Saturday, November 24, 2007

Canadian Catholic schools remove anti-God book

If secular schools can ban all mention of Christianity -- which they often do -- religious schools should obviously be able to ban anti-Christian books. How nice it would be, though, if both sides were mature enough to allow free exchange of ideas. I get the idea that church schools are by far the most tolerant in such matters

Halton's Catholic board has pulled The Golden Compass fantasy book – soon to be a Hollywood blockbuster starring Nicole Kidman – off school library shelves because of a complaint. Two other books in the trilogy by British author Philip Pullman have also been removed as a precaution, and principals have been ordered not to distribute December Scholastic book flyers because The Golden Compass is available to order. "(The complaint) came out of interviews that Philip Pullman had done, where he stated that he is an atheist and that he supports that," said Scott Millard, the board's manager of library services. "Since we are an educational institution, we want to be able to evaluate the material; we want to make sure we have the best material for students."

Following a recent Star story about the series, an internal memo was sent to elementary principals that said "the book is apparently written by an atheist where the characters and text are anti-God, anti-Catholic and anti-religion." Millard said if students want the books, they can ask librarians for them but the series won't be on display until a committee review is complete. The Golden Compass is the first of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy of books and have been likened to the Harry Potter series.

In the U.S., the Catholic League has accused the books of bashing Christianity and promoting atheism to children. The league is urging parents to boycott the movie, which opens Dec. 7. Catholic schools in Toronto and York Region have the books on their shelves and report no complaints. The public library in Burlington, in Halton Region, lists The Golden Compass as suggested reading for Grades 5 and 6. The award-winning tome was voted the best children's book in the past 70 years by readers across the globe. While the book was first published in 1995, complaints are surfacing now because of the buzz surrounding the movie, said Rick MacDonald, the Halton board's superintendent of curriculum services.

The Nov. 1 article in the Star prompted several emails from principals wondering if the book is appropriate for schools. Pullman has made controversial statements, telling The Washington Post in 2001 he was "trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief." In 2003, he said that compared to the Harry Potter series, his books had been "flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God."

The board is unsure how many copies of the Pullman books are in circulation at its 37 elementary schools because they were not purchased centrally and are not a part of the curriculum. "We have a policy and procedure whereby individual, parents, staff, students or community members can apply to have material reviewed. That's what happened in this case," MacDonald said, adding he did not know who lodged the complaint. The complaint was received about a week and a half ago, and it is standard procedure to remove books from the shelves during the review. Any move to ban the book would be taken to trustees. Millard said he's still trying to find additional members for the review committee, but has sent copies to those already on the committee, such as MacDonald.

Milton pastor David Wilhelm, who is also a trustee and a committee member, said hasn't read the book yet and won't make a judgement until he has. He did not know when the review would be done. Richard Brock, who heads the Halton elementary branch of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, said he's had no complaints from teachers about the books being pulled. The board, he added, is within its rights to restrict distribution of the Scholastic flyer. "With elementary students, you're always going to bend in the direction of caution anyway," he said.

Scholastic Canada received a complaint via email from the board, as well as a handful of other negative emails that appeared to be part of a campaign begun in the U.S. Halton's Catholic board has 28,500 students at 45 schools in Burlington, Halton Hills, Milton and Oakville.


Britain: Under-sevens 'too young to learn to read'

What utter garbage from this "expert"! Some children learn to read as early as age 3. The real problem is the "all kids are equal" doctrine that haunts thinking on the matter. Kids are NOT equal. What WOULD make sense is for children to be enrolled according to their mental age rather than according to their chronological age but that would be "elitism!", I suppose

Children should not start formal learning until they are seven, according to a world expert in nursery education who will suggest today that teaching reading and writing earlier can put them off for life. Teaching children at five to read and write can dent their interest in books later on, according to Lilian Katz, a professor of education at Illinois University, who will today address an international conference on nursery schooling at Oxford University. "It can be seriously damaging for children who see themselves as inept at reading too early," she told the Guardian. Boys were particularly vulnerable when rushed into reading too soon, she said.

Her comments come amid mounting concern over reading skills. In England, a quarter of all 14-year-olds now fail to reach the expected standards, and boys are struggling even more. Earlier this month a Cambridge University report strongly criticised Labour's 500m pound national literacy strategy for having a "relatively small impact". It concluded that children's reading skills had not improved in 50 years.

Moves in England to introduce more structured learning for three- and four-year-olds could store up problems in the long term, Katz suggests. English schools start formal teaching at five but there are plans to introduce a foundation stage for three- and four-year-olds which will set new learning goals, including one which specifies that by the time children start school at five they should be able to at least "use their phonic knowledge to write simple regular words". Katz, a former president of the National Association for the Education of Young Children and a respected authority on early years education, said: "Teaching younger children can look OK in the short term but in the long term children who are taught early are not better off. For a lot of children five will be too early. "That has a more negative impact for boys. For most boys they are growing up in cultures where they are expected to be assertive and active. In instruction they are passive and receptive and reactive, and in the long term that accounts for the negative effects. In most cultures girls tend to put up with instruction earlier and better."

The conference will examine the case for starting formal teaching at a later age. In Sweden children do not start formal instruction until six or seven. Professor Ingrid Pramling-Samuelsson, from the University of Goteborg, who is president-elect of the World Organisation of Preschool Education, will tell the conference that academics in Sweden have been "surprised" to hear that England is moving towards earlier formal instruction.

The children's minister Beverley Hughes will also address the conference about the early years foundation stage, which has been interpreted by some as the extension of the national curriculum to toddlers. The government is adamant that despite setting goals for children to reach they are not targets and it is not a formal curriculum.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "The formal school starting age of five has served children well for decades and standards in our primary schools have never been higher. The curriculum is age-appropriate and we actively support teachers to adapt their teaching to the needs of children. We want all children to make progress in literacy and numeracy at an early age, as these skills are critical to their ability to get the most out of learning later on."


Friday, November 23, 2007

Greenie propaganda invading the schools

Green California Schools Summit - The largest sustainable summit and expo to focus on bringing green technology and natural products into K-12 schools in California (December 4-6, Pasadena, California) announces the addition of Laurie David, Academy Award winning documentary film maker, and Cambria Gordon, children's book writer, as general session keynotes on December 6. They will join acclaimed scientist, educator and author Bill Nye "the Science Guy."

On December 5 the summit will be opened by Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard and will feature a keynote by actor and legendary environmentalist, Ed Begley, Jr. Parents, teachers, community organizations, school officials will come together at the summit to learn how children are affected by their school environment and what can be done to implement sustainable healthy green solutions. Experts have found that sustainable technology is not only good for the environment, but it also enhances the teaching and learning environment for students.

The Green California Schools summit is the first major event to address all aspects of the state's high performance school revolution - from planning, building and operations to curriculum and "green culture." Seventy-five educational workshops and sessions, led by top state and national experts, will cover issues ranging from funding sources for green projects to empowering students to become the next generation of environmental professionals. The exhibition floor will include a model green school building and more than 200 companies offering cutting edge green products and services.

"This is the first major opportunity that we've had in California to focus completely on K-12 schools in terms of the potential for energy savings and sustainability," said California State Architect David Thorman. Secretary of State and Consumer Services, Rosario Marin, whose agency approves all public school construction and financing, and Secretary of Education, Dr. David E. Long, join Thorman as co-chairs of the event.

