Friday, June 03, 2016

Black girl couldn't handle  the Ivy League

She would probably have been much more at home at an historically black college

Nayla Kidd was an engineering student at Columbia University when reports that she had gone missing went viral. She was found perfectly healthy nearly two weeks later, only telling police she wanted to “start fresh.” But the 19-year-old’s reason for going off the grid, without informing family or friends, remained a mystery. Here, Kidd tells the New York Post’s Melkorka Licea, what triggered her brazen escape from the Ivy League, how she pulled it off and where she goes from here:

I found out I was a missing person on May 14.

I had been ignoring the avalanche of calls and texts from friends and family asking where I was and if I was OK. But that night I caved, turned on my phone and decided to look.

Scrolling down the list of messages, I saw one from a friend that read: “Just Google yourself.”

I typed my name into the search bar and a huge list of news reports with photos of my face stared back at me.

Shocked, all I could think was, ‘Oh my God, the police are looking for me’.

I was living two lives at once, and it was so surreal.

Two weeks earlier, I was almost finished with my second year at the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science when I decided to start my new life.

I skipped my final exams, changed bank accounts, got a second phone number and deleted my Facebook page.

I needed to break from my old life of high pressure and unreasonable expectations.

I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where my mom, LaCreis, worked as a cancer research scientist at the University of Louisville. It was just her and I; she raised me as a single mom.

I was always very independent, even at a young age. Louisville bored me, so when I was going to start high school, I insisted on moving to California to attend boarding school.

My mom didn’t want me to move so far away but supported my ­decision.

I got into Thacher, a highly competitive prep school in Ojai (north of Los Angeles). Not long after I started, I became known as ‘The Science Girl’.

In my second year, my chemistry teacher announced to all 240 students at an assembly that I had scored highest on the Regional Chemistry Olympiad — a national chemistry competition.

The teachers also used my homework as an example of what other students should strive for.

I enjoyed the praise and self-worth I felt when I excelled in school, and I wanted to keep aiming higher.

The climax was when I got into Columbia. Because it’s such a prestigious school, it made me feel like I had proven to myself, and everyone around me, that I made it.

And it seemed natural that I would continue to study science in college.

I had always fantasised about living in New York, but the first day I moved it was also my birthday. I felt really alienated and alone and didn’t find the Columbia students very welcoming.

During my first year, I quickly went from star student to slacker.

School just wasn’t interesting to me anymore because I didn’t have any close connections with my teachers.

I came from a small, tight-knit community at Thacher, and at ­Columbia I was lucky if a teacher talked to me. I’m a social learner and Columbia didn’t provide me that opportunity.

I felt like I had to choose between living a life I was passionate about and doing well in school.

Even though I was wired to be a good student, I didn’t feel ­inspired.

I got through the year, getting B’s and C’s, but I didn’t care. I was just happy the summer had arrived.

On a magical night in July, my friend Charlie invited me back to her apartment in Brooklyn. While we were up on her rooftop, she confessed to a strange love of walking on dangerous ledges.

I started imagining if I would have the guts to walk the line ­between life and death.

The feeling of risk, freedom and fearlessness that she experienced while on the ledge were all things I yearned for. That night, Charlie didn’t actually walk the ledge, but the idea excited me.

When school started again in September, I took computer science classes and hated every minute of it.

I had been waking up every day for months with a feeling of dread and doom. I couldn’t keep putting my all into something I cared nothing about.

On a rainy day in early April, I couldn’t take it anymore. I broke down hysterically crying on campus while I was trying to study for a test. Completely overwhelmed, I didn’t stop sobbing for all 10 blocks to my apartment.

At 7am the next morning, I shot up in bed and told myself, “I’m ­going to change this.”

Feeling determined, I walked bought an olive-green notebook — the same colour as my birthstone and started plotting my escape.

I knew one thing for sure: I wasn’t going to tell anyone.

I stopped going to all my classes and only went to my work-study on campus.

I made $14 an hour filming lectures for the Columbia Video Network and put every penny into ­savings. I sold unworn clothes and school supplies through Facebook to make some extra money.

Then I started searching for a new apartment. I replied to at least 20 posts through Facebook groups.

The first person replied to me 12 hours later and I immediately went to take a look at the $750-a-month room in Williamsburg the next day.

When I popped out of the subway stop, I instantly felt like this was an area I wanted to live in. Art covers the walls, everyone looks interesting and there’s a fun vibe in the air.

The apartment mirrored the atmosphere of the neighbourhood perfectly. I was barely at the loft a few minutes when I said I’d take it. I felt like my plan was finally coming together.

On April 29, I moved out of my three-bedroom apartment where I was living with three former Columbia students who were all busy working jobs in computer science.

They didn’t ask any questions as I lugged all my belongings during multiple trips on the trains to my new room. At my new place, I live with two artists in their 20s who are both very easygoing.

The first night in my cozy new room, I was so relieved. I felt I had gotten over the main hurdle of my plan.

A few days later, I started to totally disconnect. I deleted my Facebook profile first, shut down my phone and got a prepaid number, took all of the money out of my Chase bank account and opened a new one.

I wanted the time to make sense of my situation alone and have the space to comprehend it. I felt like sharing would force me to explain something I hadn’t even figured out myself. It wasn’t normal to just quit school. But I never expected it to get so out of hand.

I spent the next week or so completely focused on myself. I got to know my new roommates, took walks around the neighbourhood and found my new favourite coffee shop a few blocks away.

But the more time that passed, the more people tried to find me.

I had given my new number to a few friends after I first left, but quickly stopped responding to them.

At the worst point, my new phone was buzzing off the hook ­every 30 minutes. Eventually, a friend must have given my new number to my mom because she started calling, too.

I was constantly worrying, and the more they tried to contact me, the more I didn’t feel ready to tell them. The longer I ignored them, the worse it got.

When Mother’s Day arrived, I felt guilty for not calling my mom, but I still couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t face her yet.

I never turned on the TV and stayed immersed in my own world. I had only seen the missing-person flyers online.

About two weeks later, I heard a loud knock on my door.

“Are you Nayla Kidd?” one of the officers said sternly.

“Yes,” I replied.

“It’s the police. Can we come in?”

My jaw dropped to the ground.

“Yes,” I said sheepishly.

Three big cops came into my room.

“You know we’ve been looking for you non-stop for the past three days?” said Detective Alex Argiro, who had dark hair and a piercing stare.

At that point, I knew I needed to face reality. They told me since my mom wasn’t picking up the phone, it would be best for me to come to the station house with them.

“Can you give me five minutes to get ready to go?” I asked. I threw my hair up in a bun and put on my jacket and shoes, taking a few extra minutes to wrap my mind around facing my mom.

On the way there, I sat in the back seat of the cop car with Detective Argiro, half-listening while he attempted to give me life advice.

We got to the Upper West Side station house, and my mom showed up shortly after.

She looked tired, but to my surprise she was very calm. Without talking, we embraced each other tightly and she asked me, “How are you doing?”

All the anxiety and guilt I was feeling washed away in that ­moment.

“I haven’t slept the last few days,” she said to me.

I couldn’t bring myself to say much. I just listened.

“Trust me, honey, I understand. You don’t have to explain anything,” she reassured me. I nodded and felt myself tearing up.

“An investigator told me you might be stripping. Even if you’re a stripper, you’re gonna be the best stripper out there,” she said to me.

I laughed and felt grateful for her support. And of course, that stripper tip wasn’t true.

I still don’t know how the cops found me. My mom and the police never said.

It’s now been over three weeks since I went off the grid, and I’ve learned a lot from my experience.

I realise now that I don’t need to prove anything to anyone else or myself. School isn’t for me, and I’m OK with that.

There are a lot of different things I would like to work on and ­develop now. I want to make and produce music and work on my writing.

I want to continue my modelling career and see if I can make money doing freelance gigs. I’m back in touch with my friends and family, but I’m not going back to how things used to be.

I’m going to keep living in my new apartment and have no plans to go back to school again. I always told myself I needed to find gratification through academia, but now I want to find it on my own through the arts.

I finally broke down because I was living a life I thought I should be living instead of living the life I want.


New Evidence Supporting School Choice

A groundbreaking new study from the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas provides state of the art data showing the benefits of school choice.

The bottom line: When parents have choice where to send their child to school, their children perform better in reading and math tests.

Patrick J. Wolf, one of the authors, summarizes the results:

According to their “meta-analysis of 19 ‘gold standard’ experimental evaluations of the test-score effects of private school choice programs around the world. The sum of reliable evidence indicates that, on average, private school choice increases the reading scores of choice users by about 0.27 standard deviations and their math scores by 0.17 standard deviations. These are highly significant, educationally meaningful achievement gains of several months of additional learning from school choice.”

The idea of school choice and school vouchers was pioneered in the 1950s by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. However, it has not been until recent years that the idea started picking up steam.

According to Wolf, “there are now 50 private school choice programs in 26 states plus the District of Columbia. Well over half have been enacted in the past five years.”

About 1.3 million students are in these programs, compared to 50 million students enrolled in our public schools.

There are various approaches to providing school choice: vouchers, education savings accounts, tax-credit scholarships and individual tax credits and deductions.

There has been much back and forth over recent years, with various studies claiming to show no benefits from school choice and even negative effects. Other studies have shown positive results and are supportive. The authors of this latest research report their results with great conviction and feel they have produced the most comprehensive, thorough, and unbiased work on this subject to date.

But no matter. Those opposed will most likely stay opposed because, like in many, maybe all, areas of public policy, it’s really about interests and ideology and not about science. Those who want to keep things the way they are will ignore studies and research or find ways to rationalize why the results are not conclusive.

However, a black mother, whose child is trapped in a failing urban public school, doesn’t need research to inform her that it is a good idea to give her control to pull that child out of that school and send him or her to a different one. It’s obvious.

Capitalism works so well because failure is punished and success is rewarded. Why should one of the most crucial institutions of our society — our education system — be shielded from the competitive forces that produce excellence? Why should failure be allowed to go on forever just because unions have power and parents don’t?

Furthermore, when we measure education we look at test scores in reading and math. But education is about more than reading and math. It is about transmitting principles and values. Where are the tests that measure whether children are learning the right values?

The progression of court decisions over the years extracting any trace of religion from public schools correlate with changes in attitudes among our youth about sex and family. Back in 1962, when prayer was banished from public schools, less then 10 percent of our babies were born to unwed mothers. Today, it is 43 percent.

Over the same period, the percentage of black families headed by a single parent jumped from 20 percent to 70 percent. In these troubled communities, the option to send a child to a Christian school, to learn and digest Christian values, can be a lifeline to the future. Why in our free country should this be prevented?

Now we have powerful research showing that competition improves test scores in reading and math. This just bolsters the intuitive notion that parents should have control over where they send their child to school.


Poorly vetted Chinese students open the way for Espionage Activity

On Wednesday, May 25th, Reuters news agency released an investigative report on the academic fraudulence by international Chinese students at American universities. Their report, specifically outlining the fraud carried out by thirty Chinese students at the University of Iowa (UI), discusses the unique business system enabling Chinese students to pay for transcripts, essays, and other certificates necessary to enter into American universities as well as succeed in them.

The report follows a Chinese "tutoring firm," Transcend, as well as a specific foreign national that was found to have manufactured a false transcript and other academic documents using the firm. In addition to this specific case, the report discussed how the university's transcript evaluators failed to catch the fraudulent behavior because there are only four to five staff members available to review thousands of applications.

Reuters stated that the university caught these Chinese students after ProctorU, the online exam service, found discrepancies between the facial features of those taking the online exams and the students listed as taking the exams.

The Reuter's piece, as well as the falsification of documents by Chinese international students, is not a novel issue among American universities, but has instead been a long standing issue regarding immigration and national security.

In May of 2013, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) found in a study that fifty-seven percent of Chinese students had assistance with the college and/or student visa application processes. The association also found that it was "not uncommon for third parties, including agents, to forge academic credentials and letters of recommendation for students applying to overseas schools."

In the last ten years, the number of Chinese students at American universities has tripled to around 200,000. During this time, the Chinese Ministry of Education approved approximately 450 agencies that offer support to students wishing to study overseas. With China being far and away the leading "sending country" of international students to the United States, concerns regarding the authenticity of their international students and the agencies enlisted to help them, helps raise questions about the US immigration system as a whole.

The student visa process is, and has been, largely dependent upon the credentials the students give the universities and government. It is thus extremely important that the schools carefully evaluate the background of the foreign nationals they wish to admit. If schools, such as the University of Iowa, dole out the task to very few people, then the evaluation of these students, their transcripts, and their legitimacy become difficult to confirm. Ultimately, the school's confirmation of legitimacy is essential in the processing of any student-visa application and a component of review the State Department heavily relies upon.

However, the NACAC report found that many universities don't employ review practices thorough enough to verify Chinese credentials. Much like the evaluation practice at UI, other American universities fail to provide enough oversight in their review process, which allows Chinese students to pay tutor agencies to aid them in their admittance process.

Coinciding with these lax admittance policies is the threat that stems from international students conducting espionage activities on United States' campuses.

In an April 2012 Bloomberg article, the former deputy director of FBI counter-intelligence, Frank Figluizzi, claimed that efforts by foreign countries to penetrate universities have been increasing since 2007, specifically citing China as a country that attempts to obtain classified information by means of "academic solicitation."

Though Figluizzi admitted that most international students, researchers, and professors come to U.S. with legitimate reasons, universities are often targeted as an "ideal place" for foreign intelligence services "to find recruits, propose and nurture ideas, learn and even steal research data, or place trainees."

Other FBI reports confirm Agent Figluizzi's claims that international students pose a threat to US national security. One investigative report, created in 2011, identified the targeting of universities to create foreign intelligence spy rings as a marquee threat. The report outlined FBI cases beginning in 2005 that showed the successes of international students engaging in spying on US technological and military operations.

