Friday, February 28, 2014
U. of Iowa president apologizes for referring to human nature
The University of Iowa president has apologized for a remark she made to the student newspaper about sex assaults on campus.
In an interview published Feb. 18 in The Daily Iowan, President Sally Mason said she was dismayed by the reports of sexual assaults. She said "the goal would be to end that, to never have another sexual assault. That's probably not a realistic goal just given human nature, and that's unfortunate. ..."
Criticism erupted over the phrase that includes "human nature."
The Iowa City Press-Citizen says Mason apologized during a President's Forum on Tuesday.
Mason said she's been told by several people in the campus community that her remark was hurtful. She said she was "very, very sorry for any pain that my words might have caused."
Education Improves When Parents Can Bypass Clueless Bureaucrats
A portrait of stagnation! That’s how U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan summarized the performance of American 15-year-old students, who slipped in the latest international rankings in reading, math and science.
This wasn’t supposed to happen with a U.S. Department of Education. At the Oct, 17, 1979, Department of Education Organization Act signing ceremony, President Jimmy Carter insisted that he had come to office “determined” to improve the return on Americans’ education investment.
“I don’t know what history will show, but my guess is that the best move...might very well be this establishment of this new Department of Education,” he remarked at the time.
History has proved Carter wrong, since overall student performance is no better today with a federal Education Department than it was decades ago without one. But we’re sure a lot poorer in the pocketbook.
Results on the Nation’s Report Card for 9-year-olds, 13-year-olds and 17-year-olds in reading, math and science have virtually flat-lined since the early 1970s—even though total public school funding more than doubled in real terms since then—increasing nearly $400 billion, while student enrollment has grown less than 10 percent.
Opponents predicted such failure when the original Department of Education was established—in 1867.
Back then opponents objected that the federal government just isn’t qualified to manage education, so creating a centralized bureaucracy filled with clerks who can’t teach a single student the A-B-C’s was derided as a useless extravagance.
After being downgraded to relative obscurity as the Office of Education in 1888, plans for resurrecting the department emerged during the Carter administration—largely at the behest of the country’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association.
Twentieth-century opponents from both sides of the aisle again derided the notion that the feds or special interest groups know what’s best for schoolchildren. Supporters also couldn’t provide a shred of evidence that student achievement would improve under federal “leadership.”
Rather than waiting around a few more decades for some elusive federal know-how to miraculously kick in, we should turn to the states for evidence of actual academic improvement, particularly among disadvantaged students.
This year, nearly 245,000 students are attending schools that their parents have chosen for them through 32 voucher and tax-credit scholarship programs operating in 16 states and the District of Columbia, as well as one educational savings account program in Arizona. Scientific research consistently shows that participating students have higher graduation and college attendance rates, as well as higher reading and math scores than their peers.
These are compelling findings because students participating in parental choice programs are overwhelmingly from low-income families and previously had attended failing schools.
The reason choice programs succeed where multi-billion dollar federal Department of Education programs fail is simple. Parents are the real education experts. Unlike far-off federal politicians and bureaucrats, parents have only one special interest—their children.
Parents empowered to enroll their children in schools they think are best—regardless of their income or address—introduce immediate rewards for schools that perform well and unwelcome consequences for those that don’t.
When schools have to compete for students, all children win—not just those participating in parental choice programs. More than 200 scientific analyses show beneficial effects of competition on public schools, including higher student achievement, graduation rates, efficiency, teacher salaries and smaller class sizes.
Nowhere does the word “education” appear in the Constitution. In fact, “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,” according to the 10th Amendment.
Nowadays the very notion of denying the federal government any unenumerated power is almost unthinkable. Yet, given the federal government’s track record, the Framers of the Constitution were right to make the primacy of states and local citizens over education the supreme law of the land.
'Pushy parents are exactly what we want': British Minister says others should be 'dragged' out of homes to take an interest in school
Schools minister David Laws said he backed 'sharp-elbowed parents' and urged headteachers to challenge parents who do not engage
Pushy parents who move house to get into the best schools today won the whole-hearted backing of the government.
Education minister David Laws leapt to the defence of ‘sharp-elbowed parents’ who were only trying to help their children to succeed in life. Condemning a ‘tolerance of failure’ in schools and councils in many areas, he said parents who invest time in money in their children’s education is ‘exactly what we want’.
And he suggested that where parents were not taking an interest, headteachers should 'drag' them out of their homes.
The government has insisted more needs to be done to close the attainment gap between working class children and those with better off parents.
Mr Laws said parental engagement with school and whether parents are in work plays a key part in performance in lessons and pupil aspiration.
Surveys suggest middle class parents are prepared to pay up to 170 per cent property price premiums to live close to Britain’s top private primary schools.
Property prices close to England’s top 30 state secondary schools are on average £31,500 – or 12 per cent - higher than neighbouring areas.
It means poorer families often struggle to live in the catchment areas of the best schools.
But Mr Laws refused to criticise parents who used their own wealth and ambition to improve their children’s prospects.
‘People sometimes do complain about sharp-elbowed parents and people who seek to invest a huge amount of money to give their young people opportunities in life.
‘But we shouldn’t complain about any parent who is doing those things – whether they’re in the state sector or the private sector.
‘To do all you can to help your children to succeed in life is exactly what we want everybody to be doing,’ he told MPs on the education select committee.
‘So I’m afraid that we can’t cap any of those opportunities. What we need to do is extend them to those young people who are not getting them at the moment.’
Last month Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said that the Government should consider rewarding 'good citizens' who knock on their neighbours' doors and demand to know why their children are not in school.
He said: 'How do you financially incentivise these people to get up in the morning, knock on the neighbours' door, and say your children are not up yet, they've not had their breakfast yet, why aren't you taking them to school?'
But today Mr Laws insisted it was a role for headteachers and not neighbours to ensure parents were involved.
He said: 'We need more headteachers like Sir Michael Wilshaw used to be, the type of person who would, if he had problems with children and aspirations, probably go round to their flat and drag the parent out, not quite kicking and screaming, but to engage in education.'
In 2010 David Cameron admitted he and wife Samantha were part of the ‘sharp-elbowed middle classes’ who took over public services like SureStart centres.
Last month leading headmaster Anthony Seldon said rich parents should be charged £20,000 a year for their children to attend the best state schools.
The head of £11,000-a-term Wellington College in Berkshire argued families should become liable for the fees if they had a combined household income of £80,000 a year or more.
Making the wealthy pay for state education would end the wasteful and unfair gap between the academic achievements and career prospects of the richest and poorest children in the UK, he claimed.
Tory Education Secretary Michael Gove has vowed to close the gap between private and state schools.
Mr Laws said the attainment gap between white working class children and other students was ‘pretty disgraceful’.
He added that it was ‘frustrating’ that in 2014, low aspirations and an ‘excuses culture’ still existed.
