Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hitler would be proud

Univ. of California: 'No Jews Allowed'

A U.S. State Department-funded University of California program which provides business training for residents of the Middle East specifically excluded Israeli Jews - until Jewish journalists protested.

The University of California has now altered the program's eligibility requirement that initially barred Israeli Jews. The turnaround in policy also may have saved the State Department, whose Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) finances the program, from having to provide an embarrassing explanation. MEPI also selects the participants.

Jerusalem-based marketing specialist and businesswoman Miriam Schwab uncovered the bias last week when she checked into applying to the university's San Diego branch Beyster Institute program for Middle East Entrepreneur Training (MEET). She discovered that the program was open to citizens of "Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel (limited to Israeli Arab citizens), Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, West Bank/Gaza and Yemen."

The Beyster Institute, which manages the program, offers three 10-day seminars, each one with 20 eligible participants. The program includes professional coaching and offers opportunities to make new contacts and "to help promising leaders realize their aspirations to build successful [businesses]... The participation of women is highly encouraged."

The Canadian-born Schwab, who moved to Israel 10 years ago, said she was interested in the program because she employs two women in her Illuminea company in Jerusalem. "This program sounded really interesting until I got to the part about eligibility for application," she wrote on an e-mail list. The MEET program ostensibly "does not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, color, age, religion, national origin, or handicap."

In response to an question for confirmation of the restriction in Israel, program manager Mona Yousry verified, "It is only for Arab Israelis." A subsequent question as to why Israeli Jews are not eligible for the program elicited the following reply from the Institute's Director of Entrepreneurial Programs, Rob Fuller: "I'm sorry for the unfortunate misunderstanding about eligibility for the new MEET program. To be clear, for the programs for which we are now recruiting to be held in 2008, ALL Israeli citizens are eligible to participate. Sorry for any confusion we may have inadvertently caused."

Israeli Jews originally were excluded despite the program's stated advantage as "an important cultural exchange." Fuller did not explain the initial "confusion" in barring Israeli Jews. The programs are to be held in Jordan, Egypt and Morocco, all of which have relations with Israel.

Following the e-mail complaints to Beyster, the US Embassy of Yemen online document which announces the program was down for more than a day until the words "limited to Israeli Arab citizens" were deleted. The US official who made the online edit, however, reposted the story in "track changes" format so that the document displays in the left margin, at the time of this writing, the words: "Deleted: Limited to Israeli Arab citizens."


Australian teachers: No taxation without representation

Another sign of dimwittedness from this Leftist government. At least George III had the excuse of insanity

WESTERN Australia's chronic teacher shortage could worsen as thousands of teachers face the sack if they refuse to pay a $70 registration fee. Teachers have been told by the Education Department that they have until October 26 to pay membership fees to the WA College of Teaching, their professional standards body, or face deregistration and termination of contracts. The issue sparked alarm yesterday with the Opposition predicting chaos in schools as students were preparing for their TEE exams.

It is understood that about 3000 teachers, including 1600 of the state's 33,000 classroom teachers, have refused to pay their fees because they are angry over a lack of teacher representatives on the WACOT board. They say promised elections to put 10 teachers on to the board have not been held three years after the body was established. The Education Department wrote to them on Wednesday warning they would be dismissed if they failed to comply. It also told principals to prepare contingency plans to deal with any deregistrations.

Opposition education spokesman Peter Collier said the approach was extraordinary at a time of a severe teacher shortage when the Government was desperate to recruit more teachers. "What you've got potentially are 1600 teachers who are not going to be in our classrooms in a month's time," he said. "That is hundreds of classrooms across the length and breadth of the state potentially without teachers in six weeks' time, three days before the commencement of the tertiary entrance exams."

The issue caused uproar in state parliament yesterday, with Education Minister Mark McGowan rejecting the claims of looming chaos. Teachers would pay, he said. "Do you actually think that anyone would give up their job over what is, in effect, a $50 (after tax deductions) fee," he said. "There will be very few, if any, teachers that don't pay. "A $50 fee is, in effect, a half-a-morning's pay for a teacher."

State School Teachers Union president Mike Keely told The Australian the comments were provocative and Mr McGowan might be surprised at the result. "This is a sledgehammer approach to people you want to keep," he said. "That dismissive approach is the last thing teachers need to hear from the Government."


Are you sustainability literate?

British universities must now teach students how to live a 'sustainable life'. It sounds nice, until you notice the implications for academic freedom

The three `Rs' are making a comeback in our universities. But far from meaning `reading, writing and arithmetic', they now stand for `reducing, reusing and recycling'. In place of old-fashioned literacy, we have a new goal for education: sustainability literacy. The term was first coined by the environmental consultancy Forum for the Future, an organisation that has worked extensively with the higher education sector in recent years in exploring the implications of sustainable development. They suggest that a sustainability literate person is someone who understands the need for sustainable development, has the abilities to act in favour of it, and can recognise others' decisions and actions that favour it (1).

Leading advocates of sustainability literacy are vague about content, preferring to accentuate the need for people to be `aware' of the agenda and act on it in all aspects of their lives. The influential Centre for Sustainable Futures at Plymouth University, for example, aims for students to `leave with the values and skills and knowledge to drive the sustainability agenda forward in their personal and professional lives'. The vice-chancellor of Bradford University hopes that sustainability literacy will bring about `pro-sustainability behavioural change' amongst students (2).

Sustainability literacy as policy

Though the demand for environmental education began in the early 1990s (3), the process has gathered pace in recent years. Most notably, in 2003 the Department for Education and Skills launched the Sustainable Development Action Plan. Objective one from the plan states that: `all learners will develop the skills, knowledge and value base to be active citizens in creating a more sustainable society' (4).

In 2005, the government-sponsored lecturers' body, the Higher Education Academy (HEA), commissioned research on `embedding education for sustainable development in higher education' (5). The HEA seeks to `assist institutions and subject communities in their development of curricula and pedagogy to equip students with the skills and knowledge to live and work sustainably' (6). Sustainability literacy is now identified as a `core competency' for graduates by government.

A quick look at the `learning outcomes' often quoted for sustainability literacy confirms an emphasis on changing moral attitudes and behaviour rather than improving education. These outcomes comprise: increased caring about the future of society and intergenerational equality; empowerment of students and a heightened belief that they can make a difference; and increased personal willingness to participate in solving societal and environmental problems. Elsewhere, discussions on promoting sustainability literacy feature references to `raising awareness', `changing value bases' and even `winning hearts and minds'. As such, the promotion of sustainability literacy calls into question the character of education on offer in the modern university. Should universities see it as their aim to bring about `behavioural change' through `changing value bases'? Shouldn't students, based on their exposure to ideas, decide such things for themselves?

Sustainability literacy moves seamlessly from `awareness' to prescribing action. For example, the HEA subject centre for history, classics and archaeology expresses a view central to sustainability literacy, that `education about sustainable development should go hand in hand with education for sustainable development'. (7)

Leaving aside what sustainable development has to do with classics, why not simply educate rather than advocate? The overt promotion of sustainability (whatever it might be taken to mean) as the holy grail will only discourage students from raising doubts and differences of opinion because sustainability will be seen as the official line of the university.

The need for a new pedagogy?

Sustainability literacy is often presented as a necessary compensation for the deficiencies of existing disciplines that may not be equipped or may not have moved to address environmental critiques of economic growth (8). The disciplines are argued to be `too narrow' to cope with the broad character of the environmental crisis.

The 1992 United Nations Summit on Environment and Development (the Rio Earth Summit) is widely regarded as the moment when sustainable development become orthodoxy. But well before this point, many disciplines had developed schools of thought that sought to engage with the perception and reality of environmental problems.

For example, within economics, most often criticised for its `narrow' approach to resource use, `ecological economics' was pioneered in the 1970s, as a way to factor the environment into economic calculations. The concept of `natural capital' enabled nature to acquire a value through its non-use, rather than through its consumption in the process of development. Prior to that, the concept of `externalities', and the role of the state in dealing with these, provided a way to examine the environmental impacts of economic activity.

In fact, the growth of concern with the environment has run parallel to a growing set of associated ideas and theories in sociology, geography, management and elsewhere. The triple bottom line of `economy, environment and culture' is already in evidence, across the board, in higher education.

It is therefore disingenuous to say the university, via its curriculum, is a supporter of a narrow outlook. Collegiality and open debate have ensured that the disciplines adapt to, and influence, changing times. It is important that universities remain places where we can argue the toss over issues such as nuclear power, GM food, anti-globalisation protests, the merits of cheap flights, and even the efficacy of sustainable development itself, with neither side requiring the official backing of their institution or of self-appointed guardians of the curriculum.

What of the naysayers?

Advocates of sustainability literacy often argue that those who disagree are naysayers who need to be shown the error of their ways (as opposed to people with ideas to be argued against). One discussion document from the University of Hertfordshire refers (not untypically) to the need for `carrots and sticks' to get backsliders into line (9).

Apart from the patronising tone, this could have implications for academic freedom. `Carrots and sticks' are `bribes and threats' to think the right way and do the right thing. Is that healthy for a university? What about those dissenting voices, that minority of academics (and students) who feel, and are prepared to argue, that the concept of sustainability is problematic, or who feel it represents a backward step rather than progress? What about respected academics who see `consumerism' (frequently cited as a key area for behavioural change by advocates of sustainability literacy) as a good thing, or who do not think that industrial carbon emissions are a significant factor in climate change?

