Friday, January 17, 2014

Obama’s failure and college political culture

 Recent news stories have been commenting on the sharp drop in support for Obama among young voters, disappointed both with his failure to live up to their imaginings and with the reality of policies he supported (Obamacare) or tolerated (NSA). The interesting question, going beyond the next few elections, is what effect if any this will have on their political views.

One thing that struck us when we were visiting colleges our kids were considering and that then struck our kids as college students was the uniformity of left wing views at elite colleges. By our daughter's account, the difference between Oberlin, where she started, and Chicago, which she transferred to, was that while at both schools most students took left wing views for granted, at Chicago they were at least curious as to why someone might disagree. At Oberlin the default assumption was that if you didn't agree you were either stupid or evil.

I expect that students at both schools, indeed at all the schools we looked at, voted and worked for Obama in both his elections. If many now think that was a mistake—according to one poll, nearly half of young voters said they would recall Obama if they could—how will that affect their political views?

One possibility is that it won't. They will conclude that the policies they supported were good ones, they  got fooled this time by a clever politician who pretended to support those policies and will try in the future to find and support politicians who really do support them.

Another is that they will conclude that the policies they supported were good ones but the political system is hopelessly corrupt, so the right response is either to withdraw from politics, try to foment a revolution, or try to change the system in some fundamental way, perhaps by "getting money out of politics." The last is the theme of the "NH Rebellion" that Larry Lessig has been posting about of late.

A final and more optimistic possibility is that they will conclude that they were wrong. If the system works so badly even when their hero is elected with a large majority and (initially) control of both houses of Congress, perhaps more government isn't really the solution to the world's problems after all. If the federal government can't run a web site nearly as well as Amazon, perhaps it isn't competent to run everything. Perhaps, even, we would be better off if it ran less of the world instead of more.

Different students will reach different conclusions, probably including all of those and others I have not thought of. My guess is that the political monoculture of (at least) elite colleges will survive Obama's failure, due if nothing else to the pressures of conformity. But one can hope.


Don’t Destroy This Family

Germany persecutes homeschoolers, with an assist from the Obama administration
Ronald Reagan electrified the world when he demanded that the Berlin Wall be torn down. Barack Obama is helping to build a new one, even as the German government begins rounding up members of a despised religious minority.

The Romeike family was granted asylum in the United States because the German government was intent on wresting away the children and putting the parents in cages for the crime of homeschooling their children, which is verboten in Germany, a legacy of the country’s totalitarian past. The Obama administration, which in other notable areas of immigration law has enacted a policy of “discretion” regarding deportations, took the Romeike family to court to have its asylum protections revoked, and succeeded in doing so. The family has appealed to the Supreme Court, which has ordered the Obama administration to respond to the Romeikes’ petition, but the administration has so far refused to do so.

As the Romeikes’ story unfolds, another German family is being held in the country against their will, also for the crime of homeschooling their children — or intending to do so, at least. The Wunderlich family had their children kidnapped by the German government — the agents of which came crashing through their door with battering rams — as retaliation for their homeschooling. They complied with the government’s demands regarding their children’s education and, understandably enough, began the process of relocating to France, where attitudes toward family life are more civilized. The Germans responded by refusing to reinstate their custody of their children, with a judge determining that the desire to homeschool presents an “endangerment” to the children.

That is the environment into which the Obama administration intends to send the Romeike family.


The institutional Left hates homeschooling, hates it with a remarkable intensity, even though homeschooling recently has come into vogue with a certain subset of Park Slope–style progressives. Robin West of Georgetown’s law school has written admiringly of the suppression of homeschooling and regimes under which “parents who did so were criminals.” She writes that homeschoolers are dangerous precisely because of the fact that, far from being docile sheep, homeschoolers are as adults more likely to be politically engaged, which Professor West worries might “undermine, limit, or destroy state functions that interfere with family and parental rights.” For good measure, she notes that many homeschoolers were enthusiastic about George W. Bush in 2000 — quelle horreur. Many others on the left argue that homeschooling should be either banned outright or effectively regulated out of existence.

Homeschooling terrifies the Left because the Left is at its core totalitarian, seeking to bring political discipline to every aspect of life — and control of education is essential to that project. The public school is in miniature what the Left believes the world should look like: Everybody arranged in orderly rows and moving about on an orderly schedule punctuated by bells, being taught about diversity and climate change by nice union ladies who also lead them to their federally subsidized lunches. If you can say “no” to that, you can say no to any part of the Left’s vision. Homeschooling is an existential threat to the privileged position of the institutional Left. The schools are the factory in which it manufactures its future clients.

Of course it doesn’t help that homeschooling is associated in the public mind with a particular strain of Evangelical Christianity, as in the case of the Romeike family. It is distasteful, but it should not be a surprise that the Obama administration has no objection to the political and religious suppression of such unruly Christians — the Obama administration is doing the same thing to the Little Sisters of the Poor and other Christian groups that it finds inconvenient.

In the case of the Romeike family, a judge already had seen fit to offer them asylum, but the Obama administration wants to hand them over to the Germans. In the case of the Wunderlich family, a fundamental human right — the right to move away, which is enshrined in German law — is being grossly violated. The Germans, of all people, should appreciate that walling in people who want to leave is uncivilized. The Obama administration has an opportunity to make a statement on both cases by dropping its assault on the Romeikes. Don’t let’s be beastly to the Germans.


New British teachers 'being left to flounder with unruly pupils': Ofsted chief says it is 'national scandal' that trainees are unprepared for the job

Thousands of newly qualified teachers are being ‘left to flounder’ in schools each year because of their inadequate training, England’s chief inspector warned yesterday.

Sir Michael Wilshaw said it was a ‘national scandal’ that teachers were arriving for work completely unprepared for the job.

The Ofsted chief inspector said 40 per cent quit the profession within five years of qualifying because they found it ‘too difficult’ and were ill-equipped to deal with unruly pupils.

Sir Michael claimed teachers were being tutored by people with little ‘up-to-date’ experience and left to ‘flounder’ in schools with senior staff doing nothing to support them.

In future, he added, Ofsted would be cracking down on course providers. He also took a swipe at unions for portraying the teachers  they represent as ‘perpetual victims’.

About 30,000 teachers are trained each year, suggesting that some 12,000 of those switch careers after a short period of time. The average cost of training is around £10,000 – meaning tens of millions of taxpayers’ money is being squandered annually.

Sir Michael said: ‘How many times have heads said to me their trainees had been tutored by people with little or no up-to-date school experience or a record of outstanding teaching?

‘Trainees have been sent into schools  inadequately prepared to deal with poor behaviour. Even worse, how many times have I heard they were left to flounder because they received little or no support from senior and middle leaders?’

The amount of new teachers leaving the profession was a ‘national scandal’ given the money invested in their training, he said.

He added: ‘I think most of them leave because of misbehaviour. They find it far too challenging, far too difficult.’

There are several routes into teaching, including postgraduate certificates and school-based training including bursaries.

Speaking at an education conference in Nottingham, Sir Michael said from September inspectors will ask newly qualified teachers if they ‘well supported, particularly in dealing with pupil behaviour’. If they were struggling, Ofsted will check who trained them – with the threat this could affect the institution’s inspection grade.

He went on to insist there has ‘never been a better time to be a teacher’ – despite the two largest unions, the National Union of Teachers and NASUWT, holding a series of strikes over pay and conditions.

