Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Why Are US Colleges So Afraid of Letting Students Speak Freely?

“Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.” The words of the First Amendment couldn’t be plainer. Yet more than two centuries after the Bill of Rights was written, they remain the subject of fierce debate.

Actually, I should amend that (no pun intended). These words would be the subject of debate—if debate were permitted. But these days, apparently, we’re all so thin-skinned that we can’t bear to hear an opinion that challenges our worldview.

This is even true, ironically, at our institutions of higher learning. Some colleges are far more interested in swaddling their students in a protective bubble than in teaching free speech.

Consider what happened to Omar Mahmood. The University of Michigan student last year wrote a satirical piece for the campus newspaper, The Michigan Daily, listing the ways that the pervading culture of right-handedness victimizes left-handed people.

“The biggest obstacle to equality today is our barbaric attitude toward people of left-handydnyss [sic],” he wrote. “It’s a tragedy that I, a member of the left-handed community, had little to no idea of the atrocious persecution that we are dealt every day by institutions that are deeply embedded in society.”

Anyone familiar with the political correctness that pervades so much of society will recognize what Mahmood was lampooning. The victim mentality is particularly acute on many campuses, with professors nursing and even inflaming cultural conflicts on every level, leaving everyone walking around on eggshells.

In such an environment, Mahmood’s column could have served a valuable purpose. An actual debate—imagine!—could have ensued.

But no. The Daily’s editors couldn’t risk damaging the precious little psyches of his fellow students with anything as retrograde as a dissenting point of view. Mahmood had created a “hostile environment” for those hothouse flowers, he was told. Why, an unidentified staffer “felt threatened” by his column. Somebody pass the smelling salts.

Mahmood’s apartment was vandalized. He was fired from the Daily, of course.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated incident. Hardly a week goes by without news about one campus or another preventing unpopular views from being expressed. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which tracks such violations, most U.S. colleges are guilty.

“This isn’t just an American problem,” Jim DeMint, president of The Heritage Foundation, noted in a lecture at Yale University. “Academia spans nations, and its diseases can swim across oceans.” Thus, for example, Oxford University canceled a pro-con debate about abortion “because, apparently, men aren’t allowed to have opinions on such things anymore.” Even the pro-abortion debater found that ridiculous.

More and more, this is our world. We don’t debate, we demonize. The New York Times Magazine documented this trend in a chilling article titled “How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life.” It showed how Sacco and others have lost jobs, endured vicious threats and been forced into hiding for daring to make ill-conceived jokes or off-the-cuff remarks that others found offensive.

Part of the problem, surely, is rooted in basic ignorance of American history and our founding documents. That’s why I opened by quoting the First Amendment. It may strike some readers as too basic to even mention, but numerous surveys show an alarming degree of ignorance and illiteracy.

Heck, you don’t even need a survey. Jimmy Kimmel and other late-night comics often mine this ignorance for laughs with their man-on-the-street interviews.

But there’s nothing funny about the underlying cause. Or with its effect: a society where political correctness makes debate impossible and only those who express the “accepted” opinion are permitted to speak.

“You don’t communicate with anyone purely on the rational facts or ethics of an issue,” wrote Saul Alinsky in “Rules for Radicals,” the bible of the so-called progressive left. “Pick a target, freeze it, personalize it, and popularize it.”

Personally, I’ll stick with the First Amendment.


UK: More than 40% of new teachers leave profession within first 12 months: Excessive workload blamed as number who quit triples in six years

Almost half of new teachers leave the profession in their first year because of an excessive workload, say union leaders. The number has tripled in six years, according to an analysis of figures by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

They said many young trainee teachers were deciding not to take up posts because they realised ‘what teaching had become’ when on their work placements.

The most recent statistics show that in 2011, around 10,800 newly-qualified teachers did not take up a teaching post – up from 3,600 in 2005.

Around 40 per cent of newly-qualified teachers were not in the classroom after a year in 2011 – compared to 20 per cent in 2005.

Mary Bousted, the ATL’s general secretary, told the union’s annual conference in Liverpool yesterday that an increased workload and bureaucracy had made teaching an unappealing profession.

She said: ‘How is it at the end of the coalition’s term in office that not only are record numbers of teachers leaving the profession mid-career, but there is also a crisis of teacher supply?

