Saturday, March 11, 2006


The State Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to reject alternatives for "highly proficient" students who fail the California High School Exam, echoing state Superintendent Jack O'Connell's staunch support of the test. "If a student were highly proficient in both math and English, it would be a travesty if they could not pass this test because this test is very simple," said board member Donald Fisher, chairman of the Gap clothing company. The student representative to the board echoed that view. Paul Gardner III, a Culver City High School senior, said his peers support the test. But the board's decision adds fuel to the fire for opponents of the exit exam, who say the state has not met its legal obligation to study alternative paths to graduation for students who fail the math and English test of sixth-to 10th-grade skills. This year - for the first time in California - students must pass the exit exam to graduate from a public high school. At the start of the school year, more than 90,000 seniors still had not passed.

"Today's decision means that the only avenue left for students to receive a diploma is the litigation with the courts," said Arturo Gonzalez, an attorney with the Morrison & Foerster law firm in San Francisco. He has sued the state to try to block the government from denying diplomas to students who fail the exam. "Ironically, today's decision may also be one of our strongest pieces of evidence because I don't think any court is going to accept the 45-minute hearing and consider that to be an adequate study of alternatives," he said.

State law calls for the Board of Education and the state superintendent to study other ways students could demonstrate their knowledge and receive a diploma even if they fail the exit exam. At Tuesday's meeting, O'Connell's staff presented a 31-page document detailing their study of potential alternatives. The process began in 1999, the same year the law creating the exit exam was passed, said testing director Deb Sigman. Since then, she said, a panel devoted to the exit exam has held 19 meetings with numerous experts from around the country to develop the test and consider changes. Independent consultants have conducted several studies of the exam and its impact on students.

In December, the Department of Education held a daylong meeting where education experts, lawyers, students and parents voiced their feelings about alternatives to the test. Many said they thought other measures - such as a student's grades, scores on other tests, or a portfolio of work [i.e. work done by others] - should substitute for a failed exit exam.

In January, O'Connell announced that none of the alternatives was feasible. They were either too time-consuming and costly, he said, or would not hold students to the same academic standard as the exam. O'Connell said Tuesday that his study met the law's criteria.

But exit exam opponents said the state's study of alternatives was insufficient. They argued that the board should ask the Legislature to delay the exam's consequences for another year while the board studies alternatives. "I ask you as we ask them: Do your homework with all deliberation and thought," said Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles.



An examinations board is including references to “creationism” in a new GCSE science course for schools. The OCR board admitted that a biology course due to be introduced in September encourages schools to consider alternative views to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Its new “Gateway to Science” curriculum asks pupils to examine how organisms become fossilised. It then asks teachers to “explain that the fossil record has been interpreted differently over time (eg creationist interpretation)”. OCR, one of the three main exam boards in England, said that the syllabus was intended to make students aware of scientific controversy. But critics accused the board of blurring the line between science and religious education by putting creationism into lessons alongside evolution.

A spokeswoman for OCR said: “Candidates need to understand the social and historical context to scientific ideas both pre and post Darwin. Candidates are asked to discuss why the opponents of Darwinism thought the way they did and how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence.” John Noel, OCR’s science qualifications manager, told The Times Educational Supplement: “It is simply looking at one particular example of how scientific interpretation changes over time. “The history of scientific ideas not only has a legitimate place in science lessons, it is a requirement of the new programme of study.”

But James Williams, science course leader at Sussex University’s school of education, said: “This opens a legitimate gate for the inclusion of creationism or intelligent design in science classes as if they were legitimate theories on a par with evolution fact and theory. “I’m happy for religious theories to be considered in religious education, but not in science where consideration could lead to a false verification of their status as being equal to scientific theories.”

A second exam board, Edexcel, included a reference to creationism in a draft lesson plan for teachers as part of preparations for a new biology GCSE. But a spokeswoman said that it had not been included in the final specifications for the course.

Evangelical Christians in the US have been pressing for schools to teach “creationism”, the idea that God created the world, as well as an offshoot theory of “intelligent design”, which holds that nature is so complex that it could not have evolved on its own. Controversy about the teaching of creationism has flared in England over three comprehensives run by the Emmanuel Schools Foundation, which is funded by Sir Peter Vardy, a millionaire Christian car dealer. Sir Peter said in 2003: “We present both. One is a theory, the other is a faith position. It is up to the children.”

A spokesman at the Department for Education and Skills said: “Neither creationism nor intelligent design is taught as a subject in schools, and are not specified in the science curriculum. “The National Curriculum for science clearly sets down that pupils should be taught that the fossil record is evidence for evolution.


Shakespeare being edged out

In the article below, Prof. Henningham seems to be quoting some guy all the time

Although Brisbane will be the mecca of Shakespeare lovers for a week in July as host of the World Shakespeare Congress, our local theatre companies continue to give "short shrift" to the Bard. "That it should come to this!" For the fourth year running there is no Shakespeare in the Queensland Theatre Company's program. QTC has run four plays by the Bard since 1998 (Lear, The Tempest, Richard II and Richard III), out of almost 80 productions. It seems "forever and a day" since Shakespeare appeared in a season at La Boite Theatre which (despite its continental name) eschews anything other than good old (or bad new) home-grown Australian theatre. The last piece by the Bard was Romeo and Juliet in 1999 - 38 plays ago. Until the last quarter of last century, it seems not a year would go by without some major Shakespeare performances from our leading companies. But since the late '90s, only 4 per cent of Brisbane-based professional productions have been by Shakespeare.

Instead, "more in sorrow than in anger", theatre-goers endure a gallimaufry of experimentation, fashionable ideology, political correctness, sordid titillation and various shades of contemporary angst, with a succession of plays that have little chance of surviving the first decade of the 21st century, let alone lasting 400 years. Is this "much ado about nothing"? Falstaff? Who's he? That's what the average high school student or even university graduate would ask these days. A whole generation of Queenslanders has never seen a Falstaff (comic star of Henry IV and of Merry Wives of Windsor), one of the great character creations of all time. Sir John Falstaff is the tragic buffoon who enlivens young Prince Hal's (the future King Henry V's) misspent youth, his "salad days" when he was "green of judgment". Most Queenslanders have never even had the chance to see a Hamlet in recent years, that most brilliant, intriguing and fascinating dramatic creation, a tower of strength.

Shakespeare can at times be obscure, his words do not always speak their meaning at first glance, but, "give the devil his due", he has a rare gift of getting under the skin of human nature and evoking people's deepest longings and dreams in enduring terms. You don't have to go as far as Harold Bloom, who claims Shakespeare invented being human, to concede that Shakespeare (or whoever wrote Shakespeare) was a pretty special guy.

The failure to produce Shakespeare is even more damaging in conjunction with the watering down of Shakespearean studies in our schools. The virus of postmodernism has taken root in English syllabuses, resulting in an approach to literary studies that prefers the discernment of ideological biases to the fostering of aesthetic appreciation and admiration for great writing. It's "madness", but there's no "method in it".

Queensland's stalwart amateur companies are doing their best to rescue Shakespeare: their experience is that Shakespeare pulls crowds and draws performers like no other playwright. Audition calls are clogged when the Bard is the go, with wannabe young actors falling over themselves for the chance to be involved in a Shakespearean production. Brisbane Arts Theatre makes room for the Bard about two years out of three, as does the wandering Nash company. Pro-am Harvest Rain in New Farm also makes a regular commitment, delighting its audiences with action-packed musical versions.

Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble gives gifted amateurs serious training and brings out lesser known plays with interesting variations (such as a re-gendered Comedy of Errors last year). The redoubtable Bryan Nason's Grin & Tonic and GNT2 take Shakespeare to schools across Queensland and perform in garden settings in the city. But the most charitable critic must concede that even the best amateur productions suffer from unevenness in casting, acting and direction - "the course of true love never did run smooth" - and they certainly lack "all that glisters" in lighting, sets and costumes which professional companies can spirit up.

John Bell has been prepared to be the saviour of professional Shakespeare performance in Australia. His Sydney-based travelling Bell Shakespeare Company, unsubsidised for most of its existence, has done more than any state company to keep the flame of Shakespeare's genius alive. Brisbane has been lucky enough to see a Bell version every couple of years, the most recent being last year's extraordinarily good Measure for Measure. And Bell will be back for a Romeo and Juliet this year, during the Brisbane Festival.

Shakespeare will not be ignored by Queensland professional performing arts companies this year. But it's Shakespeare without his words. Both Opera Queensland and the Queensland Ballet (who know how to please the crowds) are running versions of Romeo and Juliet (to the music of Gounod and Prokofiev). So perhaps "all's well that ends well" and our local theatre companies will finally realise that the game is up: the people want more Shakespeare. If not, well, "the miserable have no other medicine but only hope".


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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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


Friday, March 10, 2006

ADF steps in after atheist entity challenges status of collegiate Catholic group

Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund's Center for Academic Freedom have written a letter to University of Wisconsin-Madison officials in response to demands made by the Freedom from Religion Foundation that the school de-fund a Catholic student organization.

"Universities are supposed to be the marketplace of ideas," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David French. "Eliminating funding in order to placate an outside political organization amounts to viewpoint discrimination. We have written to the university to remind it that the law requires that its students and student organizations have equal rights to free speech and student fee funding. FFRF's demands have no merit."

FFRF's Feb. 26 letter to school officials complained about funding allocated to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Roman Catholic Foundation. FFRF argued the university should de-fund UWRCF simply because the student group speaks from a Catholic viewpoint. On behalf of UWRCF and in response to FFRF's demands, ADF issued a letter to university clarifying the law and noting the university cannot de-fund a group simply because it dislikes its message.

According to UWRCF spokesperson Tim Kruse, the 501(c)(3) organization received funding from the school's student funding committee last year. However, the committee disputed, then cut, several of UWRCF's budget items for this year. UWRCF appealed to UW's student judiciary, who overturned the cuts and awarded most of the requested student fee budget.

ADF's letter to university officials may be viewed at

A statement from UWRCF's lay leader in response to the FFRF's demand is available at

"Profession of faith or a particular set of values does not relegate a person or a student organization to second-class status," French said. "ADF will continue to monitor the situation to make sure UWRCF's constitutional rights are not violated."



Incompetent teachers in Glasgow who fail to improve their performance face being sacked to combat the long-running problem. The promise by Steven Purcell, council leader, to take tougher action was welcomed yesterday by Scotland's largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland. His comments follow a government report showing that one-fifth of school-leavers lack the skills necessary to get a job because bad teachers are "tolerated" by education bosses.

Mr Purcell insisted it was up to head teachers to decide which staff needed removed, but promised to support them. He said: "Only head teachers know if there are under-performance issues, but I don't think it is a secret that it is an issue that has been shied away from in this city for too long."

A report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education last month highlighted "unacceptable variation" in teaching quality across Scotland. The schools watchdog is also to publish a separate report on the performance of individual education authorities. Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the EIS, said: "We don't want incompetent teachers. All I ask is that the necessary employment procedures and fairness are followed."


Anti-Christian education in Australian schools

The publication of the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed was considered insulting by Muslims and, notwithstanding freedom of expression, the argument was put by many in the West that the cartoons were culturally offensive and should never have been published. Witness the way nuns and priests are vilified and mocked in Sydney's gay and lesbian Mardi Gras and the offensive nature of so-called artworks such as Piss Christ and it quickly becomes apparent that moral outrage is sometimes selective. As noted in George Weigel's The Cube and the Cathedral, it is not a good time to be a Christian. Secular humanism is in the ascendant, evidenced by the European Union Constitution's refusal to mention Christianity in its preamble, and "European man has convinced himself that in order to be modern and free, he must be radically secular".

Further evidence of the way Christianity is either disparaged or ignored can be found in the way history is taught. Beginning with the national studies of society and the environment curriculum developed during the '90s, the focus is very much on diversity and cultural relativism. Learning is defined in terms of gender, multicultural, global, futures and indigenous perspectives, and you can search in vain for a substantial recognition and treatment of Australia's Anglo/Celtic tradition or this nation's Judeo/Christian heritage.

This year's Victorian history curriculum for prep to Year 10 continues in the same vein. Students are told that Australia has always been multicultural and that our history is one of multiple heritages, influences and connections. The focus is on various and diverse cultural groups without any recognition that the contributions of some should be more valued than others. In line with a postmodern view of the world, one where there are no absolutes and where knowledge is subjective, students are also told that historical understanding is multiple, conflicting and partial as "there are many perspectives on events and that explanations are often incomplete and contested".

School textbooks such as the Jacaranda's SOSE Alive 2 and Humanities Alive 2 offer further evidence of the way Australia's mainstream cultural and religious beliefs and institutions are belittled. As noted in Thomas E.Woods's How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilisation, a strong argument can be put, especially during the Middle Ages, that the church was critically important in promoting learning, scientific discovery and advances in agriculture and animal husbandry. Not so, according to the writers of the Jacaranda textbooks. In the chapter Medieval Life, the power of the church, instead of being based on the strength or truth of its teachings, is said to be based on controlling people by making them "terrified of going to hell" or facing "torture and death".

The references to monks and priests also present the church in a negative light. Students are told about "corrupt church men" who lie in order "to attract pilgrims to get money for their monastery" and who are more interested in "drinking and gambling". In describing the Renaissance, with its emphasis on classical learning, the implication is that the church was interested only in controlling people in a heavy-handed, doctrinaire way. Ignored is the role of the monasteries in preserving Greek and Roman manuscripts and the church's involvement in establishing universities throughout Europe. As noted by Woods: "The fact is, the church cherished, preserved, studied and taught the works of the ancients, which would otherwise have been lost. Western civilisation's admiration for the written word and for the classics comes to us from the Catholic Church that preserved both through the barbarian invasions."

The most egregious example of the way education has succumbed to moral relativism is the textbooks' treatment of September 11. The textbook presents the Muslim terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Centre as the moral equaivalent of Christian Crusaders, as both gave their lives for a religious cause and both expected they would "go straight to heaven when they died". Students are also asked: "Those who destroyed the World Trade Centre are regarded as terrorists. Might it be fair to say that the Crusaders who attacked the Muslim inhabitants of Jerusalem were also terrorists?"

In addition to the selective nature of the outrage against the Danish cartoons and the fact Islam cannot be lampooned while Christianity is fair game is the irony that the very values most often stated in defence of accepting diversity and difference arise from the Judeo/Christian tradition. As such, there can be no place for moral or cultural relativism. Tolerance and respect for others, the rule of law, separation of powers and popular sovereignty are all essential aspects of Western civilisation and have strong links with the Christian faith.



