Friday, October 03, 2014

World university rankings show 'power shift' from US and UK towards Far East

US and UK Universities dominate the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.  In Australia ANU, U Sydney, U. Melb, U Qld and Monash made the top 100 with U NSW just outside at rank 109.  Full list here

British universities slipped in major global league tables published today amid evidence of a "power shift" towards the Far East.

Figures showed three UK universities dropped out of a list of the world's 200 top performing higher education institutions while five disappeared from the top 500.

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings showed that the United States and UK continued to dominate the very highest positions but there was "worrying evidence of decline".

It emerged that universities in China, Hong Kong and South Korea showed particular improvement this year, while Germany also had more institutions among the top 200.

Experts said the development represented evidence of a "power shift from West to East", driven by the fact that many universities were being "starved of vital public funding".

The tables showed that California Institute of Technology in the United States was named as the best university in the world for the fourth year running while Harvard retained second place.

Oxford was named as the best ranked British university in third - down from joint second last year - followed by Stanford.

Cambridge was fifth - up from seventh - while remaining places in the top 10 were taken up by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton, the University of California, Berkeley, Imperial College London, Yale and the University of Chicago.

The UK was second only to the US in terms of the number of top-rated universities, Times Higher Education said.

But it also emerged that some universities fell out of the global elite this year.

Reading, Dundee and Newcastle all dropped out of the top 200, while two others were close to falling, with East Anglia dropping from 174th to 198th and Leicester dropping from 161st to 199th.

In a further disclosure, it was revealed that five UK universities dropped out of the top 400 - Heriot-Watt, Keele, Liverpool John Moores, Loughborough and Surrey, although Aston climbed into the leading positions for the first time.

It follows claims from leading vice-chancellors that universities are struggling to keep up with high-performing peers from overseas because of a squeeze on funding.

Sir Christopher Snowden, the president of Universities UK, has said that the current £9,000 cap on undergraduate tuition fees is no longer sustainable while Prof Andrew Hamilton, the vice-chancellor of Oxford, suggested fee levels should be closer to the full cost of educating students - £16,000 in Oxford's case.

The league table suggested US universities were also showing relative declines, despite continuing to dominate the leading positions in overwhelming numbers. Some 60 per cent of US universities lost ground this year, falling an average of five places, with publicly-funded institutions being hardest hi, THE said.

By comparison, 2014 was a "strong year" for the Far East, it emerged.

Some 24 Asian universities are now in the top 200 compared with 20 a year earlier. This includes two listed in the top 25 - Tokyo University and the National University of Singapore. Two German universities also entered the top 200 for the first time.

Phil Baty, the ranking's editor, said: "Western universities, in many cases starved of vital public funding, are losing ground.

"There is much talk of a power shift from East to West, but these new world university rankings provide hard evidence of the phenomenon. There is little doubt that key East Asian nations have emerged as powerhouses in global higher education and research, while traditional leaders including the UK, Canada and the US, risk losing significant ground in the global knowledge economy.”

He said the UK continued to "punch above its weight" but added: "While the elite institutions remain highly competitive at the top of the global rankings, this new data raises a number of key concerns."

The tables are compiled using 13 key indicators, including research income, research impact, staff/student ratio, the number of international staff and students and reputation.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said the rankings suggested Britain continued to "possess, by some margin, one of the strongest university systems in the world".

“What is clear, however, is that if we want to maintain this leading position, we must start matching our competitors’ increased investment in higher education," she said. "That is why, before next year’s general election, Universities UK is calling on all parties to reveal how they plan to fund sustainably the world-class teaching and research in our universities.”

Wendy Piatt, director-general of the Russell Group, which represents 24 top universities, said:

“The UK’s leading universities continue to outperform many of their global competitors, with 11 Russell Group institutions in the top 100.

"But other universities, particularly those in East Asia, are rapidly catching up, thanks to their governments pumping billions into their best universities. Without increased investment and less regulation in coming years, the UK’s best universities might lose their place as world-leaders."


Goddard College Selects Convicted Cop Killer as Fall Commencement Speaker

A liberal-arts college in Vermont decided it would make some waves by selecting a murderous jailbird as its commencement speaker.

Goddard College announced Monday that alumnus Mumia Abu-Jamal, Class of '96, was selected by the Fall class of 2014 to speak at commencement this Saturday.

Prosecutors sentenced Abu-Jamal to death for the 1981 murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner.  The college gives more on this man's "illustrious" background:

Abu-Jamal was convicted in the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. His original death sentence handed down at his trial in 1982 was commuted to life imprisonment without parole in 2011. He was then transferred from death row to the Mahanoy State Correctional Institution in Frackville, Pa., where he resides today.

His formal biography at the bottom of the press release, however, paints him as a former "resident" of death row and prominent journalist - instead of as a criminal.

Abu-Jamal will make his virtual appearance in a video address to Goddard's fall graduating class on Sunday October 5 along filmmaker Steven Vittoria, who filmed a documentary about Abu-Jamal in 2012.  But if you're worried that this will be one of the only commencement speeches you'll find at Goddard- don't worry- the college hosts 20 different commencement ceremonies every year.

While one college selects a convicted cop-killer for the esteemed tradition, several conservative commencement speakers have been banned from universities within the past two years.

In 2013, Dr. Ben Carson withdrew as Johns Hopkins' commencement speaker after students claimed he made some inflammatory remarks about gay marriage.

Former Bush Administration official Robert Zoellick withdrew from Swarthmore's commencement ceremony because students said he made comments about instigating the Iraq War.

Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice withdrew from Rutgers University's commencement ceremony because students protested her appearance.


'A' Is for Agitation: What's Really Going on in Jefferson County Schools

There's a big battle brewing in the Jefferson County, Colorado, school system. The manufactured controversy over a proposed curriculum review is generating national headlines. But the fight is not about what misguided students and biased reporters say it's about. "Censorship" is a red herring. The real issue is union control.

Here's the deal: Public school teachers in this Denver-area district walked out of their classrooms this week to protest the implementation of performance-based pay. The JeffCo school board approved the new compensation system last week, which rewards the most highly effective teachers with 4.2 percent raises, effective teachers with 2.4 raises and inferior teachers with nothing. Only 2 percent of teachers received no pay raises.

One fact the grievance-mongering teachers conveniently left out of their politicized pep talks to student sympathizers: The board gave bonuses to 450 teachers who would have otherwise received no raises under the union's arbitrary step scale. The old system didn't take performance into any consideration at all.

Despite the hefty rewards for teacher competence and excellence, disgruntled union leaders called for a strike last Friday (or as they prefer to whitewash it, a "sickout"). The Big Labor avengers succeeded in shutting down two schools — and enlisting students to protest with them. But the optics of robbing kids of valuable educational time to protest an $18.2 million salary compensation package did not play well with taxpayers.

Enter the "censorship" fakeout.

At the same board meeting where the new pay system was approved, elected school board members heard a proposal to form a curriculum review committee. Under the state constitution, elected local school boards are responsible for instructional and curriculum matters. It's their duty. The proposal called for the creation of a new, nine-member panel "to review curricular choices for conformity to JeffCo academic standards, accuracy and omissions, and to inform the board of any objectionable materials."

