Friday, March 18, 2016

So You Think Public Education Is Failing? It Helps to Understand Its Goals

Donald Trump’s base is widely characterized as “low-information voters.” As he continues to rack up primary wins, does this indicate that the majority of voters is now low-information?

Meanwhile, a recent poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics of 18- to 29-year olds finds two-thirds of them neutral to Sanders’ self-identification as a socialist, while a McClatchy-Marist poll shows 25% of millennials saying they would “definitely vote for” any socialist presidential candidate:

    “As a millennial, I believe that we identify with what Bernie Sanders has to offer because we’ve had so much taken away from us.”

In 1979, the nation’s public schools were put under the control of the newly created Department of Education. In our forthcoming book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children, Vicki Alger traces the genesis of the department’s creation, and its numerous attempts to remake itself since, concluding it has—by its own stated goals—failed.

But one could conclude from the current election campaign that the Department has in fact succeeded beyond all expectations: one just needs to understand its actual goals.

As Charlotte Twight showed in this recent article in The Independent Review, “Through the Mist: American Liberty and Political Economy, 2065,” for 30 years, American students have “unlearned” the concept of liberty during their passage through the government education system—with the result that they have been formed into increasingly compliant subjects of an increasingly powerful state.

Much attention is currently being given to the sad state of higher education: with campuses now free speech-free zones, more attention paid to issues of race, gender, or other label du jour swamping interest in producing students who can actually participate in a free and prosperous society, and indenturing young people with massive amounts of debt to feather the nests of tenured faculty with low course loads.

But addressing the problem at the university level is way too late. As Dr. Twight summarized:

    "The future of America’s political economy largely will be determined by the extent of personal autonomy the federal government will tolerate, the additional powers it covets, and the current powers it will not willingly relinquish. Over the next fifty years, government’s technological capability to surreptitiously monitor the populace and crush domestic dissent or resistance will grow. ...

    Our one hope is the severance of education from government control."

And the only hope for doing so is for Americans to wake up to understanding that “public education” is about strengthening the “public” sector—our would-be rulers—not “education.”

If we want children who can succeed in a global economy that runs on tech, children who embrace and defend individual and civil liberty, who value and help their fellow-man, we’re going to have to educate them ourselves. And that can only be done privately, wholly divorced from government involvement.

A pipe dream?  Consider this:

    "Prior to state involvement, literacy and school attendance rates in England, Wales, and the United States were 90 percent and rising"

More recently, James Tooley has spent 15 years finding the world’s poorest of the poor doing just that for their children—scores of private schools, paid for by desperately poor parents, in countries from India and China through sub-Saharan Africa.

As he says, “If Liberia can, why can’t we?”


DOJ Announces New Effort to 'Promote Religious Freedom' (for Muslims) in the Nation's Schools

Under the banner of civil rights enforcement, the U.S. Justice Department plans to "promote religious freedom" in the nation's public schools by cracking down on discrimination and bullying, especially as it may affect Muslims.

The new enforcement effort announced on Tuesday will "expand" DOJ's ability to investigate and prosecute complaints; lead community outreach; and develop guidance for federal prosecutors.

Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said one goal of the new initiative is to promote religious pluralism and create safe, supportive and inclusive schools for all children.

Following acts of terrorism, including 9-11 and San Bernardino, "too many Muslim Americans and those perceived as Muslim suffer a backlash of violence and discrimination," Gupta said. "We see criminal threats against mosques; harassment in schools; and even reports of violence targeting Muslim Americans, people of Arab or South Asian descent, and people perceived to be members of these groups."

Gupta said the new initiative, dubbed "Combating Religious Discrimination," will help DOJ fight the backlash against Muslim students and students perceived as Muslim. The initiative also will "benefit children of every background and every religion," she added.

"Our schools must remain the places where our children feel safe and supported. The places where they confront differences by building bridges of understanding. And the places where they learn that America guarantees freedom, justice and opportunity for all people -- regardless of what you look like, where you come from or which religion you observe." 

Gupta noted that DOJ's Civil Rights Division, which she heads, already has sued schools around the country on the grounds of religious discrimination.

"In part because of our efforts, today, Christian students in Bakersfield City, California, can observe Ash Wednesday without fearing an unexcused absence. Muslim students in Lewisville, Texas, can pray together during lunch. Jewish students in Pine Bush, New York, can walk the halls, ride the bus and sit in class without enduring anti-Semitic bullying and intimidation. Arabic-speaking EL students in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, can learn from qualified teachers. And Sikh students in DeKalb County, Georgia, can wear a turban to school without facing harassment."

Despite those accomplishments (some dating to the George W. Bush administration), there is more "urgent work" to be done, she said.

Guupta was speaking in Newark, N.J., at the first of several community roundtables addressing religious discrimination in education.

She said future roundtables, to be held at various locations around the country, will address related topics.

For example, a discussion in Dallas will focus on "religion-based hate crimes" targeting individuals and houses of worship; a meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, will examine religious discrimination in employment; and a roundtable in Detroit will address discrimination by local zoning officials against congregants seeking to build places of worship. The final roundtable, in Palo Alto, California, will once again concentrate on bullying and religious discrimination in schools.

“Robust community engagement and meaningful dialogue can help our country fulfill its promise of religious freedom, and we look forward to tackling this challenging work with creative solutions in the months ahead,” Gupta said.

