Daily Archives: November 4, 2008

Promoting Ninglun’s Specials…

Now all you people of good taste out there, go and visit Ninglun’s Specials. It’s not doing too badly, but it could do with more visitors. We can’t have it doing worse than when I just ranted there, can we? I mean, I am being creative and all! Even original…

So here are some thumbnails of recent pics over there, not hyperlinked, and one soon to be posted…

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And over the fold, a bonus pic full size – one of my “experiments”…

Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on November 4, 2008 in site news


The real education revolution…

…took place in the 19th century.

1877 building

North Ryde Public School. It was built in 1877 with additions in 1883 and 1910.

Photo from NSW Department of Education and Training Schoolhouse Museum site.

So far as NSW is concerned, it owes much to Sir Henry Parkes.

Before Henry Parkes had become a person of power and influence in NSW, class, race and religious prejudice had already taken root in the colony. The few established denominational schools reflected these old world values and were supported in general by the colony’s rulers. The attractively egalitarian aspects of life that provided opportunity to Henry Parkes and his ilk had sprung up in the colonies along side of and in conflict with the old attitudes of exclusion. Egalitarian sentiment alone was not going to be sufficient to provide the building blocks for a modern democracy. For that great task more was needed.

I want to argue tonight that a strong, robust, inclusive democracy, what I term a social democracy, needs a particular foundation. That foundation has to be a public education system. Parkes believed this, and he established such a system.

It is worth contemplating the significance of this achievement, particularly now when the leaders of our community, and many members of it seem to have lost a sense of the importance of affording the highest priority to the public system…

One hundred years ago flawed as we were, Australians did create a society characterised by an egalitarian ethos, and an effective attention to the needs of individuals and communities through a strong and well-resourced public sector. For the mass of people, Australia was the best and fairest country in the world.We can thank Henry Parkes for some of that…

The principle is this: for a democratic society to prosper, it must be built on an education system of the highest standard, open to all without fees or religious tests, accessible wherever school age children live. A public system was the right priority for the founders of our nation a hundred years ago. It is the right priority now. 

So I am suspicious when Rupert Murdoch sloganises that we in Australia have a “19th century education system” in the 21st century, and alarmed when Kevin “Education Revolution” Rudd agrees with that sloganising.  To judge from the general tenor of education articles in The Australian one suspects that what Murdoch may really favour is a pre-19th century education system; particularly when one takes account of his other nostrum – that we should be less dependent on government. I think we need to be grateful that we have a 19th century system, because there was a built-in flexibility about what we have inherited that makes it perfectly able to adjust to the demands of the 21st century, as indeed it has been doing.


What we have so far managed to resist is confusing education with training, and we have also managed, by and large, to resist the blandishments of the corporations or other special interest groups seeking a greater “input” into our education system. Long may such resistance continue, because it is vital, as those late 19th and early 20th century pioneers of the true and thus far only Education Revolution in Australia well knew.

And what of those continuous laments about our dropping standards, and in pursuit of even more excellent excellence? Well, just about everyone agrees that the top performer by many measures is Finland. I would urge Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and others to look at Finland. See for example Lessons From Finland: The Way to Education Excellence.

When Finland’s 15-year-olds recently placed No.1 in math and science on the recent Program for International Student Assessment, the news of the coup was received in Helsinki with characteristic reserve. For the Finns, whose schools are considered the best in the world, the scores stood as a redundant confirmation of the success of their policies.

But in the U.S., the frustration was palpable. Despite persistent attempts to bring equity to the wildly uneven quality of our schools, reformers have not been able to produce the intended results. That’s why they’ve begun to look even more closely in this presidential election year at Finland for lessons that can be applied here. What they will find in the end serves as a cautionary tale for strategies that we proudly consider cutting edge.

At the heart of Finland’s stellar reputation is a philosophy completely alien to America. The country of 5.3 million in an area twice the size of Missouri considers education an end in itself – not a means to an end. It’s a deeply rooted value that is reflected in the Ministry of Education and in all 432 municipalities. In sharp contrast, Americans view education as a stepping stone to better-paying jobs or to impress others…

The headlines notwithstanding, misconceptions about Finland’s renown as an educational icon abound. The Finns spend a meager (compared to the U.S.) $5,000 a year per student, operate no gifted programs, have average class sizes close to 30, and don’t begin schooling children until they are 7. Moreover, Finland is not the homogeneous nation of lore. While still not as diverse as the U.S., the number of immigrant students in Helsinki’s comprehensive schools is exploding, with their numbers expected to constitute 23.3 percent of the city’s schools by 2025. At present, about 11 percent are immigrants, compared with just 6 percent in 2002. According to the City of Helsinki Urban Facts, by 2015 there will be schools with more than half of the student body from abroad.

Not surprisingly, in a land where literacy and numeracy are considered virtues, teachers are revered…

One of the major reasons for the job satisfaction that Finnish teachers report is the great freedom they enjoy in their instructional practices. As long as they adhere to the core national curriculum, teachers are granted latitude unheard of in the U.S. The scripted lesson plans that teachers here are increasingly being expected to follow would be rejected out of hand as an insult by teachers in Finland and by their powerful union, which has a growing membership of some 117,500 members.

If none of these facts are enough to raise doubts about the policies the U.S. has in place or on the drawing board, Finland’s testing practices should raise a final red flag. The Finns do not administer national standardized tests during the nine years of basic education

What ultimately emerges from studying Finland is the realization that the reform movement in America is based on a business model fundamentally at odds with the education model used by a country with the world’s finest schools. While it’s always risky to attempt to apply findings from one country to another, particularly when the two are so different, it’s a mistake to turn our backs on Finland’s approach.

