Friday, December 20, 2013

Liberals, Unions and Teachers Find New Uses for Dead Children

Note: This article contains explicit language that some readers might find offensive.

Liberals in Ohio have used the death of a 14-year-old homeschooler in order to try to pass legislation that would require all homeschooling families to first have a home visit by some bureaucrat or another to see if they’re worthy enough for homeschooling.

14-year old Teddy Foltz was pulled out of school by his mother because teachers suspected child abuse, the story goes.

The child was subsequently beaten to death by the mother's boyfriend who is now serving a life sentence for murder and is eligible for parole in 33 years. The mother was sentenced to 15 years for complicity in the death of her son. If it were up to me, I’d give the both of them the death penalty.

But as I said before a liberals never let dead kids go to waste. Or rest in peace.  One Ohio liberal is using this murder for all it’s worth, while practically ignoring the criminals.

“Loved ones of 14-year-old murder victim Teddy Foltz, have joined forces with State Senator Capri Cafaro, in an effort to pass Teddy's Law,” happily reports, the local Youngstown NBC affiliate. “Senate Bill 248, as it's officially known, has been introduced to the Ohio Senate, and the mission is to protect children. Senator Cafaro hopes to put the bill on the fast track, and get it passed for the next school year, so that other children won't fall through the cracks.”

Fall through the cracks?  The only cracks that Teddy fell through were the cracks between teachers and child protective services in Ohio.

So in the grand tradition of progressives covering for other progressives’ mistakes, the senator is introducing a bill that would require homeschoolers--who has a class are completely innocent in this affair-- to go through onerous background checks in lieu of holding the bureaucrats who let Teddy fall through the cracks responsible.

“[Teddy’s law] is breathtakingly onerous in its scope,” says Mike Donnelly, a staff attorney with the Home School Legal Defense Association. “It requires all parents who homeschool to undergo a social services investigation which would ultimately determine if homeschooling would be permitted. Social workers would have to interview parents and children separately, conduct background checks and determine whether homeschooling is recommended or not. If it is not recommended, parents would have to submit to an ‘intervention’ before further consideration of their request to homeschool.”

Teachers unions hate homeschoolers, considering them a drain on education funding that's divided per pupil. More homeschoolers, less funding. Senator Capri Cafaro, it will be noted, gets 100% rating from the Ohio Federation of Teachers (motto: "protect working families" should read "exploiting working families") only because the scoring doesn’t go past 100%. And her father pled guilty to fraud when he gave an undocumented $10,000 loan to her campaign. Sen. Capri denied any knowledge of the loan.

“The charge against John Cafaro is not his first go-around with federal prosecutors,” reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “In 2002, he was fined $150,000 and placed on probation for bribing former U.S. Rep. Jim Traficant.”  Traficant went to jail for bribes and racketeering.

Senator Capri is also a consultant to the United Nations and—snort-- according to Wikipedia“as a participant in the Clinton Global Initiative, she developed a project on anti-corruption efforts in emerging democracies.”

Ha! Anti-corruption efforts... pfft. It will be noted that the United Nations official policy is to consider home schooling child abuse.

Oh yes: This has union written all over it. In conjunction with United Nations. And supported by the Clinton Global Initiative. And brought to you by progressives everywhere.

Only progressives with ties to unions and a history of bad behavior would presume to set up themselves as lawgivers to all.

That’s why I don’t find it odd that the government, under the Cafaros, would presume that families are unfit to teach their children, when in fact the objective evidence points to institutionalized child abuse in the public school system run by the friends of Sen. Capri.

What else do you call it when eighth-grade children are taught about anal sex in a public classroom setting?

I mean besides unionized education under Common Core?

“Teddy Foltz-Tedesco was killed because those responsible for protecting him did not step in as the law or common sense would have dictated,” concludes Donnelly. “Why? Although news reports indicate that abuse had been reported for years prior to Teddy’s death, it does not appear that any serious intervention was made by government authorities charged with investigating such allegations.”

And you, the homeschoolers, and me, we’re going to pay.  That’s the union way.


Fighting Against the Fight against Rising Tuition Costs

Remember when the federal government took over student loans? That power grab was part of the Democrats’ push to make college ‘affordable.’ It didn’t work because it was never really designed to work, just to make people think they were ‘doing something’ to address the issue. But failure has never stopped our liberal/progressive friends from striving ‘forward.’

When it comes to soaring college costs, as President Reagan famously said, "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

Since the government isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, cost savings in higher education have to be found elsewhere. But with government being the intrusive, ever-growing obstacle it is, you can’t expect it to sit by and do nothing as schools scramble to rein in costs.

I was talking with an education policy analyst friend of mine the other day about how much more expensive college has gotten ever since I graduated in 2000, and we bounced ideas around about how to control costs in ways that don’t involve government. (Yes, that’s what many of us inside this beltway bubble talk about over drinks. The rest of you are missing nothing!)

While government subsidizing education is a lion's share of the problem, one of the other issues we discussed is privatizing much of the administrative work. Just like in every public school district in the country, there is an enormous amount of overhead in the university system.

My friend told me about schools that were trying to control costs and the opening salvo of a move by progressives to stop even this modest effort.

About 1,600 schools across the United States have contracted with a company called Higher One to handle the disbursement of financial aid refunds to their students... Higher One saves these schools millions of dollars by disbursing these refunds at much lower costs than colleges can do it themselves. Needless to say, this helps slow the growth of tuition -- making school more affordable to low-income and non-traditional students.

You’d think this would be applauded by politicians and The Left. You’d be wrong.  See, Higher One commits the sin of making a profit.

Many students on financial aid receive funds to cover both tuition as well as books and living expenses. Instead of universities cutting students a check for expenses, they contract with a company like Higher One to handle the money. Higher One gives students choices about how they want to receive the remainder of their student aid for living expenses. Students can opt for either a check in the mail, direct deposit into a bank account or a Higher One debit card that can be used like any other debit card. That’s where liberal opponents have decided to target Higher One.

What Higher One does is what MasterCard and every other bank does – charging fees for using their cards. Apparently, making money from students is against the rules.

That's why Higher One has attracted some attention on Capitol Hill. Congressman George Miller (D-CA) is very interested in the activities of Higher One. Why? Because in his opinion, Higher One's fees are too high.

Never mind the fact that if students only use Higher One ATMs and hit "credit" instead of "debit" every time they make a purchase (and don't bounce any checks) they probably will never pay a fee. In fact, according to Higher One, the typical student pays less than $5 a month in fees. These facts don't matter to Congressman Miller.

The reason for Miller’s sudden interest in this issue isn’t altruistic, it’s something all too common in Washington. Miller has a staffer named Rich Williams who, before handling education issues for the congressman, used to work for the Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG, which has a long history of left-wing advocacy through ‘studies’ they produce as a means to an end – advancing the progressive agenda.

While at PIRG, Williams wrote a ‘study’ about how the debit card fees charged by Higher One accounted for 80 percent of their profits. The PIRG story is wrong; the real number is less than 50 percent, but that's irrelevant. After all, is there an acceptable percentage that PIRG and Rich Williams would accept? Probably not and they shouldn't have the right to pick how much money any company can or cannot make.

But Williams' work at PIRG, flawed and pointless as it is, is now being cited by Congressman Miller in his salvos against Higher One and, by extension, against colleges that attempt to reign in ballooning administrative costs.

Garbage in, garbage out is one thing. But when you can see that garbage is being used as the basis for government action, that makes it something entirely different. Today, the Department of Education is looking at debit cards issued by companies like Higher One. If Miller and Williams are successful, schools may be forced to stop working with these companies to process student loan refunds. That means schools will need to spend millions of dollars a year on unnecessary staff, check printing and postage costs. And oh yeah, tuition costs will probably go up because of it. I guess that's ok with Congressman Miller and Rich Williams as long as no one dares make a profit.

I don’t know if Williams has it in for Higher One for some personal reason or if it was just what he was assigned to do while at PIRG, but it doesn’t matter. That the mentality he appears to possess is now working for the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee should be a concern for anyone who believes in the free market.

Williams is not unique. Capitol Hill, and government in general, is populated by people who come to serve not the public, but their own or some organization’s agenda. They have every right to. Just as we have every right to know about them, especially when they’re finding new and creative ways of costing taxpayers more money.


Is university worth it?

Comment from Australia

Are university degrees overpriced? How many students considered this question when choosing what and where to study in 2014, or the potential return on a six-figure investment?

Three years of a university undergraduate degree and lost wages during that time (assuming full-time work was available) would easily crack $100,000 for even general degrees. Wages aside, many students leave university with tens of thousands of dollars in loans that take years to repay.

Is the debt worth it? The standard answer – university graduates achieve higher employment and wage outcomes than non-graduates – is true of many students. But will that trend be as strong as the labour market is transformed and university graduates are less in demand?

Some universities are pushing for 10 per cent fee increases – at a time of rising graduate oversupply – such are their growing costs and funding pressures.