Agencies participating in the new initiative include the Departments of Education, Homeland Security, and Labor; the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); and within the Justice Department, the Civil Rights Division, FBI, Office of Justice Programs, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys and Community Relations Service. 

"Agency officials will facilitate the roundtable discussions to help identify key priorities and lead robust dialogue with community members and civil rights advocates," the news release said.


Mass. should revive US history requirement

A basic purpose of American public education is to teach students how to exercise the rights and responsibilities associated with active citizenship in a democracy, but national testing shows that it just isn’t happening. To change that, Massachusetts should revive the requirement that public school students pass a US history MCAS test to graduate from high school.

According to 2014 results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a mere 27 percent of American eighth-graders scored proficient or better in geography. The numbers were worse for civics (23 percent) and US history (18 percent).

Massachusetts’ 1993 Education Reform Act was not overly prescriptive when it came to what subjects should be taught, but it did require students to learn about the principles of American democracy, including the fundamentals of the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Federalist Papers. To ensure that, it required that they pass a US history test as a condition of high school graduation.

Massachusetts’ highly rated history standards and test had been developed and were ready to be implemented when the Patrick administration jettisoned the requirement in 2009, citing the $2.4 million cost of administering the test. Thankfully, the Commonwealth has a lot more fiscal flexibility now than it did then, and there is no reason why we can’t deploy the test at a reasonable cost.

It’s often said that what isn’t tested isn’t taught. Unfortunately, that appears to be the case when it comes to US history education in Massachusetts’ public schools. Entire middle-school social studies departments have been eliminated, leaving history courses to be taught by English, math, and science teachers.

Massachusetts public schools have much to be proud of over the last two decades. Between 2005 and 2013, the state led the nation at every grade level and every subject tested on the NAEP, which is also known as the “Nation’s Report Card.”

In 2007 and 2013, the Bay State participated as its own “country” on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, the gold standard of international math and science testing. Our students proved to be among the best in the world in mathematics, and in 2007 our eighth-graders tied for number one in the world in science.

But that achievement does not extend to US history. The geography, civics, and US history results are not broken down by state in NAEP, but Massachusetts students are routinely outperformed by their counterparts from California, Oregon, Indiana, Virginia, and Alabama in the national “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution” contest. In the contest’s nearly 30-year history, the Commonwealth has never finished among the top 10 states.

When we both were in public service on Beacon Hill, we were acutely aware that state budgets are more than line items and spreadsheets; they are expressions of our values and priorities as a commonwealth. Similarly, public education is not just a way to prepare students to be part of the workforce; it must also prepare them to be active civic participants in America’s great experiment in democracy.

Our students can’t grow up to be active citizens if they don’t understand the ideals upon which our country was founded and the journey that has brought us to where we are today. To avoid that fate, Massachusetts should restore passage of the US MCAS history test as a condition of high school graduation.


UK: Atheist students are losing their faith in free speech

The University of Sheffield Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (SASH) has turned down a suggestion by a student to invite Maryam Namazie to speak at the university. The reason? Her ‘hard anti-Islamist approach’ is not ‘conducive’ to the direction that the society wishes to go in.

This isn’t a wind-up. Not only is the suggestion that you can be ‘too hard’ on Islamism baffling, but the fact that this statement came from an atheist, secularist and humanist society is almost beyond parody. To clarify, this is a society which aims to defend human rights and promote secularism declining to invite a renowned and influential ex-Muslim, secularist and human-rights campaigner. (Namazie has done extensive work supporting refugees, and has tackled both religious fundamentalism and far-right bigotry.)

In its response to the inquiring student, SASH said that it would like to concentrate on ‘interfaith’ activities instead, stating that ‘interfaith between faith societies is vital’. Apparently, inviting Namazie, which may not be welcomed by some members of Sheffield’s Islamic Society (ISoc), would be antithetical to their objectives.

I’ve always found the idea of atheist societies bizarre. After all, these are groups forged from a shared lack of belief in something. But the idea of an atheist society working its agenda and events around an Islamic society, a religious organisation, is absurd. It seems that SASH has shifted its focus to humanism rather than atheism – only here ‘humanism’ means pandering to Islamists.

SASH stated that Namazie’s recent podcast with Sam Harris demonstrated her ‘often divisive approach’. This is the podcast in which Namazie opposes Harris’ views on the profiling of Muslim immigrants and defends open borders for those fleeing persecution. Pretty divisive, huh?

SASH was particularly concerned that there would be a repeat of ‘what happened at Goldsmiths’, when Islamist students disrupted a talk being given by Namazie. But this only projects a pretty dim view of Sheffield ISoc. As a Sheffield student myself, I’d like to think that ISoc members would be up for the debate, and would not act at all like those thugs at Goldsmiths. Not all Muslims resent apostates.

What’s more, the subtext here is that Namazie was in some way to blame for the Goldsmiths incident. Though SASH insists it does not condone Goldsmiths ISoc’s actions, it is nevertheless siding with Islamists at Namazie’s expense. This is cowardly and pathetic.

This incident is yet another example of the conflation of Islamism (the ideology), Islam (the religion) and Muslims (as people). It is the belief that an attack on Islamism is somehow an attack on all Muslims – and all of Islam. This is not the case: most Muslims hate and reject all forms of Islamism. I hope SASH will realise its mistake and restore its faith in free speech.


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