Saturday, February 26, 2005

Three comments on academic bias from students:


The issue of academic freedom has been brought to the forefront in recent weeks. Apparently academic freedom is being extended so far, in some cases, that a professor in Colorado named Ward Churchill can replace his ethnic studies curriculum with radical, anti-American, anti-capitalist establishment propaganda.

Churchill describes with accuracy his feelings regarding the Sept. 11 tragedy. While he says he mourns for the losses of the individuals in the towers and planes, his mourning is coupled with rants on how so many of the victims had it coming, comparing them to Nazis at one point. He spends extended amounts of time rationalizing the terror tactics of those who hate America, demonstrating that he more fully understands radical Islam and the ideas that feed hatred than ideals such as democracy and justified military action against evil, perhaps even giving preference to the former.

In some disturbing cases, however, free thought is squelched so readily that the Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard University, cannot even mention the biological differences between women and men as a possible reason for women's under representation in the field of science without having several faculty members leave the room. Summers outlined a host of reasons why women do not often reach tenured professorships in science and math at a conference where such matters were a major topic. He offered inborn differences between the sexes among other factors in an informal and speculative discourse. Bear in mind, he was asked to consider all possibilities, and since his remarks, he has been repentant to the people he offended, something I could not do.

I liken the people who left the forum after Summers' remark, too offended to even ask him a question and discuss the issue further, with Churchill. These are modern fascists, secular-feminist-socialist operatives with a feeling of entitlement and self-righteousness so strong they can't even conceive of a person mentioning what Summers did, or being fired for teaching what Churchill has.

I do not know enough science to defend or refute Summers mentioning inborn differences. That is not the important point - Summers was doing what a learned person at a fine university should do: considering everything. He tossed into the ring a notion he did not say he believed to be completely veritable, but he paid for it, paid for trying to be a fair broker of intellectual discourse on the university scene.

That is a sad story. The neo-liberals who I'm discussing might, on a normal day, sound like the staunchest advocates of academic freedom, and they likely would come to the defense of people like Churchill. But I don't think that leaving a forum where issues are being discussed freely and provocatively is an example of tolerating another person's intellectual freedom.

It is clear that higher education is dominated by ideologues with their blinded vision of how and what young people should be taught. This is manifested in small things, like the limited credence granted to students who raise conservative or even moderate views in class, or who are at least pragmatic about the motives of "the learned" and detect plain-to-see bias. This fact also shows up in the curriculum of many courses, and especially the reading selections in courses at a public school like ours.

A good English course, especially at a private school, often revolves around a "Great Books" core of classic literature. My experiences to this point in two English courses have included a docket of new books where the majority of the content is driven by socialism and other radical interests but is treated as some form of enlightenment. Are academic elites really making a stand for open-mindedness and intellectual freedom when they only choose readings that reflect their views? I think not.

This is why academia is so troubled. A group of people who selectively enforce the rules of intellectual freedom, making it limitless for liberals and constricting it for others, dominate the university scene.

Think about this as you go about your schedule of classes, meet different professors and encounter different curriculums. Many professors are fair and have undetectable bias, but keep your eyes open for instances where academic freedom is restricted or abused. Even if you agree with a particular professor, consider the way that their argument is made and how they handle opposition. Usually teachers remind students to be politically fair and to keep an open mind. These days, however, it is often the teachers who need to be instructed.



I was at my seminar last week wasting my share of $328 and some change by not participating in the conversation going on, but rather doodling, dare I toot my own horn, some pretty hot stick figures.... So, at my seminar someone mentioned that Laura Bush would be working during her second term to try to reduce the influence of gangs on "at-risk young men" and wanted to know up to five suggestions we would make to her. I awoke from my deep, deep doodling slumber and my ears perked up. "This could be interesting," I thought, but was immediately disappointed when we went on a long tirade about what I consider Laura Bush-bashing. I mean, this went on for several minutes. We ended class, an opportunity for great learning wasted, after only three people had each suggested only one idea for Laura Bush.

Call me a weenie, but for crying out loud, can we go 20 minutes in a class that is not directly related to our current government and refrain from bashing the current administration? Yes, he is a Republican; yes, he is from Texas; yes, like all the 42 presidents that came before, he is - gasp - male and white; yes, he has an interesting smirk; yes, wearing a cowboy hat with an expensive suit takes away from the business attire look; yes, a red tie should not go with every suit he wears; yes, he has introduced words in the English language that we have never before heard a president say. Do you really want to tell me that in all your years on earth you have never created a word of your own while conversing with one or more people?

But is all that I've mentioned what you came to college for? To find elaborate ways to say "I don't like?" When exactly is the part when we grow up to realize that we cannot get everything we want, deal with the situation as it is, (the fact that Bush will still be president for yet another term no matter what you say in a classroom), and, note: this part is important ... move on.

I am not at Smith to learn about the political background of my professors or my peers. I am here to learn subjects that cater to a specific major so that I may go out in to the world and take the next step. Be considerate; refrain from discussing issues like the shortcomings of our current administration when it has nothing to do with class.

There was so much that we could have done with my classmate's question. We could have asked why gangs are on the president's agenda in the first place. Are there such serious gang wars taking place all over the United States that it takes away our liberty to walk to the nearest Starbucks to get our cup of coffee in the morning? We could have asked why he has given this task to Laura Bush. Can America's problem with gangs, if it exists, be solved by the president's wife "educating parents and communities on the importance of promoting positive youth development," as the White House website says? How exactly will they be educating these parents and communities?

We could have asked what is and will be defined as a gang. Is the KKK, for example, considered a gang? If so, does "KKK" shown at baseball games represent gang pride as the quintessential gangs we think of show off their gang colors? My point is that with the time spent Laura Bush-bashing we could have really come up with great insights and interesting observations.

I was not the only one that made a $329 dollar mistake in class; it seems to me that we all did. We missed a classic opportunity to be Smithies that analyze an initiative that will surely affect our generation and spent it making a jest of an individual who probably does not give a rat's behind that we were talking about her in our classroom. Squash the bug of inequality and open the jar of freedom, people! Take back your class time.



Regardless of age, we have all heard the phrase, "First Amendment Rights," bandied about. Free speech has been the rallying cry of the liberal elite since the 60s, and every time violent protesters are beaten back by police or cordoned off from a rally, the ACLU comes a calling. However, the same team of trial lawyers, rebel billionaires and Deaniacs turn a blind eye toward the abuses of their academic brethren. America's colleges and universities are anything but free speech zones. Contrary to their mantra of universal tolerance, Stalinist professors and administrators see intellectual diversity as a disease. Unpopular viewpoints, like a belief in absolute truth or the Republican Party, are actively discouraged.

