Saturday, April 12, 2008

Catholic university to black, pro-life speaker: You're not Welcome!

...but we'll make room for Al Franken and transgender speakers

Liberal administrators at the University of St. Thomas, a Catholic university and private college in Minnesota, censored the appearance of prominent pro-life and black speaker Star Parker. On April 21, 2008, Star-the best-selling author of numerous books-was slated to speak on campus about the devastating impact abortion has on minority communities. UST Vice President of Student Affairs Jane Canney nixed the idea entirely, citing "concerns" that the lecture was being underwritten by Young America's Foundation.

Katie Kieffer, a 2005 alumna of St. Thomas and founder of the independent conservative newspaper on campus, the St. Thomas Standard, as well as the non-profit Conservative Student News Inc., was an organizer of the Star Parker lecture. She confronted Canney on her refusal to allow Star on campus. "Our Catholic university has hosted two decidedly liberal speakers in the past year, Al Franken and Debra Davis, an outspoken transgender woman," Kieffer wrote in the St. Thomas Standard. Why, then, won't St. Thomas welcome Star Parker-a pro-life, Christian speaker?

Jane Canney told Katie and her sister, Amie Kieffer, a senior at St. Thomas and editor of the St. Thomas Standard, "As long as I am a vice president at St. Thomas, the Young America's Foundation will not be allowed on campus." Canney didn't return the Foundation's phone calls seeking comment. The Student Life Committee, on which Jane Canney resides, denied the Students for Human Life and the St. Thomas Standard a room on campus for Star Parker's lecture. The young conservatives only needed a room and advertising space to host Parker, as Young America's Foundation and Conservative Student News Inc. were covering all other costs.

Canney's hostility toward Young America's Foundation originated when the Foundation sponsored Ann Coulter at St. Thomas two years ago-an event attracting more than 750 students. Canney claimed she felt "uncomfortable" and "disturbed" while listening to Coulter, adding that she will never allow another Foundation-sponsored speaker on campus again. Campus liberals are unaccustomed to hearing conservative ideas in their echo chambers, so it's not uncommon for them to become discomforted when hearing alternative opinions.

"Canney should not deprive students the right to hear Star Parker's ideas," said Jason Mattera, the spokesman for Young America's Foundation. "Such guilt-by-association is unbecoming of a college administrator." "Just because some students and some administrators claimed to have been offended by what one conservative speaker says doesn't mean you cut off the entire campus population from hearing conservatives viewpoints," Mattera continued. "It's startling that a school named after one of the greatest thinkers in civilization is displaying such anti-intellectualism. Let's treat college students like the adults they are-allow them to hear a variety of speakers and form their own conclusions."

Young America's Foundation sponsors more than 500 lectures annually featuring a wide array of the very best in the Conservative Movement, including John Ashcroft, Michelle Malkin, Dinesh D'Souza, Sean Hannity, Bay Buchanan, Ann Coulter, and many others.

Liberals speakers at St. Thomas receive full support from the school's administration. Just this past year Canney's Student Life Committee approved the appearances of Al Franken, the bombastic liberal commentator, and Debra Davis, a transgendered activist.

Katie Kieffer called Canney out on her duplicity: "As an alumna of St. Thomas, I am embarrassed that the vice president of Student Affairs, Jane Canney, makes key decisions based on impulse and feelings. I am embarrassed that a vice president at this Catholic institution is making it virtually impossible for conservatives to bring conservative speakers to campus. For a person in charge of Campus Life on a Catholic campus, she is closed to our efforts to present conservative and Catholic pro-life values."

Jane Canney is violating the school's speaker policy to boot. The policy states that decisions to invite speakers are governed by "fairness and equity toward various conflicting views and interests, being mindful of the needs for wider information on the part of students and the larger community.Another factor governing speakers on campus is our concern that a wide variety of issues and viewpoints be given expression." She's also violating her school's expressed convictions, including "intellectual inquiry," "faith and reason," "the pursuit of truth," "diversity," and "meaningful dialogue."

"Star Parker is enthusiastic about educating young people about abortion's demoralizing effects, ideas which are in complete alignment with St. Thomas' stated positions and Catholic teachings. Based on her behavior, Jane Canney seems unduly hostile toward conservative values," says Kieffer. "St. Thomas' commitment to diversity and intellectual inquiry appears to be threadbare at best."

It's not the first time St. Thomas featured an unhinged administrator. On April 18, 2005, the university's president, Father Dennis Dease, accused Ann Coulter of "vulgarizing" his campus even though Father Dease wasn't present for the lecture and failed to enumerate any of Coulter's "offensive" remarks. Father Dease's ire should've been directed at the leftist hecklers who interrupted Coulter's speech by yelling expletives at her.


The Ultimate Reason Why Government Education Fails

Do you want to know the ultimate reason why government education fails? I will tell you. It is because the government runs it! I read a column the other day by Debra Rae on News with Views entitled "Worldviews on Trial." While she makes many excellent points, the following two paragraphs caused me to drop what I was doing and fire off this screed.
The Christian worldview places God and His Word at the center of learning. After all, God is the source of all true knowledge, His Word is truth, and in Jesus are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. For these reasons, our founding fathers recognized the necessity of weaving biblical principles into every aspect of life -- not least of which, public education.

This may come as a surprise to many, but the 1948 Supreme Court established that traditional public education in the Western world is rightfully church-based, Bible-believing and piety-instilling (McCollum v. Board of Education).

Concerning the first paragraph, while not all our Founders may have been Christians, their worldview was far more Christian than that of about 98 percent of today's Christians. Neither the Bible nor any of America's Founding documents says word one about state education. Indeed, the Bible places the duty for education squarely on parents, not the state. (Proverbs 22:6, Ephesians 6:4)

Education is not one of the constitutionally enumerated powers of the federal government. (See Article 1, Section 8) The Tenth Amendment forbids Uncle Sam from engaging in any activity not expressly authorized by the Constitution. Moreover, the Ninth Amendment forbids federal compulsory attendance laws. To the extent that there were any government schools at the time of America's Founding, they were locally controlled and locally funded.

On the other hand, we do find government control of education as one of the 10 policy planks of the Communist Manifesto. From Plato to the French Revolution to the Communist Manifesto to the polite tyranny we now experience in the United States to the much harsher tyrannies of Nazism and Communism, government education is a centerpiece.

Contrary to McCollum, public education is not and cannot be "church-based, Bible-believing and piety-instilling." To begin with, Christianity cannot be forced. (Revelation 3:20) You cannot "make Christian" what was never Christian to begin with. Moreover, the ultimate aim of government education is to instill loyalty to the state. BYU is run by the Mormon Church and, hence, exists to instill Mormonism; Notre Dame, Boston College and Georgetown are run by the Catholic Church and, hence, exist to instill Catholicism; state education is run by the state and - surprise! - exists to instill statism.

I just finished reading an absolutely fascinating book by John Taylor Gatto titled "The Underground History of American Education." Taylor taught school in New York City for 30 years and three times was voted Teacher of the Year. He walked away from the classroom after he could no longer keep up the pretense he was living as a public school teacher. He calls school "a liar's world."

While the Founders forbade a federal role in education, this republic was very young when enthusiasm for government schooling took hold. Traditional "public education in the western world" has its roots in Prussia in the early 1800s after its defeat by Napoleon. The first compulsory attendance laws were in 1852 in - surprise! - Massachusetts. The first national compulsory attendance laws were enacted in 1918.

State education was never intended to be Christian. From the outset, it was there to demand conformity, dumb us down and pickle the brains of the young so they would subserviently and unquestioningly follow their government, corporate and media masters. (Insofar as state education has accomplished these things, it can be seen as a resounding success.) It was Darwinist by its very nature. I grotesquely oversimplify. To get the whole story, READ GATTO'S BOOK!

Henry David Thoreau once stated that "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking the root." All this incessant blathering about political correctness, prayer, declining academic standards, evolution, creation, condoms, sex education, gay curricula, race relations, affirmative action, busing, standardized testing, bullying, guns, drugs, discipline, dress codes, Christmas celebrations and so forth merely hacks at the branches. The root of the problem is that we let the government run the schools and that we never question our presuppositions about government education.

