Sunday, October 13, 2013

Racial Trade-offs hit black education

Walter E. Williams

Trade-offs apply to our economic lives, as well as our political lives. That means getting more of one thing requires giving up something else. Let's look at some examples.

Black congressmen and black public officials in general, including Barack Obama, always side with teachers unions in their opposition to educational vouchers, tuition tax credits, charter schools and other measures that would allow black parents to take their children out of failing public schools. Most black politicians and many black professionals take the position of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who is on record as saying, "We shouldn't abandon the public schools."

Taking such a political stance is understandable because black congressmen and other black elected officials are part of a coalition. As such, they are expected to vote for things that other coalition members want in order that those coalition members vote for things that black politicians want. There's no question that these black public officials are getting something in return for their support of teachers unions and others who benefit from the educational status quo. The question not addressed by black people is whether what black politicians are getting for their support of a failed educational system is worth the sacrifice of whole generations of black youngsters, educationally handicapping them and making many virtually useless in the high-tech world of the 21st century.

Though many black politicians mouth that we should fix, not abandon, public schools, they themselves have abandoned public schools. They see their children as too precious to be sacrificed in the name of public education. While living in Chicago, Barack Obama sent his daughters to the prestigious University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. When he moved to Washington, President Obama enrolled his daughters in the prestigious Sidwell Friends School. According to a report by The Heritage Foundation, "exactly 52 percent of Congressional Black Caucus members and 38 percent of Congressional Hispanic Caucus members sent at least one child to private school." Overall, only 6 percent of black students attend private school.

It's not just black politicians who fight tooth and nail against parental school choice and have their children in private schools. When President Obama's White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel resigned and became mayor of Chicago, he did not enroll his children in the Windy City's public schools. He enrolled his son and two daughters in the University of Chicago Lab Schools. And members of Congress, regardless of race, are three to four times likelier than the public to send their children to private schools.

According to a 2004 Thomas B. Fordham Institute study, more than 1 in 5 public school teachers sent their children to private schools. In some cities, the figure is much higher. In Philadelphia, 44 percent of the teachers put their children in private schools; in Cincinnati, it's 41 percent, and Chicago (39 percent) and Rochester, N.Y. (38 percent), also have high figures. In the San Francisco-Oakland area, 34 percent of public school teachers enroll their children in private schools, and in New York City, it's 33 percent.

Only 11 percent of all parents enroll their children in private schools. The fact that so many public school teachers enroll their own children in private schools ought to raise questions. After all, what would you think, after having accepted a dinner invitation, if you discovered that the owner, chef, waiters and busboys at the restaurant to which you were being taken don't eat there? That would suggest they have some inside information from which you might benefit.

I don't think anything that black politicians get from the NEA, the AFT, the NAACP (many members are teachers), the National Urban League or others who have a vested financial interest in a failed educational system is worth committing whole generations of black youngsters to educational mediocrity. The prospects for a change are not good, particularly in light of the new fact that the NAACP is being wooed to join the AFL-CIO.


I like this

But you may have to have programming experience to "get" it

Nothing wrong with 'unqualified' teachers, as Tristram Hunt should know. He's been one himself

My Twitter feed this morning is full of Left-wing critics of Michael Gove's education reforms crowing about the fact that the head teacher of a free school in Pimlico has resigned.

The reason they see this as such a great victory is because the head in question, Annaliese Briggs, doesn't have a PGCE – the union-approved piece of paper that, in their eyes, makes someone a "qualified" teacher. Here's proof, if proof were needed, that "unqualified" teachers aren't up to the job.

It's all nonsense, of course. Head teachers with PGCEs have been known to resign as well – it's a stressful job. It's particularly stressful if you're being targeted by critics of a government policy, as this poor woman was.

Earlier this year, the leader of the Labour group on Westminster Council called for an "investigation" into the circumstances surrounding her appointment. "I can't believe how anybody could be so arrogant to believe that they can do that job when they've never taught in a school," he told the BBC. "I find it quite staggering."

This isn't a good week for Labour to be defending the educational status quo. According to an OECD survey published on Tuesday, young adults in England rank 22nd out of 24 nations for literacy and 21st for numeracy, behind Estonia, Poland and the Slovak Republic. Thanks to Labour's relentless dumbing down, England is the only country in the survey where results are going backwards, with 16-24-year-olds performing worse than the older cohort.

The response of Labour's new Shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, to this devastating news was to claim literacy and numeracy had actually improved under the last government. What did he base this claim on? Why, the fact that GCSE results had got better, of course.

"Labour drove up standards in maths and English across our schools, evident in the huge improvements we saw in GCSE results between 1997 and 2010," he said.

Nothing to do with the fact that Labour made sure GCSEs got easier, year-on-year, over the course of its 13-year administration? (See here for chapter and verse on this.) Even Stephen Twigg, Hunt's predecessor, acknowledged that grade inflation was a problem. Must try harder, Tristram.

Curiously, Labour's new Shadow Education Secretary has remained silent on the Annaliese Briggs story, leaving it to his deputy Kevin Brennan to comment. "Parents will be worried that David Cameron is presiding over a dumbing down of standards in schools by allowing unqualified teachers into our classrooms," Brennan told the Guardian.

