Saturday, November 21, 2009

It’s high time to take back our schools

A few weeks ago a 16 year old high school girl was gang-raped for a period of over two hours in a poorly-lit courtyard on the campus of her high school during the homecoming dance. While there have been outpourings of horror, sympathy for the victim, funds raised for her future, etc., I’ve seen absolutely no call anywhere for holding the school officials accountable. On the contrary, local media has accepted and reported the crime as “nearly inevitable: "Charles Johnson, one of the high school’s security specialists said, “We know that courtyard, and we’ve been waiting for something to happen there.”

When we were raising teenagers, not so long ago, it was drilled into us that anything that happened at our home was our responsibility: if a kid got drunk or high at our house and drove drunk, we would be liable, and we took appropriate precautions. Of course, I’m not naive enough to think that nothing slipped by us, but it is inconceivable that we would have had chaperones or security insufficient at a school dance to be unaware of 10-20 boys drinking heavily and assaulting a young woman for more than two hours in a well-known hangout on campus.

Yet such now seems to be the accepted standard for public schools—from a mother telling me about her grade-school child who doesn’t drink anything at school because she’s afraid to go into the bathroom there, to our neighborhood’s high school newspaper routinely reporting on muggings on campus—imparted impassively, shrugging shoulders, as if to say, “That’s the way it is and that’s the way it has to be.”

There’s a very real alternative to continuing to moan and wring hands and call for government to “do something.” We see it in examples like neighborhood watch programs, and more dramatically, the Guardian Angels. In Baltimore, “Grandmothers Against Gangs” was formed; when they saw a bunch of kids selling drugs on street corners, they ran out with brooms to chase them away. In Oakland, residents of one of the poorest and worst neighborhoods decided to take back their street by gathering every Friday night to talk and drink coffee on a corner that used to be ground-zero for drug and sex deals. In each of these instances, crime in the areas dropped: criminals go somewhere all those people—largely poor people, armed only with red berets, coffee mugs or brooms—aren’t.

When the school administration and its “security specialists” can blithely declare that they were sitting idly by, “waiting” for this to happen, it’s time to wrench responsibility, funding, and authority from these hired “experts,” and take it for ourselves: It’s time to reassert control over our own neighborhoods, schools and kids. It’s time for parents, grandparents, siblings, neighbors, merchants, and/or church leaders to organize citizen patrols of the public schools: patrolling halls, bathrooms and the campus to establish the environment we want for our children.

We might also learn some lessons from the exercise that we decide to apply in other areas of our lives: a forgotten legacy of how we used to rely on mutual-aid and voluntary associations to address these and worse problems, with great effectiveness (see, for example, The Voluntary City)—before we allowed the government to convince us that we needed “them” to keep us safe. See also, Neither Liberty Nor Safety.


Let’s give children the “store of human knowledge”

In flattering kids as ‘digital natives’ for whom the past is irrelevant, we degrade a vital adult mission: transmitting knowledge

In virtually every Western society, education is in trouble. Unfortunately, however, policymakers tend to obsess only about the symptoms of the problem – unsatisfactory standards in core subjects, growth of a cohort of poorly schooled underachievers or erosion of classroom discipline – and not the cause.

Yet the main reason education often is not educating is because it finds it difficult to give meaning to human experience. Time and again, curriculum specialists inform us that because we live in a world of rapid change, the conventions and practices of the past have become outmoded, outdated or irrelevant. Present educational fads are based on the premise that because we live in a new, digitally driven society, the intellectual legacy of the past and the experience of grown-ups have little significance for the schooling of children.

The implicit assumption that adults have little to teach children is rarely made explicit. But there is a growing tendency to flatter children through suggesting that their values are more enlightened than those of their elders because they are more tuned in to the present. So children are often represented as digital natives who are way ahead of their text-bound and backward-looking parents.

Although education is celebrated as one of the most important institutions of society, there is a casual disrespect for the content of what children are taught. Curriculum engineers often display indifference, if not contempt, for abstract thought and the knowledge developed in the past. Both are criticised for being irrelevant or outdated; only new information that can be applied and acted on is seen as suitable for the training – and it is training and not teaching – of digital natives.

In policy deliberations about education, the acquisition of subject-based knowledge is often dismissed as old-fashioned. Typically, an emphasis on the intellectual content of classroom subjects is labelled an outdated form of scholasticism that has little significance in our era. Policymakers often represent change as an omnipotent force that renders prevailing forms of knowledge and schooling redundant. In such circumstances, education must transform itself to keep up with the times. From this perspective, educational policies can be justified only if they can adapt to change.

Since they are likely to be overtaken by events, classroom innovations by definition have a short-term and provisional status. The instability that afflicts the education system is turned into the normal state of an institution that needs to be responsive to the uncertain flow of events. Although fads come and go, the constant feature of today’s throwaway pedagogy is a deep-seated hostility to teaching academic subjects to young people, especially to those who come from disadvantaged socioeconomic groups. So-called modernisers regard the subject-based curriculum as far too rigid for a school system that must adapt to a constantly changing world. The dramatisation of change in Anglo-American education-speak renders the past irrelevant. If indeed we continually move from one new age to another, then the practices of the past have little relevance for today.

Sadly, the ceaseless repetition of the idea that the past is irrelevant desensitises people from understanding the influence of the legacy of human development on their lives. The constant talk of ceaseless change tends to naturalise it and turn it into an omnipotent autonomous force that subjects human beings to its will. This is a force that annihilates the past and demands that people learn to adapt and readapt to new experiences. From this standpoint, humans do not so much determine their future as adapt to forces beyond their control.

In the worldview of the educational establishment change has acquired a sacred character that determines what is taught. It creates new requirements and introduces new ideas about learning. And it encourages the mass production of a disposable pedagogy. Educationalists adopt the rhetoric of ‘breaks’ and ‘ruptures’ and maintain that nothing is as it was and that the present has been decoupled from the past. Their outlook is shaped by an imagination that is so overwhelmed by the displacement of the old by the new that it often overlooks historical experience that may continue to be relevant.

The discussion of the relationship between education and change is frequently overwhelmed by the fad of the moment and with the relatively superficial symptoms of new developments. It is often distracted from acknowledging the fact the fundamental educational needs of students do not alter every time a new technology influences people’s lives. And certainly the questions raised by Greek philosophy, Renaissance poetry, Enlightenment science or the novels of George Eliot continue to be relevant for students in our time and not just to the period that preceded the digital age.

Often change and social transformation are represented as if they are unique to our time. Innovation guru Bill Law makes this pronouncement: ‘We may not know precisely what shape the future will take but we do know that the futures of our current students will not much resemble those of our past ones.’ But when did we last think the future of our children would resemble our own? Not in 1969, or in 1939 or even 1909.

The idea that we live in a qualitatively different world serves as a premise for the claim that the knowledge and insights of the past have only minor historical significance. In education it is claimed that old ways of teaching are outdated precisely because they are old. Knowledge itself is called into question because in a world of constant flux it must be continually overtaken by events. Policy has become so focused on keeping up with change that it has become distracted from the task of giving meaning to education.

The fetishisation of change is symptomatic of a mood of intellectual malaise, where notions of truth, knowledge and meaning have acquired a provisional character. Perversely, the transformation of change into a metaphysical force haunting humanity actually desensitises society from distinguishing between a passing novelty and qualitative change. That is why lessons learned through the experience of the past are so important for helping society face the future. When change is objectified, it turns into spectacle that distracts society from valuing the truths and insights it has acquired throughout the best moments of human history. Yet these are truths that have emerged through attempts to find answers to the deepest and most durable questions facing us, and the more the world changes the more we need to draw on our cultural and intellectual inheritance.

