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BY Jim Cosgrove
How Virtues Became ‘Interactive Skills’
THE NEW YORK TIMES, June 1—“The nation's public schools, which taught the Bible routinely for generations but retreated from explicitly moral education in the individual-rights boom of the 1960s, are under growing pressure to offer ethics instruction as a way to promote safe learning free of harassment,” said education writer Ethan Bronner.
He reported that all 50 states have some form of character education being offered or under consideration, often using a mix of private and public money.
Interestingly, “objections about the nature of public moral education used to come most often from liberals who objected to the conservative Christian bent they detected,” said Bronner. But Columbia University's Jay Heubert has come to notice that conservatives have begun to complain in recent years about the promotion of such ideas as feminism and one-world government.
In order to escape criticism, educators seem content to sacrifice honesty. Bonner reported that a public school in La Jolla, Calif., decided not to refer to “values” or “virtues” in their character education program because those words are “too shaded by religion and open to objection by parents. So the program is called ‘interactive skills.’ No one complained.”
Academia Returning to Objective Truth?
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, June 4—It's not so surprising that statistics say a majority of modern philosophers reject any notion of objective truth about morality and such matters as the existence of God. But it probably did shock many to read a Journal editorial that announced a similar development in the field of history and other branches of the liberal arts.
The Journal said that contemporary historians, “rejecting the existence of what even Marxists recognize as objective fact,” dismiss much of what passes for history as coming to us “through the filters of gender, class and race consciousness.”
But the news is not all bad. The editorial is dedicated to announcing the existence of new scholarly organizations that are taking on the politically correct establishments in their respective fields. A newly formed group, known simply as The Historical Society, had hoped to attract perhaps 500 members by now, but already boasts 1,200 members. The group is “dedicated to the proposition that its discipline remains capable of agreeing on standards of evidence and holding civil debate.”
The Historical Society itself was inspired by a group with similar concerns about literature: the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, which has just published the first issue of its magazine, Literary Imagination. Editor Sarah Spence told the Augusta Chronicle that the organization is not afraid to admit that “a lot of beautiful poetry was written by dead white men.”
Still another group, the Association for Art History, states its purpose as promoting the study of art “free of jargon, ephemeral ideology and doctrinal rigidity.”
Neglected Rural School Districts
USA TODAY, June 2—A computer-assisted analysis by the national newspaper found that, at a time when school construction is a booming $15 billion-a-year business, rural public school districts have been half as likely to build new schools as their city and suburban counterparts.
“Although decaying urban schools have grabbed the most attention — and government studies show that they are in the worst shape — the data suggests that those districts have an easier time raising the tax money needed to build new schools or to substantially renovate old ones,” said staff writers Anthony DeBarros and Tamara Henry. “Rural districts with lower property values are becoming separate and unequal outposts of peeling paint and neglect.”
Gary Keep, a member of a firm that designs new schools, said in the article, “There's a trend in those districts to spend less.” He explained: “Their taxes are lower, and their expectations are lower and they don't feel a need to provide at the level suburban districts do.”
BY Jim Cosgrove
Loyola President's New Take on Ex Corde Ecclesiae
FIRST THINGS, June/July-Pope John Paul II's apostolic constitution on higher education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae,“did not come out of nowhere,” observed Jesuit Father John J. Piderit, president of Loyola University in Chicago. “It was designed to meet a situation that, in virtually everybody's opinion, needed remedying: the rapid and distressing decline of a strong religious presence at Catholic universities.”
Father Piderit wrote that he has “modified [his] position” since endorsing the first implementation plan offered by the American bishops for Ex Corde Ecclesiae, a plan that was rejected by the Vatican in 1998. The bishops “had left out at least one essential ingredient,” relegating to a footnote Canon 812 of Canon Law, which states that anyone teaching Catholic theology in a Catholic institution is required to have a mandate from a “competent ecclesiastical authority.”
The bishops have since formed a task force under the leadership of Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia that will draw up a new implementation plan that incorporates Canon 812. While “to date the presidents [of Catholic colleges and universities] have responded negatively to the Bevilacqua proposal,” said Father Piderit, because they believe it will undermine the autonomy of their institutions.
However, wrote the Jesuit, “contrary to many reports in the media, the bishops are not attempting to control the university via the mandate.”
Father Piderit praised the Bevilacqua proposal — still in draft form — for “avoiding entanglement of the bishops in the internal affairs of Catholic universities while still implementing the mandate. It does this by defining the mandate as a relationship between the local bishop and the individual Catholic theologian; it addresses the Catholic theology at the heart of the Catholic university without setting up a formal relationship with the university itself.”
He added that the mandate's “indirect impact on the Catholic university may be substantial,” by prompting doctoral candidates, for example, “to prepare more carefully to teach Catholic theology from the perspective of the Church.”