Perhaps the reason Hunt has maintained a dignified silence is because he has taught in various state schools himself, in spite of not having a PGCE. As the Daily Mail pointed out earlier this year, Hunt boasted in a Guardian interview that he regularly drops in to the schools in his constituency to deliver history lessons. "I teach in schools in Stoke when they allow me, to make sure I know what's going on," be said. "I do a class at the FE college about Cape Town as a city of empire. And I do an industrial revolution class at the sixth form. And I taught a class on the Spanish Armada to a primary school."

Nothing wrong with Hunt doing some teaching, of course. I'm sure he's very good at it – just as I'm sure David Miliband was when he taught a class at Haverstock Comprehensive. It's just a tad hypocritical for Kevin Brennan to condemn David Cameron for "allowing unqualified teachers into our classrooms" when those "unqualified teachers" include Labour's Shadow Education Secretary and the brother of the Labour leader.

If Labour really would ban anyone from teaching who doesn't have the union-approved certificate – including members of its own front bench – then that's one more reason not to vote for them. It should be up to school governors and head teachers to decide who's best qualified to teach in their schools, not politicians or, worse, trade unionists determined to maintain a closed shop.

As this week's shocking OECD figures reveal, we need to do everything in our power to raise standards in England's classrooms, not fight to preserve the status quo.


The British headmaster who beat me black and blue with a bamboo cane - and why I'd like to THANK him for it

When I say that M. L. Forster loomed over me, it wasn’t too difficult. At 11 years old, I was the smallest boy in the school. Also the skinniest. And at that moment, by far the most frightened.

M. L. Forster, headmaster and frightener-in-chief, was over 6ft tall, more than 16st, a huge and powerful figure, a bear in a black gown.

He was also, at that moment, flexing between his hands a bamboo cane which was the principal cause of my anxiety. He pointed the cane at the armchair.

I decided to take an optimistic view of the situation. I sat in it. A mistake.‘What is your name?’ His voice rumbled around the bottom of the baritone register.

‘Dunne, sir,’ I squeaked.

‘I see, Dunne, you are some form of humorist. Be so good as to bend over the chair.’ The next thing I heard was the whistle of bamboo as cane met trousers. Six times. ‘Only six because this is your first day,’ he said. Lucky me.

It was my first day at the grammar school. It was ten minutes to nine. I had still not reached my classroom.

It’s a shame M. L. Forster is no longer with us, because I would like to meet him again, if only to thank him and shake his hand.

It’s also a shame he’s not around because he would have enjoyed Educating Yorkshire, the Channel 4 documentary series which revolves around the efforts of no-nonsense head teacher Jonny Mitchell to give a decent education to the pupils at his comprehensive school in Dewsbury.

Jonny faces a challenge. Dewsbury has 20 per cent unemployment, a huge Asian population and considerable racial tension. He estimates that just ten per cent of his pupils’ parents are white-collar workers, while the rest are blue-collar or unemployed.

Many of his students are  disruptive — yet Jonny is determined to make them model citizens even if it is the last thing they wanted.

It is both horrifying and heart-warming viewing as he instils discipline, ambition and pride into his often unwilling charges.

This is what Forster was doing to Yorkshire children — including me — 60 years ago. He ‘did’ horrifying as and when required, and occasionally even offered a little heart-warming. As for no-nonsense, Forster invented no- nonsense education.

Of course it was slightly different in the Fifties. That was the last time in this country when young people were required to behave themselves, to do what they were told, to comb their hair, tidy their rooms, do their homework, and never be cheeky.  And if they failed, they had the pleasure of explaining it to .... . people like M. L. Forster.

As headmaster of Ermysted’s Grammar School in the small market town of Skipton in the Yorkshire Dales, he set the standards and the moral tone.  For 20 years, he took grubby little Yorkshire lads and turned them into young men who were well- educated and even semi-civilised, whether they liked it or not. By the thousand.

He achieved this with a combination of charm, wit, high intelligence, blazing charisma and a personality that would stop a tank.  Plus, of course, his cane. He ruled not so much with a rod of iron as with a rod of whistling bamboo.

To this day, you will find countless elderly people who swear their lives were vastly enhanced by his early influence. Me among them.

When I got to Ermysted’s, he was already a legend, with the nickname Bru. Some said it was short for Brutal, but it wasn’t. It was a condensed version of Brumas, a polar bear cub which had become a star attraction at London zoo.  Giving him the name of a creature that was famously pretty and cuddly was a rare example of schoolboy irony.

Marselis Forster — known as Mark — was the son of a Northern Irish merchant navy skipper and a Dutch woman. He had a double first in modern languages from Queen’s, Belfast, and still in his 20s, had been head of modern languages at Epsom College in Surrey. His move to Skipton made him the youngest head of a seriously academic school in the country.

On that first day, after we had sung Lord Behold Us With Thy Blessing, I helped to collect the tubular steel chairs. In my excitement, I scraped one on the floorboards. Hence the whacking — which was what we all called it.

