Friday, June 10, 2016

The Most Schooled Generation in History Is Miserable

Millennials are stressed out because they're bored

It’s said that sadness isn’t the opposite of happiness — boredom is.

With this in mind, is it any surprise that children, adolescents, and young adults today are so unhappy? Is it any surprise that so many turn to extending their schooled lives into structured activities as long as possible? Is it any surprise that when people don’t know what to do, they simply go to graduate school?

To understand this mass unhappiness and boredom with life — and the sudden uptick in quarter-life crises — look at where these young people have spent most of their lives.

What we see today in Millennials and younger is something henceforth unseen in the United States: a fully-schooled generation. Every young person, save the occasional homeschooler, today has been through schools. This means rich & poor, established & unestablished, and developed & undeveloped young adults have all been put through roughly the same exact system with the same general experiences for the last two decades of their lives.

School teaches them that life is broken into discernible chunks and that learning and personal development are to be seen as drudgery. Rather than teaching them how to foster a love of learning, a constantly-centralizing school regime in the US today teaches them to look for standards to be measured against. Rather than helping give them the cognitive and philosophical tools necessary to lead fulfilled lives in the context of the world in which they live, schools remove them from this world and force them to develop these skills only after 18–25 years of being alive. Rather than allowing them to integrate themselves into the broader scheme of life and learn what they get fulfillment from achieving and what they don’t, school leaves fulfillment to five letter grades and a few minutes of recess.

“We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.” -- John Holt

In short, school teaches apathy towards education and detachment from the world. School removes people from being forced to learn how to get fulfillment from a variety of activities and subjects and instead foists a handful of clunky subjects onto them hoping they meet state standards for “reading,”“mathematics,” “writing,” and “science.”

Not only this, but they’ve had childhood extended further into adulthood than any other generation before them. A young person today is considered a “child” much longer than a young person was 20 or 40 years ago. To treat a 16 year-old as a child in the 1960s would have been insulting. Today, it is commonplace.

Adult children wander the hallways of universities and workplaces today, less-equipped to find purpose and meaning than their predecessors. They can’t be entirely blamed for their anxiety and depression — their parents, teachers, and leaders put them through an institution and created a cultural norm that created the world they live in today.

"Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they’ll never be bored." -- John Taylor Gatto

This is the perfect formula for creating a group of constantly bored people. They’ve been deprived of a chance to find meaning for themselves in subjects by engaging with them on a deep level and internalizing the responsibility necessary to live in the world. They’ve been cut off from opportunities to make real connections with people based on more than a lottery of ZIP codes for a decade. They’ve been taught that achievement is getting to the next level set by people outside of themselves.

Sadness isn’t the opposite of happiness — boredom is. A fully schooled generation has created a generation of bored adult children. It’s no wonder young people today seem so unhappy.


Millions Mired in Massive Student Debt

The government program that gave Americans loans for higher education made enrollment at U.S. colleges increase 25% from 2002 to 2012. The government’s stated goal was to increase training in America’s work force. It was supposed to improve America’s economic health. That plan didn’t work.

America’s current and former students now owe $1.2 trillion in debt. Millions of Americans who took the loans are in default. “New research shows a significant chunk of that investment backfired, with millions of students worse off for having gone to school,” according to The Wall Street Journal. “Many never learned new skills because they dropped out — and now carry debt they are unwilling or unable to repay. Policy makers worry that without a bigger intervention, those borrowers will become trapped for years and will ultimately hurt, rather than help, the nation’s economy.”

In the past, the thinking among parents and students heading to university was that taking out loans was an investment that would pay off in the form of higher wages down the road. But a report by nonpartisan think tank Third Way discovered that about 40% of students who enrolled in nonprofit colleges and took on debt in 2005 only earned $25,000 six years later — no better than holding only a high school diploma.

Americans have taken on debt with little to show for it. And for what? Mike Rowe, who stared in “Dirty Jobs,” said in a Prager University video most Americans are chasing their dream jobs regardless of the skills they possess or the need for those jobs. It could be the government, in giving out these loans, enabled Americans to pursue careers that don’t actually contribute to society. Can someone say “education bubble”?


Australia: throwing cash at schools is not the answer

A question that has divided philosophers and psychologists for centuries — what makes children turn out as they do? — has finally been answered with the release of Labor’s education policy.

It seems Descartes, Locke and co were barking up the wrong tree; the answer is not nature or nurture but the government.

No longer will children have to “choose their parents wisely,” as Bertrand Russell once advised. Under the fully funded Gonski plan, we are told, every child in every school will have the same chance of succeeding.

“We want to make sure,” Bill Shorten explained, “that children, no matter what their background, no matter what their postcode, whether or not they live in the suburbs and the cities, in country towns or along our coast, whether or not they go to a government school or a Catholic school, a private school, get every chance.”

Much as alchemists once dreamed of turning base metal into gold, so today’s social policy planners are bewitched by the ­notion that, with enough government money, every child can be made to sparkle.

Never mind the trail of failed experiments, abandoned fads or prodigious amounts of public money already spent. It wasn’t the frailties of the program that let us down, apparently, but mean-spirited governments blind to the needs of the weary and dispossessed.

The government’s job used to stop with the provision of universal education; what students and parents did with it was entirely up to them. After four decades of progressive social thinking, culminating in the Gonski review, the government’s task has expanded; it must intervene to break the supposed causal link between educational accomplishment and familial, social and economic background.

The Gonski review should have challenged the assumption that schools are cost-effective instruments for fixing the complex ills of society.

Instead, it took it as granted, which seems absurd to anybody grounded in the real world. Take, for example, the plight of an infant raised in a welfare-fed cesspit by adults so drug-addled that they are incapable of telling the time themselves, let alone passing that skill on to their children. Suppose a generous Labor government doubles the budget of the local school which the little mite fitfully ­attends. How much does that change the kid’s prospects? Probably very little, if at all.

The presence of a man like ­Andrew Leigh on Labor’s frontbench makes it all the more surprising that it has fallen — hook, line and sinker — for the funding fallacy. Leigh was the lead author of a report for Treasury’s Social Policy Division called “How much of the variation in literacy and numeracy can be explained by school performance?”

The answer, Leigh concluded, was about 30 per cent. The other 70 per cent was explained by factors outside the school’s control. A comparison with other studies suggests Leigh may have been over-estimating the influence of schooling — an OECD study for example suggests 20 per cent — but even so, the implications for government are clear.

“The more that children’s academic achievement is determined in the home, the less chance that policies to improve schools’ performance will have a transformative impact on the life chances of disadvantaged students,” wrote Leigh.

“At the extreme, if socio-economic status entirely explains academic performance, it is pointless to think about reforming schools in order to raise educational outcomes.”

Absent from Leigh’s pre-Gonski analysis is any discussion about money. To the extent to which schools make a difference, Leigh suggests that the ability of the principal and the quality of the teachers are likely to make the biggest difference. Most objective studies arrive at the same conclusion; it is not the amount of money allocated to schools that matters but how it is spent.

In the middle of the election-charged debate about school funding comes a subversive intervention by the ABC that debunks Gonski’s assumption that it is just a question of funding. Last week the public broadcaster launched the first episode of Revolution School, a fly-on-the-wall documentary about a state secondary school in a low socio-economic area on the outer fringe of Melbourne that has managed to turn its lacklustre performance around.

It was apparent from the first scene that Kambyra College was well resourced; all children had access to a laptop and the classrooms were in reasonable repair. The teachers seemed motivated, dedicated and intelligent if a little battle-worn from the daily challenge of keeping order. Mr Wallis’ Year 10 English class appeared particularly brutal.

Yet in the course of the 58-minute episode, no one raised the issue of money.

As John Hattie, the expert who supervised Kambyra’s transformation, explained, when it comes to improving education, Australians are arguing about the wrong thing.

Class sizes or the difference between private and public education are largely immaterial.

“If you take students of the same kind of prior ability, the same kind of initial ability, here in Australia it virtually doesn’t matter what school you go to.