The reality of liberal bias on campus is so overwhelming that columnists and commentators are forced to choose between countless illustrations. Whether examining the anti-Christian bent at the University of North Carolina, where one student was labeled a sexist bigot for asserting his personal belief that homosexuality is immoral and Alpha Iota Omega Christian Fraternity was derecognized as a student organization for refusing to admit non-Christians, or the age-old liberalism of Berkeley, where researchers found that conservatism is a disease shared by Hitler and Ronald Reagan, the bias is clear. Liberal professors see conservative beliefs as vermin and our universities as their own, private roach motels. Ideally, conservative minds check in, but they don't check out.

Our professors have at least four years to scare us Democrat, and they seldom waste an opportunity. Studies show that liberals hire liberals; the faculty at elite institutions like Duke and Yale fall to the Left of Hillary Clinton. More frightening, however, is the condition of our average campus. Along with the elites, most state schools are stacked with Democrats and Socialists. Perhaps conservatives are just too stupid for academia, as Dr. Robert Brandon, chairman of Duke's philosophy department, once asserted. Myself, I tend to believe that hiring committees prefer "fellow travelers." And as for self-selection, I think most Right-wingers are smart enough to see the "CONSERVATIVES NEED NOT APPLY" sign hanging beneath the ivy.

Of course, campuses are larger than the classroom and the message of liberal professors might be drowned out by inappropriate speakers. That's why our faculty and administrators are careful to allocate the lion's share of funding to invite still more liberals. After all, if not for men like Ward Churchill, how would students come to understand the innate evil of America? A true conservative would never think to compare 9/11 victims to Nazis!

However, unfortunately for our Stalinist friends, control over class time and tuition only goes so far. Outspoken students might still convince their peers that John Kerry and Karl Marx don't have all the answers. Darn that First Amendment. It was so useful for flag burning.

Some universities try to institute campus speech codes, limiting dialogue to their understanding of political correctness. Most just lambaste conservative students. At UNC-Charlotte, the resident College Republican chapter recently hosted their third annual "affirmative action" bake sale. Treats were offered at lower prices to traditionally recognized minorities, protesting how "affirmative action universities" accept minorities with comparatively lower academic credentials. Kristen McManus, UNC-Charlotte's Associate Director for Academic Initiatives for Mentoring Students, was quick to label her students as racist. Titling the communiqu‚, "Racist Practice at UNCC," McManus e-mailed the press and warned them of the College Republicans' "egregious methodology." After this slur, will members of the UNC-Charlotte College Republicans remain comfortable coming to McManus for academic assistance? Would you feel safe around someone who called you a racist?

All considered, however, campus conservatives shouldn't feel too badly. The Stalinists will even cannibalize a Clintonite for speaking out of turn. When President Lawrence H. Summers of Harvard University speculated aloud that "innate differences" between the sexes might explain why fewer women succeed in careers of math and science, he was attacked by feminists and academics alike. The former treasury secretary has been threatened with a vote of no confidence by Harvard's faculty and thus far, no one is willing to let him forget his flub. I find it ironic that the presidents of Stanford, MIT and Princeton are in an uproar over their colleague's mere speculation, when none of them were offended by the Berkeley study that labeled conservatives as mentally ill.

Perhaps this sentiment is just a product of my diseased, conservative mind, but I get the feeling that academia isn't even fooling itself anymore. After all, if professors pretend that free speech rights exist on campus, someone might try to exercise them.


Friday, February 25, 2005


With dropout rates rising, governors nationwide are being asked to lead a high school overhaul that demands more skills of students and help from colleges. The call for action, outlined Tuesday by leaders of an upcoming national summit on high schools, would change everything from core course requirements to state graduation standards. It came as the Educational Testing Service reported Tuesday that high school completion rates dropped nationally from 1990 to 2000, with about one third of students failing to graduate. It is the latest in a string of sobering assessments of high school performance. "Students can make it to the top of the K-12 ladder, only to find that they still can't reach the bottom rung of success for the rest of their lives," said Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, co-chairman of Achieve, a group formed by governors to help states raise academic standards. "In order to close this gap," Taft said at a news conference Tuesday, "we must pursue a fundamental redesign of a sacred institution - the American high school."

Governors from virtually all 50 states and five U.S. territories are expected to be in Washington on Saturday and Sunday for a summit hosted by Achieve and the National Governors Association. It is the fifth governors' education summit, but the first one on high schools. "We have this moment in time, where there is a growing understanding that high school redesign and high school reform must be a national agenda item," said Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, chairman of the governors association and a leader of this weekend's meeting.

Summit leaders released their goals in advance of the event in hopes of building attention and momentum. Given the scope of the policy changes they want, and the fact that each state decides what to demand of students, organizers know they have a sales job to do. It will start with the governors themselves - state chiefs who can help coordinate the efforts and missions of their states' overlapping education agencies. The goal is to unite governors, business executives and school leaders around a plan in each state to:

_ Demand tougher courses, and align graduation requirements with what's expected in college and the workplace. As one example, each state would need to require four years of rigorous English and math classes.

_ Redesign high school to provide all students with more choices and support. States would give priority to low-performing schools and provide more college-level courses.

_ Give all students excellent teachers and principals, particularly by offering incentives to draw top instructors toward the neediest schools.

_ Set clear, measurable goals for high schools and colleges, and vastly improve data collection and coordination between secondary schools and higher education.

_ Streamline education leadership. In most states, K-12 schools and postsecondary schools have separate governing boards and budgets, often contributing to competition over money.

Governors have become increasingly vocal about education reform, challenged to respond to unprecedented federal demands and complaints from employers. Arthur Ryan, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, said business leaders aren't happy with the pace of change. "Improving one high school at a time or one state at a time simply isn't fast enough," said Ryan, co-chairman of Achieve.

The high school graduation rate, meanwhile, remains the subject of debate. The new report by the nonprofit Educational Testing Service shows that the high school completion rate was 70 percent in 2000, down from 72 percent in 1990. It dropped in all but seven states. "This is a story of losing ground," said Paul Barton, the ETS researcher who wrote the report. "At the same time that the dropout rate is increasing and out-of-school education and training opportunities are dwindling, the economic status of young dropouts has been in a free fall since the late 1970s."



