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devos+mgn

DeVos Confirmed: Everything They Said about Her Is False by James Agresti

Betsy DeVos has been confirmed as Secretary of Education, but just barely. In the course of the hearings, outrageous claims were made about her views. Most originated from the public school industry itself, which is clinging to old forms for dear life. The result has been nothing but confusion. Let’s look more carefully.

In an op-ed for the New York Times, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) alleges that she is voting against Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education because:

  • DeVos opposes policies that allow “our young people, all of them, to participate in our democracy and compete on a fair footing in the workforce.”
  • DeVos supports “voucher systems that divert taxpayer dollars to private, religious and for-profit schools without requirements for accountability.”
  • “The voucher programs that Ms. DeVos advocates leave out students whose families cannot afford to pay the part of the tuition that the voucher does not cover; the programs also leave behind students with disabilities because the schools do not accommodate their complex needs.”

Each of those claims is belied by concrete facts, and Hassan is guilty of most of the charges she levels at DeVos. Also, Hassan sent her own daughter to a private school, an opportunity that she would deny to other children.

A Fair Footing

Under the current U.S. education system, the quality of students’ schooling is largely determined by their parents’ income. This is because wealthy parents can afford to send their children to private schools and live in neighborhoods with the best public schools. Such options narrow as income declines, and the children of poor families—who are often racial minorities—typically end up in the nation’s worst schools.

Contrary to popular perception, funding is not the primary cause of differences between schools. Since the early 1970s, school districts with large portions of minority students have spent about the same amount per student as districts with fewer minorities. This is shown by studies conducted by the left-leaning Urban Institute, the U.S. Department of Education, Ph.D. economist Derek Neal, and the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Moreover, contrary to the notion that certain minorities are intellectually inferior, empirical and anecdotal evidence suggests that with competent schooling, people of all races can excel. For example, in 2009, Public School 172 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York, had:

  • a mostly Hispanic population.
  • one-third of the students not fluent in English and no bilingual classes.
  • 80% of the students poor enough to qualify for free lunch.
  • lower spending per student than the New York City average.
  • the highest average math score of all fourth graders in New York City, with 99% of the students scoring “advanced.”
  • the top-dozen English scores of all fourth graders in New York City, with 99% of students passing.

These and other such results indicate that school quality plays a major role in student performance. Hassan and other critics of school choice are keenly aware of this, as evidenced by the choices they make for their own children. For example, Obama’s first Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, stated that the primary reason he decided to live in Arlington, Virginia, was so his daughter could attend its public schools. In his words:

That was why we chose where we live, it was the determining factor. That was the most important thing to me. My family has given up so much so that I could have the opportunity to serve; I didn’t want to try to save the country’s children and our educational system and jeopardize my own children’s education.

Duncan’s statement is an admission that public schools in the D.C. area often jeopardize the education of children, but he would not let this happen to his child. Few parents have the choice that Duncan made because most cannot afford to live in places like Arlington, where the annual cash income of the median family is $144,843, the highest of all counties in the United States.

Other prominent opponents of private school choice—like Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Bill Clinton—personally attended and also sent their own children to private K-12 schools. Likewise, Hassan’s daughter attended an elite private high school (Phillips Exeter Academy) where Hassan’s husband was the principal.

The existing U.S. education system does not provide an equal footing for children, but Hassan criticizes DeVos for supporting school choice, which would lessen this inequity. By its very definition, school choice allows parents to select the schools their children attend, an option that Hassan and other affluent people regularly exercise.

Taxpayer Money and Accountability

Four lines of evidence disprove Hassan’s claim that DeVos wants to “divert taxpayer dollars” to non-public schools “without requirements for accountability.”

First, private school choice generally increases public school spending per student, which is the primary measure of education funding. As explained by Stephen Cornman, a statistician with the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, per-pupil spending is “the gold standard in school finance.”

Private school choice programs boost per-student funding in public schools because the public schools no longer educate the students who go to the private schools, which typically spend much less per student than public schools. This leaves additional funding for the students who remain in public schools.

According to the latest available data, the average spending per student in private K-12 schools during the 2011-12 school year was about $6,762. In the same year, the average spending per student in public schools was $13,398, or about twice as much. These figures exclude state administration spending, unfunded pension liabilities, and post-employment benefits like healthcare—all of which are common in public schools and rare in private ones.

Certain school costs like building maintenance are fixed in the short term, and thus, the savings of educating fewer students occurs in steps. This means that private school choice can temporarily decrease the funding per student in some public schools, but this is brief and slight because only 8% of public school spending is for operations and maintenance.

Second, school choice provides the most direct form of accountability, which is accountability to students and parents. With school choice, if parents are unhappy with any school, they have the ability to send their children to other schools. This means that every school is accountable to every parent.Under the current public education system, schools are accountable to government officials, not students and parents. Again, Hassan knows this, because her son has severe disabilities, and Hassan used her influence as a lawyer to get her son’s public elementary school to “accommodate his needs.”

Unlike Hassan, people without a law degree, extra time on their hands, or ample financial resources are at the mercy of politicians and government employees. Short of legal action or changing an election outcome, most children and parents are stuck with their public schools, regardless of whether they are effective or safe. That is precisely the situation that DeVos would like to fix through school choice, but Hassan talks as if DeVos were trying to do the opposite.

Third, taxpayer funds are commonly used for private schools, and Hassan actually wants more of this. Her campaign website states that she “will fight to expand Pell Grants” but fails to reveal that these are often used for private colleges like, for example, Brown University, the Ivy League school that she, her husband, and her daughter attended (disclosure: so did this author).

In other words, Hassan supports using taxpayer money for top students to attend elite private universities, but she opposes the same opportunity for poor students to attend private K-12 schools.

Hassan’s position on college aid also undercuts her objection that DeVos supports programs that “leave out students whose families cannot afford to pay the part of the tuition that the voucher does not cover.” If that were truly Hassan’s objection, she would also oppose aid that doesn’t cover the full costs of every college, because that would leave out students who can’t pay the rest of the tuition.

Fourth, contrary to Hassan’s rhetoric about accountability to taxpayers, she supports current spending levels in public K-12 schools, “debt-free public college for all,” and expanding “early childhood education” in spite of the facts that:

  • the U.S. spends an average of 31% more per K-12 student than other developed nations, but 15-year olds in the U.S. rank 31st among 35 nations in math.
  • federal, state, and local governments spend about $900 billion per year on formal education, but only 18% of U.S. residents aged 16 and older can correctly answer a word problem requiring the ability to search text, interpret it, and calculate using multiplication and division.
  • the average spending per public school classroom is $286,000 per year, but only 26% of the high school students who take the ACT exam meet its college readiness benchmarks in all four subjects (English, reading, math, and science).
  • federal, state and local governments spend $173 billion per year on higher education, but 80% of first-time, full-time students who enroll in a public community college do not receive a degree from the college within 150% of the normal time required to do so.
  • 4-year public colleges spend an average of $40,033 per year for each full-time student, but one-third of students who graduate from 4-year colleges don’t improve their “critical thinking, analytical reasoning, problem-solving, and writing” skills by more than one percentage point over their entire college careers.
  • the federal government funds dozens of preschool programs, and the largest —Head Start—spends an average of $8,772 per child per year, but it produces no measurable benefit by the time students reach 3rd grade.

In sum, Hassan supports pumping taxpayer money into programs with high costs and substandard outcomes, but she opposes doing the same for private K–12 schools that produce better outcomes with far less cost.

Left Behind?

Hassan’s claim that private school choice programs “leave behind students with disabilities because the schools do not accommodate their complex needs” is also false.

In Northern and Central New Jersey, there are more than 30 private special education schools that are approved by the state. As far as parents are concerned, these schools serve the needs of their children better than the public schools in their areas. If this were not the case, these private schools would not exist.

More importantly, if parents don’t think that a private school will be best for their special needs child, school choice allows them to keep the child in a public school that is better-funded thanks to the money saved by school choice.

In a recent brief to the Nevada Supreme Court, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, and its state affiliate argue that free-market voucher programs will lead to “cream-skimming—the drawing away of the most advantaged students to private schools––and lead to a highly stratified system of education.”

As detailed above, the current public school system is highly stratified by income, and income and education go hand in hand. Hence, the real issue is not stratification but what happens to students who stay in public schools. Contrary to the belief that school choice will harm these students, a mass of evidence shows the opposite.

At least 21 high-quality studies have been performed on the academic outcomes of students who remain in public schools that are subject to school choice programs. All but one found neutral-to-positive results, and none found negative results. This is consistent with the theory that school choice stimulates competition that induces public schools to improve.

Who Wins and Who Loses?

Wide-ranging facts prove that school choice is a win for students, parents, and taxpayers. However, it financially harms teachers unions by depriving them of dues, because private schools are less likely to have unions than public ones.

In turn, this financially harms Democratic politicians, political action committees, and related organizations, which have received about $200 million in reported donations from the two largest teachers’ unions since 1990. Unions also give many unreported donations to Democratic Party causes.

