San Francisco voters boot out three of the seven city school board members for hamhanded performance

February 17, 2022 • 10:00 am

Don’t take this news for a harbinger of The Death of Wokeness. The events summarized in the headlines and described below simply mean this:

1.) If there is an Achilles heel of Wokeism, it is their attempt to control the ideology dispensed in schools.

2.) Among all groups, Asians (both East Asians and those from the Indian subcontinent) are the most resistant to wokeness in schools, for attempts to get rid of meritocracy, and standardized admissions tests, as well as the strengthening of affirmative action—all signs of the Successor Ideology—have differentially hurt Asians more than any other ethnic group.

Click on the screenshot to read the story from The Associated Press:

The details: There was a special city referendum to recall three school board members. It was the first such referendum in decades, and the turnout wasn’t high, But it was high among Asians, many of whom registered to vote just so they could recall three of the seven San Francisco school board members (all Democrats).  Only three were eligible for recall—the school board President Gabriela López, the Vice President Faauuga Moliga and the Commissioner Alison Collins. They all went down by substantial votes. Their replacements will be appointed by city Mayor London Breed (there will be a regular election in the fall), and she’d better be careful:

“The voters of this city have delivered a clear message that the school board must focus on the essentials of delivering a well-run school system above all else,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “San Francisco is a city that believes in the value of big ideas, but those ideas must be built on the foundation of a government that does the essentials well.”

Well, at least her first sentence made sense!  And Mayor Breed is reported to have been one of the biggest supporters of the recall! She presumably realized what the Board was doing to the national reputation of her town.

Now, why were the voters upset? Three reasons:

First, the school board wasted a lot of time during the pandemic squabbling about renaming 44 public schools on ideological grounds, including those named after George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Webster, and even Senator and former SF mayor Dianne Feinstein (see my posts here and here, with the full list or proposed renamings at the second link). The Board had approved the denamings, but now that plan appears dead:

One of the first issues to grab national attention was the board’s January 2021 decision to rename 44 schools they said honored public figures linked to racism, sexism and other injustices. On the list were Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and trailblazing U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

The effort drew swift criticism for historical mistakes. Critics said it made a mockery of the country’s racial reckoning. Angry parents asked why the board would waste time renaming schools when the priority needed to be reopening classrooms.

After an uproar, the school board scrapped the plan.

Second, and in a more minor issue, deposed member Alison Collins, who is black, was accused of (get this) racist tweets:

Collins came under fire again for tweets she wrote in 2016 that were widely criticized as racist. In them Collins, who is Black, said Asian Americans used “white supremacist” thinking to get ahead and were racist toward Black students.

Racism against Asian Americans has come under a renewed focus since reports of attacks and discrimination escalated with the spread of the coronavirus, which first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China.

Collins said the tweets were taken out of context and posted before she held her school board position. She refused to take them down or apologize for the wording and ignored calls to resign from parents, Breed and other public officials.

Collins turned around and sued the district and her colleagues for $87 million, fueling yet another pandemic sideshow. The lawsuit was later dismissed.

But Collins’s tweets had angered the already ticked-off Asians, and the final straw was this:

Third, the board decided to get rid of meritocratic admissions to Lowell High School, an elite public “magnet school” that attracts the most talented students from across the city. Most of those turned out to be Asian. Here are the 2015-2016 data given by Wikipedia:

Lowell’s main entrance:

Presumably in a desire to achieve “equity,” the board voted to move admissions to Lowell to a lottery system. That, of course, would completely destroy the school’s reputation. From Wikipedia:

Lowell was formerly one of two public schools in the San Francisco Unified School District (the other being School of the Arts) that was permitted to admit only students who met special admission requirements. The Lowell admission process was competitive and based on a combination of standardized test scores, GPA, a writing sample, and extracurricular activities. As of October, 2020 Lowell admission is based on a lottery system. Run by SFUSD, Lowell is open to all San Francisco residents and charges no tuition.

I’m not sure what will happen now about entrance requirements; presumably they’ll go back to the pre-2020 system.

The three deposed members defended themselves:

Collins, Lopez and Moliga had defended their records, saying they prioritized racial equity because that was what they were elected to do.

Well, we’re not sure what they were elected “to do”, though these members may be woke. But now liberals, Democrats, and others realize what the Woke “do” when they have power, and it isn’t pretty. Here are a couple of beefs from parents:

The city of San Francisco has risen up and said this is not acceptable to put our kids last,” said Siva Raj, a father of two who helped launch the recall effort. “Talk is not going to educate our children, it’s action. It’s not about symbolic action, it’s not about changing the name on a school, it is about helping kids inside the school building read and learn math.”

And from East Asians:

. . . many Asian American residents were motivated to vote for the first time in a municipal election. The grassroots Chinese/API Voter Outreach Task Force group, which formed in mid-December, said it registered 560 new Asian American voters.

Ann Hsu, a mother of two who helped found the task force, said many Chinese voters saw the effort to change the Lowell admissions system as a direct attack.

“It is so blatantly discriminatory against Asians,” she said.

In the city’s Chinese community, Lowell is viewed as a path children can take to success.

Now the readers who sent me the links to this news were ebullient, and I too am happy that Wokesters who pulled such boneheaded moves are gone now.  As in Virginia, where Republican Glenn Youngkin won because voters thought his Democratic opponent rejected the idea that parents should have a say in their kids’ educations, people don’t seem to realize that politicians shouldn’t muck around too much with the educational system. Yes, we need to teach more about the fraught history of America, but we shouldn’t make kids feel guilty because of their race, we shouldn’t divide our kids by what we teach them, we shouldn’t ditch admissions standards or regular standardized testing to see how kids are doing, and, above all, stop renaming schools, for that seems to parents like a huge waste of time and energy that should be spend on educating kids.

But before you go celebrating this vote, remember who’s really in charge of education. It’s not the school board, but the teachers. And for sure many teachers in San Francisco are woke, and will go ahead and teach what they want. It’s up to the kids and their parents to keep a keen eye on what’s happening in the classroom.

Latest victim of school book-banning: Toni Morrison

January 29, 2022 • 1:30 pm

These incidents are becoming so common that they’re like the old “dog bites man” stories. In fact, when a school decides not to cancel a controversial book or remove it from a library or a reading list, that becomes a “man bites dog” story.

This book is in the former genre, as reported by Kirkus Reviews (click on screenshots). . .

. .  and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

We learn from this that Toni Morrison’s first novel (1970), The Bluest Eyehasn’t just been taken off school reading lists, but actually removed from a school library. Since the book (which I read and liked, but didn’t see as a classic) deals with childhood rape and abuse, clearly you shouldn’t ask elementary school kids to read it but removing it from a high school library is a different thing altogether. That is a form of censorship:

From the SLPD:

A national campaign to ban books with themes dealing with race and gender scored a victory Thursday when the Wentzville School Board voted 4-3 to pull “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison from the district’s high school libraries.

The board rejected the recommendation of a review committee of district staff and residents who said banning the book “would infringe on the rights of parents and students to decide for themselves if they want to read this work of literature.” The book is not part of the district curriculum.

Across the country, the push to restrict teaching about race and gender equity includes library books that conservative parents and lawmakers say are divisive and serve to indoctrinate students with a leftist ideology.

“The Bluest Eye” tells the story of a young Black girl growing up during the Great Depression who longs for blue eyes because she feels ugly and oppressed because of her skin color. Morrison, who died in 2019, said she wrote the book in the late 1960s to show the psychological damage caused by racism.

The novel, which includes passages about incest and child rape, frequently lands on the American Library Association’s annual list of most commonly banned books.

Wentzville School Board member Sandy Garber said she did not consider her vote against “The Bluest Eye” equivalent to banning but protecting children from obscenity.

That is a distinction without a difference. You can ban books as a way OF protecting people, and that’s what’s going on here. But it’s useless, especially for the intended targets. Obscenity, for instance, will be familiar to every kid with ears and an understanding of language. Note, too, that the book is being banned from high school libraries; that is, made inaccessible to kids between the ages of about 15-18.  I suspect those students don’t need “protection” from their parents, no matter how laudable the motives.

But wait! There’s more:

“By all means, go buy the book for your child,” she said at the board meeting. “I would not want this book in the school for anyone else to see.”

Amber Crawford, a Wentzville parent who filed the challenge against “The Bluest Eye,” posted advice for challenges in other districts to the St. Charles County Parents Association’s Facebook group, including links to excerpts so they won’t have to read “the whole garbage book.”

