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Category Archives: culture wars

Waltzing Matilda 21st century style – current reading

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Circular Quay 1938

Illustration from A D Fraser This Century of Ours 1938

How the wool industry dominated this part of Sydney back then.

The past is another country,

I am in retrospect/introspect mode at the moment. My gut feeling about my country is very much this:

"For all their embrace of enterprise," writes Davis, "Australians want to live in a fair society — an Australian-style egalitarian society, not a US-style harshly competitive society."

Now that truly resonates. It comes from an Age review of Mark Davis’s The Land of Plenty: Australia in the 2000s (Melbourne, MUP 2008) which I am currently reading. Mark Davis hitherto has been best known for his spray Gangland published ten years back. It didn’t impress me overmuch, I have to say, but his recent book certainly does. I’ll have more to say when I have finished it.

Meanwhile there is an extract on Crikey.

Australians have always been dreamers and thinkers, who, over the past 200 years, have worked to make this one of the world’s innovative democracies. One of the world’s oldest continuous democracies, most Australians lived under democratically elected governments by the mid-1850s, and the nation as a whole has been a democracy since Federation in 1901. In 1856, three Australian colonies in Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria introduced the world’s first secret ballot, a system that was known as the “Australian ballot” on its introduction in the United States in 1888.

In 1856, Australian workers were among the first in the world to campaign for an “eight hour day”, a measure that was progressively adopted across various industries and states until it was formally granted to all workers in 1948. In 1899, Queenslanders gave the world its first Labor government, intended to represent ordinary working people rather than powerful vested interests. In 1902, Australian women became the second in the world to get the vote — New Zealand had led the way in 1893.3 American and British women had to wait until 1920 and 1928 respectively. In 1907, the “Harvester Judgment” helped enshrine the principle of a basic wage, a world first that laid the foundation for the wages arbitration system.

Progress continued through the twentieth century. In 1973, in another world first, the Whitlam government appointed an adviser on women’s affairs, a lead that was followed after 1975 by all state governments. In 1982, the Fraser government introduced freedom of information legislation, the first of its kind for a Westminster-style government. In 1993, in another pioneering move, the Keating government legislated to ratify the overturning of the doctrine ofterra nullius, by which Australia had been considered untenured land pre–white settlement. In an innovative twist, white law was able to reach back before white settlement to recognise law that had come before.

Being Australian is an ethical project. It was in these pioneering moments that the specifi c combination of traditions and ideas that makes up Australian values — egalitarianism; the “fair go”; the idea that one person is as good as the next, irrespective of background — was founded. What all these reforms had in common was that they were levellers that sought to protect the small from the powerful. These ethics were to a degree oppositional. Australia, perhaps more than anything, offered the chance of an escape from nineteenth-century Europe and especially Britain, with its industrial squalor and workhouses, intractable class differences and rapidly worsening inequality, brought on by economic laissez faire.

This colonial outpost wasn’t just a sunnier and more bucolic new beginning; it also gave a chance to a basic fairness and equality of opportunity at odds with the prevailing ethos at “home”. Nor did these reforms simply happen by themselves, as if the universal pursuit of fairness is an essential Australian national character trait. Rebelling miners, small farmers, unionists, feminists, judges, politicians, intellectuals and others all played a part in struggles for social justice that have rarely been doctrinaire. Australian people, on the whole, haven’t aspired to ideological purity. They’ve aspired to become middle-class…

See too a WordPress blog.

Part of the mix too are several of Jim Belshaw’s recent posts, some of which are first-rate in terms of thoughtfulness. I am sure Jim would find Mark Davis stimulating if sometimes annoying.

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Friday intellectual spot 2

Not all that intellectual today, but two items of interest from the recent Arts & Letters Daily selections.

The first I immediately thought was another reactionary rant on its subject, but closer examination shows it is better than that. I was put off by the A&L’s intro:

Literacy, the most empowering achievement of our civilization, is to be replaced by a vague and ill-defined screen savvy. All in the name of progress… more»

Much better than that would lead you to expect. You can read the whole thing in PDF here.

The second is from The Atlantic Monthly: The End of White America? by Hua Hsu.

