Entry to Teaching

As a person who has, during my career, both taught and was connected to schools in another capacity, I feel a need to comment on the uproar about “the low mark” required to get into a teaching degree.

There are two questions here. Do we need teachers in the school population to be extremely standardised to those who have always found learning easy? Or do we need different types or teachers throughout the whole school system?

The thought that very good, attentive students, often girls who have loved learning and have never put a foot wrong at school, should be the sort of people to who make up the body of teachers is quite worrying. We need a range of teachers. Some need to know what makes the inattentive students’ minds wander. Some need know the delightful feeling of confronting authority. Some need to admire having fun rather than having one’s head in information most of the day. And some need to know how students who find it hard to learn feel. I felt I was a much better teacher in areas that were not my real strength.

But most seriously of all, I personally think teachers can be better teachers if they have experienced a bit of life somewhere other than school.

Some of the best teachers I have known have come from other backgrounds. They know about the big wide world that is not school. Of course some students who want to enter teaching may have had part time jobs along the way. This provides some valuable experience.

Those who come to teaching later have, of course, always been welcome and usually make great teachers. But for those who want to study teaching straight out of school I think they should all study a first year which includes no commitment at all to education. A first year of a generalised Arts or Science degree, for example, could be a starting point to make the application to a teaching course. They have then seen some of their other options, other styles of learning, met different sorts of other students. While this does not provide world experience such as another job does, or a gap year does, it might be helpful for a prospective young teacher straight from school.

In the dark ages when I was studying, Education 1 was a second year subject. It had to follow either first year Psychology or first year Philosophy, both very useful stand alone subjects for a prospective teacher.

It is not lower a University admission standard that is the real problem. It is lack of experiences other than education when anyone, of any standard, decides to move into a teaching degree straight from school.

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Move With The Times Researchers

The latest research – apparently we old timers are becoming “addicted” to our iPhones!
First the middle aged (I can only assume) researchers attacked the young for being “addicted” to IT equipment and now it is us oldies.

But the middle aged carers of children and the elderly have always been a bit condescending! I ask them to think back.

Socrates, who condemned the new fangled idea of writing and reading, used to advocate forums in public places, lightened from time to time with a spot of hemlock drinking. My mother remembered parental worries, as she was in her late teens, that the new fangled “wireless” might have a negative effect on her study during her last year at school.

For me, in the 1940s and 50s my parents limited my time on the newish telephones. Also my time reading was limited – but I used to circumvent this restriction by hiding under the bed covers with a torch. ( I avoided any greenish vegetable like plant that could conceivably be related to hemlock.)

Now days both children, and sensible older people avoid the various hiccups we used to have whilst being involved in EXACTLY the same activities.

If we want to find out information we do not have to go to a heavy encyclopaedia or a dictionary, fight with our sibling about who has first go, and then look it up. We can google it. Then we can resume reading the ebook that we had been previously absorbed in. If we think of a plan and need to contact a friend for a coffee or a “play date”, we just interrupt our book at the end of a paragraph or chapter to ring or message. We do not have to even nominate the meeting place to specifically as we can be in touch by device at the approximate meeting place.

If we want to watch something on TV we no longer have to fight for the possession of the remote or argue about the program. We can get this on our device. In fact we move from activity to activity just as we always have, but smoothly at our own speed and convenience, on the same device.

Some talk of the lack of physical movement this involves. But much of the movement, such as arguing or fighting with siblings, parents or children about who has possession of or rights to what was in demand at the time, was certainly neither pleasant nor particularly aerobic.

Outdoor activities have not been curtailed. Older people like me can count our steps, measure our distance and even listen to music or the radio as we walk our dogs or otherwise enjoy our leisure. Children can more easily round up a scratch team for kicking a ball up at the local oval or arrange a meander through the bush to get information for a school project.

From my observation we older people and the young ones are all doing much as we have always done from time immemorial – exchanging ideas, making plans, being sociable, enjoying life with others – but now all from one handy device, not having to move from phone to TV to bookcase nearby, to the library at inconvenient times (they have all moved into ebook lending now!)

And best of all – no longer do we have to look up street addresses and maps. We are not having to pull over to the side of the road to see where we have gone wrong. One is gently chided “return to the route” before instructions recommence.

And for the odd time when one has to do something new (and for children I must imagine this is an even greater joy) the device will tell you how. It will explain how to knit poppies just as well as how to change blades in an electric saw. I had a bit of trouble resetting something after a blackout recently. The joy of listening to (or merely reading) the instructions is great. Never once does a device say “That’s perfectly simple” or ask “Do you really not know how to do that?”

