Inspiring — teachers and schools, and terror

Great opinion piece in today’s Sydney Morning Herald by Dr Michael Anderson, Professor of Education at The University of Sydney.

This is what we call 4C schools, and these schools exist. The 4Cs are creativity, critical reflection, collaboration and communication. In their classrooms and staffrooms, 4C schools are transforming learning and teaching through this quartet. But in these schools it takes will, energy, inquiry, courage and determination.

The 4C evolution is only just beginning in certain schools but it is always characterised by a climate of re-invigoration, excitement, challenge, difficulty, uncertainty and possibility.

However, this is not always the climate across all schools.

The onward march of NAPLAN, testing a limited set of ‘basics’ with its teach-to-the-test oppressions, and league tables, have transformed education into a much-reduced experience for teachers and students alike. This is professionally disappointing for teachers and it is a profound threat to the students in schools.

While we chase ever-increasing ‘accountability measures’ we are relegating the aspects of schooling that will prepare students for the realities of work and life in the 21st Century….

Compare my thoughts at This is the Naplan post that wasn’t… (2015).

It is Naplan season again and all those boring things that always get said are being said again. I was so pissed off by The Drum last night that I turned the TV off to prevent the wittering of some hack regurgitating the right wing propaganda about charter schools in the USA. Compare The truth about charter schools: Padded cells, corruption, lousy instruction and worse results.

So on Facebook I vented thus:

Naplan = craplan? I thought of doing a blog post about the annual stupidity that breaks out as so many who should know better think the Naplan ritual actually “measures” something. It does not. Even if it did, the fact there hasn’t been enough “improvement” means very little. Why not just say the the truth: things turn out pretty much as you can expect, and all the agonising is just pissing in the wind. I pretty much said this in 2008.

Better just to concentrate on substantive teaching and let all this politically motivated bureaucratic “measuring” crap die the death it should.

Oh and that blog post I proposed? I am sick of the idiocy and really can’t be bothered any more. Time to let go, and let others wake up and shout out.

Now if I were writing up the issue in a sober manner I would doubtless be a tad less nihilistic about it all. Those of you who can read my Facebook will see that Thomas has commented thoughtfully and extensively, greatly improving my post. A small part of what he added:

Naplan contributes very little, I feel, to the overall education process. I won’t say it contributes nothing because, being concerned with my students’ progress, I appreciate getting feedback and “indications” as to what my students need. Obviously literacy and numeracy are key skills that students need not just to succeed in school (whatever that looks like?), but to be life-longer learners. Is this the best way to get the feedback? No, not at all. But I do enjoy getting feedback.

Finally, to recycle that 2008 post: Memo to Julie Gillard and Kevin Rudd

Last night SBS’s venerable Insight looked at some of our most inspirational teachers.

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While the declining academic performance of Australian school students in international rankings may have captured the headlines, for some students the influence of their teachers goes far beyond test results; teachers have changed their lives.

Denzyl Moncrieff grew up in a tough environment. By the end of year 9 he wasn’t interested in going to school or making friends. The moment when Suzy Urbaniak singled out his performance in a year 10 science test changed everything.

Donna Loughran was an absent high school student. She was bored and didn’t see the relevance of what she was learning at school. By Year 11, Donna had a decision to make about the kind of future she wanted. Luckily, she had Steve Duclos for legal studies and he showed her the possibilities.

Omar Sawan was an angry student. He says he lost count of the number of times he was suspended from school. At one point he challenged the principal to expel him. That principal, Jihad Dib, refused and managed to see potential in an angry school kid.

See also Some thoughts on Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl (2014).

Listen to the guy! [Jihad Dib.] Carefully!

This has been one of Sydney’s least promising schools, on the face of it. Just a few years back it was getting the media treatment for other reasons:

Adam Shand: Today on Sunday, second generation Lebanese Australians, speak of life as foreigners in the land of their birth. They tell of the growing racism they perceive, their feelings of alienation and the price we all pay for this. They explain why they are angry.

