Sunday, October 19, 2014

Universities are an unwelcoming environment for normal males

Higher education’s crusade against so-called ‘lad culture’ stretches far beyond the puritanical killjoys at the National Union of Students (NUS).

On both sides of the Atlantic, some university managers and academics have a serious issue with male students, and are on a mission to expunge from campus any whiff of laddishness. In the US, debate ensues about the possibility, rather than the desirability, of banning fraternities. While the legalities are batted to and fro, some institutions have introduced mixed-sex and alcohol-free regimes, effectively ending the tradition of all-male college associations. Those behind the new schemes obviously assume the presence of women will civilise the fraternities, which stand accused of promoting sexism and alcohol-fuelled risk-taking.

Meanwhile, in the UK, panics over misogyny and ‘rape culture’ have led Scottish academics to campaign for ‘lads’ mags’ to be banned from university shops, while misbehaving rugby club members at Oxford are being sent for re-education at sexual consent and ‘good lad’ workshops. All too often, men at university are seen as a problem, and men in groups even more so.

Such concerns go beyond the antics of all-male sports’ teams on a beery night out and carry over into the classroom. Male students are indicted for messing about, not taking their studies seriously and generally being disruptive. One group of academics has received funding to investigate the behaviour of men at university. Their advocacy research poses loaded questions such as: ‘How may lecturers and universities begin to challenge and change problematic “laddish” attitudes and behaviours?’

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these surveys have found that men ‘just don’t seem to really care, they just think it’s cool to sit there and talk’. Even relatively mild-mannered male students are considered to dominate seminars in a way that silences female voices. For some lecturers, it seems, the presence of men in their classroom is a particular challenge to be managed, rather than simply being part and parcel of the often mundane experience of teaching.

Even the quietest and most placid male students are seen as a problem for universities. Research conducted for the UK-based Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) suggests men are less likely to participate in academic mentoring programmes, are unwilling to ask their tutor for advice if they get a bad mark for a piece of work, and are less likely to attend tutorials.

Outside of the classroom, even sympathetic academics bemoan the reluctance of male students to engage with the ever-increasing array of student-support and wellbeing services on offer. When male students experience difficulties at university, they are more likely to keep it to themselves or turn to friends, perhaps even discussing their troubles over a beer, rather than using the institution’s qualified counsellors and support officers. This refusal to seek help when things go wrong is cited as the number-one explanation for men being significantly more likely than women to drop out of university before they’ve completed their degrees.

For those men who stay the course and complete their studies, the chances are they’ll perform less well than their female counterparts. Whereas 79 per cent of women get at least a 2.1 degree classification, only 70 per cent of men score this highly.

Importantly, this attainment gap exists even when comparing the results of students who entered university with exactly the same levels of prior academic achievement. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that boys vote with their feet and don’t apply to university in such large numbers in the first place: in Britain, 57.5 per cent of students are female. This overall statistic hides the fact that at some universities women outnumber men two to one, and on some courses, such as veterinary science and subjects allied to medicine, over 75 per cent of students are now female.

Despite making up a greater proportion of the overall population aged 18 to 21, men are less likely to go to university, more likely to drop out if they do get there, and, if they stay, are less likely to come out with a good degree pass.

Yet instead of this being seen as a cause for concern, attention is still focused on the experience of women. The Equality Challenge Unit awards a ‘Gender Equality Charter Mark’ to institutions that can demonstrate they have addressed gender inequalities, ‘in particular the underrepresentation of women in senior roles’. In addition, universities pour considerable resources into securing one of the ECU’s Athena Swan awards, which recognise commitment to ‘advancing women’s careers in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine’.

In contrast, schemes aimed at tackling the underrepresentation of boys in higher education tend to be piecemeal, condescending and underfunded. The University of Edinburgh, for example, has launched Educated Pass, an initiative which aims to get boys hooked on university through links with local football clubs. Never mind the assumption that all boys are interested in football - more worrying is the idea that people working for universities can’t dream up a way to tell boys that higher education is exciting in its own terms.

The recruitment-through-football initiative sums up the mixed impression boys, and working-class boys in particular, are given about higher education. They are flattered and patronised to get them through the door of a university, and then, once inside, they witness staff and fellow students throw their hands up in horror at their unreconstructed male-ness.

In the feminised environment of today’s university, group work is often valued above individual performance, participation and effort are recognised as equivalent to achievement, and the single-minded pursuit of knowledge has been replaced by rewarding students who are most able to decry the arrogance of truth claims.

