Teachers!

A few things have popped up lately, mainly on Facebook.

First I was sent to YouTube to watch an episode of an Australian current affairs show I rarely watch these days, for reasons that will come out in my Facebook comment on it. But first, here is the show:

I wrote a mini-essay of a comment on Facebook:

Teachers are wonderful!

This one is anyway and eclipses most of the political and bureaucratic crap and (even worse) the shit that appears in anything Murdoch. I am far too old, a retired campaigner these days, but heartened that people like this teacher exist.

And I am sure a legion more….

Heads up to so many I have known directly or through FB, and this is just a sample: Ernie Tucker, Maximos Russell Darnley, Tess Kenway, Rowan Cahill, Darcy Moore, Steve Storey …. I could go on….

A shame about the idiot from The Australian, Greg Sheridan, who trots out combined ignorance and ideological prejudice, but he is thoroughly and politely put down for the fool he is. I have coached in the kind of place Greg Sheridan describes — a Korean one — and my experience very often was the majority of the parents who sent their kids were wasting their money. The Chinatown one I worked in for a number of years that was strictly on a one-on-one basis, and not so much about profit, was an entirely different matter.

That decrepit old bastard from The Oz is the only waste of space in this episode of The Drum.

The ABC alas too often bends over double backwards with pike to placate the spurious claims of “left bias”. This is sadly one reason I rarely watch The Drum, though there are good moments, as in this one.

I see the ABC as having a commendable bias towards intelligence.Adrian Piccoli, though a one-time LNP NSW Education Minister, and a good one, really does understand. Well worth having on this segment.

Some of the teachers I named commented afterwards, and in response to Greg Sheridan I referred to a post I wrote while I was still an ESL teacher at Sydney Boys High: Thoughts on coaching.

There is nothing surprising about parents seeking to have their children coached. Many of the SBHS parents come from cultural backgrounds where such help is the norm, even if (as we see in the hagwon story below) it may be argued that this is over-the-top. China’s determination to reduce the burden on students and to seek a broader view of education (see below) is interesting too.

Xiao Wu (Year 12 2001), a very successful HSC student, now counsels parents and students to realise that the pressure to get into a selective school ought not to be so strong; it is not like China where getting into the right school is the only way to ensure a first-rate career or choice of university. (It should be added that coaching is not so common in China as it is in Korea or Japan.) Xiao also sees the importance of participating fully in any cocurricular activities the school offers, citing the burn-out factor as being a significant reason for being somewhat less academically single-minded. In his case he had little choice, but does have regrets that he could not participate as much as he would have liked.

One can understand parents seeking coaching when the system confronts them with high stakes tests such as the Selective Schools Entrance Test–especially when parents feel they cannot help their children themselves in this new environment. Their feeling–not entirely wrong–is that their sons and daughters are starting behind the line compared to native speakers. To try to correct that by whatever means is not in itself reprehensible. However, the ethics and activities of some coaching colleges are quite clearly reprehensible.

The argument that coached students are hot-house specimens does, however, deserve rebuttal. If it were so, they would wilt once the initial purpose of coaching had been achieved. Actually being in a competitive selective school environment would show their weakness. It is fair to say that in the majority of cases this is simply not apparent. The students in general thrive, and were probably deserving of entry anyway. Nor are all coached students nonparticipants in cocurricular activities; if that were so the situation at Sydney Boys High in music, debating and sports would be far worse than some fear it is. Indeed, to judge from the 2006 edition of The Record (which did come out on time this year!) all the above are very healthy indeed, even if participation rather than absolute success characterises a few sports.

Clearly I would have posted, and indeed did post, quite a lot related to teaching on my blogs — search “teaching” or check the categories “education” and “schools” in the sidebar.

Two such posts: I return to teaching — 1985 and Reflections on one ex-student, but also on the issues of partisan politics and stereotyping.

