Monday, October 30, 2006


A ripe pear is soft and squishy but that's still too dangerous for the soft and squishy people in charge of one British school

The laws of gravity might never have been revealed if Isaac Newton's apple tree had suffered the same fate as that of the Sacred Heart primary school's pear tree.

It may warm the hearts of health and safety commissioners across the country, but yesterday a move to cut down the tree was condemned elsewhere as madness. Governors and the head teacher at Sacred Heart Primary School, in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire sparked a furious reaction, when they decided to chop down the tree overhanging the playground. "A risk assessment was done on the tree and it was found necessary to have it removed. The risk was mainly from falling pears," said Geoffrey Fielding, chair of the governors. "We have a duty of care to the health and safety to people on this site, particularly the children and that's the decision that we have taken."

The school said they had made the decision after witnessing parents being hit on the head by falling fruit as they waited for their children. Lizzie Summerwill, a mother, praised the tree cutters. "I think it's brilliant they cut it down because of the health and safety issues," she said. "In the summertime it was infested by wasps and the fruit stank."

But Gill Franklin, owner of Cross Lane Fruit Farm, Mapledurham, which has 400 pear trees, has never been hit on the head by the fruit in 29 years. She said removing damaged pears and picking the fruit before it became ripe would resolve the issue. "Fruit doesn't drop down for no reason. You never ripen a pear on a tree. We have gone mad on risk assessment," she said. "Environmentally the world needs more trees and the children need to eat fruit. Why didn't they pick the pears? It's a frightening thought they're not using their natural resources. They're probably buying fruit in and letting the pears go to waste."

The tree is thought to be at least 25 years old, but was not included in a tree preservation order served on the site. Adam Dawson, a tree preservation officer for South Oxfordshire District Council, said Mr. Fielding did not accept his recommendations for solving the perceived problems. He added: "On balancing up the issues, and bearing in mind the considerable number of other protected trees in the vicinity, I did not consider it expedient to dedicate resources to serving an emergency tree preservation order on this one tree."

Earlier this year the school filled in a pond claiming it was very dangerous for pupils and that the area was needed for a temporary classroom.



We need to question our system of values when children can no longer play freely at recess. An elementary school in Attleboro, Mass., recently banned children from playing tag, touch football or any other unsupervised chase game during recess. This is just one example of a trend that is showing up in many regions across the country. School officials, fearing games can be exclusionary or dangerous, concur with the principal of this elementary school in Attleboro that recess is "a time when accidents can happen."

It seems Americans are full of fear and willingness to litigate. When someone infringes upon us to our detriment, we believe we have the right to sue for recompense. Perhaps the stakes have become just that much higher. Should the bruised knee of a third grader turn out to be a bone chip that hinders her athletic performance, her foreseeable future on the soccer field could be altered henceforth. Or perhaps the underdog with little athletic prowess who stumbles at touch football is so mortified of his reputation that his parents fear it damages his social capital-a powerful asset referring to his advantage created by location in a structure of relationships. At the ripe age of eight, they are utterly concerned for him. The fear is that damaged perception of self will hinder future progress in life. The dream would vanish in child play.

Parents micromanaging children's lives want to hold someone liable for accidents on the playground, simple everyday children-at-play accidents, that may not have happened had they been present. By implementing the ban, schools acknowledge and validate extreme parental involvement that might be more in the realm of self-interest rather than best interests of the child. Parents should not be suing for normal interaction between peers in order to protect their child, but schools are now complying to these parents by passing these new rules of play. Let's not forget the still-useful good old-fashioned advice to buck up and walk proud or to express humility in injury.

School officials balk at the potential implications of play at recess and the simplest solution is certainly not the best. Can you imagine tag without touch? Or tag without being able to run after the other guy? The idea is on many fronts absurd, and this is just one example of schools that are responding to the societal impetus towards protecting the self and our children. Young children need time to run off their steam. Early childhood interactions on the playground lay the groundwork for children to invent, create and develop tactics. At the very least, mingling with peers is essential socialization that teaches behavioral boundaries. All the while, America begins to contemplate reforms of school lunch and physical education programs because of high childhood obesity rates, and school leaders cut out natural and enjoyable physical exercise. Children lose a natural privilege to run uninhibited, to have the experiences that teach them to stand up to the bully, to develop on their own in nature's way, but the adults feel better about accidents that might happen.

Instead of being institutions that foster innovation and advancement of curricula and young citizens, our schools become cesspools of fear - fear of being sued, fear of losing donors. Fear is not the mechanism by which we should raise the next generation. It is not fear that will bring better programs to our schools for healthier lunches, music, academic assistance, mentorship and so on. Is our society's litigiousness the result of an equal-access legal system that allows us to pursue justice anytime we think it's due, or is it the result of a societal mentality of every man for himself? What I do know is that allowing children exposure to tough situations will in the long run lead them to the principles of respect, self-awareness, community, competition, forgiveness and will ultimately give them the satisfaction of having endured a challenge while remaining true to themselves . Even as adults we continually relearn the lesson that sometimes we stand alone and we must be our own anchor.

