Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Higher Education in the Hookup Culture

It’s supposedly common knowledge that out of every five women attending college, one becomes a victim of sexual assault. Yet the number is bogus, having been improperly pulled and misreported ad nauseam from a single flawed Department of Justice survey in 2007. In fact, that troubling number exists solely as campaign fodder for Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats to foment their phony war on women.

The latest salvo in this war is an effort by California’s overwhelmingly Democrat state legislature to introduce the government to college campus bedrooms. Soon, young men in the Golden State may be prosecuted thanks to a new law proponents dub the “yes means yes” law. It mandates affirmative consent be given by both parties before a tryst turns sexual, with the decision being “affirmative, unambiguous and conscious.” Under the law, signed recently by Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown, silence does not imply consent, and drunkenness by one or both parties cannot be used as a defense.

More troubling, however, is the new legal standard used. Accusers under this law need only have a preponderance of the evidence, which is a slippery slope when one considers the seriousness of the allegation. Should a male student really be expelled for not having a good explanation as to why his date changed her mind after the fact? It is said that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and collegiate men in California may well learn that lesson firsthand. Females already compose a clear majority of college students, and laws like this won’t help rectify that imbalance any time soon. And woe to the first young man who claims to have been victimized by a female (or another male) under this law.

A group called the National Coalition for Men blasted the law, stating, “It is tragically clear that this campus rape crusade bill presumes the veracity of accusers (a.k.a. ‘survivors’) and likewise presumes the guilt of accused (who are) virtually all men. This is nice for the accusers – both false accusers as well as true accusers – but what about the due process rights of the accused?”

While we’ve written about similar federal proposals, this is the first time a state has codified this kind of language. It already had been policy in California state-supported schools as well as several Ivy League institutions.

Some see a silver lining in this law, arguing it will encourage real relationships instead of quick hook-ups. (As an aside, the Centers for Disease Control estimate 110 million Americans are or have been infected with sexually transmitted diseases. The hook-up culture is, without question, largely to blame.)

But at what cost does any benefit come?

It’s worth noting the irony of the progressive push behind this law. “Get your laws off my body,” and “keep the government out of my bedroom,” have long been staples of the Democrat Party’s rabid support of abortion. Yet when it comes to the activity that creates the child to be aborted, they’re all in favor of requiring a virtual government consent form before proceeding.

Then again, quipped humorist Frank J. Fleming, “Conservatives should be happy about California; they’re just one step away from requiring a marriage license to have sex.”

Within the politically correct environment of our college campuses, higher education has become increasingly optional. Part of the reason for that is the hook-up culture. Casual sex undermines not only education, but health and future families as well. California’s misguided law isn’t the answer.


Britain's school for Jihadis: Why have six former pupils of the 'Eton of State Schools' been linked to terror?

Holland Park School, in the heart of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea — a catchment area that includes some of the wealthiest addresses in the capital — is known as ‘the Eton of comprehensives’.

Indeed, the building itself resembles a plush hotel or advertising agency with minimalist sofas and bespoke chairs for both teachers and pupils, created by one of Britain’s leading furniture designers, not to mention a sweeping glass atrium, stylish walkways, a roof terrace with panoramic views over the city and a swimming pool in the basement.

Even before the Grand Designs-style refurbishment two years ago (funded by selling part of the campus to housing developers), it was regarded as one of the top state schools in the country.

‘Outstanding’ was the verdict of a 2011 Ofsted report that praised the ‘exceptional’ leadership of inspirational and dynamic headmaster Colin Hall, who was appointed in 2001.

Currently, 96 per cent of students sitting GCSEs achieve five or more A* to C grades. Five have won places at Oxbridge in the past two academic years.

Bear this in mind when you consider the next ‘statistic’. In the same two-year period, up to six former Holland Park pupils left Britain to became Islamic jihadists in the Middle East or were linked to Islamic terrorism.

Today, following a Mail investigation, many of these individuals — the youngest is 21, the oldest 27 — can be identified. Three of them are now dead.