Oh yes, we really do have a lot to learn from Finland. We seem determined to ape America’s and the UK’s mistakes…


New to read – local and national

Beginning local, the new South Sydney Herald is now available.

This month’s issue contains stories about a local activist helping a refugee family to reunite; the worrying state of public housing  (we’ll maintain a focus on this issue); Deborah Mailman’s directorial debut (in Redfern); an interview with new Minister for Redfern-Waterloo, Kristina Keneally; new councillors’ first impressions of life on Council; Mental Health Week events; the Pemulwuy Project … and more. There’s also details about the Big Bike Love and International Bicycle Film Festivals, as well as the Newtown Festival; reviews of Burn After Reading and Body of Lies; Eve Gibson talks with members of Dead Letter Chorus about their new album; Anna Christie offers advice on growing vegies in the city; Amanda Robb meets local author, Kathy Golski; and Miriam Pepper (Project Green Church at Maroubra Junction Uniting Church) reflects on the life of St Clare of Assisi in the context of climate change and the financial crisis.

Nationally, The Monthly is out. A couple of highlights:

"Before he became the Labor leader, I held in my mind three wildly contradictory images of Kevin Rudd. In the first – derived from the scurrilous portrait in The Latham Diaries – Rudd was a media-obsessed, vaultingly ambitious, duplicitous opportunist. In the second – based mainly on my observation of his near-successful attempt to prove that the foreign minister, Alexander Downer, was lying when he claimed he knew nothing about the bribes paid by the Australian Wheat Board to Saddam Hussein – Rudd was an outstanding parliamentary performer: focused, diligent, courteous but remorseless, quick-witted and intelligent. In the third – which was based on his Dietrich Bonhoeffer article – Rudd was a true believer in Christian social justice, a politician who identified not with power but with the powerless, who believed that the impending catastrophe of climate change was the overwhelming challenge of our age, who had given his life to politics to try to make the world a better place."

In "What is Rudd’s Agenda?", Robert Manne takes a close look at the Rudd government as it approaches its first anniversary. What, he asks, is its relation to the "philosophic and policy disposition of its predecessor"? Has Australia "begun significantly to change" since Labor took office? What did Rudd promise, and what has he failed to deliver?

"Rudd is committed in the international sphere to … what he invariably calls, in language borrowed from the standard Australian foreign-policy textbooks, ‘creative middle-power diplomacy’. Here Rudd is at his most ambitious or, as some might think, grandiose. It was no accident that Rudd was very keen to address the UN General Assembly; that he is keen to make Australia a player in the diplomacy leading up to the Copenhagen conference on climate change; that he has signalled for the first time an Australian interest in the international struggle to combat extreme poverty within a generation; and that he has tried to inject Australia into the current international negotiations over the financial markets’ meltdown. Rudd aspires to be the architect of a new Asia-Pacific Community – a somewhat amorphous regional entity comprising all the major Asia-Pacific powers, from the US through China to Russia, where the habits of peaceful co-operation, conversation and good-neighbourliness will somehow be learnt."


"The United States seems even more divided than it did two years ago: divided by race, religion, class and ideology; by ‘issues’ only partly real and partly media confection. It is as if one large slice of the population does not recognise the other slice, or sees in the other, not the faces of their fellow Americans, but their most terrible enemies. That Friday night in the hotel bar, as the stock market plunged into the unknown and John McCain felt the abyss opening beneath his feet, fear and hatred were palpable and you could have been forgiven for thinking that Doris Kearns Goodwin was right to compare the recent Republican rallies to Germany in the ’30s. "

In the Monthly Comment, Don Watson reports from New Orleans on the American election. In an area still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, he finds the concerns of the locals do not necessarily accord with those of either presidential candidate, or the mainstream media.

"People looking for another reason why so many Americans have more use for religion than for politics might begin by listening to a good preacher, and then to the average modern politician. While they’re at it, they might ask where the bullshit is deepest and truth hardest to recognise – in religion or a presidential election. And then there’s the more practical reason: to quote one taxi driver, representative of the millions without health insurance, ‘As if I could afford it! God is my health insurance.’"


In "The Conflict Business", Peter Hartcher offers an astute examination of the history and role of Australian political books, from Robert Menzies’ The Forgotten People and Other Studies in Democracy to Latham’s dirt-dishing and the recent Costello Memoirs, and beyond. 

"Costello’s version will not go uncontested. Howard plans to write his account next year. Tony Abbott is writing not a memoir but a manifesto, under the working title ‘Conservatism After Howard’ … Abbott’s publication promises to make the manifesto-style book as important for conservative politics as it is for the progressive side. This would be no big deal in the US, where John McCain has five books to his name and Barack Obama two. But in Australia, it would be a serious intensification of the intellectual effort that goes into political campaigning. This is a happy development. For the key figures on both sides of politics to canvass ideas for our political future, rather than just settle scores from their political pasts, offers the prospect of a leadership class that is better prepared and a voting public that is better informed."

I’ll give you The South Sydney Herald; The Monthly you will have to buy, though there are quite a few free articles in the archive there.

* November 2008 South Sydney Herald (PDF 2.5 MB)

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Posted by on November 4, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, curriculum, Kevin Rudd, local, magazines, media watch, reading, South Sydney Uniting Church, Surry Hills


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