How many university graduates does Australian business need each year? A lot fewer than are being pumped through the system. Even professions such as law and veterinary science have recently warned of a graduate oversupply.

Yes, university degrees are highly valuable for the right students. As a part-time uni lecturer, I see students who develop terrific critical-thinking skills that will last a lifetime and repay the cost of their degree many times over. Also, some degrees are exceptional value considering the work that goes into each student and the resources available.

But I am concerned for the bottom half of students, many of whom should not be at university – at least straight after school – and who will leave with an average degree and a $40,000 debt, only to work in a succession of low-paid part-time jobs as they struggle to find professional employment.

Too many students go to university when they are not ready – or not at university level, academically and emotionally. Some young men, in particular, seem to have little or no interest in higher learning – only scraping a pass – even though they incur huge debt to laze about.

You could blame universities for this: lower entry requirements and softer marking in some courses compared with previous generations may have devalued bachelor degrees. If more people can do the course and fewer fail, is it still worth as much? And have universities, generally, sacrificed student quality in the quest for quantity?

However, the real problem is society attitudes: we still expect young people to spend years at university and pay huge course fees to prove they are smart and diligent enough to be employed in a graduate position. It’s dumb and outdated.

We railroad young people towards university straight after school, when many would be better off finding lower-paid work and studying part-time, or deferring full-time study until they are more mature, experienced and better able to fund their degree.

I’m worried about the outlook for graduate employment in Australia. One in eight employers recruited no graduates in 2012, down from one-in-10 a year earlier, Graduate Careers Australia reported in February. I expect that proportion to fall further in the next few years.  My guess is there will be more stories about a rapidly deteriorating graduate recruitment market in the first half of 2014 or 2015.

I hear about employers deferring or reducing the size of their graduate recruitment program, given rising economic uncertainty and less incentive to invest. It’s an easy cost to cut when business is slow, even though it can have long-term repercussions when trade improves.

Perhaps less graduate employment is a cyclical consequence of a sluggish economy. I suspect it is as much a permanent, structural change as business recognises that:

* It can automate more graduate jobs or outsource them overseas.
* A worldwide shift towards micro-jobs and freelancing provides a much larger, more flexible workforce and less need to hire as many university graduates.
* The cost of hiring and training university graduates, some of whom may only work for the firm for a year or two, outweighs the benefits.
* Some university courses are not producing enough graduates of sufficient quality who can create short-term value for their employers, and are highly innovative and adaptive.
* Recruiting a large pool of graduates and developing the next generation of managers is no longer as pressing issue for as many companies.
* An increasing oversupply of graduates gives companies more recruitment options.
* A growing recognition that the rapid pace of change in global business means skills need to evolve faster than ever. Three years in a classroom might be less effective as a learning technique.
* Wages and on-costs for graduates in some industries are too high.

I wish more companies would take back part of the training function – greater on-the-job learning through internships and cadetships – and less reliance on full-time university study, at least at the undergraduate level.

More part-time study on top of full-time work; less full-time study. Earn and learn at the same time – not one or the other for three years when many students are still unsure about their favoured profession.

Working full-time and studying part-time for four or five years takes incredible commitment: I’d hire such a student any day over one who only studied full-time.

Even better would be a recognition that many young people are better off going to university in their mid to late twenties, after a few years in the workforce, and when they are ready to learn and have some real-life experience to back it up.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

College Presidents Question Obama's Higher Ed Plan

College and university presidents (who overwhelmingly supported the Obama campaign in 2012) are more skeptical than expected about the President's effort to reform federal financial aid, according to a recent poll. The most controversial part of the reform proposal is instituting a national system of ratings and tying federal funding to highly-rated schools.

The plan itself is not recent news, but the reaction of higher education leaders is. Inside Higher Ed provides some background:

    "Obama administration officials have said that the colleges would be compared to institutions with similar missions. But details on how the system would work have yet to be fully developed or released.

    The skepticism of the plan among presidents is striking given how many of them say that they appreciate the way Obama has repeatedly stressed the importance of higher education. Indeed, in a 2012 survey of presidents, Inside Higher Ed found that nearly two-thirds of them planned to vote for the president's re-election -- and that percentage would have been even higher except for strong opposition from presidents of for-profit institutions."

The results of the Gallup/Inside Higher Ed poll, which included responses from 675 college and university presidents, reveal broad pessimism.

In response to the general question "How effective will President Obama's plan to make college more affordable be?" only 2% answered "Very Effective" while 17% answered "Not Effective At All." A plurality of those surveyed, 42%, said it will be "Not Too Effective."

When it came to the question of "In your opinion, will President Obama's plan to make college more affordable have a positive effect on your institution?" only 19% said "Yes" but 50% said "No."

Other highlights of the poll include:

    Do you agree or disagree that students will use the new information provided by the Department of Education to make informed decisions in selecting higher education institutions?
    Strongly agree: 2 percent
    Agree: 11 percent
    In the middle: 27 percent
    Disagree: 34 percent
    Strongly disagree: 22 percent

    Do you agree or disagree that the president's strategy to link federal financial aid to an institution's performance on the new rating system is a good idea?
    Strongly agree: 3 percent
    Agree: 13 percent
    In the middle: 30 percent
    Disagree: 30 percent
    Strongly disagree: 35 percent

The respondents also expressed skepticism about the proposed criteria for the ratings system: 52% agree or strongly agree that President Obama's ratings system will favor the wealthiest institutions despite the fact that the White House has emphasized its purpose as a measure to benefit the middle class.

Reforming higher education, improving college affordability, and restructuring federal financial aid are popular among politicians, academics, and American citizens alike. Regardless, President Obama's plan is doomed to fail unless the leaders of the institutions to be reformed are brought on board as well.


Study: Best Teachers Should Have the Largest Classes

Contrary to the practice of school districts nationwide, assigning more students to the best teachers, and less students to the lowest-performing instructors, would significantly boost student test scores, according to a recent study that concludes that the “magnitude of differences" between the best and worst teachers “swamps the expected effect of smaller classes.”

“One simple change—giving effective teachers a handful more students—could mean a big boost to student achievement,” labor economist Michael Hansen concluded in the study, entitled “Right-sizing the Classroom: Making the Most of Great Teachers,” he conducted for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. (See class size.pdf)

Although educators have mixed views on the importance of class size, the conventional wisdom is that smaller is better. Hansen disagrees.

“Instead of trying to keep class sizes small, we should be leveraging our existing teacher talent by enlarging the classes taught by our best instructors – and compensating these excellent teachers for the extra work involved,” he says.

“Part of the appeal of this strategy is that it is a way of paying outstanding teachers more— under the cover of giving them more students,” he added.

Hansen, a senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), used actual classroom data from North Carolina, a state in which only “25 percent of students are taught by the top 25 percent of teachers,”  to simulate what would have happened if top-performing teachers had been assigned more students.

State laws, district policies, and bargaining agreements prevent most school districts from following this approach. However, after analyzing three years of fifth and eighth grade test scores, Hansen’s simulation found that assigning an additional 12 students to the best fifth grade teachers -  up to a maximum of 32 students in the classroom - made little difference, adding the equivalent benefit of just two extra school days.

However, test scores in eighth grade jumped when the most effective teachers were assigned 12 more students, producing gains “equivalent to adding two-and-a-half extra weeks of school.”

Just shifting six students would also make a significant difference, Hansen noted, adding that “no district to my knowledge has purposefully allocated students in this manner.”

“The simulated gains in eighth-grade math and science achieved by shifting just six additional students to effective teachers are equivalent to the expected effect of removing the lowest 5 percent of teachers in these subjects—and these gains can be achieved without actually removing them!”

Students remaining in the lower-performing teachers’ classes would also benefit, the study found.

“The ‘shifted’ students benefit from being reassigned to a better teacher, and their gain exceeds the ‘penalty’ imposed on other pupils already in that classroom who now have a slightly larger class. What’s more, the remaining students in the less-effective teacher’s class receive a ‘benefit’ because their class becomes smaller.”

Although Hansen acknowledges that small classes are “wildly popular,” and that “there is some evidence they boost student achievement,” he points out that “it would take an increase of at least ten to twenty additional students in a good teacher’s class to dilute his productivity to that of an average teacher.”

Therefore, he concludes, “universally shrinking class sizes may be counterproductive in terms of pupil achievement.”

He also cited a 2012 survey by the Farkas Duffett Research (FDR) Group that found that 73 percent of parents would pick a class with 27 students taught by one of the best teachers in the school district for their child over a smaller class of 22 students taught by a “randomly chosen teacher.”

However, he warns that moving students to different teachers within the same school would have little effect on the minority achievement gap because “the pool of available teachers in high-poverty schools does not change under this strategy.”


NC Superintendent: Vouchers May Fund ‘Schools of Terror’

There’s nothing like a little fear mongering to go with a heaping helping of government school protectionism.

That’s the modus operandi of North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson. She recently spoke to WTEC and offered a real doozy: private school vouchers may fund “schools of terror.” That’s right – the taxpayers of North Carolina may be funding the next Osama bin Laden if they have school choice.

