It’s a no-brainer: smart teachers mean smart children

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If you’ve had the feeling that your child – or you – might be brighter than the teacher, you may not be wrong.

In a Herald Sun piece, Melbourne teacher Christopher Bantick slammed the ‘intellectual heft’ of aspiring teachers, enabled by the failure of universities to enforce a high standard:

It’s a no-brainer that if you put a thick teacher in front of kids, then they will not achieve… I am in my fourth decade of being a secondary teacher and I have seen academic standards decline in teachers.

In the last seven years, the required ATAR score for teaching courses in Victoria has been falling, from 75 in 2009 to 60 in 2016. In fact, an ATAR score of just 34.80 – out of 99.95 – can see someone become a teacher.

You can hardly argue that this results in the “best and brightest” teaching our children.

Bantick argues the blame falls squarely with our universities:

The reality is this: universities, especially not premier league performers, set low ATAR scores or no ATAR scores for teaching to ensure they get enough students. Teaching is their milch cow.

There is a direct correlation between high-performing ATAR scores and academically sound teaching.

High-quality teaching is the single most important in-school factor influencing student outcomes, according to research from both the OECD and AITSL Chair John Hattie. And the best teachers are also discipline authorities with deep knowledge of their subject matter, as educational psychologist Lee Shulman contends in his seminal paper, ‘Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform‘:

To teach all students according to today’s standards, teachers need to understand subject matter deeply and flexibly so they can help students create useful cognitive maps, relate one idea to another, and address misconceptions.

It should be a no-brainer. Smart teachers results in smart students. It’s really that simple.

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‘Tis the season for wasting taxpayer money, all in the name of climate change

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You know what I’m not worried about this Christmas? Climate change.

That is my own folly, according to the Christmas Climate Change Variety Hour hosted at the University of Sydney last weekend.

In an egregious waste of ratepayers’ fund reported by the Daily Telegraph, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore slugged ratepayers $10,000 to fund this left-wing show, attended by a paltry 70 people. Highlights of the show, courtesy of Ms Moore’s generosity with other people’s money, included:

  • A sex clown called Betty Grumble who ‘paraded around in a cape, knee-high boots, an oversized tiara and tassels on her nipples’ and threw ‘fake money over the buttocks of her sidekick, a man clad only in white briefs and a lamb mask’; and
  • Jokes that ‘the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition will soon be held atop Uluru due to global warming; that disappearing arctic ice is making it difficult for Santa to land his sleigh; and that Australia’s love of Christmas hams will lead to the extinction of pigs by 2050.’

It is no wonder that the discussion surrounding what young people are being exposed to at universities concerns people. Materials produced by the Christmas Climate Change Variety Hour – or Sydney ratepayers, to be truthful – claimed that:

Christmas and climate change are already intertwined … Christmas is a key event on the capitalist calendar … the climate implications of this profitable version of Christmas are inescapable. Can modern Christmas traditions ever be sustainable?

What nonsense. You don’t have to celebrate Christmas to respect its place in Australia’s culture and the fact that the majority of Australians celebrate this holiday. We are right to despair at politicians’ profligacy with money that isn’t theirs when this is what we are getting.

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The deafening failure of open-plan classrooms

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Walking around Australian schools today, it is hard to miss the large, barn-like rooms housing hundreds of students.

We were promised ‘agile learning areas’, built on collaboration, flexibility and student-centred learning. What we got was far from a conducive learning environment.

It seems, however, that we may finally be waking up to the failure of another progressive educational fad, with The Age reporting that while schools ‘knocked down walls to revolutionise learning‘, they are now putting them back up to reduce the noise, distractions and disruptions.

On a teaching placement, I regularly observed a class of more than 50 students in an open-plan environment. Chaos is the only word that could be used to describe it. Students routinely went missing, noise levels were extremely high with conversation rarely on-task, and concentration and focus was almost non-existent. One student even flat-out refused to do work at all, declaring ‘my home is my learning environment; school is my play environment’.