And if you are of the Religious Right, it is not enough to elect Christians to the school board. Any reforms they may implement will last only until the next election cycle, when those evil, wicked, mean, nasty, condom-distributing, evolutionist, secular, humanist, America-hating, God-hating liberals win the election. We need to separate school and state. The problem isn't that "we kicked God out of the schools" but that we merged school and state.

I talked recently with a friend who said she would not home school her children. I told her the bottom line was this: they are her children and nobody else's. Hence, it is her decision how she should educate them and nobody else's.

In a free society, which we are not, parents could home school their kids without having to answer to Washington -- or, for that matter, Sacramento or Denver or Little Rock or Trenton. Catholics could send their kids to St. Mary's School; Baptists could send their kids to the Obadiah Baptist School; Jews could send their kids to the B'Nai Brith School; Mormons could send their children to the Joseph Smith School; Muslims could send their kids to the Allah Akbar School; and Hindus could send their kids to the Vishnu School; believers in Mungabunga could send their kids to Mungabunga School.

Non-religious folks could likewise educate their children as they saw fit. They could send their kids to the Whitney Houston School '"Where the children are the future''or to the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young School '"Where we teach your children well'' or whatever.

Personally, I probably would not want my kids in a school named after David Crosby, but, again, the bottom line is that your kids are not my kids. They are not the government's kids either. THEY ARE YOUR KIDS, SO IT IS YOUR RIGHT TO DECIDE HOW TO EDUCATE THEM. PERIOD. As Archie Bunker would say, case closed.

Nothing that happens in government schools should surprise anyone anymore. It was set up to be this way a long time ago. Government education is a failure not by accident, but because it was designed to be. And until we return to the separation of school and state, we will keep having the same old problems. Will we ever learn?


Selective schools have their place

Comment from Australia

On her first day at a selective school, Georgia Blain no longer had to pretend not to know her multiplication tables to avoid being teased. In her recent memoir Births Deaths Marriages, the Australian novelist recalls that at her old school she had few friends, as being smart made her "odd". But in her opportunity class she discovered "my abilities were no longer something to be ashamed about". It's an experience shared by many children who go from a comprehensive school to a selective school, yet it is rarely considered in debates about schools.

Whenever there is public discussion about why local schools are suffering from falling enrolments, selective schools are often first to cop the blame. It's a fair call. Selective schools draw high-achieving students away from underfunded local schools, leaving them to cope with the more educationally demanding students. Naturally, these schools rank lower on HSC lists, further decreasing their attractiveness to some parents.

But calls to curb selective schools frequently come from parents and politicians, not students. If we are going to have an honest public debate on this issue, we need to acknowledge the experiences of students who went to selective schools to understand their value and their shortcomings. Like Blain, I began my schooling at a local primary school, in the multicultural inner west of Sydney. I have fond memories of the school, but I also remember feeling lost. Teachers often had their hands full dealing with kids who were struggling with reading or behavioural problems, and there was often not the time or the resources to make the classes relevant for all.

Going to a selective high school was, for me, a bit like stepping into the nerd dungeon Bart discovers in one episode of The Simpsons; a secret room where the school brainiacs are studying, talking and playing chess. Selective schools are places where nerds are free to be nerds. Knowledge of novels, poetry and politics suddenly became social cachet. Classes often moved at a cracking pace, satisfying my desire for more to read and learn. Girls were never made to feel embarrassed for being smart and opinionated.

Of course, selective schools are not always an intellectually stimulating bed of roses. Blain writes that while she no longer had to be anxious about her intelligence at a selective school, knowing she was not the brightest in the class now made her anxious about a lack of ability. Mind-numbing conformity and ultra-competitiveness are the scourge of most selective schools. And undoubtedly my high school lacked the social diversity of my primary school, at times feeding snobbish, narrow-minded attitudes in the playground.

For many students, these problems are reason enough to avoid selective schools. A friend, Jesse Cox, is glad his parents sent him to a comprehensive high school. Cox attends the University of Sydney after gaining a stellar result in his HSC, and excels in art and history. "I think it's a bit of a myth that kids will be isolated in a comprehensive school; it was not my experience at all," he says. "The classes were really mixed, and kids still pushed each other in a friendly way, not in the competitive way I would associate with a selective school." It is clear from the experiences of Cox and others that selective schools do not have a monopoly on nurturing intelligent, creative minds. It is also questionable whether they quantitatively improve the academic performance of the students who attend them.

Standing up for selective schools is a difficult point to argue. Gifted children will probably achieve great things, no matter what school they go to, and it's imperative that students who are struggling to keep their heads above water are given the most attention in public debate. But for an honest and vigorous discussion about the best ways to improve public education, the experiences of students and former students must be considered. It would be dangerous to leave the debate to ideological arguments alone.


Friday, April 11, 2008

95% Of Professors Can't Be Wrong. Can They?

The Chronicle of Higher Education began a recent report on perceptions of politics in the academy "the older Americans are, and the less time they have spent on a college campus, the more likely they are to believe that professors are politically biased." This framing minimized the subsequent revelation that 29 percent of respondents aged 24-34 reported that their professors used the classroom "often" to espouse their political views. As Erin O'Connor pointed out, this is a "whopping number." The Chronicle skipped lightly over the figure, in order to build a narrative more favored by the academy - about the political paranoia of non-academics. After ignoring the likely recent student opinion, what figures on politics in the classroom did The Chronicle then go on to value implicitly? Well, those of professors:
Indeed, scholars who do research on what students and professors say actually happens in the classroom report that politicization is much less of an issue than Americans believe. Mr. Mayer [a George Mason professor] questioned a random sample of 1,300 professors from all disciplines in 2007 and found that 95 percent reported they were "honest brokers" among competing political views. About three-quarters said they don't let students know their political beliefs.

Sure. I've no doubt that most professors consider themselves honest brokers; 95% of prison inmates likely identify themselves as "innocent." Either some of the students, or some of the professors are wrong; it'd be nice if the Chronicle would look into that question, but I suppose it's easier to simply paint those who suspect campus politicking as senile and uneducated Horowitz dupes.


Liberal High School Textbook Claims Indians Spoke Arabic

Post below recycled from Gateway Pundit. See the original for links

The explorer Christopher Columbus followed Muslim explorers to the New World and Indians spoke Arabic according to a liberal school textbook published by the Middle East Policy Council. David Yeagley at FrontPage Magazine wrote about this twisted history back in 2004:
A liberal advocacy group in Washington recently committed intellectual genocide on American Indians. Authors of the group presumed to fabricate Indian history, as if real Indian history doesn't matter. Authors simply created an Indian story to suit the purposes of the advocacy group, and published it in a school text manual as fact.

Sounds incredible, but the Middle East Policy Council published a 540-page book called Arab World Studies Notebook, a teacher's guide for presenting Arab culture to young American students. The text, published five years ago, has a two-page chapter entitled, "Early Muslim Exploration Worldwide: Evidence of Muslims In the New World Before Columbus."

The text says Arab Muslim explorers were here in America before Columbus, and married Algonquin Indians. These early marriages produced descendents who, by the 17th century, became Algonquin chiefs, like "Abdul-Rahim and Abdallah Ibn Malik." The Washington Times notes there is no evidence to validate the story.

The story is simply designed to give the Arabs a home in America, to make them part of the foundation of American civilization. The story was an attempt to make Arabs "indigenous."

The author and editor of Arab World Studies Notebook is Audrey Park Shabbas, the Teacher Workshop Leader of MEPC's impressive educational program for grades 7-12. Shabbas, a Muslim convert and zealot, is a career advocate of Arabic culture. Executive Director of Arab World And Islamic Resources since 1995, she tirelessly champions the Arab Muslim "cause" in America.

That's not all. According to this textbook, Arab influence was very strong in the Caribbean Islands:
A group of seafarers sailed into the sea of Darkness and Fog [the Atlantic Ocean] from Lisbon in order to discover what was in it and the extent of its limit. They were a party of eight and they took a boat which was loaded with supplies to last them for months.. .

