Sunday, April 05, 2015

UK: Student politics: where biology trumps brains

Te Independent ran an anonymous article on Friday calling for white males to be prevented from running in students’ unions elections. The piece, which has since been taken down, blamed students’ apathy towards student politics on the dilettantism of the young white men in charge. Claiming that student politics had always mirrored Westminster politics in its white-male-dominated character, the writer called for women and members of ethnic minorities to be given power on the grounds that they’re the only individuals capable of enacting change at universities. White men, the piece concluded, ‘it is time for you to bow down’.

It was a shame that the Independent quietly pulled the article, because what seemed like an extreme viewpoint is actually an accurate representation of the current views of aspiring student politicos. Many UK universities held their student union elections this month, which presumably provoked the anonymous writer to pen his/her tirade against white privilege. However, his/her argument is old news. In fact, student elections have now become so concerned with equal-opportunities policies that it is difficult to find a union that doesn’t adhere to the popular demand for multicultural representation.

In other words, student politics already resembles an identity-obsessed clique, its members playacting at politics in their safe spaces and designated areas. The most common proposals in students’ union election manifestos tend to be either more liberal toilet signage or cheaper beer, which indicates the lack of substance to SU politics.

Alongside this, the National Union of Students has recently created specific officer roles to represent women, black students, disabled students and LGBT students, and it encourages universities to do the same. The problem with student politics is certainly not one of unequal representation.

The lack of interest among the majority of UK students in anything to do with their SUs that doesn’t involve booze is precisely down to the failure of SUs to do anything of consequence. It’s difficult to maintain a political conversation when the audience changes every three years, but it’s easy to make a splash. This is the prevailing desire of most student-elected officers: to get in, get a good name and leave after a year with a bumper sticker on their CVs.

Fair play, but it’s got absolutely nothing to do with politics. That SU officers suffer from delusions of grandeur, and believe themselves to be at the forefront of radical politics in the UK, is down to their ability and desire to shock. Campaigns based on identity, which play on politically correct contemporary fashions, pull in tweeters and headlines, but certainly not students.

The heralding of everything that is not white and male is not a new idea at universities. Indeed, it has been a trend in teaching on many courses in the humanities since the Seventies and Eighties. However, what the Independent article has done, much as the closing down of an abortion debate with a male panel at Oxford did, is to expose just how central the issue of identity is to student politics today.

Student politics, dominated by identity, is in a wretched state. Those trying to be elected to their SUs seem to assume that what you are is more important than what you say and do. If young people continue to think that biology trumps brains, it won’t just be student politics that becomes farcical. It will soon be a problem for the adult world, too.


Diversity -- or Meritocracy?

By Patrick J. Buchanan

A voracious and eclectic reader, President Nixon instructed me to send him every few weeks 10 articles he would not normally see that were on interesting or important issues.

In 1971, I sent him an essay from The Atlantic, with reviews by Time and Newsweek, by Dr. Richard Herrnstein. My summary read:

"Basically, (Herrnstein) demonstrates that heredity, rather than environment, determines intelligence — and that the more we proceed to provide everyone with a 'good environment' the more heredity will become the dominant factor ... in their success and social standing."

In a 1994 obituary, The New York Times wrote that Herrnstein, though he "was often harassed ... and his classes at Harvard were disrupted," never recanted his heresy. He wrote "I.Q. and Meritocracy" in 1973, and in 1994 co-authored with Charles Murray the hugely controversial "The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life."

What brought this back was a piece buried in the "B" section of The Washington Post about the incoming class at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County.

TJ High is an elite magnet school that admits students based on their academic aptitude and achievement and offers "courses in differential equations, artificial intelligence and neuroscience."

According to the Post, 70 percent of the incoming freshmen are Asians, the highest percentage ever for a school already 60 percent Asian. Ten years ago, the student body was 32 percent Asian.

White students make up 29 percent of the school today, but are only 22 percent of the entering class. The class of 2019 will have 346 Asians and 102 whites, but only 12 Hispanics and 8 blacks.

Of the 2,841 applicants for 2015, one in four Asians was admitted and one in eight whites, but only one in 16 Hispanics and one in 25 black students. Of low-income students, only one in 33 applicants got in.

What do these numbers tell us?

Thomas Jefferson High is a meritocracy where the ideological dictates of "diversity" do not apply. Second, Asian students, based either on nature or nurture, heredity or environment, or both, are, as of today, superior in the hard sciences to other ethnic groups.

These numbers suggest that as Asian Americans rise from 5 percent of the U.S. population to 15, they are going to dominate the elite high schools and colleges devoted to STEM studies: science, technology, engineering, mathematics.

And in the professions built around expertise in science and technology, to which private and public capital will be directed, the social standing of Asian Americans is going to rise, leaving black, Hispanic, low-income and poor Americans further behind.

In the Post article, there is no breakdown of which Asian minorities excelled. In international competitions among high school students, Chinese, Koreans and Japanese are the top scorers, above Filipinos, Vietnamese and Indonesians.

