65 years on I recall Vermont Street

See Frameworks for belief — 2 – my world 1952 to 1959. A repost and Curiosities and ephemera 5: 1955. There you will find these:

Here was my world from 1952 to 1955-6: Vermont Street Sutherland, NSW.

Vermont Street

And here I am in that world, towards the end of the period.

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That is April 1955 and I am in the front yard of 1 Vermont Street with my mother.  I am 11 years old, and newly at Sydney Boys High. I had had a serious illness just three or four months before – pancreatitis – so I may look a touch thin still. All the ribbons are because we are going to the GPS Regatta at Penrith, a big deal in those days and perhaps even more so in my family. I was the first in the family entitled to go as I was in a GPS school – albeit the only state-owned one – as I would later be the first in the family to go to university.

Just three years earlier my sister had died – 61 years ago today*. She was cremated and her urn placed in a rose garden at Woronora Cemetery, which she now shares with Grandma and Grandpa Christison, who died in 1959 and 1963 respectively…

* January 2013

And this from the other post:

Oh dear, yes, that is me…

am 030

That’s my Aunt Fay on the left, then my mother, then ? the mother of my sister-in-law ?, then me in SBHS rig as I was in what we would now call Year 7. The photo, I suspect but don’t really remember, was taken on my brother’s wedding day. It was certainly taken at 1 Vermont Street, Sutherland…

Except now in 2017 it is no longer 1 Vermont Street, but 48, and it seems to be in a sorry state…

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And across the road another house where I lived at the age of 21 is completely gone, the developers having moved in. The white house on the corner is still recognisable, however, and the reservoir up the street, though much expanded since 1952-1955.

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Time! Yet lately I have found myself thinking about Vermont Street in the 1950s. It is amazing how detailed my memory of the interior of that house, as it was then, still is in my mind!

Yesterdays — 1944 and March 2017

I mentioned on Facebook that I managed to speak on the phone to my brother Ian in Devonport Hospital. A nurse took the call and then passed the phone to Ian. Given the circumstances I didn’t talk long, the real object being to let him know I was aware of what has been happening and was thinking of him. He thanked me.

What I didn’t say on Facebook is that his son in Lightning Ridge and his daughter in Engadine had both told me to try to speak to him — he doesn’t always answer the phone — as it may possibly be the last chance to do so. If a new course of antibiotics started yesterday is effective, that may change. If not…

I was at times teary yesterday, but fortunately not when speaking to Ian.

I further posted on Facebook:

Document: 14390 Cpl. Whitfield J. N.
Group 833
RAAF
Pacific
16-2-45

My Darling Wife

I came to work this morning thinking it was just another day, another hot steaming day, after a terrific thunderstorm last night. About nine o’clock a chap came in with some demands that had to be attended to and on dating them the realisation struck me, this was no ordinary day to me, but a very special one, the anniversary of the day when I made my very bestest pal in all the world mine for keeps, for worse or better. You notice I put the “worse” first, because I am sure many, many happy days lie ahead for us. Yes, we have had more than our share of worries & I have at times very selfishly added to them, sometimes quite unintentionally, because there really wasn’t any need for you to worry at all. I’m a bit of a tease really… Anyway dearest one I will try to do as you wish me to in everything. I have caused you enough heartaches. I can’t always help this of course, but I fully intend to try and make up for any short comings I may have. I can never repay the debt I owe you for giving me three such lovely children. I love them very dearly, and am exceedingly proud of their nice appearance & manner… .https://ninglunbooks.wordpress.com/…/about-the-whitfields-2/

warfamily

Back row: Aunt Ruth, my mother Jean, Uncle Neil (on leave from the RAAF), Aunt Beth

Front row: me, my sister Jeanette, my brother Ian

Probably 1944. Creased because my father carried it with him in Port Moresby 1945.

