Friday, April 12, 2013

What’s the Matter With Vassar?
A sad and at times bizarre story out of Vassar shows how profoundly troubled America’s colleges now are. The campus fossil-fuel divestment campaign that’s swept across the nation over the past few months has intensified the atmosphere of leftist indoctrination now typical of many schools, turning classic notions of education as the free exchange of ideas into a distant memory. In the blink of an eye, fossil fuel producers have been turned into the equivalent of apartheid enforcers, while the Occupy movement has risen from the dead to become a free-ranging campus mob.

Our harrowing tale of political correctness run amuck will show Vassar’s fossil-fuel divestment campaign stoking a climate of fear that touches not only conservative students, but even moderates, who dare not draw the ire of this new campus crusade.

Yet a climate of political intimidation was present at Vassar well before the advent of the divestment movement, and it’s worth attending to that background before turning to today’s divestment debate.

Consider a September 2012 opinion piece by sophomore Luka Ladan in Vassar’s student paper, The Miscellany News. Ladan tells of election-year political science classes that regularly devolve into snickering sessions aimed at Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and other Republican candidates. Professors take the lead, teaming up with liberal students to mock Republicans and anyone else who leans right. The Vassar students I’ve contacted (some afraid to speak for attribution) largely confirm this picture. Sophomore computer science major Jarret Holtz, told me, “I don’t feel that [conservative students at Vassar] are able to freely express their views at all.”

How could they be, when Vassar has found semi-official ways of engaging in partisan politics. Take Vassar’s “College Committee on Sustainability” (CCS), part of the school’s official structure of governance. About a week before the 2012 election, the CCS website pointed to the upcoming vote and told students to educate themselves on the issues by following the news. CCS then suggested that students consult three leftist sources of national news and opinion (no other national sources were provided), Grist, Mother Jones, and Aljazeera. Following-up just before election day, CCS reminded students about these outlets and urged them to vote. CCS did add that it was not the place of Vassar’s sustainability committee to endorse particular candidates. Yet given its recommendations for reading, few can doubt which political party this official arm of the college was supporting.

Vassar’s fossil-fuel divestment movement is a product of this thoroughly politicized campus atmosphere, where students feign boldness by inching just a bit to the left of the school’s semi-official political posture. So it’s no surprise that on February 24, the Vassar Student Association passed a divestment resolution by a margin of 23-1. As with the “debate” on fossil-fuel divestment at Harvard, no student prior to that vote mounted a challenge to the fundamental premises of the movement: that fossil-fuel producers are “public enemies” every bit as contemptible as South African apartheid, that catastrophic levels of global warming are imminent, and that America’s fossil-fuel industry can be effectively shut down by government fiat without massive social harm.

In the wake of this near-unanimous but ill-informed student vote, Vassar’s Moderate, Independent, Conservative Alliance (MICA), led by junior, cognitive science major Julian Hassan, invited Alex Epstein, President of the Center for Industrial Progress and a proponent and defender of America’s conventional energy industries, to speak at Vassar. In doing so, Hassan and MICA crossed a red line. In effect, they started the debate that should have begun long before any student vote on divestment was taken. That’s when the spit hit the fan.

Picking up on Epstein’s book title, Fossil Fuels Improve the Planet, Hassan posted links to what he called MICA’s “Vassar Loves Fossil Fuels” campaign on student facebook pages, and placed event slips for the Epstein talk in student mailboxes. Posters advertizing the lecture were promptly covered or ripped down, and widespread campus ridicule followed. Hassan says that at this point, his room lock was broken. Who broke it or why is unknown, yet the timing is curious. Hassan now had legitimate concerns for his safety.

Then came an opinion piece in The Miscellany News denouncing MICA’s invitation to Epstein. Students Jeremy Bright and Will Serio, both former presidents of MICA, argued that ridicule had rightly been heaped on the Epstein invitation and objected to an attempt to “redirect the discourse” on divestment by challenging the core premises of the movement. In other words, Bright and Serio objected to a real debate.

The divestment campaign consistently fails to acknowledge the massive the social and economic costs that would follow a federally mandated phase-out the fossil-fuel industry, a point Epstein forcefully and thoughtfully brings across in his talks. Yet Bright and Serio said that it would have been smarter to have students to mock Epstein’s YouTube videos for free than to shell out $2,430 in student funds to bring him to Vassar to speak.

I am far from taking the divestment campaign’s founder and leader, Bill McKibben as my guide in such matters, but if even McKibben was willing to respectfully debate Epstein at Duke University, why shouldn’t Vassar students hear from Epstein as well? And if Vassar’s Political Science, Sociology, and International Studies Departments can serve as official co-sponsors of a teach-in on behalf of the extremist and openly anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street movement, how is inviting an libertarian defender of American industry to Vassar out of bounds?

It gets worse. After bemoaning the supposed waste of student funds on Epstein in the Miscellany, Serio and another student privately approached Hassan and pressured him to pay Epstein the agreed-upon fee not speak at Vassar. When I wrote Serio to ask why, he said that he’d wanted to avoid the “imminent negative campus response” to Epstein’s talk. He also claimed that since Vassar’s student government had already passed a divestment resolution, the lecture would only “[reignite] an issue that had already been settled.”

In all my years of reporting on campus conflicts, this is the most appalling instance of political correctness I can recall. That students would advocate paying an articulate libertarian conservative not to speak on campus signifies the near-collapse of the ethos of classic liberal education. If Epstein’s views were as indefensible as Serio claims, questioning him in person would be precisely the way to expose that. Any way you slice it, students would learn from the talk. Yet Serio would prefer to spend thousands in student funds to prevent the dreaded Epstein from speaking.

Inadvertently, Serio has revealed the harm of the divestment campaign. Politicizing college endowments is the surest way to kill free debate on campus. Once a school takes an official stand on an issue of public controversy, campus opponents are effectively silenced. In Serio’s eyes, even a hastily-passed and ill-informed student divestment resolution sufficed to delegitimate further debate. After speaking to a number of Vassar students, I’m convinced that avoiding the anger and ridicule of divestment proponents is the reason even campus moderates felt the need to distance themselves from the Epstein invitation.

I don’t want to be too hard on young Mr. Serio. (Half the point of college is to make mistakes.) I’ve read some of his writings and they’re thoughtful and non-doctrinaire. Ultimately, students like Serio are responding to an atmosphere of political pressure and cramped debate that the administration and faculty have allowed or encouraged at Vassar. Political intimidation among Vassar’s students flourishes on the model provided by adults.

Ripped-up lecture ads and demands that Epstein be paid to walk away from Vassar were only the beginning. Shortly before Epstein’s lecture, a Vassar student issued a bizarre threat on his facebook page. Lashing out at “‘Middle-class’ Industrial Capitalist A**holes” (no asterisks in the original), he threatened to walk in on Epstein’s talk and do physical damage to himself, horrifying the audience as a way of disrupting the lecture. This alarmed MICA and prompted a call to campus security, which was present at the event as a result.

At the lecture, maybe thirty people (about a third of those present, not counting the 130 online viewers) waited in the audience to launch a pre-planned walkout, to be signaled when a protester interrupted the talk to read a statement attacking Epstein. A number of the protesters entered the room wearing masks of former Vice-President Cheney. Non-protesting students told me that the masked protesters turned the room tense and uncomfortable, since their presence implicitly threatened some sort of disruption. Others said the protesters were using “Occupy tactics” (Occupiers who vandalize businesses typically wear masks). I was also told that a number of the students who walked out were veterans of the Occupy movement.

Vigorous but peaceful protests outside a lecture with masks and street theater are fine, of course. Interrupting a talk is different. It’s got nothing to do with education, for one thing. As Epstein wrote me afterwards, “While some bodies walked out of the room in the middle of the speech, their minds never really walked in.” And a brief interruption tolerated becomes a precedent for more serious interruptions down the line.

The students I contacted were angry about the walkout and embarrassed for Vassar. The protesters, on the other hand, tweeted a proud picture with a poster they’d ripped down. These students may fancy themselves courageous, but hiding behind masks and refusing to risk public contradiction by questioning a political opponent is cowardly.

As for the talk itself, you can watch it on video. The walkout comes at about 29 minutes into the tape. You can hear students criticizing the protesters as they leave. (A brief video with a better camera angle on the walkout can be found here.) But the real takeaway from the video is that, agree or disagree, the dreaded Epstein laid out a perfectly reasonable case for the importance of fossil fuels and the dangers of putting the industry that produces them out of business without an economically viable substitute. The notion that a talk like this is out of place at a an institution of higher education is pernicious. If anything, students desperately need to hear Epstein’s side of the story.

