Saturday, October 17, 2009

Crowning of first non-black Miss HU. Black racists object

Hampton University crowned its first non-black Miss HU Friday, leading to a division on campus that prompted her to write President Barack Obama. Nikole Churchill, 22, competed against nine black students in the 15th annual Miss HU scholarship pageant. The senior nursing major attends the Virginia Beach campus and is the competition's first non-black winner, according to executive pageant director Shelia J. Maye.

Churchill, who is from Hawaii, wrote Obama on Sunday to tell him that her crowning was met with negative comments because of her skin color. She invited him to visit HU and speak about racial tolerance. "I am hoping that perhaps you would be able to make an appearance to my campus, Hampton University, so that my fellow Hamptonians can stop focusing so much on the color of my skin and doubting my abilities to represent," she wrote, "but rather be proud of the changes our nation is making toward accepting diversity."

In a local television report, she said her father is from Guam and her mother is Italian. Her letter was posted Sunday on Churchill did not have HU's permission to comment Monday, said pageant co-director Mavis Baah. [Bah! to that!]

This year's pageant included evening gown, swimsuit and talent competitions. Churchill won a $1,500 scholarship, will serve as homecoming queen Oct. 24 and continues on to the 2010 Miss Virginia pageant.

Maye said the Miss HU pageant grew out of the former homecoming queen competition, in which students voted for the winner. Now, the pageant winner is selected by judges and automatically serves as the university's homecoming queen. This year's pageant was judged by five people, including two certified by the Miss Virginia competition, which leads to the Miss America pageant. The other judges were Joan Gentry, an HU counselor for freshman studies; Lorraine Bell, an HU music professor; and Henry Mills, a senior vice president at Old Point National Bank.

Journalism sophomore Juan Diasgranados said the Hampton campus is split on Churchill's crowning, with everyone from students to faculty and professors weighing in. Some are saying her win is great and embodies HU's spirit of diversity, he said, while others complain that she's not black and doesn't attend the main campus. "They're saying that people don't know who she is, people don't even see her, so how can she represent us if she's not even from the main campus?" The main campus has about 5,700 students while the university's Virginia Beach campus has about 90 students.

Diasgranados said a noticeable number of students walked out of the pageant Friday night when Churchill was crowned, but that he was among the majority who stood and applauded. About 900 people attended the pageant in Ogden Hall on campus, Maye said. Churchill was one of about 35 students who applied to compete in the pageant during the spring semester, and one of 10 selected to compete after turning in applications.

Maye said Churchill's platform was about the need to mentor girls ages 11-14 on topics including self-esteem, body image, teenage pregnancies and nutrition. Like the other contestants, Maye said Churchill answered a set of questions about her cause and was judged for her ability to be articulate and think on her feet.

Maye said the crowning of a non-black student is a great milestone for HU and that she's shocked by the amount of attention it's garnered. "We have all kinds of people on our campus, we are not in a cocoon," she said. "As far as I'm concerned we need to get her ready to serve HU and to move on and represent us at Miss Virginia."

News of Churchill's win and her letter to Obama jammed the Internet, attracting notice of HU alumni after the story aired on WVEC-TV 13 and circulated on social networking sites.

Churchill told the news station at Saturday's Hampton versus Howard University football game that her mother is 100 percent Italian and her father is from Guam. In her letter to the president, she called herself Hawaiian.

Arthur A. Turner Jr., a 1982 graduate who lives in Prince George's County, Md., received an e-mail about her win and said he disagrees with those complaining that Churchill isn't black and doesn't attend the main campus. "She represents the entirety of the university, the alumni, the faculty, the staff, the students," Turner said. "All of that is on her shoulders, including the Virginia Beach and main campus. I am confident she will do an extremely good job of representing us."

Turner added that the alumni of his era that he's spoken with fully support Churchill and the change she brought to HU's tradition. "We now have to move forward in our thinking because the world is different, America is different, and we have all been fighting for change," he said. "And as we continue that fight, we must be accepting of the things that we fight for."

Churchill is not the first non-black student to be crowned at a historically black college. In April, Kentucky State University student Elisabeth Martin won the 80th homecoming queen election, making her the first white student to win. She, too, experienced some negativity on campus and gossip online, she said in an interview with The ( Frankfort, Ky.) State-Journal. Some people told her that she can't relate to the experience of black women, but Martin said that as a woman, she knows what women go through. "I may not have the background for all of that, but I'm more than willing to learn," Martin told The State-Journal. "I don't have all the answers, but I'm more than willing to listen, to hear the stories. I want to be someone who cares."


Now it is Leftist-leaning academics who find Britain's schools "Stalinist"

The central government dictatorship of what schools will teach is certainly reminiscent of Stalinism but the complete destruction of discipline is anything but.

The findings in the report below were almost entirely predictable from the known biases of the big-brained Prof. Alexander. He wants teaching to be "dialogic", which sound fair enough. After all what teaching is NOT mostly dialogue? When I was teaching High School, I would spend 5 minutes at the beginning of the period telling kids something and the remainder of the period in dialogue -- with them asking me questions and me using questions to probe their understanding of the matter.

But Prof. Alexander wants teaching to be far more unstructured than usual, conducted on lines similar to a Socratic dialogue. And, like all "innovative" methods that I know of, that might have some benefit in the hands of highly skilled and dedicated teachers. But in routine use it seems likely on most occasions to lead simply to teachers who don't teach

The state's 'Stalinist' control over teaching is condemning young children to an inadequate education, a damning report claims today. An obsession with testing and basic skills has 'politicised' schools and dragged down standards, the six-year independent inquiry warns. It says primary pupils now receive a less rounded education than those in Victorian times. It calls for a radical overhaul of primary schooling, including the raising of the starting age from five to six and the scrapping of SATs tests and league tables. Youngsters would instead be assessed in all subjects at the end of primary school, and by their teachers instead of outside examiners.

The traditional system of a single class teacher covering every subject would also be phased out. Pupils would retain a class teacher but more lessons would be taken by specialists in specific subjects. Six-week summer holidays should be shortened because children are left unsupervised for too long, the review suggests. It also says all parents should have access to advice on how to encourage their children to learn.

The review, led by Cambridge don Professor Robin Alexander, is the biggest to cover primary education for 40 years. The Government's claim that standards have risen is 'unsafe' and the impact of increased taxpayers' investment is less than might have been expected, the report says. In fact, a rigid focus on literacy and numeracy at the expense of science, history, geography and the arts may have 'depressed standards'.

One teacher who gave evidence to the Cambridge Primary Review said it amounted to a 'state theory of learning', policed by Ofsted and the SATs testing regime. The report says: 'The Stalinist overtones of a "state theory of learning" enforced by the "machinery of surveillance and accountability" are as unattractive as they are serious.' It adds: 'Many experienced and able teachers resented this degree of control of their work, its inflexible and monolithic character, and the overt politicisation of the act of teaching. 'Pupils will not learn to think for themselves if their teachers are merely expected to do as they are told.'

Professor Alexander attacks the official notion that the function of primary schools is to teach children 'to read, write and add up'. 'Such a diet, after all, is even narrower than that of the Victorian elementary schools whose practices most people claimed the country had outgrown,' the report says.

The review went on to condemn other aspects of the system, including the school starting age of five - which ministers have proposed should be reduced to four. Dame Gillian Pugh, chairman of the review's advisory committee, said there 'was quite a lot of evidence' that this could do harm. The report suggests children should follow a play-based curriculum at school or nursery until six, with formal primary schooling lasting from six to 11.

It calls for SATs to be scrapped, but that assessment in some form should remain at the end of primary schooling and should cover all subjects, including geography, history and the arts.

It says the curriculum should be overhauled so pupils study eight subject 'domains', broadly reflecting traditional disciplines. The proposals drew a mixed reaction from the Conservatives. Tory schools spokesman Nick Gibb agreed that the 'wave of bureaucracy over the past decade has been deeply damaging'. But he said the Conservatives do not accept its proposals for changing the curriculum or raising the school starting age.

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker said: 'The report is at best woolly and unclear on how schools should be accountable to the public - we're clear that it would be a retrograde step to return to days when the real achievements of schools were hidden.'


Children start school too young — wait till they’re 6, British "experts" say

This is rubbish, as is any fixed age for starting school. It all depends on the particular kid. Some can be ready at 4, others at 6. Admission to a school should be based solely on a judgment of how capable each kid is. But considering the individual is way beyond the capacity of Leftists, of course

Formal schooling should be delayed until children reach 6, according to the biggest review of primary education for more than 40 years. The Cambridge Primary Review, published today, says that five-year-olds should continue with the play-based curriculum used in nursery schools. Trying to teach literacy and numeracy at such an early age is “counterproductive” and can put children off school, according to the committee that produced the report.

