Sunday, January 14, 2018

In British education, the central issue is class, not ethnicity

Kenan Malik below has a point -- that there are class and national differences between brown people too -- but his desire to avoid mentioning the white working class will go nowhere.  It's a very large elephant in the room

The arguments about white culture are dangerous because they legitimise racist attitudes and ignore social marginalisation

The white working class. It’s a phrase that has become so commonplace that few recognise the sheer oddness, and indeed odiousness, of the concept. It denotes both pity and contempt. On the one hand, it is a description of the “left behind”, sections of the population that have lost out through globalisation and deindustrialisation. On the other, it is shorthand for the uneducated and the bigoted, people who support Donald Trump or Brexit, and are hostile to immigration and foreigners.

The discussion reveals how differently we imagine white and non-white populations. Whites are seen as divided by class, non-whites as belonging to classless communities. It’s a perspective that ignores social divisions within minority groups while also racialising class distinctions.

All this can be seen in the debate that has sprung from an interview Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary, gave to the Spectator’s Fraser Nelson last week. Rayner, writes Nelson, believes that “focusing on ethnic minorities and women’s agendas … has had a ‘negative impact’ for white working-class boys ... Culturally, we are not telling them that they need to learn and they need to aspire.”

The statistics seem to bear out Rayner’s argument. With the exception of Roma and Traveller children, white working-class boys perform the worst of any group in British schools. A multitude of organisations from the Centre Forum to the Sutton Trust have raised the alarm. We have, however, been here before. Before the panic about white working-class boys was the panic about black boys. “Available evidence suggests that the inequalities of attainment for African-Caribbean pupils become progressively greater as they move through the school system,” observed a 2000 Ofsted report, Mapping Race, Class and Gender. The reason for the failure of black boys was seen as a combination of a black culture that discouraged aspiration and a school system that did the same. Many prominent figures, including Trevor Phillips, who became head of the Commission for Racial Equality in 2003, called for black boys to be educated in separate schools.

Then, as now, the picture was more complicated than the debate suggested. Black pupils were not alone in performing badly, nor did they all perform badly. Three ethnic groups lagged behind – African-Caribbeans, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Three groups fared better than the average – Chinese, Indians and Africans. The differences were not simply ethnic. African-Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi migrants to Britain have come largely from working class and peasant backgrounds. Indians, Chinese and Africans tend to be more middle class.

Racism undoubtedly played a part in the poor performance of children from certain minority groups. So did class differences. So fixated, however, were academics and policymakers by ethnic categories, that they largely ignored the latter. The 2000 Ofsted report, for instance, demonstrated that the impact of social class on school performance was more than twice as great as that of ethnicity. Yet, it disregarded its own data and focused on the problems posed by ethnic differences.

Class differences persist. In secondary schools, children of Bangladeshi and Caribbean background are three times as likely to be receiving free school meals (a proxy for social disadvantage) as Indian and Chinese pupils, and twice as likely as white ones. The performance of disadvantaged minority pupils has, however, over the past two decades, improved dramatically. That of working-class white children, and especially of boys, has stagnated.

The reasons, again, are complex. Successive governments have given priority to raising the standards of London schools which, in the 1990s, were among the worst in the country. Minority groups are disproportionately concentrated in the capital. White children in London perform better than the national average. But the relative neglect of schools outside London has had a greater impact on disadvantaged white pupils.

Growing marginalisation has shaped the way that working-class children look upon themselves and are looked upon by teachers and others in authority. Where once labour movements could bring down governments, today the working class has become largely an object of contempt and derision – “chavs”. Social organisations that once gave working-class lives identity, solidarity, and dignity, have disappeared. The kinds of dislocation and marginalisation that have long affected black pupils now affect white pupils, too.

Yet, the debate about the white working class, far from seeing these common threads, poses the problem as a zero-sum game. It pitches the interests of working-class whites against those of minority ethnic groups and imagines that too great a focus on black and Asian children has undermined white working-class culture.

