Saturday, November 22, 2008

Arab Students at UC Berkeley Disrupt Israel Event, Attack Jews

Arab students disrupted a pro-Israel event at the campus of the University of California at Berkeley Thursday night, unfurling a large Palestinian flag in front of a crowd of hundreds of supporters of Israel who were enjoying a pro-Israel hip-hop concert. The event was sponsored by the Zionist Freedom Alliance student group.

The Arab students unfurled the large flag on a balcony above the outdoor site where the concert was taking place, inciting a provocation right in front of the concert-goers, who were enjoying the event as part of the campus' Israel Liberation Week. Several Jewish concertgoers went into the building to ask the Arabs to remove the flag - but were viciously attacked, with one male concertgoer knocked down from a blow on the back of his head, witnesses said.

College alumnus Gabe Weiner, who was helping run the concert, was assaulted by the leader of the anti-Israel group, Husam Zakharia, who also attacked one of the performers, Yehuda De Sa. The fight was finally broken up by John Moghtader, a senator in the UC Berkelely student organization. Police were called in and arrested Zakharia along with others from his group, charging them with battery. Witnesses said that the Arab students shouted anti-Semitic curses and epithets throughout the incident, calling the Jews "Nazis" and "dogs," and threatening to kill them. According to one witness, as many as 20 anti-Israel students participated in the attacks.

In a statement, the Zionist Freedom Alliance said "we call on state officials, the President of the University of California, the Chancellor, the Dean of Students, faculty, and the student body to take a unified stand against the continued harassment of Jewish and pro-Israel students on this campus, particularly by members of Students for Justice in Palestine," the anti-Israel group whose leaders began the incitement and attacked the concertgoers.

Pro-Israel students at UC Berkeley have long complained of the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic harassment they have been subject to. Tikvah, a Jewish student group at the college, displayed on its web site numerous examples of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic graffiti, with anti-Israel elements defacing property with their screed. Jewish students complained that the only media coverage given to the event, in the Berkeley campus newspaper, was one sided. "Funny how the battery citation against Husam of SJP isn't even mentioned [in the article], and the comment which purports to be from an objective bystander is actually from one of the top people in Students for Justice in Palestine," commented Ariel, one of the concertgoers.

Meanwhile, the anti-Israel group is planning to file a petition to remove from office Moghtader, who tried to break up the fight.


Testing to be watered down in Mass. schools?

Senior state education leaders are considering expanding the state MCAS exams to include science experiments, group projects, and oral presentations in an attempt to inject more critical thinking into the widely criticized tests. The recommendations, which were unveiled yesterday, respond to growing concerns that the state's high school graduates are entering college or the workplace lacking the sophisticated skills needed to succeed, such as the ability to solve problems, communicate, or work in teams.

The state originally emphasized these "21st Century skills" after passage of the 1993 Education Reform Act, but many schools stopped teaching them as the state ramped up the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, which placed a higher premium on content knowledge. Sophomores must pass the English, math, and science exams to graduate, while students in grades 3 through 8 are also tested.

A task force presented its report and recommendations to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education yesterday after a six-month review of how to integrate these more sophisticated skills into the MCAS exams and the everyday rigor of the classroom. The prospect of moving beyond a paper-and-pencil test to evaluate students immediately prompted harsh criticism from some conservative education policy groups that the state was backing away from high standards. But state Education Secretary Paul Reville emphasized at the start of the meeting that the changes would complement, not replace, the 10-year-old MCAS tests.

"Our employers are telling us, more urgently with each passing year, that we are not preparing enough of our students to do the jobs of the present and future," said Reville, reading from prepared remarks in the auditorium at Somerville High School. "They tell us too few can make coherent oral presentations, solve complex problems using either creativity or technology . . . and too few have the motivation and work ethic needed for success."

Gary Gottlieb, a task force member and president of Brigham & Women's Hospital and the Boston Private Industry Council, told the board "even highly educated people are not able to express themselves and convey the knowledge they have." [Probably meaning that they went through school on social promotion]

The recommendations, which can be approved by the board without legislative review, could take up to 10 years to implement, Reville said. They would require a massive overhaul of teacher training programs to include the new skills, as well as revising the state's academic standards so the new skills are emphasized in each subject tested by MCAS, officials said.

More than 500,00 students in grades 3 through 8 and Grade 10 are tested annually in English and math, under the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, adopted in 1993. Students at some grade levels are also tested in science and social studies.

One of the top priorities of the task force is adding a lab experiment to the 10th-grade MCAS science exam in the next few years. The task force is also urging the incorporation of oral presentations or other testing methods into the yet-to-be-developed 10th-grade US history exam, which becomes a graduation requirement for the class of 2012. The 22-member task force, which was appointed by the board earlier this year when Reville was still chairman, was made up of prominent leaders in business, higher education, K-12 education, parents, and teacher unions.

It remains unclear how the state would add the new skill-based elements to the MCAS system. Officials said some approaches, such as lab experiments and oral presentations, could be administered and evaluated by local schools. That, however, could raise questions about the possibility of inconsistent evaluations from one school to another. A private contractor scores the MCAS exams.

But before the state can figure out how to assess the skills, the board must first refine the definitions of each of the skills, which include global awareness, cultural competency [a code-word for muliticultural indoctrination], and information literacy. The task force report presented yesterday acknowledged that the definitions of many skills are vague, leading some critics to write off the proposal as an attempt to water down standards. "Many of the skills are unmeasurable and ill-defined," said Jamie Gass, director of the Center for School Reform at the Pioneer Institute, a conservative research group. "What we are seeing here is an incremental dismantling of education reform that has made Massachusetts the highest-performing state in the country."

The task force did not project how much the changes would cost, and officials acknowledge the state's fiscal crisis may mean they will have to turn to nonprofits for financial support. Reville has already directed the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to reduce its budget proposal for next year to $547 million, a nearly $50 million cut from the current budget.

Since its inception, the MCAS has been ensnared in controversy with groups, such as Pioneer, favoring MCAS as a graduation requirement, while teacher unions, many local school administrators, parents, and school boards have opposed it. A growing number of higher education officials have also faulted the exam as a poor indicator of students' readiness for college. Two years ago, when Governor Deval Patrick ran for office, he won over many MCAS critics by expressing a desire to expand MCAS to include other assessment measures. The proposed changes somewhat appeased some MCAS critics yesterday, although they would like the board to drop MCAS as a graduation requirement, a change that the state board does not support.

"It's a step in the right direction," said Paul Toner, vice president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, who oversaw the task force's research on assessment and accountability. "We don't think a child's future should be determined by a paper-and-pencil test. . . . We have to have kids do things, as opposed to just sitting and studying things."

Leaders of the state's superintendent and school board associations voiced their support, especially of changes to science and US history tests. Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said it will allow history teachers to move teaching beyond just facts and allow students to develop and argue their political interpretations, not only in class discussions, but in essays and projects.

Revamping the MCAS comes after a report released Monday that showed that two-thirds of Boston public school graduates who enrolled in college after receiving diplomas in 2000 failed to graduate from college seven years later. The report, sponsored by the Boston public schools and the Private Industry Council, have raised concerns that the city's schools and the higher education system are failing to adequately prepare students for more sophisticated jobs.

