Sunday, June 14, 2015

Mayhem Rules in St. Paul Schools

Teachers, parents and students in the school district of St. Paul, Minnesota, are learning firsthand what happens when educators embrace ideologically driven, crackpot solutions for the achievement and disciplinary issues involving black students who are “victims” of “white privilege”: anarchy.

That anarchy comes courtesy of the district’s voluntary affiliation with Pacific Educational Group (PEG), an entity founded in 1992 by self-described “diversity expert” Glenn Singleton. As PEG’s website declares, it is their belief that “[s]ystemic racism is the most devastating factor contributing to the diminished capacity of all children.” As a result, they partner with educational systems “to transform them into racially conscious and socially just environments that nurture the spirit and infinite potential of all learners, especially students of color, American Indian students and their families.”

Superintendent Valeria Silva bought into this nonsense, engendering a seismic shift in the way discipline was meted out, based on statistics that showed black students being suspended at “alarming rates.” Thus suspension became a last resort, replaced with 20-minute “time outs” and counseling by a behavioral coach before offending students were sent back to the classroom. In the meantime, PEG offered “racial equity” training for teachers and staff, who were tasked with “exploring” their biases and prefacing their opinions with, “As a white man, I believe…” or “As a black woman, I think…” in an effort to discover their subconscious racism.

How’s it working out? Following district spending of more than $3 million on PEG programs over the last five years, local publication CityPages paints a depressing picture:

"At John A. Johnson Elementary on the East Side, several teachers, who asked to remain anonymous, describe anything but a learning environment. Students run up and down the hallways, slamming lockers and tearing posters off the walls. They hit and swear at each other, upend garbage cans under teachers' noses.

“We have students who will spend an hour in the hallway just running and hiding from people, like it’s a game for them,” says one despondent teacher. “A lot of them know no one is going to stop them, so they just continue."

Students may continue, but some teachers won’t. At Ramsey Middle School, nine have quit since the beginning of this past school year. At Battle Creek Elementary, a week after the principal got a letter from staff illuminating the concerns about "building-wide safety, both physical and emotional, as well as the deteriorating learning environment,” he announced he would be transferred next year. “It’s still just as crazy, with kids slamming doors and yelling and not listening to any teachers, running up and down the halls,” revealed one Battle Creek Elementary teacher. “We had two behavior aides who come to the room if there’s an issue or if a kid’s left the class. They try to calm the kids down, and then they just put them right back in class after 5-10 minutes. It’s not working. You know how kids are. If one gets away with it, then they’re all gonna do it.”

Como Park High social science teacher Roy Magnuson explains why complaints to the board are routinely dismissed. “There is an intense digging in of heels to say there is no mistake,” he explains. “For the people who are saying there has been a mistake, the … deflection is that people like me have issues with racial equity and that is the reason we are challenging [the board]. That makes for a very convenient way of barring the reality of the situation.”

Many families in the district have registered their feelings about the program in the plainest way possible: In the time PEG has been involved with the schools, the number of students living in the district but attending non-district schools has increased by approximately 3,000. Two-thirds of them are low-income or non-white, utterly undermining the notion of “white flight” according to Joe Nathan, executive director of the Minneapolis-based Center for School Change. “A significant number of families are saying their children do not feel safe in the schools,” he explained. “They don’t feel safe even going to the bathroom.”

School board member Keith Hardy typified the racialist drivel that animates PEG’s effort, insisting he wants the “racist structure of public education that the United States is created on to be eradicated,” he declared. “This is work that you can’t go back on, and it’s work I do not apologize for.” Battle Creek Middle School “cultural specialist” Kristy Pierce is equally clueless, insisting that teachers should be evaluating their own failure when kids act out. “It should be more than just kids apologizing,” she says. “When you use the word ‘black’ versus ‘African American’ and the student flips out, understand where that might be coming from.”

Fortunately, there has been a revolution of sorts. At an endorsement convention sponsored by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), three Board of Education incumbents, including chairwoman Mary Doran — who said they wouldn’t run without DFL approval — were dumped in favor of four candidates supported by Caucus for Change. That organization is comprised of teachers, parents and other members of the community who wish to restore safety and sanity to St. Paul schools.

Unfortunately, it remains unclear whether PEG will be given a well-deserved boot in the process. Glenn Singleton promotes ideas such as “white talk” is “verbal, impersonal, intellectual” and “task-oriented,” while “color commentary” is “nonverbal, personal, emotional” and “process-oriented.” He has further asserted that placing any blame on minority students themselves for their underperformance constitutes racism, because minority culture is “intellectual” and “task-oriented.” As for Asian minorities, Singleton considers them “majority” students because they succeed, and because whites expect them to do so.

