Saturday, March 10, 2007

Academic freedom today mostly means free speech for antisemites only

In 1915, John Dewey of Columbia University and Arthur Lovejoy of Johns Hopkins University came together with other educators to establish the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), an organization designed to preserve the integrity of the academy from a politicized donor-driven agenda. The 1915 Declaration of Principles stated the principles for what academic freedom should be: "the freedom of the academic teacher entail certain correlative obligations... The university teacher... should, if he is fit for his position, be a person of a fair and judicial mind; he should, in dealing with such subjects, set forth justly, without suppression or innuendo, the divergent opinions of other investigators... and he should, above all, remember that his business is not to provide his students with ready-made conclusions, but to train them to think for themselves."

However, despite the above, free speech is not used almost interchangeably with academic freedom. Academic freedom is being used a "get-out-of-jail-free card" when a speaker, usually a self-described "scholar-activist," intends to thwart oversight and accountability.

In the United States, whatever goes on in a classroom is deemed protected by "academic freedom," whether it is academic or not. Only sexual harassment appears exempt from this blanket protection. Gradually, the entire campus has become an "academic freedom" zone, where protests and other activities now qualify as academic "speech." The freedom to critique is, predictably, directed mostly at the twin Satans, Israel and America, although efforts to curtail speech that academics find unpleasant and unacceptable have been long standing in the form of "speech codes" and restrictions on "hate speech." Clearly academic freedom is a one-way street; only those having the correct opinions may claim it.

A recent example of how "academic freedom" applies to those who are more equal than others was at Brown University when an invitation to the Egyptian-born speaker Nonie Darwish by a Jewish group was revoked when Muslim and leftist students opposed her views as too "controversial." Such reactive and pre-emptive efforts to control campus speech are increasingly common.

Pre-emptive assaults against Israelis and Jews are becoming commonplace. In the United Kingdom, former Israeli generals are regularly charged with "war crimes" to the point where they refuse to fly to London and are sometimes forced to return, such was the case with Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi. Universities have similarly expanded the bubble of "academic freedom" to include pre-emptive restrictions on the participation of Israelis in journals, conferences, and graduate education. The Orwellian inversion of "academic freedom" to mean freedom from Israelis is one more perverse outcome of what began as efforts to protect professors from being fired for their politics.

Fortunately, in the United States there are hopeful signs that some balance is returning to campus, or at least that academics are now aware that they are under a spotlight. Recently, for example, a new guide for professors of Middle East anthropology was released in an attempt to restore the credibility of a field of study whose reputation has been shattered by years of politicized scholarship. The guide -- titled, "Academic Freedom and Professional Responsibility after 9/11: A Handbook for Scholars and Teachers" and produced by the Taskforce on Middle East Anthropology -- illustrates the effectiveness of critiques of Middle Eastern studies and higher education that have finally put the professoriate on the defensive.

The guide usefully suggests that most classroom conflict can be used for educational purposes. If a student challenges the use of "occupation" by a professor, the professor might discuss with the class why that term may or may not be appropriate, as well as "political claims" associated with alternative terms, such as "disputed territories." The guide advocates turning controversy into teaching, and while it has the air of defensiveness, it is by and large a presentation of fair principles.

Post-September 11, the most intense debates about "academic freedom" have involved Middle Eastern studies, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The "right" to teach Israel as original sin and the Israel lobby as a Jewish conspiracy controlling America has been challenged, and, unfortunately, has produced even more virulent rhetoric and overt attacks on Jews. Academia has unconsciously exposed Jews and Israelis as the canaries in the coal mine. If universities are indicators of social trends, then anti-Semitism is becoming more acceptable in the guise of anti-Zionism. Only Jews are unworthy of having a sovereign state, thanks to various sins past and present.

Such attitudes are shockingly common on university campuses, and are protected by "academic freedom." Does calling for the destruction of a state and the dispersal of a people qualify the protections designed by Dewey and Lovejoy? Fortunately, most Americans agree neither with the idea that Israel should be abolished nor with the blanket protections that currently constitute "academic freedom." The gap between academia and the public is increasing, in part because on moral issues, like defending democracy against jihadi terror and rigorous free speech, the public realizes that universities are on the wrong side.

But until donors and parents start asking questions about how their money is being spent and how their children are being taught, the fight will be restricted to critics seeking to make academia a place where the classroom is once again the center for teaching and learning rather than political theater. Until a mindset develops where donors ask questions about what is being done with their money, and until it is better appreciated how a few tenured professors have gone beyond the bounds of their academic appointments, little will change.



Independent schools are warned today that they will lose their charitable status unless they offer direct benefits to people on low incomes. The savings to the public purse of educating pupils who would otherwise be in state schools will not be sufficient to justify the tax breaks they receive under new rules published by the Charity Commission. Instead, the schools must keep a detailed account of how many free or subsidised places they offer to pupils from low-income backgrounds. They must also show that they provide a public benefit by sharing facilities with state schools.

The commission spelled out its new "public benefit test" in the report put out for consultation but said it would issue further guidance for educational charities later. The presumption that charities advancing education or religion or relieving poverty benefit the public will no longer hold and they will be required to meet the test or lose their status and assets.

According to the Independent Schools Council (ISC), the umbrella organisation for 1,278 fee-charging schools, most registered as charities, the tax benefits amount to around 88 million pounds. It estimates that schools give back 2.20 pounds in bursaries and widening access for each 1 pound gained by charitable status and that they and their fee-paying parents save the country 1.98 billion a year through educating children who would otherwise be in the state sector.

But the commission said wider savings to the economy would not meet the new test. "It would not be sufficient if the only benefit available to people on low incomes is the wider benefit which the public in general receives where a service provided by a charity relieves public funds. Such benefits are primarily to taxpayers, and people on low incomes may pay little or no tax."

The charging of fees did not necessarily disqualify schools or other bodies, such as private hospitals or care homes, from arguing that they operated for the public good. "However an organisation which excluded people on low incomes from any benefits would not be set up and operate for the benefit of the public. Where access to the benefits is based on the ability to pay the fees charged, it must be clear that benefit can still be provided to the public generally, or to a sufficient section of the public, which must include people on low incomes." When people on low incomes were unable to benefit from a charity in an immediate or direct way, because they could not afford the fees charged for the services, there must be other reasonable ways available for them to benefit.

The report suggests that "direct or first-hand" benefits might be provided to people on low incomes through scholarships, bursaries or assisted places. It could also be done by the provision of wider access to charitable facilities or services "for example, a charitable independent school allowing a state-maintained school to use its educational facilities". Jonathan Shephard, the general secretary of the ISC, said he believed the commission had "got the law right" in its report. "We are at the beginning of a long process and the report is setting out general principles, which I think are correct. Most schools already meet the test and those which don't have a year or 18 months to ensure they 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.

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"

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


Friday, March 09, 2007

UK: Religious Schools May Not Teach Christian Sexual Morals "As if They Were Objectively True"

After this April's implementation of the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SOR's), British religious schools may no longer be allowed to teach school children that the Christian viewpoint on sexual morality is "objectively true," a government report says. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, made up of members from Parliament and the House of Lords, has issued a report on the implementation of the Regulations recommending that religious schools be required to modify their religious instruction to comply with the government-approved doctrine of "non-discrimination".

Although religious schools will be allowed to remain open and may continue to give instruction in various religious beliefs, instruction must be modified "so that homosexual pupils are not subjected to teaching, as part of the religious education or other curriculum, that their sexual orientation is sinful or morally wrong."

The report says the Regulations will not "prevent pupils from being taught as part of their religious education the fact that certain religions view homosexuality as sinful," but they may not teach "a particular religion's doctrinal beliefs as if they were objectively true".

Published February 26, the report says, "We do not consider that the right to freedom of conscience and religion requires the school curriculum to be exempted from the scope of the sexual orientation regulations."