Another report, released last month by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, found that the majority of high school graduates and many college graduates lacked critical job skills, such as teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication. "Some would have us hang a 'mission accomplished' banner on Massachusetts, but we are not done," Reville said. "We can do better. We must do better."


Officious British school checking pupils' underwear to make they are wearing the right colour bras and pants

Big backpedal under the glare of publicity, of course. Maybe now they can concentrate on actually teaching the kids something

A row erupted today over claims that teachers were checking pupils' underwear to make sure they comply with a new school uniform policy. Parents said their children were told what colour pants and bras they can wear and teachers were doing 'spot checks' under the new rules introduced at Kings School in Winchester. Staff at the mixed 11 to 16-year-old comprehensive dismissed the claims and said they only issued guidance on what was appropriate to wear. But parents said it was 'ridiculous' and an invasion of their children's privacy.

The boys were told to wear white or black underpants and a belt if needed to stop their trousers hanging low, in line with fashion, and exposing their underwear. Girls were told to wear white or light-coloured, unpadded bras underneath their blouses.

Stuart Gander's two daughters 15-year-old Chelsea Hay and 13-year-old Kirby Moore were told at a girls' assembly that coloured bras were 'offensive'. The 35-year-old foreman from Winchester said: 'They were told they had to wear white ones or very light pale bras and they would be spot checked. 'It's just a case of the girls putting out their bra strap and them having a look. 'It's obviously caused a bit of upset. Friends of mine have sons at the school and two days later they had an assembly about boxer shorts.' He added: 'It's just ridiculous. Parents I have spoken to are annoyed by it. The kids feel it's an invasion of their privacy. 'You wouldn't be able to do that in a work place so why should you be able to do that at school?'

Leanne Hosking, who has three children aged 14, 13 and 11 at the school, said her elder daughter did not like male teachers turning her around and checking her bra.

The latest dispute comes just a week after Kirby Moore was told she would be taught in isolation at Kings after she dyed her hair a darker shade of brown while her sister, Chelsea Hay, who dyed her hair a lighter shade, was not disciplined by the school.

A spokeswoman for the school said: 'The assembly was to bring to the attention of Year 10 girls what is appropriate dress for the working environment, preparing them for work experience. 'There is no rule, we are not checking underwear. We are not checking girls' bra straps and we have certainly not had an assembly with any of the boys telling them what colour underwear to wear.'


Friday, November 21, 2008

The Death of Reasoned Discourse

Over the last year, during three different Islamo-Fascism Awareness Weeks, I've spoken at seventeen university campuses all across the country. I've never been shouted off the stage, as have some other speakers. I have, however, been threatened, heckled, protested, and made the subject of libelous hate-sheets passed out to people attending my talks, but I have never encountered a bolder or more brazen display of Islamic supremacist denial, obfuscation, lies, slander, intimidation, apologetics for mass murder and open hostility to reasoned discourse than I did last Wednesday night at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee.

East Tennessee State, of course, is that bastion of free inquiry and open debate that denied funding for my address for fear that my speaking there would make Muslim students feel "ostracized." Through a donation from the Middle East Forum, supplementing the David Horowitz Freedom Center's covering of the costs of travel, lodging and a bodyguard (all of which should have been paid for by the University, whose students evidently can't be expected to behave civilly), I was able to go anyway, and university officials need not have worried: Muslim students had no reason to go away feeling ostracized. Indeed, they were anything but ostracized: along with some Muslim leaders from the area, they were responsible for an evening strongly reminiscent of the denunciation sessions once held in the Soviet Union and Communist China for those who deviated from the ideological line of those who held power. The same furious hatred, the same frenzied personal attacks, the same emotionalism and defiance of reason and fact -- it was all on display in spades, and it was all directed at me.

Inside the folder that Muslim students were handing out at the door was a paper entitled "WHO IS THE REAL ROBERT SPENCER?" This contained the usual libels, more expensively printed than usual. A choice morsel: He is politically aligned with the extreme Right-wing and receives patronage from Neo-Conservative foundations and organizations.

This sentence is designed to frighten away the ignorant and easily intimidated by invoking scare words -- "Right-wing," "Neo-Conservative" -- that ultimately have no substance beyond "opposed to Islamic supremacism." But as empty as it is, this charge was a favorite of the Muslim propagandists at the event. Two separate questioners asked me just who was paying me, asking me to identify the "right wing extremists" that were supposedly bankrolling my attempt to "defame Islam."

I refused to play along with this, saying both times that I was supported by patriotic Americans who were interested in defending the U.S. Constitution, the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience, and the equality of rights before the law, and I would not stand by silently while these good people were slandered. For this one of the slanderers said he hoped that the audience noted how "defensive" I got at his question. But he did not dispute my characterization of my benefactors -- no doubt for the questioners who tried this ad hominem tack, to defend the Constitution is precisely to be a "right wing extremist."

The flier goes on to claim that I have "no formal academic training in Islamic studies," which is false. I don't have a degree in it, but I certainly have formal academic training in it. I took courses on Islam, and first read the Qur'an, while working toward my Master's degree in Religious Studies -- not, as the flier claims, in "the field of early Christianity." The University of North Carolina doesn't offer a Master's degree in "early Christianity." Of course, the point is that I have learned most of what I know about Islam through personal study -- something I've never made a secret of. The assumption of the flier is that this means that what I say is inaccurate. Its compilers, however, did not and could not buttress that assumption with any actual evidence that I've said anything false about Islam.

The flier invokes such impartial, disinterested authorities as Carl Ernst, Robert Crane, FAIR, Dinesh D'Souza, and Stephen Suleyman Schwartz to establish my wicked "Islamophobia," although none of them either, of course, offers even one specific example of any false or inaccurate claim that I make about Islam. (How proud Dinesh D'Souza must be to find himself used as a tool by Islamic supremacist smearmongers and thugs!)

Then followed a few supposedly damaging quotes from me, such as my saying that Islam is the only major religion that mandates violence against unbelievers -- in other words, statements that are absolutely true, but may appear troublesome to the ignorant. Anyway, the main impact of this flier and the folder it came in was that it showed signs of considerable expense and careful preparation: the Islamic community of East Tennessee worked long and hard to prepare for my appearance at ETSU, and this showed also during the question period.

Many of the questions were clearly scripted. One girl apparently got mixed up about which question she had been assigned to ask, and asked the same question that had been asked by a young man before her. When I asked her why she was asking the same question that the previous questioner had just asked me, she insisted it was a different question, so I went ahead and answered it again.

My talk was not disrupted, but the question period immediately heated up, with the first questioner engaging in the ad hominem "Who is paying you" attack. Subsequent questions were uniformly hostile, with many "questioners" engaging in self-righteous and beside-the-point counter lectures. I tried to stop them from doing this whenever I could, as this was something both the moderator and I had asked the audience not to do -- a request the Muslims in the audience utterly ignored.