Teachers’ unions are firmly opposed to private school choice, and the National Education Association has sent an open letter to Democrats stating that “opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA.”

So why does Hassan oppose giving other children opportunities that she gave to her own children? Motives are difficult to divine, but the reasons she gave in her op-ed are at odds with verifiable facts and her own actions.

James Agresti

James Agresti

James D. Agresti is the president of Just Facts, a nonprofit institute dedicated to publishing verifiable facts about public policy.

RELATED ARTICLE: Bill to Shut U.S. Education Department Introduced in Congress

bathroom entrance

Government Shouldn’t Decide Who Uses Which Bathroom by Doug Bandow

There’s Simply No Single Right Answer.

The North Carolina legislature voted in March to require that people use the bathroom designated for their biological sex. The state was criticized for violating gay and transgender rights. The Obama administration may cut federal education, housing, and transportation aid to North Carolina in response.

Bathroom use has been an issue in other states, including Illinois, Texas, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Dakota. Legislation proposed and passed differs by state on how to define gender — ranging from chromosomes to birth certificate to anatomical sex. Obviously, people can’t change their chromosomes. They can, however, change their gender identity and its associated physical traits, which is where the controversy begins.

The president’s position appears to be that people have a legal right to use the bathroom of their choice, regardless of their gender, however defined. With the club of federal funding, he is attempting to socially engineer America.

This is central planning run riot.

Good people should approach anyone in the midst of gender change with humility and compassion. For most of us, it is unimaginable what would cause someone to desire to shift genders. It is a personal issue of the most profound nature. It shouldn’t be debated and decided in the public square.

And politicians aren’t doing a good job addressing the question. It may not make sense to most people for someone who looks like a guy to use the ladies room, however he sees himself, but neither does it seem right to force someone who looks like a guy to use the ladies room because he was born female. And it certainly makes no sense to let one person or group of people force everyone else to comply with their preference, even when that group is a majority of voters.

Bathroom use shouldn’t be a question for bureaucrats, politicians, lawyers, or judges to answer.

Who should use which bathroom? If it’s in your home, you decide. Likewise, a private company or other private organization should set the rules for its building. What does the owner want? What do customers or members prefer? What is the best way to balance competing interests given the community’s dominant moral sense?

Most people in most places probably believe that people should use the bathroom that matches their physical characteristics, whether changed or not. And we know from the current debate that many (if not most) people prefer not to share a bathroom with someone who appears to be of the other sex, irrespective of the gender with which he or she identifies.

However, one can imagine a “progressive” individual, business owner, or group deciding otherwise. And whether that decision reflected special solicitude for vulnerable individuals or a desire to shape public attitudes, it would be no cause for complaint.

There’s simply no single right answer — and no justification for government to intervene in such intimate, private decisions.

What about bathrooms in public facilities, such as a government office, school, airport, or military base? These are all theoretically “owned” by everyone. Everyone has a stake in the issue — and thus a “right” of some sort — but there’s no accepted, overarching principle that determines with whom you must share a bathroom. A local majority may need to rule in such cases, but someone will always be unhappy with the result, especially if the relevant decision-makers are far away, protected from the consequences.

For Washington pols to insist that, say, teenage girls in a small town in downstate Illinois accept as a bathroom mate a child who appears to be a boy is an act of extraordinary chutzpah. The girls’ refusal to do so does not necessarily reflect malevolent discrimination; it may simply be an understandable reaction to basic biology. Politicians have no right to impose their particular agenda.

Of course, differing opinions don’t justify ignoring the interests of those in the midst of gender change, whether it involves surgery or not. Access to a bathroom is critical for almost everything people do — going to school, working outside your home, going shopping, and traveling. Some kind of accommodation should be made. But what kind?

Again, there’s no single solution that fits every public establishment, let alone private entity, across the country. Larger buildings could offer more options, such as separate bathrooms, like family-friendly single facilities. Communities and student bodies differ in attitudes and openness. Even those who are transgender may desire different outcomes in different circumstances.

Most important, all participants need to demonstrate understanding and sensitivity. No one of goodwill wants to add to the distress of someone changing gender. At the same time, those going through the process should not try to use government to impose their preference on schoolmates, neighbors, coworkers, and others. People should look for alternatives and compromises to work it out. Compromise, compassion, private property rights, and decentralized decision-making are enough to resolve this issue.

Politicians already control education, manage health care, provide social services, and underwrite businesses — and now they even decide who should use which bathroom. It’s time to return life’s most important decisions to the people. A good place to start would be keeping government out of our bathrooms.

Doug BandowDoug Bandow

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of a number of books on economics and politics. He writes regularly on military non-interventionism.

RELATED ARTICLES:

New Democrat Party: The Red-Green-Rainbow Troika

What will happen when a Muslim girl showers with a male who thinks he’s a girl?

Three reasons why Trump’s support of transgender bathrooms is wrong

EDITORS NOTE: Congressman Vern Buchanan (FL-District 16) did an email survey of constituents on the issue of transgender bathrooms. Here is the question and responses as of May 16th, 2016:

Do you support the new Obama administration directive requiring all public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice?
  • Strongly support
 23.16%
  • Somewhat support
  8.39%
  • Somewhat oppose
  5.59%
  • Strongly oppose
 62.84%
Obama-girls-locker-room

What will happen when a Muslim girl showers with a male who thinks he’s a girl?

After all, you have to laugh sometimes! Our reader domstudent11 posed this little query which demonstrates so hilariously how the Left will tie itself into knots with its political correctness nonsense!

From domstudent11:

restroom sign

Here’s what baffles me: at the same time that Obama is suing North Carolina for it’s “bathroom” law and trying to bully schools into mingling boys and girls in bathrooms and locker rooms, he is “importing” thousands of Muslims who would find it permissible to attack a non-relative male seen with any of their women.

What does he think will happen when Muslim girls are forced to shower with males who “think” they are female?

What does he think will happen when a Muslim husband sees a man (who “feels” like a woman) following his wife into a public restroom?

The only solution I can see is that public facilities and schools will be expected to provide an additional bathroom/locker room for Muslim girls only. Muslim boys would be free, of course, to share the facilities with infidel girls (if they are feeling like girls on any given day). Fair isn’t it?  Other suggestions?

This post is archived in our ‘Comments worth noting’ category, here.

Afterthought: Where is the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) on Obama’s bathroom policy?

RELATED CARTOON: 

liberal logis gays mulim islamophobia graphic

EDITORS NOTE: Here are passages from the Qur’an and Hadith on sodomy:

“Do you approach males among the worlds. And leave what your Lord has created for you as mates? But you are a people transgressing.” They said, “If you do not desist, O Lot, you will surely be of those evicted.” He said, “Indeed, I am, toward your deed, of those who detest [it].” — Quran, Sura 26 (Ash-Shu’ara), 165-168

And [mention] Lot, when he said to his people, “Do you commit immorality while you are seeing? Do you indeed approach men with desire instead of women? Rather, you are a people behaving ignorantly.” — Quran, Sura 27 (An-Naml), 54-55

“If you find someone doing the deed of the people of Lot, then execute the doer and the one to whom it was done.” reported by Ibn Abbas, Book of Legal Punishment, Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Book 17, Hadith 40 [Number 1456], Hasan.

Those who commit unlawful sexual intercourse of your women – bring against them four [witnesses] from among you. And if they testify, confine the guilty women to houses until death takes them or Allah ordains for them [another] way. And the two who commit it among you, dishonor them both. But if they repent and correct themselves, leave them alone. Indeed, Allah is ever Accepting of repentance and Merciful. — Quran, Sura 4 (An-Nisa), 15-16

Here are passages from the Qur’an on the roles of men and women:

Quran (4:34)“Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them.”

Quran (2:228)“and the men are a degree above them”

Quran (33:59)“Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them…” Men determine how women dress.

Quran (33:33)“And abide quietly in your homes…” Women are confined to their homes except when they have permission to go out.

Quran (2:223)“Your wives are as a tilth unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will.” Wives are to be sexually available to their husbands in all ways at all times. They serve their husbands at his command. This verse is believed to refer to anal sex (see Bukhari 60:51), and was “revealed” when women complained to Muhammad about the practice. The phrase “when and how you will” means that they lost their case.

Quran (66:5)“Maybe, his Lord, if he divorce you, will give him in your place wives better than you, submissive, faithful, obedient, penitent, adorers, fasters, widows and virgins” A disobedient wife can be replaced.

ghostbusterslogo

We Pay Millions to ‘Ghost Teachers’ Who Don’t Teach by Jason Bedrick

The Philadelphia school district is in a near-constant state of financial crisis. There are many factors contributing to this sorry state — particularly its governance structure — but it is compounded by fiscal mismanagement. One particularly egregious example is paying six-figure salaries to the tune of $1.5 million a year to “ghost teachers” that do not teach. Pennsylvania Watchdog explains:

As part of the contract with the School District of Philadelphia, the local teachers union is permitted to take up to 63 teachers out of the classroom to work full-time for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. The practice, known as “release time” or “official time,” allows public school teachers to leave the classroom and continue to earn a public salary, benefits, pension and seniority.