The first suggests that I left at one stage — and indeed there have been breaks in my career. In a statement I just made recently on Facebook I wrote:

Being a good teacher is not just about qualifications and measurable outcomes. It is about humanity and empathy — and fallibility. It is in fact a relationship. It can be a glorious job, but it can also bring pain at times. Sometimes we win, sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we burn out. I have done all three in my time.

1985 marked my recovery from one such period of burnout, in the early stages of which I spent much time contemplating the grass in Glebe Point’s Jubilee Park, and also had my first sessions of therapy… However, that time also saw the editing of the magazine Neos: Young Writers and a productive job at Harkers Bookshop in Glebe. From Term 3 1985 I was back in the saddle at Sydney High where the young ScoMo was a Prefect! I was getting to know the people who became the wonderful Class of 1986, quite a few of whom I am still in touch with. That entry on returning to teaching tells of them.

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From the Class of 1986

My first teaching appointment was Cronulla High School — 1966 (practice session in 1965) to 1969. I have been back, particularly in 2011 when the school had its 50th birthday. See these posts.

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2011 — back to Cronulla

Just the other day on Facebook this class photo appeared. Bundeena is to the south of Cronulla, just across Port Hacking. Students from Bundeena Public School normally went to Cronulla High.

Colourised by me. It’s a composite class, so the 4E5 referred to would have been 1968 or 1969. Back row second from the left seems to be wearing a Sydney Boys High tie. Interesting.

I suggested there was every chance I taught some of them at Cronulla High, and then came one of those magic teacher moments:

Does my ageing bones good to get a comment like this from the person who posted this school photo from more than 50 years ago: “Neil, you taught me English for my School Certificate I think it was 4E5, we had a great year & you were so good to us, thanks, I am bottom row extreme left.”

And here is the young teacher he remembers — a student took this in 1968 or 1969:

How good is that! Yes, I remember 4E5 — they were for a young teacher a touch difficult at times, being shall we say very different to what I had been used to as a student myself at Sydney High, or of course at Sydney University. But it really is heartwarming to have been so remembered by one of them at least after all these years!

I was learning about teaching in a real-world way from them at the time…. And here is another post for you to look at.

Truth-telling versus mealy-mouthed defensiveness…

Put that way it should be fairly obvious which is preferable. It appears the Australian Museum in Sydney is taking the former route.

One wonders how soon it will be before the reactionary bores on Sky get stuck into such outrageous “wokeness”! As they did most recently over the alleged evils of the ACARA curriculum recommendations. Warning: more nonsense and ignorance than you can poke a stick at appear in the following video.

I have shared that so you can see I am not exaggerating the inanity of these people!

On Loon Pond this morning a segment on how to deal with the actual history of this nation came up, especially an item in The Australian by writer Luke Slattery. I was expecting the worst, but as it turns out the article is not all that bad. At least he has read and enjoyed that excellent historian Grace Karskens.

Thanks to Loon Pond.

Looking more into Luke Slattery’s work I see that he has written a novel about Mrs Macquarie, which looks promising enough to have me just reserve it at Wollongong Library.

I was prompted to make this post also by the fact that lately quite a few people have been visiting my 2019 post 201 years ago at Minnamurra River. As many of you would know I have quite a few posts here on Aboriginal and Australian history. Here are a few:

Not a systematic post on the pains of history…. (2020); Dharawal country thoughts 2 — sorry stories (2021); So it is ten years ago almost exactly that I first read Grace Karskens. Here is what I said, and one more… (2021).

Two from April 2020 that resonate today

Old friend and mentor Ken Watson passed away in Canberra in March 2021. I worked with him at Sydney University in 1977-8, and saw him at regular intervals through to the early 2000s. The news of his passing was first relayed to me by Les Farnell, the partner of Graham Little whose life is remembered in this post from last April:

Blogging the 2010s — 63 — July 2010

Posted on  by Neil

Working through the decade! My blog stats are way up too!