The Blood of the High School Martyrs
TIME, May 31-The courageous witness of the Christian students killed or wounded in April in the Columbine High School rampage “have inspired millions of Americans,” especially adolescents, reported the national magazine's David Van Biema.
While the shootings have struck a chord with Christians everywhere, Van Biema focused on the particular impact it has had on evangelical Protestant teens in a two-page spread that was included in a special report on “Troubled kids.” One martyred student, Cassie Bernall, has become the focus of interest and attention from a new generation of evangelical teenagers.
“The enthusiasm caps a decade of extraordinary growth for Christian youth groups in middle and high schools,” said Van Biema, who cited a 1990 Supreme Court decision that allows prayer clubs to meet on public school property as a contributing factor.
However, unlike their evangelical parents, who often defined themselves as outsides, today's campus Christians, “are willing to engage the culture on its terms. They understand what's going on and speak the language,” Barnard College religion professor Randall Balmer told Time.
Van Biema noted that martyrdom is not prominent in Protestant theology but “the more emotional evangelical variety honors it, sometimes in connection with murdered missionaries or persecuted Christians … and sometimes to lend strength in the face of indignities suffered at the hands of American secularism.” Cassie, he reported, “has been compared to the early female saints, Perpetua and Felicity.”
A Lack of ‘Grown Up Wisdom’
THE NEW YORK TIMES, May 30-The Supreme Court's decision last month that holds schools accountable for sexual and other forms of harassment between students was the occasion for a Week In Review piece by Ethan Bronner that identified a number of serious social problems that have their origin in American family life and the inability of many parents to transmit moral values.
Bronner sums up the opinion of the majority of experts he interviewed who say that “youthful behavior has deteriorated markedly,” and “there are fewer adults around to influence youngsters. As a result, violent television and video images, instead of older friends or relatives, have become role models.”
Dr. William Damon of Stanford University Center on Adolescence told Bronner that “there has never in the history of the civilized world been a cohort of kids that is so little affected by adult guidance and so attuned to a peer world.
“We have removed grown-up wisdom and allowed them to drift into a self-constructed, highly relativistic world of friendship and peers.”
Bronner said Damon “was stunned when he went to Littleton, Colo., last month to find parents saying they felt they had no business learning what their children were doing on the Internet.”
Dr. Damon said the fact that modern adults have a less than black-and-white view of morality and human behavior, that they have perhaps a more nuanced perspective, seems to be blocking their ability to give clear-cut guidance and make strict rules for their children.
BY Jim Cosgrove
Profile in Political Courage
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, May 5—In an editorial on school reform, the Journal praises New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, one of the country's few politicians who “have demonstrated they understand that … the moral high ground rests on vouchers and a political leader willing to make the climb.”
Johnson ignored political advisors who warned him not to use the “v” word during his reelection bid last year. “Instead,” reports the Journal, “he talked up vouchers” and captured 54% of the vote “in a state where Democrats dominate.”
With public opinion polls mixed, Johnson promised to veto any education budgets that do not include his voucher plan — a promise that he has twice fulfilled — and to mount an “understand the voucher” campaign.
Even though poll numbers are now in Johnson's favor, that might not be enough to convince opponents that it is in their interest to include vouchers in the budget. “Legislators will have to be convinced that voters would punish them if they continued to oppose reform,” said the Journal.
Anti-violence Spending Scrutinized
THE NEW YORK TIMES, April 27—“The tragedy in Littleton, Colo., has left some in Congress searching for a legislative response,” observed Matthew Rees in an opinion piece.
Rees cautions that lawmakers and taxpayers should take a careful look at how anti-violence moneys — usually part of anti-drug programs — have been used in the past before undertaking any new efforts. The results are not encouraging, he found.
“The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado has surveyed more than 400 violence-prevention programs used in schools and communities and found that most had not been subjected to credible evaluations or had no record of effectiveness,” said Rees.
“This includes such fashionable approaches as conflict resolution, peer mediation and individual counseling.”
Boost For American Competitiveness
USA TODAY, May 5—Middle school mathematics is a “a place where inhabitants study arithmetic year after year while rarely progressing to algebra and geometry,” said an editorial in the national daily.
The result is that American eighth graders rank near the bottom on international math tests, thanks largely to watered-down math classes dedicated to treadmill reviews of basic math. In other countries, students the same age have long since moved forward.
The paper reported that IBM is willing to finance the development of a national exam for eighth graders calibrated to international standards. But only Maryland and Wisconsin have signed up to devise such a test.
USA Today reported a general lack of interest in the program because most states are “still happy with their state-based math tests, which typically show that most hometown schools are doing fairly well. What parents aren't told is that their kids are passing a dumbed-down test that doesn't pass international muster.”