I asked Vassar’s administration for a comment on the walkout, the ripping down of ads for the talk, and on the threat by a student to harm himself at the talk as a protest. Acting Vassar College President, Jonathan Chenette has so far addressed only the walkout. Chenette’s statement, forwarded to me by Vassar, emphasizes that Epstein took the walkout in stride (true), yet added that the students who “[exited] rather than engaging” had “lost an opportunity for exchange and questioning.” (I have some serious concerns about this statement, but I’ll raise them when I reproduce the full text in a follow-up post.) My first response to Chenette’s statement is that it won’t do much to address the underlying problems at Vassar, which run deep.

There may be faculty at Vassar who still respect the ideals of liberal education as classically understood. Notwithstanding that, Vassar appears to have passed a tipping point beyond which these ideals no longer meaningfully operate where they’re most needed. Classes filled with courteous and respectful discussion don’t mean much if students dare not raise questions that half the country might ask.

Is Vassar an isolated case? Unfortunately, no. In light of the extraordinary report on Bowdoin College just released by the National Association of Scholars, the corruption of liberal education at Vassar appears to be the rule, not the exception. Meanwhile, the fossil-fuel divestment campaign sweeping across America’s campuses has greatly magnified an already egregious situation. This is a dilemma for the country. Vasser’s problem is our problem now.


Johns Hopkins’s and Planned Parenthood’s troubling extremism

We know Johns Hopkins University is devoted to diversity, because it says so. Its “Diversity and Inclusion Statement,” a classic of the genre, says the university is “committed to sharing values of diversity and inclusion . . . by recruiting and retaining a diverse group of students.” Hopkins has an Office of Institutional Equity and a “Diversity Leadership Council” that defines “inclusion” as “active, thoughtful and ongoing engagement with each other.” Unless you are a member of Voice for Life (VFL), an antiabortion group.

Hopkins’s Student Government Association has denied VFL status as a recognized student group for two reasons: VFL’s Web site links to other organizations that display graphic images of aborted babies. And it plans to engage in peaceful, quiet “sidewalk counseling” outside a local abortion clinic, which the SGA considers “harassment.”

Hopkins’s student conduct code enjoins students “to protect the university as a forum for the free expression of ideas.” And although Hopkins has a stern policy against sexual harassment, it says the purpose of this policy is not “to inhibit free speech or the free communication of ideas by members of the academic community.” Presumably that also applies to other forms of “harassment.”

Suppose such SGA-recognized student groups as the Arab Students Organization, the Black Student Union, the Hopkins Feminists, or the Diverse Sexuality and Gender Alliance were to link their Web sites to provocative outside organizations or were to counsel persons not to patronize firms with policies those groups oppose. Would the SGA want to deny them recognition as student groups? Of course not. Obviously, the SGA has acted to express animus against the content of VFL’s speech and to protect students from the discomfort of disagreement.

People who do not want to see the images to which VFL links need never see them. Nevertheless, an SGA member says pro-life demonstrations make her feel “personally violated, targeted and attacked at a place where we previously felt safe and free to live our lives.” If encountering ideas she does not share makes her feel this way, she is unsuited to a proper academic setting. She may, however, be suited to Hopkins, which should be embarrassed, if it still can be.

Hopkins’s institutional intolerance would be boring were it simply redundant evidence of academia’s commitment to diversity in everything but thought. It is, however, indicative of the increasingly extreme ambitions and tactics of those operating under the anodyne rubric of “choice.” In Florida recently, a legislative debate that reverberated in the U.S. Senate in the 1990s was revived concerning the right to choose infanticide.

In 1996, the Senate debated outlawing partial-birth abortion, whereby a baby is delivered feet first until only the top of the skull remains in the birth canal, then the skull is punctured and its contents emptied. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) asked two pro-choice senators, Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), this: If the baby slips entirely out of the birth canal before it can be killed, should killing it still be a permissible choice? Neither senator would say no. In a 1999 debate, Santorum asked Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) whether she agreed that “once the child is born, is separated from the mother, that that child is protected by the Constitution and cannot be killed.” Boxer said: “I think that when you bring your baby home . . .”

Sort of like driving a new car away from the dealership. But, then, what principle forbids killing a baby at home if its crying interrupts the parents’ enjoyment of Jay Leno’s monologue?

Recently in Florida, Alisa LaPolt Snow, representing Florida Planned Parenthood organizations, testified against a bill that would require abortionists to provide medical care to babies who survive attempted abortions. Snow was asked: “If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion, what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?” Snow replied: “We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family and the physician.” She added, “That decision should be between the patient and the health care provider.” To this, a Florida legislator responded: “I think that at that point the patient would be the child struggling on a table. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Planned Parenthood, which receives more than $500 million in government subsidies, is branching out, expanding its mission beyond the provision of abortions to the defense of consumers’ rights: If you pay for an abortion, you are owed a dead baby.


Australia:  Queensland Government spending up big to improve teaching

AN army of "master teachers" will be deployed across the state as part of a $535 million drive by the Newman Government to improve Queensland's school performance.

Premier Campbell Newman yesterday unveiled his education reform plan, including a $50 million teacher bonus pool, which he says will help lift standards across both state and independent schools with annual performance reviews to ensure changes are being made.

The top-performing teachers could earn bonuses of more than $5000 while principals will be treated more like CEOs and placed on performance-based contracts.

About 300 "master teachers" - considered at the top of their field - would also be hired on six-figure salaries and deployed across the state to help poor-performing schools pick up their act.

Those teachers will be contracted to a school for three years and armed with up to $75,000 in funding for resources to boost numeracy and literacy.

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said those teachers would provide invaluable support and knowledge.

Mr Newman said the extra funding would kick in from 2015 with $100 million allocated to private schools but where that money will come from is yet to be revealed.

A spokesman for the Premier ruled out asset sales.

Mr Newman said the plan would ensure the best quality teachers.  "To get better outcomes for our kids we've got to have the very best teachers and school principals and we need to provide appropriate support for them," he said.

Mr Newman said principals and deputy principals currently employed could choose to go on a performance-based contract but from 2016 new principals and deputies would be hired on the contracts.

Mr Langbroek said teachers would also undertake annual performance reviews and receive a ranking of one to three.

That ranking will be reviewed before those with the highest rankings receive a bonus of either 4 or 6 per cent of their annual wage.

Up to 200 scholarships a year will be offered to high-performing teachers to undertake a Masters degree. Principals and deputy principals will also be offered scholarships.

The announcement comes a week before Mr Newman is due to fly to Canberra to fight with the Commonwealth over its Gonski plan and just hours after state education ministers rejected other Federal Government school reforms.

But Mr Newman denied the new scheme was his answer to the Commonwealth's own better schools program.

"Whatever happens next week Queenslanders know there is $535 million extra over the next five years to look after our kids because we are looking after our teachers," he said.

Mr Langbroek said his plan to give principals more power when it comes to discipline would also form part of the new proposal.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Maine:  355-Page Mega Report That Reveals the Radical Curriculum of an elite American College

Bowdoin President Barry Mills reportedly engaged in a golf game during the summer of last year with philanthropist and investor Thomas Klingenstein who, while not being a graduate of Bowdoin, was himself interested in the college’s approach to education. The result was an apparently awkward conversation during which Klingenstein complained of Bowdoin’s excessive celebration of “racial and ethnic difference,” in his words, rather than of “common American identity.”

It is unclear precisely how sharp the conversation got, but it evidently distressed Mills enough that he decided to mention Klingenstein (albeit not by name) in his subsequent commencement address as a particularly unpleasant golfing partner who’d interrupted his backswing to spout racist platitudes.

Needless to say, Klingenstein found this response galling. What he decided to do about it, however, is almost certainly unprecedented: Klingenstein decided to commission researchers to do an academic report on Bowdoin’s culture, both academically and outside the classroom, to see just what the college was teaching its students. The result was a 355 page report by the conservative National Association of Scholars that systematically broke down Bowdoin’s entire culture and worldview with extreme frankness.

What did that report find? That Bowdoin College, and indeed most of its peers in the elite liberal arts college community, is in fact:

A) Obsessed with identity politics to the point of using them as an excuse to teach irrelevant and/or trivial courses, and to admit underqualified and undereducated students

B) At once entirely unconcerned with fostering healthy sexual behavior in students and consumed with making sure they follow inconsistent and ideologically motivated norms; and

C) Disingenuous in their purported support for critical thinking, which only extends as far as thinking critically about topics which the college finds institutionally inconvenient

The report, which runs 355 pages, is split into two sections — first, there is the preface, which assesses the facts regarding Bowdoin and makes specific value judgments regarding those facts. Second, there is the report itself, which only explains the college’s behavior without passing judgment on it....