“Schools don’t make much difference — it’s the teachers.’’

Labor’s Gonski-inspired plan to pump another $37 billion into schools is looking increasingly reckless, as evidenced not just by Revolution School but the shadow assistant treasurer’s 2008 report.

It is less a rational policy response than an act of fiscal exhibition designed to show that Labor cares. As Leigh’s research demonstrates, schools cannot press the reset button for every kid that enters their gates, no matter how much money we throw at them.

With three episodes still to go, Revolution School is looking like the most uplifting thing the ABC has commissioned since Choir of Hard Knocks. Kambyra’s principal, Michael Muscat, would surely be an early favourite for Australian of the Year, had the process not been so corrupted.

While the teaching unions plaster the country with Gonski banners backing Labor, Muscat and his staff in an undistinguished outer Melbourne suburb are ­applying themselves to the harder task of changing the world one child at a time.


Thursday, June 09, 2016

Notes From a Neo-Nazi Cuckservative

By Ben Shapiro

Last week, California State University, Los Angeles held a "healing space" event to provide a safe forum for students and professors to unleash their feelings about my campus speech in February, sponsored by the Young America's Foundation. That speech, you may recall, was originally canceled by university President William Covino. After I decided to go to the campus anyway, hundreds of screaming students blocked doorways, assaulted prospective speechgoers and pulled the fire alarm mid-speech. Professors egged on the protesters; one even threatened student organizers. I was forced to enter through a back door and exit surrounded by a full phalanx of armed and uniformed officers, thanks to the near-riotous conditions outside.

So, naturally, the professors and students who caused the commotion had some hurt feelings.

At their little get-together, Covino announced he "would have never invited anybody like Ben Shapiro" to campus. Covino fretted that "very tragically and unfortunately," somebody like me could show up on campus again. Meanwhile, Professor Melina Abdullah, chair of the university's Pan-African Studies department, said that I had advocated "anti-blackness," and then called me a "neo-Nazi." After realizing that it would be odd to label an Orthodox Jew a "neo-Nazi," she shifted her language slightly, saying, "A neo-KKK member — let's call him that." She said that students came to her feeling "traumatized" by a speech they probably never heard, feeling "brutalized, physically, emotionally and mentally."

I spent the bulk of my speech talking about how racial diversity was irrelevant — diversity of viewpoint mattered. This was enough to drive chaos and insanity at the school for months. Apparently, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — which I did during the speech — makes me a "neo-KKK member."

Meanwhile, David Duke, former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, has labeled me an enemy of the KKK. I've been hit daily on Twitter by certain alt-right white supremacist Donald Trump supporters labeling me a "cuck" — a weak-kneed leftist who wants to watch his wife copulate with a black man. Prominent Breitbart News columnist Milo Yiannopoulos tweeted a picture of a black child at me upon my announcement of the birth of my second child. The neo-Nazi Daily Stormer routinely attacks me. Some of Trump's alt-right fans tweeted that I, along with my wife and two children, should be sent to the gas chambers.

This is the toxicity of our extreme politics. The campus left, enthused by Sen. Bernie Sanders and sought by Hillary Clinton, calls anyone who disagrees a "neo-KKK member." The KKK, meanwhile, calls anyone who won't support Donald Trump a "cuck." This is what happens when basic American principles are no longer taught; this is what happens when grievance politics replace the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. Speaking in favor of free speech makes you a pariah for those who would control speech in order to build their utopia.

So, what about those of us who despise both the KKK and the Black Lives Matter movement? What about those of us who think that white nationalism is despicable, and that the censorious brutality of the "diversity" clique is gross? We've got a long road ahead of us. We'll have to teach a new generation, from scratch, that freedom and liberty still matter, regardless of race. We'll have to attempt to restore the notion of a social fabric, rather than the tribalism that now dominates the conversation. We'll have to stand tall against authoritarianism from both sides.


An Impending Coup at St. John's College

By Roger Kimball

On June 18, the Board of Visitors and Governors at St. John’s College will vote on a proposal to alter the structure of the college radically. If passed, we can say goodbye to the St. John’s that we have known for the past  79 years. It will be a very sad moment for higher education in this country—and I say this fully cognizant of the fact that higher education is in a state of crisis all over, partly for economic reasons, partly because of a failure of intellectual nerve and cultural confidence.

St. John’s is tiny. Its two campuses—one in Annapolis, Md., one in Santa Fe, N.M.—comprise fewer than 900 students. But the college makes up in intellectual seriousness what it lacks in size. There are few institutions that offer such a deep and sustained engagement with the substance of a traditional liberal arts education. It is all the sadder, then, that St. John’s may be just about to turn its back on that and fade into the beige-on-beige porridge of politically correct mediocrity and bureaucratic homogenization. 

I’ll come to the particulars of this unhappy contingency below. First, a little history. I have known about St John’s since I was myself in college, back in those prelapsarian days when “trigger warnings” were posted only on the rifle range and no one worried that bathrooms were labeled “M” and “F.” Because of various contingencies that needn’t detain us, I later learned a good deal about St. John’s, and eventually served for a few years on its Board of Visitors and Governors. 

Almost everything about St. John’s is unusual. I’ve already mentioned its size.  It’s unusual in its administration, too: Its two campuses answer to one board but, for the last 30 or so years, to two presidents, which has meant that each campus has developed strong and deeply rooted traditions of self-governance. And then there is the matter and the method of its pedagogy. 

St. John’s is often presented as a “great books” school, which is almost correct. All the books one reads—all the works one encounters (it’s not just books)—are pretty great.  And nearly everything is required.  All students take essentially the same course of study, known fondly as “the Program.” There’s Homer, Plato, and Aristotle for starters. Then there is the Bible, Thucydides, Euclid, Archimedes, Ptolemy, Aeschylus, Aristophanes,  Virgil, and Plutarch.  Also Augustine, Dante, Rabelais, Galileo, Monteverdi, Shakespeare, Machiavelli, Descartes, Leibniz, Bach, Newton, Haydn, Mozart, Locke, Jane Austen, Schubert, Rousseau,  Kant, Hegel, Marx, Wagner, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky,  various Supreme Court opinions, Flaubert, Conrad, Husserl, Heidegger, Faraday, Rutherford, Einstein, T.S. Eliot, Heisenberg, Watson & Crick. And on and on. It is quite a list, and one that would give those poor English students at Yale heart failure. So too would the fact that the Program requirements include four years of mathematics, four years of foreign languages, three years of laboratory science, and two years of music.  

But the curriculum per se is only part of the St. John’s story. There are actually quite a number of (mostly quite good) colleges that offer a “classical” or “great books” curriculum. And of course there are plenty of places that pretend to teach Shakespeare but merely to enlist him in a political melodrama dear to the heart of the professor (Shakespeare and colonialism, Shakespeare and cross-dressing, Shakespeare and patriarchy, etc. ). 

What sets St. John’s apart is not only the curriculum but the pedagogy. The St. John’s approach is deeply Socratic, which means, in part, that questions, not answers, have priority. That, as anyone familiar with education-speak knows, is just the sort of thing that college PR departments specialize in saying. Next to the promise that they teach “critical thinking” (what Jacques Barzun more accurately described as “directionless quibble”), talk about favoring questions over answers is something educationists love to broadcast.

But at St. John’s it actually works, chiefly, I suspect, because what goes on in the classroom is firmly anchored to the text before the class.  The teachers at St. John’s are not called “professors.” They are called “tutors.”  The real teachers are the books and works of art that are being studied.  The tutors are facilitators, interlocutors, mediators or (as Socrates liked to say of himself) “midwives” between pupil and the work. A typical St. John’s seminar consists of about 20 students and two tutors (two  in order to reinforce the non-professorial character of the exchange). Because all students study and discuss the same works during their four years together, their life in community is immeasurably deepened by the  common points of reference they are acquiring.

