Friday, May 22, 2015

Parents furious over school’s plan to teach gender spectrum, fluidity

Todd Starnes

One of the nation’s largest public school systems is preparing to include gender identity to its classroom curriculum, including lessons on sexual fluidity and spectrum – the idea that there’s no such thing as 100 percent boys or 100 percent girls.

Fairfax County Public Schools released a report recommending changes to their family life curriculum for grades 7 through 12. The changes, which critics call radical gender ideology, will be formally introduced next week.

“The larger picture is this is really an attack on nature itself – the created order,” said Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council.

“Human beings are created male and female. But the current transgender ideology goes way beyond that. They’re telling us you can be both genders, you can be no gender, you can be a gender that you make up for yourself. And we’re supposed to affirm all of it.”

The plan calls for teaching seventh graders about transgenderism and tenth graders about the concept that sexuality is a broader spectrum --- but it sure smells like unadulterated sex indoctrination.

Get a load of what the kids are going to be learning in middle school:

“Students will be provided definitions for sexual orientation terms heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality; and the gender identity term transgender,” the district’s recommendations state. “Emphasis will be placed on recognizing that everyone is experiencing changes and the role of respectful, inclusive language in promoting an environment free of bias and discrimination.”

Eighth graders will be taught that individual identity “occurs over a lifetime and includes the component of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“Individual identity will also be described as having four parts – biological gender, gender identity (includes transgender), gender role, and sexual orientation (includes heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual).”

The district will also introduce young teenagers to the “concept that sexuality is a broader spectrum.” By tenth grade, they will be taught that one’s sexuality “develops throughout a lifetime.”

“Emphasis will be placed on an understanding that there is a broader, boundless, and fluid spectrum of sexuality that is developed throughout a lifetime,” the document states. “Sexual orientation and gender identity terms will be discussed with focus on appreciation for individual differences.”

As you might imagine – parents are freaking out.

“Parents need to protect their kids from this assault,” said Andrea Lafferty, president of Traditional Values Coalition. “Who could imagine that we are in this place today – but we are.”

Last week, the school board voted to include gender identity in the district’s nondiscrimination policy – a decision that was strongly opposed by parents.

Lafferty, who led the opposition to the nondiscrimination policy, warned that the district is moving towards the deconstruction of gender.

“At the end of this is the deconstruction of gender - absolutely,” she told me. “The majority of people pushing (this) are not saying that – but that clearly is the motivation.”

School Board spokesman John Torre told the Washington Times the proposed curriculum changes have nothing to do with last week’s vote to allow boys who identity as girls to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice.

He would have us believe it was purely coincidental.

To make matters worse, Lafferty contends parents will not be able to opt their children out of the classes because the lessons will be a part of the mandatory health curriculum.

However, Torre told me that parents will indeed be able to opt out of those classes “including the sexual orientation and gender identity lessons.”

I must confess that I’m a bit old school on sex education. I believe that God created male and female. My reading of the Bible does not indicate there were dozens of other options.
“They are not being forthright with the information,” Lafferty said. “They are not telling people the truth.  They are bullying parents. They are intimidating and they are threatening.”

I must confess that I’m a bit old school on sex education. I believe that God created male and female. My reading of the Bible does not indicate there were dozens of other options.

However, I’m always open to learning new things – so I asked the school district to provide me with the textbooks and scientific data they will be using to instruct the children that there are dozens and dozens of possible genders.

Here’s the reply I received from Torre:

“Lessons have not been developed for the proposed lesson objectives,” he stated. “Because of the need to develop lessons, the proposed objectives would not be implemented until fall 2016.”

In other words – they don’t have a clue.

And the Family Research Council’s Sprigg said there’s a pretty good reason why they can’t produce a textbook about fluidity.

“It’s an ideological concept,” he told me. “It’s not a scientific one.”

He warned that Fairfax County’s planned curriculum could be harmful to students.

“It’s only going to create more confusion in the minds of young people who don’t need any further confusion about sexual identity,” he said.

The board will introduce the changes on May 21. Lafferty said she hopes parents will turn out in force to voice their objections.


Columbia students claim Greek mythology needs a trigger warning

“Not far from the walls of Enna, there is a deep pool,” begins Ovid’s version of the rape of Persephone. “While [Persephone] was playing in this glade, and gathering violets or radiant lilies, while with girlish fondness she filled the folds of her gown, and her basket, trying to outdo her companions in her picking, [Pluto], almost in a moment, saw her, prized her, took her: so swift as this, is love.”

The Greek myth has been recounted for thousands of years in hundreds of languages, scores of countries and countless works of art. It’s considered a cultural touchstone for Western civilization: a parable about power, lust and grief.

Now, however, it could be getting a treatment it’s never had before: a trigger warning.

In an op-ed in the student newspaper, four Columbia University undergrads have called on the school to implement trigger warnings — alerts about potentially distressing material — even for classics like Greek mythology or Roman poetry.

“Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ is a fixture of Lit Hum, but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom,” wrote the four students, who are members of Columbia’s Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board. “These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.”

The April 30 op-ed has stirred debate on campus and online.

“Grow up, open up, care less about your identity and more about your passions,” wrote one of hundreds of commenters. “Such an insufferable breed of self-centered Care Bears.”

The op-ed comes at a time of intense debate about trigger warnings, a term that is 20 years old but only recently has become a proxy for broader issues such as political correctness, identity politics, liberal arts education and sexual assault.

The phrase can be traced back to the treatment of Vietnam War veterans in the 1980s, according to BuzzFeed’s Alison Vingiano. Psychologists started identifying “triggers” that sent vets spiraling into flashbacks of past traumas. With the rise of the Internet in the late ’90s, feminist message boards began using “trigger warnings” to warn readers of content that could stir up painful or paralyzing memories of sexual assault.

Trigger warnings quickly spread to include discussions of everything from eating disorders to self injury to suicide. In 2010, sex blogger Susannah Breslin wrote that feminists were using the term “like a Southern cook applies Pam cooking spray to an overused nonstick frying pan.” Breslin argued that trigger warnings were pointless or, even worse, self-defeating. A trigger warning is “like a flashing neon sign, attracting *more* attention to a particularly explicit post, even as it purports to deflect the attention of those to whom it might actually be relevant.”

By 2012, The Awl’s Choire Sicha argued that the phrase had “lost all its meaning.”

“Alerts have been applied to topics as diverse as sex, pregnancy, addiction, bullying, suicide, sizeism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, slut shaming, victim-blaming, alcohol, blood, insects, small holes, and animals in wigs,” Jenny Jarvie wrote last year in the New Republic. “Certain people, from rapper Chris Brown to sex columnist Dan Savage, have been dubbed ‘triggering.’ Some have called for trigger warnings for television shows such as ‘Scandal’ and ‘Downton Abbey.'”