"Civilization’s going to pieces,” he remarks. He is in polite company, gathered with friends around a bottle of wine in the late-afternoon sun, chatting and gossiping. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read The Rise of the Colored Empires by this man Goddard?” They hadn’t. “Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be—will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”

He is Tom Buchanan, a character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a book that nearly everyone who passes through the American education system is compelled to read at least once. Although Gatsby doesn’t gloss as a book on racial anxiety—it’s too busy exploring a different set of anxieties entirely—Buchanan was hardly alone in feeling besieged. The book by “this man Goddard” had a real-world analogue: Lothrop Stoddard’s The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy, published in 1920, five years before Gatsby. Nine decades later, Stoddard’s polemic remains oddly engrossing. He refers to World War I as the “White Civil War” and laments the “cycle of ruin” that may result if the “white world” continues its infighting. The book features a series of foldout maps depicting the distribution of “color” throughout the world and warns, “Colored migration is a universal peril, menacing every part of the white world.”

As briefs for racial supremacy go, The Rising Tide of Color is eerily serene. Its tone is scholarly and gentlemanly, its hatred rationalized and, in Buchanan’s term, “scientific.” And the book was hardly a fringe phenomenon. It was published by Scribner, also Fitzgerald’s publisher, and Stoddard, who received a doctorate in history from Harvard, was a member of many professional academic associations. It was precisely the kind of book that a 1920s man of Buchanan’s profile—wealthy, Ivy League–educated, at once pretentious and intellectually insecure—might have been expected to bring up in casual conversation.

As white men of comfort and privilege living in an age of limited social mobility, of course, Stoddard and the Buchanans in his audience had nothing literal to fear. Their sense of dread hovered somewhere above the concerns of everyday life. It was linked less to any immediate danger to their class’s political and cultural power than to the perceived fraying of the fixed, monolithic identity of whiteness that sewed together the fortunes of the fair-skinned.

From the hysteria over Eastern European immigration to the vibrant cultural miscegenation of the Harlem Renaissance, it is easy to see how this imagined worldwide white kinship might have seemed imperiled in the 1920s. There’s no better example of the era’s insecurities than the 1923 Supreme Court case United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, in which an Indian American veteran of World War I sought to become a naturalized citizen by proving that he was Caucasian. The Court considered new anthropological studies that expanded the definition of the Caucasian race to include Indians, and the justices even agreed that traces of “Aryan blood” coursed through Thind’s body. But these technicalities availed him little. The Court determined that Thind was not white “in accordance with the understanding of the common man” and therefore could be excluded from the “statutory category” of whiteness. Put another way: Thind was white, in that he was Caucasian and even Aryan. But he was not white in the way Stoddard or Buchanan were white.

The ’20s debate over the definition of whiteness—a legal category? a commonsense understanding? a worldwide civilization?—took place in a society gripped by an acute sense of racial paranoia, and it is easy to regard these episodes as evidence of how far we have come. But consider that these anxieties surfaced when whiteness was synonymous with the American mainstream, when threats to its status were largely imaginary. What happens once this is no longer the case—when the fears of Lothrop Stoddard and Tom Buchanan are realized, and white people actually become an American minority? ….

Do make sure you read on. It becomes even more interesting, and it is very relevant to our thinking here in Australia, despite its US emphasis, and to our own past. In fact I’ve PDFed it too: Hua Hsu article. Of course there are major differences between the US and Australian experiences, but there is common ground in some of the thinking Hua Hsu alludes to.

Putting both articles together, you might say a 21st century Tom Buchanan would be running an ultra-Right blog! 😉

The relevance to our own past? See earlier entries here: That hypothetical Year 10 lesson on “White Australia” and Updating that hypothetical Year 10 lesson on "White Australia". My contention would be that in the context of the time, given what was “normal” thinking in much of the Anglophone world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it would have been very surprising if Australia hadn’t had a “White Australia Policy”. We don’t have to agonise about it, because we have moved on since then. Sadly, not everyone has moved on, as we know, but generally speaking there has been a lot of progress, especially here in Australia.