Which brings me back to the impending coup at St. John’s.  Even a decade ago, when I served on the board, there were already  signs of impatience with the college’s peculiarities. Everyone associated with the school likes to purr that St. John’s is “unique.” But some members of the board worried about the college’s U.S. News & World Report ranking. What about its physical plant? What about the racial or sexual makeup of its student body? Other colleges have study-abroad programs; never mind about its distinctive intellectual program, why shouldn’t St. John’s also offer a year abroad?  The pressure to be “relevant,” to sign up for the usual academic roster of metrics, has been growing. Now, like a festering boil, it seems to have burst. The bureaucrats have supplanted the visionaries, like Scott Buchanan and Stringfellow Barr, who brought the college into being. 

Officially, the two campuses of St. John’s are equal. But the truth is that the Santa Fe campus has struggled since its inception. It has had trouble attracting enough students. Its finances are in shambles.

No doubt there are several reasons for this. Annapolis was the founding campus: priority counts for something. Santa Fe did not come along until 1964. Its location far from population centers is a problem. A lot of the bad effects of the 1960s took root in Santa Fe in ways that they didn't in Annapolis. And for some 25 years Annapolis has been blessed with an intellectually vigorous and administratively capable president in the person of Chris Nelson, himself a graduate of St. John’s. Santa Fe has rarely enjoyed the same caliber of leadership. 

Nelson recently announced that he would be retiring at the end of the next school year. There are rumors that his retirement was forced by a faction of the board unhappy with the status quo at the college.  I have no idea whether those rumors are true.  But it is public knowledge that the board has proposed to bring both campuses under the wing of its newly appointed president of the Santa Fe campus, Mark Roosevelt. A new, “junior president” would be found, somewhere, to head Annapolis, but he or she would report to Roosevelt. 

Who is Mark Roosevelt? His chief claim to distinction seems to be that he is the great-grandson of Theodore Roosevelt. He went to all the best schools (St. Albans, Harvard) but evinces no discernible scholarly interests.  He has written no books or intellectually substantive articles. (By contrast, Chris Nelson has kept up an active intellectual practice through articles, speeches, and teaching.) It would be interesting to know whether Mr. Roosevelt could even parse St. John’s clever motto: Facio liberos ex liberis libris libraque. 

His real interest seems to be in “progressive” politics, not education. He calls himself a “change agent.” He was an aspirant to various liberal Democratic positions in Massachusetts before serving as interim president at Antioch College, one of the fruitiest bastions of counter-cultural fatuousness in the American educational establishment.  “At the core of his work” there, Wikipedia tells us, was furthering Antioch’s  “social justice mission.” 

Ah, yes: “social justice.”  What, when you get down to it, does the word “social” add to the word “justice”?  Plato asked about the meaning of justice. Ideologues masquerading as benefactors of humanity preach the gospel of “social justice.”  The phrase is a reliable talisman that what’s on tap is not serious intellectual inquiry but politics masquerading as pedagogy.  As readers of "The Road to Serfdom" know, “social” is often a “weasel word,” meant to impart a pleasing emotional charge to whatever noun it modifies. 

Wikipedia has its limitations, no doubt, but I thought it instructive that Mr. Roosevelt’s page features two advisories: “This article contains content that is written like an advertisement” and “This article contains wording that promotes the subject in a subjective manner without imparting real information.” Indeed. 

Concerned alumni and tutors past and present have voiced their concern about the board’s unprecedented plan to subordinate the Annapolis campus to Santa Fe and Mark Roosevelt, and eliminate the campus’s proud tradition of self-governance.  It is worth noting that the new plan was passed at a special board meeting in New York, in apparent contravention of “the letter and spirit” of St. John’s governing rules.  One beloved former tutor and dean has written to the board that:

"no one I have spoken to on this subject in the Annapolis campus community—tutors, staff, students, alumni—has had a good word to say about the Board's proposal.  Even the student Delegate Council has opposed it, though the students have already left campus.  It is important for you to know how much bewilderment, grief and anger has resulted from your recent actions; and not to subscribe to the flattering  illusion that you have the support of some chimerical silent majority.  Indeed, it seems likely that you were already well aware of how your action would be viewed, and hence you chose to enact it hastily and covertly, at exactly the least convenient moment in the academic year. If you persist in your plans, this wound will not soon heal."

You can’t set foot on a college campus these days without encountering incessant chatter about “diversity.” It doesn’t take long to realize that by “diversity” most colleges really mean “strict intellectual and moral conformity about any contentious issue.”  Indeed, most colleges and universities are one-party states, purveying, at enormous cost, a species of ideological indoctrination while their charges enjoy a four-year holiday from the responsibilities of adult life masquerading as a liberal education.  Their parents are happy, or at least reconciled to the expense and the indoctrination, because said college provides their child with the all-important stamp of societal approval in the form of a meal ticket called a “diploma.”  What have they actually learned? What skills have they mastered? What is their character?  Those are questions that no one, having just spent  (in many cases) $250,000, wants to ask. 

St. John’s really has offered something different. It’s just as expensive as the other places. And my impression is that a large proportion of its faculty are as reflexively left-wing as the faculty at most other colleges. But their interrogative engagement with a thoughtfully garnered distillation of masterpieces makes St. John’s quite different from almost every other institution.  Is it for everyone? No.  But it is one of our age’s failings—a liability of thoughtless “democratization”—to assume that if something isn’t good for everyone, it is good for no one. 

St. John’s Board of Visitors and Governors is on the brink of making changes in the governing structure of the college that will set it, perhaps irrevocably, on the road to intellectual blandness and conformity. June 18 is just over a week away. I hope that anyone who cherishes what St. John’s has been—students and faculty past and present, citizens concerned with genuine diversity and excellence in American higher education—will make his voice heard before another experiment in educational excellence is absorbed into the engorging maw of politically correct mediocrity. 


Judge Rules in Favor of Christian Student Group Against NC State’s ‘Speech Permit’

North Carolina State University infringed on the free speech rights of a student-led Christian group, a federal judge has ruled.

Chief U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III, calling his action “in the public interest,” issued a preliminary injunction Saturday against NC State’s speech permit policy, saying it violates the students’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

“The judge pretty much granted the entire request that we asked for,” a lawyer for the students, Tyson Langhofer, told The Daily Signal.  “Essentially, everything in the final order that we requested was granted.”

The group Grace Christian Life, which meets on the NC State campus, sued school administrators on April 26 for requiring they obtain a permit before holding a meeting for fellow students in Talley Student Union.

Dever heard the case, Grace Christian Life v. Woodson, on June 2. W. Randolph Woodson is the chancellor of North Carolina State University.

In a statement provided to The Daily Signal, NC State said:

NC State appreciates the court’s review of this matter, and we will follow the court’s preliminary ruling. The university remains an environment that fosters and enables the healthy and free exchange of ideas and viewpoints by our students and academic community. The ruling is not in response to a concern over the university’s actual application of the policy, which is content neutral.

The judge’s order will not prohibit university officials from regulating student speech or behavior that is disruptive to campus activities, violates school policies, or interferes with the learning of others, Langhofer told The Daily Signal. He said:

Any kind of speech that would interrupt or interfere with the university’s educational activities or that would potentially prohibit or disrupt or block traffic, they can ask you to stop that.  Any other speech that doesn’t disrupt otherwise, you don’t have to have a permit to engage in that. … The injunction order is final in that it’s the order that will last for the remainder of the case about the policy.

Langhofer is a senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal aid group that represents people who have reason to think their religious liberties have been compromised.

NC State has the option to appeal, but Langhofer said that is “unlikely.”

“It means that now, students at NC State have the ability to speak freely to one another without having to obtain a permit first,” he said of the ruling. “It means they can fully exercise their First Amendment rights.”


Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Fury Over School Regulations: It’s the Department of Education, Stupid!

Proposed regulations bring education back under federal control.

The new school regulations are so old school. Can we not just deregulate like it’s 1999?

Yesterday's proposed rules on school accountability are yet another reminder that it’s time for federal bureaucrats at the Department of Education to get their hands out of our education system. They have done enough damage already with their long record of failed reform efforts.

However, when it comes to regulating our children, the Department of Education will never back down. Nothing is over until they decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Heck no!