Many also called me a liar. Yet only one questioner even tried to back up the accusations of lying with even one specific example. He claimed that I had misquoted the Qur'an, because I had said that Qur'an 4:89 said "Slay them wherever you find them." He asked me to read the passage -- I had a Qur'an with me, so I read it, including the section that says, "Slay them wherever you find them." Evidently his point was that I had misrepresented the passage because I didn't mention that it goes on to say that Muslims shouldn't fight those with whom they have peace treaties. I pointed out that I had discussed the institution of dhimmitude at some length, in which non-Muslims agree to what is essentially a peace treaty with the Muslims, accepting a second-class status and institutionalized discrimination, and so I had not misrepresented the passage, and had not misquoted it, since it does indeed contain the words "Slay them wherever you find them."

It wasn't until I was back at the hotel that I remembered that I had only quoted 4:89 out of the Islamic legal manual `Umdat al-Salik, which quotes "Slay them wherever you find them" -- and only that part of the verse -- from 4:89 in the context of its teaching about jihad warfare. So if I was misquoting the Qur'an, it was actually this Islamic legal manual certified by Al-Azhar, in Cairo, the foremost authority in Sunni Islam, as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy, that was misquoting the Qur'an. Not that it would have made any difference with the thuggish crowd at ETSU.

Besides that one failed attempt, no one even tried to demonstrate that anything I had said (and established from the Qur'an, Sunnah, and fiqh) about the Islamic doctrinal imperative to make war against and subjugate unbelievers was false. One charged that the translations of the Qur'an and `Umdat al-Salik that I was using (I had both with me) were inaccurate, but was unable to sustain his claim after I pointed out that both were made by Muslims -- and that Al-Azhar even certified the accuracy of the translation of `Umdat al-Salik.

Several "questioners" spoke of how painful it was to have to sit and listen while I defamed Islam. I responded to one that if reading from their authoritative texts and recognized authorities constituted defaming Islam, maybe he ought to take a second look at those authorities.

The questioners, all of whom were Muslim, issued two separate invitations to the audience to attend one of Yusuf Estes' talks, at which, they said, they would hear the truth about Islam. Capping off a lovely evening was the last questioner, who had no question at all, but accused me of shouting down questioners (perhaps in reference to cutting off their windy, pseudo-pious counter-lectures), not answering questions (in reality I answered every substantive point that anyone made), and calling me a liar. One of his slightly smoother coreligionists than ran to the mike to assure me that he thought of me as a brother, albeit a misguided one, invite everyone to come see Yusuf Estes.

The Orwellian Hate-Rally atmosphere reached its crowning point just before I left the hall (between police officers and security guards, of course). A middle-aged Tennessee matron approached me; she had been sitting next to her husband, who was clearly a Muslim, during the entire evening, and had not asked a question. She said: "I forgive you for hating Muslims so much, and I hope that God will forgive you too." I told her that I didn't hate Muslims, and that she should be ashamed of saying so -- but she was busy making a quick getaway.

There was an unpleasant, mob atmosphere, marked by the refusal of any of my accusers to deal with the actual arguments that I had made. Perhaps they hoped to rattle me, but the more that they resort to these gutter tactics, the more determined I am to resist them.

It is worth noting that in the news as this event took place was the beheading of a convert from Islam to Christianity for apostasy, the stoning to death of a woman for the crime of adultery, and a suicide car bombing in Somalia. And that's just a small bit of this week's jihad news. The people in the mob at ETSU are among those who are responsible for these things. They could be speaking out against them, but they didn't say a thing about them Wednesday night at ETSU, and almost certainly will not. Instead, they direct all their energies toward discrediting one who is speaking out against these things. Their motives are clear. The blood is on their hands.

Make no mistake: had a Muslim speaker been treated this way, the university would be opening up a commission of inquiry about "Islamophobia" on campus. As it is, university administrators will take little notice of what happened on their campus Wednesday night. But to the lasting shame of East Tennessee State University, the record of what happened will stand as a challenge and rebuke to anyone who thinks that reasoned dissent and free academic inquiry are still even possible at ETSU, or at many other American universities today.


No Christmas scenes in NYC public schools

Outside City Hall in New York—(From left to right):  Chet Szarejko and Frank Milewski of the Downstate N.Y. Division of the Polish American Congress along with Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, join in support of City Council Member Tony Avella at his press conference to allow nativity scene displays in New York City public elementary and secondary schools.

As long ago as June, 2007, Avella has been asking for Council hearings on a resolution he sponsored to “allow for the display of a nativity scene/creche along with the other permitted religious displays - the menorah and the star and crescent.”

Referring to an appeals court decision on the matter, Donohue recalled that this court “never said that a nativity scene could not be displayed alongside a menorah and a crescent star (though schools could elect to substitute a secular symbol like the Christmas tree).  Therefore, it is up to the New York City authorities to either practice inclusion and allow creches to be displayed or practice discrimination and deny them.”

Donohue and Avella reject the position that a Christmas tree is an adequate religious symbol when displayed alongside the Jewish menorah and the star and crescent of Islam.

“DOE (Department of Education) cannot dictate to Christians and Catholics what truly represents their religiouis faith during this holiday season,” said Avella.

Representing two of the major Catholic ethnic groups living in New York City, the Polish American Congress and the Ancient Order of Hibernians appeared at Avella’s press conference to show their support for his efforts.


Australia: Students lose if low-performing schools shielded

Students in low-performing schools have the most to gain from publicly reporting their results, with a report by the Centre for Independent Studies arguing this is one of a suite of reforms required to improve education. In a paper released today, CIS research fellow Jennifer Buckingham says that arguments against so-called league tables protect schools at the expense of students and parents.

Ms Buckingham says the concern is only about revealing the schools that do not perform well, not the high-achieving schools, for fear of stigmatising the students and damaging a school's reputation. "This argument holds no water," she says. "In essence, it says that students in under-performing schools will be fine as long as nobody knows they are getting a poor education. "It protects schools, and the people responsible for them, at the expense of the children and families they are meant to serve."

Ms Buckingham says education departments already know which public schools are under-achieving and that publicly identifying such schools is crucial to turning them around. "These schools are allowed to under-achieve year after year, and under-serve hundreds of children, with no redress," she says. "Public identification will put schools and the governments responsible for them in the spotlight, and force improvement in these schools through the weight of public pressure. "What is worse, short-term loss of face or long-term neglect? Some schools may go through pain initially, but when 'problem schools' have been publicly identified in the past, students have ended up better off."

The paper says Australia has already laid the groundwork for a school reporting program, with national tests starting this year in literacy and numeracy and the establishment of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority to oversee the tests and the reporting of results. It says the Australian Government is in the enviable position of being able to learn from the experiences of other countries, and cherry-pick features from different systems.

Education Minister Julia Gillard has pointed to the model of rating groups of like schools adopted in New York City, and has organised a trip to Australia next week by the city's schools chancellor, Joel Klein. New York schools are awarded a grade of A, B, C, D or F weighted for student improvement, with schools receiving a D or an F facing closure if they fail to improve.

