Sunday, February 15, 2015

Leftist insanity masquerading as education

A long-cherished belief held by Americans for decades is on the verge of being upended. A quartet of stories is the latest indication that a college "education" has become the most-overrated commodity on the planet, save for the elitist institutions whose primary mission is to keep our ruling class populated with like-minded Masters of the Universe. For the rest? A stupendous waste of time and (taxpayer-backed) money.

We begin at the epicenter of institutional quackery, more familiarly known as the University of California. The UC Student Association Board, representing all 233,000 students enrolled at the 10 campuses that comprise the UC system, passed the "Resolution Toward Socially Responsible Investment at the University of California" by a lopsided vote of  11-1-3. Much like the popular and anti-Israel Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) resolutions ginned up by the likes of Muslim Student Associations (MSA) determined to turn many colleges into anti-Semitic wastelands, this resolution demands a similar divestment.

"The government of the United States of America is engaged in drone strikes that have killed over 2,400 people in Pakistan and Yemen, many of them civilians," the resolution stated. "The government oversees, by far, the highest rate of imprisonment in the world, and racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement agencies, particularly for drug-related offenses. 400,000 undocumented immigrants are held in detention centers every year, and millions have been deported since the current administration took office, and the government is directly supporting and propping up numerous dictatorships around the world with weapons sales and foreign aid."

While they were at it, the student board added the governments of Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Russia, Turkey, Israel, Sri Lanka and Mexico to the list.

"This resolution aims neither to condemn entire countries, peoples, or communities nor to determine political solutions, but is solely aimed at ending our university’s support of governments that directly engage in and enable human rights violations," it stated.

Naturally they passed a second resolution aimed at Israel, not because separate UC campuses have failed to do so, but so that UC could boast about being the "first multi-campus student association to vote in favor of divestment." That one passed by a vote of 9-1-6.

Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson notes the utter absurdity. "Think about that. If they had their way, the student government of the U. Cal. system would require divestment from U.S. Treasuries and most of the world," he writes. "The U. Cal. student government has proven a point I’ve made repeatedly in terms of the academic boycott: If you are going to boycott Israel, then you need to apply those standards to the whole world, which will result in boycotting yourselves."

Estimated costs for attending UC? For the 2014-15 school year, CA resident, on-campus living costs are $33,100. Off-campus, $29,200. Non-residents? A whopping $55,978 on-campus and $52,078 off-campus.

Moving on to the University of Michigan brings us to the latest assault on free speech, better known as the "right" not to be offended. An "Inclusive Language Campaign" has led to the spending of $16,000 to pay for posters pasted all over campus, urging students to avoid certain words that may hurt peoples' feelings. The posters warned students that "YOUR WORDS MATTER," and pose questions such as: "If you knew that I grew up in poverty, would you still call things ‘ghetto’ and ‘ratchet’?"

Additional words that are frowned upon include "crazy," "insane," "retarded," "gay," "tranny," "gypped," "illegal alien," "fag," "ghetto" and "raghead." Other insensitive phrases, such as, "I want to die" and "that test raped me" are also frowned upon.

Junior Kidada Malloy helped promote the venture and is known as an "Expect Respect program assistant" in reference to a program that began on campus in 2005. She is worried that program won’t be as impactful as it once was because most of the students who promoted it have graduated. She’s hoping the Inclusive Language Campaign will pick up the slack. "I’m really happy we have the ILC this year that does more action around campus," she said. "A lot of students know about the Expect Respect pledge and they know that on campus they’re supposed to be respectful of people of different cultures, but I’m not sure if they actually do that. The ILC actually gets them to do those things that Expect Respect wants from the community. I’m excited to bring it back."

No doubt. Students have also been asked to sign a pledge to "use inclusive language" and to help their fellow students to "understand the importance of using inclusive language." A Facebook page is also dedicated to the effort, described by The College Fix as a "variety of inclusion-based material, inspirational quotes, personal stories, and even a video that details how to address a person by the correct pronouns," that "operates in conjunction with…Expect Respect and Change It Up!"

Additionally, students in dormitories are "urged" to take part in the Change It Up! workshop, a process that includes filling out surveys before and after taking the program, in which they are supposed to reflect on "internal biases" that may roil the campus-wide Utopian tranquility sought by their oh-so-sensitive peers.

