Saturday, April 02, 2011

Homogenized Diversity

By the inimitable Mike Adams

I don’t get angry very often but this morning I got so mad I nearly dropped my assault rifle. I was writing another column in my camouflaged pajamas (no one saw me) when I got an email from a critic of one of my recent columns on campus diversity. The reader corrected my reference to the campus “LGBTQIA Resource Center” noting that it was only an “LGBTQIA Resource Office,” not an actual center. Since getting that email I haven’t slept a wink.

It appears that, at least on our campus, the African Americans get a “Cultural Center,” the Woman Americans get a “Resource Center” and the Hispanic Americans (although some of them aren’t actually Americans “yet”) get a “Centro.” But the LGBTQIA Americans only get a “Resource Office.” This is the kind of inequality that makes our institution look bad. So I think it’s time to call for a Queer Resource Center on campus that will help foster a sense of true equality.

In addition to giving an appearance of equality, re-naming the LGBTQIA Office will help to unite the Ls with the Gs. In recent years, there has been increasing tension concerning which one should go first in the alphabet soup of diversity. To date, they have been falling back on the antiquated notion that the ladies should go first. Calling them all Queers (as some schools already do) will have a unifying effect -unless, of course, they decide to break into a spontaneous game of dodge ball. In the name of tolerance, “smear the queer” will not be tolerated.

Note that my proposal says a “Queer Resource Center on campus … will help foster a sense of true equality.” I did not say it would actually achieve true equality. In order to have true equality we will have to do something about the funding discrepancies between all the different victim groups on campus. In recent years, the African American Cultural Center has been the beneficiary of the most victim-related funding. (Note: Women come in second place with Hispanics, Ls, Gs, Bs, Ts, Qs, Is, and As trailing far behind).

So I propose a new way of allocating the money to our various centers of hyphenation and victimhood. Under my plan, we will simply dump all of the money into one fund and divide by four. This will give each of the major victim groups an equal allocation of the money. But I would caution against doing this before we officially open the new Queer Resource Center. Otherwise, there may be an effort to divide the present “Office” into separate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sexed, and Allied Offices. It may sound Machiavellian but queerer things have happened.

Under my plan, the African American Center will lose a good bit of funding. But our African victims will stand to gain with another component of my new “homogenized diversity” plan. Under my new (Ok, it’s actually really old) plan we will have separate “colored” and “white” bathrooms. The term “people of color” is making a comeback on our college campuses and it’s time to make it part of a new and comprehensive bathroom expansion plan.

Under the current oppressive regime of diversity, women are the only victims who get their own bathrooms. That needs to change and it will when we start providing separate restrooms – not just for African Americans – but for Hispanic Americans and Queer Americans, too.

Some may think my new plan is too expensive. But that is a simplistic view that fails to take account of certain long-term benefits. For example, we presently spend a great deal of money filling “glory holes” in our campus men’s restrooms. These holes are drilled (into the walls separating bathroom stalls) by gay men looking for casual sexual encounters in between classes. We have to fix them every time a heterosexist complaint is leveled by a straight man who prefers to (go #2) in privacy – as opposed to having sex with a complete stranger. But once we have Queer Restrooms those glory holes will be inoffensive (and useful) to those who encounter them.

At first glance, giving separate bathrooms to those who call for inclusion is like giving the Nobel Peace Prize to someone who bombs third world nations with regularity. But overt actions should never be taken as a sign of hypocrisy. The feelings behind them are the only thing that matters.


British schools failing to promote the classics

Classic literature risks dying out in schools as hundreds of thousands of pupils are allowed to complete GCSEs without studying a single book written before the 20th century, Michael Gove warns today. Fewer than one in 100 teenagers who sat the most popular English literature exam last year based their answers on novels published prior to 1900, says the Education Secretary.

Only 1,236 out of 300,000 students read Pride and Prejudice, 285 studied Far From the Madding Crowd and just 187 completed Wuthering Heights as part of the test, he claims. At the same time, more than 90 per cent of answers were based on the same three books – Of Mice and Men, Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph today, Mr Gove says the disclosure underlines the extent to which England’s “constricted and unreformed exam system” fails to encourage children to read.

He says Britain also has some of the best modern children’s writers in the world, including Philip Pullman, JK Rowling, Michael Morpurgo and Anthony Horowitz, but many young people are “growing up in ignorance of their work”.

It follows the publication of a major international study in December showing that reading standards among British teenagers had slumped from 7th to 25th in a decade.

“We’re not picking up enough new books, not getting through the classics, not widening our horizons. In short, we’re just not reading enough,” he says.

Mr Gove’s comments were made after a tour of independent “charter schools” in American last month. He claims that a love of reading is promoted in many schools opened in tough inner-city areas, praising one that issued children with a challenge to read 50 books in a year.

But in a dig at the teaching establishment in England, Mr Gove says many children in this country are held back by an “anti-knowledge” culture that prevents them from reaching their potential. “The children I met were smart and lively. But they were also, overwhelmingly, from the most disadvantaged homes,” he says.

“That didn’t mean their teachers lowered the bar. Quite the opposite. They wanted to give those children a chance to enjoy the glittering prizes – so they set expectations high.

“I want the same culture here. I want to take on the lowest-common-denominator ethos, the 'let’s not be too demanding', 'all this smacks of targets', 'the poor dears can’t manage it', 'the idea of a canon is outmoded', 'it’s all on the internet anyway' culture which is anti-knowledge, anti-aspiration and antithetical to human flourishing.

“Instead, I want a culture in which the more you read, the more you are celebrated. "That’s why I have said we should set our own 50 Book Challenge. And that’s also why I want to develop a stronger and more durable culture of reading for pleasure.”


Australian Catholic school bans gay 'cure' seminar

Some ideas may not be expressed -- even ones that the Holy Father would endorse!

A CATHOLIC school has kiboshed a "curing homosexuality seminar" set to be held at their Caboolture college.

The meeting sparked outrage on Facebook, with a protest page set up against it.

But the group holding the meeting has accused Catholic Education of discrimination over the decision.

A statement released by Brisbane Catholic Education says St Columban's College at Caboolture "immediately" withdrew permission for its hall to be used as a venue by the Miracle Christian Center when they realised what the meeting was about.

"Permission was given by the school, on the basis that the nature of the meeting would need to be in line with the college's Catholic Christian values," the statement said.

Principal Ann Rebgetz said the group had deliberately withheld from the school the real nature of the event.

But Miracle Christian Center president Dorian Ballard denied the accusation, saying when they hired halls they didn't advise what they would be preaching about.

He denied the group was homophobic. He said they had been discriminated against and the case was now with their lawyers.

"We are not homophobic, many of us have come out of the homosexual lifestyle," he said.

"We are not afraid of homosexuals; we love them, we've ministered to them for years.

"This topic is always up for debate. It's great to hear a lot of different views in the broad spectrum and we have been silenced, we have been discriminated against."

Former student and Facebook "Protest against the curing homosexuality seminar" page organiser Lexi Ryan said the school had done the right thing and she had cancelled the protest, which had 353 people who had replied they would be attending.


Friday, April 01, 2011

Obama’s Union-Friendly, Feel-Good Approach to Education

The Obama administration, principally the president and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, are now routinely making public statements which are leading to one conclusion: instead of fixing American education, we should dumb down the standards.

According to the Associated Press, President Obama “is pushing a rewrite of the nation’s education law that would ease some of its rigid measurement tools” and wants “a test that ‘everybody agrees makes sense’ and administer it in less pressure-packed atmospheres, potentially every few years instead of annually.”