These so-called ghost teachers perform a variety of jobs for the PFT, serving as either information officers for other teachers or carrying out the union’s political agenda.

“Teachers should be paid to teach,” attorney Kara Sweigart, who is arguing ghost teacher lawsuits for the Fairness Center, a free legal service for employees who feel they’ve been wronged by their unions, told Watchdog.

“At a time when school districts are hurting financially, districts should be devoting every tax dollar to support students,” she said, “not to pay the salaries of employees of a private political organization.”

According to public salary data available through Philadelphia city agencies, the school district is paying 16 ghost teachers $1.5 million this year. All of them are making at least $81,000.

PFT Vice President Arlene Kempin, who has been on release time since 1983, is among the highest paid at $108,062. Union head Jerry Jordan, who has also been on release time for more than 30 years, is earning $81,245, according to district payroll logs. The 16 ghost teachers on the books this year are making an average salary of almost $98,000.

The “ghost teacher” phenomenon is far from unique to Philly or even the education sector. Such “release time” subsidies for ghost teachers, policemen, firefighters, and bureaucrats of all stripes are common features of public-sector union contracts nationwide. Last month, a Yankee Institute report found that Connecticut provided unions with $4.1 million to subsidize 121,000 hours union-related activities, “the equivalent of more than a year’s worth of work for 50 full-time employees.” Meanwhile, the Goldwater Institute in Arizona is in the midst of a lawsuit against the city of Phoenix for unconstitutionally providing millions of dollars in release-time subsidies.

According to the most recent report from the federal Office of Personnel Management, the federal government paid more than $157 million in 2012 for federal employees to work for their unions for a total of 3,439,449 hours. And those are just the direct costs.

In his book, Understanding the Teacher Union Contract: A Citizen’s Handbook, former teacher union negotiator Myron Lieberman explained how difficult it is to account for the full amount of subsidies that taxpayers provide to the unions:

Most school board members are not aware of the magnitude of these subsidies. In school district budgets, the subsidies are never grouped together under the heading “Subsidies to the Union.” Instead, the subsidies are included in school district budgets under a variety of headings that may or may not refer to the union…

School districts pay for these subsidies from a variety of line items in the district budget: payments to substitute teachers, teacher salaries, and pension contributions, among others.

In most situations, the union subsidy is lumped together with other expenses paid for under the same line item; for example, the costs of hiring substitutes for teachers who are on released time for union business may be included in a budget line for substitutes that also covers substitutes for other reasons, such as replacing teachers on sick leave, personal leave, maternity/paternity leave, and so on.

Taxpayer dollars allocated for education should be spent on items and activities that assist student learning, not to promote the interests of private organizations (especially when their interests often collide with the interests of students). Union work should be paid out of funds the unions collect through dues and donations, not funds expropriated from unwilling and unwitting taxpayers.

Cross-posted from Cato.org.

Jason Bedrick

Jason Bedrick

Jason Bedrick is a policy analyst with the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.

pencils graduation cap schools

Why Schools Don’t Learn by Kevin Currie-Knight

The last 100 years have seen drastic technological innovations — from the way we communicate to the way we travel to the way we consume entertainment. One thing that hasn’t changed is the way we do school. Teacher, chalkboard, lesson, test, move up a grade, repeat.

Maybe the best argument for school choice is that we have no idea what kind of innovations could improve education until we allow radical competition. After all, if government ran the entertainment industry, we might still be watching black and white movies and listening to phonograph records. Instead, we stream films and songs online through a galaxy of services from Netflix and Hulu to Pandora and Spotify.

Where We Are

Think about how many features of our existing education system are wrongly treated as inevitable:

  1. Students are segregated by age. This means that all students have the same amount of time to learn a certain amount of stuff in nth grade before we test them to see if they can move to grade n + 1.
  2. We divide our school curricula into discrete subjects: math, science, language, history, arts, physical education, and so on. Students learn the math required to do science in math class and read about history in history class but read literature in English class.
  3. The school day starts in the early morning and runs until mid-afternoon, and the school year is a fairly big chunk of 175 to 180 days (with a few small breaks) followed by a two- to three-month summer break.

These are just three routine features of school that we barely notice, let alone question.

Once we do question them, alternatives quickly come to mind. One could imagine, for instance, a school that didn’t teach math, science, and history as separate disciplines but found creative ways to teach them in combination — or schools that aren’t automatically structured by age.

School choice allows schools to experiment with different curricula and teaching approaches, but it also allows them to experiment by modifying some of those features that we often take for granted but probably shouldn’t.

How We Got Here

To fully appreciate the need for experimentation in educational spaces, let me introduce two terms, one from behavioral psychology, the other from economics. The first is status quo bias, which sounds like what it means. Behavioral psychologists have discovered in people a marked (often unconscious and uncritical) acceptance of the way things are. When we experience the world a certain way, we often become attached to that way without even realizing our attachment. Of course students are divided into grades based roughly on age. Of course we teach science and history in different classes.

The second term, from political science, is path dependence. Path dependence is the idea that certain things come to be the way they are because past decisions affect the range of available subsequent choices. Picture a business spending lots of money on a certain software program that everyone at the company learns. The business and employees will become so invested in the current program that it will be hard to switch to a different one later. Even if a much better program comes along, the cost of switching may become prohibitively high, so the company will stick with what it knows.

Path dependence caused the unquestioned features of our education system to evolve the way they did. Why are schools open in fall, winter, and spring but closed during summer? The myth is that this schedule has to do with the days when kids were expected to work on farms, but really the shape of the school calendar is a vestige of the pre-air-conditioning era.

With widespread air conditioning, why do we continue to adjourn for summers? Because we have structured so much of our social fabric on the idea that kids and teachers have summers off. Theme parks, summer vacation destinations, and other business interests depend on kids having summer breaks. Parents plan for their children to be off during the summer. Summer break has a cultural inertia akin to a company’s commitment to legacy software. Once we get used to schooling done a certain way, we come to think of that as how school should be done, which ensures that even things like summer break continue well past their usefulness. That’s path dependence.

Status quo bias factors in when we become so used to schools having a summer break (or operating from early morning to mid-afternoon, Monday through Friday) that we fail to think of this system as anything but the way it has to be.

The Way Forward

Surpassing the educational equivalent of legacy software is precisely what makes school choice important. Competition allows some people to experiment with different ways of doing things while others can stick with what’s familiar. Markets also disrupt the kind of lock-in that path dependence often creates. While it may be costly for our imagined business to switch to the new software, other businesses may find it easier, and the market will help decide which decision was wiser.

One could object, of course, that new alternative schools — with their different schedules of operation or different approaches to curricula — will get things wrong, to the detriment of students. Yes, some schools will try what ultimately fails. But unlike big centralized bureaucracies, businesses learn quickly from their failures and adapt — or they go broke. Contrast that process to the time it takes for government to abandon a program everyone knows isn’t working.

Unless you think the current school system is doing fine, the only way forward is through innovation, and innovation requires the sort of experimentation that happens naturally in the free market.

Kevin Currie-KnightKevin Currie-Knight

Kevin Currie-Knight teaches in East Carolina University’s Department of Special Education, Foundations, and Research. His website is KevinCK.net. He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

day of silence

If your school allows ‘Day of Silence’, keep your child home this Friday

On Friday, April 15, high schools (and many middle schools) across the country will be hosting the LGBT movement’s annual “Day of Silence.”

During this all-day event, student activists and even school officials encourage students to be silent for the entire day as a sign of solidarity with the international LGBT movement. Students are encouraged to wear special pro-homosexual badges, stickers, and bracelets – which are often handed out at the school entrances that day. There are also pro-LGBT posters in the hallways, handouts, and even workshops.

Although the adult activists claim that the “Day of Silence” is put together by “students,” it is in fact organized behind the scenes by adults with the enthusiastic cooperation of school officials. They use materials and instructions from a national homosexual activist group.

Parents must. Please join the national effort to restore to public education a proper understanding of the role of government-subsidized schools.

You can actively oppose this hijacking of the classroom for political purposes and help de-politicize the learning environment by calling your child out of school if your child’s school allows students to remain silent during instructional time on the “Day of Silence.”

If students will be permitted to remain silent, parents can express their opposition most effectively by calling their children out of school on the “Day of Silence” and sending letters of explanation to their administrators, their children’s teachers, and all school board members.

TAKE ACTION

1.  Call your local schools and ask whether they permit students or teachers to remain silent in the classroom on “Day of Silence.” IMPORTANT: Do not ask any administrator, school board member, or teacher if the school sponsors, endorses, or supports DOS. Schools do not technically sponsor the Day of Silence. Technically, it is students, often students in the gay-straight alliance, who sponsor it. Many administrators will tell you that they do not sponsor the DOS when, in fact, they do permit students and sometimes even teachers to remain silent during instructional time. Also ask administrators whether they permit teachers to create lesson plans to accommodate student silence.

