethora of teachers.

In 2007, political scientists Neil Gross and Solon Simmons wrote a paper titled “Social and Political Views of American Professors” that found 34 percent of the professors polled self-identified as liberals, while only 8 percent identified themselves as conservative. An even more recent poll by Young America’s Foundation looked at 284 professors nationwide, and the results mimicked the work by Gross and Simmons: 57 percent of professors identified themselves as liberal and 16 percent as conservative.

One can also look at money given to presidential candidates as a fairly easy indicator of ideology among those in higher education. In the 2012 presidential race, the company with the most employees, employee’s families or company PACs contributing to President Barack Obama was the University of California school system. The massive system’s employees contributed more than $1 million. And it wasn’t the only school on this list. Either the employees, their families, the organization PACs or some combination thereof at Harvard University, Columbia University, Stanford University, the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago all came in the top 20, contributing a combined $3.5 million to President Obama.

Critics will say that contributions and courses being offered are not indicative of how a professor will teach in the classroom or what materials he or she will use to educate the students, but that is hard to defend when liberal professors admit to bias against conservative colleagues. A September 2012 study published in the Perspectives on Psychological Science journal found that, when polling academics and scholars in social psychology, more than a third of the individuals polled would not hire someone who was a conservative.


Filipino women teachers are banned from wearing veils in the classroom

Women teachers have been ordered to remove their veils when teaching in the classroom in the majority Catholic country of the Philippines.

It is the latest twist in the ongoing controversy over the wearing of the religious garment, that sparked a riot in the French capital Paris on Friday.

An order was sent out by the Filipino Government yesterday instructing female teachers to take off their religious veils in a move that was claimed would build a better relationship between teachers and pupils.

Education secretary Armin Luistro said it was part of reforms designed to make schools more sensitive to religion.

Muslim schoolgirls will still be allowed to wear the veil in schools as well as 'appropriate clothing' in gym class.

But while female Muslim schoolteachers can wear the veil outside class, they have been told to remove the veil during lessons so they can interact better with students.

The order stated: 'Once the teacher is in the classroom, she is requested to remove the veil.'

It added the move would help aid 'proper identification of the teachers by their pupils, thus promoting better teacher-pupil relationship'.

It would also help the teaching of languages, where 'lip formation' plays a role in pronouncing certain letters.

The Government’s Office of Muslim Affairs said it agreed with the education department’s measures, although it had not yet received a copy of the order.

Roque Morales, an adviser to the office, claimed that while he did not know how many Muslim Filipinas were working as teachers, the practice of wearing veils, such as hijabs and niqabs, was widespread in the southern Philippines.  He said: 'You would almost see it everywhere.'

So far there have not been any complaints from Muslim teachers, he added.

The office said that Muslims make up about 15 per cent of the Philippine population, mostly based in the southern regions, which they consider their ancestral home.

The hijab and niqab - a religious garment worn by some Muslim women to cover their whole face - continue to divide cultures around the world.

Two years ago, France banned the niqab and the burqa from being worn anywhere in public in a move that sparked protests among Muslims.


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