Okay, maybe that was John Belushi in Animal House, not the Department of Education. At the rate Common Core is diminishing the humanities, it’s hard to tell. And, we all know what happened when Dean Wormer tried to regulate Delta fraternity: Toga! Toga!

Alright, back to the proposed education rule – we don’t want to give the Department of Education the chance to hand over the dunce cap – let’s take a look at the federal government’s role in our education system.

Since the Common Core curriculum is unlikely to cover this topic, it's time for a brief history lesson in education policy. Don't worry, there will be no standardized test on this. Not yet, at least.

Education Department 101: No Child Left Behind with Common Core and Every Student Succeeds with School Choice

The Department of Education, acting as a federal board of education, has a long history of enacting top-down measures that grab power from the hands of teachers and schools. These standards and regulations, always a far cry from effective education reform, merit the department a failing report card.

In 2001, Congress passed highly lauded, bipartisan effort at education reform known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Despite the initial positivity surrounding NCLB, over time it proved to be a bureaucratic one-size-fits all uniform testing program that vastly expanded the reach of the Department of Education.

After years of amendments and alterations by administrative rules, this program was left behind and replaced in 2015 by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The ESSA is a purported shift away from federal accountability provisions.

The success of this reform is yet to be determined, although recent events indicate that the expansive regulatory authority of the Department may limit its positive effects. The rule could be circumvented through legislation that takes power away from federal education regulators.

One instance of the federalization of education can be found in the Common Core fiasco. The Common Core curriculum provided an opportunity for exercise of federal authority.

Like NCLB, much of the Common Core debate centers around standardized testing. The debate intensified during this year’s Education Department-mandated “Testing Season”, a period that was transformed by the opt-out movement.

The opt-out movement led to some very heavy-handed Department of Education policies by penalizing schools for noncompliance and silencing teachers speaking out against Common Core.

School choice is the other recent Department of Education issue. School choice vouchers would allow student to escape poor policy decisions of educrats by allowing students the option to attend schools other than the school that was assigned.

Last week, parental choice in education was placed on the public radar as the Department of Education issued an absurd ruling that could require schools to allow transgender bathroom and shower facilities. In a Forbes op-ed, FreedomWorks’ Stephen Moore argued that this decision makes a powerful case for “school choice now more than ever.”

While states and local school boards are given some flexibility in their methods of rating school performance, they are held  accountable by the Education Department for administering achievement exams and for intervening in under-performing schools.

The need for school accountability rules, according to the Department of Education, stems from academic underperformance.

What is the Department’s solution to poor academic achievement? More testing, of course!

In a power grab that ignores the complaints of teachers and parents, the Department of Education is responding to the Common Core opt-out movement by making testing anything but optional. Under this regulation, school districts would be held accountable for ensuring that 95 percent of students take performance-indicating standardized tests.

The Education Department has recommended punitive measures for schools and students for opting not to participate in testing. Additionally, the new rule states that federal funds can be withheld from states that fail to test 95 percent of students.

Public outcry against the testing craze has criticized federally mandated standardized tests as a being poorly constructed, inaccurate indicators of performance used to unfairly evaluate teachers and students.

Rather than listen to teachers and students, the Department of Education has decided in favor of regulatory overreach.

Speaking out against the new regulations, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) stated:

"I am deeply concerned the department is trying to take us back to the days when Washington dictated national education policy… Congress worked on a bipartisan basis to move the country away from the prescriptive federal mandates and requirements of No Child Left Behind. We replaced that failed law with a fundamentally different approach that empowers state and local leaders to determine what's best for their schools and students."

Rep. Kline, Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, also indicated he will hold a hearing on the rule. Echoing Kline’s opposition, Senate Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), promised to block the regulation through the Congressional Review Act:

"I will review this proposed regulation to make sure that it reflects the decision of Congress last year to reverse the trend toward a national school board and restore responsibility to states, school districts, and teachers to design their own accountability systems… If the final regulation does not implement the law the way Congress wrote it, I will introduce a resolution under the Congressional Review Act to overturn it."

The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to repeal regulations that are overreaching, expensive, or unduly burdensome.


First Lady to College Grads: You Are ‘Entitled To Life, Liberty And The Pursuit of Happiness’ -- Doesn't Mention 'Creator'

In a commencement speech to graduates at the City College of New York in Manhattan on Friday, first lady Michelle Obama told the students that they are “entitled” to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“This city has been the gateway to America for so many striving, hope-filled immigrants -- folks who left behind everything they knew to seek out this land of opportunity that they dreamed of,” Obama said.

“And so many of those folks, for them, this school was the gateway to actually realizing that opportunity in their lives, founded on the fundamental truth that talent and ambition know no distinctions of race, nationality, wealth, or fame, and dedicated to the ideals that our Founding Fathers put forth more than two centuries ago:  That we are all created equal, all entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Obama said.

Obama was referring to the Declaration of Independence, which states: “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  

She did use the full quote, which includes the words, "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights."

Obama spoke to the graduates about overcoming adversity to reach their goals, which she said is the “American story” and one that she, President Barack Obama, and their daughters have lived while in the slave-built White House.

“And, graduates, it’s the story that I witness every single day when I wake up in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters –- two beautiful, black young women -– head off to school -- (applause) -- waving goodbye to their father, the President of the United States, the son of a man from Kenya who came here to American, to America for the same reasons as many of you:  To get an education and improve his prospects in life,” Obama said.

She added that she did not think the Founding Fathers “could have imagined this day.”

“So, graduates, while I think it’s fair to say that our Founding Fathers never could have imagined this day, all of you are very much the fruits of their vision,” she said. “Their legacy is very much your legacy and your inheritance.”


Seattle Univ. Dean, Chaplain on Administrative Leave After Student Protest Over Too Many ‘Dead White Dudes’ in Curriculum

The dean of the Matteo Ricci College at Seattle University and a chaplain who helped found the college for the study of humanities have been placed on administrative leave following a weeks-long protest by students who claim the curriculum focuses too much on western civilization and “dead white dudes,” according to the Seattle Times.

“When am I going to start reading writers from China, from Africa, from South America?” the Seattle Times quoted Zeena Rivera, a second-year student who is Filipino, as saying. “The only thing they’re teaching us is dead white dudes.”

On Wednesday, Dean Jodi Kelly and chaplain and college co-founder, John Foster, were put on administrative leave.

“I have taken this action because I believe, based on information that has come forward over the past several weeks, that successful operations of the college at this time require that she step away from day-to-day management and oversight,” interim provost at the university, Bob Dullea, wrote in the email, according to the Times.

The Times reported on the protest in early May, saying the protesters object to the curriculum at the college that focuses on western ideas and philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle.

The president of the university expressed his regret for the “pain” these student protesters have been feeling.

“I cannot pretend to know how deep their pain goes, the amount of harm it has caused or the extent of our own shortcomings as educators and administrators,” university President Stephen Sundborg wrote in an open letter.

The students posted an online petition with a long list of demands and expressed the “oppression,” “boredom,” and “traumatization” they have experienced while attending the college.

The students are demanding a “non-Eurocentric” interdisciplinary curriculum, including one that “radically reinterprets what it means to educate teachers and leaders for a just and humane world by centering dialogue about racism, gentrification, sexism, colonialism, imperialism, global white supremacy, and other ethical questions about systems of power, setting a standard for students before doing service, learning, or studying in other communities or countries.”

Meanwhile, an online petition supporting Dean Kelly was posted at, calling for the university president not to allow Kelly to be “bullied out of her job.”


Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The knowledge economy is a myth. We don’t need more universities to feed it

Andre Spicer

Most new jobs now do not require degree-level qualifications. Encouraging more young people to graduate will create only debt and disappointment

Governments around the world believe that to remain competitive in a global economy they must become smarter. In an attempt to boost its knowledge intensiveness, the UK government has just launched a plan to overhaul the university sector. It aims to transform universities by creating many more of them. The hope is that this will increase the number of people with degrees, and the UK will be a more competitive economy.