But the Internet debate over trigger warnings is nothing compared to the controversy over their use on American university campuses. Last year, students at the University of California at Santa Barbara passed a resolution asking professors to put trigger warnings on class syllabuses and allow students to skip classes containing “content that may trigger the onset of symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

“Oberlin College has published an official document on triggers, advising faculty members to ‘be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression,’ to remove triggering material when it doesn’t ‘directly’ contribute to learning goals and ‘strongly consider’ developing a policy to make ‘triggering material’ optional,” Jarvie wrote. “Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart,’ it states, is a novel that may ‘trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide and more.’ Warnings have been proposed even for books long considered suitable material for high-schoolers: Last month, a Rutgers University sophomore suggested that an alert for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby say, ‘TW: suicide, domestic abuse and graphic violence.'”

Critics on both the left and the right have expressed concern that these trigger warnings are impinging upon free speech and undermining the meaning of a liberal arts education, where students from all walks of life are exposed to new and often disturbing ideas.

“What began as a way of moderating Internet forums for the vulnerable and mentally ill now threatens to define public discussion both online and off,” Jarvie wrote. “The trigger warning signals not only the growing precautionary approach to words and ideas in the university, but a wider cultural hypersensitivity to harm and a paranoia about giving offense.”

“In reality, trigger warnings are unrealistic,” argued Breslin, the sex blogger. “They are the dream-child of a fantasy in which the unknown can be labeled, anticipated, and controlled. What trigger warnings promise — protection — does not exist. The world is simply too chaotic, too out-of-control for every trigger to be anticipated, avoided, and defused.”

“Hypersensitivity to the trauma allegedly inflicted by listening to controversial ideas approaches a strange form of derangement — a disorder whose lethal spread in academia grows by the day,” Harvey Silverglate opined in the Wall Street Journal. “What should be the object of derision, a focus for satire, is instead the subject of serious faux academic discussion and precautionary warnings. For this disorder there is no effective quarantine. A whole generation of students soon will have imbibed the warped notions of justice and entitlement now handed down as dogma in the universities.”

And yet, it’s no coincidence that trigger warnings have arisen just as sexual assault finally becomes part of the national conversation. As Katie J.M. Baker pointed out in a recent BuzzFeed article, discussing rape and sexual assault simply is different than discussing other societal ills. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 5 women in America have been raped. “As far as brutal crimes go, there won’t be any murder victims sitting in class, but statistically, there will likely be survivors of sexual assault,” Baker wrote.

“Of course I understand the import of studying rape in law school,” one Harvard Law graduate told Baker. “That I expect rape to be taught with the understanding that 1 in 5 women are assaulted while in college, and therefore there are very likely survivors sharing the law school classroom does not mean I am afraid. It means I care.”

In their op-ed, the Columbia undergrads — all women of color — recount the story of another female student.

“During the week spent on Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses,’ the class was instructed to read the myths of Persephone and Daphne, both of which include vivid depictions of rape and sexual assault,” they write. “As a survivor of sexual assault, the student described being triggered while reading such detailed accounts of rape throughout the work. However, the student said her professor focused on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text. As a result, the student completely disengaged from the class discussion as a means of self-preservation. She did not feel safe in the class. When she approached her professor after class, the student said she was essentially dismissed, and her concerns were ignored.”

The students then call on Columbia to “issue a letter to faculty about potential trigger warnings and suggestions for how to support triggered students” and institute “a mechanism for students to communicate their concerns to professors anonymously, as well as a mediation mechanism for students who have identity-based disagreements with professors.”

“Finally, the center should create a training program for all professors, including faculty and graduate instructors, which will enable them to constructively facilitate conversations that embrace all identities, share best practices, and think critically about how the Core Curriculum is framed for their students,” the students write.

Conservative critics claim that the Columbia students want to silence class discussion of certain texts.

“The hyperbolic language of trauma that’s used! Sheesh,” wrote Elizabeth Nolan Brown in Reason. “Apparently this discussion of Ovid was so threatening it was a matter of self-preservation to ignore it. If that’s really true — if the mere discussion of rape causes this student to feel panicked and physically unsafe — than she needs help treating severe post-traumatic stress disorder, not a f—— trigger warning.”

“Op-eds like this are a call for academic vandalism, defacing culture and history with the ugly graffiti of modern class, race, and sex-war politics,” John Hayward wrote in a Breitbart blog titled “Campus special snowflakes melt upon contact with Greek mythology.”

In the case of the Columbia students, however, they say they want more discussion, not less. A trigger warning on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” might help a student who has suffered sexual assault stay engaged by offering her a chance to discuss the brutality in the text — not just its beauty.

“Our vision for this training is not to infringe upon the instructors’ academic freedom in teaching the material,” the students conclude. “Rather, it is a means of providing them with effective strategies to engage with potential conflicts and confrontations in the classroom, whether they are between students or in response to the material itself. Given these tools, professors will be able to aid in the inclusion of student voices which presently feel silenced.”


UK: Even private schools crushed under exam requirements

 Sir Anthony Seldon, who is due to step down as master of fee-paying Wellington College this summer, said the “crushing burden” inspections and league tables put so much pressure on schools it means they end up lacking diversity and innovation.

However, the Independent Schools Council disagreed with his view and said parents actually choose public schools because of the “holistic and broad education on offer”.

Ahead of his last speech at the school on Saturday, Mr Seldon said: “The biodiversity of our independent school sector is now under real threat. Private schools, in their hunt for exam-focused parents from Britain and abroad, have narrowed the range of their educational opportunities and have become overly focused on exams and league table performance to the exclusion of much else.

He cited as evidence prep schools and their obsession with getting their students into the top senior schools, and equally senior schools’ obsession with rankings and in turn getting their pupils to high-achieving universities.

He added: “Universities equally have allowed exams to become overly dominant to the detriment of all-round education and intellectual development of their students.”  “Very few have been able to resist this pressure.

He said: “The crushing burdens of state requirements, league tables and inspection regimes, have squeezed the lifeblood and originality out of much of the sector. One independent school now looks much like another for all the attempts to portray themselves as different.

“Parents are being denied real choice in provision, and we lack the force, individually and collectively, to challenge the monolithic state regime in education.”

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the ISC, disagreed with Mr Seldon’s assessment of the private school sector.

Mr Lenon said: “There is no evidence for most of Anthony Seldon’s claims. There is huge diversity and innovation happening across the UK independent sector. Our exam results are excellent but research shows parents choose our schools mainly because of the holistic and broad education on offer.

“It is not the case that independent schools are chasing league table positions - most now offer iGCSEs which have the effect of excluding them from the DfE league tables and many of the highest achieving independent schools refuse to release their exam results to the press.

“Nor is it the case that independent schools are becoming less diverse: we offer alternatives to A-levels such as IB and Pre-U qualifications. Many of our schools have a specific specialism, such as the cathedral choir schools, music, dance or special needs schools. Our very independence from Government control means our schools provide the bespoke education that local parents are seeking for their children.”


Thursday, May 21, 2015

DC Area Professor To Catholic University: Too Many Crosses On Campus -- bad for Muslims

It just got surreal.  George Washington University Law School Professor John Banzhaf filed a human rights complaint to the D.C. Office of Human Rights against Catholic University for hindering Muslim students’ free exercise of their faith due to the “excessive” amount of “Catholic imagery” on the campus. 

