Sunday, November 30, 2014

British teachers ‘scared to teach about Jesus’: Fear of offending other faiths prevents children learning true meaning of Christmas, BBC presenter claims

Fear of ‘offending’ different faiths means pupils are not being taught the true meaning of Christmas in schools, according to a BBC presenter.  Roger Bolton, of Radio 4’s Feedback programme, said that some secular teachers are also ‘unsympathetic to religious education’.

As a result, many pupils are not learning the crucial fact that Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus.

A lack of understanding of Christianity is also preventing youngsters from gaining a proper understanding of religious imagery in literature and drama as well as European art.

This ‘ignorance’ in schools is being compounded by broadcasters’ reluctance to tackle ‘faith issues’ in children’s programmes.

Mr Bolton, who previously presented Sunday, Radio 4’s main programme for religious news and current affairs, condemned the trend in a ‘viewpoint’ piece written for this weeks Radio Times.

He said the Band Aid single, Do They Know It’s Christmas? would be better renamed for school children as ‘Do They Know What Christmas Is?’

He said: ‘Older readers might think this is a redundant question, but I’m afraid it’s not.

‘In some schools in this country, little is taught about the true meaning of Christmas, possibly because secular staff are unsympathetic to religious education or because of the fear of offending those of other faiths.

‘And broadcasters aren’t doing much to remedy this ignorance. It is difficult to find any children’s programmes that regularly deal with faith issues.’

Mr Bolton said there were ‘exceptions’ such as On Angel’s Wings, a BBC1 animation this Christmas, which is based on War Horse author, Michael Morpurgo’ s picture book.

It tells the Christmas story from the point of view of a young shepherd boy.

‘But there is little else in prospect, and the consequences of this lack of coverage are becoming evident,’ he said.

The presenter pointed to a Bible Society survey published earlier this year that claimed a quarter of children had ‘never read, seen or heard of Noah’s Ark’.

A similar proportion was ignorant of the Nativity; 43 per cent had never heard of the Crucifixion, and 53 per cent had ‘never read, seen or heard’ of Joseph and his coat of many colours.

Mr Bolton wrote: ‘Does this matter? I think it does, for both cultural and communal reasons.

‘The United Kingdom cannot be understood without appreciating the role Christian culture has played in its development, from the introduction of the parish system to the replacement of a monarch (James II) because he was a Roman Catholic.

‘In the time of Henry VIII what one believed about the doctrine of ‘transubstantiation’ was literally a matter of life and death.

‘Our 17th-century Civil War was fought in large part over the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings.

‘Without a knowledge of Christianity, what will our schoolchildren make of much of our finest literature and drama, filled as it is with Christian imagery? Or much of the finest European art?’

He added: ‘It is also vital that children of other faiths learn about Christmas. How can they begin to integrate into our country if they know little of the faith still at its heart?

‘Of course, the reverse applies, too. How can they feel welcome in this country if we make no real effort to understand what is often the most important thing to them and their families – their faiths?’

A better understanding of faith ‘would also do politicians no harm when they come to debate whether or not to intervene in parts of the world where religion is still a matter of life and death’.

Mr Bolton is trustee of the Sandford St Martin Trust Awards, which are given to encourage better coverage of religious and ethical issues in broadcasting.

Due to concerns about a lack of understanding of Christianity, it is introducing a new category in 2015 for children’s programmes.

The trust has previously given awards to programmes made about Jewish and Islamic subjects, and to programmes made by atheists.

Mr Bolton added: ‘Our roots, however, are in Christianity, like the UK as a whole, and while I will certainly buy the new Band Aid 30 single, Do They Know It’s Christmas? I also want all our children to know what Christmas really means.


Senior Tory MPs to tell PM to clear path for new grammar [selective] schools

Senior Conservative MPs will next week challenge David Cameron to clear the way for a new generation of grammar schools.

The chairman of the influential 1922 committee, Graham Brady, and former leadership contender David Davis are among those supporting the campaign, the Daily Mail has learned.