Tony Blair's principal claim to success in improving school standards was undermined yesterday by a devastating report from Ofsted. Almost half of boys and a third of girls continue to leave primary school unable to write properly, nearly seven years after the Government introduced the national literacy strategy. Ofsted blamed poor teaching and said that one in three English lessons were no better than satisfactory. A third of mathematics classes were just as weak, despite the introduction of the numeracy strategy in 1999.

The findings came as Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, faces a bitter split with the teaching profession today by ditching a radical reform of secondary school qualifications recommended by a government inquiry. Ms Kelly will reject plans to replace GCSEs and A levels with a new diploma drawn up by Sir Mike Tomlinson as a means of boosting achievement and staying-on rates. Charles Clarke, her predecessor as Education Secretary, appointed Sir Mike in 2002 to develop a blueprint for transforming secondary education.

Ms Kelly will insist, however, on retaining the "gold standard" of A levels and GCSEs, while promising to boost the standing of vocational qualifications.

Sir Mike, the former head of Ofsted, said that he would be very upset if the Government left the present structure essentially unchanged. A levels were now "strangling both teacher and student scholarship".

Ofsted's review of the literacy and numeracy strategies in primary schools made clear that huge numbers of children continue to enter secondary education ill-equipped to cope with the demands of the curriculum. Ministers have made much of the improvements in literacy and numeracy since 1997. The proportion of 11-year-olds achieving level four, the expected standard, in national curriculum English tests rose to 78 per cent last year from 75 per cent in 2003, the first rise since 2000.

Maths results improved by one percentage point to 74 per cent.

However, the English result masked a 20 percentage point gap in achievement in reading and writing. The expected standard in reading was met by 83 per cent of pupils last year, but only 63 per cent managed it in writing. Just 56 per cent of boys passed the writing test, compared with 71 per cent of girls. As a result, one in three pupils enters secondary school without the writing ability considered necessary to cope with the curriculum. Only 14 per cent of children who fail to reach the expected standards at 11 go on to pass five good GCSEs at 16.

Ofsted concluded that a lack of subject knowledge among a significant minority of teachers was a key failing in primary schools and said that the problems were serious enough to prevent further improvements in standards. "Teaching of this quality, while having no significant weaknesses, is not effective enough to improve the quality of pupils' learning and what they know, understand and can do," it said.

David Bell, the Chief Inspector of Schools in England, said: "There are still schools where children are not receiving the daily diet of good teaching that they need in order to raise achievement further."

Tim Collins, the Shadow Education Secretary, said: "The fact that at least one in three primary pupils go on to their senior school without being able to write properly is one of the single biggest failings of eight years of Labour government. Ruth Kelly and her predecessors have managed to get so hung up on their departmental target culture that they have lost sight of the underlying problem of classroom literacy and numeracy."

The Government sought to boost achievement in schools by merging the two strategies last year into a broader "primary national strategy". Ofsted found that this was having little impact because few schools had embraced the change.


Time is up for radical professors like Ward Churchill (By Joe Scarbough)

Radical college professors are finally being put on notice by middle America that anti-American views will no longer go unchallenged if a liberal arts professor mutters the words "academic freedom." But the question is whether our elected officials will have the guts to do anything about it.

For years, Americans have been led to believe that campus radicalism was confirmed to Ivy League institutions and left wing enclaves like Cal Berkeley. But the firestorm that has erupted over professor Ward Churchill's anti-American 9/11 screed has proven what college students have known for years: That colleges in middle America have long been led by left-wing leaders who are radical by any measure when it comes to politics, culture, and faith.

I loved my years at the University of Alabama, but my college professors were almost to politically left of center. And that was in the reddest of all states. Don't get me wrong. I learned a great deal by having professors who attacked Ronald Reagan as a dangerous war-monger, who questioned my religious faith, and who openly mocked my family's middle American values. There were a few notable exceptions, but only one or two.

So the question you need to ask yourself is this: Why are my elected officials using my taxes to promote values that are radically opposed to my own views? And if there is academic freedom and diversity of thought, why don't those two principals apply to conservative professors?

A recent study showed that an overwhelming number of college professors are big government liberals, while conservative professors rarely get a chance to teach college courses. This ideological monopoly ensures that another generation of college students will be brainwashed to believe that the values parents spent 18 years instilling in them are quaint, obsolete notions.

Enough is enough. It is time to call your state representative and demand action. It is time to call your governor and demand a full investigation into the political bias that is infecting the state colleges that you keep open with your tax dollars. It is time to put campus radicals back on their heels and tell them that simply chanting the words "academic freedom" will no longer cow us into accepting the status quo. It is time to take your college classrooms back. And if our elected officials won't do it, we will run them out of office and find someone who will.

This is not about free speech. It is about how your tax dollars being spent to promote agendas that the overwhelming majority of Americans would find deeply offensive.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


Thursday, February 24, 2005


Ian Harvey's Florida teaching certificate, No. 653427, has been suspended for a year. The former Lely High English and media teacher has maintained he's a scapegoat, a lone voice for peace in a wilderness of warmongers. But the Florida Education Practices Commission met earlier this month, and in the settlement, Harvey signed off on the suspension. Commissioner of Education Jim Horne cited Harvey in violating nine teaching standards, including failing to take reasonable precautions to distinguish between his personal views and those of the school system in his classroom.

"The misogynistic, homophobic, racist warmongerers in the classroom there in Collier County-and there are plenty-have nothing to worry about because the School Board shares their views," Harvey wrote Friday in an e-mail to the Daily News.

After Sept. 11, 2001, things were never the same for Harvey. He taught in Collier County schools for 10 years with good evaluations. Then after 9/11, Harvey entered the media spotlight after participating in an anti-war rally with a couple of his students.

In February 2002, the Collier School District investigator found Harvey's teaching practices violated district and state teaching standards. And later that month, he was suspended without pay for three days and reassigned to an Immokalee adult education position. In the next year, the teacher made a couple of court appearances. In July 2003, he agreed to a plea agreement, pleading no contest and paying court costs of $160, after being charged with resisting arrest during a March anti-war demonstration in Fort Myers. Then in August 2003, police arrested the teacher on driving under the influence and drug charges. He later pleaded no contest - his driver license suspended for six months and agreed to participate in the diversion program, similar to probation, involving counseling.

School District officials fired Harvey in December 2003. Now, two years after district officials sent their findings to Tallahassee, Commissioner of Education Horne has settled the teaching allegations against Harvey by suspending his Florida teaching certificate for one year. District internal investigator Peter DeBaun found Harvey engaged in the following inappropriate conduct between August and December 2001.