With regard to rural development in the developing world, a subject I have published on myself, I often find myself in the camp of the `backsliders'. In the rural developing world, `sustainable development' often means very little development at all. Perhaps I should attend a workshop to `self-review' my `core standards', a process that has been openly argued for in one University's documentation on developing sustainable literacy.

A new etiquette

One university, as part of launching a drive for sustainability literacy, organised a `sustainable lunch', with food that was local, fairly traded and organic. This small example is typical of the understated but clear agenda of sustainability literacy - small-scale and organic food, especially when sold at farmers markets, are good, whilst genetically modified food and supermarkets are bad. Academics can, and frequently do, take sides on such issues, which is a healthy situation to be in. Yet the etiquette of sustainability literacy marks out some positions as running counter to an educational and social imperative that all universities are to uphold.

It is certainly true that there is a strong consensus around some things that tend to be considered `sustainable development'. For example, the belief that human emissions of greenhouse gases are leading to climate change is widely held, along with the assumption that the proper response is to reduce such emissions. Equally, there are other aspects of sustainability literacy that invite considerable contestation, such as localism, organic agriculture and challenging consumerism.

But even if a position is considered received wisdom for 99 per cent of academics, there are strong reasons to object to universities taking a moral stance on the views and behaviour that graduates should adopt. Universities should teach. They will reflect the prevailing body of knowledge, and they should aim to encourage students to question received wisdoms and orthodoxies. They should trust undergraduates to act and live as they choose, based upon what they have gleaned of the world through their studies and beyond.

And this is where I think that anyone - from the deepest green to the biggest champion of acquisitive growth - should be against the drive for sustainability literacy. Ideas, agendas and moral imperatives should stand or fall through an open ended, rigorous enquiry. The university is the institution that can ensure this takes place. Yet it is clear that for those promoting sustainability literacy, the agenda is about universities, as public institutions, taking a clear position on the political issue of development. Once that is enshrined in the public pronouncements or private articles of a university, then the university has diminished its commitment to open-ended academic enquiry. That bodes no good either for those who take the environmental crisis to be immanent, or for those who suspect that the planet is robust; the majority who accept that global warming is a product of human industry, or those who doubt this wisdom.

Finally, it is worthy of note that the rise of environmental education, most recently in the form of sustainability literacy, seems to parallel a decline in scientific literacy. It is far more likely to be scientists, experts in their respective fields, who produce solutions to environmental problems. A promotion of scientific literacy would be a far more worthy aim for today's academics than moralising about how we should live our lives.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Soviet tactics in Vancouver, Canada

While the Vancouver School Board is exporting schools and diplomas to the children of the elite in China's Communist Party, Vancouver residents say it is importing tactics of political repression used by China's Communist Party. The result is an international boycott of Vancouver School Board secondary school diplomas. The boycott was launched in 2004 by individuals who have since formed the ad hoc group, Canadians Opposing Political Psychiatry. The DTES Enquirer has learned that Vancouver School Board trustees and administrators, including Principals and Vice Principals, were sent written notification of the boycott but concealed it from the public.

Leaders of private sector organizations around the world "are being asked not to recognize these diplomas", according to a Feb. 13, 2004 notice entitled, "International Boycott of Diplomas Issued by the Vancouver School Board", received by the VSB. The boycott stemmed from evidence that the VSB was using police intimidation and political psychiatry to deter legitimate citizen complaints. Pursuing a complaint against the Vancouver School Board can earn the complainant a visit from Vancouver's notorious "Car 87", a police car in which an armed constable and psychiatric nurse ride. They arrive at a complainant's home, according to official forms that they complete during the visit, to perform an assessment for "apprehension" to a mental hospital.

A "Car 87" notation appears for life adjacent to that individual's name on the police computer system -- even if they are cleared. But here's the catch: even when you're cleared, you're never really cleared. The wording on the form reveals that an individual is simply not a candidate for apprehension "at this time".

The boycott was ultimately triggered by a case in which the VSB administrators targeted a woman for a Car 87 assessment based on a letter she had written to the VSB. The woman had stated in the polite Oct. 12, 2002 letter that she intended to campaign during the School Board election, then just weeks away, about VSB "duplicity" in the handling of bullying complaints. This letter was the sole "evidence" submitted to Car 87 staff to justify the Car 87 visit. In the official Car 87 psychiatric report, though, nurse Don Getz entered as the sole reason for the Car 87, the fact that the woman had made "freedom of information requests". The woman's Oct. 12, 2002 did include a freedom of information request.

A taped telephone call with Vancouver Police School Liaison, Sergeant Gary Lester, after the Car 87 visit reveals a lack of evidence to support the visit. Lester told the woman that he had emphasized to the VSB that there was "nothing untoward" about her Oct. 12, 2002 letter. He also confirmed during the call that no evidence other than the letter had been used to justify the visit.

According to Car 87 policy, visits are to be restricted to individuals at "imminent" risk of killing themselves or others. Jan Fisher, head of Client Relations at the Vancouver Health Authority, confirmed during a taped telephone conversation that this was in fact the policy.

There is no doubt that the Vancouver School Board was aware of the boycott ultimately triggered by this case. A Freedom of Information request to the VSB resulted in the release of a copy of the notice entitled "International Boycott of Diplomas Issued by the Vancouver School Board" bearing the stamp, "RECEIVED Feb. 23, 2004 HUMAN RESOURCES". The VSB also released other documents pertaining to the boycott bearing "RECEIVED" stamps with dates in 2004. Further, a copy of the notice of the boycott was hand-delivered to the Vancouver School Board headquarters at Broadway and Granville in March 2004, at which time proof of receipt was provided by a receptionist who signed a photocopy of the notice and signed her name on it.

The VSB has never formally responded to the boycott. An internal memo, though, does reveal a somewhat flippant response from a VSB administrator, "Wendy", in a handwritten memo to another VSB administrator, Sue Arthur, dated Feb. 27, 2004: "Sue - put your "Legal Counsel" hat on for this . . . . Take care & happy Friday!"


Another response to Britain's dumbed-down high school examinations

A new alternative to the A level will enable universities and employers better to identify the brightest students by replacing the grade A with three different achievement bands. The Pre-U examination, being developed by Cambridge University amid concern over the suitability of A levels for preparing students for university, will award nine grades or bands, four more than the A to E grades offered by A levels. The Pre-U has already won backing from private schools such as Eton, Rugby and Winchester, which confirmed yesterday that they would introduce it from September next year.

But schools were told yesterday that many universities would not accept the qualification unless it was widely adopted in state schools as well. Michael Whitby, pro vice-chancellor of Warwick University, speaking on behalf of the Russell Group of 20 elite universities and 1994 Group of 19 universities, said that the Pre-U must not be allowed to entrench the considerable advantage that private schools already held over university admissions. "If the Pre-U were to be confined to an elite of private schools, then there would be issues for admission tutors in many universities," he told a conference of head teachers.

Professor Whitby suggested that private schools should work with local state schools, particularly disadvantaged ones, to help them to introduce the Pre-U. "If [the Pre-U] doesn't get spread [to state schools] then we will continue to focus on the A-level A grade and A*," he said. "It is therefore incumbent on CIE [Cambridge International Examinations] and on the Etons of this world to go the extra mile and the extra two miles to bring local state schools on board," he said.

Professor Whitby's comments reflect concerns of some head teachers, who have given warning that the schools system in England is at risk of drifting into "educational apartheid", with different examination systems for pupils in state and independent schools. Kevin Stannard, of CIE, which is developing the new qualification, agreed that the Pre-U could not be justified if it were only available in private schools, adding there was strong interest in it in the state sector.

The Pre-U will involve a return to final exams after two years of study, rather than the bite-sized modules of A levels, which can be endlessly retaken. The Pre-U diploma will be worth the equivalent of 4« A levels and will involve study of three subjects. Students will also have to complete an independent research report and a global perspectives project. Pupils will be able to substitute A-level subjects for two of their three Pre-U subject certificates. Alternatively, any of the 26 Pre-U subjects can be taken separately in much the same way as A Levels.

Pre-U candidates will be expected to put in 400 hours of learning for each subject, 10 per cent more than is expected of pupils for A levels. The extra study time is made possible because pupils will not have to prepare for AS exams half way through their sixth-form studies, as the PreU will be examined at the end of the course in June. Pupils will be awarded one of nine grades: D1 (Distinction 1), D2, D3, M1 (Merit 1), M2, M3, P1 (Pass 1), P2, P3.

Dr Stannard said he expected that only a small minority would gain the top D1 mark, which will be higher even than the new A* grade being introduced in 2010 for A-level candidates who score more than 90 per cent. Details of the new qualification were released yesterday as the Government confirmed that regulation of the exam system in England is to be put in the hands of an independent watchdog to counter criticism that GCSEs and A levels are getting easier. The new body will be split from the existing Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, has announced.