Student complaints included that it is ‘so noisy I can’t even feel myself think!’, ‘you can never hear the teacher even if you try’, and ‘I don’t even bother listening because no one is quiet while the teachers are talking’. The negative impact of noise is supported by recent research showing that 50-70 per cent of children learning in open-plan classrooms were unable to hear their teacher very well, or at all, when the other classes were doing activities.

Research shows that children learn best when their environment is orderly and engaging. The establishment and enforcement of clear rules, expectations and boundaries help children build a sense of self-control, responsibility and accountability for their actions.

Open-plan classrooms fail this test. They are an environment more synonymous with chaos than with learning, and the sooner we recognise this, the better.

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Is there a grief emoji for the death of the English language?

There are no words.

That is at least according to the Oxford Dictionaries, which this year decided that rather than one of the more than one million words in the English language, an emoji deserved to be named the 2015 Word of the Year. To be precise, the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’.

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Other options included the ‘sharing economy‘ and ‘Brexit‘, both of which would have been more appropriate and sensible, particularly given they are actually words.

Despite priding themselves as “the definitive source on language and the first point of reference”, Oxford Dictionaries, owned by Oxford University Press and responsible for publishing the Oxford English Dictionary, has effectively abandoned its post as the protector and defender of the English language.

Ironically, the motto of Oxford Dictionaries is “language matters”. Yes, it does.

Language provides us with the means to communicate, share our ideas and thoughts, and a way to connect with others or express our emotions. The English language has transformed the world over hundreds of years, spreading ideas, creating realms of imagination and new words through classical literature, and helping to fashion a modern world built on interconnection and interdependence.

Today, the English language is considered the universal language, or lingua franca, for business and communications. In a world where division is often highlighted, the English language stands today as a hallmark of Western Civilisation and a bridge between peoples.

The Oxford Dictionaries, however, seem more pre-occupied with being progressive or avant-garde than celebrating the complex, exciting and dynamic nature of the English language.

Giants of the literary world and Oxford University alumni TS Eliot, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and Oscar Wilde would be rolling in their graves.

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The ‘left-wing conspiracy’ in teacher education courses

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High-quality teaching is fundamental to student learning, and research shows that it is the largest in-school factor influencing student outcomes.

That is why Dr Jennifer Oriel’s warning ($) that university courses are shaping a generation of teachers to champion postcolonialism and neo-Marxism should be taken very seriously. Dr Oriel cited recent IPA research which showed that from 2004 to 2014, the number of Australian universities offering postcolonialism as a subject increased from 15 to 21, and of the 34 universities surveyed, post­colonialism/imperialism was the third most commonly offered history subject.

Dr Bill Allen however, disagrees. In an article in The Australian yesterday, Dr Allen argued that no ‘left-wing conspiracy’ exists inside teacher education courses ($) to create teachers hostile to Western Civilisation and Australian values. He claimed that in his own experience, most students studying teaching have never heard of neo-Marxist educational theorists Paulo Freire or Herbert Marcuse, and that even though students knew of Karl Marx, it didn’t matter because they don’t know ‘how Marx’s ideas might apply to their thinking about being a successful teacher’.

My own experience studying teaching has been Oriel’s reality, not Allen’s.

In one subject, an entire week was devoted to Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy, and how from the 1970s to today, ‘important social movements such as feminism’ have ‘blossomed’ as teachers ‘started to actively resist schooling structures that were seen to privilege a typically white, male and European viewpoint.’

We were told that as educators, we have an ‘important role to play as “public intellectuals”, who should fight the forces of social and economic oppression within which schools operate’. This is informed by critical pedagogy advocate Henry Giroux, who contends that neoliberal politics, pop culture, and corporations are negative ideological forces which must be fought in schools.

Only last week, I sat in classes that denigrated non-government schools, argued for trigger warnings in the classroom, and derided the idea of individual responsibility.

If there is no left-wing conspiracy in teacher education courses, I must be confused.

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Measuring the success of the Rudd government’s Digital Education Revolution

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Here’s an interesting finding: the more frequently computers are used in the classroom, the worse the results of the students.

That’s according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in a new publication entitled Students, Computers and Learning: Making Connections. The first report of its kind into the digital skills of students, it found that there was ‘no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education’.

