Saturday, July 19, 2008

Archaeologists and political correctness

I suppose I should by now be inured to the news the academics, NGOs and scientific organizations are often agenda-driven propagandists and not truth seekers, but this report cinches it:
A recent mission to Iraq headed by top archaeologists from the U.S. and U.K. who specialize in Mesopotamia found that, contrary to received wisdom, southern Iraq's most important historic sites -- eight of them -- had neither been seriously damaged nor looted after the American invasion. (Snip) The article has caused confusion, not to say consternation, among archaeologists and has been largely ignored by the mainstream press.

Stick claims of extensive looting of archeological treasures of Iraq during the US invasion in the packet labelled Afghan quagmire,Lancet casualty figures, etc.

You might be interested to know that despite being directly involved in spreading the disinformation about Iraqi archeological treasures, that academic community represented in the World Archeological Committee (WAC) is weighing in against any aggressive acts against Iran:
The members reportedly considered a lengthy statement urging colleagues to refuse any military requests for a list of Iran's sites that should be exempt from possible air strikes. Finally they settled for a shorter July 11 press release. Among other things, the final press release says that WAC "expresses strong opposition to aggressive military action . . . by the U.S. government, or by any other government." The release quotes WAC's president as saying that WAC "strongly opposed the war in Iraq and . . . we strongly oppose any war in Iran" and that "any differences with Iran should be resolved through peaceful and diplomatic means."

It doesn't take much to believe that the grossly wrong early reports on Iraq were not the result of scientific error, but rather the product of anti-war (and perhaps anti-American) views.


McCain on Education

In his NAACP speech today, Senator McCain said this:
After decades of hearing the same big promises from the public education establishment, and seeing the same poor results, it is surely time to shake off old ways and to demand new reforms. That isn't just my opinion; it is the conviction of parents in poor neighborhoods across this nation who want better lives for their children. In Washington, D.C., the Opportunity Scholarship program serves more than 1,900 boys and girls from families with an average income of 23,000 dollars a year. And more than 7,000 more families have applied for that program. What they all have in common is the desire to get their kids into a better school.

Democrats in Congress, including my opponent, oppose the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. In remarks to the American Federation of Teachers last weekend, Senator Obama dismissed public support for private school vouchers for low-income Americans as, "tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice." All of that went over well with the teachers union, but where does it leave families and their children who are stuck in failing schools?

Over the years, Americans have heard a lot of "tired rhetoric" about education. We've heard it in the endless excuses of people who seem more concerned about their own position than about our children. We've heard it from politicians who accept the status quo rather than stand up for real change in our public schools. Parents ask only for schools that are safe, teachers who are competent, and diplomas that open doors of opportunity. When a public system fails, repeatedly, to meet these minimal objectives, parents ask only for a choice in the education of their children. Some parents may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private school. Many will choose a charter school. No entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity.

We should also offer more choices to those who wish to become teachers. Many thousands of highly qualified men and women have great knowledge, wisdom, and experience to offer public school students. But a monopoly on teacher certification prevents them from getting that chance. You can be a Nobel Laureate and not qualify to teach in most public schools today. They don't have all the proper credits in educational "theory" or "methodology" - all they have is learning and the desire and ability to share it. If we're putting the interests of students first, then those qualifications should be enough.

If I am elected president, school choice for all who want it, an expansion of Opportunity Scholarships, and alternative certification for teachers will all be part of a serious agenda of education reform. I will target funding to recruit teachers who graduate in the top 25 percent of their class, or who participate in an alternative teacher recruitment program such as Teach for America, the American Board for Teacher Excellence, and the New Teacher Project.

Senator McCain is exactly right to embrace, and strongly argue in favor of school choice (as well as the other elements of his education agenda). I hope he does it more often and in more venues. Equal educational opportunity is, after all, the civil rights issue of our time. School choice would bring about enormous good to those who need it most. And for Senator Obama to dismiss school choice as "tired rhetoric" is itself an increasingly tiresome tactic of his. He seemingly dismisses every idea that is different than his, or every criticism that is directed at him, as "tired" and "old." At some point, Senator Obama might consider examining the quality of an argument. He might even discover that some old ideas are good ideas. I suppose it's also worth pointing out that the best new idea in years - the 2007 surge in Iraq, which dramatically altered our strategy there and has led to stunning successes - was opposed by a certain senator from Illinois who himself had become tired and weary and wanted to surrender in a war of enormous importance to America.

In any event, Senator Obama's opposition to school choice and his intimate embrace of the education establishment (memorably referred to by Bill Bennett as "the blob") is more evidence that Obama is himself a completely conventional liberal. Which means, in this instance, he is an obstacle to education reform and the improvement in the lives of low-income children.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Grossly incompetent British examination marking

A head teacher is refusing to publish the results of some national curriculum tests after discovering such poor marking that pupils who performed strongly fared worse than poor students. Janis Burdin, a primary school head in Chorley, Lancashire, described the marking in numerous instances as “absolutely off the radar”. She said that the children’s grades would not be published until the papers were remarked.

An 11-year-old child who had performed much better than a classmate in the Key Stage 2 English test was marked lower. Child A wrote about Pip Davenport, a fairground inventor: “If he wasent doing enthing els heel help his uncle Herry at the funfair during the day. And had stoody at nigh on other thing he did was invent new rides. “Becoues he invented a lot of new rides he won a prize. He didn’t live with his mum he lived with his wife.”

