Friday, March 06, 2015

Vengeful pupil's abuse lies destroyed this devoted teacher's life, leaving him clinically depressed and his reputation shattered

The allegations were as vindictive and damaging as they were utterly false. Yet they all but destroyed primary school teacher Brendan O’Brien. Brendan, 45, had for 16 years been an exemplary teacher: popular with pupils and respected by colleagues.

Yet in just a year his reputation was shattered, he lost his job and became clinically depressed, prey to anxiety and panic.

A £25,000 legal bill exhausted his entire savings and ate into those of his parents. His reputation unjustly besmirched, he and his wife Jane — who has two grown-up daughters by a previous relationship — had to give up their dream of adopting a child.

And this awful ordeal was caused by five boy pupils from his West Yorkshire primary school who accused him of sexual abuse.

It’s the worst accusation that could be levied against a teacher. And in today’s climate, where historic cases of the abuse of children are as prolific as they are disturbing, the police, quite rightly, had to act.

Yet the most cursory of checks would have revealed that his accusers were troublemakers: disruptive, aggressive, defiant and precociously sexualised.

But once the boys — present and past pupils aged ten to 12 — had made the allegations that their teacher had inappropriately touched them and instigated sexual activity, the machinery of the law was set in motion. And despite the complete absence of evidence, it would destroy the name of a good man in the process.

In January, a year after Brendan was first arrested, a jury at Leeds Crown Court acquitted him, swiftly and unanimously, on all charges. He had pleaded not guilty to 17 counts of sexual assault on a male child under the age of 13 and one count of causing or inciting a male child under 13 to engage in sexual activity.

So how could Brendan be left with a life in tatters while five malicious trouble-makers are carrying on with their lives, without so much as a telling off?

These are questions Brendan and Jane, 43, a reflexologist and sales assistant, are asking themselves.

Brendan says: ‘When I was charged, I was no longer Mr O’Brien, a respected village primary school teacher. Instead, I was a pariah. I was too scared to leave the house. I became introverted, and I lost 2 st. Yet the boys who accused me have been able to hide behind a curtain of anonymity while my name was publicised.

‘My accusers should be punished for making false and damaging claims against me. But they are all carrying on as though nothing has happened while I have to piece together my shattered life.’

Shattered is the correct word: Brendan’s teaching contract was terminated in July, and he is unemployed and taking his former employers to an industrial tribunal. But even if he wins, he doubts he will ever teach again.

Brendan’s nightmare began in January last year. He had driven to school and by 6.45am was sitting at his desk, planning his lessons. One matter was preying on his mind: how to deal with a particularly disruptive pupil. Brendan had already spoken about him to the school’s headteacher.

The day before, he had called the ten-year-old’s mother, inviting her to school to discuss her son’s behaviour. It was getting virtually impossible to teach with him interrupting, shouting wisecracks and refusing to do any work.

Then an hour later, he was summoned to his head’s office. Facing him were two police officers.

‘I was told I was being arrested on suspicion of sexual assault on a minor,’ he recalls. ‘And the child making the accusations was the same pupil causing problems.

‘I was completely, utterly dumbfounded. But my first thought was: “This will all be dismissed when the police investigate it and realise there is absolutely no foundation in it at all.” ’

But in the space of 12 months his life would be thrown into tumult as 18 charges were made against him concerning the children, the first boy and four others the ten-year-old knew.

On that January day, Brendan spent nine hours in police custody where every aspect of his teaching style was scrutinised.

Jane, his wife of ten years, was by now dealing with her own shock. Two-and-a-half hours after her husband was arrested, two officers arrived at their four-bedroom terrace house in Barnsley.

Jane recalls: ‘My initial thought was that Brendan had been in an accident. I asked if he was dead.  ‘But when they said he had been arrested for sexual assault, I was floored. The officers had come to search our home for possible evidence and to seize electronic equipment.

‘My legs would hardly hold me up as the police rooted through our bedroom. It was horribly intrusive. Although I knew Brendan had done nothing wrong, I felt as though we were criminals.

‘They looked through my work files and took away our iPad, mobiles, a Kindle and memory sticks. They spent months examining them, but didn’t find a single suspicious thing.’

When Brendan arrived home at 6.30pm, he was exhausted and bewildered. Jane says: ‘He could barely speak. But I never once doubted his innocence. The claim was ludicrous.’

Brendan was suspended on full pay. Both he and Jane were confident a short investigation would swiftly exonerate him. They told only close friends and family of the accusations.

But the nightmare escalated. Last March, Brendan was arrested again. A further four ex-pupils who knew one another in some way claimed he had inappropriately touched them and instigated sexual activity.

‘I had no idea why they would make up such malicious and despicable lies,’ he recalls. In April, he was formally charged with the sexual assaults against five boys: a ten-year-old current pupil; three 11-year-olds and a 12-year-old.

But their stories were inconsistent. Some attested the assaults took place while he was teaching, others said it was while he was alone in his classroom talking one-to-one with them.

And evidence read out in court supported the fact that each of the accusers was a known troublemaker. The youngest had boasted he would ‘get Mr O’Brien fired’.

Jane recalls the fallout of the allegations. ‘Brendan had always been so full of life and very jovial, but overnight his character changed.’

Her husband — a caring step-father to her two daughters — barely spoke and became consumed by fear. He suffered from anxiety and tremors, and his GP prescribed antidepressants.

The legal proceedings consumed their savings, and Brendan’s parents — in no doubt of their son’s innocence — chipped in.

As the case approached, a swell of support buoyed them up. Brendan recalls: ‘Parents of ex-pupils would stop me in the street and give me a hug, all of them telling me they didn’t believe a word of the claims.

‘But I still felt terrified. My solicitor had warned me if I was found guilty I faced up to seven years in prison and my name would be tarnished for ever.

Mercifully, the jury took just an hour to dismiss each of the charges against Brendan. Jane was with her daughters in court and when the verdict came, she was euphoric. ‘I squeezed my daughters’ hands,’ she recalls. ‘I just wanted to run to Brendan and hug him.’

Jane adds: ‘I can never forgive Brendan’s accusers. I truly believe the youngest of them was acting in revenge, and then the other boys joined a nasty, ill-conceived vendetta to try to destroy him.

‘And if this is what teachers face — and we are told that false sexual accusations against them are not uncommon — the whole profession must feel under threat.


New York City schools to close for Muslim holidays

Allahu Akbar. New York's Mayor Bill DeBlasio tweeted today that schools in his city will close for Eid al-Adha and al-Fitr "a change that respects the diversity of our city."

Yes, diversity if you're counting about two percent of the population, because currently that's what the Muslim population of New York City represents.

Some will say it's only fair that schools close for Muslim holidays because they're already closing for the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Except they're leaving out the fact that Jews represent 22 percent of the population of New York City as a whole and nearly 30 percent in the borough of Manhattan.

The New York Times says a 2008 study from Columbia University says about 10 percent of schoolchildren are Muslim, but still...

"Eid al-Adha, also known as the Festival of Sacrifice, commemorates a pivotal event shared by Judaism, Christianity and Islam: the willingness of Ibrahim, or Abraham, to sacrifice his son to God."

Of course the mayor's move is really part of a larger effort of inclusiveness. In fact last month, he pressured the NYPD to remove this report from its website entitled "Radicalization in the West: the Homegrown Threat" - even after two policemen were hacked up by a jihadist - because it promotes discrimination against Muslims. So far the report is still available.

Rest assured however, this won't be the last move by de Blasio.


Australia: Stay out of my child's lunch box

As a brand new school mum, I've recently discovered that schools have assumed the role of the Lunch Box Police. Every morning tea and lunch is a test to see if kids and their parents have faithfully followed the laws of healthy eating.

It's a nice idea, but it's questionable whether this has anything to do with health. In fact, in the quest to promote nutrition, schools may unintentionally be damaging kids' relationship with food.

One school in Brisbane is so strict that the children have to show their lunch boxes to the class each morning. I know of one child who is so anxious about having 'bad' food in his lunchbox that he doesn't want to go to school.

Another school in Melbourne's eastern suburbs was conducting food inspections at the school gate, prohibiting 'junk food' from entering the school grounds. Some enterprising pre-teens had an early lesson in supply and demand and realised that prohibition is a golden marketing opportunity. They started a black market trafficking doughnuts behind the school shed.

"What more evidence to do you need that food policing by schools is dangerous?" asks Clinical Psychologist Louise Adams. "It's teaching kids to hide their eating and to binge eat."

Adams who runs Treat Yourself Well Sydney, a healthy weight management clinic, says that the risks of schools having food policies far outweigh the benefits.

"From the US research, we can see that this sort of food policing has not resulted in a reduction of body weight in children," she says.

"As a psychologist specialising in this area, all I can see happening is that children are developing a fear of food. Fear is not going to make children healthy; it's just going to make their relationship with food disturbed."

The food rules of most schools appear to be less extreme than the examples above, but they are still inappropriate, if not damaging.

At two of the primary schools in my inner-Melbourne suburb, children are only allowed to eat fruit, vegetables and yoghurt for morning tea. This means that by lunchtime the kids are often starving. This is hardly conducive to learning.

