Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Political correctness disaster will bolster voucher schools

It finally happened. A career Madison teacher is quitting her eighth-grade teaching job at Jefferson Middle School after this year.  “I don’t feel safe and I don’t think the kids are safe anymore,” 50-year-old math teacher Stephanie Bush told The Capital Times last week.

Bush said students are swearing at teachers and kicking trash cans. She says some students walk in and out of class and wander the halls.

Fifth-grade special education teacher Margaret Stumpf told the School Board: “We’ve been hit, spat on and had doors slammed on our fingers and toes.”

The game has changed after the School Board changed the discipline code throughout the district. The board was concerned the previous code expelled a disproportionate number of students of color.

Under the new policy that begin this school year, teachers are supposed to call for outside help when a student misbehaves. A support staffer is supposed to intervene and walk the student out of class and get a sense of what the problem is. But Bush said calls for help often go unanswered by an overwhelmed support staff.

“We call and no one comes,” she said. “Teachers have stopped calling.”

School administrators said they want to hold more meetings to discuss the issue. “It’s bad parenting 101,” Bush said.

In the meantime, Wisconsin Republicans want to expand the state’s voucher program, including a controversial extension of vouchers for special needs students to go to private schools.

Lawmakers want to turn failing Milwaukee schools into charter or voucher schools and change the state’s testing system. The voucher proposal would cap eligibility at 1 percent of a school district’s enrollment. That angers more conservative Republicans who want to see much wider eligibility.

“Some of our leaders are content with the status quo. They don’t want real reform,” said one frustrated Republican Senate staffer.

Most Democrats think the voucher program is too big already. So what happened to Act 10? The law allows school boards to change work rules and discipline codes without union permission. So what good does that do if students are allowed to swear at teachers and wander in the halls during class?

It is clear that political correctness in Madison is more important than imposing discipline on unruly students. That drives career teachers such as Bush out of the profession and throws her fellow teachers under the bus. The teachers are on the front lines every day fighting to make a difference while the School Board and administrators impose a policy that causes chaos.

Thomas Jefferson said: “The only sure reliance for the preservation of liberty” is the education of “the whole mass of the people.”

If you care about public education in Wisconsin, it is time to pressure principals and school boards to take control of the schools or more parents will join voucher advocates in looking for a place to escape.


Police investigate union officer over 'kill all white men’ tweet

Bahar Mustafa faces being dismissed from her position as welfare and diversity officer at Goldsmiths University student union

Police have launched an investigation into a controversial student union diversity officer who allegedly tweeted “kill all white men.”

Bahar Mustafa was criticised earlier this year for posting a message on Facebook banning all white people and men from a university event she was organising about diversity and inclusion.

The 27-year-old is also facing being dismissed from her position as welfare and diversity officer at the student union of Goldsmiths University, in London.

A petition with 18,000 signatures is calling for her to be removed from her job on the union, alleging she used “hate speech” on social media.

Scotland Yard yesterday confirmed that officers were investigating allegations about the alleged tweet.

A spokesman said: “Police received a complaint on May 7 about a racially motivated malicious communication that had been made on a social media account. There have been no arrests and enquiries are continuing.”

It is alleged Ms Mustafa used a university Twitter account to tweet racial slurs at student activist Tom Harris calling him “white trash”.

In a document defending her position, Ms Mustafa said: “However, in regards to calling someone ’white trash’ under my official GSU Welfare and Diversity Twitter account, I can accept that it was not professional and I do apologise for this.”


How’s that? The lessons cricket can teach us all

Pupils under pressure to focus on exams find this timeless game brings benefits no classroom can match, says Boarding School Beak

Ah, cricket. Normally I dread the start of the school cricket season. What with the constant showers and the endless shivering by the stumps, April and May usually feel more like the time for rugby.

Standing in the drizzle, you wonder why the game was ever invented. The recent wrangling between Kevin Pietersen (an old boy of Maritzberg College in South Africa) and the ECB is hardly in the spirit of 'Play up, and play the game...’, but I can’t help drifting off into a reverie at the first thwack of leather on willow.

Picture the scene. Green grass, blue skies, white flannels – the perfect colours of an English summer. It’s Saturday afternoon; you’re sat on a bench beside some splendid Thirties half-timbered cricket pavilion (every independent school has one of these), watching the first eleven, who look super-smart in their new kit and caps – all the while sipping tea or, even better, a beer.

Visiting parents are chattering happily, the deckchairs are out, tartan rugs are spread, picnics started. It’s one of those occasions when you feel privileged to be a boarding beak.

