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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Philip Drew’s very interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning about the Opera House and Utzon’s role reminded me of a long ago morning with my long deceased father.

I love the Opera House. I enjoyed watching with my small children from a Cremorne window as its opening was celebrated. I have enjoyed performances and operas under its sails. Some of the later performances I have watched involved said infants as older children and then adults.

But I remember the morning in our kitchen in Cooma when Utzon’s amazing, winning design was announced to us, also in the Sydney Morning Herald. I was in my last year of school at the time.

My father was closely perusing the details in the paper and shaking his head in a mixture of amazement and despair.

He was, as we all are today, extraordinarily impressed by the concept. It took an extremely imaginative and inspirational person to come up with the concept which all Australians, and the rest of the world, must admire. Utzon deserved his prize. We, who enjoy the building, give him our thanks.

My father, an engineer on the Snowy Scheme, that morning in 1957 said, “This is a magnificent idea and he deserves the prize but it needs to be redesigned with the assistance of some engineers before the first sod is turned. It just will not work like this. The shape of the sails, for example, will have to be slightly altered.” He went on to explain more – such was my lack of understanding that I think I shut my ears to much of the rest he was explaining. I was quite used to the many, usually polite and intellectual conflicts between architects and engineers! Later there was quite a lot of this sort of discussion with his engineering friends.

My father was very sorry for the, at a later time, much criticised Peter Hall, who had to take over from Utzon and who was often blamed for the concept not quite working as first intended. He said Peter Hall was in a “no win” situation. But the decisions were made and we have to live with them. It should not be too hard!

It was interesting to read Mr Drew’s analysis today.

But whether we have got something perfect for our Opera House, or whether it could have been done better with more initial planning, it is still pretty terrific. The acoustics may not be as perfect as they could be, the stage space for a big Opera may not be excellent. I have been inside overseas Opera houses which blow one away much more with their internal beauty.

But where else, after a rousing performance of Traviata can one raise one’s glass, on a balcony or though a wide plate glass window and toast a wonderful city like Sydney? Who else, after a sad passage in La Boheme or Otello, can comfortingly sip a coffee under those magnificent sails and gaze at the healing blue harbour waters softly lapping? Only those at our wonderful Opera House.


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I was a feminist prior to the so called “Second Wave”, so I accept now that I have only been a mere ripple. But my compatriot ripples and I feel we made some contribution. For example we fought hard for the right to wear trousers (or slacks). Women no longer have to hide their long pants under academic gowns. Women teachers can wear them while teaching. A friend was the first woman to wear them presiding in court as a judge.

I am reasonably selective when I choose my long pants. I like those which, like men’s trousers, have pockets.

But over succeeding years fewer and fewer pairs of women’s long pants sport pockets. Why? Is it another aim to make us powerless by filling our arms with unnecessary bags? Or indeed is it so we will still have a capacious bag so that male partners have somewhere to put larger items? ( I so hope it is not just for “slimmer lines”). The fight continues.

To my dismay, a further, nastier element has crept up upon us. Look at this photo of three pairs of pants I have bought in recent times. A close look will show all have pockets. The pockets on the middle pair even sport zippers, perhaps “for safety”.

Imagine my dismay when I found each and every pocket was false. None of these pants can hold anything – not even a credit card!

What message is this sending? One a bit like our University days when our welcoming women’s common room was still home to a urinal ( water turned off). A message about a passing fad we thought at that time.

Is it the message that our whims and fads will be tolerated in a friendly fashion but our needs are not to be taken seriously?

And, worst of all, I am sure that there must be many women complicit in this false pocket decision.

If you think you are riding a big wave of women’s rights whilst wearing false pockets just for fashion, listen to the ripples – you may be on a dumper.

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Thanks to Anne Moon

Thank you to Anne Moon and to this organisation for the wonderful  opportunity to have heard her. What we heard about the plight of some off shore refugees was gut wrenching to say the least. But I must agree with a comment Liesl Tesch made. Australia is, and has been, a very racist country, and  it is up to us all to speak to our neighbours and acquaintances about this. Sadly we cannot expect, in this country, that our population would elect a government on an anti racism platform. And there are more refugees world wide.  I have had a little professional experience of cases of damage from other refugee camps, not nearly as cruel as Manus and Naru.  Even some of our on shore centres have also been psychologically damaging.

I first discovered the racist nature of Australia when I was 12 years old, 65 years ago. I moved to a school in Cooma as my Dad was an engineer on the Snowy. In our school population 78% of children had English as a second language. Some came as children of overseas consultants enabling the Scheme to develop. Some came as children of World War II refugees.

Those children were treated to particularly harsh unwarrented discipline from a senior teacher. We were all silent, adults always knew what was right. But I eventually spoke to my father. I am still ashamed at the two whole months it took me. He made waves and the school community was rid of this senior person. But the question remained, how did we let this racist abuse of children happen? We just refused to admit its existence and  looked for other excuses.

When I was at Cooma I was privliged to come to know well, as a family friend, one of the post war refugees.  He was German and had been a soldier during the war.  He had spent some time in an allied prisoner of war camp.  My father spotted  his talents when he was working as a refugee labourer, his extensive German engineering qualifications were eventually recognised and he made a great contribution to the work of the Snowy Scheme.

