Friday, October 24, 2014

How to Solve the Campus Rape Crisis: Lower the Drinking Age

A lower drinking age might curb alcohol excess and sexual assault

Long have feminists warned that an epidemic of rape was spreading across American college campuses. Their concerns are eminently questionable—many experts who have examined the statistics believe rape is as uncommon on campus as it is everywhere else—but have nevertheless drawn the backing of governments, including the Obama administration and the state legislature of California. The latter has responded by passing SB 967, the "Yes Means Yes" bill, which will force university administrators to police intimate moments between students.

By tilting the burden of proof against the accused, the law will likely produce more accusations of rape, more rape convictions under due-process-free judiciary proceedings, and ultimately, more lawsuits. Since its most pronounced effect is to make sex more burdensome and hazardous, it's no wonder that some social conservatives have joined the far left in cheering its passage (the sexual revolution is being undone before their very eyes). But it's doubtful that the law will actually deter rape.

In his ludicrous defense of "Yes Means Yes," Vox Editor-in-Chief Ezra Klein accepted all these criticisms while still insisting that the campus rape problem is so serious that government action is required—even if that action constitutes passage of "a terrible law" (Klein's words). But why settle for a "terrible law" that comes with serious drawbacks and might not even impact sexual assault rates?

As it turns out, there is something state and national governments could do to combat the campus sexual assault crisis: lower the federally-mandated drinking age of 21.

What does the drinking age have to do with campus rape? Much. Most college undergraduates are under 21 and therefore unable to legally drink. And yet heavy alcohol consumption on the part of one or both students is a significant factor in nearly all sexual assault allegations. That's because the current drinking age doesn't actually stop teens from drinking. It merely changes where, and how much, they drink.

People who reach their 21st birthday may enjoy the right to drink casually: out in the open, during the day, at bars and restaurants, or anywhere else. But underage students who want to drink must take their chances in less socially regulated environments, like a friend of a friend's dorm room, the basement of an older student's house, or a fraternity party. Fraternities, in particular, offer dangerous drinking scenes for the underaged.

Since any amount of alcohol is illegal for underage students, they are averse to holding their drink without immediately downing it. Teens who never learned to drink leisurely—and have strong incentive to get drunk as quickly as possible—are throwing back shots and accepting red solo cups from strangers in dark fraternity basements and bedrooms. This environment fuels blackout binge drinking. And in the haze of alcohol-induced incapacitation, misinterpreted sexual cues, regret-filled couplings, and yes, outright rape, occur most frequently.

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 (NMDAA), which compelled states to restrict alcohol consumption to the over-21 crowd, is to blame.

This argument will seem counter-intuitive to some—could lowering the drinking age really spell safer drinking? But, as libertarians know, the government produces curious and unintended consequences when it unilaterally bans things. It is widely accepted that Prohibition increased criminal activity, both by turning regular drinkers into criminals and by driving alcohol distribution and consumption underground, into more dangerous spheres of influence. Prohibition on college campuses has the same effect: It herds underage drinkers into risky situations.

A movement does exist to persuade lawmakers that the current drinking age isn't working and is arguably making matters worse. The Amethyst Initiative, a petition that asks Congress to revisit NMDAA, currently boasts 136 college presidents as signatories.

According to a recent Reason-Rupe survey, a majority of millennials support lowering the drinking age, as do most Democrats. Republicans also want to ditch the current drinking age, though conservatives support it.

Last May, Mary Kate Cary—a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush—proposed a lower drinking age as a logical step to address the campus rape problem:

Lowering the drinking age will help slow the need for pregaming and bring the college fake ID business to a dead stop. It can't help but reduce the binge drinking, drug overdoses and sexual assaults.

Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard University economist and senior fellow at the Cato Institute, told Reason that he didn't know of any empirical research to support the claim that a lower drinking age would decrease sexual assault. He agreed it was plausible that the current drinking age promoted binge drinking and associated social ills, though whether the effect was statistically significant is unknown, he said. In any case, Miron is "totally against" the current drinking age, given that it undermines local autonomy and has been largely ineffective at reducing drunk driving, he has argued.

Giving 18-year-olds back the right to drink alcohol is a worthy libertarian goal in and of itself. If lowering the drinking age had a negligible impact on the campus rape crisis, it would be worth pursuing anyway.

But, as The New York Times' Ross Douthat noted recently, blackout drinking is undeniably the common factor in sexual assault cases. Lowering the drinking age, he wrote, would mitigate "the key problem in college sexual culture... binge drinking, which is more likely to happen when a drinking culture is driven underground."

And as Ezra Klein wrote, any policy is worth trying as long as it aspires to reduce rape. The libertarian policy of restoring sanity to teen alcohol consumption certainly seems more likely to succed at that goal than the far-left progressive (and socially conservative) policy of convicting students for violating antiquated Victorian sexual norms. Lowering the drinking age will yield positive results for a free society, even if it fails to significantly curtail rape. "Yes Means Yes," on the other hand, will be disastrous for a free society—and it won't do a thing to prevent rape.

Activists are trying to turn the clock back 200 years on sexual norms. Instead, they should join libertarians in the year 1983, when the law last encouraged teenagers to imbibe responsibly.


Oxbridge graduates should not be discriminated against, Nick Clegg tells public sector

Britain's brightest young people who go to the very best universities must not be discriminated against by a "misplaced prejudice" against Oxbridge when they look for jobs in the public sector, the Deputy Prime Minister has said.

Nick Clegg said that the public service must not discriminate against young people who "are talented and come up through the ranks entirely meritocratically" because of where they "finished their education."

He has been challenged by Saskia Goldman a 22-year-old Cambridge graduate from Chipping Norton who had spent a year and a half applying to a series of scheme - including

BBC, Civil Service fast track scheme and Teach First, the scheme the cream of graduates from top universities and brings them into schools - but had no luck securing a graduate job.

She told the Deputy Prime Minister that she, colleagues and friends from Cambridge had all been victims of a bias against Oxbridge for public sector jobs.

He said that if this was because an endemic “Oh, Oxbridge is so elitist” bias by public sector schemes it would be “huge, huge shame”.

The Deputy Prime Minister told an audience of public sector workers at a speech in a South London primary school: I think it is a huge, huge shame that you have got friends who want to give back who are talented and come up through the ranks entirely meritocratically and are being blocked by a misplaced, its not bias, a misplaced prejudice just because of where they finished their education.

"I like to think that we could live in a country where each individual, regardless of the circumstance of their birth, is treated as individuals, not treating people as though they have something tattooed on their forehead of: I went to this school, I went to this University.

"My whole life has been devoted to not only just trying to counter prejudice and bias but also trying to create circumstances in which it’s your talents, it’s your dreams, it is your aspirations, it is your capacity for hard work that gets you where you want and you don't have artificial limits because of who your parents are and where you were born, in a sense both ways."


Code of practice for religious schools shelved

The Department for Education has shelved plans for a code of practice for some religious schools which operate outside of mainstream education, the BBC has learned.

It was recommended by the government's Extremism Task Force to ensure children were not exposed to intolerant views.

Home Secretary Theresa May suggested the code should be mandatory following the Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham.

But the government now says more can be done within existing regulations.

The code was intended to cover evening classes, weekend schools or in private tuition centres and was suggested amid ongoing concern about the radicalisation of young people.

The BBC's education correspondent, Alex Forsyth, said thousands of children spend hours each week being taught after school and at weekends in "supplementary schools", which operate outside the mainstream education system and often teach children about a specific faith or culture.

The Department for Education (DfE) was expected to publish a draft version before the end of the year.

But it has now shelved the plan in part because putting it into practice proved too complex. Officials will instead strengthen existing regulation and target schools where there is particular concern.

A DfE spokesman said: "The Extremism Task Force previously set out plans for a voluntary code of conduct for religious supplementary schools.

"The government has been considering this carefully over recent months and we believe that there is more to be done within the existing regulatory framework."

In March an anonymous and unverified letter sent to Birmingham City Council claimed that there was a "Trojan Horse" conspiracy to take over governing bodies and create a school culture more sympathetic to their hard-line Muslim religious ethos.

Education watchdog Ofsted inspected 21 schools in Birmingham as a result of the allegations - placing five in special measures in June and confirming that a sixth (which was already in special measures) was "inadequate".