‘I find it extremely frustrating when teachers are portrayed, sometimes by their own representatives, as victims who have little control or say over their own professional lives,’ he said.

‘[They] risk infantilising the profession and depressing recruitment.’

    Discipline tsars would be introduced in every school under a Labour government to crack down on misbehaviour, education spokesman Tristram Hunt said yesterday. The ‘behaviour experts’ – either new members of staff or specially trained teachers – would help claw back control of classrooms from unruly pupils and allow teachers to do their jobs, he said.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ideological Warfare on Campus

Recently the University of Colorado noted that political affiliation and orientation would be a protected category in the university's nondiscrimination policy. What prompted this action were reports from conservative faculty members that their viewpoints have been stifled.

While the proposal was approved, it is remarkable that this policy had to be introduced in the first place. What it suggests is that the faculty political outlook is homogeneous allowing little room for different points of view. Yet, to state the obvious, the essence of education is the exploration of different opinions.

Some faculty members contend that anti-bias policies is a waste of time. After all, the exclusionary position of most faculty members will not change because of university reform. In fact, if diversity of views is the goal that is more likely to come outside the Academy than inside the faculty.

Faculty members who share this left wing orthodoxy, in my experience, are accustomed to the present academic environment. Their self righteousness is mutually reinforcing. They are the virtuous ones and their position must not be challenged.

Whenever this argument of political bias arises university presidents invariably say "higher education is facing much bigger issues than this." But is that true? If the free and open exchange of opinion is not possible, if propagandizing for an ideology is permitted, the purpose of education will inevitably be compromised.

This fall the University of Colorado hired its first "visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy." The appointment was created in part to change public perception of the institution. However, while the appointment may offer legitimacy for conservative views, it is odd that an ideology of one kind is being used to counter the ideology of another.

As I see it, the issue is openness, i.e. consideration of a variety of opinions within the same classroom. The university is not designed to promote an ideology of the left or the right. Any exercise in politicizing the Academy contradicts its essential mission.

After having experienced an ideological take - over since the 1960's, it is understandable that a minority of conservative faculty members would seek some protection from the herd of leftist ideologues. But history has a strange way of hoisting protagonists by their own petard. The ideologue of the right might one day be charged with intimidation and chastisement that one sees so evident on campuses across the nation today. It is an unlikely scenario, but one serious scholars in the Academy should not overlook.

If there is one standard worth defending, it is a belief in academic freedom, i.e. the ability of professors to express freely their opinion in areas where there is demonstrated expertise. This is not unlimited freedom, nor is it freedom of speech. But it is a freedom anchored in openness that allows for the expression of any political view.

Should the university adhere to this standard, it is not necessary to amend the university's policy. Nor is it appropriate to hire a conservative professor to balance the political scales. If administrators want to engender an atmosphere of fairness and openness, it makes far more sense to remind faculty members of the meaning behind academic freedom.


Left-wing thinking still prevails in British schools

The educational elite is indoctrinating the young and - Education Secretary Michael Gove must be allowed to change it

Michael Gove is right. My time studying History at school and university was dominated by Left-wing thinking.

Consciously or subconsciously, the educational elite indoctrinates a generation of young people.

The dominance of the Left is deep-rooted and for all to see, especially when it comes to the teaching of history. I write as a 21-year-old graduate of History and Politics, just six months out of university.

Don't get me wrong: I had some superb teachers and lecturers, both throughout my time at school and while studying for my degree - individuals who enthused and inspired and knew their subjects inside out.

But the majority of them were rabidly Left-wing and the subjects they chose for their students matched their own misguided outlook on society.

The world wars formed a significant and central platform of my curriculum. It is well documented that the Nazis form the cornerstone of historical learning at school – and those who say the period is given too heavy an emphasis are probably right.

But the problem of history teaching in British schools and universities is more profound than that. It really is as Michael Gove describes; years of what accurately can be described as Leftist propaganda, delivered by a profession dominated on the whole by Leftist figures.

I studied the Crimean War at GCSE. The work of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole was lauded, the inept and out-of-touch British Army officers belittled. We watched The Charge of the Light Brigade, the 1968 film portraying the incompetence of the British military leadership. Produced during the Vietnam War, the film reflected the anti-war sentiment central both to the period and to the lessons I attended.

Thrown into my course was the tale of the Cold War world and the escapades of the "brutal neo-colonialist Americans", not least during that brutal proxy war in Indochina.

We watched Apocalypse Now in class when studying that conflict, the Oscar-winning Hollywood epic starring Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, and Marlon Brando. Specifically, we were shown the graphic inhumanity of American napalm attacks. Both the method and the content of the lessons had a Left-wing agenda.

At A-level, my history course was heavily based around the American Civil Rights movement and the Russian revolution. My teacher, whom I liked and respected but fundamentally disagreed with on countless areas, was a self-proclaimed anarchist. He openly called for the dismantling of liberal democracy.

Not taking his gospel at face value, I was probably made more Right-wing by him, a fact that was conveyed to him by my mother at a parents' evening. I fear I was in the minority. The sons and daughters of Liberal Democrat voting teachers, nurses and doctors were much more receptive to his persuasive classroom rhetoric.

We would listen to Black American music in the classroom, encouraged to pay particular attention to the lyrics as a means of comprehending the race struggle.

We would listen to the powerful oratory of Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael - framed and hailed as heroes.

The lessons were a hive of intellectual activity. The limits of the curriculum were stripped away and grades put by the wayside, for something else was the priority.

This was one of the best state schools in the country for a reason – it rightly encouraged independent thought and taught beyond the prescriptive box-ticking curriculum. But the history teachers still indoctrinated, and these were teachers at a grammar school in one of the safest Tory seats in the country.

Then, at university, the module options ranged from the bizarre to the ridiculous. Conventional political and military history has been broadly consigned to the dustbin by contemporary academics. They are traditional relics, we were told as undergraduates, and social and cultural history must come to the fore.

I arrived on campus, a mere 18 years old, excited to be studying a history joint honours degree at a university recently ranked in the UK’s top-five for doing just that. I was looking forward to looking at modern British history, the study of Empire, the Napoleonic Wars, continental tussles through the ages and the great historical players and actors.

I was met with something rather different. Learning about the past can no longer be done by looking at kings, queens, politicians, battles and landmark events, I was told. Instead, we should study the music, food, diaries and other such social and cultural markers of ordinary, average people.

This type of historical study may have its merits, of course. But it was the extent to which traditional methods were discarded that shocked me. As in life, surely there must be a reasonable balance?

I had an entire final year module devoted to The Beatles and their impact on Sixties social change, as key actors in Left-wing direct action and upheaval. The tutor, much like my teacher at school, was a huge sympathiser.

He too was a fine lecturer and we had an excellent relationship. But the fact a major section of my history degree was based on the Left-wing ramblings of John Lennon and Yoko Ono says all you need to know about the predominance of Left-wingers in our educational establishments. His specialism, for your information, a leading history tutor at one of our top universities, was 20th-century love.

We studied Asian development through the centuries as a means of attacking brutal British imperialism (incidentally taught via the medium of contemporary novels). We learnt about the European Union, painted as the great continental peacemaker. We learnt about Barack Obama’s remarkable grassroots fundraising efforts to beat the idiotic American Republicans and Tea Party crew.

We were encouraged to read critiques of Obama's presidency, not from those on the centre and Right who had concerns about healthcare reform or a weak and disjointed foreign policy, but just those on the Left like Tariq Ali, friend of the aforementioned Malcolm X and John Lennon, who bemoaned Obama for not being as radically Left-wing as first hoped.