At present, the law forbids new grammar schools, whose intake is based on selection according to academic ability - only allowing existing institutions to open ‘satellites’ in new locations.

Theresa May, the home secretary, and Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, have broken ranks to back plans for new satellite grammar school campuses in their constituencies.

The option is being attempted by Conservative councillors in Kent, where Weald of Kent girls’ grammar school in Tonbridge has applied to open a site nine miles away in Sevenoaks.

But a poll this week showed that 54 per cent of voters say that they would support entirely new grammar schools in areas where there was evidence parents wanted them, such as petitions in support.

Don Porter, founder of Conservative Voice, the party pressure group which is behind the new campaign, said: ‘We want to ensure that in the Conservative Party manifesto there is a clear commitment to reverse the legislation preventing the creation of new grammar schools.

‘Our followers are strongly of the opinion that new grammar schools will both enhance social mobility and present parents with choice, both of which lie at the heart of the Conservative Party’s values.’

Mr Brady, a former frontbencher, said the closure of selective grammars ‘is one of the things which is building a less cohesive society’.

Mr Davis, the former shadow home secretary, said: ‘They [grammar schools] are still a motor for social mobility but nothing like as good as it used to be. That is all down to, I am afraid, a massive failure in public policy, a massive failure in confidence in high quality education for bright kids.’

Esher and Walton MP Dominic Raab, a member of the Commons education select committee, said: ‘There’s no silver bullet to reviving stagnant social mobility in Britain. But grammar schools are a key piece of the policy jigsaw, creating a ladder of opportunity for talented and hard-working youngsters from council estates and rural backwaters.’

Research for Conservative Voice found 84 per cent of people said that grammar schools are a valuable asset to the British education system. Some 80 per cent believe that grammar schools make the education system fairer.

Two thirds of parents say they would enter their child for an 11+ exam and send them to a grammar school if they passed.

David Cameron has long resisted calls to pledge to expand selective schooling in the Tory manifesto. The architects of the coalition’s school reforms hoped that controversy over grammar schools in the party could be put to rest by focusing on all-ability academies and free schools.

In the 1970s, Margaret Thatcher - herself a grammar school girl - allowed local councils to decide themselves whether their schools should remain selective grammars when she was the education secretary.

It proved to be a political misjudgment, since many councils took the opportunity to end selective state education.

There are now around 160 grammar schools left in England – mostly in the home counties.


The UVA Rapists Should Not Have Been Expelled, They Should Have Gone to Jail

It’s difficult to imagine a more callous, wholly inadequate response to a culture of seemingly rampant sexual assault at the University of Virginia (UVA) than the one its administrators practiced year after year, according to a horrifying account finally publicized by Rolling Stone last week. But that’s precisely what happens when an entity equipped only to deal with academic misbehavior is instead pushed to do something about sexual assault: it finds itself putting the university’s brand name first and the victims second.

The lesson of the UVA assault, then, is that efforts undertaken by state governments and federal agencies to beef up university adjudication of sex crimes—including the increasing popular “yes means yes” bills—are doomed to failure. Students will never see justice so long as colleges, rather than the police, are expected to intervene in rape cases.

Rolling Stone’s expose, which quickly went viral, details the unbelievable ordeal of an 18-year-old freshman, "Jackie," in the fall of 2012. The crime took place at Phi Kappa Psi, where Jackie was attending her first fraternity party with a date, a Phi Psi junior, who eventually lured her to an upstairs bedroom. Jackie then endured three hours of agonizing violence at the hands of seven students, who held her down while they raped her. One male, whom she recognized, brutalized her with a beer can instead. Hours later she fled the frat house battered and bloody.

Little could have been worse than that ordeal. But the quiet indifference of the people in whom Jackie confided came close. Her friends dissuaded her from going to the hospital or calling the police. Jackie recalled one saying, "She's gonna be the girl who cried 'rape,' and we'll never be allowed into any frat party again," as if the potential loss of social status was the real crime here.