With the Equality Act 2006, the government empowered itself to create regulations making it illegal for anyone providing goods, services, facilities, premises, education or public functions, to discriminate against that person on the grounds of "sexual orientation". The SOR's are scheduled to come into effect in England and Wales and Scotland in April this year after a ratifying vote in Parliament. They came into effect in Northern Ireland January 1.

Fr. Tim Finigan, founder of the Association of Priests for the Gospel of Life and pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic parish in Blackfen, wrote an ominous warning on his weblog that the government's interpretation of the SOR's may represent the end of freedom of religious expression in Britain's schools. "Make no mistake - this proposal will make it illegal for Catholic schools to teach that the Catholic faith is true," Fr. Finigan wrote Friday. "If the recommendations of the Committee are accepted, it is difficult to see how Catholic schools could continue in Britain." Fr. Finigan, who teaches sacramental theology at St John's Seminary, Wonersh and is a trustee of Britain's Faith Movement, said the wording of the report was "deliberately muddied". "Our faith does not teach that 'homosexuality' itself is necessarily sinful, it teaches that it is disordered. It is homosexual acts that are sinful."

He points out, however, that the distinction is moot in government circles. "The people who framed this guidance will not accept our teaching that homosexuality is a disorder nor that homosexual acts are sinful." The homosexual political doctrine, accepted by the British as well as other governments, requires that no distinction be made between the person, the act and the condition or "orientation", making any criticism of the movement's political goals an offence against persons.

British legislators have fully incorporated this doctrine in the law. "They have the bit between their teeth," Fr. Finigan writes. "Although the direction in which public policy has been moving is obvious enough, I am a little surprised at the pace it has now picked up."

The bishop of the Scottish Catholic diocese of Paisley warned his flock last month in blunt terms to become spiritually prepared for open persecution with the implementation of the SOR's. Speaking on the problem of Catholic adoption agencies, Bishop Philip Tartaglia wrote, "This unfortunate episode may well herald the beginning of a new and uncertain time for the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom."


A teacher with a blind eye?

Indianopolis Sixth graders had sex in class

For months it's been a well-kept secret. But now Warren Township Schools confirm a disturbing case of sex in the classroom. The illicit activity has parents concerned and a district at a loss for words.

Shop class gives students a chance to learn outside of the book. But at Warren Township's Raymond Park Middle School, two students engaged in illicit acts in view of goggled eyes. 13 Investigates was tipped off by a disturbed resident who writes: "...during school hours in a classroom with an experienced teacher present, two sixth graders completed the act of least ten students were witnesses. No disciplinary actions were taken against the teacher... All teachers were told to keep quiet."

Middle school students having sex in a busy classroom while a teacher is present? Warren Township Associate Superintendent Jeff Swensson confirmed it's true. It's been kept under wraps since November. The principal at Raymond Park Middle School would not speak to us about the incident or parents concerns. The superintendent in charge of middle schools in the district also backed out of an on-camera interview and instead provided a three-sentence statement:

"Two students were involved in inappropriate conduct in a lab class last semester. We have investigated the matter and taken appropriate action. The school corporation considers the matter closed and will have no further comment."

Associate Superintendent Jeff Swensson told Eyewitness News off camera the teacher didn't know what was going on because another student acted as a "look-out." But once the teacher discovered the behavior, immediate action was taken. Swensson says the students involved were recommended for expulsion. But he did not say whether the board followed that recommendation.

Warren Township School Police were not aware of the incident and say no report was made even though the children were recommended for expulsion.



I volunteer for a music organization in which my son is involved. Recently, through a community outreach program, my son's group was augmented by some boys from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. These boys are really nice kids. They have no "attitude." Instead, they're just sweet little people, and they obviously come from caring homes. They're also very pleased to be where they are, and are enjoying the cachet associated with this organization.

I have noticed something significant about these little boys during music theory class, though. Just as all the other boys do, they wiggle and chat -- all the time. And, as with all the other boys, you have to demand and/or capture their attention (and the theory teacher whom I assist is good at this). But unlike all the other little boys, however, these boys seem to have few - or at least different - tools for learning. They don't respond to mnemonics, because they simply can't grasp the relationship between a mnemonic and knowledge acquisition. Thus, neither the time-worn phrase "Good Boys Do Fine Always" for the line notes, nor the word "F A C E" for the space notes has helped them master note recognition. In this they differ from the other little boys who, from day one, were able to fall back on the mnemonics when they needed to.

When it comes to rhythm recognition, all the other boys, when prompted, will place their fingers under the relevant notes so that they can "read along" as a rhythm is clapped out. These visiting boys, when prompted, freeze. They simply don't understand that concept, and I have to position their fingers under the notes every time so that they can see this principle at work. I know they'll learn this technique. I'm just surprised that they don't seem to have any concept of it now.

At the start of each class, the teacher writes on a white board the notes that are going to be highlighted in the workbook and gives them the relevant "do, re, me" labels. She does this because, in sight singing, these labels are not fixed. That is, "do" is "C" only in the key of C. In the key of G, "do" is "G." This means that for any sight singing exercise, the boys need to know which note will be "do." If the other little boys forget what "do" is in any particular exercise, they look to the white board, spot the note, and read its label. ("Aha! This time, 'do' is 'C.'") These new little boys, however, seem not to move their eyes back and forth between board and book. Even when prompted, they can't seem to track the information on the white board and relate it to their theory book.

Having worked with these little boys for a while, I've concluded that they've never been taught how to learn. To the extent they have mastered academic skills (and they all read, and none are stupid or unwilling), they've learned by brute force repetition. How dull. How meaningless. These boys are a manifest reminder that learning itself is an art form.

To my mind, the perfect approach to teaching children how to learn is to enable them, whenever possible, to see the concrete principles behind what they're being taught. To state that Pi equals 3.14 is dull and, to a young child, meaningless and irrelevant. To have the children measure the circumference of a circle and then visually compare it with the circle's radius makes Pi have some context. Indeed it makes it very exciting (as you will see if you try this experiment yourself).

In the same way, when teaching children about number systems other than base ten, it's useless just to announce the rules for adding or multiplying in, say, base 8. It's much more exciting to look at how we tell time, and to explain that our system goes back to the ancient Mesopotamia, where they had a base 60 system. Children who are already practiced at turning 60 minutes into an hour, aside from being thrilled at this direct connection to ancient times, instantly grasp the abstract principle that there are bases other than 10, and will readily respond to lessons about how to apply this knowledge.

Likewise, when teaching children pattern recognition, how many more minutes does it take to explain why patterns matter? Thus, most teaching is simply limited to giving the kids techniques for calculating the next number in a series of numbers. This is usually based on determining the number of units between each number and the next. (Although, as I discovered, the sequence 0, 1, 2, 3, ___ actually yields two different predictive outcomes: the number 4, if you're dealing in whole numbers; and the number 5, if you're dealing in prime numbers*.) However, it's one thing to be told what to do and another thing entirely to be sent to the kitchen to examine the tile and see why it's extremely important to predict a pattern (the tile would be chaos without), or to understand how Mommy can knit without a pattern, just by examining what came before.

Public schools -- at least the quality public schools in our affluent community -- operate on the assumption that children learn from play and repetition. (Although the games really are a repetition subset, since they're not intended to deepen understanding, but simply to reinforce remembering.) Public schools like to break abstract knowledge into bite size pieces. They seem to forget that, whether the abstract information is a bite or a chunk, small children don't do abstract. They may memorize it, but they can neither apply it nor can they extrapolate from it. It is meaningless information, stuck in an intellectual vacuum.

For my daughter, the main problem in this teaching method shows up with math. Just as it never worked for me so many years ago when I attended public school, it doesn't work for her to be told a formula and then be expected to learn it by repeating it again and again. This holds true even when the formula is introduced through games, brightly colored objects, and gentle repetition. Instead, she learns by having the underlying principles and purposes demonstrated to her, whether she's working on algebra, fractions or pattern recognition. Give her the "why" and she'll master the "how."