- Used his mass media class as a forum to express his hostility toward the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, American business practices, social policy, mainstream media, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization

- Criticized and belittled students for disagreeing with his personal political views in class and caused them to feel their grade would be lowered if they continued

- Gave extra credit to students who sent e-mail supporting him after his appearance on the Fox television show "The O'Reilly Factor," but failed to give any credit to students who sent e-mails supporting the show's host

- Used curse words in class

- Encouraged students to attend anti-war rallies and failed to warn them that he had been threatened with physical violence

"They were going to suspend it (my teaching certificate) for one year for teaching peace before my August 2003 arrest, and since they are still going to suspend it for the same amount of time even after I broke the law, it's even clearer that my greatest 'crime' to the folks in charge of running the indoctrination, not education, system there in that balmy, polluted 'paradise,' is having pro-peace, pro-worker, pro-environment views, period," Harvey wrote.



For most of them making life smoother for teachers is what it is all about

"IMAGINE THIS: A progressive Democrat is elected president. In his early days in office he articulates his belief that America owes all of its citizens a quality education, and that long after Brown v. Board of Education this promise is still denied to far too many poor children, particularly children of color. He declares this ''achievement gap'' to be a national disgrace, saying that it is unacceptable that the average African-American and Latino child is doing in 12th grade what the average white child is doing in 8th grade.

The new president, with the active support of Senator Ted Kennedy, passes a law that puts the power of the federal government behind his vision for our schools, dramatically expanding its reach into public education. The law requires that all states adopt standards for what children need to know and assessments to determine whether all children, in all demographic groups, are meeting these standards, with real consequences for schools that fail to make adequate progress toward closing the achievement gap. Under the new law, states are required to allow parents with children in failing schools to transfer their child to a higher performing traditional public school or public charter school.

For progressives this should be seen as a dream scenario, a declaration that closing the achievement gap is the great civil rights enterprise of our time. Of course, you could be sure that conservatives would rage against this radical intrusion by the federal government into territory long reserved for state and local authorities. But you could also be sure that liberal activists and their allies in public education would staunchly defend the legislation's ambitious, egalitarian goals.

In fact, just such a momentous law has been passed and is now being implemented. But as painful as it is for me, a progressive Democrat, to acknowledge, it was a conservative Republican president who passed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), and it is traditionally Democratic education groups and activists who decry the law as intrusive federal meddling. And true to the confusing and peculiar politics of education reform, instead of embracing the laudable goals of NCLB-and joining in a bipartisan effort to repair its flaws-the institutional players in education and their allies have put their energy into fighting it.

To veterans of the education wars at the state level, this peculiar political situation comes as no surprise. In state battles over reforming schools, liberal and conservative labels have lost their meaning. Instead, the battle lines are drawn between those who are willing to take on powerful institutional interests and contemplate systemic change and those who are not.

In Massachusetts we have seen this peculiar political situation play out in the contentious battles around implementing our own version of ''standards-based reform,'' the Education Reform Act of 1993 (which I coauthored). Passed in response to a crisis in public education, the theory behind Massachusetts' law is that if you give school districts a more equitable funding base, establish state standards for student achievement, monitor districts' progress through student testing, and empower school leaders by enacting significant management reforms-such as removing principals from collective bargaining-districts will figure out how to improve.

Many liberals and education associations bitterly fought the management reforms as well as the essential testing component of this strategy, MCAS, in both the state house and in federal and state courtrooms. Many continue the fight to this day, despite the fact that 10 years of standard-based reform has produced considerable progress. Massachusetts schools are now at the top in national comparisons, and despite dire predictions of mass failure 96 percent of seniors passed the high school MCAS requirement and now graduate with a high school diploma that actually means something.

Last week, in its decision in the Hancock case, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rejected the plaintiffs' request-supported by the teachers' unions and other institutional groups representing various educational interests-that the court order the state to send more money to underperforming districts. Other groups, such as the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (which I manage), are proposing a more comprehensive strategy which includes raising our expectations for student performance through a statewide ''campaign for proficiency,'' additional management reforms, and targeted new expenditures for expanding state assistance to school districts, early childhood education, and extended time on learning through a longer school day. Still arguing that money is all that is needed, and lacking any systemic reform agenda of their own, the institutional interests will continue to oppose changes in the system that will empower school leaders to tackle the many dysfunctions of underperforming schools".

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Homeschooling And Socialization

"One of my biggest pet peeves as a homeschooling mother is the "socialization" myth. Anti-homeschoolers would have everyone believe that our kids are locked in a cramped house all day, forbidden to speak to outsiders. The truth is, the lack of school restraints gives us more opportunity for genuine socialization. Our kids aren't grouped with only those the same age as them, at a desk in a classroom, being told by a teacher, "You're not here to socialize!" We're out in the "real world" learning real things with real people from all races, faiths and ages. And our children are not exposed to the negative socialization that often is found in the school system.

Now please don't be offended if you're reading this and your kids aren't homeschooled. I'm not knocking your choice, only defending mine against the many critics in the mainstream media. I can't tell you how many stories I've seen done by the media where they bring some "homeschooler" out of the woodwork who's being charged with child neglect and abuse. Only to find out that they were never really true "homeschoolers" in the first place. Their kids were just truant. There was no homeschooling going on, but they want to throw that label on them to hurt our movement.

I remember sitting around with a group of fellow soccer moms in a middle school for a photo session. One of the moms asked me, "Why doesn't Amanda go here?" Then she said, "Oh...that's homeschool." Then she went on about how she could never do that, and I told her it wasn't as hard as it seems. She then said in a very disparaging voice, "Well, I send my kid to school for the other kids." And all the moms around her nodded their heads vigorously.

My blood was boiling and I calmly waited for a chance to defend myself, but they were talking so much about how important socialization at school was that I could never get a word in edgewise. I later found out that the mother who instigated the attack on me is married to the county Superintendant of Public Schools here. Figures.

There's a wonderful story that ran on that gives a very accurate picture of what homeschooling is like and how we truly socialize. From the article:

Trash everything you think you know about homeschooling. Forget the images of a small family sitting around a table, working out arithmetic problems. Toss out the thought of children whose only friends are their parents, brothers and sisters. Today's homeschoolers say they are nothing like that. The kids meet regularly with other students for classes and activities. They have extensive networks for support groups, sports and clubs. "Most people don't home-school in a vacuum," says Julie Woessner, who has taught her two daughters from their house in Hillsborough for seven years. "People have the notion that we're weirdos, sitting around a kitchen table. We're not."