If the legacy of past achievements has ceased to have relevance for the schooling of young people, what can education mean? Thinkers from across the left-right divide have always realised that education represents a transaction between the generations. Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist thinker, wrote ‘in reality each generation educates the new generation’. Writing from a conservative perspective, English philosopher Michael Oakeshott concluded ‘education in its most general significance may be recognised as a specific transaction which may go on between the generations of human beings in which newcomers to the scene are initiated into the world they inhabit’. Liberal political philosopher Hannah Arendt said education provided an opportunity for society to preserve and to renew its intellectual inheritance through an intergenerational conversation.

One of the key tasks of education is to teach children about the world as it is. Although society is subject to the forces of change, education needs to acquaint young people with the legacy of its past. The term ‘learning from the past’ is often used as a platitude. Yet it is impossible to engage with the future unless people do draw on the centuries of human experience. Individuals gain an understanding of themselves through familiarity with the unfolding of the human world.

The transition from one generation to another requires education to transmit an understanding of the lessons learned by humanity through the ages. Consequently, the main mission of education is to preserve the past so young people have the cultural and intellectual resources to deal with the challenges they face. This understanding of education as renewal stands in direct contrast to the present predilection to focus the curriculum on the future.

In Anglo-American societies, curriculum-planning is devoted to cultivating an ethos of flexibility towards the future. Of course, the capacity to adapt is a valuable asset. But the exercise of this capacity requires a grounding in an understanding of the world in which we live. The question of the balance that education should strike between orienting towards the past and towards a changing world should be a source of debate. However, today, when policymakers tend to be so fixated on the present that they attempt to distance education from the past, it is essential to reaffirm the importance of a traditional humanist education.

The impulse to free education from the past is influenced by a prejudice that regards ideas that are not of the moment as old-fashioned and irrelevant. Yet the project of preserving the past through education does not mean an uncritical acceptance of the world as it; it means the assumption of adult responsibility for the world into which the young are integrated. The aim of this act is to acquaint the young with the world as it is so that they have the intellectual resources necessary for renewing it. Through education, all the important old questions are re-raised with the young, leading to a dialogue that moves humanity’s conversation forward.

Education needs to conserve the past. As Arendt argued, conservatism, in the sense of conservation, is of the essence of education. Her objective was not to conserve for the sake of nostalgia, but because she recognised that the conservation of the old provided the foundation for renewal and innovation. The characterisation of conservation as the essence of education can be easily misunderstood as a call inspired by a backward or reactionary political agenda. However, the argument for conservation is based on the understanding that, in a generational transaction, adults must assume responsibility for the world as it is and pass on its cultural and intellectual legacy to young people.

An attitude of conservation is called for specifically in the context of intergenerational transmission of this legacy. Until recently, leading thinkers from across the ideological divide understood the significance of transmitting the knowledge of the past to young people. Conservative thinker Matthew Arnold’s formulation of passing on ‘the best that has been thought and said in the world’ is virtually identical to Lenin’s insistence that education needs to transmit the ‘store of human knowledge’.

A liberal humanist education is underpinned by the assumption that children are rightful heirs to the legacy of the past. It takes responsibility for ensuring this inheritance is handed over to the young. It is because education gives meaning to human experience that it needs to be valued in its own right. One of the key characteristics of education is its lack of interest in an ulterior purpose. That does not mean it is uninterested in developments affecting children and society; it means that it regards the transmission of cultural and intellectual achievements of humanity to children as its defining mission.

Once society is able to affirm an education system that values itself and the acquisition of knowledge, policymakers and the public can begin to envisage the steps required to deal with the practical challenges facing the classroom.


British schools “ignoring needs of brightest pupils”

Too many heads are ignoring the needs of their brightest pupils, one of the country’s leading state school heads said today. Liz Allen, headmistress of Newstead Wood Girls’ School in Bromley, one of the top performing grammar schools in England, told a conference: “I find there is a huge reluctance amongst my secondary head colleagues to focus any kind of real attention, activity or resources on the most able pupils.” She criticised heads for spending too much time trying to convert D grades into C grades at GCSE, rather than helping the brightest pupils “walk on water” and get A* grades.

Mrs Allen, a former president of the Association of Maintained Girls’ Schools, which represents the majority of state girls’ schools, also attacked the Government’s focus on guaranteeing one-to-one coaching for all pupils struggling to keep up in class. “I’m concerned about that – I’m very concerned about it,” she told the Girls’ School Association conference in Harrogate yesterday. “Let’s say I’m not very good at running the 100 metres. If the Government was to pay for me to have a personal tutor to run the 100 metres, would I clip much off my time? Would it be a wise investment? I think not. “I can see huge value in investing one to one time in our independent and successful young learners, though.”

Mrs Allen added that there was far too much focus “on the rather crude stuff of league tables and the D/C grade borderline pupils, rather than on the bright child”. She cited a government-funded research study which showed that, as a result of neglect, bright pupils were often “easily bored, window-gazers, subservient, sometimes reluctant to commit pen to paper”.

She said her school, which was selective, did not receive any money from the Government’s standards fund to provide one-to-one tuition for her pupils. However, despite the lack of money she set aside time for all her pupils to receive individual coaching from the start of their secondary school career. They received the equivalent half a day a week, inserted into six weeks in the middle of each term, when they were given the whole of Thursdays to work with an individual teacher.

She added that girls’ ambitions to succeed could be “crushed” in mixed schools. “In a single sex environment, they’re very concerned about their competitiveness – but they compete to do well rather than compete against each other,” she said. “In a mixed environment, they cease to be competitive. They realise everybody else feels the same. Boys are going to be more dominant.”


Friday, November 20, 2009

NJ school board insists on aborting student pro-life event

Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund filed a lawsuit Friday on behalf of a student against the Bridgeton Board of Education after officials at Bridgeton High School prohibited her from expressing a religious viewpoint on the 6th annual Pro-life Day of Silent Solidarity. In October, ADF attorneys distributed a legal memo offering to legally defend students across the nation kept from participating in the event by school officials.

“Pro-life students shouldn’t be discriminated against for expressing their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman. “The Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity is a non-disruptive, student-led event occurring outside of instructional time. The event provides the opportunity for students to exercise their constitutional right to express their viewpoint on abortion, just as other students have the right to express their views.”

The student was prohibited from participating in the Stand True Ministries-sponsored event by distributing pro-life literature during non-instructional times and wearing a red arm band with the word “LIFE” written on it. School officials told the student that nothing “religious” is allowed in public schools.

“Cumberland County has the highest rate of teen pregnancies in the state of New Jersey, yet Bridgeton High School censors students’ pro-life speech opposing abortion,” commented Cortman. “Government-run schools say that students need to be educated on these issues, but many times they only want to allow one side to be presented.”


British regulator's pupil safety rules are impossible, say head teachers

Highly performing schools are being penalised by Ofsted for a lack of security gates, high fences and entry codes to keep out intruders. Under a new inspection regime introduced this term, schools that do not make pupils “feel safe” are judged to be failing.

Head teachers claimed yesterday that inspectors were trying to catch schools out as they scrambled to update child protection policies. They called for Ofsted to reverse the rule after one of the most improved schools in England was told that its security was inadequate. A parental survey, part of the inspection process, at Lawnswood School in Leeds indicated that 1.3 per cent of parents thought that it did not keep children safe and inspectors marked it down despite record results last year.