New vision for Australian schools 'just drivel'

A FORMER senior Labor policy adviser has attacked the vision for school education unveiled by state and territory governments, describing it as "dangerous drivel" and a "retrograde step that will dumb down school curriculum across Australia". Ken Wiltshire, professor of public policy at the University of Queensland and the architect of the Queensland curriculum under the Goss government, told The Australian that the Future of Schooling report showed Labor education policy was still driven by the teachers' unions.

Professor Wiltshire seized on the idea in the report, released this week, that "the judgment of teachers is paramount", with external state exams and national tests supplementing the teachers' assessment. "External assessment should be what drives the whole national school curriculum. School-based assessment is subsidiary," he said. "This is an enormous step backwards. This is a really retrograde step that will dumb down the whole curriculum across Australia to the lowest common denominator, and the worst school will become the standard. "If this document gets through, the eight state education ministers are the greatest dunces in Australia."

Professor Wiltshire said the argument for school-based assessment was driven by teachers' unions and meant the teachers decided what would be examined and assessed, with no external checks or comparison of standards. "It's teachers' unions driving this to prevent any checks or controls on teachers and to prevent parents having appropriate measures of accountability and performance standards for the reporting of their kids," he said.

The Future of Schooling report was released on Tuesday by Victorian Premier John Brumby and commissioned by the Council for the Australian Federation from a steering committee chaired by the secretary of the Victorian education department, Peter Dawkins. The report was a final version revised after consultation with a range of organisations, with very few changes.

But the statement on public reporting of student assessment did change, with the draft version saying: "The external assessments of all students in state and national testing programs provide this kind of information (to understand personal development of students)." The final version states: "The judgment of teachers is paramount, but external assessments of all students in state and national testing programs must supplement this information."

Professor Dawkins said that to interpret this sentence as a movement away from state and national testing programs was wrong, and that they remained a critical part of the assessment and reporting process. Rather, the idea of a teacher's judgment being paramount was to reflect that teachers are trained to interpret test results and relate this to a child's development, and that they are the primary communicators with parents about their child's performance. "State and national testing programs are an important part, but not all the information that a teacher uses to determine a child's developmental needs," he said. "The judgment of teachers should always be crucial in reporting to parents. "During the consultation period, we received feedback that this is important. However, this is not intended to detract from the important role of external assessment."

Professor Wiltshire said the explanation was "gobbledegook and designed to prevent proper accountability". "Parents want to see external assessment - they're not interested in school-based assessment," he said. "They don't want to know whether the teacher likes their child, or how they rank in class. They want to know how their child is shaping up and keeping pace with the national curriculum."


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Teacher: I was fired, said Bible isn't literal

Why did he have to proclaim his personal religious views as fact in a Western Civ course? Are atheist views privileged? I have taught many courses on many things over the years (at both secondary and tertiary level) and have never felt any need to denigrate Christian beliefs, even though I am an atheist. He must be a bitter man

A community college instructor in Red Oak claims he was fired after he told his students that the biblical story of Adam and Eve should not be literally interpreted. Steve Bitterman, 60, said officials at Southwestern Community College sided with a handful of students who threatened legal action over his remarks in a western civilization class Tuesday. He said he was fired Thursday. "I'm just a little bit shocked myself that a college in good standing would back up students who insist that people who have been through college and have a master's degree, a couple actually, have to teach that there were such things as talking snakes or lose their job," Bitterman said.

Sarah Smith, director of the school's Red Oak campus, declined to comment Friday on Bitterman's employment status. The school's president, Barbara Crittenden, said Bitterman taught one course at Southwest. She would not comment, however, on his claim that he was fired over the Bible reference, saying it was a personnel issue. "I can assure you that the college understands our employees' free-speech rights," she said. "There was no action taken that violated the First Amendment."

Bitterman, who taught part time at Southwestern and Omaha's Metropolitan Community College, said he uses the Old Testament in his western civilization course and always teaches it from an academic standpoint. Bitterman's Tuesday course was telecast to students in Osceola over the Iowa Communications Network. A few students in the Osceola classroom, he said, thought the lesson was "denigrating their religion." "I put the Hebrew religion on the same plane as any other religion. Their god wasn't given any more credibility than any other god," Bitterman said. "I told them it was an extremely meaningful story, but you had to see it in a poetic, metaphoric or symbolic sense, that if you took it literally, that you were going to miss a whole lot of meaning there."

Bitterman said he called the story of Adam and Eve a "fairy tale" in a conversation with a student after the class and was told the students had threatened to see an attorney. He declined to identify any of the students in the class. "I just thought there was such a thing as academic freedom here," he said. "From my point of view, what they're doing is essentially teaching their students very well to function in the eighth century."

Hector Avalos, an atheist religion professor at Iowa State University, said Bitterman's free-speech rights were violated if he was fired simply because he took an academic approach to a Bible story. "I don't know the circumstances, but if he's teaching something about the Bible and says it is a myth, he shouldn't be fired for that because most academic scholars do believe this is a myth, the story of Adam and Eve," Avalos said. "So it'd be no different than saying the world was not created in six days in science class. "You don't fire professors for giving you a scientific answer."

Bitterman said Linda Wild, vice president of academic affairs at Southwest, fired him over the telephone. Wild did not return telephone or e-mail messages Friday. Bitterman said that he can think of no other reason college officials would fire him and that Smith, the director of the campus, has previously sat in on his classes and complimented his work. "As a taxpayer, I'd like to know if a tax-supported public institution of higher learning has given veto power over what can and cannot be said in its classrooms to a fundamentalist religious group," he said. "If it has ... then the taxpaying public of Iowa has a right to know. What's next? Whales talk French at the bottom of the sea?"


Unemployment Training (The Ideology of Non-Work Learned in Urban Schools)

For many urban youth in poverty moving from school to work is about as likely as having a career in the NBA.While urban schools struggle and fail at teaching basic skills they are extremely effective at teaching skills which predispose youth to fail in the world of work.The urban school environment spreads a dangerous contagion in the form of behaviors and beliefs which form an ideology.This ideology "works" for youngsters by getting them through urban middle and secondary schools.But the very ideology that helps youth slip and slide through school becomes the source of their subsequent failure.It is an ideology that is easily learned, readily implemented, rewarded by teachers and principals, and supporting by school policies.It is an ideology which schools promulgate because it is easier to accede to the students' street values than it is to shape them into more gentle human beings.The latter requires a great deal of persistent effort not unlike a dike working against an unyielding sea.It is much easier for urban schools to lower their expectations and simply survive with youth than it is to try to change them.

The ideology of unemployment insures that those infected with it will be unable to enter or remain in the world of work without serious in-depth unlearning and retraining.Urban youth are not simply ill prepared for work but systematically and carefully trained to be quitters, failures, and the discouraged workers who no longer even seek employment.What this means is that it is counterproductive to help urban schools do better at what they now do since they are a basic cause of their graduates living out lives of hopelessness and desperation.

The dropout problem among urban youth--as catastrophic as it is--is less detrimental than this active training for unemployment.We need be more concerned for "successful" youth who graduate since it is they who have been most seriously infected.They have been exposed longest, practiced the anti-work behaviors for the longest period, and been rewarded most.In effect, the urban schools create a pool of youth much larger than the number of dropouts who we have labeled as "successful" but who have been more carefully schooled for failure.

The fact that this ideology is not a formal part of the stated curriculum but caught in school does not make urban schools any less accountable for its transmission.These anti-work learnings are inhaled as youth participate in and interact with school policies, administrators, teachers, safety aides, and the entire school staff.Community and religious watchdog groups who seek to control the values taught in schools focus on prayer and sex education.They are oblivious to the actual values caught in schools.Following is a brief description of the beliefs and behaviors which comprise this unemployment ideology.

Nowness.(What is the unit of school learning time?)In urban schools learning is offered in disconnected jolts.The work of the day is unconnected with the work of preceding days or subsequent ones.Life in urban schools is comprised of specific periods and discrete days each of which is forced to stand entirely on its own.If homework is not done, or books not taken home (behaviors which are universal for males and almost so for females by the completion of the upper elementary grades), everything students are taught must be compressed into isolated periods of "stand alone" days.Teachers and principals, as well as students, survive one day at a time.

By focusing on what can be learned in one period or in one activity educators claim to "meet the needs of students" who are frequently absent and would always be playing catch-up.(In some urban schools there is 100% turnover between September and June in some classes.)Another rationale for this disjointed curriculum is the number of pull out and special programs which legitimize youngsters missing classes.But the most common reason offered for teaching "Nowness" is the claim that students seldom remember anything they have been taught before.The introduction of any new concept or skill inevitably requires an extensive review of everything that might have preceded the concept.For example, an eighth grade teacher tries to give a lesson on election results.S/he quickly discovers that most of the class cannot explain the difference between the city, county, state, or federal levels of government.The teacher can either back up and spend the period trying to teach these distinctions or offer the lesson to the few who might understand it.Some youth have learned to play dumb in order to keep teachers from ever offering their planned lessons.In most cases, however, students are genuinely ignorant of the most elementary concepts teachers must assume they know in order to offer the required curriculum.

Nowness is the operating norm of the urban school.A successful period or activity is one in which students are expected to prepare nothing and to follow up in no way. In the absence of connections with what students have already been taught (several times) and should already know, and with little certainty that the students will remember today's lesson tomorrow, much of what goes on in urban classrooms resembles daytime television; brief, jejune activities which may generate a superficial passing interest but which require no real involvement.One can tune in to a program such as Jeopardy any day without falling behind.There are always new words so that viewers need not remember the previous day's words.And best of all, the rules are quickly given anew each day.The person who tunes in for the first time knows as much as the person who has been watching every day.Anyone can show up and play the game.