Cascading memories

Here is a series from my archives: Reflections, mostly about a chequered teaching career: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, and add mais où sont les neiges d’antan? and Life’s embarrassing moments. From the last one:

Probably my most embarrassing moment was at Dapto High when I was the age Mr R is now. I had proudly been appointed teacher-in-charge of Year 8, and hence had to sit on stage in Year 8 assemblies. Dapto had 1,400 students then, so a Year 8 assembly was quite big. It was also the way the school fulfilled its scripture quota for the week, a local clergyman saying a few words at the assembly. I somehow managed to walk up to the microphone, spotlighted, only to be greeted by considerable laughter. In best teacher mode I glared and asked what was so funny…

“Your fly’s undone, sir…”

Oh dear!

Your_Fly__s_Undone_by_Sir_Seil

I was wearing undies.

All this from two images that came my way via Facebook. The first I found on Dapto History in Pictures. It shows the English staff at Dapto in 1969, the year before I arrived.

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Jim Gordon was Head Teacher from 1970, Tom Dobinson having gone on to become an Inspector. He inspected me at Wollongong High in 1976. Some more memories of Dapto in 1970:

The elopement

One day a member of the English staff disappeared. This was just one of several bizarre events that year, which led to questions in parliament.

We later heard she had eloped with a reporter from the local newspaper.

Skinny dipping

One staff member was around 22 and rode a World War II Harley Davidson, dressing to match. Otherwise he taught English and History. He was on good terms with “Animal” and other noted members of the Kings Cross biker scene. He had a wonderful place on the river at Minnamurra, a short swim (almost a walk at low tide) to the sandspit and beach. Many a good staff party happened there, and one warm night swimming was definitely the go. It wasn’t low tide, though, so he rowed across with his assortment of English teachers. I recall one Brian being counselled about guarding his Catholic manhood as in the then state of undress he stumbled getting into the boat almost bringing the gunwale into firm collision with his private parts.

Fortunately no-one drowned.

It’s not a good idea, kiddies, to go surfing in the dark, especially when intoxicated and there are sharks about.

The teacher who threw things out of windows

He was in fact rather popular, but when a child especially annoyed him he would, after several warnings, grab everything off the child’s desk and throw said belongings (but not the child) out the second floor window. He would then send the child to collect them. I got quite a shock when I first witnessed this.

I am sure conservatives would see this as evidence that schools today have declined in comparison with 30-40 years ago.

Breaking records

A large batch of 78rpm records destined for the school fete was stored in the staff room. One day our biker friend crept up behind someone and smashed a record over his or her head. We discovered this was painless but dramatically noisy and left very satisfying shards of black shellac everywhere. So we spent the lunch hour working through the records, not excluding any students who were foolish enough to knock on the door.

The cleaner complained.

The suit of armour

I was given the task of taking a suit of armour, a prop for the school play, to the school hall. I decided the best way was to wear it. This did get talked about for a while…

The head

I was so naive, really.

I had a class of Year 9s who were variously, well, retarded, or should I say differently abled. One of them had also been dealt a bad hand when it came to personal appearance, but was actually rather nice though occasionally given to rages. On graduation he found a job in a sheltered workshop.

The door of their classroom had a small window to enable passers-by to check on the inmates, but the glass had long gone. My young friend used to stick his head through this window and smile in a rather alarming way at people in the corridor. One day going past I asked him to pull his head in. I went further than that. Seeing he reminded me of nothing more than a moose head mounted on a wall I said, “Peter, pull your head in or I’ll mount you on the wall.”

Pleased with my wit, I recounted the story to my colleagues. “You’re so athletic, Neil,” a female teacher who later went on to considerable fame remarked.

My embarrassed blush lit the room beautifully. Honestly, governor, I meant no double-entendre!

The second picture appeared on an Illawarra Grammar ex-student’s Facebook page. Thanks, Ralph! It shows me being  “kidnapped”. As Ralph notes, “A long, long time ago …..”

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What was I up to in March 2012?

Five years on from the post before last.

