Sunday, September 28, 2014

Back Teaching, My Way This Time


People ask if I miss teaching. Up to very recently I've said, "Sometimes, but the feeling goes away quickly." I do miss it though. When I had autonomy in my classroom, which I did up to retirement, teaching was a very gratifying experience. But the federal government has been taking over more and more of public education and it became apparent that I would soon lose my academic freedom and be forced to teach the way "progressives" (a misnomer, that) would dictate. Then there are increased meetings and more meaningless paperwork that accompany increased federal intervention.

People who consider themselves progressive - a euphemism for liberal - have long been in charge of academia at every level. Most recently, they've consolidated their control over curriculum for US History - the subject I taught - by issuing a new exam for AP US History courses. We cannot see the new exam though. According to Stanley Kurtz, Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, "a complete sample exam has been released, although only to certified AP U.S. History teachers [who] have been warned, under penalty of law and the stripping of their AP teaching privileges, not to disclose the content of the new sample AP U.S. History Exam to anyone."

During my career, most states mandated that US History be taught at 5th, 8th, and 11th grades. Students were required to pass it in order to receive a high school diploma. By issuing the new exam, the College Board will changing the way it can be taught at all levels. Kurtz claims: "the new AP U.S. History Exam is about to entrench a controversial and highly politicized national school curriculum without proper notice or debate. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and a full understanding of our founding principles are on the way out.  Race, gender, class, and ethnicity are coming in, all in secrecy and in clear violation of the Constitution's guarantee that education remain in control of the states."  Many of the same people who brought you Common Core are bringing this. It's not a shock to me because the handwriting had been on the wall for years, and it's the primary reason I took early retirement at sixty. It has also been obvious to homeschooling parents. A group of them in Auburn, Maine contacted me over the summer to ask if I'd be willing to teach their children a US History course in which the Judeo-Christian values inherent in America's founding would be emphasized rather than played down. In other words, would I be willing to teach a course to high schoolers in the traditional way? At first I thought, "Nah, I don't have time." Then I pondered it for a week and agreed to at least sit down and discuss it, and to pitch an idea I've always wanted to try.

It first occurred to me several years ago when the principal told me to pick a new textbook for my US History course because the old ones were falling apart. Every text I examined was boring because they all avoided controversial subjects. And, they all had a leftist bias. Instead of buying one of the boring, contemporary, liberal texts for nearly $50 apiece, I proposed purchasing two books for each student, which together cost less than half of one mainstream textbook. The first was the Marxist Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States." The second was Schweikart and Allen's "A Patriot's History of the United States," which was written from a traditional, conservative perspective and formatted as an antithesis to Zinn's book. Students would read passages from each on the same theme, then compare and contrast the opposing viewpoints presented. The principal nixed the idea, however, saying, "You could do that, but you're retiring in a few years. Whoever replaces you wouldn't likely have the knowledge or experience to pull it off. So, let's go with a traditional textbook."

Meeting with the parents, I emphasized that if their children enrolled in typical public or private universities, they'd be surrounded by people who see US History the way Zinn did - from an exclusively left-wing perspective. They would need to understand that pervasive viewpoint and be able to formulate critical analyses - in their own minds, at least. They won't likely be allowed to actually produce such critical analyses in research papers however. Instructors and administrators who celebrate diversity on college campuses today believe only in diversity of skin color or ethnicity. They discourage diverse methods of thinking, especially conservative ones. Many are openly hostile to conservative Catholics and my students would need to understand why. One of my charges this year will be to help them with that, and to fortify them intellectually to withstand the special disdain progressives reserve for people like us.

We start next week.


British middle-class pupils drop TWO GRADES in poor schools ‘because they face higher levels of disruptive behaviour’

Better-off children drop almost two grades in their GCSEs if they go to schools with large numbers of disadvantaged pupils, a new study showed today.

Researchers found a ‘negative impact’ on performance linked to attending schools with a high concentration of poorer pupils.

The effect was most marked on wealthier youngsters, who lost nearly two grades on average across eight GCSE subjects compared with peers at affluent schools.

The poorest youngsters tended to perform badly regardless of whether they went to schools with high or low numbers of disadvantaged classmates.

The Oxford University study called for an overhaul of school league tables and funding to recognise the difficulties faced by primaries and secondaries serving the most deprived areas.

These schools may face higher levels of disruptive behaviour, greater challenges motivating pupils and extra demands on teachers.

They may also struggle to attract talented teaching staff because of ‘bias’ against them in league tables and Ofsted inspections.

Professor Steve Strand, who led the research, argued that schools serving high numbers of poorer pupils should not be held solely responsible for their underperformance.

Politicians who blame ‘failing schools’ entirely for stark differences in achievement between rich and poor pupils failed to understand the factors outside teachers’ control, he added.

For the research, presented today at the annual conference of the British Educational Research Association, Professor Strand compared pupils’ backgrounds with exam results at schools across England.

He found that attending a ‘higher deprivation school’ – one with relatively high numbers of pupils on free school meals (FSM) due to family poverty – had a ‘negative impact on achievement and progress’.

For pupils who were not eligible for free meals, this was equivalent to dropping a GCSE grade in two subjects.