At least two conservative groups with chapters in Missouri — Moms for Liberty and No Left Turn in Education — have led the campaign against diversity and equity initiatives in schools.

No Left Turn in Education features more than 75 books on its website that it deems inappropriate because they “demean our nation and its heroes, revise our history, and divide us as a people for the purpose of indoctrinating kids to a dangerous ideology.” Nearly every book on the list features either Black or LGBTQ characters.

What are they protecting kids from here? Books about discrimination? Do they want to pretend it doesn’t exist? Not all books are getting banned, though: the article has one or two heartening tales of someone actually defending  controversial work! But, by and large, censorship is not only rife, but increasing. And in this state, it’s largely by the Right:

While the book ban in Wentzville is unique in the St. Louis area, several other local school districts have encountered recent challenges to library books. Last month, the Lindbergh School Board voted to keep “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe in the high school library, and a review committee in the Rockwood School District rejected similar challenges to “Gender Queer” and five other books.

After a challenge to the memoir “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” the Francis Howell School District’s review committee voted 11 to 1 in November to keep the book in school libraries because it “shared a positive message of hope for individuals in society.”

Local school districts have rules allowing parents to restrict their children’s library privileges based on individual books, authors or themes. The policies for book challenges are similar, involving a review committee and subsequent vote by the school board.

The challenges are related to proposed bills in Missouri and dozens of other states that would restrict the teaching of critical race theory and other “divisive” topics on race and gender, said Heather Fleming, founder of the Missouri Equity Education Partnership and a Francis Howell parent.

“The whole point and purpose of this is to have a chilling effect on equity and equity education in our schools,” Fleming said. “We know this is about a story about a Black woman instead of scenes that are too mature, because we’re not banning Shakespeare.”

I’m not in favor of bills restricting teaching CRT, and i’m certainly not in favor of telling your kids, if they’re of an appropriate age, what they can and cannot read. I can’t remember my parents ever telling me that I couldn’t read any book, and I was a voracious reader who chose my own books.

The kicker is this: the same school district that banned Toni Morrison’s book also banned, at the same time, three other books. From Kirkus (I’ve added links to the books):

The other three books removed by the board have also seen their share of bans as well. All Boys Aren’t Blue has been taken off library shelves in multiple states, and Heavy, a Kirkus Prize finalist in 2018, was recently banned by a Kansas school district.Fun Homehas been a frequent target of censors; it made the ALA’s top 10 banned books list in 2015.

Now of course I don’t favor indoctrinating kids by giving them an entire diet of Woke books about “identities”, for to me that’s propaganda rather than learning. But surely there’s room for children to hear that there are people in the world who are different from them, and who face their own brand of troubles. And of course they must discuss them.

And is there ANY valid reason to remove books from a high-school library if they are not simply deaccessioning books due to space limitation?

When I was thinking of a list of “identity” books that I would definitely assign to high school students, especially in Chicago (because it takes place here), it would definitely include Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940), which was both a bestseller and remains a classic not just of black literature, but of American literature. Surely, I thought, as it’s about the friction between blacks and whites, and neither a book about CRT nor even a valorization of blacks, but simply a graphic portrayal of the racism ubiquitous in America at the time, it couldn’t possibly be ban-able. I was wrong. I looked on Wikipedia and saw this about Wright’s book:

The novel has endured a series of challenges in public high schools and libraries all over the United States. Many of these challenges focus on the book’s being “sexually graphic,” “unnecessarily violent,”and “profane.” Despite complaints from parents, many schools have successfully fought to keep Wright’s work in the classroom. Some teachers believe the themes in Native Son and other challenged books “foster dialogue and discussion in the classroom” and “guide students into the reality of the complex adult and social world.” Native Son is number 27 on Radcliffe’s Rival 100 Best Novels List.

The book is number 71 on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000. The Modern Library placed it number 20 on its list of the 100 best novels of the 20th Century. Time Magazine also included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

So it goes. You might find solace in these musings of Stephen King:

D.C. school librarian fired after making students reenact the Holocaust—including dying in a gas chamber and shooting their classmates—to show how the “Jews ruined Christmas” for Germans

December 20, 2021 • 12:45 pm

For a long time some of my Jewish friends, including observant ones, have told me that there’s a resurgence of anti-Semitism in American, sometimes implying that it would get so bad that they were considering moving to Israel. I’ve always poo-pooed this apocalyptic idea, thinking that Jews are now part of mainstream America and, although a minority (about 1-2%, many of them nonbelievers), we weren’t a denigrated minority.

Well, things have changed since the ultra-progressive Left has taken over, and since there’s been a resurgence of white nationalism on the Right. The Left’s activities are ongoing, as with the “progressive” members of Congress voting for BDS initiatives, issuing anti-Semitic or anti-“Zionist” tweets, and showing increasing valorization of Palestine—an apartheid country if ever there was one. Right-wing anti-Semitism seems to be on the ultra-extreme right, and erupts as sporadic demonstrations, like the one in Charlottesville.

Whoever is responsible for this trend, the result is that we hear more about anti-Semitic incidents all the time. This isn’t just a news bias, since the mainstream media itself, like the NYT, aren’t especially pro-Jewish (they’re pro-Palestine); and the number of Jewish “hate crimes” is increasing. Jews are, in fact, on a per capita basis the religious group most targeted by such crimes:

According to the FBI data, 8,263 hate crimes took place in America in 2020, an increase of nearly 9% compared to the 7,287 reported in 2019. Of all reported hate crimes, 1,174 targeted victims due to their religion and 676 of them—54.9% of all religious bias crimes—targeted Jews. 53% of hate incidents targeting Jews involved the destruction, damage, or vandalism of property; 33% were instances of intimidation; 6% were simple assaults; 4% were aggravated assaults; 1% were instances of burglary or breaking and entering; and 1% were instances of larceny or theft.

This article below from the Washington Post (click on screenshot) might be an isolated incident, as it’s unique to my knowledge, but it might also display how far the rot has spread. (The article is reproduced almost verbatim in the Times of Israel as well.)

I’ll summarize what happened, and will put quotation marks around quotes from the pieces.

At Watkins Elementary school in southeast Washington, D.C. a group of third graders (~9-10 years old) were in the library doing a self-guided project. But the students were coopted by a school librarian who forced the students to reenact scenes from the Holocaust.  Here’s what the students were forced to do:

  • One student, who happened to be Jewish, was told to play Hitler. At the end of the mock Holocaust, the student was told to pretend to commit suicide.
  • Other students were asked to pretend to be on a train to a concentration camp
  • At least one student was told to act as if he were dying in a gas chamber
  • Some students were told to pretend they were digging their classmates’ mass graves, and then had to pretend to shoot their classmates.

This is the most offensive part:

The instructor allegedly made antisemitic comments during the reenactment. The parent said that when the children asked why the Germans did this, the staff member said it was “because the Jews ruined Christmas.”

Can you believe that?

Although the instructor told the students not to say anything about this little exercise, the kids told their parents. The good news is that all hell broke loose, because some of the students were Jewish.  The principal of the school, one M. Scott Berkowitz (probably a Jewish name as well) apologized in an email to the parents without naming the staff member (I now have her name; see below).

“I want to acknowledge the gravity of this poor instructional decision, as students should never be asked to act out or portray any atrocity, especially genocide, war, or murder,” Berkowitz said in the email.

The incident was reported to D.C. Public Schools’ Comprehensive Alternative Resolution and Equity Team. The staff member is now on leave, pending a school investigation.

“This was not an approved lesson plan, and we sincerely apologize to our students and families who were subjected to this incident,” a spokesperson for DCPS said.

The entire class met with the school’s mental health response team after the Friday incident, according to Berkowitz’s email.

The good news is that the school didn’t blow it off. But they shouldn’t have anyway; it’s only “good news” because Americans are becoming increasingly anti-Semitic.

Anti-Semitism is especially distressing when it’s among the black community (Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam are the worst offenders). Historically Jews and blacks have been friends, with Jews forming a large proportion of white civil rights activists in the Sixties.

This article (and several other sources) give the librarian’s name as Kimberlynn Jurkowski, and at first I thought she was of Polish descent. But her LinkedIn page, showing undoubtedly the right person (a “library media specialist” in Washington, D.C.), reveals that she’s black. (How did she get the surname Jurkowski?)