The article goes on to say that Obama wants to move away from proficiency goals in math, science and reading, in favor of the ambiguous and amorphous goals of student readiness for college and career.

Obama’s new focus comes on the heels of a New York Times report that 80% of American public schools could be labeled as failing under the standards of No Child Left Behind.

Put another way: the standards under NCLB have revealed that the American public education system is full of cancer. Instead of treating the cancer, Obama wants to change the test, as if ignoring the MRI somehow makes the cancer go away.

So instead of implementing sweeping policies to correct the illness, Obama is suggesting that we just stop testing to pretend it doesn’t exist.

If Obama were serious about curing the disease, one of the best things he could do is to ensure that there is a quality teacher in every classroom in America. Of course, that would mean getting rid teacher tenure and scrapping seniority rules that favor burned-out teachers over ambitious and innovative young teachers.

That means standing up to the teacher unions. For a while, it looked like Obama would get tough with the unions, but not anymore. With a shaky economy and three wars, it looks like Obama’s re-election is in serious jeopardy. He needs all hands on deck – thus the new union-friendly education message.

Obama’s new direction will certainly make the unionized adults happy. They’ve hated NCLB from the get-go.

And the unions will love Obama’s talk about using criteria other than standardized testing in evaluating schools.

He doesn’t get specific, of course, but I bet I can fill in the gaps. If testing is too harsh, perhaps we can judge students and schools based on how hard they try or who can come up with the most heart-wrenching excuse for failure or how big the dog was that ate their homework.

This makes sense in America’s continual slouch toward mediocrity. But hand-holding and effort awards didn’t produce the light bulb or the automobile or the MRI.

Hard work, accountability and the real possibility of failure – those are the things that made America great. Some kids and parents need to receive the cold hard reality that they’re not up to snuff. The Obama administration should not dumb things down so fewer people feel bad.

Because then those same people will complain when the cancer is incurable.


Students Who Get It!

John Stossel

I went to Princeton in 1969, where they taught me that government could solve the world's problems. Put the smartest people in a room, give them enough taxpayer money, and they will fix most everything. During those years, I heard nothing about an alternative. How things have changed!

I recently spent time with several hundred college-aged people at a Students for Liberty conference in Washington, D.C. Here were hundreds of students who actually understand that government creates many of the problems, and freedom -- personal and economic liberty -- makes things better.

I appeared at the conference along with David Boaz of the Cato Institute. Here are some highlights.

Karina Zannat, a student at American University in Washington, D.C., said, "A lot of my professors seem to think that even when politicians spend money in seemingly wasteful ways, we should be OK with it because every dollar spent is one dollar that goes toward income for an American citizen."

This is a common canard known as the "broken window" fallacy. The 19th-century French free-market writer Frederic Bastiat exposed it with the story of a boy who breaks a shop window, prompting some townspeople to look at the bright side: fixing the window will stimulate economic activity in the town. The fallacy, of course, is that had the window not been broken, the shopkeeper would have spent the money in more productive ways.

People often commit this fallacy -- have a look at what's being written in the wake of Japan's tsunami.

Meg Patrick of George Mason University asked about the Austrian business cycle theory. How delightful to meet a student interested in that! This is Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek's argument that when government inflates the money supply and holds down interest rates to create an economic boom, a bust, or recession, must follow because the prosperity is built on an artificial foundation.

Meg wanted to know if "the injection of fiscal stimulus into the economy (after the bust) disrupts the signals necessary to fix the current problem."

To which I replied: Sure does. The market is signaling that certain changes are needed, but stimulus spending interferes with those signals. If businesses are not allowed to fail, we don't get the market feedback we need.

David Boaz added: "If you get drunk, you have a hangover. I'm sure some of you have tried the theory: just keep drinking. But you can't keep drinking forever."

Ian Downie from the University of Virginia had a good question about spending: "Our congressional representatives have huge incentives to steal the wealth from the vast majority of the country and funnel it down to their constituents. What kind of systematic changes can we make to stop this perverse incentive machine?"

"The special interests are always there," Boaz said. "The challenge is to get the public interest -- the taxpayers -- to stick around after the election, to keep putting pressure on. And that is very difficult."

He went on to say we need constitutional limits on what government can do. We tried that, of course, but too many insiders have an incentive to interpret the limits so broadly that they are hardly limits at all. So government grows.

Grant Babcock, from the University of Pittsburgh, raised a good point: "If government grows in response to crises, what do we do? It seems like there is always another crisis on the horizon. It used to be international communism. Nowadays ... it's the threat of Islamist fundamentalism. ... Are we trapped?"

The media do keep inventing new crises. The global-warming crisis, the swine flu crisis, the pesticide crisis. "The running-out-of-oil crisis," Boaz added. Crisis is a friend of the state.

As Boaz pointed out, however, "sometimes there are crises that cause countries to go ... toward less government. New Zealand hit a crisis like that, and they actually reformed their economy. So there's at least the hope that the next crisis in the United States or Europe will cause people to say: 'This hasn't been working. We have to cut back.'"

After spending time with those students, I feel better about the future of America.


Robberies and other crime at Berkeley High School are common, prosecutor says

A horror story that is normal for some

Adults at Berkeley High School are obstructing prosecution of students arrested on suspicion of armed robberies on a campus where robbery, beatings and drug dealing are common, an Alameda County district attorney told a crowd at the school Monday night.
In two cases, witnesses were persuaded not to testify against suspects, one of them accused in a brutal beating and robbery on campus, Matt Golde said. In the other case, a football coach persuaded a witness not to testify, he said.

"I'm just trying to give you the reality of the danger in school here because some people don't appreciate the reality of the situation," Golde said. "We have so many armed robberies at this school it's unbelievable. We have a culture here where people are putting up with stuff that they shouldn't."

Golde, a supervisor in the county's juvenile division, made the comments during a parent forum designed to find solutions to the school's gun problem. More than 400 parents attended the meeting at the Berkeley Community Theater.

One of the students apprehended earlier this year already had a warrant for his arrest in connection with a "brutal beat-down" robbery on campus and "certain people at this school persuaded others not to testify against him," Golde said. Berkeley High students also are committing home burglaries, selling drugs on campus and across the street at Civic Center Park, he said.

Pasquale Scuderi, principal at Berkeley High, said that Golde's assertions are not the rule. "It is atypical that a staff member would say 'don't press charges,'" Scuderi told parents. "We have some pretty firm protocols for these types of incidents."

Since the beginning of the year, three gun incidents have been reported at the high school in which students were arrested on suspicion of gun possession, and one incident was reported at the smaller secondary Berkeley Technology Academy. Ashot was fired inside a bathroom at Berkeley High on March 21, but no one was injured.

Bill Huyett, superintendent of Berkeley schools, said all options are on the table for increasing security at the school and reducing the number of guns coming on campus. That includes installing metal detectors at school entrances, although Huyett said those may be troublesome because it will be difficult to get 3,400 students through them in the morning and after lunch.

Other options include searches of students and their lockers, bringing reformed criminals onto campus to work as mentors to troubled teens, and beefing up security in and around the campus. The school already has added two security guards, bringing the number to 14. On Wednesday, Berkeley police will meet with Huyett to offer recommendations on how to reduce student gun possession.

In a survey of 539 11th-graders at the school last year, 9 percent, or 48 students, said they brought a gun to school. Seven percent of 687 ninth-graders, also 48 students, said they brought a gun to school.

While Golde contended that students are bringing guns to school to commit armed robbery, school officials say the two most common reasons they hear are a belief that guns increase status and power and that they bring them for protection.