This received one mark more than Child B who wrote: “Quickly, it became apparent that Pip was a fantastic rider: a complete natural. But it was his love of horses that led to a tragic accident. An accident that would change his life forever. “At the age of 7, he was training for a local competition when his horse, Mandy, swerved sideways unexpectedly, throwing Pip on to the ground, paralysed.” Both children were awarded five out of eight for sentence structure. Child A was given eight out of twelve for composition and effect while Child B received only seven marks.

Ms Burdin, the head teacher of Moss Side Primary School, said: “These two papers were both given Level 4. I would have given one a 5 and one a 3. These are the most extreme differences but there are many more discrepancies. The marking, especially for the writing exams, is absolutely off the radar.”

The concerns emerged as Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, was questioned by a committee of MPs about the administrative fiasco that has delayed the results of national tests for millions of schoolchildren. The serious concerns about the accuracy of marking could prompt thousands of appeals. Mr Balls refused to apologise when he appeared before the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee yesterday. He would say only that the situation was unacceptable and he was upset at what had happened.

The American contractor ETS Europe failed to have results of this year’s national tests for 11 and 14-year-olds ready for publication on time. ETS, which is being paid $330 million over five years to manage the Key Stage 2 and 3 tests, has faced a barrage of complaints from parents, teachers and markers. The results are being returned at least a week late. Those ringing ETS to complain have been unable to get through, and e-mails have gone unanswered. Barry Sheerman, the chairman of the committee, said that ETS was using some markers who had only recently passed their A levels. He told of one recent graduate who was the most experienced person on his marking team.

Douglas Carswell, the Conservative MP for Harwich, told Mr Balls: “When your predecessor, Estelle Morris, quit when she realised the QCA had made a cockup over testing, I seem to remember she found the humility to say sorry. Will you be saying sorry?” Mr Balls said: “I don’t think that’s a correct description of what happened with Estelle Morris. What I’ve said is that it’s unacceptable.” Challenged again to apologise, he said: “I’m really upset, like you, about what’s happened and that’s why I’m having an inquiry.”

The hearing coincided with the publication of the terms of reference of an independent inquiry headed by Lord Sutherland of Houndwood into how the QCA has managed its responsibilities. Of the nine areas it will focus on, only one mentions the Department for Children, Schools and Families, asking whether it monitored QCA’s delivery appropriately.


McCain's School Choice Opportunity

Education is slipping in priority among many voters but not among Hispanics, many of whom see school choice as a deciding factor in whom to vote for this fall. This has implications for the presidential election. A new poll shows that 82% of Hispanics consider education as one of three most important issues facing this country. The survey also shows that, even while Hispanics trust Democrats over Republicans on education by more than a two-to-one margin, that ratio could change if Republicans heavily promote school choice while Democrats oppose it.

The poll was conducted last year among more than 800 registered Hispanic voters for the Alliance for School Choice and the Hispanic Coalition for Reform and Educational Options, but never publicly released. It was conducted by two polling firms, The Polling Company (which works primarily for Republicans) and the Ampersand Agency, (which polls mostly for Democrats).

This survey found that although Hispanic voters generally consider public schools to be effective, they also favor, by a wide margin, school choice (defined as allowing parents a choice in whether to spend their children's education dollars in public or private schools). Fifty-two percent of Hispanic voters have a favorable view of school choice, according to the poll, while only 7% had an unfavorable view. When asked about vouchers specifically, 32% expressed a favorable opinion compared to 13% unfavorable.

But where the poll really gets interesting is on school choice as an electoral issue: 65% of those surveyed reported that they would be more likely to support a candidate for office who supports school choice, including 35% who said they would be "much more likely." Only 19% said they would be less likely to vote for a pro-school choice candidate.

These numbers were high regardless of whether the person was of Mexican, Puerto Rican or Cuban descent. They also transcended party affiliation: 67% of Republicans, 70% of independents and 63% of Democrats preferring pro-school choice candidates. And 70% of those who prefer pro-school choice candidates -- including 66% of Democrats -- said they would cross party lines to vote for a candidate who supports school choice over one who opposes it.

Barack Obama has hinted at being open to serious education reform. Before the Wisconsin primary in February, he praised Milwaukee's highly successful school-voucher program. But, facing furious criticism from the establishment, which is disproportionately influential in Democratic politics, he backtracked.

John McCain has been a consistent supporter of school choice and passionately endorsed it during one of the Republican debates, although the issue is far from a mainstay of his campaign. His appointment of pro-school choice former Arizona Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan as his campaign's top education adviser may signal a new emphasis.

Sen. Obama will count heavily on teachers' unions for support. The unions, though, have nowhere else to go. Hispanics do. If Mr. Obama opposes school choice, he will cede to his opponent a huge opportunity to make inroads among Hispanic voters -- if Sen. McCain seizes it.

Hispanic votes will be crucial in key battleground states, including Florida, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. George W. Bush won 40% of Hispanic votes in 2004, but support slipped to 30% for GOP congressional candidates in 2006. Mr. Obama fared poorly among Hispanics in the presidential primaries, while Mr. McCain carried 74% of Hispanic votes when he won re-election to the Senate in 2004. All that adds up to this: Hispanics voting on school choice could tip the balance of the election.

