Friday, August 25, 2017

Scotland's Private schools rail against rates plan

Gordonstoun school might have to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds extra every year under rates changes

Scotland’s private schools will have to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds extra every year if sweeping changes planned for business taxation are approved.

The rises recommended by Ken Barclay, the former RBS Scotland chairman, immediately incurred the wrath of those affected such as independent schools, universities, some sports clubs and council arms-length bodies.

Mr Barclay recommended 30 changes to the business rates framework in his long-awaited review published yesterday. These included revaluations every three years, a grace period for properties that are renovated and a review of the small business bonus scheme.

He said his recommendations were designed to eliminate anomalies within the system. He faced fierce criticism from figures within Scotland’s independent schools who demanded to know why they were being singled out.


Chinese cash at American colleges is a massive problem

Ruobing came to America last spring on a special program at the University of California, Berkeley, to study English. After a semester, her English hadn’t really improved. Over a coffee at a Berkeley café, she struggled to express herself in English and then switched into her native Mandarin.

“I spend my free time with Chinese, my countrymen,” she said. “There are so many Chinese students here that we don’t really need to get to know Americans. And that means our English remains poor.”

Ruobing’s halting progress in English has not stopped an American university from accepting her as an undergraduate. This fall, she will be attending the University of Wisconsin, where there are more than 2,500 other Chinese, about 6 percent of the student body.

“When I think about it,” said Ruobing, who asked that her real name not be used, “that’s too many Chinese.”

Out of the almost 1 million foreign students attending U.S. universities this fall, almost one in three will be Chinese. This marks a fivefold increase over the 2004–2005 academic year, when there were 62,523 Chinese students stateside.

For years, these booming numbers were seen as a godsend, benefiting America’s relationship with China. Experts opined that American education would bind Chinese to the United States and cement ties of friendship between both peoples. American students would learn firsthand about an increasingly important country and its culture. America at large would profit mightily from an inbound Chinese brain drain of entrepreneurial talent. Silicon Valley, for one, is littered with firms started by Chinese immigrants. American education and Chinese demand for it were a true “win-win” in a relationship challenged to find examples of genuine progress in the recent past.

Too many Chinese students on U.S. campuses?

Increasingly, there’s a sense that even this success story is in crisis. To be sure, only a few observers (and that link is to a tweet, not an academic paper) have come forward to declare there are too many mainland Chinese students in the United States. But in private, many educators and students acknowledge that, as the dean of one private university put it in an internal email that was circulated in academic circles and shared with me, U.S. institutions face an “endemic and terrible problem” with mainland Chinese students, adding, “I don’t know that anyone has any great remedy.”

The business of educating Chinese

America has been in the business of educating Chinese almost as long as America has been in business itself. The first Chinese student, a southerner named Yung Wing 容闳, graduated from Yale University in the 1850s. Yung Wing then came up with a scheme to bring hundreds of Chinese boys to Hartford, Connecticut, where they went to local schools and later attended universities. Christian missionaries built scores of Christian colleges and high schools in China. By the 1910s, Chinese had outpaced Canadians as the biggest foreign-born population on U.S. campuses. And the U.S. government poured millions of dollars into a fund to educate Chinese and to build Tsinghua University, today considered China’s version of MIT.

Over the years, America’s goals for educating Chinese changed. When the United States began welcoming Chinese students in large numbers in 1905, Edmund J. James, the president of the University of Illinois, predicted that it would guarantee America’s “intellectual and spiritual domination of [China’s] leaders.”

In 1978, a different goal informed the American decision to renew educational exchange as it prepared to normalize relations with the People’s Republic of China. Then the idea was to create bonds of friendship between the two countries and exert what later came to be known as America’s “soft power” on the hearts and minds of the Chinese.

Americans added another reason to admit Chinese students in the 2000s, following China’s entry into the World Trade Organization and explosion onto the world stage as an economic force. This time, it was more diversity on American campuses and an opportunity to expose young Americans to students from this new and important power.

Today, however, another goal has begun to overshadow all the others. It’s money. Both private and public universities are aggressively marketing themselves to Chinese students because they want Chinese who can pay full tuition. For state schools, faced with diminishing resources and budget cuts, the prospect of thousands of Chinese students paying full freight is too good to be true. For them, Chinese cash has become more important than Chinese students or the course of U.S.-China relations.

Cash-strapped institutions like the University of Minnesota have marketed heavily in China. In 2007, there were only 150 Chinese students there. In September, there will be close to 3,000. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign — the same university that Edmund J. James led in the 1900s — has been dubbed the “University of China at Illinois.” Thirty-seven Chinese undergraduates enrolled there in 2000. This September enrollment will probably break 3,000, all of them paying full tuition. Oregon State reportedly added 300 tenure track positions thanks to tuition paid by foreign students, led by mainland Chinese.

Private institutions are also deeply enamored with mainland students. Rich Chinese parents or graduates are now viewed as potentially huge donors and some of the gifts — $115 million for a neuroscience center at CalTech, $8.88 million for the Yale School of Management, $15 million for a group of Ivy League colleges — are indeed prodigious.