The Cock House at Fellsgarth

Given this is Mardi Gras weekend you may well wonder, but in fact this is a school story by Talbot Baines Reed which I have just read as an eBook. More years ago than I care to admit to I read his The Fifth Form at St Dominic’s but had never encountered The Cock House before, so naturally I was curious. In brief it is tosh and rubbish, but not entirely a waste of time. Having been a teacher for so long I would have to fail Reed on mere educational grounds. The schools he describes would never cut it in NAPLAN! They really are quite awful places really, seriously…

I see there is a Facebook page for the COOK House at Felsgarth… Hmmm.

Much more worthwhile is Alec Waugh’s The Loom of Youth, which I am currently reading on Baby Toshiba.

My eBook collection of freebies now exceeds 500 titles!

Alas poor Baby Toshiba

My companion in hospital last year, and a faithful little servant in the tail end of my tuition in Chinatown, latterly to be seen in my company in clubs and pubs from Surry Hills to The Gong.

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Oh Baby Toshiba, why won’t you boot up any more? You just turn on and almost instantly turn off again…!

Only on the Internet: back to 1954

Had an email the other day from the son of my Year 6 teacher at Sutherland Boys Primary in 1954. He had found 09 — My Teachers in my Ninglun’s Specials archive.

Grade 6 1954

The second principle Andrew Metcalfe and Ann Game derive from their corpus of interviews is:

Good teaching recognises the unique potential of each student. This is not the same as an expectation or a prediction; it is seeing students in their wholeness, as they are now. The teacher’s responsibility is to nurture students and draw out their potential by opening them to new worlds. Thus teaching is inherently ethical, allowing students to find their place in and to contribute to the world.


I would like to name Mister O’Neil, my Year 6 teacher at Sutherland Public School (or Sutherland Boys Primary as it was then, now a “special” school) in 1954, the year of the Royal Visit. I still vividly remember (among other things) going with my maternal grandfather — another inspiring teacher — through the fence and beside the track to wait for the (then) sheer magic of seeing the Royal Train go through, and Mister O’Neil rehearsed us over and over to perform appropriate songs, including a late Vera Lynn called “She’s the Queen of Everyone’s Hearts”, at the Sutherland School of Arts, where my mother won an electric jug in a raffle.

World War II was after all less than ten years before; indeed I was enrolled at Sutherland in 1949. My father had been in the RAAF.

The thing about Mister O’Neil is that he had a class of fifty or so students, all in a portable class room that baked in summer. Hardly any of the boys had shoes. Cast-off bits of military uniform were fashionable; no such thing as a school uniform, or (I may add indelicately) underpants. There were a few quite talented kids in 6A; I was a bit up myself, I’m afraid, because even though I took every August off to have bronchitis, and also that year had mumps followed by orchitis (nasty) and pancreatitis, I still managed to top the class, despite my rather alarming (and continuing) innumeracy. He let us have our heads, really. We produced school newspapers, in which I wrote and illustrated serials that were rather like Biggles, and also devised crossword puzzles. Every Friday we “broadcast” our plays over the school’s PA system.

When I was selected to go to Sydney Boys High my parents were against it, mainly because of the travelling which, combined with my absent-mindedness that led to my once almost being run over at a pedestrian crossing, they felt would not suit me. I guess they were also worried about my health. My mother at that time, I might add, was invalided with a clot in the leg, so I was also cooking dinner every night, following instructions emanating from my mother’s bedroom. She used to say what I cooked for the dogs smelt more appetising than what I made for the family — chops and three veg usually. Can’t go too wrong with that. Well, Mister O’Neil I found one afternoon when I came in from playing with the Dawson boys down the road sitting by my Mum’s bed in earnest conversation. Result: I went to Sydney Boys High. Apparently I had the highest IQ ever recorded at Sutherland Primary to that point… That may not be saying too much, of course, and I certainly found myself a small fish in a big pond at SBHS the following year.