And she’s got a history that could charitably be described as “checkered”:

The librarian — identified as Kimberlynn Jurkowski — was accused in a tutoring scam in New Jersey that defrauded the Atlantic City school district of thousands of dollars and had her teaching licenses suspended for three years by the state Department of Education in 2017.

. . . A former Hamilton, Atlantic County resident, Jurkowski faced charges of theft by deception and fraud for allegedly billing the Hamilton school district for tutoring services for her two children that was never performed, according to the state’s order of suspension.

The Hamilton Township school district paid the cost of the tutoring to Bridges Education and Counseling Services, and its owner, Mildred Spencer — a friend of Jurkowski, according to the ruling.

After the tutoring services had ended, Jurkowski and Spencer allegedly conspired to continue to bill the district for six additional months — from October 2011 through March 2012, officials said.

In December 2013, Jurkowski and Spencer were accepted into a pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders for six months, and Jurkowski was forced to forfeit her employment in the school district, according to the Department of Education ruling.
So how did Jurkowski get hired as a school librarian at Watkins Elementary School? Did they not do a background check? Somebody at Watkins Elementary has some ‘splaining to do!
An addendum about local bigotry, from both papers. First, from the Post:

Other local schools have reported incidents of bigotry in recent months. At Woodrow Wilson High School in Northwest Washington, several swastikas, the n-word and the phrase “white power” were scrawled on the wall of a men’s bathroom early this month, according to reporting by student journalists at the Beacon, the school’s independent newspaper.

And from the Times of Israel:

Last month vandals broke into a fraternity house at George Washington University in Washington, DC, and desecrated a Torah scroll, tearing it apart and covering it with detergent.

I just noticed that the New York Times has a short piece on the incident, and names the perpetrator, as well as mentioning Jurkowski’s LinkedIn page, but doesn’t mention that she’s black. Is race relevant in a case like this? If a white librarian had asked black children to reenact scenes from slavery, wouldn’t the paper mention that the librarian was white? Had the librarian been an anti-Semitic white supremacist, you could have bet that every report would have mentioned that.

My guess is that it was just terribly inconvenient to mention the race of the perpetrator, which goes against The Narrative. The NYT has a history of omitting the race of the people who attacked ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York City over the last several years, though nearly all the attackers were black. When there’s a pattern like this, race does become relevant.

h/t: Malgorzata

More news from New Zealand about the big science vs. indigenous “knowledge” ruckus

December 14, 2021 • 9:30 am

Suddenly I am inundated with emails from disaffected Kiwis who take issue with the New Zealand government’s and academia’s new push to teach mātauranga Māori , or Māori “ways of knowing” as coequal with real science in high-school and university science classes.  Many of these people are worried that the country is being swept with an ideology that “all things Māori are good” (tell that to the moas!), and that such an attitude is going to affect not just science, but many parts of life.  It’s one thing to recognize and make reparations to a people who were genuinely oppressed for so long, but that doesn’t mean that that that group should be valorized in every way, nor that their “ways of knowing”, which include creation myths and false legends, can be taken as coequal to science and taught in the science classroom.

I’ll divide this post into three bits.

 

A. Is mātauranga Māori really going to be implemented in this way, or simply taught as what it is: an agglomeration of practical advice (some of which can be considered “science construed broadly” if it’s verified), legends, myths, and statements now know to be outright false?

Documents suggest that yes, the coequality is indeed the plan.

You can find the general present-day NCEA curriculum here (NCEA is the National Certificate for Educational Achievement, which sets the standards for New Zealand secondary schools). I haven’t gone through all the standards for various areas, but I’ve looked at chemistry, biology, and “physical and earth sciences”.

This page, “What’s changing?“, details how the curriculum will be tweaked, setting out a list of changes that will be made (this plan was apparently approved in 2020, two years after a public consultation that apparently few were aware of).  I quote:

The NCEA Change Programme is a work programme led by the Ministry of Education to deliver the package of seven changes aimed at strengthening NCEA:

2.) Equal status for mātauranga Māori in NCEA – develop new ways to recognise mātauranga Māori, build teacher capability, and improve resourcing and support for Māori learners and te ao Māori pathways.

And if you click on the link “Equal status. . .”, you see this (my bolding):

It is vital that there is parity for mātauranga Māori in NCEA, and it has equal value as other bodies of knowledge.

What we’ve heard:

Māori respondents have told us that NCEA doesn’t do enough to open te ao Māori pathways through the qualification and disadvantages too many ākonga from experiencing success as Māori.

Key changes:

  • Integrate te ao Māori and mātauranga Māori into the new ‘graduate profile’ for NCEA, and into the design of achievement standards.

  • Ensure equal support for ākonga Māori in all settings, and equal status for mātauranga Māori.

  • Develop more subjects to make sure that te ao Māori pathways are acknowledged and supported equally in NCEA (e.g. Māori Performing Arts).

  • Ensuring that, where possible and appropriate, te ao Māori and mātauranga Māori are built into achievement standards for use across English and Māori-medium settings. That might mean:

    • Having Māori-centred contexts for exemplars and assessment resources (e.g. local iwi history).
    • Designing more inclusive standards and assessment resources that allow for diverse cultural perspectives on what’s important (e.g. considering community or hapū impact, not just individual user needs.
  • Build teacher capability around culturally inclusive NCEA and assessment and aromatawai practice that is inclusive of ākonga Māori.”

So yes, the parity between mātauranga Māori and real science is going to take place, and will be used in assessing student achievement.

As to what this might mean in particular, have a look at the goals in each of many academic areas as well as proposals for change and “Big Ideas”.

As one example, check out the “learning matrix” for “Physics Earth and Space Science”:

One of my correspondents singled out this goal (I quote):

” Explore how mauri is an essential part of the natural and human-constructed world and how it is essential to maintain or restore mauri.” – Mauri, insofar as I understand it at all, being a nebulous concept usually translated as “life force”.

The other alterations of physics, meant to fit into Māori “ways of knowing”, are obscure and worrying.

And on the chemistry and biology page, under “What is chemistry and biology about?” and “Big ideas and significant learning”, you will find not a single mention of evolution, the most important and most unifying area of biology. Why else would evolution be excluded unless to placate the Māori view, which is one of creationism? This omission is stupid and offensive.

 

B. What is the New Zealand Royal Society up to? As you may know if you’ve followed this, seven professors from Auckland University signed an innocuous (to rational folk) letter protesting the trend to make mātauranga Māori taught coequally with science in science classes, a move equivalent to teaching Biblical creationism in evolution class. You can see the letter, published in the weekly magazine “The Listener” here or here. Two of the signers, Garth Cooper and Robert Nola, are FRSNZs, meaning “Fellows of the Royal Society of New Zealand”, a high distinction (Michael Coarbilis, another FRSNZ and signer, died on November 13).

The Royal Society, miffed by the claim that science should be defended as science, and not infused with myth and “other ways of knowing”, put up an objection to the letter and began an investigation of the two surviving FRSNZs.  Their statement, which makes the Royal Society look like a joke, is still up:

Note the insistence, by a body presumably dedicated to promoting truth, that “The recent suggestion by a group of University of Auckland academics that mātauranga Māori is not a valid truth is utterly rejected by Royal Society Te Apārangi. The Society strongly upholds the value of mātauranga Māori and rejects the narrow and outmoded definition of science outlined in The Listener.

This would be funny if it weren’t a ridiculous implication that truth is what any group maintains is truth. Further, the RSNZ is insisting that mātauranga Māori is a “valid truth.” They really should take this statement down, for it’s an embarrassment.

Meanwhile, the RSNZ’s investigation of Cooper and Nola continues, itself an embarrassment. Read the letter the two signed and see if you think they should be shamed and punished for it by the very Society that lauded them as eminent scholars.

Richard Dawkins also wrote to the then head of the RSNZ objecting to their statement above; you can see Richard’s letter here and his letter to the New Zealand public here. This letter, as well as the ones I and other readers and Kiwis wrote, have had no effect. If I know the signers, Cooper and Nola will not truckle to the clowns who issued the RSNZ statement above. For its own reputation, the RSNZ should drop the investigation immediately.

 

C. What is the University of Auckland up to? There may be good news here. But let’s review history first. Earlier this summer, Vice-Chancellor Dawn Freshwater issued a statement explicitly criticizing The Listener letter and its seven signers, making their identities easy to find. Two of her statements from Freshwater’s official announcement of July 26:

A letter in this week’s issue of The Listener magazine from seven of our academic staff on the subject of whether mātauranga Māori can be called science has caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students and alumni.