The idea of the knowledge economy is appealing. The only problem is it is largely a myth. Developed western economies such as the UK and the US are not brimming with jobs that require degree-level qualifications. For every job as a skilled computer programmer, there are three jobs flipping burgers. The fastest-growing jobs are low-skilled repetitive ones in the service sector. One-third of the US labour market is made up of three types of work: office and administrative support, sales and food preparation.

The majority of jobs being created today do not require degree-level qualifications. In the US in 2010, 20% of jobs required a bachelor’s degree, 43% required a high-school education, and 26% did not even require that. Meanwhile, 40% of young people study for degrees. This means over half the people gaining degrees today will find themselves working in jobs that don’t require one.

This bleak picture could get worse. There has been a decline in demand for knowledge-intensive workers requiring a degree since 2000. Over 47% of existing jobs are under threat of being automated. The occupations most likely to be automated out of existence are knowledge-intensive ones such as auditor, insurance underwriter and credit analyst. Those least at risk of automation are hands-on jobs such as masseuse and fire fighter.

The stark mismatch between the number of people with degrees and the number of jobs requiring degrees has created a generation of bored employees who feel like they are working “bullshit jobs”. It’s no surprise 37% of UK employees think their jobs make no meaningful contribution to the world at all.

As people with degree-level education take lower-skilled jobs, the less educated are pushed further down the labour market. In some cases they are pushed out altogether. Often their only route back in is an expensive degree that will enable them to get a job that actually only requires a high-school level education to do. We might think that as the cost of higher education goes up, people will be put off studying. Not the case. Higher education is a luxury good: as the price goes up, demand does not decline. Two US economists found that as prices went up for university degrees, there was only a very small fall in demand. According to some calculations, the cost of a degree in the US has gone up 500% since 1985. Over the same timeframe, demand has continued to rise rapidly.

The huge increase in demand for education coupled with large price hikes has created massive income streams for universities. Most of this income has not gone towards teaching, research or engaging the wider public. Instead it has been spent on expanding administration. In the UK, more than two-thirds of universities now have more administrators than they do faculty members. Today, universities routinely invest in attractive buildings, launch impressive brand-building campaigns, employ armies of professional managers and create excellent gym and spa facilities. Meanwhile faculty staff report feeling like they are “being asked to do more with less”.

It’s uncertain whether universities are delivering on their core purpose. One recent study tracked thousands of students during their time at university. It uncovered a rather disturbing picture: after two years at university, 45% of the students showed no significant improvement in their cognitive skills. After four years, 36% of students had not improved in their ability to think and analyse problems. In some courses – such as business administration – students’ cognitive abilities actually declined in the first few years.

Expanding universities and encouraging increasing numbers of young people to study for degrees may not be the smartest thing to do. It means educating more people who aren’t that interested, for jobs that don’t exist, in a way that has little impact on their intellectual ability. These students will emerge from their few years of education saddled with tens of thousands of pounds of debt. Many will not be able to pay it off and that debt will become the responsibility of the taxpayer. The government’s plan of opening even more universities and offering ever more degrees could easily make matters worse. Attempts to create an intelligent economy could end up being a rather stupid idea.


Anti-Semitic incidents are soaring, group says

Reports of anti-Semitic incidents are soaring this year across New England, an increase fueled by vandalism, harassment, and other acts at schools and colleges, according to statistics released Wednesday by the Anti-Defamation League.

According to the ADL, there have already been 56 anti-Semitic acts in the region this year, nearly as many as for all of 2015, when 61 were reported.

The data alarmed Jewish clergy and academics, who said the incidents suggest a rising level of intolerance that may feed on the rhetoric from the contentious political season.

“Clearly, people are acting out on some long-held stereotypes and hatred toward Jews, and it’s designed to send a message of intimidation,” said Robert Trestan, director of the New England Regional Office of the ADL. “We’re increasingly living in an environment where incivility is becoming common and accepted practice.”

Massachusetts recorded the vast majority of the New England incidents this year, with 47 events. Schools have been hardest hit in the state, with incidents reported at 23 public and private schools and college campuses.

In Newton, hateful graffiti and a swastika were scrawled on school grounds earlier this year. At a basketball game in March, Catholic Memorial High School fans taunted Newton students with chants of “You killed Jesus.”

North of Boston, swastikas were recently painted at a Swampscott school, on Georgetown’s football field, and on a basketball court in Marblehead. Elsewhere, college students have seen swastikas at Brandeis University, and anti-Semitic fliers have been sent to students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Northeastern University.

In April, former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni was berated at Harvard and called “smelly” by a student at a lecture. In May, an 18-year-old Winthrop man broke into the town’s high school and drew swastikas in a classroom, according to published reports.

Also last month, a large dollar sign and the words “Merry Christmas” were painted on a synagogue in Beverly, and a swastika was discovered at a Andover synagogue.

Brandeis professor Jonathan Sarna said he believes a combination of social media, anti-Israel sentiment, and rhetoric from politicians has led to a sense of public acceptance of some anti-Semitism.

“There is a sense today that this kind of hatred is more acceptable and that the public square has become coarser than it had been in the past, and indeed, one senses that even in presidential politics that there is often a relationship,” Sarna said.

“We look to a candidate as role models. When they employ very coarse speech, and people take notice, it’s not a surprise that other folks do the same thing.’’

Amid the rise in incidents, clergy have strongly spoken out against hateful acts.

Rabbi Yossi Lipsker, who leads Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore, helped organize an interfaith solidarity event near the Swampscott Town Hall and also held a healing service last May after raw pork was found at the base of a Holocaust memorial at a Lynn Jewish cemetery.

Lipsker said the leadership in the Jewish community ultimately bears the responsibility to set a tough tone.

“Anything less sends a message that we are somehow guilty of something just by virtue of our Jewish identity,” he said Wednesday. “This tacit green light might be a serious contributing factor to this rising phenomenon.

“Whether the anti-Jewish bigotry comes in the form of ignorance or sheer hatred masquerading as human rights on college campuses, they must both be negated with the same steadfast vociferousness,” Lipsker added.

Trestan, the ADL director, said the organization has implemented antibias educational programs in more than 60 schools in New England and plans to add more in the fall.

Among the schools scheduled to take part are all four middle schools in Newton. At Newton’s F.A. Day Middle School, three anti-Semitic incidents were reported this academic year, including graffiti reading “Burn the Jews” scrawled in a boy’s bathroom.

The incidents prompted Newton officials to hold a public meeting, which in itself became a divisive event.

Newton Mayor Setti Warren said Wednesday that he was not surprised to hear about the uptick in anti-Semitic incidents.

“It’s clear in Newton that the incidents uncovered the fact that we have a lot of work to do,” Warren said. “We can’t rest on our reputation of being a welcoming community, we have to work at it.”

Warren has hired a civil rights educator to clarify guidelines that identify hate crimes in schools and has met with community leaders who have agreed to establish antibias programs that would push back against all forms of prejudice and racism.

Harvard Law School emeritus professor Alan Dershowitz said it was hard to measure the current state of anti-Semitism in statistics since many incidents go unreported.

He said he receives around 50 anti-Semitic e-mails, letters, and phone calls each year but does not report them to law enforcement.

Still, he said, the current uptick reflects a culture where hate is becoming more acceptable.

“I think the moratorium on anti-Semitism that began after the Holocaust is beginning to end. And I think that we’re seeing more and more acceptance of it, of anti-Semitic tropes,” he said.

Attorney General Maura Healey, who has yet to see the full data, called hate crimes an “egregious” type of an attack.

“Even a single incident of bias and hate is one too many. Discrimination is unacceptable in any form, and we will continue to work to foster an environment of inclusion and respect in all communities across our state,” Healey said in a statement.


Phonics check

One of the policy announcements in the 2016-17 Australian federal budget is a Year 1 phonics check

Why do a phonics check?