Professor Robin Alexander, the report’s editor, called for a debate about whether to raise the age of compulsory schooling, which has been set at 5 since 1870. But the review was more concerned about the style of learning offered in state schools.

Successive governments’ insistence on the earliest possible start to formal schooling went against the grain of international evidence, he said. Children who started school at the age of 6 or 7 often overtook English pupils in tests of reading before the start of secondary education.

Most continental countries start school later than in Britain, preparing children for formal classes through extended nursery education. The review proposes a similar model for England, continuing the current Foundation Stage for an extra year and following it with a single stage of primary education taking children to the age of 11. The suggestion was not supported by the Government or the Opposition.

Dame Gillian Pugh, who chaired the review’s advisory committee, said: “If you introduce a child to too formal a curriculum before they are ready, you are not taking into account where children are in terms of their learning and their capacity to develop.”

A separate review, by Sir Jim Rose, that was commissioned and accepted by the Government, called for four-year-olds to go straight into primary reception classes. But Sir Jim recommended that parents be able to defer their child’s entry to school by up to a year if they felt they were not ready.

Chris Woodhead, the former Chief Inspector of Schools, who undertook a more limited review of primary teaching for the previous Conservative Government with both Professor Alexander and Sir Jim, said he feared a later start would lead to lower standards: “It is reasonable when children arrive at school for the emphasis to be on socialisation, but I see no reason to postpone the start of formal learning.”

John Bangs, of the National Union of Teachers, described the proposal as an “innovative idea” that deserved support: “We have seen problems with early admission to reception classes. It is an absolutely crucial stage of a child’s development and I think there is merit in extending the Foundation Stage.” The 600-page report, entitled Children, their World, their Education, says that many practitioners believe that the principles shaping pre-school education should govern children’s experience of primary school at least until the age of 6, if not 7. The Welsh Assembly has already extended the Foundation Stage to the age of 7.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said that it would be a backward step not to make sure children were learning as well as playing through the Foundation Stage and beyond. “It is vital to get children playing and learning from an early age.”

Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and based at the University of Cambridge, the review took six years and drew on 4,000 pieces of evidence. It depicts primary schools struggling with interference from the Government and its agencies, but remaining “fundamentally in good heart” .

Professor Alexander said: “There is room for improvement but, after 20 years of pretty continuous change and reform, how could it be otherwise?” The introduction of more specialist teachers would help schools cope with the modern curriculum, he said. Professor Alexander described the “crisis of childhood” as a media obsession and said it was evident mainly among those from poor backgrounds, who were farther behind their peers than those in comparable countries.

The review accuses the Government of abandoning the convention that it did not dictate how children were taught, and imposing a “state theory of learning” through its literacy and numeracy strategies. Such policies’ “Stalinist overtones” had produced an air of pessimism and powerlessness in the teaching profession. Existing tests at the end of primary school should be scrapped, the review says, and replaced by assessment of the whole curriculum, rather than just English, mathematics and science.

It describes politicians’ exclusive focus on ensuring that children can read, write and add up as narrower than that in Victorian elementary schools.Among the changes recommended by the review are longer training for graduates intending to teach in primary schools which, it says, should take two years not one, and a review of special educational needs. Long summer holidays might also be reduced.

Professor Alexander said that the review was intended to inform long-term planning, not “pre-election pointscoring”. The main parties nevertheless seized on the findings.

Nick Gibb, the Shadow Schools Minister, said: “We agree that the wave of bureaucracy over the past decade has been deeply damaging and we must trust teachers more. We also agree that we need more specialist training for primary teachers.” However, the Conservatives would not support a delay in the start of formal schooling.

Vernon Coaker, the Schools Minister, said: “It’s disappointing that a review which purports to be so comprehensive is not up to speed on changes in primaries. The world has moved on since this review was started.”

Mr Coaker added: “We’re putting in place fundamental reforms following Sir Jim Rose’s primary review, to make the curriculum less prescriptive. A school starting age of 6 would be completely counterproductive — we want to make sure children are playing and learning from an early age and to give parents the choice for their child to start in the September following their fourth birthday.”


Friday, October 16, 2009

Conservative fightback on U.S. campuses

This semester Tyler came back to live in Wilmington after a summer of training at LI. He had been helping LI develop and promote their new Campus Reform project. I asked Tyler via email what they intended to accomplish with the new program. Here’s the written statement he sent back to me:

“Campus Reform is allowing conservative and libertarian students to break the stranglehold that the left has had on academia for decades. It provides all of the necessary tools and resources that the right needs to stand up against the leftist indoctrination on college campuses. Simply put, is an online community organizer for the right, allowing students to network and find other like-minded students that want to affect the political discourse on their campus.”

I logged on to the website just a few days ago and was stunned to see what some young activists are now doing. On one public university campus in Kentucky, students were required to receive university approval for any political flier posted anywhere on campus. In other words, they were not allowed to speak without prior government approval from agents seeking to ban potentially “offensive” speech. Next thing you know, they’ll require prior approval for all political thoughts.

But the students fought to defeat that policy and then turned their attention towards an unconstitutional speech zone policy. The policy in question actually banned free speech on 99% of the public university campus. The kids from Kentucky announced their plans to protest the patently illegal policy – outside the parameters of the speech zone! (Who says being a conservative is boring?). I used Campus Reform to contact the kids and let them know I could secure free legal representation for them, if necessary. The protest went off without incident.

As I write the closing lines of this first installment in my “Profiles in Courage” series my mind goes back to 2002. That was the year I stepped out and began trying to educate people about what I called a “constitutional crisis” in higher education. I was often alone back then. When I told stories about speech zones and speech codes many people thought I was making them up. Even my own mother thought the stories were too bizarre to be true.

Now, seven years later, everything has changed. Everyone knows what I’ve been saying is true. Some lie in order to discredit those of us who are trying to do something about it. In fact, tenured faculty and staff members sit at their desks every day looking for my columns. When they see one on the internet they spend the entire day posting remarks attacking me and trying to undermine my assault on leftist indoctrination on college campuses. It’s as if they have nothing better to do. And, in their twisted narrow minds, they really don’t.

But now there is a whole army of young activists like Tyler Millage. The army is growing every day. I taught many of them. But now many of them are teaching me. And I’m learning there has never been a better time to be a liberty-loving American at the dawn of a new conservative era. Before long, it will be morning in America again.


Constitutional Ignorance in an Arkansas school

Will Phillips, a 10-year-old fifth grader at West Fork Middle School, has taken a courageous stand for his beliefs, and it landed him in the principal's office after an argument with a substitute teacher over his refusal to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Young Master Will balked at saying “with liberty and justice for all,” because he didn't think there was equality for everyone. Imagine the insolence of refusing to say what you are told by the authority of the state and a substitute teacher!

The idea of compelling school children to salute the flag and repeat the Pledge of Allegiance was declared unconstitutional in 1943. You would think that, even in West Fork, a substitute teacher would have known about that and caught on after three score and six years. Instead, she told Will that his mother and grandmother would want him to stand and pledge. He replied, "With all due respect, you can go jump off a bridge." That does seem like all respect due to such a teacher, but it earned him a trip to the principal's office, an order to apologize to the teacher, and an additional research assignment on the pledge of allegiance.

If anyone is owed an apology, it is Will Phillips. He was exercising a well-established First Amendment right and was jerked around for doing so. The West Fork School Board, the middle school principal, and all of the teachers should be given an additional research assignment to read the United States Supreme Court decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.

It is no excuse, as principal Becky Ramsey said, "Any school where I’ve ever been in Arkansas, they say the Pledge of Allegiance first period,” but at least she admitted, "We cannot mandate that every child says the pledge." The Supreme Court said more eloquently:
If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. …We think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on their power and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control.


Home education vs. the British bully-boy state

The presumption of guilt is eating it`s way into our lives: Home Education is the latest victim.

As a parent you are a suspect in the crusade against child abuse. That is the message to Home Education from this government.Through a staged Review and now onto a Select Committee, the drive has been to find ways to justify an assault on Home Ed., taking away parental rights, enforcing child interviews alone and invading the family in a way that singles out Home Ed. as a "prime suspect".

Yet the very idea that Home Education could be harbouring child abuse is one manipulated from Local Authorities because the Government wanted to hear something that would enable it to invade Home Ed. Certainly, cases like Baby P. have made the system determined to seek out and stamp-out child abuse whatever the cost, but such cases have not been anything to do with Home Ed., so why single out one group for inspection?

The drive to stamp out child abuse should not cause abuse of children, or their parents, yet this is what compulsory interviewing of childen will achieve. Home Ed. is a sanctuary of love and good education, it nurtures children and allows them to learn and develop at their own speed. Many children are bullied in school and parents deregister their kids to protect them from further harm. We can only imagine what harm will be done to these kids when they are forced into interview alone, not to mention the damage if the National Curriculum is imposed along with government educational standards.