One student at the forum, 18-year-old Danielle Armstrong, said students are bringing guns to school because they fear gang members from other towns are waiting outside the school to shoot them. She said in one of her classes, two female gang members who didn't even attend Berkeley High were sitting in her class when a substitute teacher filled in.

"First, we need to make students feel safe to come here," Armstrong said. "That way they don't have to bring weapons to school."

Huyett said he thought parent comments during the two-hour meeting were divided between imposing stricter security measures and closing the campus or educating and mentoring kids about the dangers of carrying guns.

"We have a problem, and we need to address it now," Huyett told parents. "Metal detectors and searching lockers are deterrents. We're trying to get a feel for the community on whether we should do things that preserve personal freedoms or go for more intrusive actions to physically control guns or both."

Parent Gina Morning said she wants action now. "These three incidents are nothing new, it's just that things are now getting out in the open," she said. "We really need to lock these kids down. We've been fortunate so far that someone has not brought a gun on campus and started shooting us."

Scott Blake, however, said that Berkeley probably would not tolerate intrusive searches. "I'm concerned about being locked down and having metal detectors," he said. "In the history of race relations in this town, I wonder how you would implement a search-and-seizure policy and who would be the ones who implement it. I would imagine you could be violating people's rights by the way they look and this district could enter into litigation if you search and seize the wrong person."


Thursday, March 31, 2011

Krugman, Academic Freedom and Phony Whining

Tibor Machan

In his column of March 28, 2011, Paul Krugman whines a good deal about how Republicans in Wisconsin are targeting scholars who may not like their opposition to public service union profligacy. No doubt, in these battles all sides can go overboard but let’s just face it, the Left has been dominant in higher education for decades on end, which is why, perhaps, I am not a professor at Princeton University while Dr. Krugman is, and why my columns and blogs are mostly marginalized and his appear on the pages of The New York Times. (But enough of sour grapes!)

First, opposing public service unions does not amount to opposing organized labor, certainly not of the kind that would take place in a free market where competition affords the opportunity to seek out firms not hit by union action. Public union members work for monopolies and there is no option but to do business with them all. That’s a major difference and cause of most of the problems faced in Wisconsin and elsewhere vis-a-vis public employees.

Another point to keep in mind is that Wisconsin’s and other states’ universities are tax funded and citizens who have to foot their cost cannot walk away and go elsewhere to buy their higher education from an alternative institution, not unless they are willing to be charged twice.

Furthermore, college professors, like college students, enjoy academic freedom, not the full protection of the rights secured via the Fist Amendment to the US Constitution. University policy, in part dictated by public officials at the state level, trumps academic freedom (which is mainly a tradition or custom, not a legal guarantee). Politicians, who take themselves to be in charge of–or, euphemistically put, “responsible for”–higher education policy, have the legal authority to butt in anytime they can convince themselves that it is a matter of the public interest to do so. And that task is a very easy one for politicians and bureaucrats, don’t kid yourself.

So when Wisconsin’s politicians scrutinize public university employees, including professors, in the public interest, there is no legal argument that can be made against this. They are ultimately in charge, something they would not be if they dealt with private educational institutions (which, more like churches, largely enjoy constitutional protection from such meddlers).

None of this should come as a surprise to Paul Krugman, an old hand in the education industry. (His professed shock with Wisconsin’s politicians is just about as authentic as was the shock of the police captain at the end of the movie Casablanca with the illegal gambling that had been going at Ricks!) Once you are near the centers of power, such as state and federal capitols, you will use whatever legal or near legal means you can deploy to hang on to your clout and to gain more and more of it.

Your opponents will, of course, always holler “foul” as you make your moves but this is certainly just a ruse. No one should be fooled that Republicans and Democrats or any other mainstream political bunch do not try every trick in the book to undermine those on the other side.

Dr. Krugman himself is simply playing the game–charge your opponents with ill will and corruption even while you are guilty of these as well. Maybe he thinks no one can figure this out, him being such a well positioned public intellectual. Fact is, however, that Krugman is simply trying to keep and gain power for his team. It has nothing to do with overarching principles, not, especially, when you recall, also, that Dr, Krugman is a fierce defender of pragmatism and opposes all ideologies, including the ideology of remaining true to the principles of proper public conduct. Only amateurs would be bothered with that!

We live in a dog-eat-dog political arena and very few people have the backbone to remain above the fray. By now anyone who reads his stuff should know that Dr. Krugman isn’t one of them.


Landmark win for assault case teacher: British police to pay £1,000 for arrest over pupil's claim

A teacher falsely accused of assaulting a pupil has won a landmark High Court ruling against the police for unlawful arrest. Mark Richardson was held in a police cell after an 11-year-old boy claimed the 39-year-old had punched him in the throat.

The heavy-handed police action came weeks after the alleged offence and after the boy’s parents said they did not wish to pursue the matter.

Furthermore the school said it would handle the matter internally and Mr Richardson, who voluntarily went to a police station to speak to officers, was adamant the claim was false.

The media studies teacher of Blue Coat Comprehensive, Walsall, West Midlands, said the boy ‘walked into his outstretched hand’. He was later released and no charges were brought against him.

On Tuesday High Court judge Mrs Justice Slade found his arrest was unlawful and awarded him £1,000 damages.

Mr Richardson, a father-of-one and step-father of three, claimed the police action was a stain on his character and had damaged his promotion chances.

It is the first ruling of its kind involving a falsely accused teacher and has been hailed as a significant turning point for the profession.

And it comes as figures show that just 5 per cent of all allegations made to police about teachers result in action. Since 1991 some 2953 allegations have been made to the police. Of these just 170 have resulted in a caution or conviction.

Chris Keates, of teacher’s union the NASUWT, said she would now be writing to the Education Secretary and the Home Secretary to seek changes to national procedures. She said: ‘This is a landmark decision for teachers and others who are vulnerable to allegations made by children and young people. ‘New guidance for police is needed urgently to prevent these needless arrests that wreck innocent people’s careers.’

Mr Richardson, of Walsall, was suspended at the time of the allegation in December 2009 but has since been reinstated at the Church of England school.

A police spokesman said: ‘Following the court ruling West Midlands Police will launch an internal investigation into this matter to review the circumstances of the arrest and handling of the case. ‘Until this is completed it would be inappropriate to comment on today’s ruling or the case in question.’

Mr Richardson also wanted the police to be forced to destroy DNA samples, fingerprints and photographs taken from him during the arrest and to remove or amend his arrest entry on the Police National Computer.

The judge declined these requests, leaving any alteration of police records to West Midlands Police.


Another "safe" Australian school

A 14-year-old boy was stabbed at Southport State High yesterday after he and a fellow Year 10 student were sent to the principal's office for fighting. Students claimed the boys were involved in a violent lunchtime brawl in a classroom and later heard screams as one allegedly stabbed the other in the stomach in the administration building.

The victim suffered damage to an internal organ but is expected to make a full recovery after surgery at Gold Coast Hospital.

Police arrested his alleged attacker near the school and seized a knife which it is believed he took to school. He was last night charged with unlawful wounding. The Courier-Mail understands police are working on the theory the incident was not gang related but may have been linked to alleged bullying.

A male student said he saw one boy "smashed against a bubbler" and thrown into a wall in the lead-up to the stabbing.

Gold Coast police inspector Geoff Palmer said yesterday he was unaware of any gang problems at Southport High but detectives from the Child Protection Investigation Unit were investigating.