My son is one of the lucky ones who has a fairly intuitive grasp of mathematical principles, but he finds writing frustrating: especially the writing in public school that requires him to churn out a daily essay on a (usually) very stupid subject. For months, his essays came back with exactly the same criticisms on them. It only slowly dawned on me that the teacher thought that this repetitive criticism was the way to teach him how to write correctly. I stepped in and, in three weeks, while he still bitterly resents the mindless topics, his writing has improved dramatically, as demonstrated by the teacher's effusive comments on his work. I have to laugh, though, when I think that my behind-the-scenes efforts probably mean that his teacher believes that, just by repeating the same criticism over and over, she has finally encouraged my son to do it right!

All of which gets me back to the nice little boys I introduced at the start of this essay. Neither in their homes, nor in their schools, do they ever seem to have been exposed to any learning techniques at all, whether the superior technique of ensuring understanding before embarking on drills, or the lesser, but still effective, memorization techniques used at a quality public school. The approach these boys have to knowledge acquisition is simply to sit there and let it wash over them, with the hope that something will periodically stick. This passivity is intriguing because, presumably, as public school attendees, they're getting the same curriculum as my children -- but they're not learning how to learn.

I suspect that, for public school children, the big factor isn't the school, it's the home. That is, while there's a huge difference emotionally and socially in requiring a child to go to a rundown, dangerous urban school, as opposed to a spiffy suburban school, the real difference in learning doesn't take place in the classroom, but takes place with, or because of, Mom and Dad.

The parents in my affluent community are just like me: when they see the manifest gaps in understanding that a public school education leaves behind, they step in with lots and lots of help. If the teacher's methodology didn't, or couldn't, explain the steps for adding fractions, Mom and Dad will step in, either directly, or by hiring a tutor. If the teacher, driven by a cast iron curriculum, doesn't have the time to stop and teach principles of paragraph construction to the kid who didn't get it the first time, she doesn't need to worry, because Mom and Dad will take care of it. That's not happening in poor, neighborhoods. Mom and Dad often aren't around to fill in the gaps, and, even if they are around, they themselves don't have the language or education skills to help out, and they certainly don't have the money to hire a posh tutor.

None of the above is meant to be a criticism of the families in poorer neighborhoods. It is meant to be a criticism of the way we keep both throwing money at failing schools, and imposing more and more test requirements, in the belief that these things will magically fix the children's learning deficits. I think the teaching methodology is inherently flawed, in that it stuffs children with facts and rules like geese being readied for the pate machine. Simply beefing up this fact-stuffing approach won't matter in the poorer neighborhoods. What would matter, and what could be done without demanding ever more money, is to adjust the curriculum to help children understand what they're learning and then to give them the tools to teach themselves. While they might master less material, they'll actually learn what is put before them, and they will embark upon a lifetime of knowledge acquisition, no matter the situation in which they find themselves.



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"

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

British nurseries are opening the gender gap by failing to let boys be boys

Nurseries are stifling the ability of small boys to learn by forcing them to stay indoors and sit still for too long in class, according to a report today on preschool education. Instead they must be allowed to play outside and encouraged to develop their imaginations and take the lead in lessons, school inspectors say. Some boys are being left far behind girls as teachers fail to accommodate their different ways of learning.

Although most children aged 3 to 5 make good progress in class, Ofsted found that children were not speaking or listening properly in about a third of England's early years settings. Bright children were frequently not stretched sufficiently. Experts have long maintained that boys would be far better served by having more male teachers who understand the way they work. Instead, the achievement gap begins at preschool age and tends to grow wider throughout full-time education, with 59 per cent of first-class and upper-second degrees going to women.

The report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate comes weeks after a government study found that toddlers who sang songs and played number and letter games at home often became better readers at primary school than those who attended poor-quality nurseries.

At Westfield Farm, in Lincolnshire, Hannah Dring has recognised that boys learn far better when they are outside looking at tractors than when inside painting. The private nursery, high-lighted by Ofsted as a model for others to follow, has a vegetable garden, a two-acre forest and a large garden for the eight preschool children. Ms Dring said: "Boys don't want to sit down, so when they're outside - as they are most days - they're learning but don't realise it. They're counting the wheels and lights on the tractors. If we go on nature walks, they'll collect leaves and learn about shapes and colours, as well as trees."

Some teachers recognise gender differences, but the inspectors said that not all classes for 3 to 5-year-olds were "aware enough of the impact of girls' and boys' different choices of play activity on their progress in other areas of learning". Girls were "much more likely to chatter to themselves and others while playing, whereas boys' play was sometimes silent and frequently done in isolation". Girls are also more likely to listen and share toys, while boys will run around shouting, but rarely develop their games through talking to each other. The inspectors also found that children in poorer areas who did not speak English as a first language failed to improve if left to "pick it up" on their own. When they received support, they improved.

Ofsted's report coincides with increasing government concern about the gender gap at primary and secondary level. Last week official figures showed that boys achieved lower grades than girls, particularly in English.


School choice in S. Carolina

At 16 years old, Rontrell Matthews has a better idea than most of his peers what an education is worth. This past summer, he made his way through this rural, poor community not far outside of Charleston to show up at the doorstep of Capers Preparatory Christian Academy. In his hand was his first paycheck, a meager sum of $32.86 that he'd earned making sandwiches at the local Subway shop. Spurring him along was a determination to buy his own way out of one of the state's many failing public schools.

School choice is always controversial, and often opposed on the grounds that it will undermine public schools, subsidize middle-class parents and cherry-pick the "best" kids for a private education. After meeting Rontrell in Capers' cramped conference room on a recent afternoon, it's hard to disagree that school choice in this state would help one of the best kids get a better education. Rontrell is now excelling in school, encouraging his younger brother to study hard. He has landed a partial scholarship and continues to work at Subway to pay part of his $400-a-month tuition bill. He's a good kid.

But as South Carolina's state Legislature now debates whether to allow parents to use a modicum of government funds to send their children to a school of their choosing, public or private, it's difficult to accept the objections of school choice on their merits. Rontrell freely admits that he was a problem student in public school, acting up in class and neglecting to hit the books. He might have just as easily given up. He notes his friends from public school still tell him that he's "stupid" for turning his paychecks over to Capers.

Founded in 2003 by Faye Brown, a 55-year-old retired public school teacher, Capers is one of a handful of "independent schools" that serve the state's rural poor. It operates out of rented office space, has a total of 42 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, and makes do on an annual budget of about $160,000 a year. Nearly all of its equipment--desks, books and the eight iMacs in its computer lab--were donated to the school.

The teachers who aren't volunteers make $8 an hour with no fringe benefits. Many of the kids show up without lunch. Often parents fail to make their monthly tuition bills. Only five students at the school come from two-parent homes, and most of the students are African-American. Each year, Ms. Brown is forced to dip into her retirement account to keep the school running. "It's robbing Peter to pay Paul," she told me. "I'll let the power bill go until they're about to shut off the lights and then I'm rushing down there with the money."

One place Capers isn't skimping, however, is academics. The school places a heavy emphasis on reading, writing and math. As a result the school's average SAT score, 1150, is 164 points above the state average, and this year the school expects every one of its graduates to go on to college. St. Johns High School, the public school these students would be attending if not for Capers, has an average SAT score of 788.

Education Superintendent Jim Rex, the only Democrat to win election statewide in South Carolina this past year, recently came out in favor of school choice, saying, "it's time to take the plunge." But his support comes with a caveat. He wants to limit choice to within the public school system, which would do precisely nothing to help Rontrell and his Capers classmates pay their tuition bills.

And it's not just the Capers kids who'd be left out of Mr. Rex's reforms. South Carolina students are, on average, dead last in SAT scores, trail the nation in graduation rates and turn in abysmal scores on proficiency tests in core subjects. There are an estimated 200,000 students across South Carolina who are poor and stuck in failing public schools.

Mr. Rex notwithstanding, there's now a groundswell of support for broad-based school choice. In recent weeks several thousand residents have rallied at the state Capitol and advocates have lined up bipartisan support in the Republican-controlled Legislature for creating a $1,000 tax credit for middle-class parents and a $4,500 state "scholarship" for poor kids in failing public schools that can be used to attend any school.