But hats off to Mr O’Neil. Not only was he just a fascinating teacher, but so dedicated. By his complexion I suspect he may have enjoyed the odd bevvie too… At a time when many schools, especially boys schools, were “houses of swinging bamboo”, I can’t recall seeing him actually cane anyone either. I remember him with gratitude. Mind you, I don’t think I ever have quite fulfilled that potential, and at going on 65 it may be a bit late…

You will see the use Michael O’Neil made of my reminiscence on his family site: Edgar Ronald O’Neill (1918-1994) & Sheila Hudson (1919-1948)

Eddie on playground

There he is: Eddie O’Neil, my Year 6 1954 teacher – in 1957

Gives you a good idea of what school in The Shire was like back then too…

Check the dunnies behind him… Yes, pans!

Only on the Internet, eh! What would the chances have been of making this sort of contact before the Net came along?

Back from Sydney

Sirdan came down from Gympie today, just for part of the day! He, P and I dined at a swank Italian place in the old GPO.

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Sirdan had to be on the 2.30 plane back to Queensland, and P to work I assume. I decided to revisit old haunts.

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Sydney Boys High this afternoon.

I have nothing against a good belly button…

omphalos

Don’t know them, but they are Aussies…

But this guy elevated the belly button to cosmic heights…

PhilipHenryGosse,1855

Wikipedia: “Philip Henry Gosse (6 April 1810 – 23 August 1888) was an English naturalist and popularizer of natural science, virtually the inventor of the seawater aquarium, and a painstaking innovator in the study of marine biology. Gosse is perhaps best known today as the author of Omphalos, an attempt to reconcile the immense geological ages presupposed by Charles Lyell with the biblical account of creation.

After his death, Gosse was portrayed as a despotic and fanatically religious father in Father and Son (1907), the literary masterpiece of his son, poet and critic Edmund Gosse

The gist of the Omphalos theory is that just as Adam. though not “born”, would have had a false history stamped on him via his belly button – think about it – so the fossil record etc represents a false history preloaded, as we might say today, by God at the time of creation. Ingenious, except that there is nothing to say the false history began two seconds ago and this entry was preloaded by God….

At the moment I am reading Father and Son. Just how true it is people have disputed, but whatever the case the book is a real treasure. Thanks to Project Gutenberg and my Kobo.

Meanwhile, capable as I was of reading, I found my greatest pleasure in the pages of books. The range of these was limited, for story-books of every description were sternly excluded. No fiction of any kind, religious or secular, was admitted into the house. In this it was to my Mother, not to my Father, that the prohibition was due. She had a remarkable, I confess to me still somewhat unaccountable impression that to ‘tell a story’, that is, to compose fictitious narrative of any kind, was a sin. She carried this conviction to extreme lengths. My Father, in later years, gave me some interesting examples of her firmness. As a young man in America, he had been deeply impressed by ‘Salathiel’, a pious prose romance by that then popular writer, the Rev. George Croly. When he first met my Mother, he recommended it to her, but she would not consent to open it. Nor would she read the chivalrous tales in verse of Sir Walter Scott, obstinately alleging that they were not ‘true’. She would read none but lyrical and subjective poetry. Her secret diary reveals the history of this singular aversion to the fictitious, although it cannot be said to explain the cause of it. As a child, however, she had possessed a passion for making up stories, and so considerable a skill in it that she was constantly being begged to indulge others with its exercise. But I will, on so curious a point, leave her to speak for herself:

‘When I was a very little child, I used to amuse myself and my brothers with inventing stories, such as I read. Having, as I suppose, naturally a restless mind and busy imagination, this soon became the chief pleasure of my life. Unfortunately, my brothers were always fond of encouraging this propensity, and I found in Taylor, my maid, a still greater tempter. I had not known there was any harm in it, until Miss Shore [a Calvinist governess], finding it out, lectured me severely, and told me it was wicked. From that time forth I considered that to invent a story of any kind was a sin. But the desire to do so was too deeply rooted in my affections to be resisted in my own strength [she was at that time nine years of age], and unfortunately I knew neither my corruption nor my weakness, nor did I know where to gain strength. The longing to invent stories grew with violence; everything I heard or read became food for my distemper. The simplicity of truth was not sufficient for me; I must needs embroider imagination upon it, and the folly, vanity and wickedness which disgraced my heart are more than I am able to express. Even now [at the age of twenty-nine], tho’ watched, prayed and striven against, this is still the sin that most easily besets me. It has hindered my prayers and prevented my improvement, and therefore, has humbled me very much.’

