Category Archives: multiculturalism

Competition, cross-cultural roadblocks and petty corruption

Sad but familiar, this story, as is the way it is being framed: Cash lands pushy parents before ICAC.

A SYDNEY father accused of bribing his son’s teacher to help him get into a selective high school yesterday described the film character Forrest Gump’s mother as a hero for sleeping with a teacher to help her son gain entry to a school.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption yesterday heard that on August 5 Qinghua Pei wrote the first of two notes to Westmead Public School teacher Jodie-Lee Pearce, pleading with her to help his son, whom he regards as a budding scientist, to gain entry into Baulkham Hills or Sydney Boys selective high schools.

In particular, the boy, a year 5 student in a class for gifted and talented children, needed help with English comprehension…

Nothing wrong with the parents asking for help; what caused the problem was this:

Wrapped inside the first of Mr Pei’s letters, reluctantly delivered by his son’s mother, Xiaodong Lu, was a thick wad of $50 notes that amounted to $2000, the inquiry was told.

In the second, which Mr Pei delivered on October 28, was $500. The note said the boy "has great ambition to become a scientist". "First he must go to a good selective school. According to his performance at trial tests at Pre-uni College and their assessment he is like to make Baulkham Hill School or Sydney boys school."

In light of this, Ms Pearce was asked to give Mr Pei’s son, whose name has been suppressed, "favourable consideration in school assessment and report".

Selective school entry not only depends on the results of external tests, but also includes a school assessment component for which teachers are responsible.

Ms Pearce and the boy’s parents appeared yesterday before the ICAC at a public hearing into the alleged bribery.

The teacher told the commission she felt under pressure from parents who desperately wanted their children to win a selective high school places.

Lu Xiaodong was obviously not happy about any of this; she and her husband are separated. (By the way, they may as well have named the child, since it would not take a genius to work it out, if one was inside the system.)

This raises so many issues. In this case the “corruption” failed, as it should, but instantly disgruntled parents whose children missed places will start wondering about all those who succeeded! One clear moral is that the selective school disease – and that is what it is – clearly has a very strong down side. We have created a rod for our own backs here. I would assert that the comprehensive school system as it was in the late 1960s and early 1970s was objectively speaking just as likely to bring good results – as clearly was the case at Cronulla High in the late 1960s when I was a young teacher there. On the other hand, being forced to attend a local school, as people were then apart from private alternatives or the skeleton of an earlier selective system, did exacerbate differences between suburbs and regions. It’s a quandary.

I wish myself that it had been possible for Pei and Lu to simply have had their money returned with strong counselling that this is not what we do here in Australia, that their son had the same chance as everyone else and would be judged on his merits. In China what Pei and Lu did is quite normal. They are certainly not evil, just confused, caught between a desire to see the best for their son and not knowing how best to achieve that in this society. It is not an unusual migrant dilemma.

I am very familiar with the syndrome, having worked in selective schools, and having spent much time tutoring in a Chinese community context. In the last case I always begin by saying I will not do the coachee’s homework, nor will I give any kind of help, aside from generic explanation of what a question might mean, in any work that forms part of the student’s assessment. I will conduct post-mortems once an assessment is done and marked; I will set tasks that may help the students develop skills and strategies for themselves. Sometimes – rarely –a coachee (or his/her parents or guardians) doesn’t accept my terms; possibly they go somewhere else, but I know the difference between legitimate help and cheating, and students and parents need to know it too.

But I don’t find myself frothing at the mouth in outrage over stories like today’s.

See also Tutoring, reality, and results on my English/ESL site, and on the incredible angst surrounding such matters see 07 — a controversy — For the record: the great SBHS race debate of 2002.

And if you want to see real corruption, it appears Chicago is the place to go: Wiretaps and bribery: Illinois Governor charged with selling rights to replace Barack Obama. What a mare’s nest that is!


Compare Maralyn Parker on the alleged bribe story. She makes some very good points.

Update 2

Club Troppo: The case of the unrepentant Mr Pei presents a range of options:

1. Mr Pei’s action would be normal in China and many other places pervaded by corruption…

2. Mr Pei’s action is merely one more symptom of the dysfunctional fixation with selective schools that has taken hold in Asian immigrant communities…

3. Attempts to influence teachers are the inevitable consequence of a scoring system that gives some weight to school assessment, in which teacher’s discretion comes into play…

4. The selective school system is itself the root of the problem…

My current view is that we don’t need selective public high schools. It would be enough to have a selective stream in every fourth or fifth high school, and strongly discourage out-of-area enrolments. This would end the process by which certain schools become entrenched as prestigious destinations, and vast resources squandered on prized places there. But I’m afraid my current view runs against the prevailing fashion for scores, rankings, transparency, choice, and all that. (Lest someone else out me for hypocrisy, I should mention that my own little tyke is heading off next year to the same hallowed academy that Mr Pei risked all to send his son to.)

Go and read the full post. There really is something to be said for point 4.