Ofsted head Sir Michael Wilshaw said there was evidence of an "organised campaign to target certain schools" and that some governors had attempted to "impose and promote a narrow faith-based ideology" in secular schools. Although the schools involved denied any wrongdoing.

Two subsequent reports - one by Birmingham City Council and one from the DfE written by former counter terrorism chief Peter Clark - found no evidence of extremism but did highlight problems with the running of the schools.

The allegations also led to a bitter public row between then-Education Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Theresa May, with Mr Gove later being forced to apologise.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

UK: Ban on Black Country slang has improved reading and writing claims controversial primary school which sparked anger by pulling up pupils on local dialect

A primary school which banned pupils from using Black Country slang to halt a ‘decline in standards’ has revealed the controversial policy seems to have improved children's reading and writing.

Parents were furious when school chiefs ordered children to stop speaking the dialect, saying it should be preserved to protect the local identity.

Staff at Colley Lane Primary School, Halesowen, West Midlands, drew up a list of ten outlawed phrases such as 'I cor do that' instead of 'I can't do that,' and 'It wor me'.

It has emerged that the ban has been a success in the classroom, with pupils achieving higher grades in reading and writing.

The number of children gaining Key Stage 2 reading had improved by seven per cent with 79 per cent of pupils gaining level four.

Children achieving the higher level five grade in reading has also gone up nine per cent to 41 per cent.

Headteacher John White said: 'Our intention was not to remove any local culture or identity but to give our children the spoken language skills to compete against the best.

'It would be great to see a more positive view on what we are trying to achieve here.'

Last year Mr White enraged parents when he told them about the Black Country ban.  In a letter to parents, he said: 'Recently we asked each class teacher to write a list of the top ten most damaging phrases used by children in the classroom.  'We are introducing a 'zero tolerance' in the classroom to get children out of the habit of using the phrases on the list.

'We want the children in our school to have the best start possible: Understanding when it is and is not acceptable to use slang and colloquial language.  'We value the local dialect but are encouraging children to learn the skill of turning it on and off in different situations.'

The Black Country includes Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall, and southern parts of Wolverhampton.

Other words and phrases on the prohibited list include 'ay', meaning 'pardon', and 'I day', meaning 'I didn't'.

Alana Willetts, 30, whose nine-year-old son George goes to the school, said staff should be teaching pupils about the Black Country and its dialect.  'Some of my friends have gone on to be doctors and lawyers and I'm an engineer – [the accent] doesn't affect you as a person,' she said.  'I think it is patronising and insulting to say that people with a Black Country accent are disadvantaged. All the parents are outraged.' 

But Zheyan Kareem, 31, who moved to the UK eight years ago and whose seven-year-old son is a pupil, supported the ban, saying: ‘English is my second language. So for me … it is good if my child speaks English in the house and not slang picked up at school.’

The primary school, which has 592 children aged four to 11 and was judged ‘good’ at its last Ofsted inspection.



School board caves to atheists over statue. When will someone stand with resolve?

I have always maintained that one of the most important elected positions in America is on the school board - and a recent decision validates that assertion.

Previously we reported on the Madison County High School football team's monument, donated by a private citizen, that drew the ire of the Wisconsin-based atheist group, Freedom From Religion Foundation. The monument featured two Biblical verses, Romans 8:31 and Philippians 4:13. This atheist organization of offended individuals demanded the monument be removed, covered, or altered. The decision was to be taken up by the county school board, and yesterday they ruled - the wrong way.

As reported by the Washington Times, "A controversial monument at the entrance of a Georgia high school football stadium will be altered to remove its biblical scripture after atheists complained it was offensive. The Madison County school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to have the monument altered, following a nearly two-hour closed session to discuss the issue, Madison Journal Review reported. The monument gained national attention when it was erected in August. Two different groups sent letters to the school system arguing that it violates the separation of church and state and demanding it be removed. Board member Robert Hooper made the motion to have the Bible verses removed or covered up, saying he did so "with great consideration and concern for all students", Madison Journal Review reported."

I just have to ask, why was the school board meeting held in closed session? This was a community issue and why were these elected officials not willing to deliberate and make their decision before the community - the people who elected them to represent their interests on local educational governance?

And I will be completely forthright and ask, when will we have any group that will stand up to these secular humanist atheist groups and tell them to "pound sand" and go away? If they bring forth a lawsuit do not comply. There has to be a point when these destructive but vocal minority groups are met with resolve.

What would have been the problem with bringing the decision before the Madison County High School student body? Who gave the FFRF, a private advocacy group from Wisconsin, any dominion over what is happening in Georgia?

Was there a student or group of students who filed a complaint to FFRF asking their interests be defended? If this religious monument which currently reads, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" from Romans 8:31, and, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," from Philippians 4:13 was offensive - can someone state why?

I don't think the folks in Wisconsin are coming down to Madison County High for some "Friday night lights." And nowhere is this monument promoting an establishment of religion or forcing anyone to adhere to the verses displayed. If you don't like the monument, well, don't look at it.

According to the Times, "the local newspaper said that as soon as the announcement was made, there was a mass exodus of about 150 people who had showed up, most in favor of the monument. "We are not here as haters, we are here to love all," said Theresa Gordon, who was invited to speak during the closed session, Madison Journal Review reported. "It seems as if these [atheist] groups are here as haters, willing to spend millions to remove God from [our society], which means they are antichrists by definition - they must have hatred in their hearts to fight so hard to remove him from this small object that was placed for others to enjoy."

I agree wholeheartedly with Ms. Gordon. The definition of tolerance for the progressive socialist Left - to whom secular humanists are allies - is that they only tolerate that which they define as tolerable.

Imagine if Christians attempted to force their beliefs upon the Left - heck, there are some secular humanists like Mikey Weinstein who believe Christians in the military who profess, witness, or display their faith are guilty of sedition and should be court-martialed.

What hatred does this Wisconsin-based group possess in order to target a religious monument in sleepy Madison County, Georgia? What is becoming of our First Amendment right of "freedom of religion and the free exercise thereof?" Oh, I guess the secular humanist leftists will define and declare what freedom of [from] religion is and where there can be a free exercise.

Even more disgusting to me is the lack of moral courage to look these atheists in the eye and simply state - how can something you don't believe exists be offensive?

I'm deeply disappointed in this school board and its decision because what these folks just did was reinforce and reward the abhorrent behavior, actions and tactics of the Freedom From Religion Foundation who are laughing at them and seeking out the next Christian target to devour - no different than the lions of the Roman coliseum.

If the Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged the Obama administration giving $9 million to a Catholic organization to defend illegal aliens - a violation of church and state, using American taxpayer dollars to conduct "political activity" - maybe I wouldn't be so critical.

FFRF is an atheist bully organization that relies on Christians just taking it and turning the other cheek. Sometimes the only way to deal with a bully is to fight back - something the school board of Madison County, Georgia pathetically failed to do.


Australia:  Journalism schools need practical focus

THERE can’t be many professional or vocational fields of study where teachers spend a disproportionate time bucketing the occupation for which they are supposedly preparing students.

Yet media-bashing is the norm in Australian media and journalism courses.

The sustained and highly critical emphasis on the news media’s failings in performance, ethics, ownership structure and prospects seems the key message of much education in mass communication.

Students have complained to me of never hearing a positive thing said about journalism from their teachers, who are often embittered from their own limited experience in newsrooms.

The Murdoch press is chief villain in the scenario constructed within the broader media academic community, supposedly responsible for forming public opinion and deciding who will govern the country.

The manifest achievements of journalism — constant monitoring of political, social and economic events and exposures of corruption and incompetence — seem little mentioned, or not to the extent that students receive professional formation and walk proud from journalism schools as they do from other professional schools.

The values shared by an earlier generation of journalism educators and brought with them from the industry — old chestnuts such as freedom of the press and the right to know — often seem to have been ditched in favour of an activist, opinionated form of journalism, more often than not dovetailing with a left-liberal view of the world.

Many journalism and media educators share a cluster of left-leaning values — boatpeople are all honest refugees deserving welcome and shelter, doubts may never be expressed about human-made global warming or the weakness of government action, the Abbott government can do nothing right — and are happy to express these on public forums and in classrooms.

In earlier generations of journalism education the teaching staff seemed more representative of the wider community in their values and far less inclined to express their political views, a convention they shared with working journalists.