A broken educational model?

If this obsession with Chinese cash prompted a wave of great Chinese applicants to U.S. universities, it would have been fine. Instead, it’s triggered a tsunami of fraud. Chinese families, eager to get their sons and daughters admitted to U.S. schools, contract with agents that are often paid a bounty by U.S. universities for each student accepted by the school.

Deception runs through the whole application process. SATs and the TOEFL exams are taken by what the Chinese call “ghosts,” who are paid for high scores. Grades are made up. Letters of recommendation are forged. As far back as 2010, Zinch China, a consulting firm, warned that 90 percent of the recommendations coming from China were fake, 70 percent of personal essays were written by someone else, and 50 percent of high school transcripts were forged. Another survey done in 2012 of 25,000 Chinese students interested in coming to America to study found that English-language skills were actually falling; two-thirds could not speak English well enough to hack it at American schools.

The result? In this year’s entering class, there will be thousands of Chinese students who lack the education, the language ability, and the critical facilities necessary to benefit from an American education. That’s because many of them were given a slot at a U.S. university almost solely based on their parents’ ability to pay.

Accepting large numbers of unprepared mainland Chinese to an American college does not serve anyone’s interests. For one, many of the Chinese don’t get an education, skating through college on the backs of services that offer to take their tests and write their papers. What’s more, compared with my Chinese friends who studied in America in the 1980s, many of these Chinese students don’t really want to be in the United States. They’re sent here by their parents, who believe that a U.S. diploma is the ticket to either a better life in China or the fulfillment of their family’s plans to immigrate to America. These students end up hanging out with their compatriots, never making an American friend, and returning home with no appreciation of American civil society, its freedoms of association, speech, and religion, or its democracy. In fact, many I have spoken with can be openly hostile to Western values.

Secondly, the preponderance of ill-prepared Chinese engenders resentment among other students and faculty. Mainland Chinese students now dominate some majors and graduate programs in the United States. In some cases, that’s because they are the best students. But in other cases, the effect is not completely beneficial. At Oregon State, the school’s master’s of business in accountancy now has more Chinese than American students, the Wall Street Journal has reported, leading one professor to wonder whether he needed to modify the original focus of the course. A friend of mine’s son at a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania observed that he and his classmates assume that most mainland Chinese students don’t understand that the school’s honor code is something that must be respected, not worked around.

The large number of Chinese students lacking the skills for a U.S. education is also partly responsible for another problem — the outsize influence of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), a state-supported Chinese organization involved in monitoring the political loyalty of Chinese students and professors. Various Chinese governments have scrutinized the behavior of Chinese students in the United States since Chinese first began coming to America in larger numbers in the 1870s. The Qing court shut down Yung Wing’s Hartford experiment after Chinese minders who accompanied the boys in America complained that they were becoming too Americanized. In the 1940s, Republican China spied on Chinese students in the U.S., and today the Communist government has also taken steps to limit the effect that the American ideals of freedom of speech, assembly, and religion have on Chinese students.

That’s the role that the Chinese Students and Scholars Association plays. While the CSSA also engages in innocent activities, such as socials and events to introduce Chinese culture to a wider audience, its political work runs directly counter to the ideals of a Western education and represents a worrying trend of China attempting to export its system of thought control onto America’s shores. Chinese not prepared for an American education naturally gravitate toward the CSSA. “It offers us a place to go when we’re homesick,” observed Ruobing. “That makes it easier for them to ‘wash our brains.’”


It is true that steps have been taken to try to deal with the crisis. There are two organizations in China, both approved by China’s ministry of education, that can verify academic documents. Testing services, such as the College Board and the Educational Testing Service, have redoubled efforts to prevent “ghost” test takers. More and more schools are requiring interviews via Skype or even face to face. However, most experts acknowledge that much more needs to be done. Not every American university uses the verification organizations to authenticate transcripts. Too many still rely on dubious agents. And penalties given to cheaters on the SATs are considered too light.

“It blows my mind that students who cheat on the SATs get to take the test again — why aren’t they outed to all of your schools?” declared Hamilton Gregg, a longtime educational adviser in China. Gregg entitled a 2015 blog post “Is the Admission Process Broken?” His answer was yes.


Social engineers determined to remove the wonder from childhood

Decades of Increased litigation and skyrocketing insurance premiums have already wreaked havoc with kids’ playgrounds, writes Janet Albrechtsen in Australia

Childcare centres, preschools and libraries will be encouraged to scrutinise books, toys and posters to ensure play ­spaces are “gender equitable” in the latest government-led bid to tackle family violence starting in childhood.

Victoria should change its car numberplates to The Social Engineering State. A new guide has been drafted to help its councils conduct a gender audit on children’s playgrounds to ensure that gender stereotypes are not encouraging domestic violence.

Question: what will ensure that children can be children, free from busybody bureaucrats imposing their social, moral and political judgments about kids playing families in the sandpit or race car drivers in the playground?