Insp Palmer said the stabbing followed an "altercation" between two 14-year-old students. "There were no other children in danger and the school was not placed in a lockdown," he said. Insp Palmer appealed for any student witnesses to come forward.

Latest Education Queensland figures show 303 Southport High students were suspended in 2009, up from 160 in 2006.

In September 2009, a Southport High student was charged with assault occasioning bodily harm after allegedly bashing a fellow student. The victim allegedly needed plastic surgery after the attack, which happened just days before a Southport State School pupil, aged six, was found with a knife in his bag.

Yesterday's stabbing was the latest in a series of knife incidents at Queensland schools in recent years.

The Queensland Teachers Union last year warned that teachers and principals had to be more vigilant about knives in schools.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

LA: School now says girl can wear prom tux

Dubious legal advice

A Terrebonne Parish girl will be allowed to wear a tuxedo to her senior prom after all.

Nason Authement, parish secondary education supervisor, says an exception to the policy that boys must wear tuxes or suits and girls must wear dresses or gowns will be made for 19-year-old Monique Verdin. .

Authement says the policy is based on long-held tradition, but will probably be changed now that attorneys have said it would not hold up in court.

The ACLU of Louisiana says schools barring girls in tuxes or boys in dresses, or barring same-sex dates, are in violation of the law. The Courier reported Monday that the civil liberties group distributed an open letter with that information Friday to high school principals throughout the state.

The prom is Saturday.


Education Spending Won't Create Jobs

Contrary to President Obama's political rhetoric, more taxpayer spending to send more students to college will not reduce unemployment or improve the economy. It's just Obama's way of finagling the unemployment statistics by listing young people as students instead of as unemployed.

A report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland confirmed that when it comes to long-term unemployment, the length of unemployment is unrelated to education level. Although employment is higher for people with more years of education, the duration of unemployment is the same for all education levels.

A new phrase is now commonly included in job ads for all kinds of positions: "must be currently employed." Charts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show remarkably parallel lines for the duration of unemployment of Americans age 25 and older who have less than a high school diploma, only a high school diploma, some college or a college degree.

The Obama administration continues to propagate the falsehood that solving the unemployment problem requires "more investments in education." Investment is a favorite liberal code word for more spending and higher taxes.

As globalization spread and was touted by the elites as the wave of the future, conventional wisdom was that only blue-collar manufacturing jobs would be sent overseas, while college grads were safe. That assumption is now obsolete, as computers and telecommunications have made it possible to offshore the jobs of college-educated employees.

I thought it was a tossup as to which was the greatest education scandal: the $2 trillion taxpayers poured into public schools that failed the twin goals of improving student achievement and closing the gap between higher-income and lower-income students OR the colossal debt students accumulate to pay exorbitant college tuition prices. But the Chronicle of Higher Education reported a third scandal under the headline, "The Great College-Degree Scam."

The Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) found that approximately 60 percent of the increase in the number of college graduates from 1992 to 2008 now work in relatively low-skilled jobs that need only a high school diploma or less. The actual count is 17.4 million college grads working in occupations that the Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies as not requiring college, such as cashier, waiter, waitress or bartender.

Facts do not deter the Obama administration from playing the false tune that more federal education spending is the key to more jobs. White House domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes reprised this myth with a stream of buzzwords: Education is the "key to winning the future," we need to "improve educational outcomes" so we can "win in the global marketplace," and we must "out-educate the world" and put "greater emphasis on critical thinking and collaborative problem-solving," and grab "our generation's 'Sputnik moment.'"

Vice President Joe Biden joined in this campaign by launching his "College Completion Tool Kit" -- a bunch of expensive suggestions to increase the number of college graduates by 50 percent. He wants to shift the focus from high school completion to college completion and, of course, do more to subsidize the latter.

Biden was the lead speaker at "The First Annual Building a Grad Nation Summit" held in Washington in March, to be followed by a similar summit held by each governor. The plan sets forth vague goals such as developing an action plan, using data to drive decision-making, accelerating learning and re-labeling "remedial" courses in college as "developmental."

Of course, Biden's plan calls for extravagant taxpayer handouts such as the First in the World initiative to support "innovative practices" and College Completion Incentive Grants to reward states for undertaking "reforms." That's on top of money already committed by the Obama administration, such as $40 billion more in Pell grants, a 90 percent increase in tax incentives through the American Opportunity Tax Credit, making it easier for students to get grants and loans, and forgiving the college debt of students who promise 10 years of public service.

Why should taxpayers be forced to continue unaffordable deficit spending to send more kids to college when the evidence shows that our economy is not offering enough jobs for college graduates now?

The biggest issue today is the need to rebuild an economy that offers the three-fourths of Americans without a college degree jobs that pay enough to buy a home and support a wife raising their own children. Somehow we lost that kind of a society through a combination of feminism, unilateral divorce, illegal and legal immigration, and the steady drumbeat of free-trade elitists telling us that globalism makes it our duty to compete with foreigners willing to work for as little as 30 cents an hour with no benefits.

The party that has the best solution to the jobs issue will win in 2012. More years of taxpayer-funded schooling are not the answer.


Education with a human face

The critique of government schools below has much merit but the alternative suggested is very narrow. A wholly private school system would include schools that practiced a substantial amount of discipline and teacher direction. Most existing private schools do so now

Illuminated by the light of his PowerPoint slide, the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction proclaimed yet another "victory on the Malabar Front." Test scores were up. Was it the PSAE? PLAN? ACT? SAT?, ISAT? I do not remember. What did it matter? My mind wandered. I imagined myself in Moscow circa 1930.

At the Ministry of Plate Glass Production, the commissar was crowing of our success in meeting the quota from the Five Year Plan. We produced X tons of glass far exceeding production from the previous year. All applauded vigorously. Of course to meet our quota, we had to make the panes of glass so thick and heavy that you could barely see through them, but what did it matter? No one dared bring it up. Of course, the following year, complaints about quality led the Politburo to issue a new standard. Henceforth, plate glass quotas would be set not in metric tons but in square meters. This required an entirely new approach, but we at the ministry accepted the challenge. We would now manufacture very thin, fragile panes of glass that maximized area rather than weight. These new panes would shatter in the slightest breeze, but again, what did it matter?

Our education commissars set similar arbitrary and shifting benchmarks. A Nation at Risk, No Child Left Behind, and now Race to the Top demand that test scores rise, and rise they shall. How could they do otherwise? No one really has any idea whether the scores actually mean anything, so what does it matter? And even if the pressure we put on children to perform causes them harm, well, this is simply the price that must be paid.

In the final analysis, students are only so much raw material. Often, students come out of school with good grades and high test scores but without a real education or an independent sense of direction. The most capable students often become what former Nazi Minister Albert Speer described as technically-skilled barbarians. They are fit to perform a particular task assigned to them and little else. As for the least capable, they are like the window panes coming out of the Soviet glass factory, either fragile and easily broken or dense and maladapted.

Beyond its crude and ill-considered central planning, the world of public schooling resembles the Soviet Union in other ways. The nation’s schools form an educational gulag archipelago. As in Stalin’s gulags, students are constantly monitored and their movement severely restricted. Students are ordered about and subject to the arbitrary authority of teachers and administrators. Permission is required even to go to the bathroom, and even this is often withheld. Unauthorized travel in the hallways will be met with a stern demand to show travel papers (i.e. a hall pass), and once in the classroom, students are told what to do, when to do it and how to do it. Speaking with fellow inmates is generally not permitted unless the conversation is authorized and relates to the mandated task, and unauthorized communication with the outside world via cell phone will result in immediate confiscation of the device with additional punishment to follow. As with any prison, fear and shame are the primary means of control and bullying and dishonesty often the only means of survival.

