Friday, March 25, 2016

UK: ‘You can’t force-feed students anti-Israel policies’

Gabriel Dorey reports on UCLU’s undemocratic embrace of BDS

While we may have become accustomed to the authoritarian excesses of campus politics, some incidents still have the ability to shock us. There was a particularly maddening incident at University College London last week, when the student council pushed through a motion endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, with little support from the student body.

The motion, which passed by 14 votes to four, called for UCL’s students’ union, UCLU, to ‘work with students to publish a report on academic, corporate and economic links between the university and companies or institutions that participate in or are complicit in Israeli violations of international law’. What’s more, UCLU will stop stocking or advertising Israeli products.

The day before the vote, members of the UCLU Friends of Palestine Society dressed as IDF soldiers and set up mock checkpoints on campus, dubbing it the ‘Palestinian Experience’.

I spoke to a Jewish UCL first year called Isaac. Though Isaac was previously not engaged in the issue, he is angered by the union’s actions. ‘I don’t care what the agenda is’, he says. ‘You can’t force-feed 30,000 [students] a political stance that is so contested – it’s undemocratic and unfair.’

A petition was launched in the wake of the vote, calling for the motion to be debated by the wider student body at a general assembly. ‘We need this to happen because [the union] needs to let people have their say’, Isaac says. ‘The fact that the UCLU Debating Society opposed the motion the night before just shows that the student body is not in parallel with what the union believes. The union has been very crafty about it.’

Isaac feels the motion will alienate Jewish students. ‘I honestly feel intimidated by the situation, and I know for a fact that it’s going to put off Jewish students from coming here next year.’ What’s more, he finds the boycott itself illogical: ‘Are they going to ban every iPhone because it has a chip inside it made by Israelis?’ He points to the fact that BDS recently succeeded in shutting down a Sodastream factory in the West Bank, causing 500 Palestinian workers to lose their jobs: ‘Where’s the justice in that?’

It seems that, due to its underhand methods, UCLU has shot itself in the foot. ‘I heard about [the motion] a few days beforehand, because I’m flatmates with a member of the UCLU council’, a former UCLU sabbatical officer, who wants to remain anonymous, tells me. ‘I can’t imagine how disassociated others must feel. I think there’s a tendency in the BDS movement to be more about delegitimising Israel than helping Palestinians, which isn’t a good way to go about things because you’re antagonising people who might support you otherwise.’

The undemocratic nature of the decision is what most dismays him. ‘I love the students’ union, and I want students to be engaged and talk about political issues. But people talking in small rooms shouldn’t be deciding big, important things for the majority’, he says. ‘Why not try and convince people of your point of view if you believe in BDS? Try and convince people, and maybe you’ll pass it in a general meeting.’

This undemocratic streak goes right through the BDS movement. Certain student politicians seem to consider those who disagree with them as contemptible troglodytes, justifying, in their minds, the movement’s anti-democratic antics. Jacob Diamond, ex-president of the King’s College London Debating Society, suggests that both sides of the Israel-Palestine debate are somewhat guilty of this. ‘That’s the sort of culture you have on campus now – if you question either side, either the Israel Society or the pro-Palestinians, [they will] come down on you like hellfire.’

That said, he thinks there is a specific problem with anti-Israel campaigning sometimes lapsing into something close to anti-Semitism. ‘[Anti-Israel students] use the term “Zio”, which ultra-right-wing people use to denounce Jews, even if they’re not Zionists’, says Diamond. ‘It is a derogatory term.’

The rise of campus authoritarianism has boosted censorious campaigns like BDS. With a slender mandate, UCLU has imposed a highly contentious policy on tens of thousands of students. Unless liberal-minded students start defending their rights, these scandalous evasions of democracy will go on unchecked.


Since when has a game of tag been a threat to children?

Christ The King School, a primary school in Leeds, has banned the game tag. Apparently, this dangerous activity is ruining the children’s clothing and leaving them ‘upset’. The school has even implemented a new set of rules, including ‘keep hands to self’.

Of course, this is not the first school to clamp down on a long-standing children’s game. Three years ago, for instance, a primary school in Bolton banned tag and British bulldog because pupils kept having accidents.

Maybe children in the north just aren’t very good at games. But, either way, I find all of this safeguarding a great shame. It shows how childhood, which should be a free and exploratory time, is now being over-policed. Schools are wrong to assume that banning tag protects children – in fact, it merely encourages risk aversion.

Teachers and regulators forget just how important a few childhood scrapes can be. Falling over doesn’t traumatise children; rather, it helps make them resilient. I don’t know if the teachers at Christ The King have noticed, but children have a remarkable ability to pick themselves up again.

Besides, many children actually enjoy the danger of tag or British bulldog. These are not only games, they are character-building exercises, fostering resilience, competitiveness and a simple love of running around. If children can’t handle tag, something’s gone seriously wrong.

After tag, who knows what will be banned next? Perhaps kiss chase will be deemed a type of sexual harassment. We need to think long and hard about mollycoddling children. Over-protecting children in playgrounds today will leave them ill-equipped to tackle the adult world tomorrow.


Jewish Donors: Stop Funding Anti-Semitism — Divest From Universities

Paul Bronfman is a hero to the Jewish people. He gave York University an ultimatum: Take down the anti-semitic mural within 24 hours or else I withdraw all support. As the chairman of Pinewood Toronto Studios, he had been supplying thousands of dollars of film equipment, technical services, and know-how to York University’s Cinema and Media Arts Program. They refused to take down the mural. And he followed through with his threat. He pulled money, production equipment, seminars, open houses with students, learning labs and training programs – everything!

Mr. Bronfman’s action has attracted a lot of media coverage because it is big news. As a result, anti-semites everywhere have been crawling out of their holes. A hundred faculty members at York University have exposed themselves as Israel haters when they signed an open letter defending the now infamous anti-semitic mural and critizing Paul Bronfman for pulling funding over it. Even Rogers Waters of Pink Floyd fame, today mainly known for Jew hatred, has chimed in with his useless opinion. It doesn’t happen every day that a Jewish donor steps up to the plate. In fact, it has as far as I can recall, never happened…until now.

Despite the fact that universities across North America have become sewers of anti-semitism, rife with anti-semitic professors, anti-Israel demonstrations, and verbal and physical assault of Jewish students, Jewish donors have generally chosen the path of denial and continue their love affair with their chosen universities. Personally, I lose sleep when I know fellow Jews are harassed or attacked. But maybe that’s just me and my like-minded friends and cohorts. Apparently Jewish donors have no problem dishing out hundreds of millions of dollars to educational establishments that allows its Jewish students to be treated like garbage. They pretend that all is well and continue pouring big money into their alma matters – because after all, that campus building is simply not going to name itself.

It is astonishing that Jewish University donors not only keep silent in the face of unprecedented Jew hate on campus but also continue to endow it with their philanthropic gifts. Again take York University, one of the most notorious universities, where there exists a whole culture of Israel hatred that permeates the campus. If a student dare attempt to stand up for Israel or Zionism, point out radical anti-Israel perpetrators, or report incidents of anti-semitism, they get shut down, silenced, targeted, threatened, intimidated, and harassed from the student body and administration alike.