And we listened to attack after attack on Right-wing organisations, such as the Cato and Adam Smith Institute, from bitter and biased professors.

Looking back now, it was all the more extraordinary. Both what was taught and the way it was conveyed was so incredibly partisan.

In one of my modules, we were given the opportunity to choose a particular form of historical study and write an analytical essay on its merits and deficiencies. Intrigued by Niall Ferguson’s work in the counterfactual field, I asked whether I could look at "what if?" questions and their function for etiology. That took some pleading, Ferguson being widely isolated in the academic community, as one of the few conservative historians, his work sneered upon.

I am not bemoaning a vacuum of historical truth telling, for every individual has his or her own prejudices. My issue is that the pendulum has swung so far in the favour of the Left it has almost shifted a full 180 degrees.

Even when traditional heavyweight topics are studied, they are framed and layered with a notable Leftist predisposition.

When it came to my dissertation, I managed to retreat to something more traditional, in the form of British defence policy and the Falklands conflict. Luckily, my supervisor was just about the only in the department without a Left-wing grudge to bear. To be expected I suppose, as an expert in intelligence and strategic defence.

But my point is, Michael Gove is right, as he is on a lot of things. He might be Satan to the Left, the teaching unions and professionals in schools who will resist change at all costs, but he is the best education secretary in my lifetime.

He understands the problems in our state schools. And he understands the problems with history as it currently is taught.

He must be allowed to change history teaching for the better.


When Chickens Come Home To Roost, Who Rules The Nest?

The chickens are coming home to roost.  More than a quarter of a century ago I decided to end my membership in the Modern Language Association of America because it had been taken over by seemed like loony, trendy political ideologues, theorists of political correctness, deconstruction, post-modernism and all sorts of far-out ways of transforming literary studies into sociology, polemical queer theory and God knows what else. I could see no point in spending a lot of money, time, and intellectual energy going to hear papers on the repressed imagery of lesbianism in Dr Johnson's Dictionary, the role of indigenous people in medieval Italian romances, male oppression in Beowulf, or how to negotiate societal mores in late antique nursery rhymes.  Those big gatherings (known as cattle markets) of the MLA in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, where up to twenty thousand of my colleagues came to network, size-up trends in other universities and interview prospective new junior lecturers seemed hardly congenial nor collegial for an outsider from the other side of the world.

But it wasn't just the Modern Language Association going through change.  It was virtually every academic organization that was being overwhelmed by ideologues, polemics and fanaticism.  The closer I came to retirement-my sixtieth birthday came and went, and then my seventieth loomed on the horizon-the fewer people I would meet who wanted to talk about the things I was interested in any more.  But reluctantly, because it was fascinating to watch younger generations of academics and would-be professors who had no idea what the former, let us call it classical education was about-philology, iconography, close-reading, editorial techniques...  it was time to hang up my boots and my axe and come in from the cold.

Now after barely glancing at their learnëd journals, listening to second-hand rumors of the gallivanting that goes on at conferences, and watching the shadow-play of the antics of departmental politics, it all suddenly becomes interesting again: shocking, frightening.  One after another the professional associations fall even further down the slippery slope of ideology into what is now the business of BDS-boycott, divest and sanction, all aimed at delegitimizing Israel, ostracising its universities and academics, cutting funds and involvement in research programs, and promoting instead support for terrorist states, fanatical institutions, and highly questionable pseudo-academic pursuits.  After the language associations, the indigenous peoples' studies, the Asian studies, and on it goes.

Perhaps these take-overs are done by small vocal minorities.  A handful of people who organize themselves, come to meetings of the activitsts, do the hard slog and get elected to the right committees.  Most scholars are too busy with their scholarship and working for career-advancement to spend time with these bureaucratic details.  Others get turned off by the one-sided arguments and the in-group dominance.  Votes on BDS proposals are somewhat rigged, in the sense that ballots are sent out just prior to holidays and thus a majority pays no attention, does not read the accompanying explanations carefully, and so a fraction of the membership vote and a small majority wins out.  Or maybe not.

 Maybe most academics are already so deep into the mind-set, two or three generations of political correctness and theoretical blather, that they see the arguments as truisms, vital to the stability of their reputations and integrity.  I have a terrible sinking feeling that there have been two whole world-views separated from one another, each side talking past one another, and the good guys-my side, or what remains still alive of it-are not what you would call in the ascendant.

For many years already, various left-wing-or so-called New Marxist groups, so-called because what has been substituted for hard-nosed "scientific Marxism" have been mushy versions of anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, anti-Globalism-have blocked speakers from Israel and other Western-orientated Third-World states in the name of academic freedom, freedom of expression, and something called (but hardly looking like) democracy.  Versions of Foucauld, Derrida, Guattari and a hundred or a thousand other names like that have preached to the academic masses and won them over.  Now it is taken as given that there is no Truth, only positionalities and power-classes, and that the days of European Judeo-Christian hegemonies, like Capitalism and Imperialism, have passed to be replaced by racial subalternism, age-based tribalism and the pride of victimhood.  In short, history is whatever you want it to be: impressions, feelings and interpretations trump facts.

Friends of mine report that when they have tried to speak on certain campuses in the USA or Canada or the UK, invited to lecture in formal courses or to general audiences, they have needed police protection, have been shouted down, jostled, and worse-threatened with death.  Others have innocently allowed themselves to be conned into speaking on panels in which they alone spoke for the old-fashioned liberal cause while eleven others ranted on behalf of a "balanced" group of radicals and revolutionaries seeking to close down institutions of tolerance and diversity of expression.

Complaints to university officials or the campus police have usually proved fruitless, or yielded, at best, advice not to participate and warnings that any injuries or damage will be on their own heads.   Student groups who asked to have stalls on behalf of Israel, the Republican Party or Renaissance Literature have been rejected on the grounds of human rights, political interference, or gender equity.   Jewish groups have been beaten up and mocked.  Christian groups have been jeered off the stage.  There have been all-but book-burnings, defenestrations and torch-lit parades.

Does this matter to ordinary people?  If you send your children or grandchildren to get a college education, it does.  If you believe in the basic tenets of democracy, toleration, and justice, it does.  If you would like to see a world not dominated by absurdity, madness and demagoguery, it does.  Therefore, it is time we called a spade a spade and not a digging implement, and called aggressive bigotry hate speech and not the free play of ideas or personal opinions, and bumptious ignorance unacceptable ignorance in the academic world, the media and the minds of her youth.   


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Obama Administration Targets School ‘Zero Tolerance’ Policies – Mostly Because They’re Racist, Not Because They’re Stupid and Terrible

Yesterday the Departments of Justice and Education released what they are referring to as a “school discipline guidance package” that the media is describing as an effort to clamp down on overzealous school “zero tolerance” punishment policies. While it’s true this “package” discusses how zero tolerance policies are bad policy, a lot of this guidance is all about making sure school discipline isn’t being disproportionately applied based on race. From the Department of Education’s “Dear Colleague” letter:

"Although African-American students represent 15% of students in the CRDC, they make up 35% of students suspended once, 44% of those suspended more than once, and 36% of students expelled. Further, over 50% of students who were involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement are Hispanic or African-American."