Headteachers should be willing to go round to pupils' houses and confront parents if their school was facing problems of low expectations and aspirations, he said.
Mr Laws added: 'There are obviously schools and local authorities in all parts of the country where aspirations are very high. And that will be based on good leadership in local authorities or schools or academy chains.
'But there are too many where even today, after all the pressure of the last government and this government, aspirations are way too low in local areas, in schools, in local authorities.'
Posted by jonjayray at 1:50 AM
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Student Suspended Over Fishing Knife In Car
Zero-tolerance policies continue to make zero sense. David Duren-Sanner, a senior at Northeast High School in Clarksville, Tennessee, has been suspended for the crime of unknowingly transporting a fishing knife onto school grounds. Duren-Sanner's father is a commercial fisherman who uses the knife for work and had accidentally left it in his car before his son drove it to school. The knife was found when Duren-Sanner's car was randomly selected during a search at school.
On Thursday, Duren-Sanner, a senior at Northeast High School drove his father's car to school. During a random lockdown, his car was chosen to be searched.
Duren-Sanner gave permission because he said he had nothing to hide.
His father is a commercial fisherman on the West Coast and had apparently left a fishing knife in the car. Duren-Sanner's father said it might have been wedged between one of the seats.
Duren-Sanner said he told school officials and the Sheriff's department the car was his father's and he didn't know the knife was in it.
"He's like 'it doesn't matter it was in your possession anyway,'" Duren-Sanner said.
Duren-Sanner has been suspended for ten days and will be moved to an "alternative" school for three months.
This is ridiculous. Duren-Sanner isn't a criminal. He didn't bring the knife into school and there's no evidence he was actually going to do anything illegal with the knife. The school overreacted in this case. People make mistakes—and this was definitely one of those instances. Giving Duren-Sanner the same punishment as someone who actually carried out an attack on a teacher or student is absolutely absurd.
Common sense apparently isn't so common in Clarksville.
California college student teaches school $50,000 lesson on Constitution
A California college student who was blocked last year from handing out copies of the Constitution gave his school a lesson in civics and the law, winning a $50,000 settlement and an agreement to revise its speech codes.
Robert Van Tuinen, 26, settled with Modesto Junior College just five months after his run-in with school officials on Sept. 17 – National Constitution Day. Van Tuinen said he’s more excited about getting the school to revise its speech codes, which previously confined the First Amendment to a small area students had to sign up to use.
“They were maintaining an unconstitutional speech code, and now any of my fellow students can go out and exercise their right to free speech,” Van Tuinen, an Army veteran who grew up in Modesto and now studies photography, told FoxNews.com.
Back in September, FoxNews.com aired the video Van Tuinen took of his confrontation with school officials.
In the video, Van Tuinen is confronted by an unidentified campus police officer within minutes of passing out the pamphlets. When he protests, he is told “there are rules.”
“But do you know what this is?” he asks. “What are the rules? Why are the rules tied to my free speech?”
Van Tuinen explains that he wants to start an organization called Young Americans for Liberty.
“That’s fine, but if you’re going to start an organization like that you have to go through the rigamarole,” the police officer tells him.
"It was a tense situation," Van Tuinen told FoxNews.com. "To be told I can't do something as basic as handing out the Constitution was frustrating."
Eventually, the police officer escorts Van Tuinen into an administrative office, where an unidentified woman shows him a binder with rules she says govern free speech on campus. She explains that there is a designated place “in front of the student center, in that little cement area,” where free expression is allowed, but then notes that two people are already using it.
The episode caught the attention of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which, together with a Washington law firm, took his case to federal court in the Eastern District of California. But by then, school officials had already started backpedaling.
"In the case of the YouTube video, it does not appear that the student was disrupting the orderly operations of the college and therefore we are looking into the incident," Modesto Junior College Marketing and Public Relations officer Linda Hoile told FoxNews.com at the time.
On Monday, the school settled the case by agreeing to revise its policies to allow free speech in open areas across campus and pay Van Tuinen $50,000. Although much of it will go to legal fees, Van Tuinen said he'll happily use what's left to to pay off other bills.
British parents told to force schools to change term times so they can take children on cheaper holidays
Micheal Gove said yesterday parents should lobby their child’s school to change its term dates to avoid paying inflated prices for a family holiday.
The Education Secretary attacked the travel industry for raising prices at peak times, but argued that many schools have the power to set their own dates. Around 70 per cent of secondary schools and 30 per cent of primaries can do so, but not those run by councils.
However, the Coalition has drawn up laws to extend the power to all schools by September next year.
A holiday during half-terms such as last week can be twice as expensive as the week before.
But Mr Gove said it was ‘wrong’ for parents to take children away in term time and defended tough penalties brought in last year for those who flout the rules.
He said: ‘There’s no need to sacrifice your child’s education in order to secure a cheaper holiday. Schools now have the freedom to change their term dates in order to allow students and families the opportunity to go on holiday at different times.
‘My view is that the holiday industry needs to look at itself in the mirror and ask if it is doing enough.’ He added that ‘parents have the freedom to ask schools to be flexible and understanding’ when fixing term dates.
Mr Gove’s intervention came as a Westminster debate was held on the subject after 170,000 signed a petition for action over the high prices of going away during school holidays.
Last month a father vented his fury on Facebook about trying to book a Center Parcs holiday with his seven-year-old daughter. Paul Cookson found the price for October half-term was £300 higher than the week before and wrote: ‘I don’t think I should be penalised for sticking to the rules.’
Donna Thresher, the mother who created the petition calling for a cap on price increases, wrote: ‘Family time is so much more essential in the current working world, but so many people cannot afford holidays in school holidays … It’s time to stop the holiday companies cashing in on school holidays and let parents have some guilt-free family time!’
The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills told her there was ‘fierce competition’ in the travel market and the trend of costs rising at peak times enabled firms to make ‘reasonable profit’ at times of low demand.
Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming warned that allowing schools to set dates could be difficult for parents with children at different schools. He suggested the German approach of dividing the country into regions with different holidays, or cutting Air Passenger Duty at peak times.
A spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents said the best solution would be for schools to ‘stagger the dates they take their holidays’.
David Cameron’s official spokesman said schools could use new powers to alter the school day to allow parents to take their children on a break when prices are lower.
It comes ahead of a debate in Parliament on how travel firms charge as much as £600 more if families travel during school holidays.
Almost 170,000 signatures signed an e-petition highlighting the importance of ‘family time’, and accusing holiday companies of ‘cashing in on school holidays’.
The scale of the parent backlash has now triggered a debate in Parliament, with MPs demanding ministers revisit new rules which make it harder for parents to take their children out of school during term time.
The idea of staggering school term dates to spread the demand for family breaks was backed by the Association of British Travel Agents.