The panel's first review items would be the elementary health curriculum and the A.P. U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum, which has undergone a radical revamp over the past few years.

The chief architect of the APUSH revisions is David Coleman, a progressive ideologue who is also one of the prime movers and shakers behind the Common Core standards scheme. Objections to the shoddy, intrusive, costly, top-down, backroom-designed Common Core agenda cross party lines. Rank-and-file teachers across the country have joined a diverse anti-Common Core coalition of parents, administrators, scholars, grassroots activists, privacy advocates and anti-cronyism watchdogs.

The JeffCo school board takes its deliberative role seriously. The proposal is the opposite of censorship. The debate over history standards is part of a wider battle between left-leaning militant teachers' unions, who explicitly see their primary role as Saul Alinsky-trained political agitators, and those who want to restore academic excellence, rigor and ideological balance in the schools.

While every liberal "-ism" has been incorporated into the school day — from environmentalism and collectivism to social justice activism to mandatory volunteerism, feminism and transgenderism — JeffCo school board members are now being mocked for simply proposing that citizenship, individualism and patriotism have a fundamental place at the schoolteacher's table.

Somehow, this perfectly reasonable proposal morphed into "JeffCo wants to remove slavery from the history curriculum!" Next thing you know, students were walking out of class two days in a row this week with "We (Heart) Our Teachers" signs. And the liberal Denver Post was running propaganda stories on Twitter mockery of the school board.

"It upsets me greatly to see children being used as pawns and missing educational time," school board president Ken Witt told me. And "we're not just going to rubber-stamp" the top-down APUSH changes, he says. But the bigger picture, Witt points out, is that the district's "union contract expires in August. It will be entirely redrafted." The agitators' ultimate goal is "to create turmoil and discredit board before those negotiations."

And they are trying to do so by any means necessary — including misleading kids, spreading falsehoods in the classroom and instigating walkouts through student-managed organizing websites.

The parting words of former top National Education Association lawyer Bob Chanin a few years ago in explaining the union's main agenda say it all. After calling conservative opponents "bastards," he said:

"This is not to say that the concern of NEA and its affiliates with closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, improving teacher quality and the like are unimportant or inappropriate. To the contrary — these are the goals that guide the work we do. But they need not and must not be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights and collective bargaining. That simply is too high a price to pay.

Listen up, class. For public employee union leaders, it's not really about the children or academic excellence or curricular freedom. It's about their own political self-preservation. Always.


Thursday, October 02, 2014

Academic freedom is a big deal

I am continually surprised by the casual, almost irresponsible way with which academic freedom is dismissed as no big deal by sections of the academic community. As a former radical undergraduate at McGill University who fought for academic freedom in the late 1960s, I was saddened to read an article published in the Harvard Crimson earlier this year that praises students in the 1970s who sought to silence faculty members. Apparently, silencing the voices of those whose ideas offend is a small price to pay for upholding what the author characterised as ‘academic justice’.

The language with which the Crimson article framed the idea of academic freedom was shot through with contempt. Throughout the piece, academic freedom was constantly coupled with the term ‘obsession’.  The assertion that those who take academic freedom seriously are misguided fools was justified on the grounds that the principle of academic freedom has no real content. According to the author, this ‘liberal obsession’ is ‘misplaced’ since ‘no one ever has “full freedom” in research and publication’. The conviction that academic freedom is an unhealthy obsession is by no means unique to the undergraduate who wrote this article. On both sides of the Atlantic, there is a powerful current of cynicism towards the idea of academic freedom.

It has become fashionable to refer to academic freedom as a myth that bears little relationship to the reality of university life. This also serves as a prelude to calling into question academic freedom’s very legitimacy. As Joanna Williams noted in her review of The Imperial University: Academic Repressions and Scholarly Dissent, too many treat academic freedom as something which works to neutralise the genuine voices of dissent on campus.

At first sight, it is unclear why academic freedom has become the target of moralistic outrage. If it really is a myth with no reality on campus, why not just ignore it? Or better still, if there is no ‘full freedom’ of research – as the Crimson article suggested – why not seek to extend its influence? It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that what bothers the current critics of academic freedom is not its incomplete or limited scope but the very ideals of tolerance and openness. Academic freedom stands condemned not because it is a myth, but because its critics are intolerant of those who express ideas antithetical to their own worldview. That is the main impulse driving the current backlash against academic freedom. ‘If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of “academic freedom”?’, asks the author of the Crimson article. Intolerance towards research that contradicts ‘our goals’ is here depicted as a virtue.

Critics of academic freedom are careful not to go so far as to call for its abolition. The reason for their qualified critique is that while they are happy to deny academic freedom to their opponents, they fervently uphold their own right to academic freedom. The current case of Steven Salaita is instructive in this respect. Salaita has been at the forefront of the campaign to prevent Israeli scholars from participating in academic conferences and research projects in the US. He is in no doubt that the principle of academic freedom does not extend to his political opponents. However, when the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign decided to withdraw its offer to employ him as professor in American Indian studies, Salaita and his supporters were outraged at what they saw as a violation of academic freedom. In this instance, at least, this ‘liberal obsession’, this ‘myth’ of academic freedom, was transformed into a sacred principle.

Double standards abound. From the perspective of Salaita and his supporters, academic freedom is an entirely negotiable commodity. Instead of seeing it as a fundamental principle governing academic life and scholarly research, they see it as a second-order value that may give way to more lofty concerns. This outlook was communicated in the Crimson article, which asserted that ‘academic justice’ is more fundamental than academic freedom: ‘When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.’

Since the rise of the modern university, there have always been attempts – particularly by external authorities – to curb or deny the right to academic freedom. Significant breakthroughs in intellectual and scientific thought inevitably challenge the prevailing order, which is why those who question conventions and challenge prevailing norms have frequently faced repression. This is why during the past century, academics were frequently at the forefront of advocating the free pursuit of scholarly research and the right to express their views. The experience of history indicates that academic freedom is not a desirable privilege that is open to negotiation – it is integral to the intellectual and moral foundation on which the pursuit of scholarly activity rests.

What’s interesting, and also deeply distressing, about the situation today is that the calls to police the freedom to pursue academic research originate not outside, but inside the academy. Calls to police disagreeable research and ideas regarded as offensive are testimony to the illiberal tendencies that prevail among influential constituencies in higher education.

Intolerance towards the academic freedom of other colleagues is invariably represented as not what it really is – the silencing of unconventional or objectionable views – but rather as an enlightened defence of those who would be offended by unconventional or objectionable views. From this perspective, the advocacy of a genuinely open intellectual culture, where scholars are encouraged to take risks and question everything, is an abomination. These sentiments are not confined to the sphere of research. They also call into question the freedom to teach in accordance with one’s intellectual orientation.

In British universities, new colleagues are frequently socialised into an ethos of teaching where intellectual ideas and principles are trumped by a pragmatic desire not to rock the boat. For example, back in 2005, it was revealed that a circular issued to arts and humanities lecturers at Durham University indicated that they would have to obtain approval from an ethics committee if they wished to offer lectures and tutorials on topics that might offend students. Abortion and euthanasia were cited as examples of such potentially offensive topics.