They finally reached an island that had people and cultivation but they were captured and chained for three days. On the fourth day a translator came speaking the Arabic language! He translated for the King and asked them about their mission. They in?formed him about themselves, then they were returned to their confinement. When the westerly wind began to blow, they were put in a canoe, blindfolded and bourght to land after three days' sailing. They were left on the shore with their hands tied behind their backs. The next day, another tribe appeared, freeing them and informing them that between their lands was a journey of two months."

This astonishing historical report not only clearly describes contact between Muslim seamen and the indigenous people of the Caribbean islands, but it confirms the fact that the contact between the two worlds had been so involved that the native people had Arabic speakers among them.

Promote quality education -- slash funding

The "experts" seem to have overestimated the tax revenues our greedy Nevada bureaucrats will get their mitts on this year by about a billion bucks. I submit three modest suggestions:

1) Dig up a couple of Nevada state budgets from 1958 and 1908. Not much need to examine the actual dollar amounts under the various headings, since the 2008 dollar is worth about 2 to 3 cents in 1908 dollars. (But the inflation rate is only 2.2 percent; I heard it from a government "expert" so I know it's true.) Instead, just compare the headings with this year's proposed budget -- the names of the state departments, divisions, offices and programs. Cross out any headings from the 2008 budget that did not appear in the 1958 budget. After all, Nevada was a relatively happy and prosperous place in 1958, wasn't it? Do you remember anyone back in 1958 squawking that Nevada "didn't have enough government"?

Zero out the budgets of all the departments, divisions, offices, and programs you've just crossed out. Close them. Auction off their buildings and equipment. Now take 10 percent of the money you just saved and allocate it to the office of the state attorney general, with instructions to use it to pro-actively sue the federal government in the U.S. Supreme Court under the 10th Amendment, demanding that the federal government be barred from using any means whatever to buffalo us into restoring any of that unnecessary and harmful spending -- or (failing that) that the court at least order the federals to pay the ful costs of any restored programs. If that doesn't get spending back within current cash flow, repeat the process, using the 1908 budget.

For the record, once again, I don't believe the government schools can be "reformed," since they're producing a dumbed down peasant class trained to jeer in unison, eagerly ridiculing the objections of the still-awake remnant ("citing the words of dead white slave owners!") as the G-men systematically strip away our liberties "for our own protection" -- precisely as these schools were designed to. America will steadily lose its leadership in one domain after another till the government schools are abandoned and we go back to the system of allowing parents to provide for their own children's education which prevailed pretty much through the Civil War. (Yes, slaves were an unfortunate exception. I have a firm position on slavery. I'm against it. Those who favor a personal income tax and mandatory government schooling may want to keep in mind that they're actually endorsing forms of slavery and involuntary servitude.)

But if the governor is really looking for some big savings, here are two more solutions he could try, answering those who argue that mere "across-the-board" cuts show a lack of "vision" and "leadership":

2) If you harbor and give aid and comfort to a culprit who any reasonable person would suspect of being a lawbreaker, you're an "accessory after the fact." No one is authorized to use our tax money to commit this crime, and any court ordering anyone to commit this crime must be defied. Start demanding proof of legal residency for all children enrolling in Nevada's government schools. This single step could reduce schooling costs by 20 percent or more. Those who seek to help these children should be encouraged to endow scholarships for them at private schools ... in their home countries.

3) After children in Nevada's government schools complete the second grade, test them on the basic academics needed to do third grade work. Also test to see if they're qualified to move on to fourth or fifth grade.

Promote those who pass. Allow those who have mastered higher-level material to skip ahead as much as two grades. Those who fail must be held back to repeat the second grade. Warn their parents that if they can't master the material after two years, they'll be expelled: "You've used up your chance at a free, tax-funded education; good luck elsewhere." Repeat at the end of each year.

After the eighth grade, any child whose test results (on real academic subjects, not Politically Correct gibberish) show reasonable potential to complete a college prep course may advance to high school. Those whose test scores fall into a "maybe" range get to choose for themselves. Those whose grades and scores say "no way" get diverted into a two-year vocational course designed to help them choose and qualify as apprentices in any of a number of respectable trades.

A small percentage of children, determining that they can earn their freedom in as little as six years, will apply themselves, pass their high school graduation exams at 12 or 13, and receive their diplomas. The taxpayers will have saved 50 percent of the cost of their schooling, and the kids -- still bright and eager -- will not have been bogged down in a stultifying morass, marking time as teachers fruitlessly cajole the sluggards to stop goofing around.

The size of Nevada's high school classes would likely be reduced by half, at a vast financial savings, meantime setting college preparatory students free to once again advance academically at a rate comparable to the rest of the developed world. Far from being a radical proposal, this would match educational practice in most of this country before 1950 -- and in most of the developed world, to this day.

Who will squawk loudest at this modest proposal? The very educrats who complain about not being able to focus on their academic lessons under the current madhouse regime. Why, "holding kids back" would devastate their precious "self-esteem," while allowing kids to "skip ahead" would devastate all the educrats' carefully crafted schemes of "socialization"!

Funny. Given how quickly "socialization" always trumps rapid academic progress, you have to wonder why the teachers' union isn't called the "Nevada State Socialization Association"; why the biennial tax allocation for schools isn't called the "Socialization Funding Bill"; why Gov. Gibbons doesn't proudly proclaim himself "The Socialization Governor."


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Texas 8th-grader's project about illegal immigration sparked an attack by 21 students

If she had drawn a picture of a gun or sniffed a marking pen, the school would of course have sprung into action, but there seems to have been a marked lack of springing of any kind on this occasion

An Athens Middle School student is alleging she was attacked and beaten last week by 21 fellow students in response to a project for her history class regarding illegal immigration. Melanie Bowers, a 13-year-old eighth grader, arrived at school last Monday, March 31, with her U.S. History project - an 8 1/2 x 11 "protest sign" - that reads, "If you love your nation, stop illegal immigration." Students were asked to create "protest signs" dealing with a past issue and a current one by history teacher Janet Skelton.

According to Bowers' father, J.R. Bowers, Melanie was attacked in a hallway by a group of students on Friday because of the political message contained on the poster. Mr. Bowers said the attackers slammed her head into a brick wall and scraped her face down the side of the wall. The girl's grandmother, Layne Wilhoite, told the Athens Review in a statement sent Monday that the group attempted to drag Melanie into a restroom and threatened to "rape and kill" her. No teachers have come forward saying they witnessed the incident, according to Athens Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Fred Hayes.

After the incident, Mr. Bowers said his daughter told him she attempted to use an office phone to call him. Hayes said Assistant Principal Mark Castleberry looked her over and "did not see anything wrong with her." Castleberry did not allow her to use the phone, and she eventually used her cell phone to inform her parents she had been attacked.

Melanie did not attend school Monday. Shera Bowers, her mother, said her daughter was checked out by a paramedic Saturday. She suffered a swollen face, various scratches and bruises. "I'm upset that this happened to my daughter, and that she wasn't allowed to call us," Bowers said.

Hayes said the investigation into the alleged incident is ongoing. He said Monday afternoon school officials were not aware of any allegations students threatened to rape the girl. The effort to identify those students is part of the ongoing investigation.

Mr. Bowers said his daughter identified the 21 students - 17 boys and four girls - by using a yearbook. District police officers were on campus Monday as a measure of heightened security. District Police Chief Paul Reddic spent the day reviewing videos in an effort to catch a view of the alleged beating.

AMS Principal Louis DeRosa and Hayes acknowledge something happened to Melanie Bowers, but both have stopped short of saying she was assaulted. DeRosa says only a few students - rather than the 21 alleged by the Bowers - were involved. "There was an incident in the hallway after lunch on Friday, April 4, between two or three students," DeRosa said in a statement. "We have a camera system in the building. We are collecting information and statements from witnesses. This is all the information we have at this time."

Hayes said the incident occurred between two cameras and in "a blind spot." "What they told me that they see is a group of students leaving an area," he said, "and as they're leaving they see two students turn around and look at what's going on, but then they turn back around and keep on going. Typically what we have when we have a big fight is we have students who will run to an issue to see what's going on. I'm not saying there was no disturbance. What I am saying is that we don't know the extent of the disturbance at this point." He added that, based on his years in education, he thinks someone approached Melanie and said something inappropriate to "try to scare her." He said if they didn't hit her, they at least threatened to hit her.