Two years ago similar reforms were defeated in the state House by seven votes. But school-choice supporters picked up several seats in the last election, one of which is now held by Curtis Brantley, an African-American from rural Jasper County who picked off an incumbent in a Democratic primary last year. "It's time," he told me recently while sitting in his sparsely furnished office, "to try something new."

As a former public school official who, as he tells it, was forced into retirement after trying to reform the school system from the inside, Mr. Brantley is now becoming a powerful voice for reform in Columbia. And he was only too happy to organize buses for school-choice supporters from his district to attend the rally.

In Spartanburg, James Miller, a 34-year-old machine operator and second class petty officer in the Navy reserves, is hoping the state scholarships make it through the Legislature this time. Last year he was called up to active duty and shipped off to the Persian Gulf. He thought heading off to war would prove to be a hardship for his family. It turned out to be a blessing. With his hazard and other increased pay, he earned $4,000 tax-free each month, double what he makes as a civilian, and enough to pull his son Rodney out of a crummy public school.

Rodney is now thriving at a local Christian school, but Mr. Miller worries about next year. He's back from the Gulf and he and his wife Charlene aren't sure how they'll pay the tuition bill coming due in June without one of the state scholarships now being debated in the Legislature. "It's hard," he told me. "We have just the one son and we want to do right by him."



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"

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007


By Jeff Jacoby

Whatever else might be said about it, US District Judge Mark Wolf's decision in Parker v. Hurley is a model of clear English prose. "The constitutional right of parents to raise their children does not include the right to restrict what a public school may teach their children," Wolf unambiguously wrote in dismissing a suit by two Lexington, Mass. couples who objected to lessons the local elementary school was teaching their children. "Under the Constitution public schools are entitled to teach anything that is reasonably related to the goals of preparing students to become engaged and productive citizens in our democracy."

*Entitled to teach anything.* That means, the judge ruled, that parents have no authority to veto elements of a public-school curriculum they dislike. They have no right to be notified before those elements are presented in class. And the Constitution does not entitle them to opt their children out of such classes when the subject comes up.

As Wolf's straightforward language makes plain, it doesn't much matter what that subject might be. The parents in the Lexington case objected to "diversity" instruction that presented same-sex marriage and homosexual attraction as unobjectionable. That message, the judge noted, contradicted the parents' "sincerely held religious beliefs that homosexuality is immoral and that marriage is necessarily . . . between a man and a woman."

But suppose instead that the facts had been reversed, with parents who passionately support same-sex marriage filing suit because the school kept emphasizing the traditional definition of wedlock -- a definition democratically reaffirmed in many state constitutional amendments and statutes in recent years. As Wolf applied the law, the result would have been the same: The complaint would have been dismissed, and the school would have prevailed. Read again the judge's words: "The constitutional right of parents to raise their children does not include the right to restrict what a public school may teach their children."

Similarly, the school would have prevailed if this had been a case about guns, with parents objecting to a curriculum that emphasized the importance of the Second Amendment and armed self-defense. Or a case about evolution, with parents outraged because their children were being taught that Darwinism and intelligent design were equally legitimate approaches to an ongoing debate. Or a case about race, with plaintiffs suing because their kids were learning that affirmative action amounts to reverse racism.

Parker v. Hurley, in other words, was not just a victory for gay-marriage advocates or a defeat for Judeo-Christian traditionalists. It was a reminder that on many of the most controversial subjects of the day, public schools do not speak for the whole community.

When school systems deal with issues of sexuality, religion, politics, or the family, there is always an overriding agenda -- the agenda of whichever side has greater political clout. Parents who don't like the values being forced down students' throats have two options. One is to educate their children privately. The other is to find enough allies to force their own values down students' throats. In Judge Wolf's more genteel formulation: "Plaintiffs may attempt to persuade others to join them in electing a Lexington School Committee that will implement a curriculum . . . more compatible with their beliefs."

Once Americans may have agreed on what children should be taught, but that day is long gone. On any number of fundamental issues, parents today are sharply divided, and there is no way a government-run, one-curriculum-fits-all education system can satisfy all sides. The only way to end the political battles over schooling is to depoliticize the schools. And the only way to do that is to separate school and state.

Parents should have the same freedom in educating their kids that they have in clothing, housing, and feeding them. You wouldn't let the government decide what time your kids should go to bed, or which doctor should treat their chicken pox, or how they should spend their summer vacation, or which religion they should be instructed in. On matters serious and not so serious, parents are entrusted with their children's well-being. Why should schooling be an exception?

Get government out of the business of running schools, and a range of alternatives will emerge. Freedom, innovation, and competition will do for education what they do for so much else in American life: increase choices, lower costs, improve performance -- and eliminate conflict. So long as education is controlled by the state, the battles and bad blood will continue. With more liberty will come more tolerance -- and more resources spent on learning than on litigation.

21 Catholic Colleges Still Performing Lesbian Play "Vagina Monologues"

Catholic Campus performances of the morally offensive Vagina Monologues continued their steady decline this year, the result of a six-year campaign by the Cardinal Newman Society (CNS). The number of Catholic campus performances and readings of the play dropped to 21 this year, from a high of 32 in 2003.

Most significantly, at the University of Notre Dame a planned performance was pushed off campus because no academic department would support the event. For the past five years the Monologues has been performed at Notre Dame despite annual scolding from Bishop John D'Arcy and outcries from alumni and other Catholics.

Likewise, after a five-year run St. Louis University refused to support the play this year and forced students to move their performance off campus. And Providence College president Rev. Brian Shanley, courageously stood by his decision last year to ban the play despite a campus rally opposing the ban and a petition signed by 1,200 students, faculty, alumni and others.

"Once again we have reclaimed 'V-Day' for its true purpose," said CNS president Patrick Reilly. "The Cardinal Newman Society joins faithful Catholic students, alumni, parents and others in celebrating the more than 200 Catholic colleges that did not host this play, as well as the students and faculty who organized alternative programs to support women in a mature and loving way."

Each year since 2003, CNS has led a nationwide protest to rid Catholic campuses of the Monologues, arguing that there is no place in Catholic education for a sexually explicit and offensive play that favorably describes lesbian rape, group masturbation and the reduction of sexuality to selfish pleasure.

The 21 Catholic Colleges still permitting the grossly offensive play are: Bellarmine University, Boston College, College of the Holy Cross, College of Mount Saint Vincent, College of Saint Benedict, College of Saint Rose, College of Santa Fe, DePaul University, Fordham University, Georgetown University, John Carroll University, Loyola University of Chicago, Loyola University of New Orleans, Marquette University, Regis College, Saint Mary's College of California, Saint Norbert College, Saint Xavier University, Santa Clara University, University of Detroit Mercy, and University of San Francisco.


Australia: Poorly educated teachers hobble science studies

An ageing workforce and rapid advances in technology could have a serious impact on the quality of science teaching, an analysis commissioned by the Federal Government warns. The study concludes: "It is probable that a significant proportion of science teachers may be out of touch with contemporary science and also lack the skills to change their teaching to meet new challenges." The issues paper, published in October, was written by Professor Denis Goodrum, head of education studies at Canberra University, and Professor Leonie Rennie, of the Curtin University of Technology, Western Australia. The authors said the lack of current knowledge was apparent even in teachers who held university science qualifications. "Many teachers have narrow and specialised degrees, which leaves them with limited content knowledge to teach general science, and their knowledge dates rapidly."

The authors have sought submissions on the document, which will be used to help prepare a science education framework for the federal Education Department this year. The paper says insufficient science training at university means primary school teachers "frequently" lack confidence to teach the subject, and staff shortages have forced schools to use teachers with limited science knowledge. It describes course outlines as "content-heavy and alienating". "Many students find the school science curriculum . to be unimportant, disengaging and irrelevant to their life interests and priorities," the paper says. It recommends higher salaries that recognise the experience of scientists who have switched to teaching, and more money for professional development.