Social media has changed all that, amplifying educators’ personal views to a wide audience, putting them on the public record and leaving students in no doubt as to their teachers’ ideologies. Journalists, too, are far more ready to tell the world their views.

Among those who’ve enrolled in our small independent journalism college, Jschool, in Brisbane, are disenchanted university students and graduates looking for an education in the basics, free from bias or incomprehensible theory.

From such refugees and from many dozens of students around the country I have heard constant grumbles about the arcane theoretical focus of their courses, the negativity towards the media and the political biases of some lecturers.

One thing I’ve never heard is a complaint about conservative bias in a journalism or media studies course.

Part of the problem is the confusion surrounding the academic location of journalism departments — generally a small section of a communications or media studies school. This contrasts with the US tradition of stand-alone journalism schools or departments where journalism is the dominant partner. In Australia, teachers with significant journalism experience tend to be at the bottom of the hierarchy, senior positions taken by researchers and theoreticians who often lack empathy for or understanding of journalism.

The workplace structure for academics rewards research, no matter how mindless, and research designed to expose weaknesses in media performance is encouraged. While in other voc­ational disciplines much of the research effort goes into improving professional practice, there is little of this in current journalism research.

Journalism at universities has suffered from a lack of confidence in the importance and vital role of journalism. Embedded among non-journalism academics whose traditional disdain for popular news media is a job requirement, journalism teachers have too readily rolled over and put their energies into surviving within academic hierarchies rather than being defenders of the press.

Universities were reluctant to enter journalism education and were certainly not prodded into doing so by the media industry. Ultimately, it was the marketability of media courses that brought most of the country’s institutions on board, despite the narrow career prospects for ­graduates.

But things have been better. In the “glory days” of journalism education at the University of Queensland in the 1990s there were more than a dozen full-time academic staff, all of them former journalists, including three editors, plus an army of part-time ­tutors drawn from the industry. They produced books, journals, a regular newspaper and electronic news service, and were part of the wider journalism community.

Their relations with the industry were often testy, especially when lecturers criticised media performance. But there was a two-way flow — editors and other senior journalists were members of advisory boards and gave talks to students and staff, while lecturers were invited to write columns on media performance, including election coverage, by the very media being criticised, such as The Courier-Mail and The Australian.

That successful and nationally respected department (disclaimer: I was its head!) was merged against student and industry protests into a vacuous communication school and the journalism degree faces extinction.

Earlier forms of journalism education were admittedly too “craft”-oriented. Students at tertiary level need, in parallel with skills development, understanding of the wider media environment, roles and structures, in addition to knowledge of law and politics.

Unfortunately, the small size of journalism staffs at universities around Australia make them prey to absorption into burgeoning media departments that propagate no end of theories rooted in the Marxist-oriented field of cultural studies.

Depending on the energy of their teachers, some students do get a good deal and have produced excellent stories, but far too many complain they do very little journalism in their programs.

I’ve been astonished to speak to students from eminent institutions who are lucky to write more than one or two news stories in a semester or who have never been to a court, council or parliament as part of their course requirements, training that was once considered basic.

At Jschool we’ve returned to these basics, delivered online, stressing constant news gathering and story writing by students all over Australia.

The industry shares the blame in not pushing for a central involvement in the development and monitoring of university journalism courses, which is the norm for all established professional ­disciplines.

There is plenty to be criticised in the practice of daily journalism, and educators have a role in this, but not at the expense of stressing the positives.

Educators often accuse journalists of being unable to take criticism, of being too defensive and unwilling to examine the basis of complaints. Perhaps educators themselves are as guilty of reacting defensively to criticism.

Missing in much contemporary teaching of journalism is extolling of the achievements and contribution of journalism.

In the past few months Brisbane’s The Courier-Mail has been running a fascinating series, “Journalism Matters”, highlighting the courage and achievements of news gatherers. These are inspiring stories, from former Time and CNN correspondent Michael Ware’s touching tribute to TV cameraman Harry Burton, ruthlessly murdered in Afghanistan, to the revelation by the ABC’s Sally Sara of the personal impact of war reporting; Greg Chamberlin’s recounting of Phil Dickie’s relentless gumshoe work in exposing organ­ised crime and corruption in Queensland, resulting in the jailing of ministers and the police commissioner; a brother’s heartfelt appreciation of the bravery of jailed correspondent Peter Greste; and Trent Dalton’s piece on the role of newspapers in letting sexual abuse victims get a measure of justice and closure.

Let there be no mistake. Democracy cannot function without journalism. It is a pity more journalism students and their teachers don’t know this


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Let's Repeal Reality

Katherine Timpf is young, beautiful and very sane. Oh, have I said something wrong? Good.

Writing for National Review, Timpf covers the complete flight from reality that characterizes today’s progressivism/feminism. A quick glance at her recent titles gives the flavor of the world they seek to create and impose. “Feminists: Remove World War II Sailor Statue Because It’s ‘Sexual Assault’” (that would be the iconic image from Times Square on VJ Day in 1945). “Feds Spending Money To Find Out Why Obese Girls Get Fewer Dates.” “Feminists: Slow Motion Is Sexist.” And today’s installment: “Schools Told to Call Kids ‘Purple Penguins’ Because ‘Boys and Girls’ Is Not Inclusive to Transgender.”

It’s not just one school. The guidelines were given to all teachers in the Lincoln, Neb., school district, and if you happen upon any college campus, you’ll quickly discover that our institutions of higher learning are in the business of denying basic biology: It’s now unacceptable to refer to just two genders. There’s “he,” “she” and “xe,” among others.

In Nebraska, Timpf writes, teachers are guided to avoid terms that are “exclusive.” “Don’t use phrases such as ‘boys and girls,’ ‘you guys,’ ‘ladies and gentlemen,’ and similarly gendered expressions to get kids' attention,” a training manual for middle school teachers advises. “Always ask yourself… Will this configuration create a gendered space?”

Middle school children in Lincoln will now be asked how they wish to be identified – as male, female or something else. And there’s this: “Point out and inquire when you hear others referencing gender in a binary manner. … Provide counter-narratives that challenge students to think more expansively about their notions of gender.”

Lincoln is providing another handout to its teachers from a group with the Orwellian title “Center for Gender Sanity.” Their propaganda tells teachers “Gender identity … can’t be observed or measured, only reported by the individual.” Really, and what if an individual reports that he is Kaiser Wilhelm?

People who imagine that there are more than two sexes (gender is a grammatical term) have quite lost touch with the basics of life and clearly have too much free time. Except in the extremely rare cases of hermaphroditism, every child is born male or female. Maleness or femaleness is imprinted on every cell, influences every muscle and fiber, affects every body system, and colors every thought. Maybe human life would have been better if we reproduced asexually like tapeworms or dandelions, but there it is. Poetry would have suffered, I’ll wager, even if family courts would have been rendered moot.

The obsession with sex and now the mainstreaming of truly bizarre ideas about human identity suggest that progressives cannot be trusted with responsibility and certainly shouldn’t be anywhere in the vicinity of children.

This kookiness about sexuality is brought to us by the people who style themselves the “pro-science party.” Imagine if they get their hands on chemistry next. A teacher handout might say, “Protons are positively charged, and electrons are negatively charged. But you can be a neutron if that’s how you feel deep inside.” Or maybe it’s oppressive to assume that protons are always positive. Maybe some days they have negative energy?

“Gender neutral” housing is now available at Northeastern, Cornell, Middlebury, the University of Maryland and many other schools. Look up non-binary, and you get this: “Non-binary is a term for people who are not men or women, or are both men and women, or who are something else entirely, or are some combination of these things, or some of these things some of the time.” Something else entirely?

The notion that “gender” is a matter of choice, that it can be assigned like positions on a softball team, that it’s a form of oppression to insist that people use the restrooms labeled “men” and “women,” is truly to be at war with nature.

There’s plenty to resent about nature. Why do only women get pregnant and give birth? Some men would like the chance, and some women would gladly change roles. Why are men bigger? Why are some people unattractive and others boring? That doesn’t seem fair. And why must we die? These mortality assignments are a terrible form of oppression. If we declared ourselves “death neutral,” would that make it so?


Woman who is a moral cripple teaching at prominent British private school

It is one of the country’s most exclusive public schools, where parents pay fees of up to £36,000 a year so that their sons can follow in the footsteps of old boys such as P. G. Wodehouse, Ernest Shackleton and Nigel Farage.