But even worse, it's teaching children not to trust their bodies, and to develop an almost hysterical fear of certain foods.

One friend packed a biscuit made by grandma for her daughter's morning tea. Her daughter came home feeling embarrassed that she had 'bad' food in her lunch box.

"I put one biscuit in, not six," says my friend. "What's missing from this situation is the love and care that grandma put into making special biscuits for her granddaughter."

I've put a lot of effort into teaching my daughter to listen to her body and to decide when she is hungry and when she is full. If she's hungry and wants to eat two sandwiches for morning tea, then I encourage it. I don't tell her that she should ignore her appetite and only eat carrot sticks.

And we never discuss food in moral terms. There's no 'good' or 'bad' or 'healthy' or 'unhealthy' food in our house. Consequently, there's no shame or guilt.

But the food policies of these schools undermine our efforts as parents to help our kids develop healthy relationships with food.

It's also a stretch well beyond the school's realm of authority. As a parent, what goes into my child's lunch box should be my decision. It's based on our family values, my intimate knowledge of my child's current appetite, preferences, and wellbeing, our family budget, and what's in the cupboard.

So long as it doesn't threaten the wellbeing and health of other children — as, say, peanuts and nuts do — then it shouldn't be the concern of the school.

Coincidently, Adams' daughter came home from her school on Sydney's northern beaches just last week, distressed because she had a muffin for lunch and she was told that it was unhealthy.

"My daughter was told that she should only eat fruit and vegetables and there was such shame on her face, like she'd really done something terrible," Adams says.

"Kids go from just eating food and being in tune with their bodies, to being scared and feeling worried that they are doing something wrong. This is the breeding ground for an eating disorder."

Adams says that schools should not be delivering any health messages about food to children. 

"Kids are very black and white. Their capacity for nuance is not developed. If we tell them that something is good and something is bad, they believe that absolutely. Then they relate it to themselves, that they are then a good or bad person.'

"Maybe we as parents need some support and help with how to provide a variety of foods to our kids, but it's psychologically damaging and unnecessary to discuss it with children."

There is no doubt that the schools mean well and they are implementing their food policies with the best of intentions. But given that school food policies have not resulted in a reduction of childhood obesity and that eating disorders are skyrocketing, it's time for schools to examine if they are actually contributing to the problems they are trying to solve.


Thursday, March 05, 2015

Hate on campus

Jew Hatred is running rampant in America's universities. According to a new report by the Brandeis Center for Human Rights, 54% of all Jewish students, liberals and conservatives, have seen or been subjected to anti Jewish harassment. This is a cancer on our campuses and the Freedom Center is working to cut it out.

Our target is the Students for Justice in Palestine, a Jew hating and terrorist loving organization that supports Hamas and the destruction of the Jewish State and the extermination of the Jewish people.

As part of my campaign to educate the public about this hate group, the Freedom Center put up posters dramatizing its outrages at the ten most anti Semitic campuses in the country. The objective of these posters is to wake up students, alumni and administrators as to the truth about the SJP.

This is not just another campus protest group. This is an organization dedicated to genocide. Colleges must stop funding and stop giving official recognition to the SJP. That is why we have launched this campaign.

But rooting out the Jew haters won't be easy.

What has happened at UCLA in the past couple of days is indicative of the hypocrisy and double standards that Jewish students and supporters of Israel face. After the Freedom Center put up its posters there, it was immediately accused of "vandalism" by UCLA authorities and is under investigation by UCLA campus police for "defacing university property."

Students for Justice in Palestine harasses and intimidates UCLA students who are Jewish or who defend Israel's right to exist and UCLA responds by accusing us of some petty bureaucratic offense! This enabling of hatred shows, in a nutshell, why anti Semitism is ravaging campuses all across our country.

SJP habitually violates UCLA's "Principles of Community," which forbid discrimination and bigotry against any religious or ethnic group. Yet UCLA authorities, ever vigilant when a charge of "Islamophobia" is made, turn a blind eye to these violations when SJP is the perpetrator. Worse, UCLA authorities actively support SJP's bigotry, providing it with extensive campus privileges, including student funding for its events. These events have featured notorious anti-Semites such as Abdel Malik Ali, whom even the liberal Southern Poverty Law Center admits "promotes anti-Semitism, violence and conspiracy theories."

The David Horowitz Freedom Center will not cooperate with the UCLA police investigation in this matter until administrators begin to enforce their own Principles of Community and related rules and regulations according to a single standard, and withdraws its financial support for hate groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine.

This is our line in the sand.

Via email from David Horowitz

College Campus Update

President Barack Obama wants Americans to dig deeper into our pockets to expand college education. Let's update college indoctrination done in the name of education.

Cornell University assistant professor Russell Rickford, in a lecture titled "Ferguson: The Next Steps," told a packed auditorium: "Let's be very clear about what's going on. It's one every 28 hours. Dead black bodies in the street is a sacrifice America makes to the gods of white supremacy." He added: "The propertied classes leverage state violence to discipline, repress and contain them. America fears and despises all poor people."

Blake Armstrong, a South Texas College psychology professor, equating the tea party to Nazis, told his class: "In 1931, which was really interesting, the Nazis — people are kind of tired of them. They've been around since 1920, 11 years now. They've won seats. They're like the tea party! That's such a good example." Armstrong continued, "Don't tell anybody I said that, though."

William Claggett, a professor at Florida State University, told his class, "I don't read The Wall Street Journal — again, a rag of lies — unless I'm interested in who's the CEO of some particular company." As for news, he said, "So you know, when I'm at home clicking through the stations, oh, here comes Fox News, the Fox News Channel. Oh, I don't stop there. I know they're simply lying, and I keep on going."

Students learn from their professors. The University of California Student Association recently voted to divest financially of the United States government and companies that do business with Israel. Both resolutions passed overwhelmingly. Reasons given for divestiture included U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, as well as disproportionate imprisonment of racial minorities. It's early yet, but I'm wondering whether university trustees will instruct their fund managers to replace their U.S. equity holdings with those from the Middle East or Africa.

The University of Michigan spent $16,000 to launch a new "Inclusive Language Campaign" so as to not say hurtful things. Terms deemed unacceptable include crazy, insane, retarded, gay, tranny, gypped, illegal alien, fag, ghetto and raghead. Also banned are sentences such as "I want to die" and "That test raped me" because they diminish the experience of people who've attempted suicide or experienced sexual assault.

One wonders what advice University of Michigan students would give their brethren attending the University of Wisconsin. When College Republicans urged fellow students to keep an open mind about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's planned cuts to the university's budget, the College Republicans received responses such as, "You must have a big hairy pair of brass balls and a marginally functional brain to be recruiting for Republicans on the UW campus right now." "F—- Scott Walker." "Listen you c—-s, Don't email me this political bull——."

Last month, Megan Andelloux, aka "The Sex Ed Warrior Queen," encouraged Vanderbilt University students to put their cellphones on vibrate so as to masturbate in their seats as she spoke during an interactive sex workshop. See here. I'm wondering whether Vanderbilt University recruiters inform parents of high-school seniors about such a "learning opportunity."

Then there's Bryn Mawr College, founded in 1885, a private women's liberal arts college located in Philadelphia's wealthy Main Line suburbs. This year, Bryn Mawr will accept men, but it will remain a women's college. You might say, "Williams, that's impossible!" You'd be wrong. Bryn Mawr College will accept applications from men who identify as women. It will challenge what's become known as gender binarism as it transitions from a single-sex to a "single-gendered" college. Classification of sex into two distinct, opposite and disconnected forms of masculine and feminine is oppressive.

I wonder whether Bryn Mawr biology professors will continue to teach the chromosomal distinction that males are 46,XY and females 46,XX. Could there be something in between?

There's another issue: What will Bryn Mawr's administrators do when brawny XY people dominate their sports teams? Maybe they will set quotas for XY and XX people.


What This Homeschool Mom Thinks About How the Government Regulates Homeschooling

If millions of Americans are doing it, the conventional wisdom among government bureaucrats is that somebody ought to regulate it.

Look no further than the growing movement known as homeschooling. It’s estimated that upwards of 3 million school age children in America are now foregoing the traditional schoolhouse, public or private, and getting their education at home.

That has some people concerned – primarily those in the public education establishment who have done such a stellar job educating the children under their care they believe they have time to monitor what’s going on elsewhere.  (For the record, according to the 2013 findings of the Program for International Student Assessment, students in 29 countries statistically outperformed U.S. students in math, 19 did so in reading, and 22 did so in science.)

But according to a January New York Times article, some critics of homeschooling are coming from within the community itself. That piqued my interest.

Take the young woman featured in the story who bemoans the fact that her mother “used science textbooks that taught the theory of intelligent design and shied away from rigorous math during her high school years.” She says the result was that she had to take some remedial math classes in college.

Hmmm. Considering she is now a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Michigan, maybe the reality is that math just wasn’t her strong suit and her talents lay in other subjects. And, I’d venture to guess that the percentage of public school students who graduate every year that have to take remedial courses in math (and a number of other subjects) when they enter college far outweigh the number of homeschoolers who do.