It was in 2005 when movements like Israel Apartheid Week and BDS against Israel lit the anti-Jew fire, and the public starting hearing about one hate-filled incident after another. At what could be considered the height of Jew-hate tensions at York University between 2005 and 2010, which included the hosting of Hamas-loving speakers, mini-riots against Jews, swarming of pro-Israel tabled events, storming events of pro-Israel speakers, physical violence, barricading of Jews, and shouting profanities and anti-semitic slurs (“Die Jew, get the hell off campus” and “Zionist pigs”), a well-known Jewish donor who was also a member of the school’s board of directors, apparently thought nothing of it when he/she made a substantial donation for a particular center on campus.

If you want to put your money into a secular university rather than, say…Israel, or a Jewish institution, you may have a skewed sense of priorities, but that is your business. When you fund a place that at that very moment is making our kids’ lives hellish and leave them to fend for themselves – that is shameful.

And ‘official’ Jewish organizations in the community or on campus, often connected to those same Jewish donors, have only made matters worse by playing down incidents, turning a blind eye, to even being complicit with the university and unabashedly supporting their stance. Shockingly it was the Director of Israel Affairs of an on-campus Jewish organization that gave the green light for the infamous Israel Apartheid week to be born at the University of Toronto in 2005. It has since spread to 87 cities worldwide and is an annual Jew-hate fest on university campuses across the globe. Our Jewish children have been sacrificed for the preposterous pretense of ‘dialogue’ and disgracefully abandoned to bear the onslaught of the resulting Jew hate alone.

The same problems or worse exists for Jewish students all across North American college campuses. And yet Jews are still among the biggest donors of those North American college campuses. Our kids are being physically assaulted, verbally abused, spat at, called terrorists, baby killers, Nazis, racists, have been told to “get rounded up” and to ‘go burn in an oven”. Nevertheless, staggering amounts of Jewish money continues to be pumped into these academic institutions as they simultaneously explode with anti-Jew and anti-Israel hatred. What does it take to wake the Jewish university donor?

Perhaps a visit to web sites such as Jew Hatred on Campus and AMCHA Initiative that documents testimonies of anti-semitism on US campuses would make them think twice. In 2015, there were 300 reported incidents that took place at 109 schools in 28 states. Here are but a few examples:

* An orthodox Jewish student was punched in the face at Medgar Evers College and told to “Leave the school, you Jew.”

* Anti-semitic words like “Zionists should be sent to the gas chamber” was found etched on UC Berkeley school property.

* University of Chicago students posted “Gas them, burn them and dismantle their power structure. Humanity cannot progress with the parasitic Jew.”

* A Jewish star was found with a cross through it and the words “Hitler was right”, and “With Jews you lose” scrawled on Townson University campus.

* A mezuzah was vandalized and multiple swastikas drawn on Northeastern University property.

* A swastika was drawn outside Hillel Director Rabbi Ely Allen’s office at Farleigh Dickinson University.

* York University’s administration threatened to sue a Rabbi and demanded his apology for suggesting to protest against George Galloway who was invited to speak on campus for an anti-semitic pro-Hamas event.

* A Jewish fraternity at UC Davis was defaced with “grout out the Jews” etched into Hillel House, and swastikas and profanities were found carved on cars with slashed tires.

* A convicted terrorist, Rasmeah Odeh, was the keynote speaker at San Diego State University to promote the anti-semitic BDS movement.

* A Jewish student at the University of Oregon was victimized by anti-semitic slurs and threatened to be assaulted with a firearm.

It is absolutely mind-boggling that Jewish donors continue to fund schools where these types of incidents are taking place.

And then there’s Columbia University, which has a reputation for employing some of the most virulently anti-semitic professors, including Rashid Khalidi who was a spokesman for the PLO when he lived in Beirut in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He and other like-minded professors have harassed Jewish students on multiple occasions and have made numerous bigoted statements about Jews. Many disgraceful anti-Israel speakers and events have been brought to the campus, including, who can forget, former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had vowed ‘to wipe Israel off the map’.

Unbelievably, none of this has stopped Jewish donors from pouring money into Columbia U. In 2006, a prominent New York Jewish couple donated $250 million, the largest gift ever to an American university for a single facility. In 2011 another Jewish donor gifted the place with $200 million. Another $100 million in 2013 came from, you guessed it, another Jewish couple. And the list goes on.

Just last year, Jewish billionaire John Paulson gifted Harvard University with a record breaking $400 million. Harvard is no different than the others with matters regarding Israel. In 2012, it hosted the anti-semitic One-State Conference, which was dedicated to discussing the dismantling of the Jewish state. Speakers included Israel bashing and Hamas supporting academics, terror apologists, and a former advisor to the PLO who was also, big surprise….a Hamas supporter.

Why shouldn’t universities continue their anti-semitic business as usual, when there are no consequences from its biggest Jewish supporters? Why should universities acknowledge how horrifically anti-semitic their campuses have become when Jewish supporters have ignored all of it and continue to give?

This intolerably absurd situation cannot be allowed to continue. It is high time that Jewish donors divest from their universities. It is high time for Jewish donors to be held accountable if they don’t. Will they take a cue from Paul Bronfman and follow suit? One should certainly hope so. I, for one, am waiting for many more heroes to emerge. Everyone is watching and waiting. It’s time for Jewish donors to let go of their beloved universities. Their universities do not love them or any of us back. It’s time for Jewish donors to take a stand…if not for themselves, at least they should do it for the sake of our Jewish kids, and their own.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

How ISIS came to CA

The FBI confirmed Thursday that a Nov. 4, 2015, attack at the University of California, Merced was inspired by the Islamic State group.

Faisal Mohammad, 18, wounded four students in a knife attack before a campus police officer shot and killed him. Federal authorities now say Mohammad had ISIS propaganda on his laptop and other evidence proving he frequented the Islamic terrorists’ websites, the Associated Press reported.

Law enforcement agencies initially said Mohammad’s attack was not terror-related despite the fact that he was found with an ISIS flag and a manifesto to behead his fellow students.

Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said early on that FBI agents looked into Mohammad’s background and family and found nothing to indicate terrorist ties, WND reported Nov. 5, 2015. Authorities also moved quickly to scrub Mohammad’s social-media websites before releasing his name.


Some diversities are less diverse than others

Leftists sure do love diversity — to a point. Their favored constituencies include blacks, Hispanics and those suffering from gender disorientation pathology. But each member of those groups must yield to leftist groupthink, or they’ll be excommunicated.

The thought police were on patrol most recently at Brown University, where Janet Mock, a black transgender activist and author, was forced to cancel an appearance after students objected to the group that invited her. Hillel House is a Jewish group that asked Mock to speak, but a group of Palestinian activists accused Hillel of having “defended and even advocated for the Israeli state’s policies of occupation and racial apartheid.” Furthermore, the aggrieved students say, Israel is guilty of “colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and genocide of native Palestinians.”

In a petition, the students complained, “Hillel’s Moral Voices campaign has chosen the topic of LGBTQ rights this year. This hides the fact that for decades, the state of Israel and Israeli advocacy organizations (like Hillel) have been engaging in pinkwashing, a strategy that tries to improve Israel’s image and rebrand it as a liberal, modern, and ‘hip’ country.”