At the time, numerous colleagues reacted strongly against this circular’s call for academic self-censorship. But, despite this reaction, the premise advanced by this circular is now widely accepted and institutionalised by higher-education bodies on both sides of the Atlantic. The infantilising message that ‘the student must not be offended’ has been internalised and in many cases codified in numerous institutions of higher education. Indeed, the culture of insulating students from offensive or disturbing ideas has become so pervasive that it has been unthinkingly embraced by sections of the undergraduate community. The infantilisation of undergraduates has succeeded to the point that sometimes it is the students themselves who demand protection from disturbing thoughts.

On many campuses, it was student advocates, and not insecure campus administrators, who were at the forefront of promoting the recent calls for trigger warnings on class syllabi. The recent suggestion by a Rutgers University sophomore that the alert for The Great Gatsby should say ‘TW: suicide, domestic abuse and graphic violence’ captures well the spirit that motivates the self-appointed campus censor.

If disturbing and offensive ideas must now come with a mandatory health warning, how long before they are deemed inappropriate for discussion on campuses altogether?

There is little doubt that academic freedom can make life uncomfortable for teachers and students alike. Often the pursuit of the truth leads in unexpected directions and calls into question cherished beliefs and conventional wisdom. And, of course, words and the ideas they express can offend. But the flourishing of higher education needs individual risk-takers who are ahead of their time and prepared to search for the truth, wherever it may lead them and whomever it may offend. The serious higher-education institution does not seek to limit academic freedom, but to affirm it. It regards academic freedom as a non-negotiable value that underpins the genuine pursuit of intellectual and scientific clarity. It teaches its members how not to take hateful views personally and how not to be offended by uncomfortable ideas.


Female students are not damsels in distress

Sex has never been such a hot topic of discussion – but not in a good way. On Twitter, the #EverydaySexism project has prompted scores of anecdotal and heartfelt testimonies from tweeters, sharing personal stories about everything from rape and sexual harassment to catcalling and just plain flirting.

Much of the debate about sexism online centres on female students’ experiences at university. Last week, with freshers’ week looming, the National Union of Students (NUS) launched a ‘Lad Culture National Strategy Team’, which is to be headed up by #EverydaySexism founder, Laura Bates. Prior to that, online student magazine the Tab published an article requesting the cooperation of men in the fight against the ‘gauntlet of potential assaults’ against women that they claimed would be accompanying freshers’ week.

Though it may seem positive that this new generation is seemingly more comfortable speaking openly about these issues, the discussions currently raging about sexism are extremely reductive and anathema to anything resembling feminism. There are three distinct problems with the idea that university is rife with sexism.

The first is the way these campaigns conflate simple ‘cat-calling’ with genuine sexual assault. It is fundamentally wrong to claim that being called ‘babe’ or even made to feel uncomfortable by a catcall is sexual assault. Rape and sexual assault are violent crimes which are committed by people who mean harm to the victim. There is a difference between a man who shouts ‘nice tits’ across the street and one who rips your top off. Any claim to the contrary undermines the severity of sexual assault and blurs the lines between ignorance and intent.

The second problem is in the positioning of women as vulnerable and men as predatory. We seem to have a generation of women comfortable with thinking of themselves as damsels in distress and men as the enemy – leaving the position of the hero to be filled by either a students’ union or an online campaign. This degrades young women’s resilience while simultaneously undermining free speech. All women should be encouraged to confront and deal with forms of speech they disagree with. Sure, a lonely road at 3am isn’t the best place for a woman to take on a man double her size in a debate about what does and doesn’t make her uncomfortable, but in the public domain of the university women should stand up for themselves rather than reverting to bans and clampdowns on speech they don’t like. Long before the NUS launched its laughably named anti-lad taskforce, students’ unions had been banning everything from ‘lads’ mags’ to leery pop songs in the name of tackling sexism. All they’re doing is reinforcing the idea that women are vulnerable.

Lastly, the problem of sexism runs far deeper than the whingers of #EverydaySexism make out. Sexism is built into the fundamental structures of our society, which promote the idea that women’s natural role is in the home and that the mother plays the most important role in a child’s life. But the likes of #EverydaySexism and the NUS don’t seem to be interested in these issues; instead they are expending all of their energy telling young people how to speak, drink and shag in the most PC way.

The uproar about ‘twerking’, ’Blurred Lines’, ‘lad culture’ and a ‘corrupted generation’ stifles any wider debate on real, structural inequality. By clamping down on speech, by telling students that certain language is ‘sexist’ and therefore unacceptable, modern feminists are stopping discussion, not fostering it. And in the process, they are degrading men and women. The implication often made that all men are predisposed to be pigs is pathetic and untrue. Sexism is not about simply being ‘nasty’ to women, and feminism is not about being sympathetic to women. The way to deal with the broader problems, which go far beyond petty squabbles over language, is to debate and discuss them freely. If there are really people out there who today believe that the coarse comments of a few drunk lads are the real problem, then things are far worse than we thought.


The Kafkaesque clampdown on campus hook-ups

American college students arriving for the Fall term will find a very different climate on campus. In addition to the usual rituals of moving into their rooms, buying their books and registering for classes, many will be attending mandatory workshops on sexual violence and the meaning of consent.

Though workshops like these are not new, they have acquired a greater emphasis and urgency since April when the US Department of Education announced a federal investigation of 77 colleges and universities over their handling of complaints of rape and sexual assault.

The investigations come hot on the heels of the release of the Not Alone report issued by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault on Campus. If students take away nothing else this year, they will at least have a heightened awareness of the problem of sexual assault. On the face of it, this is no bad thing. But a closer look shows that the authorities’ crusade is riddled with problems.

For a start, it is based on questionable research. The Campus Sexual Assault Study 2005-2007 claims that a shocking 20 per cent of female students experience sexual assault during their time on campus, a figure repeated throughout the official literature. But the study suggests this figure is anything but robust. The data comes from a survey of students conducted at just three Southern universities. The small and potentially self-selecting nature of the sample is troubling – but even more problematic is the fact that these sexual-assault figures were calculated on the basis of the researchers’ interpretations of incidents, often in direct contradiction to what women themselves thought.

The strategy for dealing with this alleged crisis is equally problematic. The White House administration is using Title IX legislation, intended to ensure equal access to education for women, to pressure colleges and universities into establishing and maintaining a parallel but vastly inferior system of justice. Unlike the real criminal-justice system, in which those accused of crimes have rights, campus authorities follow a list of recommendations as spelled out by the new Not Alone guidelines, which fall far below acceptable legal standards.

In this parallel system, campus functionaries investigate and prosecute potentially serious crimes in secret tribunals. Not only are colleges ill equipped and unaccountable, there is no guarantee that due process – the legal standards that ensure proceedings are fair, especially to the accused – will be upheld.

On campus, there is no presumption of innocence. There may be no right to representation; no right to know the exact nature of the allegations made or who made them; no right for the accused to present evidence in his defence; no statute of limitations; and no right to appeal. There need not even be an accuser. Colleges may act on a complaint explicitly against the wishes of the person who made the complaint, as Yale University did earlier this year.

