Friday, April 05, 2013

Family, not area, is key to a child's education: Children with parents who spent extra year in education get better grades

"Family" is a very vague term to use in this context.  "Inherited IQ" would capture the facts better

The positive impact a parent can have on a child’s education is more important than where they live, a new study suggests.

Growing up in an impoverished area is often blamed for holding back children academically.

But a report’s findings indicate it is the attitude towards education within their family unit that really matters.

The research involved two groups of disadvantaged children in cities across England, all of whom were waiting to move into social housing in some of the most deprived neighbourhoods.

One group moved in between one and three years before their Key Stage 3 tests at 14. The other started living there afterwards.

When their performance in the tests was measured, both groups had almost identical average scores.

Dr Felix Weinhardt, who conducted the research, said: ‘We have always tried to help the most disadvantaged children to get better life chances and one of the ways we thought we could do this is through housing policy.

‘But research now increasingly tells us that bad neighbourhood environments have no causal influence on these children’s school performances at all.’

The postdoctoral fellow in the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance added: ‘These two groups of students really get very bad grades - very similar to students who live in high-density social housing neighbourhoods and never moved.

‘This means that we definitely should think about ways to help them improve their school achievements but we cannot do it through housing policy.’

The paper - Neighbourhood Quality and Student Performance - considered whether living in a ‘bad neighbourhood’ could lead to a ‘locking-in of the disadvantaged into a poverty trap’.

A total of 2,094 children were followed. All were waiting to move with their families into neighbourhoods with at least 80 per cent of social tenants.

These areas are characterised by ‘very high unemployment and extremely low qualification rates, high building density, rooms over-crowding and low house prices’, the report said.

The people who live there are ‘more likely to be depressed, unemployed, cigarette smokers [and] obese’.

Dr Weinhardt used the average performance in the three core subjects - English, maths and science - and combined them to create an overall score with a maximum of 100.

The group that moved into the impoverished areas before their Key Stage 3 exam scored an average of 33. Those that moved in later managed just 33.6.

The data took into account variables such as ‘negative shocks’ that leave better-off families suddenly in need of social housing and other factors including ethnicity, free school meal status and previous test scores.

Dr Weinhardt concluded: ‘The main finding of this study is that early movers into deprived social housing neighbourhoods experience no negative effects on their school attainment relative to late movers.’

The paper is due to be presented today at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference in London.

It is complemented by another study at the conference which links an increase in the minimum school leaving age with improved academic performance in the next generation.

The children of parents who spend one extra year in education typically achieve one grade higher in two GCSEs or two grades higher in one GCSE than other pupils, it found.

The research was based on the children of 19,966 people affected by the 1972 reform of the school leaving age from 15 to 16.

It will be of particular interest to Education Secretary Michael Gove, who is overseeing a rise in the leaving age to 17 this year and 18 in 2015.

Previous research has found those who remain in education of training until 18 earn more money, are healthier and are less likely to break the law.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: ‘The research shows that where somebody lives is much less important than what they carry around with them.

‘This includes what their interests are, how much support they get from their parents and how much their parents care about good education - which they can provide directly to their child and by finding them a good school to go to.’


Non-elite colleges more bigoted?

Many of you probably have heard about the shocking case of Ryan Rotela, a devout Mormon student at Florida Atlantic University, who along with his classmates, was assigned by his professor to write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper and then step on the paper. When Rotela complained about the assignment, the college charged him with violating the student code of conduct and ordered not to attend class.

The college initially denied that it had taken action against Rotela, but a letter from an Associate Dean showed this claim to be false. Realizing at that point that damage control was required, the college apologized to Rotela and dropped the charges against him.

Greg Lukianoff, president of the invaluable Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), draws out some of the lessons of the Rotela incident. Among them is this:

"The incident provides an opportunity to examine universities’ strange understanding of the limits of their power over issues of conscience. As bad as it is to tell students what they cannot say, it is far worse to tell students what they must say. Nonetheless, Missouri State University, for example, punished a social work student because she was unwilling to sign a letter saying she supported gay adoption. Meanwhile, at Rhode Island College, a conservative social work student was told he would have to lobby the government for progressive causes in which he did not believe if he wished to graduate.

“Academic freedom” can be a difficult concept to define. Among various theories, the academic freedom of professors is often emphasized, while the academic freedom of institutions is misunderstood, the academic freedom of departments is forgotten, and the academic freedom of students is ignored. While a student’s right to academic freedom may be comparatively humble, it at minimum should include the right to principled dissent and the right not to be required to publicly reject your beliefs. Let’s hope FAU’s very public embarrassment on this issue leads to some desperately needed recognition of its students’ academic freedom."

At Power Line, we have tended to focus on abuses at Dartmouth and other leading colleges. This tendency is natural because three of us attended Dartmouth and two of us have sent children there. Moreover, institutions further down the “chain of being” can easily fly under the radar screen, at least until something as egregious as the Rotela incident is exposed.

But I sense that the crude presentation and enforcement of left-wing orthodoxy is a bigger problem at schools like Florida Atlantic University than at schools like Dartmouth College. At Dartmouth, my daughter rarely witnessed professors openly express raw political opinions in the classroom (admittedly, she tried to avoid professors who had a reputation for such expression).

Moreover, to the extent that professors expressed their views, dissent was an option. For example, my daughter’s harsh critique in an Earth Science course of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” was very well received even though the professor agreed with Gore’s views.

By contrast, I hear reports from further down the chain that raw expression of left-wing political views is quite common in the classroom. According to these reports, dissent is non-existent.

It stands to reason, I think, that the problem of enforced orthodoxy is more pronounced at non-elite institutions. Top professors are more likely to possess intellectual security and intellectual curiousity. Thus, they are unlikely to feel threatened by dissenting students. Some may even relish being challenged.

Similarly, top students are less likely to be intimidated by orthodoxy. Certainly, Dartmouth’s conservative students never have been.

Then too, I sense that certain departments at lesser institutions try to mimic those at more prestigious ones, but in doing so lose much of the nuance and playfulness of their “betters.” I noticed this some years ago when I compared course descriptions of certain of Duke University’s literature courses (as I understand it, Duke’s faculty helped pioneer the “deconstruction” of literary texts) with those of what I would call a Duke-wannabe program.

The wannabe program’s offerings read like a parody of Duke’s. From what I could tell, the professors knew the jokes but didn’t seem to get them.

By definition, the vast majority of the nation’s college students don’t attend elite institutions. This makes the crudeness with which left-wing orthodoxy is presented and enforced at non-elite institutions all the more alarming.


Public School Bans Cub Scout Pack

A federal civil rights complaint has been filed against the Salt Lake City School Board after a principal booted a Cub Scout pack from an elementary school.

About thirty 8 to 11 year-olds were told they could no longer meet at Mountain View Elementary School because the Boy Scout’s ban on gay members in leaders conflicted with the school district’s anti-bias policy.

The ban drew the ire of Michael Clara, a school board member and lifetime Boy Scout. Clara filed the federal complaint on behalf of two Latino parents.