The Departments recognize that disparities in student discipline rates in a school or district may be caused by a range of factors. However, research suggests that the substantial racial disparities of the kind reflected in the CRDC data are not explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color. …

Indeed, the Department’s investigations …have revealed racial discrimination in the administration of student discipline. For example, in our investigations we have found cases where African-American students were disciplined more harshly and more frequently because of their race than similarly situated white students.

So a significant amount of this documentation is about making sure school discipline decisions are not discriminatory. There are even flow charts for those educational professionals who need a more visual guide to understanding that giving a minority student harsher discipline than a white student for the same infraction is racist. You can read the letter here (pdf).

Part of the reason for the focus on race (besides the statistical evidence) is because it’s an area where the federal government does have the authority to intervene in public school operations. These guides are essentially a diplomatic way of saying, “Do this, or face federal sanctions.”

The Department of Education does also delve into the issue of overdiscipline as well, noting, “One study found that 95 percent of out-of-school suspensions were for nonviolent, minor disruptions such as tardiness or disrespect.” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan goes on to note that students tossed out of school “may be unsupervised during daytime hours and cannot benefit from great teaching, positive peer interactions, and adult mentorship offered in class and in school.”

Well, he seems to be making a lot of assumptions about the kind of good teaching and mentorship a student may get from adults in a school that’s quick to suspend kids for minor infractions.

The Department of Education’s “guiding principles” for school discipline may be read here (pdf). Sorry to be negative, but perhaps put any hopes to rest that much will come from the Department’s recommendations. This document could have been written by anybody with half a brain, other than the parts that are written entirely in educational bureaucratic jargon, possibly by a computer program (“Engage in deliberate efforts to create positive school climates” and “Promote social and emotional learning to complement academic skills and encourage positive behavior”).

There probably is very little in this guide that school officials won’t already claim that they’re doing. It is good that they’re discouraging schools from referring non-criminal disciplinary issues to law enforcement, something Los Angeles schools are now starting to turn away from. But ultimately, this looks like a bunch of guidelines that will lead to the formation of school committees (funded with federal grants, perhaps?) that put more rules into place that will be pointed to the next time an official does something stupid like suspend a kid for chewing his Pop Tart into the shape of a gun. Can anybody provide an example of American jurisprudence where the institution of additional rules resulted in less callously managed punishment? Why should we expect any different from schools?

What really needs to happen for significant change is that school districts need to be worried about the consequences to them for poorly managed school discipline. That’s why the Department of Justice’s emphasis on racial discrimination and the possibility of sanctions or lawsuits is so prominent – the DOJ has a stick to beat school districts with should they not comply. As for the “zero tolerance” nonsense, giving parents more choice and power on where their children attend school can serve as a useful pressure point to encourage school administrators to put an end to their petty tyrannies.


British Labour Party admits to 'great crime' on education: Tristram Hunt says previous Government failed to push children to excel and dumbed down exams

Labour created a culture of low expectations for state school pupils, Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary has admitted.  He said it was a ‘great crime’ that the last government had failed to pushed children more than simply aim for them to achieve a C grade at GCSE level.

He also admitted that exams had been dumbed down in recent years, saying ‘yes, there are elements of grade inflation’.

Labour now wants to introduce licences for teachers, stripping them of their right to be in the classroom if they fail assessments carried out every five years.

In a startlingly frank admission, Mr Hunt said: ‘The great crime was an awful lot of effort being put on kids getting a C at GCSE, then not going further. There should be no limits - the system should be saying how far can this child go?’  Schools were too focused on the pass grade, ‘C’, because of its significance in league tables.

He said that education should not just be about exam results.

‘What do people who send their children to private school want? It’s not just smaller class sizes. It’s the playing fields and the after-school stuff like music and drama because they help to build confidence and character.’

He told the Times: ‘We need to work out how we can generate all those elements for everyone within a broad education and value them alongside academic rigour.’

Labour would not shut surviving grammar schools but Mr Hunt said their social mix should be questioned.

‘If they are simply about merit why do we see the kind of demographics and class make-up within them?’

Instead of focusing on a handful of specialist schools, he called for the whole system to be more aspirational.

A source close to Mr Gove said that Mr Hunt was ‘right’ to acknowledge mistakes with league tables, adding: ‘We’re getting rid of the five A* to C league-table measure that lay behind it. In future, league tables will be based on progress across eight subjects - so no more focus on the C/D borderline.’

Labour has also revived its plans to licence teachers in the same way that doctors and lawyers are regulated.

‘You need a critical mass of good teachers,’ Mr Hunt said. ‘The quality of an education system cannot be greater than the quality of its teachers.’

Under his plans, teachers would have their lessons assessed by other teachers to demonstrate they were keeping pace.  A new Royal College of Teaching would supervise the licencing regime.

He said while bad teachers could currently be fired, there was a lot of ‘recycling’ where they were simply hired by another school.

‘There is usually a collection of teachers who are not at the cutting edge and this is a check upon that. If a teacher has left one school but then gets a renewed enthusiasm, great, but they would need to pass the re-licensing a s a sign of confidence.’

Mr Hunt, who has been tipped as a future leader, was privately educated at £15,000-a-year University College School in North London and has a PhD from Cambridge.

He has previously said he would not rule out sending his own children to private school, although his son currently attends a state school in London.

Mr Hunt favours a return to the ‘basics’ in education and wants more children to read the classics and study Latin.


Race-Baiting 101: The Common Core on Civil Rights

The progressive takeover of the public schools—dreamed up by John Dewey and put into practice over the course of at least the last sixty years—has produced nothing other than absurdity, superficiality, and political bias in the nation’s classrooms. So utterly impoverished has become the quality of schooling and the nation’s conversation about it, that whenever a so-called “reform” comes into existence—engineered by the same folks who brought us school failure in the first place—we can hardly recognize it for the shell game that it is and the continued decline that it will produce.

Such is now the case with the Common Core, whose effects on the teaching of English are fivefold: a continuation of the mind-numbing ways of teaching literature that have plagued the schools for the last four or five decades; the further erosion of great literature by chopping up any remaining classics into slim excerpts almost hidden in the monstrous anthologized textbooks; the transparent promotion of post-modern and multicultural authors who paint a bleak, anti-heroic view of human life and of this country; the introduction of so-called “informational texts” (non-fiction works, often recently written) frequently lacking in literary value and whose purpose is outright political indoctrination; and the wholesale misinterpretation of American principles and what is generally called the good. We see the effects of this story-killing combination when we bother to look into actual textbooks—which essentially control the lessons of the public schools.

Last week I showed that the Common Core documents offer a model of how outside scholars might be deployed to offer slanted, erroneous views of foundational documents such as the Constitution. Now I should like to show how that same technique can be effected even more dramatically in a school textbook. Case in point: Sojourner Truth’s “An Account of an Experience With Discrimination,” featured in Pearson/Prentice Hall’s The American Experience, volume one, which deals with Truth’s efforts to end discrimination on street cars in Washington, D.C. It should be noted first that the actual selection of Sojourner Truth’s account is right around 300 words, which could easily fit on half a page. Yet it takes the editors eight pages to present the selection due to the inclusion of comments by a modern scholar, two additional introductions to the selection, some really hokey preparatory material that almost exceeds the selection in length, a full-page portrait of Truth (in addition to her photograph that appears on another page), and a page and a half of more hokey questions following the selection, under titles such as “Critical Reading” and “Literary Analysis.” In short, in a more economical textbook such as the Norton Anthologies used in colleges, those eight pages could have had seven more pages of Sojourner Truth’s actual words. Thus, your tax dollars are paying for a lot less actual literature (or primary sources) than the size and cost of these hulking literature textbooks suggest.