Three major reviews of the research on effective literacy teaching methods found there are five essential elements to a high quality, comprehensive for initial reading instruction. They are phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

The most contested of these is phonics – the relationship between sounds in speech and letters in writing. There is ongoing debate about the need for explicit phonics instruction, with arguments against phonics often based on misinformation and misconceptions. Many teachers say they teach phonics, but reading specialists argue it is often not taught in the most effective way – with dire consequences for later reading development.

What is a ‘phonics check’?

If a phonics check in Australian schools is modelled on the Phonics Screening Check in England, it is a teacher-administered, oral assessment consisting of 40 decodable words. Twenty of the words are real words like ‘shelf’, twenty are pseudo-words like ‘wep’. The pseudo-words are included because students will not have learned them as sight words.

A phonics check would reveal which schools are teaching phonics well and which need to strengthen their teaching in this area. It would also show which children need extra support

Why is explicit phonics instruction so important?

Phonics instruction is one of the most researched aspects of education, in terms of both the volume of studies over the last few decades and the consistency of the evidence. Numerous studies show that reading programs with a well-developed phonics component routinely and consistently have greater effectiveness for children learning to read than programs without a good phonics component.

Some children need more training in phonics than others, but all students benefit to some extent ¾whether it’s for learning to read or learning to spell. Sometimes when people dismiss phonics and say phonics programs are unnecessary or don’t work, it’s because they haven’t used a good phonics program.

Is English a phonetic language?

English is less phonetically regular than other languages; it is more accurately described as a morphophonemic language. This is arguably why a good phonics program is so important for teaching reading—if the relationship between written and spoken words is complex, it requires more explicit and careful teaching.

Research cited by Louisa Cook Moats in Speech to Print says approximately 50% of English words are easily decodable, another 34% have one exception to the rules of simple letter sound correspondences, and another 10% or so can be read accurately if morphology is taken into account. That leaves only a small proportion of words that have to learned as whole words.

Although the rules required in order to decode English words are more numerous than in other more ‘transparent’ languages like Finnish, it’s certainly much easier to remember the rules than it is to memorise what every single word in the English language looks like.

Another reason we know English is a phonetically decodable language is because good readers can read words they have never seen before. For example, when science fiction and fantasy authors make up names of characters and places, they usually make them phonetically decodable. If you are reading Game of Thrones for the first time and you come across the name Targaryen, you can decode it. You don’t need to have watched the show, you don’t need someone to tell you­―you can work it out using the basic rules of written language.

How do parents know whether their child’s school is providing good phonics instruction?

Parents will know if their child is getting good phonics instruction if, at the end of their first ‘foundation’ year of school, they know all the single letter sounds. They will know how to put them together to make simple words that use regular straightforward letter-sound correspondences, and they will be starting to be able to read bigger unknown words using diagraphs (combinations of two letters that makes a single sound). If their children can’t do these things after a year of good initial reading instruction, they may need some extra support with a reading intervention.

Is phonics all there is to reading?

While decoding is important, so is comprehension. The ‘simple view’ of reading is that it is made up of two elements―decoding/word recognition and comprehension. Reading for meaning requires both those things. People who have difficulty learning to read will have trouble in one or both those domains. Some people are good decoders but poor on comprehension, some vice versa, and some students who really struggle can have problems in both areas.

What is a good phonics program?

Programs developed by people with specialist knowledge of the way that the English language is constructed are likely to be more effective than others. It is also important that phonics programs be evidence-based; that is: to have been proven to be effective using rigorous scientific research methods.

At present the model known as systematic synthetic phonics has the strongest research support. In synthetic phonics, teachers build up phonic skills from their smallest unit (graphemes). The processes of blending and segmenting are also taught.

Three of the key elements of a good phonics program are: the sequence in which letters and sounds are taught; early introduction of blending and segmenting; and use of decodable text.

For children who are learning the alphabet for the first time, the method and order of introducing letters and letter combinations (graphemes) and sounds (phonemes) need to be carefully planned. In explicit and systematic phonics programs, a small number of letters and sounds are introduced at a time and children learn those before moving on to the next ones. Letters that look similar are not introduced at the same time, for example, b and d. The aim is to minimise confusion and maximise success for children.

In a good phonics program, blending is taught shortly after sounds are introduced. Students do not learn all the letter sounds and then learn how to put them together into words; each group of letters selected can be made into simple words. If the letters s, m, a, t, and i are taught as a group, children can learn to blend them into words like sit and am. Children learn that if they take the ‘i’ out of the middle of ‘sit’ and put an ‘a’ in its place, it makes the word ‘sat’.

By this process, children begin to understand that written words are a code, and it’s a code they can break. And when they do understand that―some children will pick this up much more quickly than others, of course―the rest comes much more easily. After a period of time, once they’ve learned grapheme-phoneme correspondences and are able to blend them, they can read almost any word they come across.

The third element is practising reading using decodable text. As children learn how to put letters and sounds into blends, and start to be able to read whole words, they should also be taught some common sight words that don’t follow the normal sort of rules¾like ‘was’ and ‘of’, for example. Sentences or short stories composed of decodable words and common simple sight words give students the opportunity to use the phonics skills they have acquired and learn about print conventions and punctuation.

Of course, a comprehensive reading program will also use real children’s books to develop vocabulary and comprehension, but novice readers benefit from reading material that allows them to successfully read independently as early as possible.

‘I wasn’t taught phonics but I learned to read’

Skilled reading is unconscious and automatic­―most people are not aware of the complex cognitive processes taking place. Few people remember how they learned to read. That’s why research and evidence are so important: so assumptions are not made that what might have worked for one person will probably work for everyone else.

The question research seeks to answer is ‘what is the most effective strategy for the largest number of students’? There is a lot of research showing what that strategy is―a well-developed, comprehensive reading instruction program that includes an evidence-based, explicit phonics component.


Monday, June 06, 2016

Yale Students Want to Eradicate 'White Male Authors'

A petition from a group of Yale University students is accusing the institution’s English Department of cultivating racism and, in light of that, requests changes be made to English major prerequisites. “In particular,” the authors whine, “we oppose the continued existence of the Major English Poets sequence as the primary prerequisite for further study. It is unacceptable that a Yale student considering studying English literature might read only white male authors.”

They continue, “A year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of color, and queer folk are absent actively harms all students, regardless of their identity. The Major English Poets sequences creates a culture that is especially hostile to students of color.” The writers say, “It’s time for the English major to decolonize — not diversify — its course offerings,” and call on the faculty to initiate changes. Any dissent, they argue, is “unethical.”

“There’s nothing wrong with providing a greater variety of courses for students, and if students want to read more female and minority authors, the English Department is welcome to oblige,” writes Reason’s Robby Soave. But there’s just one big problem: “There just aren’t that many early modern writers who were gay or transgender.” They’re always welcome to conjure up fairy tales, though, since fantasy is all these snowflakes seem capable of understanding.


UK: The new segregation on campus

Calls for gay- or black-only dorms

Today’s university accommodation is often more hotel than squat, with en-suite bathrooms and wifi as standard. Recently, students have dropped their preoccupation with double beds, dishwashers and twice-weekly cleaners and have begun to focus instead on who they share their halls of residence with. Students who apply to the University of Birmingham and request LGBT-only accommodation can be housed away from their straight classmates. Now, students at the University of York and the University of Central Lancashire want LGBT-only accommodation, too.

The growing demand for LGBT dorms in the UK parallels an increased demand on US college campuses for ‘racially themed dorms’ so that black students can live away from their white colleagues. In the wave of protests against racism that swept US colleges late last year, the call for racially separated spaces on campus was made repeatedly. The University of California, Berkeley already has ‘self-segregated housing for African-Americans as well as other racial minorities’, while students at University of California, Los Angeles have requested the creation of a separate ‘Afro-house’  residence for black students.

The segregation and differential treatment that previous generations of student campaigners fought so hard against are now being rehabilitated by young activists. Members of the US Commission on Civil Rights have spoken out against the introduction of racially themed accommodation. In the UK, the gay-rights group Stonewall has said it would prefer to see ‘a culture that is inclusive and accepting’ rather than separate LGBT campus accommodation. Today’s radicals, however, are more likely to view the progressive demand for equality in education and relationships as a dangerous cover for the exercise of white heteronormative power.