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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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


Thursday, March 09, 2006


Post lifted from Betsy's Page

How perfect is it that Howard Zinn's organization, Historians Against War, has a name that lends itself to the acronym of HAW. As historians must be aware, this recalls Lord Haw-Haw, the nickname for the radio announcer of the radio show broadcast by Nazi Germany into Britain during WWII.

The name Lord Haw-Haw is most commonly associated with the Irish-American William Joyce, a former member of the British Union of Fascists, whose on-air style approximated to a sneering mockery of the British military effort against the Germans.

Gee, sneering at your nation's military effort when at war? Is it a coincidence that Zinn's group chose a name with that acronym?

Jacob Laksin looks at what some of these historians were saying at their most recent confab. One historian is upset that some feminists actually had the poor taste to support the war in Afghanistan.

Where Zinn urged a new dedication to the cause of politicized education, the conference's other keynote speaker, Andrea Smith, a radical feminist and a assistant professor in Women's Studies and American Culture at the University of Michigan, took aim at those who dared to dissent from academic orthodoxy with respect to the wisdom of military intervention. Smith singled out for opprobrium feminists who supported the U.S.-led overthrow of Afghanistan's Taliban regime. One report quoted Smith sneering that a bombing campaign could never liberate women. Enlarging on that theme, Smith asserted that the real threat to women came not from the governments like the Taliban but from concepts like the nation state.

Yeah, those Afghan women were so much better off under the Taliban. I'm sure they would prefer to go back to that tyranny rather than to have had the U.S. army throw out the Taliban.

Read more of the speeches that these historians were giving praising themselves for their efforts to turn students against America. This is what parents are paying so much so that their kids can hear this sort of propaganda. It boggles the mind.


That the Crusades were a defensive response designed to halt and roll back Muslim conquests of Christian lands is the most basic history but it seems that Australian kids are hearing the opposite

A textbook widely used in Victorian high schools describes the Crusaders who fought in the Holy Land in the Middle Ages as terrorists, akin to those responsible for the September 11 attacks. The Year 8 textbook Humanities Alive 2 says that the Crusaders, like Muslim terrorists, "believed they were giving their lives for a religious cause". "Like the Crusaders ... they were told they would go straight to heaven when they died," the book says. "Those who destroyed the World Trade Center are regarded as terrorists. Might it be fair to say that Crusaders who attacked the Muslim inhabitants of Jerusalem were also terrorists?"

The book, used in about 100 schools around Victoria, is a revised edition of a series of textbooks published by John Wiley and Sons since 2003, all of which have included the section on September 11. The selection of textbooks is at the discretion of individual schools in Victoria and neither the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, nor the state Education Department, have any input into the quality or content of textbooks. A spokesman for state Education Minister Lynne Kosky said schools decided for themselves what was appropriate to be taught and there were no recommended books for the curriculum.

The textbook also portrays the church as a corrupt institution driven by the desire for power and which tortured and killed anyone with opposing beliefs. "It's very out of date, this view of the church as being fiendishly power-hungry," said Dr Collett, a visiting scholar at Oxford University. "The church's activities were far more humane and pastoral than you would guess from reading this." Dr Collett said the textbook presented an oversimplified view of history and the language used suggested a particular point of view rather than asking open-ended questions. Despite popular perception, Dr Collett said those involved in the Inquisition actually spent most of their time working with divided families rather than torturing heretics. Rather than working with government to oppress people, Dr Collett said the church was the principal force against the authoritarian excesses of governments.

General manager of the schools division at John Wiley, Peter van Noorden, denied the textbook makes a connection between the Crusades and September 11. He said the section was intended to encourage discussion and prompt students to think more broadly about history. "It's very specifically put at the end of the section as a challenge for students to consider ... to analyse things from different perspectives," he said.



Ruth Kelly is not the most engaging or charismatic of politicians. Yet when the history of the Blair Labour Government is written, she will probably be remembered not for strings of platitudes or her droning delivery but for her courage and tactical skill. After her brave decision last year to veto the Tomlinson plan for merging academic and vocational A levels, Ms Kelly has again defied the teachers' unions, the educational establishment and the Labour Left - the people whose misguided egalitarianism since the 1960s has steadily debased the quality of Britain's state education and closed off the main avenues of social advancement for bright children from poor homes.

The best arguments for supporting Ms Kelly's reforms come from her opponents. Until this week I was inclined to agree with the Tories that this Bill was so timid as to be almost irrelevant. But then I heard Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, denounce the Bill for promoting "the Government's obsession with so-called choice and diversity". Any educational reform opposed by the NUT probably has something to commend it - and if this Bill really does advance diversity and choice, then it deserves support.

Even more encouraging for those of us inclined to dismiss Ms Kelly's efforts as another tedious, vacuous compromise were these attacks by Frank Dobson and Peter Kilfoyle, two of the Neanderthal Labour Party's most prominent educational thinkers.

In Mr Dobson's view, "the object, not the by-product (of this Bill), is the fragmentation of the education system. Putting more and more emphasis on shopping around benefits the well-off and the informed." The consequence, Mr Kilfoyle says, is clear: "This will lead not just to a two-tier but a multi-tier system, to the benefit of people with the wherewithal . . . of aspirational and articulate parents."

If Mr Dobson, who has spent more time studying this legislation than I ever will, believes that it will "fragment" the education system, and if Mr Kilfoyle, who is an expert on legal niceties, confidently predicts that this Bill will "benefit aspirational parents", then I am converted from lukewarm indifference to enthusiastic support.

For fragmentation is exactly the right approach to reforming a dysfunctional, centrally planned system. And more opportunity for "aspirational parents" to try to improve their children's education without having to spend vast sums of money is exactly what Britain requires.

Educating children raises endless questions to which nobody can claim to have found all the answers. Indeed, almost every country in the world believes itself today to be in the midst of some kind of educational crisis. Under these circumstances, the best hopes for improvement come not from another Stalinist lurch into a new centrally planned educational theory, but from some kind of market mechanism of "bold persistent experimentation", with different schools trying out many different approaches and with successes distinguished from failures through the trial and error of consumer choice.

The standard objection to such choice is that some children will end up with a worse education than others, either because their parents make the wrong decisions or because the most popular schools will not admit everyone who applies. But after 40 years of purporting to deliver educational equality it is clear that the uniform comprehensive system has failed in this objective, as in so many others. This is hardly surprising, since parents can never be prevented from promoting their children 's interests in a free society. Moreover, if parental involvement in education is to be encouraged, as almost everyone apart from the Labour Neanderthals now believes, then "aspirational parents" should be welcomed, not condemned. So in terms of broad objectives, the new education Bill is clearly pointing in the right direction and deserves support. Having said this, the Bill ignores the three really fundamental questions that have dogged British education for decades and are far more important than the great controversies over local authority relations with the new school trusts or even the issue of academic selection at 11.

The first of these is how to improve vocational training for teenagers and young adults without getting education policy sidetracked into a pointless quest for the mirage of "parity of esteem" between vocational and academic education. The second question is how to deal with the bottom 20 per cent of the intelligence and behaviour spectrum. This issue is of great importance to mass education, which can be severely disrupted by relatively small numbers of difficult pupils, yet it has been persistently neglected by politicians and the media, who are obsessed with the much less socially important issue of how to educate the top 20 per cent.