‘The overall effect of being in a school with a lot of disadvantaged kids is a negative association with performance,’ said Professor Strand. ‘It’s even more pronounced for the non-free school meal kids than it is for the free school meal kids.

‘At the moment that’s not recognised in performance tables or in funding.

‘Arguably there is a case for saying that if you have a large concentration of kids on free school meals there are knock-on effects for other kids in the school including those not on free school meals.

‘Maybe we should be reflecting that in the performance tables, so we make a fair comparison and compare those schools with others with lots of disadvantaged pupils.

‘And maybe we should reflect it in the funding to some extent, maybe there should be an extra element for schools that have very high proportions of kids on free school meals.’

Explaining the findings, he went on: ‘What it means is there’s something about those schools that suffer high levels of deprivation. Maybe it’s the neighbourhood they are located in, the extra drain that there is on the teachers, maybe there are higher levels of disruptive behaviour and maybe it is more challenging to get young people engaged.’

He added that some better-off pupils in deprived schools may still be disadvantaged compared with peers in leafier areas.

‘It’s possible that the kids in high deprivation schools who aren’t on free school meals are more likely to be just over the threshold - just not entitled - whereas in leafy surburban areas they may be comfortably not entitled,’ he said.

‘There could be some social disadvantage factor still operating within that broad group of kids not entitled to free school meals.’

But the study concluded: ‘Higher concentrations of poverty in schools are associated with lower levels of attainment for non-FSM pupils.’

The research also found a yawning gap in achievement across all types of school between pupils eligible for free meals – mainly families on benefits - and those who do not qualify.

The study went on: ‘In absolute terms FSM pupils achieve consistently low levels at age 11 and at age 16 regardless of the concentration of poverty in the school.

‘The key message is that the low achievement and below average progress of pupils on FSM is an issue for every school in England, whether in inner-city urban areas or leafy rural shires.’

The paper added insisted that schools were not the ‘major cause’ of the achievement gap.

‘Factors outside the school gates (in the home, wider community or peer groups) are likely to be more influential,’ it said.

‘For example, children who grow up in poverty may do less well in education because they have parents who are more stressed, less able to afford educational activities and resources and less well-placed to help them with their school work.

‘This is not to say that schools should not do everything possible to strive to close the FSM gap, but does indicate that a punitive approach to ‘failing’ schools misconstrues the nature of the problem.’


Parents' fury as British schools offer children as young as 15 free STI tests in the toilets during lessons

Parents revealed their anger today over revelations that schools have been testing their children for sexually transmitted infections during lessons.

Blatchington Mill School in Hove, East Sussex, is one of those giving pupils aged 15 or 16 the chance to do a chlamydia STI test as part of their personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education.

The scheme is part of a council-supported initiative offering Yeah 11 children chlamydia tests in school, to which nine secondary schools in Brighton and Hove have now signed up.

Parents at Blatchington Mill were shocked at not being told their children were being offered the test - with one mother saying her Year 11 daughter refused because she ‘felt uncomfortable with it’.

She told the Brighton Argus newspaper: ‘I didn’t know anything about it beforehand and I think the school should have let us know as parents that our children were going to be asked to do this.

‘I know the tests were done by the students in the toilets, but I think it’s humiliating to ask teenagers in class to do a test for an STI.’

Ashley Harrold, deputy headteacher at Blatchington Mill, told the local newspaper that the tests were part of an NHS strategy that had been running for about four years and involved other schools.

The school said the lessons aimed to give youngsters informed choices about their sex lives, and normalising the STI test, adding that parents can withdraw their children from sex education classes.

A statement said: ‘As part of the session all learners are offered the opportunity (no one is made to do it) to do a chlamydia test during the lesson in an effort to normalise taking a chlamydia test.

‘It is not anticipated that a great number of these will return a positive result, it is more an exercise to demonstrate how easy and painless doing one is and to reinforce in their minds how and where they can do the test should they need to in the future.

‘Most young people do not become sexually active before the age of 16 and all sessions will be delivered within a framework of normative approaches, reminding young people that the legal age of consent for sexual activity in the UK is 16 and encouraging students to explore attitudes surrounding peer pressure, media influence and making positive decisions about relationships.

'The purpose of this programme is to support young people to start making healthy choices around their health, understand what to expect from screening and help them to engage with local health services, in a supportive environment.’

Brighton and Hove City Council said the sessions were part of the National Chlamydia Screening Programme, in partnership with the local NHS provider.

Mr Harrold added: ‘It is an NHS strategy where, to demystify the test, they can have one to take away and try. We did receive a complaint from a parent and we take them very seriously.’

Meanwhile, parent Tina Daniels, 44, said she was also shocked when her daughter told her that STI tests had taken place at Patcham High School in the city.

She said: ‘I am all for educating our youngsters on sex education issues and for some teenagers these clinics could be beneficial. But I think it's important for parents to be made aware that these facilities are available for their children.’

A Brighton and Hove City Council spokesman said: ‘Our work with schools in this area is entirely consistent with Government guidelines.’

Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs in Britain, with more than 200,000 people testing positive for it in 2012. Around two-thirds of people diagnosed with chlamydia were aged under 25.


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