But let’s keep looking…

What about the homeschooling mom also featured in the Times article, who let her son play a video game, Minecraft, to burn off energy after only 10 minutes of schoolwork?  Surely we should be monitoring that kind of thing, right?

Homeschooling challenges the public education bureaucracy in America that says children are better off with professional educators.

Well, not so fast. The reporter only references that particular scene which takes place in the afternoon with no mention as to what little 10-year-old Elijah may have already accomplished in terms of schoolwork that day. Can he read and write for his age level? The article doesn’t say but my guess is he can do that and more–otherwise such shortcomings would have been reported in the story.

To get more insight into all of this, I decided to talk with someone who is a real expert in education – my sister who lives in North Carolina and, in addition to having more degrees than I do and being a college professor, homeschools my three oldest nephews. I asked my sister, Amanda Aucoin, what she thought about homeschool regulations, testing, and the desire by some to encourage more of both.  Here is her take:

Q:  How much regulation of homeschooling is needed?

A:  I think North Carolina is a great example of striking a balance. Parents are asked to register with the Department of Non-Public Education, which also has oversight of private schools in the state. You let them know when you open, add a student or close your homeschool.  You also are asked to keep ‘attendance’ records, meaning you check a box on a sheet for each day ‘educational activities or instruction was conducted.’ It’s flexible, but you do agree to do 36 weeks of educational days per year.

Q:  What about annual testing?

A:  In North Carolina, you agree to give a standardized test to each student age seven and over in your homeschool. Parents choose the test, and I don’t know of any restrictions there. You also agree to keep the scores of the test on file for voluntary inspection. So, there are regulations, but it’s all voluntary.  And I think that’s good because it shows the state is not completely unconcerned with the welfare of homeschool students, but also not micromanaging at all.

Q:  But you also say you don’t find the tests particularly helpful. Why?

A:  The point of testing in all schools initially was to let parents know how their children are doing academically. Well, if you homeschool, you pretty much know that already. Now the motivation for testing seems to have changed, it’s a test of the educators and the school more than the students, and it’s not surprising some would want to apply this to home schools as well.

Q:  What do you think are the primary motivations of those who want more regulations?

A:  Homeschooling challenges the public education bureaucracy in America that says children are better off with professional educators. The more it grows the more they believe it threatens public schools, education programs at colleges (which grant teaching certificates), thousands of bureaucrats, millions of paid teachers, and billions in state and federal dollars – especially when it is demonstrated how well homeschool students do academically, on a fraction of the yearly budget per student.  THAT, in my opinion, is the real reason behind the ‘concerns’ of most non-homeschoolers on this issue. Public education is an industry in our country.

Q:  Now that you’ve told us what you really think…any other points you’d like to make about homeschooling?

A:  Even though one may think public education is okay, that doesn’t mean it’s the standard by which every educational practice should be normed or tested. Homeschoolers may be seen as having knee-jerk reactions to the idea of state regulation but we know regulators are usually not satisfied with minimalist oversight, and opening the door to more government intervention will not lead where most of us want to go.  Homeschoolers do not wish to replicate the public schools just in a different setting and with prayer. For many, it’s a whole different philosophy of education.


Wednesday, March 04, 2015

UK: No more lab tests in science GCSEs: Exams regulator presses ahead with reform despite fierce opposition

Teenagers taking GCSE [junior High school] science will no longer have their practical work assessed through coursework, it was confirmed yesterday.

The exams regulator Ofqual is pressing ahead with the reform despite fierce opposition from many in the science community.

Universities have argued that that those entering undergraduate courses needed tried and tested basic skills to study at a higher level.

Education Nicky Morgan has also publicly criticised the move, recently saying it was ‘in danger of holding back the next generation of scientists.’

But Ofqual has insisted that the change will ‘liberate’ teachers from repetitive practicals and offer more variety to pupils.

Under the proposals, there will be no separate exam specifically covering the lab work students have done, but instead there will be written exam questions that will draw on what students have learnt.

This will count for at least 15 per cent of the total marks available.

Each exam board offering science GCSEs will have to specify a minimum number of practical experiments a pupil must take part in and this number will be no less than eight in each individual science and 16 for combined science courses.

The move means that practical science will no longer be assessed through ‘controlled assessment’ - a type of coursework completed in the classroom.

Schools will also have to confirm that students have completed a range of experiments and each pupil will have to keep a record of their work.

Ofqual chief Glenys Stacey said: ‘There is unanimous agreement among scientists that practical work is central to good science qualifications.

‘We have consulted widely and have identified a new approach to the assessment of practical science that will liberate teachers to offer a wider variety of classroom experimentation and promote effective student progression to further study or employment.’

A document on the plans says that students who do not do practical work will still be able to achieve science GCSEs, but insists that these young people ‘are likely to find it challenging to achieve the highest grades without having the relevant practical experience’.

Confirmation of the changes comes in the wake of strong opposition to a similar overhaul of A-level science.

Morgan’s criticism will be the first major test of Ofqual’s independence after it was set up in 2010 as a non-ministerial government department.

Mrs Morgan said in a letter to Ofqual yesterday that while she appreciated the ‘reasoning’, she still harboured reservations. She wrote: ‘I continue to share the concerns of many in the science community that not having an assessment of practicals as part of the GCSE risks undermining the teaching of practicals in schools. ‘It is important you take all possible steps to mitigate that risk.’

She called for the situation to be monitored to ensure that pupils are still undertaking a range of practical activities.

She added: ‘I would also expect – as I am sure you are planning – arrangements to be put in place to evaluate the impact of the approach when it is implemented in schools: with a commitment to revisit the decision if the evidence shows the approach to have had a detrimental effect.’


Personalizing Learning for All Students Through Education Savings Accounts

Fifteen years ago Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Freidman noted that just because we finance education through government that does not mean government should be in charge of delivering education. “Education spending will be most effective,” Friedman explained, “if it relies on parental choice and private initiative—the building blocks of success throughout our society.”

Education savings accounts (ESAs) are a new method of fulfilling that goal by giving parents control over resources so they can direct education dollars where they belong: to high quality instruction, not bloated school bureaucracy.

The concept behind ESAs is simple. Parents who do not prefer a public school education simply promise not to enroll their child for the upcoming year, and 90 percent of what the state would have sent to the public school is deposited into that child’s ESA instead. Parents then use a type of “debit card” to pay for education services and supplies, including private school tuition and fees, online courses, tutoring, therapists, and testing programs. Importantly, leftover funds remain in the child’s ESA and can be used for future education expenses, such as college.

Arizona became the first state to enact an ESA program in 2011, followed by Florida in 2014. Both programs serve students identified as having special educational needs. Arizona has sinceexpanded its program to include students in or assigned to failing public schools, students from the foster care system, as well as children of Active Duty members of the military stationed within the state. Proposed expansions introduced this year would make students being raised by their grandparents, those who live on Indian reservations, and students on public school waiting lists eligible for Arizona ESAs. Gov. Rick Scott has also proposed $5 million in additional funding to expand Florida’s ESA program.

ESA programs in Arizona and Florida are enrolling nearly 2,600 students combined and are helping parents customize their children’s education to degrees few Americans could otherwise afford. Not only are parents more satisfied, students are thriving academically and socially for less than what it costs in a public school setting.

The ability to choose not simply where but how their children are educated results in high parental satisfaction with ESAs, according to follow up studies. Fully 100 percent of participating Arizona parents reported being satisfied with the program, with 71 percent reporting they are “very satisfied.” In contrast, just 43 percent of parents reported any level of satisfaction with their children’s previous public schools.

Research consistently shows how school choice benefits children and society generally. For example, disadvantaged students, including special needs, minority, and low-income children, who use scholarships to attend the schools their parents think are best perform better in reading and math, have higher high school graduation rates, college attendance rates, and higher college graduation rates than their peers who did not use scholarships.

In Arizona and Florida, ESAs are limited to families with special needs or circumstances, and at least nine other states are considering enacting similar ESA programs. But there is no good reason to limit ESAs to select student populations. Every student, regardless of his or her circumstances, should have the opportunity for personalized learning.

Parents empowered over their children’s education funding are free to seek a variety of education service providers. This has the important benefit of encouraging a more dynamic education marketplace. Since education providers are not constrained to work within a rigid, bureaucratic public school system, they are free to innovate and tailor their services to the needs of individual children.

The increased competition for students creates a big incentive for providers to offer effective, high quality programs at reasonable prices, or they risk losing students to other providers and going out of business.

ESAs are a student-centered funding mechanism that can personalize learning for all students by putting their parents in charge. This policy approach is a win-win for students, families, and taxpayers—and every state should consider a universal ESA program.


Grievance School

The story of what happened when a college decided it needed a token conservative

Of all the college towns fixed in the American mind as bastions of elite leftism, a Big Four stand out: Cambridge, Madison, Berkeley, and Boulder. It was no wonder, then, that the University of Colorado at Boulder received national attention, and raised many eyebrows, when it announced a couple of years back that it wanted to hire an identified conservative as a visiting faculty member — the beginning of a privately funded pilot program to bring conservative perspectives to its storied campus.