This leads to the third and most mysteriously absent question in Britain's educational debate. Now that the Tories have formally abandoned even the pretence of any interest in restoring the old grammar school system, there is a unanimous consensus in Britain against any kind of academic selection at the age 11 (except, of course, for the rich and successful who maintain their passionate support for this principle in private schools). But what about selection at 13, 14 or even 16? That 11 is too early an age to divide children (especially boys, who tend to be later developers) between academic and vocational streams may be indisputable. But nobody disputes that such a division has to be made at 13, 14 or 16 and indeed is made in almost every school.

By turning selection at 11 into an ideological totem, both the Left and the Right have distracted attention from two much more important issues: establishing the right age to divide children into academic and vocational streams; and creating the right institutions for both types of pupil to have a proper education. These questions are likely to remain taboo for many years, but maybe some answers will come from the diversity and experimentation in the education Bill



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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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


Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Leftists eventually destroy everything they get control of. Destroying things is what they like doing. "Revolution" they often call it. The first article below however, by Peter Beinart, is a view from the moderate Left

Some of my best friends are professors. Many of my relatives, too. I'd probably be one myself, had I done better in graduate school. But, this week at least, I'm glad I chose another line of work, because the most prestigious professoriate in the world, Harvard's, has just made an ass of itself.

It has done so by toppling President Lawrence Summers, who resigned rather than face a second faculty no-confidence vote, which he seemed set to lose. In explaining the coup, conservatives will cite political correctness. They'll say that, by challenging African American Studies Professor Cornel West and musing about the relationship between gender and scientific aptitude, Summers ran afoul of the left-wing dogmatism that dominates campus life. But that gives the faculty too much credit. It lets them pretend they were defending some abstract ideal, some principle larger than their own self-interest. The truth is far shabbier: The Harvard faculty deposed Lawrence Summers because he wanted them to care about something beyond themselves.

First, Summers wanted tenured professors to teach. And not just that; he wanted them to teach large undergraduate survey courses. Summers noticed what people have been noticing for a long time: Students at Harvard--and at other prestigious universities--often graduate without the kind of core knowledge that you'd expect from a good high school student. Instead, they meet Harvard's curricular requirements with a hodgepodge of arbitrary, esoteric classes that cohere into nothing at all. Summers wanted to change that, perhaps by making students take overview courses that gave them a general introduction to different disciplines. The problem is that those are exactly the kinds of courses Harvard professors don't want to teach. Most professors are specialists. They want to delve ever more deeply into their particular research areas. The more their teaching tracks that research, the easier their lives are. So they offer classes on obscure micro-topics. The last thing they want is to bone up on introductory material they forgot in graduate school. Summers, who made a point of teaching a freshman seminar himself, thought perhaps they should. And, for that, he was accused of not respecting the faculty. When he mentioned reviving Harvard's introductory art history survey to one top professor in the department, she responded that no self-respecting scholar would want to teach such a course. "Are we citizens or employees?" asked another professor, pretentiously. How na‹ve of Lawrence Summers: He actually thought they might be teachers.

Summers certainly wasn't opposed to research. But he was impolitic enough to ask various departments to explain why their research mattered. He evidently believed that, as president of the world's premier university, asking probing questions about the direction of academic disciplines was part of his job. The poor fool. He even had the temerity to ask West, one of only 19 "university professors," a rank supposedly reserved for the greatest scholars in the world, what he was doing. The confrontation exploded because West is high-profile and black. But he wasn't the only university professor who was asked about his work. And, for many faculty, the really offensive part wasn't that Summers confronted a black faculty member. It's that he asked any tenured faculty member to justify how they spent their time. "Once someone's a tenured professor," one professor told The Chronicle of Higher Education, "if he wants to write articles for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times instead of doing his scholarship, he has every right to do that. Once someone is a tenured professor, they answer to God. It's as simple as that." Summers thought it was a little more complicated: He thought that tenured professors had a responsibility to cultivate more than their own egos. It's unlikely his successor will make the same mistake.

Finally, Summers thought it was a problem that roughly 90 percent of Harvard seniors were graduating with honors. The Ivy League considers itself a bastion of meritocracy. But, as Summers understood, Harvard's shameless grade inflation mocks that pretense. By giving almost everyone very high grades, Harvard promotes the fiction that virtually all of its graduates are academic superstars--and obscures those who actually are. Worse, it punishes those less exalted universities na‹ve enough to believe that a mediocre student deserves a C. As a result, students with honest transcripts find themselves at a disadvantage when competing for jobs or graduate school.

But, for professors, giving everyone absurdly high grades is the path of least resistance. The last thing an academic wants is angry students showing up at her office door, trying to appeal their grades. Far easier to preemptively capitulate, which seems to be what the Harvard faculty thought Summers would do as well.

Even more than professors, one might have expected Harvard students to rebel against Summers's crusade against grade inflation. But they didn't. In fact, despite all the news reports about how controversial Summers was at Harvard, he doesn't seem to have been that controversial among students at all. An online poll found that only 19 percent of undergraduates believed Summers should resign. A New York Times Magazine profile noted that virtually "every student who has actually had contact with Summers has come away liking him." And, while the faculty passed a no-confidence vote against him last year, graduate students in the arts and sciences rejected one. One wonders, in fact, what might happen if Harvard students were given the chance to vote no-confidence in their professors.

Perhaps none of this really matters. In this era of conservative power, in which politicians are more likely to run against America's top universities than to learn from them, Harvard is largely irrelevant. But that was part of Summers's project: to challenge the narcissism that makes Harvard easy to ignore. It's why he has made it easier for students to participate in rotc. It's why he waived tuition for families making less than $40,000 a year. It's why he wanted professors to do useful research and students to learn basic knowledge. As one of the few contemporary college presidents who tried to turn liberal ideals into government policy, rather than just opining about them from the ivory tower, he wanted Harvard to serve the nation, not merely itself. And, when Harvard hired him five years ago, that's what it said it wanted, too. Now we know the truth.



When James Bryant Conant became president of Harvard in 1933, he took over an institution riddled with anti-Semitism, bound by parochial ties to wealthy Northeastern families, and hostile to the broad teaching of modern science. Fortunately for Harvard and for the United States, Conant could rely for two decades on the firm backing of the Harvard Corporation as he implemented a curriculum that became the gold standard of American education in liberal arts. Although Conant served more than half a century ago, the Harvard that the world imagines today-an internationally renowned center of learning that attracts the brightest minds in every discipline-is very much his creation.

For the past three decades, however, Harvard's reputation for preeminence has not always reflected reality in Cambridge. Who now thinks Harvard is better in engineering than MIT or Caltech? Who thinks Harvard's Law School, hobbled by rancorous dissent, is better than Yale's, Virginia's, or Stanford's? Its Philosophy Department, once the home of William James, C.I. Lewis, and W.V.O. Quine, is now typically ranked below departments at Michigan and Pittsburgh.

Harvard's relative decline is not entirely its own fault: It is difficult to remain at the top in dozens of academic fields, especially in a prosperous nation where many universities pursue excellence. Is it Harvard's fault that the University of Texas became ambitious enough to lure away Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg and his entire team?

