Sunday, September 06, 2015

Just ONE HOUR of TV or internet use each night can damage a child's High School exam results (?)  

As both a psychologist and a former teacher, the effects reported below seemed implausibly large to me so I looked at the source journal article:  "Revising on the run or studying on the sofa: prospective associations between physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and exam results in British adolescents" by Corder et al.  It is a carefully done study but has major lacunae.  The interesting question is WHY some families allow more TV viewing.  Who are those families? I am not drawing a very long bow in assuming that they are in general less intelligent, lower class people. 

But that very statement is of course anathema to most social science researchers these days.  The association between educational attainment and IQ may be the best attested finding in the whole of social science.  It has been shown repeatedly for over 100 years -- going back in fact to the 19th century work of Alfred Binet.  Despite that, lip-service must be given in our demented age to the absurd claim that all men are equal. So, as a measure of INequality, IQ is rarely examined in modern-day social and medical research.  To do so would usually expose the researcher to dangerous opprobrium  -- and certainly make his findings less interesting.

And social class is not far behind IQ for its pervasive and well-attested negative effects on health, achievement and much else.

So the authors of this study ignored IQ and made only the most half-hearted attempt to measure socio-economic status.  They assessed your status by the locality you lived in  -- with an average of 1500 people in each locality.  But a major component of socio-economic status is income and, for a number of reasons, people of quite different income levels can be living side-by-side.  Tradesmen can be living beside welfare clients, for instance.  So the authors can be commended for making some attempt at controlling for social class but the level of control achieved was undoubtedly poor.

In short, the results obtained were entirely predictable on the basis of IQ and social class alone.  No certain effect of TV watching was demonstrated

A single hour’s TV or internet use each night will worsen a pupil’s GCSE results, research suggests.

In fact, teenagers should not watch any TV at all if they want to do well, according to a leading academic.

For every daily hour of TV, internet or computer game use, students dropped 9.3 points overall across their GCSE subjects. That is the equivalent of two grades – for example, the difference between a B and a D.

Cambridge University researchers also found that physical activity – while not harming educational attainment – doesn’t improve it either.

Reading and homework unsurprisingly radically improved performance – with an hour spent on homework each night boosting performance by 23.1 points – about four grades. But a cut-off point was found – more than four and a half hours did not make any further improvement.

The researchers, led by Dr Kirsten Corder, studied 845 pupils from different social classes in a variety of urban and rural areas across Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. Dr Corder said: ‘Television, computer games and internet use were all harmful to academic performance, but TV viewing was the most detrimental. We can cautiously infer that increased screen time may lead to poorer academic performance for GCSEs.

‘If teenagers or parents are concerned about GCSE results, one thing might be to look at the amount of TV viewing that they’re doing and maybe just try to be sensible about it.’

Co-author Esther van Sluijs put it more bluntly: ‘Our results suggest if you don’t watch television you will achieve the best GCSE results to your best potential regardless of what other activities you do.’

The research was part of a study looking at factors affecting the mental health, well-being and academic achievement of teenagers as they make the journey to adulthood.

Between 2005 and 2007, the scientists measured activity levels of the participants using heart-rate and movement sensors attached to their bodies. They also asked the pupils how much time they spent in front of TV or computer screens, doing homework, or reading for pleasure. GCSE performance was assessed at 16, by adding together all the points students obtained across different subjects.

According to the TV watchdog Ofcom, the UK’s 11 to 15-year-olds spend three hours a day on average in front of TVs or computer screens.

For participants in the study, the typical amount of screen time per day was four hours.

Dr Corder added: ‘Even if you do sufficient homework, television viewing would still potentially lower your GCSE results.’

The results, which were published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, also showed that levels of physical exercise and sport had no impact on GCSEs. This was important, said the authors, because there was a wide misconception that being good at sport detracted from academic achievement.

Dr van Sluijs said: ‘It is encouraging that our results show that greater physical activity does not negatively affect exam results.

‘As physical activity has many other benefits, efforts to promote physical activity throughout the day should still be a public health priority.’