It doesn’t hurt our international reputation though to be frank about our own past, while equally assertive about the progress that has been made; I’d go further and claim it is very desirable so to do, setting an excellent example to others less honest about their chequered pasts. That’s why I don’t accept Keith Windschuttle’s special pleading on the subject. Our White Australia Policy was indisputably racist, whatever else it may have been – protective of labour, concerned with Empire and with internal social cohesion, inspired by distance and vulnerability, and so on – all part of the mix too. But it is really not surprising that racist thinking shaped much of the rhetoric at the time.

Jim Belshaw and I have thrashed this one out several times in the past, as visiting those two posts will show. 🙂

 

My last Top Read of 2008: Damian Thompson, “Counterknowledge” (Atlantic Books 2008)

0801-Grayling My reading these days comes from two main sources: Surry Hills Library or the bargain basement bookshops. I am after all a pensioner. Naturally, this does impact on my “Top Read” choices, but has not prevented my finding quite a few in the past twelve months. I will be listing them in another post later on, but you can also check the tag.

So the latest came via the bargain bookshop, $12.95 instead of $35 for the hardback.

I recommend Counterknowledge with two reservations.

The first is encapsulated in this otherwise very favourable review by British philosopher A C Grayling (no relation to a blogger some of us know) in New Humanist.

…The sentences that need to be added to this otherwise superb crusade against despoliation of truth and reason concern what harsh critics would, I am sure wrongly and unfairly, call a sleight-of-hand by Thomson, given that when he is not debunking counterknowledge he is none-too-indirectly associated with one of its most egregious forms by being the editor of the Catholic Herald. Early in his book he says that religion “does not fit neatly into the category of counterknowledge” because its claims are not about the material world and cannot be tested empirically. And he leaves it there; protected, you might say, behind the wholly admirable pyrotechnics of his assault on “misinformation masquerading as fact” to be found elsewhere.

This, I am afraid, will not do. As already suggested, the most persistent and influential forms of counterknowledge, including many false claims about the origin and nature of the universe, what it contains and what it is influenced by, which heavenly bodies go round which, what can be effected by prayer or the laying on of hands, and so vastly on, are the religions. Thomson rightly criticises the fact that the British state supports five homeopathic hospitals and pays for six degree courses in homeopathy, but says nothing about tax-funding of faith-based schools – not a few teaching creationism. He quotes Popper on falsifiability as the test of a genuine knowledge claim, but does not mention Popper’s correlative stricture, that “a theory which explains everything explains nothing”, as a direct refutation of the meaningfulness of religious claims.

He grants that religion becomes counterknowledge when it is controverted by the evidence of our senses, but does not admit that all religion is therefore so. He does not address the point that when factual information is lacking with respect to some claim – as is standardly the case with the major tenets of religion – constraints of rationality come into play…

Even so, Grayling says: “This excellent little book, if supplemented by a single brief sentence – a draft of which I offer below – should be put in the satchel of every secondary school child, in the departmental pigeonhole of every undergraduate…”

The second reservation I have is that there are times Thompson seems to me to be too Eurocentric, or a little too quick to label something as “counterknowledge” simply because it does not quite fit with his version of Enlightenment philosophy. I am sure you will see something paradoxical there in my two reservations!

I would go further than Thompson by quite happily regarding the Nativity stories in Matthew and Luke as pseudohistory, in which I am no different from many mainstream theologians. (You may get a post on that before Yuletide!) On the other hand, I would not be quite as dismissive as he is about Chinese Traditional Medicine.

I would also express some reservation about the use to which his generally perfectly correct criticisms of much thought in the Muslim world might be put by the likes of Daniel Pipes or Melanie Phillips, but then I am rather more of a cultural relativist than Thompson is.

That aside, the book is very stimulating and very useful. The chapter on Intelligent Design/Creationism is quite brilliant.

You don’t even need the book, really, though I do recommend it, partly out of a continuing belief that the reading of actual words on paper does have some advantages over absorbing matter from a screen – some of the disadvantages of which are actually made clear in the book! Nonetheless, the book was simultaneously published with its website, which is very comprehensive and also stimulating. Most of the people it will infuriate are people you really wouldn’t want to know anyway!

See Counterknowledge.com.