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…


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…


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


On translation

Without being in the slightest bit patronising or, worse, racist one can be amused at some of the mangled English that comes one’s way in translated text. We should always keep in mind this isn’t a one-way street either; it isn’t just a case of funny foreigners doing appalling things with English. There is a deadly serious side to the issue as well, as anything from international relations to running a business may be affected. And religion. I recall many years back an anecdote told by a missionary about a preacher working in a tonal language who told his congregation they should look forward to Heaven because when they got there their trousers would be removed. He had meant to say “burdens” but used the wrong tone. Similarly, I once ventured in Mandarin, a language I hardly speak at all, to introduce myself as a “dumpling” when I meant to say “teacher”. I believe Kevin Rudd is much less likely to make such errors.

All this to introduce a blog: Web-Translations.

The people there emailed English/ESL hoping for promotion, but it is a commercial rather than an educational site so I haven’t obliged. However, I thought I would mention it here. There are some nice stories there.

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Posted by on October 30, 2008 in diversions, education, English language, literacy, Multicultural, multiculturalism, other blogs, pluralism


TV lately, the Floating Life archive, Australian history

That will seem an odd combination! But bear with me.

The Floating Life Apr 06 ~ Nov 07 archive

This was in fact my first WordPress blog, now “replaced” by the Floating Life/Ninglun’s Specials pair. Top all-time individual visits there are as follows:

  1. Friday Australian poem #17: Bruce Dawe, 3,539 views
  2. Two Australian poems of World War II 2,680
  3. Assimilation, Integration, Multiculturalism policy and Practice in Australia since 1966 2,637
  4. On the awkwardness (and fatuity?) of discussing religion 2,506
  5. John Howard: bullying expert extraordinaire 2,055
  6. Bill Heffernan! 1,929
  7. Book and DVD backlog 1,907
  8. 3 — Indigenous Australians 1,764
  9. Does Tim Blair still do global warming jokes? 1,611
  10. Ian McKellen and Judi Dench in Macbeth and segue into Mardi Gras 1,468

TV lately, Australian Indigenous history

Note the two entries I have highlighted; I refer you to them rather than mount a detailed argument about last night’s episode of SBS’s The First Australians which took Pastor Doug Nicholls as its biographical focus and extended to the assimilationist policies which prevailed for much of the 20th century and the rise of an Aboriginal identity/reform movement. There were more issues raised than you could poke a stick at, and the presentation – especially from Marcia Langton – was sometimes confronting, even bitter. However, balance against that the fact the inspirational Pastor Doug was brought to the attention of a new generation who may well not have known about him. There is a critical paradox here too: the somewhat conservative Christian Aboriginal man as culture hero and champion – and that’s where I would leave it, as a paradox we all need to contemplate. He remains a great humanitarian and a hero of his people, and he is not the only one. The singer Jimmy Little comes to mind. Go back too to Episode 3.

It is a fact that assimilation as a policy tended to be a one-way street: THEY should assimilate; WE don’t have to. That was one of its great flaws. It is also a fact that we had more in common with South African policy than we currently find comfortable – except in South Africa the “Native Question” was even more pressing. “We” were no longer a minority here.

It is right to counter some of the thrust of some elements of last night’s program with counter-examples, no doubt. On the other hand those darker elements – no sad race pun intended – must be included in any honest portrayal of Australia in the 20th century. That is where I had no patience with the prevailing orthodoxy of the Howard years. I found it tendentious and dishonest. The whole “black armband”/”white blindfold” thing is a waste of space, I believe. A full picture includes both.

So provocative as some may have found last night’s First Australians, I welcome it for, in fact, being provocative.

A much more recent part of the ongoing history of Indigenous – indeed all – Australia is aired in a coming ABC program: Tom Zubrycki’s The Intervention is sure to attract praise and flack both, but should be worth seeing. It’s on Thursday night on ABC1 at 9.30.

TV lately: other

It has been a good season for Australian history, with the series The Prime Ministers going for a couple of weeks now. We have already had Harold Holt (and the unspeakable Billy McMahon) and now we have Menzies and Churchill, and next week Chifley. They are Thursdays at 8.30, despite what the linked page says!

Then there was last Monday’s Four Corners: Good Cop, Bad Cop on the Australian Federal Police, noteworthy for further revelations about the Dr Haneef travesty. Surely it was no accident that this was an election year…

Finally, coming up on Monday 17 November is The Howard Years. I will be watching, but not out of nostalgia I assure you, imperfect in many respects as the current Rudd government may be. Howard never made me feel relaxed or comfortable – more often the reverse of both!

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Posted by on October 29, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, culture wars, current affairs, History, Indigenous Australians, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, media watch, memory, multiculturalism, TV


Cutting Edge: Embedded with Sheik Hilaly — SBS

hilalytitlesstillforweb I watched this documentary from 26 years old Dave Zwolenski on SBS last night. The Sydney Morning Herald has a video preview here, but I am not sure how long it will be staying. Zwolenski has a YouTube site, but the doco isn’t on it at this stage. It deserves to be widely seen, so I hope at least a clip goes up, Dave.