Adam Houda: I see the situation escalating. I can tell you there is simmering tension within our community and they are just sick and tired of the relentless attacks upon our people and our community.

Dr Jamal Rifi: When you have people marginalised, pushed into a corner, they are going to bite back and they are going to do it in very unpredictable ways and very unpredictable fashion.

Adam Shand: The Mufti of Australia Sheik Taj Aldin Alhilali has unwittingly revived a damaging debate about the sexuality of young Muslim men. His comments likening women to uncovered meat were widely interpreted as encouraging, even inciting sexual assault.

Prue Goward: This is incitement. He should be deported.

Adam Shand: Such views reinforced the notion that Australian Lebanese men can be mobilised to criminal action by their religious leaders — that the Koran comes before the law of the land.

Mohamad el-Assaad: I don’t think anything he said incited, I can listen to Tupac if I want to, I can listen to Nickelback if I want to, if I want to follow what this guy says, that’s up to me.

Adam Shand: And you also go to the mosque and listen there as well?

Mohamad el-Assaad: I go to the mosque, here and there.

Adam Shand: Many of these young men attended Punchbowl High School in Sydney’s south-west. The school is notorious for producing a notorious group of rapists who terrorised young women in 2000. The leader of the gang Bilal Skaf, now serving a 32-year prison sentence for his crimes, is always identified as Lebanese Muslim.

Back in 2003 The Sydney Morning Herald offered: Guns, gangs, poison: a principal’s battlezone.

This was life at Punchbowl Boys’ High School for its former principal Clifford Preece: a gang member came into the school, put a gun to his head and threatened to kill him. Students armed with knives threatened their classmates. Teachers had a toxic chemical put in their kettle, were assaulted in class and faced gang invasions of classrooms.

The school’s students were to become notorious: one was convicted of murdering schoolboy Edward Lee. Three other students were jailed for gang rapes – along with their gang leader, Bilal Skaf – who was a “regular intruder” at Punchbowl Boys’.

After five years as principal of the “Punchbowl school battlefront” between 1995 and 1999, Mr Preece says his 30-year career as a teacher ended with a breakdown.

In the District Court, Mr Preece is suing the Department of Education, alleging that it failed to protect his safety, and that as a result he has developed chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and cannot work as a teacher.

Mr Preece, 53, told Judge Christopher Robison he had nightmares when he read about former students M, who killed Edward Lee, and gang rapists Tayyab Sheikh (who was sentenced to 15 years in jail) and brothers Mahmoud and Mohammed Sanoussi (11 and 21 years’ jail)…

Edward Lee, incidentally, was once a student where I worked, and many of his associates I knew well…

My point: work out for yourself how this turnaround has happened. Note what the intriguingly named current Principal had to say. People like him have the knowledge that is needed, and I am pleased Julia Gillard seems to have noted it….

Jihad Dib is now a member of the NSW Parliament and Shadow Minister for Education.  He, and what we witnessed last night on Insight, remind us that in this respect Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is right and The Revenant and the self-appointed “patriots” are utterly wrong.

He rejected “entirely” a comment by Senator Hanson, leader of One Nation, that all Australian Muslim should be treated with suspicion, and criticised as dangerous attempts to “demonise” Muslims.

“Which is the good one?’ You can’t tell a good Muslim from a bad one,” she had told the Nine network.

Mr Turnbull said “the vast majority of Australian Muslims are patriotic hardworking, seeking to get ahead, committed to peacefully living in Australia and abiding by our laws”.

He said: “One of the arguments that those who seek to do us harm make — this is the terrorists — is they say that there is no place for Muslims in Australia.

“And that’s how they seek to radicalise and mislead young Muslims, Australians.”

And in a comment which indirectly included the One Nation leader he said: “What I must do as a leader, and what all leaders must do in Australia is emphasise our inclusivity, the fact that we are a multicultural society where all cultures, all faiths are respected and that is mutual.

“So, trying to demonise all Muslims is only confirming the lying, dangerous message of the terrorists.”

He repeated a quote from his host, President Joko Widodo: “Indonesia is proof that Islam, democracy and moderation are compatible.”