On average prices during school holidays rise by up to 30 per compared with term time.
The trade body said: 'Price rises during school holidays and other busy periods are down to supply and demand.
'More people in the UK and across Europe want to take holidays in July and August, at Easter and at Christmas, therefore prices rise during these times, as there is increased demand for a finite number of hotel rooms and flight seats.
'ABTA believes that the best potential solution to relieve the pressure of demand during the short window of the school holidays is for schools to consider staggering the dates they take their holidays which would allow more British families to take breaks in periods of lower demand.'
While moving school holidays to times when prices are lower might seem like a solution to the problem it is fraught with problems. Holiday companies would be likely to put their prices up across more weeks of the year. And parents with children at different schools could find themselves juggling different holidays and having to find even more childcare across the year.
Anne Longfield, chief executive of national charity 4Children said: 'The hugely inflated prices families face when planning a holiday during the school holidays cannot be justified. 'Pressures on families have been mounting over recent years with strains on job security, household finances and relationships all taking their toll. 'That's why it's important that families are able to take a break from their daily anxieties and spend quality time together.'
The e-petition which triggered today’s debate was launched by mother-of-two Donna Thresher from Essex after discovering the huge price disparities between deals in term time and during school holidays.
The e-petition said: ‘Family time is so much more essential in the current working world, but so many people cannot afford holidays in school holidays. ‘A break at home is not the same as getting away from it all where there isn't any house work or DIY to get done, instead focus is on family. It's time to stop the holiday companies cashing in on school holidays and let parents have some guilt free family time! ‘Enforce action that caps the percentage increase on holiday prices in school holidays.’
The formal response to the e-petition on the Government website said there is ‘fierce competition’ in the holiday market and that holiday companies seek to make a reasonable profit during the peak periods to make up for quiet periods throughout the year.
The e-petition said responsibility for this policy area sits with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
The response on the e-petition said: ‘In a competitive market it is for business to decide the market worth of their products and to price accordingly.
‘In the holiday market there is fierce competition for custom. Prices rises in peak periods are a reflection of the international competition holiday companies face for hotel accommodation and other services in destinations which are popular with consumers from many other countries and where there are limits to capacity.
Posted by jonjayray at 2:01 AM
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Millions of Dollars Misplaced in DC Scholarship Program
More oversight in the nation’s capital. The District of Columbia's Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) program, intended to help students and families pay for college, providing up to $50,000 a year to students who attend eligible schools, has failed to account for millions of taxpayer dollars:
Congress has allocated between $17 million and $35 million a year for the program and at least $30 million annually since 2006. But according to the audit, TAG officials could not document or explain nearly $10 million in expenses since 2004.
A few more specifics from the revealing audit:
Most of the uncertainty stems from two charges to TAG for which no explanation could be found, according to the audit by F.S. Taylor and Associates, a District-based CPA firm. More than $5 million in TAG funds was used for unknown purposes in fiscal 2004, the audit says, and $4 million in TAG funds was used to pay for “administrative contracts” in fiscal 2008, exceeding the program’s cap on allowable administrative costs.
So, in other words, what could have been a worthy initiative has turned into a Grade A scandal. Since TAG began in 2000, more than $317 million has gone to help more than 20,000 students pay for college. The aid is specifically saved for families who have incomes under $1 million a year and students who attend public schools outside the city, private schools in the D.C. region and historically black colleges. But, the endless amount of embarrassing revelations are leaving many to wonder if the program deserves its federal funding:
Agency staff decide whether students receiving TAG funds are D.C. residents and eligible for the money, but there is no routine quality-control mechanism to review those decisions, auditors found. And there is no regular reconciliation between the software the OSSE uses to track TAG money and the citywide finance system that records expenditures, leading to large discrepancies and confusion about how much money is available for students.
The next question is: Is there anything being done about the oversight? Don’t worry, Eleanor Holmes Norton is on the case.The D.C. delegate, who has championed TAG in Congress, said she will ask the new D.C. chief financial officer to lead a much-needed review of the program:
“The draft report raises concerns about the sufficiency of internal controls at the D.C. TAG program,” Norton said Friday. “While the report is troubling, the auditors may have discovered unexpected carry-over funds, which, if accurate, should allow more D.C. students to access D.C. TAG.”
Okay, but Norton’s reassurances likely won’t put taxpayers at ease anytime soon. What do you think? Should this plan be scrapped?
Allegheny College Calls Pro-Life Students "Dangerous"
Allegheny College, a small liberal arts school in Pennsylvania, had an odd reaction to pro-life students who distributed flyers in academic buildings: they issued a campus alert, called the students "dangerous," and treated it like a major security breach.
From the Daily Caller:
The incident occurred on Feb. 7. Apparently, someone slipped pro-life flyers under the doors of professors’ offices in the Arter, Quigley, Steffee and Arnold buildings. Joseph DiChristina, the dean of students at Allegheny, decided to treat this like a security breach, and wrote in an email to campus that security personnel were investigating it.
“Promoting a particular point of view through this type of anonymous method is seen as an act that is antithetical to the kind of environment where open dialogue and conversation can take place,” he wrote in the email. “We ask that individuals engage in respectful behavior that promotes a free exchange of ideas. It is important that we value all people and that we not promote behaviors that cause harm and that can be seen as intimidating."
Allegheny officials had not released what was actually on the flyer, just that it contained pro-life content.
When I was in college, I had flyers advertising everything from community events to cheerleading tryouts slipped anonymously under my door. If the content of the flyer isn't "threatening," then the action cannot possibly be construed as such. Something is majorly fishy about this story and Allegheny College's reaction.
Solutions to Black Education
Walter E. Williams
A fortnight ago, my column focused on how Philadelphia's schoolteachers have joined public-school teachers in cities such as Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, Columbus, New York and Washington in changing student scores on academic achievement tests. Teachers have held grade fixing parties, sometimes wearing rubber gloves to hide fingerprints. In some cases, poorly performing students were excused from taking exams to prevent them from dragging down averages. As a result of investigations, a number of schoolteachers and administrators have been suspended, fired or indicted by states attorneys general.
Most of these cheating scandals have occurred in predominantly black schools across the nation. At one level, it's easy to understand -- but by no means condone -- the motivation teachers have to cheat. Teachers have families to raise, mortgages, car payments and other financial obligations. Their pay, retention and promotions depend on how well their students perform on standardized tests.
Very often, teachers must deal with an impossible classroom atmosphere in which many, if not most, of the students are disorderly, disobedient and alien and hostile to the education process. Many students pose a significant safety threat. The latest statistics available, published by the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, in a report titled "Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2012," tell us that nationwide between 2007 and 2008, about 145,100 public-school teachers were physically attacked by students, and another 276,700 were threatened with injury.