One appeared on a video in the summer appealing for more recruits from the UK to join Islamic State’s ‘golden era of jihad’. He is still in the Middle East, where Islamic State (IS) is engaged in a bloody and barbaric struggle to establish a caliphate, or Islamic empire, ruled by Sharia law. A second died in battle after joining up with IS in Syria. A third was killed while waging ‘holy war’ for an Al Qaeda-linked group in Syria. The fourth on our list also died in the Syrian conflict.

A fifth, a woman, was found guilty in August of fundraising for terrorism (the money was destined for IS) and is awaiting sentence; her female co-defendant, who was in the same year as her at Holland Park, was cleared of the same offence.

Until now, the ‘Holland Park link’ between these home-grown jihadists has gone unreported.

There is no evidence, it should be stressed, to suggest radicalisation took place directly inside the school, which attained academy status in 2013 and is alma mater to the likes of Hollywood actress Anjelica Huston and the late Tony Benn’s children.

Nevertheless, we now know that of the reported 24 jihadists from London who have joined IS or taken up arms with other Islamic fanatics, around a quarter of them went to the same school.

Could there be a more extraordinary — or chilling — revelation? Or, indeed, a greater betrayal of everything this country has done for them and their families?

Betrayal is, of course, a charge that could be levelled against anyone from Britain who has joined a terror group such as IS that is murdering Britons abroad in the name of Islam and actively conspiring to do the same here.

But it is especially true of those who were afforded the opportunity of going to one of the best schools in one of the most affluent boroughs.

Around 60 per cent of pupils at Holland Park School come from ‘a wide range of ethnic backgrounds’, according to Ofsted, and speak English as a second language.

Many former pupils also came from the Ladbroke Grove neighbourhood, where one of the biggest mosques in West London is situated and where many of those you are about to read about, we have learned, went to pray. Among them, 23-year-old Mohammed el-Araj.

One morning last year, he left the family flat in Blenheim Crescent, an elegant Victorian terrace in Ladbroke Grove, not far from David Cameron’s Notting Hill residence, to go to a local college where he was studying to be a mechanical engineer. At least, that is what his parents thought.

Their son never returned, however. His father, an antiques dealer of Palestinian descent, would later discover that he had never gone to college at all; nor had he ever even enrolled on a course.

The next time Mohammed’s family saw him, in fact, he was staring out from a propaganda photograph on the internet wearing a paramilitary uniform and brandishing an AK-47 assault rifle in war-torn Syria, where he was fighting President Assad’s forces alongside terrorist and extremist groups under the name ‘Abu Khalid’.  Not long afterwards, Araj was fatally wounded. He received many tributes from his ‘friends’.

Araj’s short life and brutal death made a few paragraphs in the papers at the time. Only now has it emerged that he went to Holland Park School. He flourished during his five years there, leaving in 2006.  ‘Mohammed was a lovely young man, very intelligent and humble,’ said a family friend. ‘He was always studying.’

His two younger sisters also went to Holland Park School. One was among ten GCSE dance students from the school who were chosen to perform in a production at the Royal Albert Hall a few years ago, and the other was a box office assistant for Opera Holland Park, a company which receives financial backing from the council to produce an annual season of operas in the summer holidays, staged under a temporary canopy in the eponymous local park.

The contrast between their lives and the path chosen by their brother — they were, incidentally, brought up in a non-religious household — is both striking and profoundly disturbing.

Mohammed el-Araj’s time at Holland Park School overlapped with that of two other boys, two years below him, who both lived a few streets away in the same corner of Ladbroke Grove. Their names: Mohammed Nasser and Hamzah Parvez. Nasser — unlike Parvez and Araj — was from a devout Muslim family; his mother and late father were originally from Eritrea in the Horn of Africa.

‘They only associated with other Muslims,’ said a neighbour. Even so, he and Parvez became good friends at Holland Park, a friendship which deepened after they left in 2009.

Over the past few years, Nasser, a business undergraduate at the University of Roehampton, and Parvez, who worked in a hotel in Shepherd’s Bush, became increasingly close.

What followed obeyed a familiar pattern. It is documented in an article in the Huffington Post online newspaper by journalist Tam Hussein, himself a former Holland Park pupil.