I ended up being the guinea pig for this unorthodox experiment. The University of Colorado at Boulder is probably no more liberal (and perhaps somewhat less so) than many of its peers, such as the University of Michigan, Ohio State, and UCLA. There are even a handful of excellent conservatives and libertarians scattered throughout its academic departments, though they still amount to well under 1 percent of the faculty.

Colorado’s flagship university, like the University of California at Berkeley, suffers more from the reputation of its crunchy host town than from its own academic profile. Boulder is a magnet for the vegan-hippie/affluent-leftist demographic, a place where the city council debates whether we should call our dogs and cats “animal companions” rather than “pets,” and a special “climate change” levy appears on electricity bills.

It was not unusual to encounter clouds of pot smoke during my early-morning jogs through the downtown Pearl Street mall, even before Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana in a referendum. The town has more bicycles than cars, and there were street protests against the opening of a Walmart.

Boulder has a rigidly protected greenbelt surrounding it, pushed by anti-growth, “quality of life” environmentalists back in the 1970s, and I loved to tell liberal audiences that conservatives wholly approve of the Boulder greenbelt because it makes the quarantine so much easier to enforce: Liberals trying to escape can be more readily rounded up by the tea-party pickets on the perimeter and sent back downtown with a fresh package of fair-trade organic kale.

But Boulder did have the spectacular Ward Churchill train wreck a decade ago. Despite his glaring mediocrity, Churchill had somehow become a tenured professor and the chairman of the ethnic-studies department. There he might have soldiered on in relative obscurity but for his comment that the victims of the 9/11 attacks deserved their fate, as “little Eichmanns” of the oppressive white patriarchy.

A controversy flared up in 2005 when another college invited him to be a visiting professor, and after a protracted process involving several lawsuits, Churchill was stripped of his tenure and fired — not for his extremist views, but for shoddy, plagiarized scholarship, which no one had bothered to scrutinize before he brought unwanted attention to the university.

Although the proposal to bring an explicitly conservative presence to Colorado’s flagship campus had been under active discussion for a long time, the Churchill affair proved to be a tipping point. It is a dubious idea, admittedly, to address the dearth of conservatives in academia with a deliberately politicized hiring process. The best remedy to leftward drift or narrow academic bias in the academy surely isn’t the introduction of self-conscious conservative counter-programming, which would remain on the margins in any case.

But it is tempting to paraphrase the axiom of that other Churchill (Winston) about democracy: that it’s the worst idea imaginable — except for all of the others that have ever been tried. So, with ever-accumulating evidence of bias against conservatives in academic hiring and advancement, perhaps an effort to introduce a conservative perspective in a high-profile way is an experiment that should be tried.

I insisted on one condition in accepting the appointment: that I be hosted by a regular academic department and teach departmental courses out of the catalogue, rather than be an ornament for an ad hoc or free-floating “conservative studies” program. Setting up a “conservative studies” program would ironically ratify the intellectual rot of the various “studies” departments that have sprung up over the years to appease the most radical, grievance-minded factions in academia.

“Conservatism” is not a discrete subject, like biology or English literature; as with liberalism, it is a point of view or disposition that informs nearly all the traditional disciplines. And in any case, even a conservative professor who feels like a Soviet dissident on today’s campuses ought to uphold the traditional model of teaching by presenting a full spectrum of views in the classroom, rather than engage in counter-indoctrination.

The political-science department and the environmental-studies program proved to be gracious and willing hosts, and for a common reason. Political science tends to be among the least politicized of the social sciences on account of the disparate methodological approaches in the field, though this is not to deny that most departments are dominated by liberals. (Several students told me of professors who began courses with statements such as, “If you’re a Republican, you won’t like my class.”)

As Allan Bloom pointed out years ago, “political science is the only discipline in the university (with the possible exception of the philosophy department) that has a philosophic branch,” and three recent presidents of the American Political Science Association (APSA) held doctorates in other fields.

Radical leftists often complain that political science is “too conservative.” But the horizons of political science are slowly narrowing, as my own experience demonstrated. Boulder’s political-science department, with nearly 40 full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty, was delighted to have me teach the full-year course sequence on constitutional law because, as the department chairman told me, “no one in the department teaches it any more.”

And therein lies a broader tale. At almost all major research universities, courses on the Constitution, and public law generally, have fallen out of fashion in political-science departments because these areas are an unpromising, backward-looking subfield for scholars understandably concerned with tenure and advancement. In fact, the APSA held a hand-wringing panel about this trend at its most recent annual meeting. Narrowly quantitative modeling exercises are dominating political science more and more. (In a happy postscript, positive student feedback about my con-law class has led one of the regular political-science faculty members to take up the course this year.)

The environmental-studies program, through which I taught an upper-division course called Free-Market Environmentalism, was similarly hospitable, which may come as a surprise to conservatives who rightly find most environmentalism an undrained swamp (er, wetland) of apocalyptic and anti-capitalist extremism.

To be sure, Boulder’s environmental-studies program leans to the left, and I had a few sharp but civil arguments (the most heated being over the issue of animal rights). But for the most part, its faculty and curriculum were not politicized or single-mindedly obsessed with climate change, and I was consistently impressed with the seriousness and academic rectitude of the department in the faculty meetings I attended and the classes I visited.

One day the program chairman brought up a request for the campus Public Interest Research Group to come to each class for ten minutes to register voters ahead of a special election that included several local environmental initiatives. The faculty not only rejected the idea vehemently, but one professor said, “I don’t care if it’s to save the planet — they’re not getting ten minutes of my classroom!”

The program is shorthanded for the number of students it attracts, which is one reason it welcomed me. In addition, the “free-market environmentalist” perspective of my course, which emphasizes the role of property rights, markets, and incentives, is both well known and respected in Boulder’s environmental-studies program, and there were other indications of a widening gulf between the academic community and environmental-advocacy groups. Several faculty members expressed frustration with the movement’s simple-minded opposition to genetically modified organisms, and one finalist for a faculty position made the telling remark in her hiring presentation, “This chart is from Greenpeace, but it’s actually pretty good.”

This openness to conservative views is part of a pattern. The silliest campus incidents usually don’t originate from faculty in traditional or science-based fields. Instead, they come disproportionately from explicitly politicized “studies” disciplines, activist-oriented “centers,” or disciplines with less rigorous intellectual content, such as creative writing and communications. (The most recent example of this is the professor of communications at the University of Michigan who wrote the now-famous “It’s OK to Hate Republicans” article for In These Times.)

Boulder has a women-and-gender-studies program that proudly advertised its rough equivalent of Ward Churchill, an “activist-in-residence” who is a community organizer without academic credentials of any kind. She is essentially a Naomi Klein clone, fixated on the evils of “neoliberalism.” Not even the sociology department, which leans far to the left, would make such an openly politicized non-academic appointment.

These microcosms of anti-academic radicalism become a macrocosm in several ways. It is ironic that an ideology that marks out colonialism as a preeminent sin of Western racism and oppression does not perceive its own academic imperialism. The spirit of militant leftism is not content to reside in the various “studies” fields, but has infiltrated and colonized most of the other departments in the social sciences and humanities.

The grievance Left’s insatiable will to power over other academic departments was seen in a demonstration last year at Dartmouth, when the identity-politics faction occupied the president’s office, demanding that there be a queer-studies course in every department, including, presumably, physics and chemistry. In most departments of political science, history, English, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, and sociology, you will find several professors whose main focus is the holy trinity of race, class, and gender, along with their close correlates, post-colonialist, postmodern, and post-structural analysis. (If “holy trinity” seems like an infelicitous metaphor, you could go with the Four Horsemen of the Leftist Apocalypse instead: patriarchy, colonialism, privilege, and Israel.)

At Boulder, the telltale markers show up for about one-third of the history, English, sociology, anthropology, and geography faculty members (geography seems to have been an early target of opportunity for politicized scholarship just about everywhere) but are much less common in political science and philosophy.

About the only Boulder departments in social sciences or humanities where you don’t find the holy trinity are economics and classics. I am tempted to propose the theorem that the presence of politically correct radicalism exists in inverse proportion to the emphasis on regression modeling or the serious study of ancient languages.

(Though perhaps not for long; the campus Left, taking note of its lack of infiltration in economics, sent protesters and hecklers to the latest annual meeting of the American Economics Association, demanding that the discipline include perspectives on gender and class.)

This encroachment of PC doctrine proceeds because it encounters no serious opposition. For one thing, the typical academic liberal, even in the hard sciences, sympathizes with the basic historical grievances of the Left about racism and sexism. But even those faculty members who think the race, class, and gender workhorses are badly worn out have better things to do than make feeble gestures of resistance and tend to regard the beachheads in their own departments with benign neglect.

I suspect that most professors of the race-class-gender catechism can sense that many of their colleagues don’t take them very seriously, which only serves to further fuel their righteous indignation, self-imposed sense of oppression, and mob mentality.

As you might imagine, the spillover of these radical obsessions leads to a surfeit of courses emphasizing the holy trinity. During the run-up to the registration period for the spring semester, the bulletin boards in the hallways at Boulder were festooned with flyers for new courses: Gender and Global Justice, Gender Politics and Global Activism, Transgender Studies, Gender and U.S. Politics: Protest, Polls, and Policy, and so on.