One does not have to remember to take a pen everywhere. One’s reading glasses will be reliably near one’s device.

And very best of all for a poor speller such as myself. One can check one’s spelling as one writes!

Accept the new life, middle aged researchers. Ponder (or research) whether perhaps devices just make you feel a little less important and in control?

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What is Social Justice.?

I went to a funeral the day before yesterday. It was of a person who had died suddenly and much younger than is usual but our friendship, born of being fellow students at one stage in our disparate lives, was a thirty year long one. She left behind a young child but her large family of origin, despite their shock, distress and sorrow, provided a funeral full of memories we would all like to envisage leaving when we die. They are an extraordinary family.

The next day I had to attend a meeting. This should have been uplifting, as it generally is, as it was of an inspiring group of wonderful people wanting social justice for all. But we came to a point of having to define the details of what “social justice” means and encompasses for this group.

This is not easy. Instead of focussing on positives this funeral and the meeting has left me querying the notion of “social justice” and how strongly we each look at the definition through our individual prisms. The deceased, in the profession we shared in which we had to focus on the care of children facing difficulties, was a very kind, good woman. She, however, had grown up in an area which had a reputation for less affluence and she had always spoken in defence of those who needed help, citing her greater knowledge of the problems based on her disadvantaged upbringing than some of we fellow students, like me, whom she viewed as coming from more affluent and thus more privileged backgrounds.

Meeting her family en mass, as I did at her funeral, made me realise that she had privileges she did not acknowledge. She had a large supportive family, who were very thoughtful, intelligent encouraging and forgiving and whose younger members had gone on to work in areas with successes that most in the community would envy.

My late husband was similar. He viewed his background as quite underprivileged. I found it difficult to distinguish, in both cases, this rear vision from a very personal aspect which changes differences into a lack of privilege and negates the positives. One can often see this in public figures, such as politicians, who cite some misfortune in their lives as giving insight into disadvantage and inequity. And none of us are going to have identical lives.

We have to be careful of our own personal standpoints and, perhaps, biases.

And this is what we face in definition of “social justice”. We can all be hidebound, as well as informed, by our particular life experiences and outlooks.

One of these categories that needs no help in definition is that of asylum seekers. Two men in their nineties talked to me about this only last week when we were discussing refugees with a group of older men. These two, one from Hungary and one from Italy, both of whom have been in Australia since they were nineteen years old, expressed the following sentiments. No one chooses to become a refugee and leave their country, their extended families, their language and traditions lightly. It is because they cannot be safe, or they cannot feed their children and/or keep them safe. Most people love their country and going somewhere else is a journey filled with fear, doubt and sorrow and is only taken when the person feels there is no safe or sensible alternative. The idea of “economic refugees” is often cited by those arguing against our responsibilities,, but not to be able to keep your children safe and well is surely more that a mere “economic” issue.

This has been complicated for me by the fact that our country has always been very racist. I can remember very powerful incidents since I was a child in the fifties and lived in a multi-racial town. It has not improved very much and I get very annoyed when people try to allege Australia has ever been “welcoming”. I am old enough to remember the “Dictation Test” which was not removed until 1958. How can we do more to eradicate Australian racism visible on the Central Coast? Therefore from my personal bias and lived experience I would very much like some emphasis on education for our local communities.

But we have another anomaly to address here? Should our help for refugees be focussed world wide, or on the areas where Australia is responsible for those who seek asylum here and does so badly? How much funding should go to individuals in trouble or on the changing  in thinking of our community and thus our government?

Moving into other issues that are also clearly areas social inequalities and disadvantages it becomes even more difficult.

The plight of our Indigenous people is a topic many of us would like to address soon, particularly in light of the refusal of the government to agree to what seems to many to be the reasonable “Uluru Statement”. But again should the support be one of community education and government lobby or personal help?

Disability is another issue. Again we have some clear cut examples. But we have a government which does have in place a system which claims to provide for the disabled and surely the aim of this group and others on this and other comparable issues must be more lobbying of governments so that this support is fair and adequate rather than raising money to helping paste over holes in this system. We, the taxpayers, rely far to much on the government’s preference to keep our taxes low, to fund the less than adequate outsourcing in some of these areas and to rely on charities for help. Is financially aiding this disgraceful behaviour by a charitable donation a help or a not for profit organisation a help or a hindrance to real social equity for the disabled?

On the other hand can we, as individuals (or as a group) stand by and see individuals in difficulties without helping?