About the Speakers

Among many other accomplishments, Laurie David is a global warming activist and producer of the Academy Award-winning film, "An Inconvenient Truth" and the HBO documentary "Too Hot Not to Handle." She also executive-produced "Earth to America!," a primetime comedy special about global warming. One of the foremost voices in global warming, Vanity Fair called her the "Bono of Climate Change." Her co-author on "The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming," Cambria Gordon, is an award-winning copywriter, children's book writer and environmentalist.

Published by Scholastic/Orchard Books in September, "Down-to-Earth," has earned praise for making a complicated subject child friendly. "I've never seen a more comprehensive explanation of the phenomenon in so few words," wrote Hank Greeen of the New York Times, ".they make the science relevant and enjoyable with abundant visuals and conclude with some meaty ways for kids to make a difference." Kirkus Reviews describes the book as having "A humorous tone, eye-catching graphics and celebrity connections (that) lend pizzazz to this volume."


The Laurie David book (above) is certainly simple -- the truth is much more complex

A fundamental scientific error lurks in a book calculated to terrify schoolchildren about "global warming", Robert Ferguson, SPPI president, announced today: "The Down To Earth Guide to Global Warming", by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon, is intentionally designed to propagandize unsuspecting school children who do not have enough knowledge to know what is being done to them."

A new SPPI paper ( briefly examines a cardinal error, found on page 18 of the David book, where she mousetraps children: "The more the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the higher the temperature climbed. The less carbon dioxide, the more the temperature fell. You can see this relationship for yourself by looking at the graph. What makes this graph so amazing is that by connecting rising CO2 to rising temperature scientists have discovered the link between greenhouse-gas pollution (sic) and global warming."

The SPPI paper states, in part: What really makes the David-Gordon graph "amazing" is that it's egregiously counterfactual. Worse, in order to contrive a visual representation for their claim that CO2 controls temperature change, the authors present unsuspecting children with an altered temperature and CO2 graph that reverses the relationship found in the scientific literature.

The manipulation is critical because David's central premise posits that CO2 drives temperature, yet the peer-reviewed literature is unanimous that CO2 changes have historically followed temperature changes.

Case in point, on page 103 of their book, David cites the work of Siegenthaler et al. (2005). However, Siegenthaler et al. clearly state the opposite, that CO2 lags "with respect to the Antarctic temperature over glacial terminations V to VII are 800, 1600, and 2800 years, respectively, which are consistent with earlier observations during the last four glacial cycles."

"Parents and teachers should be concerned enough to demand that the publisher, Scholastic Books, recall, pulp and correct the error before mores copies reach innocent children.," said Ferguson.


Australia: Lesbian child abuse OK -- of course!

No penalty. If it had been a male teacher ....

A former teacher has escaped immediate jail after succumbing to her love for a troubled student and having lesbian sex in bushland in Perth. Elizabeth Anne Crothers, 50, received a two-year jail term, suspended for two years, in the Perth district court yesterday after a jury found her guilty on one count of indecent dealing and one count of sexual penetration. In WA, lesbian sex is legal at 16, but the age of consent rises to 18 when one of the couple is in a position of authority over the other - as in a teacher-student relationship.

Crothers was tried on 21 counts of indecent dealing or sexual penetration of a pupil in her care between November 1998 to March 1999. She admitted having a full sexual relationship with the teenager but insisted it happened only after the girl left school in March 1999.

A jury yesterday cleared Crothers on 19 charges but found her guilty on one count of indecent dealing and one count of sexual penetration. Those charges related to Crothers digitally penetrating the girl and allowing the teen to digitally penetrate her in bushland in Perth's hills in February 1999.

The girl told the court she shared her first sexual experience with Crothers who seduced her when she was a troubled student. Crothers, a mother of two, admits she was stupid to meet a student outside school. But she insisted it was not until 2000 that she began fondling and kissing the girl, engaging in mutual digital penetration and giving and receiving oral sex in a live-in relationship that lasted several years.

Judge Michael Muller said the pair were in love and Crothers had resisted a sexual relationship with the "tortured'' child until succumbing in an isolated incident. He found she had not groomed the girl for sex and encouraged her to leave school and home so Crothers could exploit her. "I cannot find you induced the girl to leave school to take advantage of her sexually,'' the judge said.

But he said the breach of trust was very serious. He sentenced the weeping Crothers to two years on each count, to be served concurrently, and suspended the term for two years. She had faced a maximum penalty of 10 years for the sexual penetration and five for indecent dealing.


The education consequences of a Labor Party win in Australia's imminent Federal election

Howard believes he has changed the country during his four terms, most notably to be "less politically correct", he said in an interview with me at Kirribilli House two weeks ago. And he knows that it is on education, the touchstone issue that divides Rudd and Howard, where the Opposition Leader bears the heaviest burden of political correctness.

Rudd's party has long been hostage to the education unions and educationists of the so-called progressive left, who persist with 40-year-old radical theories such as whole-word reading and student-directed learning, despite a generation of conclusive proof they do the most harm to the underprivileged children they profess to care most about. As Janette Howard, a former teacher, said during my interview with her husband at Kirribilli House, education is the ground zero of the culture wars, which she prefers to call a "standards war".

In her travels with him on the campaign trail she has found that "people are concerned about what [children] can't do anymore, that they can't spell, they can't add up . or they don't know enough history". "There's real anger about that," agreed the Prime Minister.

But Rudd has somehow managed to bypass the anger about education standards. Instead he has dazzled everyone with promises of an "education revolution" which offers little of substance other than giving laptops to every year 9 to 12 student and providing high speed broadband, as if technology is any substitute for good teachers, discipline in the classroom and the ability to read, write and think. In fact, excessive emphasis on technology confines the teacher to be a mere facilitator.

As high school teacher Jane Sloan put it so eloquently in our letters page on Tuesday: "I find myself increasingly reluctant to take up the types of mediated communication that instruments such as interactive whiteboards, computers and data projectors facilitate. "I am not particularly interested in feeding my students' desires (some would feel it as a need) to be entertained - which is how these tools are marketed to us. I believe education should be about enlivening imaginations, not simply providing people with a stock of commercially generated images and sensations that they can scroll through in their minds when the situation requires them to be thoughtful." Sloan sees students "struggling to express their ideas in writing because they have limited vocabularies, and lack the fluency and facility that the majority of educated native speakers once had".

Restoring standards in education would be the real education revolution. Concerted attempts to muscle the Labor states, which control schools, have begun under the former education minister Brendan Nelson, and now Julie Bishop, albeit with mixed success. The Government has been pushing ways to improve teacher training, introduce performance pay for teachers, push phonics as a necessary part of early reading programs, allowing more parental choice, regular assessment, a national curriculum and a more rigorous history syllabus.

It is one of Howard's greatest achievements to have incrementally dragged the debate on education away from the progressive wreckers, despite the boast of Australian Education Union president Pat Byrne, that "the conservatives have a lot of work to do to undo the progressive curriculum". His problem this election has been that Rudd will not be baited on these ideological traps, refusing for instance to be drawn into a Lathamesque "hit-list" of private schools, prompting the NSW Teachers Federation to express "disappointment".