"Sometimes I think I need to clear my social calendar," said Towey, who lives in Durham. "There are so many people home-schooling, you could spend every day in the car going to see them." Towey's three children, 10, 7 and 4, attend Bible study, art and history classes and sports. The kids take dance lessons and practice karate. The association itself offers monthly enrichment, a time of fellowship with activities and playtime for the students and parents.

Then there's this article from that cites a study that says homeschoolers are actually better socialized than their peers:

The study by the Fraser Institute, an independent public policy organization based in Vancouver, Canada, focused on home-schooled students in North America. According to the study's findings, the typical home-schooled child is more mature, friendly, happy, thoughtful, competent, and better socialized than students in public or private schools. They are also less peer dependent and exhibit "significantly higher" self-esteem, according to the study."



"Write about free speech on American college campuses occasionally, and you quickly come to realize that a good many people honor the concept mostly in the breach. Every column defending free expression generates a number of emails with this basic message: Of course I support free speech, I just don't think someone should be allowed to say that.

The anti-speech sentiment is not always couched quite that explicitly, of course. Usually the caveat is about the need to realize just how hurtful a controversial statement is to this group or that, whose self-image or self-confidence or self-worth will be irreparably injured by hearing or seeing something that offends or angers them. Indeed, when I did a column about the University of New Hampshire's absurd disciplinary action against a male student who put up a satirical poster suggesting that the women in his dorm might avoid the dreaded freshman-year weight gain if they took the stairs rather than using the elevator, even his mild jape, directed at no person in particular, invoked the same response.

You don't know what it's like to have someone make snide comments about your weight, replied some readers. (Actually, I do, having recently been denounced as a fat, pizza-gobbling ''pantload'' by one of the coruscating philosopher kings of the local talk-radio scene. That, apparently, is what passes as wit on talk radio, and in the spirit of the new year, I'd certainly grant that it's half-witty.)

My feeling is that people need to grow a little thicker skin if they expect to survive in this world. And that if colleges operate the way the PC gendarmerie prefer, they aren't preparing students for the real world so much as sheltering them from it.

Unfortunately, however, too often the prevalent notion on campus is that people have a right not to be offended, and that that right, and the goal of preserving an amorphous civility, should trump the right to free expression. David French, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit devoted to defending free speech on campus, says the foundation frequently encounters that sentiment among college administrators and faculty. ''One of the most common experiences we have at FIRE is for an administrator or a faculty member to pledge undying loyalty to the First Amendment even while they are censoring a student,'' said French. ''They claim to support free speech, and if you put them on truth serum I think they would still claim to, but they think if a person's feelings are hurt, speech has just gone too far.''"

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Idiots at the chalkboard

Someone out there is worried. Due to the rapid growth in the popularity of homeschooling and the increasing obviousness of the concept's superiority, the legacy media has all but openly declared war on parents who wish to personally direct their children's education.

If an act of child abuse even tangentially involves children who don't attend a state-approved school, you can be sure that the media will not fail to mention that the children were "homeschooled" regardless of whether the parents were actually schooling them at home or torturing them instead. So much for accuracy in media. If those now-infamous Florida parents were homeschoolers, then Abu Ghraib was a military academy.

One argument often heard in defense of the public schools is that education is better left to those trained to teach, to the "professionals." Most teachers, after all, are required to have a college degree in education, and in many states they are forced to take tests purported to prove that they are not drooling idiots. Although one has to wonder what exactly is on those tests considering that after 59 percent of prospective teachers failed to pass the Massachusetts Teachers' Test in 1999, the test was assailed by FairTest, a teacher-run organization that opposes tests for teachers, in the following manner:

The MTT included many bizarre questions unlike those on any other state's teacher licensing exams. On one, candidates were asked to transcribe a portion of 'The Federalist Papers' as dictated from a low quality tape-recorder. Other items asked for dictionary definitions of words with questions such as "What is a preposition?" and "What is an adjective?"

Clearly, it is outrageous to expect public school teachers to know elementary grammar or be able to perform tasks that entry-level secretaries with two-year vo-tech degrees handle with ease. If the MTT is considered to feature bizarre and difficult questions, one can only imagine that tests in more teacher-friendly states such as Minnesota and New York must run something like this:

What is your favorite color?
a) red
b) green
c) blue
d) purply-pink

The immortal PJ O'Rourke once declared: "Anybody who doesn't know what's wrong with America's educational system never screwed an el-ed major." And while one has no doubt that he is correct, it turns out that there is more empirical evidence for the dismal state of teacher intelligence than Mr. O'Rourke's sexual history or the fear and loathing with which the teachers' unions regard competency testing.

In 2001, the National Center for Education Statistics reported the average SAT score for intended education majors to be 481 math and 483 verbal. Only those interested in vocational school, home economics and public affairs scored lower. But while the SAT is considered to be a generally reliable intelligence test, the 2001 SAT is not the same SAT that many of us took prior to attending university. Those 2001 scores on the 1996 SAT, which was replaced this year by the New SAT 2005, are equivalent to pre-1996 SAT scores of 451 math and 403 verbal. In case any education majors are reading this, 451 plus 403 equals a cumulative score of 854.

Examining an SAT-to-IQ conversion chart calculated from Mensa entrance criteria, a combined 854 indicates that the average IQ of those pursuing an education major is 91, nine points lower than the average IQ of 100. In other words, those who can't read teach whole language.

Now, not every would-be education major goes on to complete her degree - 77.4 percent of those who do are women - nor does every college graduate with an education major go on to teach in the public schools. But since teaching's best and brightest so frequently quit upon exposure to the labyrinthine public school system and since most teachers who fail their competency tests are still allowed to teach - in Illinois, 7.8 percent of the teachers who have taken these extraordinarily easy tests since 1988 have failed them - it is not logical to conclude that the average teacher's IQ is any higher than the average would-be education major.

Many a parent has wondered aloud what sort of idiots were teaching the anti-intellectual poison that currently passes for a modern public school curriculum, but I doubt that most ever considered that the pejorative might be more literal than metaphorical. Instead of wondering if they are sufficiently qualified to homeschool their children, parents would do well to instead ponder the wisdom of turning over their offspring to demonstrably sub-optimal morons for daily indoctrination in the name of education.