The liberation campaigns of a previous era sought to expand the universal category of what it means to be human, to encompass not just white men but also women, gay and black people. Yet even at this very moment, identity politics was beginning to take root, and competing political groups began arguing for a more separatist approach. In the US, Black Power groups began to influence the Black Student Union (BSU) from the mid-1960s onwards.

In September 1967, Larry Gossett, head of the BSU at the University of Washington, reflected an emerging separatist and identity-focused response to the persistent racial discrimination experienced by black students. He wrote in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, ‘I believe that black people must be obsessed with thinking black. Then they will understand the need for determining their own destiny.’ The BSU argued for changes within universities, including the establishment of a black curriculum. It was at this time that some colleges first began ‘to cave to student demands for separate housing’.

Today, identity politics is so dominant that talk of expanding universalism appears hopelessly old-fashioned. The current generation of students scorn the notion of equality because they believe people only have interests in common with others who, at the most basic level, look like them. It is assumed that people with different skin colour, gender or sexuality experience the world in a qualitatively different way, and can neither speak about, nor on behalf of, each other. Worse, different groups of people are pitched against each other, as if the very existence of some groups, particularly white straight men, is a source of oppression.

The pervasive influence of identity encourages students to focus relentlessly on who they are. For all the appeals to radicalism, there is an assumption – evident in asking university applicants to tick a box about their sexuality and select accommodation preferences accordingly – that who you are as a 17-year-old is fixed. This conservative obsession with who you are, rather than what you might become, precludes experimentation. If a soon-to-be student at the University of Birmingham requests LGBT-only housing, but then, after a term away from home, decides he is not gay but straight, must he then move house?

In both the US and Britain, the demand for segregated accommodation is the logical outcome of identity politics meeting a campus cult of wellbeing that labels nearly all students as vulnerable and in need of protection. Segregated housing provides the ultimate retreat from campus life, a Safe Space away from people who are different to you. Central to this discourse is the historically new concept of the hall of residence as a ‘home’. The emotive cry that students need to feel safe ‘within their own home’ was central to the hysteria at Yale University when a lecturer defended the right of students to decide for themselves the type of costume they would like to wear for Halloween. It was also heard at the University of Oxford by the students who clamoured to have a debate on abortion cancelled.

Yet university accommodation was never intended to be a home from home, but rather an efficient means of cultivating a community of scholars. Living at university was more than just practically expedient - it allowed for long hours in the library or the lab and for discussions with students and academics alike to continue. It was not intended as a retreat, but as a means of enabling students to enter the public square of the campus and engage with others.

The reinterpretation of campus as a home goes hand-in-hand with the reinterpretation of costumes and debates as forms of violence. There is little suggestion that the threat facing LGBT or black students is physical; rather, it is seen as existential. The demand for segregated housing signifies the threat perceived to arise from other people, especially those who are different. When a practical solution is offered to an existential threat, the sense of concern can only grow. Far from promoting safety, calls for segregated housing cultivate fear and encourage students to interpret interactions with each other as a series of microaggressions.

It seems as if today’s student radicals do not want to change the world - they just want their suffering recognised by university housing officers. They prefer to discuss where they sleep, rather than who they have slept with.


UK: Why are female students infantilising themselves?

A survey has revealed that female students are more likely to support campus censorship than their male peers. Keeping Schtum, a report by the Higher Education Policy Institute, found that 16 per cent more women support Safe Space policies and the banning of tabloid newspapers than men. Men are more likely to support unfettered freedom of speech on campus.

That a significant proportion of female students is willingly supporting censorship is very depressing. But it’s hardly surprising. The vast majority of censorship on campus is aimed at protecting women from offence. spiked’s 2016 Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR) found that almost a third of UK universities banned the Sun and the Daily Star, as part of the No More Page 3 campaign, and 25 banned the controversial pop song ‘Blurred Lines’. All of this is done in the name of cleansing campus of ‘demeaning’ representations of women.

Women’s autonomy has been hugely undermined. Forget the in loco parentis restrictions of the Sixties - female students today aren’t even trusted to hear a racy joke without falling to pieces. The FSUR found that 33 per cent of universities and students’ unions have ‘zero tolerance’ policies prohibiting jokes, cat-calling and even ‘inappropriate sexual noises’. Women aren’t even trusted to conduct their social lives without rules and regulations.

These protective measures treat women like children, incapable of handling the trials and tribulations of adult life by themselves. And all of it has been fuelled by contemporary feminism, which paints campus as a uniquely dangerous place for women and promotes the bizarre idea that the first step towards gender equality is women insisting they are vulnerable. This is, of course, nonsense. For all the fearmongering about campus rape culture, universities are among the safest places in the country. But in a climate where cat-calling is conflated with sexual assault, and rude jokes are considered traumatising, female students are constantly being encouraged to see themselves as perennial victims.

Why are so many women buying into this? This is not, as some myopic anti-feminists claim, a brainwashing of female students by nutty gender-studies professors. Campus censorship today is driven by a desire to protect those deemed vulnerable. It is this sentiment that drives the calls to censor everyone from UKIP, in order to protect ethnic minorities, to Germaine Greer, in order to protect trans people. The mainstreaming of victim culture on campus, and the accompanying idea that you should never encounter difficult or oppositional ideas, feeds this censorious trend. As the biggest and most significant ‘embattled’ group, women are constantly told that they need to be protected from sexist speech and ideas. Understandably, more women are being drawn into this way of thinking.

We must challenge it. Young women today have the world at their feet. Yet while they should be enjoying their freedom to the full, they are being encouraged to dwell on their own victimhood. This makes a mockery of women’s liberation. Previous gains for women, including getting into what were once male-only universities, were won through a commitment to freedom and autonomy. Young women in the past fought for the freedom to conduct their lives as they saw fit – to say whatever they liked and to sleep with whomever they wanted. Campus identity politics turns all this on its head, insisting that women are vulnerable and weak. It’s time female students threw off this patronising logic once and for all; insisting on free speech for all would be a good place to start.


Sunday, June 05, 2016

Plan to rate teachers based on test scores is under fire in Massachusetts

A centerpiece of Massachusetts’ effort to evaluate the performance of educators is facing mounting opposition from the state’s teacher unions as well as a growing number of school committees and superintendents.

At issue is the state’s edict to measure — based largely on test scores — how much students have learned in a given year.

The opposition is flaring as districts have fallen behind a state deadline to create a “student impact rating,” which would assign a numeric value to test score growth by classroom and school. The rating is intended to determine whether teachers or administrators are effectively boosting student achievement. The requirement — still being implemented — would apply to all educators, including music, art, and gym teachers.

“In theory it sounded like a good idea, but in practice it turned out to be insurmountable task,” said Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. “How do you measure a music teacher’s impact on a student’s proficiency in music? How do you measure a guidance counselor’s impact on student achievement?”

Critics question whether the data can be affected by other factors, including highly engaged parents or classrooms with disproportionate numbers of students with disabilities or other learning barriers. The requirement has also created problems in developing assessments for subjects where standardized tests are not given, such as in art and gym.

Resistance has escalated in recent weeks. On Thursday, the state’s largest teachers union, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, as well as others successfully lobbied the Senate to approve an amendment to the state budget that would no longer require student impact ratings in job evaluations. A week earlier, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees passed a policy statement urging the state to scrap the student impact ratings.

But some educators see value in the student impact ratings. Mitchell Chester, state commissioner for elementary and secondary education, defended the requirement, which has been more than five years in the making.

“Some teachers are strong, others are not,” he said. “If we are not looking at who is getting strong gains and those who are not we are missing an opportunity to upgrade teaching across the system.”

In Boston, which is moving to meet the requirement, Superintendent Tommy Chang began recruiting teachers and administrators last week for a workgroup to help develop the ratings. That prompted the teachers union on Thursday to e-mail a special news bulletin to its more than 5,000 members, condemning the move as a “harmful policy decision.” Earlier this year the teachers union walked out of three years of talks on the issue.