This is, surely, a very painful instance of the repression of an instinct. There seems to have been, in this case, a vocation such as is rarely heard, and still less often wilfully disregarded and silenced. Was my Mother intended by nature to be a novelist? I have often thought so, and her talents and vigour of purpose, directed along the line which was ready to form ‘the chief pleasure of her life’, could hardly have failed to conduct her to great success. She was a little younger than Bulwer Lytton, a little older than Mrs. Gaskell—but these are vain and trivial speculations!

From my week’s reading: Edmund Gosse, “Father and Son” — 1907

Still relevant after all those years.

My holidays, however, and all my personal relations with my Father were poisoned by this insistency. I was never at my ease in his company; I never knew when I might not be subjected to a series of searching questions which I should not be allowed to evade. Meanwhile, on every other stage of experience I was gaining the reliance upon self and the respect for the opinion of others which come naturally to a young man of sober habits who earns his own living and lives his own life. For this kind of independence my Father had no respect or consideration, when questions of religion were introduced, although he handsomely conceded it on other points. And now first there occurred to me the reflection, which in years to come I was to repeat over and over, with an ever sadder emphasis,—what a charming companion, what a delightful parent, what a courteous and engaging friend my Father would have been, and would pre-eminently have been to me, if it had not been for this stringent piety which ruined it all.

Let me speak plainly. After my long experience, after my patience and forbearance, I have surely the right to protest against the untruth (would that I could apply to it any other word!) that evangelical religion, or any religion in a violent form, is a wholesome or valuable or desirable adjunct to human life. It divides heart from heart. It sets up a vain, chimerical ideal, in the barren pursuit of which all the tender, indulgent affections, all the genial play of life, all the exquisite pleasures and soft resignations of the body, all that enlarges and calms the soul are exchanged for what is harsh and void and negative. It encourages a stern and ignorant spirit of condemnation; it throws altogether out of gear the healthy movement of the conscience; it invents virtues which are sterile and cruel; it invents sins which are no sins at all, but which darken the heaven of innocent joy with futile clouds of remorse. There is something horrible, if we will bring ourselves to face it, in the fanaticism that can do nothing with this pathetic and fugitive existence of ours but treat it as if it were the uncomfortable ante-chamber to a palace which no one has explored and of the plan of which we know absolutely nothing. My Father, it is true, believed that he was intimately acquainted with the form and furniture of this habitation, and he wished me to think of nothing else but of the advantages of an eternal residence in it.

Then came a moment when my self-sufficiency revolted against the police-inspection to which my ‘views’ were incessantly subjected. There was a morning, in the hot-house at home, among the gorgeous waxen orchids which reminded my Father of the tropics in his youth, when my forbearance or my timidity gave way. The enervated air, soaked with the intoxicating perfumes of all those voluptuous flowers, may have been partly responsible for my outburst. My Father had once more put to me the customary interrogatory. Was I ‘walking closely with God’? Was my sense of the efficacy of the Atonement clear and sound? Had the Holy Scriptures still their full authority with me? My replies on this occasion were violent and hysterical. I have no clear recollection what it was that I said,—I desire not to recall the whimpering sentences in which I begged to be let alone, in which I demanded the right to think for myself, in which I repudiated the idea that my Father was responsible to God for my secret thoughts and my most intimate convictions.

He made no answer; I broke from the odorous furnace of the conservatory, and buried my face in the cold grass upon the lawn. My visit to Devonshire, already near its close, was hurried to an end. …

“Gosse’s Father and Son is a superb and sometimes quite beautiful book…” — Brian A. Oard

Sunrise

What was I up to in March 2002/2007

These retro posts are meant to be at five year intervals, but alas because of the sad fate of Diary-X most of 2002 is missing. I have however found one entry on the Internet Archive which at least shows what is missing.