Currently, Local Authorities are widely acting ultra vires in regard to Home Ed. They are lying to parents, purporting to have powers under the law that they do not have, trying to bully children into returning to school. This really is a bully-boy State.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Minority View: Academic Dishonesty

by Walter E. Williams

College education is a costly proposition with tuition, room and board at some colleges topping $50,000 a year. Is it worth it? Increasing evidence suggests that it's not. Since the 1960s, academic achievement scores have plummeted, but student college grade point averages (GPA) have skyrocketed. In October 2001, the Boston Globe published an article entitled "Harvard's Quiet Secret: Rampant Grade Inflation." The article reported that a record 91 percent of Harvard University students were awarded honors during the spring graduation. The newspaper called Harvard's grading practices "the laughing stock of the Ivy League." Harvard is by no means unique. For example, 80 percent of the grades given at the University of Illinois are A's and B's. Fifty percent of students at Columbia University are on the Dean's list. At Stanford University, where F grades used to be banned, only 6 percent of student grades were as low as a C. In the 1930s, the average GPA at American colleges and universities was 2.35, about a C plus; today the national average GPA is 3.2, more than a B.

Today's college students are generally dumber than their predecessors. An article in the Wall Street Journal (1/30/97) reported that a "bachelor of Arts degree in 1997 may not be the equal of a graduation certificate from an academic high school in 1947." The American Council on Education found that only 15 percent of universities require tests for general knowledge; only 17 percent for critical thinking; and only 19 percent for minimum competency. According to a recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, the percentage of college graduates proficient in prose literacy has declined from 40 percent to 31 percent within the past decade. Employers report that many college graduates lack the basic skills of critical thinking, writing and problem-solving and some employers find they must hire English and math teachers to teach them how to write memos and perform simple computations.

What is being labeled grade inflation is simply a euphemism for academic dishonesty. After all, it's dishonesty when a professor assigns a grade the student did not earn. When a university or college confers a degree upon a student who has not mastered critical thinking skills, writing and problem-solving, it's academic dishonesty. Of course, I might be in error calling it dishonesty. Perhaps academic standards have been set so low that idiots could earn A's and B's.

Academic dishonesty and deception go beyond fraudulent grades. "Minding the Campus" is a newsletter published by the Manhattan Institute. Edward Fiske tells a chilling tale of deception titled "Gaming the College Rankings" (9/17/09). The U.S. News and World Report college rankings are worshiped by some college administrators, and they go to great lengths to strengthen their rankings. Some years ago, University of Miami omitted scores of athletes and special admission students so as to boost SAT scores of incoming freshmen. At least one college mailed dollar bills to alumni with a request that they send them back to the annual fund thereby inflating the number of alumni donors.

"Gaming the College Rankings" contains an insert by John Leo, who is the editor of "Minding the Campus," reporting that in the mid-1990s, Boston University raised its SAT scores by excluding the verbal scores of foreign students whilst including their math scores. Monmouth University simply added 200 SAT points to its group scores. University of California reported that 34 of its professors were members of a prestigious engineering association when in fact only 17 of their current faculty were. Baylor University offered students, who were already admitted to the university, $300 in bookstore credits to take the SAT again in the hopes of boosting Baylor's SAT averages.

Academic dishonesty, coupled with incompetency, particularly at the undergraduate level, doesn't bode well for the future of our nation. And who's to blame? Most of the blame lies at the feet of the boards of trustees, who bear ultimate responsibility for the management of our colleges and universities.


Forum at Columbia University Whitewashes UN and Arab States

Rather to be expected from Columbia, paradoxically. The NYC Jewish influence is still strong there and most NYC Jews are rusted-on Leftists

With all the irony of President Richard Nixon's famous quip that, "there can be no whitewash at the White House," the ivory tower played host to a September 25 "debate" at Columbia University's Casa Italiano that exonerated the United Nations Relief Works Agency in Palestine (UNRWA) and human rights violators throughout the Arab-Islamic world.

The conference was held in a small auditorium, decorated in classic Greco-Roman style with ornate columns and crimson curtains. The audience of about 100 filtered in slowly, filling the room with students, UNRWA employees, and professors.

In a debate entitled, "UNRWA historical performance in a changing context" and a roundtable labeled "The contribution of Palestine refugees to the economic and social development in the region," Rex Brynen of McGill University and Susan Akram of Boston University's School of Law distinguished themselves by castigating Israeli "occupation" while engaging in apologetics for Arab leaders who have violated Palestinian refugee rights.

Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University also made an appearance as the debate's moderator—an indication of the spectrum of opinions present—deviating from his role as an objective overseer only to reiterate his colleagues' anti-Israel and anti-Western diatribes.

To provide some context, UNRWA was established to accommodate the needs of several hundred thousand Palestinian refugees of Israel's 1948 War of Independence. The organization was originally intended to serve for a transitory period, during which Palestinian refugees would resettle in Jordan (including the Jordanian-administered West Bank), Egyptian-administered Gaza, Lebanon and Syria.

Sixty-years later, UNRWA oversees a massive welfare organization that perpetuates the economic dependency of 4.5 million Palestinians and nurtures their impractical belief that they will one day return to the homes their families abandoned in modern-day Israel. The Arab states, as one former UNRWA commissioner general noted, want to "keep [the refugees' situation] as an open sore, as an affront to the UN and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don't give a damn whether the refugees live or die."

That history seems to have escaped the panel's academics, who, along with two former commissioner generals of UNRWA and the current commissioner general, urged the audience to "draw lessons from [UNRWA's] 60 years of service."

Brynen stole the forum's first half with a witty but deceptive portrayal of the refugees' status. He related the tragedies of Palestinian history, ending with the first and second intifada. "It sounds like a Christmas carol," he said of his list of Palestinian and (unmentioned) Israeli suffering.

He went on to implicitly chide the West for confronting UNRWA over the complete lack of Holocaust education at its schools. UNRWA initially said it would rectify the situation, yet waffled under pressure from militant Palestinian groups. Over a week after the conference ended, UNRWA announced it would incorporate Holocaust studies in its schools' curricula. "I'm surprised you haven't sprouted horns," Brynen joked with the current UNRWA commissioner general, Karen Abu Zayed.

Akram and Khalidi chose a different path: exculpating the Arab states for their abuse of Palestinians at Israel's expense. "I've written articles critical of Arab treatment of (Palestinian) refugees," Khalidi stated. "But the areas where the least rehabilitation (of refugees) has taken place are those under Israeli occupation (the West Bank and Gaza Strip)."

History begs to differ: Before the First Intifada, the Palestinians under Israeli administration had the fourth fastest growing economy in the world. At the same time, Arab Shi'ite and Maronite militias were hunting down Palestinians in Lebanon, while Palestinians in Jordan were reeling from the Black September massacres.

Susan Akram was even blunter than Khalidi in dismissing criticism of the Arab states' failure to take responsibility for the Palestinian refugees within their borders. "Arab states are under no legal obligation to provide for Palestinian refugees," she said. Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon have hosted the Palestinians "at great social and economic cost" (a particularly ironic statement for a forum entitled, "The contribution of Palestine refugees to the economic and social development in the region").

She noted the "surprising respect of Arab states for Palestinians," and singled out the Casablanca Protocol, a document published by Morocco in 1965 that ostensibly gives "Palestinians the same rights as Arab citizens of the host states." There are only two minor caveats: Morocco is not a primary host of Palestinian refugees, and the Arab World has expressed little interest in its "Protocol."

Unmentioned is that of the three major Arab host states of Palestinian refugees only Jordan has unilaterally granted the Palestinians citizenship, and that step was taken before the 1967 Six-Day War as part of the Jordanians' annexation of the West Bank. It is also noteworthy that in the Israeli-administered West Bank only one-sixth of Palestinian refugees live in UNRWA camps, while in Lebanon, two-thirds of the country's approximately 400,000 Palestinians live in UNRWA housing.

Israel and the West have tried to convince UNRWA and the Arab States to repatriate the Palestinians to the nations in which they now reside. Conferences like this one only feed the impractical notion that UNRWA's program of maintaining the Palestinians' refugee status indefinitely will prevail. Akram, Khalidi, and Brynen know that there is no chance that democratic Israel will commit demographic suicide by allowing millions of Palestinian refugees to settle within its borders. Their defense of UN excesses and Arab human rights abusers does a disservice to the very people they claim to want to help.