Watch the interview she gave with WTEC here.

What an absurd claim. If the government is funded a so-called “school of terror” – whatever that actually is – Atkinson wouldn’t be doing her job. With vouchers comes government regulation. That’s the cost of a private school accepting a voucher.

Atkinson knows that but is acting otherwise. She’s either lying or saying she wouldn’t be able to regulate such a school. Neither is good for North Carolina school children.

If Atkinson really wants to root out any sympathizers of terror, perhaps she should look into the University of North Carolina School of Education and specifically Professor Lynda Stone.

In 2008, Stone came to the defense of one William Ayers, a real flesh-and-blood domestic terrorist who was a part of an organization – the Weather Underground – that bombed the Pentagon and New York City police headquarters in the 1960s.

Stone signed a statement saying she opposed “the demonization of Professor William Ayers.” In fact, her website lists an interview she gave on Ayers as a “public service.”

Before Atkinson throws out wild theories in her determination to keep kids trapped in failing schools, perhaps she should root out the enemy within.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

“Bah! Humbug!”: A Dickens-less Christmas from the Scrooges of the Common Core

Any people is known by and knows itself through its stories. In addition to the true story of its existence—its history—there are stories that technically never happened. While these stories get assigned to the “fiction” section of the library, that does not mean they are not true—at least true to nature. The myths, parables, poems, plays, novels, and, occasionally, epics—that are given the high name of literature—are the vehicles through which the greatest observers of human nature explain that human world to their fellow human beings. Through stories we learn about the struggles and longings, the triumphs and defeats, of ordinary men and women. We learn about the human virtues and their opposite vices. We discover the sources and meaning of love, justice, freedom, and happiness, as well as of hatred, injustice, slavery, and ruin.

In a sane world, any flourishing people has sense enough to teach its best stories to its youngest people. It does so for several reasons. Stories inculcate civility and the virtues, which any people wishes to pass on to its young. Stories unveil the permanent truths of human life—that do not change with every innovation in technology or swing of political mood. Best of all, great stories are irresistible since they invite the human imagination to embark upon adventures and encounters that never grow old: to fight alongside a warrior named Achilles, to feel for a young woman in love named Elizabeth, and to float down a river with a boy named Huck.

No sensible people deliberately forgets its stories. In fact, it would take a deliberate, premeditated act to forget them. Stories are a substantial part of any culture: the agency that cultivates the human soul and teaches a people how to think and feel. A people setting aside its stories would be tantamount to a person deliberately choosing amnesia: deciding not to know who he is or where he comes from, who his friends are and, if he has any, who his enemies. Who would ever do such a thing?

Great peoples have great stories. The Greeks had Homer. The Romans had Virgil. It has been the singular fortune of the American people to be able to draw our stories from the vast literary reservoir of two great peoples, the British and the American, who share a common language—a great language, made greater by its masterful storytellers. We in America have as much access and right to the soliloquies of Hamlet, the struggles of Crusoe, and the letter of Mr. Darcy as anyone who lives in London or studies at Oxford. And in return, this literary nation has given our British brethren the creations of Melville and Poe and Twain.

Given these fundamental truths of education, we would expect children and young people in America to know the great stories of the British and American tradition almost as well as they know their own families and friends. We would expect the name Lady Macbeth to come up in conversation more than, say, Kardashian. We would expect the lines following the words “To be or not to be” to be at least as well known as the words following “If you like it, then you shoulda putta ring on it.” Given the human mind’s love for stories, we would expect virtually everyone’s speech, especially that of children, to be awash with literary allusions and lines from the greatest tales of romance and adventure. And if that weren’t happening, we would know something had gone wrong with our education and our culture.

To right that wrong, educated and public-spirited people would come together to get the great stories back into the nation’s classrooms. They might rally around a common core of the greatest books and plays and poems. The discussion of these reform-minded folk would become heated around one central question: how can we fit in everything that is noble and beautiful and true and still do justice to these stories that can’t just be ripped through in a day? “We’ve got to have the students read Hamlet and Macbeth, but, oh, is there any way to get to Othello and Henry V and Lear?!” “Yes, Moby Dick will take at least two months to read and discuss thoroughly. Yes, it’s challenging. But it is the great American novel. We can’t let students out of high school without knowing it!” Above all, we would expect certain august names in the literary canon to appear whenever and wherever literature was discussed: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Austen, Dickens, Hawthorne, Melville, Poe, Twain.

What we would not expect is educational “experts” trying to take our great stories away from us and to do so in the name of a common core. We would not expect them to chop up the great books into thin slices so as to make room for modern, untested authors who may be all the rage one day and gone tomorrow. The last thing we would expect the reformers to do is take away classic literature and replace it with a bunch of newspaper or journal articles from just a few months ago. Such preposterous “reforms” would either be laughed out of court as an absurd surrender of our literary birthright or prosecuted as an attack on the human imagination.

And yet that is precisely what has been done through the monstrosity that is woefully misnamed the Common Core. In crafting their English Standards, the architects of the Common Core have committed three cardinal sins, all which undermine the teaching of great stories. They have required that great literature give way to modern “informational texts.” They have required the teaching of post-modern, usually multicultural, mush in each “grade-band” (which in practice translates into every year), thus further supplanting the classics. And through the specter of standardized testing and the selling out of the curriculum to the publishing houses, they have allowed the textbooks to balkanize and anthologize whatever great literature remains until it is utterly unrecognizable.

Let us take one example: Charles Dickens. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in literature to know that Dickens should be read in an English class. All you have to do is look around, particularly this time of year. How many references to Scrooge do you hear? How many times will you hear the unique and instantly recognizable vocabulary of Scrooge himself or references to the ghost of Christmas past or to Tiny Tim? Our month-long celebration of Christmas is almost unthinkable without Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. If you have not read that beautiful story in a while, do so. Or better still, listen to the audiobook read by Patrick Stewart with your family, as my wife and I do with our children the week leading up to Christmas. The language, the wit, the mystery, the pathos, and the message are captivating and moving. The story brings tears to the eye and joy to the heart. As such, it supplements (but does not supplant) the original Christmas story. Nor is it the province of the political Right. Scrooge obviously ranks among the awful top 2% who bring so much misery to the world.

A Christmas Carol does not make the Common Core’s list of “exemplar texts” that are supposed to be read by every student in the land. Apparently, the arbiters of our English education do not read A Christmas Carol every year. Nor do the unnamed “outside contributors” to the Hit Parade. More surprising, not a single work of Charles Dickens appears in the list of “exemplar texts.” Not one. There is no Great Expectations, no Oliver Twist, no David Copperfield, no Hard Times and no A Tale of Two Cities. No Dickens at all! WTD, exclaims the cultured texter (What The Dickens!) Now how did the “work group” miss that great author? That would be like leaving Joe DiMaggio out of the Hall of Fame.

What is abundantly clear is that the authors of the Common Core do not really care about literature, about great stories. That comes through in spades if you go through the mind-numbing exercise of reading the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, whose title is repellant enough and, yes, includes a forward slash. (Fortunately, you don’t have to since I have read and translated these so-called standards in my book The Story-Killers.) The arch-testers of the Common Core do not love stories, and I actually think they are trying to kill off our stories: the great stories of a great people that teach us how to be good and happy and free. And they are replacing these stories with post-modern literary malaise and outright political indoctrination. Hence the plethora of post-modern authors that litter the Common Core English Standards and of “informational texts” such as Atul Gawande’s June 2009 article that appeared in The New Yorker: “The Cost Conundrum: Health Care Costs in McAllen, Texas.” Does anyone remember why we were debating health care costs in the summer of 2009?

“But these are only recommended texts. You can decide at the state or district or classroom level to read whatever you want to,” say the proponents of the Common Core. Of course, the reality is that the deadly combination of standardized testing and textbook publishing not only prescribes what will be taught but actually programs the teachers as to how these books are to be taught, as I have shown in previous articles. To be fair, let’s look into how much attention Dickens is given in the modern high school curriculum by opening up the high-school textbooks published by Pearson/Prentice Hall. Freshman year: No Dickens. Sophomore year: No Dickens. Junior year: No Dickens. Senior year, in the textbook called The British Tradition: six pages of Dickens, that is, six pages that have Dickens’s actual words on them, leaving aside the long, unnecessary, superficial warm-up supplied by the officious and space-wasting editors at Pearson/Prentice Hall. Specifically, the first chapter of Hard Times is printed. That’s it. A chapter hardly a story makes.

But don’t be fooled even by these six pages. They are the ghost of literature present. The ghost of literature past had students reading a whole Dickens novel. For me it was David Copperfield in my senior year. Students don’t do that anymore in the vast majority of public schools. And the ghost of literature future? No Dickens. Why? We can argue over the motivation behind the Common Core at another juncture. What we plainly see in this important season of the year is that to this great, soul-transforming story (and maybe to Christmas itself), the educational Scrooges of the Common Core have said, “Bah! Humbug!”