But pupils arriving at Dulwich College may be surprised to discover that a music teacher at this bastion of the Establishment is a card-carrying communist who hopes to teach her pupils the songs of North Korea’s brutal dictatorship.

Lesley Larkum, Head of Strings at the school founded in 1619, has visited North Korea – where millions have starved to death while the ruling dynasty lives in luxury and threatens the West with nuclear weapons – and has spoken at communist rallies in London.

The 49-year-old is a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) as well as being a cheerleader for Kim Jong Un’s reviled regime.

Ms Larkum, who once led a women’s socialist choir called Velvet Fist, has even played the country’s national anthem, known as Aegukka or Patriotic Song, at events to celebrate the founding of North Korea by the ‘Great Leader’ Kim Il Sung in 1948.

Speaking for the first time about her remarkable double life, Ms Larkum told The Mail on Sunday that she hoped to educate her pupils about North Korea’s music – most of which champions communism and sings the praises of the country’s ruthless leaders.

Citizens risk imprisonment for tuning in to Western radio stations, and must instead listen to state- controlled numbers such as We Shall Hold Bayonets More Firmly, while marching songs on the country’s official website include Raise Your Weapons To Wave.

Ms Larkum said: ‘I have performed and taught Argentinian music here. I would love to expand that repertoire to include North Korean music. Some of it is political, some of it isn’t. I think my pupils would love it.

‘I don’t think the school would mind at all. I haven’t made a secret of my views – Dulwich College is all about broadening young minds and teaching them about other cultures, whatever their views.

'I don’t think my views are relevant to my day job. I’m Head of Strings, for goodness sake. But North Korean politics are fascinating.’

She says she has ‘sympathy’ with North Korea and disagrees with the West’s stance on the country, which was named as part of the Axis of Evil by former U S President George W. Bush.

Britain has an arms embargo against North Korea, as well as a ban on exporting luxury goods there, asset freezes on its financial institutions and travel bars on the regime’s key figures.

Ms Larkum said: ‘I certainly believe the West should leave North Korea alone. What have they ever done to us? I don’t think we should ever interfere with any other country.’

Ms Larkum, who lives in a £400,000 flat near the school in South-East London, is no typical communist.

Yesterday, as half-term began in the private sector, she flew out for a week’s holiday to enjoy a different sort of party – on the island of Ibiza.

Dulwich College did not respond to requests for comment.


See the Picture of a Skimpy School Lunch That One Parent Called ‘Ridiculous’

An Oklahoma student has sparked outrage about federal school lunch guidelines after taking a picture of her meager lunch.

Kaytlin Shelton’s lunch consisted of a few slices of lunch meat, a slice of cheese, two small packages of crackers and two pieces of cauliflower.

The lunch is particularly small for Shelton, 17, who is eight months pregnant.

Her family shared her picture with Oklahoma City’s KOKH-TV. According to local news channel, the meal is called a “munchable” and schools in Chickasha, Okla., “serve it every other week.”

Shelton’s father, Vince Holton, called the $3 meal “ridiculous” and insufficient for his pregnant daughter.

“I can go pay a dollar for a lunchable and get more food in it,” said Holton.

“It makes me want to take that and take it to the Superintendent and tell him to eat it for lunch,” said Shelton.

But David Cash, superintendent of Chickasha Public Schools, happens to agree with her:

“I know they are [too small]. There is no doubt about that. My own kid comes home and the first thing he does is raid the refrigerator. You’ve got, in some cases, little kids that their only two meals are breakfast and lunch at school and they’re getting … a grand total of 1,100 calories. That’s not enough.”

“Decisions should be made by communities, parents and students,” says @DarenBakst.

According to Fox News, the meal “complies with lunch regulations championed by first lady Michelle Obama and implemented by the USDA.”

No exceptions to the guidelines are made for pregnant students or athletes who need more calories.

Assistant State Superintendent for Child Nutrition Joanie Hildenbrand told KOKH-TV the district is “still struggling” with the federal regulations put in place two years ago.

According to Daren Bakst, a research fellow in agricultural policy at The Heritage Foundation, Shelton’s story is “yet another example of the problems with the meal standard.”

“The primary focus of the program should be that kids actually eat,” said Bakst.

He said school officials know there is a problem but their hands are tied.

“School officials want more flexibility,” said Bakst. “That needs to happen. The decisions should be made by communities, parents and students. And I stress students, because they are the ones who actually have to eat the food.”


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

UK: Christian school 'downgraded for failing to invite an imam to lead assembly'

A successful Christian school has been warned it is to be downgraded by inspectors and could even face closure after failing to invite a leader from another religion, such as an imam, to lead assemblies, it is claimed.

The small independent school in the Home Counties was told it is in breach of new rules intended to promote “British values” such as individual liberty and tolerance in the wake of the Trojan Horse scandal, involving infiltration by hard-line Muslim groups in Birmingham.

Details of the case are disclosed in a letter to the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, from the Christian Institute, which is providing legal support to the school.

The group warned that the new rules intended to combat extremism are already having “disturbing consequences” for religious schools and forcing Ofsted inspectors to act in a way which undermines their ethos.

It follows complaints from orthodox Jewish schools about recent inspections in which girls from strict traditional backgrounds were allegedly asked whether they were being taught enough about lesbianism, whether they had boyfriends and if they knew where babies came from.

In the latest case inspectors are understood to have warned the head that the school, which was previously rated as “good” that it would be downgraded to "adequate" for failing to meet standards requiring it to “actively promote” harmony between different faiths because it had failed to bring in representatives from other religions.

They warned that unless the school could demonstrate how it was going to meet the new requirements there would be a further full inspection which could ultimately lead to it being closed.

A Government consultation paper published in June, explaining the new rules, makes clear that even taking children on trips to different places of worship would not be enough to be judged compliant.

The Institute, which is already planning a legal challenge to the consultation, arguing that it was rushed through during the school holidays, fears that the new guidelines could be used to clamp down on the teaching of anything deemed politically incorrect on issues such as marriage.

“Worryingly, evidence is already emerging of how the new regulations are requiring Ofsted inspection teams to behave in ways which do not respect the religious ethos of faith schools,” Simon Calvert, deputy director of the Christian Institute, told Mrs Morgan.

“The new requirements are infringing the rights of children, parents, teachers and schools to hold and practise their religious beliefs.”

Listing recent cases involving criticism of Anglican, Roman Catholic and Jewish schools by Ofsted, he added: “The Christian Institute is currently working with an independent Christian School which has been marked down by Ofsted for not promoting other faiths.

“Astonishingly it was told it should invite representatives of other faith groups to lead assemblies and lessons, such as an Imam.

“The wording of the regulations inevitably results in these kind of outcomes. “While we obviously support attempts to address the problem of radicalisation, the current regulations fail to do this.”

A spokeswoman for Ofsted said: “Under Ofsted’s revised guidance for the inspection of schools, inspectors now pay greater attention to ensuring that schools provide a broad and balanced education for their pupils, so that young people are well prepared for the next stage in their education, or for employment and for life in modern Britain.

“Inspectors will consider the effectiveness of the school’s provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and how the school’s leadership and management ensure that the curriculum actively promotes British values.

“This includes, among other factors, pupils’ acceptance and engagement of different faiths and beliefs, and their understanding and appreciation of the range of different cultures within school and further afield.”


Sandy Hook Schools Parents on Education

The Sandy Hook school shooting was the stuff of nightmares. Now, almost two years after that horrific tragedy, state officials are blaming another culprit: homeschooling. After the December massacre that took 26 innocent lives, Connecticut’s leaders are still trying to make sense of the crime – and focus their efforts on preventing a similar one. In the aftermath, Governor Dannel Malloy (D) convened a special Sandy Hook Advisory Commission to study the shooting and offer recommendations for upgrading security and protocols. But so far, the Commission’s only contribution has been more controversy.

In a proposal just released by the 16-member panel, the Commission makes the outrageous suggestion that Connecticut needs to crackdown on homeschooling, especially in homes with emotionally or mentally challenged kids. In a nod to the killer, Adam Lanza, whose mom pulled him out of school briefly as a teenager, the Commission has somehow concluded that homeschooling was partly to blame for his violence. That shocked the homeschooling community, and rightfully so.