Should any of this criminal behavior be tolerated? Should unruly students be able to halt the education process? And, a question particularly for black people: Are we in such good educational shape that we can afford to allow some students to make education impossible? A report supported in part by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, titled "Reducing Suspension among Academically Disengaged Black Males" (http://tinyurl.com/my95jh3), suggests a tolerance for disruptive students.
There are some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP and the National Urban League who attended school during the years I attended (1942-54). During those days, no youngster would have even cursed a teacher, much less assaulted one. One has to wonder why black leaders accept behavior that never would have been tolerated by their parents and teachers. Back then, to use foul language or assault a teacher or any other adult would have resulted in some form of corporal punishment in school or at home or both. Today such discipline would have a teacher or parent jailed. That, in turn, means there is little or no meaningful sanction against unruly or criminal behavior.
No one argues that yesteryear's students were angels. In Philadelphia, where I grew up, students who posed severe disciplinary problems were removed. Daniel Boone School was for unruly boys, and Carmen was for girls. Some people might respond: But what are we going to do with the students kicked out? Whether or not there are resources to help them is not the issue. The critical issue is whether they should be permitted to make education impossible for students who are capable of learning. It's a policy question similar to: What do you do when you have both drunken drivers and sober drivers on the road? The first order of business is to get the drunken drivers off the road. Whether there are resources available to help the drunks is, at best, a secondary issue.
There is little that the political and education establishment will do about the grossly fraudulent education received by many black youngsters, and more money is not the answer. For example, according to findings by Cato Institute's Andrew J. Coulson, Washington, D.C., spends $29,409 per pupil (http://tinyurl.com/mpc82dq). In terms of academic achievement, its students are nearly the nation's worst. The average tuition for a K-12 Catholic school is $9,000, and for a nonsectarian private K-12 school, it is $16,000. A voucher system would empower black parents to remove their children from high-cost and low-quality public schools and enroll them in lower-cost and higher-quality nonpublic schools.
Posted by jonjayray at 1:55 AM
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Lotteries used to break middle-class hold on British school places
More destructive Leftist thinking. A school is only "good" if its pupils are. The best buildings and the best teachers will do little if large numbers of dumb and unruly pupils are introduced to the school. Random admissions simply ensure that NO school is good
Tens of thousands of children face losing the automatic right to a place at their local secondary school amid a surge in the number of comprehensives using lottery-style admissions policies.
Figures show that around one-in-12 schools employ rules designed to engineer a more balanced student body and break the middle-class stranglehold on places.
Research by the Telegraph reveals that the number of highly oversubscribed secondary schools employing lotteries or “fair banding” systems rises close to 100 per cent in parts of London.
Across England, half of councils confirmed at least one school used them.
The shift is being driven by an increase in the number of academies and free schools that control their own admissions policies – independent of local council control.
The head of one major academies chain told the Telegraph that it was no longer “inherently fair or good for our society” to allow parents to move into the catchment area of a top school to secure a place.
Just a week before almost 600,000 children across England are allocated secondary schools for September, Sir Daniel Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation, said it was wrong for an academy in an affluent area to “take its entire intake from right next door because it would be socially exclusive”.
A report to be published this week by the Sutton Trust will also reinforce the case for dismantling traditional catchment areas, saying access to the most popular comprehensives should “not be limited to those who can afford to pay a premium on their mortgages or rents”.
But the disclosure will provoke an outcry among parents who fear children’s futures are being dictated by the “roll of a dice”, with pupils often being turned away from a nearby school in favour of one several miles away.
Janette Wallis, senior editor of The Good Schools Guide, said: “Lotteries for school places are unpopular with parents. It makes school allocation feel excessively random and you end up with the awful cases of children who live on a school's doorstep being given a school across town.
“Most parents we talk to prefer the devil they know to the devil they don't.
The Department for Education said admissions were run by individual schools or councils but insisted places “should be allocated in a fair and transparent way”.
Parents will find out which state secondary school their children have been allocated as part of National Offer Day on Monday, March 3.
Most schools have traditionally allocated places based on distance between a pupil’s home and the school gates. It has allowed wealthier parents to buy property close to the best schools to secure places, with research suggesting that living in the catchment area of a highly sought-after institution can add an average £31,500 “premium” on to house prices.
But admissions guidance first introduced by Labour allows institutions to employ a series of measures designed to break the stranglehold.
Lotteries – or “random allocation” – involve some or all applicants having their names drawn from a ballot, giving pupils living several miles away the same chance of a place as those next door.
The “fair banding” system sees all applicants sit an aptitude test, with a set number of bright, average and low-ability pupils being admitted. Schools usually use distance or a lottery to decide who gets a place within each ability band.
Mrs Wallis said many parents "find fair banding complicated", but insisted it was preferable to straight lotteries because "its goals are clearer".
Last week, the Telegraph obtained data on the admissions policies of more than 1,400 schools – 43 per cent of those nationally.
Half of local authorities surveyed said at least one school in their area used lotteries, fair banding or both.
In total, eight per cent – one-in-12 – of the schools identified employed these admissions policies. Twice as many used fair banding as lotteries.
Extrapolated nationally, it would result in more than 260 schools using them.
Controversially, Brighton Council introduced rules in 2007 requiring all local oversubscribed schools to allocate places using random allocation.
The Coalition has since banned local authorities from imposing city-wide admissions lotteries.
But figures obtained by the Telegraph show that lotteries or banding systems are used by large numbers of schools in some areas to allocate places for this September.
In Hackney, east London, 10 out of 15 schools employ fair banding and two – The Petchey Academy and Mossbourne Community Academy – use both systems.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Sir Daniel said all Harris secondary academies used banding and two also employed lottery systems.
“I don’t think there is anything inherently fair in saying, ‘if I live right next to a school I need to get a place’,” he said.
“We have got some schools in quite affluent areas where there are multi-million pound homes – think Crystal Palace – and it would be wrong for that school to take its entire intake from right next door because it would be socially exclusive.
“So it uses fair banding and a lottery to take its children from a wider spread and that seems fair.
“I don’t see why it’s fair for someone living a quarter of a mile away to have a smaller chance of getting in than someone who’s next door because they can pay higher house prices.”
This week, a report from the Sutton Trust will show the full extent to which random allocation and banding is employed within England’s state education system.
It will recommend the adoption of a national banding exam for schools that choose to use the system – ending the current policy in which secondaries use a myriad of different tests.
Conor Ryan, the trust’s director of research, said: “Access to the most popular comprehensives should not be limited to those who can afford to pay a premium on their mortgages or rents. Banding or random allocation can allow pupils to access these schools from a wider area, and this can mean fairer admissions in heavily oversubscribed inner city schools.”
The latest issue of The Good Schools Guide – released this month – says lotteries “are starting to appear in popular city schools”, adding that there is “no known way of working this system to your advantage and when lots of schools in an area ballot for entry it can lead to parents having no effective influence on where there child goes”.