Bowdoin professes to support “critical thinking” in classroom discussions, and to encourage ideological diversity in order to speed this process. In fact, given that President Mills’ speeches apparently make reference to a relativistic conception of “the common good” with fair frequency, some might even argue the school’s commitment to “critical thinking” and independent-decision making could err too far in one direction. Fortunately, in practice, this philosophical problem is avoided. Unfortunately, it is avoided in a way that the report’s authors suggest hamstrings critical thought far more than it ought:
  Official Bowdoin projects two broad purposes: it aims to teach students to think critically and it aims to help them to develop into good citizens. Our claim that critical thinking is a Bowdoin goal is not likely to be contested by either the Bowdoin community or outside observers. Bowdoin is explicit and emphatic in its promotion of this goal. The first requirement for critical thinking is a genuinely open mind. “Openness” and “critical thinking” aren’t quite the same thing, of course. The first is really a precondition of the second. But for the moment we will treat them as near synonyms and bring in other requirements of critical thinking only as needed.[...]

    The two Bowdoin goals—global citizenship and openness—actually push against each other. Openness requires skepticism and a sincere willingness to look for hidden assumptions, but Bowdoin’s understanding of global citizenship requires that some very large questions be settled in advance. A commitment to global citizenship requires a commitment to diversity (in its current understanding, the notion that each of us is defined in the most meaningful ways by the group to which we belong) and to the racial preferences that follow from diversity; to multiculturalism (all cultures are equal); to the idea that gender and social norms are all simply social constructs (an assumption that justifies virtually unlimited government intervention necessary to achieve the global citizen’s understanding of sexual justice); and to “sustainability” (which assumes that free market economic systems, and the materialistic, bourgeois values that drive them, are destroying the planet).

These are notions that are not meaningfully “open to  debate” at Bowdoin; indeed, a commitment to global citizenship requires that they not be open to debate. Students are encouraged to “think critically” about anything that threatens the college’s dogmas on diversity, multiculturalism, gender, and sustainability, etc., but, for the most part, not to think critically about those dogmas themselves.

This problem is so pervasive, the report alleges, that not only is there an absence of openness to conservative ideas, but the campus actively stereotypes them as “boorish,” and many classes treat liberal dogma as settled truth


These three problems barely scratch the surface of the full report, which also points out problems with Bowdoin’s uncritical attitude toward environmentalism, its ambivalence about the free market, the persistently opinionated stances of its President despite his apparent role as a neutral arbiter, or the uniformly Democratic voting habits of its professoriate. The report’s impact on Bowdoin as yet is unknown, but as criticisms go, it is quite possibly the most harsh analysis of a college’s culture since William F. Buckley’s book “God and Man at Yale” in the early 20th century.

More here

As Education Secretary and then PM, Margaret Thatcher battled resistance from university leaders every step of the way

Margaret Thatcher’s legacy to the universities was revolutionary. Her legacy to the schools, though, was mixed. And it is was as Prime Minister rather than in her earlier role as Secretary of State for Education and Science (1970-74) that she exercised her greatest influence.

Margaret Thatcher’s views on education were driven in large part by her personal experiences as a student; she was, in the main, satisfied with the school education she received in Grantham, but she was dissatisfied with some aspects of Oxford. In particular she felt that the universities were complacent because they were over-protected from the market. She therefore introduced them to greater accountability and to market forces.

Her first major step to galvanise the universities was to introduce fees for international students: before 1981, international students were educated effectively for free. When the fees were introduced, they were denounced by the leadership of the British universities which, with one voice, predicted no international student would apply to a British university again.

The leadership of British universities often being wrong on important issues, it was no surprise that Mrs Thatcher’s policy was a success. After a transient dip in international student numbers, they have soared ever since, to provide a vast influx of funding and the beginnings of a market to British universities.

Margaret Thatcher’s next step was to cut infrastructural support monies for research to the university sector: she felt that some universities were not using their research monies well. When the cuts were introduced, they were denounced by the leadership of the British universities which, with one voice, predicted that they would be a disaster from which the British economy in general and British universities in particular, would never recover.

The leadership of British universities often being wrong on important issues, it was no surprise that Mrs Thatcher’s policy was a success. By introducing accountability for research – a policy that became known as the Research Assessment Exercise – Margaret Thatcher so galvanised the British universities that they now come second only to America’s in every international league table.

And Margaret Thatcher left a lasting legacy: when Tony Blair and then David Cameron came to power, they each continued her privatisation policies, in particular by introducing top-up fees for home undergraduates. When the fees were introduced, they were denounced by the leadership of the British universities which, with one voice, predicted that they would be a disaster from which the British economy in general and British universities in particular, would never recover.

The leadership of British universities often being wrong on important issues, it was no surprise that fees have been a success. The later fee hikes having been so recently introduced, we are currently witnessing a dip in some numbers, but on past form they will recover, to leave the universities better funded and more receptive to student needs than before.

Margaret Thatcher’s schools record is mixed. She wanted to protect the grammar schools from comprehensivisation, she wanted to increase parents’ choice over which schools to send their children, and she wanted to free schools to have more say over their own admissions and educational policies. But on all these points she was thwarted by the Department of Education and Science and by the local authorities – indeed, as Secretary of State she presided over the destruction of more grammar schools than any other Secretary of State – and she never privatised the schools the way we are now seeing the universities being privatised.

Yet even those failures bore good fruit because they increased her resolve, when Prime Minister, not to fail again at the hands of the Civil Service or of local authorities. Nonetheless, state education in Britain today has had to look to Thatcher’s disciples such as Michael Gove rather than to the lady herself for improvements.

But at least she left us her disciples. She will be missed.


Australia:  School behaviour contracts get tougher

TOUGH new behaviour contracts will be introduced in Queensland public schools from next year as part of the state's new $535 million education reforms.

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said the contracts would be a more stringent version of current behaviour plans.

Mr Langbroek has pledged to give principals more power to crack down on misbehaving students with figures released this week revealing 64,324 suspensions and exclusions were handed out last year. He said parents would also be called on to play a greater role in their children's education.

"We do have a contract about behaviour at the moment which people sign off on when they join a school. We are looking at making it a lot more stringent," Mr Langbroek said.

It is yet to be determined exactly what the contracts would involve. Schools are expected to be given a choice as to whether or not they use them, but they still have to have a behaviour plan in place as well.

Mr Langbroek said the contracts would be partly modelled on a version being used in a North Queensland school which has seen student performances soar.

Cairns West State School principal Michael Hansen said the academic success guarantee contracts, in place at his school since 2008, compelled parents to ensure their children had a 95 per cent attendance rate.

In exchange, the school guaranteed their child would meet or beat year-level benchmarks in literacy and numeracy, he said.

And it is working.

While discipline was not part of the contract, Mr Hansen said the work his teachers were doing with parents and students had helped improve behaviour as well. Grattan Institute school education program director Dr Ben Jensen said discipline was a significant issue in classrooms, but it was also important to focus on good learning behaviour.

"A bigger issue is understanding that any sort of improvement in learning and teaching over time is a behavioural change process," he said.

"We have a problem in Australia that we focus too narrowly on just learning outcomes and not also on learning behaviours."

The Newman Government's reforms also include bonuses for top-performing teachers and principals, scholarships and the deployment of master teachers to schools identified as in need of extra help to lift student performance.

The Queensland Teachers' Union has called on teachers to rally outside Parliament House on April 17 against the plan. It is also considering further action in a meeting on April 15.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sorry NUT, Gove's history reforms are no 'pub quiz'

British teaching unions' attacks on the new history curriculum illustrate a sheer uninterest in pupils and will only further damage the British education system, says Chris Skidmore

Another week, another attack on education reforms from the National Union of Teachers – plus ça change. At their annual conference earlier this week, in a result about as surprising as the Falkland Islanders' expressed desire to maintain their links with Britain, the NUT declared they had no confidence in Michael Gove, Ofsted inspections, nor the new curriculums.

The history curriculum in particular has been drawing the attention of the NUT, who deride it as a throwback to the rote learning of kings and queens, preparing students only for a pub quiz. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Changes to the curriculum are based on the important principle that in order to develop the critical thinking skills we want students to have we need to first provide them with a foundation of knowledge. The education guru E D Hirsch is a particularly notable advocate of the approach. He identified that the anti-knowledge theories of education which came into fashion several decades ago have not only affected performance but also widened inequalities.