Ninglun’s Books and Ideas: new series

31 Mar 2002 – Not unexpected.
29 Mar 2002 – Minds to treasure, and other matters.
28 Mar 2002 – Dramatic story, predictable response
27 Mar 2002 – Am I a puritan?
25 Mar 2002 – On keeping an online diary
24 Mar 2002 – What a wonderful day!
23 Mar 2002 – It’s a funny world, isn’t it?
21 Mar 2002 – Not when I was at University
20 Mar 2002 – Finis: Justice Kirby story
20 Mar 2002 – Minefields: many will disagree.
19 Mar 2002 – Feedback
18 Mar 2002 – Hefferlump self-destructs!!!
18 Mar 2002 – Trying to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, etc.
17 Mar 2002 – Patrick Cook does it better…
16 Mar 2002 – More on the Kirby story
15 Mar 2002 – Here we go again
14 Mar 2002 – News causes diary to reopen
12 Mar 2002 – WATCH THIS SPACE
11 Mar 2002 – This diary is closed–for the time being at least…
11 Mar 2002 – Strive for balance in your life
10 Mar 2002 – We were not amused: Matthew Shepard did NOT deserve it.
09 Mar 2002 – Am I a turnip?
08 Mar 2002 – Dilemmas and hopes
06 Mar 2002 – Two cases of debunking…
05 Mar 2002 – On suffering at university?
04 Mar 2002 – Some nice bits of dissent…
03 Mar 2002 – Mardi Gras, morality and the open society–oh, and James Joyce. Later thoughts prompted by P Akerman.
02 Mar 2002 – Mainly on S I Hayakawa
01 Mar 2002 – Great movie, good company, challenging thoughts.

Those are dead links.

Now to March 2007.

Great pic from The Poet in Victoria

30 MAR 2007

triathletes come ashore

On a more personal note

30 MAR

Yesterday morning I spent time with Lord Malcolm, going with him to physiotherapy at the hospice and witnessing how he has virtually no muscles on his legs, and seeing both the determination and the pain as he did some gentle exercises. We then had coffee in the hospice coffee shop, wheeled out to look at Green Park for a while, and then back so he could be sent for another x-ray — some problem with the feeding tube.

Before tuition in Chinatown I had a call from ex-student Ross (class of 1976). We met and had a really good if shortish chat. Here is what one of Ross’s classmates has been up to, having diverged somewhat from Law.

Post against stereotypes…

26 MAR

I am at the moment wading through the white-hot prose of Londonistan. It was good then to drop in on Madhab al-Irfy, Irfan Yusuf’s more Islamic blog: Prayers for Allison Sudrajat (14 March 2007). Allison was the AusAid worker killed in the recent plane crash in Indonesia.

Tomorrow at 1:30pm, after dhuhr prayer, Canberra’s small Muslim community will join friends and family of Allison Sudrajat for a traditional Muslim janaza (funeral) prayer service followed by burial…

Read the post and think “Muslim humanitarian” for a change…

Lord Malcolm’s trip to Victoria

25 MAR

I expect to hear from Sirdan later this morning how this quite amazing trip worked out yesterday. Sirdan was accompanying him. When I visited Lord Malcolm on Friday he was psyched up for it, albeit still in the Hospice and with a feeding tube down his nose…

Later

Just got that call. They made it and it went well except Lord M ran out of steam about 1 pm and needed medical help, which was on site at the Air Show. They got back to Sydney safely. I am having lunch with Sirdan later today. No doubt I will hear more then. Lord Malcolm himself (by phone) says he had a fantastic day. 🙂

And later

After lunch at the Porter House Irish pub Sirdan and I visited Lord M, but he was too exhausted. Happy though. He really was given royal treatment at the Air Show yesterday. Sirdan’s part in that venture can’t be praised too much. He and Lord M did something almost everyone thought was impossible.