We could add to these concerns the shifting understanding of what constitutes a crime. In the criminal-justice system, ‘the crime of rape’ has become a subcategory of ‘sexual assault’ in order to capture acts beyond forced intercourse. The Obama administration has gone much further than this on campus. ‘Sexual assault’ has become a subcategory of ‘sexual violence’ and ‘sexual violence’ has in turn become a subcategory of ‘sexual harassment’. Sexual harassment is defined as ‘unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, including sexual violence’. It includes ‘unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal, non-verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature’.

The unintended consequence of this extension of the category of inappropriate behaviour is the expansion of what may be considered a crime. Thus, rape, attempted rape and molestation are now on a par with unwanted kissing or rude comments. This, coupled with a definition of sexual assault that emphasises consent and the capacity to provide consent over the intentions and purposes of both parties has led to at least one Kafkaesque situation at the University of Missouri, where the very act of asking someone to engage in sex is considered unacceptable behaviour that ‘will not be tolerated’.

But of all the reasons to be critical of these new measures, the impact on women and their relationships with men may be the most worrying. In a climate in which almost any unpleasant, or ambiguous encounter – especially those fuelled by alcohol – can be interpreted as sexual assault, a generation of women is being encouraged to view the normal missteps and awkwardness of college sex as potentially life-ruining violations.

Take this incident reported on the Middlebury College ‘It Happens Here’ website:

‘E started talking dirty to me. I jokingly said something about E getting me aroused when I already said no, and I felt a hand between my legs. Whatever physical state I was in, E assumed it meant I had changed my mind and started touching me more. I should have said no again; I didn’t say anything. I had an overwhelming feeling like I wasn’t allowed to say anything. I let E do exactly what E wanted to do so it would be over and we could go to bed.’

This is typical of ‘survivor stories’, which are mostly unreported incidents posted on websites as part of the It Happens Here Project. A handful of these first-person accounts describe incidents in which women were drugged without their knowledge, or forced into sex or molested - incidents that clearly merit official investigation.

The majority, however, are tales of naiveté and disappointment, of having trusted someone who turned out to be a jerk. Sex with a jerk is then, retrospectively, labelled a violation. Reported incidents are much the same.

This allegation, made by a student at Swarthmore College and featured in Philadelphia Magazine, is a good example:

‘I basically said, “No, I don’t want to have sex with you”… And then he started again a few minutes later, taking off my panties, taking off his boxers. I just kind of laid there and didn’t do anything – I had already said no. I was just tired and wanted to go to bed. I let him finish. I pulled my panties back on and went to sleep.’

Such tales make painful reading. They remind older, more experienced adults of just how messy, sordid and cringey sex in college can be. They also leave the unsettling feeling that a profound loss of perspective has occurred.

The sexual revolution has always been double-edged. The freedom to experiment with multiple partners without stigma means that we all have more sexual experience. This is no bad thing, especially for women whose sexuality was variously disregarded or even demonised in the past. But the experiences that pave the way to sexual and emotional maturity are sometimes, and perhaps inevitably, unhappy ones. It is a rare person who has no embarrassing skeletons in the closet marked ‘sex in college’. We must, as the saying goes, kiss a lot of frogs.

But if these experiences are not particularly worthy or edifying, the freedom to exercise our judgment, to take risks and to make mistakes, is liberating in and of itself – even in cases when that choice is not to have sex outside marriage, as some people do.

With this in mind, the call to end sexual assault on campus is less about justice than it is a thinly veiled demand for less freedom, a plea for protection from one another and, especially, from ourselves. As with so many discussions of human relationships today, the focus on sexual assault expresses a deep anxiety about intimacy and an obsession with risk.

According to this view, the world is a dangerous place and people are not to be trusted. Instead of acting on our desires, in the moment with our person of choice, we must be nudged to think and think again about our feelings every step of the way.  Are we still sure about consenting? Is our partner? There is no room for ambiguity and no stage at which remorse is pointless. Men are seen as particularly suspect, as if violence were one point on the continuum of their sexuality. They therefore require education to teach them not to rape. All-male institutions like sports teams or fraternities must be highly regulated or, better still, dissolved lest they magnify or intensify the masculine culture of sexual violence.

Where once feminists railed against strictures against ‘dangerous’ female sexuality, they now seem perfectly content to portray male sexuality as inherently problematic. Indeed, there is an almost evangelical zeal to campaigns like Ring the Bell or Men Against Violence Against Women, in which men ‘take the pledge’ to the breathless applause of the feminists for whom so-called hyper-masculinity is the root of all evil.

No one wants to minimise the seriousness of sexual assault, and yet if we do not distinguish between ordinary sex and a serious crime in which sex is used as a weapon, this is precisely what we are doing. Surely victims of assault and those accused of it deserve to have their cases dealt with seriously and systematically, with all the professionalism and attention to detail we demand from the criminal-justice system? More importantly, isn’t it time we started trusting in the capacity of men and women to emerge from unpleasant intimate encounters unscathed, stronger and wiser as a result?


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

UK: Music to their ears! Primary pupils to study ten classical pieces by composers including Beethoven and Handel to counter fears they are missing out on the arts

Ten pieces of classical music have been chosen for all primary school children to study, under a new initiative.

The BBC has unveiled the works, which include those by Beethoven, Stravinsky and Handel, so more pupils will experience classical music.

The project, called Ten Pieces, is being launched through a film that will then be used in lessons.

A total of 150 arts organisations have signed up to the scheme and will go into schools to help run inter-active workshops about the pieces.

Members of BBC orchestras will also visit classes along with special screenings and school concerts being held, in a programme that is due to launch this week.

It comes amid fears that children are not being taught about classical music in preference to other subjects in the curriculum.

Violinist Nicola Benedetti has been made an ambassador along with singer-songwriter Laura Mvula and Catatonia singer Cerys Matthews.

Miss Benedetti, 27, yesterday told Radio 4: ‘There are few programmes, I can’t think of any in fact, that have such an intense dual focus, absolute quality in its presentation and no compromise in terms of the amount of children the programme wishes to reach.’

She has previously said: ‘Two aspects of the project stand out for me. The first is the sheer size. With over 150 organisations involved and the power of the BBC, the number of children likely to experience classical music could be enormous, and I hope will be.

‘The second is the quality with which classical music will be presented to the children, many of them probably for the very first time - first exposure can be vitally important, igniting a positive lifelong association with this great art form.

‘This experience, I am quite sure, will be exciting and enriching for all children, but above all is highly educational and substantive. This is something you cannot miss.’

BBC director general Tony Hall, who was previously chief executive of the Royal Opera House, said he hoped the scheme would reach virtually every UK primary school.

‘We want to excite and inspire children about the world of classic music,’ he said.


    John Adams: Short Ride in a Fast Machine
    Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 (1st movement)
    Britten: “Storm” Interlude from Peter Grimes
    Grieg: In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt
    Handel: Zadok the Priest
    Holst: Mars from The Planets
    Anna Meredith: Connect It
    Mozart: Horn Concerto No. 4 (3rd movement)
    Mussorgsky: A Night on the Bare Mountain
    Stravinsky: The Firebird suite (1911) (Finale)

Lord Hall added that, while classical music was ‘in good health’, its future popularity was not guaranteed ‘unless children are given the opportunity to learn and experience’ it.

Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber said about the project: ‘The problem is that it’s patchy across the country. If you have a head teacher who believes in classical music then you’ll get a lot of that in the school. But if you have one that doesn’t it’s quite easy for them to sideline it altogether.

‘So this is perhaps a great tool for those kind of heads because it’s given to them and when they see the impact it has on the child that could help enormously.’

A BBC spokesman said: ‘Classical music is great for children. Not only is it good for their creativity, it can help with other subjects like maths, and even have a positive impact on behaviour.

‘While millions of people already enjoy classical music, it’s right that we light the classical music spark as early as possible.

‘The BBC is uniquely placed to help do this and we are delighted so many organisations have signed up to help us deliver the ambition of reaching virtually every child in the country.’


Is this Britain's worst school? Inside the classroom where children spit, swear and even attempt to physically attack their teachers

One unusual and extraordinary school is giving hope to the most troubled and violent pupils.

The Ian Mikardo High School is a last chance education centre for children excluded from mainstream education. It's a place where daily fights, spitting, and cursing are all part of the attempts to teach some of the most challenging children in the country, and turn their behaviour around before it is too late.

The school, situated in East London, is often seen as the end of the line for the pupils, many of whom have a range of behavioural problems and risk ending up in jail.

Boys can arrive at any time during their secondary education, usually after being expelled from a mainstream school.

Now the subject of a Channel 5 documentary 'Too tough to teach', viewers are able to see the fraught atmosphere in which classes are taught.

Play fights escalate within seconds, turning to real violence as the boys throw punches and teachers attempt to intervene.

One incident sees a teacher attempting to talk a boy through his work as another verbally abuses him, swearing and spitting on his head.

In another lesson a pupil physically hits sheets of paper out of the teachers hand, swearing in her face while another boy lifts a chair above his head in a menacing manner, while the rest of the class run riot as the staff desperately attempt to regain order and focus the boys on their work.

There are no detentions or rewards and the boys are never physically restrained. Instead the school attempts to help the boys learn to control their own actions and focuses on conflict resolution.

Claire explains: 'If we intervene and if we restrain they are reliant on us for literally holding them back, but what we are trying to do is for them to find their own breaks.'

As well as attempting to change his behaviours through teaching the boys how to handle their emotions more appropriately, the school uses more unconventional methods.

In addition to art and design classes, it has a full salon within the building, where as well as learning hair cutting skills, boys can enjoy full facials and manicures.


Harvard Gives Student Full Ride After He Tells Them He's Illegal Immigrant

When Dario Guerrero, an illegal immigrant who found out about his status in high school, told Harvard that he was in the country illegally, the school encouraged him to apply--and gave him a full scholarship after he was accepted.

Writing in the Washington Post, Guerrero, who is currently a junior at the university, said after an MIT official recommended that he not apply to the school during a trip to visit college, he "left the office in a daze" because MIT had been his dream school. He started walking down Massachusetts Avenue" and, "without really planning it, I found myself in the middle of Harvard." A Harvard admissions officer told him, "If you are admitted to Harvard College, we will meet your full financial need without regard to your legal status."

He eventually got in, and "they gave me a full ride. This meant I wouldn't have to worry about student loans or quarterly tuition payments; that I always had a place to stay away from home; that I could travel every semester, on Harvard's dime, back to California; that my parents would never have to worry whether I'd finish school. Those are luxuries few people, documented or not, ever have."

"I used to think that being undocumented was a disadvantage to me. I used to mourn the fact that I was different," the current junior wrote. "But ultimately I realize that it was because of, not in spite of, my identity - as an undocumented Chicano - that I was been able to do what I did. Being something different in the socioeconomic fabric of the United States gave me the perspective I have."


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Teachers Union Trying to Block School Choice Loses in Florida Court

Florida children won in court Wednesday.  In a hearing that lasted approximately 19-minutes, Leon County circuit court judge Charles Francis dismissed the Florida Education Association’s lawsuit to block the state’s innovative Personal Learning Scholarship Account school choice option, finding that the FEA did not have standing to challenge the law.

Although the FEA has 15 days to rework its argument, this ruling means that nearly 1,000 Floridian children will likely be able to use their scholarship accounts this school year.

Florida’s PLSA program is the nation’s second education savings account program. It allows over one thousand Floridian families to fully customize their child’s education with a variety of education tools and services. That is what was at stake on Wednesday.

The FEA had claimed that SB 850 —the law that created the savings accounts —violated the state constitutional requirement that “every law shall embrace but one subject… and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title,” because it contains multiple subjects not expressed in the bill’s title.

But the FEA failed to show how school choice for students would directly harm the teacher’s union. Without this showing, the FEA lacks standing and cannot sue.

According to RedefinED’s Travis Pillow, Ramya Ravindran, counsel for the FEA, had argued that parts of the law “arise under the Legislature’s taxing and spending power.” And the FEA had sued under a Florida law that grants taxpayers standing to challenge Florida laws that go beyond the state constitutional authority to tax or spend.

But Judge Francis was apparently not buying that argument, and his ruling is a big win for students in Florida.

According to Florida’s Step Up for Students, one of the organizations managing the PLSAs, the program has received more than 3,000 applications and has distributed nearly 1,000 accounts. After this ruling, the freeze on the accounts is lifted, and those students anxiously awaiting access to their accounts will finally be able to move forward as they planned this school year.

The Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, which successfully litigated on behalf of education savings account recipients in Arizona, filed a motion of intervention on behalf of five Florida families early in the case.

Similar to Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, Florida’s PLSA allows families of children with special-needs— defined in statute as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Spina bifida, Williams syndrome or Intellectual disability (severe cognitive impairment) and kindergarten students deemed “high risk” because of developmental delays—to fully tailor their child’s education to their child’s unique learning needs.

With Florida’s accounts, the state deposits 90 percent of its per-pupil state funds into a restricted-use savings account for parents to fully customize their child’s education through a variety of pre-approved educational services and products, including private school tuition, tutoring, curricula for home schooling, therapy, textbooks and special-education services. Parents are able to roll-over unused funds from one year to the next, and can even direct unused funds into a college savings account.

Although FEA’s counsel considers the personal learning accounts “a collateral casualty” in the lawsuit, this is not the case for thousands of Florida families who are looking to give their children the best education possible through the customized learning that Florida’s personal learning scholarship accounts provide. With this ruling, the families who now have access to their accounts can do just that.


Independent Muslim schools in London to face new 'Trojan Horse' inquiry amid claims extremists are promoting hardline views in classroom

Independent Muslim schools in London are being investigated amid fears that hardline Islamic extremism is being promoted among pupils and staff,

As many as a dozen private schools in Tower Hamlets, east London, are being looked into by officials over reports that fundamentalism is being spread, MailOnline can reveal.

A Whitehall source said while investigations are in 'their very early stages', there is concern within the Department of Education over a number of fee-paying Muslim schools in the borough which has one of the strongest Muslim communities in the capital.