“I believe it is an assault on the founding principles of our country for school officials to attempt to exclude a voice no less legitimate than its own from public school participation,” Clara told Fox News. “A marketplace of ideas devoid of competitive viewpoints engenders an insidious society of conformity, contrary to the fundamental precepts of our Constitution.”

He claims the school district is violating the Boy Scout Act – a law that requires schools to allow access to the Boy Scouts if they allow access to outside groups.

“It’s unfortunate this principal has the backing of the district to implement their own form of discrimination and racism,” Clara told Fox News. “They are using the resources of the school system to punish students who don’t agree with us.

The scout troop is made up of mostly Latino boys, he said – and the parents who complained are Catholics.

A district spokesperson told local media they had not seen a copy of the complaint.

On March 16 two Latino parents contacted Clara after the principal informed them the Cub Scout pack would no longer be allowed to meet at the school.  Three days later the school board member received a telephone call from the principal confirming that directive.

“(He) confirmed that the Cub Scouts were prohibited from meeting in the building because they will not allow gay scout leaders,” he said.

Clara, who describes himself as a Christian conservative Republican who supports gay rights, said he was very concerned by the ban.

“Why on Earth would we want to remove something positive from the school,” he asked. “Where does this end? It’s a form of discrimination in the name of intolerance.”

The Cub Scouts had been meeting at the school for three years – but since their eviction – meetings have ceased.


Thursday, April 04, 2013

Canada’s biggest student group backs boycott of Israel.  Jewish student leader brands York University resolution ‘fundamentally racist’

Yes, it is fundamentally racist. Have the academics of any other country ever been boycotted? Nazi Germany? Stalinist USSR? Maoist China? To boycott Israelis because of their nationality is racist

The largest student association in Canada passed a resolution endorsing the global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.

With the passage of the resolution, York University’s student association joins two others in Canada — the University of Toronto and Concordia University graduate student associations — in endorsing the BDS campaign, according to the York University Excalibur.

The campaign calls for universities to divest from holdings in companies that do business with Israel and to cut ties with Israeli academics.

The vote by the council of the York Federation of Students late last week was 18-2 in favor and was advocated for by the Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York.

Jewish student groups at York complained that they were not given advance notice of the vote and had little time to prepare an argument against the resolution.

In comments to the Excalibur, Safiyah Husein, a vice president of the York Federation of Students, portrayed the resolution as uncontroversial. “Indeed, not everyone supports reduced tuition fees, equity campaigns, or sustainability work, but we know the majority of our members believe this work is vital and important,” Husein said.

Chaim Lax, president of Hasbara@York, said his group was disappointed and called the resolution “fundamentally racist, and a possible violation of [York’s] anti-discrimination codes.”

The York Federation of Students resolution will have no actual bearing on the university’s investment portfolio.

“York University uses best practices in developing its policy on investments, and this is built on advice from major investment consulting firms,” York spokeswoman Janice Walls told the Canadian Jewish News.

The student federation represents over 52,000 undergraduate students at York, Canada’s third-largest university.


Now British teachers demand to work just 35 hours a week... and they even want to be allowed to do five of those at home

Teachers worldwide seem to be Prima Donnas

Teachers demanded a 20-hour a week limit on classes yesterday to maintain a healthy ‘work/life balance’.

Union members called for a rigid 35-hour week, with little more than half given over to teaching children.

Five hours would be used for planning, preparation and assessment ‘at a time and place of the teacher’s choosing’ – meaning at home in most cases.

The remaining ten hours would be set aside for other ‘non-contact’ duties including marking and going to meetings.

The proposal came at the end of a heated eight-day period during which annual conferences held by three teaching unions were used to repeatedly attack the policies of Education Secretary Michael Gove.

The working hours motion of the National Union of Teachers – which was passed by an overwhelming majority and will be linked to planned strikes over pay, pensions and conditions – would mean teachers taking classes for just four hours a day on average. Many schools would have to hire extra staff, putting greater pressure on budgets.

Cutting teaching workloads is one of the demands in the current dispute with Mr Gove that has led to a series of regional strikes from this summer, followed by a national strike before Christmas.

Critics were swift to accuse the union of being ‘out of touch’ with reality. Craig Whittaker, a Tory MP on the Commons education select committee, said: ‘You can’t change these things in the current economic climate.

‘It just shows how incredibly out of touch the unions are with what’s going on in the real world.’

Chris McGovern, of the Campaign for Real Education, said teachers should have their hours ‘expanded, not diminished’. He added: ‘In the independent sector it is normal to have 60 hours of contact time a week. They are living in fantasy land if they want 20 hours per week.’

He said the hours of work should be made less stressful by giving them greater powers to suspend or exclude disruptive pupils. The NUT saved its bombshell for the last motion of its five-day conference in Liverpool. Cambridgeshire primary school teacher Richard Rose said: ‘We’re fed up with arriving at 7.45am ... and most people are there until 6.30pm.

‘During that time there is no time to go to eat, no time to talk, no time to think, no time even to go to the toilet in many cases.

‘Then, after the day’s work, what do you do when you get home? Do you relax? I’m sure you all know – another two, three, four hours of work. The number of emails you get after midnight, people sending each other plans, targets, data, things like that is incredible.’

Teachers were sacrificing time with their own children, he said, adding: ‘If you complain to management about that they say “Maybe teaching’s not for you then”.’

Adarsh Sood from Lewisham in South-East London said: ‘We will fight in all the ways we can to win a model contract which clearly defines the weekly limits on working hours for teachers.’

Earlier in the day, delegates chanted: ‘Gove must go’ as they passed a motion of no confidence in the Education Secretary.

Teachers are contracted to work 195 days every year, with five set aside for training.

They typically spend 22.5 hours taking classes each week, meaning the proposal would significantly reduce contact time.

But they complain contracts include a clause to carry out ‘reasonable additional hours’, meaning they end up working longer.

Coventry delegate Christopher Denson said official figures showed secondary school teachers work 50.2 hours per week on average and primary school colleagues give 49.9 hours of their time.

He added: ‘It is essential that what is already NUT policy for a 35-hour week becomes a reality.’

The NUT and NASUWT are holding a series of regional strikes followed by a national strike later this year over pay, pensions and conditions. Some teachers are already operating on a work-to-rule basis.

The working hours motion – during which teachers also called for smaller class sizes – is the latest point of friction between teachers and Mr Gove.

They have also clashed with him over issues such as changes to the curriculum and the end of modular qualifications. The Department for Education said it was for schools to organise the hours and workloads of staff.

A spokesman added: ‘By scrapping unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy we are making it easier than ever before for teachers to focus their efforts on teaching and learning.’


Tell youngsters the truth: the UK needs you to work not go to university

There is little that is more likely to lead to ruined lives than groupthink in politics, especially when it is imposed by a well-meaning, over-enthusiastic Establishment convinced that it is doing the right thing.

Tragically, as yet more data reveal, the decision to massively increase the number of school-leavers going to university, wrongly assuming that this would transform opportunity in an era of technological revolution, ranks as one of the greatest social and industrial policy blunders of recent decades.

Britain is facing a jobs crisis made in Downing Street and signed off by the leaders of all political parties, starting with Sir John Major, during the past quarter century. The problem is not the number of new jobs – there are lots of those, confounding the sceptics, and could be even more if the labour market doesn’t become over-regulated. The issue is that an obscenely large number of young people with a university education will not be able to find a job that matches their expectations.