But the monkeys on Rudd's back are such high priests of political correctness as Byrne and Wayne Sawyer, the former NSW English Teachers Association president who famously blamed the last re-election of the Howard Government on the failure of teachers to brainwash their charges and form a "critical generation". Denying such people the dues they believe they deserve after nearly 12 years in the wilderness will be the real test for any Rudd government if it is genuine about improving education. But it's hard to believe they will risk the wrath of the Howard-haters.


Thursday, November 22, 2007


It speaks well of the Columbia president, Lee Bollinger, that a group of left-wing or anti-Israel faculty members is now petitioning against him. In a letter obtained by The New York Sun 's Annie Karni, 70 Columbia faculty members speak of a "crisis of confidence" in Mr. Bollinger, faulting him for his harsh introduction of President Ahmadinejad, which, they said, "were not only uncivil and bad pedagogy, they allied the University with the Bush administration's war in Iraq, a position anathema to many in the University community." The Bush administration is apparently more of an anathema to these faculty members than is the Holocaust-denying, American soldier-killing, terrorist supporting, nuclear bomb-building administration of Iran.

The nub of the matter is the petition's reference to "the autonomy of the University in the face of outside threats and pressures," and "a determining role for faculty in the governance of the University." When the professors say "autonomy," they mean a total lack of responsibility or accountability to trustees, students, parents, alumni, or America. When they say "outside threats and pressures," they mean Jewish students and alumni, but not the Arab potentate that funds the professorship of one of the petitioners, Rashid Khalidi.

A similar putsch by leftist and anti-Israel professors ousted Lawrence Summers last year from the presidency of Harvard. Mr. Bollinger's enemies are a sign of his character. How he handles them will be a test of his backbone, and will determine whether Columbia sinks back into the troubled mediocrity that afflicted it after the 1968 strike, or rises above it into the very first rank of American universities.



Columbia University is boiling. Professors find swastikas and nooses on their office doors and strenuous denials not withstanding Columbia president Lee Bollinger may soon be following in the footsteps Larry Summers. Why? Because he stepped into the maelstrom that is Middle East politics on campus. First, he invited Ahmadinejad to speak and then chastised him prior to his speech.

It was a truly disastrously performance which is currently exploited by Islamist/leftist faculty members to secure tenure for two of their members. They secured one for Nadia Abu El-Haj at Barnard. Now, they are well on their way to secure another Joseph Massad at Columbia. How? With the help of a public letter signed by 109 professors. 69 professors responded with a letter expressing their support for the president. For the first time the post Sixties steady take over of the campuses by proponents of a radical leftist/Islamist anti-Semitic, anti-American relativistic agenda is seriously challenged. Why?

Because 9/11 demonstrated the vile consequences Western education has when offered to Third World students has not only to the Third World but also to the First world. Al Qaeda achieved what the Kmer Rouge failed to do. It convinced increasing number of intellectuals to challenge the academic consensus which blamed everything on Western imperialism and nothing on indigenous Third World forces.

Democracy, Capitalism and technological innovation thrive on critical thinking. In that sense far from breaking the back of Democratic Capitalism, even tenured radicals ultimately served to strengthen it by teaching students that it is good to rebel, i.e., challenge established verities. Here and there a student such as Theodore Kaczynski took the critics seriously and became a unabomber, but those instances were too few and far between to justify a costly challenge to the system.

The trouble is that the system which worked well for the developed world has been truly harmful to the developed world by misleading its best and brightest. Not all Third World tyrants were necessarily educated in the great Western universities but their educated elites did swallowed the radical critic of Democratic Capitalism whole hog and it helped them justify their mismanagement of their home countries. The same can be said of the leading Islamists, Maoists and various National liberation commanders. If the academia had a tough time turning against the Kmer Rouge, it was because Pol Pot was "one of them." He merely put to practice what he learn in the Sorbonne. Voices trying to direct attention to the phenomenon were either silenced or marginalized. Moreover, these ideas were widely distributed in the Third World.

9/11 focused attention on the effect of education on Third World students. At first, few challenged academics directing attention to the usual suspects or root causes such as poverty, hopelessness and racism. Then came the serious research and revealed that terrorists tended to be well educated young people who bought into the fashionable Post Colonial critic and became determined to punish their "oppressors" for destroying their veritable "havens" that their homelands used to be and, indeed, bring about a return to those old time paradises. Princeton University economist Alan Krueger writes:
Pakistan, and Turkey, involving about 1,000 respondents in each country. One of the questions asked was, "What about suicide bombing carried out against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq? Do you personally believe that this is justifiable or not justifiable?" Pew kindly provided me with tab-ulations of these data by respondents' personal characteristics.

The clear finding was that people with a higher level of education are in general more likely to say that suicide attacks against Westerners in Iraq are justified. I have also broken this pattern down by income level. There is no indication that people with higher incomes are less likely to say that sui-cide-bombing attacks are justified.

Another source of opinion data is the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, headquar-tered in Ramallah. The center collects data in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. One question, asked in December 2001 of 1,300 adults, addressed attitudes toward armed attacks on Israeli tar-gets. Options were "strongly support," "support," "oppose," "strongly oppose," or "no opinion."

Support turned out to be stronger among those with a higher level of education. For exam-ple, while 26 percent of illiterates and 18 per-cent of those with only an elementary education opposed or strongly opposed armed attacks, the figure for those with a high school education was just 12 percent. The least supportive group turned out to be the unemployed, 74 percent of whom said they support or strongly back armed attacks. By comparison, the support level for merchants and professionals was 87 percent.

Clearly terrorism is being taught and, therefore, to stop it the teaching of the reasons terror is justified must stop. How? First and foremost by challenging the scholarship of the those teaching it. Second, by making their propagators face public scrutiny. When such scrutiny leads to demands for sanctions against irresponsible professors, their colleagues often rush to their defense crying foul in the name of academic freedom. This is what is happening in Columbia and this is what happened at Harvard. We must realize that this battle has only just been joined and it is not going to be short, easy or pretty.

Still, nothing less than the survival of the developed world and the defeat of totalitarianism in the Developing world is at stake. For what 9/11 ultimately taught us is that the two are ultimately connected. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, the world cannot forever continue to be half free and half slave and the young cannot forever be taught that there is no difference between the two.


Crazy "safety" censorship of British childrens' books

A leading children's author was told to drop a fire-breathing dragon shown in a new book - because the publishers feared they could be sued under health and safety regulations. It is just one of the politically correct cuts Lindsey Gardiner says she has been told to make in case youngsters act out the stories. As well as the scene showing her dragon toasting marshmallows with his breath, illustrations of an electric cooker with one element glowing red and of a boy on a ladder have had to go.

Ms Gardiner, 36, who has written and illustrated 15 internationally successful children's books, featuring her popular characters Lola, Poppy and Max, says such editing decisions are now common

In Who Wants A Dragon? - published by Orchard Books last year - Ms Gardiner says: "I was told, 'You can't have the dragon breathing fire because it goes against health and safety.' "It doesn't really make any sense. "Sales and marketing departments are worried something might offend somebody, or that a child might copy something in a book and their parents will sue the publisher." Pointing out that classic fairy tales such as Hansel And Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood would not get published today, Ms Gardiner said: 'It's a sad reflection of modern society."