Supermarket boss criticises UK education system

The chief executive of Tesco, the nation’s largest private employer, has criticised educational standards for failing to prepare teenagers for the workplace. Sir Terry Leahy said that standards in schools were often “woefully low” and that the education system left it to private companies to “pick up the pieces”. He said that teachers were hindered from doing their jobs by red tape and criticised the system’s “back office” bureaucracy.

Tesco is unhappy that it spends time training recruits in basic numeracy and “communications” skills, which includes writing, because workers are ill-equipped when they leave school. Sir Terry’s forthright comments to a food industry conference were echoed by Asda, Britain’s second biggest supermarket chain.

An Asda executive told the event that low educational standards had led to a state of affairs where parents in deprived areas were choosing to spend money on alcohol rather than on nappies for their children.

Sir Terry told the audience of food manufacturers and retailers: “We depend on high standards in our schools, as today’s schoolchildren are tomorrow’s team; they will be the ones we need to help build our business. “Sadly, despite all the money that has been spent, standards are still woefully low in too many schools. Employers like us, and I suspect many of you, are often left to pick up the pieces.”

He added: “From my perspective there are too many agencies and bodies, often issuing reams of instructions to teachers, who then get distracted from the task at hand: teaching children. “I am not saying that retail is like education, merely that my experience tells me that when it comes to the number of people you have in the back office, less is more.”

Sir Terry’s criticism is potentially embarrassing for Gordon Brown, as the Tesco chief is a member of the Prime Minister’s Business Council for Britain. A spokesman for Tesco said that the comments were not political.

Tesco employs 280,000 staff, more than 40,000 of whom are aged under 19. It has 900 apprentices.

The Confederation of British Industry said that Sir Terry’s views were shared by many of its members. Andy Clarke, Asda’s chief operating officer, told the IGD conference that the growing number of 18 to 24-year-olds who were not in education or employment was leading to a vicious circle of low educational attainment and high unemployment in deprived areas. He said: “No one can deny that Britain has spawned a generation of young people who struggle to read, write or do simple maths. That’s why we’re finding packs of nappies discarded in the booze aisle, as the last few pounds are spent on alcohol rather than childcare.”

Tesco’s intervention comes as two other leading business figures claim that British qualifications leave school-leavers less “marketable” than their European counterparts. Sir Mike Rake, chairman of BT Group, and Sir Christopher Gent, chairman of GlaxoSmithKline, said that A levels had been devalued by grade inflation. Sir Christopher said: “Increasingly, people in the biggest companies are internationally mobile, and having an academic framework that is consistent around the world is quite appealing. Grade inflation has devalued the A-level and it is now an OK exam that used to be an excellent one.”

A spokesman for the Department for Children, School and Families said: “Standards have never been higher in our secondary schools. We are working to lift the burden of administration tasks from teachers.” Michael Gove, the Shadow Schools Secretary, denied last night that Sir Terry’s comments were part of a wider Tory-inspired plan.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More American school idiocy in the name of "zero tolerance"

The bureaucratic creeps behind this must be hardly human. They clearly hate kids

Finding character witnesses when you are 6 years old is not easy. But there was Zachary Christie last week at a school disciplinary committee hearing with his karate instructor and his mother’s fiancé by his side to vouch for him.

Zachary’s offense? Taking a camping utensil that can serve as a knife, fork and spoon to school. He was so excited about recently joining the Cub Scouts that he wanted to use it at lunch. School officials concluded that he had violated their zero-tolerance policy on weapons, and Zachary was suspended and now faces 45 days in the district’s reform school. “It just seems unfair,” Zachary said, pausing as he practiced writing lower-case letters with his mother, who is home-schooling him while the family tries to overturn his punishment.

Spurred in part by the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, many school districts around the country adopted zero-tolerance policies on the possession of weapons on school grounds. More recently, there has been growing debate over whether the policies have gone too far. But, based on the code of conduct for the Christina School District, where Zachary is a first grader, school officials had no choice. They had to suspend him because, “regardless of possessor’s intent,” knives are banned.

But the question on the minds of residents here is: Why do school officials not have more discretion in such cases? “Zachary wears a suit and tie some days to school by his own choice because he takes school so seriously,” said Debbie Christie, Zachary’s mother, who started a Web site,, in hopes of recruiting supporters to pressure the local school board at its next open meeting on Tuesday. “He is not some sort of threat to his classmates.”

Still, some school administrators argue that it is difficult to distinguish innocent pranks and mistakes from more serious threats, and that the policies must be strict to protect students. “There is no parent who wants to get a phone call where they hear that their child no longer has two good seeing eyes because there was a scuffle and someone pulled out a knife,” said George Evans, the president of the Christina district’s school board. He defended the decision, but added that the board might adjust the rules when it comes to younger children like Zachary.

Critics contend that zero-tolerance policies like those in the Christina district have led to sharp increases in suspensions and expulsions, often putting children on the streets or in other places where their behavior only worsens, and that the policies undermine the ability of school officials to use common sense in handling minor infractions.

For Delaware, Zachary’s case is especially frustrating because last year state lawmakers tried to make disciplinary rules more flexible by giving local boards authority to, “on a case-by-case basis, modify the terms of the expulsion.” The law was introduced after a third-grade girl was expelled for a year because her grandmother had sent a birthday cake to school, along with a knife to cut it. The teacher called the principal — but not before using the knife to cut and serve the cake.

In Zachary’s case, the state’s new law did not help because it mentions only expulsion and does not explicitly address suspensions. A revised law is being drafted to include suspensions. “We didn’t want our son becoming the poster child for this,” Ms. Christie said, “but this is out of control.”

In a letter to the district’s disciplinary committee, State Representative Teresa L. Schooley, Democrat of Newark, wrote, “I am asking each of you to consider the situation, get all the facts, find out about Zach and his family and then act with common sense for the well-being of this child.”

Education experts say that zero-tolerance policies initially allowed authorities more leeway in punishing students, but were applied in a discriminatory fashion. Many studies indicate that African-Americans were several times more likely to be suspended or expelled than other students for the same offenses. “The result of those studies is that more school districts have removed discretion in applying the disciplinary policies to avoid criticism of being biased,” said Ronnie Casella, an associate professor of education at Central Connecticut State University who has written about school violence. He added that there is no evidence that zero-tolerance policies make schools safer...

“Something has to change,” said Dodi Herbert, whose 13-year old son, Kyle, was suspended in May and ordered to attend the Christina district’s reform school for 45 days after another student dropped a pocket knife in his lap. School officials declined to comment on the case for reasons of privacy. Ms. Herbert, who said her son was a straight-A student, has since been home-schooling him instead of sending him to the reform school.

The Christina school district attracted similar controversy in 2007 when it expelled a seventh-grade girl who had used a utility knife to cut windows out of a paper house for a class project.

Charles P. Ewing, a professor of law and psychology at the University at Buffalo Law School who has written about school safety issues, said he favored a strict zero-tolerance approach. “There are still serious threats every day in schools,” Dr. Ewing said, adding that giving school officials discretion holds the potential for discrimination and requires the kind of threat assessments that only law enforcement is equipped to make.

For Zachary, it is not school violence that has left him reluctant to return to classes. “I just think the other kids may tease me for being in trouble,” he said, pausing before adding, “but I think the rules are what is wrong, not me.”


Britain 'embarrassed' by academic excellence, says head

A leading private school is re-introducing scholarships for the brightest students amid claims Britain is “embarrassed” by academic excellence. The move – by Bristol Grammar School – comes despite the fact that free and subsidised places for top students can be claimed by children from middle-class backgrounds.

Many schools have scrapped scholarships in recent years under pressure from the Charity Commission in favour of means-tested bursaries targeted at students from the poorest homes. It follows the introduction of new rules forcing fee-paying schools to prove they provide “public benefit” to hang on to £100m a year in tax breaks.

But Bristol Grammar, which charges more than £10,000, said the trend risked leading to a decline in standards. Rod MacKinnon, the school’s headmaster, said: “We live in a society in which we are almost embarrassed to celebrate excellence, which is a big mistake. We seem to constantly emphasise egalitarianism over the traditional values of scholarship. “Excellence is something that we should strive for and ensure children aspire to achieve. Although we will have bursaries as well, we are signalling, with these awards, the value we base on rewarding and celebrating academic excellence.”

Traditionally, money from fees, investments and endowments has been invested in academic, sporting or musical scholarships - giving cut-price places to the most able pupils, regardless of parental income. But they have gone out of fashion in recent years in favour of bursaries, which are reserved for pupils from families unable to pay fees. The Charity Commission has already made an appeal to schools to increase the size of bursary funds to pass a new public benefit “test”, which was introduced under Labour’s Charities Act 2006. Two out of five schools investigated earlier this year as part of a trial programme failed the test because they did not offer enough free places to the most deprived children.