Research from the US government, which without doubt applies equally to Britain, suggests that just one out of the top nine occupations expected to create the most jobs this decade requires a university degree.

The picture is truly dire for the army of university graduates: only five of the top 30 fastest-growing occupations expected to create the most jobs by 2020 require an undergraduate degree (or an additional post-graduate qualification) – nursing, teachers in higher education, primary school teachers, accountants and medical doctors – and 10 of the top 30 don’t require any kind of qualification at all.

Among the top 10 fastest-growing professions are retail sales staff; food preparation (including fast-food restaurant jobs); customer service reps; labourers and freight, stock, and material movers; lorry and van drivers; and various healthcare aides, related to the ageing population. This is the semi-secret, and devastating, story that far too few people in government want to talk about.

The horrible truth is that central planning never works: just as the authorities cannot possibly know how many widgets an economy ought to produce, or what the “right” price for goods will turn out to be, they cannot possibly know many decades in advance what skills will be required, or what percentage of school-leavers should go to university. It is hard to fathom what Tony Blair was thinking when he promised that half of 18-year-olds would go to university. The result has been betrayal, broken dreams, graduates working in coffee shops, a business community that still cannot find the right people with the right soft and hard skills, and a generation of young people crumbling under ever larger student debts. It’s a social catastrophe for which nobody has yet paid the price; even worse, it remains politically unacceptable for those in a position of power to point any of this out.

The figures predicting where new jobs are going to come from were uncovered by Mark J Perry, a professor of economics at the University of Michigan, who analysed the US Bureau of Labour Statistics’ official employment projections in a short note published recently by the American Enterprise Institute. Most Western economies face a similar problem. They confirm what many in Britain already knew: many young graduates are in jobs where a degree is not necessary, a situation which is getting worse. The oversupply of graduates, especially from those institutions in the lower reaches of the league tables, and those with degrees in areas not directly relevant to firms, has substantially distorted the market.

To many employers, university education has become little more than a signalling device, a means to filter out potential staff. To others, it is seen as a remedial device, there to fill in the gaps left by state education. The result has been an inflation of entry requirements, with positions once open to plucky 16-year-olds now requiring at least a bachelor’s degree, if not a master’s, even though the actual work hasn’t changed one jot.

There are, of course, caveats. There will still be plenty of qualified jobs, but regrettably their supply is not growing as quickly. Many of the more specialist, skilled jobs, such as those in IT, are divided into numerous categories, such as programmers, developers, network administrators, security analysts and so on – and are therefore ranked further down the list. Grouping them together would rebalance the picture a little.

Many jobs will genuinely require university degrees, especially those with quantitative and mathematical skills, and of course it is essential that children of all backgrounds who have the interest and ability to study for a degree be given the opportunity to do so. But if we really care about social mobility, and ensuring that people are able to live their dreams, we need an urgent shift in policy.

Britain needs more, better, skilled jobs – and that means making the UK more welcoming as a base for firms in areas such as technology, science, finance and high value added business services.

The onslaught against the City, which is crippling it rather than seeking to make it more resilient, will merely reduce the availability of good jobs.

The answer is not more top-down planning of the sort that gave us our higher education crisis, with politicians choosing sectors they guess will create the “right” sort of jobs, but a broad policy to encourage global firms to base their best-paid positions in the UK, and to trade and export from our shores.

That means low tax rates and living costs, a better business climate and enhanced infrastructure and airport links; sadly, we are faring miserably in all areas.

Britain also needs to do more to promote entrepreneurship, including welcoming job-creators from overseas.

We need to raise productivity levels, enabling workers to be paid more; mechanisation and technology kill jobs in the short term, but eventually boost output per worker and hence average wages, and are thus a good thing. The Government needs to continue reforming the welfare state to ensure that nobody is locked into a situation where it doesn’t pay to take a job.

Crucially, the UK must focus on improving the knowledge and skills of school-leavers, currently all too often heart-breakingly inadequate, eventually reducing the need for as many to go to university. The reforms being pursued by Michael Gove are an excellent first step, but it is a tragedy that he isn’t being allowed to go faster and further.

Apprenticeships and vocational qualifications are essential: had politicians focused on these in recent decades, rather than on boosting university admissions at any cost, the prospects for Britain’s young would be very different today.

Most important of all, however, the political establishment needs to start telling our young people the truth: it doesn’t make sense for everybody to go to university.


Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Johns Hopkins University Compares Pro-Life Students to White Supremacists

The Student Government Association at Johns Hopkins University compared pro-life students to white supremacists and denied them official club status at the school.

“They were denied status because the students on the student council felt being pro-life violates their harassment policy,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America.

Hawkins told Fox News the student group, called Voice for Life, is searching for an attorney and they plan on fighting the ban.

The SGA at Johns Hopkins voted March 12 to deny Voice for Life the right to become an official student club. That vote was affirmed on March 24 by the SGA’s senate.

SGA representatives did not return calls seeking comment.

“We were pretty shocked when the students showed their bias toward the pro-life students,” Hawkins said.

According to emails obtained by Fox News, members of the SGA compared the pro-life students to white supremacists.

“And this is why we don’t approve groups like Voice for Life,” one SGA member wrote, linking to an article about a white supremacist group at Towson University.

Hawkins said the comparison was particularly offensive to African-American members of the pro-life group.

“To compare pro-lifers with white supremacists – it’s unreal,” she said.

Another SGA member said they objected to pro-life displays at Johns Hopkins, saying she “felt personally violated, targeted and attacked at a place where we previously felt safe and free to live our lives.”

An SGA senator said “we have the right to protect our students from things that are uncomfortable. Why should people have to defend their beliefs on their way to class?”

Andrew Guernsey, a student at Johns Hopkins and president of Voice for Life, said they simply want to exercise their right to free speech and association.

“It is inconsistent with the JHU’s motto ‘The Truth Will Set You Free’ for the SGA to try to hide its students – many future doctors and nurses – from the truth about abortion and how it hurts women, families and most of all, innocent preborn babies,” he said.

And that’s the problem, according to another private email from an SGA senator.

“If their sole and fundamental purpose is to stop students from having abortions, that’s not what we need,” the senator wrote. “I understand people’s right to freedom of speech, but this is a private university, and as such, we have the right to protect our students from things that are uncomfortable.”

Hawkins said the emails are proof that the senators violated their own constitution.

“They strive to create free speech and free expression on campus and they’ve openly violated it,” she told Fox News. “

Hawkins conceded that on private university campuses – free speech is not necessarily free.

“Sadly, this happens time and time again on private university campuses,” she said. “They feel like they don’t have to uphold freedom of speech.”

Ironically, she said, on the same day their group was denied status, the student lawmakers approved status for a pro-Palestinian group.

“That group actually has a history of violence on other campuses along with anti-Semitism,” she said.


A New Birth of Education Freedom

As the nation has focused on the Supreme Court hearings on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, news from the state of Indiana could prove far more important regarding the nation’s future.

The Indiana Supreme Court has just ruled unanimously, 5-0, that Indiana’s school voucher program, signed into law in 2011, the most expansive school voucher program in the nation, does not violate the state’s constitution.