One of the members of our group mentioned the need to include environmental issues as a social justice issue. This surely must be a clear one. If we look merely at the future of our children and grandchildren this should be enough to see an intergenerational social justice. But added to this is the fact that our government is negatively impacting on these issues by supporting institutions which add to climate change and handing out subsidies to support outdated methods of supplying/growing food when their are droughts (and floods on occasions). It is hard to see how this is not a clear cut social justice issue which needs lobbying and public awareness support.

One member of the group suggested that one of the aims for the group could be “to facilitate social cohesion and harmony”. No one could disagree with that. Just the concept raises the spirit. And it will take funds to set up meetings/ teaching opportunities to do this.

From these early morning ramblings I think I can see a path for my own thinking.

I would like to work with the over arching goal to change opinions and attitudes of our community and government and move towards social justice in Australia. But on the way we can sometimes give priority, perhaps triggered from our own or someone else’s insights and lived experiences, of actual help to groups and individuals. But only if we can make some lasting difference. Not just to make us feel better.

A quote from an article from the “National Pro Bono Resource Centre” on the topic says “The concept of Social Justice involves finding the optimum balance between our joint responsibility as a society and our responsibility as individuals to contribute to a just society.”

Now I am left with another difficult question, “What is the optimum balance?”

 

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Mea Culpa

When I say “mea culpa” I only have myself both to blame and forgive. I have no God for a fall back position.

I have not believed in a “maker” since I was 11 years old 66 years ago, although I did come from a Christian based family. I therefore became adept at going” under the radar” for many years and I do deeply respect the life values of most mainstream religions. (I find these values within each major religion very similar.)

This morning, reading the article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Catherine McGregor, with which I basically agreed, I found myself musing on the difficulties that religions have posed over the years.

Whilst the essence of most religions is the call to be good towards others, this at times appears to me to be incompatible with some of the strong beliefs and also the expectations of some congregations.

When once I said that I thought religions have been the cause of many conflicts over the centuries, the late Dr Denis Wright, a University teacher and researcher in Asian history, religions and culture, modern Asian politics and Society, replied with these wise words.

“I think it oversimplifies when it’s said that people have fought for centuries over their beliefs. When you study the history of religions, you discover that the beliefs themselves are practically irrelevant to conflict; it’s how you are treated because of your religion that matters. Is the battle between Jews and Muslims in Palestine over doctrine? How often does doctrine come up as the basis of war between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland? When did violence really erupt between Hindus and Muslims in India? It was only when all of these became political and economic issues, usually cloaked by nationalism in various forms, that doctrine was made the rationale for conflict. It was never about doctrine. It was about land, equality and freedom.

Why is there not bitter struggle between religions in Australia as there us elsewhere? Because most have enough of the good things in life to be content to live with each other; not with a knife at the others’ throats, or a bomb. Violence erupts when people feel a keen sense of injustice.

(It amazes me that the aboriginal people are not more violent towards those they blame for their loss – or is the violence turned inwards for them, against each other? Another question, not for here.)”

Wise words. When I hear of proposals to give those of the Christian Religion another favoured voice in my culture I feel a great sense of injustice. I do not acknowledge that our society is great because it is founded in a Judeo Christian culture. I think our society is only great whenever we can bring ourselves to think of others, including minority groups. I look around in dismay at what we have done regarding various beliefs in our indigenous cultures and migrant cultures. I remember the fights in my childhood between Catholic and Protestant children, often supported by parents.

And indeed it is adherence to differences that is sometimes what is preached by many religions. But these cannot be unfairly imposed in the secular society by giving personal beliefs any priority under our laws. All we can ensure is the right to personally hold such a belief within the law.

I know many Christians who are dear to me and who I admire. I know Muslims I love. (I do prefer the Islamic sacrifice story and regard it with more satisfaction than the Christian sacrifice story- though they have some strong similarities. I do not believe either of them.) I have known a Christian Arab, born, bred, educated and working in Jerusalem, who was exiled, for life, from his home. So much for the “Judeo/ Christian” bond!

My own personal faith in life is to try and be nice to others. I like to help where I can, if I can, which is not really as often as I should.

I do think everyone has a right to believe as they like and to freely practice their own religions in this country – but only in ways which do not impinge on the rights of others who are not of that faith or indeed of any faith.

We live in a society based on a secular constitution. Christianity has had an “inside run” since colonisation, first because of brute force and then because of its powerful majority in the population. Christianity, and in particular individual Christians, have certainly contributed some great good to our society. It has also perpetrated some evils, particularly upon the indigenous population. But those of us who are not Christian should not be forced to support a belief, and its trappings, which are not ours.