In When Poppy And Max Grow Up, published by Orchard Books in 2001, Max was originally shown on a ladder "They didn't allow that because they thought it was precarious," said Ms Gardiner. "Then I had to change the element on a cooker from glowing red to green. "It is crazy. When I go to book signings, I sometimes take with me some colouring pictures, and the kids draw the elements as red because the cooker is on and it's hot. They are not stupid. "I've had books published in Japan, France, Spain and Holland and they don't ask for the same changes. "It seems to be in Britain and the U.S. that there are problems."

Nobody from Orchard Books was available for comment but a spokesman for the Publishers Association said: "We are aware of some concerns by authors and it is something we can talk about in the industry."


See also here

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Battle-scarred teacher in L.A. barrios speaks out

Hi, my name is Migdia Chinea and I'm a recovering LAUSD "substitute." Oh, I'm also UCLA-educated with honors, refined, empathetic, college-level Spanish fluent and a Googleable professional screenwriter. To make ends meet during hard economic times, I became a "substitute teacher" for the Los Angeles Unified School District, or LAUSD - or to put it more kindly, a "guest teacher." As a guest LAUSD teacher I thought I would be an asset, but the system has never appreciated nor taken advantage of my educational or professional hard-earned accomplishments.

There's no teaching going on at LAUSD - only confinement of the sort one may find in a penal colony, complete with walkie-talkie-carrying wardens and bullhorns. And I have "confined" at many different schools within central Los Angeles in the last six months. Many students scream "suuuuuuuub" when they see someone like me - a "guest teacher" - in their classroom and trample anyone and/or anything as they push and shove their way inside.

Recently, I was privy to a narrative by a teacher in which he complained that after a one-day absence, his classroom was in shreds and wall posters were torn down. His VHS player and flash drive with all lesson plans were stolen as was his computer. Lab equipment was broken and tagged with gang symbols in permanent marker and completely nonfunctional. He was subsequently informed that his substitute teacher had walked out of the classroom numerous times throughout the day and had left the students to themselves. He wondered how the substitute could be so irresponsible and how he would break the news to his seventh-graders about their tagged notebooks with profane language and two-weeks worth of work in the garbage. Oh, woe!

I have covered the school at which that individual teaches. It is surrounded by criminal street gangs and is widely considered one of the most dangerous campuses in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The South Side Village Boys, South Side Watts Varrio Grape, Grape Street Crips, East Side Village Bloods, Hacienda Bloods, Circle City Piru and Bounty Hunters street gangs all claim turf in that area, and frequent flare-ups of gang violence are common. I have found most classes in this school to be in a complete state of disaster, absolutely filthy, with no computers available. There are no simple supplies, such as pencils, pens or paper, nothing to be found anywhere. Was this teacher's class an exception? Did he not know that some of his students are probably gang members themselves?

I have observed that many students at this school (and other LAUSD schools) are violent and unpredictable. I was present, in fact, during a violent melee involving hundreds of students that brought in several police squad cars and helicopters flying overhead. I have also endured several school "lock downs." Here's how a "lock down" works: As in a prison, the inmates and their jailers are not allowed to leave for any reason, nor let anyone out.

I then wondered if this teacher had ever asked his students why they behaved the way they did. Are there still people out there who believe that students are ALWAYS right and eager to learn and downtrodden and good. Why are these LAUSD schools so dilapidated - is it the "suuuuuuubs"? I have actually been advised to take pictures of these areas of confinement, er, pardon me, "schools," just in case someone makes an accusation after I'm long gone and I have no way to defend myself. And I always try to leave one classroom door open because I am often afraid for my life - my life.

I've been injured more than once. On Oct. 5, 2007, at another notorious middle school, I was deliberately body-slammed on the head by two to three large young men in a P.E. class of 53 students, while another teacher (someone I had never met before) was decent enough to give a formal declaration to school and police authorities of what he had witnessed. I sustained a concussion and sciatica nerve damage as a result of this personal attack intended to "terrorize [me]." I have memory lapses and continued head and leg pain. I'm told by the local police that this sort of physical abuse on teachers occurs with disturbing regularity. The LAUSD case nurse assigned to my case labeled my attack "boys will be boys."

I've been burglarized (on June 11, 2007), by a stalker with key access to my locked classroom (likely by another teacher or custodian). This theft occurred during lunch break while I was on a five-minute bathroom errand and included a $2,600 2-week-old Sony Vaio notebook, my RX glasses, credit cards, etc. The incident was also reported to the jurisdictional police. But I will have to take LAUSD to Small Claims Court, because district officials will accept NO responsibility.

I've been insulted repeatedly, e.g., "hey, you bitch!," among many vile expletives, by students at various schools. I've been vandalized. My Mini S Cooper has been broken into twice. I'm usually so tired after a full day of "teaching" that I once never even noticed the damage until I opened the car's hatchback several days later.

I've been harassed and pelted with the same Halloween candy I bought as a treat for the students on Oct. 31, 2007. In the pandemonium that usually ensues at these "underprivileged schools," the bungalow class door handles that I reported as missing came off upon touching, fell off, and the students began using these door handles as weapons - their behavior and the school's fire code violation were reported to the LAUSD Board of Directors and the fire department. What a laugh.

My class was rampaged at a barrio middle school on May 23, 2007 - witnessed by two other substitute teachers who were sent in to "help me." One happened to be a lactating mother. These two individuals were also pelted with various objects. This incident was reported to the dean and to school security. No response from the dean for two whole class periods. This was also reported to LAUSD Superintendent David Brewer - no response at all.

I've been maltreated and threatened at all of these schools. But you're not supposed to complain about maltreatment. You're supposed to contain these students and stay quiet with your head down. Is anyone aware of that? Is anyone aware that "substitutes" cannot complain about anything? Is anyone aware that with an obesity and diabetes epidemic in our youth, regular teachers sell junk food for profit to students at many schools? I have reported that fact to the State Department of Education and Social Services. But you have to do so on a school by school basis because state bureaucrats believe it's a singular problem.

I have reported every single incident listed here and many, many more not listed here. However, the LAUSD has only aggravated the situation by doing nothing and ignoring everything. In my view, the LAUSD is completely corrupt, inept and broken, with many students having serious behavioral problems and disinterested in learning, whereas the teachers remain underpaid and exhausted - some of them just marking time until their retirement and giving out charity passing grades to high school students who can barely write or do math at a third-grade level.

I believe that the students who commit acts of dishonesty (like cheating), violence and outright destruction of property should be suspended. When the recidivist students are suspended, their parents or guardians should pay a fine, which may grow incrementally according to the student's offense - and I believe that when such offenses are perpetrated against a substitute, the fine should be doubled (like driving violations in construction zones). I believe that when these citations are enforced a few times, we will all see a marked improvement in student conduct. If there are no consequences to students for unruly behavior, and all they get is a nice little talk at the dean's office, unruly behavior is reinforced. These bad students know how to lie and abuse a system that appears to be afraid of them. They know there are no consequences. They're not learning much now, and the teachers cannot be teaching much in a chaotic environment - so it's a self-perpetuating situation.

