Category Archives: Education

U.S. Schools Are Broke, But Prison Budgets Are Up 89 Percent

Joseph Williams reports for Take Part:

By now, studies providing evidence of the school-to-prison pipeline—disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates for poor and minority students that increase the odds they’ll end up behind bars—aren’t shocking. But the amount of money the nation has paid to erect that pipeline is stunning.

A new U.S. Department of Education report says state and local government spending on jails and prisons increased three times faster than spending on elementary and secondary education during the last three decades. The picture is even worse when it comes to public colleges and universities.

“At the postsecondary level, the contrast is even starker,” wrote the report’s authors: From about 1989 to 2013, “state and local spending on corrections rose by 89 percent while state and local appropriations for higher education remained flat.”

The spending spree on prison cells instead of classrooms underscores how the nation has become preoccupied with security even though crime rates have fallen during that time period for most of the country, according to the report.


The Disadvantages of Being Stupid in America

David H. Freedman writes for The Atlantic:

As recently as the 1950s, possessing only middling intelligence was not likely to severely limit your life’s trajectory. IQ wasn’t a big factor in whom you married, where you lived, or what others thought of you. The qualifications for a good job, whether on an assembly line or behind a desk, mostly revolved around integrity, work ethic, and a knack for getting along—bosses didn’t routinely expect college degrees, much less ask to see SAT scores. As one account of the era put it, hiring decisions were “based on a candidate having a critical skill or two and on soft factors such as eagerness, appearance, family background, and physical characteristics.”

The 2010s, in contrast, are a terrible time to not be brainy. Those who consider themselves bright openly mock others for being less so. Even in this age of rampant concern over microaggressions and victimization, we maintain open season on the nonsmart. People who’d swerve off a cliff rather than use a pejorative for race, religion, physical appearance, or disability are all too happy to drop the s‑bomb: Indeed, degrading others for being “stupid” has become nearly automatic in all forms of disagreement.

It’s popular entertainment, too. The so-called Darwin Awards celebrate incidents in which poor judgment and comprehension, among other supposedly genetic mental limitations, have led to gruesome and more or less self-inflicted fatalities. An evening of otherwise hate-speech-free TV-watching typically features at least one of a long list of humorous slurs on the unintelligent (“not the sharpest tool in the shed”; “a few fries short of a Happy Meal”; “dumber than a bag of hammers”; and so forth). Reddit regularly has threads on favorite ways to insult the stupid, and dedicates a page to the topic amid its party-decor ideas and drink recipes.


The Battle for the Soul of American Higher Education

Aviva Chomsky writes for Tom Dispatch:

During the past academic year, an upsurge of student activism, a movement of millennials, has swept campuses across the country and attracted the attention of the media. From coast to coast, from the Ivy League to state universities to small liberal arts colleges, a wave of student activism has focused on stopping climate change, promoting a living wage, fighting mass incarceration practices, supporting immigrant rights, and of course campaigning for Bernie Sanders.

Both the media and the schools that have been the targets of some of these protests have seized upon certain aspects of the upsurge for criticism or praise, while ignoring others. Commentators, pundits, and reporters have frequently trivialized and mocked the passion of the students and the ways in which it has been directed, even as universities have tried to appropriate it by promoting what some have called “neoliberal multiculturalism.” Think of this as a way, in particular, of taming the power of the present demands for racial justice and absorbing them into an increasingly market-oriented system of higher education.


Wikipedia Is Basically a Corporate Bureaucracy, According to a New Study

Jennifer Ouellette reports for Gizmodo:

Wikipedia Is Basically a Corporate Bureaucracy, According to a New StudyWikipedia is a voluntary organization dedicated to the noble goal of decentralized knowledge creation. But as the community has evolved over time, it has wandered further and further from its early egalitarian ideals, according to a new paper published in the journal Future Internet. In fact, such systems usually end up looking a lot like 20th century bureaucracies.