Any number of questions arise. Why should outside scholars be brought in to offer “interpretations” (and to promote their writings)? That sort of thing did not happen when I was in school. Why should so much space be devoted to prompt questions before and after the reading? Is it not the province of competent teachers to come up with their own set of questions? Unless . . . (No, we’ll consider the question of teacher competence at a later time). How hokey are these questions? Here is a true/false question that appears under the heading “Vocabulary Acquisition and Use”: “Someone who experiences an assault will have positive feelings.” Answer [provided in the margins of the Teacher’s Edition]: “False. An assault is a violent attack, so someone who experiences an assault will probably experience fear or anger.” (This is for a class of high-school juniors.) Finally, would not this selection be better placed in a history class since it is really not a literary work: neither part of Truth’s original Narrative nor one of her famous speeches?

The mystery of why more space is not given to Sojourner Truth’s own words is solved when we actually read her. She was utterly clear on where her ideas of equality came from. In a speech to the Michigan State Sabbath School convention, she said this:

    Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Saviour die to save the one as well as the other? If so, white children must know that if they go to Heaven, they must go there without their prejudices against color, for in Heaven black and white are one in the love of Jesus.

In perhaps her most famous and powerful speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” she drew upon the same source:

    That little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

    If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!

Further, in a famous encounter at an abolitionist rally before the Civil War, Frederick Douglass ended his address on a depressing note. Sojourner Truth stood up and asked, “Frederick, is God dead?” Despite faith in God being the chief source of her inspiration and in her speeches God being omnipresent, in this selection there is no mention of God. Perhaps this is just an accident, yet the glaring omission or misinterpretation of religion is something I have found again and again in the Common Core. In this case, we simply do not get the whole truth about Truth.

We begin to see the real point of the selection more clearly when we read what Nell Irvin Painter, a “well-known” and “award-winning” historian and former director of the African American Studies program at Princeton, and a leading scholar on Truth, writes in her introduction. At first glance, it does not appear that anything Professor Painter states is particularly incendiary. She writes of the discrimination Sojourner Truth experienced and how other black people faced similar treatment on public transportation up through the middle of the twentieth century, both being true statements. More subtly, however, Professor Painter tells us that there were “Two American Histories” at work:

    Truth’s experience of discrimination in public transportation belongs to two American histories . . . The first history is that of Washington, D.C., a Southern city. The second history is that of discrimination against African Americans throughout the United States.

See how both of these “two histories” reflect poorly on the United States and her people? Why is neither one of these “two histories” the story of liberty? If we are to adopt the view that there were two American histories, would it not be more accurate to say that one of those histories was the stubbornness of human depravity that clung to the kinds of oppression and discrimination that had existed in the world for thousands of years—and the other was Americans’ centuries-long struggle to achieve liberty and justice, in other words, to make good on the principles of the Declaration of Independence? Did freedom in this country just appear out of nowhere with the civil rights movement? That is the impression given by Professor Painter’s “Themes Across Centuries: Scholar’s Insights,” phrases that have the Common Core seal stamped right next to them.

The reason for, or at least the effect of, the three introductions to Sojourner Truth’s 300-word account must now seem a little clearer. Students are told four different times that there was a lot of prejudice throughout America even after the Civil War. So much editorial warm-up in fact makes the actual selection, in which a streetcar conductor tries to prevent Truth from riding on his car, seem almost anti-climactic. Furthermore, so much emphasis is put upon the actions of the conductor that the company president’s firing of his employee and recommendation that he be tried for assault do not seem to count for much. So Truth (both the woman and the ideal) prevailed in this case. An instance of business and citizens and the law working in favor of liberty and equality, however, would not be a part of the “two histories” of America being presented here. So the glass must remain half empty.

Yet I think that the actual encounter of Sojourner Truth or learning anything about her great life is not the real purpose of this assignment. If the purpose were to learn about Sojourner Truth, at least one of her famous speeches in its entirety would be printed, as well as a much richer selection from her Narrative. No, the real purpose is to find something in her life that allows the textbook editors to paint the view of the world they want young people to have. That purpose we discover in a dialogue that unfolds under the headings “Critical Reading” in the students’ edition and “Critical Thinking” in the Teacher’s Edition adjacent Professor Painter’s introduction:

    2. Key Ideas and Details (b) Speculate: Why do you think discrimination persisted in both the North and the South even after slavery ended?

    Possible response [in Teacher’s Edition]: Discrimination persisted because it was deeply embedded in American traditions and because slavery had to be ended forcibly rather than voluntarily.

“Deeply embedded in American traditions”: that phrasing does not make “American traditions” sound terribly noble or desirable. Was not the striving for freedom and equality also a deeply embedded American tradition? The dialogue continues:

    3. Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: Identify two ways in which Painter’s commentary helps you better understand Sojourner Truth’s experiences and reactions.

    Possible response [in Teacher’s Edition]: Painter’s commentary shows how the incidents Truth relates are similar to events in our own time. . . .

Really? Professor Painter did not actually refer to discrimination in “our own time,” but rather implied that such things largely ceased after “the middle of the twentieth century.”

4. Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: Decide what an individual who experiences or witnesses discrimination should do.

Possible response [i.e. the response the teacher is supposed to program into the students]: Individuals experiencing or witnessing discrimination should record the name of the person doing the discriminating and report the incident as soon as possible. Witnesses should also do their best to take care of the victims if there is physical injury. They should also make it clear that they saw what happened and that it will be reported.

The lesson: since racism is so embedded in American traditions, and there is still plenty of racism out there, you teenagers (who are sensitive and emotional and easily provoked) need to go out looking for the slightest hint of racism and report it wherever you see it.

Here’s a question for “critical reading and thinking”: Is this lesson teaching American literature or community organizing via the public schools?


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Academe quits me

Tomorrow I will step into a classroom to begin the last semester of a 24-year teaching career. Don’t get me wrong. I am not retiring. I am not “burned out.” The truth is rather more banal. Ohio State University will not be renewing my three-year contract when it expires in the spring. The problem is tenure: with another three-year contract, I would become eligible for tenure. In an era of tight budgets, there is neither money nor place for a 61-year-old white male professor who has never really fit in nor tried very hard to. (Leave aside my heterodox politics and hard-to-credit publication record.) My feelings are like glue that will not set. The pieces fall apart in my hands.

This essay is not a contribution to the I-Quit-Academe genre. (A more accurate title in my case would be Academe Quits Me.) Although I have become uncomfortably aware that I am out of step with the purposeful march of the 21st-century university (or maybe I just never adjusted to Ohio State), gladly would I have learned and gladly continued to teach for as long as my students would have had me. The decision, though, was not my students’ to make. And I’m not at all sure that a majority would have voted to keep me around, even if they had been polled. My salary may not be large (a rounding error above the median income for white families in the U.S.), but the university can offer part-time work to three desperate adjuncts for what it pays me. A lifetime of learning has never been cost-effective, and in today’s university—at least on the side of campus where the humanities are badly housed—no other criterion is thinkable.