Rewind to 2007. Remember Australia’s Digital Education Revolution? This $24.2 billion program was launched by the Rudd government to ensure that ‘that one million Australian secondary school students get an education with the latest technology, to prepare them for the jobs of the future’. According to Labor’s pre-election policy document:

Computers will enhance the learning experience of every high school student in the country, giving them the tools they need to engage more effectively in the classroom and with the world.

The evidence is in, and according to the OECD, this huge public spending hasn’t worked. These are some of the facts:

  • Australian classrooms have the highest proportion of students using computers at school
  • Australian students spend nearly an hour on the internet when they are at school, more than twice the OECD average
  • Australia’s performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment has dropped in all areas since only 2009 – from 9th to 14th in reading, 10th to 16th in science and 15th to 19th in mathematics.

Computers aren’t the ‘toolbox of the 21st century’, as claimed by the ALP. Literacy is. Numeracy is. These unfashionable disciplines are the real solution to increasing student outcomes and decreasing the effects of disadvantage:

Put simply, ensuring that every child attains a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics seems to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidising access to high-tech devices and services

It’s time we stopped talking about technology in the classroom and increasing public expenditure on education as being the solution to Australia’s falling student outcomes. More laptops and more iPads are a waste of money – it’s what you do with them that counts. After all, ‘great technology cannot replace poor teaching‘.

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Parents: a night out is not necessarily a night off

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We’ve all had this experience. Instead of enjoying a night out with our partner, family or friends, we find ourselves having to tolerate unruly and disruptive children running amok in the restaurant.

There is almost nothing worse.

However, Queensland restaurateur Liam Flynn is taking a stand, creating a new dining policy after an argument with some patrons last month: no more children under the age of seven.

It all started with an incident early last month when a couple kept their crying two-year-old child in the restaurant for what Mr Flynn says was about 10 minutes, something he called “entirely unacceptable”.

After speaking with the parents for the second time, Mr Flynn asked them to take the baby outside, at which point the couple took offence and made a show of exiting the venue.

According to Mr Flynn, when speaking with the husband at the counter, the wife appeared from the bathroom and said: “If you think that’s screaming, you can go and get f***ed.”

As the owner of a private business, Mr Flynn has the right to deny entry to his venue to children – especially if the parents become abusive. The fact is that eating out is not a right. It is a privilege. And if you fail to take responsibility for your children while doing so, do not be surprised when other patrons, wait staff and restaurant owners do not want you there.

Continue Reading →

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The climate of conformity follows Lomborg to Flinders University

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At least they’re being honest now.

When left-wing activists at the University of Western Australia (UWA) shut down Bjørn Lomborg’s proposed Australian Consensus Centre before it could even get off the ground, we were told it was because they were ‘concerned about academic standards’.

UWA Student Guild President Lizzie O’Shea argued that it had ‘started to harm UWA’s world-class reputation’, and the National Tertiary Education Union’s Gabe Gooding claimed that it was ‘absolutely not censorship’.

South Australian Climate Change Minister Ian Hunter, however, has confirmed what we knew all along: that the shrill campaign to shut down Lomborg’s proposed Australian Consensus Centre was purely ideological.

In a media release this week, Hunter called on Flinders University to reject establishing Lomborg’s Australian Consensus Centre, labeling him a ‘discredited pundit’:

It needs to be made abundantly clear that the Federal Government’s funding carrot to set up the Lomborg centre comes with ideological strings attached.

This funding tactic is similar to those used by the tobacco lobby when they were trying to obfuscate the science around the health impacts of smoking.

The Federal Liberal Government’s attitude to climate change is well known – and derided globally – and this funding is designed to buy willing researchers to support their agenda.

The distortion of Lomborg’s work is wrong; Australian society and academia is all the worse for it. Lomborg does not question the validity of the anthropogenic climate change hypothesis; his work seeks to assess the cost-benefit of various climate change policies, and how best to allocate scarce resources to the world’s development challenges. This includes climate change and other issues like health, education and nutrition. Comparing federal funding for the consensus centre to federal funding of the tobacco industry is insulting.