Graham Little – things I didn’t know

Posted on July 15, 2010 by Neil

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In Graham Little and The Hunting of the Snark: for Graham I told you something of my friend and mentor who passed away in May this year. His partner Les has provided me with some other material, including an obituary written by Ken Watson (another former colleague, mentor and friend) published, strangely, on my birthday – and I missed it!

Graham Little, 1930-2010

In 1971, Graham Little, as head of the English Syllabus Committee for years 7 to 10, helped turn English lessons in NSW schools from fragmented segments to a cohesive whole. He was described by one education historian as having had “the most profound influence on English teaching in NSW of anyone since the Second World War”.

Little’s early life was hard. When he was very young, he was identified as a neglected child and put in an orphanage. He had rickets, and was still crawling at three because his legs seemingly could not support him. Things changed when he was temporarily placed with the Little family, who had children of their own but, in 1933, they adopted him and soon had him restored to health.

At about 10, Graham answered a radio station ad for a young actor and soon found roles such as the Lone Ranger’s little boy. In later life he recalled with amusement how he, from a far less privileged environment, won the job over boys from private schools. The money earned from a few years’ work was an immense help in his later education.

After five years at Sydney Technical High School, Little went to Sydney University on a teachers’ college scholarship, graduating with honours in psychology and completing his diploma of education in 1951. He surprised the NSW Department of Education by asking to go to Broken Hill High School, then regarded as one of the least favourable of postings, as an English/history teacher.

After three years there, Little joined the educational testing section of the department back in Sydney. Then, after completing English III at night, he decided to return to classroom teaching.

Anyone who had done three years in the far west was, as far as possible, given his or her wishes regarding following postings, so Little was able to get a position in the English department of Fort Street Boys High School, where he showed that he was an outstanding classroom teacher.

Then he became head of an English/history department in 1959, when he moved to Kurri Kurri High School. A few years later he returned to Sydney as head of the English department at Sydney Boys High School.

At the end of 1958, he married Rosemary Ryan, a physical education teacher.

The English Teachers’ Association of NSW had been founded in 1960 and was city-centred for a few years, but Little could see the value of such an association for isolated country teachers. He took the lead in turning it into a statewide organisation, and in time was elected president.

In 1967, Little had a year in London as visiting lecturer at the Commonwealth Institute. On his return to Sydney, he was appointed a member of the English Syllabus Committee for years 7 to 10. It was no surprise to anyone when, shortly afterwards, he was appointed to the English inspectorate, and asked to head the syllabus committee.

With the 1971 English syllabus for years 7 to 10, a document largely written by Little, what became known as “the new English” was given formal recognition in NSW.

Little’s subsequent career, once he had firmly established the “new English” with workshops for teachers throughout the state, involved a move to Canberra in 1975 to be the principal lecturer in curriculum studies at the Canberra College of Advanced Education, now the University of Canberra.

In his time there, Little also undertook a wide-ranging language-across-the-curriculum project, spanning English, mathematics, science and social science, for the Catholic education system, in the ACT and a further language investigation for the Tasmanian Department of Education.

In 1981, three years after the breakdown of his marriage, Little formed a partnership with Leslie Farnell, who was in the ANU school of chemistry.

Little’s book, Approach to Literature (1963), is still used in many schools. After retirement, he continued research in language development, particularly at primary level, producing, with Farnell’s help, a solidly documented study of the development of writing at that level.

In his final years, Little coped courageously with macular degeneration, which ultimately made reading impossible, and the onset of motor neurone disease.

Graham Little is survived by Leslie and his sons Stephen and David. Another son, Geoffrey, died in 1984.

Ken Watson

Anzac Day is just over a week away. Last year’s was different because of COVID.

Social isolation, Anzac Day, home wifi

Posted on  by Neil

I have been out-twerping Twerp (my preferred name for the orange person in the White House) lately — if not on Twitter, then on Facebook and on this blog. Partly this is because instead of relying on free internet at my clubs or the library, I went to Vodafone just as things shut down and got one of these.

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It’s working well and is affordable. The downside perhaps is that I am gazing at my computer screen more than before — but there’s not a lot else to do these days, eh.

And I was already in the midst of a project to repost some highlights from my blogs 2010 to 2019, one entry per each month. The difference is now I am posting daily rather than every few days. The effect on my stats:

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There have been other effects of being so often online.  Some examples.

Through a Facebook group of Sutherland Shire people — quite a few of them septuagenarians or at least pensioners I suspect — I actually made contact with one Peter Meadows, a classmate from Sutherland Public School 1948/9 – 1954! Then through that thread I received a 1947 class photo showing (back row, second from the left) my brother Ian (1935-2017).

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And I participated in the #MeAt20 meme:

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That led to a good messaging exchange with Bob Kennelly, a friend from Sutherland Presbyterian Church days who was at my 21st birthday party!

Then there was Anzac Day when I posted quite a lot of family history material relating especially to the two World Wars, including this of a set of medals exactly like my father’s:

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There were long message exchanges with my nephew Warren in Cape York, himself a 1RAR veteran having served in Malaysia. We agreed by the way that this Anzac Day in which there were no parades or mass gatherings was actually better in some ways, more personal as he put it. There were also posts commented on or shared by Warren’s two sisters. Fellow blogger Jim Belshaw in Armidale said I was slotting into my role as “family elder.”

Then over recent times there have been phone calls from a former flatmate Philip Costello, who now lives in New York, and also from Michael Xu last night. A former flatmate of Philip in their Redfern days, Charles Reid, now lives in East Timor. He has messaged me photos of his remote home and family. He is the only “white man” for miles around, he says, and loves his life there.

There have been ex-students in touch too, some from the very early 70s at Illawarra Grammar, and others from Sydney Boys High.

And there have been more internet-related things I could describe, but that will do. All of which shows that isolation these days need not be lonely or boring.

And then of course there is reading.  The other day I found in my letterbox Ross Garnaut’s Superpower (2019) which I had on reserve in Wollongong Library, who posted it to me! Not due until 19 June.

Reflections on one ex-student, but also on the issues of partisan politics and stereotyping

I posted on Facebook — which does remain useful despite the Wonder Chopper still going about randomly and inconsistently blocking things here in Oz — about an ex-student, Trevor Khan. I trust he won’t be embarrassed, as this has happened before.

As far back as 2007, in fact:

An old teacher always enjoys hearing of ex-students. A story in today’s Sydney Morning Herald has brought back a lot of memories. The story itself is hardly relevant, the only point being that it mentioned National Party NSW Legislative Council member Trevor Khan from Tamworth, a fact that will delight Jim Belshaw.

Trevor, along with my old friend Simon H, was in the class of 1975 at The Illawarra Grammar School in Wollongong. I taught him English, and I suspect Asian Studies, from 1971 to 1974. I was fascinated to read this in his maiden speech delivered in the NSW Parliament on 9 May 2007.

In that speech he said:

However, I feel in detailing my legal career it is only fair that I pay tribute to the many hardworking and talented teachers who saw me overcome early difficulties to eventually enter this profession. I was privileged to attend what was then a small private school, The Illawarra Grammar School in Wollongong. That school provided me with a quality education throughout the time of my schooling from 1962 until the completion of my Higher School Certificate in 1975—in fact, 11 November 1975 was the day of my final economics exam. There can be no doubt that it is the teachers in the early years of my education who are owed the greatest debt, for it was those teachers who identified a reading difficulty which was then simply described as dyslexia.

I well remember those times in the special reading classes. I well remember as a child my school friends speeding along in their reading exercises whilst I struggled with much simpler tasks. It was a difficult and embarrassing time. As I say, if it were not for those teachers who identified my difficulties I may well not have had the opportunity for the higher studies that I have had. But my gratitude to the teaching profession does not end there. As a result of my university years I became a firm believer in the values of the State public education system. This belief in the public education system arose for a number of reasons, but principally because of the significant contribution that a public education system plays in ensuring the homogeneity of our society.