U of M's tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year are a relative bargain, at least for in-state students. They pay a modest $13,977. Out-of-state students? Not such a bargain at $41,811.

And then there’s UC Berkeley. Next week the Center for the Study of Sexual Culture at the University of California, Berkeley, is offering a presentation entitled "Queering Agriculture." "This talk highlights vital ways queering and trans-ing ideas and practices of agriculture are necessary for more sustainable, sovereign, and equitable food systems for the creatures and systems involved in systemic reproductions that feed humans and other creatures," their website states. "Since agriculture is literally the backbone of economics, politics, and ‘civilized’ life as we know it, and the manipulation of reproduction and sexuality are a foundation of agriculture, it is absolutely crucial queer and transgender studies begin to deal more seriously with the subject of agriculture."

This bunch is concerned that since 9/11, "the growing popularity of sustainable food is laden with anthroheterocentric assumptions of the ‘good life’ coupled with idealized images and ideas of the American farm, and gender, radicalized and normative standards of health, family, and nation." One is left to ponder the true meaning of such mindless jargon, but I’m guessing the current images that embody one of the American heartland’s most valuable contribution to the nation’s sustainability aren’t "queer" enough to satisfy UC Berkeley’s LBGT community.

Where’s a gay Mr. Ed when you really need one?

Kidding aside, Americans should be very concerned about this ongoing educational deterioration masquerading as enlightened thinking for one very big reason: they are ultimately on the hook for it. And we’re not talking about peanuts. Right now there is more than $1 trillion dollars of outstanding student debt, with each student from the class of 2013 amassing an average of $28,400. The current default rate has fallen to 13.7 percent from 14.7 percent the previous year, but the Obama administration was still forced to raise its estimated cost for student loans by $22 billion.

Why? Because the Obama administration is rigging the payback system. "The government is on pace to forgive billions of dollars more in student loans than previously thought as droves of borrowers enroll in federal repayment plans," the Wall Street Journal reports. The additional $22 billion is needed "due to plans that peg monthly student-loan payments to borrowers' income and permit balances to be forgiven in as little as 10 years."

That’s not a repayment plan. It’s nothing more than welfare, ultimately backed up by the taxpayer.

Why the taxpayer? Because universities themselves have no skin in the game. They get paid in full, no matter how many students default on their loans. And that’s because the Obama administration nationalized the student loan program in 2010 – as part of ObamaCare, no less.

So what do universities who have no worries about the bottom line do? Pay professors more. Hire legions of worthless "diversity" specialists that now inhabit the bureaucracies of campuses across the nation. Build more expensive and fancier campus facilities designed to attract more students – all of which contribute to tuition costs that are completely out of control.

How out of control? In the last 30 years, the cost of tuition has skyrocketed by 1,120 percent.

Forget high-minded political solutions. This is one stunningly easy: put these America-hating, speech-squashing, gender-bending Marxist finishing schools on the hook for some or all of the defaults incurred by students who take out loans. There isn’t a single reason why taxpayers, including hard-working Americans who have never been able to afford going to college, should be underwriting the costs of college tuition – much less the salaries of blowhard and overwhelmingly progressive Ivory Tower elitists who hold most of Middle America in utter contempt.

The quarter of a million dollars or more that it costs to attend four years of college is not only outrageous in and of itself, but also an unmitigated disaster in terms of its so-called payoff: a January 2014 report by the New York Federal Reserve reveals that 44 percent of recent graduates between the ages of 22-27 who obtained a B.A. degree or higher had jobs that did not demand a college degree. More than 40 percent are working at jobs that pay less than $45,000 per year, with 20 percent making $25,000 or less.

Parents: imagine the same quarter of a million dollars invested directly in your child’s training in a genuinely lucrative skill, or a small business, much like the ones that form the backbone of this nation, and maybe, just maybe, you get a genuine sense of perspective regarding the "cherished" belief that a college diploma is an absolute necessity.

It’s time to put some "boo" in the boolah-boolah. For those of you still enmeshed in the fog that currently passes for a college education, it’s called a free-market solution to the problem. Colleges are still free to engage in whatever pernicious nonsense they choose to abide. Just not on someone else’s dime.

It’s an idea whose time has come. But trust me, you’ll never hear about it in college.


