Tuesday, July 21, 2015

We’re not mentally ill – we’re teenagers

A 14-year-old British girl tells teachers to stop pathologising pupils.  She writes with great clarity and undoubted truth

It has recently been claimed that the number of girls in the UK aged 11 to 13 who are suffering from emotional problems increased by 55 per cent between 2009 and 2014.

Some might think that this problem stems from a lack of support for kids at school, or from the ‘fact’ that young girls’ lives are becoming more difficult. But is this the case? I for one have to disagree. I am a 14-year-old pupil at secondary school, and can tell you that there is definitely no lack of ‘help’ for girls. In fact, if anything, there’s too much of it.

Almost everyone in my group of friends has been labelled as having some sort of ‘problem’ since starting secondary school, and has been told by teachers that they need some sort of special help.

One of my friends – let’s just call her Lucy – has been taken out of school completely. It started with her being taken out of class to have talks about her ‘serious anxiety issues’ (she didn’t like doing public speaking and was generally a shy person). Then she was ‘diagnosed’ with chronic depression and she hasn’t attended school for at least three months. She now only comes in for three periods a week, and she gets to pick which ones she attends (you guessed it, she usually skips maths).

Another one of my friends – let’s call her Alex – has been taken out of class frequently since Year 1 to talk about her ‘personal problems’. Her teachers have often told her and her family that they should go to see a specialist, but her mother (a social worker) has refused (rightly, in my opinion), claiming that her daughter doesn’t need any emotional help. She has also asked the school to stop making Alex talk about personal topics. Despite this, teachers continue to encourage Alex to talk about her personal and emotional life.

While the ‘wellbeing’ professionals at our school are telling us that we have serious personal problems, in the past I imagine teachers would have told us that it was basic teenage worry.

Another friend of mine is now taking depression pills after being sent to the doctor by her father – she’s still upset about a death in her family in her younger years. She will soon be seeing a shrink. I can’t directly blame the school for this, but I do think it has helped to create an environment in which young girls, in particular, are encouraged to think of themselves as having emotional and mental problems. Often it feels like, after having their pretty normal teenage worries and concerns labelled as serious anxieties, my friends eventually come to think of themselves as being emotionally broken.

This is not my friends’ fault. Nor is it the fault of their parents and the environment they have at home. The professionals in our schools are to blame – they are claiming to be solving problems, when really they are creating them. 


Walker v. Common Core: The Core Issue

With Election 2016 underway, and the cadre of Republican candidates prepped for initial debates, the attacks against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) have not abated, and, from the right, opponents have faulted Walker for his stance on Common Core.

Breitbart’s Dr. Susan Berry reported in a heavily slanted (perhaps overly-long piece):

"Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has a history of shifting his stated positions on the controversial Common Core standards and inviting the federal government into his state’s education policy plans. Experts say his current position, of allowing school districts to “opt-out” of Common Core, would not rid his state of the nationalized initiative. . ."

Then left-leaning Huffington Post commented:

"Walker has been a critic of the Common Core Standards, and in late September, he told reporters he would like “Wisconsin have its own unique standards that I think can be higher than what’s been established.” However, according to the Associated Press, Walker has not committed to actually rescinding the standards."

To her credit, Berry identifies that his Democratic predecessor, Jim Doyle, adopted Common Core and initially sought the funding. Somewhat misleading, her statement “shifting” implies a lack of character, or an overdose of political calculation. For Walker, it was a recognition of facts. (For further history on Walker’s shift on Common Core, read here.) As for HuffPo’s argument that Walker did not want to remove the standards: that is patently untrue.

Granted, Walker signed onto Common Core’s implementation in his first budget. Critics forget his pressing political battles during his first two years in office: budget crises, collective bargaining reforms, unprecedented Democratic-Labor Union opposition, plus a recall effort in 2012. Clearly, he had other issues on his mind besides Common Core. After those victories, he announced his intentions to repeal Common Core.

Still that has not been enough for some critics. Before Walker’s Presidential campaign kick-off, Berry commented an open letter from Common Core opponents to Walker. Specific indictments included the following:

"On April 20th of this year, you were directly asked during a major media interview if you would repeal Common Core . . . You replied affirmatively, adding, “Absolutely! I proposed it in my budget.”

Yet, contrary to claims you stand against the Common Core standards, you are effectively entrenching those standards in Wisconsin via Common Core-aligned, high-stakes assessments.

For months, you have justified taking no definitive action against Common Core, insisting that local school districts have the power to decide for themselves what standards they will use."

For the facts, consider his veto statement for the latest budget.

The governor presented a budget which “[i]ncreases local control by affirming the authority of school districts to choose their own academic standards, provides a pathway to offering multiple student assessment options and prevents the mandatory application of the national Common Core Standards.”

Regarding a key veto, Walker explained:

"This provision is unnecessary and would have codified assessment criteria in state law that are closely aligned with national standards I oppose and which local school districts should not be mandated to adopt. Ultimately, local school boards across Wisconsin should be able to determine what test they administer and what standards they adopt."