Superheroes out of bounds at school

Ridiculous stories about political correctness float around the Internet like so much ocean garbage. Occasionally, one washes up on “Good Morning America” with a larger story to tell.

A little girl named Laura was sent home with a note because she had brought a Wonder Woman lunchbox to school. (The website The Mary Sue first reported the story, from a post on the social media site Imgur.) In the letter addressed to Laura’s parents, the school explained:

“The dress code we have established requests that the children not bring violent images into the building in any fashion — on their clothing (including shoes and socks), backpacks and lunchboxes. We have defined ‘violent characters’ as those who solve problems using violence. Superheroes certainly fall into that category.”

That’s true. You know who else falls into that category? George Washington and all the Founding Fathers. It also includes Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and every other U.S. president, including Barack Obama. (He solved the problem of Osama bin Laden with SEAL Team 6.) One needn’t get too provocative, but the Hebrew and Muslim prophets and even Jesus saw violence as a solution to at least some problems. (Just ask the money-changers in the temple.)

I have no idea if the school in question has a security guard or police officer on the premises, but I am sure that the parents would very much like someone equipped to solve some violent problems with violence should the need arise.

That’s because violence is a tool. It’s not a good tool — in the moral sense — nor is it a bad tool. Surgery to save a life is laudable. Surgery to inflict pain is torture. A hammer can smash in someone’s skull, or it can build a house. To say that all kinds of violence are equally bad isn’t high-minded morality; it is amoral nihilism wrapped in a kind of gauzy, brain dead sanctimony.

Barely two weeks ago, three American passengers — two of them servicemen — heard gunfire on their train from Amsterdam to Paris. When everyone else was running from the would-be mass murderer, they ran toward danger. They didn’t ask the alleged terrorist, a Moroccan named Ayoub El-Khazzani, what his grievances were or try to debate the finer points of Islamic law. They used force to subdue him. They don’t have Wonder Woman’s powers, which makes them more, not less, heroic.

A little over a month earlier on a train in Washington, D.C., on the Fourth of July — the day we Americans celebrate our collective decision to use violence to solve the problem of British tyranny — 24-year-old Kevin Joseph Sutherland was brutally slaughtered. The killer punched, kicked, stomped and ultimately stabbed Sutherland 30 to 40 times. Almost a dozen passengers watched the 125-pound assailant while doing absolutely nothing.

One needn’t second-guess their decision too harshly to at least concede the obvious fact that the onlookers were in no way heroes.

If you know anything about superheroes, the underlying morality is pretty much everything. Supervillains use their powers for evil ends. Superheroes use theirs to protect the vulnerable and uphold the good. Teaching kids that there’s no difference between the two is the very opposite of moral education.

It reminds me of William F. Buckley’s famous retort to those who claimed there was no moral distinction between the United States and the Soviet Union. If you have one man who pushes old ladies in front of oncoming buses, Buckley explained, and you have another man who pushes old ladies out of the way of oncoming buses, it simply will not do to describe them both as the sorts of men who push old ladies around.

A country, and a civilization, that actively chooses to render such distinctions meaningless has lost the confidence to sustain itself.

There’s an added irony here. Around the time little Laura’s school was cracking down on Wonder Woman lunchboxes, two women, Kristen Griest and Shaye Haver, passed the Army Ranger training course for the first time. The news was hailed across the country as a huge step forward for women.

Are these women role models or not? Are they heroes? Or should they be condemned for their willingness to use violence when necessary? Maybe Laura should get a Griest and Haver lunchbox and find out.


Student Nazis in Britain again

The National Union of Students came under fire last night after inviting a leading figure from the Islamist group Cage to speak at a series of protest rallies.

Moazzam Begg, the outreach director for Cage, is scheduled to appear at several events next month as part of a campaign against government anti-terrorism programmes.

That is despite the NUS leadership admitting only months ago that Cage’s leaders had ‘sympathised’ with violent extremism and insisting that it would not work with the group.

Last night critics accused the NUS of lying and distorting its own record.

Details of Begg’s role were uncovered by the Student Rights group which campaigns against extremism on university campuses.