As for me, I am exhausted. I feel exploited and I'm also injured, to boot. It's almost impossible for anyone in my position - in a few short days - to instill in these students any sense of decency, good manners and respect because they should be learning these civilities at home. Please know that I get paid very little with no health insurance coverage in sight. And while those incompetents in high-level administrative positions collect their big, fat paychecks for their lack of humanity, there seem to be no end to the problems.

This is a difficult economy, especially for educated single mothers. And women must do what they can do to support themselves and their families. But the press covers this aspect of survival from the teacher's perspective very little, concentrating instead (and almost exclusively) on the students' persistent test failures. I am aware that some teachers, and some "substitutes," may be incompetent and don't care about performing well on their jobs, nor do they care about their students. However, since I'm not one of those people, I believe that the media has an obligation to acknowledge the problems and report truthfully on what is going on. The schools are a mess, filthy, dilapidated and without supplies. The students are dangerous, disrespectful and out-of-control. The country should take notice that teaching has become a very dangerous job and that my life as a teacher is very, very, cheap.


Ludicrous under-reporting of dangerous schools

Los Angeles had not one dangerous school. Can you believe that?

A little-publicized provision of the No Child Left Behind Act requiring states to identify "persistently dangerous schools" is hampered by widespread underreporting of violent incidents and by major differences among the states in defining unsafe campuses, several audits say. Out of about 94,000 schools in the United States, only 46 were designated as persistently dangerous in the past school year. Maryland had six, all in Baltimore; the District and Virginia had none.

At Anacostia Senior High School last school year, private security guards working under D.C. police recorded 61 violent offenses, including three sexual assaults and one assault with a deadly weapon. There were 21 other nonviolent cases in which students were caught bringing knives and guns to school. Anacostia is not considered a persistently dangerous school.

One high school in Los Angeles had 289 cases of battery, two assaults with a deadly weapon, a robbery and two sex offenses in one school year, according to an audit by the U.S. Department of Education's inspector general. It did not meet the state's definition of a persistently dangerous school, or PDS. None of California's roughly 9,000 schools has. The reason, according to an audit issued by the Department of Education in August: "States fear the political, social, and economic consequences of having schools designated as PDS, and school administrators view the label as detrimental to their careers. Consequently, states set unreasonable definitions for PDS and schools have underreported violent incidents."

Critics of the law, including lawmakers who hope the policy can be changed as part of the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, say the low number is a sign the legislation is not working.

The District's definition counts only severe offenses -- generally felonies -- that have been officially verified by police. But many incidents are not formally reported by police. An investigation of the District's schools by The Washington Post this year has shown that more than half of teenage students attend schools that would meet the city's definition of persistently dangerous.

The problem is not confined to the District. In Virginia, a school gets the label by having a single severe incident -- such as a homicide, sexual assault or bomb use -- or by exceeding a certain number of "points" for lesser offenses. A school's threshold of points is based on enrollment; if it exceed its allowed number of incidents for three consecutive years, it is deemed dangerous.

In Maryland, if the number of expulsions or suspensions for more than 10 days at a school exceeds 2.5 percent of the number of enrolled students for three consecutive years, a school is considered persistently dangerous. At Crossland High School in Temple Hills, officials reported 1,927 suspensions in the 2005-06 school year, among its approximately 1,600 students, according to state data. The majority were for disrespect, insubordination and minor infractions, but more than 200 suspensions were given for fighting and making threats, and 11 were given for bringing weapons to school.

Under Maryland's definition, Crossland is not considered persistently dangerous. Yet in a school climate survey conducted last year, 75 percent of Crossland's students responding disagreed with the statement "I feel safe at school." Incidents of underreporting of violence are common nationwide.



A little more than three years ago, former DePaul professor Thomas Klocek's professional life was turned upside down when the 15 year adjunct was essentially fired from the school after defending Israel from some spurious attacks by some Muslim students there. Klocek, a Roman Catholic, had a exemplary record in his decade and a half teaching at the Chicago Catholic university. Here's an update on the legal front of the Klocek case:

Six counts have survived motions to dismiss, four of them defamation claims, and two involving invasion of privacy. Klocek's legal team at Mauck and Baker is well stocked with evidence to substantiate those claims. A trial date is expected to be assigned at the end of this month, with the trial expected to last two weeks. From what I hear, Cook County courts are backlogged, but depending on the judge's calendar, the trial should begin within six months.

A deposition is scheduled for later his month with Yaser Tabarra, who was the executive director of CAIR Chicago in 2004. For more on CAIR's involvement in the case, click on the link below.

DePaul is playing hardball with Klocek and his legal team, making the ridiculous request to submit the former professor to three days of psychological testing. To me, well, that's nuts. But we're talking about academics here, so no one should be surprised. From Andy Norman, one of Klocek's attorneys:

We have a motion to dismiss two of the four affirmative defenses defendants have raised. Affirmative defenses are legal statements made by the defendants that say, in effect, that even if we prove our case against the defendants for defamation and invasion of privacy that there are reasons that the defendants still should prevail and we should lose.

In short, their affirmative defenses are (1) DePaul is not responsible for the DePaulia, which is independently run by students; (2) DePaul was permitted to defame Prof. Klocek because it was part of defendants' respective jobs to inform DePaul administrators, professors and students about the event of September 15, 2004; and DePaul's efforts to remedy the problem Prof. Klocek caused; (3) We made Prof. Klocek a public figure in March 2005 when we had the protest on the Lincoln Park campus and that the defendants cannot be responsible for defaming Prof. Klocek after that time because we caused him to be a public figure; (4) All the statements the defendants made about Prof. Klocek were substantially true and, therefore, not defamatory or invasion of privacy.

We have moved to dismiss ## (1) and (2) on the grounds that the defenses are not plead clearly enough to allow us to answer, and a hearing on our motion is set for 12/18/07 at 9:30 am. We have answered ## (3) and (4) with denials.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Saving our children from the hazards of fascist schools

In Florida last week children were traumatized by protocols that for two days in a row kept them locked down in schools away from their parents. The reason given? A crime had taken place that is normally handled by the police. In these cases the two separate crimes, a robbery and an escaped convict, were used to justify a complete lock down of the area around Ft. Lauderdale.

Government schools are unsafe, frightening, and also fail to teach. Students graduate without understanding elementary book keeping, the principles of electricity, much less physics, how our courts work and many other subjects that two generations ago were assumed as basic parts of becoming a literate, functioning adult. In Maryland today parents who entrusted their children to government schools are facing jail time for refusing to do what many experts now say is hazardous to their health, immunizations. The events were reported in News Target, an online magazine that keeps Americans apprised of health alternatives. That article stated,
“State Attorney General Glenn F. Ivey has announced he is willing to criminalize parents if they don't bring them to the courthouse to have them injected, on the spot, with vaccines that contain methyl mercury -- a highly toxic nerve chemical that causes brain damage and is linked to autism. The action is backed by Circuit Judge William D. Missouri, Circuit Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr., and the chairman of the Prince George school board, R. Owen Johnson Jr. “Together, these judges and officials have conspired to turn Maryland into a medical police state, invoking the threat of imprisonment in order to achieve a vaccination goal that has more to do with politics than children's actual health or safety.”

Children have become targets of opportunity for the State, and every day more parents withdraw their children from government schools, determined to home school. But how to do that? If your children are at risk in the government school and now your house what can you do to protect them? One of the answers if provided by Dennis Klein, President, Karmel Games Inc.