The CIS paper cautions against overplaying the value of student progress because it can distort the way schools are portrayed, with some very high-achieving schools in New York given an F because their students, already at the top, failed to improve. The report says public accountability and school choice are deemed important as well.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

U.S. Teens Brimming With Self-Esteem

Today's American high school students are far likelier than those in the 1970s to believe they'll make outstanding spouses, parents and workers, new research shows. They're also much more likely to claim they are "A" students with high IQs -- even though other research shows that today's students do less homework than their counterparts did in the 1970s.

The findings, published in the November issue of Psychological Science, support the idea that the "self-esteem" movement popular among today's parents and teachers may have gone too far, the study's co-author said. "What this shows is that confidence has crossed over into overconfidence," said Jean Twenge, an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University.

She believes that decades of relentless, uncritical boosterism by parents and school systems may be producing a generation of kids with expectations that are out of sync with the challenges of the real world. "High school students' responses have crossed over into a really unrealistic realm, with three-fourths of them expecting performance that's effectively in the top 20 percent," Twenge said.

For the study, she and co-researcher W. Keith Campbell, of the University of Georgia, pored over data from the Monitoring the Future study, a large national survey of thousands of U.S. high school students conducted periodically over the past three decades. The researchers compared the answers kids gave in 1975 and 2006 to 13 questions centered on students' "self-views." These questions solicited students' opinions on such things as how smart they thought they were, or how likely they were to be successful as adults. "When we look at the responses of the students in the '70s, they are certainly confident that they are going to perform well, but their responses are more modest, a little more realistic" than teens in 2006, Twenge said.

For example, in 1975, less than 37 percent of teens thought they'd be "very good" spouses, compared to more than 56 percent of those surveyed in 2006. Likewise, the number of students who thought they'd become "very good" parents rose from less than 36 percent in 1975 to more than 54 percent in 2006. And almost two-thirds of teens in 2006 thought they'd be exemplary workers, compared to about half of those polled in 1975. As for self-reported academic achievement, twice as many students in 2006 than in 1976 said they earned an "A" average in high school -- 15.6 percent vs. 7.7 percent, the report found.

Compared to their counterparts from the '70s, today's youth also tended to rate themselves as more intelligent and were more likely to say they were "completely satisfied" with themselves.

There was one exception -- measures of "self-competency" (i.e., agreeing with statements such as, "I am able to do things as well as most other people") did not rise between 1976 and 2006. According to Twenge, that may mean that young people continue to feel great self-worth even as they remain unsure of their competence in specific tasks.

Twenge stressed that youthful confidence isn't necessarily bad. "Young people have always had some degree of starry-eyed optimism, and that's probably a good thing," she said. "And setting goals for yourself is a good thing. It's just when those goals are wildly unrealistic, then that can cause trouble for everyone." For example, young people entering the workforce may score well in job interviews if they exude self-confidence, she said, but that can quickly sour if a new employer doesn't provide them with the perks or promotions they feel they deserve. "They don't set the right goals for themselves, because they are overconfident -- and that's when it blows up in their face," Twenge said.

The blame for all this may lie with well-intentioned adults, she suggested. "These kids didn't raise themselves, they got these ideas from somewhere," Twenge said. With Mom and Dad handing out endless praise, kids today readily believe they are somehow superior, she said. And teachers aren't blameless, either: According to Twenge, research shows that high school teachers now give out an "A" grade more easily than their counterparts did in the 1970s, even though today's high school students report doing less homework than students from that era.

Not everyone interpreted the new findings in the same way, however. Jennifer Crocker is a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and a longtime researcher in self-esteem. She said that by selecting data from 1975 and 2006, Twenge and Campbell have only presented two moments in time and have not shown evidence of any decades-long trend. And based on available academic data, today's young Americans might be right to be more self-confident, Crocker argued. "The fact is that we are all getting smarter -- IQ is going up quite dramatically over this same period of time," Crocker noted. "Students may believe that they are getting trained better than they used to, that they are learning skills that they didn't use to have. So, maybe their predictions aren't unreasonable."

But Twenge, who is the author of a book on young people's self-views called Generation Me, isn't convinced. In fact, she believes that today's parents may be sending another crop of young Americans down the same path. "I have a 2-year-old daughter," she said. "I see the parenting of kids around her age, and I haven't seen this changing. Look around -- about a fourth of the clothing available to her says 'Little Princess' on it."


We must start over on public education

Youth of America, this is your clarion call: do not teach. Do not teach. Again: Do not ever teach. If for some reason you feel a calling to educate children, take a sharp stick and stab yourself about the face and neck until the urge goes away. You might lose an eye but trust me, it will be less painful in the long run. Or you could just teach private school.

If we ever needed an illustration of just how backwards the public education system is, it's in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Facebook scandal that broke last week. At least four teachers were disciplined or suspended by the system for comments or pictures on their Facebook pages, after stories by NBC affiliate WCNC and Charlotte Observer reporters searched for school system employees on the social networking site. Some of the found profiles showed teachers using poor judgment - displaying vaguely racist references to teaching "chitlins" in "ghetto" schools or showed female teachers in suggestive poses. Others simply documented reality by showing pictures of parties where alcohol was available or stated, "I hate my students!"

I won't defend the stupidity of their actions. Their profiles should have been set to private, allowing only known friends to access them. But do those opinions, contained in the sphere of Internet comment independent of their teaching jobs, warrant firing or disciplinary actions? I have to say no.

At the very most, the situation should have been handled privately. A principal might have asked a teacher to make their pages private or to be cognizant of public eyes on them. The superintendent never ought to have been involved other than for comment for the media.

The situation is symptomatic of much larger problems in public education. Public schools no longer exist to educate children, only to perpetuate themselves. They are governed by fear of frivolous lawsuits and public relations snafus. They will do nearly anything to avoid these, including abuse teachers. What else but this irrational fear could motivate disciplinary action over what the district has deemed "unethical or lascivious conduct"

Full disclosure: This is the perspective of a former public school teacher. The soul-crushing year and a half I taught eighth grade tainted my perspective forever. It wasn't because of the kids. Everyone knows kids will be kids and that 13-year-olds are alien creatures, shells of once-normal children.

No, it was the ridiculous administrative intrusion and adults involved in mucking-up the system that destroyed my faith in public schools. By the end of my blessedly short teaching career, red marker had been outlawed at my school because it hurt children's self-esteem and we weren't allowed to put a child's name on the board because it might cause distress or humiliation. And I didn't teach in an overly touchy-feely place like Chapel Hill. I taught in Gaston County, a place with a textile heritage and demographic makeup nearly identical to Alamance County's.

There is a dire teacher shortage in the U.S. Meanwhile, nearly one in three students will drop out of high school. Countless others will leave K-12 without necessary life skills because they never had to work hard to achieve anything - they were passed on to the next grade by a faulty system.

For some reason, education administrators all the way up to the governor's office and the White House fail to grasp that interfering with a teacher's ability to teach and feel successful is the number one cause of these problems. Teacher firings for objectionable online content, which now occur regularly, are just the next step in the erosion of teachers' rights to be individuals and not robotic voices of the state.