A report last year from accountancy firm Howarth Clark Whitehill found more cash is now spent on means-tested bursaries than scholarships. A survey of schools suggested that around £800m was spent on fee assistance, with just over half on bursaries.

Mr MacKinnon said: “I suspect that this is unique, it is certainly against the trend we have seen in recent years. It is common for schools to be phasing out scholarships because of the pressure from the Charity Commission and also because of the laudable attempt to broaden access to this country’s great schools. “I support that – we are not reducing our bursaries – but I think you have got to do both. We need to acknowledge and reward the most able because they can have a significant impact on the school community.”

At Bristol, scholarships worth £2,500-a-year each will be awarded to 15 students a year from September 2010. Thirteen will reward academic excellence and two more will recognise pupils with outstanding ability in sport and the performing arts. The awards will be funded by the Pople Charitable Trust, established by Don Pople who was a pupil at the school in the 1930s and 40s


Another Australian blackboard jungle

A TEACHER was attacked at school by a nine-year-old pupil who kicked her, threw rocks in her face and dragged her by the hair to the staffroom floor. Recalling the incidents yesterday in evidence to the District Court, Margaretta Slingsby said the boy threatened her: ''I'm going to get you, Slingsby slut.''

Ms Slingsby, 58, is suing the Department of Education and Training for negligence over the attack on May 30, 2005, which she says left her with post-traumatic stress and unable to return to her job. She had been teaching Italian at Lismore Heights Public School. Her barrister, Andrew Lidden, SC, said the school had more than its share of unruly children. While the pupil involved - known for legal reasons as B - had a history of ''at times quite violent misbehaviour'', the school had no plans in place to manage his extreme behavioural problems, Mr Lidden said.

The principal at the time, Trevor Pryor, had informed staff that B was coming to the school ''for a new start'' but said he had no records from the boy's previous school, Ms Slingsby told the court. She had taken time off work in March 2005 after B verbally abused her in the playground, an incident she reported to the principal. Two months later, she saw B chasing a girl into the library, screaming, ''You f---ing slut, I'm going to get you.''

When she and the librarian restrained him, the boy kicked them both and punched the librarian. He was taken away by the principal but returned and again attacked Ms Slingsby. ''He came up behind me and tried to push me down the stairs,'' she said. ''He grabbed me by the hair and was dragging me. I could feel my hair being ripped out of my scalp.'' The boy punched a female staff member who tried to intervene and threw rocks and dirt in Ms Slingsby's face.

Later, she said, she was sitting in the staffroom when B ''came tearing in'' with the principal in pursuit. The boy ''grabbed me by the hair and he threw me down on the ground''.

In a statement of claim filed to the court, Ms Slingsby alleges the department was negligent in failing to determine that the boy had a history of verbal and physical violence, and enrolled him when it was not safe for teachers or other students. It breached its duty of care by failing to remove B from the school or notify police after she was first assaulted, she claims.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sharia trumps free speech at Yale

Last week's column was about something that doesn't exist -- a multi-level strategy to combat the advance of sharia (Islamic law) across the West.

The strategy doesn't exist because there's little understanding that the entrenchment of sharia in the Western zone poses a threat to liberty in the Western zone.

This understanding doesn't exist because the critique of sharia (a legal system best described as sacralized totalitarianism) required to devise a defensive anti-sharia strategy, is not considered possible.

Why not? The main obstacle is, well, the advance of sharia across the West. In other words, we cannot criticize the spread of sharia simply because sharia, or its influence, has spread. Thus, from Norway to New Haven, from BBC to Fox News, the reflex reaction to critical commentary -- even a newspaper page of political cartoons -- is to follow Islamic law and stop it (or try), or just shut up.

That's certainly what Yale University has done, as events beginning in August demonstrate. That's when news broke that Yale and Yale University Press were omitting the Danish Mohammed cartoons (and other Mohammed imagery) from a forthcoming book expressly about the Danish Mohammed cartoons.

This sudden act of censorship, Yale said, was due to fear of Muslim outrage over the Mohammed cartoons again turning into Muslim violence. (Roger Kimball, Stanley Kramer and I have laid out evidence that Yale's censorship was also due to fear of alienating Muslim donors.) This violence, along with general Muslim outrage, has its roots in Islamic legal prohibitions of life imagery, criticism of Mohammed and sarcasm about Islamic law -- all outlawed by the standard Al Ahzar University-approved sharia manual, Reliance of the Traveller, and all tools for the political cartoonist moved to comment on the connection between Mohammed and jihad violence. And why not? Indeed, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, arguably the most influential Islamic cleric in the world, calls Mohammed "an epitome for religious warriors."

The publication of the Danish cartoons forced the question: What is more important to the West -- freedom of speech, or Islamic law masquerading as something Orwellianly known as community harmony?

With its censorship of the Mohammed imagery, Yale chose sharia. But that wasn't all. Wearing my hat as vice president of the International Free Press Society (IFPS), I asked Yale's Steven Smith, master of Branford College, one of Yale's 12 residential colleges, if he would be interested in hosting Kurt Westergaard, the most famous of the Danish cartoonists, at a "master's tea" for students. The IFPS was then finalizing Westergaard's U.S. tour long-planned to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the publication of the cartoons on Sept. 30.

Smith agreed and held the event on Oct. 1. And Yale, it seems, will never be the same.

Of course, Yale was already "never the same," something the Westergaard visit further confirmed. If the Western reaction to the Danish Mohammed cartoons exposed the humiliating bargain the West had already made with Islam, trading away freedom of the press in exchange for "community harmony," the Yale reaction to Westergaard's visit following its censorship of the Mohammed cartoons exposed the rotten fruit at the core of American academia: namely, the politically correct drive to censor material "offensive" to multiculturalism mated to the sharia-correct drive to censor material "offensive" to Islam.

Even now, institutional consternation at Yale over Westergaard continues. In the pages of the Yale Daily News, ire is directed at Westergaard's Yale host, Steven Smith, simply for having issued the invitation, as attested by letters from University Chaplain Sharon Kugler and "coordinator of Muslim Life for the University" Omer Bajwa, and even Smith's fellow Yale masters, Davenport College's Richard Schottenfeld and Tanina Rostain. At a panel this week sponsored by the Chaplain's Office and the Yale Muslim Student Association, several Yale professors discussed "what made the cartoons offensive ... and how the West's response heightened tension." (Given the West's near-universal capitulation, I'd like to have heard that last bit.)

The lesson here? Free speech about Islam at Yale is a liability: something to censor, oppose, even remove physically, as symbolized by the administration's decision to bus students to the edge of campus to attend Westergaard's talk. Campus security -- bomb-sniffing dogs, two SWAT teams -- was so extreme it stood as a reproach to critics of Islam, and perhaps as justification for Yale's decision to censor the cartoons in the first place.

Having shrouded free speech in the Islamic veil, Yale stands exposed.


Are nursery rhymes dying out?

What's Britain's favourite nursery rhyme? Apparently, it's Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, at least according to new research for National Bookstart Day, which offers a list of the most popular (you can see it below). They wouldn't be my top choices, although that may be because I favour them more for their tunes (a beautifully sung Little Boy Blue is a joy!) than their words...

I've always enjoyed telling nursery rhymes to my children, and they've enjoyed joining in, getting into the rhythm and starting off their journey into the world of books.

But apparently many parents now feel that nursery rhymes are too old-fashioned for their youngsters. Just over a third of those surveyed said they used rhymes with their kids, and almost a quarter admitted they had neversung a nursery rhyme with their child (which I find rather sad). And there is an age-gap problem too - younger people are far less likely to know the words to the rhymes.

In addition - and rather oddly - more than a fifth of those asked said they didn't use them because they were not considered "educational". Well, they may not teach you lots of facts or figures, but they do teach you about language, and stimulate your brain by remembering the words (and songs). And if you don't believe me, read what Professor Roger Beard, Head of Primary Education, Institute of Education, has to say:

"Sharing rhymes with young children is as important today as it ever was. It helps them to enjoy playing with language and to learn about its patterns and rhythms. Some favourite rhymes date back 200 years or more. For instance, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star has an enduring simplicity, while also allowing children and grown-ups to share in their wonderment about the night-time sky. The appeal of other rhymes, like Incey Wincey Spider, is probably linked to the simple actions that accompany them and which are easily shared with small children.’

The top ten rhymes across the UK:

1) Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

2) Incey Wincey Spider

3) Round and Round the garden

4) Baa Baa Black Sheep

5) The Grand Old Duke of York

6) If you're happy and you know it

7) Humpty Dumpty

8) This Little Piggy

9) Ring a Ring a Roses

10) I'm a Little Teapot

(What no Mary had a Little Lamb or Hey Diddle Diddle?!)


