Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Great International Children's Cyber-Crusade for Better Ejukashun

On March 19, The Age reported on a campaign of "cyber-bullying" which drove the principal of Essex Heights Primary School in Melbourne's East out of her job. The campaign was conducted by a group of concerned parents on a now defunct web-site.

Expect more of this kind of shit. Thanks to a link at Harry Clarke's blog, I've just learnt of a web-site - operated out of the United States - that specialises in catering to students and parents who might feel the occasional urge to vent on their students. It's called "Rate My Teachers" and I'll be buggered if I'm going to link to it.

Harry notes the predictable opposition "of the dinosaurs in The Australian Education Union, such as Mary Bluett" to such on-line evaluations and an obvious flaw in the evaluation technique used on the site:
The comments ... are entirely unrepresentative - the 'squeaky wheels' are most likely to offer a view and indeed perhaps to repeat views by 'sock puppeting'.
Nonetheless he retains "some sympathy for this flawed evaluation technique":

I know from experience that incompetent teachers do maintain teaching positions for long periods in both schools and universities despite various internal, private evaluation procedures.

Reforms that retrain or replace incompetent teachers are overdue and would do away entirely with parents needing to rely on biased public websites to get information. (original emphasis)
When I try to extract the underlying logic of Harry's position, it looks something like this:
Reforms to education are badly needed and anything that pushes progress on such reform is OK by me;

This site will push progress on reforms to education ergo

This site is OK by me.
Here's where Harry and I part company - the site's not OK by me. Actually we parted company on this point back in my first paragraph; I'm just making a mealy-mouthed attempt to butter him up so that he might be persuaded by what I have to say in the rest of the post.

Reading the anonymous site operator's mission statement (on the site's About page) made it obvious that the problem of teacher incompetence is not exactly a new one - at least in Kern County, California, where any claims against the site must be filed. It's clear that whoever taught the author of the page English failed to impart a few essential writing skills, such as the basic art of paragraphing. The page opens with this disclaimer:

As the owners/operators of a website that allows the anonymous rating of teachers, we are frequently asked, "Why do you do this? Aren't you doing a disservice to teachers?" Our answer is a resounding NO...
Now that's where the first paragraph ought to end, according to what I learnt in high school English but it rambles on:
In the public discourse on improving education, we believe the most important voices are often ignored. For the first time in the history of public schools, the student is being heard, and parents can share their experiences in an open forum...
And on. You'll notice that the author isn't exactly a master of the art of making clear, succinct statements either - especially in the section of the page dealing with the site's purposes (the paragraph breaks in the next excerpt are mine):
RateMyTeachers started much like other new websites - by ordinary people with a vision for a better way of doing something. Thousands of student volunteers help keep the site going on a day by day basis.

The purpose of the site is threefold. First, it is to help facilitate a positive change in the way parents, students, and teachers alike look at the education system and therefore to encourage structural changes with regards to school and teacher choice.

Secondly, it is a place for students and parents to have their opinions validated
. We all like to be heard, especially when it comes to life issues such as education... (my emphasis)
The first stated objective is just the sort of waffle you'd hear in a bullshit bingo session. That second is a doozy - the site is a place for students and parents to get their opinions validated? You can't see anything wrong with that - well neither did those parents with kids at Essex Heights Primary see anything wrong with setting up a web-site where they could all get together and validate their various low opinions of the new principal.

And the site's third purpose? It's to help the teachers, of course:
Lastly, RateMyTeachers is a useful resource to the teachers who are open and self-assured enough to face the opinions of their customers, i.e. students and parents.
And here's another failure in this wingnut's education: no-one ever told him what a mealy-mouthed little git he was. And so he remains today. The last paragraph of the "About" page has this helpful information for any teacher offended by what the site tells them about themselves:
Any disputes or claims must be filed in the State of California, County of Kern.
Rate My Teachers Australia - like Rate My Teachers Canada, Rate My Teachers Great Britain, Rate My Teachers New Zealand and Rate My Teachers India - is a subsidiary domain of Rate My Teachers US, where you'll also find an interesting "Legal" page and an FAQ page. The "Legal" page begins:

Our users are anonymous. The Supreme Court of the United States has held that anonymity of speech is protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution (see McIntyre v. Ohio, 514 U.S. at 337; Talley v. State of California, 362 U.S. 60). United States courts also recognize the right to speak anonymously - AND have held that the right extends to speech on the Internet. When courts have ordered disclosure of the name of an anonymous user, a litigant must show that its need for identifying information outweighs the user's constitutional right. recognizes this right to anonymity.
That is, don't even bother filing any claims in the State of California, County of Kern - you won't win.

So, what's the site really about? Here's one clue - each page is chocka with advertising. Here's another - the domain has a named advertisement server. And here's another from the FAQ:
I know a business that I think would like to advertise on the site. Are you interested?
Of course!!! Contact us and we will discuss our rates for banner ads and sponsorship opportunities.
And here's a FAQ that tells you just how serious the site operators are about those three lofty purposes they listed on the "About" page:
Who can rate? Is it limited to students?
We prefer you only rate teachers of whom you have first-hand knowledge. It is not possible to verify that a rater had a particular teacher, so use caution in making decisions based on isolated ratings. Anyone can rate - students, the teacher, other teachers, parents, dogs, cats, etc.
In plain simple English, Rate My Teachers is a scam - and a very sleazy one.