When Melanie came to the office, Hayes said Castleberry took down information about the incident but refused to allow her to call home because he said it would "mess up the investigation.".

Hayes said Monday the district typically allows students to call their parents if they have requested to do so. "We could have kept in a lot of problems if we would have allowed that to happen," Hayes said of the decision to not let the student call her parents. "This was a student who was obviously distraught over a - whether she was jumped or not really doesn't matter - she was distraught and she should have been allowed to call her parents."

The Bowers family say they have contacted a lawyer and the FBI. A follow-up meeting between the family and school police officers was held Monday afternoon - a gathering that lasted two hours. "There wasn't really any new information," Shera Bowers told the Review after the meeting. "(Chief Reddic) did say he was adamant about catching the people who did this."

Several parents who contacted the Review Monday said they didn't send their children to school on Monday because of threats posted on a Web site, MySpace, discussing the incident. Hayes said attendance levels did not appear to be abnormal. Hayes also said the district will think twice about similar class projects in the future. "I think that probably what we ought to look at is, if it's a current issue we probably don't need a protest poster made on that issue," he said.


Dropout rate "catastrophe"

According to a new study by America's Promise Alliance, 17 of the nation's 50 largest cities had high school graduation rates lower than 50 percent. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose wife, Alma, chairs the alliance, calls it a "catastrophe." To fix the mess, education leaders have sprung into action. Yep, they're going to have meetings. Fifty state "summits," where local experts - you know, the ones who have reliably failed before - can chew the fat. And rest assured, teachers unions, the chief obstruction to progress, will seldom be mentioned by participants.

This catastrophe is predominantly about minority kids living in inner cities. Suburban schools perform well. Suburban parents have the ability to get involved - or to escape government-run schools altogether. Poor parents, most often, have no such luxury. In Baltimore, one of the shoddiest systems in the free world, over 81 percent of public school students in suburbs graduate, yet only 34 percent in the city. It may be even more than a generic "urban" crisis. According to Robert Balfanz, a Johns Hopkins University research scientist, there are approximately 2,000 high schools in 15 states that produce 50 percent of all the nation's dropouts. He calls them "dropout factories."

Either way, poverty is not new. Yet, dropout numbers, as well as proficiency in reading and math, have become increasingly problematic for poor students. More single-family households, more English-as-a-second-language kids and a lack of funding are cited by experts.

The urban areas most prominently featured in Alliance's study - you may not be surprised to learn - are also ruled by teachers unions. And these unions are indefatigable in working against any parental choice or competition. Or, rather, funding candidates, from national office to school boards, to do the dirty work for them. Teachers unions place culpability for education woes on a lack of funding and "cuts." This is a myth. Obviously, schools could always benefit from an infusion of cash but, in most of the failing systems, funding per pupil is at an all-time high. According to a study by the right-of-center Hoover Institution, in 1982 per-pupil spending was $5,930 and rose 60 percent by 2000 to $9,230 in inflation-adjusted dollars (in high-population districts, the number is far higher).

In Utah, a recent school-reform initiative failed after the National Education Association pumped $3.1 million (allied groups even more) into a campaign to mislead voters. What the NEA never mentioned was that the proposed initiative would have increased per-pupil spending. The sin? It would have allowed parents to choose where they spent the money. In America, you are free to choose your church, your hairdresser, your employer, your neighborhood . . . yet you're prohibited, in most places, from picking a school for your kids. For parents in urban areas, this can prove tragic.

Tragedy or not, the NEA argues that less service and poor results are grounds for higher pay and enhanced benefits. Unfortunately, taxpayers have no way to reward high-performing teachers, even if they wanted to, as the collective spirit of unions shuns individual achievement.

The Hoover study found that less than 1 percent of teacher pay in 1982 was based on performance; by 2001, that figure had not changed. (Modest inroads have been made in this regard.) In more than a dozen states, small-scale voucher programs, funded by private groups, have emerged. Elected Democrats in Milwaukee, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Newark and numerous other municipalities are supporting choice programs over union cash. These legislators are rare. And until there are more of them, neither 50 nor 5 million meetings will make a dent in the problem.


What If Public Schools Were Abolished?

In American culture, public schools are praised in public and criticized in private, which is roughly the opposite of how we tend to treat large-scale enterprises like Wal-Mart. In public, everyone says that Wal-Mart is awful, filled with shoddy foreign products and exploiting workers. But in private, we buy the well-priced, quality goods, and long lines of people hope to be hired. Why is this? It has something to do with the fact that public schools are part of our civic religion, the primary evidence that people cite to show that local government serves us. And there is a psychological element. Most of us turn our kids over to them, so surely they must have our best interest at heart!

But do they? Murray N. Rothbard's Education: Free and Compulsory explains that the true origin and purpose of public education is not so much education as we think of it, but indoctrination in the civic religion. This explains why the civic elite is so suspicious of homeschooling and private schooling: it's not fear of low test scores that is driving this, but the worry that these kids aren't learning the values that the state considers important. But to blast public schools is not the purpose of this article. There are decent public schools and terrible ones, so there is no use generalizing. Nor is there a need to trot out data on test scores. Let me just deal with economics. All studies have shown that average cost per pupil for public schools is twice that of private schools.

This runs contrary to intuition, since people think of public schools as free and private schools as expensive. But once you consider the source of funding (tax dollars vs. market tuition or donation), the private alternative is much cheaper. In fact, the public schools cost as much as the most expensive and elite private schools in the country. The difference is that the cost of public schooling is spread out over the entire population, whereas the private school cost is borne only by the families with students who attend them. In short, if we could abolish public schools and compulsory schooling laws, and replace it all with market-provided education, we would have better schools at half the price, and be freer too. We would also be a more just society, with only the customers of education bearing the costs.

What's not to like? Well, there is the problem of the transition. There are obvious and grave political difficulties. We might say that public education enjoys a political advantage here due to network effects. A significant number of "subscriptions," etc. have been piled up in the status quo, and it is very difficult to change those. But let's pretend. Let's say that a single town decided that the costs of public schooling are too vast relative to private schooling, and the city council decided to abolish public schools outright. The first thing to notice is that this would be illegal, since every state requires localities to provide education on a public basis. I don't know what would happen to the city council. Would they be jailed? Who knows? Certainly they would be sued.

But let's say we somehow get past that problem, thanks to, say, a special amendment in the state constitution, that exempts certain localities if the city council approves. Then there is the problem of federal legislation and regulation. I am purely speculating since I don't know the relevant laws, but we can guess that the Department of Education would take notice, and a national hysteria of some sort would follow. But let's say we miraculously get past that problem too, and the federal government lets this locality go its own way.

There will be two stages to the transition. In the first stage, many seemingly bad things will happen. How are the physical buildings handled in our example? They are sold to the highest bidder, whether that be to new school owners, businesses, or housing developers. And the teachers and administrators? All let go. You can imagine the outcry.

With tax-paid schools abolished, people with kids in public schools might move away. Property taxes that previously paid for schools would vanish, so there will be no premium for houses in school districts that are considered good. There will be anger about this. The collapse in prices might seem like robbery for people who have long assumed that high and rising house prices are a human right. For the parents that remain, there is a major problem of what to do with the kids during the day. With property taxes gone, there is extra money to pay for schools, but their assets have just fallen in market value (even without the Fed), which is a serious problem when it comes to shelling out for school tuition. There will, of course, be widespread hysteria about the poor too, who will find themselves without any schooling choices other than homeschool.

Now, all that sounds pretty catastrophic, doesn't it? Indeed. But it is only phase one. If we can somehow make it to phase two, something completely different will emerge. The existing private schools will be filled to capacity and there will be a crying need for new ones. Entrepreneurs will quickly flood into the area to provide schools on a competitive basis. Churches and other civic institutions will gather the money to provide education. At first, the new schools will be modeled on the public school idea. Kids will be there from 8 to 4 or 5, and all classes will be covered. But in short order, new alternatives will appear. There will be schools for half-day classes. There will be large, medium, and small schools. Some will have 40 kids per class, and others 4 or 1. Private tutoring will boom. Sectarian schools of all kinds will appear. Micro-schools will open to serve niche interests: science, classics, music, theater, computers, agriculture, etc. There will be single sex schools. Whether sports would be part of school or something completely independent is for the market to decide.