There is, of course, the outward appearance of democracy and due process. Schools hold elections for student government, but often the administration permits only prescreened candidates to run for office. The powers of these student councils are limited to a few trivial matters, and even these decisions are subject to veto. To provide the illusion of due process, many schools create what are called teen courts. Students that make up a teen court are hand-picked by the administration for their political reliability and work under the supervision of a dean. The court does not determine guilt or innocence but merely punishes. To get a hearing before the court, the accused must first confess. If the accused does not confess, he faces immediate and usually more severe punishment from the dean. Even Stalin would have been impressed with this arrangement.

Like our schools, the Soviet Union wasted enormous amounts of manpower and other economic resources in a blind rush to meet arbitrary quotas. As failure was not an option, the quotas were almost always met, but their achievement served political rather than economic, social or spiritual ends. Outward appearances and raw numbers were often impressive but always misleading. Behind the façade and the numbers were shoddy goods and poor service provided to an oppressed and increasingly cynical and demoralized people. It all came to a bad end.

If our schools and indeed our entire nation are not to come to a similar bad end, radical change will be necessary. First, we must reconsider what reform should look like. Public school perestroika advocated by many of today’s so-called reformers will never work. The taxpayer-funded vouchers and charter school schemes now being proposed with so much fanfare lead down the same dead end road Gorbachev led the Soviet Union down.

So long as government money is involved, schools will continue to serve political rather than student interests. Real reform must start with getting government completely out of the business of education. Second, we must reconsider what education should look like. Professional pedagogues assume they know what a child should know and when they should know it. They do not. I would not be so arrogant to suggest that I do, but I would suggest that each child knows.

A child’s natural curiosity about the world leads him on an endless journey of exploration. From their very first breath, babies relentlessly explore and make sense of their world. They teach themselves to walk and to talk without any teaching, testing or grading. Why not simply allow children to continue into adulthood on that same self-determined path? This, after all, is how children were educated for tens of thousands of years, and this changed only during the last one hundred and fifty years. A child has little chance of finding and developing his true talents and passion if not given the freedom to do so.

Finally, we need to reconsider what schools should look like. Once we reject educational Stalinism and throw off the shackles of state control, we can create schools that provide young people the resources they need without restricting their freedom to make best use of them. We can relieve the pressure and stop the grading and testing, and end the rigid adherence to irrelevant and outmoded curriculum standards. Most important, we can begin trusting our children and treating them with the respect they deserve. As Goethe once said, "Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help then to become what they are capable of being." Unschooling parents and most homeschooling parents get it as do the parents who send their children to one of the several dozen Sudbury Schools around the nation. (My daughter will attend this one next year.)

Sadly, for the present, only a tiny minority of young people get this kind of libertarian-style education. Most students, teachers, and parents continue to live behind the educational iron curtain. Most people have grown accustomed to conventional schooling’s absurdities and oppression and now consider them the norm. Changing this will not be easy.

Libertarian education reformers must be like the 19th century abolitionists. In opposing slavery, the abolitionists had the courage to boldly swim against the tide of popular opinion. They did not compromise or equivocate or trim their sails. They endured ridicule and even persecution, but they soldiered on confident in the truth of their ideas. Those of us committed to bringing liberty even to our children in the classroom must have similar courage. We must take risks and endure the skepticism of fellow parents, teachers, friends, relatives, and perhaps even of some of our children unaccustomed to the responsibility that comes with freedom. If we can expand the range of freedom even down to our youngest citizens, there may yet be hope for the future. Why must we do this? Because it really does matter.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Teacher seniority rules, job security threatened amid budget cuts

Public school teachers are facing the biggest challenge to their job security in more than half a century as politicians target seniority rules that make the last hired the first fired when jobs are cut.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat; and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, are among officials pushing for changes in laws in coming months to let them fire underperforming teachers.

As budget cuts threaten the jobs of thousands of school employees, officials are demanding the right to keep the most talented, even if they are the least experienced. The proposed changes may undercut the power of teachers’ unions. They intensify the debate on how to judge instructor effectiveness as US students lag behind international peers. As officials cut education budgets, they should focus on what is best for children, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

“Layoffs based only on seniority don’t help kids,’’ Duncan said. “We have to minimize the negative impact on students.’’

In 14 states, including New York, California, and New Jersey, districts can consider only seniority when dismissing teachers, and they are home to 40 percent of public school instructors, according to a report by the New Teacher Project, a New York organization founded in 1997 by Michelle Rhee, Washington’s former schools chancellor.

Even as states cut billions from their budgets, federal officials and executives from Microsoft chairman Bill Gates to Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke are lamenting the damage caused by education reductions.

In New York, Bloomberg is pushing the Legislature to pass a law eliminating the “last-in, first-out’’ policy, saying that as many as 4,666, or 6 percent, of the city’s teachers may be fired. In New Jersey, Christie proposed eliminating seniority rules for teachers at a town hall meeting Sept. 28. And in California, a Senate bill was introduced Feb. 15 that would replace seniority with a system based on several factors including student performance.

Superintendents contend that seniority rules force them to retain incompetent teachers instead of young talent.

Eliminating last-in, first-out rules won’t mean dramatic improvements, said David Abbott, executive director of the Cleveland-based George Gund Foundation, which supports education initiatives. Education needs innovation, he said.

“There’s too much emphasis placed on that issue as a silver bullet,’’ Abbott said. “We say, ‘If we can just get rid of this work rule, of this industrial workforce mentality, that will solve our problem.’ No, it won’t.’’


Class conflict: Gainful Employment Proposal Penalizes At-Risk Student Populations and Hurts the Economy

Career colleges—also known as for-profit, proprietary or private sector colleges—provide an important avenue to post-secondary education and upward mobility for at-risk nontraditional student populations. The career college sector is also the country’s best hope, through its efficiency and innovation, to substantially expanding Americans’ access to the higher education that enables individuals to pursue the fastest growing and emerging occupations.

The career colleges sector is now under harsh scrutiny by Washington. The U.S. Department Education has decided that rapid growth in enrollment, rising student debt levels, and a relatively high level of default rates has created a need for new rules around “gainful employment” for graduates from career colleges. The Department’s proposed rules are not only unnecessary, they are certain to cause harm.

For decades, the Higher Education Act has required that career colleges and training programs prepare students for gainful employment in recognized occupations in order for students to qualify for federal financial aid (Title IV programs). This condition has not applied to the other channels of post-secondary education—nonprofit and public institutions. The Department is authorized by Congress to set rules on federal financial aid for education. Historically, it has never attempted to define gainful employment, but now proposes doing so in order to evaluate and sanction private sector colleges using a three-part test based on student debt-to-income levels and loan repayment rates.

The proposed gainful employment regulations were published in July 2010, but final regulations were pushed out to March or April 2011 by a flood of public comment and lobbying. The delayed rules have led to a heated debate, which has been characterized by a surfeit of confusing, frequently contradictory “report cards” on career colleges. Critics of for-profits schools have used inflammatory rhetoric, going so far as to compare career colleges with the much-maligned subprime loan industry.

The Department justifies its proposal on the grounds that, while career colleges now account for 10 percent of the nation’s post-secondary enrollment, they account for a disproportionate 23 percent of federal loan dollars and 44 percent of federal student loan defaults. However, as this paper makes clear, the Department’s case for the rule is fundamentally fl awed. Commonly drawn comparisons between career colleges and traditional schools are less meaningful than many suggest, because of the significant demographic differences in the student populations, programmatic variances, and major disparities in taxpayer subsidies between the distinct institutional sectors.