It seems that this man – who teaches at a different school across town – thinks that Catholic University’s adherence to the cultural aspects of Catholicism (we have a lot of artwork, Crucifixes, and statues in every nook and crany) keeps muslim students from praying the required five times a day.

Banzhaf, who already has a pending lawsuit against the university over ending its policy of allowing mixed-gender dormitories and has a history of filing civil rights suits on such topics as childhood obesity and smoking, filed the complaint alleging that Muslim students are not given their own prayer rooms.

Just as an aside from a graduate of Catholic high school, at least, did Prof. Banzhaf not see the title of the university?  Did he not see the GIGANTIC church on the university property we know as the National Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception????  Oh, that’s right, it’s named in the complaint as a place muslims are “forced” to pray.  (We don’t do that in Catholicism.)  That basilica is, like, the flagship American Catholic church since it’s named for our national feast day even if it is NOT a cathedral, contrary to the complaint filed.  (No cathedra or bishop’s chair is in the building.  In Washington, that is in St. Matthew’s.)   What part of “Catholic” isn’t sinking in?  We’re into high art, Jesus hanging on the Cross, defending the separation of the sexes in dorms, etc.  It’s part and parcel of the deal when you attend Catholic school.

Across the board, the 60-page complaint filed by Banzhaf has officials at Catholic University and just about every other corner scratching heads.  First off, no muslim students have voiced concern for the issues of which Banzhaf writes.  Second, when members of other faiths are accepted at Catholic schools, their beliefs are not scorned or maligned in any way.  That violates Catholic norms of hospitality. 

No one is required to pray with us.  That’s a private act, anyway, that Catholics are really supposed to do it more than five times a day.  Non-Catholics may not be specifically accommodated at our schools, but we Catholics would not request special treatment from schools of other faiths.  More or less, in this situation we are all guests in someone else’s house, and manners prevail.  Usually.  Anyone who has a problem with pictures of popes hanging on the wall, Crucifixes, statues of Our Lady of Grace, etc., can just go find somewhere else to go to school.

That the D.C. Office of Human Rights is even entertaining the complaint is cause for the big worry.

The complaint is absurd, writes Thomas Peters on the website CatholicVote.

“Can you imagine a law professor helping Catholic students to sue a Jewish or Muslim school to demand that the schools install crosses, remove their religious symbols, and allow the Catholics to construct a chapel on their property?” wrote Peters. “Can you imagine the argument being that Jewish and Muslims schools using their religious symbols and following their faith traditions would be described in the legal brief as “offensive”?!

“Normally I would have confidence that this lawsuit will be deemed without merit, but the way things are going these days, I just can’t be sure anymore. Simply incredible.”

At Breitbart, John Hayward warns that if Catholic University caves and creates space for muslims to pray their required five times a day, this will not be the only concession on the horizon.  He is correct in that even as the assault on religion continues, in order to maintain the true identity of faith – any faith – institutions of higher learning and the Church Herself will need to forgo tax exempt status.  It is the only way since the Church cannot and will not change.

At the same time, given that this is nowhere near the first time there have been complaints about Catholic art and culture being offensive, there may be another explanation.

“This attorney is really turning civil rights on its head,” [Patrick Reilly of the Cardinal Newman Society told Fox News]. “He’s using the law for his own discrimination against the Catholic institution and essentially saying Catholic University cannot operate according to Catholic principles.”

A notion that has been put in practice in many walks of life.  Stay tuned.  Catholic sentiment is leaning more orthodox these days.  Abandoning the identity is not likely to happen without a big fight.


Racism and sexism OK at Boston University

This could have been "Salaita 2: A Censorship Sequel." Once again, a new college faculty member whose appointment has not yet officially begun has been denounced for offensive speech. Once again, the speech consists entirely of tweets. Once again many alumni and donors are in an uproar. Once again, the university has felt obliged to respond.

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Professor Steven Salaita lost a faculty position last August because Chancellor Phyllis Wise decided that his tweets denouncing the 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza failed to meet her standard of civility. In a mass email to the university community, she informed all faculty and students that uncivil speech would not be tolerated.

At Boston University, the tweets came from Dr. Saida Grundy, who on July 1 will become an assistant professor of sociology and African American studies. In one tweet, she asks, "Why is white america so reluctant to identify white college males as a problem population?" In another she asserts, "white masculinity is THE problem for America's colleges." In a third she admonishes, "deal with your white sh*t, white people" because "slavery is a *YALL* thing."

This time, however, the official response has been quite different. In a May 12 letter addressed "To the Boston University Community," President Robert A. Brown made it clear that Dr. Grundy's faculty position was not at stake. "At Boston University," wrote President Brown, "we acknowledge Dr. Grundy's right to hold and express her opinions. Our community is composed of faculty, staff, and students who represent widely varying points of view on many sensitive issues."

Acknowledging the strong reactions to Dr. Grundy's tweets, he stated clearly:

"Boston University does not condone racism or bigotry in any form." Still speaking for the university, he added: "We are disappointed and concerned by statements that reduce individuals to stereotypes on the basis of a broad category such as sex, race, or ethnicity." Then, making a personal judgment, he wrote: "I believe Dr. Grundy's remarks fit this characterization."

President Brown did note "a broader context to Dr. Grundy's tweets" and affirmed her "right to pursue her research, formulate her views, and challenge the rest of us to think differently about race relations." Nevertheless, he wrote, "the words in her Twitter feed were powerful in the way they stereotyped and condemned other people." As president he has "an obligation to speak up when words become hurtful to one group or another in the way they typecast and label its members."

Finally, he acknowledged "that some members of our faculty believe that any equivocation by the president is tantamount to not supporting a new colleague." In response he urged conversation and welcomed "the chance to talk with all of you and Dr. Grundy" about what he recognized as "a difficult issue."

Saida Grundy then issued a statement of her own regretting that her "personal passion" about racial issues led her "to speak about them indelicately. I deprived them of the nuance and complexity that such subjects always deserve." She added:


Students at Prince Charles' old university vote to ban Bibles from halls of residence for not being 'appropriately multicultural'

Students at a Welsh university have voted to end a tradition of putting Bibles in their halls of residence in the name of 'multiculturalism'.

Those studying at Aberystwyth University - which Prince Charles once attended - want to end the long-running practice of putting Gideon Bibles in dorm rooms at the start of term.

The Students' Union at the west Wales institution claim the policy could be 'offensive' to non-Christians, but Bible groups have branded the ban 'illiberal'.

A motion passed at a meeting of the Union called for all Bibles to be removed from halls of residence bedrooms at the end of the current academic year and students to instead be given an option to request a religious text if they want one.

University bosses with now decide whether to accept the students' demands.

Speaking at the meeting, John Morgan, who put forward the motion, said: 'Compulsory inclusion of Bibles in university bedrooms is inappropriate in a multicultural university such as Aberystwyth.

'It could be offensive for some, and university should provide a safe space for students to explore and develop their beliefs in a neutral environment.' He added: 'Bibles should however still be available for those who wish to have them.'