BY Jim Cosgrove
Bishop Calls Scandal by Name
THE CATHOLIC TIMES, Feb. 5—Former Lansing Bishop Kenneth Povish sharply criticized the Jesuits'University of Detroit Mercy in a column in the newspaper of the Michigan diocese.
Bishop Povish said it was a “scandal” that some 60 people heard the Rev. Gloria Albrecht, chair of the university's religious studies program “bemoan the fact that religion is not influential enough in protecting women's legal right to kill children in the womb.”
The bishop wondered how Albrecht, a Presbyterian minister who recently gained tenure at the university, can be “going around Michigan and presenting herself as chairperson of the religious studies department at University of Detroit Mercy.”
According to a statement issued March 25 by the Archdiocese of Detroit, Cardinal Adam Maida contacted the university president, Sister of Mercy Maureen Fay, about Bishop Povish's column “and asked her to take action.
“At this point, he is trusting Sister Maureen and others at UDM to handle the matter.”
Liberals Begin to Praise School Choice
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, April 15—The latest initiative from the business world to give children an alternative to poorly performing public schools — the Children's Scholarship Fund now being organized with the $50 million donations of three Wall Street executives — is gaining liberal support, according to columnist Albert Hunt.
“George Miller, one of the most influential liberals in the House … is fed up: ‘For too long, we've been willing to accept mediocrity and give the educational establishment a pass; we have to ask them what are we getting for the money we invest,’” reported Hunt.
Former Atlanta mayor and civil rights leader Andrew Young goes a step further by sitting on the board of the Children's Scholarship Fund. “I believe in public education,” he told Hunt. “But any monopoly gets stagnant and it takes competition to wake it up.”
‘Zero Tolerance’Under Fire
USA TODAY, April 13—Eighth-grade honor student Lisa Smith “who has never known trouble” faces five months in a military-style boot camp, according to a story in the national daily. Her offense: she violated the school's “zero tolerance” policy by bringing to school a 20-ounce bottle of 7-Up mixed with a few drops of grain alcohol.
Lisa, described by one teacher as a “sweetheart,” is one of “a growing number of examples in which zero-tolerance policies have been attacked as inflexible, harsh and lacking in common sense,” reports USA TODAY's Dennis Cauchon.
Cauchon writes that the criticisms have increased in the past two years as zero-tolerance policies have become standard operating procedures in the nation's 109,000 public schools.
BY Jim Cosgrove
For-Profit Schools Claim Academic Success
THE NEW YORK TIMES, April 7—The Edison Project, whose ambitious plan to become the first national for-profit school system has released a report saying its students are gaining ground on state and national tests significantly faster than students in other schools, reported the Times.
Reporter Tamar Lewin described the data as “a hodgepodge, some following a group of students from fall to spring, or grade to grade, while others compare one year's third graders with the next year's.”
Edison has been at the center of the debate over school choice and privatization since the maverick entrepreneur Chris Whittle founded it in the early 1990s.
Good News Down Under
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, March 31— Australian Catholic schools are more popular than ever, and they are getting more students to stay through the completion of high school, according to the Sydney daily.
The newspaper reports the latest figures compiled by the Catholic Education Commission show that enrollments for New South Wales have steadily grown over the past five years to 239,610 in 1998, 2,645 more than in 1997. Retention rates to 12th grade in the 622 Catholic schools in the state have risen from 55% in 1987 to 74.6 last year.
Staff writer Nadia Jamal also reports that better retention, lower class sizes, and the decline in the number of religious order teachers have led to a rapid rise in the number of lay teachers, who now make up 98% of all Catholic schools.
Campus Awakening Over Sweatshops
TIME, April 12—Jodie Morse reports in Time that, “One cause seems to have galvanized students as nothing else in more than a decade.” That issue is overseas sweatshops, which often employ clothing makers for under a dollar a day.
The target of student wrath over the last several months has been their own campus bookstores, which routinely offer clothing lines made in the Third World countries under licensing agreements.
The universities of Michigan and Wisconsin, among others, have vowed to push licensing companies to disclose locations of textile factories and then guarantee certain wages and conditions for workers.
BY Jim Cosgrove
Catholics' Patriotism Was Beyond Reproach
THE IRISH ECHO, March 10-16—In a story on the history of American Catholic higher education, staff writer Peter McDermott recounted how the patriotism of American Catholics, while doubted in earlier times, could not be questioned following World War II and the start of the Cold War.
“Catholicism became identified with superpatriotism,” noted McDermott.
He cited Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Catholic, comparing the school that once employed him as a professor to New York's Jesuit university: “In the era of security clearances, to be an Irish Catholic became prima facie evidence of loyalty. Harvard men were to be checked; Fordham men would do the checking.”