Even in the brave new world of online communities, the Who had it right: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

This may seem surprising, since there is no policing authority on Wikipedia—no established top-down means of control. The community is self-governing, relying primarily on social pressure to enforce the established core norms, according to co-author Simon DeDeo, a complexity scientist at Indiana University. He likens the earliest Wikipedia users—most of whom hailed from the ultra-nerdy Usenet culture of the 1990s—to historical figures like Rousseau, Voltaire, and Thomas Jefferson. “But what happens when a tiny Thomas Jefferson Libertarian fantasy has to grow up?” he told Gizmodo.

To find out, he and Indiana University undergraduate Bradi Heaberlin decided to examine the emergence of social hierarchy and online behavioral norms among the editors of Wikipedia. They examined 15 years of Wikipedia data, involving tens of thousands of individuals, from 2001 to 2015. Their conclusion: “[It] looks like a university system, or like General Electric, or AT&T,” said DeDeo.


Umberto Eco: The Professor Who Knew Everything

Pepe Escobar writes for Sputnik:

Once upon a time in the Italian Renaissance, serious scholars regarded polymath Pico della Mirandola as “the last man who knows everything”. In our post-modern wasteland, Il Professore (“the professor”) Umberto Eco (1932-2016) was arguably the last neo-Renaissance man to know everything.

Philosopher, semiologist, master of epic erudition, medieval aesthetic specialist, fiction and non-fiction writer, Eco oscillated gleefully between the roles of “Apocalyptic and Integrated” — the title of one of his seminal books (1964). His trademark touch was a delightfully erudite synthesis of tragic optimism — as if he was the supreme erudite dreamer.

Not only he wrote numerous, priceless essays on aesthetics, linguistics and philosophy, and criticized in depth the global mediascape; he was also a best-selling fiction author, from The Name of the Rose (1980) — 14 million copies sold — to Foucault’s Pendulum (1988).


Why Is My Kindergartner Being Groomed for the Military at School?

Sarah Grey writes for Truthout:

Why Is My Kindergartner Being Groomed for the Military at School?When he got home from Iraq, Hart Viges began sorting through his boyhood toys, looking for some he could pass on to his new baby nephew. He found a stash of G.I. Joes – his old favorites – and the memories came flooding back.

“I thought about giving them to him,” he said. But the pressures of a year in a war zone had strengthened Viges’ Christian faith, and he told the Army that “if I loved my enemy I couldn’t see killing them, for any reason.” He left as a conscientious objector. As for the G.I. Joes, “I threw them away instead.” Viges had grown up playing dress-up with his father’s, grandfather’s and uncles’ old military uniforms. “What we tell small kids has such a huge effect,” he told Truthout. “I didn’t want to be the one telling him to dream about the military.”

As the mother of a 6-year-old, I know what he means. My partner and I, as longtime antiwar activists, work hard to talk to our daughter about war, violence and peace in age-appropriate ways.

That’s why we were shocked this November when, shortly after Veterans Day, our daughter came home from kindergarten with a worksheet that asked the children to decide which branch of the military they would like to join. The class had been working on charts in math class, taking polls and graphing the results, which usually fell more along the lines of what flavors of pie they preferred.


What Orwell Can Teach Us About the Language of Terror and War

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury (2002-12), writes for The Guardian:

The main point in all this is that creating a language that cannot be checked by or against any recognisable reality is the ultimate mark of power. What Merton characterises as “double-talk, tautology, ambiguous cliche, self-righteous and doctrinaire pomposity and pseudoscientific jargon” is not just an aesthetic problem: it renders dialogue impossible; and rendering dialogue impossible is the desired goal for those who want to exercise absolute power. Merton was deeply struck by the accounts of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, and by Hannah Arendt’s discussions of the “banality” of evil. The staggeringly trivial and contentlessremarks of Eichmann at his trial and before his execution ought to frighten us, says Merton, because they are the utterance of the void: the speech of a man accustomed to power without the need to communicate or learn or imagine anything. And that is why Merton insists that knowing how to write is essential to honest political engagement.