Speaking when the motion was first proposed, James Catford, a former student of Aberystwyth University who is now the Group Chief Executive of Bible Society disagreed with the idea.

He said: 'The answer to a diverse and multicultural society is not to remove all traces of diversity. That seems illiberal and intolerant.'

The Union has been criticised over claims less than five per cent of the 10,000-strong student body voted for the ban - with 300 in favour of the ban and 175 against at the meeting.

The Students' Union said the vote result was now 'binding' and they were mandated to lobby the University to remove all Bibles by the start of the next academic year in September 2015.

On their website they said they 475 votes cast was 'almost double the minimum requirement' as set out in their 'democratic structure'.

They said: '475 students voting is a higher number than any attendance at a democratic meeting and so we are delighted that we have managed to open up democratically to this extent.'

A survey of students at one hall of residence conducted in 2014 found almost half felt the compulsory inclusion of the holy book was 'uncomfortable' or 'unacceptable'.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Eton headmaster slams 'exasperating' High School exams and says teacher training is 'a mess'

The headmaster of Eton slammed 'exasperating' GCSE and A-level exams as he launched a scathing attack on the teaching system.

Tony Little, who has spent 13 years at the helm of the exclusive school, said individual subjects were taught well but exams do not make pupils think laterally.

Mr Little, who is due to step down from his post at the prestigious boys' private school this summer, added that teacher training in Britain is 'a mess'.

The headmaster warned that schools are controlled by a university admissions system that focuses only on results - leaving teachers to follow a 'rigid' system to avoid risking a pupil's chances of winning a place.

Speaking to Insight magazine, published by the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, Mr Little said: 'We need to see the breaking down of the silo mentality that exists in all schools.

'My school is typical. Each subject is very well taught in itself, but I am exasperated by an exam system which makes it difficult for teachers to make links and pupils to see things in different ways. It's about encouraging them to see things laterally and be more nimble.

'The exam system is like an egg timer. There is a wealth of experience and learning at the top, then it is all squeezed through the narrow bottleneck of exams and pushed out of the other side. I am not against exams or rigour, quite the contrary; it's the way exams are designed.

'And we are controlled by a university admissions process focussed solely on exam results. No one wants to prejudice students' chances, which locks us into a rigid system.'

'I would like to see teaching as a highly trained profession, but not as it is now. I take unqualified teachers because I think we can train them better in my school. In the future I would like a new national framework which would open up teaching initially to people without professional qualifications but with good subject knowledge.

'Those wishing to become career teachers would have to work towards a charter mark which would have to be refreshed and which would include research.'

Eton counts David Cameron, the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry among its former pupils.  Mr Cameron follows in a line of 19 Prime Ministers that attended the school, including Wellington, Gladstone and Macmillan.


Welcome, High School Freshman! Pee in This Cup!

High school is rough for a lot of kids. As the captain of my high school’s academic team (we took tests competitively and competed weekly with other students in academic competitions—yes, this is real thing), you can imagine I wasn’t on the ballot for “Ms. Popular.” Others undoubtedly experience worse. Between parents, puberty, and prom, it’s a wonder we don’t leave our high school years with PTSD in addition to our diplomas.

During a recent visit to my parents, I heard a news report regarding a local high school’s new drug policy. Trinity High School, located in Louisville, Kentucky, is to begin mandatory drug and alcohol testing during the 2015 school year. The school cited how early kids are experimenting with drugs as a major factor in their decision. Approximately 75 percent of the students will be tested in the 2015-2016 school year. Further down the road, all students will be tested randomly throughout the year.

In a press release on the policy, the school stated it wanted to empower students to resist drugs. When confronted with a situation in which drugs and alcohol are present, Trinity students can now say, “I can’t, my school tests.”

My first reaction to this story was one of sheer bafflement. Imagine walking around your high school as a 16-year-old sophomore. You’re headed to class when some guidance counselor, principal, or other staff member hands you a plastic cup. Nothing goes with a statistics test like calculating the probability a random school administrator will ask you to pee in a cup.

This certainly isn’t the first time random drug testing has come up in the news. In fact, most schools drug test their student athletes. A plurality of schools test students who engage in extra-curricular activities and nearly a quarter of schools test all their students.

Stories of testing welfare recipients, workers, and other groups have garnered serious attention and pushback. In one such case from 2013, a federal District Court struck down a Florida law that required all applicants for the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to submit for drug testing, citing 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable searches by the government.

The case of Trinity High School is a little different. While the government cannot legally compel drug testing of a group just because they’re poor, the same cannot be said for this high school and their students. Trinity is a private Catholic school. Parents elect to send their children to the school and pay some $13,000 a year for their education. As such, the school can broadly test their students for simply being in the group that statistically experiments with drugs. Since parents are entering into this contract voluntarily and have viable alternatives (in fact, there are two other all-male Catholic high schools in the city), those offended by the new policy have little recourse.

So while I won’t condemn a private institution for implementing its own policies regarding drugs and alcohol, parents and administrators at Trinity and other high schools considering similar policies should think about the consequences of such a rule, and look some data.

First, such a policy is particularly costly. One study conducted by the Drug Policy Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union found that such testing costs schools about $3,000 per positive result. What is more important than this raw number, however, is what economists call the “opportunity cost” of these tests. That is, what else could a school spend this money on? As it turns out, there are a variety of alternatives to these tests, like drug education, counseling, extracurricular activities, etc. The aforementioned study found that these methods were more effective at keeping young people away from drugs than random testing.

Second, random drug tests have not been found to be particularly effective. A significant body of work, in fact, has found such policies not only failed to reduce drug use, but in some cases led to increased use in harder drugs among students. (See here, here, here, and here for examples.) The data is so overwhelming, in fact, that the American Academy of Pediatrics has come out against using such testing as a cornerstone of school drug policy.

Moreover, such a policy is likely to encourage high school students to ingest some potentially very harmful substances. As we have observed with the rise of new ways to get high, like huffing keyboard cleaner, “bath salts,” and synthetic marijuana, people interested in doing drugs will find a way. The students of Trinity and other high schools who adopt random screening policies are more likely to try these and other substances to avoid having a positive drug test. They’ll look for substances the test won’t detect. It isn’t difficult to see how ingesting these substances may be significantly worse than something like alcohol or pot.

No parent hopes his or her child will grow up to be a drug user. School administrators understandably don’t want an institution in which drug use is encouraged and fostered. But when it comes to how we choose to educate and equip our children for dealing with peer pressure, drugs, and alcohol, it’s important we get the facts straight. Not only does this policy grossly offend the personal privacy of students, but the data shows its unlikely to have the desired effect. Although the policy implemented by this school in my hometown is likely well intentioned, I predict it will be largely ineffective and may lead to more students using particularly dangerous substances.


The Value of Education

Sean Gabb makes a case for non-utilitarian education

I went yesterday evening to a seminar arranged in London by the Social Affairs Unit. This began with a brief lecture by Theodore Dalrymple, a doctor who writes an occasional column forThe Spectator. His theme was “The Proletarianisation of British Culture”. He explained how notions of politeness and restraint were vanishing from the middle classes, being replaced by an increasing vulgarity of thought and behaviour; and that this was not a vulgarity copied from the working classes, but was part of a general decline also affecting them. It was a brief lecture, and was intended as no more than a summary of the problem. The discussion was then thrown open for others to supply answers or other pertinent comments.