Note the “hurt and dismay claim”, which at the very outset puts her statement in a context of emotionality rather than reason. And there was more:

While the academics are free to express their views, I want to make it clear that they do not represent the views of the University of Auckland.

The University has deep respect for mātauranga Māori as a distinctive and valuable knowledge system. We believe that mātauranga Māori and Western empirical science are not at odds and do not need to compete. They are complementary and have much to learn from each other.

This view is at the heart of our new strategy and vision, Taumata Teitei, and the Waipapa Toitū framework, and is part of our wider commitment to Te Tiriti and te ao principles.

Now it’s not even clear if the University of Auckland even has an official view about science vs. mātauranga Māori, yet note that Freshwater characterizes the latter as “a distinctive and valuable knowledge system”, maintaining that “mātauranga Māori and Western empirical science are not at odds and do not need to compete.”  That is an arrant falsehood. For one thing, mātauranga Māori is creationist, which puts it squarely at odds with evolution. I won’t go on; you can find for yourself many other ways the two areas are “at odds” with each other.

The Vice-Chancellor should have said nothing about this issue, but chose to denigrate the letter and its signers. She got plenty of flak from the public and press for that announcement.

Since then, I guess she’s had second thoughts, as she’s just issued a new statement. Click on the screenshot to read it:

Here’s part of her statement, which in effect pretends that she never denigrated The Listener letter and its signers. Now she calls for calm and reasoned debate:

The debate that initially started as about the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science in the secondary school curriculum in Aotearoa New Zealand has intensified and extended over recent weeks, with a number of overseas commentators adding their opinions.

Unfortunately, the debate has descended into personal attacks, entrenched positions and deliberate misrepresentations of other people’s views, including my own. This important and topical debate deserves better than that.

I am calling for a return to a more respectful, open-minded, fact-based exchange of views on the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science, and I am committing the University to action on this.

In the first quarter of 2022 we will be holding a symposium in which the different viewpoints on this issue can be discussed and debated calmly, constructively and respectfully. I envisage a high-quality intellectual discourse with representation from all viewpoints: mātauranga Māori, science, the humanities, Pacific knowledge systems and others.

I recognise it is a challenging and confronting debate, but one I believe a robust democratic society like ours is well placed to have.

In this commitment to action, I acknowledge the University of Auckland’s particular responsibilities in this debate as a custodian of academic freedom and free speech. Seven of our academics wrote the letter in good faith to The Listener in July 2021 that sparked the debate in the first place, and many of our academic experts have contributed to the discussion since then.

While the open-minded exchange of facts about “the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science” has potential to be a good debate, I am not optimistic. For one thing, the “indigenous way of knowing” can be slipperly, varying widely depending on who’s interpreting it. It would be lovely if they got Richard Dawkins to defend science along with some of the signers of the letter. And, as one of my Kiwi colleagues said, “I think this is good news, but productive discussion is unlikely unless [Freshwater] discourages the ongoing use of terms such as racism and cultural harm to describe those who challenge the notion of equivalence.”

Note that Freshwater criticizes the “personal attacks and misrepresentations” of views, including her own views.  She was probably blindsided and stung by the response to her “politically correct” statement, not realizing that, to rational and science-minded folks, comparing mythology to science is like kicking a wasp’s nest. I am guessing that she’s ascribing the attacks and misstatements to the “science” side alone; if she didn’t mean that, she should have said that there was bad behavior on both sides.  For example, here are two prominent academics who agree with Freshwater but who were not very polite.  Joanna Kidman is a well known sociologist of Māori descent who is a full professor at Victoria University at Wellington, NZ. Note that “OWG” stands for “Old White Guy”. As a commenter below notes, this is ageist, racist, sexist, and probably ableist.

Siouxie Wiles wasn’t very polite, either, characterizing her critics as “dinosaurs”.  Wells is a British microbiologist and science communicator who is now a professor at Auckland and was named the 2021 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year.

Todd Somerville, the Director of Communications at the University of Auckland, sent me a letter of complaint about my original post, saying that I characterized Freshwater as “a woke and fearful woman”, which he said was an ad hominem remark. I removed that characterization to lessen the rancor as well as to placate the angry Somerville, who defended Freshwater’s statement at great length (I suppose that’s his job). But I wonder if Todd Somerville has also written to Siouxie Wiles and Joanna Kidman, criticizing them as harshly as he did me for their own ad hominem remarks, including denigrating Richard Dawkins as an “Old White Guy”. You can’t get much nastier than that! Somehow I doubt that Wiles and Kidman have been chastised.

Scientific American again posting nonscientific political editorials

November 11, 2021 • 9:15 am

I have no idea why Scientific American is publishing editorials that have absolutely nothing to do with science. Yes, they have gone woke, and yes, they’re circling the drain, and while they of course have the right to publish what they want, they’ve abandoned their mission to shill for the progressive Democrats.

The latest shrill editorial is a critique of CRT implying that those who oppose its teaching in schools in whatever form, and are in favor of anti-CRT bills, are white supremacists. If you don’t believe me, read the article below. First, a screenshot from Jesse Singal, who rightly mocks the editorial staff of Scientific American:

I myself am against anti-CRT bills because how CRT is interpreted differs widely among people.  As the authors note correctly, these bills are sometimes construed as meaning that schools can’t teach anything about racial inequality or the genocide of Native Americans. I think school should teach that, but also that they should not set race against race, which, as we know, some schools are doing.

So, contra this editorial, I think there is something to be concerned about: woke teachers, of which there are plenty, propagandizing their students and spreading divisiveness. I’m not going to give all the examples that I’ve posted on this website, including the new curricula at NYC’s private schools that have angered (liberal) parents, California’s original draft of its ethnic studies curriculum that was pretty much anti-Semitic (that’s okay, it’s fine to diss the Jews), and the class where students had to paint their skin colors, or another where they compared their skin color to a chart that was, in effect, a way to measure how oppressed you are. If you think there’s not a problem, look what happened in Virginia. You can’t have your woke ideology and Democratic governance too—not with the sentiments of most Americans being what they are.

So yes, I’m in favor of teaching the very unsavory bits of American history, and are opposed to state laws that, designed largely by Republicans, are meant to prevent such instruction. But what you cannot do is say that CRT is never taught in classrooms, nor that all parents who oppose what’s going on in schools are racists and white supremacists. As Andrew Sullivan wrote last week:

And when the Democrats and the mainstream media insist that CRT is not being taught in high schools, they’re being way too cute. Of course K-12 kids in Virginia’s public schools are not explicitly reading the collected works of Derrick Bell or Richard Delgado — no more than Catholic school kids in third grade are studying critiques of Aquinas. But they are being taught in a school system now thoroughly committed to the ideology and worldview of CRT, by teachers who have been marinated in it, and whose unions have championed it.

And in Virginia, this is very much the case. The state’s Department of Education embraced CRT in 2015, arguing for the need to “re-engineer attitudes and belief systems” in education. In 2019, the department sent out a memo that explicitly endorsed critical race and queer theory as essential tools for teaching high school. Check out the VA DOE’s “Road Map to Equity,” where it argues that “courageous conversation” on “social justice, systemic inequity, disparate student outcomes and racism in our school communities is our responsibility and professional obligation. Now is the time to double down on equity strategies.” (My itals.) Check out the Youtube site for Virginia’s virtual 2020 summit on equity in education, where Governor Northam endorsed “antiracist school communities,” using Kendi’s language.

A main reason Youngkin won in Virginia is that parents didn’t like this kind of instruction—a curriculum over which they had no say. Maintaining, as the article below does, that Democrats should just “keep it up” is a recipe for disaster down the line. This piece could have been written (and indeed perhaps was written) by “progressive” Democrats. And it doesn’t belong in a magazine about science, any more than an article about the nuances of string theory belongs in The National Review or New York Magazine.

Again, click to read:

Some quote from the Sci Am piece (indented):

The recent election of Glenn Youngkin as the next governor of Virginia based on his anti–critical race theory platform is the latest episode in a longstanding conservative disinformation campaign of falsehoods, half-truths and exaggerations designed to create, mobilize and exploit anxiety around white status to secure political power. The problem is, these lies work, and what it shows is that Democrats have a lot of work to do if they want to come up with a successful countermessage.