2.  Find out what date the event is planned for your school. (The national date in 2016 is Friday, April 15, but some schools observe DOS on a different date).

3.  Inform the school of your intention to keep your children home on that date and explain why.

Visit www.doswalkout.net for complete information on opposing the “Day of Silence.”

RELATED ARTICLES:

Tennessee School Board stands up to LGBT pressure — protects students from high school “gay” club.

Missouri Attempts to Send Religious Liberty Bill Straight to the People

Mississippi Is on the Right Side of History

Big Sports Benches People of Faith

text books boston bombers

VIDEO: Terrorists and Their Textbooks

What do the Boston Bombers have to do with a Holt McDougal textbook titled “Modern World History: Patterns of Interaction” used in their high school?

This brief film illustrates how Islam-biased content in K-12 history and geography textbooks can indoctrinate and radicalize our children, causing some of them to evolve into homegrown terrorists. By quietly getting major textbook publishers to include language that enhances Islam, while demeaning Christianity and Judaism, Islamists are attempting to win the hearts and minds of America’s middle- and high-school students.

In the film, Citizens for National Security (CFNS) connects the dots between our country’s classrooms and acts of terrorism.

RELATED ARTICLE: Dealing with Terrorism without Falling into its Trap

Vernon Hill students join their Muslim peers in wearing hijabs

Muslim Indoctrination and the U.S. Department of Education from Hihab Dress-Up to Convert

The World Hijab Day website presents hijab-wearing as a sign of empowerment; women and girls who wear hijabs are called “queens, princesses, and sultanas.” One blog post by Megan Baase, however, reveals that experimental hijab-wearing may have other effects.  Baase writes that she didn’t know much about Islam until World Hijab Day.  After reading about Islam and “why women wear hijabs,” she decided to convert: “I would’ve never learned about Islam if it weren’t for world hijab day.”Now, the U.S. Department of Education is encouraging Islamic proselytizing.

Ever since 9/11 educators have been trying to promote a positive view of Islam under the pretext of fighting harassment of Muslims.  American textbooks repeat Muslim doctrine as if it were historical fact, students are taken to pray in mosques, and girls are asked to dress up in hijabs, the Muslim head scarves.

When I taught at Georgia Perimeter College (2007-2010) I’d see posters on bulletin boards put up by a Muslim professor who advised the Muslim Student Association (a “legacy project” of the Muslim Brotherhood), inviting girls to “wear a hijab for a day.”  In 2009, at the annual meeting of the National Council for the Social Studies, I reported on such panels as “Muslim Perspectives Through Film and Dialogue.”

Now we have a World Hijab Day on February 1. The first one was held in 2013.  The organization’s website reported that that February, “Girls of all faiths across East Lancashire [United Kingdom] have been taking part in World Hijab Day to understand and appreciate the muslim [sic] culture.” At Pleckgate High School, the head of “RE and citizenship,” was quoted as saying, “Staff and pupils, Muslim and non Muslim, wore the hijab all day as a way of increasing understanding. . . .”

Here in the USA, in Texas, later that month, WND reported, “Students Made to Wear Burqas – in Texas.”  The exercise was part of the Texas CSCOPE curriculum.  In California, at Natomas Pacific Prep public charter school, some girls wore hijabs as part of their senior projects.

This year according to the World Hijab Day’s website, college campuses in Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania participated.  Advice for Muslim Student Associations on holding such events is offered at the site, as are testimonials from Muslim and non-Muslim women.  So is New York Assemblyman David Weprin’s statement in support of World Hijab Day 2016.

On February 11 of this year, the U.S. Department of Education sent out an official “Homeroom” blog post titled “Protecting Our Muslim Youth from Bullying: The Role of the Educator.”

It began: “Not since the days and months immediately after September 11 has the Muslim community faced the level of anti-Muslim bias and bullying that has been seen over the past several months. In the wake of Paris and other terrorist attacks, combined with the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a lack of information among the public about Islam, and the tendency to associate  Islam with terrorism, there has been an increase in expressions and incidents targeting the Muslim community. . . .”

An alleged “increased wave of anti-Muslim sentiment in our public discourse, political rhetoric and everyday interactions,” includes schools, where youth have been called, “terrorists” or “ISIS” and attacked physically, verbally, and through social isolation.

The “statistics,” however, come from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).   As evidence of 75 reported incidents, ranging from assault to fliers opposing a mosque in Fredericksburg, there are links to only 10 news reports that go so far as to only describe allegations (many of these will likely prove to be hoaxes).

The suggested activities and curricula also come from ADL, which has long been selling its anti-bullying programs and materials to schools.  These activities are aimed at the larger goal of controlling students’ emotions and thoughts, i.e., getting them to stop “hating,” and to uncritically accept all cultures and lifestyles. (Early in the Obama administration, such anti-bullying programs were directed at protecting gay students and were coordinated with then-“safe schools czar,” the co-founder of the Gay and Lesbian Independent School Teacher Network, Kevin Jennings.)

Among the Department’s suggested activities is holding a “Walk a Mile in Her Hijab Day.”  There is a link to a video of a classroom at Vernon Hills High School in Illinois, where girls are shown in a classroom helping each other put on hijabs.  It’s presented as a fun activity, dress-up for teenagers.  The event, held last December, was organized by the school’s Muslim Student Association President, Yasmeen Abdallah, who claimed it was intended to “denounce negative stereotypes.”

At a Rochester, New York, high school, another Muslim student, Eman Muthana, successfully petitioned the administration to participate in World Hijab Day this month.  Some parents became outraged.  Muthana said it was a way to share a cultural experience and fight prejudice.

The World Hijab Day website reported that Memphis Central High School also participated this year. The blog-poster, identified only as “Mary,” a “Christian, USA,” did not report any outraged parents, but only feeling good at “seeing so many people support one another.”

The World Hijab Day website presents hijab-wearing as a sign of empowerment; women and girls who wear hijabs are called “queens, princesses, and sultanas.”

One blog post by Megan Baase, however, reveals that experimental hijab-wearing may have other effects.  Baase writes that she didn’t know much about Islam until World Hijab Day.  After reading about Islam and “why women wear hijabs,” she decided to convert: “I would’ve never learned about Islam if it weren’t for world hijab day.”  The post features a picture of her and her four-year-old son, both wearing hijabs.  She writes that she “couldn’t say no” to his request to “be just like mommy.”

Although proponents claim such activities are cultural exercises, critics rightly point out that students are not asked to participate in the wearing of crucifixes or yarmulkes.  Now, the U.S. Department of Education, under the cover of anti-bullying, is encouraging Islamic proselytizing.

The development is alarming especially given the Department’s increased grip on day-to-day school operations.  “Dear Colleague” letters give directives on such things as bullying, rape prevention, and school discipline.  School administrators tend to act preemptively to fend off potential punishment from the feds.  It’s why school websites are plastered with anti-discrimination statements and notices about training in “affirmative consent.”

To ward off charges of creating a hostile school environment, school officials may want to have proof in the form of a list of activities that encourage cultural sensitivity – like having girls wear hijabs.

Such activities do have consequences.  We need to listen to what Muslim converts say, rather than what the Department of Education says.

RELATED ARTICLE: Campus Protesters Try to Silence Conservative Speaker, Demand College President’s Resignation

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research website. The featured image is of Vernon Hill students join their Muslim peers in wearing hijabs.

American-Muslim-Women-IP_1

World Hijab Day Debuts in American Schools

School officials in Rochester, New York are getting flak from angry parents and teachers for holding an event in solidarity with World Hijab Day. The event, held at the school and during school hours, encouraged the high school girls to wear the Islamic headscarf for the day. Boys were given carnations to wear in solidarity.

Unsuspecting students put on the 150 headscarves that were brought by teachers before the first bell rang. They were encouraged to participate in the “cultural event” by the school’s principal Sheela Webster, who insisted the headscarf had nothing to do with religion, but rather all about the “experiental” and “was actually around learning about the cloth.”

“Our perspective in it was not religious – it was really about experiential,” she said. “We are an experiential school; we engage kids in all kinds of activities and projects all of the time, so the perspective of being able to learn what a hijab is, why some women choose to wear it and why some women don’t choose to wear it, and we provide the opportunity to experience it; it is well within protocol of experiential learning.”

Unfortunately, learning about “why some women don’t choose to wear it” – or more pointedly, what happens to women in certain Muslim countries and societies who have no choice whether or not to wear it — was not part of the program.

As prominent Muslim human rights activist Asra Nomani writes in the Washington Post, events such as these are a “painful reminder of the well-financed effort by conservative Muslims to dominate modern Muslim societies. This modern-day movement spreads an ideology of political Islam, called ‘Islamism,’ enlisting well-intentioned interfaith do-gooders and the media into promoting the idea that ‘hijab’ is a requirement of Islam.”