Decades of Increased litigation and skyrocketing insurance premiums have already wreaked havoc with kids’ playgrounds. These were once ­places of adventure where kids could explore the world beyond their home and parents. It’s where kids first push the boundaries of everyday risk, exploration and initiative, playing freely and making up their own stories long before helicoptering became a parenting technique rather than a feat of airborne engineering. It’s where a grazed knee and a bruise or bump taught kids some resilience; in other words, picking yourself up when something goes wrong. Today most playgrounds are humdrum places for kids. Swings are so safe they have lost their sense of fly-high exhilaration. If you can find a seesaw, it’s a shadow of its former self where squeals of delight once signalled tiny bums knocking on the ground.

Now playgrounds will be measured for more than litigious risk. They will be audited for gendered play so that local councils can think about “not only who is where, and how often, but what are they doing? What are the storylines of their play telling you about what the children think are the normal roles for women and men?” says the Creating Gender Equity in the Early Years guide produced by Melbourne’s Darebin City Council.

It’s bad enough that bureaucracies have built empires of paternalism in the adult world, sidelining the role of civil society and wrecking the symmetry between individual responsibility and individual liberty. Not content with intruding into the adult world, they search for new arenas to impose their activism.

Under the guise of Safe Schools, they injected LGBTI role playing into the classroom. Now, it’s a gender audit of playground. Social engineers of this kind often dress up their effort to regulate using inflated language. Here they are co-opting the emotion around domestic violence to justify policing in a playground to find episodes of a designated new evil of gendered play. Explaining this latest move as good intentions gone awry doesn’t wash any more.

The bureaucratic endeavour to create gender-free playgrounds assumes that this future utopia must be better than what has gone before. It’s a story as old and as flawed as the French Revolution. Just as Edmund Burke, in 1790, predicted that the lofty intentions of that period of social and political upheaval would lead to a worse form of tyranny, it’s safe to predict a new modern form of tyrannical paternalism by bureaucratic edict.

From health to education to human rights, large swathes of social policy have been delegated to unelected bureaucrats, destroying the little platoons of civil society described by Burke as central to a flourishing and free society. That collected wisdom of people, garnered from experience, tradition and custom, has been replaced with a form of mob rule where the claimed wisdom of an elite class is imposed from above.

It’s passing strange that adults cannot conceive that what’s an issue for them becomes an issue for kids only when adults make it one. Then again, maybe that’s the aim, to project adult obsessions about gender on to children. And this playground pursuit of gender equity by taxpayer-funded public servants is enabled by complacent followers of this latest bureaucratic baloney.

We risk losing the kind of adult-free play that emboldened childhood, assuming we haven’t lost it already. I recall a childhood where two working-class parents worked long and hard, and kids after school were left to explore their surrounds free from tightly scheduled afternoon activities. No Kumon lessons to create a maths genius or speech lessons to perfect our voice patterns. No ballet followed by music followed by enforced reading, before a rushed dinner and bed, only to be repeated the next day with a slightly different array of activities.

There was sport organised by schools and clubs, and then the play that kids made up on their own. No gender equity worries, let alone stereotypes. You could play with a Barbie, be a feisty young girl and grow up to be an empowered woman.

When we weren’t in school, a few of us local kids often headed to the local Sturt Gorge, a 244ha adult-free zone a good few kilometres from our home. We were nine and 10 years old; my younger brother, just seven, tagged along. We wandered and explored for hours, pretending to be lost in a big unknown world, with no mobile phones but with a bag of food and plenty of adventures in trees and mucky water. Sometimes we did get lost, but we always managed to be home by dinner, invariably dirty, dishevelled and tired, but also exhilarated by the responsibility and freedom of managing in a world away from parents and teachers.

We also set up stalls in our driveway selling a mix of watery orange cordial and old toys. Try that today. A few months ago a five-year old girl in east London set up a homemade lemonade stand. A half-hour later four council officials approached her father, read from a script about operating a stand without a permit and fined him £150 ($246). Her father, Andre Spicer, who was born in New Zealand and has lived in Australia, told one media outlet that he couldn’t imagine this kind of thing happening here. Except it did, in Bunbury, Western Australia, 18 months earlier when 11-year-old Chelsea-lee Downes wanted to earn some money over Christmas by selling “fresh organic” homemade lemonade, cupcakes and lemon meringue pies. Local councillors shut down her stall, too.

Today, child play is ruined by regulation. That deliciously thrilling and sometime scary dance manoeuvred by kids around responsibility and freedom is being undermined. If not by parents who overthink childhood for their children, then by a broader society that has taken a wholly disproportionate attitude to the normal risks we should expect to confront as children and indeed as adults. Bubble-wrapping kids from the freedom to fall and fail isn’t building resilient young adults if the rising rates of mental illness and childhood therapy are anything to go by correct.

Now we’re pushing kids around again, with Victorian social engineers adding their own layer of regulation to audit playgrounds for some lately imagined evil of gendered play. Not only are we imposing adult fixations about gender on kids, we’re regulating the wonder out of childhood. Before we rush headlong into this latest utopian future mapped out by social activists policing modern memes about gender equity, it pays to check whether pushing kids around in this way is moving them and us in the wrong direction.


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