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2008 in Best read of 2008, book reviews, challenge, culture wars, faith and philosophy, fundamentalism and extremism, historiography, History, Top read

 

Who are the ones with an agenda?

Of course in any situation people tend to accuse the “other side” of having an agenda, and when you think about it I suppose you really hope there is an agenda, given that the alternative is probably ad-hoc muddle through policy… But we know what people mean when they make the comment.

Today we have an education issue running up against a serious finance issue. Rightly or wrongly, the Rudd government is trying to throw large amounts of money at non-government schools. Well, “throw” may be a bit much, I suppose, as all that’s happening is the implementation of arrangements already agreed to – or so it seemed before Senator Fielding (Family First) and certain of the like-minded members of the Opposition (thanks for that post and its prequel and promised sequels, Thomas) started throwing their weight around.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Opposition and Family First Senator Steve Fielding are refusing to pass the bill and therefore release the funding because it’s tied to a national curriculum which is yet to be written. To press home the message to them, Julia Gillard held a media conference flanked by two Bills, Bill Daniels from the Independent Schools Council and Bill Graham from the National Catholic Education Commission.
BILL DANIELS: This is legislation that was flagged pre-election. This is the Government doing exactly what it said it would do. We regard it as absolutely essential that this legislation is passed to give schools and parents the certainty and funding stability that they need from the 1st January next year.
BILL GRAHAM: The National Catholic Education Commission is comfortable with the process underway to develop the national curriculum and we would ask that the bill be agreed to and passed, the legislation passed before the end of the year.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Ms Gillard’s not stopping there, thanking them for helping her send a letter to every non-government school in the country this afternoon.
JULIA GILLARD: And I quote, "the Independent Schools Council of Australia and the National Catholic Education Commission have supported the bill. Unfortunately the Senate has not passed the bill."

   — PM yesterday.

Now we have the delicious irony of funding perhaps being held back from the non-government school sector because the Senate has baulked at four words Fielding and company want inserted into the deal — “or other accredited course.” Now despite all the denials, we know that this  1) is a move emanating from the more recent Christian schools (I almost wrote “more feral” there) and 2) has something to do with Intelligent Design as “science”.

Fielding and company are also making life easy for any extremist madrassa that would like to set up in Australia, but they don’t see that. (And yes, I know that most of us have a rather jaundiced view of “madrassa” before you retort, if you are a Muslim reader; there are contexts where Muslim schools for the poor do a mighty job in both Pakistan and Indonesia — but of course it depends what they teach.)

There are strings to the Rudd government’s deal you see. One is that those getting the funds sign on to the new and developing national curriculum. That concept of course was brought forward by the Howard government, and has been pursued, but in my view in a somewhat more enlightened manner, by the current government. It is also the status quo in this country, in that all schools now have to implement the curricula of the state they happen to be in. In NSW they can also offer non-Board courses. So, for example, in the Jewish college where I once worked you had the NSW syllabus in English, Maths, Science etc, exactly as in any state school, though of course, and this is fair enough, taught from the perspective the college brought to them. You also had non-Board accredited courses like Jewish Studies. I am sure much the same applies in Catholic or Islamic schools.

Not good enough for Senator Fielding. They want more. And you don’t have to be Einstein, or indeed Charles Darwin, or Harry Potter, to work out what that “more” is. See the recent case of Pacific Hills Christian School in Dural, where it appears the hen-house was delivered to the fox in the end.

I of course was nasty enough to write here the other day, in reference to the USA situation:

The other thing I took from this program is how glad I am that we do not so far have the US-style tradition of local school boards here in NSW. With all the possible disadvantages we may experience in a centralised system, relying on boards and teams of experts to devise curriculum (even if implementation depends much on the local school), we gain far more, if this series is any indication. There are some things democracy is just not good at, and devising curriculum, in my opinion, is often one of them. By the way, one problem I always felt working in private schools was the sense that the “clients” owned me. That could have a plus side, but was also sometimes an unpleasant constraint. I am sure Aluminium knows exactly what I mean.

I stand by those views.