A DfE spokesman said: “More and more parents have the choice of a good school place thanks to our reforms – the number of children in failing secondary schools has fallen by a quarter of a million since 2010.
“We have turned these schools round by allowing outstanding sponsors and brilliant heads to lead them. We have given our teachers the freedom to teach the way they know works best. We are introducing a rigorous new curriculum and tough new exams that will match the world’s best. We are also allowing good schools to expand and great new schools to open where parents want them.
“The new admissions code is clear that all school places should be allocated in a fair and transparent way.”
Fury at school places lotteries: Local children losing out on best places as one in 12 comprehensives shun traditional catchment areas
Local pupils are losing out on going to the best schools, as new figures reveal one in 12 comprehensives are shunning traditional catchment areas.
In an attempt to break the middle-class stranglehold on top state schools, many are using 'lottery' systems to choose children from a far wider area than in the past.
Some are using a method of random picking of names out a hat from all applications; including those from miles away with no preference for children living nearby.
Others are using a system called 'fair banding' with aptitude tests for all applicants and then selecting equal numbers of 'bright, average and low ability' pupils.
The findings come from a survey of 1,400 schools - around 43pc of those in Britain. One in 12 used one of these systems, and fair banding was twice as common as random allocation of places.
The practice has become widespread with half of local authorities questioned saying there was at least one school in their area which used these methods .
Brighton council introduced controversial rules in 2007 requiring all local schools to accept pupils based o random allocation.
The Coalition has banned local authorities from using citywide admissions, but the Department for Education say schools and councils can otherwise run their own admission policy as long as places are 'allocated in a fair and transparent way'.
These systems are believed to be spreading across the state sector after being pioneered in academies and free schools, and are aimed at giving poorer children a better chance of success.
The head of one major chain of academies said it was no longer 'inherently fair or good for society' to let parents move into the catchment area of a good school to guarantee their child a place.
But the policy provokes anger among parents, whose child has lost out on a place at a school across the road due to a 'roll of the dice'. In the past schools usually allocated places based on the distance of a pupil's home from the school gates. A good school in an area can add £30,000 to local house prices.
Janette Wallis, senior editor at The Good Schools Guide, told the Sunday Telegraph: 'Lotteries for school places are unpopular with parents. It makes school allocation feel excessively random and you end up with awful cases of children who live on a school's doorstep being given a school across town.'
A report by the Sutton Trust think tank this week is expected to bolster the case for random allocation, saying comprehensives should 'not be limited to those who can afford to pay a premium on their mortgage or rent.'
So far 1,014 state schools have been taken out of local authority control.
But Sir Daniel Moynihan, the head of the Harris Federation which is one of the largest chains of academies yesterday spoke of the 'very very heavy resistance' this programme has attracted from local authorities. He accused councils of being too willing to accept 'failing' schools as inevitable.
Inner-city academy investigated after being accused of 'side-lining' its non-Muslim staff and trying to put Islamic studies on curriculum
An 'outstanding' inner-city academy is to be investigated over claims non-Muslim staff are being treated unfairly and staff are attempting to introduce Islamic studies to the curriculum.
Non faith-based Park View Academy in the Alum Rock area of Birmingham was the first academy in Britain to be rated 'outstanding' by Ofsted.
It will now be investigated by Department of Education (DfE) officials following a complaint by an employee.
The complaint is believed to include claims non-Muslim staff are being treated unfairly at the state school - which also manages two other schools in the city.
The unnamed employee also claims the school has been attempting to introduce Islamic studies on to the curriculum, it is believed.
This is not the first time the DfE has received a complaint about the school. In 2013 Ofsted was informed the school ruled female students were not to be taught tennis by male teachers.
Today, the department said they were aware of the concerns surrounding the school and they will take firm action is any breaches of statutory public sector equality duty are found.
The case will no doubt draw comparisons to controversies surrounding Britain's first Muslim free school - the Al-Madinah school in Derby, which will now stop teaching in summer.
The Government was forced to step in after an Ofsted report warned the academy in Derby was in chaos.
The schools inspectorate report detailed concerns over quality of teaching and the curriculum at the academy, amid claims it was imposing strict Islamic practices such as forcing women to wear headscarves.
Schools minister Lord Nash said at the time: ‘It would simply not be in the interests of parents or pupils at the secondary school to continue to fund provision which has failed them in the manner now apparent.’
A source in Whitehall told The Sunday Times the DfE did not want the school to 'become another Al-Madinah'. They added the department were keen to make sure the school was still viewed as one of the best in the country.
Lindsey Clark, Park View's executive head, said faith classes were being organised - but for after school lessons. She said it was a 'safeguarding issue' for children being hit in local madrasahs.
She said a large number of Muslims worked among a mixed workforce at the school.
She did however admit the school's governors ruled female pupils must only be taught my female teachers.
The DfE said: 'We are aware of concerns around this school and are looking into the issues raised. All state schools must comply with the statutory public sector equality duty.
'We will not hesitate to take firm action if breaches of these requirements occur. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.'
Posted by jonjayray at 1:41 AM
Monday, February 24, 2014
Why Parents Are "Paranoid" About Common Core
This week's award for Biggest Common Core Jerk goes to Missouri GOP state legislator Mike Lair. Parents, teachers and administrators who object to the government education "standards" racket -- which usurps local control, impedes academic achievement and undermines family privacy -- have politicians on the defensive. The only thing these Fed Ed flacks and hacks can respond with is cowardly condescension.
Lair, chairman of Missouri's House Appropriations Committee on Education, inserted an $8 budget line item to mock Common Core critics as tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorists. Lair's item reads: "For two rolls of high-density aluminum to create headgear designed to deflect drone and/or black helicopter mind reading and control technology."
Common Core jerkitude is a bipartisan disease. Lair's ridicule of grave parental concerns about Common Core data mining follows in the footsteps of Democratic U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan (who derided opponents as "white suburban moms") and GOP former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (who derided opponents' motives as "purely political"). It's all a snitty, snotty smokescreen that will backfire as more families from all parts of the political spectrum discover the truth about Common Core's invasive nature.
Assessing Common Core is inextricably tied to the big business of data collection and data mining. States that took the Race to the Top bribes in exchange for adopting Common Core must now comply with the edutech requirements of two private testing conglomerates, the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Common Core states also agreed to expand existing statewide longitudinal database systems that contain sensitive student data from pre-kindergarten through postsecondary education.
Will Estrada and Katie Tipton of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association conclude that "it will become increasingly difficult to protect the personal information of homeschool and private school students as these databases grow." In addition to stimulus and Race to the Top enticements, both the Education and Labor Departments have funded several other initiatives to build and make various interoperable student and teacher databases.