On May 15, the 21-year-old friends vanished. They had flown out from Gatwick before making their way to Turkey and crossing the border into Syria, where they joined up with IS fighters. The two, according to Hussein, were later separated and placed in different IS battalions.

In August, three months after they left home, Parvez, his face covered by a black scarf, appeared in an IS video. He asks the camera: ‘What are we doing sitting in the UK? Sitting in the land which kills Muslims every day . . . it’s not the land for us. Are we content with eating Nando’s every week? Come to the land of Allah.’

Parvez, whose family comes from Pakistan, then revealed, matter-of-factly, that his schoolfriend Mohammed Nasser had been killed in fighting. Pointing to his forehead, he said his comrade in arms had died after a piece of shrapnel hit him in the head a few weeks earlier, on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan.

Nasser’s family, devastated by their loss, left the country for Mecca, the online news report said, ‘consoling themselves in pilgrimage’.

Only with hindsight did Parvez’s family begin to question the change in his behaviour in the period leading up to his carefully planned exit from the UK with Nasser.

At one point, Parvez’s mother bought him a top from Primark which had the American flag stitched on to it. He refused to wear it because, he said, it was the ‘symbol of oppression’.

Amal el-Wahabi, 27, harboured similar feelings.  The daughter of a London bus driver, she also went to Holland Park School and worked hard in class, passing GCSEs and taking part in a Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, before leaving in 2003 and studying for NVQs in health and social care.

In August, she and another Holland Park contemporary, university student Nawal Msaad, 27, both of Moroccan descent, appeared in the dock of the Old Bailey.

Miss Msaad was caught with £16,000 in euros stuffed in her underwear at Heathrow as she attempted to board a flight to Istanbul back in January. Police believed she was going to hand over the cash to Wahabi’s husband, a Muslim convert who was fighting with Islamic insurgents. The jury, however, decided that Miss Msaad was tricked into being a mule by Wahabi, who had given her the money.

Wahabi claimed, in her defence, that she thought her husband was helping an aid convoy in Syria. But extremist videos sent to her from him, then found in their flat, painted a very different picture.

One message featured the flag of IS, with the slogan: ‘Allah prefers the Mujahideen over those who remain behind.’ To which Wahabi responded: ‘Be beside you until the day you die.’ Also found on her phone were pictures of her husband posing with an AK-47 and other fighters. Wahabi was convicted of fundraising for terrorism.

There is something else you should know about Amal el-Wahabi. You might call it another coincidence.

She was living in Portobello Road, a short stroll from Mohammed el-Araj, Hamzah Parvez and Mohammed Nasser, but only a few doors away from one Nassim Terreri. The pair not only went to Holland Park School, they were in the same year.

One night in March 2012, Terreri, 25, a British Algerian, died in a hail of bullets on a Syrian mountainside fighting alongside another British Algerian from London. The Syrian government later named him on a list of ‘terrorists’ sent to the UN.

His family said he had gone to the country as a freelance journalist, and denied he was a terrorist. But reports at the time revealed how a YouTube account in Terreri’s name advertised links to videos featuring extremist preachers who advocated violence against the West, including one film by al-Shabaab, the Somali affiliate of Al Qaeda.

A Twitter account, also in Terreri’s name, contained links to videos advocating radical indoctrination and Islamist-inspired violence.

Colin Hall, the headmaster of Holland Park, said: ‘We take a very strong stance that this is a secular school and whatever you believe or might think, it stops at the school gates when you come in.

‘We’ve got a very strong line on secularity and a very strong line on zero tolerance to any kind of fundamentalism from any religion.’

Yet even under the widely praised leadership of Mr Hall, up to six pupils, that we know of, passed through his school and were later linked to Islamic terrorism. Whatever other influences they were subjected to after they left, it remains a tantalising connection.


Common Core Proponents Blame Their Victims

It has become fashionable to blame the effects of nationalizing education on anything but the national curriculum mandates and the tests that accomplish it.

Teachers unions have seized on Common Core to undermine testing mandates and teacher evaluation schemes, bemoans Stanford University economist Eric Hanushek. Bad model lessons are undercutting Common Core’s potential, exclaims Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Common Core teacher retraining sessions teem with learning theories that research has proven ineffective, complains E. D. Hirsch, founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation. And textbook publishers have twisted Common Core into a resurgence of “fuzzy math,” asserts College Board’s Kathleen Porter-Magee.