Two years ago, an activist group filed a complaint against Fairfax County with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights alleging that the admissions process at TJ High discriminates against blacks, Hispanics and the poor.

But as the white share of the student body at TJ High is falling fastest, if there is discrimination, the admissions process must be giving an unfair break to Asians. For it is Asians who are the biggest beneficiaries of what is going on at the school.

Why are Asian kids succeeding spectacularly?

Is it because they are naturally talented at STEM studies? Is it because they have a better work ethic? Is it because their parents demand they get their homework done and monitor their grades? Is it because far fewer Asians come from broken homes?

It cannot be that Asians have been more privileged.

Chinese laborers in the Old West were terribly treated. Japanese were excluded and put into camps during World War II. Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos and Vietnamese here are largely from families that endured the hell of the Asian wars of the 20th century.

And while Fairfax County generously supports its school, it does not spend what D.C. does. And how are D.C. schools doing?

The Post reported yesterday: "Only 58 percent of D.C. students graduate high school within four years, and only about half of students are proficient in reading and math."

So how is TJ High responding to its Asian problem?

Jeremy Shughart, admissions director at TJ, has a committee "reviewing the application process to improve diversity at the school."

Says Shughart, "The committee is looking at a variety of admissions components and making recommendations for possible adjustments to future admissions cycles. ... (We) will continue to work on increasing diversity at TJHSST and will continue to pursue outreach efforts to ensure talented underrepresented populations of students with a passion for math and science consider, apply to, and attend... Fairfax County Public Schools believes in the value of diversity."

That is bureaucratic gobbledygook for saying they are going to start looking closer at the race and ethnicity of student applicants and begin using this criteria to bring in some — and to reject others.

Race discrimination, against Asians, is coming to Fairfax County.


Nevadans deserve better options than Common Core

If Common Core is so intellectually healthy for Nevada’s children, then why does it require constant promoting and defending?

To assuage Nevadans’ concerns with this national education initiative, Nevada System of Higher Education Regents Michael Wixom and Jason Geddes, in an op-ed for the Review-Journal, quoted former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Common Core standards: “They’re not something to be afraid of, indeed, they are something to embrace.” These gentlemen neglected to tell Nevadans that Huckabee no longer supports this set of national curriculum mandates and tests that private organizations created with federal funds.

Behind the miracle of biblical proportions that 45 states agreed to use Common Core before it was published, there is the truth that Keith Rheault, Nevada’s then-superintendent of public instruction, in 2009 signed a memorandum of agreement for the state to participate in the Common Core Standards Initiative. That locked close to half a million public school children into the prepackaged scheme we now call Nevada Academic Content Standards.

This was apparently done without the knowledge or approval of Nevada’s legislature — which means without the knowledge or approval of the people of Nevada, which includes the parents of those aforementioned children.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, various teachers unions, and endless recipients of money from Bill Gates’ private foundation who cheer Common Core are cheering for cut-and-paste students. They are applauding and rewarding an education-to-workforce machine that is cheating the children of Nevada’s families out of a joyful and liberal education fit for free citizens.

Wixom and Geddes nowhere demonstrate that Common Core gives children a high-quality education. Instead, they rely on appeals to authority and name-dropping to encourage readers to support Common Core. A real education would have taught them and readers that arguments demand evidence. And the evidence does not favor Common Core.

Common Core’s intricate, edubabble commands reward children for sitting silent and motionless while filling out reams of worksheets to plod toward their someday career. The standards demand endless, mindless “cold reads” of disconnected reading selections, and hair-tearing, inefficient and ineffective methods for learning basic math procedures. Common Core math sets U.S. students two years behind our international peers by eighth grade.

If our nation’s leaders truly wanted “first-class standards,” as University of Arkansas professor emerita Sandra Stotsky suggested for Nevada students, then why don’t we adopt our nation’s highest-rated standards, from Massachusetts? These propelled Massachusetts to No. 1 in the nation for four consecutive administrations of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and put the state near the top of global test performance.

Nevada parents need to ask some tough questions. Why is Gov. Brian Sandoval suspiciously silent on this topic, as other Republicans line up to criticize its obvious flaws? Why is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce burning cash to market an initiative it hopes moves responsibility for workforce training from businesses to taxpayers? Why do policymakers deny parents a seat at the table in deciding the education of their own children?

Why are our federally hand-picked Common Core testing company’s invasive and experimental assessments replacing proven, knowledge-based tests? Is it right to allow these tests to take so much time from teaching?

Here’s the No. 1 question all Nevadans —and all Americans — need to ask: Why must all roads lead to Common Core? Why are there almost no options other than Common Core-aligned for public, private and home-school students among college-entrance exams, annual tests and curriculum? Common Core didn’t drop from heaven, after all. People made it, and people have many different and valid ideas about how to educate children.

It is fundamentally unjust to children and taxpayers to inflict upon us all an untried education regime without our knowledge or consent. No amount of advertising can paper over the truth about Common Core: It is academically mediocre, socially manipulative and politically illegitimate.

Nevadans deserve better. The only obstacles to securing a truly better education are ignorance, power-brokering and apathy.


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