In an essay on Camus, whom he, like Orwell, admired greatly, Merton says that the writer’s task “is not suddenly to burst out into the dazzle of utter unadulterated truth but laboriously to reshape an accurate and honest language that will permit communication … instead of multiplying a Babel of esoteric and technical tongues”. Against the language of power, which seeks to establish aperfect self-referentiality, the writer opposes a language of “laborious” honesty. Instead of public speech being the long echo of absolute and unchallengeable definitions supplied by authority – definitions that tell you once and for all how to understand the world’s phenomena – the good writer attempts to speak in a way that is open to the potential challenge of a reality she or he does not own and control. When the military commander speaks of destroying a village to save it, the writer’s job is to speak of the specific lives ended in agony. When the agents of Islamist terror call suicide bombers “martyrs”, the writer’s job is to direct attention to the baby, the Muslim grandmother, the Jewish aid worker, the young architect, the Christian nurse or taxi driver whose death has been triumphantly scooped up into the glory of the killer’s self-inflicted death. When, as it was a few months ago, the talk is of hordes and swarms of aliens invading our shores, the writer’s task is to focus on the corpse of a four-year-old boy on the shore; to the great credit of many in the British media, there were writers (and cartoonists and photographers, too) who rose to that task.


How Newark Refused to Be a Lab for Facebook-Funded Neoliberal School Reform: Interview with Dale Russakoff

‘Five years ago, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million to fix the trouble-plagued schools of Newark, New Jersey. Joining forces with Republican Gov. Chris Christie and then-Democratic Mayor Cory Booker, the effort was billed as a model for education reform across the nation. But the story of what followed emerges as a cautionary tale. Tens of millions were spent on hiring outside consultants and expanding charter schools, leading to public school closures, teacher layoffs and an overall decline in student performance. Parents, students, teachers and community members pushed back in a grassroots uprising to save their schools. We are joined by Dale Russakoff, who tells the story in her book, “The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?“‘ (Democracy Now!)

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four top teachers’ list of books that “every student should read before leaving secondary school”

Robert Kellaway reports for the Daily Express:

Pile of books George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is at the top of teachers’ list of books “every student should read before leaving secondary school”.

The 100 novels have been chosen by 500 teachers for the National Association for the Teaching of English and the TES magazine.

Second place goes to Harper Lee’s class To Kill A Mocking Bird, while Orwell again takes third spot with Animal Farm.

The Harry Potter series of books by JK Rowling was ranked in sixth place.

Orwell’s son Richard Blair, patron of the Orwell Society, said his father’s novels were “as fresh today as when they were written all those years ago”.


British Education Secretary says homophobia may be a sign of extremism, is she going to investigate herself?

Ian Dunt reports for

[…] When British Education Secretary Nicky Morgan was asked to give an example of the kind of behaviour from a pupil which would trigger an anti-extremism intervention, she struggled. And then, out of nowhere, she found an example: homophobia.

This was an interesting example, because Morgan herself voted against gay marriage twice. Is opposition to gay marriage always homophobic? No, not really, although you could make the case. But this isn’t about what’s really the case. It’s about what’s perceived to be the case.

School children are often fond of accusing each other of being ‘gay’. Is this going to be enough to call in the anti-extremism unit? Will Catholic or Jewish faith schools face daily visits from the inspectors? Will a socially conservative teacher find themselves under investigation?

Probably not. But we know the truth: when a Muslim kid calls his friend ‘gay’ it will be treated differently to when a white kid does it. The vague language and imprecise measures of the counter-extremism strategy will allow people’s prejudice free rein.’


Does Monitoring Kids for Terrorist Traits Mess with Their Heads?

Adam Forrest writes for VICE:

When is a child old enough to have their mobile phone examined for signs that they’re a potential terrorist? At what point does a teacher need to start listening out for phrases like “jihadi bride” and “war on Islam” in the playground?