Concurrent with the advent Islamism comes the culture of “honor,” the idea that a family’s or a husband’s honor lies in the chastity and modesty of their female members. To the Islamist, the hijab has become the quintessential symbol of that honor.

Stories have, unfortunately, become common in our time of women — both in the West as well in Muslim countries– who have been “honor” killed by their families or societies for not wearing a hijab.

Asra Nomani grew up in India in the 1960s in a conservative Muslim family. Yet, there was no Islamic law at the time that women should cover their hair. “But, starting in the 1980s,” she relates, “following the 1979 Iranian revolution of the minority Shiite sect and the rise of well-funded Saudi clerics from the majority Sunni sect, we have been bullied in an attempt to get us  to cover our hair from men and boys.”

On a theological level, it is interesting to note how many prominent Islamic theologians reject the idea that women are required to wear a hijab.

It is likely that high school sophomore Eman Muthana, originally from Yemen, who wears a hijab and requested the event, was unaware of history of the cloth she wears around her head every day.

Commenting on the event, Muthana said, “I just feel proud that I’m sharing my culture and actually not forcing that on them, because everybody has the choice to do that so. I just feel happy that they are supporting me. We are in America; everybody has the freedom of religion, I cannot force anything. And also, I cannot do anything bad to a country that opened its door for me.”

But somewhere, it seems, that was some coercion. A spokesman for the school district said, after consulting with a lawyer, he was told “there would be more of a legal issue if the school said no to the event” than to host it.

Locals took to social media to voice their disapproval.  High school teacher Jim Farnholz wrote, “As a high school teacher for over 30 years, let me say that this is wrong on so many levels. All religions are taught in our global studies classes. That being said, that is where understanding, tolerance and the good and bad of religion and history are taught. This, however, is a clear violation of separation of church and state.”

“What lesson will they wear a Yarmulke in? Or the Christian cross? Or the Hindu turban?” Dan Lane posted. “Funny how it always seems to be the Muslims they learn about, even in Common Core.”

“How disgusting and irresponsible for any educator to encourage a child to wear a symbol of oppression, whether it be religious or cultural,” Rebecca Sluman wrote.

Americans, who enjoy, religious freedom, must be wary of becoming unknowing accomplices to the agenda of political Islam. Commenting on events such as these, Nomani pleads, “Do not wear a headscarf in ‘solidarity’ with the ideology that most silences us, equating our bodies with ‘honor.’ Stand with us instead with moral courage against the ideology of Islamism.”

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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classroom children hands raised

Homeschooling, Socialization, and the New Groupthink by B.K. Marcus

“But what about socialization?”

We who educate our children outside the school system confront an exhausting array of accusations posing as concerns, but the most puzzling — and the most persistent — is the socialization question. For years, I’ve taken it at face value:How, the skeptic seems to be asking, will your kids ever learn to be sociable if you keep them locked up at home all day?

That very few homeschooled kids lead the lives of sheltered isolation implied by this question does not seem to assuage the questioner. There’s something kids are assumed to receive from the process of group schooling — especially from large, government-funded schools — that helps them fit in better with society at large.

Learning to Be a Cog

I recently talked to a mom who wants to homeschool her daughter. The girl’s dad objects to the idea because, he insists, home education will fail to prepare her for “the real world.” I find it significant that this man is career military. The real world, as he knows it, is regimented, tightly controlled, and bureaucratized into stasis — at least compared with the very different real world of voluntary exchange and spontaneous order.

If your goal for your children is a lifetime of government work, then by all means send them to public school: the bigger, the better. But if, by “socialization,” you mean ensuring that a child becomes sociable, that he or she develops the intelligence and social reflexes that promote peaceful and pleasurable interactions with larger groups of friends and strangers, then the irony of the what-about-socialization question is that it gets the situation precisely backwards. It is schooled kids, segregated by age and habituated to the static and artificial restrictions of the schooling environment, who demonstrate more behavioral problems while in school and greater difficulty adjusting to the post-school world.

Does “Socialization” Mean Peer Pressure?

While homeschooled kids learn to interact daily with people of all ages, schools teach their students to think of adults primarily in terms of avoiding trouble (or sometimes seeking it). That leaves the social lessons to their peers, narrowly defined as schoolmates roughly their own age.

If your goal for your children is a lifetime of government work, then by all means send them to public school: the bigger, the better. 

Thomas Smedley, who prepared a master’s thesis for Radford University of Virginia on “The Socialization of Homeschool Children,” put it this way:

In the public school system, children are socialized horizontally, and temporarily, into conformity with their immediate peers. Home educators seek to socialize their children vertically, toward responsibility, service, and adulthood, with an eye on eternity.

As a result, most homeschooled kids grow into well-adjusted, flexible, and emotionally mature adults, open to a diversity of peers and social contexts.

Psychology professor Richard G. Medlin wrote in “Homeschooling and the Question of Socialization Revisited,”

Homeschooling parents expect their children to respect and get along with people of diverse backgrounds.… Compared to children attending conventional schools … research suggest that they have higher quality friendships and better relationships with their parents and other adults.

Furthermore, says Medlin, “They are happy, optimistic, and satisfied with their lives.” How often do you hear those words applied to any other group of children?

Meanwhile, “there seems to be an overwhelming amount of evidence,”according to researcher Michael Brady, “that children socialized in a peer-dominant environment are at higher risk for developing social maladjustment issues than those that are socialized in a parent-monitored environment.”

The Persistence of the Socialization Myth

The contention that kids kept out of large group schools will somehow suffer in their social development never made any sense to begin with. (In fact, large group schools may hurt social development.) Did no one enjoy any social skills before the era of mass education?

Decades of research now support the common-sense conclusion: the artificially hierarchical and age-segregated structure of modern schooling produces a warped form of socialization with unhealthy attitudes toward both authority and peers.

The students who escape this fate are those with strong parental and other adult role models and active engagement with a diverse community outside school. Homeschooling holds no monopoly on engaged parents or robust communities, but those advantages are an almost automatic part of home education.

So why does the socialization myth refuse to die?

Perhaps we have been misunderstanding the critics all along. Homeschoolers think of socialization as the development of an autonomous individual’s social skills for healthy interactions within a larger community. But maybe what we consider healthy isn’t at all what the critics have in mind.

Reprogramming the Quiet Child

Susan Cain’s 2012 book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, does not specifically address homeschooling, but Cain does talk about the history of education and the evolution of what she calls the “Extrovert Ideal — the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.”

Starting in the 1920s, Cain tells us,

The experts advised parents to socialize their children well and schools to change their emphasis from book-learning to “assisting and guiding the developing personality.” Educators took up this mantle enthusiastically.…

Well-meaning parents of the midcentury sent their kids to school at increasingly young ages, where the main assignment was learning to socialize. (emphasis added)

In the 19th century, education was still understood to mean the development of an individual’s character, intellect, and knowledge. By the mid-20th century, education reformers had shifted the emphasis away from preparing the individual student for his or her future and toward integrating individuals into a larger group and a larger vision of a reformed society.

The New Groupthink

We 21st-century Americans may think of ourselves as “unlike the starched-shirted conformists of the 1950s,” to use Cain’s phrase, but she sees the extrovert ideal asserting itself once again in what she calls “the New Groupthink,” which, she explains, “elevates teamwork above all else.”

In ever more schools, this teamwork is promoted “via an increasingly popular method of instruction called ‘cooperative’ or ‘small group’ learning.” This “cooperative” approach, whatever the intentions behind it, actually hurts students — introverts and extroverts alike — both academically and intellectually. To explain why, Cain cites the work of Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, a Swedish psychologist and one of the world’s leading researchers on expertise.

Occasional solitude, it turns out, is essential to mastery in any discipline.

It’s only when you’re alone that you can engage in Deliberate Practice, which [Ericsson] has identified as the key to exceptional achievement. When you practice deliberately, you identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly. Practice sessions that fall short of this standard are not only less useful — they’re counterproductive. They reinforce existing cognitive mechanisms instead of improving them.

Cain and Ericsson offer several reasons why deliberate practice is best conducted alone, “but most important,” writes Cain, “it involves working on the task that’s most challenging to you personally.”

Co-ops, study groups, playgroups, and à la carte classes mean that a homeschooled student spends plenty of time with other kids, including conventionally schooled kids. But homeschooling also allows children more alone time for the kind of learning Ericsson describes.

This is not what most schools offer; neither is it compatible with the emphasis on cooperative learning.

The Homeschooled Self

“The structure and reality of traditional schools,” writes Rebecca Kochenderfer for Homeschool.com, teach kids “to be passive and compliant, which can follow the children throughout life. Children can learn to take abuse, to ignore miserable bosses or abusive spouses later on.”

“In a traditional school,” Kochenderfer adds, “someone else usurps authority.”

Kids from homeschooling families learn a very different lesson about authority and responsibility.