I’d estimate that flyers for holy-trinity courses accounted for 75 percent of the total flyers on display. Clearly the identity-politics course offerings are chasing after a limited number of interested students.

When I brought this overrepresentation to the attention of one administrator, I was curtly told that “they need to do this, because students are set in their ways.” (It is no coincidence that courses featuring the holy trinity’s oppression/privilege narrative are disproportionately represented in the university’s smorgasbord of a “core curriculum.”) Woe unto any department that doesn’t satisfy or genuflect fully to the braying mob.

The special target at Boulder last year was the philosophy department, which leans predominantly to the left or far left, but which had only four women among its 25-member faculty. This is typical of philosophy departments everywhere; as with physics and mathematics, women constitute only about 25 percent of current philosophy graduate students. (Larry Summers was unavailable for comment.)

It didn’t help that one or two male professors in the department had a genuine problem with sexual harassment and deserved dismissal.

This became a wedge for the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women to file a report with the Boulder administration condemning the entire department for creating a “hostile environment” — after a “site visit” to the campus that lasted only 18 hours. It was a shoddy report that the university’s administration should have returned to the APA as unacceptable.

Instead, the administration, facing a Colorado Open Records Act query, released the report and publicly endorsed it. That was when the fun really started. The administration had told the philosophy faculty to refrain from public comment about the matter, so I decided to defend the department in an article in the Daily Camera, Boulder’s town paper, and on a Colorado Public Radio broadcast. Why go in for micro-aggression when you can offer full-tilt-boogie macro-aggression?

“Inviting outside review by the American Philosophical Association’s (APA) Committee on the Status of Women,” I wrote, “was guaranteed to produce a finding as predictable as the Salem Committee to Investigate Witchcraft in 1691. . . . Barring more transparency, I think the presumption should be reversed: The Philosophy Department is the victim of the increasingly Star-Chamber atmosphere of campus political correctness.”

In other words, I was spoiling for a fight. And I didn’t have to wait long. First came a column from an aggrieved pair of students in the student paper that, to borrow a line from C. S. Lewis, was “full of the cocksureness which flattery breeds on ignorance, and quick to snarl or whimper at the first hint of criticism.”

It charged me with “bigotry” for failing to understand that “oppression is overrepresented on this campus,” a criticism bolstered with every clich√© of grievance leftism, including that “1 in 5 women are raped” and that “women earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man.” The writers of course invoked the favored term of the moment, “privilege.” Some students, they went on, would “feel uncomfortable or unsafe in [Hayward’s] classroom.”

But my biggest sin was having mocked the labeling scheme of gender and sexual identity — in a blog post from six months earlier, in which I had wondered about the alphabet soup of “what goes by the LGBTQRSTUW (or whatever letters have been added lately) ‘community.’”

Is this really such a risible comment? While Boulder generally employed the relatively compact LGBTQ, I learned on a visit to colleges in Maine that Bowdoin uses LGBTQIA, while down the road at Bates College it is LGBTIQQ. How long before The Daily Show offers LGBTQMST3K? The point is, the two students had to go to some trouble to find a source of offense by scouring my off-campus writing, since there were zero complaints about any content in my classrooms.

When your grievances against the world run so wide and deep, you can always find something. But the matter didn’t die there. The chairman of the Faculty Assembly, Professor Paul Chinowsky, decided to make the matter official, saying my off-campus remarks “bordered on hate speech” and suggesting that a formal censure from the Assembly, or suspension of my teaching duties, was in order.

The story quickly spread beyond the campus. The Denver Post editorialized that Chinowsky was overreacting, and followed up with an online poll of readers, who overwhelmingly agreed.

The matter was quietly dropped after, I was reliably informed, several administrators told Chinowsky that he risked making an ass of himself and the Faculty Assembly if he pressed the matter.

More interesting was the number of private communications I received from faculty members I had never met, whose politics, they assured me, were to the left or far left, but who expressed outrage at the ridiculousness of the whole affair.

Gradually coming into focus is the plain fact that today we have two universities — the traditional university, which, while mostly left-liberal, still resides on Planet Earth, and the grievance university, mired in the morass of postmodern obsession with oppression and privilege. You can still get a decent education, even from very liberal professors — I had several excellent ones as both an undergraduate and a graduate student — if they teach the subject matter reasonably, and I came to respect several far-left professors at Boulder who plainly held to traditional views about the importance of reason, objectivity, and truth.

But these traditional hallmarks of the university — one might call them the original holy trinity of higher education — are fighting words to the postmodern Left, which openly rejects reason, objectivity, and truth as tools of oppression. Bit by bit, the traditional university is losing ground to the politically correct university by an academic version of Gresham’s Law: Politicized scholarship drives out old-fashioned objective scholarship.

The self-refuting character of postmodern ideology — isn’t the statement that “reason, objectivity, truth, and language are ‘socially constructed’” itself “socially constructed”? — might provide hope that it will go the way of previous academic fads.

Will we look back 40 years from now on gender studies as a quaint and embarrassing misadventure like the Freudian obsession of the 1950s, which burst the bounds of psychology and cut a wide swath through many academic disciplines before fading of its own dead weight? Probably not, for two reasons.

First, the grievance industry has achieved critical mass, institutionalizing itself at the administrative level, especially in the domain of feminist “gender equity,” with a strong assist from the federal government’s tendentious application of Title IX and a copious flow of federal grants for “research” into politicized topics. The radical temper is typically knitted tightly together through a variety of campus “centers” and interdisciplinary programs. It’s hard to count all of the leftist programs at Boulder; examples include CLASP (the program in Culture, Language and Social Practice), the Gender Justice League, the Women’s Resource Center, the GLBTQ Resource Center, the Program in Peace and Conflict Studies (in the communications department?), as well as a student group whose sole purpose is making sure The Vagina Monologues stays in regular production in Boulder.

Second and more important, the Freudianism and Marxism of a generation ago were at least based on purported scientific theories, grounded in ideas about nature, however defective. You could argue with a Marxist. Today’s ruling campus leftist ideology is indistinguishable from nihilism and rejects any consideration of nature as the ground of anything. In fact, invoking human nature is one of the surest ways of calling down ferocious denunciation from the campus Left.

The irony of today’s campus Left is the real privilege of identity politics, whose practitioners shout down anyone who dares question their premises. The current temper of the campus Left is way beyond social utopianism; it demands ritual conformism worthy of the Soviet purge trials or Maoist struggle sessions. When the campus Left cries out “Privilege!” it means “Shut up and conform.”

Perhaps the most revealing recent episode involved University of Iowa president Sally Mason, who felt compelled to issue an apology after she improvidently used the term “human nature” in connection with a discussion of campus sexual-assault policy last year. As the Associated Press reported: President Sally Mason said she was dismayed by the reports of sexual assaults. She said “the goal would be to end that, to never have another sexual assault. That’s probably not a realistic goal just given human nature, and that’s unfortunate. . . . ”

Criticism erupted over the phrase that includes “human nature.” Mason said she’s been told by several people in the campus community that her remark was hurtful. She said she was “very, very sorry for any pain that my words might have caused.”

Between the stifling political correctness of the radical narrative, the increasingly esoteric hyperspecialization that renders boring much of the social sciences and humanities, and the out-of-control cost of higher education, it is doubtful that the university in its current form will survive.

The number of students majoring in the social sciences (excluding economics) and the humanities has fallen by two-thirds over the last generation. At this rate, eventually many of our leading research universities will bifurcate into a marginal fever swamp of radicalism, whose majors will be unfit for employment at Starbucks, and a larger campus dedicated to science and technology. As Horace put it, you can expel nature with a pitchfork, but it always comes back.

There have been a few hopeful signs of resistance recently, including Harvard evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker’s public criticism of a demand for Harvard to discontinue use of soda machines made by an Israeli company, and the American Historical Association’s rejection of several anti-Israel resolutions at its latest annual meeting. Add to this the block of Harvard Law School professors protesting the erosion of due-process rights by the federal government’s Title IX demands on universities, along with the unraveling of the campus “rape culture” narrative following Rolling Stone’s debacle of an article about the University of Virginia.

And a group of prominent social scientists led by Jonathan Haidt and Phil Tetlock recently published a widely noted paper decrying the absence of conservative perspectives in social science. Which brings me back to the starting point — Boulder’s deliberate attempt to broaden its ideological spectrum. While the idea of a “visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy” can be criticized on a number of grounds, the administration deserves credit for persevering with it. There aren’t many other major research universities openly attempting to broaden their intellectual diversity.

A century ago, the Cambridge classicist F. M. Cornford wrote that the first rule of faculty governance is “Nothing should ever be done for the first time” (an early version of the environmental “precautionary principle”!), and the University of California’s Clark Kerr observed that “few institutions are so conservative as the universities about their own affairs while their members are so liberal about the affairs of others.” So Boulder’s administration deserves great credit for embracing this initiative with genuine enthusiasm, and for being unfailingly supportive of me throughout my year in residence.