Unlike the 'Trojan Horse' scandal which saw secular schools in Birmingham being infiltrated by extremists, the affected institutions in Tower Hamlets are all thought to be Muslim.

Five schools were placed in special measures in Birmingham earlier this year after evidence suggested the views of Islamic extremists were being pushed upon pupils and staff.

The Department of Education would not confirm whether Tower Hamlets was specifically at risk, but said it would consider 'any evidence' brought forward.

'All schools are subject to a tough inspection regime and we have been clear we will not hesitate to take firm and swift action if pupils are being let down or placed at risk.

'Keeping our children safe, and ensuring our schools prepare them for life in modern Britain, could not be more important.' 

Earlier this week an address in the area was searched as part of an ongoing police effort to crack down on terror.

Eleven men were arrested across the capital and in Stoke-on-Trent as part of the Scotland Yard effort. 

It comes as Ofsted prepares to publish the findings of 40 snap inspections across the country, launched amid concerns that some schools were not offering a broad enough curriculum.

Jewish, Christian and Islamic schools were among those visited in Luton, Bradford, London and Manchester
Ofsted's damning verdict on Trojan Horse schools (related)

Former terror chief Peter Clarke told ministers earlier this month it was likely allegations of extremist infiltration at the schools involved in the Trojan Horse scandal could be applied to other institutions across the country.

Golden Hillock School, Nansen Primary School, Park View School, Oldknow Academy and Saltley School - which are all run by the Park View Educational Trust - were placed in special measures following complaints.

Giving evidence to the Commons education select committee, he said it was incumbent on the government to investigate the situation.

'I'm not a great believer in coincidence and I would find it very surprising if this was only happening in the few schools that we had the time and opportunity to look at in east Birmingham,' Mr Clarke told the cross-party group of MPs.

'Some of the people who were involved in promulgating these techniques of gaining control and influence in schools have had national roles in various educational bodies and I know have lectured and taken part in conferences in other cities.'

Earlier this month an inquiry into the Birmingham school heard a 'violent, extremist' video was shown in the classroom.

Ian Kershaw, a former head teacher, told the Birmingham City Council that examples of 'bad behaviour' in the school included the film, which was 'completely inappropriate to young people'. 

He described this film as a 'violent, extremist video', and when committee chairman Graham Stuart asked if it was 'jihadist, violent, extremist promotional video', Mr Kershaw indicated that it was.


Australia:  The  balancing act of home schooling regulation

Most parents never progress beyond day-dreaming about home schooling, but it is becoming increasingly mainstream-everyone seems to know at least one home schooling family and most admire their choice.

Statistics for NSW confirm this perception. The number of children registered for home schooling has increased by 64% in five years, from 1,945 in 2009 to 3,194 in 2013. However, these figures underestimate the true size of the home schooling population. According to estimates by the Home Education Association, there could be as many as 12,000 unregistered, home schooled children in NSW.

Whether you see this as a problem depends on where you sit on the parental rights spectrum. At one end is the idea that parents know what is best for their children and should be free to make decisions about their children's education without government interference. At the other end is the notion that since children have a right to a decent education, governments have an obligation to ensure this occurs, and this takes precedence over parental rights. 

Submissions to the parliamentary inquiry into home schooling in NSW cover the full range of views. Many home schooling families and their advocate organisations argue that the registration requirements in NSW are too onerous, and deter families from registering. They argue that home education (their preferred term) is unique and should not be regulated like a school. The NSW Teachers Federation, on the other hand, strongly favours strict regulation, taking the position that public schools provide the best education and that any exception must be justified.

The requirements of home school families are stricter in NSW than in other states: adherence to the NSW syllabus is mandatory and student progress is monitored by home school inspectors (or 'Authorised Persons'). The extent to which this is enforced is debatable; anecdotal reports from home school families claim it is heavy handed, but according to the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES), less than half of one percent of registrations are refused or revoked due to failure to meet requirements.

Currently, home schooling families are doing all the work in their relationship with the state and getting little in return, receiving no educational or financial support. Nevertheless, home schooling is increasingly being seen as a viable option. If this trend continues, government policy will have to strike the right balance and adapt to challenges of providing parents with the flexibility they want and giving children the protection they need.


Monday, September 29, 2014

University Forcing its Fraternities to Admit Women to Ensure Equality

Both genders must be “equally represented” in leadership positions.

Wesleyan University in Connecticut has decided to force all of its fraternities to become coed within three years because all-male fraternities are both dangerous and unfair to women.

The new rules will require all Greek organizations to have both male and female members and have both genders be “well represented” in leadership positions in order to qualify for campus housing and meeting spaces.

University President Michael Roth and trustees Chairman Joshua Boger announced the decision in a letter on Monday.

“Although this change does not affect nonresidential organizations, we are hopeful that groups across the University will continue to work together to create a more inclusive, equitable and safer campus,” the letter stated.

But Peter Smithhisler, the chief executive of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, said the policy violates freedom of association and freedom of speech.

“It is essential that fraternities be allowed to decide for themselves if they wish to offer co-ed membership,” said Smithhisler, whose group represents 74 male fraternities.

A month ago, Wesleyan shut down the Beta Theta Pi fraternity after a freshman girl was seriously hurt after falling from a window at one of its parties.

Another Connecticut school, Trinity College, started making its fraternities coeducational in 2012.


Pupils are losing an hour a day's teaching because of rowdy behaviour: Headteachers under fire for allowing disruption to go unchecked, damaging pupils' exam chances

Children are losing up to 38 days of teaching each year because heads and teachers are failing to tackle widespread disruptive behaviour, a devastating Ofsted inquiry reveals today.

A major investigation into standards of discipline in English classrooms has found that pupils in the most disorderly schools are missing out on an hour of learning every day – or nearly eight weeks across an academic year.

Head teachers who fail to assert their authority and are too friendly with pupils were blamed for allowing classroom disruption to go unchecked, damaging the exam and job prospects of millions.

Many teachers also accept unruliness as a normal part of their jobs and fail to challenge disruptive pupils, including those who casually use ‘foul language’ and wander in and out of lessons.

Some staff let pupils call them by their first names and fail to dress in suitably professional clothes, the study found.

Inspectors said that while chaos in classrooms was largely a thing of the past, low-level disruption – such as pupils making silly comments to get attention, swinging on chairs, and using mobile phones – remained ‘very common’ in schools.

Some 72 per cent of secondary teachers and 62 per cent of primary believed it was a serious problem and had either a medium or high impact on learning.

The ‘deeply worrying’ findings showed that benefiting from calm and orderly classrooms was a lottery for many pupils, Ofsted’s report said.

Unveiling the results of the investigation, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, demanded a crackdown on the ‘casual acceptance’ of low-level disruption.

In the last year alone, schools serving almost 450,000 pupils had been assessed as having poor behaviour standards, he said.

‘That is far too many,’ he added. ‘While the days of chaos in the classroom are thankfully largely behind us, low-level disruption in class is preventing too many teachers from doing their jobs and depriving too many young people of the education they deserve.

‘I see too many schools where head teachers are blurring the lines between friendliness and familiarity – and losing respect along the way. Children need to know the rules and teachers need to know they will be supported in enforcing them.’

Sir Michael ordered the investigation after becoming concerned at the extent of low-level disruption.

It drew on evidence from nearly 3,000 inspections of primary and secondary schools this year – including 28 unannounced visits to schools where poor behaviour was a concern – as well as YouGov surveys of parents and teachers.

The report lifts the lid on the disruptive behaviour many teachers face every day, including pupils passing notes, throwing paper planes, wandering round classrooms, tapping pens, humming and general ‘horseplay’.

Testimonies from secondary teachers show that pupils using phones during lessons and putting on make-up or doing their hair were also a problem.

In the worst schools, there was evidence of youngsters throwing food, barging each other and even breaking windows.

Teachers ‘often ignore students’ casual use of foul language’, the report said. However, teachers complained that some pupils lacked manners and were unaware that interrupting others was rude.

The survey of parents showed that many wanted a ‘more formal and structured environment that would give their children clear boundaries for their behaviour’.

The report concluded that too many schools struggle to enforce behaviour codes. This is partly because some heads ‘do not understand what behaviour is really like in the classroom’.

They also fail to insist on courtesy and respect for others.

Ofsted has already overhauled inspections to ensure behaviour is more sharply scrutinised. But heads accused Ofsted of making claims not backed up by its own evidence.

‘This is not just about schools. Where there are issues, parents need to take equal responsibility for making sure that children understand what is appropriate behaviour and what is disruptive,’ said Brian Lightman, of secondary heads’ union ASCL.


The Evidence Behind Common Core Is Really Weak

The Common Core education standards are a massive effort intended to raise educational standards across the country. Untold hours and dollars have already been spent on their implementation, which is still proceeding in more than 40 states even as a few have dropped out. But what is the evidence that the new standards will improve learning?

As I noted a year ago, simple correlations of test scores with standards across states or nations are not definitive, given all of the intervening variables involved in those comparisons.

Now the Center for Education Policy at George Washington University has put together a compendium summarizing over 60 research papers related to Common Core design and implementation. If there is empirical evidence on the importance of strong standards, this is probably the place to find it. Unfortunately, only two papers in the entire compendium are devoted to measuring the impact of Common Core on test scores. Both papers employ the dubious correlation-across-states methodology, and both give mixed results at best.

The first paper, by two Michigan State professors, examines the relationship between states’ math scores in 2009 and the similarity of their math standards (pre–Common Core) to the Common Core math standards. The authors initially find no correlation in the 50-state universe. They are able to detect a positive relationship only with an ex post division of states into two separate groups, with the smaller group consisting of 13 states with low scores despite strong standards. The authors acknowledge that “these analyses should be viewed only as exploratory in nature, merely suggesting the possibility of a relationship.”

The second paper, published by Brookings, follows up on the Michigan State analysis. It finds that states’ test score gains between 2009 and 2012 show no relationship to the similarity of their standards to Common Core. There was no positive correlation even when using the favorable groupings from the Michigan State paper. The one encouraging finding in the Brookings paper is that states with stronger implementation of Common Core seem to show greater gains. But the author warns that, even if the correlation is genuine, the effect size is tiny.

And that’s it.

Much like the push for government preschool, the Common Core movement is suffused with much hope but little evidence. That’s clear from how the standards were developed in the first place. As an important article from last November’s American Journal of Education points out, most of the research evidence behind Common Core focuses on identifying problems — America’s poor international ranking, achievement gaps, high school graduates without basic skills, etc. But when it came to writing standards to address those problems, the Common Core developers had little to go on except the standards of high-performing nations and the “professional judgment” of various stakeholders.

So although the rise of national standards is one of the most significant education policy changes in a generation, and despite the passion of proponents, the data can tell us very little about Common Core’s future impact.

Of course, this isn’t usually the rationale articulated against Common Core — parents’ groups and anti-ed-reform groups have put forth more specific criticisms of the standards and the related testing regimes. But Common Core definitely is ailing: A new poll commissioned by Education Next finds that support for the standards has been slipping nationwide.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Back Teaching, My Way This Time


People ask if I miss teaching. Up to very recently I've said, "Sometimes, but the feeling goes away quickly." I do miss it though. When I had autonomy in my classroom, which I did up to retirement, teaching was a very gratifying experience. But the federal government has been taking over more and more of public education and it became apparent that I would soon lose my academic freedom and be forced to teach the way "progressives" (a misnomer, that) would dictate. Then there are increased meetings and more meaningless paperwork that accompany increased federal intervention.

People who consider themselves progressive - a euphemism for liberal - have long been in charge of academia at every level. Most recently, they've consolidated their control over curriculum for US History - the subject I taught - by issuing a new exam for AP US History courses. We cannot see the new exam though. According to Stanley Kurtz, Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, "a complete sample exam has been released, although only to certified AP U.S. History teachers [who] have been warned, under penalty of law and the stripping of their AP teaching privileges, not to disclose the content of the new sample AP U.S. History Exam to anyone."

During my career, most states mandated that US History be taught at 5th, 8th, and 11th grades. Students were required to pass it in order to receive a high school diploma. By issuing the new exam, the College Board will changing the way it can be taught at all levels. Kurtz claims: "the new AP U.S. History Exam is about to entrench a controversial and highly politicized national school curriculum without proper notice or debate. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and a full understanding of our founding principles are on the way out.  Race, gender, class, and ethnicity are coming in, all in secrecy and in clear violation of the Constitution's guarantee that education remain in control of the states."  Many of the same people who brought you Common Core are bringing this. It's not a shock to me because the handwriting had been on the wall for years, and it's the primary reason I took early retirement at sixty. It has also been obvious to homeschooling parents. A group of them in Auburn, Maine contacted me over the summer to ask if I'd be willing to teach their children a US History course in which the Judeo-Christian values inherent in America's founding would be emphasized rather than played down. In other words, would I be willing to teach a course to high schoolers in the traditional way? At first I thought, "Nah, I don't have time." Then I pondered it for a week and agreed to at least sit down and discuss it, and to pitch an idea I've always wanted to try.

It first occurred to me several years ago when the principal told me to pick a new textbook for my US History course because the old ones were falling apart. Every text I examined was boring because they all avoided controversial subjects. And, they all had a leftist bias. Instead of buying one of the boring, contemporary, liberal texts for nearly $50 apiece, I proposed purchasing two books for each student, which together cost less than half of one mainstream textbook. The first was the Marxist Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States." The second was Schweikart and Allen's "A Patriot's History of the United States," which was written from a traditional, conservative perspective and formatted as an antithesis to Zinn's book. Students would read passages from each on the same theme, then compare and contrast the opposing viewpoints presented. The principal nixed the idea, however, saying, "You could do that, but you're retiring in a few years. Whoever replaces you wouldn't likely have the knowledge or experience to pull it off. So, let's go with a traditional textbook."

