Sunday, May 22, 2016

Time to Shut Down the Federal Department of Education

Kids went to school and learnt their lessons quite well for centuries before there was a Federal Department of Education

The Department of Education was created under President Carter in 1979 under the same misguided pretense that has driven much of the growth of our massively bloated federal government — that if there is something we really care about, we should give more money and power to Washington bureaucrats.

It would be good news if the Department of Education just wasted the money it gets from our hard-earned taxes. But it uses the money to do real damage.

Nothing could provide a better example than the newly issued guidance letter that the Department of Education, jointly with the Justice Department, just sent to public school districts across the country, threatening to cut of federal funds if public schools do not comply with guidelines for treatment of so-called transgender students.

The first paragraph of the directive provides a toll-free phone number to call if you don’t know the English language well enough to read the letter and then serves up this same paragraph in six different languages. Our own Department of Education is apparently of the view that familiarity with the English language is not among the responsibilities of American citizens.

The guidance letter lists requirements with which public schools must comply to demonstrate that they do not violate the alleged civil rights of transgender students.

Among these requirements are assurances that transgender students be allowed access to restrooms and locker rooms “consistent with their gender identity.”

“Gender identity,” according to the letter, “refers to an individual’s internal sense of gender. A person’s gender identity may be different from or the same as the person’s sex assigned at birth.”

The bottom line is that our Department of Education has put the nation’s public schools on notice that their federal funds are in jeopardy if they don’t allow little boys who think they are girls access to girls' restrooms and locker rooms and the opposite.

There are many deeply troubling things about this. Among them is knowledge that many with great political power in Washington, who control so much of our money, cannot distinguish between a fact and an opinion and have zero interest in even trying to make this distinction.

Referring to a “person’s sex assigned at birth,” as if an individual’s sex was chosen by a bureaucrat as opposed to being a natural fact, the product of the mystery of creation, is astounding.

Or conveying as fact that there is something, totally unsubstantiated by science, called “gender identity,” distinct and apart from the natural sexual reality with which an individual is born, is equally astounding.

In a country such as ours today, where opinions are so widely diverse about what is true and what life is about, we cannot have power concentrated in Washington. Certainly, in education, we must maximize freedom of individuals to control their own lives and how to educate their own children.

According to a new Cato Institute report, Department of Education spending on K-12 education now stands at $40.2 billion, ten times greater in inflation-adjusted dollars than the $4.5 billion where it stood just prior to the creation of the education department. Over this period, despite the prodigious federal spending, test scores in reading and math have hardly changed. Adding in spending from federal departments other than the Department of Education on K-12 education, the total stands at over $80 billion.

This amounts to $1,600 for every child enrolled in public schools.

To repeat, the Department of Education is not just wasting the billions it controls. It does substantial damage by forcing its own left-wing views on the nation’s families.

The Education department should be shut down and these funds should either be returned to taxpayers and or sent to parents with children in public schools to be used toward vouchers to allow them to choose where to send their children to school.


Education Department Touts Children Practicing ‘Mindfulness’ in D.C. Elementary School

In a blog written by an intern at the Department of Education and posted on the agency’s website, children in a D.C. elementary school are shown meditating during the school day.

“The students had just woken up from nap time, so these exercises were intended to reactivate their brains and keep their focus in the classroom,” intern Brett Swanson wrote in the blog about his visit to the Brightwood Education Campus. “The peer-influence is great to see first-hand because when one student would get off task, their friends would help them get back into the activities.

“After the exercises the students had a chance to sit up tall, close their eyes, and breathe in unison,” Swanson wrote. “Beyond just physical fitness, students and teachers participated in meditation and stretching in order to ease their minds and connect with other people around them.

“I spoke with Kalpana Kumar-Sharma, a pre-K teacher who began this initiative,” Swanson wrote. “She explained that she started by talking to parents and students one-by-one about the importance of health and offering them individual exercises and diet changes.

“She then said she was able to expand her ideas about physical fitness and mindfulness throughout the school because of the one-by-one conversations,” Swanson wrote.

The blog noted that May is Physical Fitness and Sports Month.

“It was such an amazing experience to visit a school that puts mental and physical health first and to witness a part of its rich and inviting culture,” Swanson wrote.

According to the University of California at Berkeley, mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism.

“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment,” the Berkeley article stated.

“Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to think or feel in a given moment,” the Berkeley article stated. “When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.

“Though it has its roots in Buddhist meditation, a secular practice of mindfulness has entered the American mainstream in recent years,” the Berkeley article stated.


Where's the Academic Rigor in Higher Education?

In the past, the relationship between student and teacher was built on trust and authority. Students heading off to study at the university regarded teachers with respect, for students understood they knew less than their professors. There was humility in that relationship. But at least in some institutions, it’s the students who run the show now.

Andrea Quenette was let go from her job teaching communications at the University of Kansas not because of any wrongdoing on her part — a formal investigation cleared her of that — but because her students were offended when she spoke frankly about the issue of race. She said, “As a white woman I just never have seen the racism. … It’s not like I see ‘N—-r’ spray-painted on walls.” If Quenette did nothing wrong, the implication was that she wasn’t popular with students, bad for the bottom line, and was let go for it.