Those who challenged the law argued that the voucher program is unconstitutional because it allows public funds to be used for religious education.

Not so, said the court. The voucher goes to the families, not the schools. It is the parents who decide how to spend it.

Why do I draw connection between the US Supreme Court’s review of same-sex marriage and this voucher decision in Indiana? And why do I suggest that the Indiana decision may be more important to the nation’s future than whatever the Supreme Court decides on same sex marriage?

Same-sex marriage sits before the Supreme Court today because of the dramatic change in public opinion over recent years regarding the legitimacy and morality of same-sex marriage and homosexual relations. General public opinion is far more accepting today of both than it has been in the past.

What has driven this change?

One obvious place to look is the direct generational correlation regarding acceptance of same-sex marriage. Younger Americans are far more accepting of these values than older Americans.

According to the latest survey from the Pew Research Center, approval of same sex marriage among those born between 1928-1945 is 31 percent; 1946-1964, 38 percent; 1965-1980, 49 percent; and after 1980, 70 percent.

So it seems quite reasonable to conclude that the systematic purge over the last half-century of religion and traditional values from our public schools has produced a new generation of Americans with values different from those of their parents and grandparents.

In 1962 the Supreme Court found state-sponsored school prayer unconstitutional. Subsequently, the Supreme Court found unconstitutional posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools (1980), public schools setting aside time for private or voluntary prayer (1985), and “performance of religious activity” at school promotional and graduation ceremonies (1992).

The rationale behind all these decisions was supposedly to preserve and protect religious liberty in our public schools.


British schools expel 15 sex bullies a day: Even primary pupils driven to assaults by internet porn

Fifteen children are expelled from school for sexual misconduct on average every day.  At least one of these will be from primary school, official figures show.

More than 3,000 children are excluded every year for offences including sexual bullying, sexual assaults and harassment.

The revelation comes amid increasing concern over the prevalence of ‘sexting’, when boys share explicit pictures of girls, often leaving the victims feeling suicidal.

Only yesterday the National Union of Teachers warned that sexual equality has been ‘rebranded by big business’ into a ‘raunch culture’ which is damaging the way girls view themselves.

Playboy bunnies adorn children’s pencil cases, pole dancing is portrayed as an ‘empowering’ form of exercise and beauty pageants have become a staple of student life, delegates said.

Statistics from the Department for Education show that in 2009/10, there were 3,330 exclusions for sexual misconduct. In 2010/11, a further 3,030 children were excluded for the same reason.

The 6,000-plus cases cover lewd behaviour, sexual abuse, assault, bullying, daubing sexual graffiti, and sexual harassment.

The 2010/11 total includes 200 exclusions from primary schools: 190 suspensions and ten expulsions.

There have been warnings that the number of expulsions may only hint at the true scale of the problem.

England’s deputy children’s commissioner has told MPs that head teachers are reluctant to tackle sexual exploitation of children for fear of the message it will send out about their schools.

Sue Berelowitz said schools were not facing up to the fact that some bullying amounts to sexual violence.

There were 2,830 exclusions from secondary schools – 2,760 suspensions and 70 permanent.

A survey by the NSPCC last year found that 30 per cent of secondary school teachers and 11 per cent of primary teachers were aware of incidents of ‘sexually coercive’ behaviour by pupils towards classmates over the past year.

And Floella Benjamin, the former children’s presenter, warned of an ‘epidemic’ of violent online porn which is leading youngsters on a ‘seemingly unstoppable march into a moral wasteland’.

Baroness Benjamin, who sits as a Lib Dem peer, said girls were becoming increasingly sexualised while boys were treating them as little more than ‘sexual objects’.

Lib Dem peer and former children's presenter Floella Benjamin, left, warned that children are being led towards a 'moral wasteland'

Last night Claire Perry, the Prime Minister’s adviser on childhood, said: ‘These statistics on expulsions confirm the uneasy sense that many parents have; that our children are operating in an increasingly sexualised culture which is spilling over into the classroom.

‘We need to be aware of the problem and crack on with plans for family-friendly internet filters, clean wi-fi and improved adult content blocks on mobile phones, as the Government has promised.’

The Daily Mail has been campaigning for tough restrictions on web porn amid fears that it is warping children’s views of sex and relationships.

David Cameron has promised that all new computers will be fitted with web filters unless parents specifically lift them, but no timetable has yet been put in place.

Last week the Association of Teachers and Lecturers heard that girls as young as 13 are taking part in homemade porn movies and 12-year-olds are waxing or shaving intimate areas.

Many agree to boyfriends’ demands to send revealing photos of themselves, only for the images to be shared around or posted online.

Jon Brown of the NSPCC said: ‘We have seen a surge in calls to ChildLine from girls who have been victims of sexual violence, often linked to “sexting” and online pornography.

Teachers need proper training in dealing with this issue and we must educate young people about what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour.’

In December, an investigation by Channel 4 News revealed that boys and girls as young as 13 routinely swap explicit pictures of themselves. Youngsters say the practice has become ‘mundane and mainstream’.

One girl told researchers: ‘I get asked for naked pictures at least two or three times a week’, while another referred to sexting as ‘the new flirting’.

A boy said: ‘You would have seen a girl’s breasts before you’ve seen her face.’

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: ‘Exclusions for sexual misconduct are extremely rare and are decreasing, with these statistics representing less than 0.05 per cent of pupils across the country.

‘Nevertheless we know headteachers take this issue extremely seriously, and this Government has reinforced their powers to tackle poor behaviour, including giving schools the final say on the reinstatement of permanently excluded pupils.’


Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Destroying Gifted Education: A National Calamity on the Installment Plan

Imagine that the CIA uncovered a Chinese plot to attack the American economy by undermining our educational system, specifically by making sure that we no longer cultivated the smartest of the smart? The response would be outrage, and rightly so. Some might even call it an act of war, far worse than the usual cyber attack. Alas, what our foreign enemies dare not attempt, we inflict on ourselves. This is a war on gifted education, killing off the intellectually demanding programs targeting the top 3 or 5% of our national brainpower.

This war is a barely noticed guerilla war, one school district at a time but rest assured it will be lethal. Time to sound the alarm and explain how it works.

The latest installment of this nefarious stealth battle was reported in a March 4th in a Wall Street Journal articles-"Gifted Class Imbalance." The article told how New York City's classes for the smartest kids were disproportionately white and Asian. Specifically, while whites and Asians make up a third of all students K-5 they comprise 70% of all students in the city's 110 gifted programs.

The implication was that this imbalance is "unfair" and enrollments should reflect the city's overall demography (yes, this is the Wall Street Journal). The article reported that several educators were "disturbed" by the pattern and one professor from the prestigious Teachers College, Columbia University said that the standardized admission tests should be replaced by a more "balanced" approach that included teacher evaluation and student interviews so as to make enrollments more racially and ethnically representative. Elsewhere in the story this gap was blamed on economic inequality--rich parents can buy expensive books to give their children a leg up in the competition for slots.