At long last, a class act who might just save Britain's schools... if his party lets him

The disaster that is Britain's education system is arguably the single most important problem that faces this country. If people are ignorant of the world around them or unable to think for themselves, they will be incapable of tackling the failing economy, family breakdown or any other issue. Education is fundamental to a society's capacity to prosper. If the education system founders, a society loses the ability to function properly and its future is bleak indeed.

This unfortunately is the alarming position in which Britain finds itself. In one of the world's most advanced societies, the level of illiteracy among schoolchildren is astonishing. This year, nearly a quarter of a million children left primary school unable to read, write and add up properly. Two-thirds of working-class boys at the age of 14 have a reading age of seven or below. More than half the children leaving comprehensives failed to get the basic requirement of five decent GCSE passes. Public examinations have themselves dumbed down. Universities are having to provide remedial courses to make up for the deficiencies in students' knowledge. Employers despair of school-leavers and even university graduates who lack the basics and can't think for themselves.

For more than two decades, politicians have tried and failed to remedy this grievous state of affairs. The problem was that they failed to analyse it correctly - and in the case of the Labour Government have themselves been a large part of the problem.

Which is why we should applaud the Tories' schools spokesman Michael Gove, whose passionate performance at last week's Tory party conference suggested that at long last here was a politician who does understand not simply that education standards and expectations are shockingly low, but why.

Setting out his now familiar proposal of freeing up school provision, thus opening the way for schools to choose their own examination systems and syllabus, he showed that he also understood and was prepared to tackle many of the warped cultural assumptions that were causing so many schools to fail. This entails, as he suggested, nothing less than taking on the entire education establishment.

For Gove has understood that the root of the problem lies in a bunch of destructive and positively antieducation ideas which - astoundingly - have become the entrenched orthodoxy in the education world. Unless the power of this establishment is broken and its ideology defeated, there is no possibility of any meaningful reform.

This is, to put it mildly, a tall order. The point about this education establishment - referred to in the past as 'the secret garden' because it is as enclosed and unaccountable as its ideas are impenetrable - is that it has crushed all opposition precisely because it is so all-encompassing. Previous attempts to reform the system all failed because even the best-intentioned political initiatives were subverted by the 'experts' who were asked to implement them. From civil servants to professors of education, these formed an unbreakable cartel which subscribed to precisely the ideologies they were being asked to replace.

The outcome was that every such initiative, including the National Curriculum and the National Literacy Scheme, and every quango such as the National Council for School Leadership, which trains head teachers, was subverted or hijacked by preposterous anti-education ideas.

Gove's proposals have to be set in that all-important context. Freeing up school provision is intended to break the stranglehold of that education establishment, from civil servants in Whitehall to the quango running the National Curriculum to the local authorities controlling school placements.

The idea is that by giving enhanced school choice to parents, teachers will be forced to abandon the ideological junk and teach the basics because that's what parents want. And the competition that produces will force the rest to raise their game, too. Not only that, Gove intends also to break the power of university-based teacher training courses, which fill prospective teachers' heads with ideological mumbojumbo, by expanding the Teach First scheme, which recruits the highest performing graduates into teaching.

In a further inspired move, he proposes developing a Troops to Teachers programme, to get Army professionals into the classroom, where they can provide discipline and leadership. And he also intends to restore to teachers the power to expel unruly pupils by abolishing school discipline panels, so that the number of vexatious 'human rights' challenges which have paralysed attempts to maintain order in the schools will be greatly diminished.

So far, so admirable. The great question, though, is whether he can really pull it off. For Gove's radicalism is tempered by certain contradictions in his proposals. Take, for example, the National Curriculum. While he says 'free' schools will be able to opt out of it, it will remain binding upon those schools which are still run by local authorities. So how does that fit with his 'decentralising' agenda?

He says he intends to use the National Curriculum to enforce the proper chronological teaching of history and literacy schemes that actually work. But bitter experience has taught us that, in the hands of central government, the curriculum invariably becomes instead a destructive ideological tool.

Gove thinks he can avoid this by abolishing the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, which runs the curriculum, relying instead only on those experts whom he trusts to get it right. Good luck to him - but I'll believe it when I see it.

More disappointingly, his school choice proposal has a very serious flaw. The new 'freed-up' schools will not be allowed to select for ability. This is a bad mistake - and not just because it obviously undermines the claim that they will be independent of state control.

While a return to the 11-plus would not be desirable - selection at age 11 was too early and too rigid - some kind of academically selective school provision stands at the heart of making Britain both fairer and more competitive. This is because selecting by ability is crucial for the promotion of a meritocracy. And achievement by merit is the essence of a fair society.

European countries with successful education systems - Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands - all offer academically selective schools along with a range of others. This is because they don't suffer from the paralysing British hang-up about social class and differences in achievement.

But Gove instead chose to emulate the Swedish system, since although this allows school choice it does not permit academic selection. Yet Sweden, one of the most socialist and state-regulated societies on the planet, can hardly be a Tory role model.

Ruling out academic selection shows that the Tories are driven principally by the fear that their political enemies will say they are returning to their discredited past of caring only about the 'haves', not the 'have-nots'. Such concern for political positioning is dispiriting. Real free choice would mean a voucher system which could be cashed in at a school whether state-run or independent, comprehensive or selective. Now, that really would break the grip of the ideologues and lever up standards.

It is, after all, egalitarianism that has driven our education system off the rails. Tackling this most fundamental challenge properly requires both intellectual clarity and moral courage of a high order. Michael Gove has shown he has the former in spades. But his party will have to display rather more of the latter if he is to be allowed to become that oxymoron - an education minister who makes the grade.


Monday, October 12, 2009

A letter from a child

Recent videos of American children in school singing songs of praise for Barack Obama were a little much, especially for those of us old enough to remember pictures of children singing the praises of dictators like Hitler, Stalin and Mao. But you don't need a dictator to make you feel queasy about the manipulation of children. The mindset that sees children in school as an opportunity for teachers to impose their own notions, instead of developing the child's ability to think for himself or herself, is a dangerous distortion of education.

Parents send their children to school to acquire the knowledge that has come down to us as a legacy of our culture-- whether it is mathematics, science, or whatever-- so that those children can grow up and go out into the world equipped to face life's challenges.

Too many "educators" see teaching not as a responsibility to the students but as an opportunity for themselves-- whether to indoctrinate a captive audience with the teacher's ideology, manipulate them in social experiments or just do fun things that make teaching easier, whether or not it really educates the child.

You can, of course, call anything that happens in a classroom "education"-- but that does not make it education, except in the eyes of those who cannot think beyond words. Unfortunately, the dumbed-down education of previous generations means that many parents today see nothing wrong with their children being manipulated in school, instead of being educated.

Such parents may see nothing wrong with spending precious time in classrooms chit-chatting about how everyone "feels" about things on television or in their personal life. But while our children are frittering away time on trivia, other children in other countries are acquiring the skills in math, science or other fields that will allow them to take the jobs our children will meed when they grow up. Foreigners can take those jobs either by coming to America and outperforming Americans or by having those jobs outsourced to them overseas.

In short, schools are supposed to prepare children for the future, not give teachers opportunities for self-indulgences in the present. One of these self-indulgences was exemplified by a letter I received recently from a fifth-grader in the Sayre Elementary School in Lyon, Michigan. He said, "I have been assigned to ask a famous person a question about how he or she would solve a difficult problem." The problem was what to do about the economy.

Instead, I replied to his parents: With American students consistently scoring near or at the bottom in international tests, I am repeatedly appalled by teachers who waste their students' time by assigning them to write to strangers, chosen only because those strangers' names have appeared in the media.

What earthly good would it do your son to know what economic policies I think should be followed, especially since what I think should be done will not have the slightest effect on what the government will in fact do? And why should a fifth-grader be expected to deal with such questions that people with Ph.D.'s in economics have trouble wrestling with?

The damage does not end with wasting students' time and misdirecting their energies, serious though these things are. Getting students used to looking to so-called "famous" people for answers is the antithesis of education as a preparation for making up one's own mind as citizens of a democracy, rather than as followers of "leaders."

Nearly two hundred years ago, the great economist David Ricardo said: "I wish that I may never think the smiles of the great and powerful a sufficient inducement to turn aside from the straight path of honesty and the convictions of my own mind."

The fad of assigning students to write to strangers is an irresponsible self-indulgence of teachers who should be teaching. But that practice will not end until enough parents complain to enough principals and enough elected officials to make it end.


Dumbed-down Britain

Popular British TV personality Jeremy Clarkson says that the Pythons assume a higher level of education than most Brits have today

I knew all the Python sketches off by heart. And the books. And the films. I still do. And I still fly off the handle when someone misquotes. It was Norwegian Jarlsberger, you imbecile. I know it’s really called Jarlsberg but that’s not what Cleese said. How can you not know that??!!?