Countryside walks should be mandatory for British schoolchildren?

There could be something in this. Most kids would love it and things would be learned that you cannot get from a book

Kate Humble, the BBC wildlife presenter, wants visits to the countryside to be mandatory for schoolchildren and is to take the matter up with the Education Secretary. The Springwatch presenter, who will return to BBC Two next week with Lambing Live, said getting children excited about the countryside was vital for ensuring that it would be protected in the future.

She also dismissed the idea that urban children would be slow to embrace rural pursuits. “It should be obligatory for every schoolchild to experience the countryside,” said Humble. “There’s a fantastic RSPB reserve on the edge of Newport. I took a bunch of kids pond-dipping there recently. At first, they were all saying, ‘Whatever…’ But then one of them caught a stickleback, and such was the excitement, you’d have thought she had landed a 50lb salmon!

“Children are the future. If you give them access to the countryside, they’ll protect it. I’m going to be at [education secretary] Michael Gove about this – and I’m counting on you for help!”

Speaking to Radio Times, Humble said that the countryside is “great for your brain and great for your soul and great for your bum”.

Humble’s comments about the national curriculum echo the Rural Manifesto of the campaign group the Countryside Alliance, which calls for outdoor education to be a compulsory subject, as well as suggesting that fishing can successfully rehabilitate young offenders and calling for rural activities to be made accessible for disadvantaged children.

Jill Grieve, from the Countryside Alliance, said: “Kate is absolutely right. Getting outdoor education onto the National Curriculum is one of The Countryside Alliance Foundation’s main aims. We are in a farcical situation where many youngsters are so disconnected from the countryside and their food that they think that milk comes from Tesco and meat comes from a plastic wrapper. They also have no incentive to care about what happens to the countryside in the coming years. Given the opportunity to get out there and find out about nature children thrive – they love it and it also gives them confidence. We are certainly standing shoulder to shoulder with Kate on this issue – for education, conservation and good muddy fun, outdoor education is a must.”

The Countryside Alliance quotes statistics showing that fewer than 10 per cent of 7 to 11 year-olds spend time playing in places such as woodlands and heaths, and that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) show a 40 per cent improvement in their symptoms when taking part in activities in green spaces.


Monday, March 28, 2011

An email from Florida:

I am unfortunately situated in sunny Florida where my wife teaches at a local elementary school. I have a Ph.D in science education and spend much time defending conservative causes.

However, I am really depressed over the coming "perfect storm" in education here in Florida because new governor Rick Scott is a fool with no understanding of education. He has M. Rhee in tow and plans to duplicate her DC antics here.

However, teachers will become hunted game even worse because parents will be empowered to decide the fate of teachers. It is the ultimate in stupidity and will demoralize teachers even as budget cuts reduce their pay.

John, charter schools are a shell game with no significant improvements. The move to empower parents -just as illiterate Hispanics come to dominate many communities- will throw education into chaos. The political battles will be endless.

I once contributed to a book on school reform. I defended American education against the legions of liberalism and their "quest for freedom."

They weakened education via parental power, softer curricula, and focus on "the gap." Multicultural education is a scam of large proportions. Standards descend even as Obama pushes Race for the Top.

A donor gave a lot of money to my school district, one willing to destroy teaching to pay young teachers brainwashed in liberalism to miraculously transform blacks and Hispanics into scholars. It isn't going to happen.

Maybe things are better in your neck of the woods, but all hell is breaking out here in Florida.

Iowa School says "white supremacists" are the terrorist threat. Ignores Islam

Clearly racist

Plans for an anti-terror drill on Saturday in western Iowa that would have involved fictional school shootings by white supremacists have been canceled because of threats received by the Treynor public schools, Pottawattamie County officials said today.

“During the last 24 hours, the Treynor school system has received threats to their employees and buildings due to the planned “active shooter” exercise, " county officials said in a statement. “After consultation with the Treynor School District and the Pottawattamie County Sheriff’s Office, we have jointly decided to cancel the exercise due to these threats which we must consider viable. The Pottawattamie County Sheriff’s Department is now actively investigating the threats.”

County Sheriff Jeff Danker said he sent three deputies to the Treynor schools today as a precautionary measure, but the school day was completed without any problems.

Members of so-called patriot groups opposed to illegal immigration had strongly objected to the plans for the exercise, which would have been held at the Treynor High School. Their complaints focused on a fictional scenario for the drill based on young white supremacists shooting dozens of people amid rising tensions involving racial minorities and illegal immigrants who moved into the area.

Patriot group leaders complained the exercise was intended to portray people who legally possess guns and who fight illegal immigration as extremists.

County officials said in their statement they found it “astounding” that people claiming to be patriots would be opposed to emergency response agencies drilling to be prepared for any threat. They said the use of the fictional scenario was included only to meet U.S. Department of Homeland security requirements to qualify for federal grant funds.

“In no way has our office or any other response agencies favored a political view or issue. Our only intent was to prepare for a worst-case scenario to build our capacity for such an event and to test any gaps in our response system,” county officials said.

Jeff Theulen, coordinator of the Pottawattamie County Emergency Management Agency, said, “I apologize to the true patriots who have endured profane-laced telephone calls, threats, and generally had their operations disrupted over this event."

Kevin Elwood, superintendent of Treynor Community Schools, said the school system received about 100 emails from throughout the nation, as well as some angry phone calls, including one particularly disturbing call that was left as a voicemail message.

"They basically indicated that if we went through with this type of a drill that potentially that type of an incident could become a reality in our school district," Elwood said. The recording was provided to the sheriff's office for investigation, he added.

Sheriff Danker said investigators believe the call to the school came from outside of Iowa and Nebraska, and they are trying track it to find the person responsible for the threat. He added he has doubts about the threat's credibility, but he sent deputies to protect the Treynor school's entrances today because he didn't want to take any chances.

Craig Halverson of Griswold, national director of the Minuteman Patriots, one of the groups which had objected to the drill, said he is skeptical that any threats were actually made. He said he suspects county officials are citing threats as an excuse to drop the exercise because of the controversy that had developed over the plans.

News stories about the drill have received national attention via the Internet the past two days, and the controversy swirling around the exercise has been a hot topic on some conservative radio talk shows.

Halverson said the Minuteman Patriots are law-abiding people and the organization doesn’t condone people making threats. He said said his organization had no plans to conduct a protest in Treynor on Saturday because the drill was planned on school property and children would be participating.

“We are God-fearing people who believe in the sovereignty of our country and the Constitution,” Halverson said. “If somebody in my organization is making threats, I don’t want them in my organization. We are not lawbreakers and we follow the law of our country.”

Robert Ussery of Des Moines, state director of the Iowa Minutemen activist group, said he also doubted whether threats were actually made against the Treynor public schools. He contends government officials were pursuing a political agenda in support of amnesty for illegal immigrants when they developed the fictional scenario. The cancellation of the event supports that agenda, he added.

"What they are basically saying is, "See. We are right. We had to cancel it because of these people." It would be very, very stupid to make threats like that. People are upset, but I don't believe they would do that," Ussery said.


Fury at British equality watchdog after it calls for teachers to ask 11-year-olds if they are gay

Children as young as 11 could soon be asked about their sexuality without their parents’ consent, it emerged yesterday. Teachers, nurses and youth workers are being urged to set up pilot studies aimed at monitoring adolescent sexual orientation for the first time.