These are the weird and difficult questions being asked in British schools today. The days when kids drawing dicks everywhere was the biggest worry are behind us. Today’s teachers are expected to be intelligence officers trained in the subtle business of susceptibility to religious and political fundamentalism.

Firms are selling “anti-radicalisation” software to education boards, with one company now piloting its system on school computers in 16 different locations across the UK. The software monitors pupils’ online antics for extremist-related language, flagging up keywords like “Kuffs” (a casual, insulting term for non-Muslims) or “YODO” (an acronym for “you only die once” which shows up in ISIS martyrdom material).

Under the Counter-terrorism and Security Act 2015, which comes into force next month, schools have a new duty to “have due regard to the need to prevent pupils being drawn into terrorism”.’


When the Student Movement Was a CIA Front

Aryeh Neier writes in a book review of Patriotic Betrayal for The American Prospect:

In its March 1967 issue,  Ramparts, a glossy West Coast muckraking periodical that expired in 1975, and that strongly opposed American involvement in the war in Vietnam, published an exposé of the close relationship between the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Student Association. This other NSA—not to be confused with the National Security Agency—was then the leading American organization representing college students, with branches on about 400 campuses. Its ties with the CIA were formed in the early years of both institutions following World War II, as the Cold War was getting under way.

According to  Ramparts, the CIA had been providing much of the funding for the NSA through various “conduits.” NSA officers, many of them wittingly, had served the interests of the CIA by participating actively in international youth and student movements. The NSA’s activities were financed by the Agency both to counter communist influence and also to provide information on people from other countries with whom they came in contact. The disclosures about the CIA’s ties to the NSA were the most sensational of a number of revelations in that era that exposed the Agency’s involvement in such institutions as the Congress for Cultural Freedom; the International Commission of Jurists; the AFL-CIO; Radio Free Europe; and various leading philanthropic foundations. Karen Paget’s new book, Patriotic Betrayal, is the most detailed account yet of the CIA’s use of the National Student Association as a vehicle for intelligence gathering and covert action.’


How the Rich Get Into Ivies: Behind the Scenes of Elite Admissions

Sam Biddle writes for Gawker:

How the Rich Get Into Ivies: Behind the Scenes of Elite AdmissionsA million-dollar full-ride scholarship endowment to an Ivy League school is a good deed. But it doesn’t just earn you karma—it nets you fawning emails from the school’s development officials, customized campus tours for your kids, and private meetings with the school’s president, leaked Sony emails show.

The dump of tens of thousands of emails from Sony Pictures’ upper ranks, now conveniently indexed on WikiLeaks, lays bare the inner workings of one of the world’s most powerful corporate properties. But it also shows how the rich, powerful, and connected navigate the world: with rolodexes and billfolds of equal thickness.

Newly surfaced emails from Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton provide a schematic for how millions of dollars in Adam Sandler grosses can yield immensely preferential treatment for your children, not only providing access to a college admissions process that’s out of reach for virtually all other Americans, but giving them better opportunities both in college and in internships and job opportunities afterward.’


When the C.I.A. Duped College Students

Louis Menand writes for The New Yorker:

[…] “Patriotic Betrayal” is an amazing piece of research. Karen Paget has industriously combed the archives and interviewed many of the surviving players, including former C.I.A. officials. And Paget herself is part of the story she tells. In 1965, her husband, a student-body president at the University of Colorado, became an officer in the N.S.A. [National Student Association], and, as a spouse, she was informed of the covert relationship by two former N.S.A. officials who had become C.I.A. agents.

She was sworn to secrecy. The penalty for violating the agreement was twenty years. Paget describes herself back then as “an apolitical twenty-year-old from a small town in Iowa,” and she says that she was terrified. Fifty years later, she is still angry. She has channelled her outrage into as scrupulous an investigation of the covert relationship as the circumstances allow.

One circumstance is the fact that a good deal of material is classified. Paget was able to fish up bits and pieces using the Freedom of Information Act. But most of the iceberg is still underwater, and will probably remain there. So there is sometimes an aura of vagueness around who was calling the tune and why.