Another school was judged to be inadequate because inspectors deemed the fence around the playground low enough for child snatchers to reach in and grab pupils. A third failed because inspectors were offered coffee before they were asked for identification.

Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said that it was important that schools were safe places but warned that they were being asked to implement unworkable safety arrangements. “We are concerned that very good schools will fail inspections because of unreasonable requirements,” she said.

Milan Davidovic, the headmaster of Lawnswood School, wrote to Ofsted complaining about its verdict. “There was a definite feeling that the inspectors were coming to grips with the framework themselves, a feeling that it wasn’t clearly understood,” he said.

Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that one inspector found his way into a school through a back entrance and began talking to pupils. The school failed because he was able to gain access without being asked for identification. A single glitch in safeguarding documentation or practice was enough to put schools into an “at risk” category, he added, and he called for Ofsted to separate judgments on academic achievement from child protection.

Ofsted’s new inspection framework stipulates that “where a school is judged to be inadequate in relation to the quality of the school’s procedures for safeguarding . . . the school’s overall effectiveness is also likely to be judged inadequate”. Details of the rules were published in July, giving schools little time to make changes. Since the new framework came into place one in five schools has moved down the ranking after inspection.

A spokesman for Ofsted said: “The protection of children is of the highest priority for Ofsted across all its inspection remits and we have revised our safeguarding guidance for school inspections from September to ensure an appropriate focus on this vital area. “However, schools are not judged to be inadequate as a result of minor administrative errors or issues that are not serious. Very few schools have been judged to be inadequate for their safeguarding arrangements only since the beginning of September.”

Case Study: "We're Judged on a feeling"

Lawnswood School in Leeds holds several education awards and was one of the Top Ten most improved schools in England last year (Joanna Sugden writes). But it has just been placed in special measures by Ofsted. A survey of parents at the school, which has 1,500 pupils, yielded only 123 replies and found that 20 parents felt their children did not feel safe at the school. It has just been given notice to improve under new rules that write schools off if they fail safeguarding measures.

“We are being judged on a feeling,” said Milan Davidovic, the headmaster. “If a few parents raise that as an issue then Ofsted has to take it into account.”

Lawnswood was given the healthy schools award, which recognises that pupils are feeling safe and happy. But, Mr Davidovic said that Ofsted did not take this into account. “The framework can act like a pack of cards, one judgment can make another judgment fail. We believe it is unfair,” he said. “It’s not to do with Criminal Records Bureau checks; it’s to do with a reported feeling that we are being judged on. “The students are disappointed that Ofsted have this view. But our spirits aren’t as low as they would be if the outcome [of the inspection] did reflect the true situation.”

The headmaster has written Ofsted a letter of complaint containing 23 points of disagreement.


Australian school defies parents; kills boy; no penalty

Sounds like teachers getting full of themselves again. Maybe a big civil lawsuit will get some questions answered and the guilty parties identified. You don't send your kid to school to have him come home in a coffin. My son is not a good swimmer. It could have been him. But I was told when he was due to swim and was there to watch him

THE parents of a Tasmanian student who drowned say they had no idea he had been going on a school excursion. "We had no knowledge of any excursion to Bells Parade, no permission slip was signed," Sera Levi, the mother of Latrobe High School teenager Rene, told The Mercury. His father Laupule said he had told the school his son was to be excluded from school trips. "He was not a strong swimmer and we did not encourage him going in the water," Mr Levi said.

Tasmania Police spent a couple of hours with the family yesterday afternoon, but Rene's parents were still unsure exactly what had happened at the Mersey River near Devonport on Monday afternoon.

"There were five teachers with 120 students," Mrs Levi said. "Some of the children were swimming. They went under the trees when it started raining. "A boy saw splashing, but no one was there," Mrs Levi said.

Rene's parents did not know their son had drowned; they only knew he was late returning from school. "We went looking for him and turned up at the school, and no one had anything to say," Mrs Levi said. "I was asked to wait for the principal. Phil McKenzie said he was sorry. I asked what for and then ran from the building screaming. "When we arrived at Bells Parade there was no sign of life. He had just been found and he was dead."

Tasmania Police said there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the teenager's death. The Department of Education, he said, would be asking Latrobe High School staff some more probing questions about the incident in days to come.


Unhappiness is a drawn gun: "There’s the real world, and there are representations of it. I draw a picture of, say, a gun. That picture is of a gun; it is not itself an actual gun. It’s just, well, a doodle. This being the case — that doodles differ from real threats — then why was a 13-year-old boy near Mesa, Arizona, suspended from school?”

Pittsburgh eyes students’ wallets: "Pittsburgh wants to tax one of its most abundant resources: students. The city is home to seven colleges and universities, and though their real estate is tax-exempt, their tuition isn’t, says Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who plans to impose a 1% tax on tuition as part of his budget for 2010. Nearly 100,000 students study in Pittsburgh, and ‘they’re not paying a dime for any city services they might receive,’ Ravenstahl says.”

Tuition gift for children of the fallen: "[Peter] Trovato … took out a frayed, hand-written list of children of fallen service members from Massachusetts and penned the names of Van De Giesen’s children, 18-month-old Avery Grace and Colin Joseph, then unborn. He’s been writing the names of such children since 2004. … Troubled by the loss and by the hardships it would inflict on the child, he decided to set up a fund to help pay for the boy’s college education. When the next parent died in the war, he made the same pledge. Five years later, his Massachusetts Soldiers Legacy Fund has an endowment of some $3 million and has promised up to $40,000 in college grants to each of the 62 children who have lost parents in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Thursday, November 19, 2009

TX: Minimum School Grading Mandate

(El Paso, Texas) Last month, the local teachers' union filed a class-action grievance with the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD), contending that the district grading policy violates state law.
The battle is over a district policy that requires teachers, in most cases, to give students a grade that is no lower than a 50 for the first grading period of each semester, even if the student's performance merits a lower grade. [...]

A law passed during the Texas legislative session states that a school district may not require teachers to give a minimum grade for an assignment if the student did not earn that grade.
EPISD Superintendent Lorenzo García has said that state law isn't violated since it only applies to classroom assignments and the district's minimum grade policy applies to end-of-period grades. Therefore, actual grades earned will be given for homework, class assignments and tests and it's only at the end of six-week grading periods that the minimum fudging of marks applies.

In a nutshell, school administrators want district performance numbers to be artificially increased, arguably sidestepping state law, and the teachers are strongly opposed to the policy. District officials said they will meet to discuss revising the grading policy. Currently, it's not exactly clear how the teacher-administrator impasse will be resolved.

Racism imposed from the bench

School Board told to hire black educators

A federal judge ordered the Tangipahoa Parish School Board this week to hire qualified black applicants for administrative positions until 40 percent of these positions are held by black educators, court records show. The order, signed by U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle on Tuesday and filed into the online electronic court records on Thursday, is the latest development in the decades-long desegregation lawsuit, Joyce Marie Moore v. the Tangipahoa Parish School Board.

“I think (the judge is) letting the superintendent and the School Board know he is very serious about this,” said Patricia Morris, president of the parish chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “The orders are meant to be complied with and haven’t been.”

The School Board’s violation of a court order from 1975 establishing a 40-60, black-to-white ratio for School Board staff was among the major reasons the Tangipahoa NAACP branch pushed to reactivate the suit two years ago, Morris said. “If they were doing what they were supposed to be doing the whole time, we wouldn’t be here,” Morris said.