Deconstructing Othello

Browsing through a second-hand book shop recently, I chanced upon a New Penguin paperback edition of William Shakespeare's Othello, edited by Kenneth Muir, a Shakespearean scholar. I have the Oxford Complete Works and have read the play a few times. What intrigued me about the New Penguin edition, however, were a student's notes inked throughout it with often indecipherable and frequently puerile, labored penmanship (meaning in mixed block letters and cursive, a sure sign that the student "texts" more than he writes). But enough of it was legible that I could take the measure of the student's mind and what he was taught to focus on in the play. The most significant comment was scrawled on the title page:

    "othello & desdemonda oposits because not know his own culture." (sic)

"His own culture"? That remark moved me to investigate what the student might have thought of the characters of Othello the Moor and Desdemona. Scholars have not agreed on the ethnic character of Othello. Various covers of other editions of the play feature coal-black, Numidian faces in North African dress, or brown Arabic or Egyptian faces, and even bearded white faces in European dress. Othello, a professional soldier, whatever his race, has been retained by the Venetians to fight the invading Turks. For centuries, Europeans referred to anyone coming from any part of the Middle East and Northern Africa as a "Moor," regardless of the race. In stage and film productions of Othello, the title character has been played with varying success by white and black actors alike.

In most of the other covers of Othello, Desdemona, Othello's wife, is usually depicted as a fragile-looking blonde woman, the daughter of a Venetian senator. When I was able to decipher the student's marginal comments, I concluded that he had been told by his instructor in class to read and think of the play in terms of race determining one's culture, and not in terms of its principal theme, which is the destructive forces of jealousy and the evil of Iago, who hates Othello and plots to destroy the happy relationship between Othello and Desdemona.

The deterministic premise, that culture is a kind of genetic phenomenon that governs the contents of one's mind and one's values, is a Marxist product of the Critical Theory School of examining or "reading" literature, and has become a staple of political correctness. Formerly, the "reading" was an effort to identify and elucidate innate, ideological "class" distinctions. In this instance, it is a matter of identifying and elucidating innate, ideological "racial" differences, with race creating irreconcilable conflicts between whites and blacks, with the bias in favor of "black" culture as a "victim" of white cultural "imperialism."

However, there is nothing "Islamic" or "Muslim" about Othello. In fact, the villain, Iago, an officer in Othello's army, is not motivated by racial bigotry, either, but by a burning hatred of the good for being the good. But students are taught to search for and find such "subtexts" and "signifiers" in their Marxist "critical readings."

This kind of nonsense has been taught in public high school and university literature courses for decades. Critical Theory studies have also now shifted to examining the conflicts between Western and Islamic culture, and have invaded middle schools, as well. Numerous are the stories of how children, teens, and college students are being brainwashed in British, European and American schools to "depreciate" Western culture as an arbitrary imposition and as the "oppressor" of Islamic and other primitive cultures.

Interestingly, the student made no marginal comments on the second half of Othello, when Iago's insidious plot begins to advance rapidly to its tragic ending. This is in Act III, Scene 4, when Desdemona cannot find the handkerchief Othello gave her and Othello begins to suspect that something is amiss. Just before that Act, the student made a brief comment that while Desdemona was in her social milieu and had lots of "contacts," Othello was outside his "natural" Moorish milieu and had no social contacts.

Thus, according to a Critical Theory analysis, a method obviously imbibed uncritically by the hapless student, Othello was "victimized" by "white" culture and can't be held responsible for smothering Desdemona to death in a state of angry jealousy, as Iago had plotted to happen by appropriating the handkerchief and planting it on Desdemona's alleged lover. This is what Othello's "natural" culture demanded of him, so his action is beyond judgment.

It is likely the earliest and most notorious dramatic presentation of an Islamic "honor killing" - that is, if Shakespeare even had any knowledge of that aspect of Islamic "culture," which is highly doubtful.

Shakespeare would probably worry his goatee in confusion if he ever read a feminist interpretation of Othello (or of any of his other plays). Such as this one, penned by an anonymous "teacher," to wit:

    "Iago's desire for revenge on Othello is, in part, dictated by his view of women as possessions. He believes that ‘it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets/He's done my office' (I.3.381-2), suggesting that Othello has slept with his wife Emilia. It could be argued, however, that Iago exhibits little love for his wife, insulting her in public and ultimately killing her himself. It is simply the thought that ‘the lusty Moor/hath leaped into my seat' (II.1.286-7) which drives him mad, the thought that Othello has used a possession that belongs to him. Compounding this theory is the fact that Iago refers to his wife metaphorically in these two instances: she is his ‘office' and his ‘seat'; she is objectified and deprived of her humanity."

Or, consider these test questions from another feminist site:

    "How is Desdemona's relationship with her father explored with in the opening Act?

    To what extent are the female characters stereotyped: Desdemona the idealised wife, Emilia the nagging wife and Bianca the doting mistress?

    Why does the text focus on such powerless stereotypes?

    How is female sexuality explored in the play?

    What sexual identities are offered to the female characters?

    What sexual freedom is given to the male characters?

    What social structures are presented to maintain patriarchal control?

    What happens to women when they cross or are suspected of crossing societal expectations of submission and faithfulness?

    To what extent must Desdemona and Emelia both die in order for patriarchal control to be restored?"

So, Othello, when did you stop beating your wife? A sharp courtroom prosecutor might have asked that leading question of him. But I don't think Shakespeare had the restoration of "patriarchal control" in mind as he composed the plot of Othello. When Critical Theory English and literature teachers ask their students to plunge their mental shovels into Shakespeare in search of buried gender, class, or racial treasure, all the students can wind up doing is waving their spades in empty air over an abyss as deep as the Grand Canyon. That's when they'll make something up or just parrot the teachers' political agenda.

Shakespeare is not for "exploring" relationships or sexuality or driving a Critical Theory bulldozer to demolish his "social structures."

In my lifetime, I've seen Shakespeare done in a multitude of interpretations and styles: In early or late 20th century modern dress, in 1930's Art Deco complete with airplanes and jeeps, and in expected Shakespearean and Elizabethan settings.  In a College of William & Mary production of Othello (directed by a feminist), which was set in South Africa, the principal military characters were garbed in jungle camouflage and carried guns, while the whole cast spoke their lines into cell phones, with Desdemona, Emelia, and Bianca appearing in miniskirts and pantsuits. (I walked out after the first act, as did half the audience, so I don't know if Desdemona appeared in the final act in a Victoria's Secret swim suit, but I wouldn't be surprised if she had.)

Who can forget West Side Story, loosely based on Romeo and Juliet, which pitted two street gangs against each other? An Australian production of MacBeth features warring street gangs in Melbourne.

The problem with Shakespeare is that his plots and themes, while oft times deterministic in and of themselves and needing no extraneous political or modern interpretative overlays, were more or less original or were timeless adaptations of plays that antedated Shakespeare. (Kenneth Muir, in his Introduction to the student's edition of Othello, reveals that Shakespeare found the basic plot in an anthology of plays by Giraldi Cinthio, from 1565, when Shakespeare was one year old.)

Actually, it's not Shakespeare's problem. The problem lies in our culture's esthetic and moral bankruptcy. Political correctness and Critical Theory suffocate any attempt to either discuss Shakespeare in objective terms, especially in academia, or they discourage writers from trying to best the Bard at his own magnificent and prolific game.


860 British primary schools fail to reach targets on three Rs: Soaring numbers face closure after not reaching minimum standard

Tens of thousands of the country’s brightest seven-year-olds are being let down by primary schools that allow them to coast for years, official league tables will show.

Up to 50,000 are failing to reach their full potential by 11, particularly in reading, as teachers concentrate on low-performing and average classmates instead.

Official primary school rankings are set to expose how a ‘culture of low expectations’ is holding back high achieving youngsters who effectively go backwards.

Poor performance can trigger Ofsted visits. If the schools are unable to show they are improving they can be closed or turned into academies.

They come as international league tables revealed earlier this week how British teenagers dropped out of the top 20 rankings in maths, science and reading for the first time.

Tests on more than half a million secondary school pupils worldwide found those in Vietnam, Shanghai and Poland have a much better command of the core subjects.

Children in Shanghai are three years ahead of their British counterparts by the age of 15, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Ofsted’s annual report next week will further fuel concerns about pupil progress, highlighting unacceptable variations in standards between schools across the country.

Education experts yesterday warned that bright pupils who are prematurely turned off learning in primary school will fail to reach their full potential in secondary education.

School-by-school tables for more than 15,000 primaries will be published by the Department for Education on Thursday.

They are based on results in national curriculum tests taken by 537,800 11-year-olds pupils in the final year of primary school in England.

Children sat exams in reading and maths while writing was formally assessed by teachers in the classroom over the year. All three are combined to produce an overall score in the three Rs.

Pupils also took a separate test in spelling, punctuation and grammar for the first time this year, with the results published separately.

Most 11-year-olds are expected to reach ‘level four’, with the brightest gaining a ‘level five’.