The truth is that left-wing ideologues, and champions of progressive causes like climate change don’t want to justify themselves. They don’t want to engage in a discussion of ideas, or attempt to explain to those that disagree why they think the way they do. They want everyone to agree with them, and if they don’t, to shut them up.

As I wrote in FreedomWatch in May, the real victims of this progressive group-think saturating universities are the students:

The culture of muzzling ideas we don’t agree with not because they are bad, but because they fail to meet a perceived moral threshold is dangerous.

The reality is that there are thousands of students on Australian university campuses who are too afraid to make their voices heard and share their opinions because they dissent from the increasingly aggressive, dominant and hostile Left.

Not everybody has to agree with you – and not everybody will. Sadly, open minds and a willingness to engage in respectful discussion of ideas and policy are currently missing in Australia. We go nowhere as a society if people are too afraid to say what they believe because they do not want to be the next victim of ridicule and abuse.

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McDonald’s menu changes hardly spell doom for consumers

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Stop the press. McDonald’s has once again upset Australian public health advocates for their menu. Not the content of the menu, mind you. They are upset about the visibility of the menu.

The old McDonald’s menu displayed the kilojoules in each product next to its price. According to McDonald’s, customers complained that these menus were ‘cluttered and difficult to read’.

The new electronic boards scroll through each product individually, and only then display its health information. A customer therefore, would have to wait for the product they are interested in to come up to view its kilojoule content – for example, a Big Mac.

The gall of fast food giants to make consumers wait and give them what they want! Cue outrage from the public health lobby:

Jane Martin, executive manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition, said it was disappointing McDonald’s had made it more difficult for people to choose their meals based on how many kilojoules were in it.

Fast food chains are required by law in New South Wales and South Australia to display the kilojoule content of each item next to the price. Similar laws were floated in Victoria by the Brumby government, but never legislated – a good thing too, as they don’t work.

Continue Reading →

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The green infiltration of Australian schools

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Dr. Chilla Bulbeck

If you needed further proof that the politicisation of education is a growing problem in Australia, here it is.

In an article in The Australian, Gary Johns revealed that a ‘Greens-inspired’ campaign entitled ‘Climate Action for a Safe Environment’ has infiltrated Australian schools.

A parent of a 10-year old schoolboy at Cottesloe Primary School sent Mr Johns a letter saying that their son had been encouraged to write demanding action from Julie Bishop on climate change. The only problem was that the child was not entitled to write his own opinion, but simply regurgitate the propaganda issued to him by a green activist, Dr Chilla Bulbeck:

“The students … were asked to write a letter to Julie Bishop ­putting forward their thoughts on global warming and climate change” (emphasis added).

The letter to parents directs them to the campaign website where a standard letter is ready and waiting.

“Dear Julie Bishop,

My name is … and I am an ­average … student … please help this goal of mine (to stop global warming) become yours too ­because we can make a difference for Australia” (emphasis added).

Craft a persuasive letter using their thoughts, describing their goal? This is a deception. This is high-pressure propaganda and it is taking place in primary schools right now.

For the sake of full disclosure, Mr Johns informs us that Dr Bulbeck is now a ‘full-time “volunteer” for the Greens in Western Australia’.

These are the facts. A representative of a political party was invited into a classroom of a public school to push their agenda. No attempt appears to have been made by the school or teacher to provide balance. And students were in no way encouraged to pursue independent thinking on the matter.

It does not matter whether you agree with the substance of the letter or not. The fact remains that a child – a 10 year-old child – was presented with information and denied the tools to question it. This is an outrageous breach of a school’s responsibility both to parents and their students.

When education in schools becomes less about gaining knowledge and skills like critical thinking, and more about shaping minds, the public should be rightly upset. The rights of a parent to control their child’s education and the values they are being taught in schools must take precedence over anyone else’s. Cottesloe Primary School has clearly infringed upon a parent’s right to instil the values that are important to them in their children.

There need be no confusion here: this is a political exercise, ideologically-driven, and has the clear intention of shaping the values held by our children. Schools are entrusted with the responsibility to open a child’s mind and equip them with the skills they need to succeed in life. But too often they are used to push political agendas. People are so busy trying to use schools to shape the values and beliefs of children that as an institution, it is failing in its primary purpose: to educate.

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