This comes as Melissa Click — that anti-First Amendment communications professor from the University of Missouri — received some support in her fight against those who properly and reasonably fired her. The American Association of University Professors concluded Mizzou dismissed Click improperly because they didn’t give her a faculty review, thus infringing on her academic freedom.

What a loss! According to Click’s CV, the woman received grants to study such things as the Twilight series, Fifty Shades of Grey and Martha Stewart. Apparently, we the sensible can’t summarily fire all the professors who peddle in triviality and promote violence toward our First Amendment.


The SATs bashers are patronising the poor

State-school kids are being denied the knowledge-rich education they deserve (SATs in Britain are Grade-school exams)

It’s been a bad few weeks for the Department for Education. From the academies u-turn to Nick Gibb’s on-air grammar blunder to the accidental leaking of the answers to an upcoming SATs exam – for the second time in three weeks – it’s been a parade of gaffes and cock-ups.

Running into SATs season, the timing couldn’t have been better for the DfE’s many enemies to have a pop. Sure enough, the newly rebranded ‘key-stage tests’ have drawn the ire of teachers and parents across the country. Despite the fact that SATs are only a means of assessing a school’s performance, which previous pupils probably barely remember taking, the tough new standards, we’re told, are driving children to the brink of despair.

‘Like my students, I went home and cried’, read an anonymous Guardian letter, addressed to education secretary Nicky Morgan. ‘This time because of the shame I feel through supporting your regime.’ In Brighton, a ‘kids’ strike’ was staged. One fully grown participant told the Mail that ‘our kids are being left disengaged and stressed’. The tougher exams, he said, had the potential to ‘turn into not just an educational crisis, but a mental-health crisis’.

Time and again, the image of damaged, sobbing and – at one point in the Guardian letter – terminally ill children were presented as the victims of the DfE’s exam-happy, ‘1950s’ regime. Most of the fuss is over the new grammar paper that asks 10-year-olds to isolate language features in sentences. When school’s minister Gibb came unstuck on Radio 4 – failing to distinguish between a subordinating conjunction and a preposition – it was held up as yet more proof that the tests were irrelevant and unfair.

Now, let’s get a few things straight. First, SATs are designed to test schools, not pupils. If some teachers are burdening their pupils with their own workplace pressures, that’s not on – but it’s hardly the DfE’s fault. Second, there is no such thing as a kids’ strike. Just because you put a placard in their hand it doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. And third, I’d have a lot more truck with the idea that the new SATs are incomparably difficult if vocal, state-sector teachers didn’t act as if all rigorous schooling was some form of abuse.

The state education sector is plagued by low expectations. And the outrage that met the Coalition and now Tory DfE’s efforts to inject some rigour and knowledge into state education has shown why. Children are seen as too fragile to be tested; too easily distracted to read a door-wedge classic; and too 21st century to learn the Queen’s English. In part, this is driven by a flimsy, bourgeois view of education that talks up creativity and letting kids be kids. But there’s also a deeply patronising logic at play.

After this year’s SATs were administered, some teachers took to social media to decry them not only as difficult, but as some form of veiled class warfare. One teacher, quoted in TES, said the reading test ‘would have had no relevance to inner-city children or ones with no or little life skills’. This echoes a popular idea among educationalists that knowledge-based education is, as union head Mary Bousted has put it, ‘alien to [poor children’s] lives and their interests’.

The idea here is that middle-class kids, with a swelling bookcase at home and parents with the time and/or resources to tutor them, will thrive while poor kids struggle. Not only does this make some pretty crass assumptions about working-class families, it also undermines the transcendent, egalitarian essence of education – that is, that anyone can appreciate the best that’s been thought and said, and that, with enough hard work, they can excel.

The SATs debate reflects this patronising desire to dumb down education in the name of working-class kids. Whether it’s what books they’re being taught or the tests they’re being given, poorer children are treated as fated and incapable due to their circumstances. Their education must therefore be ghettoised – made easier and more ‘relevant’. This is particularly intense around spelling and grammar, as it is so often held up as a kind of ‘cultural policing’ in our multicultural, relativised age.

When you wipe away the crocodile tears, the SATs outrage is another expression of the idea that poorer students are just a bit dim and shouldn’t be made to feel bad about it. But that doesn’t mean we should let the government off the hook. The post-Michael Gove DfE’s worthy desire to bring up the standards and content of state education has always been undermined by its obsession with testing and league tables. While trendy educationalists want to patronise children, the DfE all-too-often just wants to test them.

As the children’s author Michael Rosen has pointed out, the obsession with grammar tests belies a desire to turn English into something more quantifiable – like maths. While grammar is essential for children to learn how to read and write with confidence and coherence, the sort of technical terminology they are now required to learn is not only difficult – it’s also very contested. Where they could be encouraged to read great literature, English lessons are weighed down by these overwrought concepts, purely because they slot neatly into a marking criterion.

School is supposed to be challenging. Education isn’t about making kids feel good about themselves. But it isn’t about treating them as digits on a spreadsheet, either. Caught between the bean-counters and ‘the blob’, state-school students are being denied the knowledge-rich, challenging and transformative education they deserve.


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