I will take full responsibility for all my decisions. I will obey all the laws of the land in which I live. But I deserve the right, in a democracy, to protest peacefully against any proposed laws that I think are unjust. And I think they are unjust when they favour religion in a society.

I take this responsibility seriously and do not have a God to give me guidance and forgive me if I err. I have to forgive myself and mend my ways.

I do not wish to support any legislation that will either regulate society by interpretation of any “superior” God’s wishes over any other God’s wishes, belief systems or indeed over the considered personal, equally non intrusive, decisions or speech of a free human being who does not have a belief in a God.

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CONDITIONING and HIGH HEELS

I have a strong antipathy to high heeled shoes. This is well known in my family and much objected to as part of my considerably more minor non acceptance of general “fashion” trends.

But now I am also being subjected to attack for my explanation that I feel we are “conditioned” into accepting high heels as part of women’s fashion. A close friend the other day and my son last night asked me last night why I feel I am exempt from the conditioning process which might be, in my case, AGAINST the wearing of “high heels”.

I must state that, as a former psychologist, I am well aware of the nature of conditioning. But has this, in essence, conditioned me to the view I am harder than average to condition? I first studied psychology in the days of Skinner when much of Freud’s work was being challenged. Skinner’s experiments and contribution to psychology were almost all about conditioning. However I have never been entirely convinced that conditioning played as large a role in psychological processes as he alleged and I have always retained considerable faith in many of Freud’s theories.

( I must state clearly here, in defence of Freud, that I have never heard an allegation that he thought women’s wearing of high heels was just another form of “penis envy”.)

The history of high heels on shoes is interesting. It was, at first, a man’s fashion and their first use was a practical one. It gave an extra tool for gripping on to stirrups etc when horse riding, particularly in battle. The use of heels then, over many years, became a sign for both genders of being a member of the upper class. Perhaps this was because the “menials” needed flat shoes to be mobile enough do all the work? At the time of The French Revolution high heels went out of fashion for the very reason that it signified the class division. Marie Antoinette, in defiance, wore them to the gallows.

Much effort was then expended by the fashion gurus on the design of flatter shoe wear.

However high heels made an eventual comeback but only for women.

In deference to my son’s views I must say I grew up at a time prior to Germaine Greer’s “Female Eunuch” was published and my friends and I were quite a strong feminists. My mother always wore a hat and gloves out shopping. Prefects would give us detentions if we were caught on the train on our way home from school without hats or gloves on. At University we were not able to wear long pants to lectures. We would sometimes do so and roll the pants legs up under our undergraduate gowns. Later all teachers had to wear skirts or dresses when teaching a class. As a young solicitor I had to wear a hat in court and of course to church. So I was perhaps “conditioned” by reverse psychology to be a very overt feminist.

All these requirements about appropriate ways for females to dress and act changed gradually with the push from we feminists.

But, as far as fashion goes, high heels are the only fashion item that I know of that can cause actual damage. That done to the feet and back is sometime irreparable. High heels are harder to walk on, make the wearer slower, can and have caused accidents and falls and they damage some floors. They make it more difficult to drive cars and operate machinery.

Why has this much bigger, more physically damaging issue of high heel wearing not changed attitudes and choices? My assumption is that it has been conditioning, helped along by shoe manufacturers. We see many public images of well known women still wearing high heels, we hear of things like women being banned from the red carpet at award ceremonies if they did not wear heels. Heroines of children’s movies and adult dolls for children wear heels or very long dresses which cover the feet. (Mermaids are exempt from this criticism.)

I found one picture this morning of a well known celebrity wearing high heeled, open shoes pushing a motor mower on her front lawn!

But do I just think all this is wrong because of my own conditioning?

In an attempt to find out about perhaps more modern views of conditioning I went to the tried and trusty Google.

But I had forgotten about the hair product “conditioner”. Google was full of details about this product. The rationale for its use is that it makes the hair “soft and pliable”. That fits with Skinner’s view.

Do I think I have become soft or pliable?

No. Perhaps unfortunately I have become even more tough and opinionated.

Young girls around me (and my sons) will just have to put up with my opinions or close their ears!

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Aussie Values and White Blight

I speak from a position of old age but, so far, I have not lost the clarity of my memories.

In the last few weeks I have also had the great privilege of speaking with groups of even older people, who also treasure their Australian memories. For example, some of those who remember their own war service are amazed, and like me are not very pleased, about recent new attitudes towards remembrance ceremonies and the development of brand new memories  surrounding wartime.

But what most affects me at the moment is how generations younger than we are seem to idolise what they call “Aussie Values ” without criticism and analysis.  They think our way of life and “Aussie Values” have always been the same and that they should be immediately adopted, as is, by new settlers and refugees from whom, they assume, we can learn little.