UK: Fired  for being too good: He was the head every parent dreams of

Rory Fox was one of our most successful 'superheads'. The 'bespectacled superhero' some called him, because of his record in turning around failing schools. 'Inspirational' was another word that often preceded his name.

Until a few days ago, he was doing what he was born to do — leading by example, both inside and outside the classroom, as principal of Ryde Academy on the Isle of Wight.

Then suddenly he was gone. His post was immediately advertised, offering a six-figure salary and generous relocation package. Staff didn't even have time to say goodbye to him.

Officially, Dr Fox, 46, who was parachuted into Ryde in 2013, has been redeployed to other duties within the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), the country's largest academy chain, which runs Ryde.

In reality, he is effectively on 'gardening leave', twiddling his thumbs, his career and reputation seemingly in ruins.

Why? Did he embezzle school funds? Anyone who has met Dr Fox would know the answer to that. You could not wish to meet a less materialistic individual (he commuted to the Isle of Wight from his home in Cambridge, staying during the week in a £30-a-night B&B).

Was he guilty of inappropriate behaviour with a pupil? Absolutely not. Dr Fox is happily married to wife Helen, also a teacher. They have five young children.

Did he fail to get the desired results at Ryde? No, the complete opposite is true.  Ryde Academy was an educational basket case when Dr Fox arrived 13 months ago; there was little discipline and even less evidence of academic achievement.

He promptly introduced a zero tolerance school uniform policy, sending home girls whose skirts were too short. Mobile phones, he decreed, should not be 'seen or heard' (if they were, they were confiscated and handed back at the end of the day).

Every child had to bring a 'learning kit' of pencil, pad, ruler, rubber and timetable to every class or risk an hour's detention. Within a few months, a school rated as 'inadequate' by Ofsted rose to merely 'requires improvement'. Dr Fox was said to be doing a fantastic job, instilling traditional values and encouraging teaching methods derided by the Left-wing teaching establishment.

So the question remains: why was such an outstanding headmaster removed?

Rory Fox — and many of those who have worked with him and under him down the years — are convinced the answer can be found in that aforementioned Ofsted report back in November.

His supporters point to one sentence in particular: 'The determined principal [Dr Fox] and the new senior staff have been tenacious in tackling *teachers'* under-performance; teaching is now better for students at the academy.'

In the process, however, Dr Fox repeatedly clashed with militant teaching unions. Today, those same unions stand accused of driving a decent man, and an 'inspirational' leader, out of his school.

These are the same people former Education Secretary Michael Gove famously likened to the 'The Blob' after Steve McQueen's science-fiction film about an amoeba devouring the world: an army of bureaucrats, academics and teachers' unions Gove blamed for thwarting the changes that have to be made if we are to have a world-class education service.

Our own inquiries into Dr Fox's departure support his version of events — events that culminated in his being summoned to a meeting in London on February 3 with Ian Comfort, the £225,000-a-year chief executive of the Academies Enterprise Trust, the body in ultimate control of Ryde, which caters for 1,000 pupils between the ages of 11 and 18.

No notes or minutes were taken at the meeting. But afterwards Dr Fox revealed: 'It was clear from the start that the purpose of the meeting was to eradicate the problem that was causing disquiet between the Trust and the unions. That problem was me.'

Could there be a more damning indictment, if true, of an organisation responsible for 77 academies across the country?

The 'disquiet', as Dr Fox put it, has been well documented in the Press over the past turbulent year.

Some teachers, it was claimed, turned up late for classes or not at all, bullied junior members of staff, spilled coffee on homework or refused to mark it.

Others tied Dr Fox up in petty, time-consuming correspondence with the unions over the most routine changes in duties, such as switching someone from manning the school gate at the end of the day to supervising youngsters onto the bus home.

'We have had teachers with pins in their noses telling children to take the pins out of theirs,' Dr Fox recalled.

In all, around 15 out of the 80-strong teaching contingent left Ryde in the months after he was appointed.

But the 'disquiet' went deeper than that. Three teachers were still facing serious disciplinary meetings with Dr Fox before he was removed. Guess when they were due to take place? Answer: on February 4 — just 24 hours before Dr Fox left Ryde without notice.