Some "isms" are contemptible (e.g., totalitarianism). Others stir our hearts (e.g. patriotism). A lesser known, but crucial "ism" is "liberal parentalism." It's a phrase coined by Professor Stephen Gilles of Quinnipiac University School of Law in Hamden, Connecticut. The phrase embraces the tradition of parents' freedom to choose how their children will be educated.

When parents are not permitted (or are too apathetic) to make decisions regarding the training of their children, government takes the reins. The result can be inimical to the desires of most parents, such as the current situation in which God is utterly banned from public schools.

The concept of liberal parentalism holds that parents are best able to make decisions concerning how their kids will be raised-particularly how they will be educated. No government entity, no matter how intellectually endowed, has the motivation or concern in choosing a school for a child as has the child's own parents. That's the essence of liberal parentalism. Professor Gilles' concept was ratified by the U.S. Supreme Court's dramatic decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in 2002, which decisively approved school choice in the broadest of terms. The Court said, in effect, that competitive efficiency and educational freedom are as inseparable as-to use a household comparison-flour in a cake.

No matter what you call it-"liberal parentalism" or educational freedom-the critical role of parents in education is rooted deeply in our history and religious tradition. "Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching," reads Proverbs 1:8 (NIV). And a later proverb advises, "Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul." (Proverbs 29:17 NIV)

Those opposed to educational freedom long to show that parental control is a new and maybe even un-American notion. Some think that freedom of choice has suddenly popped up in recent times. But during a long stretch of our nation's history, educational institutions were voluntary, cooperative endeavors, which involved parents, teachers, religious institutions, charitable organizations, and, sometimes, local government.

The American public school grew in the wake of the wave of immigration that swept across the nation in the nineteenth century. It was then thought by politicians that government control of education was the tool to assimilate the immigrants' children, as well as to dodge conflicts over any state subsidization of religious schools. So, the critics and the unknowing don't admit or don't realize, that the United States has a long and rightful history of valuing and guarding the freedom of educational choice. The country's 8,000 Catholic schools, for example, are a testament to that freedom, though parents who have chosen private schools have also been compelled to support the government school system through their taxes.

Although school choice now is legal, it still serves a relatively small number of students. Many states have charter schools and more than a million children are home-schooled. But those who can't stand the thought of such educational freedom are trying to stifle the trend toward parental choice. They seek, for instance, to trap existing charter school academies in a tangle of new regulations. Such rules would mandate everything from faculty to curriculum.

California has made it almost impossible for parents to home-school their children. That state, known for its bizarre customs, requires that students learn only from a credentialed tutor, a state-approved charter school, or a home-school study program supervised by the public school district.

Tragically, there will always be some parents who care little what happens to their children. They see school as a place to get their kids out of the way so they can indulge in illegitimate pursuits. The kids come to school with similar distorted attitudes.

But what most parents through the years have wanted for their children were educational options that matched sound cultural and moral or religious beliefs and traditions. They want constitutional protections, such as freedom of expression, association, and religion. Few Americans want the government involved in the intimate details of family life or educational regulations aimed at homogenizing the student body.

Parents have a moral duty to use freedom responsibly by making good decisions for their children. For its part, government has a duty to provide the space necessary for exercising that freedom. Allowing a diverse variety of educational institutions to flourish accommodates the deepest beliefs and desires of a diverse population. It is the "liberal" thing to do.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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Monday, February 21, 2005


It's Leftism that motivates them, not the best interests of blacks

A Houston school district plan that might turn three low-achieving but historically important schools in minority neighborhoods over to private contractors triggered a stinging rebuttal Friday from black and Hispanic community leaders who accused officials of neglecting the schools, then sidestepping responsibility for fixing them. Yolanda Smith, president of the Houston chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said her organization is outraged by the possibility of turning Yates, Kashmere and Sam Houston high schools over to for-profit educational companies. The NAACP, she said, will seek an injunction to stop the effort. "Houston taxpayers hold HISD accountable for closing the gaps in educational opportunity and student achievement and do not expect our public dollars to be spent on private entities," Smith said. " ... We did not create a public entity in HISD to then have the public entity outsource this responsibility."

Terry Abbott, spokesman for the Houston Independent School District, said indignation over the plan, which was outlined earlier this week by Superintendent Abe Saavedra during his annual State of the Schools address, is misplaced and based on media accounts that he contends are inaccurate. While contracting with for-profit entities to run the schools is a possibility, Abbott said, the district also welcomes reform proposals from district employees and community groups. Texas education officials have decreed that the schools, which have been deemed "low-performing" for two consecutive years, must be dramatically improved or closed.

Yates Principal George August has advised HISD that his school's administrators, teachers, parents and other community members will offer trustees a "bold, innovative redesign and restructuring of the entire instructional program at Yates to improve student achievement." August declined to elaborate on his group's proposal Friday. Also at the NAACP news conference were U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, and representatives from the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Houston Area Urban League, Houston Federation of Teachers and other groups. Jackson Lee admonished HISD to seek more community input before making a decision to privatize the schools......

Earlier this week, Saavedra, the district's first Hispanic superintendent, told those attending his State of the Schools speech that "small steps toward improvement" would no longer suffice for the trio of academically unacceptable schools. "HISD," he said, "will seek applications this spring from reform providers to submit their plans to totally redesign these schools. These redesigned schools must be fundamentally different from what exists now," Saavedra added. "The reform groups that take over these schools will have to correct the deficiencies, raise academic standards, redesign management practices, improve capacity among staff members or replace staff and engage parents in improvement efforts."

More here

Takeover as a Reform Strategy

Detroit Public Schools is currently operating under a five-year reform plan implemented by the Michigan legislature in March 1999. Although the measure provides that the mayor of the city appoints six of the seven board members, it is commonly referred to as a "state takeover" because it temporarily removed Detroiters' ability to elect a school board. The Detroit district is hardly the first to be subject to a "takeover" by city or state government officials in an effort to produce systemic reform.

In the spring of 2002, the National Association of State Boards of Education published the study, "Do School District Takeovers Work? Assessing the Effectiveness of City and State Takeovers as a School Reform Strategy," by Kenneth K. Wong and Francis X. Shen. The report provides a useful overview of state and city takeovers of school districts between 1988 and 2000. According to the authors, takeovers "either by a state authority or by the mayor" are allowed in 24 states and the District of Columbia. Actual takeovers during the period occurred in 18 states and in Washington, DC, whose schools are now governed by a board of five elected members and four mayoral appointees--a reform structure created by the D.C. Council.