Hispanic voters are overwhelmingly young and have exhibited a propensity toward political independence -- and no issue is more tangible for them than educational opportunity. If Hispanics align their voting with the educational interests of their children, it could alter the electoral landscape -- not merely for this election, but permanently.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

The dishonesty problem with Middle East Studies

by Daniel Pipes

As one of the few pro-U.S. and pro-Israel voices in the field of Middle East studies, I find my views get frequently mangled by others in the field - thus I have had to post a 5,000-word document titled "Department of Corrections (of Others' Factual Mistakes about Me)" on my website.

Usually, the precise evolution of such mistakes escapes me. Recently, however, I discovered just how one developed in three steps and confronted the two academics who made the errors. Their unwillingness to acknowledge their errors illustrates the mixture of incompetence and arrogance of Middle East studies as it is, unfortunately, too often practiced in the academy.

(1) In "The Muslims are Coming! The Muslims are Coming!" National Review, November 19, 1990, I wrote about some of the reasons for Western fears of Muslims:
Muslims have gone through a trauma during the last two hundred years - the tribulation of God's people who unaccountably found themselves at the bottom of the heap. The strains have been enormous and the results agonizing; Muslim countries have the most terrorists and the fewest democracies in the world. Only Turkey (and sometimes Pakistan) is fully democratic, and even there the system is frail. Everywhere else, the head of government got to power through force[,] his own or someone else's. The result is endemic instability plus a great deal of aggression.

Despite such problems, I concluded, "none of this justifies seeing Muslims as the paramount enemy."

(2) Yahya Sadowski, then of the Brookings Institution, quoted the bolded line of the above paragraph in an entirely different context in "The New Orientalism and the Democracy Debate," Middle East Report, July-August 1993, p. 14. Discussing Western considerations of democracy's prospects in the Middle East, Sadowski wrote:
The thesis that Middle Eastern societies are resistant to democratization had been a standard tenet of Orientalist thought for decades, but in the 1980s a new generation of Orientalists inverted some of the old assumptions and employed a new vocabulary which allowed them to link their work to a wider, international debate about the relationship between "civil society" and democratization. These updated arguments sought to prove not only - as neo-Orientalist Daniel Pipes put it - that "Muslim countries have the most terrorists and the fewest democracies in the world," but that they always would.

Sadowski quoted my words accurately but turned their meaning upside-down; he transformed my rather prosaic observation of fact into part of a grand theory that I never enunciated - and which, for the record, I repudiate. Throughout my work, I stress mutability and change and argue against historical essentialism concerning Islam. I see the Muslim world as changing and avoid extrapolations from present-day circumstances to the future. I make a point not to say something will "always" be a certain way. Further, contrary to Sadowski, I hold that Islam and democracy are indeed compatible.

Joel Beinin of Stanford University and Joe Stork of the Middle East Report then gave the Sadowski article legs by reprinting it in their co-edited 1996 University of California Press book, Political Islam: Essays from Middle East Report; I am quoted on p. 34.

(3) Then along came Yakub Halabi, at the time a Ph.D. student at the University of Denver, with "Orientalism and US Democratization Policy in the Middle East," International Studies, 36 (1999), pp. 385-87. Halabi relied on Sadowski's distorted version of my words and further elaborated on it, now in the context of his discussion of Western attempts to understand how a passive Muslim people could have brought off the Iranian revolution:
The neo-orientalist school emerged in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution. It was an attempt to remove the anomaly in the orientalist approach that could not explain why a Muslim society rebelled against the Shah. . Orientalists as well as neo-orientalists, however, ignore any sort of modernity or novelty in Islamic societies in general and in the Iranian revolution in particular.

Halabi went on to note that some analysts depicted Islamic movements as not just radical but also anti-Western and anti-modernist.
One such writer Daniel Pipes, for example, depicts Muslims as "permanent" anti-democrats and terrorists. In his words: "Muslim countries [not only] have the most terrorists and the fewest democracies in the world, but that they always will."

"In his words"? Hardly; I said nothing of the sort. Halabi changed my meaning by ascribing the word "permanent" to me, though it appeared nowhere in my essay; by adding two words in square brackets; and by falsely ascribing Sadowski's phrase to me. To complete the transformation, he even altered Sadowski's language, changing the final bolded word from "would" to "will."

As with Sadowski's perversion of my sentence, I disavow the fictitious quote Halabi attributes to me.


(1) Sadowski and Halabi turned my simple statement into the linchpin of their quite distinct generalizations about "Orientalism."

(2) I wrote to each of Sadowski and Halabi, requesting a retraction and an apology. Sadowski did not respond. Halabi wrote back and justified his inaccuracy with a reference to post-modern subjectivity, with its convenient insouciance toward such concepts as truth and falsehood: "This is the way I understood and interpreted your article. When you write an article, you cannot control the way others interprete [sic] it." Such defiant subjectivity undermines the scholarly enterprise.

(3) How to explain that two specialists hostile to my outlook each mangled my words? I see two possibilities: That they did so purposefully; or that bias colored their reading. I doubt they did so intentionally - no one wishes to be caught out and ridiculed for making errors. My hunch is that, in their eagerness to discredit someone whose approach differs from theirs, they read my analysis hastily and prejudicially, prompting the sequence of mistakes documented here. Such attitudes have contributed importantly to what Martin Kramer characterizes as "the failure of Middle Eastern studies in America."