These seminars, I think, have been arranged to allow free discussion in private; and so I will not report the discussion, or even say who else was there. Instead, I will give my own thoughts on the problem. I believe that much of the vulgarity of thought and behaviour can be traced to a failure throughout the English speaking world, since about 1960, to understand the meaning and value of education.

I will not presume to say what is the purpose of life. Though I wish it were otherwise, I suspect there is no objective purpose, and it is up to us as individuals to supply our own. But whatever the case, I think it reasonable to say that our purpose ought to be to make ourselves as happy as we can, and to contribute as much as we can to the general stock of happiness.

Now, happiness comes in many forms and is found in many places. If we want ecstatic pleasure, that can be found in any number of legal and illegal substances. If we want uncomprehending contentment, there are lobotomies or courses of electric shock therapy. But given that most people reading this article are at least moderately intelligent, I will not bother with criticising these kinds of happiness. For us, happiness surely includes understanding and even wisdom. This requires some subordination of present to future objectives, and in particular getting the best education of which we are capable. I will define an educated person as someone who can hold an interesting conversation with himself throughout the whole uncertain course of his adult life—someone with a fair knowledge of human nature, a tolerance of the milder follies, an understanding of the limits of what is possible, a calm equanimity of temper, and, ideally, with a sense of humour. Some of these qualities are innate. Others must be acquired.

A person who possesses these qualities cannot fail to be an interesting and a pleasing companion to himself through life. And the existence of many such people, largely connected with each other, gives rise to what the economists call a positive externality. A country in which the tone of life is set by such a class of people is invariably a more pleasant place to be than a country where such a class does not exist. That country will be more beautiful in its arrangement of material objects, and more gentle in its courtesies. Its laws will be more humanely framed and more humanely applied. Its politics will be steadier in their course and more temperate in their ends. It will go to war less often, and then mostly for the pursuit of legitimate interests. Because of the greater security of life and property, and the greater respect for thrift and sobriety, it will also be richer and more powerful.

Such an education means a training in habits of thought and the exercise of general intellectual ability. It may require the acquisition of specific skills—for example, learning at least one of the classical languages and few modern languages, and learning some of the technical aspects of music and the visual arts. It may also require an understanding of mathematics and of the natural sciences. It certainly requires a long study of literature and history and philosophy and law and political economy. But none of this may be useful in any direct financial sense.

This is not to disparage purely technical or professional training. These are not at all to be despised. Some while ago, I took a course in bookbinding, and was filled with respect for the skill and dedication of the old man who taught me. Accountancy and legal practice and medicine and the ability to see and make use of previously undiscovered business opportunities, are all of high value. But they are not in themselves education. My instructor in bookbinding was a man of wide culture. Not only did he know how to put books together, but he also had a strong appreciation of what he was putting together. I know accountants and lawyers and physicians who can keep me happily awake until three in the morning as we discuss the state of the world. That, however, is because they are not just what they have trained to become. It is because they are also educated men.

The problem we are now facing is largely the outcome of a decline of respect for humanistic education. My dear friend Dennis O’Keeffe is famous for his denunciations of what he calls socialist education—this being a denial that there is any value in the traditional curriculum, and that the cultures of all social classes and of all racial and national groups are equally valuable; and even that ours is inferior, so far as it contains within itself at least the implicit claim to general hegemony over all others. With this goes the dangerous absurdities of structuralism and post-modernism.

Of course, Dennis is right. But it is not only Michel Foucault and Louis Althusser and Herbert Bowles and Samuel Gintis who are to blame for the attack on humanism. It is also the intellectual philistinism of our own intellectual allies. When I was a boy, I got into an argument with my mathematics teacher, an Armenian Marxist who wore jeans in class an long leather boots spray painted green—this was the 1970s. I asked him one day what was the value of the simultaneous equations he was trying to teach us how to solve. He made what I now realise was a good attempt to explain their value, but began to lose his temper when I failed to understand him. Many years later, I read of a similar exchange in Alexandria between Euclid and one of his students. Euclid, it seems, did not even try to explain himself. Instead, he told his assistant to give the man his money back and throw him into the street.

I now understand the value of knowledge that has no immediate or obvious use. Sadly, many others who call themselves libertarians or conservatives do not. With their talk of “vocational learning” and “learning based outcomes”, they deny the value of any education that is not directed to the gaining of marketable skills.

I know of schools that teach information technology but not history. Again, I do not dispute the value of technical skills. I am proud of my ability to build computers and to make software work: my own website is almost entirely crafted by hand in HTML. But history also is important. An accountant who is ignorant of the French Revolution, or cannot recognise sonata form, or knows not a line of poetry, is nothing more than a skilled barbarian. In a nation where only a small minority is truly educated, legal equality becomes a hard concept to maintain, let alone political equality. In a nation without even that minority, public life must inevitably become savage and arbitrary—a thing of wild, inconstant passions, led by those unable to perceive or follow longer term goods.

That is where, I think, we are now fast approaching. We have a Prime Minister who cannot spell, and is not ashamed of the fact. We have a political class in general that lacks nearly all skill of persuasive speech and seems ignorant of the past. Of the first Ministers appointed to serve under Tony Blair, apparently, the majority listed football as their main hobby in their Who’s Who entries; and not one listed any humanistic pursuit. I doubt if the Conservatives are much better. Perhaps the Judges and permanent heads of department will soon follow the trend. Little wonder our freedoms are being given up, one at a time, to moral panics and appeals to administrative convenience.

Is there anything to be done? I am not sure that there is in the short term. It takes centuries of moral evolution to achieve the level from which we have now declined. Between the renaissance vulgarities of behaviour described by Norbert Elias to the gentility of life in the 1900s lie 500 years of gradual improvement. To suppose that the present decline can be arrested and turned round in one lifetime is perhaps too optimistic. But there are certain steps that may easily be taken towards an eventual improvement. One of the participants in the seminar last night described how he had thrown out his television set, and how this had already contributed to the moral tone of his household. There is an example to be followed—and cheaply followed, bearing in mind the decadence of broadcasting.

Aside from this, we can hope for a collapse of the universities. There are always exceptions, but most are nowadays a combination of training schools for narrow professional disciplines, and academies of falsehood. George Orwell once declared of some absurdity “you need to be an intellectual to believe that”. This needs now to be amended to “You need a degree to believe that”. I am not sure the universities, taken as a whole, can be reformed: better, I suspect, either to wait for their natural decline into irrelevance or to shut them down at the first opportunity. One of the first acts of the Ayatollah Khomeini after taking power in Iran was to close all the universities for three years. The bloody revolution of which this was a part is, of course, to be condemned. But I have no doubt that Shiite theology and law were much closer to the humanistic ideal than the western sociology they replaced. Perhaps historians will one day trace the growing stability and democratisation of modern Iran to this educational reform.