‘This crisis is happening right at the very start of teachers’ careers. Teachers are leaving in their first year, or not starting teaching when they have completed their training.’

Miss Bousted described teaching as being ‘incompatible with a normal life’ because it is ‘monitored to within an inch of its life’ due to the demands of heads keen to impress Ofsted inspectors.

She said the latest figures represented a ‘dismal retention rate’ and meant thousands of qualified teachers never even entered the profession.

She added: ‘Why are we losing the next generation of teachers – that new blood for the profession which should be bright-eyed and bushy tailed, full of promise and ambition?

‘Is it, I wonder, because trainee and newly qualified teachers see very early on just what teaching has become and decide that they do not want to be a part of it?

‘Is it that they learn as they work with exhausted and stressed colleagues that teaching has become a profession which is incompatible with a normal life?’

She added that teaching had become a profession ‘monitored to within an inch of its life’ because of the stringent demands of heads keen to impress Ofsted inspectors.

She said: ‘Is it in any way surprising that trainee and newly qualified teachers make the decision to make use of their talents and abilities in a different profession?

‘It is sad – but true – that students and NQs are being told by the teachers they meet during training that with current workload, inspection and pay, this is no career to enter.’

It comes after the union criticised education secretary Nicky Morgan’s efforts to tackle teachers’ workload as ‘a major PR exercise’ with ‘no significant policy response’.

Mrs Morgan pledged last year to help reduce teachers’ workloads, and included a promise not to make alterations to qualifications in the academic year or during a course unless in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

The measures followed a survey launched by Mrs Morgan last October called the Workload Challenge survey, which generated 44,000 returns.

The Department for Education said: ‘More than 44,000 teachers responded to the Workload Challenge, an unprecedented effort by the government to engage with the profession and understand their concerns.  ‘As a result we have made a series of public commitments setting out how those challenges will be addressed.

'Today, as we promised to do, we have published a protocol introducing among other things a minimum lead in time of one year for significant changes to accountability systems, qualifications or the curriculum.

'This will ensure schools can be better prepared to deliver new policy and achieve what we all want – the best education for our children.’


British teachers set to call for schoolchildren aged up to seven to be given classroom time for play – because they're not ready for reading, writing and maths

Teachers are set to call for 'play in the curriculum' for schoolchildren up to seven as this is more suitable than educating them in a formal way.

Many children are not ready to sit down and do reading, writing and maths when they start school at the age of four or five, according to the National Union of Teachers (NUT).

At its annual conference in Harrogate, it will say schools should follow the lead of countries like Finland and introduce 45-minute lessons immediately followed by 15-minute play times.

It is also likely to say lunch and break times are being used for 'coaching and cramming', depriving youngsters of their 'fundamental human right to play' with their classmates.

A resolution due to be put forward at the conference says: 'Primary schools are now being driven more and more towards a test and accountability culture which in turn makes them drive children of primary age to be educated in a formal way.'

It goes on to suggest learning through play is known to help youngsters develop vital communication and social skills and that 'over-formalisation of learning can cause disaffection with school'.

The motion calls on the NUT to support play in the curriculum at Key Stage 1 (five to seven-year-olds) 'to reflect the needs of the children'.

Speaking ahead of the conference, NUT general secretary Christine Blower said many children are not ready for the 'formal sitting down' and 'come on let's do some work stage'' before they are seven.

'There is a question about whether we're expecting children to do things they're not developmentally ready for,' she said.

The resolution, set to be heard on Saturday, also says: 'Lunchtime and break times are being used for coaching and cramming sessions, thus depriving primary age children of their fundamental human right to play and have free time to socialise with their peers.'

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says children have the right to play and rest, it adds.

Ms Blower said: 'In Finland, there are 45-minute lessons and then they have a break. Between each teaching session they have a break. One thing about our children is that, relatively speaking, they are rushed from pillar to post. Not so much in primary school, but in secondary school.

'Having a break between lessons gives a bit of space to reflect on the lesson they've just had.'

The motion calls on the NUT to campaign in England and Wales for new laws to ensure children have a right to appropriate breaks and lunchtimes.

The resolution comes amid growing debate over what children should learn, with politicians and education experts increasingly calling for schools to teach values such character, teamwork and resilience alongside academic subjects.


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