Decision in Arizona case restores Fourth Amendment to schools

In a major slap-down to public-school control-freakery, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (PDF) that there actually are limits to the power of educrats to grope and humiliate their charges in search of illicit over-the-counter medications. From the opinion, here are the details of the search of 13-year-old Savana Redding, which took place in Safford, Arizona:
First, Savana removed her socks, shoes and jacket for inspection for ibuprofen. The officials found nothing. Then, Romero asked Savana to remove her T-shirt and stretch pants. Embarrassed and scared, Savana complied and sat in her bra and underwear while the two adults examined her clothes. Again, the officials found nothing. Still progressing with the search, despite receiving only corroboration of Savana's pleas that she did not have any ibuprofen, Romero instructed Savana to pull her bra out to the side and shake it. Savana followed the instructions, exposing her naked breasts in the process. The shaking failed to dislodge any pills. Romero next requested that Savana pull out her underwear at the crotch and shake it. Hiding her head so that the adults could not see that she was about to cry, Savana complied and pulled out her underwear, revealing her pelvic area. No ibuprofen was found. The school officials finally stopped and told Savana to put her clothes back on and accompany Romero back to Wilson's office.

Yes, the school had a firm-and-fast rule against the sort of medications almost everybody keeps in their medicine cabinet for casual use. As insane as that seems, it's a concern best addressed separately.

Earlier court decisions had given a rousing thumbs-up to Redding's ordeal, but the appeals court had second thoughts. Writing for the majority, Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw said:
Common sense informs us that directing a thirteen-year-old girl to remove her clothes, partially revealing her breasts and pelvic area, for allegedly possessing ibuprofen, an infraction that poses an imminent danger to no one, and which could be handled by keeping her in the principal's office until a parent arrived or simply sending her home, was excessively intrusive.

Logically enough, the court found that "The strip search of thirteen-year-old Savana ... was conducted in violation of Savana's Fourth Amendment rights."

Good. Not only is that ruling a sound recognition of the rights of the individual, but it will spare many fathers and mothers the unpleasant necessity to go forth and do violence to school administrators who abuse their children.


Formidable Ignorance

One of many good comments yesterday from Taranto:

From a Cornell University press release:
Climate change and its effects on ecosystems is the No. 1 crisis facing the world, according to Cornell faculty--but it is a phenomenon not easily reversed. The most important problem that is more easily solved? Insufficient education in science, critical thinking and environmental issues.

If even the faculty of an Ivy League university is foolish enough to think that "climate change" is "the No. 1 crisis facing the world," then it is wildly optimistic to think that "insufficient education in science, critical thinking and environmental issues" is a solvable problem.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sack race is banned as health risk in British school

The sack race and three-legged race have been banned from a school sports day because the children might fall over and hurt themselves. Parents and campaigners described the move as “completely over the top”. Teachers at John F. Kennedy Primary School in Washington dropped the events after discussions with Beamish Open Air Museum, where the Edwardian-themed sports day is being held today.

About 375 children are dressing up in period costume for the event. Running, hopping and throwing table-tennis balls into buckets will be allowed.

Laura Midgley, founder of the Campaign Against Political Correctness, said: “It’s health and safety rules gone mad. I think it’s completely over the top. The worst thing that could possibly happen is the children fall over.”

Simon Woolley, head of education at Beamish in Co Durham, said: “We looked at a three-legged race and a sack race but what we want to do is minimise the risk to the children. We thought we would be better to do hopping and running instead because there was less chance of them falling over.”


Bullying in Australia's government schools forces many families into home schooling

PARENTS of both bullying victims and expelled bullies are turning to home schooling in a bid to salvage an education for their children. There are now an estimated 22,000 students learning from home in Queensland, double the number counted by a government working group in 2002.

The bullying epidemic in the state's schools is behind the increase, according to the Home Education Association. Association spokeswoman Colleen Strange said it had become the last resort for both the bullied and their bullies. "It's disturbing. I even have teenagers contacting me saying, 'Please talk to my mother and tell her what she has to do because I can't spend another minute in that school'," Ms Strange said. "I even have people who have been excluded from school for bullying contacting me. They have no choice, they have to be educated somewhere."

Home education is a "lawful alternative" for students of a compulsory school age, but Education Queensland sets out strict guidelines. Those wishing to go to university have to sit a special tertiary admissions test.

Last week's Sunday Mail investigation into bullying in Queensland schools sparked a huge response from readers. One Brisbane mother was driven to release details of a diary she kept of the daily trauma suffered by her disabled son at the hands of classmates. She was one of hundreds of readers who contacted The Sunday Mail following our report, which found up to one in six Queensland schoolchildren were victims of schoolyard abuse and 70 students, some as young as five, were suspended every day for assault.

The mother said her 14-year-old - who has autistic spectrum disorder, which affects his social and communication skills - had been subjected to a decade of physical and mental attacks, which left him reclusive and on anti-depressant drugs. "It started from Day One, they didn't give him a chance, they didn't give him a go," the mother said "His disorder means he can't socialise properly, anyway, and now almost every single day he comes home crying. He has no self-esteem. "He says, 'Mum I can't take it any more, I just can't do it any more'. And that is heartbreaking, really heartbreaking."