When the promotion of sustainability, citizenship and inclusivity trump inculcation into a world of knowledge, the physical presence of men on campus embodies a particular challenge to the values of the university as an institution, and to some lecturers as individuals.

Higher education currently has no place for the qualities traditionally associated with masculinity, and this message is conveyed to male students in all aspects of university life. It should hardly be surprising that, when made to feel so unwelcome, young men either rebel or vote with their feet.


Michigan: Mother Outraged over school assignment requiring students to proselytize for Islam

Proselytizing for Islam has increasingly become part of the public school curriculum nationwide. Common Core is notorious for this.   This is dawah — a religious imperative in Islam to invite, preach Islam to the non-believer.The curriculum does not include the wholesale slaughter of hundreds of Muslims non-Muslims and heretics  in jihad wars, land appropriations, annihilations and enslavements.

Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism are not promoted and preached. But parents must demand equal proselytizing time. This is a violation of the establishment clause.

A mother in Michigan took to Facebook last week to express her outrage over a 10th-grade school assignment that she felt promoted Islam.  In an initial post, Jennette Hall complained about a Jenison High School assignment that asked students to make a pamphlet about Islam. The post, which had been shared over 5,400 times as of Tuesday morning, said students were told the pamphlet would be used to “introduce Islam to 3rd graders.”

Several days later, Hall clarified in another post that her daughter’s assignment asked her to create a pamphlet about Islam geared towards third-graders, but that students were not actually expected to hand the materials out to younger children.

“This assignment upset me because they are presenting Allah as the same God of the Christians and Jews. This paper, in my opinion, is promoting Islam by describing Allahs names as ‘beautiful’. To me this is not simply factual like it should be,”

The school’s principal, Brandon Graham, responded in his own Facebook post over the weekend, saying he wanted to correct “inaccurate information” about the assignment.“While our high schoolers do study religions, the content is NOT presented to elementary students or used to proselytize in any way,” Graham wrote. “Furthermore, we *do indeed* teach Christianity along with other world religions.”

Graham further explained the assignment in an interview with a local Fox News affiliate.“The assignment was to cover the five major world religions: The religions included Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam,” Graham said. “In our social studies classes, we certainly study all those religions to learn how a people, group and culture function. It helps us understand culture.”

But on Facebook, Hall noted that she still takes issue with the assignment, even though she has no problem with students studying the five major world religions.“I was SHOCKED when my daughter showed me the pamphlet that she was required to make promoting Islam in a way 3rd graders could comprehend,” wrote Hall in her latest post. “As a mother who teaches her children that the One True Creator God is the GOD of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it made me sick to my stomach to see my daughter promoting another god (Allah) as the One True Creator on a pamphlet!"

UPDATE: 10/8 — While Hall initially posted photos of her daughter’s assignment, she wrote on Facebook on Tuesday that she took them down after meeting with the school’s principal.

“In the meeting, Dr. Brandon Graham and others in attendance carefully listened to my concerns and are considering making some changes,” Hall wrote. Dr. Brandon Graham has asked me to remove my initial Facebook post and I have honored his request by removing the post from my Facebook page.

My intention was not to cause negative publicity to the school district, but only to speak up, ask questions, and stand firm for what I believe.”


Public Outcry Delays Vote on Minnesota Transgender Athlete Policy

Public outcry forced a delay in implementing a new state policy allowing transgender high school students taking sex hormones in Minnesota to play sports, use locker rooms and share hotel rooms with students of their chosen “gender identity.”

The draft of the Minnesota State High School League’s (MSHSL) policy proposal states that male-to-female transgender students can play on girls’ teams if they are currently on testosterone suppressants.

Similarly, female-to-male transgendered students can play on boys’ teams if they are taking testosterone. Transgender students would also be allowed to use “locker, shower and toilet facilities” and be assigned hotel rooms in accordance with their chosen “gender identity.”

Transgender students who request extra privacy, such as a separate shower or changing facility, should be accommodated if possible, the draft also states, "but they should not be required to use separate facilities."

However, the Minnesota Child Protection League (MCPL) ran a full-page ad in Minnesota's largest newspaper warning that high school boys would be allowed to shower in the girls' locker room, and an email campaign led by the Minnesota Catholic Conference (MCC) and the .Minnesota Family Council (MFC) mobilized to inform the public about the changes.

On October 2, the 19-member board unanimously decided to postpone a vote on the transgender policy after a contentious two-hour public hearing.