Tuesday’s ruling from Lemelle is his second focused on the hiring practices of the School Board. Last year, Lemelle ordered the School Board to hire a black coach who had been passed over for a job opening at Amite High School.

The judge also has yet to rule on the overall plan to desegregate the school system’s 33 schools after three months of hearings this summer and a hearing in August where attorneys presented closing arguments.

Lemelle called a closed-door meeting with attorneys on Tuesday to seek a consent decree for the parishwide desegregation plan, but no further action has been taken about the plan, court records show.

The School Board’s version of the desegregation plan presented to the court would require $200 million in taxes that need voter approval. The election can’t be held until a consent decree is signed or the judge issues a ruling.

On the hiring practices, both the School Board and plaintiffs’ attorneys filed suggested criteria for hiring administrators, such as principals and central office administrators. Lemelle signed an order that says he grants the plaintiff’s criteria and denies the School Board’s. The order further states that the attorneys in the case or the court-appointed compliance officer for the school system can ask the judge in writing to review this order at least twice a year.

According to the hiring criteria developed by plaintiff’s attorney, Nelson Taylor, the School Board must follow the following hiring criteria:

-- The School Board shall hire qualified black applicants for these positions until 40 percent of them are held by black educators.

-- Besides advertising in other venues, all open positions shall be advertised by postings at each school, and the superintendent must send written notice of these openings to qualified black applicants.

-- If the superintendent does not recommend a black applicant for a position, he must submit written reasons to a committee made up of the chief desegregation plan implementation officer, director of personnel and minority recruitment officer.

-- This committee then may interview the rejected applicant and decide whether to recommend that person to the School Board anyway.

-- If the superintendent disagrees with the committee’s recommendation, he can submit written reasons to the court-appointed compliance officer.

-- If the superintendent and compliance officer can’t agree on the applicant’s qualifications, they can petition the court for a resolution. In the meantime, no hiring decision can be made.

The School Board likely will mull over the question of whether to ask the court to reconsider the hiring-criteria decision, said Charles Patin Jr., attorney for the School Board. “We would obviously prefer the procedures we filed,” Patin said. “We will probably ask for reconsideration.”

When asked if Lemelle’s orders require that the School Board hire black educators until 40 percent of administrative positions are held by black people, Patin replied: “That’s not exactly correct.”

Patin explained his answer by emphasizing the superintendent’s ability to petition the compliance officer and court in disagreements over an applicant’s qualifications.

The School Board’s suggested hiring criteria say that black applicants would be given preference, but the most- qualified applicant would be hired, court records show. The School Board’s version also would have prevented objections on an individual basis and instead conduct twice-yearly reviews over whether the people hired help the school system become more racially diverse.


Big Brother quiz for new school parents: British officials launch 83-point probe into families' lives

Parents of five-year-olds starting school have been sent an 83-point questionnaire that probes personal details of their lives. It asks whether their children tell lies or bully others, and if they steal at home or from shops. Parents are questioned over whether they have friends, if they can speak freely with others in their family and how well they did at school themselves. The form also delves into family routines, questioning whether they eat takeaways and if the children drink water with their meals.

Thousands of families in Lincolnshire were sent the forms as part of trials of a 'Healthy Child Programme' being developed in Whitehall. The Department of Health wants all families in England and Wales to fill in similar forms. The information will be held indefinitely on NHS databases for the use of health workers. Planners want new forms submitted each year to build up a detailed picture of the family and their children's development. Children themselves will fill in questionnaires when they become old enough.

The aim is to 'enhance children's life chances' but critics warned of unprecedented intrusion into family life and the growth of a major new state database. Parents have been told the information is 'confidential' but it will be available to health workers who will decide whether families should be approached by health visitors offering 'support'. [In Britain "support" often means taking your kids away] It will also be used to identify districts with widespread health and social problems so officials can plan and target health campaigns.

There is no legal compulsion to fill in the School Entry Wellbeing Review forms, but parents who do not are likely to be visited by community nurses charged with identifying vulnerable families. [i.e. your kids might be taken off you]

Dylan Sharpe of the Big Brother Watch pressure group said: 'This is incredibly intrusive and asks questions which, quite frankly, Lincolnshire Community Health Services do not need to know and have no right knowing. 'Even worse, the NHS Trust has failed to make it clear that this is a voluntary questionnaire. I would advise any parent receiving this to stick it straight in the bin.'

Jill Kirby of the centre-right think tank Centre for Policy Studies said: 'This is badly wrong for a number of reasons. 'Parents are not told how the information will be used, nor that they can refuse to give it and it will create worry and suspicion among many families. 'It risks labelling children and families as problem cases when the aim should be to help children escape from difficult backgrounds. It will make families wary and those most in need of help are likely to retreat from it.'

Joy Wood, clinical team leader at Lincolnshire Community Health Services, said shorter questionnaires had been sent in previous years. This year's trial was intended to help identify vulnerable children. She said: 'The intention is that the children that need our services will be supported [i.e. taken away]. We are not keeping this information to be divulged to third parties.'

After a complaint from a parent, letters are being sent out making it clear that filling in the form is voluntary. The Department of Health said last night: 'Many local areas currently administer a questionnaire to parents as the basis for a review at school entry. 'The Healthy Child Programme includes the commitment to build on good practice to make available a standardised, evaluated version. 'We will ensure this complies with legal requirements in relation to data handling and approaches to encourage take-up. 'This questionnaire will be an additional tool to safeguard and support all children's health and wellbeing.'


British Council forced to apologise for prosecuting parents of boy who suffered 'school phobia'

Education chiefs who prosecuted a teenager's parents for allowing him to play truant have been forced to apologise after the boy claimed he had 'school phobia'. The youngster missed months of lessons after becoming anxious about returning to his Suffolk secondary school following a viral illness. The boy said staff made sarcastic remarks when he tried to attend classes, with one saying 'on a chair' when he asked where he should sit.

The teenager's failure to regularly attend prompted his school in conjunction with Suffolk County Council to take his parents to court for condoning truancy. They could have been landed with a jail term or £2,500 fine. But magistrates dismissed the case and now a tribunal has ruled the council discriminated against the boy in launching the prosecution. They said education bosses failed to take proper account of the boy's mental health.

But the council today said it was 'disappointed' by the ruling and may appeal. It has been ordered to write to each of the parents and the boy apologising 'unreservedly' for its treatment of him.

Head teachers' leaders have previously warned that school phobia could be used as a 'classic excuse' for not attending lessons. 'You have to get to the root of the pupils' problem - it may be their relationship with teachers, bullying or just that they haven't settled in,' said David Hart, former general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. 'Transferring the child to another school could be the solution. But school phobia is just an excuse for failure to attend.'

But the boy's parents insisted the school and council failed to understand his mental health problems and failed to properly cater for his needs. His problems began when he developed chronic anxiety after taking time off due to a virus soon after joining the east Suffolk secondary school. The teenager was diagnosed by a clinical psychologist as suffering from school phobia, a condition described as an irrational fear of going to school. It is increasingly cited by psychologists and is said to affect one to two per cent of the school population.

The youngster, now 16, would often refuse to leave the house and suffer panic attacks which would result in him rocking backward and forward and clutching his knuckles. It also led to him distancing himself from friends and social situations. His GP had told magistrates: 'He found that attending school was highly anxiety-provoking and when he attempted to attend school he found he had great difficulty with that. 'I think attending school full-time certainly caused him significant psychological problems.'