Just a coincidence?  Not according to the hardline National Union of Teachers, one of the unions behind a series of walkouts and strikes in schools across the country last year.

On the same fateful day — February 4 — the NUT sent a crowing email to staff at Ryde Academy. 'By now you will have noticed a change has taken place at the Academy,' the union boasted, before declaring triumphantly: 'The absence of Dr Fox follows union action in bringing to the attention of AET [Academies Enterprise Trust] concerns regarding various management practices at Ryde Academy.' (No mention here, obviously, of the stinging criticisms made against their own members in the recent Ofsted report.)

Teaching staff at Ryde, the NUT announced in a separate self-serving statement posted on the internet, had been 'bullied'. This had 'forced many to leave the school'.

In case there is any doubt, Dr Fox's bosses at the Academies Enterprise Trust have never received a single complaint or grievance against him from any teacher at Ryde. Not one.

When staff loyal to Dr Fox challenged the union's defamatory claims, the NUT said questionnaires had been circulated among teachers at Ryde to gather evidence — dirt, some might say — against Dr Fox.

Yet the closing date for the survey was only yesterday. So what evidence did the union have to justify publicly vilifing Dr Fox nine days earlier on February 4?  None at all, it would seem.

Surely Dr Fox is not alone in thinking he was just the victim in a gratuitous mud-slinging exercise to discredit him for doing no more than putting his pupils first.

'Children get one chance at education,' Dr Fox said. 'To have their education at risk of being damaged, and their life chances blighted, because of avoidable union-related activity is unfair and unacceptable. It is a form of educational 'abuse'.

'Union resistance caused internal systems of school improvement to become dysfunctional. This led to significant numbers of children being let down.

'As we all know, and as statistics very clearly show, children come to Ryde with broadly average ability. But they have been going out with GCSE results which are below average. This is unacceptably letting children down and I hope we can all agree that it needs to change.'

Is there anyone outside the NUT or NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers) who would disagree?

The Academies Enterprise Trust itself, whose executive board, we now know, includes a leading member of the NUT, Jerry Glazier, was criticised by Ofsted inspectors for not always providing the appropriate support for the school's leaders.

The AET insists, however, that Dr Fox's relationship with the unions played no part in the decision to replace him with a temporary appointment until a permanent successor is found — even though its boss Ian Comfort, CEO of AET, is mentioned by name in email correspondence from the NUT to staff urging them to fill in the survey forms.

'Ian Comfort has asked for any evidence of intimidation and bullying from the management over the last year,' one email read. 'He wants members to know that this [giving evidence] will be viewed as a positive thing by AET.'

For its part, the AET insists that Mr Glazier, the NUT official conveniently sitting on the AET board, was not consulted about Dr Fox's removal. It was an 'operational decision' by the chief executive alone, for reasons the AET declined to disclose. And disciplinary proceedings, it stressed, against the trio of teachers at Ryde had not been dropped.

We shall have to take the AET's word on all this.

Even so, the timing and the circumstances surrounding Dr Fox's exit from Ryde Academy could hardly be more controversial.

Nor should the 'assurances' from the AET mitigate the disgraceful behaviour of the unions which, in the eyes of many, remains at the heart of this story.

The irony is that academies — 'publicly funded independent schools' — were launched by Labour more than a decade ago to replace failing schools in poor areas. They have a number of freedoms which are not available to comprehensives run by local authorities, such as setting their own pay and conditions for staff.

The AET says protocols for tackling incompetent teachers at Ryde are effective. But you have only to study the organisation's appraisal policy to discover the influence the unions have at the school in this crucial area.

'Teachers being observed [in class] will under normal circumstances be notified at least five working days in advance,' the guidelines state. 'As far as possible, classroom observations will take place at a time agreed between the teacher and the observer [the headmaster].' Such restrictions surely make it impossible for the head to catch out underperforming staff.

In the words of Dr Fox: 'This ridiculously advantages lazy teachers. They can put on a show for the lesson they have had five days' notice for, and then teach poorly afterwards.

'If you were to phone other academy chains they will probably laugh at any chain committing itself to rules that are so clearly in the interests of the unions and which are so clearly against improving the schools to benefit the children.'

Dr Fox himself, whose parents left school at 14, was educated in the state system until A-levels. He then studied philosophy and theology in London, and got a first and a scholarship to Oxford, where he completed masters degrees in the same subjects. He moved into teaching after being asked to tutor children with learning difficulties.