Meeting with the parents, I emphasized that if their children enrolled in typical public or private universities, they'd be surrounded by people who see US History the way Zinn did - from an exclusively left-wing perspective. They would need to understand that pervasive viewpoint and be able to formulate critical analyses - in their own minds, at least. They won't likely be allowed to actually produce such critical analyses in research papers however. Instructors and administrators who celebrate diversity on college campuses today believe only in diversity of skin color or ethnicity. They discourage diverse methods of thinking, especially conservative ones. Many are openly hostile to conservative Catholics and my students would need to understand why. One of my charges this year will be to help them with that, and to fortify them intellectually to withstand the special disdain progressives reserve for people like us.

We start next week.


British middle-class pupils drop TWO GRADES in poor schools ‘because they face higher levels of disruptive behaviour’

Better-off children drop almost two grades in their GCSEs if they go to schools with large numbers of disadvantaged pupils, a new study showed today.

Researchers found a ‘negative impact’ on performance linked to attending schools with a high concentration of poorer pupils.

The effect was most marked on wealthier youngsters, who lost nearly two grades on average across eight GCSE subjects compared with peers at affluent schools.

The poorest youngsters tended to perform badly regardless of whether they went to schools with high or low numbers of disadvantaged classmates.

The Oxford University study called for an overhaul of school league tables and funding to recognise the difficulties faced by primaries and secondaries serving the most deprived areas.

These schools may face higher levels of disruptive behaviour, greater challenges motivating pupils and extra demands on teachers.

They may also struggle to attract talented teaching staff because of ‘bias’ against them in league tables and Ofsted inspections.

Professor Steve Strand, who led the research, argued that schools serving high numbers of poorer pupils should not be held solely responsible for their underperformance.

Politicians who blame ‘failing schools’ entirely for stark differences in achievement between rich and poor pupils failed to understand the factors outside teachers’ control, he added.

For the research, presented today at the annual conference of the British Educational Research Association, Professor Strand compared pupils’ backgrounds with exam results at schools across England.

He found that attending a ‘higher deprivation school’ – one with relatively high numbers of pupils on free school meals (FSM) due to family poverty – had a ‘negative impact on achievement and progress’.

For pupils who were not eligible for free meals, this was equivalent to dropping a GCSE grade in two subjects.

‘The overall effect of being in a school with a lot of disadvantaged kids is a negative association with performance,’ said Professor Strand. ‘It’s even more pronounced for the non-free school meal kids than it is for the free school meal kids.

‘At the moment that’s not recognised in performance tables or in funding.

‘Arguably there is a case for saying that if you have a large concentration of kids on free school meals there are knock-on effects for other kids in the school including those not on free school meals.

‘Maybe we should be reflecting that in the performance tables, so we make a fair comparison and compare those schools with others with lots of disadvantaged pupils.

‘And maybe we should reflect it in the funding to some extent, maybe there should be an extra element for schools that have very high proportions of kids on free school meals.’

Explaining the findings, he went on: ‘What it means is there’s something about those schools that suffer high levels of deprivation. Maybe it’s the neighbourhood they are located in, the extra drain that there is on the teachers, maybe there are higher levels of disruptive behaviour and maybe it is more challenging to get young people engaged.’

He added that some better-off pupils in deprived schools may still be disadvantaged compared with peers in leafier areas.

‘It’s possible that the kids in high deprivation schools who aren’t on free school meals are more likely to be just over the threshold - just not entitled - whereas in leafy surburban areas they may be comfortably not entitled,’ he said.

‘There could be some social disadvantage factor still operating within that broad group of kids not entitled to free school meals.’

But the study concluded: ‘Higher concentrations of poverty in schools are associated with lower levels of attainment for non-FSM pupils.’

The research also found a yawning gap in achievement across all types of school between pupils eligible for free meals – mainly families on benefits - and those who do not qualify.

The study went on: ‘In absolute terms FSM pupils achieve consistently low levels at age 11 and at age 16 regardless of the concentration of poverty in the school.

‘The key message is that the low achievement and below average progress of pupils on FSM is an issue for every school in England, whether in inner-city urban areas or leafy rural shires.’

The paper added insisted that schools were not the ‘major cause’ of the achievement gap.

‘Factors outside the school gates (in the home, wider community or peer groups) are likely to be more influential,’ it said.

‘For example, children who grow up in poverty may do less well in education because they have parents who are more stressed, less able to afford educational activities and resources and less well-placed to help them with their school work.

‘This is not to say that schools should not do everything possible to strive to close the FSM gap, but does indicate that a punitive approach to ‘failing’ schools misconstrues the nature of the problem.’


Parents' fury as British schools offer children as young as 15 free STI tests in the toilets during lessons

Parents revealed their anger today over revelations that schools have been testing their children for sexually transmitted infections during lessons.

Blatchington Mill School in Hove, East Sussex, is one of those giving pupils aged 15 or 16 the chance to do a chlamydia STI test as part of their personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education.

The scheme is part of a council-supported initiative offering Yeah 11 children chlamydia tests in school, to which nine secondary schools in Brighton and Hove have now signed up.

Parents at Blatchington Mill were shocked at not being told their children were being offered the test - with one mother saying her Year 11 daughter refused because she ‘felt uncomfortable with it’.

She told the Brighton Argus newspaper: ‘I didn’t know anything about it beforehand and I think the school should have let us know as parents that our children were going to be asked to do this.

‘I know the tests were done by the students in the toilets, but I think it’s humiliating to ask teenagers in class to do a test for an STI.’

Ashley Harrold, deputy headteacher at Blatchington Mill, told the local newspaper that the tests were part of an NHS strategy that had been running for about four years and involved other schools.

The school said the lessons aimed to give youngsters informed choices about their sex lives, and normalising the STI test, adding that parents can withdraw their children from sex education classes.

A statement said: ‘As part of the session all learners are offered the opportunity (no one is made to do it) to do a chlamydia test during the lesson in an effort to normalise taking a chlamydia test.

‘It is not anticipated that a great number of these will return a positive result, it is more an exercise to demonstrate how easy and painless doing one is and to reinforce in their minds how and where they can do the test should they need to in the future.

‘Most young people do not become sexually active before the age of 16 and all sessions will be delivered within a framework of normative approaches, reminding young people that the legal age of consent for sexual activity in the UK is 16 and encouraging students to explore attitudes surrounding peer pressure, media influence and making positive decisions about relationships.

'The purpose of this programme is to support young people to start making healthy choices around their health, understand what to expect from screening and help them to engage with local health services, in a supportive environment.’

Brighton and Hove City Council said the sessions were part of the National Chlamydia Screening Programme, in partnership with the local NHS provider.

Mr Harrold added: ‘It is an NHS strategy where, to demystify the test, they can have one to take away and try. We did receive a complaint from a parent and we take them very seriously.’

Meanwhile, parent Tina Daniels, 44, said she was also shocked when her daughter told her that STI tests had taken place at Patcham High School in the city.

She said: ‘I am all for educating our youngsters on sex education issues and for some teenagers these clinics could be beneficial. But I think it's important for parents to be made aware that these facilities are available for their children.’

A Brighton and Hove City Council spokesman said: ‘Our work with schools in this area is entirely consistent with Government guidelines.’

Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs in Britain, with more than 200,000 people testing positive for it in 2012. Around two-thirds of people diagnosed with chlamydia were aged under 25.