At a one-day trial in June at South East Suffolk magistrates court, the council said the boy missed 59 per cent of registration sessions over a given time period. But the court cleared the parents of allowing their son to play truant.

At the same time, the parents took the council and school to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal for unlawfully discriminating against their son by failing to acknowledge his mental health problems. The tribunal found in their favour, prompting the boy's father to declare: 'We are very pleased with the outcome and very pleased that an external body has come to the same conclusion as we have all along. 'All the people that we have come across, whether that be barristers, solicitors or doctors, they all said the same thing, that this prosecution is wrong and should not be happening.

'The judge and her colleagues listened very carefully and came to the same conclusion that we thought they would, which was that the prosecution should not have happened and if people had been better informed and better trained to understand mental health they would not have kept pushing down the line that they did.' He added: 'The decision means it will benefit other children tremendously in the long run. 'My only want is that my son grows into the person that he would have been by now if it was not for the prosecution. The whole thing has held us all back.'

In addition to letters of apology, the council has been ordered to send key officials for training on the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The parents should invited to observe this training, the tribunal said.

Adrian Orr, a senior adviser at Suffolk's Children and Young People's Services, said: 'Both Suffolk County Council and the governing body of the school have now received the decision of the tribunal and are studying it carefully. 'We are disappointed by the decision and are currently taking legal advice on whether or not there are grounds for appeal.'


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Girls ‘can follow fashion without compromising intelligence’

Comments from the Head of a British private school

Young women can dress provocatively and be interested in fashion without compromising their intelligence or feminist principles, a leading head teacher said yesterday. Jill Berry, president of the Girls’ Schools Association, defended Cambridge undergraduates who posed in their underwear for an online student magazine last month. “Girls can be highly intelligent and interested in being seen to be attractive — the two aren’t mutually exclusive,” Mrs Berry told a conference of girls’ school head teachers. “Caring about physical appearance and fashion and wanting to feel good about how you look doesn’t have to be a betrayal of some feminist ideal. I love new shoes but it doesn’t make me shallow.”

One of the Cambridge students who posed in a bikini asked last month for her photograph to be removed from The Tab, a student internet site, after the student union women’s officer said that they reinforced harmful attitudes towards women. But Mrs Berry said: “I don’t think that has to be a conflict. I am saying it is about balance and not pigeonholing us.”

She also spoke up for Cambridge students who have formed a cheerleading team, saying that she had started a cheerleading team at her own school, Dame Alice Harpur School in Bedford. “It is really quite skilful — it involves gymnastics and dance. And they are loving it,” she said.

Mrs Berry, who said last week that girls should not feel guilty if they opted out of a high-flying career to focus on having a family , admitted that there were other head teachers who disagreed but said she welcomed the “raging debate” triggered by her remarks. “I am absolutely sure that there will be people who say we have to be careful about this message,” she said. “There should be women at the top of every profession and should be more women as managing directors at FTSE level. “I think sometimes women choose not to have these things. It is not that they can’t, or that they have tried and failed. There are women who say, ‘At this stage of my life that is not what I want for myself, for my family, for my life’.”

Addressing the annual conference of the Girls’ Schools Association, she said that schools were increasingly having to deal with the obsessive use of social networking sites and online bullying. Coping with the addictive nature of online networking sites, internet safety and cyber bullying had overtaken conventional parental concerns such as homework, friendships and exam stress, she said.

A straw poll of issues of concern among the association’s 187 independent girls’ schools put online networking, internet dangers and online bullying top “by some margin”. They had overtaken problems in face-to-face relationships at school. Websites where girls could post abusive and anonymous messages about their peers were a particular problem, she told the conference in Harrogate. “The reason these are such issues for girls is that they care so much more about relationships with their peers than boys generally do,” Mrs Berry said....


If affirmative action has defenders like this ...

When I give speeches on college campuses it is often the case that the biggest jackass in the audience is a liberal professor at that university. Last Thursday was no exception when Professor Elliot Cramer showed his a** in front of an audience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The speech was on affirmative action but it might as well have been on the need for post-tenure psychiatric evaluations of professors.

Elliot Cramer used to be the advisor for the Youth for Western Civilization (YWC) chapter, which sponsored my speech. That was before protestors of the group sent out fliers in September with Cramer’s picture and personal contact information included. The fliers accused Cramer of supporting white supremacy by advising the group. They were unfair to Cramer who was advising the group simply because no one else would do so. And the group has never advocated "white supremacy."

When the president of the club gave Cramer a warning that his personal contact information and picture were circulating around campus he responded in an email saying “I have a Colt 45 and I know how to use it.” He foolishly copied a protestor of the group in the email. UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp over-reacted to the incident asking Cramer to step down as advisor. Then Cramer showed true First and Second Amendment cowardice by actually stepping down.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported on Elliot Cramer in an effort to portray him as a right-wing nut job. But they messed up the story slightly. He is more accurately characterized as a left-wing nut job. His bizarre comments on my affirmative action speech were revealing.

Cramer took exception to the fact that I talked about a black female former advisee in my speech. The advisee had performed poorly in school and fallen far short of the cumulative 3.0 GPA I require of students before I will recommend them for even the weakest of law schools. But she was admitted to a first-tier law school anyway. It was a school that generally requires a 3.5 GPA for admission.

Obviously, I presented this example to show two things: 1) Affirmative action is not a “tie breaker.” In fact, race can be the dominant factor in a decision to hire or admit into an academic program. 2) Affirmative action rewards mediocrity and hurts blacks by removing the incentive to cultivate their God-given abilities. I never hurt my student by expressing this opinion. But affirmative action programs certainly did hurt her. And I would not back down from my opinion – even if I were staring down the barrel of a Colt 45.

But Elliot Cramer, the man who wrote a student saying “I have a Colt 45 and I know how to use it” still gave me a public lecture on ethics during the Q & A. He suggested I may have hurt the girl’s feelings by conveying my opinion that she was not qualified for admission to a first-tier law school – even though the woman was not present and was not identified by name.

Of course, none of Cramer’s odd objections are relevant. She knew I thought she was unqualified for law school when I told her I would not write her a letter of recommendation until she raised her GPA. I urged her to do better and then reminded her that I have a Colt 45 and I know how to use it. I’m just kidding about the last part. Only a lunatic would do something like that.

During the Q & A, I asked Cramer very specifically which ethical code I had broken by sharing that story of extreme affirmative action race preference involving a former advisee. The exchange went something like this:

Adams: Which rule or code did I violate by talking about this case?

Cramer: I don’t know.

Adams: So I didn’t violate any written rule of ethics - you just feel I was being unethical?

Cramer: Yes.

Adams: Well, I don’t care about your feelings.

(Audience laughter)

Cramer: And I don’t care about yours.

This should have been enough to silence Cramer but it did not. He stood up in front of the audience and claimed he read documentation in my present lawsuit against UNC and had determined it was without merit. He then tried to argue the merits (or lack thereof) of my case against UNC in public while on a UNC campus. The move was completely unprofessional and was followed by another very bizarre twist.

After the Q & A, Elliot Cramer came up to me and asked for the exact address of the Alliance Defense Fund website so he could read the complaint. In other words, after saying he had read documentation from the case and determined it was without merit he admitted he had not read the actual complaint. He even denied ever saying the suit was without merit less than an hour after we recorded him on tape saying just that.