For the past 18 months the mother - whose identity has been withheld to protect her son - has kept a diary of every incident involving her son. She said "there is not one single day where something hasn't happened". The abuse began with name-calling and escalated to him being grabbed around the throat and choked, beaten with a mallet in manual arts, punched in the genitals and hit with a rock.

The mother said she had pleaded with school authorities and even confronted her son's bullies, and now had no choice but to join thousands of other Queensland families who were rejecting mainstream education in favour of home schooling. "If he stays where he is it will be devastating," she said.

Parents and children who contacted The Sunday Mail said they felt powerless to deal with the situation. "I now believe that the only way to stop the bullying is for my son to stand up to them, but the problem is that he doesn't know how to be physically violent. Oh, and by the way, he is only nine years old," one email revealed.

Another parent said her daughter had attempted suicide: "Four years onwards, many counselling sessions later, two suicide attempts, my daughter is barely living. She was a bright, caring, talented musician. This is sadly the cost to families left to deal with the effect of senseless degrading of a human being."


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Anti-Asian Bias Alleged at Princeton

A young Asian immigrant, Jian Li, has claimed that he was rejected by Princeton University because of an anti-Asian bias on the part of admissions decision-makers.

Consequently, the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights is reviewing Princeton's admissions process, looking for evidence of discrimination.
Critics say admission quotas remain a dirty little secret in academia.

"There is almost no other area that colleges consistently lie about," said Russell Nieli, a professor in Princeton's department of politics, who recently published an essay titled "Is there an Asian Ceiling?"

Princeton, for its part, denies using quotas. The university declined, however, to release admissions data broken down by race and test scores, spokeswoman Cass Cliatt said, "because we don't want anyone to make the mistake that we make admissions decisions by category."

The federal review at Princeton -- which adamantly denies it discriminates against Asians -- was sparked by a complaint filed in 2006 by Livingston High School graduate and Asian immigrant Jian Li. He claims he was rejected by Princeton and other elite universities despite graduating in the top 1 percent of his high school class, earning various honors outside the classroom and nailing perfect SAT scores.

Nieli said Li's complaint, because it was made by an Asian-American, may carry more weight with proponents of racial preferences.

"The people making these decisions are post-'60s guilty white limousine liberals," Nieli said. "They don't take a protest by a white person as seriously as one by a Chinese or Japanese or Korean student."
I guess it's a foregone conclusion that an anti-white bias exists but it's not considered to be discrimination. After all, we must remember that:
A commitment to "acting affirmatively to ensure diversity," Cliatt said, is not the same as discriminating.
I hope everyone else is clear on that because it sounds like double-talk to me.
Anti-Asian bias back again

Post below recycled from Discriminations. See the original for links

Hans Bader has a terrific letter in USA Today criticizing an editorial that I should have criticized here several days ago. Bader expands on the points made in his letter here.

Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity, another reader/commenter, also made some excellent points about the weird editorial, here. The editorial acknowledged that “high-scoring Asian students face higher admissions hurdles” than others. It mentioned the study by two Princeton scholars (discussed here, here, and here) who found that
if students were admitted on grades and test scores alone, the acceptance rate for African American and Latino students would plummet while the rate for Asians would rise sharply.

But to USA Today the fact that Asian Americans face higher hurdles in college admission than others and that if preferences to blacks and Hispanic were eliminated the numbers of Asians admitted would increase substantially “can feel like discrimination” but “it does not necessarily prove discrimination.” Yes, it necessarily does.

British toddlers to be taught about human rights

Toddlers are to be taught about human rights and respecting different cultures in a scheme condemned as an "absurd" waste of time. Nurseries across the country are adopting the project, which will see teachers explaining to children as young as three that people across the world live different lives but everyone has a right to food, water and shelter. Staff will also be expected to ensure that children are treated as independent human beings, and have the "right" to choose their toys or have a drink of water whenever they want.

It is an extension of a Unicef scheme already in use in primary schools, in which pupils analyse the responsibilities of fairytale characters and sign a joint declaration with teachers of how people should be treated.

The move comes amid growing concern about the Government's "nappy curriculum", a set of 69 learning targets for under-fives which experts say will leave young children confused and demotivated. Sue Palmer, a former headteacher and author of the book Toxic Childhood, said: "Toddlers are still working at a very emotional level. They should be told stories and allowed to sing and play. That's what will turn them into normal people."

Dr Richard House, of the Research Centre for Therapeutic Education at Roehampton University, added: "The idea that this kind of learning is appropriate for nursery-age children is absurd, and betrays a complete lack of understanding of child development. "Modern culture seems determined to treat children like 'mini-adults' in all kinds of ways, and with major negative effects in terms of their premature growing-up."

The Unicef scheme is designed to promote the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that children everywhere have the right to survival, freedom to develop, protection from abuse and the opportunity to participate in society. Primary and secondary schools can already win a Rights Respecting Schools award from Unicef by putting up posters by the main entrance, signed by everyone from dinner ladies to the headteacher, which states their commitment to upholding the rights charter. Each classroom is also meant to contain a set of pupils' rights and responsibilities, while wall displays are expected to continue the theme. Pupils in one school made a poster showing the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk asking: "What about my rights?". It lists his "right to have a castle" and "right to be bad".