Mock is hardly alone. Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner has been ridiculed by leftists for generally being conservative politically, but worse, for daring to say nice things about Ted Cruz. No doubt thanks to that backlash, Jenner even felt compelled last week to deny endorsing Cruz.

And then there’s Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), who is black, said last month that Barack Obama should nominate a black because “to have an African-American voice that has definitely not been there since Thurgood Marshall would really be an incredible contribution to our country.” Thomas is conservative, therefore he isn’t “an African-American voice.”

In other words, leftists love diversity, as long as it’s only skin deep.


Australia: University of Sydney's Evangelical Union shouldn't have to give up its faith in fight against discrimation

Here is the new rule for student groups on campus at one of our leading universities: you can have any faith you like, as long as it's not any faith in particular.

As of November last year, the bolshie student politicians running the University of Sydney student union have voted to stop clubs and societies from defining themselves by reference to a particular creed. Because, er, discrimination, or something.

And the union's board has inaugurated this new reign of tolerance by deciding to kick one of its oldest and largest interdenominational faith based groups off campus. The Evangelical Union has been around doing its thing since the 1930s – my grandma was on the committee.

For 86 years they have been doing their same earnest and mildly irritating thing, floating around campus in  green T-shirts inviting people to interminable barbecues.

From March that must all stop. That is, unless the members of the Evangelical Union agree to make membership of the Evangelical Union about something other than being evangelical. The beliefs and principles which form the core basis of their association (and which their executive must sign up to) have to go, or else.

Olivia Ronan, vice president of the student union, sees it as an open and shut case of discrimination: in an interview with a student newspaper she explained that the student union is about "accessibility and inclusion" and so the board has decided that for associations to require particular beliefs of their executive "is no less exclusionary than requiring candidates to be of a particular sexuality or gender identity".

And she'd be absolutely right. If we were talking about "Electricians United" or the "Eurhythmics Union". But this is the "Evangelical Union": being out and proud as an evangelical is what the club is about.

It's not unlawful discrimination to make being on board with what the association is about a requirement for leadership in that club: it's what it means to freely associate with like-minded people. And inclusion is not the issue; as the green T-shirts will all too keenly inform you, they actually give discounts to encourage non-believers to take part in their activities.

We need anti-discrimination policies to address the wicked tendency of powerful people to exclude those they don't like (whether because of their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation). Discrimination is discrimination because these factors are irrelevant to the inherent requirements of a job, or (in this case) the basis of the association.

It's good for us normally to be suspicious of faith-based requirements for membership. As a rule of thumb, someone's beliefs are usually irrelevant. But not always. Political views are no reason to ban someone from a restaurant. But political beliefs are a very good reason to decide who can sign up to a political party. By deciding that beliefs are never relevant to any association you're saying faith groups can't form associations.

The irony of using an anti-discrimination policy to justify violating the right to religious freedom appears to be lost on the USU board.  For five years, successive Evangelical Union leaders have patiently tried to explain to the union's staff and board members that a rather important part of protecting diversity is protecting the rights of diverse groups to associate. Indeed the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which Australia has signed) explicitly guarantees as much.

The USU vice president has responded to this (as only a law student could) by pointing out that the union board is not a signatory to the UN. Let's just pause on that for a second. The student union couldn't care less what one of the single most important international instruments on the subject of human rights actually says about the very rights they say they're trying to protect?

It's a dark day for anyone who cares about discrimination to see words designed to protect against religious discrimination used to banish faith-based groups.

Protecting freedom of religion by attacking faith communities' freedom to associate? The union board has missed the irony. Or perhaps they just don't like religious groups, and want them, and their annoying T-shirts, off campus for good.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Michigan will Let Your Children Pick Their Bathroom and Much More

Michigan’s State Board of Education has drafted a guidance that would push the state’s schools to allow all students, regardless of parental or doctoral input, to choose their gender, name, pronouns, and bathrooms.

Spearheaded by board president John C. Austin and signed by state superintendent Brian Whiston, the guidance informs Michigan public schools that only the students themselves–i.e. not their parents or doctors–can determine what their individual gender identities are.

“The responsibility for determining a student’s gender identity rests with the student. Outside confirmation from medical or mental health professionals, or documentation of legal changes, is not needed,” the guidance states.

Gender identity is defined in the guidance as “a person’s deeply held internal sense or psychological knowledge of their own gender, regardless of the biological sex they were assigned at birth.”


Atheist Group Protests Middle School's Crusader Mascot

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is protesting the mascot of the Ken Caryl Middle School in Littleton, CO. The mascot is a Christian crusader.

In a March 2 letter sent to Dan McMinimee, the superintendent of Jeffco county public schools, FFR attorney Andrew Seidel argued that the mascot is an inappropriate symbol:

    "It is our understanding that the Ken Caryl Middle School mascot is "The Crusaders." KCMS depicts the mascot as a cloaked knight holding a shield and sword. There are red Latin crosses on both the knight's tunic and his shield. Please see the enclosed screenshot. A white mantle with a red cross is the unmistakable attire of a member of the Knights Templar. The Knights Templar, originally known as Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ sand the Temple of Solomon, were among the most feared fighting units of the Crusades.

    While the Crusaders, and specifically the Knights Templar, were certainly a terrifying group of Christian warriors capable of striking fear in their enemies, they are not an appropriate mascot for a public middle school. The Crusaders were Christian warriors fighting against "infidels" and "heathens" to reclaim Christian Holy Land for their Christian god. The Latin crosses drive the religious message home. The district should change this religious mascot to something more inclusive and appropriate for a public school

    The religious nature of the mascot, its historical context, and the two Latin crosses, make the conclusion unavoidable—the mascot is religious and the school is endorsing religion over nonreligion. The government (including public schools) is prohibited from endorsing religion over nonreligion just as it is prohibited from endorsing one religious sect over another. Standing alone, the crusader's crosses are an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, and when paired with the religious mascot and the historical context, the endorsement is exacerbated"

Superintendent McMinimee responded to the group in an email: "The district recognizes that a school mascot/logo should depict positive images embracing history, community spirit, and traditions but should not be derogatory or offensive to persons of any race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, age or to persons with a disability. The district is in the process of forming a diverse group of parents, students, staff and community members to consider your feedback and develop and/or review submissions for a new mascot/logo for Ken Caryl Middle School. We anticipate the process to be finished by the start of next school year."

"There's no guarantee that there will be a change, but there is a guarantee that there will be a conversation," Diana Wilson, the chief of communications for Jeffco schools, told CNS News.


Australia: Two analyses of educational testing (NAPLAN) data:  An intelligent one and a dumb one

The first analysis below is misreported.  The original report from the Grattan institute is here.  It said nothing much about "disadvantaged" schools.  What it focused on was educational performance after year 3. It found that the gap between low achieving and high achieving schoolkids gets greater with every year after level 3.  But the authors have no idea why and offer policy recommendations that are therefore useless.  The Grattan Institute is a Left-leaning outfit.