It goes without saying that relaxing academic standards via demographic quotas would destroy gifted education. Imagine trying to teach pre-algebra to a class where half the class struggles with arithmetic? A teacher would quickly dumb down the lessons lest the less able students fail the class, a politically unacceptable outcome. Moreover, killing off gifted programs via dilution might well further undermine the city's public schools and therefore weaken the city's tax base. How many parents with intellectually talented offspring denied admission to free public gifted programs will stay put when the private school alternative costs $30,000 a year? Better to escape to the suburbs.

Why, then, do some people, including professors of education still demand filling gifted slots by quota despise the awaiting calamity?  Let me suggest two reasons: the radical egalitarian faith and the public's misunderstanding of how education works.

The egalitarian faith is easy to spot. True believers, often in the prestige media (e.g., The New York Time) and the academy are obsessed with leveling differences. It's their passionate religion. They oppose glass ceilings, unequal pay, differences in college graduation rates and anything else that shows group-related gaps in accomplishment. That these unequal outcomes may be intractable hardly deters their boiling anger over supposed unfairness and the need for yet more heavy-handed government intervention.

But, a more pervasive explanation for this quest concerns how "education" is widely understood. Here, especially unsophisticated parents (and this is true regardless of background), learning is akin to getting a meal, and to get the best meal, one has to eat at the best restaurant. From this perspective, learning is only about access, so if one desires a quality education just attend a top school famous for putting quality knowledge into brains.

Word choice is often the tip-off to this flawed perspective-one "gets an education" as opposed to "one has a chance to learn with nothing guaranteed." This latter perspective correctly assumes that merely sitting in class is insufficient. Rather, considerable personal effort and brain power are required to absorb difficult lessons and failure is always possible.

It is easy to understand how naïve parents just assume junior will shine if only admitted to the gifted classroom. In fact, this misunderstanding is hardly surprising since many egalitarian journalists and academics happily encourage this misperception.

How, then, do we convince parents who mistakenly view gifted education as a benefit for all who merely show up?

Let me suggest a strategy to wean parents from this seductive foolishness: compare access to gifted education to athletics. Draw the parallel between a mediocre high school basketball player being better off playing among mediocre peers versus perpetually sitting on the bench of a top-ranked college team. Yes, being with the elite college team might bring prestige, but it would just waste valuable time and accomplish zero other than some meaningless prestige. The old expression "in over your head" captures this harsh reality.   

Far more is involved here than stopping the clamor for putting junior in over his head. The stakes are much higher and the situation grows more perilous by the day as countless cities and states kill off these programs by diluting them in the name of egalitarian "fairness."

Think of it this way. Much of America's current brain power came up through the gifted programs of the 60's and 70's. At some point these engineers, mathematicians, scientists, doctors and business executive will retire and have to be replaced and this requires sustaining the gifted pipeline.

I can only imagine the glee of our overseas economic rivals as they observe Americans, not their paid agents, wrecking educational havoc to pursue some egalitarian fantasy.  Their glee will grow when they watch desperate American firms hire their own nationals to compensate for the dearth of native-born talent. And then reap the rewards as these nationals return home with the latest American-supplied knowledge. Our rivals will rightly conclude that any people so stupid, so oblivious to the nurturing of intellectual talent deserve to be a second-rate world power. And they would be right.


Some honesty about Common Core standards

In the wake of the rush to adopt Common Core standards nationwide (which beautifully mirrors the standards movement of the early 1990s), Delaware held a major event this past weekend.

Four things you should know about the Common Core standards:

1.  They've been adopted before they were even completed.  I guess we had to adopt the standards before we could know what's in them.

2.  They remain very controversial among education researchers and subject matter experts (since there are no social studies standards yet [see Nr. 1 above] I can only examine the English/Language Arts standards that overlap Social Studies, because it is in that field that I am a subject matter expert.  They are bad.  I will do a detailed analysis soon.

3.  They are not going to work as advertised because they are too extensive, and they are delusional in the expectations of teacher time and the realities of student preparation for them.

4.  Even the people who wrote them are already hedging their bets (while collecting consulting dollars for selling them):
    Tim Shanahan, a University of Illinois professor who helped write part of the standards, was a featured speaker at the conference.

    Shanahan said the Common Core will raise expectations for students, something the U.S. badly needs to compete with the world.

    “Standards don’t raise achievement,” Shanahan said. “But we can address the the standards with energy and wisdom in ways that can raise achievement.”

Common Core standards will not destroy American public education (the Federal government was already doing an excellent job with that), but they will not improve it dramatically.  It will be another multi-million/billion dollar boondoggle.


Return of the one-off junior High school exam 'is unfair to girls' as they are better suited to modular assessment

So British girls cheat more than boys?

A return to final GCSE exams will discriminate against girls, teachers warned yesterday.  They said girls are better suited to ‘modular’ assessment, involving coursework, because they are less confident when sitting exams.

Education Secretary Michael Gove last month confirmed a move to end-of-course tests to cut down on retakes and drive up standards.

But there is concern this could favour boys’ ability to learn and cause girls’ performance to drop.

Since GCSEs were introduced in the late 1980s, girls have consistently outperformed boys. In 2012 boys gained C grades or higher in only 65.4 per cent of papers, compared with 73.3 per cent for girls.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ annual conference yesterday heard the reforms could have a ‘considerable’ impact on girls.

Geoff Venn, a former chief examiner in chemistry, said: ‘If we go back ... to pure single exam at the end of the course, will this have a considerable gender impact on the results that we get?

'Is it going to be discriminatory against girls? I have a strong feeling that it will be.’

He added that girls’ academic improvement since GCSEs were introduced is ‘going to be lost’.

The Department for Education said there was ‘no clear evidence that girls struggle with end of year exams’.


Monday, April 01, 2013

Chicago Teachers Union President Laughs About Lying to Parents, Turning Students Into “Hostages”

Why is our government education system so dysfunctional? Perhaps because parents often don’t get the truth and administrators and teachers are constantly fighting each other.

That much can be discerned from the words of Karen Lewis, president of the radical Chicago Teachers Union.

Lewis appeared before the New York Collective of Radical Educators (an appropriate audience, to be sure) March 16 to give the keynote address at the group’s annual conference.

Lewis reminisced about her teaching days, when she would lie to parents when it came time to discuss their child’s performance. She then said – because of her lies – the student became her “hostage” who would do what she wanted.

Is this what parents want? Teachers lying to them about their children’s performance and behavior in school? Should the leader of one of the nation’s largest teachers unions be advocating such behavior?

Lewis also urged the attendees to make life difficult for their building principals.

“Do you have an insane principal?” she said, to laughs and clapping. “Anybody have an insane principal? Take ‘em out. What that means is remove them, by the way, Fox News … How do you do that? You organize to make their lives so miserable.”

Lewis is suggesting that educators should spend their time making the lives of their bosses miserable, apparently to the point where they choose to resign.

Is this the best use of teachers’ time and energy? Shouldn’t they be focused on helping kids learn and working with their principals to do what’s best for students?

Lewis’ rhetoric underscores the fact that teachers and school leaders are frequently at odds, to the detriment of the learning environment. It exposes the ugly truth about public schools - they’re often acrimonious places where the adults are fighting about adult issues and the children are left behind.