Teachers promulgate Nowness because, like their students, they are trying to simply get through each day with the least hassle.But there is no way to learn any ideas of any consequence or develop skills to any level of proficiency if Nowness controls the conditions of learning.Education is a process of building connections and this process is hard work, hard work for students and even harder work for teachers.By "going with the flow," teachers and schools support the students' misconception that the unit of time in which anything can be taught and learned is something less than one hour.

Showing Up.(What is the minimum standard of satisfactory work?)"The Deal" in urban schools refers to a tacit working agreement between students and teachers. The student does not disrupt the class.In return, the teacher ignores his/her doing nothing.Simply attending is thus transformed from passive existence into a virtue.Being there is all that matters.Work is not expected, merely the absence of negative behavior.Teachers purchase this peace with a passing grade of D- to answer the student who says, "If I never showed up I would get an F.I showed up.I deserve better."By passing students for just being there, school policies and teacher behaviors systematically teach youth that existence is an action.In effect, that if you do nothing bad you deserve something.While attendance is a necessary condition for learning, it is not a sufficient condition.By rewarding inaction, uninvolvement and a detached presence, urban schools promulgate the dangerous myth that the minimum standard for "doing" satisfactory work is showing up.

Make Me.(Who is accountable for what students learn?)Urban schools are conducted as authoritarian institutions.Principals are not replaced because their students are not learning but because the building is out of control.The need for safety from the surrounding neighborhood as well as the need to create an internally safe environment are, of course, understandable and desirable.Unfortunately, this perceived need for authoritarianism also controls the conditions of offering the curriculum and the learning environment of the school.Urban youth believe that the principals, teachers, and staff run everything; that school is essentially "their deal not ours."They see endless rules, a prescribed curriculum, and the pedagogy of poverty (Haberman, 1991).This directive pedagogy supports the students' perception that it is not only the teacher's job but his/her responsibility to see to it that they learn.Students describe good teachers as the ones "that made me learn."

Urban schools reinforce the student perception that teachers bear final responsibility for what they learn.By allowing passive witnesses, the schools support these student perceptions that all relationships are (indeed rewarding) students for being essentially authoritarian rather than mutual.As youth see the world, they are compelled to go to school while teachers are paid to be there.Therefore, it is the job of the teacher to make them learn.Every school policy and instructional decision which is made without involving students--and this is almost all of them--spreads the virus that principals and teachers rather than students must be the constituency held accountable for learning.In a very real sense students are being logical.In an authoritarian, top-down system with no voice for those at the bottom, why should those "being done to" be held accountable?

Excuses.(How often can you be late or absent and still be passing?)Of all the unemployment values urban schools teach, they teach this one best!Students believe that they can be late or absent as much as they want provided they have a good excuse, someone's permission, or a written note.What is taught or what is missed is of little or no consequence.What matters is the quality of one's excuse.And if one has valid excuses, there is no limit to the number of "excused" latenesses or absences a student may have and still be "passing."The value says, "if it's not your fault you are absent, then it's as good as being there." And "being there" passes.

In a recent survey urban middle school students were asked the questions, "How many times can you be late (or absent) in a month and hold a regular job?"Over half the students responded you could be late as often as you had a good excuse.Almost half responded you could be absent any time you had a good excuse.

In discussing these responses with urban youth, none has ever suggested that students have the responsibility of making up for missed work--or even finding out what was missed.If the issue of missed work is raised, students seem only able to respond with the validity of their excuse.It is beyond the realm of their consideration to deal with the issue of the missed work itself.If reviewing missed work is raised as a direct question (i.e., "How do you learn what you missed?"), students respond, "Review is what teachers do."

Non-Cooperation.(Should you have to work with people you don't like?)Urban youth typically respond to differences with their peers by threatening or using force.Any body language or verbal interaction is brief and merely an initial preface to the escalation process.The value students bring to school is one of "might makes right."Indeed, "might is the only determinant of right."Schools seek to teach nonviolent options, peer mediation, and even engage in negative reinforcements as a consequence of overtly aggressive behavior.But in spite of the large number of suspensions, expulsions, and other authoritarian school responses, most of the day-to-day behavior of students is not dealt with by teachers and principals in terms of detention or suspension.The overwhelming response of the school to students' inability to get along with each other is to separate potential combatants.If this were not done, the urban schools would resemble the floor of the Roman Coliseum.Efforts of urban teachers to use cooperative learning in urban schools require heroic, consistent efforts to contravene the street values students bring to school.It is easier and more common for principals, teachers, and safety aides to simply separate students than it is to teach them to get along.

Students come to expect segregation from rivals as a prevention to the problem of fighting.They do not practice peaceful coexistence or improved communication as an alternative to violence.This is because they have been taught the street values of power and control and the school has done nothing to disprove the efficacy of these values in their daily lives.Teachers and principals can't be there when students need them in the everyday situations they encounter outside of schools.Students (and their parents) believe therefore that they must learn to take care of their own "business."The problem is that, in school, where educators do control the environment there is no systematic training regarding alternatives to violence.The easy way out is for educators to pretend that violent behavior is irreversible in urban youth and the simplest strategy is the best one:separate potential combatants.

The effect of implementing this strategy--consistently for 13 years--is to solidly reinforce in youngsters the ideology of noncooperation; that is, you should never have to work with anyone you don't like or can't get along with.

Much more here

Expensive pre-schools

If you're like many new parents, nothing's too good for your little genius, including $30,440 for preschool so your 4-year-old can occupy a few hours each day playing with blocks and finger painting in an organized setting. Think that's a typo? Think again. That is the price of admission to the preschool program at New York's Ethical Culture Fieldston School. Other private schools in aren't much better. Bank Street, also in New York, will set you back $27,450; pre-K at Washington's Sidwell Friends runs $26,790. Compared to that, The Center for Early Education in Los Angeles, with its $15,400 tuition, seems like a bargain. hunted down the most expensive preschools in the biggest urban areas across the country using local school guidebooks, Web sites and experts to compare tuitions and programs. There is no central database that tracks tuition trends, not even locally, says Deborah Ashe, director of admissions in the lower school at New York's Trevor Day School, where preschool tuition is $24,200. And there are a lot of variables. Some schools that are preschool-only programs have comparably lower tuitions than preschools affiliated with elementary schools, and some schools get funding from the government.

Tuitions have been rising at an 8% clip across the board, according to some experts. That's more than the annual tuition increase at Ivy League colleges. But there is something to be said for the hefty premiums, according to Victoria Goldman, author of preschool guidebooks for New York and Los Angeles and mom of two New York private school kids. "You get what you pay for," she says.

Mostly what she means is facilities. The elite Episcopal School on Manhattan's Upper East Side, for example, which costs $14,500 a year, is housed in an elegant seven-story townhouse. Seven years ago, Boston's nearly 100-year-old Tenacre School (pre-K tuition is $16,000-plus) built a new gymnasium, library and multimedia center.

Washington, D.C.'s Sidwell Friends School gutted a few buildings and built a new "green" middle school. "Many of the older schools are antiquated and in constant need of upkeeping," says Georgia Irvin, author of a schools guidebook for the D.C. metropolitan area.

But paying the tuition is easy compared with getting in. Entrance to an exclusive private preschool is a painful right of passage for thousands of upscale New York moms every year, kicking off with a mad rush of speed dialing early in the morning the day after Labor Day to secure applications before schools run out of them. The way the game works, at least for many top private nursery schools: You call to get the application, rush it back to the school and wait anxiously for word you will be granted a tour and your child will be invited to an on-site pseudo-interview the schools call a "play-date." Some schools dispense with the play-date and just meet with families individually. Some ask for essays. Some just want to know where you live and work. (Presumably much information about your potential as a big donor can be gleaned from your address and employer).

Then there is the bone-chilling, mind-bending wait during which you agonize over your kid's performance during the play date and handicap her chances vs. the others (including that kid who went fishing in the classroom fish tank). While the process starts in September, it doesn't end until early March, when the notifications are mailed.

After conquering the application process and winning a coveted spot, no small feat in itself, the reality hits hard. Preschool, for most just a few hours a day in the mornings, can cost more than studying for an engineering degree at Michigan, and much more at some very selective schools. Of course, the lure for many is the program itself. At the 92nd Street Y, a school that gained a fair amount of notoriety for its role in the Wall Street research scandal a few years back, kids are engaged in an archeology "dig" and sculpture projects, among other things. At New York's Horace Mann, where educating a 4-year-old sets you back $26,880, kids are taught reading and computer readiness. At Chicago City Day School, tuition $17,000-plus, instruction in foreign languages, drama, music and science begins in the junior kindergarten.