Obviously, this is just an excuse to discredit – or, worse – destroy the fundamental right of parents to educate their children. “We believe this is very germane,” said Harold Schuwatz, one of the panel’s members. “The facts leading up to this incident support the notion that there is a risk in not addressing the social and emotional learning needs of homeschooled children.”

To people familiar with the Lanzas, the idea that homeschooling played any role in the shooting is ridiculous. In fact, it was Adam’s own psychologist who recommended teaching him at home where his parents could keep closer tabs on him. Now, the state of Connecticut is suggesting that it’s the government who needs to keep closer tabs – on moms and dads who should be the ultimate authority on their children’s education.

Matthew Hennessey, who is helping to highlight the Commission’s ulterior motives, points out that that this goes much deeper than the Sandy Hook shooting into the foundational questions of who has the final say on how or where a child learns. “Of course, no one wants another Newtown… But Governor Malloy’s handpicked commissioners have indulged a dangerous impulse, common on the Left, to reorder society at the expense of the family. In the process, they have trampled on the rights of homeschoolers to raise their children as they see fit,” he writes.


Exposing the student-loan trap

Low-interest federal loans saddle students with overpriced sheepskins

There is an old adage that asserts “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” meaning that personal connections can often be more important than one’s actual skills and abilities. It’s a cynical maxim, albeit one with some truth to it. In today’s labor market, however, having the right skill set is more important than ever for anyone who wants to succeed.

We are constantly reminded of the importance of education, and of college degrees in particular, for young people. President Obama, earlier this year, came right out and said that “college has never been more important.” What students are not told, though, is that not all college degrees are created equal, and not all educations guarantee equality of opportunity upon entering the real world of work.

In many areas of the country, employers are confronting an increasingly severe skills gap. In my hometown of Cleveland, there were more than 3,000 job openings for engineers posted last year, but in 2013, fewer than 1,300 students there received engineering degrees. Students are not being told that basic training as a welder or a machinist increases their value to employers far more than a master’s degree in theater or cinema studies. As the proud owner of three master’s degrees, two of which have been completely useless in my career, this is a lesson I wish someone had taught me when I was younger. My own $70,000 of student debt reminds me every day that this is a problem that affects all of us.

Today’s millennials are being duped and exploited, not only by the propaganda praising liberal arts degrees as indispensable, but by the promise of easy credit from government-backed student loans. The amount of student debt in the United States is now more than $1 trillion, an economic burden that threatens an entire generation. Rather than address this problem, Congress is pushing for still lower interest rates, encouraging still more debt. Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s student-loan refinancing bill is a perfect example of politicians cynically preying on the hopes and dreams of average students.

The reason, they argue, is that college costs are too high for students to afford without help. Has anyone bothered to ask why costs are so high to begin with? Prices rise when too many dollars are chasing too few goods. Offering easy credit to students for college doesn’t solve the problem of high prices; it creates it.

If there is any doubt about this, stop by your local university and observe the lavish temples to knowledge that these dollars have built. Students are funding luxury Taj Mahals only to find that they still can’t get a job when they graduate. Universities are not charging so much because they need to, but because they know they can get away with it.

We too often forget that college is a business like any other, and its primary goal is to make money. Students don’t see the full cost of their education when they first apply, and are then kept on the hook as long as possible with the temptations of secondary majors, minors, advanced degrees, and anything else that can prolong their stay and run up their tab. With unlimited low-interest loans from the government, the incentives to spend responsibly just aren’t there for kids who don’t know better.

Part of the problem is that college is a terrible place to find yourself. When I did my study-abroad program in Oxford, it was common for British students to take a year off before attending a university to experience the real world and figure out what they wanted to do with their lives. This meant that they were better prepared to focus on a productive and goal-driven education that would serve them well in later life. Using a college campus as a playground for self-discovery is the most expensive indulgence most of us will ever purchase.

A quality education remains an important component of success, but in today’s information age, there are more ways to achieve it than ever before. Trade and vocational schools, technical institutes and online classes — for which there should be a bigger discount than there currently is — are all viable alternatives to traditional brick-and-mortar liberal arts schools. Rather than turning our noses up at educational options outside the Ivy League, we should embrace them and recognize their importance.

It’s time to stop lying to students by promising them a free ride on the back of government credit. Instead, we should encourage them to invest responsibly in an education that will actually offer positive returns. After all, it’s not who they know anymore. It’s what we know.


Australia: The value of economic education

I'm a firm believer in the value of economic education. An understanding of incentives, opportunity costs, supply and demand are as essential for making sense of the world as maps, history and periodic tables.

So I was alarmed when I read this week that economics education is not up to scratch. Griffith University's Professor Tony Makin and lecturer Alex Robson, reviewed the economics ­curriculum concluding the course needs to be re-written from scratch.

The author of the curriculum, Associate Professor Alex Millmow, of Federation University, responded that, "We didn't want to scare away primary school teachers. It's not an economics course".

The current course was introduced by former Minister for School Education Peter Garrett for years 5 to 8 or kids of around 10 to 14 years to: "equip the next generation of entrepreneurs, innovators and businesspeople to continue to grow the Australian economy as well as take advantage of the global business opportunities the Asian Century will bring."

Which means the author had to create a curriculum that could be taught by non-economists to children under 14 but nonetheless meet expectations that it be a serious preparation for becoming young entrepreneurs leading the country in a mighty trade incursion into Asia. No wonder the bloke who wrote it feels unfairly assessed. The job he was given amounted to spinning straw into gold.

CIS research fellow Dr Jennifer Buckingham has noted what is sometimes called the 'Peter effect' -coined for the plea of Saint Peter to the beggar that he could not give him money that he did not have. A teacher cannot teach what the teacher doesn't know.

The former government's enthusiasm to add yet another 'essential' component to the national curriculum has meant yet another case of the curriculum being reduced to the level at which teachers can teach it, rather than being elevated to the level at which students can profit from it.

Many children will benefit from an economic education. But if kids are going to become entrepreneurs and conquer the Asian Century, it needs to be the sort of economics Professor Makin would like to see taught. Rather than simplifying advanced subjects for small kids, we'd be better off teaching small kids to read and count properly so that in high school they are equipped to study any advanced course effectively.

Splitting their primary years between a growing number of poorly taught add-ons is putting at risk the literacy and numeracy education on which the rest of their lifelong learning depends.


Monday, October 20, 2014

UK: LSE Union: the tyranny of the minority

The banning of LSE rugby club was puritanical – and quite possibly illegal.

The furore over the London School of Economics men’s rugby club leaflets, which referred to the ‘beast-like’ nature of female rugby players and advised members to avoid women who are ‘mingers’, rumbles on.

It all started on 3 October, when the LSE Students’ Union seized the offending leaflets, which were being distributed at a freshers’ fair. From the reactions of students, it seems that some saw the rugby club’s leaflet as moronic, and subjected it to criticism and ridicule. Given that students were able to make up their own minds, it’s not clear why the union set out to elevate this into a major incident in which, it claimed, students ‘suffered’.

A few days after the seizure, the union’s new general secretary issued a press release stating that there would be a ‘thorough’ investigation. Having encouraged press attention, both the Daily Mail and the Guardian covered the story early last week.

Despite the club offering an immediate apology, and acknowledging that the leaflet was ‘inexcusably offensive’, the union disbanded the club on Tuesday 7 October. The union’s general secretary issued a lengthy statement primly denouncing the club: ‘The booklets distributed by the rugby club are clearly sexist, and demonstrate a culture within a club that is unable to challenge misogyny, sexism and homophobia. This culture, and how leaders within the club have allowed it to prevail, has brought shame on to the club itself, the athletics’ union and the wider student community.

‘We have been so proud to stand together as a Union’, she continued, ‘and be able to discuss these issues and openly condemn acts of misogyny, sexism, homophobia, and classism’. She then concluded somewhat illogically: ‘The hosting of women-only and LGBT-only spaces is indicative of a union of students that wants to work together to be an inclusive, positive community.’

A ban on men

So now, while the LSE’s athletics union offers rugby to female students, no rugby is available to male students, who are deprived of the opportunity to play competitively for the LSE in the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) Rugby League Programme. Not surprisingly, the club is appealing.

But it seems that neither the LSE Students’ Union, whose investigation was conducted with indecent haste, nor the university, whose president issued a statement approving the ban on 8 October, have addressed their minds to the law on equal treatment. The Equality Act 2010 expressly prohibits less favourable treatment on grounds of sex (see sections 11, 13).