Only last week, I was asked by a keen young reporter to recite my favourite Python sketch into her camera for a feature she was making. I did Novel Writing.

Novel Writing is another reason Python turned out to be important. It’s the reason I’m married. My wife is a huge fan of Thomas Hardy and was deeply impressed that I knew the opening page of The Return of the Native. She never realised that I was simply reciting a Python sketch. In the same way that she never knew when I hummed Nessun Dorma that I was singing what I thought was the music from a commercial for Pirelli.

Novel Writing is at the very heart of what makes Monty Python so brilliant. The notion of Thomas Hardy writing his books, in front of a good-natured bank holiday crowd in Dorset, while cricket-style commentators and pundits assess every word he commits to paper is a juxtaposition you don’t find in comedy very much any more.

To get the point you need to know that while Hardy may be seen as a literary colossus, there’s no escaping the fact his novels are dirge. We see these attacks on intellectualism throughout Python. To understand the joke, you need to know that René Descartes did not say, I “drink” therefore I am. You need to know that if you cure a man of leprosy, you are taking away his trade. And that really Archimedes did not invent football.

Today my encyclopedic knowledge of everything Python is seen as a bit sad. Former fans point out that Cleese has lost it, that Jones is married to an eight-year-old and that Spamalot was a travesty. Worse. Liking Python apparently marks me out as a “public-school toff”.

There’s a very good reason for this. Nowadays people wear their stupidity like a badge of honour. Knowing how to play chess will get your head kicked off. Reading a book with no pictures in it will cause there to be no friend requests on your Facebook page. Little Britain is funny because people vomit a lot. Monty Python is not because they delight in all manifestations of the terpsichorean muse.

When you go on a chat show, it is important you tell the audience straight away that you were brought up in a cardboard box and that your dad would thrash you to sleep every night. If you want to get on and to be popular you have to demonstrate that you know nothing. It’s why Stephen Fry makes so many bottom jokes.

And then you have my colleague James May, who says that, occasionally on Top Gear, he would like to present a germane and thought-provoking piece on engineering. But I won’t let him unless his trousers fall down at some point. I’m ashamed to say that’s true.

It’s also true that today no one ever gets rich by overestimating the intelligence of their audience. Today you make a show assuming the viewers know how to breathe and that’s about it. It’s therefore an inescapable fact that in 2009 Monty Python would not be commissioned.

The only example of intelligent sketch-show comedy in Britain today is Harry & Paul. And what’s happened to that? Well, it’s been shunted from BBC1 to BBC2. And you get the impression it’ll be gone completely unless they stop using Jonathan Miller as a butt for their wit. Today you are not allowed to know about Jonathan Miller because if you do, you are a snob.

That’s why my Monty Python appreciation society is so small and secret. Members speak every morning, each giving one another a word or phrase that has to be placed in context by six that evening. Last month I was given one word: “because”. And I got it. It’s from the Four Yorkshiremen. “We were happy ... Because we were poor.”

The Pythons were laughing at that idea then. We’re not laughing any more.


Australian universities rate highly by world standards

DESPITE a hammering in the Asian media over student safety, and fears for the higher education sector's international reputation, Australia's elite universities have consolidated their place in the global rankings. Times Higher Education today published world rankings showing Australia's Group of Eight research universities are all placed in the global top 100.

The ranking, a collaboration between THE and higher education consultants Quacquarelli Symonds, is used around the world by consumers - parents and students - as well as academics looking for work and employers seeking recruits. Universities are ranked in six categories, the most important being peer review. Scores are also given by international students.

Coming as it does in the same week as US-based Australian researcher Elizabeth Blackburn's Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine, this year's THES ranking is a fillip to a sector struggling to maintain its international standing against intense global competition. The Australian National University remains the standard bearer for the Group of Eight with an international ranking of 17 - down from the 16th place it enjoyed for the past three years. The ANU is the first university listed on the league ladder outside Britain and the US, which maintain their joint stranglehold on the top positions. Harvard once again claims the No1 world ranking, while Cambridge leapfrogs Yale to take second place.

The other big movers in the top 10 were University College London, whose rise from 7th to 4th relegates Oxford to 5th, a rank it shared with Imperial College London, and California Institute of Technology, which drops five places to 10th. Of the Australians, the University of Sydney gains one spot to tie for 36th place with the University of Melbourne, its perennial interstate rival. Melbourne improved two places on last year's ranking.

The University of Queensland also rose in the rankings, from 43 to 41, as did Monash, from 47 to 45, while the University of Adelaide vaulted from a disappointing 106th place last year to regain a position within the top 100 at 81. The University of NSW dropped two places, from 45 to 47. And while the University of Western Australia slid one place to 84th, it will consider this a minor victory given its fall of 19 places between 2007 and last year.

Senior figures within the higher education sector will feel some relief at the consolidation of Australia's position against the backdrop of negative international publicity generated by the overseas student debacle in the private training sector.

The other international bellwether of university performance, the Shanghai Jiao Tong University world university ranking, will be released next month. The SHJT ranking focuses more on research in the sciences and is regarded by most experts as a more rigorous measure than the THES league table, if more mono-dimensional.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

The undergraduate degree: A bourgeois cult symbol

If there's one thing job-hunting in this economy has taught me, it's that an undergraduate education is vastly overrated as far as success goes. Notwithstanding the specious right to go to college for free of which today’s youth and leftist politicians often speak, college does not guarantee success in finding or keeping a job in this economy. It certainly did not help me and millions of other workers avoid layoffs last year. It means little to those who scan a ream of applications --all with degrees listed-- and it certainly means nothing unique to harried recruiters at a crowded job fair.

Mind you, it isn't useless per se, but a cursory examination of just some of the great geniuses of history--Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Leonardo da Vinci, the Aztec engineers who built the great city of Tenochtitlán in the middle of soggy lake Texcoco, the Wright brothers, the men who built the Pyramids --all these people did not go to college as we know it. Certainly they studied hard and learnt their respective trades over years of time, but no overpriced, ivy covered campuses did they grace.

And of course we hear all the time about successful entrepreneurs who dropped out of college: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Russell Simmons (Def Jam Records), Jawed Karim (YouTube), Ralph Lauren, even the late Michael Jackson.

Yet we still hear the refrain: Everyone has the right to go to college and get a good education. It's the key to success in the job market.

I concede that most of us aren’t brilliant entrepreneurs, nor do most of us have a rich daddy who owns a local factory, and the system has seemingly been set up so that most of us must enter into the cut-throat, white-collar world in order to have a hope at being awarded a job with a living wage. That means earning the hallowed sheepskin. But does one really learn all the skills and knowledge needed to fully enter into an everyday professional setting?

The particular management, organizational and computer skills I use in my line of work were not bestowed upon me by a professor in a classroom. I certainly learned some interesting and enlightening things in the lecture halls, there’s no denying that. But with the possible exception of my foreign language skills (though alimented by my own efforts anyway), most of the job skills I possess I either learned on-the-job or in my extracurricular activities. In order to do that, I had to go outside the classroom, outside the syllabi and recitations and seek out spaces where I could use and learn more.

Reading , reading some more, listening to a lecture, reading yet some more, writing a paper, and taking any number of guessing game multiple choice exams in order to regurgitate reams of information that you cram into your head exhibit your broad knowledge. Just study what is covered on the exam, and nothing more, and of course one often hears my favorite question: Are the final grades going to be curved? Then it’s more reading. Little practical application or real-life settings can be found here. Surely there are exceptions, but this is the general pattern of what passes for education at American universities these days.

For what it’s worth, one might be better off visiting a library and reading all the books in it or going to a museum or getting a private tutor if one really wants to pursue knowledge. Or at least pursue a vocational degree, where one will learn, really learn, a useful trade and skill. Instead, we have a generation of people with bachelors and masters degrees who work one or two jobs at McDonalds or Starbucks or toil at the behest of any number of faceless temp agencies just to pay the interest on their student loan debt--debt with more zeros than any annual salary they can ever hope to see.

So we've seen that college doesn't necessarily prepare one for the real world, and we see that plenty of people who have smarts, drive and ambition have become successful without the hallowed sheepskin, so let’s ask: What is it really good for, this thing to which we supposedly have a right?

What an undergraduate degree symbolizes nowadays is neither smarts nor expertise nor discipline nor rigorous intellect nor even adequate job, social, or financial planning skills, since these are not the aims of a modern-day university education. Rather, it is a way to weed out the cultured workers from the low-brow; the affluent from the less-affluent; the pacified from the rough-around-the-edges; the best and brightest from the dumb sheep; the ones who “get their hands dirty” with practical skills from those fully indoctrinated in squeaky-clean trivia (which is what most white-collar work is, anyway); the upper and middle classes from the lower classes. In short, its function is to help lock out the undesirable proles from the Inner Circle (be it higher education, government employ, or involvement with the cut-throat, white-collar world).