Sadly, during this final exchange, Elliot put his hands on me, which almost prompted me to say “I have a Colt 45 and I know how to use it.” But, of course, only a lunatic would say something like that.

But that’s enough about Elliot Cramer’s lunacy. Let’s get to his liberalism, which is only slightly off topic. Professor Cramer, who will henceforth be referred to as “Colt” Cramer also disputed my claim that we had invited 20 professors to argue the other side, the “pro” side, of the affirmative action debate – all of whom declined our challenge.

Cramer essentially called me a liar – in public, mind you – claiming that it was he who thought of the idea of a panel debate and asked just a few professors – some conservatives – to participate. But what he failed to mention was that the club’s Vice President and an employee of the Leadership Institute together asked numerous professors. They had to take over the effort to organize a debate because Colt Cramer had to step down after saying “I have a Colt 45 and I know how to use it.” Besides, I am in a better position to know how many professors were asked because I own a TI 55 and I know how to use it.

Let me make it clear that I was not the only one treated unfairly by Colt Cramer during the Q & A that followed my speech. After a black law student admitted and then defended racial quotas for admission into UNC School of Law he was called into question by Colt Cramer who, of course, said no such quotas exist. The student rebutted him by pointing out that the same percentage of admitted blacks, roughly 13%, appears in consecutive first year classes. And that just happens to be the rough percentage of blacks in America.

Colt Cramer was rebuked on more than one occasion by students during the Q & A. Afterwards, only two things were certain: Elliot “Colt” Cramer has an a**. And he knows how to show it.


Australia: Federal education boss 'determined' to publish school results

THE Federal Government is refusing to back down on plans to publish online the results of national school tests despite opposition from some principals, teachers and parents. "We are determined to go ahead with this plan," Education Minister Julia Gillard told ABC Radio today.

From next year, the Government's "myschool" website will publish demographic information about a school's population, together with teacher and student numbers and attendance rates. It will also contain each school's results from national literacy and numeracy tests, known as NAPLAN.

Six organisations, including the Australian Education Union and Australian Council of State School Organisations, have written to the minister urging her to ensure the information is not made public.

Ms Gillard said she understood why publishing the information would make some principals and teachers uncomfortable. "But transparency is necessary to shine a light on what is happening in our schools," she said.

Ms Gillard said there would be "moments" for some schools that don't do well compared with schools teaching similar kids.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sacramento student body president back on the job after ADF letter to college officials

College agrees that recall election violated state law, but student government seeking to impeach him anyway

Sacramento City College’s Associated Student Government agreed Thursday to vacate its “suspension” of the student body president after he was subjected to an illegal recall election for refusing to censor a pro-life group’s display on campus. Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom representing Steve Macias issued a cease-and-desist letter to college officials on Nov. 5.

Unsatisfied, some ASG members have begun impeachment proceedings against Macias in the wake of the failed recall.

“Respecting people’s First Amendment rights is worthy of praise, not punishment,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel David Hacker. “The recall election against Steve was wrongly motivated and flawed. The entire process against him began because he stood up for the free speech rights of a pro-life group. In their haste to punish him for that stand, ASG members did not follow the law. Though we are pleased that they recognize this problem and reinstated Steve as president, we are disappointed with the ongoing and apparently relentless attempt to punish him by seeking to impeach him from office.”

Macias informed ADF attorneys that he refused to censor a pro-life group’s display on the grounds that ASG had already approved the group to participate in the school’s Constitution Day and that censoring them would violate the group’s First Amendment rights. ASG then subjected him to a recall election.

An attorney for the school has informed ADF attorneys that Macias will retain his office and that the recall election results are void because the election was not conducted in a manner consistent with state law. However, on Nov. 2, the ASG Judicial Branch reportedly received an application form to impeach Macias because the election had failed to remove him from office.

“We believe this is a baseless and discriminatory attempt to silence the voice of the opposition through whatever means possible. ADF will continue to monitor Steve’s situation,” Hacker said.


Oxford and Cambridge universities relying more on their own entrance exams

The inevitable result of dumbed down High Schools and grade inflation

Students are facing a battery of new tests to get into Oxford and Cambridge amid continuing fears that A-levels fail to mark out the best candidates. More than 70 per cent of Oxford applicants are required to sit an entrance exam in subjects such as history, English, languages, mathematics and science this term, compared with 50 per cent just two years ago.

The development has fuelled a dramatic rise in demand for private tutors set up to help teenagers negotiate the admissions process. One company reported a doubling in the number of enquiries for coaching specifically to pass Oxbridge entrance tests.

It comes as record numbers of school-leavers attempt to get into the two universities in 2010. Oxford has already announced a 12 per cent rise in applications, with a similar increase expected at Cambridge.

An increase in entrance tests – sat by thousands of candidates this month – will fuel fears that tutors are finding it increasingly difficult to select the best candidates from record numbers of pupils leaving school with at least three As at A-level. In the mid-1980s, fewer than half of Oxbridge applicants gained straight As, but this year every candidate is expected to achieve the feat.

Earlier this month, the Government announced a major review of university admissions, suggesting that A-levels should not dictate entry to the most sought-after courses.

Mike Nicholson, Oxford’s director of admissions, said: “Without aptitude tests as part of the admissions process, it would be impossible for Oxford to effectively shortlist candidates for interview in the subjects that are most over-subscribed. “When we are presented with 17,000 candidates for around 3,200 places, all of whom have glowing references and excellent academic records, aptitude tests and interviews allow us to differentiate between the very best and the very good.”

Applications to Oxford and Cambridge close in October – before the deadline for other universities. Both institutions largely abolished entrance exams in most subjects in the mid-90s under pressure from state schools which claimed they discriminated in favour of pupils from the private sector. But tests have been slowly reintroduced over the last decade. Students applying for 36 different subjects at Oxford are now required to take a pre-interview aptitude test. Subjects such as experimental psychology and PPP (philosophy, psychology and physiology) were added for the first time this year.

At Cambridge, students take a generic “thinking skills” tests after applying to study computer science, economics, engineering, land economy, natural sciences and PPS (politics, psychology and sociology) at some colleges. For the first time this year, Cambridge is also running its own law exam after dropping the Law National Admissions Test, which is used to dictate entry to many courses across the country. Most exams are taken in the first week of November or early December.


British university students betrayed by mindless Labour Party hype

Education, education, education. The almost half a million undergraduates who started at university this autumn probably don't remember Tony Blair's pre-election clarion call. And why should they? They were most likely only six or seven years of age when he promised to put their learning at the top of a Labour government's priorities; one rather suspects that their priorities at the time were eating sweets, watching cartoons and avoiding Nitty Nora the head explorer.

But back to that lovely little mantra. It probably doesn't cross Mr Blair's mind much now that he is raking in millions around the globe as a public speaker. Yet this week, 12 years on, the results of all that education, education, education were laid bare when the Office for National Statistics revealed that 746,000 18- to 24-year-olds are unemployed – a record rate of 18 per cent. It is thought that about 100,000 of those are university-leavers who, despite their degrees, cannot find jobs.

All those years of education, education, education and then they graduate around £20,000 in debt into a world where there are precious few opportunities for them, partly because Labour let the banks run wild and then run off with all of our money as a reward. (Oh, were it that the Government pumped even a fraction of that money into this country's academic institutions. But nah, let's make the students pay through the nose for their degrees that will probably end up being about as useful to them as their 50-metre swimming badge.)