In short, PEG is invested in the idea that cultural apartheid is what’s holding back minority students, and that they should be held to a different set of standards than white students — as well as those pesky Asian overachievers who completely undermine Singleton’s premise. A premise that amounts to nothing more than embracing the soft bigotry of low expectations by catering to the lowest common denominator of student behavior. This progressive nonsense is precisely the opposite of what public schooling should be all about.


Student-Loan Deadbeats: Fashionable Theft

He was the greatest poet and critic of his time, but poetry and criticism do not in general pay all that well, and T. S. Eliot, unfortunately for him, lived in an age in which celebrity academics did not bank CEO money. He came from a well-to-do family — his father was a very successful businessman in St. Louis — but his family did little to support him financially.

As a young man, Eliot taught French and Latin at both private and government schools, but marriage brought with it additional financial burdens, and in 1917 — two years after publishing “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” — he took a job at Lloyd’s bank, on the foreign business desk.

Eliot hated Lloyd’s. He worked in a sub-sub-basement and did not have an office, or even a cubicle — he worked on one of those comically long rows of clerks’ desks that you see in old movies.

But he was diligent. As his literary career began to take off, one of his superiors at Lloyd’s advised him to keep applying himself to his work, suggesting that he might rise to become a branch manager, in time.

Alduous Huxley sneered that Eliot was “the most bank-clerky of all bank clerks.” Eliot did not disagree: “How unpleasant to meet Mr. Eliot! / With his features of clerical cut. / And his brow so grim / And his mouth so prim . . .”

He continued writing, of course: poetry, essays, criticism, book reviews. In 1922, he published The Waste-Land, a landmark in English verse: “Mr Eliot’s trivialities are more valuable than other people’s epics,” the critic Edmund Wilson wrote. Eliot, he said, was writing “unforgettable poems, which everyone was trying to rewrite.” Eliot stayed at the bank.

 At least, he stayed there for a few more years, five days a week plus one Saturday a month. He was nearly forty before he began working at Faber and Faber, the publisher where he was employed full-time for the rest of his career, eventually joining the firm’s board of directors.

Even after having written a commercially successful play (The Cocktail Party), he was taking the bus to work.

I’d like to go on record here pledging to cover the full cost of a monthly bus pass for Lee Siegel, the somewhat less exalted writer and critic who in the Sunday New York Times explained: “Why I defaulted on my student loans.” And maybe why you should, too.

Siegel’s story is more than familiar to me, having been at one time in precisely the same position: forced to decide between pursuing my education at a less expensive and less prestigious state school or taking on a great deal of debt to finance an Ivy League education. My Calvinist terror of debt preceded, and has survived, my conversion to Catholicism, and I like to think that Yale’s loss was the University of Texas’s gain, though the view from Austin may be different.

I was very fortunate to finish my college years with a net worth of approximately $0.00 — no assets to speak of, but no debts, either, which enabled me to go work as a newspaper editor in India without having to worry about much other than my immediate household expenses.

To the taxpayers of Texas and the world oil markets — both of which contribute mightily to subsidizing English majors at the University of Texas — I am grateful.

Siegel went the other way, borrowing what one assumes is a great deal of money to underwrite three degrees from Columbia University in New York City. Columbia is one of the most expensive institutions of higher learning in the world; New York City is not the least expensive place in the country to live.

“I found myself confronted with a choice that too many people have had to and will have to face,” Seigel wrote. “I could give up what had become my vocation (in my case, being a writer) and take a job that I didn’t want in order to repay the huge debt I had accumulated in college and graduate school. Or I could take what I had been led to believe was both the morally and legally reprehensible step of defaulting on my student loans, which was the only way I could survive without wasting my life in a job that had nothing to do with my particular usefulness to society. I chose life. That is to say, I defaulted on my student loans.”

To default on a student loan because you do not wish to pay it back is theft, in this case theft from all of us. The justifications are piled high: He comes from a modest background and finds it unfair that other people have had advantages denied him. He declares it “absurd” — making no case, only the declaration — that he could “amass crippling debt as a result, not of drug addiction or reckless borrowing and spending, but of going to college.”

Never mind that his borrowing and spending was, in fact, reckless, and that an Ivy League degree or three is every much an item of conspicuous consumption and a status symbol as a Lamborghini. He complains that the system is legal but not moral.