In Wisconsin, the governor can adjust or remove funding regarding standards, but he has no control over district decisions on the matter. The Governor does not have ultimate authority over the educational standards in local-control Wisconsin. Conservatives have excoriated President Obama for his unconstitutional executive overreach. Walker respects school districts and constitutional rule, and yet partisans cry “Walker the RINO!” In Wisconsin’s statutes and the state Constitution, partisans will find plenty to affirm Walker’s limited power on dealing with Common Core implementation in local schools. Legal precedent established this in Thompson v. Craney:

"Since Wisconsin achieved statehood in 1848, the administration at the state level of public education in Wisconsin has been the duty of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, who is elected in a non-partisan statewide election pursuant to Article X, § 1 of the Wisconsin Constitution."

Wisconsin state law clearly outlines the state superintendent’s final authority on curriculum. Despite legal realities, Common Core critics expect Walker to stand before the cameras every day and preach the evils of the curriculum (and indeed, there are plenty). However, even if he talked about it at speaking engagements every day, and removed all statewide testing aligned with the nationalized standards, Wisconsin schools districts must adopt the responsibility and adapt their own standards.

As a dedicated constitutional conservative, Walker expanded school choice, vouchers, welfare-to-work programs, froze state college tuition, and removed tenure for college faculty: an impressive array of accomplishments for a red-state governor in a blue state.

 With his limited, legal resources, Walker pushed for the repeal of Common Core, has affirmed the power of local control in school districts, and vetoed provisions in his budget which would upend his opposition to the unpopular curriculum. Walker made the right decision, opposing its implementation respecting local control.

Conservatives have blasted Obama for his executive overreach at the federal level, yet his critics want him to do the same regarding education? Frankly, opponents of Common Core in Wisconsin, as well as around the country, need to stop “Waiting for Superman” and take the fight to their school boards.

Besides, even if one wants to believe the snide, worst-case scenario about Walker and Common Core, National Review’s Ian Tuttle presented the following pithy and positive political appraisal:

"If Walker has a Common Core problem, he also has (for the moment, at least) this small advantage over his opponents: A large swath of likely Republican primary voters view him as the strongest alternative to Jeb Bush and the Republican “establishment.” He has a grassroots brand (as opposed to Christie), national viability (as opposed to Huckabee), gubernatorial experience (as opposed to Rand Paul and Marco Rubio), and electoral success in a purple state (as opposed to Rick Perry). And that may be enough for voters to give his conversion the benefit of the doubt."

The analysis above should lend further benefit to these doubts.


Author drops UCL from £1m will over Sir Tim Hunt's treatment

Former student union president Jeremy Hornsby says University College London’s treatment of Sir Tim Hunt, the Nobel-prize winning scientist was the 'last straw’

A former president of University College London’s student union has written the institution out of his will in protest at its treatment of Sir Tim Hunt.

Sir Tim, a Nobel prize-winning scientist, was forced to resign as an honorary professor at UCL in a row over sexist comments he made in a speech.

Jeremy Hornsby, 79, an author and journalist, has now cut his alma mater out of his £1 million legacy. Mr Hornsby had planned to leave each of the two establishments that educated him – Winchester College and UCL – a tenth of his estate as a sign of his gratitude. He will now write UCL out of his will leaving it about £100,000 worse off.

Mr Hornsby wrote to Prof Michael Arthur, UCL’s provost, warning him of his intention to cut off UCL. His threat became a reality after the provost failed to even acknowledge his letter.

In his letter, Mr Hornsby explained that his exasperation with UCL over its seemingly soft stance on Islamist extremists, including the allegation that the so-called “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had become radicalised there during his studies, had been compounded by the Tim Hunt debacle.

Mr Hornsby wrote: “I have always been a loyal apologist and enthusiast for UCL, where I was president of the students’ union 1958-59, the year we moved to the old Seaman’s Hospital on Gordon Street. I have managed to ignore the various decisions over the years which appear to have enabled the radicalisation of Muslim students at UCL, but the case of Sir Tim Hunt is the last straw.

“Suffice to say that if I do not read that Prof Hunt has been reinstated within the next week, or, should he decline to return, that an apology has been issued to him, I shall sadly feel I must alter my will to remove the benefaction to UCL.”

Sir Tim, a biochemist who was awarded the Nobel prize in 2001, caused a storm of protest after reports of his speech in South Korea were tweeted. Sir Tim reportedly said: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry.”

Sir Tim said the comments were a joke. A recording released yesterday shows his audience laughing after he calls himself a “monster”.

Mr Hornsby, who graduated from UCL in 1959 after studying philosophy, said: “I wrote my will many many years ago and there was no question UCL would get ten per cent. But I just feel very strongly about the treatment of Sir Tim and have decided to change it.

“When I wrote to the provost I was astonished not even to receive an acknowledgement.”

UCL issued a statement last week saying it was right not to reinstate Sir Tim as honorary professor of the faculty of life sciences.


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