Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Are We Serious About Education?

Thomas Sowell

Two recent events -- one on the east coast and one on the west coast -- raise painful questions about whether we are really serious when we say that we want better education for minority children.

One of these events was an announcement by Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., that it plans on August 19th to begin "an entire week of activities to celebrate the grand opening of our new $160 million state-of-the-art school building."

The painful irony in all this is that the original Dunbar High School building, which opened in 1916, housed a school with a record of high academic achievements for generations of black students, despite the inadequacies of the building and the inadequacies of the financial support that the school received.

By contrast, today's Dunbar High School is just another ghetto school with abysmal standards, despite Washington's record of having some of the country's highest levels of money spent per pupil -- and some of the lowest test score results.

Housing an educational disaster in an expensive new building is all too typical of what political incentives produce.

We pay a lot of lip service to educational excellence. But too many institutions and individuals that have produced good educational results for minority students have not only failed to get support, but have even been undermined.

A recent example on the west coast is a charter school operation in Oakland called the American Indian Model Schools. The high school part of this operation has been ranked among the best high schools in the nation. Its students' test scores rank first in its district and fourth in the state of California.

But the California State Board of Education announced plans to shut down this charter school -- immediately. Its students would have had to attend inferior public schools this September, except that a challenge in court stopped this sudden shutdown.

Why such a hurry to take drastic action? Because of a claim of financial improprieties against the charter schools' founder and former head, Ben Chavis.

Ben Chavis has not been found guilty of anything in a court of law. Nor has he even been brought to trial, though that would seem to be the normal thing to do if the charges were serious.

More important, the children have not been accused of anything. Nor is there any reason for urgency in immediately depriving them of an excellent education they are not likely to get in their local public schools.

What Ben Chavis and the American Indian Model Schools are really guilty of is creating academic excellence that shows up the public school system, both by this school's achievements and by the methods used to create those achievements, which go against the educational dogmas prevailing in the failing public schools.

If it seems strange that there would be a vendetta against an educator who has defied the education establishment and thereby improved the education of minority students, the fact is that Ben Chavis is only the latest in a long line of educators who have done just that -- and aroused animosity, and even vindictiveness, as a result.

Washington's former public school head, Michelle Rhee, raised test scores in that city's school system and was demonized by the education establishment and politicians. She has left.

Years ago, high school math teacher Jaime Escalante, whose success in teaching Mexican American students was celebrated in the movie Stand and Deliver, was eventually hounded out of Garfield High School in Los Angeles. Yet, while he was there, about one-fourth of all Mexican American students -- in the entire country -- who passed Advanced Placement Calculus came from that one school.

Marva Collins, who established a very successful private school for black children in Chicago, doing so on a shoestring, was likewise the target of hostility when she was a dedicated teacher in the public schools.

Other examples could be cited of educators who produced outstanding results for minority students -- in New York, Houston and other places -- and faced the wrath of the education establishment, which sees schools as places to provide jobs for teachers, rather than education for students, and which will not tolerate challenges to its politically correct dogmas.


College Wants Students to Discover Their ‘Erotic Truth’

Incoming freshmen at the College of Charleston are being encouraged to discover their ‘erotic truth’ by reading a comic book memoir about a woman coming to terms with her sexual identity and her closeted gay father who had a relationship with an underage male babysitter.

“Fun home: A Family Tragicomic,” is the school’s official selection for “The College Reads!” The graphic novel written by Alison Bechdel explores gender and sexuality issues. The book is included in academic curriculum as well as other activities and all faculty and incoming students have been urged to read The New York Times bestseller.

“This book will open important conversations about identity, diversity, sexuality and finding one’s place in the world,” Provost George Hynd said in a prepared statement.”

Bechdel is the author of self-syndicated comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” and was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award.

“The themes of Fun Home support the Diversity Strategic Plan, the creating of the Gender Resource Center on campus and speak volumes about our commitment to an open campus climate for all students,” Hynd said.

The book has outraged some parents who accuse the College of Charleston of trying to confuse students about their sexuality.

“The school has a reading guide that questions the values and morals a parent has instilled,” one parent told Fox News. “It asks the child to question their own sexual identity.”

The college spent nearly $40,000 to give the book to incoming freshman and will spend another $13,000 to bring the author to campus in the fall.

According to a reader’s guide, the college wants students to explore “erotic truth.”

“What does Bechdel suggest we risk by denying our erotic truth,” the reader’s guide asks.

But some parents called the graphic novel college-sponsored pornography.

“I was appalled,” one parent told Fox News. “This is a gay-rights coming-out book and it has some pretty strong anti-Christian themes in it.”

The parent asked not to be identified because they feared their 18-year-old son might face repercussions on campus.

“The book references pedophilia and has graphic images of women having oral sex,” the parent told Fox News. “Selecting such a book makes me wonder what kind of agenda the college has.”

The parent said they contacted the College of Charleston with their concerns but were rebuffed.

“They said they are trying to help the students find themselves,” the parent said. “My wife said she thinks they’re trying to help them lose themselves of everything we’ve taught them. This is not their business. They are overstepping their bounds.”