The Unicef scheme is now being adopted by private and state-run nursery schools in six areas from Durham to Dorset and from Rochdale to Wandsworth. Its organisers insist it will be tailored for younger children and that the abstract concepts of human rights will make sense to them. Pam Hand, an early years advisory teacher from Hampshire who is a key figure in the scheme, said: "The work is about rights and knowledge of the UN Convention, and is shared with children at an appropriate level for them. "It is helping children be aware that they have a lot of things in common with children everywhere, such as the right to clean water and being cared for. It's about awareness that we have different experiences but being tolerant.

"There are very simple things they can understand, like the right to be looked after and have food. "It also looks at how much the children are given a voice. In practice it would be looking at can the children choose what toys are out to play with, and where it's possible do they have a choice of whether they are outside or inside."


Monday, July 14, 2008

Australia: Safety warnings about fairytales?

TEACHERS are being urged to give children safety messages after reading them fairytales warning not to copy characters such as Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and Hansel and Gretel. A new child protection curriculum being implemented by the Education Department also requires teachers to refer to children's "sexual parts" and use their correct anatomical names with children as young as three.

Child development experts have backed the measures, but critics believe they are an example of political correctness overkill that could turn children into "little nervous wrecks".

Parents across SA are being briefed on the impact of the new curriculum, which aims to teach children from preschool upwards the early warning signs of being unsafe and recognising abuse.

Teachers have been trained to be wary of storybooks in which characters put themselves at risk - and to respond by offering safety messages. For example, children would be warned not to talk to people they don't know as Little Red Riding Hood did with the Big Bad Wolf; not to walk around unsupervised like Goldilocks; and not to enter unknown houses like Hansel and Gretel. Popular modern books would also face scrutiny. The picture book Pig in the Pond, in which a farmer strips off to have a swim on a hot day, would be followed by explaining that it would be inappropriate to undress in front of someone you did not know.

Emeritus Professor of Child Development at UniSA, Professor Freda Briggs, who was consulted in the curriculum's development, supported the measures, calling for them to be implemented nationally. "This is about appropriately empowering the child," she said. "Kids are talking about sex at age five now. It's so in-your-face, I'm afraid that innocence is gone. They are sexualised younger and younger. "We need to use correct body terms because by giving children silly names or names that only the family understands, you're telling your child that you can't cope with talking about it. How does a child get help if nobody understands?"

But Australian Family Association spokesman Jerome Appleby said the measures - the first update to the child safety curriculum in more than 20 years - encroached on the domain of parents. Putting safety messages on fairytales risked frightening children unnecessarily. "You don't want to scare children too much and create an environment of fear," he said. "We don't want to create little nervous wrecks. "Parents are best placed to determine how much they need to tell their children and at what age."

Mr Appleby said teaching young children about the correct names for their "sexual parts" would contribute to the early sexualisation of children. "This will destroy the innocence of children too early," he said. "I don't think it's appropriate for very young children. They aren't ready for those sorts of adult concepts and it's a sad indictment on society."

Social commentator David Chalke said drawing modern morals from fairytales was fine, if stories or characters were not altered. "A lot of nursery tales are cautionary tales in their original sense, so I don't see a problem with making it relevant to today," he said. But Mr Chalke said it was "political correctness overkill" to introduce pre-schoolers to sexual concepts. "This is bureaucratic meddling; it's absurdity and it smacks of overkill," he said.

"To me, this is education bureaucracy getting above itself. "The heavy hand of the state is impinging on the parent-child relationship. They are saying that you must be correctly programmed from the age of three. We're talking about children who can neither read nor write. Leave the pre-schoolers alone."

Federation of Catholic School Parent Communities spokeswoman Ann Bliss said it was positive for pre-school teachers to incorporate safety messages into fairytales. "It's a good compromise. We're not throwing the fairytales out but we're engaging in conversations with our children, keeping them safe," she said.

In an emailed response, an Education Department spokesperson said: "There's no easy way to deliver a message about such a sensitive topic, and that is why the State Government enlisted the advice and assistance of local child protection experts in developing the program. The curriculum is taught in a way that is relevant and appropriate for each year level, and includes the use of anatomically correct and respectful language."

The Keeping Safe program was developed in conjunction with SA Police, Family and Community Services, the Australian Education Union, the National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.


Australia: Mathematics teaching dumbed down

STUDENTS are being taught maths at the most superficial level by teachers rushing to pass on the basic skills while shying away from complex ideas. In yet another example of children being failed by national school curriculums, a special report for the state leaders finds maths teaching is failing students by setting the bar too low.

The National Numeracy Review report, released to The Weekend Australian, criticises the national benchmarks in maths, which assess students against minimum standards rather than requiring a desirable proficiency. "The implication (is) that minimum standards are good enough, at least for some students," says the report on numeracy commissioned by the Council of Australian Governments. "All students and their families, however, have a right to expect high-quality - not minimum - numeracy outcomes from their schooling."

