Tuesday, December 03, 2013

‘Genderqueer’ rising: Colleges welcome kids who identify as neither male nor female

The weekly meetings of Mouthing Off!, a group for students at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, always start the same way. Members take turns going around the room saying their names and the personal pronouns they want others to use when referring to them — she, he or something else.

It’s an exercise that might seem superfluous given that Mills, a small and leafy liberal arts school historically referred to as the Vassar of the West, only admits women as undergraduates. Yet increasingly, the “shes” and “hers” that dominate the introductions are keeping third-person company with “they,” ”ze” and other neutral alternatives meant to convey a more generous notion of gender.

‘If you don’t identify as a woman, how did you get in?’” said sophomore Skylar Crownover, 19, who is president of Mouthing Off! and prefers to be mentioned as a singular they, but also answers to he. “I just tell them the application asks you to mark your sex and I did. It didn’t ask me for my gender.”

On high school and college campuses and in certain political and social media circles, the growing visibility of a small, but semantically committed cadre of young people who, like Crownover, self-identify as “genderqueer” — neither male nor female but an androgynous hybrid or rejection of both — is challenging anew the limits of Western comprehension and the English language.

Though still in search of mainstream acceptance, students and staff members who describe themselves in terms such as agender, bigender, third gender or gender-fluid are requesting — and sometimes finding — linguistic recognition.

Inviting students to state their preferred gender pronouns, known as PGPs for short, and encouraging classmates to use unfamiliar ones such as “ze,”’sie,” ”e,” ”ou” and “ve” has become an accepted back-to-school practice for professors, dorm advisers, club sponsors, workshop leaders and health care providers at several schools.

The phenomenon gained notice in the San Francisco Bay area in early November after an 18-year-old student at a private high school in Berkeley suffered severe burns when a 16-year-old boy set fire to the student’s skirt while the two were riding a public bus. The parents of the injured student, Sascha Fleischman, said their son is biologically male but identifies as agender and favors they as a pronoun.

At the University of Vermont, students who elect to change their names and/or pronouns on class rosters now can choose from she, he and ze, as well as the option of being referred to by only their names. Hampshire College in Massachusetts advertises its inclusiveness by listing the gender pronouns of its tour guides on the school’s web site. And intake forms at the University of California, Berkeley’s student health center include spaces for male, female or other.

At Mills, the changes have included tweaking some long-standing traditions. New students are now called “first-years” instead of “freshwomen.” The student government also has edited the college’s historic chant — “Strong women! Proud women! All women! Mills women!” to “Strong, Proud, All, Mills!”

The nods to novel pronouns and nonconformity are an outgrowth of campaigns for gender-neutral bathrooms and housing that were aimed at making campuses more welcoming for transgender students moving from one side of the gender spectrum to the other. But as fewer young people choose to undergo sex reassignment surgery, such students are slowly being outnumbered by peers who refuse to be limited, said Genny Beemyn, director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

“Certainly we see students who are transitioning, particularly female to male, but the vast majority of students who identify under the trans umbrella identify in some way outside the binary, and that’s really causing a shift on college campuses,” said Beemyn, who studies gender identity in higher education and recently traded ze for they. “Having role models and examples allows people to say ‘Yes, what I am feeling is legitimate.’”

As neologisms like “ze” have moved beyond conversation and into students’ academic papers, some professors have expressed annoyance and uncertainty about how to respond, said Lucy Ferriss, writer-in-residence at Trinity College in Connecticut and a frequent contributor to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s language blog, Lingua Franca. .

“There is an initial discomfort. I think it’s probably hypocritical to pretend there isn’t, to say, ‘Ok, that’s what they want to do’ and leave it at that,” Ferriss said. “The people I know who teach will say ‘This is weird and it’s cumbersome and it’s not going to last because it’s not organic.’”

At the same time, Ferris thinks it’s a mistake for scholars and grammarians to dismiss the trend without considering whether English and society might be served by less-rigid ideas about gender.