Any student of IQ, however, knows what is going on.  As Charles Murray showed 20 years ago, the genetic influence on IQ increases steadily with age -- up to about age 30.  Genetics steadily overcomes environmental influences.  And then there is the related  Chimpanzee effect, the general rule that final IQ will be reached more slowly the higher is the final level. So dumb and bright individuals may start out at a similar intellectual level but the bright individual will steadily pull ahead of the dumb one.  And school performance is heavily influenced by IQ.

So the findings of the first analysis are fully explained by IQ.  Both smart and dumb kids get brighter up to a point but the high IQ kids get MUCH brighter.  And no-one has ever found a way to change that.  As Jesus said, "For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath" (Mark 4:25).

The second analysis below is also explained as an effect of IQ.  Maths and reading skills are central to IQ so that they were found to be highly genetic in origin is yet another one of thousands of findings that have shown IQ to be highly genetic in origin.

1).  Bright kids fall behind at disadvantaged schools

Bright students at disadvantaged schools lag at least two years behind their peers from wealthier schools and struggling students from poor backgrounds continue to fall behind with each year of school, a new analysis of NAPLAN data reveals.

The analysis, in a report by public policy think-tank the Grattan Institute, found that the learning gaps between Australian students of different backgrounds are "alarmingly wide" and worsen as students move through school.

Even if students were doing as well in Year 3, those from a disadvantaged background make one to two years less progress than students whose parents have higher levels of education, the report says.

Bright kids in disadvantaged schools suffer the biggest losses, the report says, making 2½ years less progress than students with similar capabilities in more advantaged schools.

"When kids are performing at the same level from the same starting point, it is pretty shocking that they can then fall behind 2½ years depending on what school they are at," the director of the institute's school education program, Peter Goss, said.

The spread of student achievement more than doubles as students move through school, the report says.

The middle 60 per cent of students in Year 3 are working within a 2½-year range, the report says. By Year 9, the spread for these students has grown to 5½ years.

"The report also shows that in a typical Year 9 class, the top students can be more than seven years ahead of the bottom students," the report says.


2). Maths and reading skills found to be 75 per cent genetic

Australian research into the academic performance of twins in NAPLAN tests has revealed that skills in maths, reading and spelling are up to 75 per cent genetic.  Genetics also had a 50 per cent impact on writing skills.

In stark contrast, the influence of teachers and schools on students was only found to be around 5 per cent, when looking at why children performed better or worse than their peers.

The research has been conducted by Emeritus Professor Brian Byrne and colleagues at the Centre of Excellence for Cognition and its Disorders, and the University of New England.

Byrne is a guest on this week's episode of Insight, sharing his views on how research into twins can deepen our understanding of the general population.

The research will shortly be published in full, with much of the peer review process complete. Some parts of the study have already been published.

Byrne and his colleagues were allowed access to around 3000 sets of twins and were able to look at their academic performance in literacy and numeracy NAPLAN tests in years 3, 5, 7 and 9.

The results were surprising.

Families, teachers and schools had a much more modest contribution when explaining the difference in academic performance of children in the same grade or class. 

The majority of difference between students’ abilities in literacy and numeracy were instead attributable to their genetic make-up.

Writing skills were the least influenced by genetics – only about 50 per cent.  Genetic influences on reading, spelling and mathematics abilities were found to be between 50-75 per cent.

The findings back up earlier research done in the UK.

“Genes are the things that are, for the most part, driving differences among children, and not different teachers or even different schools,” Byrne told Insight’s Jenny Brockie, during filming of the show’s feature on twins.

Byrne says his findings “undermine the idea that a really, really big player in how well children are doing is teacher qualifications and a teacher's education.”

He stresses that the research does not show teachers’ influence is negligible; rather, it shows they are uniformly well-trained and high-performing, keeping students’ academic performance at national standards regardless of which teacher children are given or which school they go to.

“Teachers really matter,” he reiterates.

“The reason why a child knows more at the end of a school day than they did at the beginning is because of the work the teachers do.”

“I think it's good news for teachers that within this country the quality of training is similar enough and good enough to produce rather even-handed effects on the children who are your charges.”

Byrne says the findings are important “for the education system to understand that genes matter”, but cautions against being pessimistic about genetic predisposition.

Chris Watt, Federal Secretary of the Independent Teachers Union, says this kind of research confirms what teachers have known for a long time: that some children are born with advantages, when others are not, and there needs to be greater resources that allow them to factor those differences into their teaching.

"At the end of the day, a school can only do so much," he says.  "There's a whole of lot things that need to be right for kids to be learning properly. We have to pay attention to those issues before they step foot inside a school."

He's confident educators will be able to adapt their practice to these sorts of results, however. "Teachers are always changing the way they go about teaching, picking up new skills and strategies," he says.

Byrne agrees. "My guess is experienced teachers have developed good ways to adjust the curriculum for students who start out weaker in a subject."  "But my guess, too, is that most feel that if they had more time and back-up they could accomplish this even more convincingly."

The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) and the Australian Education Union (AEU) were also contacted for comment.

Byrne says the involvement of twins in his research has been incredibly important.

“They are the perfect natural experiment. We use their data to extrapolate across the wider population.”

Because twins almost always share the same environment going up, and a large portion of their genes, comparing their differences and similarities can tell us much about whether certain behaviours and abilities are the product of nature or nurture.

For example, he found that twins – whether identical or fraternal - performed equally as similar to one another even when they were in different classes and schools.

Insight guest and school principal Jennifer Lawrence – herself a twin – said she found this to be the case when looking at her twin daughters’ academic results.

“When Abbie and Emily were in Year 3 they were separated for the first time,” she says.

“I had this terrible feeling that I would be disadvantaging one over the other because maybe one would get a better teacher than the other, but their NAPLAN results were almost identical in that year.”


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Head of top girls' school blames health and safety childhood of today's students for anti-free speech 'safe space' culture

Children have been brought up in such a 'cosseted' world that universities have become a haven for extreme politics and intolerance of free speech, a leading head teacher has warned.

Jenny Brown, head of St Albans High School for Girls, in Hertfordshire, said today's generation have a 'monstrous inability' to tolerate any views which are risky, challenging or different to their own. When they do, claims arise of feeling 'unsafe' and victimised.

In a blog for The Sunday Times, Brown said: 'These children of the millennium didn't play unsupervised, they didn't play outside ... they didn't climb trees, grub up or get back for supper with torn jeans and wet wellies.

Jenny Brown, headteacher of St Albans High School for Girls, has said today's generation have experienced such a 'cosseted' upbringing that they can no longer cope with views that are risky or different to their own
Jenny Brown, headteacher of St Albans High School for Girls, has said today's generation have experienced such a 'cosseted' upbringing that they can no longer cope with views that are risky or different to their own

'The state and the education system have fetishised protection, parents have cosseted their children; even our decades of prosperity and peacetime have skewed things for middle-class kids, who have had no experience of the privations and dangers that their grandparents endured.'

There have been numerous recent examples of the anti-free speech 'safe space' culture of today's world.

In October, 2,500 people signed a petition calling on Cardiff University to ban feminist Germaine Greer from speaking on campus after she publicly declared she did not consider transgender women to be women.

The event went ahead, with the university saying it was 'committed to freedom of speech and open debate'.