Professor John Rice, the president of the Australian Council of Deans of Science, said unless continuing professional learning was better funded and teachers were required to take part "you're always going to have the workforce going out of date".

The Australian Science Teachers Association and the Australian Education Union said improving support for science teachers would help to keep students in classrooms. "If you are going to do your best to make it engaging, exciting and motivating for students, you not only need a knowledge base, but a passion for the subject itself," said the union's Victorian president, Mary Bluett.

The Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers has warned that skill shortages in areas such as engineering would worsen without an increase in enrolments in school and tertiary science courses. "Australia's economic competitiveness will be the casualty in the process," said the association's chief executive, John Vines.

The federal Opposition has pledged to reduce HECS fees for maths and science graduates, with extra cuts for those entering teaching, but the Minister for Education, Julie Bishop, said promoting the subjects to students and improving pay for teachers were better options



An email from Joanne:

I’m asking bloggers to spread the word: My book, Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds, is now available in paperback. March 6 is the official publication date.

Our School follows the principal, teachers and students at Downtown College Prep, a San Jose charter high school that turns underachievers -- most come from low-income Mexican immigrant families -- into serious students. The charter school’s educational philosophy is: Work your butt off. Students aren’t told they’re wonderful. Teachers tell them they’re capable of improving, which turns out to be true. All graduates in the first three classes have been admitted to college; 81 percent remain on track to earn a four-year degree.

Weird fact: The publisher insisted I take “charter” out of the subtitle for the hardcover; they put “charter” back in for the paperback. Apparently, charter schools are now fashionable.

Our School isn’t written for wonks. Readers tell me it’s a page-turner. The book received excellent reviews in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Post, Sacramento Bee and others.

The book is in some, but not all, book stores and is available through Amazon. (I’ve got the links on my blog,, and on

With all the despair about educating "left behind" kids, I think people need to learn that it’s possible to make a difference.


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. My Home Pages are here or here or here.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sickening British primary school bottle-feeds 10-year-olds because they 'missed out on love'

Pupils up to the age of 11 are being bottle-fed and mothered in school as part of a radical new move to address poor discipline. A state primary school has become the first in the country to take part in the approach, which was developed in the US to give problem children the love and attention they may have missed out on at a younger age.

Instead of being given a sharp telling off or a few minutes on the naughty chair, they have one on one sessions with a trained school therapist. The children - aged between six and 11 - are bottle-fed like young babies, nursed and encouraged to play games promoting patience and teamwork. Parents who feel they no longer have control over their child can sign up to the Theraplay programme, which lasts up to three years and emphasises the importance of a strong and loving bond with a mother figure.

The controversial approach - developed during the late 1960s - has now been adopted by Rockingham Primary School in Northamptonshire. The technique is based on the assumption that children with behavioural problems have often failed to bond with their parents in infancy. It aims to redress this by making them feel loved and secure once more.

Last night, the school's headteacher Juliet Hart defended the programme amid opposition from critics who claim it prevents children from growing up. "I'm sure there will be some people who won't agree with what we are doing but this form of therapy is recognised around the world for changing behavioural patterns. We are still like any other school. In each classroom children agree appropriate types of behaviour and know the consequences if they are not adhered to, including time-out or missing play-time. They also know that if they work hard they will be rewarded with approval. However, there are some children who need help to develop relationships with their parents. For whatever reason the bond has gone and there is no mutual respect. Through theraplay we encourage that bond to grow so the child feels more secure, calm and happy. It's not about discipline. This is about changing a child's behaviour over time. Admittedly, it will have an impact on discipline but only in the long term."

She added: "For years, teachers have laboured with resistant children and wondered: 'How can I unlock this person'. Once you have emotional literacy, then the learning can begin."

At Rockingham Primary School, which has 180 pupils, they have installed a dedicated Theraplay unit, complete with one-way mirror, run by trained therapist Jo Williams. She works with a handful of children at the school and uses a variety of therapeutic methods to help children who are experiencing problems at home and at school, including calming music and lights. In a typical session she might comb a child's hair, spoon feed them, put cream on their cuts and bruises or wash dirty hands. "It's all about making them feel they're worth looking after," she said. "I had one child who was having trouble bonding with her child. There was little touching and eye contact. By the end, she was bottle-feeding him, he was stroking her hair. She said it was one of the best things that had ever happened to her."

The children who visit her are often from poor and fractured families. Often they come in groups while others come alone whilst a parent watches from a booth.

But campaigners claim Theraplay, by bottle-feeding youngsters as old as 11, holds them back and prevents them from growing up into adults. Dr Dennis Hayes, leader of the education forum at the Institute of Ideas think tank, said: "This is part of the infantilisation of adult life. It's about keeping people permanently as children, not helping them to grow up."

It is not the first time that schools have looked to other non-conventional methods to discipline unruly children. Last year, it emerged children at Liberton and Gracemount high schools in Edinburgh were given lessons in anger management.

Youth workers visited the schools in a bid to reduce classroom violence and cut the number of exclusions. Teachers there reported a noticeable improvement in the children's behaviour during the pilot project.

The theraplay technique was devised in 1967 in Chicago in a bid to build strong families and emotionally healthy children and is now recognised worldwide. They argue that warm and loving relationships are essential to a child's self-worth [if genuine! Not play-acted as here] and as a result help them to gain mutual respect for others around them. The Theraplay Institute, which has 60 therapists in the US and Canada, said it had seen a growing interest from the UK where it has a handful of therapists.

Source. And Dr Helen has some germane comments.

I'd seriously consider home-schooling

Post lifted from The Anchoress

If my kids were little and just beginning in elementary school, I would seriously consider home-schooling for a variety of reasons - mostly because now that I’ve seen how quickly it all went, I want more time with them! But I’d have considered it sooner had this been what they were taught.

“…the students had been building an elaborate “Legotown,” but it was accidentally demolished. The teachers decided its destruction was an opportunity to explore “the inequities of private ownership.” According to the teachers, “Our intention was to promote a contrasting set of values: collectivity, collaboration, resource-sharing, and full democratic participation.”

The children were allegedly incorporating into Legotown “their assumptions about ownership and the social power it conveys.” These assumptions “mirrored those of a class-based, capitalist society — a society that we teachers believe to be unjust and oppressive.”

They claimed as their role shaping the children’s “social and political understandings of ownership and economic equity … from a perspective of social justice.”

So they first explored with the children the issue of ownership. Not all of the students shared the teachers’ anathema to private property ownership. “If I buy it, I own it,” one child is quoted saying. The teachers then explored with the students concepts of fairness, equity, power, and other issues over a period of several months.

At the end of that time, Legos returned to the classroom after the children agreed to several guiding principles framed by the teachers, including that “All structures are public structures” and “All structures will be standard sizes.” The teachers quote the children:

“A house is good because it is a community house.”

“We should have equal houses. They should be standard sizes.”

“It’s important to have the same amount of power as other people over your building.”

Betsy Newmark writes:

How Orwellian is that lesson? It sounds like something out of Animal Farm but now it’s being taught to children as what is optimal rather than to be condemned.

These teachers are so ignorant that they don’t realize that the rights to private property are not only the essence of our democratic system as well as the best guarantee for a thriving economy. Who would want to invest and improve anything in an economy if they didn’t have guarantees that they would be able to reap the profits from their invested time and money?

Sensible Mom has more thoughts.

Check out this video at Small Dead Animals. I just wrote yesterday about how the left will exploit little kids (and make them lecture us incessantly) to guilt us into acquiescence, and this one is a beaut. I wonder…perhaps we should look into how much energy a klieg light uses…

Dr. Sanity has some thoughts on using kids to win your war.

Betsy also links to a story about home-schoolers in Germany.

Desperate Irish Housewife has a nice post on the Lego situation.