The vagueness was also there by design. It was baked into the covert relationship. There was a lot of winking and nodding; that’s what helped people believe they were on the same page. But it means that much of the history of what passed between the C.I.A. and the N.S.A. is irrecoverable. Still, “Patriotic Betrayal” is a conscientious attempt to take the full measure of an iconic piece of Cold War subterfuge.’


Is Political Correctness Hampering ‘Free Speech’ In UK Universities?

Is Your Child a Terrorist? U.S. Government Questionnaire Rates Families at Risk for Extremism

Murtaza Hussain, Cora Currier, and Jana Winter report for The Intercept:

Are you, your family or your community at risk of turning to violent extremism? That’s the premise behind a rating system devised by the National Counterterrorism Center, according to a document marked For Official Use Only and obtained by The Intercept.

The document–and the rating system–is part of a wider strategy for Countering Violent Extremism, which calls for local community and religious leaders to work together with law enforcement and other government agencies. The White House has made this approach a centerpiece of its response to terrorist attacks around the world and in the wake of the Paris attacks, announced plans to host an international summit on Countering Violent Extremism on February 18th.’


Why We Need to Abolish Competition and Embrace Arguments: Interview with Margaret Heffernan

Abby Martin interviews Margaret Heffernan, author of ‘Willful Blindness’ and ‘A Bigger Prize’, about the destructive impact of competition and alternative models of incentivizing people to work together for the greater good.’ (Breaking the Set)

Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty

Lyndsey Layton reports for The Washington Post:

‘For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation.

The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches. The lunch program is a rough proxy for poverty, but the explosion in the number of needy children in the nation’s public classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has been gaining attention among educators, public officials and researchers.’


UK government anti-terror plan to spy on toddlers ‘is heavy-handed’

Robert Mendick, and Robert Verkaik report for The Telegraph:

‘Nursery school staff and registered childminders must report toddlers at risk of becoming terrorists, under counter-terrorism measures proposed by the Government.

The directive is contained in a 39-page consultation document issued by the Home Office in a bid to bolster its Prevent anti-terrorism plan.

Critics said the idea was “unworkable” and “heavy-handed”, and accused the Government of treating teachers and carers as “spies”.

The document accompanies the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, currently before parliament. It identifies nurseries and early years childcare providers, along with schools and universities, as having a duty “to prevent people being drawn into terrorism”.’


China’s Xi calls for tighter ideological control in universities

Reuters reports:

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for greater “ideological guidance” in China’s universities and urged the study of Marxism, state media reported on Monday, as the country tightens control on Western ideology.

Xi’s comments are the latest sign of his politically conservative agenda and come amid a ratcheting up of controls over the media, dissidents and the internet.

China’s Communist Party has signaled that it will not embark on political reform, despite hopes that Xi, the son of a former liberal-minded vice premier, may loosen up.’


Irony 101: Study Ethics with Legal Ace Who Sanctioned NSA Wiretapping, CIA Torture

Ken Silverstein writes for The Intercept:

Waterboarding: Yes or no? It’s OK to selectively violate the Geneva Convention, right? Spying on Americans is illegal, but aren’t rules made to be broken?

The world is a confusing place and it’s hard for young people to answer complicated questions like these on their own. Fortunately, students at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, have Professor Robert Deitz to help them navigate the contemporary moral morass. “All of us are familiar with basic ethical notions,” he writes in the syllabus for his Spring 2015 course, Ethical Challenges in Public Policy. “We learn from childhood the idea that some conduct is right and other conduct is not right.”

How’d Deitz get so smart about ethics? He’s magna cum laude from Harvard (like President Obama) and then spent eights years as General Counsel at the National Security Agency, serving as the official Yes Man for General Michael Hayden, and after that three years as his Senior Councillor at the Central Intelligence Agency until 2009. At the former post Deitz rubber-stamped NSA surveillance. At the latter, he sought to derail an independent investigation by then-CIA Inspector General John Helgerson into the agency’s torture and rendition of terrorism suspects.’