He brought the standards of the public schools with him. The only way we knew this was not because we knew about Eton (we thought it was the past tense of the verb To Eat) but because we’d read about schools like this in our comics.  Wizard, Hotspur and Adventure all had school stories about swots, cads and whackings.

Bru ran a tight ship. No running, no shouting, no fighting, no cheek. We had to wear our uniforms at all times. To be caught without your cap in the town was practically a hanging offence.

Bru called everyone, masters as well as boys, by their surnames. Everyone called him Sir.

If a master ordered you out of the classroom, there was always the terrible possibility that Bru would chance to walk past.

Then it might mean a trip to his study. We trained our ears to pick up his footsteps. To this day, the squeak of crepe on tiles breaks me out in a sweat.

He held us in a fearful fascination. One afternoon, in a few unsupervised minutes between lessons, our 1A class became over-excited. Treble voices squeaked. The door flew open. The doorway darkened. ‘Follow me,’ he growled.

Abject, shaking, and squeaking no more, we followed him to his study where he whacked us, all 30 of us, in alphabetical order.

By the time he got to the boy called Wood, he had developed his usual scary-funny banter. ‘I expect you think I’m getting tired, Wood, old man. We shall see about that.’ And he made Wood cry just to show he wasn’t.

He always did that with the last boy. One day, Wood said he was fed up with it and was going to change his name. “No! Don’t!” yelled Wilson, who was next in line.

Today, this all sounds terrible. But you have to remember that at home we were accustomed to a smart smack over the ear.  We were used to it. In a strange sort of way, we were proud to have such a fearsome figure as our headmaster.

If the whackings were a bit of a challenge, then his tongue-lashings were far worse. They could raise bigger blisters than his cane.

When four of us were summoned before him for — I think — suspected smoking, he observed in friendly tones that we were all  A-stream boys.

Then, with the smile that told you a howitzer was on its way, he added: ‘As our intellectual aristocracy, you will know that the cream is not the only thing which rises to the top.’  He paused. ‘So does the scum.’

However, boys have a natural gift for wickedness that is hard to  contain. Somehow, for all the constraints, now and again we contrived to break loose. Whenever we saw a weakness, we struck.

Our new music teacher, Mr Stack, had shown signs that he wanted to be liked. He might as well have given us a loaded gun.

When he next tried to test our voices, as he sat at the piano, one by one we sang in silly voices. Too high, too low, guttural grunts,  trilling sopranos. We thought it  was wonderful.

Poor old Stack cracked. He began hurling copies of Hymns Ancient And Modern at us, shouting: ‘You rotten little b******s, I hate you all!’ It was marvellous.

We never saw him again. Triumphantly, we waited for his replacement, hand-picked by the headmaster. Mr Sievewright tried to test our voices. We made silly noises.

Quietly he stood up and began handing out sheets of graph paper, lightly marked with hundreds of tiny squares.

‘What do we do with these, sir?’

‘Cut them into squares, and don’t cross any of the lines.’

‘But .... that will take hours, sir?’

‘I should imagine it will. Now, let’s hear the altos .....’

We knew when we were beaten. He was there for years.

So why would I want to thank Bru?

Because he was an outstanding teacher and a brilliant headmaster. He presented us with a controlled and orderly environment in which the expectation was that we would work, learn and thrive.

We did just that. What’s more, we learned to enjoy it.

Even the whackings were unimportant. The pain faded after a couple of hours: the message — ‘behave yourself’ — lasted  a lifetime.

By then we understood that Forster employed his cane and his somewhat savage tongue simply to control 360 boys permanently on the brink of mutiny. In the end, we found ourselves boasting about  his severity.

With boys regularly treading the path to Oxford and Cambridge, with exam results that put the school around the top of all the league tables, after 20 years of Bru, Ermysted’s was one of the very best.

By the time I left I realised that we had experienced a golden time. We all did. We were lucky to have caught the prime of M. L. Forster.

But whenever we met in later years, it was never his remarkable achievements we talked about — it was always the whistling bamboo.

The difference between the Fifties and today was that then the grown-ups were in charge of the growing up.

There were other differences. When I was a teenager, I didn’t know — had never heard of — anyone who had been robbed, burgled, raped or mugged.

The local paper, the Craven Herald, featured no photographs of battered pensioners, eyes blackened and faces swollen, who’d been beaten up by youngsters in search of fun.

Nor were there any stories of youngsters wrecking parents’ houses with Facebook parties, or girls lying in Majorcan gutters with their skirts over their heads.

In the end, Bru got Parkinson’s disease and finished off his days in a home. He died in 1988.

Ask any of his pupils what they think of him now and they all find the same words. Respected. Admired. And just a little feared.

Feared. Bru would have liked that.

On my the last report before my final exams, Bru wrote: ‘Dunne has, as usual, missed the bus.’

It was the ‘as usual’ that did it. I was scared. I got those damned books out and slogged away at them. I passed all my exams. For once I had caught the bus.

Bru made me catch it, just as he did all those other boys. If Jonny Mitchell in the TV series continues to do half as well, he should be very proud


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