And yet we expect more of Harvard than of other schools, if only because its $26 billion endowment alone accounts for 9 percent of the total endowments of America's 3,500 colleges and universities. A university that rich cannot have financial problems and ought to be able to maintain its lead in all fields. Harvard has not.

One would suppose that some such candid self-assessment led the Harvard Corporation to appoint Larry Summers as president in 2001. Summers's vast experience in government and world affairs gave him a perspective on the world and Harvard's position in it not available to those who have never left the cloistered confines of academia. He did not come complacently to Harvard, ready to accept the status quo. He came to make Harvard-great as it is-even greater and to guide Harvard into new important areas of study and service.

Why then did the Harvard Corporation quaver before a few hostile articles in the press, generated by faculty ideologues who, with rare exceptions, spoke under the cloak of anonymity? Why did the board cast aside the best and most effective president of Harvard since Conant at the behest of a minority of faculty?

The Boston Globe and The New York Times reported the opinions of faculty members that there was a ''crisis at Harvard," ''a state of paralysis," that it was overwhelmed by ''a tide of chaos and dysfunction," and that the cause was one man-Larry Summers

But the facts are very different. Harvard was and is functioning beautifully. Students are attending classes. The faculty-even those fomenting revolt-were and are teaching their classes and continuing their research in all of Harvard's many schools and colleges. The situation at Harvard today can hardly be compared to the paralysis in the Vietnam era. The fact that a small minority of faculty wished to depose the president did not constitute a crisis until the Corporation made it one.

Summers's removal will haunt Harvard as it seeks his successor. Harvard needed what Larry Summers had to offer. But will anyone of his drive and courage now take the job?

. . .

As the Harvard Corporation proclaimed in announcing his departure, Summers ''brought to the leadership of the University a sense of bold aspiration and initiative, a prodigious intelligence, and an insistent devotion to maximizing Harvard's contributions to the realm of ideas and to the larger world." This is quite an endorsement, one fully merited by Summers's major accomplishments-including, among other initiatives, the Allston campus, the digitizing of library holdings, the Stem Cell Institute, and curricular reform.

Summers also fulfilled his academic responsibilities by questioning the work of faculty and challenging ideologues to support their claims with facts. Many faculty members believe they are infallible and that no president should dare criticize them, while every faculty member sheltered in the cocoon of tenure feels free to criticize the president (though again, usually on the condition of anonymity). Woe to the president who asserts his right to criticize a faculty member.

Summers also exercised his intellectual leadership in a forthright address to an academic conference on women in science. By raising provocative questions, he had the temerity to assert that no subject of scientific inquiry is taboo in the university.

As has been noted, Summers is himself partially to blame for his loss of authority. In a futile effort to placate his critics, he met with faculty and apologized for the way he expressed himself. He was not so much arrogant as naive, for his critics were not seeking understanding, but power; they interpreted his repeated efforts at reconciliation as weakness and vulnerability. Summers made the mistake of apologizing again and again for being right.

But the members of the Harvard Corporation must accept most of the blame for Summers's fall and its consequences. Disgruntled faculty activists were greatly emboldened in recent weeks when members of the Corporation began meeting with them behind Summers's back. There is nothing so effective as Star Chamber proceedings to secure a conviction. The Corporation must also accept responsibility for taking far too seriously the vote of no confidence among members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Only 218 out of 657 members of one Harvard faculty supported the measure. The vote would have been meaningless if the Corporation had ignored or repudiated

In recent years the faculty of Emerson College in Boston has twice voted no confidence in President Jacqueline Liebergott, but Emerson's Board has wisely supported her in developing a new campus and resisting faculty obstruction.

At Boston University in the 1970s, I raised standards for tenure and promotion, fought the formation of a faculty union, restored ROTC, and addressed our precarious finances. I was twice subjected to votes of no-confidence-about 500 voted the first time, about 700 the second, and in each case the majority of professors attending voted against me. Nine deans called for my resignation. I was even falsely accused of going through the wastebaskets of faculty and employing photographic surveillance. One distinguished faculty member who opposed my reforms lamented, ''Why don't you let the university go bankrupt with dignity?"

The attempt by faculty at Boston University to unseat its president was ended by a vote of confidence from the Board of Trustees. The late Arthur Metcalf, a member of the board, brought its deliberations to a close by saying, ''If the board removes its president, Boston University will descend into the leperdom it shall richly deserve." The board then gave me its hearty endorsement by a three-fourths majority. While many faculty members and deans believed my dreams were impossible aspirations, the board shared my vision of a great Boston University. The board's resolve ended the revolt, and board members proudly endured the contumely of the press.

The members of the Harvard Corporation have shown no such courage, nor did they understand that the changes they endorsed would inevitably lead to controversy. Faculty members may be well-informed in their specializations, but they have limited knowledge and experience-and no responsibility-with regard to the needs and goals of the university as a whole. They lack the objectivity to govern the entire university or to assess the president's service to it.


The Corporation's failure of nerve has debased the presidency of Harvard. The office is now at the mercy of any minority of faculty who can convince the media that a contrived tempest in a teapot is a crisis of major proportions and, thereby, spook the members of the Corporation.

Where will Harvard now turn to find another leader? The Corporation has repudiated a strong president who recognized Harvard's weaknesses and was determined to correct them and who perceived new objectives and was determined to pursue them. Many timid and compliant souls will seek this prestigious office with promises of obeisance. But what outstanding person intent on making a difference at Harvard will consider it?

One member of the Corporation, Nannerl O. Keohane, anticipates no problem. ''Faculty members are not interested in 'taking over' the university," Keohane pronounced; ''they are mainly interested in getting on with the work they do as teachers and scholars." This is true for the large majority of faculty who supported Summers but stuck to their work. It is pure balderdash with regard to those who schemed to remove him. Their appetite for power increased by what it fed on. Summers's opponents now propose changes such as giving professors a controlling voice in the appointment of deans and even putting faculty members on the Corporation.

Once reality sets in, the Harvard Corporation may well abandon the quest for another Conant, a president who can restore substance to the university's international reputation. It may perhaps adopt the German system, permitting the faculty to elect a rector who will serve with limited influence for two or three years. Power will then be thoroughly diffused among deans and activist faculty. But Harvard may then need to replace its motto-Veritas-with Status Quo.



Smart kids not wanted

As many as 250,000 gifted children across Australia are being forced to dumb down at school, trapped in classes up to four grades below their ability. The head of the gifted education centre at the University of New South Wales, Miraca Gross, said between 10 and 15 per cent of the school population was exceptionally talented. Half the gifted children aged 8 to 10 who were tested on Year 8 maths, English, science and reading scored better than the average 14-year-old and similar results were found for children in years 7 and 9 who were tested on Year 12 material, Professor Gross said. "If they achieve at their full level, other kids don't particularly want to be friends with them," she said. "The other choice is to dumb down and work at a level much lower than they can, ask silly questions in the classroom and make deliberate mistakes in their work or tests so other kids will think they're like them."

The centre tests about 2000 students every year who are identified as advanced learners by their teachers but Professor Gross said the vast majority of talented students left school unrecognised. Professor Gross said schools were still poor at identifying their gifted students and often reluctant to develop and accommodate their needs. "We are only scratching the surface on the tip of the iceberg," she said. "And eight-ninths of an iceberg is underwater, so we are failing to identify a lot of kids. "In every class of 30 there would be at least two or three who could work about three years beyond their age."