Then there is another issue getting up some noses. Should private schools publicly reveal the sources of their funding? I would definitely say yes. Here we have some of the wealthier schools saying the agenda here is to deprive them of at least some government funding.  At the moment the government denies this, but to be quite honest I really hope that is the agenda! There are much better things to do with the education dollar than enabling ermine lining in the swimming pool, if you see what I mean…

Update

Sanity seems to have prevailed, and Opposition Education spokesman Christopher Pyne is putting the best spin he can on the backflip.

Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne has denied the Coalition has backflipped on its opposition to the Schools Assistance bill, after agreeing to pass it without further amendments.

But Education Minister Julia Gillard has described the move, which will now allow $28 billion of funding to reach independent schools, as a "humiliating backdown".

This morning the Opposition said it would move an amendment to allow schools such as Steiner and Montessori schools to teach an accredited equivalent of the national curriculum.

But Ms Gillard insisted the amendment was not needed…

There are 133 lively comments on that ABC News story too. For example:

keep in mind, that these same independent school councils are involved in the development of the new national curriculum. So they probably have a much better idea about the direction it is heading. Compare that to the automatically opposing opposition, who obviously hadn’t done the homework that was set out for them by the voting public of Australia and have been embarrassingly caught out.

The progress of the National Curriculum Board is easy to track. It is indeed drawing on a range of talent at all levels in education, government and non-government. I hold out much more hope on this than I did on earlier exercises.

 

Miranda and Piers in duet after “Quadrant” dinner…

So it would appear from Questions a-plenty on global warming by Piers and Beware the church of climate alarm by Miranda, both on the same day but in different newspapers. I will let Miranda explain the Quadrant connection, which Piers does not mention.

One of Australia’s leading enviro-sceptics, the geologist and University of Adelaide professor Ian Plimer, 62, says he has noticed audiences becoming more receptive to his message that climate change has always occurred and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

In a speech at the American Club in Sydney on Monday night for Quadrant magazine, titled Human-Induced Climate Change – A Lot Of Hot Air, Plimer debunked climate-change myths.

"Climates always change," he said. Our climate has changed in cycles over millions of years, as the orbit of the planet wobbles and our distance from the sun changes, for instance, or as the sun itself produces variable amounts of radiation. "All of this affects climate. It is impossible to stop climate change. Climates have always changed and they always will."

His two-hour presentation included more than 50 charts and graphs, as well as almost 40 pages of references. It is the basis of his new book, Heaven And Earth: The Missing Science Of Global Warming, to be published early next year.

Piers and Miranda are both mightily impressed. Since my qualifications in the area are no better (or worse) than Piers or Miranda, neither of them famous for climatology, I will refer you to a couple of other people, while suggesting too that Plimer, a geologist, may also be worth a closer look. (I am not so sure that Miranda would have really liked Ian Plimer in his Telling Lies for God days, but that is another matter…)

Happy reading. Go to the appropriate box in the side bar here for more.

BTW, I couldn’t resist. Piers is the butchest writer on the planet, being 94% male according to the Gender Analyzer, while Miranda is 72% male… Go figure.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, climate change, culture wars, environment, right wing politics

 

Beware: “political correctness gone mad” stories may not be all they seem…

It is a cliche of grumpiness to mutter about “political correctness”, a phrase I once swore never to use if I could avoid it. But often it turns out to be a furphy. I thought of this yesterday, as it happens, when I proposed to myself photographing some of Sydney’s Christmas decorations for Ninglun’s Specials. Yes, “politically correct” as Clover Moore may seem, she apparently doesn’t have a problem with wishing people a Happy Christmas, strewing street banners right and left to do so and wishing us all a “Joyous Christmas” on the front of her latest (recycled paper) full colour propaganda and information brochure…

clover

No problem! Not in my opinion anyway, and quite compatible with inclusiveness, respect, multiculturalism and all those good things…

So I read with interest The Catholic Herald (UK): This is anti-political correctness gone mad.

“BID TO BAN CHRISTMAS" shrieked the headline in the Sun in bold caps, "Festive Fun Upsets Migrants, Says Labour Think-Tank". To someone writing a book about political correctness a story like that is, well, like Christmas coming early. There is my next chapter, I thought, as I filed the cutting.