“Mail carrier did not evolve organically and it’s a lot easier to say mailman. Decades ago there were poets who refused to be called poetesses,” she said. “Most language has evolved organically, but there have been times — and when it comes to issues of gender there probably have to be times — when there are people willing to push the envelope.”


British children still lagging behind countries like Estonia and Poland in maths, science and literacy despite billions being spent on improving schools in past 4 years

Test results in British schools have not improved in four years despite billions of pounds being spent on improving education.

Since 2000, the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation has been assessing the knowledge and skills of the world's 15-year-olds.

More than 510,000 pupils in 65 economies have taken part its latest test which covered maths,
reading and science.

However, a report to be released on Tuesday is expected to reveal that the UK has 'simply stagnated' since its last study was carried out in 2009 when Britain performed poorly lagging behind nations like China, South Korea and Singapore as well as poorer countries including Poland and Estonia.

About £30billion has been spent on improving education since the Labour government was in power and under the coalition's reforms.

Four years ago, the UK fell from 17th to 25th for reading, from 24th to 28th for maths and from 14th to 16th for science.

Shockingly, a fifth of pupils failed to gain the minimum standard expected for their age group in literacy and maths.

However, Shanghai was a fifth better and scored 600 points compared to the UK's 500 in maths.

Michael Gove, the education secretary, says it is too early to see the difference made from the coalition reforms because the children tested in the latest study were educated for nine years under the Labour government.

Mr Gove believes the results from opening more academies and free schools as well as introducing a new exam system and curriculum is only starting to take effect.

A source told The Sunday Times: 'It is disappointing. We did badly last time and statistically we have done no better this time.'

Alison Wolf, professor of public sector management at King's College London, said British parents need to be more aware of the importance of education like families living in Seoul or Shanghai.

More than 12,600 pupils in 477 secondary schools took part in the two-hour test which covered reading, maths and science - maths being the main focus of the exam.

One of the main concerns is the UK's poor performance in maths.

Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, wrote in a Sunday newspaper today that Britain needed to learn from China's example where good exam results and good teaching are expected always from all.


Australia: Federal Education Minister calls for return of phonics

SCHOOLS have failed to help a generation of students who struggle to read, prompting an Abbott Government pledge to bring back phonics in "a big way".

Education Minister Christopher Pyne has outlined the principles of his new needs-based funding model for the nation's schools that he will unveil next year, focusing on teacher quality, traditional literacy learning methods including phonics (which involves sounding out the letters in words), principal power and parental engagement.

But he has also admitted he couldn't promise that no school would lose a dollar, arguing that the states ultimately decided individual school grants.

Mr Pyne sparked national controversy after he revealed he was going "back to the drawing board" on Labor's Gonski reforms because a majority of states had not signed legally binding agreements.

Accused of junking an election promise that he was on a "unity ticket" over the funding model for public and private schools, a defiant Mr Pyne said he was ready to "take on the education establishment".

A father of four, Mr Pyne said he had a deep understanding of learning difficulties after members of his own family had struggled to read.

"While it might have been pursued with all the goodwill in the world, there's no doubt that literacy standards for Australian students have declined measurably," he said.

"We are very determined and I am personally very determined to drive an agenda in literacy that focuses on phonics. It's far too important to turn a blind eye to what is failing our students in Australia and I am not prepared to do it."

Phonics is regarded by advocates as superior to more recent "whole language" learning, which is based on teachers providing a "literacy rich environment" combining speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

Mr Pyne said getting results was not simply about funding but better teachers, school autonomy and parental engagement.

He said claims by state ministers that public schools would bear the brunt of any cuts were wrong.

"Why on earth would I be an enemy of public schools? They educate two-thirds of our students," he said.

"We send the money to the states and they apply the formula. So for them to say that somehow we may have to make a commitment that no school will be worse off -- it's quite impossible for us to follow through with that commitment. Because we don't actually apply the model in the final instance," he said.


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