Many parents view private preschool as a necessary step in the even more stressful process of securing a place in a private grade school, the process for which has been chronicled recently in the documentary "Getting In" on the TLC cable channel. In truth, the other thing pushing parents to send kids to preschool is the cold reality that kindergarten has become the new first grade, with parents pushing academic learning earlier with the fear that their kids will fall behind if they don't meet major milestones like reading well before what is considered normal. That makes preschool the new kindergarten. And that's a whole other story.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Britain: `Detention, detention, detention'

Parenting orders, on-the-spot fines... the Brownites are planning to use the education system to police mums and dads as much as educate kids

Last week, the UK government announced extra powers that will give schools and local authorities even greater leeway to punish parents for the misbehaviour of their children. Such powers are likely to reinforce today's trend to infantilise teenagers while increasing divisions between schools and parents.

Under the regulations, parents of teenagers expelled or suspended from school face prosecution and a possible œ1,000 fine if they fail to keep their kids indoors during the day. Headteachers will also have the power to go to court to obtain parenting orders - which place obligations on parents backed by the threat of prosection - rather than involving the local authority. Ed Balls, the UK schools secretary, said: `Schools can only do so much in isolation. Parents have to be responsible for instilling right and wrong, too. Our measures help to create a more united front against poor behaviour.' Other measures include banning suspended or expelled children from public places during school hours in an attempt to stop them from getting into trouble or treating their punishment as a holiday (1).

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair famously once said that New Labour's key principles were `education, education, education'. Judging by the obsession with controlling kids (and their parents), the party's key focus today is `detention, detention, detention'. As the number of children expelled from schools has actually fallen in recent years, it would seem that the government is overstating the extent of unruly behaviour in British schools.

The new punishing measures have little to do with raising educational standards; rather they're a transparent attempt to point the finger of blame at apparently `uncouth' parents. As Balls put it: `I want heads to engage with parents, including using parenting contracts at an early stage so that schools and parents are able to work together to prevent bad behaviour from escalating.' (2) Forget about dropping the kids off to school and then going to work - it seems the government wants parents to go back to the classroom as well.

New Labour's crude and ill-judged authoritarianism is objectionable. And in any event, these new powers won't improve classroom behaviour. The government seems to be implying that working-class parents have failed to discipline their children properly, thus giving rise to disruptive behaviour in the classroom. Thus, the authorities need to instill a sense of right and wrong in both children and parents. In truth, the dynamics of school life are such that children do not necessarily act in the same way in the classroom as they do at home. A child might be well-behaved and respectful at home but start to play up and be disruptive in the company of other kids.

The old teacher cliche `you wouldn't do that at home, would you?' was based on the observation that children are more likely to play around at school. It was therefore the job of teachers to socialise children into behaving maturely with others. Schools are society in microcosm, where children learn how to interact with others in a public environment based on universal standards. How can children be equipped with the norms required for adulthood if they are packed off to mum and dad when they are disruptive? Disruptive children need to be integrated into schooling far more if they're to learn how to behave in such an environment, not simply be sent home and kept off the streets, too.

Far from Ed Balls and headteachers `getting tough' with poorly behaved schoolchildren and their parents, the latest proposals smack of wanting secondary-school kids to remain at the level of toddlers - forever in the custody of their parents.

Even when schools do attempt to socialise children these days, the emphasis is on cushioning them from the temptations of the big, bad outside world. In recent years, that has meant keeping kids away from such dens of iniquity as the local chippie or burger joint. Education chiefs in Denbighshire, North Wales, for instance, are locking the school gates at lunchtime in order to force children to eat healthy dinners. As with the lunchbox inspectors, and letters to parents advising them to feed their children `properly', it surely won't be long before parents are issued with fixed penalty notices (ie, `on-the-spot' fines) for failing to feed their children five fruit-and-veg per day.

The education system these days spends as much time policing parents as educating children. Under the new rules, parents who allow their children to be in a public place without justification within five days of being excluded from school will be fined œ50. And if parents do not pay within 42 days, they face prosecution and a possible 1,000 pound fine. Should parents be criminalised for the failures of schools and teachers to do their job properly - that is, to integrate problematic children and shape their behaviour in an institutional environment?

In the past, schools would liaise with parents regarding their children's poor or disruptive behaviour by calling mum and dad in for an informal chat with the headteacher. Underpinning these meetings was a sense of adult solidarity regarding the joint responsibility of parents and teachers towards children. Now, the government is so far removed from ordinary parents that it doesn't know how to appeal to such basic, everyday solidarities. Instead, the fixed penalty notice is hastily drafted in to fill the gap where shared beliefs and ideas should be. New Labour is deeply bereft of any moral framework through which it can provide British society with guidance and purpose. And the authorities seem to believe that ordinary people are incapable of responding to civic ideas of right and wrong anyway. As the British public is often seen to be `crassly materialistic', and only concerned with what's in their wallets, the fixed penalty notice is probably seen as the best solution: money, the `only language these people understand'.

The latest figures on expelled children hardly point to a massive crisis in schooling. Instead, the introduction of fines for parents who don't babysit their expelled children shows how the government wants parents, as much as schoolchildren, to conform to behavoural diktat. Rather than offering a vision of the Good Society, New Labour believes that financial punishments are the panacea to make everyone into a model citizen. In truth, all it really shows is that, when it comes to devising decent educational policies, New Labour is a few pence short of a pound.


South Australian Certificate of Education becoming too easy

There are always plenty of excuses for dumbing down when Leftists are in charge

The new high school certificate will worsen the skills crisis by discouraging the study of maths and science subjects at Year 12 level, teachers say. Associations of maths and science teachers say the new format, which applies from 2011, will encourage students to drop one of either physics, chemistry, mathematical studies or specialist maths. It requires students to complete 60 study units, the equivalent of three full-year subjects and universities are yet to announce whether their entry requirements, now five Year 12 subjects, will change.

But teachers say the new certificate's focus on raising the number of students who finish school and pressure to get the best score for university entry will mean more students drop out of harder maths and science subjects and opt for "easier" studies. SA Science Teachers Association past president and president-elect of the Australian Science Teachers Association Peter Turnbull said the new high school certificate was "flying in the face" of efforts to combat the state's skills shortages. "We have a view that this is going to have an impact on the uptake of the sciences. It is a major concern for us," he said.

Course counsellors already discouraged students from difficult subjects to maximise their Year 12 score, Mr Turnbull said. "The evidence we're getting is that when kids are choosing subjects, there is often a fairly hard lobby to avoid the hard things," he said.

SA Chamber of Mines and Energy chief executive Jason Kuchel agreed easy subjects were increasingly offered to students as replacements for key subjects. "I am concerned we are continually providing more and more softer choices to students, which is encouraging them away from some of the four subjects required for engineering," he said. People with strong backgrounds in the maths and sciences are needed to address the state's skill shortages in professions such as engineering, geology, surveying and aviation.

Mathematical Association of SA vice president Carol Moule predicts specialist maths will be hardest hit under the new certificate - with universities already teaching these subjects - calculus, geometry and complex numbers - in bridging courses. About 1100 Year 12s studied specialist maths last year. Maths studies attracted about 3160 enrolments, chemistry 2200, and physics enrolments were below 2000, according to the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of SA.

Designers of the new qualification deliberately simplified the number of subjects required, reducing it to 200 points or 20 semester-long subjects, rather than the existing 22. Mrs Moule said the new SACE was designed to increase retention rates. "It is simply about encouraging kids to stay on and do Year 12 and get a certificate," she said. "I really care about the more able ones keeping up their study of the maths and sciences."

Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said SACE would prepare more young people for "skilled careers, further education and citizenship". "Science and maths will continue to be key subject offerings provided under a future SACE," she said. Future SACE office director Wendy Engliss said students will be able to choose either Year 11 or Year 12 subjects in addition to the compulsory requirements at each year level. "This gives scope to students to choose more full-time stage two subjects, including more maths and science, if this best suits their pathways," she said.

No limit on the number of Year 12 subjects was proposed for the new certificate and a requirement for an arts subject would also be dropped. Ms Engliss said requirement to study an in-depth project at Year 12 level would be another opportunity for students to study maths or science.

Association of Independents Schools SA executive director Garry Le Duff said university requirements needed to be resolved "in the very near future", but he believed the new SACE was flexible enough for students to do a combination of maths and science subjects.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More on the OTHER Columbia U Controversy

The Ahmadinejad visit needs no comment from here. But below is an excerpt from "Some Professional Observations on the Controversy about Nadia Abu El-Haj’s First Book" By Alan F. Segal . Should an intellectual incompetent get tenure? -- in other words

Let me address only two of the issues that have been raised in this discussion: the notion that everyone who opposes Professor Nadia Abu El-Haj is a rightist engaging in a witch-hunt and the equally difficult notion that the central issue about professor Nadia Abu El-Haj’s book on Israeli archaeology is her knowledge of modern Hebrew, one important issue from each side of the Internet discussion.

The issue is not only whether professor Abu El-Haj speaks Hebrew well enough to interview, or reads it well enough to understand scholarly arguments, assimilate them, and generalize about the value of Israeli archaeology. Literary skills are plainly much more advanced and important in this case than speaking skills. Perhaps she has read the newspapers in Hebrew, even though there are perfectly good English Web sites for all the newspapers she quotes, or spoken Hebrew to Israeli archaeologists, who regularly speak English to the volunteers in any case. She does make some simple mistakes in Hebrew at several important places in her book, especially in the chapters on Hebrew place names, but also including one that affects her conclusions about Israelis secularizing ancient concepts. Contrary to her opinion, “bayyit” does mean “temple” in ancient Hebrew: “the Hebrew terms secularizing in their effect insofar as the word ‘temple’ is absent” (p. 132). In any case, in her dissertation, on which the book is based, she states that most of her interviews were conducted in English or Arabic.