The games produced by Mr. Klein provide invaluable skills for children in a form that makes learning fun and gives parents and children a space to come together where that happens. Mr. Klein founded Karmel Games in late 2003 – a rather different venture than his preceding career in the telecommunications industry! However, he brought extensive experience in product development, engineering management, marketing, and business development to his new company. He quickly established his credentials in the field by designing, developing and managing the production of his first game, Anagramania, in less than 4 months.

Rethinking school holds unsuspected opportunities for kids and parents to explore the world and we will try out these new worlds, including Great New Games, on the Spiritual Politician this Friday at 4pm Pacific time on the Coming home to learning through play and innovation may well remake the world in a form that is safer for all of us.


The failure of state-sponsored schooling

The common argument in the libertarian movement against public schools is that they fail to educate our children. Actually, according to this argument, public schooling is like any monopolized business: expensive, inefficient, and utterly unable to provide the services wanted and needed. This is true, public schooling doesn’t work. But the proof of this is not the thousands of kids managing to go through nine or twelve years of schooling without even learning how to read and write. The proof of the failure of the whole schooling system, i.e. not only the public schools but also the private schools operating in a government controlled and licensed environment, is the small number of radicals managing to escape the brainwashing of centralized school plans.

This argument can much easier be dismissed by public school enthusiasts, but it is nevertheless the more important. Yes, public and state-controlled schools fail to educate our children and make them understand whatever it is "we" want them to understand. But the state school system is not solely intended to provide knowledge to the unknowing and ignorant, it is to provide a certain set of values and beliefs that benefit the ruling class.

The former is obviously failing, but does not provide a real argument against the political control of schooling and education. The problems and shortcomings, at least according to average Joe logic, can be solved and corrected through investing more tax money to increase the number of teachers educating in our schools. The logic isn’t that bad, even though it essentially disregards what we know of economic organization and production. If the problem can be attributed to not having a sufficient number of (fill in the blank) available, then more money should obviously be able to correct this "shortage."

It doesn’t make sense to say that the solution to something not being fully able to produce what we want, that there is a certain lack of resources to fulfill the aims, is to abolish the whole system. People generally don’t think this way – if something doesn’t work fully, then a little more effort/a little more money/one more chance can make it work. No one would take the car to the junkyard if it isn’t working – we first try to fix it.

It is true that this is what we have been doing with public schooling and the public schooling system for quite a while, but it still doesn’t work. But the system is not used by the same but different people – the people seeing the problems now are not the same as the ones who saw problems a decade ago. So we must be able to fix the problems of schooling, it is argued, by simply investing a little more money or provide yet another couple of laws. Just like a little more money was the solution to the problem for people a decade ago. The logic is not all that bad.

But look at it in another way: what about the students who do learn what the schools set out to teach them? Among those students it is safe to say that many of them were different, that they had different thoughts and values and experiences when they first went to school. Is that true when they nine or twelve years later have been educated? Too often the answer to this question is "no."

Ask anyone about democracy or rights or the state and it is obvious that something has happened to these people. Most of them, as I have argued in another article, blindly repeat the dogma of our era: democracy is superior, democracy is the only good system in a society, democracy works, democracy is every man and woman’s right. But what is democracy? Most people are unable to answer this question – "it has to do with voting."

The heterogeneous beliefs of kids going to school at the age of six or seven (or whatever) are literally untraceable when the same kids nine or twelve years later have been educated. Of course, there are differences in political views; but those differences are simply a matter of "how much more" state we "need," never the opposite and the question Why? is not asked and not even considered.

So the schooling system has essentially worked – this should be fairly obvious. But it hasn’t worked in full – there are some people who manage to go through the seemingly endless years of "education" only to end up almost the same except for having learned how to read and write. They somehow manage to keep their thoughts and values, and develop their own ideas on how the world should be without being heavily influenced by the state school system.

This is the true failure of the schooling system, and this failure is a reason politicians want to make public schooling "better." The radicals, if you will, are not only proof that the schooling system isn’t bulletproof; they are also, simply through existing, showing the horrors of public schooling: that most kids end up essentially the same when "educated."

The latter is the most important fact we can stress. "What about the radicals?" How come there is no middle ground between the big chunk of mainstream democracy hailers and the radicals? How come there isn’t more diversity in values and opinions? Why are there so very few people asking the so important question "Why"?

It is no doubt true that public schooling, be it schools run directly or indirectly by the state, throughout the western and other parts of the world has failed. But the failure is not only evident in the few people who do not want and do not need education, or in the few people who need more help to understand that which most people seem to think is "extremely important." The real failure is evident in the existence of radicals, and that existence is not only a threat to government – it is also an efficient means to make the public understand what government schools are all about. All we need to do is pose the right questions.


Monday, November 19, 2007


Scholarship and truth does not matter. If it's anti-Israel it is OK

The target is professor Joel Kovel and his new book, Overcoming Zionism. The campus is the University of Michigan. But the controversy is all too familiar. On the one side are those who say universities have become centers for anti-Israel rhetoric. On the other are those who claim pro-Israel forces are stifling debate and limiting academic freedom.

Since the publication of The Israel Lobby by professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the argument has intensified. Two back-to-back conferences that took place last month made clear just how divided the camps are. A conference at the University of Chicago, "In Defense of Academic Freedom," brought together a slew of scholars who say pressure from pro-Israel groups is taking a heavy toll on scholarship critical of Israel and on debate at university campuses.

The conference was inspired in part by the recent decision by DePaul University not to grant tenure to Norman Finkelstein, a critic of Israel and the author of The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. Finkelstein's tenure process, which included a virulent campaign by Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz to deny him the status, became one of the most publicized. Finkelstein was recommended for tenure by the his department and the tenure committee, but the dean overrode them. Some fear this incident has set a precedent for future tenure processes becoming hostage to outside politics.

A few days after the Chicago conference, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), a pro-Israel group, hosted its own conference, "Israel's Jewish Defamers." The group largely targeted Jews who compare Israel to Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa. "What we are addressing today is criticism rooted in outright, demonstrable falsehood or wildly extreme, out-of-context distortion," JTA quoted Andrea Levin, CAMERA's executive director, as saying in her introductory remarks.

The latest bout of academic warfare has taken shape at the University of Michigan - home to one of the largest Jewish student bodies - where many are up in arms over the handling of Kovel's fiercely anti-Israel book. The university, which has a contract to distribute books from left-wing British publisher Pluto Press, has been strongly criticized for distributing the recently-published Overcoming Zionism. In his book, Kovel argues that the creation of Israel was a mistake, and advocates for a "one-state" solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which Israelis and Palestinians would form a new country that isn't Jewish. The controversy led the university to temporarily halt distribution of the book and to review the relationship with the British publisher. But last week, Michigan announced it would renew its contract to distribute Pluto Press books.

The university has defended its decision, saying the relationship with the British press was one of commerce, not scholarship. "Distribution agreements are undertaken strictly as business relationships and have historically been a small part of the UM Press's business," said a statement announcing the unanimous decision. "Currently, the press distributes for five publishers. As is the case with all such commercial arrangements, books distributed on behalf of clients are not edited, reviewed or produced by the UM Press, and they do not bear the imprimatur of the press or of the University of Michigan." Still, Michigan said it would review the way such relationships were set up. Typically university presses don't have explicit guidelines for distribution agreements, "but the recent controversy surrounding the contract with Pluto Press has underscored the need for them," the statement said. Fundamental to that, Michigan said, is "the principle of freedom of expression."

Following the university's decision, the campus newspaper published an editorial supporting it: "There is no doubt that some people will have objections to Kovel's contentions, but is there any reason besides complacency and cowardice that those contentions should not be presented into the debate? While people may not agree with the content of the book, it does add to the debate, and it is exactly the type of book the university press should print."

But the decision to continue ties with Pluto Press has outraged some Jewish and pro-Israel groups. At the heart of the controversy is Stand With Us - Michigan, a local chapter of the national group. The local chapter got wind of the book from a local blogger, and in August brought it to the university's attention. Jonathan Harris, the Christian Zionist director of the Michigan chapter, told The Jerusalem Post by phone last week that the book was "an anti-Zionist screed that tries to prove Zionism is a horrible, racist ideology that brings about only bad."

The director of the University of Michigan Press, Phil Pochoda, expressed similar sentiment in an e-mail to the author, which was leaked. "The issue raised by the book is not free speech, but hate speech," wrote Pochoda. "Perhaps such vituperative and aggressive rhetoric works for the barricades, but it cannot be countenanced or underwritten by the university or the university press, even in this peripheral, distributed capacity." Despite this, the university press resumed distribution of the book.

In an op-ed to be published next week, Harris questions "why UMP would make the choice to promote and distribute Pluto books when they have 'no scholarly merit' and do not meet UMP's standards." Betsy Kellman, director of the Michigan regional chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, said in an interview on Friday that she was "shocked" by the university's decision to continue its ties to Pluto Press. "ADL has often said you can be critical of Israel, but at some point you cross the line and it turns into anti-Semitism," said Kellman. "This book is holding Israel to a very different standard than other countries, and that's where ADL steps in."


Academic hatred of "Zionism"

The news, coming over the weekend, that Barnard College has granted tenure to an anti-Israel anthropologist, Nadia Abu El-Haj, is a setback to those who had hoped that the tide of anti-Israel sentiment at Morningside Heights would begin to recede after President Bollinger's welcome of President Ahmadinejad. Press coverage of Ms. El-Haj's case in the Nation and the Jewish Week (by the same reporter, no less) has sought to portray her opponents as McCarthyites and has insisted that she has been falsely accused. In fact, she is on the record accusing Israel of being a colonial project.

This is a point to mark. Martin Kramer, who is the Wexler-Fromer Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, made the key point when, in a remarks published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, he wrote, "The tragedy of the academy is that it has become home to countless people whose mission is to prove the lie that Zionism is colonialism. Thus research is undertaken, books are written, and lectures delivered to establish a falsehood." He called the idea that Zionism is colonialism "the root lie."

This is the lie that Ms. El-Haj is dedicated to promoting. In her book "Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society," she writes, "The colonial dimension of Jewish settlement in Palestine cannot be sidelined if one is to understand the significance and consequences of archaeological practice or, far more fundamentally, if one is to comprehend the dynamics of Israeli nation-state building and the contours of the Jewish national imagination as it crystallized therein."

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, nonsense. The Jews of Israel are no more colonizers than the Indians were in America. They lived there thousands of years ago. They never left, except for brief periods during which they were expelled by actual colonizers. There's been much debate over Ms. El-Haj's Hebrew skills; what concerns about her skills is not so much her Hebrew but her English, particularly her ability to understand the plain language meaning of the word "colonial" and how it does not apply to Jews returning to Israel from exile elsewhere.

The fact is that the Zionist movement that created the Jewish state in the land of Israel is the 180-degree opposite of a colonial movement. It was - as Menachem Begin used to phrase it when we spoke with him - a national liberation struggle. So when one is confronted by a left that sides with every national liberation struggle save for the one in respect of the Jews, it's no surprise that people start to wonder about underlying motives. The real colonizers right now are the oil-rich Arab potentates that are pouring funding into American universities, hoping to brainwash our students with claptrap about Zionists being colonizers. Looks like the Barnard trustees fell for it, in the last year that President Judith Shapiro, herself an anthropologist, was on the job.


The Strange War on Homework

American students continue to fall behind much of the rest of the world in math and science and recent surveys of their literacy and knowledge of history, civics and geography hover between embarrassing and "Oh my God." But one of the hottest issues in American education today is the crusade to cut down on "excessive" homework; and the war is being waged not by educrats, but by parents.

"I hate school," declared a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, who complained that homework was destroying his son's life and his family and legions of anguished parents worried about the stress and self-esteem destroying effects of homework have joined his cry. After his assault on homework, Columnist Jeff Opdyke says, he received more than a thousand emails from fretting "parents, teachers, principals and guidance counselors," who spoke of "crying, fits, angry outbursts, frustration. And worse."

"Worse," included stories about parents who felt the need to medicate their children. A California mom wrote that the stress of homework was so great that "I was sent twice to see a psychiatrist to put [them] on pills." "Is there something we can do as parents," she asked, "to stop this insanity?" The insanity, presumably, was the homework, not pushing drugs on her kids.

Several years ago I wrote about the widespread opposition to so-called "high stakes" testing among the minivan set. As educational reformers discovered to their chagrin, many suburban parents thought that high standards were quite all right when they were applied to someone else's child. But the assault on the tests was a mild affair compared with the uprising against homework.

"If this is the price of excellence," one anti-homework parent complained on a recent radio call-in show, "I'll take mediocrity." He seems to echo educationist guru Alfie Kohn, who also inveighs against effects of standardized tests, grades, and musical chairs, but who seems to reserve a special animus for homework, which he blames for an epidemic of "stress and conflict, frustration and exhaustion."

Following his lead, school districts across the country are scrambling to put lids on assignments; capping the time children spend on homework. In Needham Massachusetts, the high school has gone even further to protect the fragile psyches of its young. "Less Homework, More Yoga, From a Principal Who Hates Stress," read a headline in The New York Times about Needham High School. All of this, the Times explained places the school in the "vanguard of a movement," among affluent schools that includes the formation of a group known as S.O.S. - "Stressed Out Students."

This is a genuinely strange crusade. A generation of hyper-parents has larded their children's days with band practice, piano lessons, soccer practice, volleyball, martial arts, dance recitals, and swim classes. For their part, teens find time to spend something like 6 hours a day using various forms of media; Xbox 360 sales do not seem to be suffering because kids are too busy to play video games and the malls have not been emptied of teens. And yet the cry goes up that it is Mrs. Grundy's history homework assignments that are destroying the innocence of childhood and wrecking the American family.

Of course, as any parent who has spent hours working on pointless dioramas and time-wasting cardboard volcanoes can testify, some of the complaints are not without some merit. But while some children undoubtedly do have too much homework, reports of a national homework crisis are highly exaggerated. In 2003, a study by the Brookings Institution found that the great majority of students at all grade levels now spend less than an hour a day studying, or about a quarter of the time they spend text messaging things like "NMHJC" (Not Much Here, Just Chilling) to one another.