Provisional statistics published by the Department for Education show that 76 per cent achieved ‘level four’ in reading, writing and maths, up from 75 per cent in 2012.

However, this still means that one in four - almost 129,000 - left primary school in the summer lacking a good grasp of the basics.

The tables will also highlight how low, medium and high achievers fared in the reading, writing and maths tests.

They are expected to show that as many as four in ten youngsters who were capable of achieving at ‘level five’ in the tests aged 11 - as predicted by their results at seven - failed to do so.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research, warned that primary schools may be tempted to leave the brightest children ‘to their own devices’.

He said ‘A culture of low expectations is fuelled in part by this emphasis on getting children up to minimum standards.

‘But children who aren’t fully able to develop in primary school can get turned off schooling and they don’t have the same sort of platform for secondary education that they could leap off if they had been fully developed.

‘Our OECD rankings suggest that we could do a lot more to get the best out of our brightest children.’ This year, 14 per cent of pupils - more than 75,000 - failed to achieve ‘level four’ in reading tests compared to 13 per cent in 2012.

There was an even bigger decline in the proportion of bright pupils gaining a ‘level five’ in reading, with results down three percentage points to 45 per cent.

Last year, the number of primary schools that failed to meet the government’s targets for academic performance dropped dramatically.

Some 521 schools were below the expectation for maths and English in 2012 compared to 1,310 in 2011. However numbers missing targets are expected to rise this year due to faltering reading results.

Schools are classed as underperforming unless at least 60 per cent of pupils achieve ‘level four’ or higher in the three Rs and children make above average progress between Key Stage One (age seven) and Key Stage Two (age 11).


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Why Are The Humanities Disappearing?

I often find myself in the odd position of addressing the question "why are the humanities disappearing?" In most instances my interrogators assume I will say something about the desire for vocational training in an environment where jobs are scarce. Clearly that is an answer, but a partial and unreflective response.

Based on my experience in the Academy over 35 years, I have noticed an evolutionary condition far more significant and far more malignant than the rise of vocational education.

For most of my academic life I resided in a place called Western Civilization. My leaders in this congenial home were Aristotle, Plato, Dante, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Machiavelli, Mozart, Rembrandt to name a few. My life, my views, were cultivated by these people and their work was imbibed as if mother's milk. They weren't always tranquil; in fact, on many occasions they were disquieting, but they were my "whole." They told me who I am, what I believe and what questions about life I should ask. They were the guides in a complex, often dark world.

What happened to my ideational home? It was cast down a slide into fragmentation. There are scholars who will know about one or maybe two of these guides, but they no longer live in Western Civilization.

The common core is no longer common. The foundation of this home was a belief in the best that has been thought and written. Conditions that divide us such as class, gender, race were subordinated to a common humanity, the glue that keeps a civilization intact.

Now the civilization is split at the seams, disappearing before our eyes as a weight falling into the sea. There isn't a there, there. It is a civilization suffering from homelessness. What remains of the humanities are fragments, puzzle parts that don't connect. How can a student possibly appreciate the civilization in which he resides when he sees only fragments, division and needless specialization?

Each year that passes, newly minted PhD's enter the ranks of the professoriate with new, arcane specialties, e.g. Did Hamlet suffer form an Oedipus complex? Were Know Nothing adherents paranoid?

These questions in themselves are reasonable, but they overlook the sweep and depth of human experience. Those who graduate into the Academy arrive never having lived in Western Civilization. The air they breathe is clear, but it doesn't have the dusty reminiscence of the past, with its glories and failures, romances and betrayals, majesty and tyranny. They lack guides and perspective. Is it any wonder their students do not see value in the humanities?

Lying in wait is a time when business students will dominate the Academy completely. The model will be bureaucracy. Rules will be legion, but enlightenment foreign. Inspiration will be a concept long forgotten, as will the humanities themselves.

Although college students yearn for meaning, the drum beat of fragmentation continues apace. Narrow and narrower are the assignment of readings. Much of what is assigned has been pre-digested, i.e. Read what Professor Jones wrote about Plato. Hence Plato doesn't have to be read. Here is yet another manifestation of fragmentation. The whole is there, just largely ignored.

So when the question arises of why the humanities are disappearing from the curriculum, it should be noted that if we have lost a home in Western Civilization, the humanities cannot be taught effectively or understood by students. The catalogue that refers to the humanities is mechanistic. There is a belief these courses may be necessary, but few can describe why this is the case. The defense rests.

Western Civilization is in retreat and the standards we once knew evaporate like soap bubbles. Fragmentation is all that is left and frankly that isn't much to build a university on.


Rowdy pupils drag Britain's schools down: Ofsted chief's warning as he says 700,000 children are suffering because teachers do not crack down on 'horseplay'

Rowdy behaviour in class and a contempt for learning are dragging English pupils behind their peers in Asian countries, the chief inspector of schools will warn today.

The education of 700,000 children – one in ten overall – is suffering because teachers are failing to crack down on ‘horseplay’, Sir Michael Wilshaw will say.

In a speech to mark the launch of Ofsted’s annual report, he plans to describe how schools are plagued by a ‘casual acceptance of low-level disruption and poor attitudes to learning’ that is ‘a million miles away from the sort of cultures we see in some of the high-performing Asian countries’.

The comments come a week after the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development revealed that 15-year-old Asian children are easily outperforming other students from around the world.

British pupils came outside the top 20 in maths, science and reading for the first time – and are now lagging an average of around three years behind their counterparts in the Far East.

The results painted a troubling picture of the UK’s ability to compete with countries where teachers are revered and iron-willed pupils study for 12 hours or more every day.

Ofsted plans to focus on behaviour during the coming year, and headteachers will be expected to take back control of classrooms, Sir Michael will announce.

Only by creating ‘the calm and respectful culture essential for learning’ can classes avoid being hijacked by ‘background chatter, inattention and horseplay’.

He will go on to say: ‘Unless this changes, teachers will struggle to create an environment in which all children learn well.’

The former headteacher criticised teachers last month for failing to show pupils that adults are in charge.

He said there was ‘nothing wrong’ with telling children: ‘Do as I ask because I am the adult.’

He also attacked a generation of headteachers who are too weak-willed to lead by example, explaining: ‘Children cannot thrive in a chaotic school where there is little authority.’

School staff were handed new powers in 2011 to tackle disruptive pupils. Teachers were given more leeway to use force, the right to search children for items such as mobile phones – and financial penalties were increased for parents who allow their children to truant.

Other powers teachers have been given include issuing no-notice detentions. And a school’s decision to exclude a pupil can no longer be reversed by an appeals panel.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said the measures would give disruptive pupils an ‘unambiguous lesson in who’s boss’.

But Sir Michael’s speech will suggest that he believes teachers still lack the confidence to exert their authority after years of seeing their powers eroded.

He will also insist today that  poverty is no longer an excuse for academic failure, and will describe the nation’s ‘education lottery’ which sees the country divided into ‘lucky and unlucky children’.

He believes that some of the ‘unluckiest children’ are those  living in relatively affluent areas in the Home Counties, which are let down by coasting schools.

The annual report is expected to outline a blueprint for a ‘national service’ of top teachers and headteachers who are ready to be deployed to failing areas to help turn them around.

The East of England and the North East in particular will be  criticised. But Sir Michael will claim the ‘battle against mediocrity’ in English education is being won, with eight out of ten schools now judged good or outstanding – the highest proportion in Ofsted’s 21-year history.

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘Sir Michael is right – bad classroom behaviour is hugely disruptive to children’s  education. It means teachers can’t teach and pupils can’t learn.

‘That is why a key part of our reforms is restoring discipline in schools and why we have strengthened teachers’ powers to put them back in charge.’


Tory backlash after Ofsted chief sneers at grammars: MPs challenge claim that selective schools are too middle class

They would be less middle class if there were more of them.  As it is, they are very few  -- JR

The Chief Inspector of Schools faced a barrage of criticism from Conservative MPs last night after he said grammar schools are ‘stuffed full of middle-class kids’.

Sir Michael Wilshaw said the dominance of affluent children meant selective state schools had almost no role in improving the education of the poor. ‘A tiny percentage are on free school meals – three per cent. That is a nonsense,’ he said.

‘Anyone who thinks grammar schools are going to increase social mobility needs to look at those figures. I don’t think they work.’

His comments angered Tory MPs who believe expanding the grammar system could help reverse the decline in social mobility. Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, described Sir Michael’s intervention as ‘unwise’.

The former education spokesman, whose Altrincham and Sale constituency is a bastion of the grammar school system, said: ‘We have some very bad schools in this country and I think the chief inspector would be better advised to focus his attention on improving those, not criticising some of the good ones.’

Mr Brady said grammar schools sometimes ended up selecting fewer children from poor homes because they had been failed by the state primary system.

He said he was ‘angry’ that Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael appeared to have ignored evidence that high schools that operate alongside grammars in areas such as Trafford in Greater Manchester show ‘incredibly good performance’.