Voted, melted, and saw wildlife in Surry Hills

24 MAR

So here I am back from tutoring in Chinatown and voting in Riley Street. And is it ever hot! Daylight saving ends tonight, yet at 2pm it was near enough to 35C here in Surry Hills. (That’s 90+ for those who use F still.) On the way to tutoring I saw the biggest flock of cockatoos — right near Central Station — that I can ever recall seeing in Sydney. There must have been a hundred of them. They seemed to fill the space between Central and the buildings on the corner of Elizabeth and Foveaux. Strayed in from points west because of drought?

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I took that from Charlie Moores’ Bird Blog, on a page well worth looking at showing Sydney’s Botanical Gardens.

That was quite an Aboriginal moment too, as somewhere in Central someone was playing the didgeridoo giving the whole scene a rather magic quality — well giving that to me at least.

And then I voted. Yes, not Labor. Yes, not Liberal…. In neither House.

Another voice against torture

16 MAR

(a) We renounce the use of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by any branch of our government (or any other government)—even in the current circumstance of a war between the United States and various radical terrorist groups.

(b) We call for the extension of basic human rights and procedural protections to all persons held in United States custody now or in the future, wherever and by whomever they are held.

(c) We call for every agency of the United States government to join with the United States military and to state publicly its commitment to the terms of the Geneva Conventions related to the treatment of prisoners, especially Common Article 3.

(d) We call for the legislative or judicial reversal of those executive and legislative provisions that violate the moral and legal standards articulated in this declaration.

Now who do you think that was? Amnesty? Human Rights Watch? The ACLU?

No: think Evangelicals for Human Rights. See Jim Wallis Thursday, March 15, 2007.

When I was a twenty-something conservative in transition…

11 MAR

… at Dapto High School south of Wollongong, a colleague in the English Department was Dale Spender, who once told me that if I didn’t have shit for brains I might know what she was talking about. Trouble is, she was probably right at the time. Dale went on to a career much more spectacular than mine. To give Dale her due, she knew far more back then than most of us did about how to deal effectively with some of the less able (as in “IQ too low to assess”) and more disadvantaged students we had, and I did learn much from her.

I see she has entered the current silly education debate: Now the class scapegoat is the teacher.

No one has a good word to say about teachers. Not so long ago they were well-informed and well-respected members of the community whose advice was sought after and highly valued.

Today, if you are to believe the Government’s condemnations and the media coverage, teachers have had a spectacular fall from grace.

Press stories over the past decade accuse teachers of everything from illiteracy and incompetence to outright ill will. A few regular media commentators charge classroom teachers with left-wing tendencies, lowering standards, and with throwing out the worthwhile curriculum in favour of “dumbing down”.

Yet no hard evidence of the harmful behaviour of teachers is provided. Rather teachers are being made the scapegoats for the disruptive changes that are under way in society – and in education. For education consultants [it] is so much easier to blame the teachers than it is to look more intelligently and constructively at the problems and pressures of the 21st-century classroom; and at the failure of the nation to properly fund the information-education revolution.

Teachers have been caught up in the turmoil of educational change, but they have not been supported with the resources to make the massive leap from traditional education to computer-based classrooms.

Teachers can teach only what they are taught. Now that they have to learn the art of teaching with the new technologies, they need information, facilities, and a great deal of encouragement. Without such support, it is the teachers who have the genuine grievances: they could put at the top of their list the counterproductive smear tactics used against them by Commonwealth educational advisers and ministers…

Each year teachers are asked to do more: more national testing, more meaningful reporting on students, more social welfare tasks and more new technology courses. And each year teachers are blamed for more school failures, more lapses of discipline, and more of society’s ills. Teaching is the most demanding job ever devised yet the teachers’ side of the story is rarely heard; they can’t “tell someone who cares”. The profession is so badgered and abused, the wonder of it is that there are not more of its members walking out the door.

The bad press that teachers get is not the only source of low morale. Teachers know that there can be no art of teaching with technology when the technology does not work. Spare a thought for the masses of overworked, dedicated teachers who stretch themselves to prepare exciting internet-based lessons only to enter the class of 30 eager, energised students, and find that the computers have crashed, and the network is down. Such disasters can be an everyday occurrence. And although this is definitely not the teachers’ fault, they who must deal with the dire consequences when their anticipated mind-expanding learning experience turns into a nightmare.