But when I looked into the story in more detail it started fraying at the edges. Yes, it was certainly fair to describe the Institute for Public Policy Research as a "Labour Think-Tank" – Nick Pearce, the director of the IPPR at the time its allegedly anti-Christmas report was published, went on to become the head of policy at Downing Street. But when I rang their offices to ask whether they really wanted to ban Christmas (or, if you read the Daily Mail rather than the Sun, to see it "downgraded to help race relations") they denied any such thing. Here is what their report actually says: "Even-handedness dictates that we provide public recognition to minority cultures and traditions. If we are going to continue as a nation to mark Christmas – and it would be very hard to expunge it from our national life even if we wanted to – then public organisations should mark other religious festivals too." The tone may be a little po-faced, but the report does not in any sense suggest that Christmas should be abolished.

The lament about politically correct attempts to destroy this great festival is a hardy perennial of anti-PC journalism, and any newspaper stories appearing between now and early January which include the words "political correctness gone mad" need to be treated with a great deal of caution…

Indeed.

Hat tip to Indigo Jo, a British Muslim, for that story.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2008 in culture wars, faith and philosophy, interfaith, local, media watch, Multicultural, multiculturalism

 

So, Mr Murdoch, our public schools are a disgrace…

Next day preface

I posted the following late last night, quite frankly to vent, so there it is, ad hominem arguments questioning Mr Murdoch’s qualifications and motives and all. Mind you, I am not sure that the ad hominem is utterly wrong in this case.

What I don’t want you to take from the post is that I think all is as it should be in NSW (or Australian) public education. However, I do get tired of those who keep pointing us in what may well be the wrong direction, or who imply that our teachers are lazy and/or have no idea what they are doing and/or are puppets  driven back and forth by the trendy idea of the day.

Seriously, look further than Mr Murdoch, if you are interested in these matters. You may be interested in Measuring Skills for the 21st Century, which is the subject of praise from a sceptical Washington Post writer. On the other hand, one of the fetishes of our own conservatives on literacy teaching may not deliver what they expect. See Reading First Impact Study: Interim Report. See Education Week:

The $6 billion funding for the federal Reading First program has helped more students “crack the code” to identify letters and words, but it has not had an impact on reading comprehension among 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders in participating schools, according to one of the largest and most rigorous studies ever undertaken by the U.S. Department of Education.

While more time is spent on reading instruction and professional development in schools that received Reading First grants than in comparison schools, students in participating schools are no more likely to become proficient readers, even after several years with the extended instruction, the study found.

Among both the Reading First and comparison groups, reading achievement was low, with fewer than half of 1st graders, and fewer than 40 percent of 2nd and 3rd graders showing grade-level proficiency in their understanding of what they read. On a basic decoding test, however, 1st graders in Reading First schools scored significantly better than their peers…

See also USA Today:

Advocates of Reading First, an integral part of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, have long maintained that its emphasis on phonics, scripted instruction by teachers and regular, detailed analyses of children’s skills, would raise reading achievement, especially among the low-income kids it targets. But the new study by the U.S. Education Department’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) shows that children in schools receiving Reading First funding had virtually no better reading skills than those in schools that didn’t get the funding.

Fear Greeks bearing gifts, and so on. I guess that was my feeling about Mr Murdoch.

The post

Funny, but I find myself a little conflicted here. According to the report on ABC News of the latest Boyer Lecture, it isn’t just Aussie schools… The key word is “public”. And the emphasis is on Anglophone public schools. (He needs to visit Finland, I think.)

"The unvarnished truth is, that in countries such as Australia, Britain and particularly the United States, our public education systems are a disgrace," he said. "Despite spending more and more money, our children seem to be learning less and less – especially for those who are most vulnerable in our society."

This seems to have something to do with our old friend literacy, or the lack of it. In a summary of the Lecture pre-published in Murdoch’s most literate Australian paper The Man said:

Most of you are well aware of the public debate about education. And you will be well aware that there is a whole industry of pedagogues devoted to explaining why some schools and some students are failing. Some say classrooms are too large. Others complain that not enough public funding is devoted to this or that program. Still others will tell you that the students who come from certain backgrounds just can’t learn.