Statistics show areas with selective state schools dominated GCSE and A-level results last year.

Reading came top, with 45.9 per cent of pupils gaining grades AAB or equivalent in 2012, followed by Trafford with 34.5 per cent. The state sector average is 16.8 per cent.

High-performing local education authorities (LEA) with selective schools also included Southend-on-Sea in Essex and Torbay in Devon, which have some of the worst areas of deprivation in the UK. Seven of the top ten best performing LEAs at GCSE also offered grammar school places.

Tory grandee David Davis, who also went to grammar school, said the system should be ‘maintained at all costs’ because it remained ‘the way working-class children get their chance in life, on an equal footing to children who can go to the private sector’.

He admitted that poorer youngsters had been ‘elbowed out by ambitious middle class parents’ in some areas.  But he said the decline of grammars had left Britain ‘more dominated than it ought to be by the products of private schools’. He suggested this could be reversed if the grammar school system was allowed to expand.

However, in an interview with the Observer, Sir Michael suggested grammar schools only helped an elite 10 per cent of pupils – often with pushy parents.

It is the second blow in a week for the grammar system, following a decision by Education Secretary Michael Gove on Friday to block an application to create a new ‘supergrammar’ in Sevenoaks, Kent.

The scheme was the first test of new rules that allow grammars to expand on satellite sites. But education sources said the bid was ‘botched’ and would have effectively created a new selective school, which is banned under existing law.

Yesterday the Department for Education refused to be drawn on the comments by Sir Michael, who also claimed in a wide-ranging interview that summer holidays were too long and admitted that when he used the cane during his time as a teacher in the 1970s it had ‘never worked’.

But he highlighted the role that ‘pushy parents’ could play in driving up standards. ‘Pushy parents have usually got kids in schools where, because they are pushing hard, standards rise,’ he said.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Georgetown University’s One-Way Street of Christian-Muslim Understanding

The "more strongly you are committed to your faith," emerging church leader Brian McLaren stated at Georgetown University on November 21, 2013, the "more tolerant and compassionate you are."  McLaren's equivalency among all faiths fit perfectly into the conference "Muslim-Christian Relations in the 21st Century:  Challenges & Opportunities," a day-long, one-sided presentation of Islam as a pacific faith unjustly maligned by Christians and others.

Presented by Georgetown's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU) on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, the conference has already produced considerable controversy.  The keynote address by popular British religion writer Karen Armstrong, for example, unconvincingly argued that Al Qaeda's September 11, 2001, attacks resulted from Muslim grievances inflicted by the West in general and the British Empire in particular.  Outside of the conference's estimated 100 attendees at Georgetown's Copley Hall, Armstrong's arguments have met with universal revulsion, if comments upon my previously published analysis are any indication (see here and here, for example).

A panel moderated by Islam scholar Natana J. DeLong-Bas, meanwhile, preceded Armstrong.  As a moderator, DeLong-Bas did not have much too say, which was probably just as well, as research has revealed her to the unsuspecting at the conference and elsewhere as an Islamism apologist and 9/11 truther.  Among other things, she has doubted the role of Osama bin Laden in 9/11 and has praised the "democracy" efforts of Hamas.

Armstrong and DeLong-Bas were perhaps predictable given the tone set at the conference's morning introduction by ACMCU's director, the frequent Islamism apologist and internationally renowned Islam scholar John Esposito.  Along with the "Arab Spring" becoming "potentially the Arab Winter" and "Sunni-Shia sectarianism," Armstrong's fellow United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) High Level Group member Esposito identified the "rise of Islamophobia" as a global issue facing Islam.  McLaren likewise during the conference's final panel spoke of Islam substituting for Communism after the Cold War's end had for many Americans "take[n] away their enemy" and identity "crutch."

Participants on "The Arab Uprisings, Islamic Movements & the Future of Democracy" panel, meanwhile, seemed mystified by any threat perception within Islam.  Emad Shahin, for example, judged concerns about Islam's compatibility with democracy a "useless question."  According to Shahin, anyone, not just the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), could have "made mistakes" ruling Egypt following the downfall of its dictator Hosni Mubarak.  Opponents of deposed Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi from the MB "should have respected the process" and the Arab Spring's "people power."

Shahin's fellow panelist, the late addition Radwan Masmoudi from the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), also decried the "myth that Islam and democracy are not compatible."  As CSID's president, Masmoudi claimed that his organization had produced hundreds of papers demonstrating that Islamic faith and freedom could coexist, a claim Masmoudi saw borne out in the Arab Spring.  "We are going to succeed" with an Islam-democracy combination, Masmoudi confidently predicted.

Like Shahin, Masmoudi considered it "not fair" to judge Egypt's MB rule a failure in light of the "long process to build democracy" cut short after fewer than two years.  While Masmoudi assessed post-Saddam Hussein Iraq as a "mess," he nonetheless considered Middle East democracy promotion under George W. Bush to have been "great."  "Foreign intervention" in Tunisia and Egypt, meanwhile, from Western countries "afraid of democracy" had repeated America's historic "mistake" of supporting Middle East dictators, "one of the main reasons for extremism."  By contrast, "good relations with the Arab and Muslim world demands democracy."

Fears of countries like Egypt emulating Iran's theocratic dictatorship received little consideration from Masmoudi.  United States Secretary of State John Kerry's determination that Egypt's "Muslim Brotherhood stole democracy" baffled Masmoudi.  He correspondingly criticized a supposed American "green light" for the Egyptian military's July 2013 ouster of Morsi, even though most evidence indicates that President Barak Obama opposed Morsi's removal.

Rather than question any "faith in the people" in majority-Muslim societies, Masmoudi saw recurring elections as the means of controlling any Muslim political malfeasance.  Thereby Masmoudi discussed "Islamism" as a "most misunderstood word," for, according to him, variants of Islamism existed, not all of which were malignant.  As a practical matter, Masmoudi considered impossible the political exclusion of Islamists, estimated by him at about 30-40% of Arab Spring country populations.

Contrasting with this positive presentation of Islam, leftist evangelical Richard Cizek offered comments critical of American evangelicals while sharing the stage with Armstrong.  Once the National Association of Evangelicals' (NAE) top staffer as Vice President for Governmental affairs, Cizek left NAE in 2008 after his support for same-sex civil unions as well as climate change theories and the recently elected Obama caused uproar in evangelical circles.  Now heading the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good with funding from leftwing atheist billionaire George Soros, Cizek at Copley Hall criticized evangelical "subcultural bubbles."  Here prevailed a "black helicopters" view of the United Nations and complaints about an "alleged intrusion" upon religious freedom by the Obama Administration's contraception mandate.

With respect to evangelical relations with Islam, Cizek had several complaints.  Christian Zionism, for example, supported the "theft of Palestinian land."  Cizek also critically cited a figure according to which 60% of evangelicals rejected the assertion that Western civilization had a significant Islamic heritage.

Cizek also noted his meeting with fellow evangelical James Dobson at the National Cathedral following 9/11.  In contrast to Dobson's understanding of 9/11 as jihadist aggression, Cizek, like Armstrong, seemed to express understanding for Al Qaeda's motives.  Cizek referenced American military personnel stationed on Saudi Arabian soil at the time of 9/11 and an Arab-Israeli conflict having claimed 4 million dead and wounded, according to Cizek.

Yet most estimates of Arab and Jewish casualties since fighting began during Zionist settlement of the British Palestine Mandate are far lower.  One accounting lists 115,000 dead and 102,000 wounded among civilians and soldiers.  In a ranking of conflicts with over 10,000 fatalities since 1950, the Arab-Israeli conflict occupies 49th place.  Cizek also did not explain why the defensive deployment of American forces to Saudi Arabia is any less justified than similar American deployments around the world.

Appearing with Masmoudi and Shahin, Georgetown professor Yvonne Haddad offered the one indication during the conference that all was not well with Islam.  Haddad described a "panic" among the Middle East's Christians as a "vanishing minority" who resented Muslim-majority domination expressed in terms for non-Muslim monotheists like "dhimmis."  In Syria there were "targeted killing of Christians," something Haddad ascribed to rebel anger at Christian unwillingness to fight the Bashar Assad regime and not general Islamist persecution of non-Muslims.  "Bush's Spring" overthrowing Saddam Hussein in Iraq had also unleashed Islamist furies and Christian flight.

Yet Haddad's assessments of Arab Christians' friends and foes were surprising.  Discussing transient Western interventions in the Middle East going back to the Crusades that had always ultimately weakened Christian communities there, Haddad asserted that Arab Christians did not want outside rescuers.  Denominational disputes with Western evangelists had also antagonized Arab Christians in the past.

Israel is also no friend of Christians in Haddad's view.  One evangelical group's online map of Christian persecution in the Middle East received her criticism for omitting Israel.  Yet Israel is for Haddad a country that places Arab Christians and Muslims in "concentration camps," an increasingly popular slander of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories.  Christian Arab population statistics tell a different story, however, as indicated by me in a question to Haddad.  In contrast to the Christian exodus from the Middle East noted by her, Christians in Israel have grown in number from 34,000 in 1949 to 125,000 in 2011.  Jordanian rule over East Jerusalem from 1949 to 1967, meanwhile, saw the Christians there decline from 25,000 to fewer than 13,000.