The arguments about white culture are dangerous. They legitimise racist attitudes – “our country is being swamped by other cultures”. At the same time, it is but a short step from claiming that working-class whites have lost their culture to insisting that they are disadvantaged because of their cultural deficiencies. The demonisation of working-class whites as racist shows how easily that step is made. If we are serious about tackling the problems facing both working-class whites and minority groups, it is time we started thinking of the relationship between race and class in a different way.


Religious Liberty in Public Schools: You're More Free Than You Thought

The increasing secularization of American culture owes its origins, in large part, to the sterilization of religious speech, prayer and opinions in public schools. Due to legal intimidation, schools and students have been made to believe that their prayers or religious opinions are “unconstitutional.”

Yet such claims not only violate the Constitution, which ensures religious freedom, but make a mockery of the great pain and suffering by which our country came to be. The Pilgrims, at the peril of their own lives, came not in search of gold, but rather in search of religious freedom.

This month, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and U.S. Congressman Mike Johnson (R-LA) made available a set of guidelines that answer 26 common questions about religious freedom in public schools. Some of the questions involve student-led prayer, religious jewelry and the religious rights of teachers and administrators. The guidelines answer such questions as, “Can students pray during lunch or recess?” “Can students wear religious clothing or jewelry?” and “Can public schools recognize Easter and Christmas?”

Clarifying some of the misunderstandings of religious expression rights, the guidelines show that students can pray during non-instructional time, such as before school or during lunch. Teachers can also pray during these non-instructional times and are free to discuss religion with students, outside of class, to the same extent that they would discuss any other concept, topic or idea. The key factor here is that the prayers and religious discussions take place during “non-instructional time.”

Additionally, students are permitted to wear religious clothing, jewelry and symbols (such as a rosary) because these items are considered an exercise of private (and protected) speech. The guidelines state: “Because schools are prohibited from discriminating against religious expression … a school may not regulate religious items or clothing any differently than it does other student clothing.”

Unfortunately, many public schools have stopped celebrating Christmas and Easter for fear of legal issues. However, the guidelines reveal that a public school can have Christmas and Easter music, art and dramatic performances if the intention is to teach students culture and history, rather than to single out, proselytize or promote a religion.

Other important facts mentioned in the guidelines include the following:

Students can freely share their faith with others and distribute religious materials on the same basis as non-religious materials.

Truly student-led, student-initiated prayers and private religious expression must be allowed at graduation ceremonies, and students may include religious content in their speeches.

Students can participate in religious clubs on the same basis as other clubs.

Schools cannot treat religious speech or activities differently than other activities.

Congressman Johnson and Attorney General Landry plan to send these guidelines to all school superintendents in Louisiana, so that their public school leadership can understand the religious rights of both the students and administrators. Attorney General Landry states, “Many people have unfortunately been misled into believing schools must be religion-free zones. The truth is our First Amendment rights are not surrendered at the schoolhouse door.”

In fact, the first sentence of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution clearly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” As Johnson states, “Religious liberty is the first freedom listed in the Bill of Rights and the next generation of Americans needs to be encouraged to preserve it.”

Louisiana’s set of guidelines will not only educate Louisiana schools about the religious rights of their students, but will hopefully serve as a model for other states desiring to understand the constitutionally protected religious rights of their students, teachers and administrators.


How the American Education System Suppresses Critical Thinking

One mother in a popular magazine once told a reporter about what she thought was happening in the schools. “It’s the brightest, the best and the most sensitive who are at risk,” she said. “We’re losing them, and we don’t know why.” Well, dear mother, you are wrong. We do know why. It’s because the children are bright and sensitive and the best! Social planners have no tolerance for such students, because they may revolt against an establishment that’s out to control them.

During my 18 years in public and private schools, I had never felt that I had enough good teachers. Only a few stand out as defenders of clear thinking. The majority, on the other hand, were intellectual robots who expected me to accept biased information, fed by rote and unprocessed critically. If I ever dared to challenge them, they would shoot me down with righteous and noisy disapproval before disgracefully dismissing me.