It's nothing short of scandalous. David Blanchflower, an economist who used to help the Bank of England set interest rates, has even gone as far as to call it a "national crisis". In an interview last weekend, he said that "two groups have been affected in this recession. One is those that made foolish decisions and bought houses and racked up debt. I don't feel sorry for them. The other group is the young. They did all the right things. They paid for their degrees and now they have come out into the big world and there are no jobs for them."

But let us speak to the students themselves. My friend Ed, bright as a button, graduated from Cambridge with a 2:1 in English – yet as the nights draw in so, he feels, do his chances of gainful employment. Then there is Hannah, who left Warwick University in 2008, went on to complete a law conversion course this summer, and is now used to receiving "thank you, but no thank you" letters from companies. "I am struggling to earn the minimum wage in London," she says.

One of the people Hannah is now competing against for jobs in law is Catriona, who tells me that she has been doing voluntary work since graduating last year. "It's very depressing," she says. "I'm worried that once firms start recruiting again I'll be left behind, as by then there will be several years of graduates competing for the jobs."

Here I feel the need to question the Government's obsession with getting so many people into university. Designed to create opportunities for more people, it has instead produced disappointments, and for some people crushing ones – this, they say, could be a lost generation who never get jobs.

A degree used to get you employed because of the simple fact that there were fewer people with them. Now that everyone has one, their worth has been diminished. Indeed, perhaps it is time to accept that many people would have more success not going to university. Tom Mursell certainly believes that to be true. The 20-year-old set up, a website which he describes as an alternative Ucas. "I was quite militant about it when I left school," he says. "There was all this pressure to go – your parents, they want to be able to say in social circles that their child is going to university – but I wanted to look at the alternatives." He says that there is a snobbery around apprenticeships that should not exist. "There are all sorts of things you can do without a degree."

Are we really better educated than we were before Labour came to power? Perhaps a more appropriate mantra for Blair would have been this: qualifications, qualifications, qualifications. Qualifying for what, I am not sure.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Furor Over Blog criticizing homosexuality at Purdue U

No free speech for Christians

Bert Chapman knows that his reason for opposing what he calls "the homosexual lifestyle" -- that it differs from his view of Biblical norms -- won't win many arguments these days in the secular world. So Chapman, a blogger who is also a librarian at Purdue University, turned to economics. And at his Conservative Librarian blog, he argues that gay people are an economic drain.

He cites the billions spent on fighting AIDS "without recognizing the morally aberrant sexual behavior ... causing its spread" and the "sad practice" of colleges and other employers offering domestic partner benefits in a way that "prevents them from providing additional coverage to those of us adhering to traditional sexual moral standards"; he goes on to say that gay people are causing economic problems in fields such as real estate and divorce law.

"Guess who has to pay for these increased costs and potentially lower investment returns? We do, regardless of whether or not we approve of the homosexual lifestyle. The next time some one tells you how wonderful is the 'progress' gays have made in recent decades ask them if they have ever thought about the multiple economic consequences of this 'progress' as described in this posting," he wrote.

The blog runs not on a university Web site, but at, a conservative news site. On the site, Chapman's biography notes his job as the political science librarian at the university, but also says: "Views presented on this blog are the author's personal opinions and do not represent the opinions of my employer."

But as word of the blog spread at Purdue, the campus has seen petitions and protests, with many calling for Chapman (who has tenure) to be fired. His critics say that what he writes is so hateful and inaccurate that it raises questions about his ability to do his job.

One sophomore wrote to The Purdue Exponent, the student newspaper: "That’s right. I’ll call for his job. As a student, as a lesbian, as a human being, I believe with every fiber of my being that Purdue University in no way should affiliate itself with the hateful, bigoted opinions of Professor Chapman. It would serve Professor Chapman well to know that there are quite a few 'sexually deviant' students on this campus and they just happen to pay his salary.... Imagine that Professor Chapman’s blog had been titled, 'An Economic Case Against Interracial Marriage' or 'An Economic Case Against the Disabled.' How would the Purdue administration react if they knew a professor was convinced racial segregation should still be in place or that the disabled should just stay home because building a ramp to a library would cost too much money?"

Another student wrote: "Bert Chapman surrendered his position at Purdue the moment he decided to publish such intellectual diarrhea on his blog. There are those who would defend this atrocious man by claiming that political correctness has conspired to snatch away his free speech, but this is not so. Dr. Chapman has the right to believe that homosexuals are immoral, just as it would be within his rights to believe the same about any other group of people.

"The issue is not Dr. Chapman’s views of homosexuality, bigoted and wrong-headed though they may be, but that he has abused his authority as a scholar and an expert to disseminate hate-filled propaganda. Professors are expected to use their studies to search for the truth, but Dr. Chapman appears to feel more at home making up his own facts about AIDS, prison sex and other such matters he falsely connects to what he calls sodomy. He is using these lies to extinguish the essential rights of a group that accounts for an estimated 5-10 percent of our nation’s total population. It should not be merely Purdue’s LGBT students and faculty that are offended by this, but every single decent soul on this campus. Dr. Bert Chapman is not just a homophobe, I think he’s a liar, and it’s about time he start looking for a job elsewhere."

Others -- including some who would join in condemning Chapman's views -- have said that they worry about the rush to demand his dismissal. A column in the Exponent by a self-proclaimed "libertarian-minded liberal" accused liberals of refusing to recognize Chapman's right to express himself. "Students’ outrage at Chapman’s blog is understandable, and, more importantly, merited. But once Purdue liberals proposed that Chapman be removed from Purdue for voicing his opinions, a line was crossed from democracy into fascism," the column says.

Kevin Casimer, a student who has been involved in organizing the protests against Chapman, said via e-mail that he isn't calling for the librarian's dismissal, but for a more forceful response by the university. "What I am primarily calling for is for all members of the Purdue community who think that Chapman's comments are damaging to say so publicly." He said that all of the talk about free speech -- while understandable -- is diverting attention from the need to confront and condemn Chapman's views. (Casimer details his views on the debates on his blog.)

The university has rejected calls to fire Chapman. "The university asks its faculty to make it clear that the viewpoints they express do not necessarily reflect those of the university. Mr. Chapman has gone out of his way to do this with a very clear disclaimer. He also took an extra step and posted his blog on a server not owned by the university," said a spokeswoman. "The university has a policy prohibiting harassment if it unreasonably affects a person's educational or work opportunities or affects his or her ability to participate in a university activity. This does not meet that standard. The First Amendment clearly allows him to state his opinion. The best response is to speak up, which is exactly what our students and some faculty are doing."

In a brief interview on Thursday, Chapman said he didn't want to talk about the situation at length because he wants the controversy to die down. He did say that the angry responses have been hurtful to him, and to his wife. He said that his supervisors at the university, consistent with the institution's statement, have not taken any action against him. But he said that he contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, just in case.

FIRE's Adam Kissel said that the organization is monitoring the situation and "has been pleased with Purdue's statements in defense of professors' freedom to publish their personal views on the Internet. This is a great learning opportunity for those students and faculty members who think wrongly that Purdue should censor or punish the professor."


Education needs a new way of thinking


I caused a near riot in an elementary school once. It happened in the late 1980s when I was a lunchtime/recess monitor. I wanted to give a present to the kids before winter break so I purchased a bunch of Hershey’s Kisses to hand out. I decided to have some fun with this, so I hid the candy behind me, stood on a cafeteria chair, got the kids’ attention and said, “I think you guys are great so I want to give a kiss to each and every one of you.” Then I puckered up.