But as my readers may have noticed, I tend to be better at describing problems than giving solutions to them. I can only conclude by thanking the Social Affairs Unit for inviting me to so stimulating a discussion, and to hope that I shall be invited to others in future.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

York school changes American flag policy after demonstration

YORK COUNTY, S.C. -- Controversy at a York High School prompted a demonstration of patriotism.

York Comprehensive High School student Peyton Robinson was not happy after being told to remove his American flag from the back of his truck.

Robinson posted this comment on his Instagram account:

"I've been told by 2 administrators at my school this morning that I can't have an American Flag on my truck because other people have complained about it. Well let me tell you something, I have every right to fly an American flag. It will not be coming off of my truck. This really pisses me off. I ask that everyone that sees this post that attends York Comprehinsive flys an American flag of some sort on whatever they may drive to school tomorrow to prove a point. I will not let this go down without a fight. "#America #fightforourright

"It's America you should be able to fly your flag anywhere. I was pretty upset about it," student Cheyenne Lane said.

Many students felt the same, prompting a community-wide show of support. "Any student that has pride in their country should stand up for something like this," Robinson said.

Thursday morning students, parents and community members met to fly their flags around town. York resident Russell Shively says, "You got somebody that's showing their patriotism and flying an American flag on the back of their truck and you want them to take it down? That's not America."

Principal Christopher Black says their policy to not have flags on campus was never an issue of patriotism, rather, safety. "Some of them are driving for their first time ever and anytime you get a flag of any kind flying it creates a visual distraction," Black said.

But that reason wasn't good enough for many of the people in York.

The district posted a message on their Facebook page saying,

"Due to the outstanding display of patriotism through peaceful demonstration, it is apparent to us that many are not happy about this policy."

The school has since adjusted the policy making an exception for the American flag as long as the size of the flag doesn't create a driving hazard.

"This is what York's about, it's small town America," Shively said.


Zero tolerance idiocy in Britain too

Police were called to a primary school after a nine-year-old boy was caught using a ruler as a pretend sword in a playground game of 'knights and dragons'.

Teachers have been accused of overreacting after asking officers to speak to Kyron Bradley, who waved the ruler around as he played with two friends at St George's Bickley CE Primary School, in Bromley, south London.

The youngster's mother Natasha Bradley said she burst into tears after hearing police were being called over a 'stupid game'.

Miss Bradley, a 27-year-old carer and mother-of-two, said she had attended a meeting with headteacher Geraldine Shackleton following the incident on April 27, and had assumed it had been 'dealt with'.

However, she was then told that police officers were coming to the school to speak to her son, a pupil in Year 4, about his behaviour, on April 29.

Miss Bradley, from Orpington, said Kyron had only been doing 'what boys do' - playing at 'swordfighting' with a pal in the playground.

She said: 'I explained to my son that it was a stupid game to play as he could have fallen with the ruler. He cried, but he understood.

'I had already dealt with Kyron myself. Why the police were involved I haven't a clue.  'I was so disgusted with the way he was being dealt with I burst out crying.'

Miss Bradley told the News Shopper, a local newspaper in South London: 'I am quite a strict parent. I am not saying my child is an angel, but he has never been in trouble for anything more than being a bit chatty.'

Another parent at the school, who did not wish to be named, said: 'These boys were just playing knights and dragons in the playground.  'They could have been using a stick, a ruler or their imagination - the whole thing is totally over the top and a waste of police resources.'

The school declined to reveal precise details of action taken against Kyron but Mrs Shackleton said: 'Sometimes having a gentle conversation with children, with parents or guardians present, can help young people fully understand possible consequences of actions they have taken.

'I am expected to use my judgement and act appropriately to ensure children and staff in my school are safe.

'It would not be appropriate to discuss individual situations, but in general terms schools work closely with local police as a matter of routine to gain help and guidance in these matters.'

The Metropolitan Police confirmed officers from the local neighbourhood team had been sent to the school in the wake of the incident - but the force said it 'does not comment on individual incidents involving under 18s'.

A spokeswoman added that police routinely visit schools to assist with 'early identification, support and where necessary challenge of pupils involved in or at risk of offending', and where appropriate for 'the safety of pupils, staff and the school site and surrounding area'.


British middle class families being 'squeezed out' of top private schools by foreign pupils and Chinese students are the biggest group

Britain's most prestigious boarding schools are enrolling one foreign student for every five new pupils amid school fee rises that are 'squeezing' the middle class.

Institutions such as Eton and Wellington College, Bedales School in Hampshire and Malvern St James Girls' School are taking in foreign students at a higher rate than ever before, according to a Sunday Telegraph survey.

News of the changing demographics comes just days after Eton headmaster Tony Little warned middle-class families were being 'squeezed' out of the country's elite institutions because they could no longer afford the fees.

He said schools were in danger of being ‘polarised’, with only the very rich able to pay and only the very poor able to obtain bursaries.

The survey revealed Eton and Wellington Colleges attracted 15 per cent of their pupils from abroad - almost double that of two decades ago.

And foreign students at Bedales School have grown from 2.6 per cent to 3.6 percent of the total enrolment, while British students among new entrants at Malvern are among a 46 per cent minority.

Ten days ago Mr Little warned that average boarding school fees had risen faster than inflation and disposable income, increasing by four times more than the average increase for other goods and services between 1990 and 2013, according to one measurement.

He said: 'Many of us are conscious that there is a risk that boarding becomes polarised, in the sense of being accessible to the very rich on full fees and the very poor on bursaries, with the middle squeezed out.

'It is important and a wonderful thing, to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds by helping them gain access to our schools.'

The survey results come just as new figures from the Independent Schools' Commission (ISC) reveal Chinese students are by far the biggest nationality from outside the UK studying in British schools.

Sarah Hamlyn, author of The Good Schools Guide, told the paper that overseas parents often remained able to afford costly British boarding schools.

'If you have the money but you don't like the rigidity of the education system and the politics in your home country are not congenial, you opt for independent schools in the UK that encourage creative thinking.'

While there are 27,211 pupils studying in British schools with their parents living outside the country, there are another 16,821 whose parents live within the country.

Eton, which offers bursaries to poorer students, has fees exceeding £34,000 a year, with some other elite schools charging even more.

Former pupils of the world-famous school include David Cameron, Boris Johnson, the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Fairfax County School Board Member: Vote to Adopt ‘Gender Identity’ Protection Is ‘Federal Overreach'

The Fairfax County Public School Board in Virginia voted Thursday to add “gender identity” as a protected class to its non-discrimination policy despite heated remarks during the meeting from parents who are concerned about the implications of the change.

Fairfax County School Board member Elizabeth Schultz, the only member who voted against the change, said the Board was warned by a local school official that federal funding could be pulled if the change was not adopted. She called it a case of federal overreach that must be opposed.

The memo warning about federal Education Department funding was issued by Steven A. Lockard, the deputy superintendent of the Fairfax County Public Schools, just prior to the vote.

It states: “The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education is requiring that school divisions 1) revise their non-discrimination policies to include gender identity, and 2) hire a consultant to advise on revisions to regulations and, more generally, how school divisions should handle individual cases of transgender students. If the School Board amends Policy 1450, we will be able to tell them that we have already done the two things that OCR is requiring.”