Mr Turnbull said: “The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of Muslims in Australia are utterly appalled by extremists, by violent extremism, by terrorism.

“We have to remember that the vast majority of the victims of ISIL, or Daesh, are Muslims.

“Islam is practised by about a quarter of the world’s population and in this country we see — a country with which we are building closer ties — we see that democracy, Islam, moderation, tolerance are compatible.”

Related is my current reading, Gabriele Marranci, Wars of Terror (2016). More about that later, but do look at his blog, Anthropology Beyond Good and Evil. Thought-provoking in the best way:

Australia is under attack. There is no doubt about it. Yet what exactly is attacking it remains unclear: it is not a country with an army, it is not even an organised movement such as al-Qaeda, but instead it seems a dark magma of different forms of frustrations that are sometimes channeled into fascist religious ideas. We have a chaotic reality that harms community relations and polarises opinions.

Among Muslim communities there are a majority who are silent and may fear both to become a victim of terrorism and victim of right-wing anti-Muslim propaganda and who condemn terrorism and the killing of innocent people. There are also Muslims whom point to the double standards of the West, yet they use very similar rhetoric to that of extremists except they do not advocate violence.  Finally there are those who, openly or latently, support Daesh and wish to see the black flag, hijacked by the group as symbol of death and destruction, flown in Australia. Unfortunately, many who hold such views are very active in the social media sphere.  Since these extreme messages attract attention, the people on the fringes of Muslim communities who create them and spread anti-Australian and anti-Western hatred will shape perceptions of Muslim Australians despite that a majority want nothing to do with such discourse.  This sad fact may increase the anxiety among non-Muslim Australians who are unaware of that and believe instead that there exists an ‘enemy within’.   

This dynamic reminds me of what people told me in Northern Ireland about how the paramilitary organisations, in particular within the Protestant communities, started to form. It was fear, and a fear which spread from one side to the other, that brought such disaster to NI. People want security and security is paramount to normal ordinary life. Security, however, does not exist per-se, as it is a cognitive category, an idea. Hence security, or the illusion of it, can be achieved through action, since inaction can make people feel even more insecure.

When a community feels threatened, and especially if the community is in the majority, it is not unusual that vigilante groups develop. As NI teaches us, the jump from vigilantes to paramilitary groups is easy.  Daesh calls for random attacks on soft targets. This, when there are evidences that some are listening, creates a deep and diffuse suspicion and fear towards anything that happens to be Muslim or Islamic. Organisations such as Q-Society provides the “intellectual” background to the less intellectual and more hooligan style organisations such as the Australian Defence League, and more recent anti-halal movements have shown to attract fascists. Of course, these movements claim to be peaceful and simply exercising their freedom to oppose what they dislike — but so does HT in Australia, which the Australian government wants to ban

However, if the above mentioned groups never transform into paramilitary organisations, they are the kind of group which may facilitate the creation of vigilantes and paramilitary groups through their line of thought and become the pool from which members may be sought. 

The risk that Australia and, in particular, the state of New South Wales are facing in the medium term is to see the formation of anti-terrorist paramilitary groups that inevitably will target innocent Muslims, and this will produce the counter-effect of Muslim paramilitary groups, which however will not be directly linked with international terrorist organisations.

Are we today doing enough to prevent such a trajectory and is such trajectory even preventable?  I have the impression that not enough is done. It is clear that the divide between Muslims and non-Muslims is widening in this period. The responsibility for this does not lay with one single side. I think also that a different approach to the issue of terrorism is needed in Australia. Yet we must also re-discuss how the ideology of multiculturalism has been implemented (or not implemented) and the confusion that it has created among the generations who grew up with it. Yet this topic is for another post to discuss.

Update: I note the recent vicissitudes of Punchbowl High, but do not trust the Telegraph spin/reporting on the matter. See New principal takes reins after predecessor’s sacking. That Andrew Bolt is on the case makes me hesitate to assert where the truth really lies. Too many axe-grinders on all sides!

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