Once upon a time, you could get a great education in American public schools. I know because I did. But after seeing the system from the inside, I'd have a hard time ever sending my children into them. We need to scrap the public education system as it now stands and rebuild it from the ground up. The only way to do this is by destroying it from the inside. This is why it's necessary for the teacher deficit to reach crisis levels.

As Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools - an entity funded entirely by tax dollars taken on behalf of a government built on the importance of freedom of speech and expression - prepares to fire teachers for expressing themselves in public, I have to ask: What's next? Will systems discipline teachers who are seen drinking at a downtown restaurant or visiting an adult book store or strip club Will a school system next monitor Facebook to persecute those who join a group that supports a political belief it deems dangerous, like vouchers or school choice And who will CMS find to replace these teachers Who would sign their life away for a paltry teacher's salary? Young adults of America, I hope it won't be you.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More Leftist bigotry

Author's Note: The following is, unfortunately, a true story that took place this semester at the once-great (and once-conservative) Pepperdine University. No names have been changed to protect the guilty. They don't deserve it.

One Monday morning, just before the 2008 presidential election, a Pepperdine student (and College Republican, or CR) took a sign to the Office of Student Affairs. The sign read "Barack Obama socialism `08" in big letters, with "Socialism is bad. Do not vote Obama '08. More info: CR meeting Weds 8pm, AC 245". A young woman working in the office took out a stamp and approved the poster.

Three members of the CRs hung the sign up in the Caf‚. A couple of faculty members smiled and warned them to be careful since they were placing it up so high. Pepperdine students gave mixed reactions. The CRs sat in the Caf‚ awhile and then left. Shortly thereafter, their sign was removed.

Chris Garcia, the Vice President of the CRs, and another CR named Wesley Heuler found the sign, which had been moved to Pepperdine's "Freedom Wall". They took the sign down and put it back up in the Caf‚. It was yet again taken down. So a member of the CRs named Mimi Rothfus went to Student Affairs. (Roughly) the following conversation ensued:
Mimi Rothfus: Hi, I brought a sign in earlier, and it was approved. We put it up; it was taken down. When we put it up again, it was again removed. I had two stamps of approval on this poster, so why was it removed?

Student Affairs: This is partially our fault because we should never have approved this in the first place. We got a lot of phone calls complaining. We told your president to take it down and put it on the Freedom Wall. He said he would. When it was not taken down, we removed it. Then you put it up again, and we took it down. We were a bit angry that you never took it down and then put it back up. You cannot put up a statement like you put anywhere except on the Freedom Wall; groups can only advertise themselves and their meetings.

The next day, Mimi went to the poster room and picked up a number of posters Chris had left there. The posters said essentially the same thing as the other one, only with the meeting time and place and contact information enlarged. A female employee at Student Affairs gave Mimi the stamp, and the signs were approved. As she left the office a man named Don Lawrence stopped her. (Roughly) the following conversation ensued:
Don Lawrence: Did you get that approved?

Mimi Rothfus: Yes.

Lawrence: Because we had an issue with a sign saying "Socialism" yesterday.

Rothfus: Yes they were approved.

Mimi walked outside again but only made it a few steps before Lawrence stopped her again. (Roughly) the following conversation ensued:
Lawrence: She wasn't allowed to approve your posters. Let me see them.

(Rothfus showed him).

Lawrence: You can't have these up because they say "Obama" and "Socialism". We've gotten a lot of complaints about it from students and professors yesterday. The university cannot show support for and approve this.

Rothfus: This is advertising our meeting. Like several recent talk shows, we'll be discussing Obama and socialism. All our meeting information is on there.

Lawrence: Well Ryan (CR President) or Chris (Garcia) is going to have to come and talk to me about this, and I'll have to take your posters. This is university policy.

Rothfus: Yes, you're doing your job.

(Rothfus handed over the posters and left).

Mimi Rothfus is just an 18-year old freshman at Pepperdine. But she already understands the job requirements of Don Lawrence. If you haven't yet figured it out, Don Lawrence is the Director of Intercultural Affairs at Pepperdine University.

Any university that decides to hire a Director of Intercultural Affairs is a university that will soon find itself in rapid decline. Put simply, it is a decision that the university is beginning to take seriously the notion of multi-culturalism. The advancement of multiculturalism, by the way, promotes tolerance of all ideas. Of course, the idea that there is something special about Western civilization in general or American culture in particular is an exception to the rule.

Ironically, those who work as Directors of Intercultural Affairs are all cut from the same cloth. They are Democrats, self-described liberals, and, in 2008, they voted for Barack Obama. In other words, they aren't a very diverse bunch of people.The multiculturalists also envision a world without borders. They want open-ended immigration. And they think it's really neat that U.S. Supreme Court justices are starting to interpret our constitution by relying on the laws of other nations and the so-called "international community."

Put simply, Directors of Intercultural Affairs have an affinity for cultural, if not economic, Marxism. And that is why they are offended by posters that make references to "Obama and Socialism." They want their candidate to win. But they want their agenda to remain hidden.

Leftist readers of my column will say that I am making a lot of assumptions about Don Lawrence, Director of Intercultural Affairs at Pepperdine University. Maybe that's because he refuses to talk to me. Instead, he's instructed me to direct my questions to Pepperdine's PR department. At least Pepperdine administrators are smart enough to realize they have a PR problem on their hands.

Ryan Sawtelle, President of the CRs is now reporting that Don Lawrence confiscated and banned the "Obama and Socialism" signs in response to a directive from the higher administration. Three questions follow:
1. What is the name of the Pepperdine administrator who directed Don Lawrence to ban and confiscate the "Obama and Socialism" signs?

2. Is it not academic whoredom to make a living confiscating political signs from teenaged kids?

3. What the hell is happening at the once-great and once-conservative Pepperdine University?


Private schools for girls growing in Britain

Parents are increasingly turning to private education for their girls as an antidote to a society dominated by "Botox and bingeing" and to protect them from the coarsening of society. The number of girls at independent schools has risen by 14.5 per cent to reach 235,702 over the last ten years, compared to a rise of just four per cent for boys, bringing their numbers to 243,782. In the last three years alone, the number of girls has risen by two per cent, compared with a rise of 0.6 per cent for boys, according to the Independent Schools Council.

Vicky Tuck, principal of Cheltenham Ladies College, said that parents today were anxious that their daughters were growing up too fast, and worried that they were being exposed to many negative influences. Prolonging the wholesomeness of childhood was often cited by parents as a key reason for choosing a girls' school, she told the annual conference of the Girls School Association in Winchester, Hampshire. "Worried about a coarsening of society and the toxic cocktail of binge drinking, internet safety and the early sexualisation of girls," parents were lacking confidence in themselves as parents, she said.

Many tried - and failed - to navigate their way by trying to be a friend to their daughter, instead of a parent, but such an approach was doomed to fail because the two approaches did not mix. "When did we forget the craft of parenting...or that you daughter is not there to be your friend?" she said.

It was often left to schools to pick up the baton. "Sometimes, surrounded by media reports on Botox and bingeing, it's easy to feel we lead in a moral vacuum, garden in a gale. But we must go on gardening," she told the 150 conference delegates from 200 girls schools.