The hand-wringing over homework also seems to miss the point because the overriding problem of Generation Me is not their excessive work-ethic. Universities and employers are not complaining that they are inundated with overstressed, burned out workaholic over-achievers. Rather the contrary. For every academic Stakhonovite who shows up at college or the office, there are legions of smug, entitled, graduates stuffed with self-esteem and great expectations but utterly unprepared for the rigors of college, work, or life.

This, of course brings us back to the parents, those obsessively involved, overprotective, indulgent moms and dads who have bubble-wrapped their children on the assumption that they are so frail and easily bruised that they must at all costs be protected against the symptoms of life, including, apparently, homework. One suspects that much of this anxiety is less about the kids, than about the angst of the grownups, many of whom seem genuinely afraid to do anything that might make them unpopular with their children, whose amusement and approval they crave so slavishly. That may also explain the endless parade of gold stars, happy faces, and participation trophies that mark the progress of modern childhood.

But for many children raised in bubble-wrap, life is turning out to be both overwhelming and disappointing, especially when they find out that the rest of world does not care as much about their self-esteem as mommy or daddy did. Of course it is true that middle school is often an ordeal and getting into college has become daunting rite of passage. But at some point grownups need to realize that life in general is full of switchbacks and speed-bumps -- most of which are a lot more stressful than an hour or two of science homework at the kitchen table.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

The battle for Middle East Studies

Post below lifted from American Thinker. See the original for links

Eminent intellectual dissidents have arisen and are taking on the leftist establishment which has dominated the study of Middle East affairs in the United States. Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami have given up hope of ever restoring balance and sanity to the hyper-politicized Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), and have now founded an alternative organization, the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA).

Academic associations sponsor academic conferences and publish journals, but they also set the tone and help establish the intellectual agenda of an entire field. Based on my own experience as a member of three different academic associations, leadership roles tend to fall into the hands of people willing to do the grunt work. Which in practice means those burnishing their resumes and those with a political agenda. With the massive amount of Saudi money flowing into the American academy, it is hardly surprising that career opportunities have been so available to those who blame the West for all the problems of the Muslim world, shy away from real problems, and are obsessed with the usual left wing academic fads.

Nibras Kazimi of Talisman Gate provides an enlightening view of the situation, and some telling anecdotes revealing some of the rot within Middle East Studies. If you wonder what's the problem, try this:

...MESA shies away from discussing contemporary Middle Eastern issues for fear than any controversy may scare away the funders.

Can we all agree that Iraq is an important issue, and that such important issues should be front and center among the priorities to be discussed by Middle Eastern scholars? Yes? Good. Then why is it that during MESA's upcoming annual conference only five (yes, FIVE) panels are dedicated to Iraq out of a total of 206! Whereas there are at least a dozen panels dedicated to gender and sexuality studies!

Furthermore, there doesn't seem to be a single panel that seriously sets out to discuss jihadism during the whole four day stretch of the conference.

Columbia U becomes even more politically correct

Administrators at Columbia University threw a bone to the four famished students on a hunger strike yesterday, giving in to some of their lofty demands. Columbia agreed to raise $50 million to beef up ethnic studies and expand programs for multicultural students, strike organizers said, but refused to budge on the protesters' biggest demand - killing the school's proposed expansion into Harlem.

"We are very happy to hear that the university is willing to meet our demands," said student organizer Jamie Chen. "We took drastic measures, and we're glad that the university has come to a point of negotiation." Columbia's concession will expand the school's multicultural student center and expand the required freshman ethnic-studies class from a several hundred-student lecture to small seminar groups. Administrators have also agreed to add diversity training to orientation programs for new faculty and hire five new ethnic-studies professors.

The concessions, coupled with threats from campus doctors, were enough for two of the students to pull out of the hunger strike - now in its 10th day. Seniors Emilie Rosenblatt and Bryan Mercer left the strike late Wednesday night after doctors said they were in serious medical danger and would be put on involuntary leave if they continued. They were replaced by two newcomers, and the four students said they would continue to strike until the Harlem expansion plan was quashed.

"It's such an effective reality check to see that our actions have real impact," said Richard Brown, 19, who joined the strike yesterday. "But the administration has made no concessions to the community for the expansion. We want to ensure they do it in an ethical manner that respects my neighbors." Student representatives and administrators met late yesterday afternoon to address the issue. Columbia's proposed expansion plan would grow the campus by 17 acres.


The university of life

It's time we put the 'human' back into humanities, says Anthony Kronman

At the end of the second world war a programme called directed studies (DS) was established at Yale University. Its purpose was to give students an organised introduction to the civilisation for whose sake the war had been fought. Sixty years later, the contours of the programme have changed, but its basic goal remains the same: to acquaint students with the west's greatest works of literary and philosophical imagination, equipping them with a storehouse of images and ideas on which they can draw as they struggle to find or make meaning in their lives.

DS students take three-year courses in which they read Homer, Plato, Aeschylus, Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, Machiavelli, Descartes, Kant, Nietzsche, Tolstoy and others. At any given moment, all the students are reading the same books and discussing them with their teachers in seminar-size classes. The sense of common adventure is strong and the experience of discovery often intense.

Such programmes are a rarity in the US today. They were once far more common. The ambition they express used to be a fundamental premise of American higher education: that college is a time not merely to learn a specialty and prepare for a career, but also to acquire the moral and intellectual equipment one needs to grapple with the question of what living is for.

This ambition has been discredited by the modern research ideal, which rewards specialisation above all else. Many university teachers today regard the question of life's meaning as one that no serious scholar ought to take up in the classroom. And it has been undermined by the careerist anxieties of students. Those anxieties have flourished in the absence of resistance from teachers too preoccupied with their research to see students as anything more than prospective members of their own specialties, rather than as human beings struggling for fulfilment and love, under the long shadow of death.

The dominance of the research ideal has obscured an older responsibility of the humanities - to train students in what used to be called "the art of living", an enterprise larger than any career. Having abandoned this responsibility, but finding themselves unable to compete, as producers of research, with their colleagues in the sciences, humanities teachers have sought to restore a sense of their mission and role by embracing a variety of progressive causes. This has created a culture of political correctness whose stifling uniformity encourages students to see themselves more as representatives than individuals; it blocks serious engagement with the very personal question of life's meaning.

As a result, American students graduate from college well-prepared for their careers, but under-educated in the meaning of life. In a world where the freedom to explore life's meaning is greater than ever, students are less well-equipped for this challenge than those in past generations - and if they want help in meeting it, they must look beyond their universities to the churches, which now have a dangerous monopoly in questions of spiritual importance.

The tradition of reading great books as a way of introducing students to perennial debates about the meaning of existence is one that American universities borrowed from their British counterparts. That tradition is under pressure in Britain for the same reasons it is in the US: an emphasis on research among teachers and on careers among students; the strangling effects of political correctness; and the spread of religious fundamentalism in response to the demand for a serious engagement with matters of spiritual concern.

Programmes such as DS are a way of fighting back against these pressures. The British philosopher Michael Oakeshott spoke of a "great conversation" among the writers whose works constitute the backbone of western civilisation. This civilisation is the shared inheritance of students on both sides of the Atlantic. To deprive them of it is to leave them without landmarks to navigate the difficult and thrilling business of life. There is time enough to prepare for a career, and for scholarly research. Part of a college education ought to be devoted to something else - to the question of what living is for.