The university's Gifted Education Resource Research and Information Centre tests about 1500 students annually in years 4 to 6 (aged between 10 and 12) with work designed for Year 8 students (about 14 years) in maths, science, English and reading. About 500 students in years 7 to 9 sit Year 12 tests. Primary students Talia Jacobs, 11, and Jack Lo Russo, 10, performed so well in the tests they were invited to one of the university's residential programs that run for five days in January for students who score in the 97th percentile for their age. Jack started a new school this year that recognises his talent. He has a large group of friends who are also bright students, but said that at his previous school he was often bored because the work was too easy.

Talia has been more fortunate in having a teacher and a school who recognised and stretched her academic talent, but she still appreciated the chance to mix with other gifted students at the residential program. "I just liked that there were other people of the same ability as me, and that I could relate to them in the same sort of way," she said.

Professor Gross said many gifted students were ostracised or quietly ignored by their age peers and it was imperative that schools started actively identifying and catering for gifted students, in the same way as for those gifted in music or sports. "Gifted kids can feel they have to make a choice between friendship and achievement," she said.



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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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


Tuesday, March 07, 2006


How the hell can the kids learn when the teachers keep making the most glaring mistakes?

My son is a maths whizz, but for once he wanted my help. “I can’t work this one out, Dad,” he said plaintively. It was a bit like David Beckham asking me to take a free kick. He had been working on an old Key Stage Three paper by way of preparation for a forthcoming examination. It was a multi-part question and in the middle of it you had to be able to come up with a simplification of (n +1)² in order to progress. It was clear, looking ahead to the next part of the question, that the examiners expected you to write: (n +1)² = n² + 1.

Now anyone who studied with the late great J P C (Jake) Cole (MA, Cantab) will know that this is a classic schoolboy howler. It was the kind of thing that used to make him go red in the face and snap the chalk in his hand. Every now and then we would give him answers like this just to enrage him (for which I apologise and ask the Cole family to take several dozen similar offences into consideration). We knew — since Jake had drummed it into us — that (a + b)² = (a + b) (a + b) = a² + b² + (crucially) 2ab. Therefore (n +1)² = n² + 2n + 1, not n² + 1. The authors of KS3 had omitted the 2n.

I have come across another transgression against all that J P C Cole held sacred. This is the question of 9 ÷ 0 = ? Jake could have demonstrated that any number divided by zero must give infinity. How many times can you get zero into 9 (or, to put it another way, subtract 0 from 9)? 1, 2, 3? Obviously an infinite number of times. Therefore 9 ÷ 0 = u221E and n÷ 0 = u221E.

Some authorities maintain that dividing by zero is just an impossible operation (when in 1997 the computer of the USS Yorktown tried to divide by zero the ship shut down for three days and had to be towed into port). Or that dividing by zero produces the Big Bang, the infinite energy of the vacuum, and shakes the whole structure of mathematics. The commissars of Key Stage One mathematics think the answer is 9.

Case, the Campaign for Science and Engineering, recently highlighted the case of a father who discovered that his child was being taught that 9 ÷ 0 = 9 (as if zero were equal to nothing and the 9 wasn’t really being divided at all). Amazed, he complained about it to the school. They said it was perfectly correct. Incensed, he took it to his local education authority — and they said it was fine, too. Now really determined to get this sorted, he took his problem to the Numeracy Bureau and they said thank you for his concern but that the answer was spot on.

With a highly developed sense of infinity, especially in the higher realms of bureaucracy, this single-minded father finally had to go all the way up to the Department for Education, who checked with their Supreme Mathematical Adviser, who said yes, of course it was bloody wrong and what stupid idiot had been putting this about?

These mistakes can be fixed, but it strikes me, having witnessed young high-fliers being systematically ground down by years of sheer plod at school, that there is a larger problem threatening to immobilise the whole stately QE2 of mathematics.

At my older son’s school, the top set in maths is disproportionately packed with boys and girls from Asia, mostly Chinese, and some from Singapore and Korea (a situation borne out, at the global level, by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study — Timms). How come? A lot of the British children think the answer is that Asian children are just better at mathematics than we are. They are Manchester United or Chelsea to our worthy Conference cloggers. And they are right, not because of any inherent genetic advantage, but simply because in the Far East good young mathematicians are cherished and nurtured and coached in the way good football teams are. In Singapore, for example, the highly fluid and flexible web-based HeyMath system allows you to be as good as you can be.

If Team UK is hovering around the relegation zone, it is partly because we still have a misguided if well-meaning idea that everyone is or should be or could be equally good at maths. They aren’t and never will be. Mathematics, like music and chess, is one of those fields in which some kids are just amazingly gifted —Mozarts or Grand Masters of maths — and they have to be given the freedom to play at their own level.

The numeracy strategy may have been effective in making the innumerate numerate, but it tends to condemn to stifling, mind-numbing repetition those who are already — almost instinctively — mathematically fluent. This feels like punishment, being shot down for flying too high too soon. Kurt Vonnegut has a story about a perfectly egalitarian Utopia in which all the fast runners have weights chained to their ankles and fast thinkers have to wear headphones that send a regular buzz through their brains to sabotage all coherent thought. Under the guise of numeracy, our schools are tending to hold back the hot young mathematicians and lock them up with a numerical ball and chain so that everyone else can catch up. And buzz their brains, every so often, with manifest absurdities.


The never-ending decline of Australian public education:

One of Victoria's newest government schools is a homework-free zone. Students at Point Cook's Carranballac Prep to Year 9 College are not assigned any homework. Instead, the school's 820 students are encouraged to spend more time with their families including playing board games, gardening and learning how to sew and bake cakes. College director Peter Kearney said he wanted students to bond with their families and improve their general knowledge and lifestyle skills, instead of locking themselves in their bedrooms to do hours of homework.

Mr Kearney said it was "absolute rubbish" to give students as young as Prep daily homework of up to 30 minutes a day as recommended by the Department of Education. He said schools were giving out homework only to "appease parents". "Parents think homework means success, but there's no link between academic performance and homework," he said. "Nine times out of 10 the homework doesn't help kids, it diminishes them." Mr Kearney said the school curriculum belonged in the classroom with students needing to learn from other sources outside school including reading and playing sport. "The world we live in is full of stimulation. We need to have more of a general knowledge and understanding," he said. "Some of the kids in our school thought carrots grew in supermarkets." But Mr Kearney said his school may give some "purposeful" homework to Year 9s next year to prepare them for VCE.

More here

Keith Burgess Jackson on inteligent design: "What a strange world! I'm an atheist and a Darwinist, but, because I'm also a philosopher and a conservative, I find myself on the side of design theorists on the question of science education. As I've said many times in my blogs, I respect religion and am grateful for my Judeo-Christian heritage. I see no harm in allowing science teachers to raise questions about Darwinism. Isn't that what education is all about? Shouldn't students be urged to think critically about every theory? Sadly, there are some Darwinists who want to shield the theory from criticism. This is nothing more than indoctrination. If philosophers and scientists can debate design theory, why can't high-school students?


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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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


Monday, March 06, 2006


"Southwestern Oregon Community College President Judith Hansen is offering grief counseling to the students of the college's culinary institute, so they can cope with the sudden departure of their teacher, Chef Robert Gregson. It doesn't sound like Chef Gregson told his students much about the restaurant world.

