Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Same Same but Different

I had the interesting experience this week of working as a visiting consultant at the same school where I began my teaching career in 1968.

I didn't last very long in that posting - being shanghaied into the army in 1969 and eventually Vietnam in 1970 - courtesy of the National Service Act.

Back then I had a class of 45 Year Fives (called Grade Five in those days) and despite the large class, I remember it fondly.

If I asked those kids to "Jump", they'd respond with "How high?" and "When will I come, down, sir?". I kid you not. And they did call me "Sir".

Last week I sat in on a school assembly at that same school. Some things were the same, compared to my recollections of the same activity in 1968, and some were different.

The Anthem was sung. In 1968 it was God Save the Queen. Now it's Advance Australia Fair. The Lord's Prayer was said. That was also part of the deal in 1968.

I found myself, as a Catholic, leaving out the last bit - "For Thine is the kingdom...." etc. I didn't say that bit in 1968, and I don't say it now.

There were birthdays. A cohort of kids and one teacher who went up on stage and had their birthdays acknowledged. The teacher replied, when asked her age by the MC (the Deputy Principal) "Twenty-One". That hasn't changed - women lying about their age, I mean. We had similar birthday calls in 1968.

There was a "Thought for today" - an acknowledgement of the work done by the school cleaners and grounds people. In 1968 there was only one Groundsman. Now there are two, and the title is Janitor/Groundsperson.

Some things were different. There is now a school motto. There wasn't in 1968. It was recited with fervour - so much fervour in fact that I didn't understand the actual words. Maybe my lack of comprehension has more to do with encroaching deafness caused by the passage of time. It has been, after all, forty-seven years.

Another difference was the venue. Back in 1968, during assembly we stood out in the open, in summer in the blazing western sun; in winter, in the westerlies.

These days there is a beautifully built, completely accessible assembly hall and rows of comfy chairs. It was built with Labor's BER money, and will remain as a tribute to that much maligned policy, the political furore conveniently forgotten as generations of kids and communities benefit from the initiative.

Another glaring difference is the marked change in the gender balance of the staff. These days the principal is female, as are almost all the rest of the staff. The deputy is male, as is the PE teacher and one other class teacher, in a staff of about forty.

In 1968, half the staff was male, including the principal, who smoked a pipe at school. As a beginning teacher in 1968 I was on probation, and the principal would come into my classroom to observe my lessons, puffing on his pipe.

Eventually the pipe would go out and he'd put it on the window ledge, and forget it when he returned to his office. I would then have to designate one student to return the pipe. The kids hated its smell, and I quickly learnt to use the returning of the pipe as what can euphemistically be called a behaviour management strategy. It worked....

These days, nobody smokes.

The classes were about three times the size they are now, and they're weren't any Teacher Aides. As a consequence, the slower kids fell behind, but it mattered little, as back then, there were plenty of jobs for kids who left school at fifteen.

The Curriculum content was much more limited, and we used work books which were absolutely explicit in what was taught and when. There was a major disconnect between teaching and learning. The first activity went on somewhat detached from the second - a little weird, looking back on it.

The kids are younger in this primary school with the absence of years seven and eight who are now in secondary.

And best of all, as a teacher of kids with disabilities, almost all of the school is wheelchair accessible.

There is even a ramp to the stage in the assembly hall!

Everything built with BER money had to comply with ABCB accessibility standards.

What hasn't changed is the wonderful atmosphere of the place - the "tone" - that illusive quality that marks a great school and is immediately obvious to a visitor.

There is no way this quality can be measured of course, so it escapes the ravages of NAPLAN.

Monday, 18 May 2015

NAPLAN or Napalm?

I've been out and about in schools during what teachers call "NAPLAN" week.

The first thing you notice when visiting a school at this time is that everything (and I mean absolutely everything) gives way to the testing regime. Normal operation (teaching and learning) quite simply is suspended for all those involved - students, teachers and administrators.

Because I work mostly in small schools lacking in additional infrastructure to support the process, they pretty much shut up shop to administer and supervise the tests.

 Something is badly haywire.

When working in schools, I ensure that if I'm in a classroom, I contribute to whatever is going on, and avoid, like the plague, distracting the teacher from his/her work, which is, as far as I'm concerned, almost sacred.

The testing regime completely abandons this principle.

 I guess you could compare Literacy and Numeracy testing to system maintenance. To extend the metaphor, it could be seen to resemble maintenance checks carried out by airlines on their aircraft.

What airline would ground all its aircraft for about three days once a year to carry out these checks and audits? Not one that wants to stay in business, I hear you say.

Why then, cannot the various education bureaucracies in this country institute a testing regime which doesn't completely shut down the core business of schools? And whilst they're at it, why can't they include other important aspects of the curriculum (say Music and Art) in the same testing regime?

Perhaps, if they did, these life-enhancing aspects of scholarship would be restored to their rightful place in the curriculum. They're not tested, so they're relegated - ask any music or arts teacher.

As *Albert Einstein is reputed to have said - Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. 

 No wonder many practicing teachers refer to the programme as "Napalm". It burns everything and everyone it touches, and leaves only ashes in its wake.

* It was actually William Bruce Cameron

Friday, 15 May 2015

Vale B B King

Just saying goodbye to an old mate.....

 This bloke has kept me company in many situations, for over 40 years, most recently, as I drive West. I have stacks of B B King on my iPhone.

 Before that, and a very long time ago, whilst on piquet in Funny Country via earplugs on a transistor radio - strictly prohibited.