"Before our eyes," Estrada and Tipton warn, "a 'national database' is being created in which every public school student's personal information and academic history will be stored." It's no laughing matter.
Just this week, SafeGov.org, a computer privacy watchdog group, reported that Google has admitted in recent court filings that "it data mines student emails for ad-targeting purposes outside of school, even when ad serving in school is turned off." The newly exposed documents explicitly "confirm in a sworn public court declaration that even when ad serving is turned off in Google Apps for Education (GAFE), the contents of users' emails are still being scanned by Google in order to target ads at those same users when they use the web outside of Google Apps (for example, when watching a YouTube video, conducting a Google search, or viewing a web page that contains a Google+ or DoubleClick cookie)." Last month, I reported on how Google is building brand loyalty through a questionable GAFE certification program that essentially turns teachers into tax-subsidized lobbyists for the company.
In New York, opposition from left, right and center has forced education bureaucrats to delay uploading personally identifiable student information to the Common Core-linked inBloom data cloud, a partnership of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.
In Colorado, Jefferson County families from both sides of the political aisle forced the district to withdraw from a meddling inBloom pilot project adopted without parental consent.
As I've explained before, the exploding multibillion-dollar education technology sector is driven by Common Core's top-down digital learning and testing mandates. Remember: Under the Obama administration, Grand Canyon-sized loopholes in the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act have already opened data mining of students' personally identifiable information (Social Security numbers, disciplinary records, biometric data, etc.) to third-party private entities.
Dr. Gary Thomson of the Utah-based Early Life Child Psychology and Education Center, a father of four and a clinical psychologist, is asking the fundamental questions politicians refuse to ask -- and continue to scorn -- regarding the Common Core-driven data collection:
--"For what EXACT purpose will this sensitive data be utilized?"
-- "What organizations will have access to identifiable academic records? Other than generic information regarding race, age, gender and geographic location, why does the federal database require identifiable information to be accessible?"
--"If the political responses to these questions are 'all information contained in the database is unidentifiable and security stored,' then why were changes made to FERPA to allow an exemption to educational privacy rights when it comes to the implementation of the Common Core State Standards?"
When politicians want to evade accountability, they go on the attack. They don't loathe anti-Common Core parents because they're "paranoid." They fear them because "paranoid" is the political demagogue's word for active, alert and well-informed.
Liberal Students Have a Funny Definition of 'Diversity'
Cancel the philosophy courses, people. Oh, and we're going to be shuttering the political science, religion and pre-law departments too. We'll keep some of the English and history folks on for a while longer, but they should probably keep their resumes handy.
Because, you see, they are of no use anymore. We have the answers to the big questions, so why keep pretending there's anything left to discuss?
At least that's where Erin Ching, a student at Swarthmore College, seems to be coming down. Her school invited a famous left-wing Princeton professor, Cornel West, and a famous right-wing Princeton professor, Robert George, to have a debate. The two men are friends, and by all accounts they had an utterly civil exchange of ideas. But that only made the whole thing even more outrageous.
"What really bothered me is, the whole idea is that at a liberal arts college, we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion," Ching told the Daily Gazette, the school's newspaper. "I don't think we should be tolerating [George's] conservative views because that dominant culture embeds these deep inequalities in our society."
Swarthmore must be so proud.
Over at Harvard, another young lady has similar views. Harvard Crimson editorial writer Sandra Y.L. Korn recently called for getting rid of academic freedom in favor of something called "academic justice."
"If our university community opposes racism, sexism and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of 'academic freedom'?" Korn asks.
Helpfully, she answers her own question: "When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue."
One could easily dismiss these students as part of that long and glorious American tradition of smart young people saying stupid things. As Oscar Wilde remarked, "In America the young are always ready to give to those who are older than themselves the full benefits of their inexperience."
But we all know that this nonsense didn't spring ex nihilo from their imaginations. As Allan Bloom showed a quarter century ago in "The Closing of the American Mind," these ideas are taught.
Indeed, we are now up to our knees in this Orwellian bilge. Diversity means conformity.
Let me invoke personal privilege by citing a slightly dated example. When the Los Angeles Times picked me up as a columnist in 2005, Barbra Streisand publicly canceled her subscription in protest (I'm proud to say). You see, Streisand's friend, iconic left-wing columnist Robert Scheer, had been let go. And I was one of the new columnists brought on board. This was an outrage.
"The greater Southern California community is one that not only proudly embraces its diversity, but demands it," Streisand wrote to the Times in a syntactically impaired rant that read a bit like one of those letters I occasionally get from prison inmates who've memorized words from a thesaurus without fully understanding what they mean. "Your publisher's decision to fire Robert Scheer is a great disservice to the spirit of our community. ... So although the number of contributors to your op-ed pages may have increased, in firing Robert Sheer [sic] and putting Jonah Goldberg in his place, the gamut of voices has undeniably been diluted. ..."
Nearly a decade later, I still don't know what it means to dilute a gamut of voices. But I do know what she meant by "diversity." It means: "people who agree with me." It's lazy and insipid shorthand for "left wing." After all, by the normal metrics of identity politics -- race, religion, gender -- Scheer and I are largely interchangeable. Where we differ is ideology. And ideological diversity is the only kind of diversity the left finds offensive.
Which brings us back to the sages of Swarthmore and Harvard. They at least understand that ideological diversity is actually, like, you know, a thing. They just think it's a bad thing.
More pernicious, however, is that they believe the question of justice is a settled matter. We know what justice is, so why let serious people debate it anymore? The millennia-old dialogue between Aristotle, Plato, St. Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Rawls, Rorty, Hayek et al.? Shut it down, people. Or at least if the conversation heads in a direction where the Korns, Chings and Streisands smell "oppression" -- as defined solely by the left -- then it must not be "put up with." Diversity demands that diversity of opinion not be tolerated anymore.
An Appetite for Freedom Grows on Campus
Old politicians and old voters may never change their minds. But libertarianism grows fastest among the young.
On Saturday, some 1,500 students from all over the world gathered to discuss freedom at the Students for Liberty Conference in Washington, D.C.
Economist Donald Boudreaux showed the students a department store catalog from 1958 to underscore how the free market, while contributing to income inequality, also dramatically improved the lives of the poor: "The typical American worker back then had to work 30 hours to buy this vacuum cleaner. Today, a worker has to work only six hours to buy a much better vacuum cleaner. And that's true for clothing, food, all sorts of things."
That's how free markets work: quietly, gradually improving things. That doesn't always appeal to impatient young people—or to radical old people who fancy themselves social engineers who should shape the world.
Such social engineering is revered on campuses. A student from Quebec complained that economists about whom his fellow students learn are "Keynesians, who believe that breaking windows is good for the economy, or neoclassicals, who believe in unrealistic assumptions like perfect competition and perfect information."