Any disputes or claims arising out of this post must be filed in the Supreme Court of Victoria, in The Land Down Under.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Old Book Corner

Twilight Women Around the World; International Picture of the Other Love ILLUSTRATED, R Leighton Hasselrodt MA, Luxor Press London (12s/6d) 1965

I recovered this little beauty while Helga and I were sorting through all our old books, getting them ready for sale. My best guess at its provenance is that it came from the deceased estate of a former teacher who had acquired it through the widespread practice, in secondary schools of the 1960s, of confiscating books that were deemed unfit reading for their young charges.

The book deals with the love that dared not speak its name, lest it be whispered about behind the shelter sheds, or written about on toilet walls. As the title suggests it's an anthropological and historical survey of lesbianism around the world, starting with the US. Here's a chapter listing:
  1. The four F's of Homosexuality: Fable, Fiction, Fancy - and Fact

  2. The Neglected Lesbians

  3. The Loneliest People

  4. You Can't Keep Them Down on the Farm

  5. Split-level Sapphists

  6. The Village Deviate

  7. The In-Between In-Betweens: Girls Attending Boarding Schools, Women in the Armed Forces, Call Girls and Prostitutes, Women in Correctional Institutions

  8. Canadian Capers

  9. Down Mexico Way

  10. The Torrid Tropics

  11. Carnality in the Carribean

  12. Down South America Way

  13. East Side Story

  14. The British Lesbian

  15. Liberte, Egalite - et Homosexualite

  16. Bi-Sex in Benelux

  17. Sapphist Smorgasbord

  18. Deutschland Uber Sexualis

  19. Inversion alla Italiana

  20. Behind the Ironical Curtain

  21. Sapphism in the Satellites

  22. The Home of Homosexuality

  23. The Aberrant Arabs

  24. The Dark Continent

  25. Primitive Paraphiliacs

  26. Sapphism 'Neath the Southern Cross

  27. The Sexual Mysteries of India

  28. The Lesbians of Chung-Hua Jen-Min Kung-Ho Kuo

  29. Lsebos of the Orient

  30. The Globe Girdled
I'll bet that "Sapphism 'Neath the Southern Cross" title caught your eye - it did mine. We'll get to that in due course. First let's lift the "Ironical Curtain" and take a peek at sapphism, Soviet style at the height of the Cold War.

R Leighton Hasselrodt MA begins this chapter by debunking a common misconception:
Anyone having seen photographs of rough-hewn, muscular Russian women toiling as bricklayers or steelworkers might be reasonably expected to suspect that there was an underlying streak of homosexuality beneath the surface manifestations of "mannishness".

Actually, the percentage of female homosexuals in the Soviet Union is very high, though not necessarily among the women who perform such heavy "man's work." These are often merely rugged women of peasant stock, long accustomed to hard physical labour and, despite their appearance, entirely heterosexual with strong, even voracious, heterosexual appetites...
Evidence on Lesbianism in Russia was a bit thin on the ground, because:
As in all matters which might conceivably make the Soviet Union look like anything short of a Utopia, information about the problems of sexual deviation inside the Iron Curtain is seldom released by the authorities...
Nonetheless, with the help of such limited information as was available, R Leighton Hasselrodt MA manages to provide a historical and cultural analysis of Lesbianism in Soviet Russia, before moming in on the salacious details, such as:
Dildoes and other penis-simulating devices are to be found only in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev and Novosibirsk. They are virtually unknown outside these cities.

...Lesbians in Kiev seem to derive particular pleasure from homosexual activity with pregnant women or recently delivered mothers ...
Despite the much-publicized achievements of Soviet medical science, the Soviet Union lags far behind the West in psychiatric knowledge and techniques. There is little psychotherapy available for homosexual women who desire such help in changing their behaviour patterns to heterosexual ones...
When I turned to "Sapphism 'Neath the Southern Cross" to see what R Leighton Hasselrodt MA had to say about Aussie Lezzoes, what did I find? In a word - nothing. There was plenty of salacious stuff about various South Pacific cultures, but Australia didn't score a mention - the closest R Leighton Hasselrodt MA's global survey got to Godzone country was Papua with its "famous" Orakaiva cult:
... also known as the "Taro Cult". Members hold frequent ritual orgies. These begin with the chewing of betel nut and the eating or drinking of aphrodisaical and hallucination-inducing drugs. Wild and unrestrained dancing - called "kassamba" by the natives - follows. The members of the cult work themselves into an insane sexual frenzy which culminates in a feverish orgy of homosexual, bisexual and pluralistic sexual activity. The homosexual activity among the women generally manifests itself in mutual cunnilingus and frenzied tribadism.
Well, you can see why a school teacher might confiscate such a book, can't you? Reading passages like this might lead to some embarrassing scenes in the classroom:

"Sir, please sir?"

"Yes, what is it Trotsky?"

"Sir, what's tribadism, sir?"

"Trotsky, what have you been reading this time?"

"Just a book sir."

"Look it up in your dictionary boy."

"Have sir - it's not there."

"Then ask Miss Prunesquallor - she's your English teacher, isn't she? She ought to know. Now open your desk, so I can see this book."

Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo.