Sunday, September 18, 2016

Grammar schools: we need knowledge, not nostalgia (?)

Joanna Williams, the British author below writes for a normally conservative organization but her angry rant below is thoroughly Leftist and poorly founded in fact.  Her belief that IQ is unimportant to educational achievement flies in the face of over 100 years of research findings.  And she doesn't even argue her case.  She just dismisses the influence of hereditary intelligence with a wave of her hand. 

And she seems very confused about the worth of traditional subjects.  On the one hand she calls them "pale, male and stale" but she ends up lauding such academic knowledge. 

And her alternative to grammar schools is laughable.  She says that what is needed is "teachers who are sufficiently passionate about the subjects they teach".  Who could disagree?  But where are you going to find a big new crop of them?

And she seems very hostile to social mobility.  Both Left and Right see it as desirable and there is no doubt in the world that Grammar schools have been a major force in enabling it -- so what is wrong with that?  She is very hard to understand.  I think her progesterone levels must have been very high when she wrote the confused nonsense below

Re-introducing grammar schools, or academic selection for children aged 11, has rivalled Brexit as the main political talking point this summer. Last week, on the same day Theresa May’s proposals were finally confirmed, my daughter took the 11-plus exam, or ‘Kent Test’ as it’s known locally. We’d spent months preparing for the big day and that morning she hugged me a little tighter than usual and bravely fought back tears. Fortunately, she pulled herself together for the test and has, I’m pleased to report, been dining out on her efforts ever since with pizzas, sleepover parties and ritual book burnings.

At the moment, Kent is one of only a handful of places in the UK that has selective secondary schools, a throwback to the educational beliefs of a bygone era. Some, like the school my sons attend, date back centuries. The nostalgia currently driving government policy is for something comparatively more recent: the grammar schools brought into existence by the 1944 Education Act. This legislation enshrined the right of all children to secondary education through a tripartite system of grammar, technical and secondary-modern schools. In reality, few technical schools existed and, for most children, success or failure in the 11-plus led to roughly 20 per cent of each age group attending grammar schools, where pupils enjoyed a traditional academic curriculum, while the majority attended secondary moderns, where pupils received lessons considered more ‘relevant’ to their future lives.

Grammar schools did not take off in earnest until after the Second World War. Academic selection epitomised education policy of the 1950s, but was already being called into question by the end of that decade. In 1965, the then Labour education secretary, Anthony Crosland, issued a circular requesting the closure of grammar schools. But it was Margaret Thatcher, a few years later, who, as education secretary, introduced an unprecedented number of comprehensive schools, where children of all abilities would be educated together.

Grammar schools are a product of a particular and very short-lived era. Their existence was premised on two fundamental assumptions; first, a conviction that intelligence was innate, differently distributed throughout the population and measurable through a simple test; and, second, a belief in the value of a classical liberal education. The continued fondness for grammars is driven for the most part by their perceived connection to social mobility. In the 1950s, a small number of bright kids from poor families did indeed have their life chances transformed by education. But, again, this needs to be placed in the context of the time. The era of grammar schools coincided with a period of economic growth, when more ‘middle-class’ and better paid jobs were being created. Academic selection may have determined who filled those jobs, but it did not bring them into existence.

However much May and a section of the Conservative Party may wish it were otherwise, the 1950s cannot be legislated back into existence, and neither can grammar schools. Of course, selection based on exam performance can be reintroduced, but even here the differences between the cultural attitudes of the 1950s and today are striking. Nowadays, parents and teachers alike are quick to bemoan the pressure children are put under at school. A few months ago, some parents kept their children off school for a day for a ‘kids’ strike’ in protest at the stress of testing. When children are considered to be so vulnerable to mental-health problems, a high-stakes, pass-or-fail test for 10-year-olds takes on a far greater significance than it would have done in the past.

Bringing together children who successfully jump through the 11-plus hoop does not necessarily create a grammar school. Changing the law is a blunt means of promoting values and changing educational culture. The ethos of many existing grammar schools is based on tradition, and built into their architecture. Mostly, it stems from a curriculum that privileges academic subjects over vocational ones, and scholarly success over social inclusion. For this reason, grammar schools tend to attract teachers who are first and foremost subject specialists.

When grammar schools were introduced in the years after the Second World War, teachers largely shared a belief in the content of a classical liberal education. Few questioned whether material needed to be ‘relevant’ to the lives of 14-year-olds. Rarely was the curriculum criticised for being pale, male and stale. Teachers and parents accepted the merit of knowledge taught at school and the values presented in the curriculum.

It is certainly not impossible to offer children this academic, knowledge-based education today. In fact, many schools – both grammar and non-selective – already do. What’s needed is not a change in the law, but school leaders and teachers who are sufficiently passionate about the subjects they teach. Only then will schools be prepared to go beyond the strictures of the exam syllabus, and, at the same time, minimise the myriad other demands placed on them to teach everything from relationships to how to open a bank account. This requires teachers with sufficient subject knowledge, and a firm conviction that this knowledge is worth children mastering. Only then will schools be able to resist the pressure to succumb to a culture of low expectations.