Britain: Half of Muslim schools not inspected for standards

More than half of private Muslim schools have not been inspected for five years, while some have not received a full inspection for a decade. An analysis of the 114 independent Islamic schools in England registered with the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has found that Ofsted reports are available for only 53. Most of these involve recent visits, but two reports are for the 1997-98 academic year.

Most of the other 61 schools, and their 6,000 pupils, were inspected five or more years ago but, because of a gap in the law, their reports have never been made public. The law has now been changed, but is not retrospective.

Seventeen schools have no listing on the website of Ofsted - the official inspection body - making it impossible to establish whether they have ever been visited.

News of the apparent gaps in monitoring comes as questions are being raised about whether some Muslim schools are adequately preparing children for life in Britain. The Government recently closed an Islamic school in East Sussex, which was raided by police as part of an anti-terror operation, because it did not meet registration standards.

Last month, King Fahad Academy, a west London school funded by the Saudi government, was condemned for using text books that described Jews as "pigs".

Muslim parents are increasingly choosing the private sector because they feel the state sector does not cater for their children.

Last month, the Muslim Council of Britain accused state schools of failing to respect Muslim wishes and called on headmasters to open prayer rooms, introduce single changing cubicles, overhaul sex education and reschedule exams outside Ramadan.

A report by the Open Society Institute says there has been a threefold increase in the number of private Muslim schools in Britain in the past 10 years. They now educate three per cent of Britain's 400,000 Muslim pupils. An ICM poll of British Muslims in 2004 showed nearly half wanted their children to attend Muslim schools. Islamic schools on the DfES register are funded -privately, through the support of local mosques, other private funding and fees - of up to several thousand pounds a year - paid by parents. A number are registered as charities.

Like all the 2,000 independent schools in England registered with the DfES, they are not required to follow the national curriculum. They often devote a lot of time to Islamic studies.

A number of Ofsted reports are critical of poor buildings, inadequate resources, poor management, unqualified teachers and the low level of general education in some Muslim schools.

There are currently seven state-funded Muslim schools with three more in the pipeline. Ministers believe that if the schools are brought into the state system, they will be monitored more closely and have to follow the national curriculum.

David Willetts, the shadow education secretary, said: "All schools, whether state sector, independent sector or faith schools, are subject to the Ofsted inspection regime. It is not acceptable that a -significant number in a particular category, namely independent Muslim schools, appear to be escaping the rigour of the inspection regime."

Mohamad Mukadam, the chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools, said: "Ofsted has the power to inspect independent schools and has not found anything that should worry people about Muslim schools.

"To judge our schools we need to look at the young people that are coming out of them and compare them with those -coming out of the comprehensive system. There is a marked improvement in the academic results being achieved in Muslim schools, a higher amount of young people progressing to higher education, and a far higher proportion going on to work in the professions."

An Ofsted official said: "Since the introduction of the Education Regulations 2003, there has been a cycle for the inspection of all -independent schools who are not members of the Independent Schools Council and covered by their inspectorate.

"Ofsted has not yet completed the first full cycle of reported inspections, but it will be completed by the end of March 2008." If a school had no published report it had not yet had a full reported inspection, but would have one in the next year.



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. My Home Pages are here or here or here.


Monday, March 05, 2007


Looking every inch a successful American board-room executive, Spencer finished his lunch of saut‚ed salmon before carefully lifting his champagne glass in a toast to the other diners. Dressed in a blue blazer, white shirt and dark trousers, he thanked them for coming and signalled the waiters strategically placed around the private dining room to serve the dessert. A typical scene at an executive lunch. But Spencer is only 9, about the same age as his dining companions, who are dressed to the nines. He and his sister McKenzie, 10, along with three boys and five girls, had got a place in an etiquette class at the exclusive Hotel Bel-Air in Beverly Hills, California.

The crash courses in polite, or some may say precocious, behaviour are held four times a year, and the waiting list stretches to next summer as Hollywood executives, actors and CEOs from around America try desperately to get their children on it. The youngsters learn how to behave when faced with the sort of situation in which the well-heeled may find themselves, including how to introduce their parents to the Queen or the Pope.

The Petit Protocol class was given by Diane Diehl, known as the Miss Manners of international etiquette. At this class were, among others, Juliet, 8, granddaughter of Berry Gordy Jr, the creator of Motown, Joaquin, 6, the son of an actor who appeared in Gladiator and The Bourne Supremacy, and the children of a powerful Hollywood agent. Oh, and my daughters Abigail, 10, and eight-year-old Sophie, who got in because of their "cute" English accents.

Diehl, the daughter of a top-ranking military officer, travels the world teaching business leaders how to behave abroad, but included youngsters after being begged to do so by parents who did not have time to hammer home the finer points of behaving. One of her first customers was a wealthy New York executive who rarely got to eat with his son because of work commitments. When he did so, the boy's table manners disgusted him so much that he booked the etiquette class that day, and within a few weeks his son was whizzing his way to the East Coast.

First lesson at the Bel-Air was how to present your parents to the Queen. One child wore the crown while two others played daughter and mother. Then there was a lesson on what to say if a telephone caller wants to speak to your parents when they are away for several months, leaving you with the nanny and the staff. Never give out personal information when someone calls, says Diehl; tell the caller that your parents are unavailable and take a message.

One girl, misunderstanding the example, put up her hand and said that if she does not know the identity of a caller, she just looks at one of the CCTV monitors in her home. Sitting in rows of four, the children were well behaved and well dressed, and seemed to understand the finer points of the early lessons. One girl, who was attending the class for the third time, was wearing a fur stole and a pink, 1950s-style dress, and had French polish on her toes. Sitting with her legs crossed at the ankles, she looked as though she already hosted her own dinner parties.

The lesson on how to write a thank-you letter revealed that several of the class had personalised stationery. Spencer proudly told the class that he had his own wax stamp from England with S on it. Robyn Allyn, Spencer's mother, said that she wanted her children to feel comfortable in formal settings. Allyn, whose husband is a personal manager to the stars, said: "We have always eaten out in fine restaurants that have multiple knives and forks on the table, so it is good for them to know what to do. It can never hurt to know how to behave." The children were taught how to use a napkin, hold a glass of wine and how to cut food.

Diehl looks to Britain for examples of good behaviour, believing that manners have declined in recent years in America because of the lack of respectable role models. "The English wrote the book on civility," she says, "and these lessons are about having respect for other people. As children become more comfortable with their surroundings, so they will become more charismatic. "This was an exceptionally good class. The boys always come dragging their feet, but end up enjoying it. Our office receives calls from parents around the country desperate for their children to attend."

Does the course work? Since the class, my children remember more often to take their elbows off the table. And on the flight home a Virgin stewardess said that I had the politest children she had ever seen. I stopped them from telling her about the classes. "Years of hard work," I said.



Oxford's attempts to rid itself of its reputation for giving preference to the "old school tie" have been dented by new figures showing it admitted almost twice as many Old Etonians last year as in 2001 . The number of pupils from Eton and other leading independent schools such as Westminster, St Paul's and Winchester have surged despite efforts by the university to boost its state-school intake. While the overall proportion of state-school pupils has edged up slightly at Oxbridge, elite private institutions have notched up the greatest gains. The main losers have been less prestigious independent schools.

The figures suggest Gordon Brown's outburst seven years ago against the "privileges" represented by Oxford has been counterproductive. The chancellor claimed it was an "absolute scandal" that Oxford had rejected Laura Spence, a talented Tyne-side comprehensive pupil. He said the university was "reminiscent of an old-boy network".

While the elite schools insist their success is down to their teaching, Labour critics say Oxbridge has not done enough to encourage state-school pupils. Barry Sheerman, Labour chairman of the Commons education select committee, blamed the universities for failing to broaden their intake. "Oxford and Cambridge shouldn't be seen as finishing schools for Eton and Westminster," he said.