A parallel issue is her inability to deal with written sources: A book about Israeli archaeology, however abstract or sophisticated its theory may allegedly be, must be about archaeology done by Israelis, and must involve reading many books and articles in Israeli journals of archaeology but, according to Lisa Wedeen,chair of the political science department at the University of Chicago and scholar of the modern Middle East, there are too few Hebrew archaeological articles or books in her bibliography. There are few enough to wonder about the basis for her judgments about Israeli archaeology. I realize that there are other important issues in the book but this deficit must certainly be a crucial one.

In support of her thesis, professor Abu El-Haj presents Israeli archaeology as monolithic. She is either unaware, or simply does not tell her readers how fractious Israeli scholarship is, in general, or how impossible it is to come to any positive opinion or consensus about what Israelis think on any subject, ancient or modern. When she cites an Israeli archaeologist, she rarely cites any opponents but they are never lacking in Israeli journal literature. Also, one of her most trusted sources is an American writer on archaeology—a good writer, I think—but neither an archaeologist nor an Israeli and, hence, of limited use to her argument. She should disclose this, as she repeatedly relies on him in reaching her conclusions but does not alert her readers to the limitations of using him as a source. Perhaps she is unaware that he is an American science writer, a popularizer (an important skill for reaching non professional audiences), and not a practicing archaeologist? But she should be mindful and make the reader aware of his predilection for some scholars and against others, not merely accept his judgments without comment.

But the most important issue is how she handles evidence in general, and this concern manifests itself in several areas. One locus of her failure is the anonymity of her sources. A Barnard anthropologist in the religion department, roughly a decade ago, was turned down for tenure, in large part because of arguments from the anthropology department: She protected the identity of her major informant with a false name, even though she produced the “anonymous” person (who lectured at the college and answered all the questions of the search committee). At the time, the anthropology department was quite intransigent on this point. Now they are equally intransigent on the other side. A revolution in scholarly methodology? Let us not raise the implication of bias, only inconsistency. But I know for a fact that some very effective lobbyists for professor Abu El-Haj, associated with Barnard’s anthropology department, did not even read her book until after the Barnard consideration was over.

A statement supported by one, anonymous, oral report is an unsupported statement, and several of such statements are crucial to professor Abu El-Haj’s conclusions: that Israelis deliberately mislabel Christian sites as Jewish and tear down churches (p. 233, among others); that they use bull-dozers to level sites and wipe out evidence of Palestinian habitation (pp. 148, 153, 157). No respectable journalist would publish on the basis of one anonymous report and, if these were actually supportable, they would not have escaped notice for long in field reports or archaeological discussions, which can be quite vituperative in Israel. Israeli archaeologists have no fear of criticizing each other and are extremely talented writers, being literate in several languages. It’s hard to believe any secret that could be bandied about to a hostile stranger reporter would avoid disclosure somewhere in their very argumentative journals and books.

Her most outrageous charge—that bulldozers are being used in contemporary archaeology (p. 148)—has been proven false by the field reports and the testimony of David Usshishkin, the person in charge of the Jezreel dig during the time in question and a very well known archaeologist with an impeccable reputation. What was used was a power arm, a much smaller and more refined instrument, perfectly acceptable in salvage digs as this sector was. (Incidentally, there was no Arab evidence at all in the sector in question.)

The chair of the anthropology department at Barnard (whose father, apparently, was once a bulldozer-using archaeologist) assured me that the difference between a power arm and a bulldozer is trivial. I do not think the difference trivial today, if it ever was. There is a huge difference between a giant leveling blade and a manipulatable, very small, power digging instrument but it is professor Abu El-Haj who emphasizes the importance of the use of bulldozers (p. 148-9). A great deal of the argument of the book depends on the charge being right as rain. But it is false, even misleading. The field reports bear out the Israeli archaeologist, not her. And if this is so in this extremely important case, should we not suspect that there are other egregious mistakes in her other single-sourced, anonymous, oral reporting—especially as the anonymous charges do not appear in the dissertation, the document which was vetted by a distinguished and responsible committee at Duke?

A larger and more pervasive issue concerns her inability to make judgments in biblical history. Her claims have been characterized by supporters in Spectator as follows: “Professor Abu El-Haj’s disputed book made the argument that the state of Israel, like many other modern states, seeks legitimacy from ancient history at a damaging cost.” This statement severely understates the claims of the book but it is a more accurate description of her dissertation, upon which the book was based. For the book, her further claims are that the production of Israeli archaeological knowledge is uniquely fanciful, more than other national archaeological schools, due to their colonial settler mentality, and that Israeli archaeologists perforce uniquely produce far more themselves than the evidence allows because they are citizens of this colonial settler state. This is announced at the very beginning of the book and is hard to miss: “the colonial dimension of Jewish settlement in Palestine cannot be sidelined if one is to understand the significance and consequences of archaeological practice...” (p. 4). I am only quoting a small portion of her discussion there, which goes on for some pages with further arguments about the added and uniquely colonial nature of Israeli archaeology, among other things.

Most pointedly, professor Abu El-Haj feels that there was no good evidence of Israelite occupation of the area before Israeli archaeologists did their work. She characterizes Israeli archaeologists as disguising myth as history: “the mythical character of the biblical narratives is effaced” (p. 127), as an example or “a tale best understood as the modern nation’s origin myth was transported into the realm of history” (p. 104) as another. She ignores the possibility that the archaeologists may have been trying in good faith to ascertain what was historical, given their data and historical context. As she makes these claims she footnotes specific scholars from a particular school of biblical scholarship—“the biblical minimalists” (e.g., see reference to Thomas Thompson on p. 127). A person unfamiliar with biblical scholarship might miss the import of these references but the implication is clear. Professor Abu El-Haj has necessarily made some radical assumptions about what biblical history actually tells us.

When it comes to what can actually be known about Israelite occupation of the land, professor Abu El-Haj makes almost exclusive use of these biblical minimalists, no more than a handful of scholars really, out of the thousands at work in the world. Many of my colleagues at Barnard seem to believe that the biblical minimalism controversy describes fundamentalists on one side with rational discourse about the Bible on the other. Nothing could be further from the truth. Biblical minimalism concerns the nature of the evidence for Israelite presence in Canaan during First Temple times (ca. 950-587 B.C.E.). Being a biblical minimalist is not a crime; but the school is often consciously infused with modern Middle Eastern politics in ways that are hard to ignore.

Nevertheless, biblical scholars regularly read them, accept some small part of what they claim, and reject most other parts. Their questions, if not their answers, are always interesting. Professor Abu El-Haj frequently uses their most extreme conclusions about archaeology uncritically as proof that Israelis tell us more than the archaeological record shows. None of the minimalist scholars she relies upon for this purpose is actually a working archaeologist or an Israeli, though there are Israeli minimalist archaeologists, who mostly disagree with her.

But how could professor Abu El-Haj possibly make a decision about the claims of biblical scholars or archaeologists in the First Temple period? To make an independent, informed judgment, she would need to know not modern Hebrew conversation, but ancient Hebrew literature, and for the First Temple Period, which is her particular target, also Aramaic, Ugaritic (a significant Canaanite language), certainly all the many and significant North West Semitic epigraphy (inscriptions) relevant to this period, comparative Semitic grammar and syntax, comparative literary studies in Akkadian and Egyptian, and biblical stylistics. These credentials are in no way unusual for graduate students in Bible, and many of them also study far more exotic languages—like Akkadian, Egyptian, Hittite or Sumerian—as well as develop an understanding of ancient Near Eastern culture and history. There are literally hundreds of inscriptions from the First Temple period, together giving much interesting and debated evidence of an ethnicity called Israel who worship a divinity called YHWH. The most important and longest of these inscriptions were discovered in the 19th and early 20th century, considerably before there was any country called Israel or any significant Israeli archaeology.

In fact, one major and effective argument against the biblical minimalists is that they cannot adequately explain away this inscriptional evidence. She herself never engages the basic issues concerning the Merneptah Stela, the Moabite Stela, the Siloam Inscription, the Tel Dan Inscription, the evidence from seals and bullae or any of the important inscriptional finds but they speak strongly against her conclusions about ancient Israel. She has only disputed one ethnic identifier for Israel—collared rim pottery—but ignored several others: theophoric names, evidence of circumcision, the presence or absence of pig bones, stone jars and later, immersion pools, depictions of ritually important plants, depictions of ritual objects or the Temple or biblical scenes like the sacrifice of Isaac. As a result, she believes that Israel was not an historical presence in the land but a myth. Biblical minimalists normally stop disputing this at the beginning of the Second Temple period but she often appears to push it further, even to the time of Jesus.