Researcher John Wesley Taylor used the Piers-Harris Children’s Self-Concept Scale to evaluate 224 homeschooled children for self-esteem. “On the global scale,” writes Taylor, “half of the homeschoolers scored at or above the 91st percentile. This condition may be due to higher achievement and mastery levels, independent study characteristics, or one-on-one tutoring situations in the homeschool environment.”

A strong “self-concept ” doesn’t mean that homeschooled kids are self-centered. “Their moral reasoning is at least as advanced as that of other children,” according to Richard G. Medlin’s research, cited earlier, “and they may be more likely to act unselfishly.” What it does mean, however, is that children educated at home are less likely to grow up to be followers.

In 1993, J. Gary Knowles, then a professor of education at the University of Michigan, surveyed 53 adults who had been taught at home by their parents. He found that nearly two-thirds were self-employed. That’s more than twice the global average and about 10 times the current national average. “That so many of those surveyed were self-employed,” said Knowles, “supports the contention that home schooling tends to enhance a person’s self-reliance and independence.”

That independence may be the real source of critics’ concerns.

“Public school educators and other critics,” Knowles commented, “question whether home-educated children will be able to become productive, participating members of a diverse and democratic society.”

But with so much evidence for the superior results achieved by homeschooling — both academically and socially — we have to question the critics’ goals. Is their concern really for the welfare of those educated outside the schools? Or is it rather, as so much of their language suggests, for the success of a particular vision of society — a vision that they fear the independently educated may not readily accommodate?

B.K. MarcusB.K. Marcus

B.K. Marcus is editor of the Freeman.

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Florida Rep. Ray Pilon files legislation returning power to parents, teachers and school boards

Florida Citizens Alliance (FLCA) has been working on both a comprehensive bill to restore local K-12 education control and a focused curriculum bill to fix the loopholes in SB 864, passed in 2014 as FS 1006.283.

FLCA in a press release states:

We are very pleased to report that Senator Alan Hays and Representative Ray Pilon are championing companion bills to fix FS 1006.283 and its loopholes:  SB 1018 and HB 899.

The purpose/intent of the original SB 864 was to assign constitutional responsibility for all instructional materials to school boards, and require a transparent policy/process for school boards and parents to remove objectionable materials. Due to several loopholes in FS 1006.283, the spirit and intent of the original bill are currently being ignored by many school districts in Florida.

Here is a brief summary of the loopholes that the two companion bills (SB 1018 and HB 899) that are intended to “fix” FS 1006.283.

FLCA in an email states:

Please use the petition at right to send a “shout out” to Senator Hays and Representative Pilon, thanking them for their leadership, and to urge your Florida House Representative and Florida Senator to co-sponsor their respective versions of these bills.  The petition is also copying your local school board, asking them to aggressively support these companion bills.

FLCA is urging Florida parents, students and teachers to call their house representative and senator to ask that they co-sponsor these bills. Here are FLCA talking points you can use in your call.  Use these links to get appropriate phone numbers for the Florida House and Florida Senate. We strongly suggest that you call now (before Christmas) and again in January as the legislative cycle begins.

Passage of these companion bills will require an aggressive and sustained set of actions to garner support. Here is an expanded set of 5 actions that FLCA urges parents, students and teachers to put into practice in support of these companion bills.

ABOUT THE FLORIDA CITIZENS ALLIANCE:

The Florida Citizens’ Alliance (FLCA) is a coalition of citizens and grassroots groups working together through education, outreach and community involvement to advance the ideals and principles of liberty.  We believe these include but are not limited to individual rights, free markets, and limited government.

muslim reading quran

Why Tennessee Forces Seventh Graders to Learn Islam by Kevin Currie-Knight

How big is the distinction between education and indoctrination? Not terribly, if you ask some Tennessee lawmakers. They are pushing to remove any mention of religion from Tennessee’s State Academic Standards. At issue is an apparently controversial unit in seventh grade world history class that spends some time exploring Islam. At some point, the students even need to commit the five pillars of Islam to memory.

Needless to say, this issue has generated a lot of heat on all sides. State Representative Sheila Butts (R) believes that exposing students to Islam threatens to indoctrinate them. Others argue that students can’t effectively learn about world history without developing an understanding of the religions that shape that history, which includes Islam. (And for the record, the Tennessee State Academic Standards cover Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Shinto; it just so happens that in seventh grade world history, students cover Islam before other religions.)

Let’s put aside the question of what the right way to teach history is, at least for a moment. What worries me, as a school choice advocate, is that within a public school system, whatever decision is made will be a political one, and the results will apply to all public schools across the state. There will be a winning side and a losing side, and the losing side — throughout the entire state of Tennessee — will have little choice but to send their children to public schools that teach in a way they see as unsatisfactory. And who will choose what side prevails? The state’s department of education.

Within a public school system, whatever decision is made will be a political one, and the results will apply to all public schools across the state. 

Religion has always been a thorny issue in US schools. In the early 1800s, American “common schools” were very Protestant, which led to a stand-off in New York by Catholics who understandably didn’t want their tax money going to Protestant public schools. (Eventually, many frustrated Catholics formed their own private Catholic schools.)

In 1922, the state of Washington outlawed all private schools (a law the Supreme Court found unconstitutional), largely motivated by a desire to eliminate Catholic schools. Since then, we’ve had legal battles over school- led prayer and student-led prayer, over whether schools can or should teach creation accounts of human origins in biology classes, and even over whether schools can allow “released time,” where students can leave school premises to learn about a religion of their choice during the school day.

Few of these controversies would have been as heated in a system of private schools. With markets, what goes on within one firm doesn’t dictate what must go on in another. If Chick-Fil-A wants to stay closed on Sundays, that doesn’t mean that Burger King can’t choose to remain open. Back in the days when video stores were a thing, Hollywood video could choose to carry “racy” films, but that didn’t mean that Blockbuster (which took a “family values” approach) had to. People are free to shop at stores that are most in line with their values.

But that is not how disagreements play out in public schools. In the government’s school system, curricular and other decisions apply across a large territory, usually the entire state. When textbooks for science classes are chosen, all public schools in the state must use those textbooks. When the courts decide that schools cannot lead students in prayer, that decision applies to all public schools across the state. And when curricular standards for seventh grade world history are revised for the state of Tennessee, the resulting standards apply for all public schools in the state.

In a private market, these decisions could be what economists call non-zero-sum situations. If you are appalled that your child must memorize the five pillars of Islam in our children’s history class and I am not, you can decide to take that up with the school and, if you still don’t get your desired result, you can try to find a school that better aligns with your values. But that won’t negatively affect other families who are fine with their children learning about Islam. Neither of us is in a position where a central department of education makes those decisions for everyone. All of us are free to find or start schools in line with our values.

These differences turn into heated conflicts when you and I disagree in a public school system, because for either of us to get our way, the other will have to lose. Instead of taking the issue up with the school, we take it up with the school board for the entire state to see who can garner the most favor.

Imagine if Chick-Fil-A could only close on Sundays if it got enough support to sway the Board of Rapid Dining Establishments to force Burger King and all other restaurants to do the same.

Historian of education Charles Glenn has written about the noisy history of religion’s place in America’s public schools. He writes of the difficulty American public education has had in finding one approach that accommodates all of our rich religious and cultural diversity. He concludes, “We have reason to hope that America may achieve a degree of pluralism in its schools, but important changes are needed. American public education should be disestablished and demythologized.”

But wait, critics might say; if we disestablish public education and allow for robust school choice, doesn’t that mean that some will choose educational forms that I regard as abhorrent?

Yes, I am sure that will happen. But in the world we inhabit, there is vast and persistent disagreement about what the proper elements are for a good education, a very complex issue. Until the day when we reach a truly voluntary consensus on what a good education looks like (not, as we do today, a consensus forced on us by legislation), the better path is to allow individuals to opt out of schools they believe teach inconsistently with their values.

That means you can go your way, I can go mine, and the state department of education never has the thankless task of deciding who is right.

Kevin Currie-Knight

Kevin Currie-Knight

Kevin Currie-Knight teaches in East Carolina University’s Department of Special Education, Foundations, and Research.

Tennessee-Bill-Islam-HP

Tennessee: Teaching Islam in Public Schools

A Tennessee lawmaker has introduced a bill into the state legislature to prevent courses containing “religious doctrine” from being taught before tenth grade. The bill is in reaction to objections by parents to a three-week curriculum under the topic of world religion for middle-school students that covers the “Five Pillars of Islam.”

The bill is the result of a grass-roots campaign by parents reacting to course requirements that obligated their children to write assignments about Islamic principles of faith, such as “Allah is the only God.” Parents have called it indoctrination.

Parents particularly objected that no other religion was taught at the same time, and that the amount of time spent on Islam was considerably more than that which will be spent on Christianity, Buddism, Hinduism and other religions.

The bill also states that any teaching of “comparative religion” does not focus on one religion more than another.

Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, who introduced the bill, agrees. “I think that probably the teaching that is going on right now in seventh, eighth grade is not age appropriate,” said Butt. “They are not able to discern a lot of times whether its indoctrination or whether they’re learning about what a religion teaches.”