Beyond this initiative, Boulder’s administration shows other signs of recognition that academia’s reputation deserves some repair. There was no support there for the idea, popular on some campuses, that “trigger warnings” should be included in course syllabi. The administration closed down the campus on April 20 last year to prevent a mass marijuana smoke-in, as had occurred on that date in the past, despite recreational pot’s now being legal in Colorado. No one disturbed the 3,000 American flags that the College Republicans placed on the main quad lawn on September 11.

But these glimmers of reform are insufficient to the scale of the decay. Universities won’t begin to turn away from the intellectual corruption of radicalism until some kind of serious, organized opposition arises. A few isolated or token conservatives scattered in various departments, or visiting in a high-profile way, as I did at Boulder, won’t make much of a mark.

To speak out alone against the relentless and insatiable demands of grievance leftism is to risk losing out on promotion and advancement, even if you already have tenure. Academic conservatives — along with disaffected moderates and liberals — need to emulate the campus Left and organize effective counter-programming, with their own centers and topical curricula, to contest the intellectual ground on campus.

The thin ranks of academic conservatives need a campus rallying point, and a guerrilla mentality to match the determination of the Left. As Hemingway said of writers, conservative faculty ought to stick together like a pack of wolves.


Tuesday, March 03, 2015

UM’s tolerance problem

Jonah Goldberg

I once asked my late father if he had any experiences with anti-Semitism. There weren’t many. Although that was probably in part because of his scoring methodology. The Irish kids who beat up the Jewish kids in his Bronx neighborhood didn’t do so because they were anti-Semitic, but because “they had to fight somebody,” as my dad put it. Today, such behavior would probably be called a hate crime.

So I suppose that’s progress.

He did tell me that the first time someone said to him “Don’t Jew me” was during his freshman year at the University of Michigan. He was more shocked than offended. He couldn’t believe someone he was friends with could be so stupid.

Today we call such stupidity “insensitivity.” Whether that counts as progress is an open question.

I visited my father’s alma mater for the first time last week. The University of Michigan’s chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom invited me to give a speech. A banner warning the “thought police” of my imminent arrival was torn down, presumably by the irony-impaired thought police.

The university has been in the news recently for such shenanigans and worse. For instance, student Omar Mahmood, a columnist for both the Michigan Daily and the conservative Michigan Review, was fired from the Daily for writing a parody piece for the Review about the oppression of the “left-handyd.” In the piece, Mahmood’s narrator takes a comment from a “white cis-gendered hetero upper-class man” as microaggression. “Behind his words I sensed a patronizing sneer, as if he expected me to be a spokespersyn for my whole race. He offered his hand to help me up, and I thought to myself how this might be a manifestation of the patriarchy patronizing me.”

The humor-deficient editors of the Michigan Daily were not amused. They claimed the column had created a “hostile environment” because one of the editors felt “threatened” by Mahmood’s mockery of microaggressions. He was ultimately fired. Later, Mahmood’s dorm doorway was pelted with eggs and festooned with profanity-laced notes and, oddly, a picture of Satan.

The administration’s efforts to find the perpetrators appear lackadaisical compared to O.J. Simpson’s pursuit of the real killers. Of course, if Mahmood, a Muslim, had been attacked for something related to his religious faith, you can bet the administration would go to DEFCON 1.

That’s because the University of Michigan wants to be an intolerance-free zone — so long as it’s intolerance of things the administration finds intolerable.

To that end, the school rolled out its Inclusive Language Campaign. It contains a list of taboo phrases that no one should use lest they give offense. The campaign is intended to be “educational, not regulatory,” though some students report that they’ve been asked to sign a pledge vowing to avoid using such phrases as “ghetto,” “that’s so gay,” “that’s retarded” and “tranny.”

Students are also told they shouldn’t say things like “I want to die” — say, after doing badly on a test — because such language can “diminish the experience of those who have attempted or committed suicide.” I would have thought those who have committed suicide would be immune to such concerns.

Also on the list is any effort to turn Jew into a verb. So, roughly 75 years after my dad was told by an idiot “Don’t Jew me,” the battle continues.

I have no problem with teaching students to have good manners. I’m less convinced that the PC priesthood is winning the war on intolerance. It’s absolutely true that majorities owe minorities respect. What’s lost is any appreciation of the fact that minorities owe majorities respect too. That’s what Mahmood was getting at.

Instead, we are teaching young people that being offended is an ideological priority. Indeed, the coin of the campus realm today is victimhood, grievance and offense. An entirely well-intentioned — and syntactically accurate — use of the wrong word is an invitation to being called a racist, homophobe, sexist, etc. (while actual disagreement is tantamount to heresy). The burden of proof then falls on the accused, a burden that often can’t be met absent re-education. And for the offended “victim,” a stupid comment or even a harmless newspaper column becomes a source of trauma. Yes, words can hurt. But teaching these delicate flowers to make too big a deal out of them will likely do more lasting damage.


Kangaroo courts on campus: ‘martial law against men’

The campus rape panic is destroying due process

In 2011, the US Department of Education’s assistant for civil rights, Russlynn H Ali, wrote to universities across America instructing them that they must aggressively investigate all allegations of sexual assault on campus, regardless of whether the police chose to do so.

The directive, now infamously referred to as the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter, stated that if university disciplinary procedures failed to pursue allegations of sexual assault, they would be in violation of US equality legislation and would be stripped of government funds.

The directive, fuelled by a popular panic around an alleged ‘rape culture’ on campus, triggered a proliferation of a Kafkaesque tribunals and kangaroo courts across US universities. Four years on, dozens of railroaded male students are suing their Alma Maters for breaching their constitutional right to a fair trial, and in October last year, 28 Harvard Law professors published an open letter stating that the new procedures ‘lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process [and] are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused’.

So far, so American. Except, astonishingly, there is now a drive to impose this discredited system of parallel justice on to campuses in the UK. This year, the End Violence Against Women commission (EVAW) - which includes the Fawcett Society, Rape Crisis England and Wales, the Women’s Institute, Amnesty International UK and the TUC - has published a legal briefing warning universities they could be breaking the law if they refuse to investigate sexual-assault allegations in the belief that such investigations should be left to the police.

Their argument is essentially the same as the one in the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter – that because under equality law universities have a responsibility to protect students and staff from gender-based discrimination, they are required to investigate such allegations, even if the evidence would not support a criminal investigation. Or, as the EVAW briefing puts it, ‘disciplinary procedures should not apply a criminal burden of proof’.
Must-reads from the past week

The campaigners’ attitudes to the rights of accused male students were spelled out by one of the professors leading the charge. Professor Nicole Westmarland wrote in the UK Telegraph‘s Women section: ‘The criminal process can take months. If universities refuse to investigate or take action during this time, then the victim is forced to live and study alongside their attacker… Our students cannot be left to study in a culture of fear and misogyny.’ Due process just takes too damn long - much easier just to find the student guilty as charged and kick him out, right?

The campus anti-rape campaigners have already shown their penchant for mob justice in the case of then Oxford Union president Ben Sullivan. Sullivan was subjected to an aggressive resignation campaign - led by Oxford University Student Union’s vice president for women - after he was accused of rape by two female students. Following a police investigation, not only was there insufficient evidence to charge Sullivan, it appears one of his accusers knew she had made a false allegation against him.

But it’s not just the campaigners’ disregard for due process that is of concern - there’s also the quality of the evidence they’re using to justify the reforms in the first place.

In the US, hysteria has been fuelled by the claim that one in five female students will be a victim of rape or sexual assault while attending university. But the statistic has been repeatedly thrown into question and more reputable research suggests that closer to 1-in-53 college women are victims of rape or sexual assault - obviously still far too high, but nowhere near a figure that justifies the idea of a ‘rape culture’ on campus.

Here in the UK, we have our own cottage industry of advocacy research and ideologically driven journalism that’s been pumping out alarming and distorted statistics about campus sexual assault. The EVAW campaign was launched alongside a series of articles in Telegraph Women, with the shocking headline: ‘A third of female students in Britain have endured a sexual assault or unwanted advances at university.’

Let’s leave aside just what constitutes ‘unwanted advances’ - being asked out by someone you don’t fancy? For much later, the statement is qualified by ‘most assaults were more minor offences, including groping’. The headlines and ensuing articles also downplayed how the survey found that one in eight male students had been subjected to groping or unwanted advances and that one per cent of students of either gender had been raped at university. The Telegraph does not provide a link to the report, so it’s not possible to explore the claims in more detail.

Just days afterwards, the same journalist published another article on the predatory tendency of male students – this time in Telegraph Men – stating that ‘a third of male university students would rape a woman if there were no consequences’. The implication that a third of the UK’s male student body would rape a woman if they could get away with it, published in a respected national broadsheet, is based on a study of exactly 73 students at an American university.

But the group that’s most committed to vilifying the UK’s male students is the National Union of Students itself. The key report the EVAW uses to justify its demands is the 2010 NUS survey, ‘Hidden Marks’, which openly states its ideological agenda: ‘The survey did not ask about violence experienced by male students. Whilst we recognise that male students have a heightened risk of being a victim of violent crime, and can be subject to the full range of behaviour surveyed in this research, the primary aim of this research was to explore women students’ experiences, focusing particularly, although not exclusively, on men’s behaviour towards women and the impact of gendered violence on women.’ Glad that’s clear, then.