The boys responded just as I expected and started to boo. But then the trouble started as everyone started yelling — louder and louder. I grabbed the bag of goodies to show them I was only kidding, but by that time no one was listening and I think I even got pelted with a couple of tater tots. The kids were eventually corralled outside to work off their energy and I imagine the principal and teachers are probably still talking about it.

I tell this story because I think Indiana’s teachers and the state’s education schools might have a point being concerned about the proposals made by Indiana’s Superintendent Tony Bennett. The Department of Education is considering changing requirements for teachers, one of which is to require fewer “methods” or classroom management classes and more subject matter classes.

On the other hand, Bennett has a point when he says it should be easier for noneducation majors to teach in the schools. It never made sense to me that someone who has a passion for a subject and actually worked in a career where they used it has to jump through so many hoops in order to teach.

I can see how this is controversial. What it would say about our current teachers if people who don’t have a specific teaching degree but know the subject well do just fine, or even better, in the classroom than education majors? The possibility of this happening has to scare those invested in the current education system.

I question whether any of this really makes any difference though because as long as we continue to copy the Prussian school model, we aren’t really doing much for anyone interested in learning. It does work well to grind up and mold large groups of children and force them to fit into boxes that can easily be organized, controlled, and artificially measured though.

Teachers working in such systems do need “methods” courses. It takes some time to learn how to tell a lively group of kids they need to sit down, shut up and learn about stuff they probably aren’t the least bit interested in.

Controversies between teachers and administrators presuppose that it’s all about them but it’s not. It’s about the learner. But no one ever asks students what they think, which results in a system that too quickly subtracts out natural curiosity, innovative creativity and zest for learning. So whether or not Tony Bennett gets his way and changes the rules so teachers learn more content or whether pedagogy wins, the kids lose.

It’s really not hard to help someone learn if he or she is engaged and has a real, not artificially created, reason for gaining knowledge about a topic. We need to give kids more freedom in what and how they learn without all the control freaks getting in the way. If we ever decide that it’s learning that matters and not simply controlling the masses and maintaining old institutional ways of thinking, many of our education problems will be much easier to solve.


I strongly agree that someone who has specialized in a subject is more likely to be enthusiastic about it than someone with just a teaching degree. And that enthusiasm will do more to get kids interested in the subject than any gimmick will. And getting kids interested is the real first challenge. I taught High School economics with NO teaching qualification but an enthusiasm for the subject -- and the kids I taught did very well in their exams. And my mathematician son first became interested in mathematics because the private school I sent him to had good mathematics teachers who were enthusiatic about their subject -- JR

British High School exams to cover grammar of mobile phone texting

A section on the grammar of mobile phone texting is to appear in GCSE exams. A new English exam that includes a section on the grammar of mobile-phone texting has been slammed as the ultimate dumbing down of the subject. Next year pupils will be tested on text messaging as part of their English GCSEs. They will have to write an essay on the etiquette and grammar of texting, using their own messages as examples – earning up to ten per cent of their overall English GCSE mark.

The subject is being introduced by the Assessment Qualifications Alliance (AQA), the country's largest exam board.

Last night Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said it was a 'shameful betrayal of the subject'. He said: 'Surely, with all the great literature that could be studied, it is a tragedy that pupils are being asked to do this as part of an English qualification. 'It is hardly believable and such a waste of time and effort. It is difficult to see what they will learn – it's the ultimate dumbing down.'

The subject of 'text language' will be taught from next September under the guise of 'Studying Spoken Language'. It has been introduced as part of a reform of GCSEs designed to make the qualification tougher. [TOUGHER???] Coursework has been taken off the curriculum over concerns that parents were helping their children cheat.

The new subject of study has been described by the AQA as the 'newest and potentially most exciting area of the new GCSE'. An AQA spokeswoman said: 'Texting is a prevalent form of language in the 21st Century and it is right that it is given its place alongside other forms of language.' [But do they need to go to school to learn it?]


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Britain: Classroom rewards 'do not work'

Bribing pupils to work hard and behave in the classroom can backfire, according to research. The use of rewards such as points, stickers and treats causes pupils to lose motivation and has little effect on overall school performance, it was claimed.

A study said that incentives rarely produced long-term results because it reduced the perception that pupils were “doing that task of their own free will”. It comes despite claims from Ofsted that prizes were a “powerful incentive” for students who struggled at school.

Last year, the Telegraph told how some of the Government’s academy schools were spending up to £30,000 a year on extravagant reward schemes to improve discipline, attendance and pupils’ work. In some cases, children could win plasma televisions, games consoles, iPods, lap-tops and even flights abroad for turning up on time and working hard.

But Emma Dunmore, head of psychology at Harrogate Grammar School, North Yorkshire, who carried out the latest study, said reward schemes “reduced intrinsic motivation”. “Receiving the reward may reduce the individual’s sense that they were doing the task because they chose to,” she said. “Instead, they felt that they were doing it for a reward and so were being controlled by someone else.”

The study – quoted in the Times Educational Supplement – was compiled following a review of research into school reward schemes. Dr Dunmore said that even verbal praise such as “excellent, keep up the good work” could reduce children’s motivation. She said some messages could prompt children believe "this task pleases the teacher" rather than "this task pleases me".

"Rewards may strengthen behaviour in the short term but... they can undermine motivation in the long run because they reduce the individual's perception that they are doing that task of their own free will," the study said.


Great Moments in Public Education

"A middle school in North Carolina is selling test scores to students in a bid to raise money," the Associated Press reports from Goldsboro:
The News & Observer of Raleigh reported [Wednesday] that a parent advisory council at Rosewood Middle School in Goldsboro come up with the fund-raising plan after last year's chocolate sale flopped.

The school will sell 20 test points to students for $20. Students can add 10 extra points to each of two tests of their choice. The extra points could take a student from a "B" to an "A" on those tests or from a failing grade to a passing grade.

Principal Susie Shepherd says it's not enough of an impact to change a student's overall grades.

Officials at the state Department of Public Instruction say exchanging grades for money teaches children the wrong lesson.

We see the state's point. If, as the principal claims, passing a test or getting a B instead of an A isn't worth 20 bucks, how could it possibly be worth the effort?


Australia: Happy, illiterate kids won't do -- says Federal education boss

EDUCATION Minister Julia Gillard has remained defiant in the face of criticism that comparative school performance results only measure children on an academic basis. Ms Gillard this week gave principals from around the country their first look at a soon-to-be launched website which will compare nearby schools, or those that share a similar socio-economic profile, against each other. Schools will have a profile page that includes details such as student-teacher ratios, attendance rates and what happens to high school leavers.

But the website's main section will compare results attained from National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy tests, which are taken by Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students. Teachers are worried the profiles unfairly pin student achievement solely on academic results.

In a speech to public policy think tank the Eidos Institute in Brisbane yesterday, Ms Gillard agreed the website didn't measure every element of a child's development. "But I actually don't believe our aim is to have schools full of happy, illiterate, innumerate children," she said. "Our aim is to have happy, confident children who are getting the skills they need for work and life like reading, writing and maths."

Ms Gillard said these weren't the only measures of educational progress. "But I do not believe it is controversial to expect that every child in this country should master literacy and numeracy," she said.

The website will also include general data about students' backgrounds and a value reflecting the cohort's average socio-economic status. Ms Gillard said this information would help identify why certain schools did better or worse than others. "Background characteristics such as parental occupation, family income or indigeneity may help to explain the educational challenge facing those schools and those children," she said. "But they still do not excuse poor performance or low expectations in those schools - demography is not destiny."