This is something we have clearly seen in Britain recently. In international comparisons Britain has been slipping backwards in the rankings, a product of an education system sorely in need of reforms.

An anti-knowledge approach is particularly damaging in history. An aversion to facts gives pupils nothing on which to build the intellectual tools that the subject is expected to develop. As the historian David Cannadine noted in The Right Kind of History, "too many unconnected topics are taught, sometimes not even in chronological sequence, and often with no sense of how they relate to each other".

It should be no surprise then that the new curriculum would be considered anything but revolutionary in many other parts of the developed world. This supposedly ‘new’ style of teaching is already being pursued in countries like Germany, Australia and France It has also received strong support from many eminent historians including Niall Ferguson and David Starkey.

Reforms have also been criticised for supposedly straitjacketing teachers. Again, this is simply not true. Taking just seven pages to cover key stages one to three the new curriculum, while it demands a basic chronology, gives teachers greater flexibility than ever to teach students in the way that is best for them.

Look at the curriculum for key stage one for example. Students must be taught the lives of significant individuals in Britain’s past. A couple of suggestions are made, such as Isaac Newton, Florence Nightingale, or Brunel, but teachers are left free to make their own choices. They are also given total flexibility in their selection of "key events in the past that are significant nationally and globally".

While the NUT bleat away with these unfounded accusations they are unhelpfully distracting from the real issue, which is the timetable. The real problem history teaching faces is not that it will soon involve a broad chronology; it is that at primary level it only receives one hour a week.

Of course there are many worthy subjects which deservedly draw on the time available for teaching. But expanding the teaching in one area need not come at the expense of other subjects. It is time we started seriously considering expanding the hours that schools teach.

According to OECD figures, from age seven to 14 students will receive less classroom time than those in countries, amongst many others, such as Ireland, Canada, France and Australia. What may seem like a small amount of additional classroom time each week soon adds up over the course of a year, and would allow for far greater depth in teaching.

Yet in spite of this clear need the NUT, whilst claiming curriculum reforms must be resisted in the best interests of pupils, is demanding hours be reduced to 20 hours classroom time a week. Nothing could do more to illustrate the sheer disinterest in pupils that characterises the NUT's resistance to education reform.

As reform is pursued in the face of union opposition we mustn’t be swayed by the claims of organisations like the NUT that they just want what is best for our children. They are a politically motivated body driven by an ideological hatred of Michael Gove.

Instead we should maintain our focus on the evidence, which tells us that a knowledge-first approach to subjects builds understanding, and that we could benefit from an expanded timetable. This approach, not the unions, is what we need to reverse the relative decline of education in Britain, and to build an education system fit for the 21st century.


The philistines have taken over the classroom

How did we get to a situation where teachers are even more cavalier about knowledge and serious schooling than politicians are?

In virtually every Western society, education is in trouble.

In part, the crisis of schooling is a product of the politicisation of education. In recent decades, education has been transformed into an instrument of public policy, a means for achieving objectives that are entirely external to learning. Education is now expected to put right the failures of adult society, to transform apathetic youngsters into responsible citizens. Education is meant to promote social mobility, multiculturalism, responsible sex, sound financial behaviour and emotional wellbeing, and to provide youngsters with a variety of key skills.

The instrumental transformation of education into a vehicle for achieving policy objectives means that it is rarely appreciated as something valuable in its own right. Education has been so instrumentalised that its main function is now to ‘provide skills’. The teaching of knowledge itself, for its own sake, is frequently dismissed as an old-fashioned custom that is not relevant to the twenty-first century.

That policymakers confuse education with training is regrettable, but understandable. Far more worrying is the fact that a significant section of the teaching profession has also embraced the philistine skills agenda. Indeed, Britain’s education establishment is if anything more ideologically devoted to instrumental pedagogy than is the Lib-Con coalition government. This became painfully clear at the recent conferences of English teachers’ unions, where opposition to the government was often expressed through denunciations of knowledge-based curricula.

So we heard Alex Kenny, a member of the executive of the National Union of Teachers, dismiss the government’s new national curriculum on the grounds that it is ‘high on content and low on skills’. Numerous delegates attacked the curriculum’s emphasis on core knowledge. A survey of 2,000 NUT members revealed that two thirds of teachers are hostile to the government’s plans to place less emphasis on skills.

This means we have a paradoxical situation, where politicians seem to take the teaching of subject-based knowledge more seriously than educators do. The philistine attitude towards education adopted by some NUT delegates was exposed most strikingly through their confusion of knowledge with facts. Kenny, for instance, said a knowledge-based curriculum is one ‘based on pub quiz-style chinks of information’. The NUT’s general secretary, Christine Blower, equated the acquisition of knowledge with rote learning and said ‘it doesn’t promote the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are essential for good quality learning’. Her words reflect the current wisdom of utilitarian pedagogy: learning and skills are better than education.

Knowledge and skills

In any discussion about the relationship between analytical skills and knowledge, it is easy to become one-sided. Often, too much of a polarising distinction is made between knowledge and its application. It is possible to make a distinction: knowledge is accomplished through learning principles, concepts and facts, while skills represent the capacity to use that knowledge in specific contexts. But in reality, these two things are inextricably bound together. The gaining of knowledge, particularly deep knowledge, requires such skills as the capacity to conceptualise, compare and critically engage.

Education unleashes a dynamic process in which a greater depth of knowledge can be achieved through application – that is, through using the power of abstraction or experiment. Through the greater acquisition of knowledge, one becomes more sensitive to, and better at, applying it. Contrary to the NUT executive’s prioritisation of skills provision, it is knowledge that provides children with the capacity to conceptualise, compare and abstract. Knowledge is logically prior to analytical skills. The logical priority of knowledge does not mean skills are unimportant, or even less important. It simply means that disciplinary knowledge provides the intellectual and cultural foundation for the exercise of what Aristotle called phronesis: the virtue of practical thought.

Critics of the ‘knowledge model’ of education are often really calling into question the authority of knowledge itself. The pedagogic devaluation of a knowledge-based curriculum is fuelled by a powerful anti-intellectual ethos that refuses to take ideas seriously. From this philistine perspective, knowledge is reducible to facts and information. Accordingly, acquiring knowledge is seen as being akin to memorising facts. Hence the misleading depiction of knowledge acquisition as a form of ‘rote learning’.

One recurring argument against knowledge-led curricula is that they quickly become outdated in our ever-changing world. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, says that since ‘what is known to be true changes by the hour’, the ‘rote learning of facts must give way to nurturing through education of essential transferable skills’ (1). ‘Truth’ is depicted as a momentary epiphenomenon, and knowledge acquisition is caricatured as the ‘rote learning of facts’.

The view of truth and knowledge as unstable, transitory things is now widespread among opponents to rigorous, academic-based school curricula. The position statement of one teachers’ union asserts that ‘a twenty-first-century curriculum cannot have the transfer of knowledge at its core for the simple reason that the selection of what is required has become problematic in an information-rich age’. Once again, critics fail to distinguish between knowledge and information. It is society’s knowledge that gives meaning to new information, through allowing people to interpret new facts and helping society to understand what significance or otherwise should be attached to such facts. Far from allowing the so-called ‘information age’ to undermine knowledge, we should trust knowledge, treated and transmitted seriously, to help people negotiate information highways.

Through appropriating new experiences and ideas, knowledge itself develops. But the ‘latest knowledge’ is always organically linked to that which preceded it. Today’s scepticism towards the authority of knowledge implicitly calls into question the meaning of education itself. Once the knowledge of the past is rendered obsolescent, what can education mean? If ‘what is known to be true changes by the hour’, what is there left to teach?

Educationalists often talk about ‘breaks’ and ‘ruptures’, claiming that nothing is as it was and that the present has been decoupled from the past. Their worldview is shaped by great short-termism, by a feeling of being so overwhelmed by the displacement of the old by the new that they forget that historical experience may actually continue to be relevant to our lives. Discussions about the relationship between education and change are frequently overwhelmed by fads and by the superficial symptoms of new developments. This overlooks the fact that the fundamental educational needs of students do not alter every time a new technology is invented. Certainly the questions raised by Greek philosophy, Renaissance poetry, Enlightenment science or the novels of George Eliot continue to be relevant for students in this age, just as they were to students who lived and studied long before the dawning of the Digital Age.