Recent examples of these espionage acts occurred in July of 2014, when a Chinese national pleaded guilty to attempting to illegally export dense articles with military application to the People's Republic of China. The defendant was a 29 year old who was on a student visa.

Later that same year, in September, a Hawaiian man was arrested after he e-mailed classified information to a 27-year-old Chinese woman he had a romantic relationship with; she was a graduate student who had a J1 student visa.

The man was a high-ranking lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, and she had used their relationship to convince him to release numerous classified documents, including the Department of Defenses' China Strategy and the U.S. Armed Forces Defense Planning Guide until 2018.

Between the NACAC, Reuters, Bloomberg, and the FBI, there appears to be a great threat stemming from the lack of oversight of the US student-visa system. Universities across the nation are failing to accurately identify the credentials, and even the identities, of many of the international students they extend admittance to. In return, this admittance has created a gateway to which China, and likely other foreign countries, can conduct espionage operations inside US borders, and ultimately steal vital military information and technology.


Australian university suspends hate-filled Marxist

La Trobe University yesterday suspended Safe Schools co-founder Roz Ward, as a former ­member of Victoria’s gay and transgender advisory committee warned the program was untenable because it had been ­hijacked by radical gender theory.

The Australian revealed last week that Ms Ward had called for the “racist Australian flag” at state parliament to be replaced with a “red one”, prompting her to quit her advisory role with the Victorian government and sparking a university investigation.

That investigation resulted in the Marxist Ms Ward’s suspension yesterday for “undermining” public confidence in the program because she continued to push ideologies that were “unrelated”.

A spokesman for La Trobe University said: “We are following our normal HR procures and we will not make any further comment.”

The National Tertiary Education Union said La Trobe had charged Ms Ward with “serious misconduct over media commentary on her private Facebook post”.

NTEU Victorian secretary Colin Long accused the univer­sity of giving in to a “media campaign”, invoking the spectre of the Soviet Union that once incubated the world view Ms Ward has since adopted.

“That La Trobe University has apparently allowed itself to be cowed into participating in this anti-intellectual, anti-democratic attack reflects the dismal state of intellectual capacity at the senior management level in some Australian universities,” Dr Long said. “We are very concerned that La Trobe University management seem to think that political views should be a ­criterion for employment, as was the case in the Soviet Union.”

The NTEU said it “considers that this is discrimination on the basis of political opinion and will be considering all legal avenues of redress”.

Gay rights activist Rob Mitchell — who was sacked from his Victorian government advisory role in 2014, arguing that he lost his job because he was too ­publicly critical of the former Napthine government for its ­inaction on tackling homophobia in schools — now believes Safe Schools has gone too far.

“They are completely out of control,’’ he told The Australian.

The Ballarat farmer was frustrated while on the government advisory committee with the slow rollout of Safe Schools and other anti-homophobia programs and was pushing for more resources and government initi­atives. He said he threatened to make a bumper sticker saying that his boss — then ministerial advisory committee chairwoman Ruth McNair — was undermining the health of young people.

“The tragedy in all this is: when I was agitating for money to be put in anti-homophobia programs, the Safe Schools ­Coalition was what I would call a vanilla anti-homophobia program,’’ he said. “It seems to have been transformed into this queer theory sort of academic-driven lot of bullshit. As part of that process, they have lost their core constituency, which is parents of school kids. It has been completely hijacked, been derailed.”

He said the program needed to be replaced and that La Trobe University was too influential in gay and transgender research.

Mr Mitchell was instrumental in the AFL Players’ Association’s anti-homophobia campaign in 2010. “Safe Schools is now busted. The brand that is Safe Schools is now indelibly linked to this sort of out-there radical queer theory narrative,” he said. “It’s really out there academic theory about how people construct their gender identity. This is all just academic. We didn’t sign up for this.”

He said Safe Schools was meant to be about teaching children some people were gay, some were straight, some were bisexual, and they shouldn’t be abused. “Parents will get behind that and say, ‘I don’t want my kid ­abused at school for any basis’,” he said. “If they stuck to the basics and rolled that out, they might have got a bit of resistance (from right-wing radicals) but that resistance would not have got any traction.”

The Safe Schools Coalition, which is to be compulsory in Victorian secondary state schools by 2018, has been widely criticised by conservatives, particularly for its teachings on gender. Its mat­erial tells teachers not to refer to stud­ents as “boys and girls”, as the terms are “heterosexist”, and pupils­ as young as 11 are encouraged to role-play as gay teenagers. The program teaches that gender is not a binary male-­female stereotype but about “how you feel inside” and “may change over time”.


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