“If FCPS refuses to amend its policy, OCR has the right to recommend the termination of federal funding to FCPS,” Lockard’s memo emphasized.

Schultz discussed her concerns regarding the federal government’s role in the decision in a conference call:

 “We have a significant battle on the forefront of federal overreach, all the way down to a local school board level that comes into every single community, in every town, in every district, in every jurisdiction across the United States if we are to allow the federal government to dictate this language. And if they can dictate this, what can’t they dictate?” she asked.

“How can you convert a 1972 Title IX reading to a 2015 interpretation to mean sexual orientation and gender identity/transgender?” Schultz asked in reference to federal government’s announcement that it considers transgender students to be protected from sex-based discrimination under Title IX.

Schultz pointed out that the funding the Education Department is threatening to withhold  is “for the children who are most in peril in school districts,” such as students with disabilities and those who require subsidized school meals.

Schultz also noted the lack of information about how the policy would be applied, saying there was “no presentation to the board about the scope of the problem for employees, the scope of the problem for students, how many students were involved, what it meant, how much professional development this needed, and what this meant for ultimately the respect and dignity and rights of all of the other students.”

“Where are parental rights in the education of their children?” she asked.

 Schultz also wondered, “What’s next? Are we to say that every school board, whether they’re appointed or elected across the United States of America, now has lost control over running their local school jurisdictions?,We are just, you know, puppets of the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice?”

“Are we going to stand up and say, no you don’t and go to our U.S. Congressmen and women and say are you going to allow your Department of Justice and your Department of Education to come and take money from your constituents and further imperil the education and the value of education in the United States and disregard all parental rights?”

Following the decision by Fairfax County Public School Board, tried to reach Republican and Democrat leaders in the House and Senate, asking the following questions:

--Should a transgender man who dresses and identifies as a woman be permitted to teach in public grammar schools?

--Should the fiscal 2015 appropriation for the Department of Education defund its mandate that public schools have a "nondiscrimination" policy toward transgender teachers or lose their own federal funding?

The questions were posed in repeated phone calls and e-mails with a response period of four days to: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) ,House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

The only response received by press time was from an aide to House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer who replied on background that Hoyer believes discrimination should never be tolerated and strongly supports policies that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

“There is a significant battle for the hearts and minds of young people in the United States of America, and the federal government is using $640 Billion in federal education funds to weaponize an agenda upon every local school district in the United States, and it’s time for a national conversation about this,” Schultz concluded in the conference call.

The Education Department's Office of Civil Rights updated Title IX protections in 2014, stating: "Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity, and OCR accepts such complaints for investigation. Similarly, the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the parties does not change a school’s obligations."


Imagine the uproar if universities introduced ‘Good Girl’ workshops

Today, Indonesia’s military announced its intention to continue to subject female recruits to virginity tests. According to a spokesman, this is necessary to ensure women soldiers have the right mentality, and are not ‘naughty’. Human Rights Watch immediately denounced the tests as discriminatory and demanded that they be abolished. Meanwhile, in Oxford, the principal of Somerville College bemoans what the Daily Telegraph calls an ‘epidemic’ of sexual harassment and intimidating behaviour towards female students. It’s strange, but I am not aware that county courts are inundated with student claims of sexual harassment, a staple of employment tribunals. So what is going on?

These two episodes have more in common than you may think. They both evince an intense anxiety at the prospect of women being out and about in the world on the same terms as men. Both treat the world as a perilous place for women, who are deemed fragile and weak.

It’s ironic that Muslim fundamentalists and modern Western feminists have so much in common. Their views of the sexes are hopelessly anachronistic and reductionist. Oxford University, a hotbed of radical feminism, is now so exercised about the prospect of sexual and social interactions between students, it might as well insist that women be segregated at all times.

Last week, the High Court dismissed a claim by an ex-student, Elizabeth Ramey, that the university’s anti-harassment policy was unlawful and discriminatory because it mandated that allegations should only be investigated by campus authorities in certain circumstances. As the judge explained, the policy had been introduced after Ramey graduated, so she had no legitimate interest in taking the university to court. Ramey, who claimed to have been raped in 2011, had reported the incident to law enforcement authorities, who investigated but decided the case did not merit a criminal prosecution.

Why are students expecting universities to investigate such allegations? And, absent a prosecution, what was the university supposed to do for Ramey? It’s common sense that students must not assault each other, or damage each other’s belongings, or plagiarise each other’s work. But university students are adults, and it is unrealistic to expect the university to police all aspects of their lives, including their private life. Employers do not do this.

Only a few days ago, male rugby players at Oxford were ordered to undergo training in ‘positive masculinity’ at so-called Good Lad Workshops, without which they would not be permitted to compete in the inter-varsity rugby league. Imagine the uproar if women students were required to undergo tuition in ‘positive femininity’ – a Good Girls course – as a precondition of competing in university sports.

The thinking behind the Good Lad workshops is extraordinarily insulting to male students. It implies that they are all potential rapists, who must undergo moral instruction before they are deemed fit to participate fully in university life. It’s a depressing reflection on the student feminist mindset that men are viewed in such a contemptuous fashion: a kind of reverse sexism. It’s high time male students challenged such an overtly discriminatory measure, which has nothing whatsoever to do with sports, and everything to do with imposing a gender agenda.


Australia: Parents seeking reform at ‘dictatorial’ Islamic school

More than 100 angry parents have picketed the Islamic College of South Australia, worried it is becoming too fundamental after it cut music and sport from its curriculum, described pianos as evil and stopped singing the national anthem at assemblies.

Parent representatives have called for the board and principal of the western Adelaide school to be sacked, fearing segregation is spreading from single-sex classrooms to corridors and buildings, and education standards are ­falling.

Mother of three Souraya Serhan said there were concerns about the curriculum after the school’s NAP­LAN results fell across all age groups from 2008 to 2013. “The board is dictatorial: they don’t have any focus on education, it’s about cutting costs,” Ms Serhan said.

She said that over the past three years 14 teachers had been sacked or forced to resign, and there had been four principals. Respected imam Khalid Yousuf was sacked last month.

“These are teachers who have been in the school that are trusted and very, very capable teachers, only to be replaced by less-experienced teachers,” she said.

Ms Serhan said her son had been suspended via text message, but she had negotiated his return because he did not want to go to a non-Muslim school.

Another parent, Esam Elhelw, said the board had been disciplining students inappropriately.

“My daughter was pushed into and locked in a room by (a board member) and two other people working in the school. She was physically pushed by someone who is working here as a teacher instead of Brother Khalid,” Mr ­Elhelw said.

School board chairman Farouk Khan said schools “usually” had a high turnover of staff and the board was comprised of competent and professional people.

He defended its academic performance and said Year 12 results “continue to grow”. “We are very proud Aussies,” Mr Khan said. “We sing the nation­al anthem on different occa­sions.”

He welcomed donations of pian­os to replace the ones that had been removed.