The following are real situations that his grief-stricken culinary aces may encounter in their careers.

The new chef has just produced all the dinners for a big table, but the diners insist on walking out now because it took too long. Call the restaurant psychologist! The chef needs grief counseling!

The waitress is bringing two dinners for a couple who have just finished their salads - but when she gets to their table they're gone. They have taken their plates, cups, glasses and silverware and are driving off in their ratty old VW-bus. Grief counseling.

Some guy sends his omelet back three times, claiming it is burned - but he doesn't even look at it. A customer who ordered shrimp cannelloni is outraged because there is a shrimp in the cannelloni and she is allergic to shrimp. Somebody else can't possibly eat his fish because the pieces are cut a different shape from last time. Some woman refuses to eat her clam chowder because it isn't white enough. All of these cases call for grief counseling.

In the middle of the dinner rush, there's a flood in the restroom: Somebody has stuffed paper towels in the toilet. Forget Roto-Rooter: grief counseling!

Good grief! The list could go on, with employees who steal, parents who won't control screaming, running kids; vagrants who think the flower pots are bathrooms; and customers who are high on something, but I have the solution. Southwestern should pioneer a new academic major, restaurant grief counselor. The potential is awesome."



Chef Gregson has replied to the above comments here but he sounds such a jerk that I have no inclination to reproduce the reply.


As a nominally Catholic university, these Stalinists must be some embarrassment to the Holy Father, who seems to be a man of strong principles. Post below lifted from Marathon Pundit

Chicago's DePaul University is at its favorite game again, stifling free speech. Marathon Pundit was informed this afternoon that DePaul backed out of an agreement to run the linked-below advertisement in the DePaulia, an owned and operated publication of DePaul.

Click here to see the ad that DePaul turned down.

Big thanks to Phil Haskett of for hosting the document.

FrontPage Magazine is on online publication, its editor-in-chief is noted author David Horowitz, whose latest book is The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America Horowitz is the braintrust behind the Academic Bill of Rights. Discover the Network also known as DTN, is a project of FrontPage.

Here is an excerpt of the ad copy of that DePaul refused:
In October 2005, DePaul University forbade its own students to protest a campus appearance by Ward Churchill. Churchill is known for blaming the World Trade Center victims for their own deaths, calling them "Little Eichmanns." DePaul's actions came about a year after it suspended Professor Thomas Klocek for engaging students in an academic debate.

Find out why DePaul is considered one of America's 100 most intellectually corrupt campuses. Visit the academia section of

Discover the Networks is a project of FrontPage Magazine.

For more on Thomas Klocek, click here on the FIRE site.

Also from FIRE, click here for more on DePaul's censoring of a student group protesting Ward Churchill.

For more on the controversial University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, read the Churchill Files from the Rocky Mountain News.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

Does teaching preschoolers about Aboriginal culture or homosexuality make them more `tolerant'? This educator thinks not

There is a strong belief in our culture that 'knowledge is power'. There is a parallel suspicion that those who wish to deny certain knowledge to some people are doing so to protect a powerful group or interest. 'Transparency' is touted as a virtue and the 'right to know' is promoted.

There is no doubt that in some cases information is covered up in order to protect dubious activities. But is it always the case that it is a good idea to 'let it all hang out'?

Educators also have great faith in the power of information to change people in desirable ways. We, and the community at large, believe that knowing more about an issue or a group of people will inevitably lead to more informed attitudes and greater tolerance.

My observations of young children have caused me to doubt the worth of some attempts to increase children's tolerance by increasing their awareness. This occurs when programmes are designed without regard to children's developmental stage. In these circumstances another old saw applies: a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

My first inkling that well-meaning education programmes might be doing more harm than good came when my family moved to a country town in Australia that had a large Aboriginal population. I was wandering around the shopping centre with my four-year-old and we encountered some Aboriginal people. My daughter asked why they had dark skin and I said 'because they are Aboriginals'. She proclaimed: 'Aboriginals are yucky.'

I was appalled and astounded, as she had had no contact with Aboriginal people until we moved to the town a month or so before. I asked her why they were 'yucky'. She replied that it was because they eat grubs.

It transpired that her previous preschool had conducted an Aboriginal education programme. Its well-meaning teachers had not considered how the information presented might sound to three- and four-year-old Anglo children, especially the effect that knowing that the Aboriginal diet included witchetty grubs might have on them.

Another example of the backfiring of attempts to educate about human difference is the introduction of very young children to the variety of human sexual practices. The ABC children's television programme Play School has featured gay people and there are any number of well-meaning books with titles like Angie Has Two Daddies.

Anyone who has dealings with infants and primary school-aged children, as a parent, teacher or otherwise, knows that for kids of this age 'kissing' and everything that goes with it is in the same category as eating grubs: it's yucky! This is the case for heterosexual activity and the 'yuck factor' now also extends to homosexual activity, something about which most children of earlier generations knew nothing.

Of course it is not the sexual practices that are taught - but make no mistake, there's enough subterranean knowledge circulating in the playground about what mummies and daddies do to make it plain what daddies and daddies or mummies and mummies might also be doing.

The new awareness has not led to increased tolerance of human variety - rather, my observations indicate that the result is a whole new set of things to be concerned about and an increased collection of nasty names to call people. These days infant school girls call each other 'leso'. I took a straw poll and others agree with me that 'in our day' infants and primary school (or even high school) children did not abuse each other in this fashion.

Thus, far from an increase in tolerance the inappropriate mixing of information about varying sexual practices with lack of cognitive readiness has led to intolerance.

Children decide soon after they start school that teachers are obviously a higher authority than parents, because, for example, notes go home telling parents to do things and parents oblige. This notion can combine with some, again, well-meaning education programmes to cause difficulties. I shall use my youngest child as an example once again.

In her final year of preschool my daughter started to respond to many requests with strident refusals and the insistence that 'I don't have to do what you tell me to/what I don't want to do'. Another moment of astonishment and concern followed for her mother. I tried to get to the bottom of this newfound rebelliousness and discovered that it was her take on the message being purveyed by the anti-child abuse education she had received.

Programmes designed to help children avoid abuse quite rightly do not go into detail about the harm they are designed to prevent, and can quite easily be interpreted as conferring the right to say 'no' to anything that the child does not want to do. My daughter is certainly not the only one who got the wrong message: another mother reported that the result for her son of 'If it doesn't feel right, you can say no' was his refusal to eat peas because 'it doesn't feel right'. He cited his teacher as the authority supporting his defiant stance.

My daughter is now eight but the residual effects of her misunderstanding the point of the anti-abuse education lingers. It is now part of her mindset that she does not have to do what she does not want to do. There is a troubling sense in which such programmes lead to an 'it's all about me' mentality rather than 'I'm part of a family/community' attitudes.

While we understandably want our children and those we teach to be able to look after themselves while being tolerant of others, current attempts to ensure this may be backfiring. It's time to consider whether children are hearing what we are trying to say to them. Or whether it is the case, to quote one of my informants, that 'we've gone from being ignorant even as adults about many matters, not too many generations ago, to being informed but still ignorant at the age of 5'.