Professor Abu El-Haj makes major judgments about the Jewish character of Jerusalem in New Testament times, including that Herodian Jerusalem was not a Jewish city, a most extreme opinion (p. 175-176). She also says that Jerusalem was not a Jewish city after the destruction of the Jewish state because Jews were in the minority during much of its recent history. Would she then consider that the old city of Jerusalem is not now an Arab city because Arabs are now a minority there? These are not casual observations but critical ones, logically necessary to her analysis of the errors of Israeli archaeological museums. By rights, to come to these conclusions she should also be familiar with ancient classical historians, Syriac and Greek, Josephus, Philo, and New Testament scholarship, to say nothing about early rabbinic literature and possibly Latin language and literature. Other than the odd quotation from Josephus, there is little evidence of this either. Without engaging these bodies of knowledge she has no grounds for siding with a bare logical possibility about the events which produced “The Burnt House,” for example, against the consensus of international, not just Israeli, scholarship (p. 145).

Without many of these tools, she could not make a judgment about even a footnote or a textual reading in a biblical minimalist article, to say nothing of one of their many conflicting histories of biblical times, Old Testament or New. She merely takes only those statements which most agree with her own tenuous contentions, and that is something that no Bible scholar, no anthropologist, and no archaeologist should ever do.


NYC schools hiding violence

The truth is too frightening to admit

The city's public high schools are underreporting violent and disruptive incidents, an audit released yesterday claims. City Comptroller William Thompson Jr. said nearly 21 percent of school incidents - including 14 percent of those considered "serious" - were not properly reported during the 2004-05 school year. "The flawed reporting makes it difficult for parents, the public and government officials to honestly assess whether a school is safe," said Thompson.

In the 10 high schools whose data were reviewed, school administrators failed to enter 414 of 1,996 incidents into an online reporting system, the audit found. Additionally, 174 of the 1,247 "serious" incidents, which are relayed to the state in order to determine which schools should be labeled "persistently dangerous," were not reported. These included reports of a rape in November 2004 at Boys and Girls HS in Brooklyn, a stabbing in January 2005 at Clinton HS in The Bronx, and the assault of a security officer in September 2004 in August Martin HS in Queens.

Thompson said much of the failure resulted from administrators working under vague directives for classifying incidents, and he called on the Department of Education to exercise more oversight, provide additional training, and take action against schools that don't follow the reporting mandates. "The guidelines need to be cleaned up and more supervision by the DOE is appropriate," agreed principals-union president Ernest Logan. "The principals at these schools are certainly not intentionally underreporting incidents."

DOE officials called the audit "imprecise" and "misleading" because the schools weren't selected at random and because the audit defined "serious" incidents differently than the NYPD or the state do. "The comptroller's methodology wouldn't make it to first base with a researcher worth their salt," said DOE spokeswoman Dina Paul Parks. But United Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten countered that the audit "confirms a practice educators and the UFT have complained about for years: the failure to report all school incidents."


Tax credits versus vouchers

With the height of summer past us, school is just around the corner. And unfortunately, too many kids across the country will return to schools that just aren't doing the job; whether it's imparting reading, writing, arithmetic, or morality, the current educational models do not suffice.

Parents ought to have more liberty to make decisions about their children's educations, but even the best efforts of the school-choice movement have achieved only spotty success over the years. Before the next cycle begins, school-choice supporters should consider the fundamentals with an eye toward the most promising avenues for giving parents the freedom to choose their child's school.

So, which of the two options for real school-choice reform are more popular: vouchers or education tax credits? Surveys generally demonstrate that tax credits command five to ten percent more support than do vouchers. A large academic poll recently conducted for the magazine Education Next and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University illustrated the remarkable wide support for tax credits. Even current and former public school employees support education tax credits by a margin of nearly two to one; 50 percent said they supported tax credits, while only 28-percent opposed them. Public school employees oppose vouchers by a thin two-point margin.

Vouchers are essentially checks that the state sends parents to use at schools of their choosing. Tax credits reduce the amount a taxpayer owes the government for each dollar he spends on his child's education or scholarships for children who need them. If a business owed the state $4,000 in taxes and donated $2,000 for scholarships, for instance, it would pay just $2,000 in taxes – and it would get to choose the organization that received its donation. Similar benefits can also be applied to individuals for donations, and for their own child's education expenses. Three states have personal use tax credits, and five states have donation credits. The biggest programs in Pennsylvania and Florida save millions of dollars and help thousands of children afford good independent schools.

Both vouchers and tax credits fund school choice, but there are big differences between them. Only tax credits let taxpayers control their own money — they get to spend it directly on a child's education or donate it to a scholarship fund. In a voucher program, taxpayers send their money to the government and it decides how to spend the funds.

The Education Next/Harvard survey showed, in fact, that tax credits were more popular with the general public, with 53-percent supporting them, compared to the 45-percent supporting vouchers. Moreover, there is much more opposition to vouchers, with 34-percent opposing them and only 25-percent opposing credits. That gives tax credits a 28-point margin of support over opposition compared to an 11-point margin for vouchers.

Some say tax credits are more popular because teachers' unions have spent so much time and money attacking vouchers, but this poll didn't even use the word "voucher." Instead, it referred only to "government funds" in the question. It's clear that tax credits are much more popular and less objectionable to the general public, and even to public-school employees, than vouchers. And the word "voucher" has little to do with that.

One possible reason for the popularity of tax credits is that tax benefits are a common and popular policy vehicle, and most Americans have had good experiences with them. For instance, the HOPE Scholarship tax credit, which gives taxpayers credits on a portion of college expenses, child tax credits, and home mortgage deductions are widely recognized, popular tax breaks among middle-class voters; these kinds of policies often get over 70 or 80-percent support.

Some critics have lamented the proliferation of special interest tax credits and deductions, but these are proliferating for a reason. Tax credits are a popular and relatively easy way to provide benefits for particular kinds of activities. Credits for education expenses have the same advantages, and unlike most other tax benefits, are amply justified improvements on a tax-funded government education monopoly.

Education tax credits command the popular support necessary to significantly expand school choice. We need to refocus our energies on what works and help politicians to see that the public wants school choice through tax credits.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Judicial denial of sex differences!

Implications for discrimination regulations generally? Given the 1st Amendment protections (which forbid religious discrimination but not sex discrimination), implications for religious groups are unlikely -- even if the decision is upheld by SCOTUS

Public colleges' anti-bias policies have been taking a beating in the courts in recent years. Various federal courts have said that the policies can't be used to deny recognition to Christian student groups - even if those groups explicitly discriminate against those who are gay or who don't share the faith of the organizations. Many lawyers who advise colleges, even some who deplore these rulings, have urged colleges to recognize that the force of their anti-bias policies has been severely weakened. Students' First Amendment rights of freedom of religion and expression will end up trumping strong anti-bias principles, or so the emerging conventional wisdom has gone.

But an unusual decision from a federal appeals court on Thursday is challenging that conventional wisdom. The decision upheld the right of a public college - the College of Staten Island, of the City University of New York - to deny recognition to a fraternity because it doesn't let women become members. In ruling as it did, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that the college's anti-bias rules served an important state function - and a function that was more important than the limits faced by a fraternity not being recognized. In a statement that some educators view as long overdue from the courts, the Second Circuit said that a public college "has a substantial interest in making sure that its resources are available to all its students."

Further, and this is important because many college anti-bias policies go beyond federal requirements, the court said that it didn't matter that federal law has exceptions for fraternities and sororities from gender bias claims. "The state's interest in prohibiting sex discrimination is no less compelling because federal anti-discrimination statutes exempt fraternities," the court said.

Some legal experts view last week's ruling as a blip - a result perhaps of unusual circumstances in the case, or a trio of judges who happened to see the issue in a different way. An appeal is almost certain. But rulings by federal appeals courts become law in their regions and precedents that can be cited everywhere. And some lawyers, especially those trying to defend college anti-bias laws, say that the decision could be significant.

In the new ruling, "the court is saying there's no question but that the government has a substantial interest in eradicating discrimination and it recognizes that non-discrimination policies that condition funding interfere [with students' rights] only to a limited degree, and that's exactly the issue in our case," said Ethan P. Schulman, a lawyer for the University of California Hastings College of Law.

A federal judge ruled last year that Hastings was within its rights to deny recognition to the campus chapter of the Christian Legal Society, which barred from the group students who engage in "unrepentant homosexual conduct." Based on other rulings, the Christian group has appealed, but Schulman said that the Second Circuit's finding showed that colleges should not abandon tough anti-bias policies (as many have, when faced with similar legal challenges). "Ultimately it may well be that the U.S. Supreme Court is going to have to decide these issues," Schulman said. "But right now I think it's a mistake for colleges and universities to assume that they should abandon strongly held policies of non-discrimination."

Other lawyers had a range of predictions on what will happen as a result of the Second Circuit ruling. Some anticipate a quick reversal. Others see a new front in the culture wars, with anti-Greek educators seizing on the ruling to attack fraternities - and lawmakers rushing to protect the Greek system. Others say that non-Greek, single sex organizations on public campuses - think about a cappella singing groups - could find themselves under scrutiny. And others think that the fight over Christian groups that discriminate against those who don't share their beliefs is about to get much more intense.