Schoolchildren will feel a real loss as a result of the new rule, but the detriment to their development does not have to be significant, particularly in the cases of children whose parents will and can give them opportunities to play and socialize elsewhere. However, this does not negate that recess is a fundamental component of early childhood education. Let the kids play! Let them be children! Schools should not make children targets of fear-induced rules and regulations. Not surprisingly, in the past, letting nature take its course has brought along many a fine young person.


An antisemitic university press in Australia

An article by Michael Danby, MHR:

In July last year I learned that Louise Adler, publisher of Melbourne University Press, had commissioned Antony Loewenstein, a little-known online journalist who has his own far-left blog, to write a book about the Australian Jewish community and its attitudes to Israel. Mr Loewenstein sent me a questionnaire asking my views on various subjects.

After making some inquiries about him and reading the extreme anti- Israel views at his website, I decided not to participate in this project, knowing that my participation would give it a credibility it didn't deserve. I wrote to the Jewish News urging readers to have nothing to do with Mr Loewenstein's book.

Ever since, Mr Loewenstein has painted himself as a heroic dissident being persecuted by the "Jewish establishment" for daring to criticise Israel and the Jewish community. It is sometimes perfectly obvious what is going to be in a book before it is published. If a leading publisher commissioned Pauline Hanson to write a book about multiculturalism, or Fred Nile about the gay and Lesbian Mardi gras, no doubt all the commentators at the AbC and The Age would have plenty to say, because it would be obvious what such books would be like.

The fact is that I and many other people knew Mr Loewenstein's views on Israel and on Australian Jews long before his book appeared. This is the point that Mr rodgers and his ilk persistently fail to acknowledge so they can misrepresent criticism of Mr Loewenstein. After all, he stated them openly at his own website a year ago, where he called Israel "fundamentally undemocratic and colonialist" and "a terror state", and described the Australian Jewish community as "vitriolic, bigoted, racist and downright pathetic." He also said that "so-called Western `values' deserve to be challenged and overthrown." I give Mr Loewenstein credit for honesty - he stated his views quite openly, so everyone knew what would be in his book long before it appeared.

Of course, when the book appeared, my anticipation about its contents was proved to be correct. The book is shallow, predictable, trite and obvious, as well as riddled with factual errors. This was not my view alone. Dr Philip Mendes of Monash University, author of Jews and Australian Politics (and himself a frequent, but fair, critic of Israeli policies), said: "The majority of the text [of Mr Loewenstein's book] is overwhelmingly simplistic and one-sided. This could have been a serious and objective examination of the role of local lobby groups in influencing Australia's Middle East policies. Unfortunately, that book still waits to be written."

Dr Michael Fagenblat, of Monash University's Centre for the study of Jewish Civilisation, says: "There's nothing new or interesting here and several things that seem patently false. These remarks seem completely one-sided; they overlook the complexity and manifold responsibility that has contributed to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." (both these comments appeared in the Jewish News of 28 July) since his book came out, becoming a hero of the anti-Israel commentariat seems to have gone to Mr Loewenstein's head. Despite being lionised at writers' festivals around the county, he still complains that the "zionist lobby" is working to silence him. His attacks on Israel are growing more strident. In brisbane, debating Phillip Mendes, he said: "Israel's behaviour in the West bank and gaza are the tactics of a rogue, terror state. Enough with the Holocaust, alleged Palestinian `terror' and victimhood. Take some responsibility for the parlous state of Israel in the international community. For all of us who want a safer Middle East, today's Israel is currently the problem, not the cure."

In August I was given a chance to confront Mr Loewenstein faceto- face on AbC radio, and I must thank the Jon Faine program for setting up this debate, which was ably moderated by gerard Whately and gideon Haigh. The debate was conducted in a civil manner, but I made a point of taking Mr Loewenstein to task over a comment of his which I considered particularly offensive. speaking of the comedian sandy guttman (Austen tayshus), he said at his website: "Jews are often their own worst enemies. It might help if tayshus didn't look so much like those awful caricatures we know from the 1930s!" so Mr guttman is to be criticised because he looks too Jewish for Mr Loewenstein's sensibilities!

Mr Loewenstein is, of course, entitled to his views - ignorant, offensive and superficial though they are - but I don't apologise for my decision to launch a "preemptive strike" against his book last year. Nor do I resile from my view that a person who thinks that a Jewish state is "a fundamentally undemocratic and colonialist idea from a bygone era," and that the Australian Jewish community is "vitriolic, bigoted, racist and downright pathetic" was not a suitable person to be commissioned by a major publisher to write a book about our community and its attitudes towards Israel.

This is not MUP's first excursion into anti-Israel polemic under Louise Adler's direction. In 2005 she published Jacqueline rose's The Question of Zion, a tract so blatantly anti-Israel that even a self-professed anti-zionist reviewer, simon Louvish in The Independent, called it a work of "overriding shallowness" which showed "a lack of basic understanding" and "overreliance on certain dissident Israeli historians, and avoidance of others."

Ms Adler is, of course, free to publish as many bad books as she likes, but why do they all have to be anti-Israel bad books? Why does she lend the prestige of the MUP imprint to a one-sided rehashing of all the usual anti-Israel propaganda?


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