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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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


Sunday, March 05, 2006

Black Flight: The exodus to charter schools

MINNEAPOLIS--Something momentous is happening here in the home of prairie populism: black flight. African-American families from the poorest neighborhoods are rapidly abandoning the district public schools, going to charter schools, and taking advantage of open enrollment at suburban public schools. Today, just around half of students who live in the city attend its district public schools.

As a result, Minneapolis schools are losing both raw numbers of students and "market share." In 1999-2000, district enrollment was about 48,000; this year, it's about 38,600. Enrollment projections predict only 33,400 in 2008. A decline in the number of families moving into the district accounts for part of the loss, as does the relocation of some minority families to inner-ring suburbs. Nevertheless, enrollments are relatively stable in the leafy, well-to-do enclave of southwest Minneapolis and the city's white ethnic northeast. But in 2003-04, black enrollment was down 7.8%, or 1,565 students. In 2004-05, black enrollment dropped another 6%.

Black parents have good reasons to look elsewhere. Last year, only 28% of black eighth-graders in the Minneapolis public schools passed the state's basic skills math test; 47% passed the reading test. The black graduation rate hovers around 50%, and the district's racial achievement gap remains distressingly wide. Louis King, a black leader who served on the Minneapolis School Board from 1996 to 2000, puts it bluntly: "Today, I can't recommend in good conscience that an African-American family send their children to the Minneapolis public schools. The facts are irrefutable: These schools are not preparing our children to compete in the world." Mr. King's advice? "The best way to get attention is not to protest, but to shop somewhere else."

They can do so because of the state's longstanding commitment to school choice. In 1990 Minnesota allowed students to cross district boundaries to enroll in any district with open seats. Two years later in St. Paul, the country's first charter school opened its doors. (Charter schools are started by parents, teachers or community groups. They operate free from burdensome regulations, but are publicly funded and accountable.) Today, this tradition of choice is providing a ticket out for kids in the gritty, mostly black neighborhoods of north and south- central Minneapolis.

While about 1,620 low-income Minneapolis students attend suburban public schools, most of the fleeing minority and low-income students choose charter schools. Five years ago, 1,750 Minneapolis students attended charters; today 5,600 do. In 2000-01, 788 charter students were black; today 3,632 are. Charters are opening in the city at a record pace: up from 23 last year to 28, with 12 or so more in the pipeline.

According to the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute, Minneapolis charter school enrollment is 91% minority and 84% low-income, while district enrollment is 72% minority and 67% low-income. Joe Nathan, the center's director, says that parents want strong academic programs, but also seek smaller schools and a stable teaching staff highly responsive to student needs. Charter schools offer many options. Some cater to particular ethnic communities like the Hmong or Somali; others offer "back to basics" instruction or specialize in arts or career preparation. At Harvest Preparatory School, a K-6 school that is 99% black and two-thirds low income, students wear uniforms, focus on character, and achieve substantially higher test scores than district schools with similar demographics.

Since the state doles out funds on a per-pupil basis, the student exodus has hit the district's pocketbook hard. The loss of students has contributed to falling budgets, shuttered classrooms and deep staff cuts, and a district survey suggests more trouble ahead. Black parents in 2003 gave the Minneapolis school system significantly more negative ratings than other parents, the two major beefs being poor quality academic programs and lack of discipline. Preschool parents, another group vital to the district's future, also expressed disillusionment: 44% expressed interest in sending their children to charters. Charter school parents, in contrast, appeared very satisfied: 97% said they would be "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to choose a charter again.

The school board has promised to address parent concerns, but few observers expect real reform. Minneapolis is a one-party town, dominated by Democrats, and is currently reeling from leadership shake-ups that have resulted in three superintendents in the last few years. The district has handled budget cutbacks and school closings ineptly, leading some parents to joke bitterly about its tendency to penalize success and reward failure.

Parents are particularly angry about seniority policies, which often lead to the least experienced teachers being placed in the most challenging school environments. Nevertheless, a few weeks ago the Minneapolis school board approved a teacher contract that largely continues this policy, along with other union-driven practices that perpetuate the status quo.

Black leaders like Louis King have had enough. He has a message for the school board: "You'll have to make big changes to get us back." He says the district needs a board that views families as customers and understands that competition has unalterably changed the rules of the game. "I'm a strong believer in public education," says Mr. King. "But this district's leaders have to make big changes or go out of business. If they don't, we'll see them in a museum, like the dinosaurs."

Minneapolis families seeking to escape troubled schools are fortunate to have the options they do. That's not the case in many other states, where artificial barriers--from enrollment caps to severe underfunding--have stymied the growth of charter schools.

The city's experience should lead such states to reconsider the benefits of expansive school choice. Conventional wisdom holds that middle-class parents take an interest in their children's education, while low-income and minority parents lack the drive and savvy necessary. The black exodus here demonstrates that, when the walls are torn down, poor, black parents will do what it takes to find the best schools for their kids.


'Rubbish' humanities research projects knocked in Australia

The humanities have become so corrupted by nonsense and propaganda they should be thrown out of the contest for public research funding. Paddy McGuinness, the journalist asked by former federal education minister Brendan Nelson to vet "wacky" grants at the Australian Research Council, said the humanities could be excluded from the council's funding scheme with "little loss to society". "The intellectual rigour of the sciences is increasingly absent from the humanities and social sciences," McGuinness writes in this month's issue of Quadrant magazine, which he edits. McGuinness said yesterday he could not talk in detail about the 27 research projects he believed were unworthy to share in November's $370million round of ARC funding.

Dr Nelson vetoed seven projects but did not identify them. "There was a lot of polemical, Windschuttle-the-bastard type stuff, then some very silly feminist and queer studies projects etcetera," McGuinness said, in a reference to revisionist historian Keith Windschuttle, who has challenged the work of a number of prominent academics. "Those from so-called political economists were rubbish," McGuinness said. "There was even somebody wanting to do a thing about Cuba, and what a wonderful place it is."

Some academics criticised the appointment of McGuinness as part of a right-wing political assault on the independence of the ARC. The contrary view is that the council process lacks accountability and is open to cronyism.

McGuinness said he and another outside appointment to the ARC quality and scrutiny committee, former High Court judge Daryl Dawson, had been treated with contempt by the "academic establishment" that ran the committee. "I'm used to academics attacking me but Dawson was very insulted ... he has refused to have anything more to do with it," McGuinness said yesterday. "I don't think I'll be asked (to serve on the committee) again."

Sir Daryl could not be contacted for comment, but a member of the committee, who declined to be named, challenged McGuinness's account. "He must have been at a different meeting ... that wasn't the tenor of the meeting at all." ARC chief executive Peter Hoj said McGuinness was entitled to his views. But Professor Hoj opposed a division between so-called hard and soft disciplines. "It would be counterproductive ... we shouldn't look at technology apart from its social and economic implications," he said. "You just have to think about nanotechnology."

McGuinness said he did not oppose research driven by pure intellectual curiosity but closer scrutiny of research quality was inevitable as universities succumbed to lower standards and managerialism. He said the ARC did a good job in doling out research money for the hard sciences. "There are more objective criteria - it's not just a postmodernist saying postmodernism is wonderful." The ARC system wasted the time of scientists by involving them in the review of humanities proposals, he said. "They don't know what they're doing - they just accept the so-called experts' recommendations. "When the experts are the same kind of people as those they're recommending, it's just mutual back-scratching."



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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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