His wife and daughter had been killed in the allied bombing of Berlin and I later realised that my age being so much the same as his daughter’s would have been, was probably why he was interested  in sharing some thoughts and experiences with me as well as with my parents.  Of course my intense questioning may have been another!

He was dismayed that  the German people did not fully know what was going on pre war and during the war.  He was saddened at reports of what went on in German prisoner of war camps.  On my insistent questioning, though he spoke very carefully, I am convinced his allied prisoner of war camp, and possibly others, were also very difficult places.  What we do and do not not know is sometimes the victor’s history.

He, however, still looked at life with hope and at humanity positively.

At university I met a fellow Law student who fell in love with a Malaysian Colombo Plan student.  He was not allowed  to settle in Australia, even if they married.  She had no future in Malaysia – she went there and tried – but there was no space for Australian lawyers there.  It was somewhat of blight on both their lives but they have kept in touch.

Here, on the beautiful Central Coast at my old ladies’ exercise class  a short time ago, I overheard quite a racist discussion with one very sweet and kind lady complaining, “I had a whole lot of those Muslim people coming towards me jabbering away in their Muslim language”.  I had to intervene.  I said mildly, “There is no Muslim language, they could have been from Indonesia, Pakistan or the Middle East, for example.”  She demurred so I went on explaining, “It is just like Christianity, you can have French speaking Christians, German or Spanish speaking Christians and so on.  She replied with a finality I did not dare answer, “But our Bible was written in English.”

She is not at all unkind but merely fearful and very ignorant in this particular matter.

If we can try our individual hardest to mend the ignorance and get rid of this fear of difference in the population we may be able then to elect a government that has community permission to  act for humanity as a whole in an Australian context.


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Message to Young Coasties

This is an appeal to the young people from the Central Coast.

We need an Australian Republic.

Before you say “I think there are more important issues around at the moment”, I would like you to have a quick read.

I have been a supporter of the Republican movement since University about 50 years ago but it is only in my work for the movement on the Coast in the last 20 years that I have come upon this rejoinder constantly. Why is it mostly Central Coast young people who make this rejoinder? You are certainly very capable of thinking about more than one thing at a time.

Of course there are more important issues around that rightly worry you. World peace, health care and climate change are examples of what worry many of us. I think, however, that under an Australian Republic we would be more fitted to deal with these issues, particularly in our region, than the present conglomerate emotional situation most people are in regarding our homeland as being as one with another country on the other side of the world. “Let the other adult countries fix it” seems to be an opinion.

Our Constitution was written in some difficulty. The states, proud of their original settlements as British colonies, wanted to retain their links to the “mother country”, particularly as a guard against our Commonwealth government. There was distrust and competition between the states. Witness the settlement of Canberra as National Capitol situated between Melbourne and Sydney.

For many years if any state and the Commonwealth were opposed to one another, the decision of our High Court could be taken to the English “Privy Council” on appeal. This virtually cannot happen now but the attitude still hangs over our head.

We are not always comfortable in our own identities as Australian. We flaunt our overseas lineage ( even if we do not renounce it properly before moving into parliament).

We can continue to respect our ex- monarch, but we can become a republic, remain in the Commonwealth of Nations and think for ourselves. We no longer need to think like the out of date Britain, with its still prominent class system and lack of connection with the rest of the world – increased by the recent Brexit exit.

We can take a look at other stable countries that are republics, for example France, Spain, South Africa and even Ireland. And very close to home we have Singapore and Fiji, our neighbouring Republics. We can become like the other 31 ex British colonies who are republics within the Commonwealth of Nations.

Let’s get trendy and let go of some of our old fashioned ties. That might allow us to make decisions, a great deal more easily, about some the very big questions that face us and the world.

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My Life In Pictures

Now in the latter years of my life I look at some of the pictures on the walls of the house in which I live and muse upon them.

All my phographs are concentrated in one room so they do not count. But what have we (now I ) regarded as artworks during the years of being a householder are on the walls of this home. Perhaps the longest picture possession is a reproduction. It was a reproduction of streetscape by Utrillo that I gave to my late husband when he was first given the privilege (as a then young lawyer) of moving into an office rather than a cubicle. And it was a corner office to boot! This now hangs on the wall of my very own shed which I converted to a nice room in which to house my books and other precious possessions. There is even a bed in it which is much coveted for use by teenage grandsons when they visit! It also has other memories of the past which may not be the ones I wish to see daily. I have hung a painting of my parent’s wedding, a nice painting done by my late mother in law when she joined a painting group and a garish painting of horses in the grand national which my husband bought against my will at the same racecourse after big losses at the grand national.

The shed walls also sport a Fahrenheit thermometer as a memory of the old days.

And old days come back to me when I look at some other paintings. The first memory is of a very good friend who was from Belgium. As a representative soccer player he had spent some time in the Cameroons and became enamoured of their artefacts. He was also a lover of paintings from around the world. He opened a gallery in Australia. A wonderful present he gave me is a small painting on ivory of a scene from the Kama Sutra. I chose a very tame one – just the offer of an apple. But I also think of him when I look at a charcoal drawing by a then young French artist called Ray Roux. I asked him to buy one on my behalf when he visited France because I saw a picture he and his Australian wife had in their house. I have that one in my bedroom. We hosted his friends at our house after the funeral ceremony of his wife much later. He too is no longer alive. I also have a still life he gave me after I looked after many of his special paintings when he travelled. As you can imagine, it was a pleasure not a chore.

When we moved to the home we lived in for a long time and in which we brought up our children, in Greenwich, Sydney, we bought a watercolour of Gore Cove. It proudly occupied the entrance hall of that house and still reminds me of the lovely times I experienced there.

In my front room, with the piano, are two lovely flower pictures my husband bought for his office on the advice of a partner who really knew about art. In a serendipitus way this artist hales from where I now live and is quite well known.

The further I go I see pictures we bought when overseas. One from Malaysia, two from Egypt, sketches from Florence, Magdalene College Chapel in Oxford where my eldest son conducted many a concert and two lovely watercolours of the area we lived in London for three years. The latter hold lovely memories. They were in an exhibition by a local artist and I confidentially told my 15 year old son I was buying one for Christmas for my husband. He surprised me by saying he would like to see it and pass his opinion on whether it was one his Dad would like. When Christmas Day arrived we discovered we had each had had the same idea and my son went with each of us to ensure the pictures were compatible. Whenever I look at them, hung proudly in the dining room, I remember, not only the pleasures of our time in London, but this story and that Christmas.

In the living room, in pride of place, is a lovely painting of Sydney Harbour by Judith White. It was chosen by my younger daughter and me for a brand new house we were then building. Sadly we were never able to live in it. But a story is attached to that too. When it was delivered I had a panicked call at work from my husband, who had never seen it, telling me that it had been ruined by the packers as two bits of newsprint had made their way between the glass and the painting. I had to inform him it was part of a collage effect and was an intrinsic part of the painting!

But onto more recent items. In the kitchen is a lovely piece of embroidery. Pictures of herbs embroidered by my lovely sister in law. Her husband loved it too and when she wanted to get rid of it when she moved to the Central Coast we, against her wishes, found a place for it in their home. After his death she moved to a unit in Sydney and I gratefully accepted it. Apart from being a lovely picture it holds so many memories of them both.

Moving on the watery lounge room, it also contains a picture of a Newcastle beach – one I drove past on weekdays for fourteen years on my way to work. It was a wonderful present to me on my retirement.

A few pictures that I have from my parents house fill me with great memories.

But the here and now is also fantastic! My youngest son married a lovely lady who paints and creates other works of art. Some of those are my favourites, particularly two she has done for me of birds in flight. Her beautifully decorated skull of a deceased bovine sits in conjunction with a mask my younger daughter completed in her last year of art at high school. I love her picture of The Owl and the Pussycat and my husband chose a picture she did of looking through a rear vision mirror, much as I am doing now.

There are others that give me delight and bring back memories. Some of these memories are wonderful, some are sad.

But when I don’t just dash past but pause sometimes to look more carefully, I can be very grateful for the differing experiences I have had in my life and I remember a lot of wonderful people I have known.

Perhaps I can even look forward to a bit more future on my walls.

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Parental Rights

“Parental Rights” is apparently an issue dogging this “survey” on the same sex marriage of adults. Why?

“Parent Rights.” It sounds a good phrase to run off the tongue. “Parents should have rights to bring up their own children in the way they wish.” We are hearing it all the time in this debate on same sex marriage.

But, even when we come to physical issues, the broader community, by way of the law, is allowed to intervene in these “rights”. Children must be physically cared for, must be sent to school, be inoculated against major diseases except in exceptional cases, and must be fed healthily. The law can even intervene against parents’ beliefs and wishes in order to save life, for example by ordering a blood transfusions for a child.

But I can’t understand how “parental rights” will be infringed by a “yes” answer. I cannot imagine some sort of push to allow either parents or the law to give permission for under age, gay children to marry!

So how can “parental rights” be involved in this discussion?

The only conclusion that can be drawn is that some mothers and fathers want the right to have their children know only a view of life that has been completely filtered through a prism of their parents’ beliefs.  So do they think they have the right to have other people’s lives fit their filter too for the sake of avoiding conversations with their children?

Parents, who are with their own children more than anyone else, who are listened to by their children, are loved by their children have, will always have more importance in children’s lives and decisions than will others. They have “rights” as well as many opportunities to express their views to their own children. They have a right to demand certain values in their own home.

But in my view, they do not have a right to prevent their children from knowing about other parts of the world and from being exposed to different viewpoints. The history of our country and others, the working of our society and our legal system are all based on an assumption of an acknowledgement of freedom of thought and views that can be subject to argument and discussion. Children need this freedom too.

And yes, I firmly believe each child has the inalienable right to know about other people’s beliefs both in religious or non religions areas .

If parents can only interact with their children on the basis of those children’s total belief in their ideas and no knowledge of alternative ways of thinking and no discussion and debate, then one must question the value of those very beliefs that they wish to pass on to their children.

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