One of the most amazing myths I have heard, and this is a development only obvious this century, that is we view ourselves as always having been a welcoming inter-racial society.

How is this possible? Consider the official government “White Australia Policy” – not a good example of welcome and only finally buried in the 1970s.  Observe our continuing poor treatment of Australia’s  indigenous peoples.  We have not, in fact, been very inclusive. I worked with a professional woman of Polish descent who remembered, not fondly, the years her family spent in a post war refugee facility. On Wednesday I was speaking to a very elderly lady who described herself as a “twenty dollar migrant from Glasgow” (but we did have a laugh about the “ten pound poms” as they were called). She also told how awful the camps were. I remember how poorly some refugees were regarded, by some, on the Snowy Scheme where I grew up.

This morning I heard on the radio a woman defending current criticism of a lack of acceptance of migrants.  She had an expectation that acceptance required rapid and major adjustments of displaced people from their traditional culture to adoption of “Aussie values”. She stressed the non patriarchal nature of our society must be accepted. But she seemed to have no appreciation of how recent that transition of Australia to a partially non patriarchal society has been.

Australian women were required to wear head gear – usually hats but scarves would sometimes suffice – in all sorts of places as well as in church – well into the second half of the last century. Prefects used to put us on detention if, on the train home from a state all girls high school, we were not wearing our hats. Women were required to wear hats in a court room when I was a young solicitor. When I worked in schools in the 1980s women teachers were expected to wear skirts.

As a University student I was not permitted to go to lectures in trousers.

In the early seventies, when I was a young married woman, the daughter of a neighbour was married at 14 with the permission of her parents as she was pregnant. This was not uncommon. (It was only in the mid 20th Century that Tasmania was the first state to raise the age of consent for girls from 12 to 14.)

I don’t say that we Australians are not entitled ( or even obliged) to  be vocal about women’s rights and child protection. But it is not reasonable to totally condemn migrants for practices we fully supported as a nation in the lifetime of many of us older Australians and which we remember clearly.

Culture is like the learning of English. It does not always come easily to the first generation of migrants and refugees but it will be easy for the next generation.

And as for the White Blight analogy. I wish all those who talk of “Australian values” could read the poem of that name, “White Blight” by Athena Farrokhzad . I wish we could all read it in the original Swedish but I, like the majority of non indigenous Australians born here, have sadly not got the facility to speak another language. Hearing her read (in beautiful English translation) of an immigrant mother trying to lengthen her vowels so they are “whiter than white” is so sad and moving.

Let us all try to develop a new set of Aussie values of modesty and tolerance.

Blight can destroy the most beautiful.

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Basic Skills? Learning to Read?

As an avid and lifelong lover of reading I never thought I would agree with Socrates’ opinion about reading. That was that reading would reduce our brain function.

But listening to radio discussions about the “new” curriculum it is clear to me that it is happening. Those supporting some silly interventions of more focus on early teaching of “basics” need to take a good hard read of Socrates’ opinion.

Two questions come to my mind. “What actually are basics in life?” And “Have these people ever heard of ‘reading readiness’?”

Basics, to me, are the gathering of knowledge and enhancing abilities, both by discovery and, perhaps even slightly less importantly, by formal learning.

Reading is one way to get this knowledge easily and quickly – yet this medium always makes such knowledge second hand and precludes self discovery! Ok, we do not have to go around every day rediscovering the wheel. But to some extent children should have to do this. If one watches children at play discovery is a great part of play. How to balance toys- we have all seen very tiny tots work this out, to give one small example.

In my career which included teaching, child psychology, having children and grandchildren, I have come upon very many different types of learning. One example is that many clever, involved children come to school and are not particularly interested in the mechanics of merely decoding words. They would rather take apart a toy and reassemble it, would rather gather a collection of nature’s offerings  than see pictures of them in a book. Then, about the age of 8, some discover research and they then learn to read very quickly. These children may be brought to books and reading earlier by the use of maps and diagrams but not by extra decoding skills such as phonics with cats in hats. And while they are learning without reading should this joyous knowledge gathering be spoilt by a task they are not managing and enjoying as well as that of discovery?

With the advent of the wonderful range of IT available I can see some are now satisfying their thirst for more knowledge through podcasts etc.

And why not? The development of language is extremely important in education, for concept formation and for daily life. Oral communication should be a basic in every classroom from K to 12.

The art of reading is not a God to be worshipped. It is a mere tool which is very handy if we understand how to use it and if we keep it sharpened. Teachers can help do this but it is very far from the most basic skill we all need.

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