Suppose that Muslim students of the Wahhabi school had taken over the union’s ruling body. Suppose they decided that women’s participation in sports was un-Islamic, and summarily dissolved all the women’s sporting societies, citing women’s ‘immodest’ dress and behaviour. Imagine the outcry.

Yet what happened last week is not so far removed from such a scenario. For a start, it does not appear to have occurred to anyone at the LSE that to ban male students from accessing a sport available to female students is itself a form of sex discrimination. Sorry men, you can’t play competitive rugby, because we don’t like your laddish (that is, male) behaviour off the pitch. This sounds pretty sex-specific. Ironically, it seems that those who run the union are so dominated by an ideology of oppression politics that they cannot recognise the possibility that they acted unfairly.

Resorting to the media to issue public admonishment to students is also excessive. Such public shaming could be seen, should you be so inclined, as a form of bullying. Again, this does not appear to have occurred to the union, which seemed more preoccupied with its own spin-doctoring.

Mischief, whoredom, and whatnot

Tactless though the club’s leaflet was, this was as nothing compared to the cardinal sin of failing to tame its inner party animal. This is what has appalled the modern-day Puritans, who run the LSESU. The club’s real crime was taking the piss out of a prevailing culture of political correctness at the LSE, whose union’s general secretary was one of two students calling for Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ to be banned last October, on the basis it promoted ‘rape culture’.

And what of the rugby club leaflet itself. It spoke of the Three Tuns Bar, which had some ‘tasty’ barmaids, and the Zoo Bar in Leicester Square where, provided members could cope with the ‘mingers’ (slang for ‘ugly people’), they could pull a ‘sloppy bird’. It called LSE women rugby players beasts – slang for ‘awesome’ (the motto of the women’s club being ‘play hard, party hard’). And it made some comments about not participating in ‘homosexual debauchery’.

This is mild, as some gibes between students of Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Sheffield suggest: ‘I’d rather be a poly than a cunt’; ‘I’d rather be a cunt than unemployed’.

The LSE Students’ Union later cited as further justification the fact that, over the years, the men’s rugby club had been guilty of hedonistic excess and bad-taste parties, running naked through the university, and having strippers at end-of–year events. It bemoaned the fact that it had tried to ‘rehabilitate’ the club, without success.

But an earlier incident in which the club had apparently caused substantial damage to university property sounds rather more serious than a silly leaflet. Why wasn’t a swift apology enough this time? And to what extent is it legitimate, or even lawful, for student unions to police male students’ social lives and speech?

The primary aim of any sporting society is success on the field. There is no suggestion that the club had treated opponents outrageously during matches. If the union really wanted to improve take-up of the sport among the student body, it could have required the club to work with the BUCS to ensure that its recruitment practices were sufficiently inclusive.  What the union really wanted to attack was the club’s après ski. In an unselfconscious throwback to seventeenth-century English Puritans, its real target was a form of student Saturnalia.

What is the union?

As with students’ unions up and down the United Kingdom, any student admitted to a university is automatically deemed to be a member of their local student union. The rule is ‘opt out’, not ‘opt in’. A student can terminate their membership by giving notice.

The result is that university union memberships consist of people who are co-opted automatically, without real consent. Unions are companies limited by guarantee, which operate a sophisticated set of constitutional rules, memoranda and articles of association, and by-laws. They can achieve registration as charities. But they can also become a vehicle for various forms of ‘issue advocacy’.

The underlying problem with these unions, then, is their undemocratic nature. The LSE is a good example: it has 9,500 full-time students, but on a union motion such as the ‘Blurred Lines’ ban last year, only 89 students voted: 40 against, 49 for. This is an infinitesimally small number, compared to the overall student body. In a very real sense, such actions by student unions represent the tyranny of an over-zealous minority over the majority.


For Second Time, High School Forced to Reverse Ban on Christian Student Group

High school students in Long Island, N.Y., were recently denied the right to establish a club for Christian students by their school administrators. This marks the second time they’ve run into trouble.

Last year, John Raney, a 17-year-old student at Ward Melville High School, created Students United in Faith as an extracurricular club where Christian and non-Christian students could come together to discuss faith and pursue hunger-relief charity projects.

“I wanted to start the club because I thought it would provide a safe space for Christians to meet and talk about their faith,” Raney told Fox News.

Administrators at Raney’s high school were at first unwilling to allow the Christian club because of its religious nature. Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich later lifted the ban, however, and apologized after the Liberty Institute, a Texas-based legal organization dedicated to defending religious liberty, threatened to intervene.

Just a few weeks into the new school year, Raney received news that he and other Christian students were prohibited from forming a club yet again.

Upon being contacted by Raney, the Liberty Institute sent a letter to the school district advising it to accommodate the Christian club under the Equal Access Law, a federal statute enacted in 1984 mandating federally funded educational institutions to allow such clubs.

“Simply put, public schools cannot discriminate against religious clubs and must treat them equally, and provide them equal access to school facilities, as non-religious clubs,” wrote Attorney Hiram Sasser in the letter.

“I feel like they have something against me and my faith. I feel marginalized,” Raney told Fox News.

According to a chart published by the Liberty Institute, Ward Melville High School has 33 recognized extracurricular clubs ranging from the Women’s Forum and Robotics club to the Gay Straight Alliance.

School administrators told the National Catholic Register that “financial limitations” and the club’s failure to have 20 members were the primary reasons behind the decision to ban the club.

“The Constitution doesn’t start at the number 20,” Liberty Institute’s senior counsel Jeremy Dys told the Register. “[H]ere they are using majority numbers to kick minority students off campus: It’s wrong, it’s unconstitutional, and it has to stop—and we’re happy to take them to court to make sure that does stop.”

John Sheahan, an attorney for the school’s board of education, responded to the Liberty Institute via email Thursday declaring the district as having decided to “alter its position on this issue.”

“[T]he district will grant [Students United in Faith] recognition as a student group for the 2014-15 school year and reverses any contrary decision,” wrote Sheahan.

Ward Melville High School did not respond to The Daily Signal’s inquiry on their decision to  reverse the ban for a second time.


The Costs of Common Core Testing

Endless testing doesn't make education better

Common Core educational standards, like all recent attempts to expand federal control of the education system, rely heavily on standardized testing in their efforts to improve the competitiveness of American students. It seems that bureaucrats on educational boards are capable of no more creative idea than that repeatedly drilling facts into children’s heads and then testing them to within an inch of their life is the only way to improve educational outcomes.

The theory itself is grossly flawed and ignores entirely the myriad ways in which children learn and succeed, but the federal fixation on testing persists, and now we’re all going to have to pay a price for it. I speak not only of the price to the students’ sanity, to the teachers’ flexibility, and to parents’ peace of mind, all of which have been written about extensively, but the purely fiscal cost to state governments as well.

In Montana, a new analysis reveals that Common Core tests are going to cost $27 per student, which adds up to $2 million for the state budget. In New York, the cost is $25 per test, totaling a $129 million bill for the state.

“But we’re investing in our children’s futures!” I can already hear you crying. “How can you put a price on that?” This point would have more weight if the money was actually going to teach children more, to reduce class size, to improve school choice, or to acquire better teachers. It’s not. This is money that is spent solely on testing.

Why are states willing to shoulder this financial burden in order to implement standards that are confusing, infuriating, and ineffective? Well, increasingly, they aren’t. More and more states are adopting legislation to withdraw from Common Core in favor of state based standards or a rethinking of the entire system. Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Utah have withdrawn, with many other states considering legislation to follow.

But the states that remain committed to the standards do so because of federal threats to withdraw funding from Race to the Top grants to any state that doesn’t comply with Common Core. These grants can amount to hundreds of millions of dollars per state, outstripping the testing cost associated with adoption of the standards.

Testing is not the same thing as education, and extracting taxpayer money to implement more standardization and centralization without addressing the root problems with the school system is irresponsible and wrongheaded.

Of course, testing is not the only cost associated with Common Core. In total, the standards are expected to cost between $3 billion and $12.1 billion nationwide. It’s just another example of Washington throwing good money after bad, the latest in a series of failed education policies that stress the “common” in everything but sense.


CA: Marshall Tuck wants to disrupt bad public schools

At last month’s gubernatorial debate, Republican hopeful Neel Kashkari praised Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris for using their discretion not to appeal a court ruling that overturned California’s same-sex marriage ban. Kashkari then chided both Democrats for failing to use that same discretion when they appealed the Vergara court decision. The suit is named after Beatriz Vergara, one of nine students who sued to eliminate the state’s teacher tenure system.

Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu found that the state’s tenure and seniority system protect grossly ineffective teachers to an extent that “shocks the conscience.” He ruled that the system is unconstitutional. Brown and Harris appealed. Kashkari said: “Nine kids sued, Gov. Brown, and said their civil rights are being violated by a failing school. You sided with the union bosses. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

That exchange put Marshall Tuck in a quandary.

A Democrat running for California superintendent of public instruction, Tuck voted for Brown in the primary, even though he agrees with Kashkari on tenure. From 2002 to 2006, Tuck was president of Green Dot charter schools. Then-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa enlisted Tuck to head the nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools to improve 17 public schools. In that role, Tuck saw how last-in, first-out policies led to huge teacher layoffs in inner-city schools. These schools, like Markham Middle School in Watts, hire a disproportionate number of young, new teachers. Tuck supported a successful lawsuit to stop those layoffs. Now he supports the Vergara students. Tenure, Tuck argues, is bad for urban students and bad for good teachers.

The incumbent state schools chief, Tom Torlakson, like Brown and Harris, filed an appeal to the Vergara ruling. At a recent Santa Clara forum, Torlakson dismissed the lawsuit as “blaming the teachers.” Torlakson is the beneficiary of $3 million campaign donation by the California Teachers Association before the June primary. Torlakson often frames the state’s sorry academic showing as a function of poor funding. The way to improve our schools is to “invest” more, he argued on KQED’s “Forum” on Thursday.

Tuck says that money without reform won’t serve low-performing students. That doesn’t make him anti-teacher, or even anti-labor. Green Dot charter schools is the rare charter shop that employs union teachers.

I’ve put off writing on Vergara for a few reasons. I support the concept — that is, I agree with critics who argue it should not take years and as much as $450,000 to get rid of grossly ineffective teachers. As Tuck argues, it should take longer than two years for public schools to grant tenure. Yet well-intentioned court rulings have been known to produce complicated formulas that undermine local school autonomy and fail to produce the intended effect for children. The bench isn’t supposed to write laws — or negotiate with unions. Sacramento and local officials should reform the system, not a lone judge.

While a skeptic, I do appreciate that Tuck doesn’t think the state Department of Education should use precious resources to defend a retention system that shortchanges students in inner-city districts. It’s a system not worthy of defense. “Vergara should never have to happen,” Tuck told me. Elected officials should have stepped in and gotten rid of last-in, first-out rules and granting tenure after just two years. Community colleges grant tenure after four years. State universities wait six to 10 years. That’s why, Tuck said, “The state should absolutely not be appealing this case.”

As for Torlakson, he seems too busy defending public schools to think about fixing them. Torlakson actually has attacked Tuck for working on Wall Street during his first two years out of college. That’s the sort of nasty salvo that made it easy for every major newspaper in California, including The Chronicle, to endorse Tuck.

Californians have a choice: Tuck comes across as a nimble problem-solver with a clear-eyed understanding of the terrain; when Torlakson complains about blaming teachers, he sounds like a mediocre teacher.

Over the week, Americans have had an ugly look at the U.S. Secret Service, an institution so beholden to its workforce that its leadership lost sight of its mission. Watch Torlakson defend the tenure system and you feel as if you are watching former Secret Service director Julia Pierson tell Congress she was serious about whipping her inept bureaucracy into shape.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Universities are an unwelcoming environment for normal males

Higher education’s crusade against so-called ‘lad culture’ stretches far beyond the puritanical killjoys at the National Union of Students (NUS).

On both sides of the Atlantic, some university managers and academics have a serious issue with male students, and are on a mission to expunge from campus any whiff of laddishness. In the US, debate ensues about the possibility, rather than the desirability, of banning fraternities. While the legalities are batted to and fro, some institutions have introduced mixed-sex and alcohol-free regimes, effectively ending the tradition of all-male college associations. Those behind the new schemes obviously assume the presence of women will civilise the fraternities, which stand accused of promoting sexism and alcohol-fuelled risk-taking.

Meanwhile, in the UK, panics over misogyny and ‘rape culture’ have led Scottish academics to campaign for ‘lads’ mags’ to be banned from university shops, while misbehaving rugby club members at Oxford are being sent for re-education at sexual consent and ‘good lad’ workshops. All too often, men at university are seen as a problem, and men in groups even more so.

Such concerns go beyond the antics of all-male sports’ teams on a beery night out and carry over into the classroom. Male students are indicted for messing about, not taking their studies seriously and generally being disruptive. One group of academics has received funding to investigate the behaviour of men at university. Their advocacy research poses loaded questions such as: ‘How may lecturers and universities begin to challenge and change problematic “laddish” attitudes and behaviours?’

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these surveys have found that men ‘just don’t seem to really care, they just think it’s cool to sit there and talk’. Even relatively mild-mannered male students are considered to dominate seminars in a way that silences female voices. For some lecturers, it seems, the presence of men in their classroom is a particular challenge to be managed, rather than simply being part and parcel of the often mundane experience of teaching.

Even the quietest and most placid male students are seen as a problem for universities. Research conducted for the UK-based Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) suggests men are less likely to participate in academic mentoring programmes, are unwilling to ask their tutor for advice if they get a bad mark for a piece of work, and are less likely to attend tutorials.

Outside of the classroom, even sympathetic academics bemoan the reluctance of male students to engage with the ever-increasing array of student-support and wellbeing services on offer. When male students experience difficulties at university, they are more likely to keep it to themselves or turn to friends, perhaps even discussing their troubles over a beer, rather than using the institution’s qualified counsellors and support officers. This refusal to seek help when things go wrong is cited as the number-one explanation for men being significantly more likely than women to drop out of university before they’ve completed their degrees.

For those men who stay the course and complete their studies, the chances are they’ll perform less well than their female counterparts. Whereas 79 per cent of women get at least a 2.1 degree classification, only 70 per cent of men score this highly.

Importantly, this attainment gap exists even when comparing the results of students who entered university with exactly the same levels of prior academic achievement. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that boys vote with their feet and don’t apply to university in such large numbers in the first place: in Britain, 57.5 per cent of students are female. This overall statistic hides the fact that at some universities women outnumber men two to one, and on some courses, such as veterinary science and subjects allied to medicine, over 75 per cent of students are now female.

Despite making up a greater proportion of the overall population aged 18 to 21, men are less likely to go to university, more likely to drop out if they do get there, and, if they stay, are less likely to come out with a good degree pass.

Yet instead of this being seen as a cause for concern, attention is still focused on the experience of women. The Equality Challenge Unit awards a ‘Gender Equality Charter Mark’ to institutions that can demonstrate they have addressed gender inequalities, ‘in particular the underrepresentation of women in senior roles’. In addition, universities pour considerable resources into securing one of the ECU’s Athena Swan awards, which recognise commitment to ‘advancing women’s careers in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine’.

In contrast, schemes aimed at tackling the underrepresentation of boys in higher education tend to be piecemeal, condescending and underfunded. The University of Edinburgh, for example, has launched Educated Pass, an initiative which aims to get boys hooked on university through links with local football clubs. Never mind the assumption that all boys are interested in football - more worrying is the idea that people working for universities can’t dream up a way to tell boys that higher education is exciting in its own terms.

The recruitment-through-football initiative sums up the mixed impression boys, and working-class boys in particular, are given about higher education. They are flattered and patronised to get them through the door of a university, and then, once inside, they witness staff and fellow students throw their hands up in horror at their unreconstructed male-ness.

In the feminised environment of today’s university, group work is often valued above individual performance, participation and effort are recognised as equivalent to achievement, and the single-minded pursuit of knowledge has been replaced by rewarding students who are most able to decry the arrogance of truth claims.

When the promotion of sustainability, citizenship and inclusivity trump inculcation into a world of knowledge, the physical presence of men on campus embodies a particular challenge to the values of the university as an institution, and to some lecturers as individuals.

Higher education currently has no place for the qualities traditionally associated with masculinity, and this message is conveyed to male students in all aspects of university life. It should hardly be surprising that, when made to feel so unwelcome, young men either rebel or vote with their feet.