Lawmakers: Anti-Bullying Conference Bullies Conservatives, Christians

A group of nearly two dozen Republican lawmakers is threatening to pull state funding from an Iowa community college unless they defund an anti-bullying program that the lawmakers say bullies Christians and conservatives.

The Des Moines Area Community College is one of several sponsors of the Iowa Governors Conference on LGBTQ Youth – scheduled to be held next week. The program was founded by Iowa Safe Schools.

The college’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter filed a Freedom of Information Act request and discovered that tax and tuition dollars were being used to cover the costs.

“It’s outrageous,” said Jake Dagel, chairman of the YAF chapter at the college. “My school has decided to use the money that I funded them – to go out and fund an event that’s bullying people with my beliefs.”

Dagel took issue with several of the workshops being offered at the conference – and said they were anti-Christian and anti-conservative.

“Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Right Wing?” is the title of one workshop.

“Learn messages and methods to fight back against propaganda from the extreme right-wing, from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh to Bob Vander Plaats and Jan Mickelson,” read the workshop’s description.

Vander Plaats is president of The Family Leader, an Iowa-based socially conservative organization. Mickelson is a talk radio host at WHO in Des Moines.

A workshop about LGBTQ and the Bible ponders questions like, “Is the Bible an excuse to hate?” and “Can the love between two people ever be an abomination?”

“I have a problem because they are using taxpayer funds to bully people at an anti-bullying conference,” Dagel told Fox News.

Republican lawmakers released a statement denouncing the use of taxpayer funds to support the conference.

“We cannot in good conscience vote to give taxpayer dollars to people or groups who pervert the Bible, teach our youth to engage in dangerous behavior, and target individuals like Jan Mickelson for hatred and bullying,” their statement read.

The lawmakers vowed to vote against funding the community college unless they pull tax dollars from the LGBTQ conference.

Rob Denson, president of the college, told Fox News he will not withdraw funding from the event.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “All I know is the intent of Iowa Safe Schools is to support diversity and protect children.”

Denson confirmed they are sponsoring 50 students so they can attend the conference – costing $1,000.

“We want to make this conference available to a certain number of our students that might not otherwise be able to go,” he said. “As a community college we have many students who represent many of the different categories and we are supportive of all of them.”

Denson said the college’s diversity commission signed off on the contribution.

“We respect everyone’s right to live the life they want to live,” he said.

But Dagel questioned whether Christians or conservatives would be welcomed at the event.

“Being a Christian or a conservative – you would feel like an outcast,” he said. “This is not diversity. Any organization or event that targets individuals is absolutely not diverse.”

President Denson refuted that suggestion – and said the conference “promotes diversity and opposes bullying or any behavior toward diverse populations that is unfair, inappropriate or illegal.”

So what about the conferences targeting conservatives and Christians?

“We don’t have enough information to know that those titles are anything more than attention getters,” he said.”You try to put a title on a conference that develops interest.”

An Iowa Safe Schools spokesperson did not return calls seeking comment.



It’s not just school grades that British parents buy

Is there a single public figure in Britain who did not go to private school? With the Prime Minister, the Mayor of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury all owners of the black and pale-blue striped Old Etonian tie, it can sometimes seem that way.

Half the Cabinet, more than half of the country’s top medics and 70 per cent of judges went to fee-paying schools – compared to just 7 per cent of the overall population. It is not just men in suits, wigs and white coats who are likely to have been privately educated. Over a third of Team GB’s Olympic medallists from last summer went to private schools.

This week, the debate was reignited by the improbable figure of Sandie Shaw. The 1960s singer, of Puppet on a String and lack of shoes fame, was in front of the culture, media and sport select committee at the House of Commons. She claimed that it would be impossible for her, the daughter of a Dagenham car worker, to repeat her success in today’s world.

“At the moment, unless you are Mumford & Sons and come from a public school and have a rich family that can support you, you’re on the dole and you’re trying to work and by the time you get a sniff of a record contract you just grab anything they might offer you,” she said.

Poor old Mumford & Sons – forever destined to be wheeled out as an example of the public-school mafia that dominate the Top 40. Most of the members of the “nu-folk” band met while pupils at King’s College Wimbledon, incidentally the same private school attended by Nick D’Aloisio, the 17-year-old who landed himself a £20 million internet fortune this week. Then there are Chris Martin of Coldplay, Florence Welch, Dido, Lily Allen, Radiohead and nice, fresh-faced Will Young – public school educated one and all. Even the Saturdays, the girl band currently occupying the number one slot in the singles chart, contains two members whose parents paid for their education.

How private schools have continued to attract pupils during the downturn has baffled some economists, particularly considering fees have increased by 75 per cent in the last decade. But this sheer weight of success – across the full spectrum of British life, from the track of Sir Chris Hoy’s Olympic velodrome to the stage of the Birmingham hippodrome – is one of the reasons why parents seem willing to dig deep into their pockets. Sandie Shaw’s comment struck home: a private school education increases your child’s chances, even their artistic ones.

The Sutton Trust, which monitors the rusty wheels of Britain’s social mobility, carried out a snapshot survey of the school backgrounds of 8,000 “notable people” deemed important enough to have their birthdays announced in the broadsheet newspapers. Even the arts – where you might think raw talent rather than education would be the deciding factor in a successful career – were dominated by private school pupils. Half of the 135 theatre producers and directors went to private school, and four out of 10 actors too (including Old Etonians Eddie Redmayne and Damian Lewis).

Pop stars, in fact, were one of the least privileged groups, only out-plebbed by policemen. The government-funded Brit School, the performing arts college in Croydon whose alumni include Amy Winehouse, Leona Lewis and Adele, has a far better track record than Eton, which hasn’t had a chart-topper since Humphrey Lyttelton. Even so, a considerable 19 per cent of singers and band members went to private school.

The success of private schools in the so-called “soft” areas such as sport and the arts is partly down to facilities, which have tended to mushroom over the last generation as schools have entered into sports-hall and recording studio “arms races”. Ed Smith, the former England cricketer, pointed out in his book Luck that when England toured Pakistan in 1987-1988 all but one of the 13 players selected were state-educated. When England played India in the summer of 2011, eight of the team’s 11 were privately educated, including Stuart Broad, an alumnus of Oakham and Andrew Strauss, the captain, who went to Radley.

This happens to be my old school (yes, I am one of the 52 per cent of newspaper journalists who went to private school), an institution where the playing fields stretch almost as far as the eye can see – certainly far enough for every single one of its 640 pupils to be playing cricket on a summer afternoon. It also boasts a state-of-the-art theatre, studio space for smaller productions, a music school and concert hall. My hackles rise when a begging letter arrives asking me to help fund yet another Olympic-standard fencing gallery.

Phil DeFreitas, the cricket all-rounder from the 1988 era, went to Willesden High School in north London. Its playing fields were dug up to build a new City Academy, with a glittering building by Sir Norman Foster. It has a basketball court and an Astro Turf pitch for football, but no lovingly watered cricket wicket. It is no surprise that when DeFreitas retired he ended up as a cricket coach not at his old school, but at Oakham, where his experience was used to train future privately educated Stuart Broads, not comp kids like himself.