Appearing on DeLong-Bas' morning panel, South Africa's ambassador to the United States, Ebrahim Rasool, had called upon his audience "to embrace shared space" in an "exciting world of multiculturalism."  In such a world the existence of a "mosque in Cape Town" reciprocally demanded the allowance of a "church in Saudi Arabia."  This new paradigm also involved a "move away from competitive faith to cooperative faith" amidst a "declining carcass" of believers in an increasingly secularized world.

Interfaith harmony invocations, though, rang hollow at this morally inverted conference.  While Islamism's uniformly aggressive and authoritarian aspects went unexamined, conference panelists attributed prejudice and persecution almost exclusively to Christians and Jews.  Yet concerns about Muslim-majority societies in the Arab Spring and elsewhere undergoing something other than Rasool's described "surge for freedom" are hardly "useless," pace Shahin.  Nor does religious devotion always have a direct relationship with human decency, as Esposito's reference to Sunni-Shia sectarianism indicates contrary to McLaren's assertion.

Peace among peoples can only result from considered respect for principles such as human equality, something requiring rigorous intellectual inquiry and not the ACMCU's Islamophile illusions.  Rasool's claim, for example, that Muslims have "no monopoly" upon a "fundamentalist-extremist mindset" given Israeli "fundamentalism" and Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher's "economic fundamentalism" deserves closer scrutiny.  Rasool's assertion with respect to Jews in the Third Reich and 1948 Israeli War for Independence Palestinian refugees that "we all carry the burdens of victimhood" is also suspect.  Such examination necessary for Christian-Muslim or any other understanding, however, is unlikely ever to occur at Georgetown's ACMCU.


Strong Genetic Influence on a UK Nationwide Test of Educational Achievement at the End of Compulsory Education at Age 16

By N.G. Shakeshaft et al.


We have previously shown that individual differences in educational achievement are highly heritable in the early and middle school years in the UK. The objective of the present study was to investigate whether similarly high heritability is found at the end of compulsory education (age 16) for the UK-wide examination, called the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). In a national twin sample of 11,117 16-year-olds, heritability was substantial for overall GCSE performance for compulsory core subjects (58%) as well as for each of them individually: English (52%), mathematics (55%) and science (58%). In contrast, the overall effects of shared environment, which includes all family and school influences shared by members of twin pairs growing up in the same family and attending the same school, accounts for about 36% of the variance of mean GCSE scores. The significance of these findings is that individual differences in educational achievement at the end of compulsory education are not primarily an index of the quality of teachers or schools: much more of the variance of GCSE scores can be attributed to genetics than to school or family environment. We suggest a model of education that recognizes the important role of genetics. Rather than a passive model of schooling as instruction (instruere, ‘to build in’), we propose an active model of education (educare, ‘to bring out’) in which children create their own educational experiences in part on the basis of their genetic propensities, which supports the trend towards personalized learning.


The British people should be free to choose

This belief that the state is the sole purveyor of social goodness is Marxist claptrap

We are going to have to make the argument again – and again and again. No matter how many times we appear to have won the day, the tireless lobbies whose own career interests, or ideological fervour, or political power are under threat simply wear us down.So here we go: politicians are not superior beings, okay? They are not more morally righteous, or in possession of better judgement, than the majority of the electorate, right? That is something on which we are likely to agree. In fact, it is something with which roughly 99 per cent of the population would probably agree.

So why are so many of us apparently prepared to accept that a politician’s decision about how our money should be spent, or our schools should be run, or our hospitals should be administered is inherently virtuous? Whereas, decisions about those things made by private individuals – whether as providers or consumers – are automatically wicked.

The whole ridiculous thing cropped up again last week when Liz Truss was forced to defend the idea of “free schools”. What an absurd thing to have to defend: in a free country, what should schools be other than “free”? Un-free? No, the opposite of “free” in this case is “government-owned and run” which is the equivalent in the perverse terms of the Left, and their special-interest front groups, to “without taint”. That is, the taint of individual choice, personal initiative, and self-determination – all of which are deeply sinister because some people are better at them than others. Therefore they are socially divisive and lead to inequality.

In other words, the very fact of some parents having the desire and determination to create a school which they believe will suit their children better than the state-operated ones, constitutes a form of political injustice because some other parents do not have the desire and the determination to do the same. Put like that, doesn’t it sound stupid? And more than stupid, it sounds totalitarian: you have no right to be more conscientious and ambitious for your children than anyone else because that, in itself, is a kind of privilege.

Believe it or not there are people who actually say this: if all parents are not similarly equipped with the capacity and the fortitude to invent, or even actively to seek out, a school they believe will suit their offspring, then no parents should be permitted to do so. (The same argument is applied to parental choice as to the more radical “free schools” concept: the freedom to choose is pernicious because only some parents will make good use of it.)

But The Argument which must be repeated ad infinitum is not just about parents and schools. It is about the larger question of government power and the public services. How on earth has it come to pass that “choice” and “diversity” are such dangerous ideas that political parties are afraid to be associated with them? (Or, at least, treat them like live grenades?) Now that most British consumers can shop with demonic cleverness – comparing the online prices of electronic goods and holidays with ferocious expertise – how can the denial of choice and variety in the most important areas of all, education and health, still be a sacred principle, never to be defiled by the unpredictable whims of those on the receiving end? And even more bizarrely, why does a nation which bows to no other in its contempt for politicians and bureaucrats seem to accept that their edicts on the content of schooling and the practice of medicine must be preferred even to those of the professionals who practise them?

Now this brings us to an interesting point. The most influential enemies of free schools and of academies (which are, in the end, likely to be a more important phenomenon in the process of breaking the government monopoly on education) are the teaching unions. Their campaigning and concerted resistance has consistently forced every reform of state education that favours parental choice onto the back foot. (See earlier reference to Liz Truss’s travails over the past week.) Yet, it is their case that teachers should have the right to decide how to teach. So what if we were to get on to the front foot and agree?

Fine, we might say, you can choose how (and even what) you want to teach in your particular school, if parents can choose whether or not to accept what you are offering. If teachers must be able to exercise their own judgment, why shouldn’t parents? The teaching lobby would then presumably be forced to say explicitly that they always know what is best for all children – which is something they only hint at now with their condemnations of “pushy parents”. (Some politicians on the Right have actually taken to joining in that condemnation – which is absolutely shameful.)

If the dogmatic teachers’ spokesmen were not prepared to consider this trade-off, wouldn’t it weaken their public position? After all, they must assume that there is a large group of parents who would opt for the permissive, progressive, anti-testing philosophy that they espouse. If not, does that mean they know better than everybody else?

Maybe we have been repeating the old arguments for too long. Instead of reiterating the obvious truths – that diversity of provision raises standards, protects freedom and encourages personal responsibility through the power of choice – perhaps we should go on the offensive.

Instead of talking encouragingly about “independent” providers – a word which is associated in the context of education with the private sector and can thus be caricatured as privatisation – perhaps we should make a more aggressive case against allowing schools to remain in the evil grip of politicians. (This might seem an odd thing for a politician to say but Michael Gove has shown himself to be quite unafraid of uttering uncomfortable truths.) When the enemies of reform claim that they want to improve all schools at exactly the same pace and in exactly the same way, rather than encouraging difference (or “inequality”), we might say with unblinking ferocity that enforced uniformity is authoritarian, conformist and destructive of achievement.

It may be time for an unflinching, unapologetic stand: why shouldn’t governments provide the funding for public services without owning and administering them? What is this belief that the state is the sole purveyor of social goodness but a piece of old-fashioned Marxist claptrap? Of course, parents, communities and organisations should be allowed to set up schools. The proper role for government is to monitor their performance: to examine their results and to make that information publicly available.

The head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, is certainly on the right track here with his call for a return to national testing. If there are enough teachers and parents who believe that test performance is unimportant, they can set up their own schools too. Good luck to them.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

NYT: Ash blond and pimply redhead boys hogging all the STEM education, apparently

The NYT below has a multitude of reasons why women and blacks are poorly represented in mathematics-intensive subjects.  They just cannot admit what 100 years of psychometic research has repeatedly shown  -- that women have less ability at math and that blacks have less ability overall.  It's not complicated at all and none of the NYT "solutions" will work.  The only solutions Leftists have ever got to work is to dumb all educational achievement to the lowest common denominator

Women make up nearly half the work force but have just 26 percent of science, technology, engineering or math jobs, according to the Census Bureau. Blacks make up 11 percent of the workforce but just 6 percent of such jobs and Hispanics make up nearly 15 percent of the work force but hold 7 percent of those positions. There is no question that women and minorities have made progress in science and math in the last several decades, but their gains have been slow and halting. And in the fast-growing field of computer science, women’s representation has actually declined in the last 20 years, while minorities have made relatively small gains.