Since ‘Hidden Marks’, the NUS has relentlessly peddled the idea that there is a widespread climate of sexism against female students, producing a series of high-profile reports, consultations and surveys, including a Lad Culture Summit last February, complete with live updates by the Guardian.

The most recent of these surveys, which claimed harassment of female students ‘is rife on campus’, found that 37 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men who responded said they had faced unwelcome sexual advances, while 36 per cent of women who took part said they had experienced unwanted sexual comments about their body, compared with 16 per cent of men. Once again, as with the Telegraph survey and ‘Hidden Marks’, if a third to 50 per cent of those experiencing sexism are male students, why is this just being presented as an issue of male perpetrators and female victims?

Meanwhile, from the banning of ‘Blurred Lines’ and lads’ mags on campus, to relentless social media propaganda such as the Hollaback video and ‘consent classes’ for new students, campus culture increasingly seems to find young male sexuality inherently pathological.

Sexual harassment and assault on campus is a real problem - victims must be taken seriously and know that they can expect justice to be done. But that is not what these campaigns are about.

Back in 2011, when first reporting on the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter, American feminist Christina Hoff Sommers warned: ‘The new regulations should be seen for what they really are. They are not an enlightened new procedure for protecting students from crime. They are a declaration of martial law against men, justified by an imagined emergency.’

These ideologically driven campaigns by the NUS and others have fostered a climate primed for witch hunts and mob justice. In this context, the last thing universities should be doing is undermining due process.


Australia: Taxman takes aim at dodgy colleges

DOOR-TO-DOOR selling, cold calling and other aggressive marketing tactics helped two private colleges sign up more than 10,000 students to expensive taxpayer-funded Business Diplomas in 2013, many of which will never be completed.

Careers Australia Education Institute, a subsidiary of Acquire Learning, signed up 6,165 students to the popular course in 2013 — an extra 5,266 students from the year before — for a total of $51,227,115 worth in government loans.

That represented a 586 per cent increase in students on 2012.

At the same time, the Australian College of Training & Employment, trading as Evocca College, signed up 4,047 students for $39,127,500 worth of government loans. That represented an additional 1,858 students on the prior year, or a 118 per cent increase.

Only two other private colleges came close: Productivity Partners Pty Ltd, trading as Captain Cook Colleges, signed up 736 students for $6,064,000 worth of loans, while Study Group Australia Pty Ltd, trading as Taylors UniLink, signed up 330 students for $3,259,670 worth of loans.

The Business Diploma gold rush highlights just part of the bigger picture, with growing signs of a crackdown on the current sector arrangements which allow private colleges to make massive profits through state and federal government funding.

A Senate inquiry into the vocational education and training sector will table its first interim report today. The report is expected to raise concerns about the vast profits being made by private companies, with public hearings in coming months tipped to focus on the economics of allowing for-profit vocational training.

According to a University of Sydney study, some of Australia’s largest training companies have reported profit margins of more than 50 per cent.

Figures released by Assistant Training Minister Simon Birmingham last week revealed the government spent $1.615 billion in VET FEE-HELP loans last year for 189,000 students at 254 training providers, representing a blowout of $315 million.

Modelling by the Grattan Institute estimates 40 per cent of those loans will never be repaid, as many debtors’ salaries won’t reach the repayment threshold of $53,345, meaning taxpayers will foot the bill.

Education Department data shows only 26 per cent of the 30,595 students who enrolled in vocational education and training FEE-HELP courses in 2011 finished their course within three years, with just 7 per cent completing their online course.

Senator Birmingham last week announced audits of 23 colleges to investigate “allegations of unscrupulous marketing and other practices intended to exploit” the VET FEE-HELP system.

In its submission to the Senate inquiry, the Redfern Legal Centre highlighted the case of one of its clients, ‘John’, a Disability Support Pensioner who lives in public housing in Surry Hills in inner Sydney.

John is from a non-English speaking background and suffers from acute mental illness, including schizophrenia and trauma-related illness.

“In early 2014, a door-to-door marketing agent, acting on behalf of a [registered training organisation], knocked on John’s front door,” the Centre wrote.

“The marketing agency was very pushy and kept telling John he would receive a free laptop and tablet — all he needed to do was sign up for this ‘free government funded course’.”

According to the Centre, John was enrolled in two different ‘business management’ style courses with two separate RTOs. With the help of his social worker, John found a few months later that he would be liable for more than $10,000 in course fees.

“John’s story highlights the impact of misleading and deceptive marketing practices, which target and exploit vulnerable consumers,” the Centre wrote. “Unfortunately, John’s case is far from uncommon.”


Monday, March 02, 2015

The campus of hate: How terrorist butcher Emwazi's murderous alter-ego was created in the heart of Britain's capital city

So we finally know who was behind the executioner’s mask; those merciless eyes glaring defiantly at us and his victims; that chillingly familiar London accent; the Timberland boots underneath the black robes, the arm wielding a serrated dagger.

They belong to a young man who, once upon a time, embraced British life to the full.

Mohammed Emwazi, 26, was a member of a local five-a-side-football team. He supported Manchester United, wore Nike-branded clothing, listened to music by pop group S Club 7, attended a Church of England school and was the beneficiary of a British university education.

Could his chilling reincarnation as Jihadi John, the psychopath who beheaded Western hostages, be a greater betrayal of everything this country has done for him and his family?

Mohammed Emwazi might have been born in Kuwait. But his murderous alter ego was made in Britain.

With hindsight, the road to Raqqa — the Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold — was clearly signposted.

He grew up in the streets around Ladbroke Grove, in the inner suburbs of West London — an area that has become a breeding ground for Islamic militancy and home-grown terror suspects.

He was befriended by Cage, the so-called campaign and human rights group, whose leading light is someone who has expressed support for the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate and for the principle of death by stoning for adultery.

And, perhaps most significantly of all, he went to the University of Westminster, where, according to a report published yesterday, no fewer than 22 events have been held since March 2012, providing a platform for speakers with a history of extremist views or involvement with extremist organisations.

Proof, if any were needed, of how our much cherished, and deeply entrenched, tradition of free speech is being abused and corrupted on our own shores.

Still, those who knew him during his adolescent years could be forgiven for failing to understand that a man given so much by Britain could commit such atrocities against the West.

Consider how much this country did give Jihadi John. His parents arrived in London in 1993 with their son and his younger sister, now a young professional with a bright future ahead of her, in the aftermath of the Gulf War.

Four more siblings would be born in the UK. During those early years, the family were happily ensconced in West London, in an area bordering the wealthy and influential Notting Hill.

His father ran a taxi firm and his mother brought up the children. The Emwazis frequently moved, swapping one rented property for another in the affluent Maida Vale area.

Emwazi wore Western clothing and became popular with his classmates at St Mary Magdalene C of E primary school in Maida Vale before enrolling at Quintin Kynaston, a successful academy in St John’s Wood.

‘He was a diligent, hard-working, lovely young man; responsible, quiet,’ recalled a former teacher. ‘He was everything you could want a student to be.’

Emwazi did well enough in his A-levels to gain a place on the computer programming course at the University of Westminster in 2006.

Campuses across the country have faced questions about their links between their student unions and extremists. But few could have more controversial track records than Westminster.

Only this week, the university was forced to postpone an invitation to radical cleric Haitham al-Haddad — who was due to address the Islamic Society — due to ‘increased sensitivity and security concerns’.

Haddad serves as a judge for the Islamic Sharia Council and is chairman of the Muslim Research and Development Foundation.

This organisation says it is ‘devoted to the articulation of classical Islamic principles in a manner that provides a platform for Islam to be the cure of all humanity’s ills.’

Al-Haddad has been branded homophobic and is alleged to have described homosexuality as a ‘scourge’ and ‘a criminal act’.

He has also stated that a ‘man should not be questioned why he hit his wife, because that is something between them’.

He has also claimed that Jews are descended from pigs.

The proposed visit by such a divisive — and poisonous — figure at the university was far from unusual.

This was laid bare in a report by the Henry Jackson Society, a think tank which works alongside Student Rights, an organisation set up to combat extremism in universities.

Only last year, an equally unsavoury figure, Murtaza Khan, was invited to speak at the Islamic Society’s annual dinner. The title of his speech was ‘The Day of Judgment’.

Khan has a history of encouraging communal division, once asking: ‘For how long do we have to see our mothers, sisters, and daughters having to uncover themselves before these filthy non-Muslim doctors?’

He has also encouraged British Muslims to turn their back on our customs and rituals.

On his website, he says: ‘...any of their pagan rituals and celebrations... it is not befitting for the Muslim to participate in them … this is what you call a contamination, an epidemic.’

In 2012, the Student Rights group found a number of videos featuring convicted terrorists and members of terrorist organisations overseas (in some cases with slide shows of insurgents involved in attacks) had been shared with students at the university via Facebook.

Four years ago, a student connected to the radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir was elected president of the Students’ Union. His vice-president also had links to the group, raising concerns that the union had been taken over by extremists.