Michigan: Mother Outraged over school assignment requiring students to proselytize for Islam

Proselytizing for Islam has increasingly become part of the public school curriculum nationwide. Common Core is notorious for this.   This is dawah — a religious imperative in Islam to invite, preach Islam to the non-believer.The curriculum does not include the wholesale slaughter of hundreds of Muslims non-Muslims and heretics  in jihad wars, land appropriations, annihilations and enslavements.

Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism are not promoted and preached. But parents must demand equal proselytizing time. This is a violation of the establishment clause.

A mother in Michigan took to Facebook last week to express her outrage over a 10th-grade school assignment that she felt promoted Islam.  In an initial post, Jennette Hall complained about a Jenison High School assignment that asked students to make a pamphlet about Islam. The post, which had been shared over 5,400 times as of Tuesday morning, said students were told the pamphlet would be used to “introduce Islam to 3rd graders.”

Several days later, Hall clarified in another post that her daughter’s assignment asked her to create a pamphlet about Islam geared towards third-graders, but that students were not actually expected to hand the materials out to younger children.

“This assignment upset me because they are presenting Allah as the same God of the Christians and Jews. This paper, in my opinion, is promoting Islam by describing Allahs names as ‘beautiful’. To me this is not simply factual like it should be,”

The school’s principal, Brandon Graham, responded in his own Facebook post over the weekend, saying he wanted to correct “inaccurate information” about the assignment.“While our high schoolers do study religions, the content is NOT presented to elementary students or used to proselytize in any way,” Graham wrote. “Furthermore, we *do indeed* teach Christianity along with other world religions.”

Graham further explained the assignment in an interview with a local Fox News affiliate.“The assignment was to cover the five major world religions: The religions included Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam,” Graham said. “In our social studies classes, we certainly study all those religions to learn how a people, group and culture function. It helps us understand culture.”

But on Facebook, Hall noted that she still takes issue with the assignment, even though she has no problem with students studying the five major world religions.“I was SHOCKED when my daughter showed me the pamphlet that she was required to make promoting Islam in a way 3rd graders could comprehend,” wrote Hall in her latest post. “As a mother who teaches her children that the One True Creator God is the GOD of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it made me sick to my stomach to see my daughter promoting another god (Allah) as the One True Creator on a pamphlet!"

UPDATE: 10/8 — While Hall initially posted photos of her daughter’s assignment, she wrote on Facebook on Tuesday that she took them down after meeting with the school’s principal.

“In the meeting, Dr. Brandon Graham and others in attendance carefully listened to my concerns and are considering making some changes,” Hall wrote. Dr. Brandon Graham has asked me to remove my initial Facebook post and I have honored his request by removing the post from my Facebook page.

My intention was not to cause negative publicity to the school district, but only to speak up, ask questions, and stand firm for what I believe.”


Public Outcry Delays Vote on Minnesota Transgender Athlete Policy

Public outcry forced a delay in implementing a new state policy allowing transgender high school students taking sex hormones in Minnesota to play sports, use locker rooms and share hotel rooms with students of their chosen “gender identity.”

The draft of the Minnesota State High School League’s (MSHSL) policy proposal states that male-to-female transgender students can play on girls’ teams if they are currently on testosterone suppressants.

Similarly, female-to-male transgendered students can play on boys’ teams if they are taking testosterone. Transgender students would also be allowed to use “locker, shower and toilet facilities” and be assigned hotel rooms in accordance with their chosen “gender identity.”

Transgender students who request extra privacy, such as a separate shower or changing facility, should be accommodated if possible, the draft also states, "but they should not be required to use separate facilities."

However, the Minnesota Child Protection League (MCPL) ran a full-page ad in Minnesota's largest newspaper warning that high school boys would be allowed to shower in the girls' locker room, and an email campaign led by the Minnesota Catholic Conference (MCC) and the .Minnesota Family Council (MFC) mobilized to inform the public about the changes.

On October 2, the 19-member board unanimously decided to postpone a vote on the transgender policy after a contentious two-hour public hearing.

“After receiving what the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) Board revealed to be over 10,000 emails and then listening to public testimony yesterday overwhelmingly opposed to their proposed transgender policy for student athletics, the Board voted today to table the policy for further consideration at their December 4 meeting,” the MFC said in a press release.

The MCC organized the emailing campaign to stop implementation of the policy, noting that it prioritizes the privacy of transgender students by providing them special accommodations while disregarding the privacy rights of those who may feel uncomfortable changing or showering with a student who is biologically the opposite sex.

The group also cited worries that allowing male-to-female students to play on a girls’ team would be an unfair advantage, and said that the new policy would ultimately be harmful to teens because it “relies upon a contested view of gender identity confusion that could do students struggling with their gender more harm than good.”

The policy also does not provide a religious exemption for individual students or parochial schools, which the MCC says is contrary to state law. In addition, they say that forcing schools to build gender-neutral bathrooms or hold sensitivity training is an unfunded mandate.

“We firmly believe that all students should be permitted to play high school athletics within the realm of the school’s eligibility requirements, and this means that student athletes play within the bounds of physical realities—not ‘internal senses’—for the sake of all students involved,” MFC CEO John Helmberger said.

But Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, a teachers' union, said that she supports the proposed transgener policy.

“A safe and welcoming environment for our students matters a lot, whether it's in schools or extracurriculars," said Specht, reports. "We represent a lot of coaches, and coaches are really looking for guidance.”

However, MFC spokeswoman Autumn Leva pointed out that the proposed transgender policy contains no “objective standard” for determining which students would qualify, adding that “what we’re hearing from athletic directors is, ‘I don’t want to be in the position to determine a student’s gender’.”


‘This is not an education problem. This is a government problem’

The world needs more teachers like Susan Bowles. The kindergarten teacher at Lawton Chiles Elementary School in Gainesville risked her job to stand up for what she believes in.

What she believes is that conducting standardized testing three times a year, some of it required to be computerized, is simply not in the best interests of the kindergarten students she teaches.

Despite the risk of losing her job after 26 years of teaching, Bowles felt compelled to speak out.

And something amazing happened. Instead of her being fired or reprimanded, the policy was changed. The community rallied around Bowles after she took a stand. Now, K–2 grade students will not be required to take the FAIR tests that Bowles refused to administer.

In the letter Bowles wrote to parents, she explained that even though she would be in breach of contract, she couldn’t in good conscience give the test to her students. The FAIR testing would have meant kindergarten students being tested on a computer using a mouse, Bowles said.

Although many of her students are well-versed in using tablets or smart phones, most had not used a desktop computer before. Once an answer is clicked, even if a mistake was made and a student accidentally clicked the wrong place, there is no way to go back to correct it. This means the data that would have been collected would not have been accurate.

“While we were told it takes about 35 minutes to administer, we are finding that in actuality it is taking between 35-60 minutes per child,” Bowles wrote. “This assessment is given one-on-one. It is recommended that both teacher and child wear headphones during the test. Someone has forgotten there are other five-year-olds in our care.”

The problem is not with the people she works for, Bowles said. “This is not an education problem. This is a government problem,” she wrote.

Bowles was not directly named in the letter to parents from officials changing the testing policy, but the letter does mention the recent attention surrounding the issue.

Bowles was brave in facing down the school administration, state and local officials, and teachers unions who continually protect the status quo and each other. She stood up by herself with no way of knowing what the consequences would be.

Bowles told me she feels lucky to have had the opportunity to speak her mind, because her husband was supportive and her children are grown. After hearing the policy had changed, Bowles said, she “hugged, laughed, cried, and did a happy dance” with other teachers who had been waiting outside her classroom because they had already heard the news.

“I was surprised and pleased that they actually backtracked on the FAIR, suspending it for one year,” said Bowles, noting tension over standardized testing has increased because of Common Core. “Of course, the fear is it will be back next year with a few tweaks.

“This fight should continue — not just regarding the excessive testing that takes away from our children’s learning, but also for the standards that have been adopted that are not developmentally sound, at least for elementary students,” said Bowles. “I can speak for the elementary grades that any developmental psychologist or early childhood educator would tell you that these standards are inappropriate.”

Two bills have been introduced recently to decrease the federal footprint on standardized testing. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has spoken about the possibility of over-testing.

The hope is that these changes aren’t just lip service. Parents, teachers, and legislators will have to continue to fight for students and against the education establishment. The contrasting approaches of the federal government and Susan Bowles regarding how children should be educated suggest we all should support more local control rather than failing federal mandates.