Eleven of 15 "comprehensive" district takeovers--interventions with "financial, managerial, and academic components"-- have occurred since 1995, "including the highly publicized takeovers in Chicago (1995), Cleveland (1997), and Baltimore (1997)." In 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City initiated a takeover of the city's 900-school district.

Concerning the effectiveness of the takeovers, the authors find "research ... is lagging behind the pace of policy and practice, and overall `there is a scarcity of research on the effects of state takeovers.'"



Now that they are overwhelmingly Leftist....

Academic freedom - which endows members of the university with the right to hold, express and teach any views they deem fit, and to research and publish their findings without restraint - is widely recognised as essential to the pursuit of knowledge. As a 1998 report by UNESCO observed, academic freedom is 'not simply a fundamental value', but also 'a means by which higher education fulfilled its mission'. Even those politicians, bureaucrats and administrators who are, by temperament, hostile to academic freedom feel compelled to defend it......

Paradoxically, direct attacks on academic freedom often come from within the university. There is a mood of intolerance towards those who hold unconventional, unpopular opinions, especially in the area of politics. Some academics do not simply challenge views that they dislike; they often seek to ban them and to prevent individuals who advocate them from working or speaking on their campus.

Traditionally academics, particularly social scientists, were at the forefront of defending free speech. Today, some academics actually attempt to deny their colleagues the right to free speech. The campaign to ban Tom Paulin from speaking at Harvard for being anti-Semitic, and the censoring of Israeli academics by the editor of an academic journal in Manchester on the grounds that they are Israeli, are testimony to the illiberal tendencies that prevail in academia.

Academic freedom has become negotiable. Consequently, only the more grotesque attacks on this freedom tend to provoke a reaction on campus. One such example is the recent revelation of a memo issued to colleagues in arts and humanities at Durham University, which said lecturers would have to obtain approval from an 'ethics' committee if they wanted to give lectures and tutorials on subjects that might offend students - including abortion or euthanasia.

This illiberal policy is not simply the handiwork of few philistine zealots. It is the inexorable consequence of an academic culture that is increasingly prepared to censor itself and others. That Durham assigned an ethics committee the role of Chief Inquisitor and Censor is not surprising: for some time now, such committees have made pronouncements on which kind of research is ethical and which is not. Extending the role of these committees from policing research to censoring academics' views was a logical next step. Academics who treat ethics committees with derision, as a minor nuisance, should realise the extent to which their freedom is under threat.

The Durham memo may have stated its case rather bluntly. But its premise - that words that offend students should be banned - is now widely accepted and institutionalised in British higher education. Virtually every British university has adopted rules of conduct or codes of practice that convey the message: 'the student must not be offended.'

To take a random example: the University of Derby's 'Code of Practice For Use of Language'. In an Orwellian tone, the code announces that 'the use of language should reflect the university's mission and support relationships of mutual respect'. It demands that staff and students 'try to be sensitive to the feelings of others in the use of language'. In case academics fail to get the message and mistakenly think that being 'sensitive' is a question of individual preference rather than a mandatory form of behaviour, the code warns that the 'university recognises that individuals are responsible for their own use of language but expects line managers to help staff carry out the terms of this policy'. This is unlikely to create a climate where the free exchange of opinion can flourish.

That academics are expected to work within such a code, which explicitly demands that the pursuit of knowledge and expression of ideas should be restrained by the need to spare the feelings of others, is a symptom of our times. Such censorious speech codes have been institutionalised through the UK, without any serious opposition from staff or students. Once upon a time, instructions on the use of language were for schoolkids; today they are aimed at restraining the speech of the academic.

Of course words can offend. But one of the roles of a university is to challenge conventional truths - and that means academics questioning the sacred and mentioning the unmentionable. A proper university teaches its members how not to take hateful views personally, and how not to be offended by uncomfortable ideas. It also teaches its members how to deal with being offended. And it never turns to the Inquisitor or the Censor for the answer......

Today, lecturers need to ensure that their teaching is consistent with bureaucratically devised 'learning outcomes'. One young academic was recently asked in an interview for a sociology post how his work fitted in with his potential employer's mission statement. 'Fitting in' with rules and procedures - it seems that conforming to the imagination of the bureaucrats is the freedom offered to new academics.

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


Sunday, February 20, 2005

Good Bye, Lenin! A Movie with a Message for American Academe


In a great little movie about the fantasy of idelogical views of reality, Wolfgang Becker's 'Good Bye, Lenin!' is a classic that should be required viewing for students of recent history.

Alexander Kerner's mother, Christiane is a devout Marxist Leninist living in East Berlin before the collapse of communism. Her husband abandons her to go live in the West and she was commited to a mental hospital for eight weeks. When she was released, her whole life became enwraped in promoting the cause of socialism.

Then, just before the Berlin Wall fell, she had a heart attack and fell into a comma for eight months. After she regains consciousness, the doctor tells her son Alex that she could easily have another heart attack if she becomes excited.

But Alex realizes that the news of recent events, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the end of state socialism in East Germany, etc, would excite her to the extreme.

So there is only one solution; surround his mother with a Potemkin Village of continued socialism, of course! Alexes Quixotic attempt to keep his mothers illusions alive for her is a dramatic symbol of the Western Academ, especially of the US where the last hold outs for Marxism still control the Universities and colleges of the nation that won the Cold War in grande style.

This movie is a humorous portrayal of that ideological obsession with fantasy that allows one to continue to entertain prefered delusions over blatant reality that swirls all around. If you plan to go into any post-graduate program in humanities in the US, this movie is a must see!

Amazon reviews here

Patriotic symbols now politically incorrect at school

"A Mont Pleasant middle school student is taking her freedom-of-expression fight to federal court, claiming Schenectady school officials have no right to ban her from wearing a handmade red, white and blue necklace to class. The beads, which Raven Furbert got as a string-it-yourself Christmas gift, symbolize love of country and respect for soldiers serving in Iraq, according to the lawsuit her mother, Katie Grzywna, filed in U.S. District Court in Albany. Among those soldiers is her uncle, J. Barnes, who is a member of the Army National Guard's 42nd Rainbow Division, and three other relatives. Barnes shipped out to Kuwait in October, and went on active duty in Iraq the first week in January.

Raven, 12, made the necklace over the Christmas vacation and wore it on her first day back to school on Jan. 4. She said it was to commemorate Barnes' move into a danger zone and that it is her way of trying to protect him. She said she can't understand what the big deal is. "I just want to wear them for my uncle," she said. "I'll be really glad when this is all over."