The new data, released under the Freedom of Information Act, give a snapshot comparison between 2001 and 2006. Both universities reduced their independent sector intake by only 177 in that period. The top-performing schools have achieved spectacular gains. In 2006, 70 pupils from Eton were offered places by Oxford, compared with 38 in 2001. At Westminster school 52 pupils received offers from Oxford, up by 14 from 2001. There has also been an increase at Cambridge, although it is less marked. North London Collegiate school won 20 places there in 2006, compared with 17 in 2001; St Paul's school won 23, compared with 21.

The top school for Oxbridge last year was Westminster, where 60% of the upper sixth won offers from Oxford or Cambridge. Stephen Spurr, the head-master at Westminster, believes Oxbridge is not biased but is searching for the brightest applicants to maintain its position in the world rankings.

Tony Little, Eton's head master, said he told pupils that a place at Oxford or Cambridge had to be earned. "There is no golden road. The clever dilettante doesn't wash for Oxford now, if it ever did. We go far beyond the syllabus required for exams."

Geoff Parks, director of admissions at Cambridge, denied the university was failing to give due credit to state school applicants. "The best independent schools are stretching their most able pupils," he said. "There are ways in which state-school pupils are not as well guided as applicants from independent schools. State schools have had to deal with a shortage of qualified maths and physics teachers. They have also been dropping languages."



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. My Home Pages are here or here or here.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Some sense about useless education

In a small office at the public high school in Kingsford, Mich., guidance counselor Kip Beaudoin is doing what many parents might consider treachery: He's encouraging a student to just say "no" to college. Senior Will Anderson tells Beaudoin that his parents are pressuring him to apply - that his mother "is always thinking, 'Be a doctor, be something.'" But Anderson says his passion has always been working on cars. He sees college as a waste of time. "I don't need math, science. I just need to learn what I need to learn and get out there," he says.

In recent decades, the number of U.S. high-school graduates who begin college has risen dramatically. But so has the number of college dropouts. Beaudoin is one of many educators who think these figures reflect a growing pressure on students to follow the college track, even when they might be better suited to other options.

When Anderson graduates from high school, he plans to enroll in an automobile mechanics' apprentice program, with Beaudoin's encouragement. But more often than not, Beaudoin says, parents consider such advice a betrayal. "Mostly what you get is, 'Are you telling me my son or daughter is not capable of doing better?'" Beaudoin says.

Joe Lamacchia, a father of five from Holliston, Mass., says teachers often made it sound as if his children would "fall right off the Earth if they didn't go to college." "It was incredible how they really believed that," he says. Lamacchia himself skipped college, and it's fine by him if his children do, too. A few years ago, Lamacchia launched something of a crusade to encourage youths who want to skip college; he even has a Web site. "When you have a trade, you have it made," he says, noting that skilled workers, such as electricians or welders, can easily earn as much as $70,000 a year with overtime. After barely finishing high school, Lamacchia started cutting grass with a borrowed mower. Today, he runs a $2 million a year landscaping and driveway-paving business. "It's a great life - blue collar," he says.

Currently, there's a shortage of blue-collar workers for manual and technical jobs - from electricians to heating and air-conditioning mechanics to iron and metal workers. As demand for these skills increases in coming years, economists say wages will, too.

But economists also caution that skipping college today is much riskier than it was a generation ago. "It's a bit of fool's gold to think that you can drop out of school today and think that you can do particularly well in the U.S. economy in the long run," says Harvard economist Larry Katz. Katz says skilled workers can earn good wages early in their careers, but their earnings cap out early, too. Ultimately, he says, college graduates will make about 60 percent more than those without a degree.

Harvard economist Claudia Golden adds that, more than ever before, students need more education and more highly technical computer skills to perform even blue-collar jobs such as welding, manufacturing and fixing cars. "Perhaps they had a grandfather who did perfectly fine," she says, "and they think they can as well. But in the economy of the 21st century, they're going to do very, very poorly."

At Kingsford High, Will Anderson spends two hours every day in an automobile mechanics class that includes training in the latest computer technology. But fewer high schools offer comprehensive vocational education anymore.

Still, Harry Chapman, who teaches chemistry at Jefferson Community College in Louisville, Ky., says he often encounters students who should have been told long ago that they don't belong in college. "We don't have trouble telling someone they're not suited to be a musician or football player or something like that," Chapman says. "But for the most part, we won't tell someone [that] we don't think they can make it as a doctor or an engineer. It's like an insult."

Rob MacDonald, 25, from Waltham, Mass., wishes he had been better advised. He tried college, then quit - but not before racking up nearly $40,000 in debt. "You don't realize it at the time, when you're going to school, that you're going to have so much debt when you're done," he says. "You don't realize it until you come out." MacDonald now works as a site supervisor for Joe Lamacchia, making $50,000 a year. He's almost done paying off his student loans. And instead of suffering through sociology class, he says he now looks forward to what he does every day.



Getting your kid into a High School where he/she will both be safe and get a good education is not easy in modern Britain

So we didn’t win the state lottery: the best school in our area, our No 1 choice, turned us down. But then the odds were pretty stacked. Hearing about the oversubscribed Brighton school with 420 children chasing 300 places, I could hear London parents crying “Lightweights!” Try 3,000 applicants for 150 places.

A bus journey across Brighton to your second choice of, what, two miles max? Try sticking your tender 11-year-old on an hour-long walk-train-bus-walk schlep. Only got your third choice at the slightly less laurelled comp? Imagine getting none of your six choices and your daughter being allocated a girls’ school closed one day recently for fear of a drive-by shooting.

Sorry. Forgive me. I have been half-crazy for the past five months. I’ve avoided friends, turned down invitations. Monomaniacs, I know, are miserable funsuckers. And my head has contained one subject, spun into a myriad of permutations: which secondary school will my son attend in September? By January I’d started, for the first time, to read my horoscope. Then my son’s horoscope. Then I regressed to teenage superstitions: if I reach the bus stop before that red car passes me, he’ll get in . . . “I told you it was bad,” said a friend, who went through this a year ago. But not this bad. Perhaps she’d played it down, she conceded, because she’d felt — as I do now — silly and ashamed to admit how much she’d cared, how such a mundane event had taken over her life, stopped her sleeping right for half a year. And she’s no neurotic London yummy-mummy cliche either. Neither is another otherwise level-headed friend who’s sure the onset of a serious medical condition was sparked by her own Year 6 hell.

Why does this process rattle us so? Why were Brighton parents baying at each other across the council chamber? Because the difference between a failing school and a successful one throws up, deep in the insomniac night, two future visions of your child: an unemployable bifta-smoking wretch and a ten A-starred, shiny superbeing. And the thought of this being decided randomly by municipal computer is too much to bear.

But the best schools will only ever have so many places (even with the Tories’ wheeze that they should simply expand: like where, I often think, looking at cramped city sites? Into the middle of the main road?). And how can one complain that a fellow taxpayer who lives across town — because she can’t afford the premium-price houses abutting that school — has no right to seek a place for her child? Except that her chance reduces your own sense of control.

Politicians talk about choice, but control is what we really mean. And control is the greatest privilege of wealth. The richer we become as a society, the more we demand it, until many of us expect absolute dominion over every aspect of our lives. We are, in marketing jargon, a generation of “maximisers” who, whether buying a holiday, a fridge or a facelift, vigorously research every decision. School league tables can be a fast-track to insanity.

Other countries may send kids unthinkingly to the nearest school, assuming it will be fine. And we beat ourselves up believing that every Dutch or Spanish school is superior to anything we can create, that foreign children are superior to our own blighted youth. If only you could shop around before birth . . . Or maybe we are more individualistic, selfish even, not satisfied with good, only the best. And yet education in our overcrowded island can only be a lottery. Brighton is simply mutating from a town to the city it campaigned so vigorously to be. “It is all but impossible for parents, particularly in urban areas,” said the Commons Education Select Committee, “to exercise their preference with any degree of certainty.”

Even if — as we did — you hedge your bets by also applying to private schools, this is just a second lottery, albeit a super high-stakes golden rollover. There can be no other financial transaction where you stand waving a cheque for what, over seven years, will be pushing 100,000 pounds, hoping, praying, begging for someone to be gracious enough to take it. Only a millionaire who’d spawned a genius could truly enjoy control.