The review committee, chaired by the former head of the NSW Board of Studies Gordon Stanley, says the time spent teaching maths in classrooms has decreased over the past decade, yet students are expected to learn about a greater number of mathematical concepts. "Curriculum emphases and assessment regimes should be explicitly designed to discourage a reliance upon superficial and low-level proficiency," the report says. It recommends phasing out the streaming of students according to their ability, citing research that says it has little effect on achievement. "It does produce gains in attainment for higher-achieving students at the expense of lower-attaining students," it says.

The report recommends that all teachers, regardless of their intended speciality, be trained as numeracy teachers and maths be taught across all subjects. The report says primary school students should spend five hours a week and high school students four hours a week on maths and numeracy, including time spent learning maths in other subjects. The report also suggests introducing specialist maths teachers to work shoulder-to-shoulder with other teachers, particularly those without specialist training in maths teaching. It says students from the early years of school should be given complex maths problems and the language of maths should be explicitly taught.

The review was commissioned by the human capital working group of COAG to review international research about teaching maths and advise ways in which teaching standards could be improved. The report says literacy has received enormous attention and resources in recent years but numeracy provides a bigger challenge for schools. It uses the term numeracy, as opposed to maths, to describe the mathematical understanding required in today's workplace, defining numeracy as the capacity to bridge the gap between maths and the real world. "The mathematical knowledge, skill and understanding people need today, if they are to be truly numerate, involves considerably more than the acquisition of mathematical routines and algorithms," it says.

The report cites research that says Australia suffers from a "shallow teaching syndrome". Compared with other high-achieving countries in international maths tests, Australian schoolrooms have the highest percentage of repetitive problems and the highest percentage of problems of low complexity.

While the new national numeracy tests introduced this year will assess students against levels of proficiency, previously students were only judged against a benchmark set at the minimum level of knowledge required to progress through school. "They do not describe proficiency in numeracy or even the minimum standards that the community expects from Australian schools," it says.

The low standards expected of students are compounded by remedial programs targeting students failing to meet those minimum standards rather than aiming to assist all students to acquire some proficiency. "The rush to apparent proficiency at the expense of the sound conceptual development needed for sustained and ongoing mathematical proficiency must be rejected," it says. "From the earliest years, greater emphasis (should) be given to providing students with frequent exposure to higher-level mathematical problems rather than routine procedural tasks, in contexts of relevance to them."

Part of the problem facing schools is trying to teach more maths in less time, with some evidence suggesting the class time spent on maths has diminished over the years. One study estimates a Year 4 student in Australia spends about 250 minutes a week and a Year 8 student 210 minutes a week on maths. The report recommends primary school students spend 300 minutes a week and high school students 280 minutes a week on maths.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

College for veterans

A new, much-improved GI Bill, signed into law last week, will go a long way toward helping combat veterans pay for college. With billions in new federal dollars available – an estimated $62 billion over 10 years – college leaders are thinking about how to attract veterans, in part by matching more money with, well, more money. Ohio’s governor on Tuesday signed an executive order extending lower in-state tuition rates to GI Bill enrollees from out of state. Nazareth College, in Rochester, recently announced a new veterans scholarship to supplement the G.I. Bill. It’s worth up to $7,500 per year for four years.

But, beyond money (obviously quite important), what’s going to make them stay? “I think people are starting to look at veterans as a population and looking at how we can integrate them and transition them into higher education,” said Kathy Snead, president of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges Consortium. “I know we are getting questions and inquiries from a lot of groups about, ‘What do the numbers look like; how many veterans do you think will enroll in college?’ That’s hard to tell. But obviously colleges that are more well-equipped, who anticipate the needs of veterans, will certainly draw the attention of veterans.”

Snead said key priorities identified by student veterans include peer-to-peer advising programs, specialized orientations and veteran student centers or lounges. She advocates that colleges set up task forces to identify “military-friendly” approaches they can adopt in academic and student services, counseling, and other domains. “It’s fertile ground, so there are all sorts of possibilities for what colleges can do.”

One of Schupp’s students witnessed the hanging of burned bodies over a bridge in Iraq. “You go from that situation to sitting in English class trying to learn about dangling participles with 18-year-old freshmen asking if you killed anybody. You can see the transition is pretty hard,” Schupp said.

Cleveland State’s SERV represents one institution’s unique approach to easing the transition. Schupp, who’s not a veteran himself, was first inspired to start such a program after hearing about the academic and adjustment issues faced by a student who’d been deployed to Kosovo. He began asking veterans from the Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars what they would have wanted out of their colleges. Out of their answers came SERV, built around five ideals – including lowering the bureaucratic barriers that stand between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which distributes the GI Bill benefits, and the university (barriers that the veterans themselves are often left straddling). SERV also aims to connect prospective employers with veterans, and, for their first two semesters, offers veterans-only general education classes.

This spring, Cleveland State offered its first four general education courses for veterans. No one has to enroll in the veterans-only classes: Out of around 300 veterans expected on campus this coming fall, Schupp projects that each of four general education classes will attract 20 to 25 students each. Out of 14 in Schupp’s chemistry class this spring, 10 got a C or better, two withdrew for medical reasons, one withdrew because of a family problem and “one joined a fraternity so I lost him, he’s gone.” ("I just never saw him,” Schupp said.)

Schupp described the courses as still experimental, and said he’ll be evaluating outcomes after the first year. ("As a research person, being a chemist, I look into why things work and why they don’t work and getting a cause behind it and finding a solution,” he said.)