A report commissioned by the Government’s equalities watchdog found that it was ‘practically and ethically’ possible to interview young children about their sexuality. Controversially, it says parental consent, while ‘considered good practice’, is not a legal necessity.

The report for the much-criticised Equality and Human Rights Commission recommends that children should be asked if they are gay from the age of 11. A record should be kept of those unsure or ‘questioning’ their sexuality.

It says monitoring sexual orientation among youngsters could help to prevent them from becoming victims of discrimination, and claims that ‘some young people begin to question their sexual orientation as early as age eight and may begin to identify as LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) from early adolescence’.

The report has provoked outrage. Graham Stuart, Tory chairman of the Commons education select committee, said the plans were ‘invasive, sinister and threatening’. He added: ‘School should be a place of safety, not a place where pupils are picked over for the purpose of some quango; and many children won’t understand what they are talking about.’

The report – Researching and Monitoring Adolescence and Sexual Orientation: Asking the Right Questions, at the Right Time – says it is ‘critical’ to track children’s sexuality to ‘shed light on the complexities of young people’s developing sexual orientation and how this may disadvantage them’.

It tell researchers not to dismiss gay feelings of interviewees as ‘a passing phase’.

Some youngsters, it says, may use categories such as ‘questioning’, ‘queer’, ‘pansexual’, ‘genderqueer’, ‘asexual’, ‘pan-romantic’ and even ‘trisexual’.

Last night, a commission spokesman said: ‘This is independent research produced to help the commission form its policy direction.’


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Gov. Walker's legislation has teaching Unions caving already

Apparently Gov. Scott Walker knew exactly what he was doing. Before he signed the bill limiting collective bargaining privileges, teachers unions throughout the state were slow to respond to calls for salary and benefit concessions.

They believed their members should be held harmless during a period of necessary cost-cutting. They didn't seem to care that Wisconsin schools were operating with multi-million dollar deficits that were forcing the layoffs of younger teachers and the cancellation of student programs.

Their only answer was to raise taxes at a time when few people could afford it. They didn’t want to sacrifice anything, despite the fact that schools spend about 80 percent of their budgets on labor costs.

But now, with Walker's legislation set to become law once it clears legal hurdles, the unions are suddenly coming to their senses. They are jumping at the chance to extend their collective bargaining agreements, in exchange for meaningful concessions that will help schools survive the financial crisis.

In Madison, the teachers union has suddenly agreed to a wage freeze and increases in health insurance and pension contributions. The concessions will save the district an estimated $15 million next year, which would almost make up for the expected cuts in state aid.

In Oshkosh, the union has agreed to a wage freeze, increased contributions toward benefits and a change in the employee insurance carrier, which will save the district more than $5 million per year.

In the Slinger district, the union has agreed to commit 5.8 percent of teacher pay to pension costs and increase contributions toward health care costs. The concessions will save the district about $1.3 million per year. What are the unions gaining by accepting concessions at the last possible minute? Plenty.

They are salvaging things like automatic annual salary increases for teachers, a generous number of paid sick and personal days off, reimbursement for unused sick days, salary and benefits for union officials who do not teach, retirement bonuses, overage pay for teachers with a few extra students, and many other items.

Those contractual perks would have gone by the wayside if local collective bargaining agreements had been allowed to expire. Under the new law, the unions will not have the power to negotiate for many of the items listed in current contracts.

So the unions will save some time-honored perks and schools will save a lot of money. This type of compromise would not have occurred without pressure from Gov. Walker and his supporters in the legislature.

Perhaps the governor knew exactly what he was doing by creating a crisis and forcing the unions to face financial reality. Nothing else seemed to be working and schools were drowning in deficits.

Ironically, the loss of collective bargaining privileges would not have been necessary if the unions would have come to their senses months ago and started offering meaningful concessions. They lost most of their privileges by remaining stubborn for too long.


The compassionate teacher is the ideal

In his inaugural address, President Bush observed that “no insignificant person was ever born”: the specially valuable function of a good teacher is to perceive, in each student, his unique significance.

This work of doing justice to people, impossible in a crowd, is not easy even in a classroom. Though experience helps, compassion is the real origin of that insight that lets a teacher see through the superficial masks that young people so often wear, and to understand their deeper problems and possibilities. The German philosopher Johann Georg Hamann argued that only “love—for a person or an object—can reveal the true nature of anything,” an observation especially true of that most complicated and mysterious of objects, the human soul.

“My experience,” the poet Coleridge said, “tells me that little is taught or communicated by contest or dispute, but everything by sympathy and love.” Educators whose teaching is an extension of their powers of sympathy—think of Charles “Chips” Chipping in James Hilton’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips—develop the most remarkable qualities of perception. The reason is obvious: Shakespeare has one of his characters reflect on the folly of taking love out of learning, for love “adds a precious seeing to the eye.”

In the same spirit, Dickens dramatized the compassion of the true teacher in the character of Marton, the benevolent schoolmaster in The Old Curiosity Shop. Like Hugo’s bishop of Digne, Marton is the soul of charity; and he has awakened in little Harry, his “favourite scholar,” a love of learning and of “poring over books.”

Yet Harry’s reciprocated affection for his teacher perplexes Marton. “How did he ever become so fond of me?” the schoolmaster asks, modestly oblivious to the miracle he has performed in an English village. “That I should love him is no wonder, but that he should love me—” The reader understands what Marton himself does not: it is what Dickens calls Marton’s “compassion” that has made Harry love him and desire to please and emulate him—one of learning’s most powerful spurs. Harry ends by calling his teacher his “dear kind friend.” “I hope I always was,” Marton replies. “I meant to be, God knows.”

Marton’s compassion, Dickens shows, has enabled him to perceive, in the young people with whom he works, the “panting spirit” inside their “fragile form.” “I love these little people,” Dickens has the narrator of The Old Curiosity Shop declare, “and it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us.”

It is because education seeks to nurture that “panting spirit” that compassion is so crucial to its enterprise. Education involves more than equipping a child with mechanical skills, filling him with useful information, and teaching him how to reason. Good teacher’s also try to awaken a child to the world’s possibilities—and his own. They nourish his moral imagination, his human sympathy, his understanding of himself as a citizen in a community.

The philosopher John Stuart Mill, whose father had famously educated him on strictly utilitarian principles, knew from bitter experience how defective an education only in skills, unilluminated by compassion, can be. James Mill’s machine-like efficiency as a teacher made his son into a prodigy of scholarship—he began Greek at three—but it left him unfinished as a human being.

As a young man, Mill published brilliant essays upholding the progressive political ideals his father had inculcated in him; but he had not learned how to cultivate the “material out of which all worth of character, and all capacity for happiness, are made.” He was, he said, like a “stock or a stone,” able to turn out quantities of prose for the Westminster Review but unacquainted with what he later called the “culture of the feelings.”

The result was predictable: after completing his home schooling, Mill suffered a nervous breakdown—a “habitual depression,” a “grief without a pang, void, dark, and drear,” he called it, quoting Coleridge. The “whole foundation on which my life was constructed,” he wrote, “fell down.” He recounted how, after much travail, he came “to adopt a theory of life, very unlike that on which I had before acted.” The scholar educated on severely utilitarian principles now ranked “among the prime necessities of human well-being” what he called the “internal culture of the individual.”

My own first memory of the kind of education I am trying to describe, an education inspired by love and compassion, is inseparable from my early consciousness of a world beyond the mechanical and utilitarian. My second-grade teacher encouraged me to memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Of course I was incapable of understanding much of it at the age of seven, but I soon discovered that adults were stirred by the words.