Conservatives have spent close to a century galvanizing white voters around the “dangerous” idea of racial equality. When such disingenuous rhetoric turns into reality, the end result is criminalizing educational programs that promote racial equality. [JAC: Criminalizing?] Youngkin, who pledged to “ban critical race theory on Day One,” frequently repeated this promise at his “Parents Matter” rallies across the state in the final months of the campaign.

But in his campaigning, he and others misrepresented what critical race theory (CRT) actually is: a specialized intellectual field established in the 1980s by legal scholars Kimberlé Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda and Stephanie Phillips that emphasizes the unique historical role that legal systems play in upholding and producing racial inequalities in the United States.

The authors need to grasp what Sullivan says above. These authors are promoting a false view of what’s happening: that no aspects of CRT is seeping into public schools.

And here the authors claim that the anti-CRT movement (even the kind of watered-down CRT mentioned above) is motivated solely by white supremacy and racism:

Conservative anti-CRT rhetoric and the accompanying bills introduced and enacted by Republican state legislatures across the country comprise a disinformation campaign designed to manufacture white grievance in the service of white power. These policies reveal the need for researchers and scholars concerned with the quality of democratic debate to treat white supremacy as a disinformation campaign and to incorporate an honest accounting of America’s racial history and legacy of present-day inequality into all levels of education.

. . .Elections never depend on a single factor, and it’s not unusual for the party that captures the presidency to lose ground. That said, the perceived success of conservatives’ anti-CRT campaign will likely further legitimate explicit appeals to whites like those famously used by former President Trump. This will likely have long-lasting consequences. It further organizes U.S. politics around hardened racial and ethnic coalitions: a majority-white Republican Party and a multiethnic, multiracial Democratic Party. The Republican Party promises to maintain white people’s status at the top of the social hierarchy, while anti-CRT rhetoric conveys that this is justifiable.

I am a Democrat and am wary of the racial polarization of schools as it’s happening in many places, as well as ideological propaganda fed to kids. Not everybody who voted for Youngkin was a white supremacist, for crying out loud! Read Sullivan’s article, “The Woke meet their match: parents.” But wait! There’s more!:

Unfortunately, we know from history that white racial mobilization is a potent force, both at the ballot box and in attempts to subvert it.

This disinformation campaign must be directly confronted. Rather than dismissing manufactured concerns over critical race theory as fake, Democrats should embrace the robust teaching of America’s racial history in our public schools and make an affirmative case for why it matters for American values of fairness, equality and justice. Democrats should then focus on articulating how attacks on critical race theory are meant to divide people of all races who otherwise share interests. Rather than dismissing these attacks on CRT as isolated incidents, Democrats should mount their own sustained and coherent campaign to argue affirmatively for diversity, equity and inclusion programs and complementary efforts such as the 1619 Project.

Conservatives are unified around anti-CRT rhetoric. Now it is time for Democrats to form the same united front, to own that racism is real and to call out conservative legislative efforts designed to outlaw the teaching of racial inequality for what they are: a fitting example of how legal systems uphold racial inequality in the United States. This, of course, is exactly what CRT is trying to point out.

The last sentence, about legal systems upholding racial inequality, is absolutely debatable and should not be taught without careful parsing about what you mean by “legal systems.” The problem here is that this kind of facile and dubious assertion is already causing divisions among Americans and playing straight into the hands of Republicans. In the editorial above, the authors are staying “stay the course, full steam ahead”, while every other sensible Democrat is saying, “Wait! What happened? What can we do about it?”

The authors don’t seem to get out much, and really should pay attention to what Sullivan says here:

And if the culture war is fought explicitly on the terms laid out by the Kendi left and the Youngkin right, and the culture war is what determines political outcomes, then the GOP will always win. Most Americans, black and white, simply don’t share the critique of America as essentially a force for oppression, or want its constitution and laws and free enterprise “dismantled” in order to enforced racial “equity.” They understand the evil of racism, they know how shameful the past has been, but they’re still down with Youngkin’s Obama-‘08 impression over McAuliffe’s condescending denials and the left’s increasingly hysterical race extremism.

Instead, the authors take the stance of the Kendi-an left.

But why is Scientific American publishing this kind of debatable (and misleading) progressive propaganda? Why don’t they stick with science?  As a (former) scientist, I resent the intrusion of politics of any sort into scientific journals and magazines. If I want to read stuff like the above, well, there’s Vox and Teen Vogue, and HuffPost and numerous other venues.

I wonder how long Scientific American will last. . . . .

“Everybody has won and all must have prizes”: The drive to end merit-based schooling

November 9, 2021 • 12:15 pm

There are two articles you can read that show how quickly merit-based educational assessment is vanishing in the U.S. The first, from the New York Times, discusses California’s downgrading of math instruction, turning it as well into an instrument for teaching social justice. The second, from the Los Angeles Times, describes the move to eliminate grading, or at least the lower grades of D and F so that everyone must have the prize of a “C” (required to get into the Cal State system of colleges).

Click on the screenshot to read the pieces. I’ll give a few quotes from each (indented):

NYT:

If everything had gone according to plan, California would have approved new guidelines this month for math education in public schools.

But ever since a draft was opened for public comment in February, the recommendations have set off a fierce debate over not only how to teach math, but also how to solve a problem more intractable than Fermat’s last theorem: closing the racial and socioeconomic disparities in achievement that persist at every level of math education.

The California guidelines, which are not binding, could overhaul the way many school districts approach math instruction. The draft rejected the idea of naturally gifted children, recommended against shifting certain students into accelerated courses in middle school and tried to promote high-level math courses that could serve as alternatives to calculus, like data science or statistics.

The draft also suggested that math should not be colorblind and that teachers could use lessons to explore social justice — for example, by looking out for gender stereotypes in word problems, or applying math concepts to topics like immigration or inequality.

No matter how good the intentions, math—indeed, even secondary school itself—is no place to propagandize students with debatable contentions about social justice. The motivation for this, of course, is to achieve “equity” of achievement among races, since blacks and Hispanics are lagging behind in math. (Indeed, as the article notes, “According to data from the Education Department, calculus is not even offered in most schools that serve a large number of Black and Latino students.”)

Everything is up for grabs in California given the number of irate people on both sides. Some claim that school data already show that the “new math” leads to more students and more diverse students taking high-level math courses, while other say the data are cherry-picked. I have no idea.

Complicating matters is that even if the draft becomes policy, school districts can opt out of the state’s recommendations. And they undoubtedly will in areas of affluence or with a high percentage of Asian students, who excel in math. This is not a path to equal opportunity, but a form of creating equity in which everybody is proportionately represented on some low level of grades. I wish all the schools would opt out! There has to be a way to give every kid equal opportunity to learn at their own levels without holding back those who are terrific at math. I don’t know the answer, but the U.S. is already way behind other First World countries in math achievement. This will put us even farther down.

From the L. A. Times:

 

This issue is a real conundrum, more so than the above, because it’s not as easy to evaluate.  Here are a few suggestions of what teachers are doing to change the grading system—the reason, of course, is racial inequity in grades that must be fixed.

 A few years ago, high school teacher Joshua Moreno got fed up with his grading system, which had become a points game.

Some students accumulated so many points early on that by the end of the term they knew they didn’t need to do more work and could still get an A. Others — often those who had to work or care for family members after school — would fail to turn in their homework and fall so far behind that they would just stop trying.

“It was literally inequitable,” he said. “As a teacher you get frustrated because what you signed up for was for students to learn. And it just ended up being a conversation about points all the time.”

These days, the Alhambra High School English teacher has done away with points entirely. He no longer gives students homework and gives them multiple opportunities to improve essays and classwork. The goal is to base grades on what students are learning, and remove behavior, deadlines and how much work they do from the equation.

But I had always assumed that grades were based on what students were learning: that’s what tests do. You ask students questions based on what you’ve taught them and what they’ve read, and then see if they’ve absorbed the material.  I have no objection at all to basing grades on “what students are learning” so long as you don’t grade them on the basis tht you have different expectations of what different students can learn. (In fact, as you see below, that may be the case.)

As for behavior, well, you have to conduct yourself in a non-disruptive manner in class; and as far as deadlines and quality of papers and work, those are life lessons that carry over into the real world. You don’t get breaks from your employer if you finish a project late.  I always gave students breaks if they had good excuses, or seemed to be trying really hard, but can you give a really good student a lower grade because she’s learning the material with much less effort than others? Truly, I don’t understand how this is supposed to work.

There is also much talk about “equity” in grading, and I don’t know what that means except either “everyone gets the same grade”, which is untenable, or “the proportion of grades among people of different races must be equal”, which, given the disparity in existing grades between whites and Asians on one hand and blacks and Hispanics on the others, means race-based grading. That, too, seems untenable.  But of course this doesn’t negate my own approval of some forms of affirmative action as reparations to groups treated unfairly in the past. Nobody wants a school that is all Asian and white, and nobody wants a school that is all black or all Hispanic.

Again, I don’t know the solution except to improve teaching while allowing everyone to learn to the best of their ability. And that means effort must be judged as well as achievement. Here’s a statement from L.A. Unified’s chief academic officer:

“Just because I did not answer a test question correctly today doesn’t mean I don’t have the capacity to learn it tomorrow and retake a test,” Yoshimoto-Towery said. “Equitable grading practices align with the understanding that as people we learn at different rates and in different ways and we need multiple opportunities to do so.”

Somehow I get the feeling that this refers not to different individuals‘ capacity to learn, but on assumptions about the capacity of members of different races to learn—assumptions that are both racist and patronizing. This is supported by the fact that San Diego’s school board said this:

“Our goal should not simply be to re-create the system in place before March 13, 2020. Rather, we should seek to reopen as a better system, one focused on rooting out systemic racism in our society,” the board declared last summer.

Similar to Los Angeles, the San Diego changes include giving students opportunities to revise work and re-do tests. Teachers are to remove factors such as behavior, punctuality, effort and work habits from academic grades and shift them to a student’s “citizenship” grade, which is often factored into sports and extra-curricular eligibility, said Nicole DeWitt, executive director in the district’s office of leadership and learning.

It seems to me that you can’t solve the problem of unequal achievement by adjusting grades based on race. In the long term, that accomplishes very little. You solve the problem by giving everybody equal opportunities in life from the very beginning of life. Since minorities don’t have that, we should be investing a lot of time and money in providing those opportunities. In the meantime, some affirmative action is necessary to allow more opportunity than before, and because we owe it to people who have been discriminated against and haven’t had equal opportunity.

Censorship of schoolbooks by the Right

September 26, 2021 • 1:30 pm

I’ve been criticized for concentrating on “cancelling” by the Left and ignoring the same activities by the Right. If that’s true, it’s because I think the Left’s activities will help the Republicans in the next elections, while everybody in the liberal media concentrates on the Right. But it is true that we shouldn’t forget that the Right is guilty of some equally stupid attempts at censorship, several of them described in this article in The Daily Beast. Among the things that the Right-wing group “Moms for Liberty” are fighting to ban in schools are predictable ones: mentions of race, the struggle for civil rights, Native Americans, descriptions of segregation in schools, and so on.

But click on the screenshot below to read some new and unpredictable targets of Right-Wing opprobrium, including, for crying out loud, the reproduction of seahorses!

This article describes the battle in Tennessee’s Williamson County School District, in a state where there are already laws against teaching CRT (I object to any such laws).  Here’s some of the offensive stuff:

At the heart of that fight is a conservative group, led by a private-schoolparent, that has a sprawling list of complaints against common classroom books. Many of the books are about race, but other targets include dragons, sad little owls, and hurricanes.

. . .With school back in session, the Williamson County feud has been renewed, Reuters reported this week. And the scope of the proposed book ban is even broader and loonier than MFL’s June letter suggests.

Accompanying that letter is an 11-page spreadsheet with complaints about books on the district’s curriculum, ranging from popular books on civil rights heroes to books about poisonous animals (“text speaks of horned lizard squirting blood out of its eyes”), Johnny Appleseed (“story is sad and dark”), and Greek and Roman mythology (“illustration of the goddess Venus naked coming out of the ocean…story of Tantalus and how he cooks up, serves, and eats his son.”) A book about hurricanes is no good (“1st grade is too young to hear about possible devastating effects of hurricanes”) and a book about owls is designated as a downer. (“It’s a sad book, but turns out ok. Not a book I would want to read for fun,” an adult wrote of the owl book in the spreadsheet.)

You can find what I think are the 11 pages of spreadsheets here and here (enlarge a download), and you can see a pdf presentation of some of the offensive stuff here, along with some videos by The Offended.

But wait—there’s more! Foreign words don’t make the cut, and the parents also join those historians of science who say that the affair of Galileo does not show antiscientific behavior of the Catholic church!

Multiple books that contain Spanish or French Creole words receive warnings from the group for potentially “confusing” children. An article about crackdowns on civil rights demonstrators, meanwhile, is deemed inappropriate for “negative view of Firemen and police.” A fictional book about the Civil War (given to fifth graders) is deemed inappropriate, in part due to depictions of “out of marriage families between white men and black women” and descriptions of “white people as ‘bad’ or ‘evil.’”

At one juncture, the group implores the school district to include more charitable descriptions of the Catholic Church when teaching a book about astronomer Galileo Galilei, who was persecuted by said church for suggesting that Earth revolves around the sun.

“Where is the HERO of the church?” the group’s spreadsheet asks, “to contrast with their mistakes? There are so many opportunities to teach children the truth of our history as a nation. The Church has a huge and lasting influence on American culture. Both good and bad should be represented. The Christian church is responsible for the genesis of Hospitals, Orphanages, Social Work, Charity, to name a few.”

Finally, my favorite bit is the seahorse ban. As I’ve written before, both seahorses and pipefishes reverse the usual course of offspring care. In both groups, males have pouches to contain and incubate the fertilized eggs, and females compete for those eggs to get into those pouches. (This is because females can produce eggs faster than males can incubate broods.) Because here females compete for rare space in male pouches, sexual selection is reversed, and in seahorses and pipefish it is the females rather than the males that is the highly decorated sex (see here and here).

You can imagine the consternation this situation would cause for right-wingers: males get pregnant! Why, it’s almost like transexuality! And so they object:

MFL’s Williamson County chapter also takes issue with a picture book about seahorses, in part because it depicted “mating seahorses with pictures of postions [sic] and discussion of the male carrying the eggs.”

The Daily Beast reviewed the text in question via a children’s story time YouTube channel.

Readers looking for a Kama Sutra of seahorse sex will be disappointed. Sea Horse: The Shyest Fish In The Sea contains nothing more risqué than watercolor illustrations of two seahorses holding tails or touching bellies (never—heavens—at the same time).

The passage that “describes how they have sex” reads: “they twist their tails together and twirl gently around, changing color until they match. Sea horses are faithful to one mate and often pair up for life. Today Sea Horse’s mate is full of ripe eggs. The two of them dance until sunset and then she puts her eggs into his pouch. [JAC: OMG that is HOT!] Barbour sea horses mate every few weeks during the breeding season. Only the male sea horse has a pouch. Only the female sea horse can grow eggs.”

MFL recommends the book be reserved for older children, up to grade eight.

As your reward, here’s a video of a male seahorse giving birth to hundreds of miniatures (warning: sex-role reversal!):

 

h/t: GInger K.

A two-year old book burning in Canada

September 8, 2021 • 1:00 pm

In a comment on the Boghossian resignation post, reader Mike called this article to our attention as an example of Peak Wokeness. Unsurprisingly, it’s in Canada, which has turned out to be the epicenter of North American Wokeness, but Americans, being parochial, don’t know as much as they should about Canada. Usually what we find out is good stuff, but not in this case.

(Here’s a theory which is mine: Canada may be more susceptible to wokeness because of the citizens’ vaunted—and genuine—politeness. They are perhaps more likely to defer to the demands of those who are loud and persistent.)

Granted, this book-burning event took place in 2019, and the burners—”an Ontario francophone school board” (a SCHOOL BOARD!!!)—admitted it erred, but the news, as you see from the National Post article below, just came out. It’s pretty dire, for book-burning really does conjure up attempts at censorship, more so than a bunch of publishing employees protesting their company’s publishing a book they don’t like. It even conjures up Nazi book burnings, which were so numerous that the practice has its own article on Wikipedia.

It was all motivated in an attempt to reconcile the descendants of “settlers” with the Indigenous People (First People) of Canada. Representatives of the First People gave advice on the titles to be burned, supposedly for “educational purposes”—the education apparently being which books are offensive. From the article:

A book burning held by an Ontario francophone school board as an act of reconciliation with Indigenous people has received sharp condemnation from Canadian political leaders and the board itself now says it regrets its symbolic gesture.

The “flame purification” ceremony, first reported by Radio Canada, was held in 2019 by the Conseil scolaire catholique Providence, which oversees elementary and secondary schools in southwestern Ontario. Some 30 books, the national broadcaster reported, were burned for “educational purposes” and then the ashes were used as fertilizer to plant a tree.

“We bury the ashes of racism, discrimination and stereotypes in the hope that we will grow up in an inclusive country where all can live in prosperity and security,” says a video prepared for students about the book burning, Radio Canada reported.In total, more than 4,700 books were removed from library shelves at 30 schools across the school board, and they have since been destroyed or are in the process of being recycled, Radio Canada reported.

Lyne Cossette, the board’s spokesperson, told National Post that the board formed a committee and “many Aboriginal knowledge keepers and elders participated and were consulted at various stages, from the conceptualization to the evaluation of the books, to the tree planting initiative.”

“Symbolically, some books were used as fertilizer,” Cossette wrote in an email.

Some of the books that were burned, and granted, many of them did have racist, bigoted, or offended images. But you’re not supposed to destroy the books, but rather counter them with speech or other books! Even Mein Kampf is still in print. Here’s what was seen as offensive:

A 165-page school board document includes analysis of all the books removed from shelves, Radio Canada reported.

Among them are classic titles, such as Tintin in America, which was withdrawn for its “negative portrayal of indigenous peoples and offending Aboriginal representation in the drawings.”

Also removed were books that allegedly contain cultural appropriation, as well as outdated history books, such as two biographies of Jacques Cartier, a French explorer who mapped the St. Lawrence, and another of explorer Étienne Brûlé.

I’m not sure what kind of cultural appropriation they’re talking about, but perhaps readers can enlighten me.

Cossette did apologize, but not really—it’s an apology of the form “we are sorry that some people were hurt by our book burning”:

“We regret that we did not intervene to ensure a more appropriate plan for the commemorative ceremony and that it was offensive to some members of the community. We sincerely regret the negative impact of this initiative intended as a gesture of reconciliation,” Cossette wrote. When are people going to apologize properly?: “We weren’t thinking properly and we did something wrong. It won’t happen again.”

And Justin Trudeau made a mealymouthed statement designed to placate everyone:

Asked about the book burning, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said it’s not up to non-Indigenous people “to tell Indigenous people how they should feel or act to advance reconciliation.”

“On a personal level, I would never agree to the burning of books,” Trudeau said.

Actually, it’s perfectly fine for non-indigenous people to tell indigenous people that they’re making a tactical and political mistake, and I suppose that’s telling them in some sense “how to feel.” That is, you (and right now I) am saying, “You shouldn’t feel that burning books is a good way to reconcile with non-indigenous people, and you should also realize that book-burning never works and is counter to liberal, humanistic principles.”

Well, this is all done and dusted, as the Brits say, but I’d like to hear some Canadians compare their national Wokeness with that of the United States.

***************

UPDATE: From Anne-Marie in Canada, who says, “From Serge Chapleau, la caricature of the day about the book-burning in Ontario.”

Should schools hide children’s issues about gender and transexuality from their parents?

August 31, 2021 • 12:30 pm

There must be tons of people who have Substack sites that I don’t know about. Reader Steve just acquainted me with the site of Abigail Shrier, called “The Truth Fairy.” Shrier, of course, is the person most demonized as transphobic by transgender activists, but unfairly so, for she is not in the least transphobic.

Rather, she became persona non grata because of her book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our DaughtersIf you’ve read that book, and I have, you’ll see that it’s about questioning the narrative of teenage girls who desire to transition to the male sex while they’re still very young.  Some of these people, say Shrier, are sincere, while others may succumb to social pressure to transition (this pressure is often very strong) rather than ride out the pervasive angst of teenage years or, if they’re lesbian, go that route. It seems that wanting to change gender is seen as a heroic act, while not doing so, if you have doubts, is denigrated. And saying you’re a lesbian gives you no points.

This valorization of transitioning among teenage girls—and also boys, but Shrier’s book is mostly about girls—is the basis for “gender affirmative” treatment, which is basically a one-way push towards transitioning. Without proper therapy, counseling, or parental discussion, girls may be socially pressured into making irreversible decisions, including getting hormone therapy and surgery. For raising these questions, and suggesting that in some cases “gender affirmation” may not be a healthy way to go, Shrier has become Public Enemy Number 1 to transgender activists, replacing J. K. Rowling. (There will be another.) An ACLU official suggested that her book be banned, and it was briefly removed from at least two book-selling venues, including Target.

In her latest post (click on screenshot below), Shrier takes up another contentious issue, another one that cries out for public discussion.

The issue is “Gender Support Plans” used by many secondary schools, in which a child’s name, desire to change gender, preferred pronouns, and so on are kept on record and used in schools, but hidden from the parents. Here’s one example given by Shrier:

Last week, I spoke with another mother who discovered her 12-year-old daughter’s middle school had changed the girl’s name and gender identity at school. The “Gender Support Plan” the district followed is an increasingly standard document which informs teachers of a child’s new chosen name and gender identity (“trans,” “agender,” “non-binary,” etc.) for all internal communications with the child. The school also provided the girl a year’s worth of counseling in support of her new identity, which in her case was “no gender.” Even the P.E. teachers were in on it. Left in the dark were her parents.

This duplicity is part of the “plan”: All documents sent home to mom and dad scrupulously maintained the daughter’s birth name and sex. But Mom noticed her daughter seemed to be suffering. Although far from alone in declaring a new identity – many girls in the school had adopted new names and gender pronouns – this girl’s grades fell apart. She became taciturn and moody.

When the mother failed to uncover the source of the girl’s distress, she met with teachers, hoping for insight. Instead, she slammed into a Wall of Silence: no teacher was evidently willing to let a worried mom know what the hell was going on. (Finally, one did.)

I’ve heard of such incidents many times. A very important decision by a student is not only supported by the school, but hidden from the parents. That seems to fly in the face of what being a parent is all about. Shouldn’t parents know this stuff at least at the same time as the school, at the very least? And what right does a school have to hide such a momentous change from the parents? It is the school usurping a parent’s right. (Of course, if the student wants to hide a gender change from both the school and the parents, that is also her right. Further, if the child wants to discuss it only with a therapist, that is also fine, as therapeutic sessions are confidential.) But I know of no other case in which schools keep such information from parents. As Shrier says, “For Pete’s sake, the state requires that teachers ask parental consent before they offer a child Tylenol.”

The schools, of course have their reasons, but they don’t seem to be good ones:

Teachers and activists who support this policy typically make two arguments in its favor. The first is that the very fact that a teen would want to keep her new gender identity a secret from parents is proof that home is an “unsafe” place for her; that is, her parents, if they knew, would abuse her. The second is that this gender declaration is a deeply held and personal decision of the child’s. The school, in this scenario, is merely a polite bystander—at most, a kindly chaperone. It’s not the school’s job to ask mom and dad for their approval.

The first is absurd; the second, dishonest. Why would a teen agree to keep a secret from her parents, if not for the presence of abuse? Well, as one sharp Twitter user pointed out in response to the documents I posted, one can think of a few things a teen might want to keep secret from mom: an eating disorder; her decision to join a religious cult; her dabbling in drugs; a decision to send or post nudes; or have sex with a much older boy. Teens tend to keep from mom and dad a wide variety of healthy and unhealthy teenage experimentations—sometimes to avoid parental protest; sometimes, just for the pubertal frisson.

And in virtually none of these cases is the primary motivation to keep secrets from parents necessarily fear of abuse. Sometimes it’s to avoid—groan—another lecture or even a conversation. Other times, teens keep something a secret just to avoid a “No.”

I think Shrier is right here. How many of us can say that we didn’t keep secrets from our parents in secondary school because it might upset them, or lead to “discussion”? When I was in high school everyone was smoking weed or taking hallucinogens, but I would never mention that to my parents. (My dad finally caught me smoking once, and hit the roof!) Why would it be okay for the school to know this but not my parents?

The fact is that growing up is a process in which parents guide their children by their own best lights, and sometimes that involves difficult conversations. But why are parents not as good as teachers and principals at trying to understand and deal with a child’s transitioning? Shrier’s thesis (and that of other people) is that in many cases gender transitioning is a symptom of mental distress rather than a genuine feeling that you need to be transformed into a member of the opposite sex, and that perhaps parents would understand a child’s behavior better than school officials (though not necessarily better than a good therapist). Plus, as Shrier says, once a kid leaves middle school or high school, the teachers move on to a new batch of kids, but the parents have a lifetime interest in the child.

A peculiar power imbalance has arisen between public school teachers and the parents for whom the necessity of work renders them too dependent on these schools to question them.  Parents discover radical materials pushed on their children by accident, like passersby happening on a crime scene. They are treated as interlopers, trespassers; they are made to understand they have no right to be there; information on the ideology pushed on their kids is revealed on a strictly need-to-know basis. When parents do object to classroom gender ideology, they’re treated as morally obtuse or child abusers.

The contempt shown parents would be inexcusable even if teachers stuck to reading, writing and arithmetic. In a time when so many public school teachers are properly described as activists, that arrangement strips children of their families’ protection. And families must indeed protect them from an ideology that would turn students against any adult who suggests that a seventh grader suddenly jonesing for hormones and surgeries slow down. I have more than once wondered whether public schools that would openly pit students against their families, turn them against themselves and each other, aren’t doing more harm than good.

Shrier’s solution? A federal law that would allow parents access to their children’s public-school records.

Actually, there is such a law, but schools can get around it simply by not keeping the records “in a centralized location”.  While grades and courses may be kept centralized, schools are apparently careful to keep records about gender and the like in other places. (I have no idea what a “non centralized location” might be.) This kind of end run around the law is unconscionable.

At the end, Shrier gets a bit apocalyptic about the issue, but remember that it is her main interest as a journalist now, and, importantly, she has children.

This is where the most critical cultural battle will be fought. Not with reckless doctors, for whom lawsuits are coming. Not even with the therapists—in many cases, a luxury, parents can walk away from. It will be fought with America’s activist teachers. Will we allow the activists among them unaccountable access to the next generation of America’s children?

If conservatives and liberals hope to save this country, this is where they will place their energies: campaigning for federal legislation to grant parents full access to all curricula. And no, granting parents’ review over sex-education materials alone wouldn’t solve this problem, since the SOGI (Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity) curriculum, for instance, is often inserted into other areas of the curriculum or disguised as “anti-bullying” education. We need legislation that grants parents a right to opt out of any instruction regarding gender and sexuality and stops schools from changing a child’s name, gender marker, or pronouns without the approval of a parent or legal guardian. This has nothing to do with “outing” students and everything to do with whether a school should be permitted to hoodwink the primary locus of love and responsibility in her life.

I’ve thought about this for a while, and I can see no reason for schools to keep this secret from parents unless there is a genuine danger to the child if she tells her parents. And how would you know that without telling the parents? If things become so bad that a parent becomes abusive about the issue, the child needs to be moved out of the home and given proper care (no not necessarily a regimen of “gender affirmation”).  But I can’t imagine that most parents wouldn’t be sufficiently concerned about the issue to try to help their child or get help for their child (the right kind of help: not “rah rah, cut off your breasts and take hormones” kind of help but help from an empathic and thoughtful therapist).

Do any readers feel that schools have a right to keep this information secret from a child’s parents?

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UPDATE:  Bari Weiss announced in her newsletter that she will have a discussion (“cocktail hour”) with Shrier this week, so if you subscribe look for a link.

I’m excited that on Thursday at 8pm EST/5pm PST we’re going to host an event for subscribers only.

h/t: Steve

Oregon quietly eliminates all standards in reading, writing, and math for getting a high-school diploma

August 11, 2021 • 9:30 am

According to the two articles below (and others from sources that are more on the Right), Governor Kate Brown of Oregon has quietly signed a bill that eliminates the need for students to demonstrate minimal proficiency in reading, writing, and mathematics to graduate from high school—for the next five years. Up to now, demonstration of that that proficiency has been required by administering “about five different tests or by completing an in-depth classroom project judged by their own teachers. ” Those requirements are going out the window, so I guess you can graduate if you’re both effectively innumerate and illiterate. The two sources I used in this post are below:

The Oregonian:

. . . and yahoo! news:

Not only did the governor sign the law (more heavily supported by Democrats and more heavily criticized by Republicans), but she refused to comment on it, nor did she give the signing any publicity like a press release or signing ceremony), though other bills passed at the same time were entered into the legislative database and sent out as email notifications to those following the bills.  This bill—Senate Bill 744—was not. From the Oregonian:

Gov. Kate Brown had demurred earlier this summer regarding whether she supported the plan passed by the Legislature to drop the requirement that students demonstrate they have achieved those essential skills. But on July 14, the governor signed Senate Bill 744 into law.

Through a spokesperson, the governor declined again Friday to comment on the law and why she supported suspending the proficiency requirements.

Brown’s decision was not public until recently, because her office did not hold a signing ceremony or issue a press release and the fact that the governor signed the bill was not entered into the legislative database until July 29, a departure from the normal practice of updating the public database the same day a bill is signed.

The Oregonian/OregonLive asked the governor’s office when Brown’s staff notified the Legislature that she had signed the bill. Charles Boyle, the governor’s deputy communications director, said the governor’s staff notified legislative staff the same day the governor signed the bill.

It’s not hard to get the impression that the governor and her minions are hiding this bill, but of course the press got wind of it (probably from Republicans who voted against it).  And they have good reason to keep this bill quiet, as it completely eliminates any educational standards

Now you might also guess why the bill was passed. In fact, you don’t have to guess, as the governor’s own staff told us:

The Oregonian/OregonLive asked the governor’s office when Brown’s staff notified the Legislature that she had signed the bill. Charles Boyle, the governor’s deputy communications director, said the governor’s staff notified legislative staff the same day the governor signed the bill.

Boyle said in an emailed statement that suspending the reading, writing and math proficiency requirements while the state develops new graduation standards will benefit “Oregon’s Black, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and students of color.”

“Leaders from those communities have advocated time and again for equitable graduation standards, along with expanded learning opportunities and supports,” Boyle wrote.

You can see Senate bill 744 here.  It mandates a committee from the state Department of Education that will report to the Senate by September 1, 2022, devising new learning standards, and part of the report must include the following. Note that “proficiency in essential learning skills” is not required to receive a diploma up to graduation in 2024 (section 3). As I noted, that’s been extended to 2027.

However, The Oregonian notes that this requirement will actually extend three more years, until the class of 2027 graduates—five years from this fall’s incoming class (my emphasis).

Proponents said the state needed to pause Oregon’s high school graduation requirements, in place since 2009 but already suspended during the pandemic, until at least the class of 2024 graduates in order for leaders to reexamine its graduation requirements. Recommendations for new standards are due to the Legislature and Oregon Board of Education by September 2022.

However, since Oregon education officials have long insisted they would not impose new graduation requirements on students who have already begun high school, new requirements would not take effect until the class of 2027 at the very earliest. That means at least five more classes could be expected to graduate without needing to demonstrate proficiency in math and writing.

As yahoo! news reports, the measure did receive some bipartisan support, passing the state House by 38-13 and the state Senate 16-13. The bill was signed on July 14, but it’s being reported now because the news has apparently just leaked out.

What is going on here? It’s pretty clear that the elimination of proficiency in essential skills is—like the elimination of many standardized tests in high school and for college entrance—part of the dismantling of the meritocracy that goes along with the desire to create academic “equity”. I would guess that the black, Hispanic, and Indigenous students weren’t performing as well as Asian or white students in graduating, and, as Ibram Kendi tells us, inequities of this sort are prima facie evidence of racism. To eliminate the racism, you eliminate the inequities: in this case by eliminating any need for students to be literate and numerate.

This, of course, will create five years in which Oregon high-school graduates can get a high-school diploma without demonstrating the merest proficiency in the skills needed to survive as a citizen in this country. But the playing field has been leveled; all adhere to the same standards—or lack of standards. In this case, a high-school diploma, which previously indicated that the possessor had at least rudimentary reading, writing, and math skills, now means absolutely nothing, and employers will have to discount it.

It’ll be interesting to see what standards the Oregon Department of Education comes up with next year. Will those standards depend on the background of the student? What will be the “alternative methods for students to demonstrate proficiency in skills or academic content areas that are not related to career and technical education”?

Sometimes I despair that, over the coming decades, all standards will be eliminated in the name of equity—save those standards, like flying airplanes or being a surgeon—that must be maintained lest people die.  It seems to me far better to tackle the problem at the root: doing the hard work of providing equal opportunity for all Americans from the moment of birth, rather than doing this kind of invidious touch-up that does nothing to solve the problem of inequality and, in fact, damages public education.

As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats, but the Oregon tide is a falling one, and will mire all boats in the mud.