On Bullying And The Debate About Corporal Punishment In Schools

The recent launch of anti-bullying campaigns in Australian high schools has brought up public discussion on whether or not the use of corporal punishment should be re-implemented in Australian education.

This, as is par for the course in newspapers, is accompanied by a stew of other articles complaining about our youth in decline. Youth binge drinking and violence against teachers are other examples. The Myth of Cultural Degeneracy is unfortunately alive and well, in spite of the fact that there is simply no conclusive proof things are actually worse these days. Really, the news just can’t find something else to panic about so they manufacture another worry to make us watch news reports.

The stabbing of Elliott Fletcher, a 12 year old student at St. Patricks Catholic boy’s school, is an undeniable tragedy, but there is absolutely no reason to believe that it is somehow indicative of a systematic increase in bullying as a whole. Regardless, the incident did trigger Kevin Rudd to speak on the subject of bullying, and the federal Opposition to introduce an anti-bullying policy.

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HCP: call for sponsors

Two years ago I wrote about my plans to set up a non-profit organisation in Cambodia that provided alternative financing for poor Cambodians so they could attend university. Later that year, the Human Capital Project (HCP) was started with its first five students, all studying at the University of Management and Economics in Battambang (UME-BB).

At the end of 2008 I went back to check up on the students and, after dealing with some of the inevitable problems that come with a new enterprise in a developing country, expanded the project to six students at UME-BB and another four students at the University of Management and Economics in Kampong Cham (UME-KC).

This is how it works… HCP pays for a student to go to university for four years. After they graduate, if the student goes on to get a professional job (ie if they get a benefit from the education) then they will pay 10% of their income for a certain number of years back into the scheme. That money will then be used to finance more poor students into university. One way to explain it is like a “pass-it-forward” approach — where the more benefit you get, then the more you put back into the system. Unlike a loan, the student does not have the risk of failure as they only need to pay money if they get a professional job.

This type of financing is called “personal equity”.

The idea is that the project will eventually be self-financing and will grow naturally. HCP will start to generate revenue in 2011 and will hopefully be self-financing by around 2015. But until then, I need to rely on the generosity of some sponsors (including Peach Home Loans) to keep the project working.

The commitment to sponsor one student is A$300/year for four years. If you would like to be involved, then please contact me on john.humphreys99@gmail.com or 0404 044561.

Partial Credit

Is it just me, or is the world getting crazier by the day?

Pittsburgh Public Schools officials say they want to give struggling children a chance, but the district is raising eyebrows with a policy that sets 50 percent as the minimum score a student can receive for assignments, tests and other work.

The pass mark is 60 percent, so it’s still possible to fail.  The idea is, that if a students gets zero on a particular assignment or test, that they won’t have as far to catch up in the others.

At the same time, they said, the 50 percent minimum gives children a chance to catch up and a reason to keep trying. If a student gets a 20 percent in a class for the first marking period, Ms. Pugh said, he or she would need a 100 percent during the second marking period just to squeak through the semester.

“We want to create situations where students can recover and not give up,” she said, adding a sense of helplessness can lead to behavior and attendance problems.

Yeah – I’m sure students won’t be slacking off for the first semester in the belief they can cram for the second.   They’ll be much more well behaved with this system, for sure!  Ah, the benefits of public education.

Absent Dad Hyperactivity Disorder

NSW is now the place for parents to get hard drugs for their children as taxpayer-subsidised prescriptions of Ritalin soared  43% to 162,692 in 2007.

The Royal Australian College of Physicians has controversially recommended training teachers to look for evidence of ADHD in students. Schools love this proposal as it will mean more money.

However, Dr Linda Graham, a senior researcher in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at Sydney University, said the approach would encourage teachers “to act as proxy-diagnosticians by looking for evidence of particular deficits, perhaps missing vital signs which may indicate other difficulties at home or with learning“.  She added that the proposal would either lead to drastic funding cuts for students with serious disabilities or that “special education budgets would skyrocket.” 

Medical experts are increasingly worried that doctors are “too readily” labelling children with ADHD and prescribing Ritalin, potentially putting them at risk of dangerous side effects.  When a similar trial was initiated in the U.S, diagnosed cases of ADHD increased by 600% as schools grabbed the extra cash.  Looks like Dr. Graham may have a point.

Methylphenidate (branded by Novartis as Ritalin) stimulates the brain by increasing levels of dopamine. Though still relatively new, it has already been shown to cause hallucinations, mood swings, nervousness, stomach aches, diarrhea, headaches, decreased sex drive, weight loss, gum and skin bleeding and high blood pressure.  

In short, i would sooner ask my children to drink bleach than take Ritalin.

I can already hear the sounds of ambitious tort lawyers preparing huge class actions.

Twisted Logic

Some ideas are so bad, that they can only be the product of a public education system.  Take this mob for instance:

LOBBY group Innovative Research Universities warns against allowing increased competition from private providers, and demands protection for existing public sector institutions in its submission to the Bradley higher education review.

“We argue against applying a pure market model to universities – they are critically important to this country. We don’t want to see the risk of market failure, as happened in the case of ABC childcare, effecting universities” IRU executive director Lenore Cooper told HES.

Sadly, a lot of people seem to hold such view about the market.  If it’s important, then the market can’t be trusted!  But the following paragraph just doesn’t make any kind of sense:

IRU cautions against competition from private providers, arguing that further deregulation would “drive greater homogenisation” in higher education as all providers focused on low cost courses in high consumer demand and that student fees would rise.

You got that?  Private universities would provide cheap courses that people actually want to undertake (which is apparently bad), and this will… uhm… cost them more money.

Education freedom in India

If ya’ll were thinking about donating to a charity but don’t want to donate to Oxfam (because they’re anti-free trade) or Amnesty International (because they’re anti self-defence), then consider sending money to the School Choice Campaign in India instead. The campaign is run by the libertarian Centre for Civil Society (CCS) and gives poor kids a chance to escape from wretched government schools by offering them an education voucher redeemable at a school of their choice. The CCS doesn’t accept any government funds, which means it’s a genuine independent non-governmental organisation. And the President of the Centre, Parth Shah, is a supporter of free-markets and individual liberty from way back.

In related news:- My father, Sanjeev Sabhlok, has written a book where he talks about how a voucher program could work in India. He also draws on his economics and civil service background to suggest a range of other reforms that will help India’s 250 million people who live below the poverty line. The book, tentatively called Breaking Free of Nehru, is being published by Anthem Press later this year, and basically argues the case in favour of discarding India’s socialist past. I will post more info in a few months…