Ms Tuck said that girls often preferred a single sex education for personal reasons. "They do say that it helps not having boys around either mucking about or making them worry about their appearance; that they can compartmentalise their lives," she said. But there were also neurological reasons that also suggested that girls and boys both benefited from single sex teaching because their brains were wired differently. This meant it was "crucial to cater for their separate needs". "I have a hunch that in 50 years time, or maybe only 25, people will be doubled up with laughter when they watch documentaries about the history of education and discover that people once thought it was a good idea to educate adolescent boys and girls together," she said.

In addition to helping girls and young women, Ms Tuck said that head teachers had an important role in helping the parents of daughters develop their own lives. School provided girls with "an antidote to self absorption and narrow-mindedness" through teaching and the opportunities for communal activities. But many parents lacked such levels of stimulation and support and often felt isolated and alienated as a result. By engaging with parents and providing them with their own community, schools would be benefiting the whole of society as well as their pupils.

Addressing heads at the conference, she said: "Is there scope for you to build social capital, arrange for parents to join in things at school to help conquer the sense of alienation and isolation - singing The Messiah with the choral society, joining a book club, attending an art class?"

Mrs Tuck also told delegates that it was "good risk management" for every independent school to consider the possible impact of the economic crisis. But she warned that independent schools could not afford to lose their advantages over the state sector. "Maybe there are costs you can cut, but don't dilute the essence of what your schools do that make them distinctive enough from the state provision that parents feel that their investment is justified," she said.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Education Establishment Rebuffs Concerns

A November 2008 headline caught my eye: "Media bias a form of arrogance." In this article, columnist Cal Thomas criticizes the media:

"Journalism is the only profession I know that ignores the wishes of its consumers. If a department store found that most of its customers preferred over-the-calf socks to ankle-length socks, would that store ignore customer preferences for the longer socks because the president of the company preferred the ankle-length style? . Yet journalists have this attitude: 'we know what's good for you, so shut up and take it' . In only the rarest of cases are they confronted with their biases and held accountable" (Thomas, 2008).

Thomas must not have any school-age children. Members of the public-school establishment tend to ignore the wishes of their consumers, too.

* For decades, mathematicians, math professors and advocates have complained about "discovery" teaching styles - yet here we are, awash in discovery teaching styles.

* For decades, they've refuted the effectiveness of reform mathematics - yet here we are, awash in reform curricula.

* For decades, parents have tried to address their concerns with administrators and board members - yet they've been repeatedly and consistently rejected as being uninformed, uneducated, unknowledgeable and alone in their complaints.

On Nov. 5, I went to a Spokane school-board meeting and I asked for five things, including a more traditional track in mathematics. I noted that Spokane's curricula - all reform - have been heavily criticized by mathematicians, parents, math professors and math advocates; that the state and state's math advisory panel are unlikely to recommend these curricula; that it's unlikely the curricula are aligned with the revised state math standards; and that clearly, Spokane's students are having serious problems with basic math skills.

The board president asked a Spokane principal for his reaction to my comments about reform curriculum Investigations in Number, Data, and Space. The principal replied that as soon as the state stopped revising its math standards, teachers would be able to get more deeply into Investigations and then everything would be fine.

Parents . Please don't wait for the establishment to get it together. Find out what your children should know in mathematics, and then either teach it to them or find someone who will. Rise up, speak your mind, demand accountability, insist on respect for your viewpoints, and - failing all else - vote with your feet. Don't be dissuaded by the false reassurances, non-answers and argument fallacies you're likely to receive.

The best way to know how your children are doing is to look at what they know versus what they could and should know at their age. Have them tested by outside sources that emphasize more traditional approaches. Find out what the gaps are (I believe you will be shocked).

All students need phonics. All students need to know long division, multiplication in a vertical format, exponents, fractions, decimals and algebra. They need to know how to show their thinking - not in writing but in mathematical processes. They need to practice basic skills. They need to be able to do arithmetic without a calculator.

Please don't wait for the establishment to get it right. Who knows when that will be? As education policy continues to shift under our feet, we must demand the education that our children require and deserve. I'm afraid we're going to have to fight for it.

More here

An Interview with Diane Ravitch: Some Current Concerns Post Election

1) Diane, you have recently published some great pieces about education. I would like you to briefly summarize two. First, you wrote a piece about school systems paying kids for good grades. What in your mind is problematic with this procedures ( and let it be said that I agree with you) and what do you think would be the long term ramifications and repercussions of this practice?

The idea of paying kids to show up to school and to take tests and to get higher scores is spreading. To me, this is objectionable on many grounds, not least because studies by social scientists like Edward Deci and Barry Schwartz (Swarthmore) have shown that when the money stops, the motivation stops. It also corrupts education, because most teachers recognize that they are trying to inspire internal motivation, so that kids keep reading and learning even when there is no one watching or rewarding them. It is a sad renunciation of one of the goals of education to pay kids to do what they ought to do for their own sake without being paid.

2) Do you think anything is wrong with giving smiley faces and stickers and stars and the like for exemplary work?

I see nothing wrong with honors and stickers. That's not different from giving kids grades to recognize their hard work. Yes, we should give grades and we should praise the kids who do their work diligently. That's different, to me, from paying kids to show up, to take tests, and to raise their scores.

3) Do you think paying kids for good grades REALLY makes an appreciable difference?

No. There is no evidence that it does. Since the brain behind this program, Professor Roland Fryer of Harvard University, plans to evaluate the programs he designed, I will not be comfortable until there is external, independent evaluation. Even then, I am willing to bet (dollars, not stickers) that the motivation ends when the money ends. And since we are entering a period of tightened budgets, these programs are unlikely to last much longer. Imagine having to choose between smaller classes and paying kids to get higher scores.

4) Do the schools of education in America not do enough to teach courses on motivation? I don't know.

The fact that this nonsense is spreading (DC, NYC and Chicago) suggests that the education schools are not raising enough of a protest.

5) Now, turning to the results of the election and Obama's agenda for education. Do you think he will be able to deliver on what he promises?

The economic crisis is likely to curtail some of his promises. He will have to make choices.

6) Is there any single area that needs to be focused on in education?

Well, first, get NCLB fixed, if indeed it is fixable. Then, concentrate on improving pre-K and making it more widely available with higher quality.

7) Any single thing that needs to be changed in terms of NCLB?

There are many things that need to be changed, including its punitive spirit, but a good place to start is to eliminate the absurd goal that all children will be "proficient" by 2014. Never happened, won't happen, demoralizes good teachers, principals and schools. And this target, which is out of reach, will cause a huge increase in the number of "failing" schools year by year.

8) As we enter the year 2009, what are the main challenges that we face in education and how would YOU advise our President -elect to deal with them?

I agree with the statement issued by the group called "Broader, Bolder Agenda," which recommended that we take action on the array of social and economic burdens that limit the educational opportunities of so many children. There is much to be done, and one place to start is to recognize that schools operate in a wider environment, and need help to improve the lives of children. NCLB has become a problem in its own right, has turned too many schools into test-prep factories, and has seriously undermined the meaning of what education is and should be.