When I’ve talked with other parents at my daughter’s school over the past few months, bemoaning the stress of the Kent Test, grammar schools have been the No1 topic of conversation. However, despite the additional pressure the 11-plus puts on family life, it’s easy to see why grammar schools are still popular: parents want their children to be challenged; they want them to learn academic subjects; and they want them to leave school knowing considerably more than they did when they started. In my experience, this is an aspiration that all parents share. Few parents say they want selection for the sake of it. If we believe that intelligence is neither fixed nor innate and that all children are capable of being educated, then there is no reason why a rigorous, academic curriculum can’t be introduced in all schools. But this will require a cultural shift, an appreciation of knowledge and learning for its own sake, and a determination to put children under pressure rather than seeing them as too vulnerable to learn. Tinkering with education policy may provide a different set of incentives and a few quick fixes, but it is unlikely to change the dominant ethos surrounding education today.

That May is arguing for grammar schools primarily on the basis of social mobility shows exactly how far we are from a culture that values academic knowledge. Placing social mobility at the heart of education reduces academic subjects to skills that might aid employability. It implies an instrumentalisation of knowledge that completely undercuts any belief in learning for its own sake. If May’s proposals come to fruition, we risk importing the worst element of grammar schools – selection – without reaping their greatest benefit: the privileging of subject knowledge. What would be better for all children is a return to the founding ethos of the comprehensive system: namely, that of ‘grammar schools for all’.


Title IX abuse

Throughout his time in office, Barack Obama has sought means by which to unilaterally orchestrate his desired leftist transformation of American culture. One of his most effective tools has been novel use of the Title IX portion of the 1972 Education Amendment of the Civil Rights Act. Obama and team have essentially limited freedom of speech on college campuses through their radical interpretations and applications of the law. Examples of this have been seen in the administration’s approach to combating problems of campus sexual assaults. The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) under Obama recently took Fostburg State University to task stating that the university’s sexual harassment policy fell short of Title IX standards. The university’s policy used “common sense” and “reason” as the measurement by which to establish whether or not an incident was to be identified as sexual harassment.

The OCR sees this standard of determining what constitutes sexual harassment as too limiting. So what standard does the OCR suggest as liberal enough to meet Title IX demands? For the OCR, any claim of sexual harassment is the standard — no matter how innocent or unintentional the words or actions of an accused individual may be. In other words, if sexual harassment is claimed, then it has occurred. What of due process and the concept of innocent until proven guilty? Evidentially, there is no room for these roadblocks as leftists pursue their goal of radicalized gender “equality.” No wonder they’re attacking “common sense” and “reason.”

Having such a subjective standard for determining what constitutes sexual harassment accomplishes two things. First it helps to further the leftist narrative that America’s colleges and universities are plagued with a “rape culture” beyond what conservatives would argue is one of sexually promiscuity. Secondly, it creates another convenient excuse for the government to justify dictating even more policies and practices to which schools will be bound. Another problem, more government power.


College Athletics Censored in North Carolina

The whole point of athletics is to showcase talent and provide a platform for entertainment, character building and personal achievement. But today’s heads of sports are more interested in promoting activism than they are in giving fans who support them a friendly, fun and, most importantly, non-partisan environment. North Carolina is ground zero right now for the Rainbow Mafia. The state made what leftists view as an unfathomable decision to force individuals to use facilities based not on which sex they “identify” with but on their biological makeup. The backlash was remarkable. For example, the NBA discriminated against the Tar Heels in July by moving next year’s All-Star game. Now the NCAA is following suit.

The association just announced it has nixed plans to host seven championships in North Carolina in 2017. Instead, college finals related to soccer, basketball, golf, tennis, lacrosse and baseball will be to moved to more politically correct environments. NCAA president Mark Emmert explained, “Fairness is about more than the opportunity to participate in college sports, or even compete for championships. We believe in providing a safe and respectful environment at our events and are committed to providing the best experience possible for college athletes, fans and everyone taking part in our championships.” Since when is keeping a male out of the women’s restroom and vice versa giving fans a bad experience?

Sadly, such disillusionment is the culmination of progressivism, which inevitably leads to attacks on religious liberty and doctrine. Take “Catholic” vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine. He stated over the weekend, “My full, complete, unconditional support for marriage equality is at odds with the current doctrine of the church that I still attend. But I think that’s going to change, too.” The problem isn’t conservatives' lack of “inclusion.” It’s guys like Kaine who have an insatiable drive to normalize things that aren’t — all in the name of “progress.” We live in an age during which so-called progressives are increasingly bowing to political correctness. Literally. Just look at Colin Kaepernick and some of his fellow NFL players.


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