One might well ask how teachers’ critics and Co would stare down such high-maintenance students: it would take more than a pile of platitudes and a dose of Shakespeare…

Well, as for technology… I’m here, aren’t I? I suspect that Dale overstates her case a little in that article. It would have been more true ten years ago. It certainly was true of me ten years ago. Nonetheless, she has a better understanding of what is happening out there in the schools than many of her opposing commentators.

In her column today Miranda Devine praises the recently established Redfern Exodus centre which aims to provide intensive remedial reading to children in Years 3 to 6 who have fallen behind. It is a good project, housed at the moment by my very own church, South Sydney Uniting Church, but run by the Exodus Foundation of Ashfield Uniting Church. The methodology employed derives from the Macquarie University’s phonics-centred approach, and that is Miranda’s angle: the success of the MULTILIT programs underscores the tragedy of so many other young lives wasted – countless smart children who believe they are stupid because they haven’t been taught to read. I do not knock what is happening in Redfern, but do suggest Miranda (all praise to her though for supporting the venture) is unfair in her ideological stance. More “countless” than the numbers of students benefitting from this intervention are the numbers of students who do not need it because they have in fact been taught to read. No single factor explains the issues that led the minority being helped in this and similar programs to their present plight, though more adequate staffing and funding of remediation programs in schools both public and private would no doubt have helped. There are, even so, “countless” students who are assisted within the system and who therefore never need a Redfern program. For very many students the NSW government’s Reading Recovery program has been especially effective. I have seen it done, and spent a year some time back in a research project tracking its effects in a number of schools in a more disadvantaged part of the south-eastern suburbs. (See also Research in Reading Recovery.)

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Reading Recovery session at Brookvale Public School Sydney.

One key to both the Redfern program and the Reading Recovery program is individualised intensive tuition. It is a fact too that provision for such individual help after Year 2 in the system is inadequately funded.

All ideology aside, I wish all such programs success.

Forgotten and surprising facts on 21st century religion

02 MAR

That same issue of Atlantic Monthly from which I drew the previous entry also took me to The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. There is a fascinating survey there called Spirit and Power: a 10 country survey of Pentecostals. Some definition: “By all accounts, pentecostalism and related charismatic movements represent one of the fastest-growing segments of global Christianity. According to the World Christian Database, at least a quarter of the world’s 2 billion Christians are thought to be members of these lively, highly personal faiths, which emphasize such spiritually renewing “gifts of the Holy Spirit” as speaking in tongues, divine healing and prophesying. Even more than other Christians, pentecostals and other renewalists believe that God, acting through the Holy Spirit, continues to play a direct, active role in everyday life.”

Go to the survey report for yourself, but I place below two of several interesting fact boxes.

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A nice dilemma here in the political correctness and cultural relativity department: how to assert principles of universal human rights without cultural imperialism or belittling the right to difference in other cultures and consequently being ignored. Take Nigeria for example:

A proposed Nigerian law banning same-sex marriages is a threat to democracy, says Human Rights Watch. Writing to the Nigerian Senate, they said the legislation, “contravenes the basic rights to freedom of expression, conscience, association, and assembly”. The rights group urges the Nigerian National Assembly to reject the bill.

If the proposed law is approved, anyone who speaks out or forms a group supporting gay and lesbian rights could be imprisoned.

The bill has divided both chambers of the Nigerian parliament as some MPs see legislation as a move to save Nigerian morals and cultural values. Others legislators who reject it say it say it is anti-freedom and portrays Nigeria’s democracy in bad light…

Naturally I side with Human Rights Watch on this one. You can see the problem though, can’t you? In our focus on the USA and Australia we often forget the rest of humanity, and we forget that Christian fundamentalism is even more alive and well in developing countries than it is in the USA or Australia. We also forget that there is a positive side to this in terms of lives turned around, services delivered, and self-esteem restored; we need to set that against the dark side, the questions of gay rights, AIDS prevention and so on. I see a dilemma. Do you?