With so much potentially at stake, there is some irony about the origins of the case at a CUNY campus. CUNY colleges generally don't house students, and Greek systems, to the extent they exist at all, are small and off campus. The lawsuit challenging CUNY's anti-bias rules was filed by a new branch of Alpha Epsilon Pi, which was seeking recognition as an official student organization at the College of Staten Island. Such status would, among other things, allow the group to receive funds, publicize and hold events on campus, obtain a campus mailbox. The fraternity's members said that their organization didn't permit the inclusion of women, and that adding women would alter the nature of the group. Fraternity leaders testified that havine women as members might lead to romance and "inevitable jealousies." Even lesbians could be problematic, the fraternity said, because having a female member is "an issue itself."

The fraternity sued CUNY, arguing that its rejection of the chapter on grounds of sex discrimination violated its right to "associative freedom" under the First Amendment. That argument carried the day at the district court level, which issued an injunction against enforcement of the anti-bias rule.

But the appeals court found that the fraternity was claiming associative rights (which offer some protection to groups with common beliefs and interests) while opening many of its events to non-members. In essence, the appeals court found that the fraternity members couldn't claim to be selective about who they hang out with, while boasting about how open an organization they have created. Further, the court noted that the fraternity was free to meet off campus with its own money - and that the college had legitimate reason to enforce its anti-bias rules.

In just about every way, this take differed from the analysis applied by a federal appeals court last year in a case over the right of the Christian Legal Society to be recognized at Southern Illinois University. In that case, an appeals court found that the society's right to religious freedom and free expression were violated by a university ban on support for groups that discriminated against gay people. "CLS's beliefs about sexual morality are among its defining values; forcing it to accept as members those who engage in or approve of homosexual conduct would cause the group as it currently identifies itself to cease to exist," says that decision. "What interest does SIU have in forcing CLS to accept members whose activities violate its creed other than eradicating or neutralizing particular beliefs contained in that creed?"

Given that differing analysis - and the longstanding tradition of single-sex fraternities and sororities - what does the latest decision mean? Timothy M. Burke, a lawyer who wrote a brief for the court on behalf of the North American Interfraternity Conference, called the decision "surprising and frankly disappointing." He said he hoped that the fraternity in Staten Island would win on appeal, perhaps by stressing its Jewish roots to win some of the protection courts have granted to Christian fraternities. But Burke acknowledged that most fraternities and sororities couldn't make a religious claim. And that's why he's worried. "There has not been a huge clamor out there to change a system that's been in place for well over 150 years," he said. Further, the fact that fraternities and sororities were specifically exempted from federal gender bias laws shows that there is a broad consensus that their single-sex status shouldn't be challenged, he said.

Attacking fraternities at public universities is especially unfair, Burke said, in light of the 1972 Supreme Court decision in Healy v. James that upheld the right of Students for a Democratic Society to be recognized as an official group at public campuses. "It's a simple argument," he said. "If the SDS has to be recognized, then organizations like Chi Omega and Sigma Pi ought to have that right."

David French, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, said that the Staten Island decision was decided incorrectly and that he was "moderately concerned" about it. French's group has been a major player in challenging the enforcement of public colleges' anti-bias policies against religious groups. Because the groups he is representing make an argument beyond associative rights, going to religious expression, French said he didn't see a legal threat. But he said that "perverse incentives" were created by the court. That is because the judges faulted the fraternity for wanting protection while also conducting many activities with a broad group of students. "That reasoning struck me as problematic for groups that want to identify themselves somewhere in between" having an exclusive mission and complying with all anti-bias rules. "The Second Circuit took that middle ground away," he said. And for any group that is traditionally all male or all female, such as singing groups or athletic programs, that could invite scrutiny, French said.

Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said that he believed the appeals court erred by underestimating the impact of being denied official recognition as a student group. A more realistic assessment of those burdens, he said, might have led to a different conclusion. Lukianoff predicted considerable fallout from the decision, even though he thinks it is faulty. "At its worst, it provides a blueprint for public colleges to refuse to recognize any fraternity or sorority, which I think a lot of universities would love the opportunity to do," he said. "I think this opens the door to a lot of future controversy." And if there is such a move, he said, "there will be a predictable backlash" from lawmakers who will try to protect Greeks. In the near term, Lukianoff said that fraternities "are in a more precarious position."

Schulman, the lawyer for Hastings, said he thinks part of the reason the Second Circuit's ruling will matter is that other courts are starting to advance similar arguments. He cited a ruling last month by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that upheld the right of a Washington State high school that rejected a religious group's quest for recognition. The court - in a case being appealed -- ruled that the group was appropriately rejected under the school district's anti-bias policies because of religious limits on who could vote or hold office.

Groups that want organizations at public universities to be able to discriminate against gay people or non-Christians have been trying to argue that the issue was settled by the Southern Illinois case or a few other cases, Schulman said. While he acknowledged that some court decisions have gone that way, he said that the two recent appeals courts rulings were equally significant. "I think the issues posed by these cases are still very much in play," he said. "It's too early for either side to declare or predict victory."

Lawrence White, formerly general counsel at Georgetown University and a lawyer in the counsel's office at the University of Virginia, and now a consultant to colleges on legal issues, agreed. White thinks that many public colleges avoid the kind of legal dispute that is going on at CUNY by creating a specific exemption for fraternities and sororities to anti-bias policies.

The real impact of the decision may be in giving public colleges and universities the ability to enforce anti-bias policies against religious groups that discriminate against gay students or others, he said. "This decision breathes life into the notion that anti-discrimination standards are standards that we should all adhere too, and that universities can define those broadly," he said. By declaring that anti-bias policies "serve an important institutional interest," he said, "this decision does provide a lever."

Sheldon E. Steinbach, a lawyer in the higher education practice at the Washington firm Dow Lohnes, said that whatever one thinks of the latest decision, it may complicate life for colleges and their lawyers. "What American society in general expects from courts is uniformity and consistency," but this "revolutionary" decision takes an unexpected approach on a ragne of issues, and one that is not consistent with other rulings, he said. "This winds up being a very interesting case."


Collapse of basic education in Scotland -- despite the traditional Scottish love of education

Tens of thousands of children are failing to master the basics of numeracy and literacy in primary and secondary schools, an audit of standards has revealed. Data obtained by The Sunday Times shows that levels of attainment among pupils finishing primary school and about to embark on Standard Grade courses fell in about half of local authorities last year.

The picture of chronic failure has angered parents and politicians, who claim that successive administrations have mishandled education policy. Murdo Fraser, deputy leader of the Scottish Tories, described the findings as “shocking”. He called for head teachers to be given greater power to run schools and restore standards. Glasgow and Inverclyde are among the worst performing areas, as is Fife.

In more than half of Glasgow’s secondary schools, most S2 pupils fail to reach basic standards in writing, while in one in three of its schools more than half of its S2 pupils do not achieve required levels in reading. In Aberdeen, a majority of primary seven pupils failed to reach the Scottish government’s recommended level D standard in writing in nearly 40% of schools. In east Ayrshire the figure is nearly a third. Primary school standards fell in at least one subject (reading, writing or maths) in 11 out of 22 education authorities that provided figures for the past two years and 9 out of 22 at S2 level. In a third of Fife schools, most S2 pupils failed to reach level E standard in maths. Many education authorities, however, improved in some subjects. Glasgow’s secondary schools saw noticeable improvements, especially in maths, as did the Highlands and Falkirk.

The analysis of standards uses data obtained under freedom of information legislation. The SNP administration, like the previous Lib/Lab coalition, opposes the publication of national league tables. Equivalent data for England is readily available. It confirms fears that the transition from primary to secondary school damages the prospects of thousands of pupils, with an attainment gap between children aged 12 and 14. In 3% of Glasgow primary schools, 50% of children (or more) fail to meet reading standards. At secondary level this rises to 30%. The disparity in results is not just within schools in the same council area but within different skills in the same classroom. Most Aberdeenshire S2 pupils achieved level E reading standard, but in 47% of the authority’s secondaries less than half of pupils reached the required grade in writing, compared to 35% the previous year. Writing skills are a particular weakness across Scotland. In half of Inverclyde secondary schools the majority failed to meet the required standard.

Notable success stories include Stirling, where the number of schools with half (or more) of S2 pupils failing in writing fell from 43% to 29%. Similar improvements were made in reading attainment.

Nonetheless, Fraser described the statistics as dismal. “Far too many youngsters are being failed by the system. The Scottish government has yet to recognise the seriousness of the problem or come up with anything to tackle it. Teaching methods need to be looked at and school heads need more control in their own environment.”

Victor Topping, of the NAS-UWT teaching union, suggested too many inexperienced probationer teachers had taken the place of experienced staff. He called for a greater focus on teaching children the three Rs. “For children who are struggling, the curriculum is too cluttered,” said Topping. “If children are in difficulty with maths and English skills, is there any point in trying to do other subjects with them?”

Tina Woolnough, chairman of the education campaign group Parents in Partnership, accused ministers of underfunding additional learning support for struggling pupils. She spoke of the human story of lost children behind the statistics. “We should know what their home life is like, what their diet is like and if they are getting adequate sleep and living normal routines,” she said. “Childcare is probably lacking for a hard core of failing families and we are not making any headway. Often schools don’t have the resources to tackle these problems, they only have resources for the extreme cases. The rest have to muddle on through.”

The Scottish government said it was focusing on early intervention in schools, including smaller class sizes, to drive up standards. [A pity that smaller classes do NOT improve standards. But how can we expect the Scottish exceutive to know what has been known elsewhere for decades?]