This Murdoch press reviewer can’t have seen the show, as she comprehensively misses the point: that for all his reservations, Zwolenski actually found himself liking “Taj”, as he insisted on being called, and that if anyone came across as a sad goose in the show — and she wasn’t set up — it was the famous Kate from Camden. The show was about transcending prejudice and difference, on both sides; that reviewer is a case study of filtering information through stereotype and prejudice. As Dave said at the end, Taj helped him put the us in Muslim.

SBS summarises:

Cutting Edge – Follows Dave Zwolenski a 26 year-old man who decides to move in with Australia’s most controversial Muslim figure, Sheik Taj El Hilaly, in order to learn more about the cleric, Islam and the Australian-Muslim community. Dave likes girls and drinking beer. Raised a Catholic, these days he prefers to stay away from religion altogether. Sheik Hilaly is 66, born in Egypt and a devout Muslim. He likes praying and drinking ‘man tea’ (his own special blend). Together, Dave and the Sheik form an odd couple, but for the next few weeks they are going to be inseparable. The documentary is the first of a three-part observational documentary series called Embedded, where young Australians from a variety of backgrounds are placed into very different cultures to learn and share in their experiences. The complete series will be broadcast over the summer period on SBS. Executive Producer – Michaela Perske, Writer/Director – Gary Doust. 

Some on this Muslim blog, taking their cue from the Murdoch article mentioned earlier, had reservations about the program, including, I notice, Irfan Yusuf. Some of those reservations seem to stem from embarrassment with the often media-unfriendly Sheik. They needn’t have worried; it was as good a cross-cultural exploration as you could get, in my opinion, and has the potential to do us all some good. As the print review in this week’s Herald TV Guide — the particular article not online — says:

Dave agrees to live with the sheik…, observes Islamic practices and meets ordinary Muslims in order to learn something about the much-maligned religion. The results are contrived (there is, after all, a camera present, and Dave is the one compromising his lifestyle) but this is one of the most watchable and objective portrayals of Islam you will see.

For what it’s worth, the sheikh comes across as an affable and stubborn bloke with the sexist attitudes of many men of his generation — regardless of religion…

Much about that religion — or that particular expression of it — is unattractive to me, but then I have to concede that many of the attitudes expressed would be quite familiar to anyone brought up in a strict Orthodox Jewish or Christian fundamentalist background — and that includes the sheik’s much-publicised views on women’s clothing! It was good to hear the sheik affirm that he is not in the business of prescribing dress codes for all Australian women, and that all women, whether or not they are wearing bikinis, should be treated with respect. The sheik also described the 9/11 perpetrators, and those who follow that path, as “crazy people”.  As I said, his particular puritanism doesn’t appeal to me, but the program did open a sane path to accommodate with one another in the interests of a more harmonious Australia, the sheik did concede he was a bit of a fossil, and Dave survived the experience.

Great to see this totally Aussie 20-something taking on such a thorny issue in a manner that really did transcend prejudice without knee-jerk political correctness.

I should mention my first heads-up on this program came from James O’Brien’s blog.


Bisexual Species: Unorthodox Sex in the Animal Kingdom: Scientific American

penguins Bisexual Species: Unorthodox Sex in the Animal Kingdom: Scientific American puts the concept of “unnatural” where it belongs — as a theological or philosophical position, not a matter of fact.

Two penguins native to Antarctica met one spring day in 1998 in a tank at the Central Park Zoo in midtown Manhattan. They perched atop stones and took turns diving in and out of the clear water below. They entwined necks, called to each other and mated. They then built a nest together to prepare for an egg. But no egg was forthcoming: Roy and Silo were both male…

…“Animals don’t do sexual identity. They just do sex,” says sociologist Eric Anderson of the University of Bath in England…

…whereas captivity may engender what appears to be an unnaturally high level of homosexual activity in some animal species, human same-sex environments might bring out normal tendencies that other settings tend to suppress. That is, some experts argue that humans, like some other animals, are naturally bisexual. “We should be calling humans bisexual because this idea of exclusive homosexuality is not accurate of people,” Roughgarden says. “Homosexuality is mixed in with heterosexuality across cultures and history.”

Even Silo the penguin, who had been coupled with Roy for six years, displayed this malleability of sexual orientation. One spring day in 2004 a female chinstrap penguin named Scrappy—a transplant from SeaWorld in San Diego—caught his eye, and he abruptly left Roy for her. Meanwhile Roy and Silo’s “daughter,” Tango, carried on in the tradition of her fathers. Her chosen mate: a female named Tazuni.

Just thought I’d mention it.

The article leads Arts & Letters Daily at the moment.

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Posted by on July 12, 2008 in challenge, Gay and Lesbian, gay issues, Multicultural, multiculturalism, pluralism, racism


Camden and district

Two interesting items have come my way in the past few days.

The first is in the Autumn/Winter 2008 Dissent, an Australian magazine edited from Canberra by Kenneth Davidson and Lesley Vick.

Julian C.H. Lee compares the Cronulla riots and the way they were reported and used as a backdrop to the protests in Camden against the building of an Islamic school with the 1969 race riots in Malaysia which have been used as a threat to justify maintenance of the privileged status of Malays in Malaysia.

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