We have a legal system because interpretations of morality vary from person to person and from community to community. Stealing is not highly regarded in most of them. To default on a loan that you simply cannot repay may be the result of bad luck, bad judgment, or the pursuit of an MFA. To default on a loan because you do not wish to pay it back is theft, in this case theft from all of us, since the federal government is on the hook for the loans in question.

There is a great deal of bad thinking and bad advice (student loans are not normally dischargeable, even in bankruptcy, and the government can simply garnish your wages or put liens on your financial assets, just as it does with unpaid taxes, about which I know a little something more than I’d like) in his argument, but the telling phrase is “my particular usefulness to society.”

We hear similar arguments frequently in the debate about college costs and student loans, with Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts speaking for the deadbeat constituency, which is very much politically fashionable at the moment. We are told that students have a right to an education (but an Ivy League education?), that the system is unfair and the burdens heavy, etc.

And we hear variations on Siegel’s argument that education is a social good, that we should be glad to have spent whatever sum we spent in order to avail ourselves of his “particular usefulness to society.” This is an example of the special-snowflake philosophy of social organization: Yes, your feminist slam-poetry collective is very, very impressive — but even T. S. Eliot went to the office six days a week when literary life wasn’t paying the bills.

It is true that society benefits from widespread access to college education. But that benefit is marginal in any given case, whereas the benefit accruing to those receiving education at public expense can be enormous.

Michelle Obama complains in public from time to time that she was obliged to repay student loans as a young professional earning only in the low-to-mid six figures. She is oblivious, as Siegel is oblivious, that when institutions lend you money at ordinary market rates, that is business — but when institutions lend you money at below-rates, that’s a favor. You don’t simply owe interest and principal — you owe a bit of gratitude, too.

Those of us who are able to make a living writing are among the luckiest people in the world (a condition for which I am deeply grateful to this irreplaceable institution and its supporters). The same is true of people who work in other creative fields, and all of those who are fortunate enough to earn a paycheck doing that which they would do for free. That is, as H. L. Mencken put it, “the life of kings.”

But it is not a life to which any of us is entitled at the expense of others; the typical taxpayer left holding the bag by defaulters is more like Lee Siegel’s mother 30 years ago, struggling to help with her son’s education, than like a successful literary gentleman publishing the occasional apologia pro debitis suis in the Sunday Times.

We all have our obligations. T. S. Eliot was not too good to work a day job to meet his responsibilities. Neither is Lee Siegel.


Ignorant British schoolteachers shame deaf kid

A mother has hit out after her six-year-old son was told to remove his hearing aid for an official school photograph.

Alfie Durant's mother, Kerri, says he was left 'embarrassed and upset' after being taken to the school office at Middlesbrough's Pallister Park Primary to have his hearing aid taken off.

The school has now apologised over the move, which has left the schoolboy ashamed to wear the hearing aid around his classmates.

Alfie's mother, a restaurant supervisor, said she became suspicious that something had happened when her son refused to put his hearing aid on the morning after the school photo shoot.  'He said he was embarrassed to wear it in front of his classmates,' she said.

A few days later, when her son returned from school with the photo proofs, she was angry to see he was not wearing his hearing aid.

She said: 'He told me the school told him to take it off for the photo so he would look smart.

'I phoned the school and spoke to the special educational needs officer who said they made a decision that I would want his aid off for the photograph. 'I feel my son has been discriminated against because of his disability and would like people to know how he is treated.

'Alfie suffers a lot with his condition but he is such a brave lad. He should be accepted as he is.'

Chris Wain, headteacher at Pallister Park Primary School, said: 'Alfie is a beautiful little boy and takes a gorgeous picture whatever he is wearing.

'Indeed, we have lovely photos of him on our website with his hearing aid on. The school photograph sessions saw our visiting photographer take 600 pictures over two days and we do our very best to ensure that parents are pleased with the photos they receive.

'There was obviously no intent to cause any offence by either any member of our staff or the photographer, and we have already apologised to Alfie's mum for any upset caused.

'Perhaps we could have taken one picture with and one without, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and we will be sure to keep Alfie's hearing aid in place when next year's pictures are taken and we can only apologise again.'

Jessica Reeves, from the National Deaf Children’s Society said: 'Asking Alfie to remove his hearing aid was a mistake, as the school has rightly acknowledged. Every deaf child should be confident and proud of who they are, so a supportive school environment is essential.'


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