My experience is a prelude to what will be happening, sooner rather than later, to many of my colleagues. Humanities course enrollments are down to seven percent of full-time student hours, but humanities professors make up forty-five percent of the faculty. The imbalance cannot last. PhD programs go on awarding PhD’s to young men and women who will never find an academic job at a living wage. (A nearby university—a university with a solid ranking from U.S. News and World Report—pays adjuncts $1,500 per course. Just to toe the poverty line a young professor with a husband and a child would have to teach thirteen courses a year.) If only as retribution for the decades-long exploitation of part-time adjuncts and graduate assistants, nine of every ten PhD programs in English should be closed down—immediately. Meanwhile, the senior faculty fiddles away its time teaching precious specialties.

Consider some of the undergraduate courses being offered in English this semester at the University of Minnesota:

• Poems about Cities
• Studies in Narrative: The End of the World in Literature & History
• Studies in Film: Seductions: Film/Gender/Desire
• The Original Walking Dead in Victorian England
• Contemporary Literatures and Cultures: North American Imperialisms and Colonialisms
• Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Literature: Family as Origin and Invention
• Women Writing: Nags, Hags, and Vixens
• The Image on the Page
• Bodies, Selves, Texts
• Consumer Culture and Globalization
• The Western: Looking Awry
• Dreams and Middle English Dream Visions

To be fair, there are also four sections of Shakespeare being offered this semester, although these are outnumbered by five sections of Literature of Public Life (whatever that is). Maybe I’m missing something, but this course list does not make me salivate to enroll at Minnesota the way that Addison Schacht salivates to enroll in classics at the University of Chicago in Sam Munson’s 2010 novel The November Criminals:

I could study the major texts of Latin literature, to say nothing of higher-level philological pursuits, all the time. Do you know how much that excites me? Not having to do classes whose subjects are hugely, impossibly vague—like World History, like English [like Literature of Public Life]. You know, to anchor them? So they don’t dissolve because of their meaningless? I’ve looked through the sample [U of C] catalog. Holy fuck! Satire and the Silver Age. The Roman Novel. Love and Death: Eros and Transformation in Ovid. The Founding of Epic Meter. I salivated when I saw these names, because they indicate this whole world of knowledge from which I am excluded, and which I can win my way into, with luck and endurance.

That’s it exactly. The Minnesota course list does not indicate a whole world of knowledge. It indicates a miscellany of short-lived faculty enthusiasms.

More than two decades ago Alvin Kernan complained that English study “fail[s] to meet the academic requirement that true knowledge define the object it studies and systematize its analytic method to at least some modest degree,” but by then the failure itself was already two decades old. About the only thing English professors have agreed upon since the early ’seventies is that they agree on nothing, and besides, agreement is beside the question. Teaching the disagreement: that’s about as close as anyone has come to restoring a sense of order to English.

In 1952, at the height of his fame, F. R. Leavis entitled a collection of essays The Common Pursuit. It was his name for the academic study of literature. No one takes the idea seriously any more, but nor does anyone ask the obvious followup. If English literature is not a common pursuit—not a “great tradition,” to use Leavis’s other famous title—then what is it doing in the curriculum? What is the rationale for studying it?

My own career (so called) suggests the answer. Namely: where there is no common body of knowledge, no common disciplinary conceptions, there is nothing that is indispensable. Any claim to expertise is arbitrary and subject to dismissal. After twenty-four years of patiently acquiring literary knowledge—plus the five years spent in graduate school at Northwestern, “exult[ing] over triumphs so minor,” as Larry McMurtry says in Moving On, “they would have been unnoticeable in any other context”—I have been informed that my knowledge is no longer needed. As Cardinal Newman warned, knowledge really is an end in itself. I fill no gap in the department, because there is no shimmering and comprehensive surface of knowledge in which any gaps might appear. Like everyone else in English, I am an extra, and the offloading of an extra is never reported or experienced as a loss.

I feel the loss, keenly, of my self-image. For twenty-four years I have been an English professor. Come the spring, what will I be? My colleagues will barely notice that I am gone, but what they have yet to grasp is that the rest of the university will barely notice when they too are gone, or at least severely reduced in numbers—within the decade, I’d say.


New Bill in Oklahoma Blocks Punishment for Kids With Imaginary, Toy Guns

You've seen the headlines, Boy Suspended For Chewing PopTart Into Shape of a Gun, 7th Graders Suspended for Playing With Airsoft Gun in Own Yard, Student Suspended for Toy Gun the Size of a Quarter, etc.

But now, a legislator in Oklahoma is putting some tolerance back into the ridiculous "no-tolerance" policies that lead to unnecessary punishment of children.

    Schoolchildren in Oklahoma could not be punished for chewing their breakfast pastries into the shape of a gun under a bill introduced this week by a Republican legislator.

    Rep. Sally Kern said Wednesday her measure dubbed the Common Sense Zero Tolerance Act was in response to school districts having policies that are too strict or inflexible.

    "Real intent, real threats and real weapons should always be dealt with immediately. We need to stop criminalizing children's imagination and childhood play," Kern, Republican from Oklahoma City told

    "If there's no real intent, there's no real threat, no real weapon, no real harm is occurring or going to occur, why in the world are we in a sense abusing our children like this."

    Under Kern's bill, students couldn't be punished for possessing small toy weapons or using writing utensils, fingers or their hands to simulate a weapon. Students also couldn't be punished for drawing pictures of weapons or wearing clothes that “support or advance Second Amendment rights or organization."

Not surprisingly, the Oklahoma Education Association is opposed to the measure. Kern isn't the first to introduce this kind of legislation, similar bills have been introduced in Texas and Maryland, and she won't be the last.


DOJ Wants to Know 'Race, Sex, Disability, Age and English-Learner Status' of Misbehaving Students

The Obama administration, concerned that "zero tolerance" policies are sending too many students to court instead of the principal's office, on Wednesday urged schools to back off -- particularly in the case of minority students and other federally protected groups.

"Racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem today," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who joined Attorney General Eric Holder in speaking about the new guidance. Holder said "students of color and those with disabilities" often receive "different and more severe punishment than their peers."

While the nation's schools are under local control, they must follow federal civil rights and disability laws. And the new guidance for the nation's schools could subject more of those schools to federal discrimination lawsuits. In fact, the crackdown already is happening, as previously reported.

While the guidance is "voluntary," it encourages schools to set up a "recordkeeping system" that tracks demographic information on misbehaving students, including their "race, sex, disability, age and English-learner status" along with the infraction, the discipline imposed, who imposed it, etc.

"Schools should establish procedures for regular and frequent review and analysis of the data to detect patterns that bear further investigation," the guidance says.

"As part of this review, schools (and the federal government no doubt) may choose to examine how discipline referrals and sanctions imposed at the school compare to those at other schools, or randomly review a percentage of the disciplinary actions taken at each school on an ongoing basis to ensure that actions taken were non-discriminatory and consistent with the school’s discipline practices."

The guidance says schools should also analyze the demographic data to assess the impact their discipline policies and practices are having on students -- "especially students of color, students with disabilities, and students at risk for dropping out of school, trauma, social exclusion, or behavior incidents, to identify any unintended disparities and consequences."

(Elsewhere in the document, "students at risk" are specifically identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students; homeless and unaccompanied students; corrections-involved students; students in foster care; pregnant and parenting students; migrant students; English-language learners; and others.")

The guidance says the data-collection can help schools determine whether students with particular personal characteristics (e.g., race, sex, disability, or English earner status) are disproportionately disciplined, whether certain types of disciplinary offenses are more commonly referred for disciplinary sanctions, whether specific teachers or administrators are more likely to refer specific groups of students for disciplinary sanctions -- "as well as any other indicators that may reveal disproportionate disciplinary practices."