Oran Smith, the president of Palmetto Family, a statewide conservative advocacy group, told Fox News the book is “absolutely pornographic.”

“Our concern is the vulnerability of kids some younger than 18 who are required to read that book,” Smith said. “It really is inappropriate for the College of Charleston to in essence take a side in the culture war.”

A college spokesperson told Fox News the book is not mandatory reading – but it will be included in the academic curriculum and through a number of special events.

“It’s even included in the family weekend in September,” the parent told Fox News. “Parents are going to learn from students and faculty about how the book will be infused through campus programming.”

“This is more than a summer reading book,” he said. “It sounds like they are trying to indoctrinate the freshman class.”

Bechdel told The Post and Courier newspaper that a number of universities have assigned her graphic novel to students. She denied claims the book is pornographic

“Pornography is meant to cause sexual arousal in readers, she said, which is clearly not the intent of her book,” the newspaper reported.

In addition to the book, the College of Charleston will host a public lecture titled, “Why History Matters: Same-Sex Marriage and the Courts. There will also be lectures on “The Legacy of Matthew Shepard” and “The Sexual Politics of Urban Spaces.”

Other parents told Fox News they were very concerned about publicly objecting to the book after they came under fire.

“They claim they want to have a discussion (about the book),” a parent told Fox News. “But the parents who tried to discuss it on the website were condemned. Those who did were slammed.”

In a statement to Fox News the College of Charleston defended the book and said it was selected by a committee composed of faculty, staff, administrators and students.


Australia: Education union militant and out of step, so I quit

This week, I took a step I couldn't have imagined a year ago: I resigned my trade union membership.

This was a monumental step for me. I have belonged to various unions over the past 40 years - starting with the shop assistants back in 1972. I grew up in a family proud of a great, great grand uncle, a journalist on the Lithgow Mercury, who, in the 1890s, served on the Eight Hour committee that won the right to a 40-hour working week.

I resigned from the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) because I realised that the old-fashioned kind of industrial militancy the NTEU is presently pursuing is entirely unhelpful to the interests of the hard-working people in the tertiary education sector.

Universities face particularly challenging times. They rely largely on student fees (either directly, or indirectly though HECS) to fund their work in advancing community knowledge. Students can only afford to pay so much for an education. Although all universities are regulated federally and are susceptible to federal funding decisions (like the misconceived decision to remove full tax deductibility for self-education expenses), governments in recent decades have set us up as competitors with each other.

Competition to recruit the best students is fierce. The Fair Work system supports that vision of a competitive market for tertiary education services by requiring that we bargain at enterprise level for pay and conditions. University vice chancellors are mindful of their capacity to attract and retain the best staff, so my employer - the University of Sydney - pays the highest salaries in the sector. We enjoy working conditions that are a legacy of our public service history. In my time consulting as an employment lawyer, I have never seen any other enterprise bargain allowing for 50 days a year for personal leave.

Yet the NTEU has been running a destructive industrial campaign at the University of Sydney - five days of strikes in first semester, and now a threat of demonstrations at our Open Day on August 31 - in pursuit of a pay claim primarily aimed at setting a standard for other universities in our sector.

I hear colleagues saying they are ready to sign an agreement. The union negotiations so far have secured the conditions that staff value, and many are ready to accept the modest but realistic pay offer of 2.9 per cent a year for four years.

Student representatives tried to put a motion at Academic Board, pleading for peace so they could pursue their studies without the distress of crossing picket lines. But the union is determined to press on in the interests of its national campaign.

The University of Sydney has a commendable history for welcoming unions at the bargaining table, even under the old Workplace Relations Act, when the federal government of the day was keen to exclude unions from campuses. It has often been the flagship for the NTEU's national campaign for pay increases across the sector.

This year the union seems to be prepared to scupper our ship, in a possibly futile attempt to gain pay increases at regional universities. The scuffles on picket lines, the police presence on campus, the half-truths on handbills, and now the Open Day protests, can only help our rivals in their student recruitment campaigns. How can staff at Sydney possibly benefit from such actions?

I fear the NTEU has formed an unholy alliance with the Greens. I was aggrieved to learn of NTEU plans to spend $1 million on a campaign to encourage people to vote Green. This news followed a story in The Sun-Herald, in June, in which Senator Lee Rhiannon pilloried the University of Sydney for poor results in a staff engagement survey, and tied those comments to the university's alleged disregard for staff interests in its current bargaining round. It isn't too hard to join the dots in this pattern of reporting.

What is the solution, for someone like me, who is deeply committed to the interests of working people, and believes firmly in the right to bargain in a collective voice for a fair share of the fruits of one's own labour? How to do this without killing off the tree that feeds us all?

Perhaps it is time for university staff to set up independent associations to bargain with management directly. The Fair Work Act permits employees to nominate their own bargaining representatives. Bargaining needs to be managed by staff who will be directly affected by the consequences of their actions rather than by a remote organisation with its own political agenda. This would be the natural evolution of a single enterprise bargaining based system of industrial relations.


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