As far as job hunting goes, the hallowed liberal arts university degree is quite useful indeed for approaching the doors to prestige, if not power--no, not opening them, just increasing the chances of being approved by the genteel gatekeepers and gaining an audience with the Emperor without having the guard dogs set upon you.

And before you say that it used to mean something a long time ago, save for watered-down curricula, keep in mind that in the past only the richest of the rich could go to university, and its role as a gateway to genteel nobility was even more bare-obvious than it is now. I think this will become more obvious as the world economy continues to deflate and people have to seek ever higher degrees and more debt just to get a secretarial job or (heaven forbid) mop floors in a Dunkin Donuts.

In our 21st century society populated by neutered-bourgeois, an undergraduate degree is good for one thing only--a status symbol for the affluent, upwardly mobile middle-class worker; an alluring icon of a bourgeois cult. Indeed, every family in this country has been duped into thinking that this is the only way one can become successful. We are bombarded with statistics showing that college graduates make more than non-graduates. After all, high school or college dropouts often end up flipping burgers and making lattes, right? Otherwise Uncle Sam lures them into the military to kill poor foreigners for the benefit of the ruling class, although with the wars in the Middle East going so badly, that might be a less appealing career path these days.

I do expect teachers or grad students or other educated professionals will sneer at my skepticism of the education system, and of the Holy Degree and its trappings; they will scold me, saying that I am foolish for denying the path to salvation via undergraduate education. Of course, they all have advanced degrees, have clawed their way to the top, have become the new gatekeepers, and (most critically) aren’t on the unemployment lines, so they can afford to say such things.

"Everyone has the right to go to college and get a good education. It's the key to success in the job market"

I would strongly recommend to anyone reading this who is of college-age to consider a vocational school or apprenticeship, where one can learn a useful trade that will guarantee a better salary. The way things are headed, the existing artificial white-collar service economy will begin to wither away, and less employment will be available to those with that hallowed liberal arts degree as we are forced to return to actual industry, production, trade, and thrift. Oh sure, there are still plenty of opportunities for that fancy-pants work we middle class denizens are taught to strive for. But do not expect a renaissance of financial prosperity in the future (i.e., get used to the term jobless recovery), nor should you expect a promise of a fully remunerative career (this graph from the Economic Policy Institute shows employers are forced to work people harder in the name of increasing productivity whilst wages stagnate due to inflation).

In other words, take the modern-day, bourgeois college degree-worshipping evangelist cult with a few grains of organic sea salt.


Private schools are the main ones teaching the hard stuff in Britain these days

University courses important to the economy rely on independent schools for many of their students, says research. These "strategically important and vulnerable" degree subjects include modern languages and engineering. The study for an independent schools' group found a quarter of places in such subjects in leading UK universities went to independent school pupils. Without such pupils the subjects would be at risk, argues the report by an Exeter University academic.

The analysis of university admissions, commissioned by the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), shows that independent school pupils are disproportionately represented in these economically important subjects. Based on figures from 2006-07, the research says that 42% of undergraduate students entering economics in leading universities were drawn from independent schools. Among modern languages, 28% of French degree students were from independent schools, with the figures 38% for Italian and 41% for Spanish. In mechanical engineering the independent school entry was 26%, in civil engineering it was 25% and in general engineering 36%.

Comparing this with university entrance in 2003-04, report author William Richardson of Exeter University found the proportion of independent pupils in leading universities had either been maintained or had slightly increased. Showing the wider context of these admission figures, about 9% of 17-year-old pupils are in independent schools - and 14% of university entrants are from independent schools.

Without independent pupils, "the study of subjects recognised to be vital to the future of the nation would be in serious jeopardy in many of our leading universities", says Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference chairman Andrew Grant.

Independent schools argue that the research shows the scale of their contribution to maintaining important degree subjects, identified by the government as valuable to the wider economy. It also reflects the extent to which independent schools in England have continued to teach subjects such as modern languages at GCSE and A-level, when they are no longer compulsory in the state sector beyond the age of 14. University modern languages departments have reported problems in finding sufficient applicants, as their potential pool of A-level students has diminished.

In economics, a report last year warned that the subject was at risk of "dying out" in schools - with A-level student numbers down by a quarter in a decade.

The research also follows a report earlier this year into social mobility by MP Alan Milburn, which interpreted the over-representation of independent school pupils in prestigious university courses as evidence of the weaknesses in the ambitions of the state sector and in university admissions. Mr Milburn's report argued that even though participation in university had widened, children from wealthier backgrounds continued to dominate the most sought-after subjects at the most prestigious universities. The report from the HMC shows that 38% of students entering medicine in leading universities are from independent schools.

A survey from the UCU lecturers' union, also released on Tuesday, claims that a majority of people want to see the ending of charitable status for independent schools. It found that 56% of people wanted to abolish charitable status, including 41% of Conservative voters.

At the HMC's annual conference, Mr Grant dismissed claims that charitable status meant that independent schools were a cost to the taxpayer - arguing that private school fees saved the state sector £3bn, in terms of the private pupils who would otherwise have to be taught in state schools.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "The government believes that it should be character, endeavour and talent that matter, not life chances at birth, which is why our policies have seen an increase in the proportion of people from less privileged backgrounds going into university. "But we recognise that there is still more to do which is why we continue to invest in initiatives, such as Aimhigher, that encourage students from state schools to aspire to the most competitive courses and universities, and our recent white paper also set out our plans to enhance social mobility in the years to come."


Bright British pupils 'will miss out' on university in row over qualifications

Horror that bright students might be more likely to gain university admission!

Sixth-formers are facing fresh chaos over university admissions following a clash over whether to accept new A* grades. School heads are being urged to prepare bright youngsters for rejection because universities will struggle to whittle down well-qualified pupils applying for places next September.

Prestigious universities are at loggerheads over whether to take the new supergrade into account when choosing between candidates and setting entry requirements. Some, including Oxford, have been accused of 'political correctness' for failing to embrace the A*, being awarded for the first time next summer. The universities are said to be afraid that using the A* would result in an increase in the number of privately-educated pupils winning places. Studies suggest that private school applicants are more likely to gain A*s and will therefore tighten their grip on the top universities.

School heads are also split over whether to include A*s in their performance predictions to universities, leading to claims that thousands of bright children will be disadvantaged. Ministers were accused of failing bright pupils after it emerged they have been pressurising universities into ignoring the A*.

The row erupted as university chiefs warned of intense competition for places next year as the recession continues to deter youngsters from seeking work in a harsh job market. Oxford said the annual university admissions scramble was a 'numbers game' and bright students faced rejection from some of their choices despite having impeccable applications. But the university came in for criticism yesterday for refusing to take into accept A* grades from candidates applying this month. Like most other universities, and in line with Government advice, it will ignore the grade for at least the first few years of its operation.

But Cambridge, Imperial College London and University College London are among universities opting to use it in setting entry requirements for some candidates. Warwick is considering including it in offers for maths and science subjects. Cambridge expects to set conditional offers of one A* and two As for many students. Geoff Parks, director of admissions, said: 'We hope that will seem to be a fairer system because students who get into Cambridge will by and large have higher grades than those who don't.' He revealed former Schools Minister Jim Knight had been 'bending ears' at the university because it was going forward with the A*.

Private school leaders, gathering in Liverpool for the annual meeting of the Headmasters' and Headmasters' Conference, expressed frustration at the reluctance of more institutions to accept the A*. Tim Hands, head of Magdalen College School, said: 'First of all we had pusillanimity because the Government didn't want to introduce it and now we have got stealth. 'The mood is one of resentment at interference, resentment at stealth, shock at a lack of progression in standards and a firm feeling that where people support real educational quality and endeavour they deserve commendation not restraint, arbitrary impositions and politicially-inspired interferences.'

Some state schools are said to be refusing 'in principle' to use A*s when predicting their students' grades on university application forms because they fear it will come to be seen as a passport to a good university.

Oxford said its decision to monitor the grade's implementation for the next two years was a 'pragmatic decision'. 'A lot of teachers have said very clearly, this is a new qualification, we haven't had a chance to teach it yet, and the idea we can accurately predict who will get these A*s, we won't,' said Mike Nicholson, director of admissions.

Professor Michael Whitby, pro-vice-chancellor of Warwick, warned that 2010 would be a 'tough' year for applicants. He said: 'We are under some pressure to rein in our offers next year, with the result that whereas in a normal year people who just missed an offer might get into the Liverpools, Warwicks, Durhams, Oxbridges of this world, in the current climate they might not.'