Asked whether separating veterans into their own classes isolates them, Schupp said he recommends that students take at least one course with civilians, and pointed out that the veterans-only classes only extend through the first two semesters. “The goal is not to isolate them, the goal is to have them slowly transition,” he said, arguing, for instance, that many veterans have an easier time concentrating when, instead of being surrounded by civilians they’re trained to protect, they’re encircled by other veterans, their “team.” “They’re trained to assess crowds and assess situations and find the danger in them. That’s what they’re trained to do, not to focus on a test. The team is what helps you survive. College campuses are all individual. All I’m trying to do is recreate the team concept,” Schupp said.

“When you’re in a large boxed-in area, you may tell yourself, ‘I’m in school, I’m in college,’ but you automatically have that fight-or-flight response. The veterans classes are smaller. You’re surrounded by people who did similar things as you in the same area,” said Joshua Miller, a former infantry medic who started classes at Cleveland State this spring. “I liked the idea of vet-only classes because as much as I didn’t miss being in Iraq or Afghanistan, I did miss the camaraderie I had when I was in the military,” Miller said. “Just because you got out of the military doesn’t mean you stop being a soldier. You’re always going to be a soldier. And you’re always going to take care of each other. That’s what you do.” .....

Many interviewed for this article described offering specialized services for veterans – administrative, social and, in the case of Cleveland State, academic – in seemingly counterintuitive terms. The specialized programs, they stressed, are ultimately intended to integrate veterans into the broader campus community. Snead, of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges Consortium, said that she’s not concerned about whether such programs could instead have the opposite effect of isolating veterans. “By and large, students lean on people like them, peer groups and support groups, to transition, whatever special interest they might have,” Snead said. She added that, over time and through various classroom and campus interactions, “the differentiation between veteran and nonveteran may become very, very blurred.”

Snead said that the consortium has joined with some other higher education associations in developing a national survey to assess the scope of on-campus veterans programs. Without any hard data yet, it’s her sense anecdotally, she said, that the majority of colleges have not yet designated veterans student lounges and the like.

Yet, the progress and now passage of the new GI Bill does seem to be generating an uptick of interest in, for instance, setting up one-stop student services shops for veterans, or establishing veterans centers or lounges. A bill introduced in January by Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-Tex.) and Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.) — which, according to Hinojosa’s staff, is included in compromise legislation to renew the Higher Ed Act – would authorize a federal grant program for colleges that set up “model programs to support veteran student success.” Under the terms of the legislation, qualifying colleges would establish a Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success, develop a veterans support team involving representatives from admissions, registration, financial aid, veterans benefits, academic advising, health, career advising, disabilities and other relevant areas, hire a full- or part-time coordinator, and monitor veteran student enrollment, persistence and completion.

More here

Australian schools ignoring the Holocaust

The Left has now reverted to its prewar antisemitism so this omission from Left-dominated curricula is no surprise

An obsession with Australian history in curriculums has left students able to leave school without knowing that the Holocaust occurred. In a speech to high school principals, NSW education department head Michael Coutts-Trotter regretted the omission of the Holocaust from the state's mandatory history course. "I discovered for the first time about a month ago that you can get through compulsory schooling in NSW and never know that the Holocaust, the destruction of Jews in Europe, actually happened," he said. "You will know a lot about Don Bradman, and that's terrific. But I think to live life, you need to know the Holocaust happened."

The only mention of the Holocaust in the NSW syllabus for Years 7-10 is in the beginning, with the rationale for the course starting with a quotation from a Holocaust survivor about the importance of learning history. Compulsory history or social studies courses for schools in the other states also fail to mention the Holocaust.

A spokeswoman for the NSW Board of Studies said the history course for Years 7-10 had a lot to cover and the board did not want to overcrowd the curriculum. "There are opportunities to study the Holocaust and its consequences in a number of ways in both mandatory and elective history," she said.

Asked about those opportunities, the board pointed to the website of the Sydney Jewish Museum, which highlighted links to NSW syllabuses. The museum suggests it could be the subject of a site visit, compulsory for Year 9 students, and for Year 10 students looking at post-war Australia to the 1970s, it suggests examining the contribution of Jewish migrants.

The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies said yesterday it had been concerned for some time about the omission of the Holocaust from school history, and was working with the education department and the board of studies on the issue. Board chief executive Vic Alhadeff said the Jewish community regarded as essential the signposting across the curriculum of issues relating to discrimination, racism and genocide, including the Holocaust. "It is indeed possible to complete 13 years of schooling in NSW without having studied the Holocaust," he said. "This is a matter of great concern to the Jewish community, which works towards social cohesion as a matter of principle."

Wollongong University professor of history and politics Gregory Melleuish said the nation had become increasingly obsessed with Australian history over the past 10 or 15 years. "So we tend to look at things like World War I and II as Australia's involvement rather than what was at stake, why did it occur and what was going on," Professor Melleuish said. "Part of the problem of doing it from the point of view of Australia is students get the perspective that Australia saves the world."

Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard said the Government had asked the National Curriculum Board to develop a rigorous world-class curriculum for all students in four initial areas, including history.

Opposition education spokesman Tony Smith said it should not be possible for a student to leave school without being taught key events such as the two world wars, the Holocaust and the Cold War.