In his remarks on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said, "[F]ar too many students across the country are diverted from the path to success by unnecessarily harsh discipline policies and practices that exclude them from school for minor infractions."

At a time when students should be developing their "chances for success," too many are "suspended, expelled, or even arrested for relatively minor transgressions like school uniform violations, schoolyard fights, or showing 'disrespect' by laughing in class," he added.

The Guiding Principles document urges schools to redesign their discipline practices and "promote social and emotional learning."

"Specific goals may include reducing the total numbers of suspensions and expulsions, reducing the number of law enforcement referrals from the school, identifying and connecting at-risk youths to tailored supports, or increasing the availability of quality mental health supports available for students.

And while bullying is unacceptable, the document says schools should help bullies "learn from their behaviors, grow and succeed." It recommends "restorative justice" rather than "exclusionary discipline."


Monday, January 13, 2014

School Choice in 2014

After another year of steadily increasing school choice nationwide, where will school choice fever hit next? Look for action in Oklahoma and Tennessee, says the Friedman Foundation’s Leslie Hiner. Oklahoma lawmakers are discussing Arizona-style education savings accounts (ESAs) and Tennessee lawmakers will have to decide between statewide vouchers and those limited to urban areas.

(ESAs deposit a child’s state education dollars into an account parents control and can use for many education resources, as opposed to a voucher, which may be used only at one school.)

As always, there’s no telling what will happen until 2014 is over. The Wall Street Journal dubbed 2011 “the year of school choice” because 13 states enacted school choice laws, and another 28 considered doing so. That was just the beginning. From 2011 to 2013, 26 states passed 47 school choice laws, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. In 2013, 11 states passed new or expanded existing private school choice programs.

While the number of legislative victories in recent years rapidly outpaced all the gains between 2011 and 1992, when the nation’s first voucher program began in Milwaukee, the number of students these programs reach is still comparatively minuscule. According to Friedman Foundation estimates, 1.1 million children attend private schools using vouchers, education tax credits, or education savings accounts. That sounds like a lot--and it’s a large expansion--but it’s just 2 percent of the nation’s 55.5 million preK–12 students.

So while school choice has come a long way, it’s got even farther to go. Time will tell how far it manages to travel this year.


Government School “Accountability” In South Carolina

Taxpayer-funded educrats routinely attack free market schools for having “no accountability,” but one of the nation’s worst government-run school districts is showing just how non-accountable – and non-transparent – “public” schools can be.

In Jasper County, South Carolina last month, school district leaders conducted their annual evaluation of Superintendent Vashti Washington, determining her performance to be “satisfactory” – this despite the abysmal performance of her district’s schools on state and national tests.

In 2013, Jasper schools scored a 27.3 out of 100 on state tests – down from 39.5 in 2012. That’s the worst score of any district in South Carolina, which routinely ranks among the worst states in America in terms of SAT scores and graduation rates.

If not results – or even progress toward results – then what did Jasper officials use to justify Washington’s “satisfactory” evaluation?

Parents and taxpayers will never know, because Washington’s evaluation – along with her one-year contract extension and the $15,000 bonus payment she received on top of her $165,000 annual salary (excluding benefits) – was conducted behind closed doors.

Not only that, district leaders refused to put anything on paper for fear of the public uncovering the scam.

“(Past written evaluation forms) resulted in (Freedom of Information Act) demands for the forms, and became embarrassing for the superintendents, so nobody uses forms anymore,” the school district’s attorney told The Jasper (S.C.) Sun.

Wait – isn’t the job of a school district to thoroughly evaluate those charged with educating students?  Not spare these failing leaders “embarrassment?”

“This is the absolute worst-performing government school district in the worst-performing state in America – and its administrators are as dishonest and corrupt as they come,” South Carolina political website FITSNews notes.

Judging by the district’s conduct, it’s hard to argue the point.  Of course it’s not just conservative blogs weighing in on this scandal though.  The local mainstream media is also criticizing the school’s secrecy – and its chronic failure.

“It appears that the board has bought into the superintendent’s bogus argument that the district’s back-to-back ‘F’ grades on federal accountability standards have ‘no meaning’ and are based on ‘bad data,’” an editorial from The (Hilton Head, S.C.) Island Packet observes.

The paper’s editorial added that Jasper officials were displaying “animosity toward the public” by engaging in a process that even its own attorneys agreed was “rigged to be secret.”

Astounding, isn’t it?

Next time you hear someone challenge the “accountability” of parental choice programs, send them this story.  And let them know that if such shenanigans were to take place at a non-government school, parents would have the option of taking their business elsewhere.

Sadly in South Carolina – which has previously rejected universal parental choice programs – parents and students have no alternative.


Boss of British supermarket chain criticises schools claiming youngsters who apply for jobs at the supermarket can't spell or add up

The boss of the Morrisons supermarket chain has slammed Britain's educational system claiming many school leavers who turn up at his stores asking for jobs can't spell or add up.

Dalton Philips, 45, said he was concerned that UK schools were falling behind those in other countries and failing to teach basic numeracy and literacy skills.

Last month it emerged that British teenagers had dropped out of the top 20 rankings in maths, science and reading for the first time and now lag behind those from countries such as Vietnam, Shanghai and Poland.

Mr Philips told the Daily Mirror: 'I worry about our schools system. When young people come on to our apprenticeship schemes we have to do remedial literacy and numeracy work with them and it's holding them back.

'I don't know where it's gone wrong. I would love to see young people proud to join an apprentice scheme and wear it as a badge of honour.

'University isn't for everyone and we need to give more encouragement to those who choose an apprenticeship.'

The poor results come despite a near doubling of the education budget between 1997 and 2010 under Labour – from £50billion a year to £89billion.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said the poor results showed radical reform was necessary in a ‘stagnating’ education system.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

10 Peculiar Things U.S. Public Schools Have Banned

We’ve all heard stories about schools banning books or gang-affiliated clothing, but there are many less-publicized bans in effect. Here are ten of the more interesting cases.


Remember Pogs? The game featured cardboard discs printed with some kind of design on one side (sometimes a TV show or company promo), and was played by stacking the pieces face-down and pummeling them with a slammer (a heavier metal piece). The overturned pogs were then kept by the player in turn; when the face-down Pogs were gone, the player with the most in his or her stack won. This ban was unofficial in my middle school but, citing concerns that the game promoted gambling, schools in Arizona and Washington, DC, decided to formally remove the collectible pieces from their premises.

(Bonus fact! Paper pogs were printed by AAFES as a form of currency during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom for use in contingency areas. The double-sided gift certificates were thinner and lighter than traditional pogs and came in 5-cent, 10-cent, and 25-cent denominations. They could be redeemed at any AAFES store worldwide.)


When a Menifee, California, parent who was volunteering in her son’s fifth-grade class at Oak Meadows Elementary came across the definition of “oral sex” in the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Tenth Edition, 1994), she filed a complaint with the principal about explicit language in the reference book and they were immediately removed. The reason for having a collegiate dictionary in an elementary school? “[W]e have students who are reading at much higher levels,” according to a spokeswoman for the district. According to reports, no parents attended the board meeting to express concerns about the dictionary, and a few days later they were returned to the classrooms.


The assignment asked students to make hats to wear when they met their pen pals. An eight-year-old Rhode Island boy decided to make his patriotic, and affixed little soldiers to a camouflaged cap. But because toy soldiers with plastic guns aren’t allowed under the school’s weapons ban, the hat was deemed inappropriate. [Image courtesy of CBS/WPRI.]