The bad schools do not pay for these fundamental failings. Their students pay the price because they are the victims when our schools fail. And the more people we graduate without basic skills, the more likely Australian society will pay the price in social dysfunction: in welfare, in health care, in crime. We must help ourselves by holding schools accountable and ensuring that they put students on the right track.

The solution apparently is to involve Big Business more directly.

Now why should I have just a little twinge of suspicion there?

And why should I wonder why private schools will be better at delivering all those wonderful things to their, um, customers? Some do deliver, of course. I have taught in both public and private schools. But too many “customers” have the delusion that paying for something guarantees “better”. I can tell you there are are a lot of people out there wasting an awful lot of money to get an education they probably could have had at the public school down the road… **

Then, of course, the ONLY system that cannot reject any comer is the public system; it isn’t allowed either a “too hard basket” or the luxury of dumping recalcitrants on someone else.

In China of course they don’t have private schools, but they have developed a very competitive set of elite schools. They have also had to backtrack in recent years to discourage mere rote learning and encourage creativity. (See my little piece on coaching.) But China, Rupert tells us, is a shining light:

Recently, for example, American public television ran a special called Chinese Prep, which followed five students through their final year at an elite high school. These students are competing for slots at the top universities in a system based almost entirely on merit. The pressure is intense, and most Australians watching would probably think that the time and effort these boys and girls put into their studies is inhumane.

Now, the high school in this film is elite, and it is far from representative of the schools that most Chinese attend. But the interesting thing about this program is the emphasis on competition, on merit, on doing well on standardised tests.

Some of the children who do end up doing well come from very poor backgrounds. The television cameras showed that one of them lived in essentially a hut in the countryside.

But no one makes allowances for them. They compete with the children of high officials. And they succeed. In a sense, the entire school system is taking a lesson from Confucius, who observed sagely, as a sage does: "If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself."

I am not saying that Chinese education is perfect. It certainly is not. But it is clear that in a system where you are expected to perform, there is less slacking off.

Maybe that’s because poor people in China know that doing well on tests and getting a good education is the ticket to personal progress. Or maybe they know that the consequences for failure are much more severe than they are in, say, the more comfortable societies that are America and Australia.

There is so much sense and nonsense in that I really don’t know where to start!

I guess we really should heed the man who brings us Fox News and tabloid newspapers when it comes to standards in literacy education, eh! Trouble is, many will be influenced, and I find that very, very sad.  What he says is no truer than it was the last several thousand times it was said, often by Mr Murdoch’s hand-picked education experts…

Bah, humbug! If you want more argument follow the literacy category here. I am just too tired to argue any more, and as I have also been saying lately, it is no longer my problem. Just take it from me we would be very foolish to pay Mr Murdoch too much attention in this area at least. There is an agenda here, I am sure of it.

** Ironically: Parents abandon private schools as downturn bites:

THE global economic crisis is forcing parents to pull children out of private schools and fall back on the state system, and some of Sydney’s top private schools are bracing for a slump in enrolments.

Some public schools have already filled vacancies for next year, with up to 60 per cent of new enrolments coming from private schools.

After more than a decade of aggressive fee increases, the private sector has conceded the years of growth are over…

"There is a sense of – I won’t say the word ‘exodus’ – but exit from the private sector," said Andrew Blair, the president of the Australian Secondary Principals Association, which represents the heads of government-run schools.

"I reckon we’re going to see the next three to four weeks being critical to enrolments in the public sector for the beginning of 2009."

Mr Blair said public schools were already reporting unusually high interest, particularly from parents of private school children. He said smaller independent schools would have to consider restructuring their fees.

A dossier produced at the meetings of Catholic primary principals, obtained by the Herald, recommends wide-ranging cuts, including a 40 per cent reduction in cleaning and a shift of programs such as life education and swimming from yearly to once every two years…

Suzette Young, the principal at Willoughby Girls High School, was still wading through a pile of enrolment applications. There were always a lot, she said, but this year there were more.

"Quite a few people from private schools write on their expression of interest forms ‘financial issues’," she said…

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2008 in Australia, awful warnings, culture wars, education, literacy