Similarly, gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell came under fire in February by Fran Cowling, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) representative for the National Union of Students.

She refused to appear at a debate the pair were both invited to speak at because Tatchell had signed an open letter in the Observer last year supporting free speech and against no-platforming, the practice by some universities to ban speakers because of their views.

She also accused him of being racist and 'transphobic'.

Under fire: There have been calls to ban gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and feminist Germaine Greer from speaking at university campuses by protesters who disagree with their views

Three years ago, T-shirts bearing the religious images of Jesus and Mohammed were banned from the London School of Economics (LSE) campus for fear of causing offence.  After a complaint was lodged, the university acknowledged the clothes had not in fact 'amounted to harassment or contravened the law or LSE policies'.

In response, National Secular Society president Terry Sanderson said: 'We congratulate students for their fearless defence of freedom of expression.  'I hope that we will now see a more sensible approach to free expression that does not rest on protecting the sensibilities of any one particular group.

'We all have to learn that being offended is an inevitable part of life, having one's fondest beliefs challenged is part of a free society.'

Students at Cambridge and Oxford meanwhile launched campaigns to remove statues they deem as controversial.

Last month saw students at Jesus College, Cambridge, voting in favour of returning a bronze cockerel statue to Nigeria, from where it was looted in the 19th Century.

The Nigerian Benin Bronze is one of more than 2,000 which sit in museums and collections across the globe. Nigeria itself has only 50 examples of these particular artworks.

It was given to the college as a reference to the surname of founder John Alcock, the bishop and architect who constructed the college.

Meanwhile, campaigners are calling on the removal of the statue of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes, regarded as a founder of apartheid, from Oriel College, Oxford, where he was a student and benefactor.

Brown believes today's students are too caught up in the notion of remaining 'safe',

She added: 'Let's remind these precious puritanical university students of what those young people at Calais, enduring seriously unsafe space, might give for the right to face some of the discomforts our undergraduates retreat from.'


Massachusetts: There’s fear of math. Then there’s fear of ‘Russian math.’

There’s fear of math. And then there’s fear of Russian math, a private K-12 enrichment program cofounded by an immigrant in her Newton dining room in 1997. It has since grown to 32 locations in nine states and an online program and along the way earned such a reputation for intensity that some parents use it as a threat.

"If your attitude doesn’t improve," Mary Lewis-Pierce of Jamaica Plain told her fourth-grader, "I’m sending you to Russian math."

By her own admission, Lewis-Pierce has no firsthand knowledge, but she’s heard about Russian-math-induced tears. Hours of homework. Impossibly hard equations. "I picture mean Russian women teaching math in some gulag," she said.

Let’s say right up front that while class time and homework for high schoolers taking Russian math can top six hours a week, there are no gulags. Classes are taught in pleasant towns such as Belmont and Marblehead and Wellesley. Recess is given.

But what is Russian math, anyway?

It is more of an approach than an entirely new kind of math. The idea is that students are capable of understanding complex mathematical concepts at a far younger age than they are introduced in US schools, making kids stretch their brains. Think algebra in first grade.

With more than 11,000 students enrolled in nine Massachusetts locations and online, and plans to open centers soon in Weston and Burlington, the Russian School of Mathematics is one of the biggest math-enrichment programs in the region.

Its popularity — and that of programs such as Kumon, Kohlberg Math Learning Center , Girls’ Angle , and the free online Khan Academy — comes at a time when the country is increasingly focused on the importance of math education.

Some parents send their children for extra math because they fear they aren’t strong enough in the subject. Others want their children to have a competitive advantage when applying to selective colleges. Some families just love math and invest in extracurricular academic programs the way others do sports and music lessons.

There’s also a perception that public schools around the country don’t teach the subject well — a concern that isn’t new, according to Jon Star, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

"For at least the past 200 years in the US, we have been engaged in frequent, almost continual conversations about how we teach math in schools," he wrote in an e-mail.

RSM tuition averages about $2,000 a year. The school says it discounts the price when families of existing students "experience financial hardship," but it does not offer scholarships.

The school touts impressive results on its website. "RSM’s 11th grade SAT average is 774 out of 800." And: "For the past 3 years, over 75 percent of the Massachusetts Math Kangaroo Olympiad winners were RSM students!"

Lots of families — with the financial wherewithal to do so — sign up. And many of their friends and relatives have basic questions, such as: Is it math taught in Russian? By Russians? And why Russian math? Aren’t they better known for literature and communism and vodka? (No.)

And, finally: Are the teachers as scary as some say?

School leaders appear to have heard that last question before. When it was put to them on a recent Sunday morning, as students began arriving for the 8:45 class, the principal and three colleagues allowed themselves a tolerant chuckle.  "A lot of our teachers are parents themselves," Ralitsa Dimitrova, the principal said, disputing the characterization.

As for the bigger question — what is Russian math? — Ilya Rifkin, chief operating officer, began by contrasting it with other approaches.

"The biggest difference is if you give a new [Russian math] student a problem they’ve never seen before, they will look at the problem and say, ‘I don’t know,’ " he said. But if you give a new problem to a veteran student, he explained, "they’ll look and look and look and say, ‘I don’t know, but I have a couple of ideas.’ "

The school introduces algebra in first grade, and fundamental concepts of geometry in sixth grade — "significantly earlier" than most US schools, where the material is introduced in the sixth and seventh grades, and eighth and ninth grades, respectively, said Masha Rifkin, the school’s outreach director.

The math is not taught in Russian, but many of the teachers are from the former Soviet Union and were brought up with the Soviet methodology of math education, Masha Rifkin said.

And the approach, developed by Inessa Rifkin, is definitely Russian: It’s based on the theories of a Russian psychologist named Lev Vygotsky , who died in 1934 at age 38.

As the school explains on its website, under the heading "What makes our math ‘Russian?’ " — "Vygotsky recognized that education can stimulate intellectual development.

"By specifically targeting the edge of a student’s current understanding (or his or her ‘Zone of Proximal Development’) you provide mental exercises that challenge the mind in the same way that physical exercise in sports challenges the body."

Greater Boston is filled with Russian math dropouts. In Andover, Tracey Spruce and her young children fought so much about Russian math homework, and her son, then a second-grader, became so anxious about homework and class, that after a couple of years in the program the family quit.

"I finally came to the conclusion that I was not willing to sacrifice my kids’ mental health for math excellence," Spruce said.

But on Sunday morning in Newton, the students were as enthusiastic as infomercial stars.

"I really like learning intervals," said Liv Davidson, 9, a third-grader at Bates Elementary School in Wellesley.

"I like to learn multiplication and division," said Christina Gabrieli, a third-grader at Dexter Southfield, a private school in Brookline.

Christina’s mother, Susan Gabrieli, a scientist at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, mentioned that three of Christina’s cousins who took Russian math are now at Harvard and a fourth has been accepted.

The scene in Tatyana Bisikalo’s fifth-grade honors class was similarly buoyant. The 10 students gasped when she handed out compasses.

"This is super cool," one girl said, as another chattered happily about Venn diagrams.

Some parents believe it’s wrong to add to a child’s academic burden, while others fear their children will fall behind if they don’t take extra classes.

