Monthly Archives: October 2007

My English teachers 4: Sam Goldberg

You will find I have mentioned S L Goldberg (1926-1991) before: on Lines from a Floating Life. Back in 1964 he was just coming into his own as Challis Professor of English at the University of Sydney, having taken up his duties during 1963 when I had a year out working at the MLC Insurance Company in Martin Place where they vainly tried to seduce me into a business or legal career. The next few years were to see the English Department split in two, and by decade’s end Goldberg had gone. When I returned to Sydney University for a temporary secondment as a lecturer in 1977 he was just a memory, albeit with a few acolytes still hanging on, and a cricket team named in his honour, or in honour of his mentor the Downing College Cambridge literary critic F R Leavis.

In a 1999 article in The Australian Book Review Terry Collits recalls:

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Posted by on October 31, 2007 in English studies, my English teachers, reminiscences, Teachers Who Change Lives


The very odd story of the Oz government and its new tech colleges

John Della Bosca, the NSW Education Minister, has a point.

DESPITE promising 100 new technical colleges across the country the Federal Government has failed to provide even half of the eight it promised for NSW before the last election, the state’s Education Minister, John Della Bosca, said yesterday. Just three had been established and they had secured just 20 per cent of the overall enrolment target, he said.

“One was an existing private school and another contracts the local TAFE to provide its entire vocational program,” Mr Della Bosca said. “A fourth college at western Sydney is not recognised by the independent Board of Studies because it does not have registration as a separate non-government school. The other colleges have failed to get enough teaching staff onto AWAs to open their doors.”

Mr Della Bosca said the Hunter college had attracted 134 students, and the Illawarra facility 37 students, with all its training delivered by TAFE…

Margaret Gardner, vice-chancellor of RMIT and president of the Australian Technology Network of universities, said the technical colleges were not the solution to the skills shortage and were an unnecessary duplication of private colleges and TAFE.

Hatred of the Australian Education Union and the state education unions which serve the existing TAFE institutions seems to me more than part of the government’s agenda. It can’t be objective rationality that has taken them down this wasteful path.
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Christian Lobby urges protection of frogs and unborn babies

It is good to see what strikes me as humour, of a kind, on Catholic News. The reference is to The Australian Christian Lobby who have been talking up their Australia Votes site — Provided as a service to the community of voters across Australia by the Australian Christian Lobby. While I reached it from the ACL site you will notice how modestly Australia Votes advertises its connection at the foot of the page. Some might see that as excessively modest.

Jim Wallace is not so modest when he claims to be speaking for the 64% of the population who identify as Christian. Rather, it might be said, he is indulging in fantasy 1) because his position is by no means that of Christians as such, but only of certain schools of Christianity and 2) that 64% strikes me as very hopeful indeed.

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This Oz think tank is worth visiting

Eidos “is a consortium of six universities and three state government agencies committed to improving education and social research, policy and practice. It’s work is conducted through a network of participating research centres and partners, through which Eidos draws the intellectual strength of the research community into an active dialogue with policy makers and practitioners. Within its universities and government agencies, there are more than 55 research and policy centres, and over 300 active senior and early career researchers. Eidos harnesses these resources to maximize their contribution to state, national and global education and social research, policy and practice.”

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Posted by on October 28, 2007 in curriculum, future schooling, teaching


Recycle 4: from March 2006

I have been rereading Wuthering Heights in the excellent revised Penguin Classics edition of 2003. What a pleasure it is! My rereading has been prompted by my little bit of private tuition, a girl doing the HSC Advanced English course. It so happens, as I told her much to her amazement, that I first read Wuthering Heights for my Leaving Certificate in 1959 where, though I am not knocking “Rockjaw” Smith our excellent English teacher, the interpretive skills required were minimal really: basically just the oversimplified schematic interpretation by Lord David Cecil in Early Victorian Novelists plus a smidgin of Arnold Kettle’s somewhat Marxist, and very boring, analysis, plus whatever crib one could lay one’s hands on. Much more is expected of my current HSC student, in fact I would say perhaps too much.

Back in 1959 our ENTIRE course was: 1) Wuthering Heights; 2) Julius Caesar; 3) a handful of poems from a standard anthology; 4) a handful of essays from Bacon to Edwardian times, some of them splendid, many of them pointless; 5) Douglas Stewart’s The Fire on the Snow, a radio play about Scott of the Antarctic. Good too, that play, I still think.

Contrast 2006: Coleridge; Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; Wuthering Heights; Frontline. But that’s not all, as the Coleridge is matched with study of a range of set and student-selected texts; similarly Frontline is not the sole study there, but the student must also find other texts that explore truth and representation in some way or another.