And no longer will the "elementary, middle school, high school" model be the only one. Classes will not necessarily be grouped by age alone. Some will be based on ability and level of advancement too. Tuition would range from free to super expensive. The key thing is that the customer would be in charge. Transportation services would spring up to replace the old school-bus system. People would be able to make money by buying vans and providing transportation. In all areas related to education, profit opportunities would abound.

In short, the market for education would operate the same as any other market. Groceries, for example. Where there is a demand, and obviously people demand education for their kids, there is supply. There are large grocery stores, small ones, discount ones, premium ones, and stores for groceries on the run. It is the same for other goods, and it would be the same for education. Again, the customer would rule. In the end, what would emerge is not entirely predictable - the market never is - but whatever happened would be in accord with the wishes of the public.

After this phase two, this town would emerge as one of the most desirable in the country. Educational alternatives would be unlimited. It would be the source of enormous progress, and a model for the nation. It could cause the entire country to rethink education. And then those who moved away would move back to enjoy the best schools in the country at half the price of the public schools, and those without children in the house wouldn't have to pay a dime for education. Talk about attractive! So which town will be the first to try it and show us all the way?


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Pushing Atheism in the Name of Tolerance: The Myth of the Religion-Neutral Classroom

Most Americans presume that public schools strive to provide a neutral arena in which multiple religions can be exercised equally.

My readers may already be aware of the blatant example of religious discrimination in a Wisconsin public school that Fox News recently brought to the nation’s attention.  Student “A. P.” drew a rather innocuous landscape for a school project.  In it, he placed a cross and a reference to John 3:16.  The teacher heard students talking about it and demanded that A. P. remove the “offensive” material, stating that when A. P. had signed a required document prohibiting “any violence, blood, sexual connotations or religious beliefs” in class artwork that he had “signed away his constitutional rights.”  A. P. tore up the paper and was thrown out of the class.  An assistant principal later twice confirmed that A. P.’s “religious expression infringed on other students' rights.”

There are a few small but important issues to mention before moving on to something more significant:  This situation is an illustration of the substantial mythology surrounding the idea of the religion-neutral classroom, and the practical results of those misguided beliefs.  Far from ensuring religious equality, the modern educational paradigm in fact promotes a secular humanistic atheism or agnosticism.  

First, it is amazing that lawyers can somehow find all sorts of “constitutional” rights for things like prison inmates being guaranteed the “right” to sue over crumbled cookies, but somehow this same class of people can’t identify this student’s right to basic religious expression.  I would think the line “Congress shall make no law . . .” would be pretty clear.  Since this is a public school and receives money and direction from the federal government, it is in clear violation of the First Amendment.  A selective reading of the Constitution can apparently work wonders:  The same amendment once designed to protect religion from the federal government is now being used by that same government to persecute religion.

Second, it is equally shocking to see this teacher’s particular classification of off-limits topics.  “Religious beliefs” are lumped in with “violence, blood,” and “sexual connotations.”  Murder, rape, torture, various forms of pornography, and John 3:16 — I fear I do not see the necessary connection. The fact that many of the world’s greatest artistic expressions have come from religious origins seems completely lost on this instructor.  What I do see is a clear indication that in this classroom students are told that even basic religious beliefs are on the same level as serious societal abnormalities and outright crimes.   This sums up all too well what a whole generation of students is being taught to believe about religion in general and Christianity in particular.  Perhaps, in light of this, it is a good thing that apparently so many of them are failing to learn much from these “schools.”

Of more significance, though, is the light this situation sheds on the modern myth of the religion-neutral classroom.  Most Americans presume that public schools strive to provide a neutral arena in which multiple religions can be exercised equally.  Hence, Christians can maintain their own beliefs alongside others and in fact can use the school systems as a form of societal outreach.  Unfortunately, this is a serious misconception.

The key point is that in practice the schools — based on the secular humanist lead of men like John Dewey and his intellectual spawn — strive not to be inclusive, but rather exclusive.  This is primarily because they exhibit an overwhelming fear that someone might be offended.  The only practical way to insure that no student could ever be upset by a religious idea is to ban such things entirely, as the teacher here did.  Ironically, the public school system thereby shows its “devotion” to religious diversity by (in theory) discriminating equally against them all.  (In practice, however, it often seems that Christianity is the only “offensive” religion in America.)   No serious religious expression is welcome (though a few cultural platitudes are allowed), which sends the message that such beliefs are somehow wrong, and are something that, if spoken about at all, should be limited to embarrassed whispers behind closed doors.  Belief in a higher power is, at best, optional.  At worst it should be forcibly excluded and placed on the same level as “violence” and “blood.”

In place of religion, secular humanism posits a handy substitute conveniently classified as “non-religious”: evolutionary scientism.  They preach this non-religious religion with a vehemence that borders on the fanatical.  By “scientism” I do not mean the legitimate pursuit of truth through solid scientific method; I mean the blind-faith sort of radical materialism idolized by secularists.  This kind of “science” is in fact a complete worldview that does not allow its basic premises to undergo serious examination.  The only other “religions” that this worldview can tolerate are of a milquetoast sort that are permitted to give adherents all sorts of warm fuzzies, but must not be allowed to comment on any issues that really matter or make a claim at being Truth.  The practical result is that students are actively discouraged from significant independent religious thought, but are supplied with a blind-faith pseudo-religion cloaked in the hollowed name “science.” 

Of course, I am painting with a broad brush by necessity and do not think that all schools fall directly into this category, or that even those that do are necessarily filled with raving secular humanists.  Still, the idea of the religion-neutral classroom dominates much of modern education theory and is an almost universally enforced standard.  It can often result in schools becoming the intellectual enforcement arm of practical atheism or else perhaps a sort of mushy agnostic relativism. 

The schools claim to do all of this, of course, in the name of “tolerance.”  This is clearly false, whatever the intent.  If the instructor and school here had really sought to teach understanding between cultures, religious themes would be welcome and the more diverse the merrier.  The students in A. P.’s class who objected to his Christianity, would have been called aside and told to respect his personal beliefs just as he should respect theirs.  It is telling, however, that it was A. P. who was punished and given a zero.

This is a state of affairs thinking American parents should mull over when considering their children’s education.  We need to look deeper and really analyze not only educational rhetoric, but also the practical reality.


Hysterical school officials harass little kid for no good reason

Adams School District 50 is defending its decision to punish a third grader for sniffing a Sharpie marker. Eight-year-old Eathan Harris was originally suspended from Harris Park Elementary School for three days. Principal Chris Benisch reduced the suspension to one day after complaints from Harris' parents. Harris used a black Sharpie marker to color a small area on the sleeve of his sweatshirt. A teacher sent him to the principal when she noticed him smelling the marker and his clothing. "It smelled good," Harris said. "They told me that's wrong."

Eathan's father, John Harris, says the school overreacted for treating Eathan as if he was huffing, or inhaling, marker fumes. "I think it's outlandish," John Harris said. "It's ridiculous." Eathan shyly shook his head "no" when a reporter asked if he knew about "huffing."

Benisch stands by his decision to suspend Harris, saying it sends a clear message about substance abuse. "This is really, really, seriously dangerous," Benisch said. In his letter suspending the child, Benisch wrote that smelling the marker fumes could cause the boy to "become intoxicated."

A toxicologist with the Rocky Mountain Poison Control Center says that claim is nearly impossible. Dr. Eric Lavonas says non-toxic markers like Sharpies, while pungent-smelling, cannot be used to get high. "I don't know whether it would be possible for a real overachiever to figure out a way to get high off them," Lavonas said. "But in regular use, it's just not something that's going to happen." "If you went to Costco and bought 50 bags of Sharpies and did something to them, maybe there's a way to get creative and make it happen," Lavonas said.

Adams County School District 50 leaders were unfazed by the poison control center's medical opinion. "Principals make hundreds of decisions everyday based on our best judgment. And in that time, smelling that marker, I felt like, 'Wow, that's a very serious marker,'" Benisch said.

Despite the medical evidence, Benisch promised to draw an even clearer line on markers. "We've purged every permanent marker there is in this building," he said.

Eathan Harris says he's happy to be back in school after his suspension, but he did confide he worried the school's disciplinary action might hurt his dream of one day becoming a professional football player.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Incompetent black law students must be graduated?

"Black" degrees are of low repute generally so we might as well make them all of low repute, apparently. It is poison to able blacks though. Just ask Justice Thomas of SCOTUS

According to the "mismatch" phenomenon analyzed by UCLA law professor Richard Sander (and discussed here too many times to cite), applicants to law schools who are preferentially admitted with much lower grades and test scores than others in their entering classes tend to cluster near the bottom of their classes, graduate at a much lower rate, and pass the bar at a much lower rate.

I have also discussed here too many times to cite (but I will anyway) the fact that the American Bar Association for all practical purposes requires law schools to achieve "diversity" by employing racial preferences in admissions.

Now, with those two facts in mind, consider whether there are warning signals coming out of the predicament of St. Mary's College, a small college near San Francisco, as reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education, based on this article in the Contra Costa Times.
St. Mary's College of California has received a letter from its accreditor threatening to sanction the institution if it does not make more progress toward resolving unspecified racial issues on its campus....

In the letter, Ralph A. Wolff, president of the commission that accredits senior colleges for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, said the commission was concerned about a lack of "tangible results" on concerns it first raised with the college in 1990 and re-emphasized in 2004. The college needs to quickly develop a plan for reducing racism and sexism on the campus, he said.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Wolff indicated that one of the deficient "tangible results" that concerns him
is that the college is not doing enough to even out graduation rates.... While the graduation rate for white students is 73 percent, for African American students, the rate is 56 percent.

Would it meet the Western Association's standard if St. Mary's "evened out" the graduation rate by raising the graduation requirements for whites and Asians so that fewer of them graduated? Meanwhile, across the Bay, at Berkeley, and down the coast, at UCLA, the graduation rate for minority students has increased dramatically since preferential admissions has been eliminated. Does the Western Association like that solution to the graduation rate problem?

Will the American Bar Association, which requires "diversity" in the entering classes of law schools, also require a corresponding amount of "diversity" among graduates? Among those who pass state bar associations? If not, why not? If colorblind admission is unacceptable because it does not yield the requisite "tangible results," why should the ABA allow blind grading of exams (where the professor does not know the identity of the student), since low grades of the preferentially admitted contribute mightily to low class rankings and low graduation rates.

There are other problems at St. Mary's that may have implications for the accreditation process at other institutions. An article in the San Jose Mercury News quotes the new provost, who
acknowledged that minority professors are asked to serve on race- and diversity-focused committees more often than white colleagues, which contributes to feelings of discrimination.

It would not be surprising if some minority students who were admitted at least in part to provide "diversity" think they were admitted at least in part to provide "diversity," and thus feel that an implicit obligation to provide "diversity" discriminates against them.


Rutgers Professors Cancel Classes For Anti-War Rally

The Rutgers Daily Targum, an expertly edited publication, offered a story on yesterday's New Brunswick anti-war event, "U. professors cancel class in support of ralley" [sic]. Copy editing's not their evident strength; this seems little surprise when you see what one of their Journalism professors thinks about holding classes. Bruce Reynolds and several other professors decided the rally important, and canceled any classes that might conflict with student attendance.
Part-time lecturer Bruce Reynolds of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies said although he does not have a personal opinion on the value of the Walk Out, he still cancelled his Writing and Editing for Print class in order to let anyone participate if they chose to. "I think [protests] are as much a part of the college experience as anything else, and to deny them access to the Walk Out would be to deny them access to part of their education," he said.

Another professor planned to walk out with her students as the rally began. All interviewed for the story seem to think the "Walk Out" an educational experience of obviously greater importance than, well, class attendance. This isn't surprising, or objectionable from students, but it's another thing entirely coming from professors. Professors are employed to provide instruction, to abrogate this for explicitly political purposes is a troublesome model. Students pay for classes, not for recommended activist hours.

You also can't help but wonder which rallies trump classtimes - I doubt that a "Support Our Troops" event would prove "educational" enough to cancel a single class. Too many "ralleys" at Rutgers, clearly not enough instruction.


NAS And FIRE Draw Fire

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the National Association of Scholars (NAS), two groups conspicuously devoted to protecting traditional freedom on campus, have both come under attack as right-wing organizations. The criticism of FIRE came in a distorted entry on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. The Wikipedia entry, which has since been corrected, argued that FIRE is "keen to wage a culture war on the leftists they see at every turn." It is true that FIRE defends more conservatives than liberals, but that is because students and professors on the right are far more likely to get in trouble on our left-dominated campuses.

In a sharp defense of FIRE, president Greg Lukianoff pointed out that the organization extensively and aggressively defended Ward Churchill, Sami Al Arian, Nicholas DeGenova ("I pray for a million Mogadishus"), Richard Berthold ("Anyone who can blow up the Pentagon has my vote") and Donald Hindley, a liberal professor at Brandeis under fire for months for using the term "wetback" in class. Hindley, who has been penalized without getting a hearing, has been assigned monitors to audit his class. The founders of FIRE are Alan Charles Kors, a conservative professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvey Silverglate, a prominent liberal lawyer and a board member of the Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union. Lukianoff, who once worked for the ACLU of Northern California and the EnvironMentors Project in Washington, D.C., is a Democrat.

The NAS probably has more political conservatives than liberals, but it is non-partisan and takes no stances on issues not directly related to the campuses. Years ago, People for the American Way placed the NAS on its weblist of right-wing organizations, citing donations from some conservative foundations. This week the executive director of the NAS, Peter Wood, issued a response, saying that the organization is in fact opposed to intellectual and institutional developments that pose a danger to academic freedom, including politicization of the academy, curtailment of free speech on behalf of sensitivity, and race and gender preferences in admissions and campus hiring - but it is open to people of different views and is not part of the political right.

Wood wrote: "For the crime of standing against the tide of political correctness, the NAS was convicted as 'conservative.' It was a false label bestowed in an effort to marginalize critics who spoke not the language of William F. Buckley, but the language of Bacon, Locke and Montesquieu and who took their bearing not from Barry Goldwater, but from figures such as Jefferson, de Tocqueville and Weber. As political correctness moved from an expansion movement to a settled fact, the term 'conservative' expanded to include anything whatever outside the charmed circle of identity politics." The attack on the NAS is another attempt to discredit dissent from campus orthodoxy.


Monday, April 07, 2008

School Choice – Now More Than Ever

This week's revelation that 17 of the nation's 50 largest cities have high school graduation rates below 50% surely saddened many. But it surprised few people attuned to the state of U.S. public education. Proponents of education choice have long believed that dropout rates fall when families can pick the schools best suited for their children.

So news that Sol Stern, a veteran advocate of school choice, is having second thoughts about the ability of market forces to improve education outcomes is noteworthy. Mr. Stern explains his change of heart in the current issue of the indispensable City Journal, a quarterly magazine published by the Manhattan Institute. And his revised views on the school choice movement warrant a response.

Inside of two decades, charter school enrollment in the U.S. has climbed to 1.1 million from zero. Two tiny voucher programs in Maine and Vermont blossomed into 21 programs in 13 states and the District of Columbia. Tuition tax credits, once puny and rare, are now sizeable and commonplace. The idea that teacher pay should be based on performance, not just seniority, is gaining ground. Not bad for a small band of education reformers facing skepticism from the liberal media and outright hostility from well-funded, politically connected heavies like the National Education Association.

So I was surprised to see these impressive school choice gains diminished by Mr. Stern, an education scholar at the Manhattan Institute who has spent so many years chronicling them. Mr. Stern does allow that "the school choice movement has been very good for the disadvantaged," liberating low-income families from failing schools. But he says that social-change movements need to be attentive to "facts on the ground" and that recent developments "suggest that markets in education may not be a panacea – and that we should re-examine the direction of school reform."

As an example, Mr. Stern cites the Milwaukee voucher program. "Fifteen years into the most expansive school choice program tied to any urban school district in the country, Milwaukee's public schools still suffer from low achievement and miserable graduation rates," he writes. "Most voucher students are still benefitting, true; but no 'Milwaukee miracle,' no transformation of the public schools has taken place."