If there were a part of America for which the American students at this conference felt a special pride, it was the Constitution. "The Constitution of the United States is a promise about how government power will be used," Timothy Sandefur, author of "The Conscience of the Constitution," told them. "A promise was left to us by a generation who lived under tyrannical government and decided they needed a framework that would preserve the blessings of liberty."
These students appreciated that inheritance, although they said the Constitution is rarely discussed at their schools. They surprised me by knowing the correct answer to my question: How often is the word "democracy" used in the Constitution?
Answer: never. The founders understood that democracy may bring mob rule—tyranny of a majority. So the Constitution focuses on restricting government—to secure individual liberty.
If anything, these students were stauncher in their defense of liberty than the Founders.
Kelly Kidwell, a sophomore from Tulane University, said, "Regardless of what its intent was, we still have the (big) government that we have now—so the Constitution has either provided for that government, or failed to prevent it."
That's an argument that libertarian economist Murray Rothbard used to make. He took the pessimistic view that the Constitution's "limited government" was an experiment that had already failed, since 200 years later, government was barely limited at all. He concluded that libertarians should be not just constitutionalists but anarchists—get rid of government completely.
That idea sounds extreme to me, and to some libertarians at the conference—not to mention the few pro-big-government speakers, like movie director Oliver Stone. But I'm happy that students ask those sorts of questions rather than wondering which regulations to pass, what to tax and whom to censor for "insensitive" speech.
Even in an audience filled with libertarians, there were unsettled issues and divisive questions. Some students and speakers sounded a lot like the campus leftists who complain about "privilege." Others sounded conservative and sought guidance from their religion.
I think this diversity is a good sign for the future of libertarian ideas. There are many ways for free people to live and to accomplish their goals—and as these students learned, the most important thing is not to assume that government has the answer to the questions.
Students for Liberty's website says: " ... this is the most libertarian generation. The millennial generation is more social, organized and receptive to liberty, but also the most punished by the economic misconduct of older generations."
Old politicians and old voters may never change their minds. But libertarianism grows fastest among the young, and so groups like Students for Liberty give me hope. Those young people sure know more about liberty that I did when I was their age.
Posted by jonjayray at 1:53 AM
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Biggest Teachers Union Slams Common Core
The National Education Association, America’s biggest teachers union, is now taking back its once-enthusiastic support of Common Core. These academic standards have experienced a terrible rollout, something similar to Obamacare!
Although the President of the union, Dennis Van Roekel, says he still believes the standards can improve education, but he also says they need some major changes. He does not exclude rewriting some of the standards and revising the related tests.
Mr. Van Roekel says, “In far too many states, implementation has been completely botched.” This plan from the Obama administration was supposed to instill more rigorous language-arts and math instruction in public schools, but it appears this is another project that isn’t working out too well for them.
45 states plus DC have adopted these Common Core standards, but as lessons have been rolled out in classrooms, many are now questioning their effectiveness. Many people are also worried about the federal government’s role in this program. Indiana is close to pulling out of these standards, and several other states are starting to have serious debates about whether or not to remain a part of this system.
It’s still unclear how this will play out, but what we know for sure is that parents trust teachers to do right by their kids. With 70% of teachers saying implementation of Common Core is going poorly, perhaps there is something to that. And most teachers say they haven’t even been asked for input on how to introduce the new standards.
How is it that teachers and parents are supposed to get behind a new standard that is dictated to them by people who don’t live it every day?
Just last month the board of the New York state teachers union withdrew its support for Common Core as it stands. And now the country’s biggest teachers union is taking back its support too. Clearly the Obama administration needs to do some serious PR work when they start losing teachers unions’ support. The American Federation of Teachers has also expressed concern about the implementation of Common Core and has called for a 3 year moratorium on high-stakes testing. How can the Obama administration save this failing policy? They already have so many other flawed policies to worry about!
Kline, Foxx Question President's Higher Education Executive Actions
House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) today sent a letter to President Barack Obama seeking information on his plans to use executive authority to advance the administration’s preferred higher education policies.
Chairman Kline said, “Last summer we successfully worked with the Senate and the administration to enact a new law that cuts student loan interest rates and provides stability for borrowers. Through the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, we have an opportunity to build upon that bipartisan accomplishment and develop comprehensive policies to strengthen the nation’s higher education system for future generations. But we need the president to be an ally in that effort – not obstruct legislative progress with executive actions and reckless rulemakings.”
“The president needs to work with Congress so that we can bring the higher education community together and find common ground as we reauthorize the Higher Education Act this year. Unfortunately, we are off to a difficult start,” Rep. Foxx said. “The president’s repeated threats to circumvent Congress and the failure of his Department of Education to submit any plan or goals for the reauthorization are worrisome indicators. It’s my hope that they will come to the table and help us forge bipartisan solutions to the pressing issues we face in higher education.”
In the letter, Chairman Kline and Rep. Foxx write:
"As we continue moving forward with our efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, we hope to work in partnership with the administration to craft policies that will strengthen the law for students, families, teachers, and college leaders. However, your recent threats to circumvent Congress are a major obstacle in this process… We are disappointed the administration would threaten to subvert Congress on higher education policy... Instead, the department continues to propose prescriptive, one-size-fits-all policies that not only ignore the realities of our nation’s diverse higher education system, but are also strongly opposed by many higher education stakeholders."
The leaders request a briefing from the White House Domestic Policy Council later this month on the administration’s plans for future executive actions, as well as additional summits with higher education stakeholders
The Death of the Humanities
A liberal arts education was once a gateway to wisdom; now, it can breed ignorance and arrogance
The humanities are in their latest periodic crisis. Though the causes of the ongoing decline may be debated, everyone accepts the dismal news about eroding university enrollments, ever fewer new faculty positions, the decline in majors, and the lack of jobs for humanities graduates. Less than 8% of current BA degrees are awarded to humanities majors. The New York Times recently reported that while 45% of the undergraduate faculty at Stanford teach in the humanities, only 15% of the students major in them.
Of course, the numbers of humanities majors have been in decline since the 1970s. But what seems different today is that the humanities are less sacrosanct in the university. Literature, philosophy, and art are no longer immune from budget cuts by virtue of their traditional intrinsic value to the university. Either humanities professors can no longer make the case for the traditional role of their subjects or no one cares to listen to what they have to say.
About 15 years ago, John Heath and I coauthored Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom, a pessimistic warning about where current trends would take classics in particular and the humanities in general. It was easy enough then to identify the causes of the implosion. At the very time the protocols of the universities were proving unsustainable—more expensive administrators and non-teaching personnel, soaring tuition hikes, vast non-instructional expenditures in student services and social recreation, more release time for full professors, greater exploitation of part-time teachers, and more emphasis on practical education—the humanities had turned against themselves in the fashion of an autoimmune disease.