In Brookline, Aliza Dash is partially regretting her decision to opt out of Russian math when her son and daughter, now high schoolers, were young. "I thought, why torture children?"  But now their peers who did take Russian math are thriving, she said. "I feel like I set my children up for failure."

Fear of Russian math: Turns it out strikes fear whether you do it or don’t.


A student grabs his deputy principal by the THROAT in an Australian high school playground

Something not mentioned below: The students at that school are almost entirely Muslim. It is just Muslims being Muslims and showing their usual contempt for the rest of us. Their religion teaches them that contempt

The shocking moment a senior student grabbed his deputy principal by the throat has been caught on camera.

The Granville Boys' High School student was caught on tape storming towards one of the school’s three deputy principals, Noel Dixon, before taking hold of him by the throat.

The deputy principal resisted the attack and removed the boy’s hand from around his neck.

Moments later another student pulled the dark-haired boy away from the altercation.

The angry student led dozens of Granville School students through the playground before launching his attack.

Some of his peers tried to stop him before he got to the deputy principal, but were unable to.

The Department of Education told 7 News the school doesn’t tolerate violence, and that strong disciplinary action has been taken against the young man in the video.

The student is believed to be in Year 12. Police have been notified of the assault.

It is not the first time the western Sydney school has been in the media for violence.

In 2011 a student was stabbed in the stomach six times.

In 2008 18 people were hospitalised after the students were involved in a brawl at Merrylands High.


Monday, March 21, 2016

London School of Economics Islamic Society holds segregated dinner with a curtain across the room to separate male and female students

The Islamic society at a top university has come under fire for holding a gala dinner where men and women were segregated from one another by a screen running down the middle of the room.

Muslim students from the London School of Economics had to buy separate tickets to the society's annual dinner depending on whether they were a 'brother' or a 'sister'.

When they turned up at the event, held at a banqueting hall in Central London, there was a large screen separating the men's tables from the women's ones, stopping the attendees from even looking at each other.

Tickets to the Islamic society dinner at Grand Connaught Rooms, near the university in Holborn, sold out after being advertised online for £20 each.

One attendee posted this photograph of a man and woman talking to each other around the screen with the caption, 'Hello from the brothers side', a reference to Adele's song Hello. There is no suggestion that either person photographed is an extremist

The tickets were sold separately to 'brothers' and 'sisters', with two different phone numbers to call for men and for women.

At the dinner on Sunday night, each table was either male-only or female-only, and a 7ft screen divided the two groups of tables from one another.

Photographs taken at the event and posted online by the society showed only the men's side, with the all-male crowd laughing and smiling for the camera.

One attendee even made a joke of the segregation, posting a picture of himself peering round the screen to talk to a female friend with the caption, 'Hello from the brothers side' - a reference to Adele's hit Hello.

Nona Buckley-Irvine, the head of LSE's student union and a self-professed feminist, attended the dinner and insisted that the atmosphere was 'comfortable and relaxed' despite the gender divide.

'I had a lovely time at the dinner and barely noticed the separation between men and women,' she told MailOnline.

'The event was hosted by both the brothers and sisters and I welcomed the opportunity to dine with my colleagues and friends in an environment that felt comfortable and relaxed.'

She added: 'Where groups would like to organise themselves in a way that fits with their religious, cultural and personal beliefs, both genders consent, and there is no issue I have no problem.

'It is not for me to decide what is right or wrong with our Islamic society and they are one of the most inclusive societies I have ever worked with.'

However, other students have spoken out against the segregation - saying it has 'intimidated' some Muslims who want to celebrate their faith without the strict gender divide.

'It's been going on for quite a while,' one LSE undergraduate said. 'I don't think it's ever been brought to the university's attention.

'I have a friend who says she's really intimidated because she doesn't believe in gender segregation at all so she stopped going.'

The Islamic society said in a statement: 'Our annual dinner was checked and approved by all necessary staff within the student union.'

One of the students attending the dinner, Rayhan Uddin, was recently embroiled in an anti-semitism row after he claimed that 'leading Zionists' were trying to take control of an election.

Mr Uddin, vice-chair of LSE's Labour society, urged another candidate to withdraw in order to avoid handing power to students who 'want to win back LSE and make it right wing and Zio again'.

The word 'Zio' is short for Zionist, and is often used as an anti-semitic slur. Mr Uddin apologised for his use of the term.

The incident is the latest in the string of controversies relating to Islamic societies at universities in London and elsewhere in the UK.

Last year students at Goldsmiths tried to shut down a talk by a human rights activist because of her 'bigoted' views, while a number of institutions have hosted speakers who have expressed extremist beliefs.

In addition, concerns have been raised about how several London students, including the ISIS executioner known as 'Jihadi John', apparently became radicalised during their time at university.

The segregated dinner at LSE could be a violation of the university's policy on gender equality, which states that any form of segregation must be 'entirely voluntary'.

The policy says: 'We regard gender segregation at events organised in or by LSE or the LSE community as contrary to the law, except for certain exceptions such as occasions of religious worship or where segregation is entirely voluntary.'

The Islamic society, which is funded by a number of outside organisations promoting Islamic-oriented education and Arabic learning, claims to have hundreds of members at LSE.

Members attend lectures, social events and sporting gatherings, including a recent conference debating the rise of ISIS in the Middle East.

LSE, whose alumni include Mick Jagger, Ed Miliband, Stelios Haji-Ioannou and 16 Nobel Prize winners, is considered one of the leading universities in Britain, and was recently ranked as the best in the country other than Oxford and Cambridge.

The university has come under fire in recent years for allegedly restricting its students' free speech - the rugby society was disbanded for being sexist, some tabloid newspapers were banned from the campus, and the atheist society was reprimanded for wearing T-shirts showing Jesus holding hands with Muhammad.

A spokesman for LSE said today: 'This dinner was a private function, off-campus and organised by a society of the Students' Union, which itself is a legally separate body to LSE. The School is raising this issue with the society and Students' Union.'

The company which runs Grand Connaught Rooms declined to comment.


UK: Parents pull children out of primary school in outrage at planned 'transgender day' for children as young as FOUR

Parents have pulled their children out of classes at a village primary school over a 'transgender day' planned for pupils as young as four.

Three families have revealed they will not allow their children to St Mary the Virgin Primary School in Hartfield, East Sussex, for the classes, which are meant to help the pupils 'explore' their sexuality.

Up to 10 others have also spoken out about their concerns about the plans, which were announced on Monday by headteacher Emma Maltby.

One mother, who asked not to be named, said the children should be 'left alone'.  She said: 'I don't want my daughter being exposed to all this nonsense.  'Kids need to be left alone when it comes to things like this, they just want to run around the playground not be told they need to "think differently" about gender issues.  'The whole thing is ridiculous and I hope the head gets the message and scraps it.'

Another parent, who also wished to remain anonymous, said there was 'great unease' among parents.  She told the East Grinstead Courier: 'Some parents have announced their intention to keep their children from school on at least one day.  'Parents have said that they feel the welfare of their children is under threat from the instructions given in this document.'

The classes, based on the Brighton-based Allsorts Youth Project, were proposed by the school in a bid to 'empower young people'.