Seeking panaceas and miracles is setting the bar for success unreasonably high. The most immediate goal of market-oriented reformers is to offer respite to poor families with kids in the worst schools. And Mr. Stern acknowledges that those students with access to vouchers and charters are in a much better situation than they would be otherwise.

His larger argument is that choice has been ineffective in improving surrounding public school systems, but that is a dubious conclusion at best. No fewer than four authoritative studies of Milwaukee's voucher program exist, the most recent published last year by Martin Carnoy of Stanford University. While none of the Milwaukee studies have found huge improvements from the existence of a voucher program, all concluded that public schools are responding to the competitive pressure and do better.

Similarly, studies of Florida's A+ program, which gives students in chronically failing public schools a voucher to attend a private school, found that the threat of losing students caused public schools to improve performance on the state assessment test. There are four such studies available, and all show a positive competitive response from the public school system.

Other research has assessed how competition from charter schools affects traditional public schools. The University of Washington's National Charter School Research Project identified 12 such surveys. Seven showed significant positive effects from competition; three showed no effect; and two showed negative effects. Once again a preponderance of the evidence suggests that expanded choice and competition improve educational outcomes.

In Mr. Stern's view, education reformers would do better to de-emphasize choice and focus instead on improving curriculums and teacher quality. The reality is that the former fuels the latter. Researchers at the Urban Institute, by no means a bastion of conservatives, recently collected information on how public schools respond to competitive pressure. It turns out that one response is to put in place instructional reforms, including more rigorous standards. In other words, instructional reform is a product of competitive pressure and is less likely to occur in the absence of school choice.

It's also worth noting that public school choice has always existed in the form of residential choice. The problem is that not all families have the means to move into the neighborhoods with better schools. One goal of reformers is to make choice more equitable. The fact that vouchers and charters have been unable to completely transform the system inside of two decades does not mean public education is immune to market forces. School choice is clearly making a difference for the better, which justifies expanding it, not abandoning it.


'Bullying' Australian high school stops fingerprinting kids

An Australian high school has stopped fingerprinting its children, on receiving a caning from the country’s press. Ku-ring-gai High, in Sydney’s prosperous North Shore, is accused of bullying its charges into scanning their fingerprints for an attendance monitoring system it is trialing.

Under New South Wales rules, parents must be told in advance if their children are to be fingerprinted. Also, schools must not ID children whose parents object by way of a letter of exemption. But Ku-ring-gai interpreted the rules liberally: one parent told The Australian that his daughter “could not leave an exam room until she provided her fingerprint". Another claimed her two children were “intimidated” into getting their fingerprints scanned despite presenting exemption letters.

Ku-ring-gai High may have breached procedural and privacy guidelines, education officials say. But the school could return to fingerprinting, when it gets its house in order, according to local news reports.


Germany still persecuting home schoolers

The parents of Melissa Busekros, the German teen who was taken by police from her home and placed in a psychiatric ward because she was homeschooled, now are being billed by the government for the cost of her forced stay, according to attorneys who are working on her case. WND originally reported more than a year ago when Busekros, then 15, was taken into custody from in front of her shocked family by police officers bearing the following court order: "The relevant Youth Welfare Office is hereby instructed and authorized to bring the child, if necessary by force, to a hearing and may obtain police support for this purpose."

She eventually was detained for several months, until she turned 16 and was subject to different German laws, when she simply left the custodial foster family where she had been ordered to stay and returned to her parents, Hubert and Gudrun Busekros, and her five siblings. Court officials later said they would not challenge her actions, but the underlying court case stemming from allegations from education and social service officials over the teen's welfare has remained unresolved.

It now is being taken both to the European Court of Human Rights as well as the European Parliament by officials with the European Center for Law and Justice. There, legal counsel Roger Kiska told WND that the case is being attacked on two fronts, a direct challenge to the legal rulings in the case at the Court of Human Rights, and a political attack in the European Parliament, which cannot change Germany's homeschooling laws but can apply pressure to make the government more tolerant.

Meanwhile, the local government involved in the case is demanding payment from the Busekros family of an undetermined bill for Melissa's stay from February through April 2007 when she was in the custody of authorities and social services in Germany. The family, after paying for its own legal counsel throughout much of the battle with government officials, has no resources left to pay the fees, which could reach an amount equal to thousands of dollars, and Kiska said they are simply another aggravating factor in the case.

The appeals process will be long and complicated, but the ECLJ hopes it will result in a more appropriate response on the part of German officials to those who seek to homeschool. Kiska said the goal is that children no longer would be taken into custody by SWAT teams. "The measures used by the government in this case reached extreme measures," he said. "There were several police cars sent early in the morning like a SWAT team. We're challenging that in Europe these types of things cannot happen."

He said if such procedures are limited, the "teeth" will be gone from some of the rules being enforced by various local government officials now, and that ultimately will expand the education rights of children. "What is being done to a sensitive and musical young girl, just because the bureaucrats want to set an example? In their zealous drive to enforce compulsory schooling (which by Melissa's age is only part-time) at all costs, they readily accept the trauma caused to the unassuming and lovable Melissa," said a German homeschool advocacy organization at the time she was taken into custody.

"The Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit condemns this inconsiderate and totally incommensurate behavior on the part of the officials involved and demands that they give Melissa her freedom and return her to her family immediately," the group, an alliance of individuals, organizations and parent initiatives lobbying to achieve educational freedom in Germany, said.

Melissa had been getting home tutoring in math and other subjects to aid in her schoolwork after school officials warned she needed to catch up. However, those officials were unhappy with the arrangement and expelled her, forcing the family into a homeschooling situation. The German Youth Welfare Office then created a case in Family Court which eventually resulted in the court order to remove Melissa from her home. She remained in custody in various locations from that point until her April 2007 birthday, when she turned 16 and fell under different laws.

The whole issue over her "mental well-being" still remains to be resolved, Kiska said, although educational officials not longer have jurisdiction over her education. In this case, Germany is the odd one out of the European Union because of its attitude toward homeschooling. Only Slovakia has such similar restrictions. Ultimately, "we're hoping for a more uniform approach" to homeschooling in Germany, he said. "There are some areas that are far more conducive to homeschoolers."

The petition being presented to the European Parliament will be by the family, and will seek a more tolerant treatment of those whose unique school needs don't fit exactly into the format of a government institution. It could be heard as early as this year. The family will appear before the parliamentary committee and the teen will tell her story, he said.

The court case will challenge the various rulings regarding her mental well-being, but that is a slower process, and probably will not result in a verdict for several years. In the meantime, the family is refusing to pay the charges for Melissa's custody. "We're handling the case pro bono," Kiska said of his organization. "But their legal expenses (before this point) have been extraordinary. They're suffering. They cannot afford to pay these bills."

The ECLJ was founded about a decade ago by Jay Sekulow and Thomas Patrick Monagham of the American Center for Law and Justice, which set up its European counterpart as a nonprofit dedicated to the protection and defense of religious freedom in Europe.


Sunday, April 06, 2008

Virginia: Another stupid attack on a little kid

Do these brainless bureaucrats have any regard for the welfare and psychological health of the kids that they harass? Obviously not. They are not fit to have any role in the care of children

In his seven years, Randy Castro has been an aspiring soccer player, an accomplished Lego architect and a Royal Ranger at his Pentecostal church. He also, according to his elementary school record, sexually harassed a first-grade classmate. During recess at his Woodbridge school one day in November, when he was 6, he said, he smacked the classmate's bottom. The girl told the teacher. The teacher took Randy to the principal, who told him such behavior was inappropriate. School officials wrote an incident report calling it "Sexual Touching Against Student, Offensive," which will remain on his student record permanently.

Then, as Randy sat in the principal's office, they called the police. "I thought they were going to take me to prison," Randy said recently. "I was scared." Prince William County school officials would not comment on Randy's case, citing student confidentiality. They said the call to police was the result of a misunderstanding.