For example, esoteric university press publications, not undergraduate teaching and advocacy, came to define the successful humanities professor. Literature, history, art, music, and philosophy classes—even if these courses retained their traditional course titles—became shells of their former selves, now focusing on race, class, and gender indictments of the ancient and modern Western worlds.
These trendy classes did the nearly impossible task of turning the plays of Euripides, the poetry of Dante, and the history of the Civil War into monotonous subjects. The result was predictable: cash-strapped students increasingly avoided these classes. Moreover, if humanists did not display enthusiasm for Western literature, ideas, and history, or, as advocates, seek to help students appreciate the exceptional wisdom and beauty of Sophocles or Virgil, why, then, would the Chairman of the Chicano Studies Department, the Assistant Dean of Social Science, the Associate Provost for Diversity, or the Professor of Accounting who Chaired the General Education Committee worry about the declining enrollments in humanities?
Even more paradoxical, humanities professors began to adopt the very values of the caricatured corporate world to define the successful humanist. The campus exemplar became the grandee who won the most time off from teaching, garnered the most grants, taught the fewest undergraduates, and wrote the most university press books that in turn were largely critical of the subject matter that ensured his university position in the first place. Now, in the latest round of declining interest in the liberal arts, the problem is not just one of declining enrollments and interest, but also that there is no longer any institutional safety net to subsidize an eroding but still vital mode of education.
A trillion-dollar student loan bubble is proving unsustainable for all students, business and humanities majors alike. This time around, arguments rage not over the value of a humanities major, but whether college itself is worth attending. Will earning a bachelor’s degree still ensure greater lifetime earnings than bypassing college altogether?
Meanwhile, the new technology of online courses and for-profit tech schools offer a far cheaper antidote to the high cost and often partisan corruption of the traditional university experience. For-profit ventures are not worried about skipping the humanities and losing a broader college learning experience. And they certainly have a point, given that humanities professors themselves have not effectively argued that well conceived and taught liberal arts programs can restore the reputations of colleges that graduate ever more indebted students who often read, write, and think no more effectively than their non-college competitors.
If the humanities could have adopted a worse strategy to combat these larger economic and cultural trends over the last decade, it would be hard to see how. In short, the humanities have been exhausted by a half-century of therapeutic “studies” courses: Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies, Post-Colonial Studies, Environmental Studies, Chicano Studies, Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Asian Studies, Cultural Studies, and Gay Studies. Any contemporary topic that could not otherwise justify itself as literary, historical, philosophical, or cultural simply tacked on the suffix “studies” and thereby found its way into the curriculum.
These “studies” courses shared an emphasis on race, class, and gender oppression that in turn had three negative consequences. First, they turned the study of literature and history from tragedy to melodrama, from beauty and paradox into banal predictability, and thus lost an entire generation of students. Second, they created a climate of advocacy that permeated the entire university, as the great works and events of the past were distorted and enlisted in advancing contemporary political agendas. Finally, the university lost not just the students, but the public as well, which turned to other sources—filmmakers, civic organizations, non-academic authors, and popular culture—for humanistic study.
The way this indoctrination played itself out in the typical humanities class was often comical. Homer’s Odyssey was not about an early epic Greek hero, who, with his wits, muscle, and courage overcomes natural and human challenges to return home to restore his family and to reestablish the foundations of his community on Ithaca—a primer on how the institutions of the early polis gradually superseded tribal and savage precursors. Instead, the Odyssey could be used to lecture students about the foundations of white male oppression. At the dawn of Western civilization, powerful women, such as Calypso and Circe, were marginalized and depicted as anti-social misfits, sorceresses on enchanted islands who paid a high social price for taking control of their own sexuality and establishing careers on their own terms. Penelope was either a suburban Edith Bunker, clueless about the ramifications of her own monotonous domesticity, or, contrarily, an emancipated proto-Betty Friedman, who came of age only in the 20-year absence of her oppressive husband and finally forged outlets for her previously repressed and unappreciated talents. The problem is not necessarily that such interpretations were completely untrue, but that they remain subsidiary themes in a far larger epic about the universal human experience.
Students were to discover how oppressive and unfair contemporary life was through the literature, history, and culture of our past—a discovery that had no time for ambiguity such as the irony of Sophocles’s Ajax, or the tragedy of Robert E. Lee. Instead, those of the past were reduced to cut-out, cardboard figurines, who drew our interest largely to the extent that they might become indicted as insensitive to women, gays, minorities, and the poor of their age—judged wanting by comfortable contemporary academic prosecutors who were deemed enlightened for their criticism. To the extent that these dreary reeducation seminars were not required as part of the General Education curriculum, students voted with their feet to pass them up; when enrollment was mandatory, students resigned themselves never to suffer through similar elective classes in the future.
A final irony was that classical liberal education—despite the fashionable critique that it had never been disinterested—for a century was largely apolitical. Odysseus was critiqued as everyman, not an American CEO, a proto-Christian saint, or the caricature of white patriarchal privilege. Instead Homer made students of all races and classes and both genders think twice about the contradictions of the human experience: which is the greatest danger to civilization, the Lala land of the comfortable Lotus Eaters, or the brutal pre-polis savagery of the tribal Cyclopes? Telemachus was incidentally white, rich, and male, but essentially a youthful everyman coming of age, with all the angst and insecurities that will either overwhelm the inexperienced and lead to perpetual adolescence, or must be conquered on the path to adulthood. Odysseus towers among his lesser conniving and squabbling crewmen—but why then does his curiosity and audacity ensure that all his crewmen who hitch their star to the great man end up dead?
In the zero-sum game of the college curricula, what was crowded out over the last half-century was often the very sort of instruction that had once made employers take a risk in hiring a liberal arts major. Humanities students were more likely to craft good prose. They were trained to be inductive rather than deductive in their reasoning, possessed an appreciation of language and art, and knew the referents of the past well enough to put contemporary events into some sort of larger abstract context. In short, they were often considered ideal prospects as future captains of business, law, medicine, or engineering.
Not now. The world beyond the campus has learned that college students know how and why to take a political position but not how to defend it through logic and example. If employers are turned off by a lack of real knowledge, they are even more so when it is accompanied by zealousness. Ignorance and arrogance are a fatal combination.
When the humanities failed to make the case that its students were trained to be exceptionally good writers, logical debaters, and well informed about the events, people, literature and issues of the past, then the liberal arts no longer were granted immunity from the general reckoning that the university now faces. Colleges charge too much and provide too little quality education; they exploit students and part-time faculty to serve a much smaller tenured and administrative elite; and they no longer believe in enriching society as much as radically changing it according to their own partisan visions.
Given that university humanities programs have enabled these trends, it is no wonder that they too are being held accountable.
Posted by jonjayray at 1:47 AM