After improving results at a school in Essex, he took up the role at Ryde. Almost from day one, Dr Fox, who was previously head of learning at a prison, faced union intransigence and alleged dirty tricks to undermine him.

He sent a 12-page letter listing some of the worst practices to local representatives of the NUT and NASUWT last year. A copy is on my desk as I write. At times, it is difficult to believe what is being described took place — is still taking place — at a school in 21st-century Britain. The sub-headings tell their own story.

Heading: 'Union Bias and extremism' ... 'The unions carried out a survey in the Academy in the summer term,' Dr Fox wrote. 'One member came forward and deemed the union to be acting in a biased way as she was not even invited to fill in the survey form. She wanted to praise the way the school improvement was taking place but she was not allowed to, because the union did not give her a survey form.'

Heading: 'Union members are scared of their own union' .... 'A union member came to see me in the summer term and said she wanted me to know that she was 100 per cent behind what we are doing to improve the school. But when she is in union meetings she feels under pressure to criticise the Principal and leadership in case the union turns on her.'

Heading: 'Union teacher who let down children' ... 'We had a pupil who did not get a qualification on results day because the teacher concerned did not teach an essential part of the course.'

Heading: 'Unhelpful inappropriate appeals to unions' ... 'I have had a number of instances of staff telling me that they 'will get the unions on me' or that they 'will get me in the papers' if I don't do what they want.'

Heading: 'Union influenced pettiness' .... 'We have had several instances of staff saying 'that under union advice' they refuse to do something.'

Other headings included 'Union subversion of line management' and 'Staff focused on union activities instead of improvement'. But perhaps one section, above all, epitomises the pernicious culture at Ryde. It is Dr Fox's rebuttal of accusations that 'excessive burdens' were being imposed on staff.

'If you consider wanting to see a teacher's teaching, and then giving helpful 'feedback', to be placing an excessive burden on a teacher, then I think we have a very fundamental disagreement about what constitutes 'excessive'.

'We have teachers complaining about being asked to set homework. Some have been complaining about having to mark work regularly. It seems to be that there are some very odd views about what is 'excessive'.'

The NUT says it had not sought Dr Fox's removal and denied rigging staff surveys; now or in the past. 'The intention has been to obtain a clear and balanced picture from all members,' the union said in a statement.

Dr Fox has been inundated with messages of support since he left. Only last month, in the minutes of a school parents' forum, he was praised for 'making a difference' and local resident George Hollett said: 'I know several parents who send their children to this school and also staff members. They all have nothing but praise for Dr Fox.

'The only people who complained were ineffective teachers who couldn't do their job and the unruly children with needy parents who obviously couldn't instil discipline in their own children.'

But one in particular encapsulates everything he stood for. It is from a teacher at the school and reads: 'Gutted about you not being here. I came here because you inspired me. I wanted to work under your leadership.

'You are all for the children and care so passionately about not letting them down. You have empowered me and many others to be able to teach in a way that allows the kids to progress. Thank you so much.'

What a tragedy — and a scandal — that Rory Fox is not still at the school.


School Choice Gets Personal for North Carolina Dad

Brian Lewis used to fight school vouchers. He was the chief lobbyist for the North Carolina Association of Educators, the state teachers union. Vouchers threaten teachers unions’ power by diffusing children and education authority more broadly among parents and schools. Everywhere voucher programs come to life, teachers unions try to kill them.

But then Lewis’s daughter entered middle school, and public school stopped working for her. Lewis and his wife tried to work within the system, meeting with teachers and administrators and getting testing accommodations. "Still, Isabel was slipping away," Lewis wrote in the News & Observer this week. "She dreaded school, we dreaded school, and it was clear the teachers dreaded it, too. We hit the wall in November and came to the conclusion that public middle school was not the answer. In fact, it was the problem."

The Lewis family enrolled Isabel in a private school with tiny class sizes. Her father writes she has regained her joy, and so have her parents. His op-ed continues:

"This experience is not only about my daughter’s education. It has become my education. I can afford this option for my daughter, but what about the thousands of families, unlike me, who cannot afford tuition to send their child to a private school? Don’t their daughters’ struggles count, too?"


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