In other words, our nation’s 50 million schoolkids enter a storm of curricular chaos this fall, but, like them, Common Core is just a hapless victim. Has Common Core really been hijacked, or has it been a rogue vessel all along?

To answer that question in education terms, consider the current furor among New York educators over whether Common Core supports phonics-based literacy or a content-lite approach known as “balanced literacy.” The two are essentially pedagogical polar opposites, yet both sides claim Common Core justifies their approach.

A look at the standards themselves, as its proponents often demand, suggests this controversy is at least partly Common Core’s fault. Its curriculum mandates are wordy, obtuse, and inaccurate. Try this representative directive, for kindergarten: “Associate the long and short sounds with the common spellings (graphemes) for the five major vowels.” After wading through the blubbery language, an astute reader will ask, “How many ways can there be to spell the five vowels? And are there any minor vowels?” There is precisely one spelling for each of the five, and only five, vowels. So what could this mandate mean?

It’s unclear, and so is the rest of Common Core, as in-depth analysis along these lines from Hillsdale College’s Terrence Moore shows in his book The Story Killers. So no wonder New York teachers, and teachers everywhere, must muddle about, prey to contradictory education theories, in the name of Common Core. The lack of curricular clarity in Common Core has spawned mass confusion. Follow the money: The Common Core beneficiaries are consultants and test developers.

Aside from such complaints, Common Core proponents suggest the curriculum makes for good political arrangements. If it undercuts mediocrity by demonstrating the flabbiness of American children’s mental muscles, or makes U.S. education more efficient and orderly, perhaps all this pain might produce some gain. Or, in the words of Common Core’s biggest financial backer, Bill Gates, “It’s ludicrous to think that multiplication in Alabama and multiplication in New York are really different.”

That’s the real essence of Common Core: a political movement, a neat and tidy scheme to streamline U.S. education through a set of rapid, enormous policy changes rather than undergo the tedious process of convincing people and their elected representatives they should assent to a new way of organizing education. To speed things along, the people who created Common Core requested back in 2008 that the federal government play “an enabling role” and “offer a range of tiered incentives” to get states to sign onto national curriculum mandates and tests.

Once President Barack Obama came into office, he obliged, and then some. Thanks to federal grants offered during the recent recession, 40 state departments of education offered to accept this complete overhaul of their schools’ curricula and tests more than five months before the actual curriculum requirements were published in June 2010 and two months before even a draft was made publicly available. Taxpayers still await the final version of these new national tests.

Given the speed, secrecy, and arm-twisting of this initiative, the resulting chaos is no surprise. Potential pitfalls and a broad base of support never emerged during public debate, because there was no public debate. What is surprising is that people still insist on blaming Common Core’s victims rather than its perpetrators.


Consider the Education Vote

In most Americans’ minds, education is tied to career preparation. And Americans are worried about jobs. So it’s no coincidence that education has risen as an election issue, although it typically resides somewhere in the middle of voters’ priorities.

This week, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul prodded potential 2016 candidates for president, asserting no candidate would win the GOP nomination if he or she supports Common Core. American Federation for Children counsel Kevin Chavous appeared on Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal to note school quality and the increase in school choice are putting in play voters who traditionally would vote for Democrats.

Single-issue items such as these may be important for 2014 or 2016, just as jobs are currently important because that’s where the pain is, but the long-term health of this country requires voters to start considering more than symptoms. A republic cannot continue long without people who can manage themselves and analyze ideas. These two qualities are exactly what business owners want in employees, and they’re exactly what citizens want from their co-governors, their fellow citizens. Yet a third of the adult populace cannot name one branch of government. One shudders to think how many voters would fail the citizenship test for legal immigrants.

Because it necessarily cultivates the next generation of people who must rule themselves and thereby rule their fellow Americans, education deserves much higher ranking on voters’ priority lists. And not just for immediate, tangible, and individual rewards. To preserve what is good about our country, people must first know what it is. Right now, many never learn that.


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