Rupert Sutton, director of the Student Rights said: ‘Given this comes just months after the NUS angrily condemned suggestions they would work with CAGE, this is rank hypocrisy.’

‘Until the NUS stops working with groups like CAGE, or parroting extremist narratives on Prevent, it will continue to be part of the problem on campuses.’

Douglas Murray, associate director of the Henry Jackson Society said: ‘The NUS is on the wrong side of this whole matter, and every time it’s caught out it lies and distorts its own record.

‘It believes it would be wrong to criticise ISIS but always right to condemn the British government and British security policy.’

Begg, who has admitted attending terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, is due to appear at three ‘Students Not Suspects’ events in October.

Jointly organised by the NUS, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies and other groups, they target the government’s Prevent programme which is designed to stop vulnerable youngsters being turned into terrorists.

An NUS spokesman said: ‘The events are being run as a coalitions with a number of other organisations, we are a large organisation and represent a wide diversity of views, some of our officers with different views have chosen to work with the coalition.’

Cage first hit the headlines in February when a senior figure described Islamic State beheader Jihadi John as a ‘beautiful, kind man’.

Cage spokesman Asim Qureshi was condemned for claiming Mi5 were responsible for radicalising Mohammed Emwazi who he claimed 'wouldn't hurt a fly'.

In May it was reported that the NUS had agreed to lobby with Cage against government counter terrorism laws.

At the time NUS leaders said the claims were ‘highly misleading’ and declared the NUS ‘will not work with CAGE in any capacity’.

It also accepted that Cage was a ‘deeply problematic’ organisation. ‘It is clear that its leaders have sympathised with violent extremism, and violence against women, and people associated with the group have sympathised with anti-Semitism’, it said.

David Cameron condemned the NUS for its links with Cage in a speech in July. He told its leaders they brought ‘shame’ on their organisation by allying with Cage.

Begg joined Cage in 2006 as its ‘outreach director’. He had been arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and spent three years at Guantanamo Bay where he claimed to have been interrogated 300 times.

He admitted having visited terror training camps in Afghanistan but was awarded £1million compensation by the British Government.

Through Begg, Cage developed links with the radical preacher and Al Qaeda cheerleader Anwar al-Awlaki and campaigned for his release from detention in Yemen.

Al-Awlaki was later killed in an American drone strike. In 2010, Begg also spoke of his desire for a Caliphate-style regime in Britain.

Last year Begg was arrested over alleged links to terrorism training and funding in Syria, to which he had previously travelled. As a result, Cage’s bank accounts were frozen after intervention from the Treasury.

The charges against Begg were later dropped.


Charter schools in Australia?

This week rang with howls of indignation from the usual suspects (unions and public education lobbies) railing against Dr Jennifer Buckingham and me for attempting to destroy public education as harbingers of the neoliberal apocalypse.

Our crime was having released a research report on charter schools, which are publicly-funded, privately managed schools. The report makes the case, with evidence, for why charter schools should be introduced by government as a fourth school sector under the public school umbrella.

It was a little bewildering to hear that, for some people, schools that are public in every way that matters are supposedly Trojan horses for privatisation.

For me, what matters is that public schools are open to everyone and they are fully-funded, with no tuition fees paid. This is to ensure that all children can access a quality education, regardless of their circumstances. In keeping with this notion, as well as the evidence, the report supports the creation of charter schools with these enrolment principles.

Nobody has ever successfully argued that universal access to education means centralised and uniform provision, managed by bureaucrats. Under the charter school model, schools would be managed by organisations which have the capacity to respond to the challenges of unique school communities. Teachers who worked well with their students could be paid more, rather than the reward for their success consisting of being assigned to a less challenging school. Where there is a desire for a vocationally-focused education alongside the traditional core subjects, schools could deliver that.

What could be more in keeping with the spirit of public schooling – schooling for all – than schools that are able to better serve their students, parents, and communities?

It seems that equity in education provision isn’t really what the self-styled defenders of public schools are concerned about. If the nature of the criticism is anything to go by, it’s more about protecting the vested interests of unions and bureaucrats alike. Our public school system, and the students who have no choice but to attend, are worse off for it.


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