And of the two lotteries, the private is the more nerve-shattering. At least with the state system any shortening of the odds — moving house, attending church — is done by the parents. Going private means it is down to the child, who must be crammed, nagged, beseeched into taking a four-hour test — when a state primary child may never knowingly have taken an exam in his life — then submitted to interviews to be probed and measured, sorted and rejected. The thing about selection, I thought, as my wheyfaced son set off with his pencil case to yet another school gym, is it’s so damn selective.

There is no doubt, particularly in London, that the school lottery can throw children into grim, hostile places no one would ever choose. But secondary transfer is stressful for all parents, because it marks an end to our power. Children are at last granted the freedom that earlier generations had aged 8 or 9. On your child’s 11th birthday, you reach the brow of a hill and look down over a vast, open landscape. Our ability to care and protect, tying that scarf snugly around his neck against the cold, is over. He will hurtle out of the house, scarfless, a head full of unknowable thoughts, and you have ceded control to him. And then the real lottery begins.


The decline of Australia's schools

Julie Bishop, the federal Education Minister, was quite matter-of-fact on The 7.30 Report on Wednesday night. "About a third of our 15-year-olds are functionally illiterate." Left unspoken were two other obvious conclusions:

First, these were kids their teachers had given up on. Second, their parents lacked the ability or inclination to rectify the problem at home. For the first time since the mid-19th century, reading has become a chore adults quite commonly delegated to other people and inter-generational illiteracy is becoming an entrenched dimension of disadvantage.

It's with this grim view of the present and the foreseeable future in mind that we should take on board last week's report from the Productivity Commission. As usual, it beat the drum on the benefits of reforming energy markets, transport and infrastructure; unfinished business that can further enhance national prosperity. But it stressed the need for a new agenda: human capital reform. Partly this was a matter of reducing chronic disease and injury to ensure fewer people are excluded from the work force. Partly it was a matter of reforming tax and welfare systems to increase incentives to work. Mostly it was about education.

If ever there were a time for a back-to-basics approach, the Productivity Commission says it is now. The agenda takes in improving early childhood education, literacy and numeracy, better school completion rates and skills training. It estimates substantial reform could add 9 per cent to economic output during the next 25 years, increase household incomes by an average $1800 and lift workforce participation by nearly 5 per cent. It also calculates that during that time it could boost state and federal revenues by up to $25 billion.

The Productivity Commission's brief is to imagine how much better off we'd all be in a more rationally ordered world. Sceptics tend to share Kant's intuition that "out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing can ever be made". But even so, within living memory, before 1970, we know that ordinary state school students were regularly achieving much higher levels of literacy and numeracy than their present counterparts. Is it too much to ask the current crop of schoolteachers to replicate these results?

According to the annual Schools Australia report, released on Monday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, an increasing number of parents think it is. They are giving up on public education in hordes and droves. In the past decade, private schools have grown at nearly 20 times the rate of government schools. The number of state school students has risen by just 1.2 per cent since 1996, compared with 21.5 per cent for Catholic and independent schools, to say nothing of the more radical option of home schooling, for which reliable statistics are hard to find. In Victoria, where dissatisfaction with public education has long been an issue and nearly 40 per cent of senior secondary students are educated privately, overall enrolments remained relatively steady. In South Australia during the decade, government school enrolments fell by 7.7 per cent and in the ACT by 12.3 per cent.

These regional collapses of confidence in public education are certainly spectacular but they need to be seen against the backdrop of long-term change. Since the Karmel report in 1975 and the era of substantial public funding of non-government schools, there has been a fairly steady drift to the private sector. Jack Keating, an educationist at the University of Melbourne, reckons it at about 0.4 per cent a year. Last year 66.8 per cent of Australian children were in government schools and 33.2per cent in the private sector. If, as seems inevitable, the rest of the country follows Victoria's example, the ratio will soon be 64.6per cent to 35.4 per cent.

The question everyone in the political class is tiptoeing around is this. At what point do most public schools simply become sinks of disadvantage, places where a residue of kids with average or below average IQs and more than their fair share of other problems confound everyone's efforts to teach them life's basic survival skills? You could re-formulate the question by asking: at what stage does the abandonment of public-sector education by what used to be called the lower middle classes reach a tipping point?

Some compare the presence of parents who work in the professions to the proverbial "leaven in the lump" of a school community; the dads who are likeliest to coach the soccer team and the mums who volunteer to teach remedial reading. Others, less sentimentally, say that petit bourgeois parents are good at getting grants and zebra crossings out of local MPs because they're more effective at making formal complaints and marketing grievances to the media. Those parents and their children are gravitating towards the larger, academically successful and selective public schools, which are likely to stay that way while most of the smaller, academically weaker schools will stay small and become weaker still. That means average students are probably going to be increasingly short-changed, as the burden of looking after the overall educational needs of communities in non-selective schools becomes a more thankless task, entrusted to an increasingly demoralised bunch of teachers.

There was a time when I would have greeted any decline in public-sector education as a cause for celebration. I still think that a great many state teachers and their appalling unions have preyed like parasites on the long-suffering proletariat. The trouble is that the private sector often employs the same kinds of teachers, is politically correct and third rate in much the same ways and is infected with many of the same fads and questionable methods.

The Catholic parochial system, for example, is almost beyond parody. The values and formation it purports to instil in its pupils is anything but Catholic. Father O'Bubblegum, Auberon Waugh's comic creation, can still be found strumming his guitar and singing the lyrics of John Lennon's Imagine, with no sense of incongruity, at school masses. Vatican II-era nuns can still be heard pushing the feminist pieties and Marxist Sociology 101 they learned as mature-age entrants in diploma courses 30 years ago. Lay teachers who are often neither Catholic nor discernibly Christian are entrusted with religious instruction.

It is scarcely surprising that so few of the kids passing through the system should still be going to church even one Sunday a month by the time they're 20. Apart from the Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, few Australian Catholic bishops have attempted any sort of reform or reined in their education bureaucracies. Some profess themselves powerless to do so. Accordingly, there has been a marked trend in recent years for traditionally minded Catholic parents to send their children to Anglican or Lutheran schools where, whatever else is lacking, at least the biblical catechesis is adequate.

While the Catholic schools are more aggressively ordinary and anti-intellectual, there's no shortage of paid-up philistines in the independent schools. And let's not forget the genteel ideologues. The social justice wing of the Uniting Church is over-represented, as are the deep greens, people who won't teach phonics and the social studies teachers who fancy themselves in "Sorry" T-shirts. It's gratifying to see how many of the young survive their ministrations with critical faculties intact and a sceptical, often explicitly conservative attitude to all the codswallop they've been taught.

A great deal more could and no doubt should be said about the shortcomings of Australia's Catholic and independent schools. But, whatever private education's failings, if what we conceive as the public sector is to remain viable it is going to have to become much more like its private competition. Whether along the lines of charter schools or various hybrids, public schools urgently need to be rebadged and given a new remit. The less they operate like government agencies, the more confidence they're likely to inspire in parents. The more power parents and principals have, at the expense of head office and the unions, the better the chance of shifting demoralised or incompetent staff and boosting morale. Performance-linked pay is another overdue development.

In the rebadge exercise, there should be a rethink of the ownership and control of schools that aims to capture the benefits that come when an enterprise is owned (and loved) by the people who work there, or even by an individual, rather than by the state. For example, short of outright sale, there's a case to be made for leasing existing public school premises at peppercorn rentals to the entrepreneurial heads of the low-fee colleges that are burgeoning on the outskirts of most of the capital cities. Some, I'm sure, would leap at the chance to take over deadbeat schools, lock, stock and barrel and run them more or less non-selectively on a state subsidy, which would in all likelihood be a fraction of the present cost. In a market system, as Keating argued in The Age last week, they should be rewarded for taking on the most challenging and disadvantaged pupils.



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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