The Allsorts website states that it creates a 'safe space for trans and gender questioning children', and allows kids to 'explore and be themselves'.  It also says the programme will give kids 'a chance to meet other trans/gender questioning children', as well as taking part in 'fun games'.

Ms Maltby defended her decision to hold the 'transgender day' before the Easter holidays, saying it was important to raise gender issues.  She said: 'As part of the national curriculum, we spend time talking to the children about British values of tolerance, respect and celebrating differences.

'One of the areas we will be discussing shortly is gender identity and we felt that it was important to involve parents in their child's learning by holding an information session.

'We have had a very positive response to the event and the opportunity to learn more about this relevant topic, although three families have chosen to withdraw their children from school.'

She added that the school tried to give pupils a 'well-rounded education', which would help them 'become responsible, independent people able to respect others'. 


Student Fascists trash Australian Senator's  office

Violence is never far beneath the surface among the Left.  Note that the banner calls for something to be "smashed". Just naked hate.  Trotskyites use that word a lot

THE “full force of the law” should be brought to bear on protesters who trashed Senator Cory Bernardi’s office and targeted his children’s school, he says.

The university students and high-school pupils, who were protesting against his opposition to the Safe Schools anti-bullying program and ongoing debate about same-sex marriage, engaged in abuse, vandalism and threats.

Both Flinders and Adelaide universities released statements condemning the action.

Branding the protesters “a bunch of cowards”, Senator Bernardi labelled the fracas a form of intolerance and intimidation that only “strengthened his resolve”.

He said: “They also headed down to my children’s school and sought to target it as well. They had to lock gates and take other preventive measures.

“If peaceful protests turn into violent and damaging protests the people responsible for that need to be held to account.  “I’m happy for the full force of the law to be brought upon those who’ve done property damage and threatened my staff.”

Police reported one man for graffiti damage to a road sign and are reviewing CCTV evidence from the scene.

About 20 students — from Adelaide and Flinders universities, UniSA and high schools — occupied the Grenfell St office at noon and scrawled abusive messages on the outside walls and veranda.

They also overturned tables and chairs, wrote messages in chalk on the carpet and chanted slogans such as “racist, sexist, anti-queer, Bernardi is not welcome here”.

Senator Bernardi’s wife, Sinead, and staffers retreated into other rooms.

Once police arrived, the students went outside, knocking over a fence on their way and leaving paper and rubbish strewn around the office. One sign read: “Eat rainbow, bigot.”

Senator Bernardi tweeted: “What a bunch of cowards. Lefty totalitarians have trashed my office and threatened my staff because their agenda has been exposed.”

Tom Gilchrist, Adelaide University’s Student Representative Council president and several other SRC members from the socialist group Student Voice were among the protesters.

They included SRC ethno-cultural officer Angelo Tavlaridis, who was last year banned from campaigning on campus after allegedly calling one female student a “c ...” and another a “bitch”.

One of Senator Bernardi’s employees, Adelaide University Union board member Robert Katsambis, then passed censure motions against Mr Tavlaridis’ behaviour and Mr Gilchrist’s failure to condemn it.

Mr Gilchrist defended the protesters’ actions on Friday, saying the damage was “completely superficial, paper and chalk — things that can be cleaned off easily”.

“This is nothing compared to the damage being done to LGBTI people,” he said of the Federal Government’s decision to “gut” the Safe Schools program, announced on Friday shortly after the protest.

“That is the really disgusting thing.”

During the office protest, the students claimed they were heading to the school because it was where Senator Bernardi was educated. Mr Gilchrist later said they had not caused any disturbance at the school.  “We put up the banner and walked away,” he said.

Senator Bernardi was a vocal critic of Safe Schools, a program to prevent bullying on gender and sexuality grounds.  He said the program was intimidating, indoctrinating, and bullying children by picking on heterosexual children.

Pressure from backbenchers forced Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to announce a review of the program. Tensions over the issue heated this week to the point where Queensland MP George Christensen tried to link the program to paedophilia and started a petition calling for a full inquiry.

On Friday, the Government released the review and announced a compromise, radically altering the way the program works but saying it would remain in place.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said review author Professor Bill Lowden, an education expert, found some content was “not necessarily appropriate for all children”.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

British Primary school where the children are made to run a mile every day has NO overweight pupils - and their behaviour is better too

This is actually a traditional idea.  At certain ages during my primary school education in the '50s, the kids in my class were all made to run around the sports oval before classes began.  It burnt off restless energy and settled kids down

A primary school where children are made to run a mile every day has proved so successful in tackling obesity it could soon be introduced nationwide.

Teachers at St Ninians school in Stirling have sent pupils out for the daily run for the last four years and claim it has improved their behaviour as well as their fitness.

Given the popularity of the scheme, a campaign has now been launched to persuade all primary schools across the UK to copy the model.

Five hundred other primaries across Britain have already adopted the scheme as part of their drive to cut childhood obesity.

Daily miles are now run in schools in London, Gateshead, Wales and other parts of Scotland, with 30 schools in Stirling alone taking part.

'It's a commonsense approach to children's fitness, which is free and easy. The most important thing is that the children really enjoy it, otherwise you couldn't sustain it. They come back in bright-eyed and rosy-cheeked, how children used to look. It's joyous to see.'

She added: 'We want all schools to give their children the opportunity to run a mile each day. 'It only takes fifteen minutes and has been shown to improve their health, fitness and concentration in class.'

Experts recommend all children spend an hour a day being physically active in order to remain healthy.

At St Ninians, teachers take their pupils out of lessons on to a specially built circuit around the school's playing field for their daily mile whenever it best suits that day's timetable. Only ice or very heavy rain stops them.

Children who have difficulty with mobility are supported to take part.

Tanni Grey-Thompson, the celebrated Paralympian, peer and chair of ukactive, the UK's leading not-for-profit health body for physical activity, told The Guardian: 'All children need to achieve 60 active minutes every day, whether in a lesson, on the walk to school, or in the playground.  'We know sitting still kills; not sitting still helps children build skills that will stay with them for life.'

Meanwhile, researchers from Stirling University are looking for quantitative evidence of the physical, cognitive and emotional benefits of the daily mile.

St Ninians pupils will be compared with children from a school in Stirling that has yet to start the scheme.

Dr Colin Moran, who is leading the study, told the Guardian: 'The children [at St Ninians] don't seem to have problems with obesity; they seem happier and staff say they settle into lessons faster, so we designed a study that would test all of these things. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence about the benefits but there aren't any scientific facts yet.'

The results of the study should be published in July.   


Massachusetts: Taunting at high school games is a challenge for administrators

Woburn fans chanted "We can’t hear you," at Bishop Feehan fans on the other side of the court at a state girls’ basketball semifinal on Monday at TD Garden

In 20 years as a high school athletic director, Phil Vaccaro heard it all.

"The cheerleaders are ugly, the administrators are dumb, the kids stink, the parents are this, the mascot is that," said Vaccaro, offering a taste of the taunts that emanated more often from opposing bleachers than from his own. On his side, few of the home fans in Reading dared, knowing he was a hawk who would swoop in at the first sign of heckling.