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils administers the school and parents have contacted the organisation, also calling for the board to be removed.

AFIC spokesman Amjad Mehboob said he would interview parents, staff and the board next week.

“The board deals with these issu­es, and when it becomes a public issue AFIC steps in,” Mr Mehboob said. “We’re going to carry out investigations and step in next week.”

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne yesterday raised concerns about potential radicalisation at the school, and will write to his state counterpart Susan Close.

“We want our children to get a sensible and secular education, not an education that points them in the direction we don’t want them to go,” Mr Pyne said.

He said it was the second time he had written to a state government about an Islamic campus, after writing to the Victorian Education Minister James Merlino in April about the al-Taqwa College and its attitude towards Israel.

Mr Pyne said the most extreme measures included removing the school’s licence and all funding, but investigations needed to take place before extreme measures were considered.

The My School website shows the school received $7.5 million in funding in 2013, with about $5.6m from the federal government, about $800,000 from the state government and $1.2m from fees and parent contributions.

Ms Close said it was up to the Education and Early Childhood Services, Registration and Stand­ards Board to investigate, because the school was independent. She did not have the power to remove funding.

She said the standards board could only rule on whether the school was teaching the Australian curriculum appropriately or was looking after the welfare of its students. “They are an independent organisation which chooses to run a school: it has been registered because it is teaching the appropri­ate Australian curriculum, beyond that they really need to look at how they are looking after their kids,” Ms Close said.

Standards board registrar Paul Claridge said two parties had complained about the Islamic College and once their complaints were in writing, the board would consider investigating.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

AG Vows to Advance Obama’s Push to End ‘Zero Tolerance’ School Discipline Policies

A good idea, if for a racist reason

Attorney General Loretta Lynch vowed on Tuesday to continue the Obama administration’s push for public schools to abandon their “zero tolerance” discipline policy, because critics claim it is aimed disproportionately at minority students and other “at risk” youth, including migrants and LGBT students.

“We are working with our partners in the private sector, and of course, the federal government, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, to end the school to prison pipeline that sends too many children on the well-worn path from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse,” Lynch said at the National Summit on Youth Violence Prevention in Crystal City, Va.

“And we are standing up and speaking out against so-called zero tolerance school discipline policies that bar the doors of opportunity for children who need support, leaving them stigmatized and marginalized, left out and left alone,” Lynch said.

In January 2014, the U.S. Department of Education issued a 37-page report explaining the administration’s opposition to “zero tolerance” policies in public schools, titled “Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline.”

The report reads, in part:

“Schools should consider crafting goals covering the school’s provision of supports for all students, including students of color, students with disabilities, and students who may be at risk for dropping out of school, trauma, social exclusion, or behavior incidents,” the report states.

“Those with such risks include, but are not limited to, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students; homeless and unaccompanied students; corrections-involved students; students in foster care; pregnant and parenting students; migrant students; English language learners; and others,” it states.

“For example, specific goals may include reducing the total numbers of suspensions and expulsions, reducing the number of law enforcement referrals from the school, identifying and connecting at-risk youths to tailored supports, or increasing the availability of quality mental health supports available for students,” the report states.
A 2001 report by the National Association of School Psychologists showed what percentage of U.S. public school had zero tolerance for “serious offenses” as follows:

firearms (94%)
weapons other than firearms (91%)
alcohol (87%)
drugs (88%)
violence (79%)
tobacco (79%)

The summit is a federal government initiative -- now in its fourth year -- that includes giving grant funding to U.S. cities to develop programs to prevent youth violence.


Tennessee Lawmakers Vote to Create Education Savings Accounts

In late April, the Tennessee General Assembly passed SB 27/HB 138, which, if signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, will create the nation’s fourth K-12 education savings account (ESA) law. Sponsored by Rep. Debra Moody (R- Covington) and Sen. Dolores R. Gresham (R-Somerville), the bill refers to the accounts as Individualized Education Accounts and models the program on ESA laws in Arizona, Florida, and Mississippi.

Some 20,000 Tennessee students with special needs would be eligible for accounts. The state would deposit public funds in a private bank account parents then use for educational products and services for their child. Parents would be able to pay for therapies and private school tuition, and even save for college, among other possible approved uses.

The Beacon Center of Tennessee reports one-third of children with special needs in Tennessee do not graduate from high school. ESAs created by this legislation would allow families to customize educational services to suit their children’s individual needs. U.S. Department of Education data indicate a 14-point gap between the overall graduation rate for Tennessee students and the rate for students with special needs in the state.

“I became even more convinced as I heard from parents and some in the education community what a great program this was for children with special needs,” said Rep. Moody.

There are more than six million children with special needs enrolled in the nation’s public schools. In national comparisons of reading, math, and science achievement, these students regularly lag behind their mainstream peers, according to U.S. Dept. of Education data.

ESAs are helping students around the country meet their potential, according to research and analysis by the Beacon Center. An Arizona family used an education savings account to buy braille materials for a student with vision impairment in addition to paying private school tuition, according to a report. The student, Max Ashton, eventually earned a scholarship to college.

Approximately 1,200 students are using the accounts in Arizona, and the state’s Department of Education reports the program has doubled in size every year since its inception in 2011. Florida lawmakers appropriated funds for 1,800 accounts last year, but Step Up for Students, which operates Florida’s accounts, reports some 10,500 families have started applications for the coming school year. 

More than a dozen states have considered education savings accounts since Arizona lawmakers enacted the state’s law.

“We believe this is a true victory for these children and applaud lawmakers for courageously standing up for special needs families across our state,” said Lindsay Boyd, director of policy for the Beacon Center of Tennessee.


Congress Goes to High School: Students Get a Firsthand Look at Debate Over School Choice

Archbishop Carroll High School, a private Catholic school about four miles north of the U.S. Capitol, today took center stage in the debate over school choice.

More than 100 students joined teachers and parents in the high school’s auditorium to watch members of Congress spar over the effectiveness of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which has provided financial support to about 6,000 low-income students in the District of Columbia.

Jordan Winston, a 17-year-old junior who serves as the school’s student council president, is one of the program’s beneficiaries. He had the honor of sharing the stage at Archbishop Carroll with some of America’s most powerful leaders.

Winston, a recipient of the scholarship since fifth grade, credits the program for his academic success. This morning, he quickly established a rapport with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who testified at the hearing. Winston said he enjoyed the hearing, especially the political debate between Republicans and Democrats.

“It’s a very important experience for our students to see what goes on and how different decisions are made,” Winston said. “It’s a positive and uplifting experience to see how our lives are being changed.”

Many D.C. scholarship recipients attend private Catholic schools like Archbishop Carroll, giving students and their parents an opportunity to observe a unique civics lesson on an issue that’s particularly personal.

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, convened the field hearing at a time when the future of the program is once again being debated.

In this year’s budget proposal, the Obama administration has proposed eliminating funding for new scholarships. The Republican-led Congress is expected to counter that move later this year in legislation that would reauthorize the program.

Students got a first-hand glimpse of the debate this morning.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., voiced opposition to the program, at times prompting the auditorium to react unfavorably to their comments.