Florida Hears a Plea For Voucher Program
THE FLORIDA CATHOLIC, March 4—The Florida Legislature is considering the establishment of a school voucher program that would allow the parents of poor children to use public funds to send their children to private or parochial schools, according to the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami.
In testimony before a select committee on education, Larry Keough of the Florida Catholic Conference called vouchers “a social justice issue,” reported staff writer Judy Gross.
“Parents are the first ... educators of their children and should not be financially penalized for exercising this right,” Keough told the paper. “This should be especially so for the poor.
Why should inner-city single parents, whose children are in failing schools, be denied the opportunity to choose the schools for their children that other parents can and do choose?” he asked.
U.S. Supreme Court To Decide Student Fees
USA TODAY, March 30—The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether state university students can be forced to pay fees that subsidize groups with views they dislike, according to staff writer Tony Mauro.
Self-described conservative students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison challenged the fee —$168 per semester — because the money was distributed to groups such as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Campus Center. “Some of the subsidized groups also lobby legislators,” reported Mauro.
he Supreme Court has never dealt directly with the student fee issue, though in other contexts, such as union dues, it has said that individuals should be given a way to ensure that their money does not go toward speech with which they disagree, said the report.
BY Jim Cosgrove
Just What the Cardinal Ordered: A Tax Credit
UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL, March 18—After hearing the testimony of Cardinal Francis George and others at hearings, leaders of the Illinois House “engaged in political maneuvering to ensure the passage of a controversial measure giving income tax credits to the parents of children who attend parochial and other private schools,” reported UPI.
The House voted 74-41 for a state income tax credit of up to $500 per year for parents who pay at least $2,500 per year toward their children's' educational expenses, said the report.
“The bill was the focus of an intense lobbying effort this spring by the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. The archdioceses says its private school system faces further financial problems unless it can increase enrollment,” said the article.
Cardinal Francis George appeared at the Statehouse earlier this week to urge lawmakers to back the idea, saying he thinks tax credits could persuade more parents to put their children into private schools, it reported.
TORONTO STAR, March 15— Catholic schools are known for their excellence. When that fails, students are the first to notice.
One Canadian Catholic school district has fallen on such hard times, students have resorted to civil disobedience, reported the Toronto Star. At one school in the Peel Catholic school district, 25 of 127 teachers have resigned, and students protested by refusing to wear their school uniforms, and making a list of complaints, said the story.
Those same complaints have been heard at all 18 high schools in the district:
● 112 of the district's 1,504 teachers have resigned to take jobs elsewhere.
● Students and staff say they are demoralized.
● Students have been without extracurricular activities for much of the school year.
● Discipline, security, and supervision has eroded.
● Unqualified instructors and even senior students have been pressed into service to supervise classes and lunch rooms.
Vince Nichilo, superintendent of employee relations for the Peel Catholic board, shared their disillusionment.
“I can tell you this is a frustration shared by all board employees,” Nichilo said.
“We have an aggressive teacher recruitment campaign to ensure that qualified teachers are in place for our students,” he told the newspaper.
BY Jim Cosgrove
Giulani Plays Politics With School Vouchers
THE NEW YORK TIMES, March 10—After some tense and public bickering between New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew, both sides seem content to table Giuliani's plan for a limited school voucher program in the city's poorest neighborhoods.
A Times news analysis by Dan Barry questioned the seriousness of the mayor's proposal which, unlike many other voucher plans now in use or under study around the country, would probably not have passed constitutional muster and was designed to appeal to Republican voters in anticipation of a run for higher state or national office.
In a separate article, the Times featured New York Archdiocese Superintendent of Schools Dr. Catherine Hickey, who also happens to be a former New York public school teacher.
Dr. Hickey told the paper she can understand the opposition to vouchers but endorses them because they are the only means by which “the poorest of the poor” can experience any choice over their children's education.
As for the inevitable “bugs” that are bound to surface in any voucher program, Dr. Hickey is not worried. “It doesn't do kids any harm to learn about Catholicism, and it won't do Catholic kids any harm to learn about the other kids’ religions.” The paper quotes her adding, “Religion is a good thing.”
Notre Dame Honors Historian Gleason
NOTRE DAME UNIVERSITY, March 11—Notre Dame historian J. Philip Gleason will receive the University's 1999 Laetare Medal, the university reported in a press release.
Dr. Gleason will be honored for his service as “an interpreter of American ethnicity and immigration” and for his “insights into the assimilation of diverse peoples into a truly national community,” said Notre Dame President Father Edward Malloy in a statement.
Dr. Gleason is the author of a number of books on the history of American Catholicism, including Contending with Modernity: Catholic Higher Education in the 20th Century.