 I'll miss him - the greatest blues guitarist ever.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Backpackers Ripoff - "The Market" at Work

Pic courtesy Bundaberg Newsmail
Rackets targeting backpackers working in rural and regional situations are inevitable.

They're a product of orchestrated attacks on organised labour, the encroaching cancer of marketism, and the flensing of institutions designed to protect workers.

We are, as a country, moving inexorably towards the US model labour market, characterised by a cohort of working poor, a declining middle class, and a rump of plutocrats who produce nothing and exploit everything.

Labour hire companies rival the real estate industry as the masters of parasitism.

It's interesting to examine the responses of both the horticultural and supermarket lobby when exposed to the corruption which has effectively colonised food production.

They blame it on "market forces".

When market forces produce exploitation, sexual abuse and theft in any industry, can I suggest it's time to give "the market" (whatever that is) the boot?

And it's time to jail those who shame our community. Backpackers have long memories.

I'd like to see membership of a union as a prerequisite to being granted a working visa. That would do something about restoring the power balance.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Stand by Me

Ben E. King (who died last week) had no intention of recording the song himself when he wrote it for The Drifters in 1961.

He did, in the end, and the rest is history.

One of my 7 RAR mates has said that the song always reminded him of Vietnam, as the "stand by me" sentiment was a fundamental value during our service. I'd agree with that, and can remember it being played on AFVN radio at the time, and am pretty sure it was The Drifters' version that was getting most of the air play.


It's a great song, and Tracey Chapman's version is stunning.

Saturday, 25 April 2015


Dad in New Guinea (Front row - second from left).

On the centenary of the Gallipoli landings, everyone is making declarations about their understanding of the meaning of ANZAC.

So who am I to presume to be different?

Frankly, my association with and view of ANZAC Day has changed substantially through the years.

When I was a kid, it meant joining my mates in marching a short distance to a ceremony in front of memorials in bush townships. My dad would also march wearing his medals.

When I was that age (primary school) dad was working his way up the seniority ladder as principal of a number of small bush schools.

Dad was a returned airman (RAAF - New Guinea) and an RSL member, and as the local schoolie he was always involved in the organisation of the day. I don't recall him holding any great enthusiasm for the commemoration, but he was always there - almost with a sense of resignation.

He never went drinking after the ceremony as I recall. Many of his contemporaries did, and I remember as a kid, feeling indignant about this. To me it seemed disrespectful.

Perhaps it was this that caused me to lose interest and become hostile to the concept, as for a time, in teenage and my twenties I did just that.

When I was called up, I hadn't been to an ANZAC Day commemoration for years, and this didn't change after Vietnam. If anything, my experience as a conscript reinforced my rejection of the myth.

I also sensed the hostility at the time to Vietnam veterans who were vilified by both the Left and Right of politics - the Left for fighting - the Right for "losing". I remember wondering why Gallipoli (a defeat and withdrawal) was glorious, and Vietnam shameful. Those in the community less politically aware compromised by indifference.   

I had also become intensely aware of the credibility gap between the myth and the reality.

In 1985, I was the Principal of Petrie Special School (a school that no longer exists). The local RSL presented a cheque to the school, and I was asked to accept it at a ceremony on ANZAC Day.

The local secretary discovered I was Vietnam veteran and asked me why I wasn't marching. I didn't really have an answer, and it would have looked churlish not to, so for the first time in years, I participated.

The Welcome Home march happened a few years later, and the attitude to Vietnam veterans changed from disregard and hostility to grudging respect.

 Since then, I have always marched. It means more to me if I can join the men from my section and platoon, and that's not possible at home, so I sometimes travel to Brisbane, and on one occasion drove to Sydney.

It is to me, and to these men, an important day. Yet we are acutely conscious of the fickle nature of community support for veterans.

Last night I watched a documentary about the Australian Light Horse in World War one. There was a great deal of grief and bitterness expressed by members of this renowned unit when their strong and loyal horses were put down prior to returning home.

The cost of returning the horses could not, apparently, be justified. Of the 39000 who served with the AIF, only one Waler is known to have been returned to Australia; "Sandy", the mount of Major-General W T Bridges, an officer who was killed at Gallipoli in May 1915.

A member of the Light Horse was quoted as saying that there was no consideration of cost in the decision to send the horses to Egypt in the first place, so why was it an issue after they had done their duty?

I recalled having to pay my air fare from Sydney to Brisbane on my return to Australia in 1970, whereas the army was quite content to fly me and my compatriots to Singleton on callup.

Not much, it seems, has changed - whether it's soldiers or horses. Both remain collateral.

So on ANZAC Day, let's continue to honour the dead. But let's also continue to fight like hell for the living. Based on the history, we can't assume community or government will do that.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Terrorism in Toowoomba

Pic courtesy Toowoomba Chronicle

It's refreshing (and unexpected) to find the local paper calling this for what it is - Terrorism.

It's less unexpected to see it reported as arson in the News Corp media.

Obviously, as far as the MSM is concerned, only Muslims are capable of terrorism.

From the article -

I would like to be wrong - but I suggest to you, dear reader, that if the attack had been made on a different building on Friday morning, and if the perpetrator had a Muslim background - the headline would have read something like, "Terror reaches Toowoomba."
When somebody who is not of Islamic faith conducts an attack on a community or a building of significance, it is described as an "isolated incident of arson" - but when somebody of Islamic faith commits a similar crime it is described as "terror".

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