These jobs come with above-average pay and offer workers a wide choice of professions. Opening them to women and minorities would help reduce corrosive income inequality between whites and other groups, and would narrow the gender gap in wages. Improving the representation of women and minorities would also enrich American scientific research and development, because they will add a different perspective to workplaces currently dominated by white and Asian men.

Moreover, the people who do well in these professions will be much more likely to lead the industry in the future and make decisions that affect thousands of workers and customers. Many technology companies, including Twitter until recently, have no women on their board of directors, and few blacks and Hispanics in senior management roles, in part because too few girls and minorities are becoming programmers and engineers.

The biggest career disadvantage faced by many lower-income blacks and Hispanics is their limited access to a good education. Compared with upper-income Americans, a greater percentage are raised by parents who have not gone to college or graduated from high school, and more grow up with single parents who do not have the time or resources to enrich their children’s education. Moreover, a smaller percentage of minority children attend enriching prekindergarten programs, which studies have shown aids the development of cognitive and analytical skills that are needed to do well in science and math. A recent study showed that nearly half of Hispanic 4-year-olds are not enrolled in any preschool classes. While more than 60 percent of black 4-year-olds are enrolled, most of them are in programs of low or mediocre quality.

Schools that serve minority and lower-income neighborhoods tend to employ teachers with fewer years of experience and less specialized training in math and science than schools in white and upper-income neighborhoods, according to a 2012 National Science Foundation report. By contrast, developed nations like Germany, South Korea and Belgium tend to devote more resources like teachers to schools that serve their most disadvantaged students than on schools that serve advantaged children, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Entrenched stereotypes about who does well in science and math also work against minorities in classrooms. Too many teachers give up easily on them simply because they are not expected to do as well as white students. Despite those challenges, many minorities still enroll in science and math programs in college but fewer of them earn a degree in those programs in five years — 22.1 percent for Hispanics and 18.4 percent for blacks — than whites (33 percent) and Asians (42 percent), according to a study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles. Many of those who leave are simply ill-prepared for the rigors of college-level math and science. Others feel socially unwelcome because they make up a tiny minority in largely white and Asian science and engineering departments. They also have far fewer role models to look up to.

Unlike minority children, girls as a whole do about as well as or better than boys as measured by their high school grade point averages in science and math. And in the last several decades, women have made great gains in fields like biology, chemistry, psychology and sociology; they now earn a majority of undergraduate degrees and a growing proportion of advanced degrees in life sciences.

But women have made far fewer gains in physical sciences and more math-intensive fields. When making choices about their majors and careers, many young women rule out engineering and computer science partly because they are uninterested, feel ill-prepared for them or because society identifies these domains as male. Women who do earn degrees in these fields leave those professions at much higher rates than men. And the women who graduate with degrees in engineering and computer science are less likely to be employed than men.

In many cases, women seem to have internalized society’s belief that they are incapable of mastering these fields as well as men. Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford, and other psychologists have found that female students who are made to believe that math ability is innate have lower scores and are less likely to study math than girls who believe that math skills can be acquired through hard work. Another study showed that female college students got more questions right on math tests when they were told beforehand that “college students are good at math” than when they were told “women are bad at math,” which suggests stereotypes undermine women’s performance.


Obama's Cash for Universal Preschool Clunkers

Michelle Malkin

It's elementary: When Democrats find themselves in political trouble, they reach for your wallets. After squandering billions on an ineffectual stimulus, failed green energy boondoggles and the disastrous Unaffordable Care Act, the Obama White House wants to dump $75 billion more into "free" preschool for all. That'll solve everything.

Government-funded universal pre-K is a moldy oldie of the progressive left, recycled perennially by Democratic presidential speechwriters in need of State of the Union address padding. But this time, the Fed Ed crowd is redoubling its efforts with support from big-business statists and academic shills.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, once a bitter campaign target of the White House, is now Team Obama's biggest cheerleader on expanding preschool funding. And Austan Goolsbee, a former top Obama economic adviser and University of Chicago prof, took to the pages of The Wall Street Journal this week to crusade for more public "investments" in early childhood education. At "$10,000 per child," Goolsbee argued, universal pre-K is a "bargain."

Why anyone would take the financial advice of Austan Goolsbee is beyond me. I'll remind you that this is the same Austan Goolsbee who vigorously championed extending credit to the uncreditworthy. In a 2007 op-ed for The New York Times, he derided prescient critics who called subprime mortgages "irresponsible." Goolsbee instead preferred to describe the doomed financial instruments as "innovations in the mortgage market" to expand the pool of homebuyers. We don't need economics Ph.D.'s to see how that worked out.

Goolsbee, like his Fed Ed allies on both the left and right, cites the well-worn Perry Preschool Project in Michigan to support Obama's top-down push for subsidizing preschool for all. But that pilot program, run at a cost of $19,000 per child, took place more than a half-century ago. A more comprehensive and updated review of the literature by the Brookings Institution's Russ Whitehurst released last month found that the vaunted academic benefits of full-time pre-K are, in fact, negligible.

Whitehurst is a developmental psychologist by training who has spent the majority of his career designing and evaluating programs intended to enhance the cognitive development of young children. He warns that universal preschool boosters "ignore research showing negative impacts on children who receive child care supported through the federal child development block grant program." Moreover, his research shows, the Nanny Staters have downplayed evidence that "the universal pre-k programs in Georgia and Oklahoma, which are closest to what the Obama administration has proposed, have had, at best, only small impacts on later academic achievement."

A. Barton Hinkle of the Richmond Times-Dispatch points to even more reason for skepticism by way of a 2010 Department of Health and Human Services report about a congressionally mandated study of approximately 5,000 3- and 4-year-olds who were randomly assigned to either a control group or a group that had access to the federal Head Start program. It found that "at the end of kindergarten and first grade ... the Head Start children and the control group children were at the same level on many of the measures studied."

Let's set all of this junk science aside for the moment. There's a bigger elephant in the room. As I've pointed out for years, these cradle-to-grave government education/day care services encourage drive-through, drop-off parenting. Subsidizing this phenomenon cheats children, undermines family responsibilities and breeds resentment among childless workers who are forced to pay for costly social services.

The nationalized preschool promoters, led by feckless bureaucrats who piled mounds of debt onto our children with endless Keynesian pipe dreams, claim that new multibillion-dollar "investments" in public education will "benefit the economy." But ultimately, it's not about the money or improved academic outcomes for Fed Ed. The increasing federal encroachment into our children's lives at younger and younger ages is about control. These clunkers don't need more time and authority over our families. They need a permanent recess.


British students demonstrate against 'gender apartheid' as Universities UK refuses to ban the separation of sexes during visits by speakers

Universities can allow men and women to be segregated if religious extremists demand it for their debates or lectures, official guidance revealed today.  The decision has sparked protests with campaigners calling it 'gender apartheid'.

In the past year there have been a small number of Muslim groups who forced men and women to sit apart when they spoke at British universities.

Having considered the issue Universities UK says its 132 members should be allowed to agree to these demands but campaigners say it violates women's rights.

Campaigner Ahlam Akram  told the BBC's Today programme: 'I stand firmly against this segregation. It's a decision that is going to take us backwards.  'It is a violation of women's freedom to sit wherever they want.  'Universities are the place for planting freedom of thinking and freedom of speech'.

PHD student Erin Marie Saltman told Channel Four News: 'This is a bigger issue of racism of lower expectations, of avoidance. There is a fear of offending the Muslim community but there are a lot of modern Muslims that would never allow gender segregation'.

In May a Muslim group was banned from a university after segregating men and women during a debate.

Visitors to the event at University College London were told to use men’s or women’s entrances by the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), who also told women to sit at the back, while men and couples were sent to the front.

Greek Islamic convert Hamza Andreas Tzortzis was a speaker at the debate at UCL, his spokesman said earlier this year that segregation was informal

A month earlier Leicester University spoke of its concerns over photos showing hand-written signs requesting that male and female students sit in separate areas at a public talk by the university’s Islamic Society.

The meeting - which discussed God’s existence - was addressed by Islamic speaker Hamza Tzortzis, who speaks at various campuses and was involved in controversy at another university last month.

Four sheets of paper attached to an entrance door with the words ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ and arrows pointing in opposite directions,

The University of Leicester Islamic Society’s website also said in a separate notice that meetings are open to the public, but it has ‘segregated seating for brothers and sisters at all co-attended events’.

A spokesman for Mr Tzortzis’s group said genders were sometimes informally segregated at events.

Universities UK said today that they had taken legal advice on the issue.

A spokesman said: 'The guidance does not promote gender segregation. It includes a hypothetical case study involving an external speaker talking about his orthodox religious faith who had requested segregated seating areas for men and women.

'The case study considered the facts, the relevant law and the questions that the university should ask, and concluded that if neither women nor men were disadvantaged and a non-segregated seating area also provided, a university could decide it is appropriate to agree to the request'.