The school’s principal suggested replacing the gun-toting Army men with soldiers without weapons. The boy only had one toy that qualified—a soldier with binoculars—so he wore a plain hat instead. Lt. Gen. Reginald Centracchio, the retired commander of the Rhode Island National Guard, praised the school for supporting the military in the past, but disagreed with the hat ban. “The American soldier is armed,” Centracchio told the Associated Press. “That’s why they’re called the armed forces. If you’re going to portray it any other way, you miss the point.”


Bracelets can’t catch a break. First, in the early 90s, the slap bracelet craze came to a grinding halt when kids started injuring each other from “improper use” of the toy. Exposed metal edges were found to “cause hand and wrist injuries to children,” according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. More recently, the pink rubber bands proclaiming “I Heart Boobies” in support of breast cancer awareness and the various-shaped Silly Bandz have been deemed “inappropriate” and “distracting” and removed from many schools.


In Chicago, no less. Way back in 1996, fears of gang-related activity prompted Calumet High School officials to ban all clothing red, black and white in color – including the then-new red and black Air Jordans and Chicago Bulls attire.

6. “MOM” AND “DAD”

Not your mom and dad, just the words “mom” and “dad” in school-distributed communications. In 2007, in an effort to avoid exclusionary language considered negative to same-sex couples, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill prohibiting the use of the terms “mom and dad” or “husband and wife” to address memos, letters and permissions slips. This may not seem like a big deal (alternatives are “parents” or “parent or guardian,” which is standard enough), but of course there was serious backlash—Governor Schwarzenegger was accused of “ensuring that every California school becomes a homosexual-bisexual-transsexual indoctrination center,” by the president of the Campaign for Children and Families.


With peanut allergies on the rise (up 50% in some areas in the space of a year), some schools have banned all peanut products from the cafeteria, including the ubiquitous school-age favorite, PB&J. Others are more lenient, however, and offer multiple lunch options for allergic students and warnings on foods containing peanuts.


Los Angeles schools aren’t too happy with Jamie Oliver, pioneer of healthful and inexpensive school lunch programs in the UK. In a move to illustrate how much sugar the LA school system gives students in one week (just in flavored milk!), Oliver loaded an old school bus with 57 tons of white sand. The stunt was met with fierce resistance by school officials and LA-area parents, and the Food Revolution host and his crew are banned from working on location in the city. Oliver still hopes to get into the city schools and help overhaul the lunch program, but for now it looks like he’s hanging out with the Chicago schools’ vegetables.


No, really. Not all vegetables, of course—just the ones grown on school grounds. In what seems like a setback for the local food movement, in 2010 Chicago Public Schools prohibited produce grown in the 40 school-sponsored gardens to be served in the district’s cafeterias. Their reasoning? “In order to use food in the school food program, it would need to meet specific/certified growing practices,” a district spokeswoman said.


Sure, sagging pants have been under a firestorm since the early 90s. But more recently, in 2009, a school in Mesquite, TX, put a moratorium on skinny jeans. Aside from looking silly (as evidenced by the Menudo pic), the school board decided the emo-favored garb is “disruptive of student learning.” The school also banned striped and checked shirts for the same reason


Teach children about moral heroes to stop them being soft

"Moral heroes" should be reinstated to school curriculums to stop children becoming so "soft and selfish", the art critic Brian Sewell has argued, as he laments the loss of the British stiff upper lip.

Sewell, 82, said he would like to see children taught about the concepts of “fortitude, self-sacrifice, heroism and gravitas” in a bid to overturn the modern trend for “excessive emotion”.

Writing in the February edition of Tatler magazine, he said he would like to see children reading Biggles and Just William, as well as being taught about the gods of Greece and Rome, and biblical figures such as Moses, Samson and David.

Asking how the “traditional British virtue” of fortitude had become “so adulterated”, he added he “mourned” the loss of the stiff upper lip.

Writing of the heroics actions of ordinary men in the World Wars, he said: “With so long a peace, we have become soft and selfish.”

“With scant religion and an education system in which little heroic history is taught, Biggles and William are lost to the computer game and there is nothing like National Service to give boys a sense of loyalty to Queen and Country.”

He added: “We could begin by demanding decorum in the comprehensive school, on the football pitch and on the tennis court, but these are common times and we’d not be understood.”


Australia: Christopher Pyne appoints critics of school curriculum to review system

Education Minister Christopher Pyne has taken the first step towards reforming the national school curriculum, by appointing two staunch critics of the current system to head up a government review.

On Friday, Mr Pyne announced that former teacher and Coalition advisor Kevin Donnelly and government academic Ken Wiltshire would lead the review, which is due to report back by mid-year.

Labor and the Australian Education Union have swiftly criticised the process, accusing the Coalition of threatening to politicise the school curriculum.

The curriculum review was part of the Coalition's 2013 election platform and Mr Pyne has previously criticised what he describes as too little emphasis on "the non-Labor side of our history".

In an opinion piece in The Australian newspaper on Friday, Mr Pyne added that "concerns have been raised about the history curriculum not recognising the legacy of Western civilisation and not giving important events in Australia's history and culture the prominence they deserve, such as Anzac Day".

Mr Pyne told reporters in Adelaide that he wanted to implement any changes from the review in 2015, after consulting with state and territory counterparts.

He dismissed questions about the impartiality of Professor Wiltshire and Dr Donnelly, saying: "I'm very confident that Ken and Kevin will bring a balanced approach."

Dr Donnelly, who is a former chief of staff to Liberal frontbencher Kevin Andrews, has previously criticised a "cultural left" bias in the education system. Professor Wiltshire has labelled the current curriculum as a "failure" with poor and patchy content.

The Education Minister said he had not appointed a bigger committee to review the curriculum as he wanted a "robust" outcome, rather than a report that pleased all stakeholders.

Mr Pyne said that Dr Donnelly and Professor Wiltshire would look at the process of how the curriculum is developed as well as its content.  "I have asked them to gather the views of parents, state and territory governments and educators to inform their analysis."

Describing himself as a "curriculum nerd", Dr Donnelly said on Friday that it was an honour to be appointed to the role.  A prolific writer, Dr Donnelly has previously written that many parents consider the practices of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people to be "unnatural".

He has also advocated for resources to be directed at teaching young people "Australia's western heritage and Judeo-Christian tradition".  "The language we speak, listen to and read is English and before children are made to learn an Asian language it might be a good idea, firstly, to ensure that they have mastered their native tongue," he wrote in a 2012 opinion piece for the ABC.

Labor's education spokeswoman Kate Ellis said that Mr Pyne's review threatened to take the national curriculum backwards.  "The curriculum should not be treated as a political football - politicians should not be determining the details of what is taught in the classroom," she said.  "States and territories - Liberal and Labor - have agreed to an independent board to set curriculum. But today, Christopher Pyne is threatening to take us backward by making this more about politics and less about learning."

Australian Education Union federal president Angelo Gavrielatos also expressed concerns about the review, arguing that the current curriculum is developed by experts and signed off by state and territory ministers.  "The curriculum must be balanced and I believe that the statements made thus far are without foundation," he told ABC Radio on Friday.  "The curriculum should not be politicised."  [Unless it is Leftist, of course]

The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority is currently responsible for developing the national curriculum for all school students.

Mr Pyne has previously said ACARA is "not the final arbiter on everything that is good in education".