It is not just the equipment, however. Lee Elliot Major, at the Sutton Trust, says: “There are just not enough state schools that have an aspirational culture. The grammar schools, whatever you may have thought of them, created pupils who aspired, and most independent schools share that. This is as true for pop stars as it is for doctors and lawyers.”

Jo Dickinson, an accountant and mother of three, is about to send her 11-year-old daughter to a private girls’ school. Both she and her husband, a banker, attended comprehensive schools. “My school was good, but it did nothing to nurture me or give me confidence,” she says. “My daughter’s school prides itself on inviting artists and actors as well as doctors and lawyers to give talks to the girls. It’s just something I never had.”

Rachel Johnson, the journalist and sister of Boris, says: “It’s peace of mind. That’s what you are getting when you take on that third mortgage to pay for fees. It’s the peace of mind that you can’t do anything more for your children.”

She thinks the fabled confidence that private schools give their pupils is more of a “veneer”. She, like many parents, frets that this comes with a major disadvantage. Namely, that children will mix in too narrow a social group, shut off from the real world. But this is usually outweighed by the hope that, articulate or not, they will get a leg-up, often in the form of an unpaid internship. In the 1980s, just five per cent of the film industry workforce had under-taken unpaid work, but this rose to 45 per cent over the last decade.

Ryan Shorthouse, at the Social Market Foundation, and author of a report about access to the creative industries, says it is not the unpaid element that is the key barrier. “Bright, talented and enthusiastic people will always find the means and ways to fund an unpaid internship; but they don’t all have access to the network of these internships. This is particularly the case in the creative industries, which tend to be made up of small firms, without the large-scale work experience schemes accountancy or law firms have.”

The confidence that privately educated children are supposed to possess is generated not just by small class sizes, world-class facilities and an encouragement to aspire. It comes from an innate understanding that they will grow up knowing the right people, that there is a network they can tap into. As Dr Elliot Major says: “Politicians talk of soft skills; it’s more than that. They are life-defining skills – that is what the top private schools are so good at giving their pupils.”

This is something that parents who are lucky enough to have money understand. For all the promises from Michael Gove’s education department to inject academic rigour into the state school system, governments will always struggle to compete with the “life-defining skills” on offer in the private system.


Sunday, March 31, 2013

One in ten Yale chicks are whores

Basing percentages on a sample of 40 is pretty shaky, though

Nine percent of Yale University students who participated in a recent survey on sexual behavior reported having been paid for sex at least once. Three percent said they had participated in bestiality, and more than half said they had “engaged in consensual pain” during sex.

The survey was administered to a group of about forty students on Saturday, during a workshop meant to prompt students to “reconsider their idea of ‘normal’,” according to the Yale Daily News.

The workshop was taught by Jill McDevitt, a 27-year-old “sexologist” who also owns a sex shop in West Chester, Pennsylvaina, which sells vibrators and various sex toys.

She has posted videos of her educational workshops online, including one in which she demonstrates oral sex on a carrot.

“People don’t think a college student at an Ivy League university would accept payment for sex but I’ve never had asked this question on a college campus and not had ‘yes’ answers,” McDevitt told the Yale Daily News.

It is not clear to what extent the participants in the survey represent the student body as a whole. However, it will come as a shock to many that a significant number of students at an elite Ivy League school have accepted payment for sex, or have engaged in  bestiality.

McDevitt’s workshop was part of a series of sex-themed events held at Yale University over three days, called “Sex Weekend.”

Another event during Sex Weekend included instruction in sadism and masochism, based on the book 50 Shades of Gray.

McDevitt also asked students to report on their “incest fantasies.”

One student who participated in the McDevitt workshop, Alex Saeedy, spoke favorably of the event. In a statement to the YDN, he said he felt the point of the event was “to bring up things we thought were so taboo and desire or urges we criticize are just regular parts of sexual psychology.”

Others on campus, however, did not approve of the tone of the events.  In an interview with The College Fix, sophomore Elaina Plott said, “I think sex week in general is very sad because it reduces sex to such a triviality, and to something we talk about in such an alarmingly casual manner.”

Another current Yale student, who wished to remain anonymous, called this year’s Sex Weekend “another tasteless exhibitionist parade.”

Yale has a long history of hosting sex-themed events at the university that appear, on the whole, to be intended more to titillate students than to educate them. Sex Weekend is organized by students, but is overseen and approved by university administrators, who grant the use of classrooms and university facilities for the events.

Numerous U.S. universities have begun to host “Sex Weeks” in recent years, a trend that was pioneered by Yale. Past events at Yale have included appearances by porn stars, live nudity, sex-toy giveaways, and screenings of a hard-core porn films, including one that reportedly depicted “fantasy rape.”

At the time of publication, Yale officials had not responded to The College Fix’s email request for comments on the events that took place last weekend.


Gay and Godless on the Public-School Stage

Liberals who demand church-state separation would pitch a fit if a public school decided to perform a play that reverently told stories of the Old Testament, whether it was the story of creation, the story of Noah, or Moses or Joseph and his brothers.

But somehow, if a public school decides to put on a play mocking God and the Old Testament, that is not a church-state violation. The separation police don't want religious (or atheist) minorities to face religious indoctrination in a public school. But anti-religious indoctrination mocking the Judeo-Christian majority is a glorious festival of free speech.

Take, for example, the taxpayer-funded Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School in the People's Republic of Massachusetts. The school is in South Hadley, part of the same community of Northampton which was happily nicknamed "Lesbianville, USA" after the 2000 census showed more lesbians live there per capita than anywhere in the country. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow has a house there.

Smack dab in the middle of the Lenten season, as many Christians prepare for Easter, the school scheduled performances of a play called "The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told." Make no mistake: This is a deliberate, and intentionally vicious, attack on Christianity.

"Fabulous" was written by the gay Jewish playwright and screenwriter Paul Rudnick. In this deconstruction of the Bible, God first creates two gay couples, Adam and Steve and Mabel and Jane.

These four are expelled from Eden and end up on Noah's ark, where Steve invents infidelity by having an affair with a rhinoceros. (Since that is somehow not enough, the women are sexually paired with a rabbit and a pig.) When the ark lands, this gay quartet discovers a strange race of humans who describe the horror of procreation. "We're gay," Adam announces. "We don't have children. We have taste."

The first act concludes with Adam and Steve being two of the wise men at the Nativity. The second scene opens in the current day, with a depiction of the birth of Jesus in a New York apartment with the "wise man" Steve now being HIV-positive and the lesbian Jane in the place of Mary, the Mother of God, who complains, "I'm not supposed to be pregnant, I'm a bulldyke!"

Mabel arranges to be married to Jane by a handicapped lesbian rabbi with a cable-access TV show. We're also "treated" to Santa Claus as an "exquisitely curdled fairy."

It's one thing for this Bible shredding play to be performed in a community theater by adults. It's another thing entirely for these to be acted out in a public school by teenagers.

For his part, Rudnick is quite clear he doesn't believe in God. (Shocker.) In the script's introduction, he writes, "I believe in what human beings can do when you give them fifty bucks to guy some cheap red polyester velvet. Some people need more, something with vengeance and commandments and jihads."