The parents asked for help from the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a law firm that addresses constitutional and human rights worldwide. In the course of its investigation, ACLJ ask to looked at the teaching materials from the course but school districts refused to hand them over.

Tennessee law states that the Bible may be used in class, as long as the course doesn’t include the “teaching of religious doctrine or sectarian interpretation of the Bible or of texts from other religious or cultural traditions.”

“If you’re teaching the Middle East, then of course you’re going to mention the religion that was prevalent in that area,” commented Butt, a long-time Sunday school teacher. “But to teach the doctrine is another thing. It’s just a bill about balancing the teaching of religion in education.”

Based on her experience, Butt said, “Junior High is not the time that children are doing the most analysis. Insecurity is in Junior High a lot of times, and students are not able to differentiate a lot of things they are taught.”

Charges of indoctrination by Tennessee parents are reminiscent of a case in California where a federal lawsuit was filed against the Byron Union School District concerning a three-week course about Islam seventh-graders that used the workbook, Islam, A simulation of Islamic history and culture.

In the California school, 12-year old students were told:

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a ruling marked “Not for Publication,” decided that course did not contain “overt religious exercises” that violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Although Islamist organizations have argued that the Tennessee bill is “anti-Islam,” it is reasonable for parents to be concerned about such curriculum. Separation of “church and state” is foundational principle and primary right in the U.S. and should be enjoyed by every individual.

The teaching of religion as religion has no place in America’s public schools.

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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Tennessee School Districts REFUSE to Comply with Open Records Requests and Reveal Contents of Lessons About Islam

A local activist informs me that an open records request is related to a grassroots reaction among parents against an inappropriate focus on Islam in history and social studies courses in Tennessee middle schools. Earlier this month, for example, parents in the Nashville suburb of in Spring Hill expressed alarm because their public middle school children are learning about Islam in a world history class but, the parents say, the course material pointedly ignores Christianity.”

But Tennessee school officials are stonewalling. Clearly they have something to hide. And this islamization is going on in school districts all over the country. Read about it, and about what you can do to resist it, in my book Stop the Islamization of America.

Children are forced to say the shahada and recite the pillars of Islam.  Children are not forced to recite the Lord’s prayer or the shema. Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism are not given equal time.

Get Islam out of the public schools.

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“Tennessee School Districts Say Revealing Islam Lessons May Cost ‘Millions,’ Take Too Darn Long,” Eric Owens, BW Central, October 1, 2015 (thanks to JMK):

Dozens and dozens of taxpayer-funded Tennessee school districts are refusing to comply with an open records request from a conservative legal nonprofit seeking materials and documents relevant to the way public schools are teaching Islam — primarily to middle schoolers.

The American Center for Law & Justice, a law firm that generally promotes conservative and Christian principles, sent its open records requests to all 146 taxpayer-funded school districts in Tennessee earlier this month, reports The Tennessean, Nashville’s main newspaper.

A Nashville attorney, Chuck Cagle of the law firm Lewis Thomason, has provided almost 80 school districts (all represented by the firm) with a sample letter which district officials are customizing to deny the conservative group’s open records request.

“Our client denies your request in full,” the sample letter reads. “Among many other defects in your demand, the Tennessee Open Records Act only requires that certain public records be made available for personal inspection by Tennessee citizens. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(1)(B). A public records request made by an agent on behalf of a foreign business entity is invalid.”

An attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based American Center for Law & Justice, CeCe Heil, says Cagle is applying his Tennessee law all wrong.

“We deal with government entities regularly and anticipate the necessity of engaging in negotiations pertaining to the actual documentation received,” Heil told The Tennessean in an email. “Our open records requests are valid and signed by an attorney who is a citizen of Tennessee.”

Also, Heil noted, the ACLJ is requesting the records because anxious Tennessee parents contacted its attorneys.

The ACLJ’s open records request is definitely broad. The conservative activist group is seeking every test, every quiz, every lesson plan, every study guide and every bit of instructional material concerning the teaching of religion in all Tennessee public school districts. The request specifies anything asking students to recite words in Arabic or to say or write Muslim prayers. It also seeks internal communications concerning how and classroom materials were chosen.

“I’ve never seen a records request that asked for this volume of information in 25 years of practicing law,” Cagle, the professional school district lawyer, complained.

Cagle has also claimed that compliance with an open records request about what schools are teaching in not feasible because it will take too long to respond and cost too much money.

“On the front end, this could cost school boards hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars to respond to this request,” Cagle told Nashville NBC affiliate WSMV.

The open records request is related to a grassroots reaction among parents — primarily evangelical Christian parents — against what they perceive as an inappropriate focus on Islam in history and social studies courses in Tennessee middle schools.

Earlier this month, for example, parents in the Nashville suburb of in Spring Hill expressed alarm because their public middle school children are learning about Islam in a world history class but, the parents say, the course material pointedly ignores Christianity.

(RELATED: Public School Parents Angry After Middle Schoolers Instructed To Write ‘ALLAH IS THE ONLY GOD’)

Mad mom Brandee Porterfield, who has a seventh-grade daughter at Spring Hill Middle School in Spring Hill, Tenn., said her daughter came home with world history schoolwork all about the Five Pillars of Islam and other core teachings of the Abrahamic religion. The first and most important pillar — the shahada in Arabic — is roughly translated as: “There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God.” Porterfield said her daughter’s teacher instructed the girl to write: “Allah is the only God.”

A petition initiated by the American Center for Law & Justice entitled “Stop Islamic Indoctrination in School” had garnered 201,505 signatures as of early Wednesday morning.

A spokesman for the Islamic Center of Nashville, Rashed Fakhruddin, said he thinks both the ACLJ’s open records request and the claim that schools are teaching too much Islam are preposterous.

“I don’t know if this is meant to be a witch hunt, but all of the religions — Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism — they’re being taught in the schools,” Fakhruddin told WSMV.

In addition to Islam, students in Tennessee public schools also study Buddhism and Hinduism. However, they do not study Christianity per se. There is not, for example, one class day dedicated to the basic Jesus story.

A Spring Hill school district official promised that students eventually come across a reference to Christianity when history teachers reach the “Age of Exploration” in eighth grade. Then, students will hear about Christians persecuting other Christians in some countries in Western Europe.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, Tennessee appears an epicenter for America’s continuing encounter with Islam.

Back in February, for example, leaders of ISIS took to the group’s propaganda magazine to urge followers to assassinate an American professor who teaches in Memphis.

The professor, Yasir Qadhi, teaches at Rhodes College, a private bastion of the liberal arts in Memphis, Tenn.

Qadhi, born in Houston, Texas, is a professor of religious studies. He is also a Muslim cleric and the resident scholar at the Memphis Islamic Center.

ISIS and its adherents don’t like Qadhi because he stands athwart the radical Muslim entity, yelling stop.

“Contrary to popular opinion, ISIS does not have support in the American Muslim community,” Qadhi said when the calls for assassination were fresh.

“ISIS does not represent my faith, their actions are in contradiction to my faith, and I’m appalled at what they are doing in the name of my faith,” the professor added.

In 2013, officials at Sunset Elementary School in the affluent Nashville suburb of Brentwood rescinded a ban on delicious pork just one day after it went into effect because parents complained. The parents and other locals believed that the prohibition on pork had been an attempt to defer to the sensibilities of unidentified Muslim students. (RELATED: Tennessee Elementary School Lifts Fatwa Against Pork After Parents Complain)

Tennessee lawmakers recently decided to expedite a review of the way Islam and other religions are taught in the state’s public schools, The Tennessean notes. The review, which had been slated for 2018, will now occur in January.

Over percent of the residents of Tennessee identify as Christian, according to a 2014 Pew poll. About one percent of Volunteer State residents call themselves Muslim.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on PamelaGeller.com. To stay on top of what’s really happening please follow Pamela on Twitter and like her on Facebook here.

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A Modest Proposal For Ending Campus Microaggressions

While college students have been touring Europe, saving rainforests, or interning at high-powered government offices, college faculty and administrators have been preparing for the upcoming school year and the biggest problem that afflicts our institutions of higher learning: microaggressions.

Many people are unaware of microaggressions, but they lurk around every corner, in every classroom, dorm room, locker room, library cubicle, coffee shop, cafeteria, and under every tree and shrub on our bucolic campuses.

The journal that reports on everything important on our campuses, the Chronicle of Higher Education, explains microaggressions. This summer, it featured two lead articles on the problem.

The first, an essay, “Microaggression and Changing Moral Cultures” by sociology professors Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, offers a good definition: “Microaggressions are remarks perceived as sexist, racist, or otherwise offensive to a marginalized social group.” And, “even though the offenses are minor and sometimes unintentional, repeatedly experiencing them causes members of minority groups great harm, which must be redressed.”