Worse still, university administrators did nothing to correct the notion that keeping quiet was the best policy. A few months later, after finally working up the courage to go to the administration, Jackie told Nicole Eramo, head of UVA’s Sexual Misconduct Board, about her assault. Eramo gave her four options: file a police report, file a formal complaint with the university, file an "informal" complaint, or do nothing. The informal complaint process would have obligated the accused to face Jackie in Eramo’s presence, and the administrator would have suggested some kind of resolution. The formal complaint process offers the possibility of an academic punishment, like suspension or expulsion. Eramo didn’t express a preference for one option or the other; Jackie ultimately did nothing, and that was just fine from the university’s perspective.

Only after Rolling Stone publicized Jackie’s story—including the fact that multiple other rape accusations went unreported, including at least two more accusations of gang rape at Phi Psi—did UVA express any interest in doing something.

People are outraged, and they should be. It’s a travesty that such a terrible culture of sexual violence endures at perhaps the quintessential American public university, founded by the likes of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe.

Yet much of that outrage is misdirected. One of the most common reactions to the Rolling Stone story seems to be this curious question: why weren’t the rapists expelled? Indeed, much of the broader coverage has focused on the fact that no student has ever been expelled for rape at UVA. BuzzFeed’s report on the issue led with the headline, "You Can Admit to Raping Someone at UVA and Not Be Expelled." Jezebel, zoning in on Eramo’s assertion that even if a rapist admitted guilt during an informal resolution he wouldn’t be expelled, wrote: "UVA Dean Admits School Doesn’t Expel People Who Have Admitted to Rape." Many news outlets ran similar headlines.

The mother of a UVA student who reported her rape summarized this position thusly: "In what world do you get kicked out for cheating, but if you rape someone, you can stay?"

That sentiment makes for a great outrage quote, but it’s entirely wrong. Cheating and raping are not related things. The former is in academic infraction deserving an academic punishment, like expulsion; the latter is a violent crime deserving a rigorous police investigation. Students who are confessed rapists shouldn’t be expelled, they should be put in jail.

Merely ejecting rapists from a campus community would be a terrible approach. Rapists, experts tell us, are serial predators. They are public health hazards. Shuffling them from community to community, rather than confronting their misdeeds in a criminal setting, would allow them to claim additional victims. Do the bureaucrats at the Department of Education—who are now mandating that universities at least consider expelling rapists—really sleep any better at night with the knowledge that they have made it more difficult for violent criminals to earn degrees?

Treating rape as akin to plagiarism, or copying off someone else’s test, trivializes violence against women. What UVA administrators did, in listening to students’ accusations and failing to report them to police time and time again, is worse than trivializing: it’s an outright cover-up. Eramo reportedly justified UVA’s policy of burying rape accusations when she told Jackie, "Nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school." That stunning moment of honesty should disabuse everyone of the notion that sexual assault adjudication belongs in the hands of university administrators.

Indeed, when colleges do intervene in rape cases, the result is fewer freedoms for everyone, but still no justice. Just look at UVA’s latest response to the controversy: administrators, eager to look like they are doing something, have now suspended all campus fraternity activities. But that’s legally dubious—students enjoy broad First Amendment protections and have the constitutional right to join clubs and plan activities. Similarly, when universities do take formal disciplinary actions against accused rapists, they typically violate those students’ due process rights by denying them adequate representation and convicting them under tragically low evidence standards. There is no justice here: Innocent students have their rights violated and their lives ruined, while actual rapists get off far too lightly—they don’t go to jail.

If the government and the colleges were truly interested in addressing the campus rape epidemic, there is one big thing they could do: work together to come up with a saner drinking age. Older students, who enjoy legal access to booze, are the distributors of alcohol on campus; underage students who want to drink have to hit the frats and house-party scenes and accept mystery drinks from people they don’t know. One way to curb the abuses of fraternity parties and campus binge-drinking culture is to give 18-year-olds legal access to bars, something a repeal of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act would accomplish.

Absent that proactive step, the best way to confront campus rape is to treat the issue with the seriousness it deserves and make violent crime the business of the normal criminal justice system. UVA's cowardly, PR-wary cover-up of its own rape problem should serve as a lesson to anyone who thinks otherwise.


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