He approached the play with the notion "Certainly my version of biblical matters could be every bit as absurd as the King James take. Creation tales tend towards the delirious; trying to explain the cosmos inevitably leads to comedy."

The Left rebels against God, and then declare they are the open-minded, peaceful ones. Pat James, a lesbian who bought a bunch of tickets for each performance, insisted, "The Haydenville Congregational Church is supportive all the way. We are an open and affirming congregation."

Does Rudnick's play sound like something you could support as "affirming"? This is the point. They're not only insulting they're dishonest. They know that to traditional Jews and Christians, this is a double-middle-finger salute. It only "affirms" by mockery. Why not just say so?

Because they're hypocrites. Leftists, more the radical ones, have an Orwellian habit of describing themselves as "inclusive" and "welcoming," but they shriek intolerance for people they think are intolerant. They don't have the decency to wonder if productions like these are the polar opposite of "open and affirming." They reject decency itself.

Then there was the school's principal, Tom Goldman, who asked, "Is it the role of public school to facilitate an exchange of ideas on the themes explored in this particular play? This is an excellent question, with answers that I imagine will be debated in what I hope will be climate of civility and a desire to understand others' viewpoints."

This man has the backbone of a noodle.

So to create an "exchange of ideas," the first thing you do is leave a flaming bag of dung on someone's doorstep? The Left has a bad habit of calling something a mere "dialogue" when they are dictating their terms of surrender to the culture. The note about hoping for a "climate of civility" is especially ridiculous, since there is no civility in the product on stage.


We must stop Britain turning into a land without memory

It may enrage some historians, but Education Secretary Michael Gove is right that children should learn things by heart

Four centuries ago, John Donne wrote a poem called “Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward”. Because of the call of pleasure or business, the author is riding to the west, away from Jesus, who will rise (there is a pun on “sun” and “son”) in the east. He knows he should not be doing this, but he is “almost glad” to be facing the wrong way because the day of Christ’s suffering is something he cannot bear to see.

Donne is conscious that Jesus sees him, though, from the Cross. He asks Jesus to punish him for turning his back on him, and so improve him that he may become the image of Christ, fit to look upon: “Restore thine image, so much, by thy grace, / That thou may’st know me, and I’ll turn my face.”

In honour of this poem, which I have always admired, I decided to mark its 400 years by riding westward on Good Friday yesterday. It was penitentially cold, and my horse, probably not out of piety, was anxious to turn back and gallop east, in the direction of his stable. I had to struggle to keep him going forward.

I reflected, on our anniversary journey, of how our civilisation has changed since Donne rode and wrote. On almost any measure – of health, literacy, longevity, civil peace, parliamentary democracy, science, transport, the emancipation of women, prosperity, dentistry – things have got better. Only someone who knows very little about life in 1613 could say that he would rather have been alive then than now. I felt pleased that I would soon be back home in my warm house with all mod cons.

But there is a couplet in the poem which made me pause. Speaking of the narrative of the Passion, Donne says: “Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye, / They are present yet unto my memory.” He was writing in a culture when certain things of overwhelming importance were present in the memory of virtually every human being. We do not live in such a culture, and it shows.

Partly, of course, it is a matter of technology. Bertie Wooster had to ask Jeeves for information and the 99.999 per cent of people who lacked a valet for the purpose had to burnish their own memory. Now we can almost all Google. This is the mental equivalent of the microwave, and very useful it is.

I notice, however, that the decline of memory also has an ideological component. If you look at the extraordinary rows that have broken out about Michael Gove’s revised National Curriculum for history, you will see what I mean.

What Mr Gove is proposing is a return to narrative. He wants children to know the history of this country in the right order, from the Stone Age to now. On this basis, they should also build knowledge of European history and world history. He is suspicious of the emphasis in the current history curriculum on learning “skills” (such as the evaluation of different sources) if these skills are divorced from the framework of chronology and wider acquaintance with history. He notices the stupefying boredom, complication and bad exams which this emphasis has produced. He thinks it is better to know the names and dates of our kings and queens than to be plunged into comparing the attitudes of different historians to an isolated historical problem.

All this is sensible, though no doubt parts of it are difficult to implement. Yet it has enraged some distinguished historians. They hate the idea that children might have to learn facts. They use the tired old references to Dickens’s flinty-faced hardware merchant Mr Gradgrind (“Facts alone are what is wanted in life”) that I have heard trotted out in every argument about education for 30 or 40 years. They protest at “rote learning”. They regard the notion that things need to be remembered as offensive.

They also hate the suggestion that some things are more worth learning than others. Richard Evans is the Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge. Inexplicably, given his views, he was offered a knighthood by this Government and, equally inexplicably, given his views, he accepted it. He has berated his fellow professor, Simon Schama, who has helped Mr Gove, for speaking warmly of “a sense of shared memory”. This is insulting, he thinks, to British people of different racial origins. It would be better to teach our Afro-Caribbean citizens the history of Benin and Oyo, for example.

Sir Richard suspects that we are threatened with “celebratory history”. He cannot bear to think that pupils might be taught that good old British Wellington won the battle of Waterloo: the true victors were Blucher and his Germans. Professor David Cannadine, another prominent historian, thinks that Mr Gove’s ideas are “blinkered” because they centre on the history of Britain. He mocks the idea that children aged five or six could “debate and discuss the concept of nation”.

Professional historians are right to be chary of history as propaganda or as good, but untrue stories (for example, there is no evidence that Alfred burnt the cakes). But it is surely a fundamentally wrong attitude to education which says that children should not learn some things indelibly. It is essential that, from very early on, some things become literally unforgettable. Children’s elders need to work out what those things are, and then make sure that they learn them, whether or not, at the time of learning, they fully understand.

This, after all, is how language itself works. A child starts to wield a word before he or she quite knows what it means. He imitates, at first; but from imitation, comprehension gradually flows. He hears a rhyme, and he likes its noise and enjoys repeating it, often before grasping fully what it is about. He hears a story, or a prayer, and bits of it stir him. The more of it he remembers, the more it will gradually mean to him.

It is also natural for knowledge to emanate outwards. One learns things first from one’s family, then from one’s teachers, then from the wider society and media. By analogy, this is the only sensible way to learn history. You will naturally want to learn first about the country in which you live. Contrary to Professor Cannadine, the concept of nation has a meaning for the very young, as anyone who travels abroad with small children will attest. Your own country is the most accessible model for understanding all countries, just as mastery of your own language helps you master other ones. It is a matter of working with the materials to hand.

If all this is denied, what happens is that the well-educated become very privileged and everyone else is cut off. The Evanses and Cannadines and other priests of knowledge can move freely in the world they have created for themselves, but the millions who have never really learnt anything important are held down in ignorance.

It is an extraordinary feature of the great religions that they are the only known structures of ideas and stories which deal with this problem. The teachings and life of Jesus were once known to all Europeans, and resonated just as much (possibly more) with the poor as with the mighty. John Donne knew that the memory on which he relied was one shared by all classes. Today, bogus egalitarianism has killed memory among uneducated people, and therefore increased social division. Experts attack “rote learning”, but I prefer the phrase “learning by heart”. Head and heart together is what we need, but our culture has separated them.