At Gettysburg, Lincoln went beyond Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence to give the most profound account we have of the ends of American life. The Declaration, for all its power as a civic touchstone, is of the eighteenth century in its depiction of men as machine-like assemblages of “inalienable rights.” The weakness of the classical liberalism that the Declaration expresses lies in what Lionel Trilling called its “denial of the emotions and the imagination,” its “mechanical” conception of “the nature of the mind.” Lincoln insists that the mind is more than a package of reason and passion: it possesses depths that the Enlightened philosophers never fathomed.

In urging me to learn the Gettysburg Address by heart, my teacher introduced me to the most cogent refutation we have of the idea that the American is merely a Yankee—rational Economic Man, a shrewd getter and spender, a Mill-like calculating machine. On this battlefield, Lincoln says, Americans offered up their lives out of love for ideals that transcended their material aspirations. These ideals sanctify their deaths: they “consecrate” and “hallow” the land where they fell.

Though my second-grade self could understand none of this, I was conscious at the time, in some inarticulate way (however improbable it may seem), of the growth within me of an ideal self—the person whom the second-grader, trying to memorize the Gettysburg Address, wanted to become, and believed that he could become. And, though I wouldn’t understand this until much later, it was the beginning of my civic education, as well.

Even in the best of all possible worlds, not every teacher will live up to this compassionate ideal, sparking each student’s intellectual, moral, and imaginative development. Not every school will be a community bound together by fellow-feeling. But compared with many private schools, whether secular or religious, today’s public education system—like so many creations of the liberal, bureaucratic state—smothers the embers of compassion under an encompassing blanket of pity.

Today’s progressive-ed pedagogy, with its focus on pupils’ self-esteem, shrinks from giving students the constant challenge they need to move on to a new level of mastery and insight. The dumbing-down of the curriculum, the unwillingness to make kids learn a body of knowledge and develop basic skills through drill, the easy tests and lack of consequences for leaving homework undone—all conspire to keep kids’ horizons low, instead of expanding them.

In inner-city public schools, especially, teachers tend to view their students with undiluted welfare-state pity, seeing them as unable to meet high, or even ordinary, standards. The result is the normalizing of social promotion and the multicultural assertion that the student’s own world is sufficient for him, that his education need not constantly challenge him with worldviews and ways of life higher and better than the limited world into which he was born—since how could he ever become the person fit to enter such a higher realm?

A teacher prompted by compassion rather than pity would say to a struggling kid: “You are not living up to your potential. You are frivolously wasting the gifts God gave you. You’ve got talent. Show it.” Compassion awakens a spirit of emulation; pity does not, for pity is afraid to judge, even where judgment is essential to growth. Nowhere is the secret contempt that underlies all forms of pity more evident than in this failure of teachers to hold their students to their own private standards or to try to excite in them a yearning to excel and transcend.

In their hearts, these teachers lack the very foundation of compassion: the ability to see their pupils as fellow creatures exactly like themselves. Denying that these young people can possibly live up to a higher idea of themselves, the teachers acquiesce in what President Bush has called the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Yet it is difficult for teachers to do better under their demoralizing working conditions. Caught between the it’s-not-my-job work rules of the teachers’ unions and the picayune regulations of the central bureaucracy, they find themselves imprisoned in a mechanical system organized like an industrial factory.

Anyone who has been put to cookie-cutter work on such a model knows how difficult it is to feel, in such conditions, that he possesses a soul and a destiny; only by a tremendous effort of will can such a person retain, in this situation, anything more than a faint idea that the human raw material he is charged with processing also has its unique human potential. A teacher’s contract requires him to teach for x hours a day; at the end of the xth hour his students become someone else’s problem. The merit of teachers who do manage to see behind their students’ apathetic masks goes unrewarded: teachers’ unions oppose merit pay and defend a perverse set of incentives that encourage not compassion but timeserving.

That mindset results in a community far different from one where compassion can work its nurturing transformations, and, were there any lingering possibility of creating such a community, the rights revolution that has swept over the public schools in the last several decades has vaporized it. The rights that students have been discovered to possess include everything from the right to due process before being suspended from school for misconduct to the right to wear a baseball cap during the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the right to play on the boys’ baseball team, even if one is not a boy. Earlier this year, a federal district judge decided who had the “right” to be the valedictorian in a New Jersey high school.

To view schoolchildren as rights-bearing citizens before they have reached the moral and civic maturity the schools are supposed to foster is to lose sight of education’s purpose. Where students can sue their teachers, there can be no spirit of order and community, no flourishing of fellow-feeling. A teacher cannot be expected to act confidently to make the classroom an orderly place, a little platoon of learning, when he knows that even a minor infraction on his part of the numerous rules that now govern every facet of school life may render him personally liable. Nor will a teacher who is straining every spiritual muscle to maintain authority in the face of his unruly students be able to see through the cocky pose to the struggling, uncertain soul.


More control over admissions for British schools as council lotteries face axe

Schools could get significant new powers over how they admit pupils in reforms to be proposed by ministers within days. The Sunday Telegraph understands that the current system which allows local authorities to stage lotteries to determine which children are given places at oversubscribed schools is to be stopped.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, plans instead to let only individual schools stage lotteries if they are oversubscribed - a move which would hand them greater power at the expense of councils.

Lotteries staged by local authorities have been criticised because they can force children to travel miles every day after being turned down by a first-choice local school. They were introduced four years ago under Labour in an attempt to break the middle-class hold on the most sought-after places. Many families paid premiums of tens of thousands of pounds to buy homes in the catchment areas of successful schools, leading to claims of selection by wealth.

If only individual schools could hold lotteries it is thought there would be fewer overall.

Those that did, however, would effectively become their own admissions authorities - allowing critics to claim that ministers were allowing "back door selection" of pupils, particularly if schools were allowed to determine exactly how the lotteries should operate.

Earlier this month around 540,000 pupils who applied for secondary school places in September were informed where they would be going - with early figures suggesting around 17 per cent did not get into their first choice. The lowest percentage of pupils getting into their top-choice school is thought to be 60 per cent in the London borough of Westminster. At the other end of the scale the comparative figure for Leicestershire was 98 per cent.

Grammar schools are allowed to select on ability but other secondaries are not - except for some "specialist" schools with subject which can "prioritise" up to a tenth of their intake on aptitude for music, sport or other skills.

Admissions policies vary between schools and areas, although the closeness of a child's home, and whether they have a sibling already at the school, are usually key factors.

At least 30 councils in England, mainly in well populated urban areas, are understood to use lotteries - with more than 100,000 pupils applying in areas where their school admissions could effectively be decided "by a roll of the dice".

A DfE spokesman said: "Ministers are clear they want a simpler and fairer admissions code. We will announce more details shortly."

Overall, Mr Gove is determined to allow individual schools much more freedom and lessen the grip on the state school system currently exerted by local authorities.

His Education Bill unveiled earlier this year gives ministers more powers to intervene in failing schools, narrows the focus of Ofsted inspections and hands teachers extra powers to search pupils for "disruptive" items".

Meanwhile, ministers are to spend an extra £70million helping children from poorer families stay on in education. A new fund of £180million will soften the blow of the abolition of Educational Maintenance Allowances which are worth up to £30 a week for 16, 17 and 18-year-olds.Originally £111million was earmarked for the fund but Liberal Democrat ministers, led by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, squeezed extra cash out of the Treasury. The measure was expected to be in last week's Budget - but dropped out at the last moment.

Most of the new budget will be distributed to colleges to award, at their discretion, to students from less privileged backgrounds.