Now he works for the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, where just last week — days before Catholic Memorial and Newton North High exchanged offensive chants — officials were feeling good about the absence of any major taunting incidents across the various winter postseason tournaments conducted by the MIAA.

Indeed, in a message to the MIAA board, executive director Bill Gaine hailed "the quality of competition, the support and behavior of fans, and the sportsmanship of participants" in tournament games featuring 800 teams and drawing tens of thousands of student-athletes and spectators. And then anti-Semitic chants erupted the next night during that playoff game in Newton, thrusting Massachusetts school-sports spectators into the national spotlight.

Officials here say that incident was an aberration, citing the work of MIAA and school policies, of an annual fall sportsmanship summit for 1,000-plus student-athletes at Gillette Stadium, and of a spring "Battle of the Fans" contest for positive booster videos. They also attributed it to perpetual vigilance on the part of athletic directors and other staff monitoring the stands.

"It’s a hard thing. It’s not a sometimes thing, my friend," said Vaccaro, who previously emblazoned all of Reading’s athletic trash barrels with the motto "Sportsmanship, Character, Integrity" and once spent an entire Super 8 hockey championship at TD Garden with his back to the ice — concerned less with the on-ice outcome than "the reputation of my community."

Still, some officials in Massachusetts worry that teen taunting is getting more vulgar and more frequent — either because parents or other adults are more reluctant than in previous generations to "nip it," as Vaccaro put it, or because teens are mimicking fever-pitch college crowds and gaining a wider audience for their antics through social media.

"It’s a challenge, and it’s getting more and more difficult," said Rob Pearl, athletic director at Medway High. "A lot of the kids go to a college game or watch a game on TV and see what the college kids are doing, and think it would be funny for a high school game as well, and it doesn’t always amount to the same amount of quote-unquote fun."

Winter is the toughest season, they say, because taunts that might die in the wind on a wide-open field reverberate in enclosed gyms and rinks, and because elbow-to-elbow bleachers provide both more kindling for taunts to spread and more cover for offenders to hide in a crowd.

"It’s kind of an anonymous attack on somebody. That’s the culture that a lot of kids are growing up in now," said John Lilly, a Boston teacher who coaches and officiates multiple sports and runs a volunteer service program for 500 student-athletes in Newton, where he lives.

Lilly said integrity on the court remains constant but bleacher behavior is eroding. "Over the years the focus has drifted from being a positive support group for their players versus aiming insults, which takes away from the accomplishments of the athletes on both teams," he said.

The MIAA’s taunting policy prohibits any comments "intended to bait, anger, embarrass, ridicule, or demean others, whether or not the deeds or words are vulgar or racist" and includes anything "that berates, needles, intimidates, or threatens based on race, gender, ethnic origin or background, and conduct that attacks religious beliefs, size, economic status, speech, family, special needs or personal matters." Should that not cover everything, there is a blanket prohibition on any kind of "trash talk."

In other words, the ban starts with "air ball!" and covers everything downhill from there, including the long history of trash talk on socioeconomic grounds — "pump our gas," "it’s all right, it’s OK, you’ll all work for us someday" — and sordid other subjects.

Taunts tend to start small and escalate. In Medway, Pearl is quick to eject trash-talkers, signalling that attending a game is a privilege, not a right. "I’ve been criticized by parents who say, ‘I don’t let the kids have fun at games,’ but it’s a fine line," said Pearl, chairman of the 20-member MIAA Sportsmanship Committee that Vaccaro advises. "How do you explain to a 15-, 16-, 17-year-old what’s fun and what’s offensive?"

At last Friday’s game, according to witnesses, the volley of mocking between student sections began with Newton North fans calling "where’s your girls?" and the all-boys Catholic Memorial fans retorting, "in your section." Calls of "sausagefest!" from Newton followed, which many construed as homophobic, before widespread Catholic Memorial taunts of "you killed Jesus!" left many on the Newton side speechless.

Administrators from both schools stopped the taunts and admonished both sides; Catholic Memorial students apologized to Newton North’s interim principal and shook his hand one by one.

Officials at the West Roxbury school also announced plans to hold assemblies and bolster their tolerance curriculum, and they banned students from attending Monday’s Eastern Massachusetts championship game.

Cambridge Rindge and Latin athletic director Tom Arria — whose team beat Catholic Memorial in that game Monday — and other ADs said a school should not be judged by one taunt but by how it responds to such an incident.

Arria, who has worked at multiple urban and suburban schools, is not convinced that today’s students jeer any more than their forebears did.

He noted the "Patrick Can’t Read!" taunts that rained down from BC High fans on Cambridge star Patrick Ewing, a soft-spoken Jamaican immigrant, at the old Garden in 1981, and that followed Ewing from that scholastic title game into opposing college arenas in the Big East.

"Administrators at all schools try hard. We’re in education for a reason — we want what’s best for kids; we want them to learn what’s right and wrong," Arria said. "Occasionally a group of teenagers can veer off in a direction, and sometimes it carries, and sometimes we’re able to manage it a little bit better. You do your best to keep them on the right path."


Australian Education Minister unveils sweeping changes to homosexual-support program for schools

THE Safe Schools Coalition program will be overhauled, after a review found "a number of resources" included content not suitable for all children, Education Minister Simon Birmingham says.

Senator Birmingham said the government had ordered several sections of the program be redesigned and all references to external websites, except mental-health support services, be removed.

In response to the review, he said the program would also be restricted to high schools only and require schools to obtain parental consent.

"To further ensure the safety of the official resources generated by the program and also to ensure that it is really mainstreamed alongside of other student wellbeing and anti-bullying programs, we’ll be undertaking actions that will see the official resources of the program moved from the Safe Schools Coalition website to the Safe School hub," he said.

Senator Birmingham said while there was no evidence of "advocacy and activism" in classrooms, he believed some people involved in the program had used it to further political agenda.

He said "advocacy and activism" had no place in the program.

"Just as proselytising is not part of the school chaplaincy program, advocacy must not be part of the Safe School program," he said.

"This is here to help children in their wellbeing in schools and people who might have engaged in the past as presenting themselves as representatives of the program and in doing so speaking about political matters and advocating in those political matters have frankly done themselves and the program an enormous disservice and would be well advised to keep their mouths shut on such matters in future," he said.

The review was ordered by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in response to lobbying by conservative Liberals including George Christensen and Cory Bernadi.

A petition calling for an inquiry into the program was being circulated on Wednesday night and had reportedly garnered as many as 40 signatures, including that of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

It followed a backbench briefing by the author of the review, University of Western Australia emeritus professor Bill Louden, with some in attendance reportedly suggesting it was a "white wash".

Mr Christensen said he was pleased by the government’s response.  "As long as all the stuff the Minister said comes to pass, all of the concern is gutted out of the program," he said.

"I still am yet to see the response from the Safe Schools Coalition because we are talking about fundamentally altering what they have proposed and what they have proposed I think was disastrous for schoolchildren so if they reject what the government’s put forward then the funding will just be suspended, that’s my understanding from my conversation with the Minister."

He said the government changes would ensure it was an "anti-bullying program rather than something that’s bringing in queer theory into classrooms and sexual liberation ideals into classrooms."