In an article entitled, “Undoing the Dis-Education of Millennials,” the author, Adam MacLeod, an associate professor at Faulkner University’s Jones School of Law, summarized his observation of his students. “For several years now my students have been mostly Millennials. Contrary to stereotype, I have found that the vast majority of them want to learn. But true to stereotype, I increasingly find that most of them cannot think, don’t know very much, and are enslaved to their appetites and feelings. Their minds are held hostage in a prison fashioned by elite culture and their undergraduate professors.”

It saddens me to agree with Professor MacLeod. It is very rare to find a student with a fresh point of view, derived from clear thinking, secured in place by sound knowledge. Too many of them utter popular catchphrases that lack in-depth understanding of the subject. Their minds float around in orbit on some stratospheric level, which is only casually connected to reality. Educators have carefully achieved this by systematically stripping students of their adventurous appetite for knowledge and loading them down with fake information. The good students, those striving for high-level professional careers, often end up like those in Professor MacLeod’s class—with limited knowledge and weak reasoning skills. Since both are needed for survival in the business world, any attempt to smother a student’s fire within for knowledge (as I identify it in my book of the same name) is, in my opinion, the act of an evil person out to cripple autonomous man.

How did our country slip so fast, so innocently (it seems) to this state, from a powerful nation with a great educational system to what we know today? Here are a few examples of how it was done during my teaching days in the public schools:

    Promoting students who haven’t first mastered primary skills;

    Deluding the value of important subjects that sharpen thinking skills and deepen understanding (like math, science, history, logic, and language);

    Rewarding students indiscriminately not by ability or achievement, but by race, gender, color or background;

    Teaching reading by the look-say, not the phonic method;

    Grouping students in a class heterogeneously, not homogeneously in order to make it harder for teachers to teach;

    Reducing learning to the common denominator with special-needs students as the benchmark;

    Favoring indoctrination and rote learning to the Socratic approach to teaching;

    Coddling students and stroking their self-esteem while ignoring their education;

    And giving students the power to compromise teachers who dare to challenge them.

The responsibility for this type of educational practice isn’t just limited to educators. Our U.S. presidents are also active contributors to the problems in education. Each one generously does this by setting the tone for education, when elected into office, by the programs he expects the Department of Education to implement. Lloyd Bentsen IV, senior research fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, in his report last year, identified in his report four federal education reform initiatives that have failed after billions of dollars were irresponsibly pumped into the school system.

    Goals 2000 (under Bill Clinton’s Administration): This program supported a framework for identifying academic standards for measuring student progress and for providing students with the support needed to meet these standards. Results: “Mandates hidden in the small print caused many states to scrap the program.”

    No Child Left Behind (under George Bush’s Administration): The primary goal of this program was to boost test scores. Results: “Education was damaged as students were coached to pass tests rather than taught a rich curriculum to prepare them for life in the 21st century.”

    Race to the Top (under Barack Obama’s Administration): This program provided “robust plans to address four key areas of K-12 education reform.” Results: “By 2012, states were largely behind schedule in meeting goals for improving instruction and school and educational outcomes. Many states experienced substantial setbacks due to unrealistic promises and unexpected challenges.”

    Common Core (under Barack Obama’s Administration): This program set standards for what students should learn on each grade level. Results: There is a backlash and a withdrawal of support because of the “growing concerns over the program, such as the cost and classroom time consumed by state tests.”

Although these costly programs all sounded noble in theory, each one, when implemented, brought some degree of instability to the teaching process. In each case, success was hindered by a lack of intelligent planning. To compound failure, many seasoned teachers, aware of the outcome, based on their experience, treated the programs for what they were—fads without any serious long-term educational value.

For many of them, they saw these programs as an irresponsible way to add another layer of confusion to the educational process. I once called government education a multi-billion-dollar racket. In truth, it is more than that. It has become a propaganda machine used by the establishment to strengthen its political base with the next generation of voters. By weakening learning with unsuitable programs and creating academic chaos in the process, it has widened the opportunity for teachers who may have a particular political bent to indoctrinate students without accountability and prepare their students for a new world order.

What do we do to bring this all to a halt? The answer is simple. We must free education of government intervention and give parents the autonomy to choose the type of education that best suits their child’s needs.


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