Monday, November 17, 2008

University winks at plagiarism

Faculty members complain constantly about plagiarism and trade stories about strategies to combat it. Loye Young thought he had a solution. On his syllabus at Texas A&M International University this fall, he wrote: “No form of dishonesty is acceptable. I will promptly and publicly fail and humiliate anyone caught lying, cheating, or stealing. That includes academic dishonesty, copyright violations, software piracy, or any other form of dishonesty.”

Many professors use the syllabus to warn students about enforcing plagiarism rules, but few promise public humiliation. Young, who owns a computer business in Laredo and doesn’t depend on a teaching job for his livelihood, thinks humiliation is part of the justice system. He noted in an interview Wednesday that “there’s a reason that trials are in public.”

When he caught six students in his management information systems course cheating, he wrote about it on his course blog (which he maintained on his business’s Web site), naming the students and telling the world that he had caught them and that they would receive an F for the course and be reported to university officials.

“Plagiarism is manifestly unfair and disrespectful to your classmates,” Young wrote on his blog. “There are students taking the course who are working very, very hard to learn a subject that in many cases is foreign to them. A plagiarizer is implicitly treating the honest, hard-working student as a dupe. Of course, the plagiarizer is the dupe or else would not need to plagiarize.”

When university administrators realized that Young had followed through on his threat to fail and publicly humiliate the students, they put the failing grades on hold — the cases are now being referred to an honors council for consideration and the F’s may or may not stand. But action against Young was quick: He was fired. The university says he violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law known widely as the Buckley Amendment or FERPA, which generally bars the release of educational records about students without their permission.

Young says that FERPA is being used to cover up the real reason the university wanted him out: that it was facing an instructor unwilling to stay quiet about students’ academic dishonesty. “People here are told that students should be babied and that we need to keep ‘em in to get enrollment and state funding,” he said. “Well, I want students — when they complete my course — to actually know something, and they can’t if they plagiarize everything.” That his actions distressed many at the university as much as the plagiarism, he said, shows the extent of the problem. “This beehive needed whacking,” he said.

Adding to the buzz has been an e-mail message sent to department chairs by someone in the administration (the provost denies knowing anything about it, and an article Wednesday in the Laredo Morning Times attributed it to deans) in which the chairs were reminded to tell faculty members that any F grades for plagiarism should be reviewed by the honors council and that professors need to always think about students’ due process rights before seeking to punish them.

Several faculty members, speaking privately because they didn’t want to anger administrators, said that they were taken aback by the way the university appeared to be viewing plagiarism as an issue requiring more due process for students, not more support for professors. For the university to follow the dismissal of an adjunct with this reminder, they said, left them feeling that they couldn’t bring plagiarism charges. Further, many said that they believed it was a professor’s right to award an F to a plagiarizer and that this should not require an honors council review.

Several e-mail messages are circulating among faculty members, expressing concern that their right to assure academic integrity is being undercut. Despite how widespread a problem plagiarism is among students, these e-mail messages say, the university is looking the other way and sending a public message to students that they are the victims when a professor takes plagiarism seriously.

Young said that the plagiarism in his course was easy to detect. He said that the essays he found to be copied didn’t read like student writing and seemed to be an odd combination of sources. He said he just put some of the essays into Google to find the sources, on Wikipedia, in the archives of term paper companies, and so forth. “If students don’t know that they will be prosecuted, this will not stop,” he said. “You need to have a deterrent, and it needs to be public.”

Not all faculty members share that view. Some who don’t like the way the university is dealing with situation still think Young crossed a line by going public with the names of students. Robert Haynes, an associate professor of English and president of the Faculty Senate, said Young was “not adequately prepared to deal with the challenge of students he perceived as cheating.” Haynes acknowledged that Young’s dismissal, followed by the memo now in circulation, has left many professors worried. He said that the events are “subject to the interpretation” that the university isn’t interested in tough enforcement of rules against plagiarism, but he said he didn’t think that was true. “We are interested in combining rigor and compassion. and we don’t want to compromise on either,” he said.

It’s important, Haynes said, that professors not “be subject to second guessing for ordinary decisions,” he said, and that includes grades. At the same time, he said, it was important for students to know their appeal rights.

Pablo Arenaz, provost at the university, said he was distressed that some faculty members are concerned about the university’s commitment to academic integrity. Asked whether a professor has the right to award an F to someone caught copying, Arenaz said that was “up to interpretation.” He said it was important that everyone respect students’ due process rights when plagiarism is suspected.

He stressed, however, that the reason Young was dismissed was because he violated students’ privacy rights. Asked if university policy states that violating FERPA is grounds for dismissal, Arenaz said he didn’t know. “The university believes in academic integrity and upholds academic integrity,” he said. Arenaz, asked if he thought plagiarism was a major problem at the university, noted that he has only been there for a few months, and said he wasn’t sure. “I don’t have a feel for it at all. If I put five faculty in a room, I would get different interpretations of what it is.”


Apostrophizing apostrophes

If thick-cut marmalade is the touchstone of social class, as correspondents to our Letters page suggest, spelling is the chief indicator of education. No more deadly betrayal of incapacity in this department exists than misusing the apostrophe.

The confusion of they're, their and there drives the nation into red mists of rage. Yet which of us can swear that, in some careless holiday postcard or some late-night composition, we have not, on automatic pilot, written there when we meant they're?

Feelings have run so high that foaming pedants have joined bands of spelling guerrillas, armed with correcting fluid and scalpels to scratch out "greengrocer's apostrophes" (or should that be "greengrocers' apostrophes"?) in potatoe's or insert one in mens shoes.

It should be easy, for heaven's sake. The apostrophe stands for a missing letter. It sits before the possessive s (dog's) in the singular, because the genitive was once expressed by the termination -es (dogges). It all began to go wrong when an apostrophe was added to a plural possessive (dogs'), as an arbitrary sign, for there was no missing letter to mark.

The classic case is Queens' College (Cambridge), to be distinguished from Queen's College (Oxford) by the number of queens who founded them, hence the position of the apostrophe. Very neat, except that, as the Spectator's language columnist Dot Wordsworth reported, Queens' College confesses that the earliest examples of the name spelt with any apostrophe always have the apostrophe before the s. Indeed, the first example of Queens' College is from 1823. In the University Calendar, the spelling was changed from Queen's to Queens' in 1831.

Anomalies in names with and without apostrophes are everywhere. It is Earls Court on the London Underground, but the next stop is Baron's Court. It is St Albans but St David's; St Andrews in Scotland but St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly. St Thomas's hospital mis-spells its own name as St Thomas'. It's a terrible mess.

The trouble is that English language has suffered from the disease of creeping apostrophitis. The apostrophe is the Japanese knotweed of the garden of English. Decoratively established in words like dog's, it then popped up in words like children's. Before we knew what had happened, it was invading carefully tended phrases such as for conscience' sake. All this, says the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary gnomically, "was not yet established in 1725". No, indeed.