Schenectady school officials immediately banned her from displaying her unique neckwear in a belief such "gang-related" jewelry violates policy, court papers alleged. Raven was threatened with suspension if she continued to wear the beads. "I still don't see anything wrong with this," her mother said of the case that has created a stir. It was featured last week on the Fox News Channel program "Hannity & Colmes." "(School officials) even said on that program that they do not have a gang problem in the Schenectady school district," she said.

And that isn't all, added the frustrated mother. Grzywna said it seems now that Raven is being targeted, and the child who used to sail through her school days without incident is now tagged frequently for in-school detention and other disciplinary measures. Grzywna said she tried to explain to school officials that the necklace was nothing more than a show of patriotism. But they wouldn't listen. On Jan. 14, word came home that the beads had been banned, she said. Officials then said beads could be worn but not displayed, she said. So Raven began wearing the jewelry under her clothing, her mom said.

This week, on both Monday and Tuesday, administrators again told Raven to remove the beads, Grzywna said. She complied. But then put them back on. Named in the federal action are Assistant Superintendent Eric Ely, Mont Pleasant Middle School Principal Gary Comley and Assistant Principals Nicki DiLeva and Matthew DeLorenzo. Sherry Greenleaf, who is employed full time as the school district's attorney, said she couldn't comment specifically because the school district hadn't yet seen any court papers. "But certainly we believe the policy is valid and properly enforced," she said.

Bob Keach, a lawyer who specializes in civil and constitutional rights violations cases, said several of Raven's friends also have been told not to wear the beads even though the Mont Pleasant dress code does not mention beaded jewelry as a banned item. Grzywna is seeking a permanent injunction preventing the school district from banning expressive clothing. She also wants monetary damages and declaratory judgment, which allows a judge to decide whose position is correct. "As of today's date, the wearing of the red, white and blue beaded necklace made by a 12-year-old to show support for soldiers dying to protect this country's freedom is still forbidden ... under penalty of suspension from school," Keach said in court papers. And the mascot for the Schenectady City School District is a patriot, he pointed out: "So school colors are red, white and blue." "Patriotism is a virtue to be fostered among the young," he said. "It is not 'gang-related.' We can't believe we've had to take it this far." "

More here


No place should be more committed to freedom of speech than a university. And perhaps no issue deserves more balance, more variety of voices, and more critical thinking than the Middle East, given its importance in world affairs. Universities should be grounds for critical thinking and pluralism of opinion, not brainwashing. Still, when it comes to the Middle East, the difference between should and is can sometimes be as great as the one between night and day.

Before you think Columbia University and the recent controversy surrounding some of its Middle East studies scholars, or Hamilton College and Ward Churchill, think England and the great tradition of scholarship on the Orient that made U.K. universities so distinguished, their scholars so renowned, and their works so enduring. And before you surmise that scholars manipulate their students into uncritical and one-sided thinking, look at the students. Judging by how this generation promotes free speech and a diversity of opinions, one gets the impression that students don't need bad teachers to stifle their learning: They are doing well enough on their own.

Enter the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), a famous institution of learning in the heart of London, which is part of the University of London college system. Its faculty is dedicated to subjects ranging from the Far East to Africa and much in between, and it includes a wide range of scholars with diverse opinions and expertise on the Middle East. There is no room for complaint about a lack of views and opinions among those imparting wisdom to the next generation. SOAS invites scholars of all backgrounds. Some university forums - such as the University of London, SOAS-based Sir Joseph Hotung Programme for Law, Human Rights, and Peace Building in the Middle East - are so one-sided that their public activities border on pro-Palestinian propaganda. But the Middle East program can be faulted for little.

Scholars there play fair, but their students have a different idea of what higher education is about. Maybe what the next generation wants is not wisdom. It does not seek tools to form independent judgments. Rather, it seeks ready-made answers and a conventional wisdom that no alternative voice should be allowed to challenge.

Consider the following: SOAS's student union recently hosted Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi, PLO ambassador to London Afif Safieh, and a two-day extravaganza dedicated to boycotting Israel. Not to be accused of one-sidedness - past guests of various student associations include Columbia University professor Joseph Massad and Haifa University professor Ilan Pappe, both avowed supporters of Israel's end as a Jewish state - the Palestine Student Society also had an Israeli speaker recently: Azmi Bishara, the lone pan-Arabist anti-Zionist Israeli parliamentarian, whose solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute is a bi-national state, code for the end of the Jewish state. With such a range of opinions, who needs an additional speaker from the Israeli embassy or, indeed, an Israeli student society? That is what the Student Union thought and still thinks.

Until last year, an Israeli society was unthinkable at SOAS: It would have violated official Student Union policy, which states that "Peace requires the achievement of national liberation and independence, the elimination of colonialism and neo-colonialism and foreign occupation, apartheid, Zionism and racial discrimination in all forms..." Official policy also condemns "Any form of racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Zionism and other forms of racism on campus," and on those grounds the university until recently prevented pro-Israel students from forming their own organization. But then, SOAS exerted enough pressure on the union to allow for an Israel society - alongside an existing Jewish society - to be established.

An intolerable act of censorship of students' independent judgment, or a rare moment of sanity among union's leaders? Don't hold your breath for the latter.

Pro-Israel students can now have their society, but that does not mean they can hold events. The Israel Student Society invited a speaker, Roy Gilead from Israel's embassy, to speak on campus on February 22. The Union voted to force the sponsors to disinvite him. Again, a swift intervention from the administration had the Union backtrack and the event can now go on. Still, Kavita Meelu, co-president of the Union, said in a statement, "we have advised the society that the student body... has explicitly expressed that they do not wish for this speaker to be allowed a platform, and therefore will not be actively supporting the society's event."

Veiled threat or grudging concession? Hard to say. Don't anticipate a Student Union welcoming committee when Gilead arrives.

What is obvious is that when it comes to students, at SOAS dissenting views have no place. It is only thanks to pressures exerted from above - and Professor Colin Bundy, head of SOAS, should be commended for coming down on the side of freedom of speech - that a lone Israeli embassy spokesman could get a one-time chance to offer an alternative view of the Arab-Israeli conflict, before the old tune is monotonously sung again by the usual suspects.

So what's the trouble? Perhaps what Gilead has to say terrifies the Student Union's thought-control police - with the notion that one or two students might actually start thinking with their own minds. And that, even more than a Zionist speaking on campus, would be truly terrible.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here