“After receiving what the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) Board revealed to be over 10,000 emails and then listening to public testimony yesterday overwhelmingly opposed to their proposed transgender policy for student athletics, the Board voted today to table the policy for further consideration at their December 4 meeting,” the MFC said in a press release.

The MCC organized the emailing campaign to stop implementation of the policy, noting that it prioritizes the privacy of transgender students by providing them special accommodations while disregarding the privacy rights of those who may feel uncomfortable changing or showering with a student who is biologically the opposite sex.

The group also cited worries that allowing male-to-female students to play on a girls’ team would be an unfair advantage, and said that the new policy would ultimately be harmful to teens because it “relies upon a contested view of gender identity confusion that could do students struggling with their gender more harm than good.”

The policy also does not provide a religious exemption for individual students or parochial schools, which the MCC says is contrary to state law. In addition, they say that forcing schools to build gender-neutral bathrooms or hold sensitivity training is an unfunded mandate.

“We firmly believe that all students should be permitted to play high school athletics within the realm of the school’s eligibility requirements, and this means that student athletes play within the bounds of physical realities—not ‘internal senses’—for the sake of all students involved,” MFC CEO John Helmberger said.

But Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, a teachers' union, said that she supports the proposed transgener policy.

“A safe and welcoming environment for our students matters a lot, whether it's in schools or extracurriculars," said Specht, reports. "We represent a lot of coaches, and coaches are really looking for guidance.”

However, MFC spokeswoman Autumn Leva pointed out that the proposed transgender policy contains no “objective standard” for determining which students would qualify, adding that “what we’re hearing from athletic directors is, ‘I don’t want to be in the position to determine a student’s gender’.”


‘This is not an education problem. This is a government problem’

The world needs more teachers like Susan Bowles. The kindergarten teacher at Lawton Chiles Elementary School in Gainesville risked her job to stand up for what she believes in.

What she believes is that conducting standardized testing three times a year, some of it required to be computerized, is simply not in the best interests of the kindergarten students she teaches.

Despite the risk of losing her job after 26 years of teaching, Bowles felt compelled to speak out.

And something amazing happened. Instead of her being fired or reprimanded, the policy was changed. The community rallied around Bowles after she took a stand. Now, K–2 grade students will not be required to take the FAIR tests that Bowles refused to administer.

In the letter Bowles wrote to parents, she explained that even though she would be in breach of contract, she couldn’t in good conscience give the test to her students. The FAIR testing would have meant kindergarten students being tested on a computer using a mouse, Bowles said.

Although many of her students are well-versed in using tablets or smart phones, most had not used a desktop computer before. Once an answer is clicked, even if a mistake was made and a student accidentally clicked the wrong place, there is no way to go back to correct it. This means the data that would have been collected would not have been accurate.

“While we were told it takes about 35 minutes to administer, we are finding that in actuality it is taking between 35-60 minutes per child,” Bowles wrote. “This assessment is given one-on-one. It is recommended that both teacher and child wear headphones during the test. Someone has forgotten there are other five-year-olds in our care.”

The problem is not with the people she works for, Bowles said. “This is not an education problem. This is a government problem,” she wrote.

Bowles was not directly named in the letter to parents from officials changing the testing policy, but the letter does mention the recent attention surrounding the issue.

Bowles was brave in facing down the school administration, state and local officials, and teachers unions who continually protect the status quo and each other. She stood up by herself with no way of knowing what the consequences would be.

Bowles told me she feels lucky to have had the opportunity to speak her mind, because her husband was supportive and her children are grown. After hearing the policy had changed, Bowles said, she “hugged, laughed, cried, and did a happy dance” with other teachers who had been waiting outside her classroom because they had already heard the news.

“I was surprised and pleased that they actually backtracked on the FAIR, suspending it for one year,” said Bowles, noting tension over standardized testing has increased because of Common Core. “Of course, the fear is it will be back next year with a few tweaks.

“This fight should continue — not just regarding the excessive testing that takes away from our children’s learning, but also for the standards that have been adopted that are not developmentally sound, at least for elementary students,” said Bowles. “I can speak for the elementary grades that any developmental psychologist or early childhood educator would tell you that these standards are inappropriate.”

Two bills have been introduced recently to decrease the federal footprint on standardized testing. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has spoken about the possibility of over-testing.

The hope is that these changes aren’t just lip service. Parents, teachers, and legislators will have to continue to fight for students and against the education establishment. The contrasting approaches of the federal government and Susan Bowles regarding how children should be educated suggest we all should support more local control rather than failing federal mandates.


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