Randy is only one of many children to be dealt with harshly as schools across the country grapple with enforcing new zero-tolerance sexual harassment policies and the fear of litigation. The Virginia Department of Education reported that 255 elementary students were suspended last year for offensive sexual touching, or "improper physical contact against a student." In Maryland, 166 elementary school children were suspended last year for sexual harassment, including three preschoolers, 16 kindergartners and 22 first-graders, according to the State Department of Education. Statistics for the District were not available.

In 2006, a kindergartner in Hagerstown, Md., was accused of sexual harassment after pinching a female classmate's buttocks. A 4-year-old in Texas was given an in-school suspension after a teacher's aide accused him of sexual harassment for pressing his face into her breasts when he hugged her.

Ted Feinberg, assistant director of the National Association of School Psychologists in Bethesda, said he had never come across a case of sexual harassment in elementary school in his three decades in the schools. To label somebody a sexual harasser at 6 "doesn't make sense to me," he said. "Kids can be exploratory in behavior, they can mimic what they see on TV."

Randy sat on the lower bunk in his bedroom recently and explained what happened Nov. 26 on the playground at Potomac View Elementary School. Katherine DeLeon, a classmate who regularly came over to play, was kneeling on a bench, talking to friends. He said he saw another boy race over to the girl, whack her on the bottom and run away, giggling and pretending he hadn't done it. He did it twice more, Randy said. Randy said he thought it looked like fun, so he joined in, hitting her and running away twice. "Every time he hit her, she laughed," Randy said. "When I hit her, she told the teacher."

Katherine's mother, Margarita DeLeon, who was contacted by school officials shortly after the incident, said that her daughter didn't like being hit but that she quickly forgot about it. "We didn't pay attention to it, because we know it's just children playing around," she said. "He didn't mean anything by it. I'm upset with the school."

Claudia Castro, a preschool teacher in Alexandria, said she was shocked when officials at Randy's school called to say that he was in trouble and that they were calling the police. She later met with the principal and assistant principal. "I told them that what he did was not appropriate. And I have talked to him about it. What I don't understand is how you can make a police report on a 6-year-old. But the principal told me that they were making reports to the police every single day." The school's incident report, provided to The Washington Post by Randy's family, says the "police were contacted" after the playground episode. Police arrived after dismissal, when Randy had already gone home. Castro said she shared the story with The Post in the hope of changing school policy.

Days before the incident, at a routine meeting with district officials, principals had been reminded to report threats and assaults to the police. "There was some confusion as to what level of threat and assault we were talking about," said Ken Blackstone, a school system spokesman. Some officials and students said Potomac View administrators made an announcement that a new district policy required them to inform the police of student misbehavior. But Blackstone said there was no new policy. After the meeting, he said, principals were confused about when to call police. "As a result, there were too many calls that may not have been necessary because of people wanting to comply with the initial request." "Some of the calls," Prince William police spokeswoman Ericka Hernandez said, "were about incidents the police did not have to be involved in."

Blackstone pointed to the school district's code of behavior, which states that police may be called for "offenses involving weapons, alcohol/drugs, intentional injury, and other serious violations." Two school board members declined to comment on the case, and Blackstone would not make the Potomac View principal available for comment.

Mary Kay Sommers, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, said suspensions and calls to the police in such cases are overkill. The correct response, she said, would be to explore whether the behavior is linked to abuse and to teach students about respecting peers and what constitutes "good touch" or "bad touch." "There's no way these children understand what's going on. But it's been taken out of our hands. That's the difficult moral dilemma that we face," Sommers said. She blamed two Supreme Court decisions from the 1990s that enable suits against school districts for failing to stop sexual harassment as well as zero-tolerance policies aimed at middle and high school students that are applied to students as young as 5. "We need to make sure that we follow the letter of the law, so being reasonable sometimes gets lost," she said.

But Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, said educators do have some leeway: "Zero tolerance does not mean zero good judgment."

Since November, Randy has been calling himself a "bad boy," his mother said. Castro said school officials rejected her appeal to remove the sexual harassment incident from Randy's permanent file. And now she worries that they have branded him a troublemaker. She points to an incident in January when Randy was suspended for three days for verbal "harassment" and inappropriate behavior. According to the principal's incident report, as Randy walked home from school, he told two girls to kiss and asked another student, "Are you gay?" and "Why are you wearing girl's boots?"

Randy and his siblings, who were walking with him that day, dispute the account. They said he teased an older boy and girl about kissing. He said if the boy didn't kiss the girl, it meant he was gay. Randy said he learned the word on TV. School officials, citing confidentiality, declined to comment on the incident.

Castro agreed that Randy's behavior was inappropriate but worried that he is being too severely scrutinized because of the spanking incident. "My feeling is that they are picking on him," she said. Castro said she met again with school officials and asked why, if they were concerned about Randy, he wasn't in counseling. "The counselor told me he didn't need it," she said.


Student Sues 'Anti-Christian' Teacher Over Remarks in Class

A student and his family have filed a federal lawsuit demanding that a popular European history teacher at California's Capistrano Valley High School be fired for what they say were anti-Christian remarks he made in the classroom. Chad Farnan, a 16-year-old sophomore, says the teacher, James Corbett, told his students that "Jesus glasses" obscure the truth and suggested that Christians are more likely than other people to commit rape and murder.

Farnan recorded his teacher telling students in class: "What country has the highest murder rate? The South! What part of the country has the highest rape rate? The South! What part of the country has the highest rate of church attendance? The South!" Farnan said he took the tape recorder to class to supplement his class notes. "It was very hard for me because it's like basically telling me all this stuff that I've believed my whole entire life - it's just basically trying to throw it out the window," Farnan told FOX News.

Farnan's family has filed a federal lawsuit against the Capistrano Unified School District, claiming Corbett's remarks violated the First Amendment, which prohibits laws "respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." They are demanding that Corbett be fired.

Corbett's attorney, Dan Spradlin, says his client has been teaching at Capistrano Valley High for 15 years and is in no way anti-Christian. According to Spradlin, Corbett was not trying to offend anyone but to inspire his students to think. "The purpose is not to indoctrinate, but simply to provide a basic starting point to provoke discussion," Spradlin said.

Farnan said he was insulted by Corbett's comments. When Farnan played the tapes for his mother, Teresa, she contacted Advocates for Faith and Freedom, a non-profit law firm that specializes in such cases, to seek redress. The Farnans' complaint was dismissed by the school district, but they took their plight to federal court, where U.S. District Judge James Selna said he believed the case has merit and ordered it to go forward, probably before the end of the year.

The Farnans say that if the school agrees to put Corbett through sensitivity training and requires him to apologize to the students he offended, then the family would consider dropping their lawsuit. The school district has yet to comment on the offer.


Black education disaster in Australia

Maybe even worse than Los Angeles

INDIGENOUS children in remote communities in the Northern Territory are being condemned to failure by a system of educational apartheid that offers a second-rate curriculum in make-believe schools. In a paper to be released next week by the Centre for Independent Studies, Helen Hughes, professor emeritus at the Australian National University and senior fellow at the CIS, says indigenous schooling in the Territory has "in effect not been extended to secondary education".

"Because most indigenous primary school leavers, particularly in remote areas, are at Year 1 level, so-called secondary classes mostly teach elementary English, numeracy and literacy," she says.

Teachers are flown in to remote schools, sometimes for as little as a few hours one day a week, and many schools are not open five days a week. Students are not taught history, geography nor science, Professor Hughes says, and she cites examples of teenagers thinking there are 100 minutes in an hour and not knowing how to divide a piece of material into two, nor how to find Canberra on a map nor what "capital of Australia" means.

She calls for more than 4000 preschool teachers for indigenous children, more than 200 houses to be built for full-time resident teachers, and for remote schools to be twinned with mainstream schools to allow exchanges of students and teachers.

At the Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin, community members have acted to build their own school after decades of educational failure on the islands. When teachers from Tiwi College tested the literacy of 13- and 14-year-olds, they found at least half the students had the literacy levels of a six-year old. Students such as 15-year-old Bertram Tipungwuti are now engaged in a desperate race, passionately driven by the traditional owners on the island, to catch up with students in mainstream schools. [Tiwi islanders are different. They are of mixed race, descendants of Malay and Indonesian seafarers in part -- though you are not supposed to mention that. There are many differences between Tiwis and mainland blacks]