Knowledge is not simply the sum total of a body of facts; it is based on concepts, theories and specific structures of thought. So even if some of the content of knowledge changes in line with new developments, its structure and concepts can retain their significance for very long periods of time. Geometric theorems may be contested over time, but they nonetheless express a body of knowledge that transcends centuries.
Understanding change

The fetishisation of change, the obsession with ‘rupture’, speaks to today’s intellectual malaise, in which truth, knowledge and meaning are treated as provisional and arbitrary things. Perversely, the transformation of change into a metaphysical force haunting humanity actually weakens society’s ability to distinguish between a passing novelty and a qualitative change. That is why lessons learned through the experiences and knowledge of the past are so important for helping society face the future. When change is objectified, it turns into a spectacle, something we observe rather than affect; we become cavalier about the truths and insights that emerged from and through the greatest moments in human history. Yet these truths came from attempts to find answers to many of the deepest, most durable questions facing humanity, and the more the world changes, the more we need to draw on our cultural and intellectual inheritance from the past.

If the legacy of the past ceases to have relevance to the schooling of young people, what can education mean? Historically, serious thinkers from across the left-right divide recognised that education is a transaction between generations. Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist, wrote that ‘in reality each generation educates the new generation’. From a conservative perspective, the English philosopher Michael Oakeshott said ‘education in its most general significance may be recognised as a specific transaction which may go on between the generations of human beings in which newcomers to the scene are initiated into the world they inhabit’. The liberal political philosopher Hannah Arendt said education provides an opportunity for society both to preserve and to renew its intellectual inheritance through an intergenerational conversation.

One of the principal tasks of education is to teach children about the world as it is and how it became that way. Although society is continually changing, education needs to acquaint young people with the legacy of the past. The term ‘learning from the past’ is often said sneeringly - yet it is impossible for people to engage with the future if they do not draw on the insights and knowledge from centuries of human experience. Individuals gain an understanding of themselves through becoming familiar with the unfolding of the human world.

In essence, the main mission of education is to preserve the past so that the young have the cultural and intellectual resources they need to deal with the challenges of the future. This understanding of education as renewal stands in direct contrast to the current trend for elevating change and unpredictability in the curriculum. Too often in modern Anglo-American societies, curriculum-planning is about cultivating an ethos of flexibility towards the future; of course, the capacity to adapt is a valuable asset, but exercising this capacity requires that we have an intellectual and moral grounding in knowledge and past gains.

The question of what balance education should strike between the gains of the past and the changes of the present and the future should be a constant source of debate. Today, however, when policymakers and pedagogues tend to be so fixated on the present that they seek to distance education from the past, it is essential to reaffirm the importance of a traditional humanist education. The impulse to free education from the past is driven by a view of all ideas that are not of the moment as old-fashioned and irrelevant. Yet preserving the past through education does not mean uncritically accepting the world as it is; it means assuming adult responsibility for the world into which the young are integrated. The aim should be to acquaint the young with the world as it is so that they have the intellectual resources necessary for renewing it, for moving the human conversation forward.

A liberal humanist education is underpinned by a conviction that children are the rightful heirs to the achievements and legacy of the past. It is precisely because education gives meaning to the human experience that it needs to be valued in its own right. One of the principal characteristics of education should be a lack of interest in any ulterior purpose. That does not mean that it is uninterested in developments affecting children and society; it means that it regards transmitting the cultural and intellectual achievements of humanity to children as its defining mission. Once society is able to uphold an education system that values itself and the acquisition of knowledge, policymakers and the public can start thinking about what practical steps might be required to deal with current challenges in the classroom.


Obama regime ramps up teaching of global warming in schools

New science curriculum standards for United States schools, expected to be unveiled this week, include an increased emphasis on man-made climate change from kindergarten through 12th grade. Climate change is already a part of many schools’ science curriculum, but the new guidelines significantly expand the topic and are expected to be adopted by 41 states.

The Next Generation Science Standards teach that “Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (‘global warming’),” according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.

At the same time, British schools are moving away from teaching climate change to kids under 14, causing alarm among British climate activists.

The New York Times highlighted the contrast:
New science teaching standards in the United States will include extensive lessons on human-made climate change. Expected to be unveiled this week, the guidelines will bring the subject to classrooms in up to 40 states, in many cases for the first time.

    Eighth-grade pupils should understand that “human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming),” according to the Next Generation Science Standards. …

    The new U.S. science standards — which are far more extensive than just an inclusion of climate change in school curricula — have been put together by a wide-ranging number of stakeholders, including 26 states, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as Andrew C. Revkin reported last year.

    In the United Kingdom, a proposal by the Department of Education would have the subject be stricken from the geography curriculum for pupils up to the age of 14. Under the proposal, which is still under review, climate change would be mentioned just once, in the chemistry section, the Guardian reported last month.

What the Times fails to note is that man-made global warming is hardly a consensus theory among scientists. Several new studies show the earth hasn’t gotten any warmer in at least the last decade.

“It’s a shame that American school kids are being taught claims of certitude on an isse that continues to unravel before our eyes,” Marc Morano, communications director for Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, told The Washington Examiner.

The U.K. newspaper The Daily Telegraph, German magazine Der Spiegel, and The Economist have all recently acknowledged the evidence suggesting global warming isn’t the catastrophe climate change advocates want school children to think it is.

He noted that for kids under 15, global warming isn’t even something they’ve experienced, if the studies on global temperatures are correct. Some of them are learning climate change as scientific fact it in school, and others are hearing two sides of the story, but none of them have firsthand knowledge of the issue.

The Next Generation standards are voluntary, but with 40 states expected to adopt them, students aren’t likely to hear anything in their science classes. The standards seek to codify climate change and man’s role in the problem as a part of students’ education, Morano said.

“To teach kids there’s a consensus… is a major disservice to children, and a disservice to education,” he said.


Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Diversity and academic open mindedness

 I had an interesting recent conversation with a fellow academic that I think worth a blog post. It started with my commenting that I thought support for "diversity" in the sense in which the term is usually used in the academic context—having students or faculty from particular groups, in particular blacks but also, in some contexts, gays, perhaps hispanics, perhaps women—in practice anticorrelated with support for the sort of diversity, diversity of ideas, that ought to matter to a university.

I offered my standard example. Imagine that a university department has an opening and is down to two or three well qualified candidates. They learn that one of them is an articulate supporter of South African Apartheid. Does the chance of hiring him go up or down? If the university is actually committed to intellectual diversity, the chance should go up—it is, after all, a position that neither faculty nor students are likely to have been exposed to. In fact, in any university I am familiar with, it would go sharply down.

The response was that that he considered himself very open minded, getting along with people across the political spectrum, but that that position was so obviously beyond the bounds of reasonable discourse that refusing to hire the candidate was the correct response.

The question I should have asked and didn't was whether he had ever been exposed to an intelligent and articulate defense of apartheid. Having spent my life in the same general environment—American academia—as he spent his, I think the odds are pretty high that he had not been. If so, he was in the position of a judge who, having heard the case for the prosecution, convicted the defendant without bothering to hear the defense.

Worse still, he was not only concluding that the position was wrong—we all have limited time and energy, and so must often reach such conclusions on an inadequate basis—he was concluding it with a level of certainty so high that he was willing to rule out the possibility that the argument on the other side might be worth listening to.

An alternative question I might have put to him was whether he could make the argument for apartheid about as well as a competent defender of that system could. That, I think, is a pretty good test of whether one has an adequate basis to reject a position—if you don't know the arguments for it, you probably don't know whether those arguments are wrong, although there might be exceptions. I doubt that he could have. At least, in the case of political controversies where I have been a supporter of the less popular side, my experience is that those on the other side considerably overestimate their knowledge of the arguments they reject.

Which reminds me of something that happened to me almost fifty years ago—in 1964, when Barry Goldwater was running for President. I got into a friendly conversation with a stranger, probably set off by my wearing a Goldwater pin and his curiosity as to how someone could possibly support that position.

We ran through a series of issues. In each case, it was clear that he had never heard the arguments I was offering in defense of Goldwater's position and had no immediate rebuttal. At the end he asked me, in a don't-want-to-offend-you tone of voice, whether I was taking all of these positions as a joke.

I interpreted it, and still do, as the intellectual equivalent of "what is a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?" How could I be intelligent enough to make what seemed like convincing arguments for positions he knew were wrong, and yet stupid enough to believe them?


Denial of promotion on the grounds of political beliefs challenged

I underwent something like this myself.  I was denied upgrading even though I had more publications each year than the rest of the  Department put together -- JR

Mike Adams

After six years of litigation, I am pleased to report that I have finally won the right to present my case against UNC-Wilmington to a jury of my peers here in North Carolina. My case began in September of 2006 when I was denied promotion to full professor. At the time, I had multiple teaching awards and outstanding reviews from students for my teaching. I had published more peer-reviewed articles than the vast majority of my colleagues. In fact, my department had never denied promotion to full professor to anyone with as many peer reviewed publications as I had accumulated. My service activity could only be minimized by suggesting that it did not “count” due to the views it advanced. It was voluminous but unpopular with my peers.