In Shakespeare's day, when apostrophes knew their place, the air was freer. We know not where the dramatist put apostrophes, as no manuscripts of his remain. But on the title page of the beautiful first folio it says Mr William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies. No apostrophe for Will. The title of one comedy is: Loves Labour's lost; of another A Midsommer nights Dreame or A Midsommer night's Dreame.

It is not that we know any better now. We merely know different. So would it not be a liberation and a joy to do away with the apostrophe in it's (short for it is)? There is no historical justification for spelling the pronoun its instead of it's. The word its is frightfully nouveau in any case, being invented as recently as the 16th century. Private letters show a reluctance to abide by the baseless distinction between its and it's. "Do you know it's name?" asked Darwin, no simpleton in these matters, in a letter in 1828. As the language historian Lynda Mugglestone has pointed out, such divergences only went out with the long s (which we so enjoy mixing up with f in old books).

A little learning glares at the apostrophe, as basic table-manners concentrate on the knife and fork. Give us grouse and we'll pick them with our fingers, as, once we can spell and parse, we won't mind the odd discrepant apostrophe.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Obama's School Choice

Democratic politicians like to see themselves as champions of public education; but when it comes to picking schools for their own children to attend, their support disappears. President-elect Obama is no different than hundreds of other Democratic elected officials across the nation, from members of Congress to big-city mayors and city council members. The president-elect's daughters have been in private schools in Chicago -- and all indications are that they will enroll in one of Washington's elite private schools when the family makes its big move to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

That's too bad because it insulates the Obamas from what other families must deal with: a failing public school system that resists genuine reform. And in Washington's case, it deprives a courageous new school chancellor of what would be her most powerful constituents, the First Family.

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee could use the Obamas' help -- especially in taking on the teachers union. Rhee has proposed a dramatic reform package aimed at removing incompetent teachers and rewarding excellence.

She wants to get rid of tenure -- a job protection that is no benefit to students and helps keep some of the worst performing teachers in the classroom. And she is willing to pay top dollar to teachers whose students make real progress. What's more, she will use private dollars to fund the increases. The extra money for Rhee's proposal would come from private foundations, which have already pledged an additional $75 million a year for five years, much of which would go to raise teacher pay.

Rhee's bold plan encompasses a voluntary, two-tier track for teachers. Each teacher could choose whether to enroll in the green plan or the red plan, both of which would increase pay but with strings attached. Teachers who choose the green plan could potentially double the pay they could earn, but they would have to give up tenure for a year and would then need a principal's recommendation to keep their job or face dismissal.

Those who choose the red plan would get smaller pay increases but would lose their seniority rights so that they could not bump more-junior teachers for school assignments if their own school closed or was reorganized.

The idea behind the plan would be to weed out the poor performers from those who were doing a good job, and reward merit rather than longevity. In other words, public schools would begin to operate like most other segments of our society: Those who failed would feel it in their paychecks and those who succeeded would be rewarded there. But unions don't cotton to merit-based pay, insisting that seniority is what really matters.

The unions' interest is solely in filling their own coffers with dues and maintaining their political power. An incompetent teacher who pays dues is just as valuable to the union as an excellent teacher, and the bad teacher may be more beholden to the union to protect his or her job. No wonder, then, the Washington Teachers Union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, is resisting Rhee's plan.

The union is refusing even to put Rhee's proposal to a vote of its membership, reportedly because of pressure from the AFT's new president, Randi Weingarten. Rhee and Weingarten have locked horns before when Rhee worked for a nonprofit education group in New York City, where Weingarten also leads the local United Federation of Teachers.

Weingarten won her battle against reforms Rhee proposed for the New York schools -- but Rhee has a powerful ally in Washington's mayor Adrian Fenty. Now if only the Obamas could be enlisted to her side, Rhee might actually prevail in D.C.

President-elect Obama wants the best education for his girls -- what parent doesn't? But as someone whose own children attended D.C. public schools, I know what it means to push for reform of public education from within. The Obamas could send a powerful message if they were to enroll their daughters in the D.C. system, either in a regular or a charter school. And it would certainly give them a window into the problems those schools face.

But I won't hold my breath. Democratic politicians' support for public education usually amounts to spending other people's money and keeping their own kids out.


The President is Black, Hide the Confederate Flag

A few weeks ago, as I was walking across the campus of UNC-Wilmington, I heard an old familiar sound. A rap song was blaring from the general vicinity of the university amphitheater. I heard the n-word broadcast loudly (from over 100 yards away) so I decided to walk over to investigate the source of the racial epithet.

I must confess that I had an ulterior motive for seeking the source of the offensive epithet. The last time I heard an offensive word coming from the amphitheater it was an "Obama 2008" group that was playing profanity-laced rap music. I was hoping they were back so I could ask them to change their music to something other than the tired old songs about bitches, niggas, and hos. Like a crack addict voting for Obama I was hoping for a little change. And, of course, I was hoping for another chance to rib them in the wake of the Reverend Wright scandal.

Regrettably, when I got there, I saw that the source of the music was a university group called "ACE" that sponsors various events on campus - sometimes comedians, sometimes musical artists. So I turned around and walked to the university union to get a cup of coffee. That's when I ran into Craig (not real name) who is president of the Alpha Epsilon Sigma fraternity (also not real name and, hereafter, referred to as the As).

Craig and I spend a few minutes talking about the latest free speech scandal at UNCW. It all began when the As were playing another fraternity called the Alpha Kappas (also not real name and, hereafter, referred to as the AKs) in an intramural football game. Because the As and AKs were both founded in the South around the time of the Civil War, they occasionally try to "out-Southern" one another. That was the case during their intramural match and that is when the trouble began.

When the As decided to parade around the football field with a banner - an activity taking only a couple of minutes - they gave little thought to the small Confederate Flag that was displayed along with their fraternity crest and fraternity name. Again, lest there be any confusion, the kids were not carrying a Confederate Flag - an activity, which is clearly protected by the First Amendment. They were carrying a large banner a small part of which was covered by a representation of the Confederate Flag.

Regrettably, a lower-level administrator at UNCW decided to reprimand the As for parading around with a "symbol of hatred." The As were told in no uncertain terms that the Confederate Flag was not protected free speech, presumably because it violates one or more of our university's unconstitutional (read: illegal) speech codes.

It never really mattered to the constitutionally ignorant UNCW administrator (please pardon any redundancy) that there were no blacks who were present and offended by the "symbol of hatred." Nor did it matter that no AKs were offended. Nor did it matter that the AKs later offered to write a letter to the university explaining that they were not offended. Nor did it matter that ACE (remember, the group that broadcast the n-word?) was given exactly $60,000 of public funds by the university to be spent on a concert. They used the $60,000 to hire a rapper to call women bitches and hos and to use the n-word. Five years later, no administrator has been punished for promoting racial hatred.

But the As were punished. They were banned from participating in intramural sports for the rest of the academic year. Their student activity fees will go to other groups who use it to broadcast the n-word while they are banned from engaging in certain student activities. This is all happening at a university with a chancellor from New York who is too ethnocentric to understand fully what the Confederate Flag means to Southerners.