OK, there are a few drawbacks to being involved with the game, I must admit. Like the fact that, as a teacher, you have to umpire school matches. As with most things, this is not quite as easy as it looks on television. You need to master the complicated rules on LBW (leg-before-wicket) for a start. A batsman or woman is not necessarily immediately out when the ball hits his or her pads.

I discovered this quite quickly, to my consternation, while umpiring my first match. It was a glorious day, all was well with the world, our team were playing away at a well-known school and I was enjoying the occasion. So much so that my mind may have wandered a little.

The next minute, I’d given the opposition’s star batsman out LBW because the ball had struck his pads. The fielding team had vociferously appealed (as they always will). A clear head and some cool concentration were needed; instead I’d drifted off. He left the pitch protesting loudly (rare in a school match): “What on earth is that guy on? That was never out!”

This highlights one of the problems of cricket – for players, umpires and spectators alike. Given such pleasant surroundings, total concentration for an entire afternoon cannot be guaranteed. A match-winning catch may be heading straight at square leg, just when his mind has moved on to thoughts of post-match tea and cakes. Next thing he knows, his team-mates are bellowing, “Catch it!” and then groaning in despair as the ball slips through his fingers.

The importance of not missing such a catch was put perfectly in L P Hartley’s classic novel The Go-Between. Leo, the schoolboy hero, triumphantly takes a crucial catch in the village match: making it sound almost simple, a matter of instinct: “I threw my hand above my head and the ball stuck there.”

Yet sadly, every Saturday, I have to witness the ignominy of some of today’s teens dropping simple chances. Team-mates are largely sympathetic (after all, it can happen to anyone and it could be their turn next); nonetheless, the shame of missing a “sitter” can be a painful cross to bear.

Parents need to pay attention, too. Naturally there’s a temptation to park the shiny new car as close as possible to the pitch, so it can be seen by one and all. But one lusty blow from a batsman can dent even the costliest four-by-four. And who wants a cricket ball spreading havoc in the sandwiches?

Such small hitches aside, as I look around at the pristine pitches here, I can’t help thinking there couldn’t be a better advertisement for independent schools, where the cricket culture still runs deep.

Over the years I’ve “coached”, in my limited way, both boys’ and girls’ cricket and, in the process, visited some of the most stunning school settings in Britain. Many recent internationals, men and women, have graduated from such school teams. The past two England men’s captains have come from independent schools: Alastair Cook (Bedford) and Andrew Strauss (Radley).

What a pity that cricket has died out in so many state schools. As Hugh de Selincourt observed in The Cricket Match, cricket is a great equaliser: toff and tough come together to wear gentlemanly whites, all in the common cause of playing for the same team.

And every Saturday, during a close match, that sense of common purpose, of palpable tension at the end of the contest, lives on. So much so that Sir Henry Newbolt’s unfashionable poem “Vitai Lampada” occasionally springs to mind (“There’s a deathly hush in the Close tonight, /Ten to make and the Match to win…”).

Even in the lower-level teams I’m involved with, every member of the team is hushed and concentrating in those final few minutes, when the match is in the balance and 10 or a dozen runs are needed off the last over.

Whatever the outcome, sportsmanship is sure to prevail. Yes, the odd spot of Australian-inspired “sledging” (crass verbal comments aimed at putting off opponents) has crept into the school game. Even so, players will stay respectfully silent as soon as the batsman takes his or her stance and prepares to face a fast bowler.

It’s a shame, therefore, that, in our current over-pressurised exam climate, with so much now hanging on A-level and GCSE results, the pressure in school summer terms is to focus on academics – not stand on the boundary ropes, soaking up the sun. This, too, has helped to erode cricket’s wider appeal.

There is no doubt that, even at independent schools, boys and girls are becoming more reluctant to sign up for cricket teams. And if you count up the number of hours cricket involves each week, who can blame them? Several two-hour midweek practices, plus a full match each Saturday, equals a minimum of 10 hours weekly. Think how much swotting could be done in that time.

But that’s missing the point, ignoring the benefits cricket brings. Plenty of fresh air and a clear head, a healthy tan, relief from those headache-inducing books, the reinforcing of codes of gentlemanly conduct and fair play, a break from the “hothouse”… Pupil, parent or teacher, there is surely no better way of taking your mind off the grind of exams.

That’s why I still get a buzz each spring from the sound of bat on ball, the scent of fresh-cut squares. It’s a wonderful time to be at school. And in my view it’s a pity more teenagers and teachers won’t share this experience.


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