Dumbed down? Pull the other one! In fact I think my student has to work much harder than we did in 1959. I hope she ends up being as glad to have studied Wuthering Heights as I have been.**

Note too that when comparing present and past courses, the best comparison is between the Advanced course and the older course, as retention rates become very significant. “The student retention rate has increased from around 35 per cent in the early 1980s to over 70 per cent today.” In 1959 it was probably below 30% — we were elite students doing an elite course with university — and there were only three of them in NSW — very much in mind. The nearest I could get to a retention rate for 1959 was a 1960 figure for all of Australia on this PDF file — 12% of 17-year-olds* were in school in Australia in 1960.

* See comments. It is true that in 1959 NSW had five-year high schools. In my own cohort we ranged from 15 (Ted Oliver: brilliant!) to 19 when we sat for the leaving. I was 16; maybe half were 17. Now the HSC is usually done at 17-18, with most being 18.

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Posted by on October 27, 2007 in 1950s, creativity, curriculum, English studies, nostalgia, replays, teaching


Galarrwuy Yunupingu

I believe Yunupingu’s recent speech is a very significant speech, a watershed even, so much so that I have added it in full to the Indigenous Australia pages here. The Australian’s headline Yunupingu backs Howard is one construction that may be put on it, but then it could equally have been Yunupingu backs Rudd. What it does signal is that we are indeed in a transitional state on these matters.

Read Yunupingu with an open mind though. We all need to do that.
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Posted by on October 27, 2007 in Australia and Australian, current affairs, Indigenous Australians



Jim Belshaw was quick off the mark…

Yes, Jim posted this yesterday. Now it is front page news in the Sydney Morning Herald: YouTube revolutionaries upstage the party machine.

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Posted by on October 26, 2007 in Australia and Australian, current affairs, diversions, Jim Belshaw, Kevin Rudd, Political, satire, web stuff



Interrogating the unemployment figures

Do you really buy the current unemployment rates? I have long had doubts which began way back in Malcolm Fraser’s day when I had a friend working in the Australian Bureau of Statistics… I have raised the matter in several posts before:

There is a long rambling page on Henry Thornton’s site: What’s wrong with Australia’s monthly unemployment figures?

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Posted by on October 24, 2007 in Australia and Australian, Political



Another Groundhog Day moment

Listening to much that passes for bright ideas in education today — our Prime Minister in the Election Debate being but the most recent example — one could be forgiven for thinking that we are in a time warp. Here is a 1940s view:

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Posted by on October 24, 2007 in curriculum, nostalgia, teaching


Turning one-way education around

Hans Mundahl from New Hampton School in central New Hampshire has put some future-oriented thoughts on YouTube. So after all my recent reminiscing I thought, well let’s try to see where inspiration might be found into the future.

Education used to be about transfer of information from teacher to student. Now there is too much information available in the world. Much of this information is being used by people trying to sell us something: an idea, a product, a political agenda, a way of seeing our entire country.

New Hampton School’s Junior Urban Adventure attempts to turn around this notion of one-way education in the same way that Web 2.0 is changing the way we think about the web. Students will learn to ask questions, make meaning from the glut of information available to them and engage, upload and maybe even start to solve some of the world’s problems.

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John Howard on Iraq

In the debate John Howard continued to skip over the question whether the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 had increased or reduced the threat of terrorism. My own view is that that decision was a bad decision at the time, but now of course we are stuck with the consequences. I further believe that the Iraq War has done little to solve the problem of terrorism and much to compound the problem. See this series of posts, but especially this one from 17 October 2006, and watch the following.
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Posted by on October 22, 2007 in Australia and Australian, Iraq, John Howard, terrorism



My English teachers 3

As best I recall I first encountered Dr Derick Marsh in 1962 when he was tutor to the Distinction Course group I was then in, which included future High Court Justice John Dyson Heydon who went on to pursue History rather than English, I believe. Back in those days tutors tended to smoke pipes, and Dr Marsh had mastered the art of volcanic eruptions of smoke whenever things were getting dull. He would also sometimes start on a quite risible interpretation of a text just to see whether we dutifully agreed with him, a technique I have since used with cleverer senior classes.

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Posted by on October 22, 2007 in inspiration, my English teachers, reminiscences, Teachers Who Change Lives


My English teachers 2

I started at the University of Sydney in 1960. Think about that: such a long time ago. I was sixteen years old. If in 1960 someone had said to me “I started at the University of Sydney in 1913” I would have thought “You poor old bugger…” Perhaps some of you are thinking just that.

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Posted by on October 20, 2007 in my English teachers, reminiscences


On Labor’s tax policy

Look, just go and read Thomas, OK? I don’t think I can improve on what he says.
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Posted by on October 19, 2007 in Political