The promotion process was replete with procedural irregularities and with direct criticism of my columns and my beliefs. I immediately tried to appeal the decision internally but was denied a chance to do so. With no other recourse, I filed suit because it is unconstitutional for public officials to retaliate against an employee for expressing his views on critical social and political topics. It is especially hypocritical when such retaliation occurs at a public university that holds itself out as a free and open marketplace of ideas.

The journey has been long and there have been dark moments. In March of 2010, my case was thrown out when the district court ruled that the First Amendment did not protect my columns. Instead the federal court ruled that because I mentioned them on my promotion application they were a part of my official duties as a public employee. That ruling was based on an interpretation of a Supreme Court case, Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006), which dealt with employee speech. That controversial case ruled that public employee speech – even if on matters of public concern – could be restricted if it was a part of the employee’s “official duties.”

We appealed and the Fourth Circuit disagreed with the district court’s ruling. In a unanimous opinion, they ruled that my columns qualified as protected, private speech. Regarding that central issue, the Fourth Circuit said the following:

“Put simply, Adams' speech was not tied to any more specific or direct employee duty than the general concept that professors will engage in writing, public appearances, and service within their respective fields. For all the reasons discussed above, that thin thread is insufficient to render Adams' speech ‘pursuant to [his] official duties’ … Applying Garcetti to the academic work of a public university faculty member under the facts of this case could place beyond the reach of First Amendment protection many forms of public speech or service a professor engaged in during his employment. That would not appear to be what Garcetti intended, nor is it consistent with our long-standing recognition that no individual loses his ability to speak as a private citizen by virtue of public employment.”

The Fourth Circuit also ruled that the UNCW officials could be held personally liable if I ultimately won the case. In other words, all defendants were stripped of their qualified immunity. It was a resounding victory for academic freedom.

When the case was remanded, the Fourth Circuit asked the district court to determine whether there was evidence that I lost that promotion because of my columns and the views expressed in them. In a decision released last month, the district court answered that question with a resounding “yes.” In another victory for free speech, the court reasoned as follows:

"Here, plaintiff has brought forth evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that his speech was a substantial or motivating factor in the decision to deny [promotion] to plaintiff. The court need not detail the evidence, but plaintiff has produced evidence which . . . shows the following: (1) his internal evaluations declined after he began the speech at issue; (2) faculty attempted to stop or alter his speech; (3) the denial of his application to full professor was in temporal proximity to Adams’ columns openly criticizing the University on certain political and social issues; (4) the written comments of the faculty on the [promotion] decision committee show hostility toward plaintiff’s speech; and, (5) a faculty member who had accused plaintiff of harassment was allowed to participate and vote on the plaintiff’s application for promotion."

I am eager for my day in court and I will keep my readers apprised of any new developments. In the meantime, I hope that many conservatives in academia will reconsider their decision to remain passive in the campus culture wars. Many believe they cannot win. That is certainly true if they refuse to fight.


Top university, a great degree – but as for a job, dream on

Dreaming spires: a degree from a good university such as Oxford opens doors in some places, but it doesn’t seem to secure jobs

Few youngsters had more advantages than Sophie Strang. She attended some of the country’s best schools: first The Mount, an exclusive London day school, and then North London Collegiate, the £15,000-a-year alma mater of Anna Wintour and Esther Rantzen. Like many of her classmates, she achieved straight As at A-level and won a place at Oxford.

Yet, four years later, she is back at the family home in Totteridge. Eight months after she graduated from Keble College, the 21-year-old cannot find work. Her 2:1 in English was not enough to impress employers in her desired field of film and TV production, and she has received nearly 100 rejection letters from a range of job vacancies.

“I have done unpaid internships for more than six months,” Strang says. “I have been rejected from receptionist work and a lot of admin jobs. I don’t feel a sense of entitlement but I am definitely capable of doing that work. Employers are receiving hundreds of applications, even for these jobs that are far from glamorous.”

One in four 21-year-old graduates are unemployed, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. And those lucky university leavers who do manage to find work usually find that their degree is irrelevant, as The Daily Telegraph columnist Allister Heath pointed out last week. Indeed, a fifth of recent graduates are working as waiters, check-out operators, filing clerks or in other retail, catering and secretarial roles. Nor do those leaving the best universities, like Strang, necessarily find highly skilled jobs: in the past three years, Oxford has produced more accounts clerks than management consultants and more bar staff than young economists.

Yet university remains the default option for many British teenagers, even after most institutions nearly tripled their annual fees, to £9,000, last year. In 1982, universities received 171,000 applications, including those from foreign students. Under Labour, the number of places rocketed with the then prime minister Tony Blair’s cherished ambition to send half of our teenagers into higher education. More than 544,000 British students applied last year, a slight decrease on the year before, but tens of thousands more than four years ago.

However, as traditional degrees are failing to provide jobs for all in austerity Britain, a new breed of undergraduate is emerging who combines his or her studies with an apprenticeship. So-called “higher” apprentices split their university years between work and education – in the style of the old "sandwich" courses at polytechnics, but with even more time spent in industry – earning a wage and experience as well as a degree. Some employers will then pay for their apprentices to study for a master’s degree.

The scheme was launched in 2008 by the government’s Learning and Skills Council and, though little publicised, is proving popular with employers. That low profile is set to change. Today, the Department for Business publishes the first evidence of the scheme’s success: a poll of 500 employers showing that they would rather take on a higher apprentice than a conventional graduate. A wide range of companies offers the apprenticeships, from management consultancies and public relations firms to life sciences and engineering outfits. Last year, 3,700 youngsters embarked on a higher apprenticeship, two-thirds more than the year before. An advertising campaign that launches today is seeking to attract at least 25,000 more young people.

Holly Broadhurst, from Leek in Staffordshire, is one such student, having turned down offers to study a full-time degree in mechanical engineering at universities such as Loughborough and Sheffield Hallam. At 19, she is two years younger than Sophie Strang but has been working ever since she left school last summer.

“I was worried about the fees at university,” she says. “I would have had £50,000 worth of debt and no guarantee of a job at the end of it. This way, I get a job straight away, get paid well and get a degree on top.”

Her employer, JCB, pays for her to attend Sheffield Hallam one day a week. For the rest of the week she works for them as a troubleshooter, using her academic experience to solve customers’ problems.

Broadhurst says her work experience makes her a better student. “It puts everything in perspective,” she says. “There is not someone there with a textbook saying, 'This works like that for this reason.’ I used to think, 'Hang on a minute, I don’t understand.’ Now I see it in real life and think, 'That’s where this theory comes in.’”

She insists that missing out on full-time university life is a small price to pay

“There are days when I think of my friends having a whale of a time at university,” she admits. “They are out partying all the time. But is that what university is actually for? Here, I’ve got a job, I’m learning at the same time and I’m having fun.”

Broadhurst’s decision is less surprising when one considers her alma mater, the JCB Academy. The school is named after its principal business partner and is based just round the corner from JCB’s headquarters in Rocester, Staffordshire. It was the first of what are known as university technical colleges, a new type of technical school for 14- to 18-year-olds championed by Lord (Kenneth) Baker, the architect of the National Curriculum. They represent a challenge to the conventional model of a comprehensive, academic education followed by university, and are gaining ground: five are now open and last month the Department for Education approved proposals for a further 13. An expected 27 are to open within two years.

The schools are supported by a range of local companies and a university, with the aim of helping to meet skills shortages in a particular area of business. So while the JCB Academy focuses on engineering, others target biomedical science, health care, construction, design, digital technology, computer science and sport. GCSEs and

A-levels are integrated in eight-week projects devised by the sponsoring firms, which involve testing technical as well as academic prowess.

The first 16-year-olds who joined the school when it opened in 2010 left last summer (the first intake at age 14 leave in 2014). Jim Wade, the principal of the JCB Academy, is proud that the entire first cohort is now either working or in further education and, remarkably, half of that first year group of 32 has chosen a higher apprenticeship. “We were really surprised by the percentage going down that route,” says Wade. “But when you think of it from their perspective, they’re getting their degree alongside training. They are also providing crucial skills those industries need.”

Holly Broadhurst was head girl at the JCB Academy last year. The head boy, Aidan Rogers, is now an apprentice, too, turning down a full-time university place to work for Rolls-Royce on aircraft engine design, while studying for his degree.

“I think apprenticeships should be seen more widely as an alternative to university and not as a dirty word,” he says. “When I was telling my friends I was applying for one, they didn’t think it led through university to master’s level; they saw it as hands-on work. They couldn’t understand that this was what I wanted to do when I could have got into so many good universities.”

Apprenticeships are growing in appeal, with several of the largest graduate recruiters scrambling to set up their own schemes. PwC, the accountancy firm, hired 31 apprentices last year and plans to more than double the number it takes on this year. It says its scheme is the right route for talented students “who are clear about their career path and want to get straight into work”.

Accenture, the IT consultancy, has established a similar scheme. “We’re not going to stop taking on IT graduates but it [the apprenticeship scheme] is providing an alternative for us,” says Bob Paton, Accenture managing director in Newcastle. “University is great for some people but as a country we need to give young people other options.

“We have got some apprentices now who started a university course and then pulled out of it to join us. I can understand why people might in the past have thought an apprenticeship was something to do with becoming a plumber or a bricklayer, but more and more companies are offering these schemes. They are right for bright people with few qualifications but they are also right for people with great A-levels who are considering the university route.”

Meanwhile, Sophie Strang faces an anxious wait after her latest job interview last Friday. She does not regret going to Oxford, but is under no illusion now that a good degree will automatically lead to employment. “Oxford opens doors in some places – especially in small companies where the MD went there, too – but it doesn’t seem to secure jobs.

“In a lot of industries, people who have gone to less good universities but have studied a vocational subject, say TV production, are much more likely to get jobs in that industry than me with my 2:1 from Oxford.”

Many professions still require a conventional degree, but Strang thinks schools should educate pupils not to assume that university is their only option. “When I’m Googling jobs, these apprenticeships come up but I’m not allowed to apply for them because I have a degree,” she sighs. “There is an assumption among middle-class parents that all their friends’ children are going to university, so we have to go, too. But university isn’t right for everyone.”


Monday, April 08, 2013

Broken Schools Pose Transcendent Threat to America's Future

During the 2012 Republican National Convention, former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice addressed an issue that has been widely absent from any recent and serious conversation in American politics, ominously warning that the education crisis is “a threat to the very fabric of who we are.” As the United States remains preoccupied with rejuvenating a sluggish economy and combating rising deficits, education reform has largely been placed on the backburner. Yet, education has the power to reverse these afflictions and ultimately holds the key to creating sustainable, long-term economic growth and greater prosperity for more Americans.

The sad truth is that the United States education system has fallen behind, ranking 17th in the developed world according to Pearson Education, Inc. We need to act quickly and implement meaningful reforms; otherwise, there will be much greater uncertainty about our country’s future. There is a medley of changes that the government can undertake to improve our education system, ranging from increasing the length of the school year to implementing more English as a second language (ESL) programs. Such reforms would place America’s school year length back on par with that of other developed countries and address overlooked children who are falling behind simply because English is not their first language. And these are just a sampling of some of the policy alterations that our country should consider implementing.

One of the most meaningful reforms we could implement at the federal level is school choice. There are many different models for school choice, but the underlying principle is the same: allowing parents to send their children a variety of different institutions ranging from charter schools to private and public schools. The most common method implemented for bringing about school choice is educational vouchers, which allow parents and their children to receive a coupon of sorts that can be redeemed at a public or a private school of their choice.

Many states have already instituted some version of school choice and have seen encouraging results. In fact, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) – the largest voucher program in the country had a graduation rate 18 percent higher than students in Milwaukee Public Schools, according to a 2011 study. Even more astonishing is that the school vouchers cost $6,442 per student, less than half the $15,034 spent by Milwaukee Public Schools. Such results are not just limited to one example as Cato writes, “The overwhelming consensus of randomized controlled studies, the gold standard of social science research, has demonstrated that students attending schools of their choice perform as well or better than their public school peers.”

Unfortunately, the education battle is a two-front war and school choice won’t stem the education crisis among our adults. An estimated 90 million Americans are undereducated, resulting in an unemployment rate of 7.7 percent with many employers struggling to find skilled workers leading to jobs going overseas. America needs to develop a skilled work force to lower unemployment and spur job growth. Research from Pew’s Economic Mobility Project supports the importance of a college degree, noting that college graduates have been shielded “from a range of poor employment outcomes during the Great Recession, including unemployment, low-skill jobs, and lesser wages.”

Providing quality education will not only help every day Americans, but it will also reinvigorate the nation’s economy and usher in a new era of growth. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that adding 20 million post-secondary educated workers by 2025 would help create a more efficient economy and boost the gross domestic product (GDP) by $500 billion. This goal is lofty, but not unattainable, as only a little more than 30 percent of American adults currently hold a bachelor’s degree, primarily due to the costs associated with enrolling in an institution of higher learning. On average, students leave school with more than $23,000 in debt.

Our country’s elected officials should be working to provide greater access to affordable, post-secondary education for every American who seeks it. Yet, our system has struggled by failing to provide affordable educational options and thereby limiting opportunities. The United States has instituted a bureaucratic model known as accreditation that makes it difficult for institutions to offer educational opportunities. Under accreditation, colleges and universities must comply with a lengthy list of regulations and deadlines. Failing to miss a single step can be costly and often delay the entire process. The Heritage Foundation notes that “accreditation is a complicated, expensive, and time-consuming process.” This overly-burdensome process directly affects the education marketplace, creating high barriers of entry and reducing competition, making education as a whole more costly and unattainable. In order to lower the cost of post-secondary education, it is essential that the federal government reform the accreditation process by reducing regulations, while maintaining quality educational standards.

According to a task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, “The United States’ failure to educate its students leaves them unprepared to compete and threatens the country’s ability to thrive in a global economy.”

It is time that we started providing better and more affordable educational opportunities to our students, both the children and adults, so that our country can once again excel in the classroom and in the workplace.


MA: Boston College threatens action in condom giveaway

In an e-mail, Boston College officials said they may take disciplinary action against its own students who are distributing condoms out of their dorm rooms, reported.

The unsanctioned program called "B.C. Students for Student Health" offers dozens of locations where students can pick up condoms and pamphlets about sexual health.

The e-mail sent to students indicates that the student health group could be in violation of university police if they are found circulating condoms throughout the campus.

"As a Jesuit, Catholic university there are certain Catholic commitments that we are called to uphold," says university spokesperson Jack Dunn. "All we ask of our students is that they respect these commitments and the values upon which they are based."

Dunn goes on to say that this group has been warned "repeatedly" that the distribution of condoms is not in line with the values of Boston College. He adds that the group has been invited to meet with administrators to discuss the matter, however if they continue distributing the condoms they will face disciplinary action.

"If they persist in their actions, however, they face disciplinary sanctions as would any other students who violate university policy," Dunn explains.


British academics 'dropping regional accents' to fit in at elite universities

Academics with broad regional accents suffer "tacit prejudice" at top universities and feel obliged to adopt posher accents to avoid being patronised, according to a study.

The amazing thing is that such people get employed at all -- JR

They fear that unless they hide their local dialects they will be classed as "outsiders" and marginalised in the event of redundancies, researchers found.

Although discrimination on grounds of gender, race or sexuality is no longer tolerated, they said the desire by universities to be classed as "elite" meant that prejudice against regional accents continued to go unchallenged.

Michelle Addison, a PhD student at Newcastle University who conducted the study, said that "talking the talk" by using an accent that carried connotations of intelligence had become commonplace among academics anxious to "fit in".

"It can be very painful for some people to have to talk in a different way than they are used to," she told the Times Higher Education magazine. "People said they were very conscious of the social difference carried by their accent and how it marked them out as 'other' to their colleagues.

"One explained how some staff started speaking in a different voice when a senior member of staff entered the room. They were trying to sound posh by affecting a different image which they felt had more value." Miss Addison, who interviewed more than 30 people at a leading university for the project, said academics with strong accents felt less likely to receive plaudits from students, colleagues and management.

"In the current environment, universities are in competition with each other and their unique selling point is often to be 'elite'. In turn, academics wanted to portray an image that is also elite. In times of redundancy and cuts, it is risky to be classed as outside this 'elite' image. There is a tacit prejudice that seems to be activated in the workplace."

The study, Talking the Talk and Fitting In, was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.


Sunday, April 07, 2013

‘I Don’t Give a S**t’: Teachers’ Alleged Bullying of Conservative Student Launches School District Investigation‏

A 15-year old student at Appleton North Highschool in Appleton, Wisconsin, is claiming that he was bullied by faculty members for being a conservative. Now, the school district has launched an investigation into Benji Backer’s accusations and are taking the claims “seriously.”

Backer told Fox News that he has had to endure name-calling and harassment as well as watch other students be indoctrinated.

According to Backer, the tensions began to mount when he was 12, during Governor Scott Walker’s battle with the unions and liberals’ unsuccessful re-call bid.  Since then, Backer claims that teachers denigrated Walker and labeled Republicans as racist

“They are harassing and bullying me as well as indoctrinating other students,” Backer told FN.

In an essay first published by FreedomWorks, the student wrote:  “My teachers have always talked about bullying, including bullying homosexuals and how wrong it is,” Backer wrote. “I agree 100 percent. They shouldn’t be bullied, nor should anyone else.”

He then made the correlation that if members of the gay and lesbian community are entitled to equal treatment, so too are people with divergent political views.

“If teachers expect bullying to end with homosexuals, they should want it to end with every type of bullying possible, including political views,” Backer, who served as the Wisconsin co-chair for Young Americans for Mitt Romney, wrote.

Ben Vogel, an assistant superintendent for the Appleton school district, told FN that an investigation into the allegations of harassment has been launched and that they are taking it seriously.

“I’m always going to be concerned when a student comes and shares that they feel they are being treated unfairly in a classroom,” Vogel said. “We want all students to feel like they are safe at their school and in the individual classes.”

Vogel maintained that the district has a strict policy relating to politics in the classroom and that it will pursue those in breach accordingly.

“We have school board policy regarding political activity in the classroom – when it’s appropriate and when it’s not appropriate,” he said. “We will follow up and make sure our teachers are doing what they need to be doing and if they’re not – then we will follow up accordingly.”

Among the incidents Backer claims he endured, was when his English teacher used expletives while castigating students who may have been supportive of Walker.  “He was swearing and saying how wrong it was for anyone to support Scott Walker,” Backer wrote in his essay. “Students were telling him to stop, and he wouldn’t.”

While the thought of a teacher railing against a governor in a classroom setting is unsettling, Backer said the harassment grew worse and soon became personal.  

“He started to talk to me about how much harder he worked compared to my dad, a small business owner,” Backer said of his teacher. “He [the teacher] went on to ask how much my parents made because he wanted to compare it to his salary.”

The incident catalyzed Backer’s parents to meet with the high school’s principal, prompting the teacher to apologize. Oddly, however, the teacher then allegedly backtracked and began cursing at Backer.  “My teacher asked, ‘You know how you went down to the principal’s office?’” Backer recalled. “I said, yes, and he said, ‘I don’t give a s**t.’”

Bruce Backer, Benji’s dad, told FN they were taken aback by the incident.

“We were surprised that politics was being brought into the school during classes that had nothing to do with politics,” the elder Backer said. “We didn’t understand why there was a need to focus on Benjamin’s beliefs.”

Vogel said they were aware of the incident with the English teacher and “are very specifically following up on all the accusations and concerns.”

According to Backer, the bullying and harassment did not stop with his English teacher but trickled down into run-ins with a substitute teacher as well, who allegedly lamented the poor treatment of President Obama due to Republican-driven racism.

Based on reports, Vogel seems to be on the Backer’s side and seemed to acknowledge that faculty members are using tactics of indoctrination during their classes.

“Obviously we want students to be thinking and talking about current events,” he said. “But that needs to be done in a fair and balanced way. That’s not a means for a teacher to share specifically what their views are and try to indoctrinate students in a certain way.”


Massachusetts McDonald's demands bachelors degree and two years' experience for cashiers

It used to be high school drop outs flipping burgers at McDonald's, now the fast-food joint is demanding a bachelors degree.

In a frightening example of how competitive the job market is for young people right now, a McDonald's outpost in Winchedon, Massachusetts, has just posted a call-out for a full time cashier - but insists only college graduates need apply.

And even they must have 1-2 years of cashier experience before they'll be trusted with the Big-Mac-selling responsibility, according to the advert.

'Get a weekly paycheck with a side order of food, folks and fun,' the independent McDonald's franchise boasts.

In the ad, uploaded on, the restaurant says it wants 'friendly people... to smile while serving lots of guests daily,' and declares 'work with your friends or make some new ones!'

While it may be tricky to score the clearly competitive role, it'll be worth it, according to the chain.

Once their feet are under the counter, the successful applicant has the chance to work their way up the company ladder, the ad insists, boating impressive 'advancement opportunities.'

The McDonald's website also lists the full time position in Spanish, but doesn't give a salary.

A management position also listed starts at $10 an hour, with a sign on bonus if the applicant has previously worked at a McDonald's branch.

With colleges churning out more graduates and youth unemployment at 11.5 per cent, youth advocates reckon the unusually high qualifications McDonald's is demanding are a sign of the times.

'Sadly we've taxed-and-spent our way to an economy in which there's intense competition for just about any job... and young people are getting screwed over even worse than the country overall,'  Evan Feinberg, president of the Washington-based youth advocacy group Generation Opportunity, told the Washington Examiner.


British graduate with physics PhD, 31, fell to his death from block of flats after taking job in call centre he was over-qualified for

A victim of credentialism:  There is more higher education than is needed

An academic jumped off scaffolding to his death when he was only able to find a job in a call centre after finishing his doctorate, an inquest heard today.

Dr Philip Elliott, 31, who had recently completed a PhD in physics at Reading University, was seen on the sixth floor of an apartment block in west London just after 11am on January 27 this year.

Police tried to call him down but he fell from the property in Cromwell Street, Kensington, an hour later, the hearing was told.

Westminster Coroner's Court heard Dr Elliott - who was also a qualified engineer and was described as a 'high academic achiever' - had suffered a number of career knock-backs in the weeks leading to his death.

His landlord of seven years Harry Duphnath said the most recent he knew of was in December last year.

In a statement read to the inquest Mr Duphnath said: 'I was aware Philip had started a job with Southern Electric - I think in a call centre - which wasn't what he aspired to.

'He mentioned being frustrated at work and unhappy about being there and had started looking for other jobs and going for interviews.

'The last one was the week before Christmas in 2012.  'I saw him ironing his shirt getting ready for the interview.

'While I was there he checked his emails and he had one which said the interview had been cancelled.  'He was a bit low about that, but he wasn't angry. He said that he would plod on and keep going.'

The landlord said he received a text message from Dr Elliott on January 24, three days before his death, apologising for not doing some tidying up.   It read: 'Sorry. I've had a terrible time the last three weeks. Thanks for your patience. I can't explain how stressful it's been, but I appreciate it's not your fault.'

Mr Duphnath said him and his wife Sonia were 'utterly shocked' to hear Philip had taken his life days later.

Det Con David Gadsby, of the Metropolitan Police, said a resident in the block where Dr Elliott died reported hearing footsteps on the roof at 9.30am that morning, but thought nothing of it and went back to bed.

An hour-and-a-half later a motorist driving past the building called police expressing concern a man might be preparing to jump.

Officers arrived within five minutes but were advised not to talk him down as it was too dangerous to get out onto the scaffolding.

Paramedics who were already on the scene tried to revive him but the science mad graduate was pronounced dead from multiple injuries at 12.10pm.

Westminster Coroner Darren Stewart said he could not be sure beyond reasonable doubt that Dr Elliott meant to take his own life as it could have been a 'cry for help.'

Recording a narrative verdict, he explained: 'It is clear he was a high academic achiever in science, having achieved a PhD from the University of Reading, but he had not been able to get a job for some time.

'He took work which was perhaps not entirely suited to his skill sets in that he was working in a call centre.

'However, it shows Dr Elliot was committed to gaining employment and to progressing in his life.

'What is clear from the evidence is that he received a number of blows to his confidence in terms of jobs he aspired to which were either unsuccessful or withdrawn.

'It is clear that this had an impact on his general morale, and on the 27th of January 2013 Dr Elliott climbed up on to some scaffolding in Cromwell Road, Kensington.

'Officers decided not to try and talk Dr Elliott down as it would have been dangerous to them and to him.

'Sadly, shortly thereafter, Dr Elliott made a gesture with his arms and appeared to dive towards the ground striking the pavement.'

He added: 'Police enquiries revealed no indication Dr Elliott's actions were planned or that he had intended to take his life, nor is there any evidence to suggest Dr Elliott was subject to any mental health care.

'Whilst perhaps disappointed and suffering from a degree of depression due to his lack of work opportunities he was otherwise a fit, intelligent young man who had achieved well at university.

'It makes the outcome of what occurred on January 27 2013 all the sadder due to that.

'I am not satisfied on what has been presented before me as to be certain Dr Elliott intended to take his own. It is entirely possible this could have been a cry for help.'

None of Dr Elliott's family attended the inquest in central London, but they have since set up a remembrance page in his memory.