The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (Documentary)

Why We Must Fight for Free Information: Aaron Swartz’s Legacy

Abby Martin discusses computer prodigy and activist, Aaron Swartz, and what his legacy means for everyone that uses the internet.’ (Breaking the Set)

Noam Chomsky: The Other Side of Technology

For More Teens, Arrests by Police Replace School Discipline

Gary Fields and John R. Emshwiller report for The Wall Street Journal:

‘[…] Over the past 20 years, prompted by changing police tactics and a zero-tolerance attitude toward small crimes, authorities have made more than a quarter of a billion arrests, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates. Nearly one out of every three American adults are on file in the FBI’s master criminal database.

This arrest wave, in many ways, starts at school. Concern by parents and school officials over drug use and a spate of shootings prompted a rapid buildup of police officers on campus and led to school administrators referring minor infractions to local authorities. That has turned traditional school discipline, memorialized in Hollywood coming-of-age movies such as “The Breakfast Club,” into something that looks more like the adult criminal-justice system.’


Building a super-prison for children is a terrible idea

Frances Crook writes for The Guardian:

‘The Ministry of Justice has come up with the idea of building a super-prison for children as young as 12, at the core of which will be a regime of punishment and physical restraint. The jail will house around 300 boys and a handful of girls, and includes a planned unit for babies in case the girls get pregnant.

No one, but no one, supports this bizarre proposal, except for the companies that would profit from building the £85m complex. The government has refused to publish the rules or any details about what it is euphemistically calling a “secure college”. Next week the House of Lords will scrutinise the legislation and consider an amendment suggesting the whole idea be put on hold until more details are published.’



How The NSA Plans To Recruit Your Teenagers

Andrew Jerell Jones reports for The Intercept:

Featured photo - How The NSA Plans To Recruit Your Teenagers‘Kids across America no longer have to wait until college to plan on being a part of the National Security Agency. In fact, they could start preparing for their NSA careers as early as age 13.

The NSA has begun sponsoring cybersecurity camps for middle and high school students, agency recruiter Steven LaFountain told CNBC’s Eamon Javers in a recent interview. Six prototype camps launched this past summer, and the NSA hopes to eventually have a presence in schools in all 50 states.’


One in ten world leaders studied in the UK

Pan European Networks reports:

‘One in ten current world leaders have studied in the UK, according to research by the British Council.

The analysis found that of heads of state who have studied at universities abroad, the proportion of UK alumni rises even higher to 31% – a close second to those who’ve studied in the USA (34%). But when measured as a proportion of total students in each country, analysis suggests that the UK is ten times more likely to produce a world leader than the USA – UK universities produces one world leader per 50,000 graduates, whereas the US produces one per 500,000.’


Alabama high schools secretly monitoring students’ social media accounts ‘after tip-off from the NSA?

Annabel Grossman reports for The Daily Mail:

student1.jpg‘A secret surveillance program has been running in an Alabama high schools after a phone call from the National Security Agency alerted the district to a ‘violent threat’. School officials claim the system began monitoring students’ social media accounts in Huntsville City Schools 18 months ago, when the NSA tipped them off that a student was making violent threats on Facebook

The schools began scanning Facebook and other sites for signs of gang activity, watching for photos of guns, photos of gang signs and threats of violence, as part of a program called SAFe, or Students Against Fear. Internal documents explaining the program were obtained by, showing four different students – three males and one female – posing on Facebook with handguns.’


Rise of Islamic education system unnerves secular Turks

Dilay Gundogan and Emmanuelle Baillon report for AFP:

‘When Turkish pupils received their school entry exam results after the end of last term, textile worker and father Halil Ibrahim Beyhan received an unpleasant surprise His daughter had been assigned to a religious high school, like thousands of other students under a new system that caught many parents off guard.

Parents, educators and civil society groups have decried the move as another attack on Turkey’s secular principles by the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) co-founded by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accusing the government of imposing religion on students.’