A fellow University of Virginia sociologist, Donald Black, elaborates: moral cultures are products of social conditions, and “acts of social dominance — such as belittling someone with insults,” are “more offensive in places or relationships where people are relatively equal. Likewise, acts of cultural intolerance. . . .” (The full disquisition is here.)

The Groundbreaking Discovery of Microaggressions

Chronicle reporter Peter Schmidt, in the companion investigative piece, reveals that microaggressions were discovered back in 1970 by Charles M. Pierce, a professor of education and psychiatry at Harvard’s medical school.

Those who still have images of the Confederate flag or Playboy centerfolds in their subconscious need special workshops, led by sociology and psychology professors.

In those days, the scourge was limited to “the subtle slights and insults that black people regularly experience at the hands of people who do not see themselves as racist.”

Thirty-seven years later, “a detailed taxonomy” of microaggressions was published in the American Psychologist, with the lead author of the research team and crack scientist Derald Wing Sue, a professor of psychology and education at Columbia Teachers College. In 2010, came the definitive Microaggressions in Everyday Life.

Sue explains that solutions are not as simple as, say, taking down Confederate flags and Playboy centerfolds from faculty office doors. Those who still have images of the Confederate flag or Playboy centerfolds in their subconscious need special workshops, led by sociology and psychology professors.

Most academics, being the placid creatures that they are, go along, accepting such directives as the price they have to pay for being able to work in cut-offs and Birkenstocks. But there are resisters, such as Eugene Volokh, a University of California-Los Angeles law professor, who defiantly writes, “I am going to keep on microaggressing.” No doubt Volokh has a bomb shelter filled with freeze-dried food staples and adorned with a Confederate flag.

The Solution: More Sociology Professors

Perhaps the professor needs a little explaining? Here is something from the Chronicle:

We can better understand complaints about microaggression and the reactions to them if we understand that each side of the debate draws from a different moral culture. Those calling attention to microaggressions have rejected the morality dominant among middle-class Americans during the 20th century — what sociologists and historians have sometimes called a dignity culture, which abhors private vengeance and encourages people to. . . . (This message would best be delivered to Volokh with a trickling water fountain and soft Indian zither music in the background.)

With professors across the land trained in conflict resolution and peace studies, we have hope. Consider the sociology professors’ thoughtful conclusion:

“Surely each side would benefit from a better understanding of the other. Debates might be more fruitful, and relationships on campus more collegial, if we more carefully considered the moral concerns of those who disagree with us. That does not mean the conflict engendered by this moral divide won’t or shouldn’t go on.”
I like that. There can never be too many discussions, meetings, roundtables, training sessions, reports, memos, marches, peace circles, teach-ins, sing-alongs, and group hugs at our institutions of higher learning.

Passing the Microaggression Baton to a New Generation

Here is what is happening in the new frontier of ending hurtful things: Students are reporting microaggressions through such places as the student-initiated Microaggression Project. Others use Facebook. Binghamton University, Brown University, Wellesley College, and Yale University lead the way. Thanks to being properly educated about the “Red Scare,” students are not burdened by misgivings.

Even sweet grandmas need re-education.

Some institutions have followed students’ lead and now have an “institutionalized recognition of microaggression.” Ithaca College has passed a bill “calling for a campuswide online system through which students could anonymously report microaggressions.”

At Fordham University, students describe microaggressions they have suffered in a mug-shot digital photo project. One plaint, about being asked, “So . . . you’re Chinese, right?” made me weep with guilt. Microaggressions can also happen far off campus. They occur when a female student is asked by a female relative if she has met “any nice boys.” Perhaps committees could prepare a brochure for freshpersons to take with them to protect them from such microaggressions from Grandma as the turkey is passed around? Even sweet grandmas need re-education.

There is one safeguard I wished I’d had when I was working as a graduate teaching assistant and being bombarded with microaggressions from freshmen who said they needed “at least a B” to keep their HOPE scholarships: A union contract. The Wisconsin graduate student union contract, for example, protects against microaggressions.

But in that most advanced state, California, the entire university system has issued guidelines to faculty, warning that such statements as “America is a melting pot” or “I believe the most qualified person should get the job” could be considered microaggressions.

Here, close to where I live and work in a safe space called the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization, the local college responds to students’ needs with unequaled dedication. Last December, way-stations in the library assisted students assaulted with the trauma of final exams. One table offered coloring books and crayons, another jigsaw puzzles, another Legos. A bulletin board was set up for sharing tips. One heart-felt Post-It note read simply, “Cry!”

Colleges Target Microaggressions

According to a top-secret memo leaked to me, it appears that Hamilton College committees have put the same diligence into coming up with ways to combat microaggressions.

Imagine what would happen were a student to encounter a menu with fried chicken and watermelon!
The Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion has been toiling away for nigh a year now. The members have presented the initial findings in five areas of needed improvement. They are:

  1. Campus climate: a sense of belonging, with historically marginalized communities not only being tolerated but appreciated. The latter objective will be met with “social belonging/activities over the weekend” and “access to familiar comforts (foods, cultural events, services such as barbers, etc.).”
  2. Bias and microaggressions: eliminating “unconscious bias / ‘isms’” “insensitivity / misunderstandings / misconceptions,” and “anonymous acts of bias/discrimination, especially on the internet and social media sites.”
  3. Student training and education: Diversity programs will also be conducted outside of the classroom.
  4. Faculty and staff training: Mandatory trainings will be conducted at faculty orientations and will include instruction on how to value others. In performance reviews, staff will be evaluated negatively for failing to intervene or missing opportunities to “educate others.”
  5. Diversity issues in the curriculum: Faculty will be required to offer a more diverse curriculum in their classes.

Additionally, diversity trainings, such as “Difficult Dialogues,” Safe Zone Trainings by the Rainbow Alliance, an MLK Winter Book Read, a Division of Student Life training on microaggressions, a training session on acceptable theme party costumes, a transgender issues workshop, and a Ferguson Teach-In, will take place.

Recommendations include recruiting more “staff of color,” collaboration with human resources, Staff Assembly Council, and other campus offices, mandatory bystander student training, diversity training (in addition to current online sexual harassment and Title IX training), redesigning use of common social spaces, and encouraging student groups to involve faculty and staff in their events.

The Price of Comfort Is Eternal Vigilance

I would like to commend this committee for such a visionary, far-reaching list. Who would have thought of “unconscious bias / isms,” sins of omission, and food microaggressions? However, I must warn the good members: unconscious biases deep within the hearts and minds of cafeteria workers could sabotage such efforts. We know from news reports last year the harm done to students when fried chicken and collard greens were served during Martin Luther King Jr. week!

Imagine what would happen were a student to encounter a menu with fried chicken and watermelon! And while faculty certainly have the maturity and cultural awareness to enjoy their margaritas on Cinco de Mayo, our young fragile flowers might think we are stereotyping them with a taco night on May 5.

Let us not allow our students to be traumatized and scarred for life by… Any of the myriad ways microaggressions take place.
The times demand strong action. Let us not allow our students to be traumatized and scarred for life by stereotypical food, looks, refusals to make eye contact, prolonged eye contact, inappropriate conversation starters, smiling too much, or smiling too little—or any of the myriad ways microaggressions take place.

We must put in safety measures on every campus. Let the best and brightest STEM minds come together—as they once did during Sputnik—to come up with a national solution. I challenge fellow American professors to come up with a device that will measure hostilities, unconscious biases, and repressed hatreds, within not only our professoriate, but also the youth, the hope of the future. Stopping microaggressions is too important a matter to be left to chance. Bystanders may not be able to spot them soon enough. The objects of microaggression might be too lost in thought or their iPhones to notice a microaggressive stare or question.

Great scientific minds have come up with such devices for other species, such as our quadruped companions, lest they be tempted by squirrels or cats to run from the safety of yards. If we can make devices that these wear, why not one for our students and faculty? These devices could measure biorhythms, such things as heart rates, pupil dilations, and body temperature. We already, thanks to the U.S. Department of Education and the Gates Foundation, have devices that measure “social and emotional learning” and assess for such things as “grit” and “perseverance.” In fact, the department’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, which used to test for such irrelevant things as historical knowledge, is now testing for “grit.”

So, whenever a hateful or angry thought would come into consciousness a gentle little tingle would remind the offender, “Do not hate. Do not microaggress.” It would quickly end a hostile stare with a head jerk that would also conveniently alert the object of the microaggressive act that the subject needs further re-education. These devices could even be designed as fashion accessories, as gender-neutral brass chains or with colorful fair-trade beads.

Junior and contingent faculty would benefit immensely from being zapped. No doubt energetic convulsions shaking instructors at the lectern would bring forth healing peals of laughter from students. Humor does so much to ease anxiety. There would be no more concerns about “student engagement,” no worries about students nodding off or web-surfing. Not when lectures are so electrifying.

And we must not forget the “workers.” That lady behind the cafeteria counter would certainly benefit from a gentle shock to remind her that, if watermelon is to be served, it should be in a nice vinaigrette with a little bit of mint.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in The Federalist.