‘Universities across the country, the University of Westminster in particular, are being targeted by radical recruiters,’ said former Westminster student and Student Rights campaigner Raheem Kassam this week. ‘They tried it with me and they try it with any Muslim.

‘I remember very vividly how I would get cornered by three or four Somali guys — students in class with me who were dressed in non-Western clothing — and they would say I must come along to the Islamic Society meetings, otherwise I am not a proper Muslim.

‘When you’re 18 years old and a practising Muslim you feel inclined to go. I went along and it absolutely disgusted me.

'I once walked into a meeting of the Islamic Society where they were clapping and cheering the events of 9/11.’

Yesterday, the University of Westminster Islamic Society (ISOC) posted a Facebook message denying it had any links with Emwazi.

‘The ISOC would like to clarify it has nothing to do with an individual who has come to be known as Jihadi John who recently identified as Mohammed Emwazi. It is not associated with any extremist organisations and that should be obvious and not need stating.’

Shortly after he graduated in 2009, Mohammed Emwazi boarded a flight — with two ‘close friends’ — for Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian capital.

They claimed they were going on safari but there was a much more sinister reason for the trip, it transpires.

On landing, the trio were met by border police, denied entry to the country, and put on a plane back to Amsterdam.

It was here in the basement of Schiphol airport that Emwazi later claimed he was interrogated by MI5 who accused him of being a terrorist planning to join the Al Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

He strenuously denied the accusation, insisting he had only been a tourist heading for safari and bragging that he would not take a designer Rocawear sweater in his luggage if he was intending to join up with Somalian rebels.

In emails to campaign group Cage, he said the MI5 agent, ‘knew everything about me, where I lived, what I did, the people I hanged around with.’

The agent, he said, then tried to recruit him before finally handing him a piece of paper with the agent’s number on it and the words ‘We’ll see you in London mate.’

And over the next four years or so the security services and police questioned him or members of his family on a dozen occasions in an attempt to ‘to turn him.’  ‘Harassment’, Emwazi called it.

‘The constant stream of extremist speakers and material uncovered since 2011 [at Westminster University] and the fact that Emwazi is alleged to have travelled to Tanzania to join Al-Shabaab after his graduation shows he was very likely to have studied in an atmosphere highly conducive to radicalisation,’ said Students Rights director Rupert Sutton yesterday.

‘It is vital that other institutions learn from his example, and ensure they are actively challenging extremism wherever it appears on their campuses.’  In fact, there can be little doubt Emwazi was en route for Somalia.

Court documents relating to a Home Office control order — supposed to keep a terror suspect under close supervision — reveal that Mohammed Emwazi was part of an established network of extremists around Ladbroke Grove, most of them well known to the security services.

A number have gone to fight in Syria, but others trained with Al-Shabaab in Somalia or were involved in the ‘provision of funds and equipment to Somalia to undertake terrorism- related activity.’

Emwazi also moved in the same circles as Ibrahim Magag, a Somali-born former train conductor from London involved in ‘financial support for Al Qaeda’.

At the flat in West London where Emwazi most recently lived with his parents and two of his sisters, a neighbour said: ‘They are strange people — not like other people around here. He [Emwazi] would not say hello — he was unfriendly.’

Emwazi vanished sometime in 2013. His parents reported him missing after three days but claimed it was four months before police arrived on their doorstep and told them they had information he was in Syria.

His father, 51, told police they were wrong, that his son was in Turkey, helping refugees from Syria.

The family are said to continue to deny that he is the IS masked executioner, who first introduced himself to the world on August 19 last year. In the now infamous video, he was dressed from head to toe in black.

Next to him, kneeling in the desert terrain was American journalist James Foley, who was about to become his first victim.

Mohammed Emwazi may have wielded the dagger that killed him and five other Western hostages — but let’s be in no doubt that he learned the hate for non-Muslims which consumes him on British shores.


Outrage as six-year-old boy is forced to eat lunch alone behind a screen after his parents dropped him off late to school

Parents have expressed their outrage at how a six-year-old boy was forced to eat his school lunch alone behind a screen after his parents dropped him off late.

Lincoln Elementary School in Grants Pass, Oregon has been forced to change its tardiness policy after an image of the punishment was shared thousands of times on Facebook - sparking hundreds of complaints.

In the photograph, Hunter Cmelo, a first grader at the school, can be seen sitting alone behind a cardboard divider at a cafeteria table. Close by is a cup with a large letter 'D' for 'detention'.

His grandmother, Laura Hoover, shared the image to her Facebook page on Wednesday.  'This is my grandson, Hunter. He's a little first grader,' she wrote. 'His momma's car sometimes doesn't like to start right up. Sometimes he's a couple of minutes late to school.

'Yesterday, he was 1 minute late and this is what his momma discovered they do to punish him! They have done this to him 6 times for something that is out of his control! They make a mockery of him in front of the other students.'

She said that his mother found Hunter crying and took him home. His parents said they were devastated when they found out what their son was going through.

'They are shaming him for something that's not in his control,' his father, Mark Cmelo, told KOIN6. 'It is our fault that he is late.'

His mother, Nicole Garloff, said the punishment has left her son anxious about going to school, and that a few days ago, he began 'flipping out' because they were running late.

She said that she has experienced car troubles and suffers from osteoporosis, which can set her back in the mornings.  'It causes a lot of pain and in the mornings it's especially hard for me to get going,' she said. 

The boy is unable to ride the school bus because they live within a mile of the school, but they are unable to walk because the road is too busy.

School superintendent John Higgins and principal Missy Fitzsimmons started receiving threatening calls after the photo was shared on Facebook, according to Newswatch 12.

Higgins told the channel he believes the system gave students a chance to catch up on missed work.

The 'protocol was communicated to parents via newsletter and is intended to provide the students with an above average level of tardiness, supervised additional learning time in a non-distracting setting,' the district said in a statement. 'It was never intended to isolate or stigmatize students.'

The principal immediately reached out to the parents after receiving complaints. They met on Thursday and agreed to stop using the partition as a punishment.

'We are pleased to report the meeting was productive,' the district said. 'The parents' concerns were politely discussed and, ultimately, the issues were resolved to the satisfaction of both parents and the school. All parties involved believe that an appropriate resolution has been reached.


Is This Any Way to Reform Education?

As kids break free of school for the weekend, the House is scheduled to vote Friday on the next iteration of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the 2001 legislation that replaced the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and exponentially expanded the reach of the federal government into the classroom.

Republicans introduced the Student Success Act (SSA), a bill aimed at scaling back Uncle Sam’s increasingly outsized role in the classroom. But two major groups that are in agreement more often than not – Heritage Action (affiliated with the Heritage Foundation) and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) – have come down on opposite sides of this bill, with AEI backing it and Heritage not. As is often the case with legislation aimed at reining in a runaway government, the core issue comes down to whether the bill goes far enough in returning the federal government to its constitutionally authorized role in education. Incidentally, that role is “none.”

According to AEI, SSA offers several “fixes” to NCLB, including eliminating or consolidating 65 programs, promoting school choice by allowing Title I funds to follow low-income children to the district or charter school parents choose, repealing adequate yearly progress (AYP, which, as we’ve previously noted, has done more harm than good), eliminating the “highly qualified teacher” mandates, and preventing the federal government from pressing states to adopt Common Core or other national academic standards.

Heritage, however, holds that some of the bill’s claims are misleading. For example, according to Heritage, those 65 programs are not eliminated but only consolidated, and the consolidation does not mean spending is reduced. Similarly, while AYP disappears, the requirement that states develop state-level accountability structures does not; instead, SSA “direct[s] the state to establish a single uniform assessment, limiting the ability of local schools to determine their own curriculum.” And while Title I funds can follow the child to district and charter schools, they may not be used for private schools.

Further, Heritage notes of the SSA, “The suggestion that Congress needs a 616-page bill to reduce the federal education imprint is implausible.” Siding with those who believe SSA doesn’t go far enough, Heritage supports the A-PLUS (Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success) option, referring to an amendment offered by Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) that “enables states the flexibility to completely opt out [of federal education programs] and dictate how to best utilize federal education funding.”

AEI is less than convinced by A-PLUS, however. Max Eden and Michael Q. McShane explain that the actual wording of the amendment may encourage, not curb, federal involvement as A-PLUS opt-out requests could require the subjective approval of the secretary of education. Barack Obama’s current secretary, Arne Duncan, isn’t exactly someone conservatives should trust.

If the committee vote is any indication, the Student Success Act will pass the House on party lines and head to the Senate. Already, Obama threatened to veto the bill. He claims it “abdicates the historic federal role in elementary and secondary education of ensuring the educational progress of all of America’s students.”

Obama must have studied Common Core history. Yes, the federal government has a history of interfering in education, but a “historic role” doesn’t mean it’s a constitutional one. In truth, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was first passed only in 1965, and the Department of Education didn’t become a Cabinet-level agency until 1980. Shockingly (ahem), all this “historic” involvement has failed to yield the stellar results promised.

Perhaps America’s Founders were actually onto something when they didn’t delegate to Congress the power to regulate education and, by the Tenth Amendment, reserved it to the states and the people. Of course, when Washington runs the classroom, this is a “historic” fact many students will never hear – and that suits politicians just fine.