The backlash in Massachusetts echoes similar debates that have unfolded nationwide.

More than five years ago, dozens of states were encouraged by the Obama administration to make student academic growth a significant part of evaluations. The Obama administration promised millions of dollars to states via its Race to the Top education overhaul program if states adopted the evaluation changes along with a host of other school initiatives.

But since then educators and statisticians have raised questions about the reliability of test growth measures. A 2014 report by the Center for Educational Assessment at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which examined student growth percentiles, found the “amount of random error was substantial.”

“You might as well flip a coin,” Stephen Sireci, one of the report’s authors and a UMass professor at the Center for Educational Assessment, said in an interview. “Our research indicates that student growth percentiles are unreliable and should not be used in teacher evaluations. We see a lot of students being misclassified at the classroom level.”

Under growing criticism, the federal government dropped the student academic growth requirement this year when Congress enacted the Every Student Succeeds Act. Some states, in turn, have started to reverse course.

‘Most of our school districts can’t get unions to the table to talk about this. It’s really becoming a sticking point.’

Thomas Scott, Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents
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But other states like Massachusetts, which received $250 million in Race to the Top money, remain committed. Massachusetts is requiring districts to use at least two measures of student academic growth, including one that the state created several years ago for the MCAS math and English exams.

Damian Betebenner, a senior associate at the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment Inc. in Dover, N.H., who developed the MCAS growth percentiles, said he believes student test scores are reliable pieces of evidence on educator effectiveness.

“It’s relevant, but it has to be balanced with a lot of other evidence as well,” he said. “Unfortunately, the use of student percentiles has turned into a debate for scapegoating teachers for the ills.”

Chester said Massachusetts took a more measured approach to the student impact ratings, deciding against having it make up a certain percentage of an educator’s overall evaluation rating like some states did. Instead, evaluators can give less weight to the student impact ratings if they don’t mesh with classroom observations and other evidence.

School districts were supposed to issue the first set of ratings in the 2014-15 school year, but the state delayed implementation by a year as districts struggled to comply. The state then loosened the deadline again and expects about 40 districts will issue ratings at the end of this school year, while other districts are collecting data on some educators.

“Implementation is widespread, but it has not reached every educator in every district yet,” Jacqueline Reis, a state education system spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

Last year, the state temporarily withheld $5.6 million in federal funds from the Boston Public Schools for failing to show any progress toward creating the student impact ratings.

Teacher unions and associations representing school committees and superintendents say implementation has been sluggish.

“Most of our school districts can’t get unions to the table to talk about this,” said Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. “It’s really becoming a sticking point, and a lot of superintendents feel this is becoming a distraction.”

He said superintendents are overwhelmingly supportive of looking at student testing data as part of evaluations but that many superintendents think developing a student impact rating goes too far, according to a survey the association conducted two months ago.

Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, takes a different view, believing that student standardized test scores have no place in a teacher’s evaluation. She praised the state Senate for taking on the fight to eliminate the student impact ratings.

“I think it’s very powerful our senators are beginning to listen to what educators have been saying about corporate education reform accountability measures are not working for our educators or our students,” she said.

It remains unclear what the fate of the Senate amendment will be. The House has previously rejected a similar amendment, which means the issue would have to be resolved in a conference committee as the two sides reconcile their budget proposals in the coming weeks.


Jesus Christ would be BANNED from speaking at universities if he was alive in 2016

Jesus Christ would be banned from speaking at universities if he was alive in 2016 along with other 'non-violent extremists', a leading Oxford professor warned yesterday.

Professor Timothy Garton Ash complained that Britain has become ‘too feeble’ at supporting free speech and insisted that the public must stand up against self-censorship.

The European Studies expert told the Hay Festival in Powys, Wales, that UK universities are now encouraged by Home Office legislation to block even non-violent extremists from appearing on site.

And 60-year-old Mr Ash said this could have included leading thinkers of centuries past such as Karl Marx, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Charles Darwin, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and even Christ.

According to Daily Telegraph reporter Hannah Furness, Mr Ash said: ‘In the new counter-terrorism legislation, the securocrats in the Home Office are trying to impose on universities a so-called prevent duty, which would call on us to prevent event non-violent extremists speaking on campus.

‘Now, non-violent extremists? That's Karl Marx, Rousseau, Charles Darwin, Hegel, and most clearly Jesus Christ, who was definitely a non-violent extremist.

‘The Home Office wouldn't want him preaching on campus. This is a real threat I think to free speech and one we have to fight back against.’

Mr Ash's speech comes a week after a Higher Education Policy Institute survey found most students believe that speakers with offensive views should be banned from giving talks at universities.

Almost three quarters of students support the National Union of Students’ ‘No Platform’ policy which prohibits those on a list put together by the union from speaking at universities.

A number of universities now pledge to create a 'safe space' for their students, inspired by similar policies in the US, in order to protect them from language or behaviour which could be considered offensive or threatening.

A Home Office spokesman told MailOnline today: ‘The law is explicit that, in complying with the Prevent (counter-terrorism strategy) duty, universities must have particular regard to their duty to ensure freedom of speech and academic freedom. So in many cases, complying with the Prevent duty is as simple as ensuring there is an effective chair and a strong opposition voice.

‘There is no contradiction between promoting freedom of speech and taking account of the well-being of students, staff and the wider community, nor is there anything in the duty or any other aspect of Prevent which curtails genuine political debate.

'Protecting those who are vulnerable and at risk of radicalisation is a job for all of us and this Government is continuing to work in partnership with communities of all backgrounds to challenge those who spread hatred and intolerance.’


Islam should be taught in all German schools - Bavarian bishop

Some optimistic assumptions there

Introduction of “extensive Islam classes” in all German schools would best safeguard young Muslims from “fundamentalists’ temptation” towards them, Head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (EFD), Bavarian Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm said.

Muslim schoolchildren must also have an opportunity to critically familiarize themselves with their religious traditions, the bishop believes.

“In the meantime, they can learn something new about Islam – and this is to be based on the Basic Law [the German Constitution],” he added.

Either the government or the religious communities should have a lead role in introducing Islam as a school subject, Bedford-Strohm said. “I wish that Muslims in Germany could have clear communication with the state. Then Islamic organizations may also take responsibility for the religious education in schools, like the Christian churches do.”

Public universities should establish Islamic theology faculties as well, the Bavarian bishop went on: “The Islamic tradition would therefore be approached critically based on scientific criteria.

“Tolerance, religious freedoms and freedom of consciousness must apply to all confessions. These rules could best be implemented when you have religion as part of public education.”

The bishop’s proposal adds to a heated debate on the role of Islam in German society, as the country struggles to find the right balance between multiculturalism and national identity. According to the latest statistical estimates, the number of Muslims is growing rapidly in Germany and beyond, with this process being fuelled by the ongoing refugee influx.

According to 2015 figures by Pew Research Center, the Muslim population has been growing throughout Europe, from four percent in 1990 to six percent in 2010. This trend is expected to continue through 2030, when Muslims are projected to make up eight percent of Europe’s population.

Hardliners, mostly represented by the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party (AfD) as well as far-right PEGIDA movement, claim that Islam is not, and will never be, part of Germany, advocating a ban on mosques to prevent what they call “a long-term land grab.”

That extreme is best reflected in “Germany abolishes itself,” a notorious book written by ex-head of the Deutsche Bundesbank, Thilo Sarrazin, in which he claimed that Muslims may well overwhelm the German population within a couple of generations at the current pace, and that Muslims’ intelligence is lower as well.

At the same time, there are voices in the establishment arguing that the government has to influence Muslims with the “German version of Islam,” based on democratic values, pluralism and the rule of law. Recent proposals also included training Imams and religious leaders locally, with all prayers in mosques to be offered exclusively in German.

Germany has the largest Muslim community in Western Europe after France, having roughly 3 to 3.5 million Muslims. Islamic education has been offered to children with Muslim backgrounds on a voluntary basis in various federal states, but these religious classes generate public controversy.