Let me add also, for those who believe in the dreams of Menzies, that a quality education system is one of the great levellers in our community. A quality public education system can help lift those who are less fortunate from their poverty and disadvantage and give to them the chance to share in the wealth and opportunity of our community. My belief in the benefits of the public education system came to be tested when it was time for my children to attend school. Both my children first attended Tamworth Public School and then Oxley High School…

Then in June 2016 I began a post thus: “Trevor Khan on Facebook said something nice about my teaching the other day, but also how long ago that was! Yes, 40 years, give or take a few. Meanwhile Lost Wollongong has posted this really lovely photo of what Crown Street looked like back then…” Of course now I can top the pic that appeared after that with one actually showing me walking down Crown Street at the very time I was teaching Trevor’s class!

But to my latest FB post concerning Trevor Khan:

The FB Chopper is still alive and well. I tried to post about my ex-student Trevor Khan, citing a 2018 New Daily story:

“Nationals MP Trevor Khan has slammed the Anglican school he attended as a child for demanding the right to sack gay staff, in a moving open letter. The NSW MLC has revealed he was furious and then profoundly disappointed by a letter to all MPs penned by some of the nation’s most prestigious Anglican schools.”

I taught Trevor at that very school. I pointed out in my intro to the failed post that Trevor also supports assisted dying partially on the grounds of what happened with his own father. He was a Member of the NSW Parliamentary Working Group on Marriage Equality, and co-sponsored the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019. Hardly your stereotypical LNP person, is he?

He is Deputy President of the Legislative Council of New South Wales in the Parliament of New South Wales.

Reminds us that we need to hold on to our assumptions and stereotypes with a degree of caution — because we might discover that “our” side does not have a monopoly on humanity. Yes, I did ask him how he did it over a beer in Haymarket a few years ago. In some ways Trevor is one of the most progressive people in the NSW Parliament!

His FB has been very quiet lately. Hope all is well.

The pic is from 2019. The occasion: “NSW law now recognises the right of women, and all pregnant people, to make choices about their bodies and futures in consultation with their doctor, free from the fear of prosecution. Any person who is pregnant now has control over determining whether an abortion is right for them up to 22 weeks’ pregnancy in consultation with their doctor. Thereafter, two doctors will need to consider whether an abortion is appropriate….

“Despite widespread popular support, the debate in Parliament was protracted and gruelling. Proposed amendments came thick and fast, with some hand scrawled minutes before being tabled. Standard processes were set aside as the Legislative Council conducted its third longest debate in history, with 26 divisions and 102 amendments. At times it felt like the division bells would never stop ringing….”

Pic: (left to right): Trevor Khan MLC (Nationals), Edwina MacDonald (Legal Director, Human Rights Law Centre), Penny Sharpe MLC (Labor). Source: Community Legal Centres NSW.

I have been able above to give a link to the story Chopper blocked! And here is a 2015 bonus from our ABC.

“I’ve avoided from directly commenting on matters federal. I’ve respected the right of my federal colleagues to run their own race but I think on this issue it’s finally time to stand up and say something really has to be done.” – Trevor Khan

A local state coalition MP is calling for his Federal Coalition colleagues to be allowed a conscience vote on marriage equality.

NSW Nationals MLC, Trevor Khan has been involved at a state level in debate in support of a motion on marriage equality and separately supporting a same sex marriage bill.

Up till now he has avoided commenting on what is happening at a federal level, but says something really has to be done.

“It is not an issue that will go away for the Liberal Party or the National Party; a bill will inevitably go forward either during this parliament or the next,” says Mr Khan.

“This is a wave of change that will not be stopped, it is a question of when and I think really one of the things all politicians have to wrestle with at this stage is, do they really want this to be an election issue at the end of this term, and I think the answer to that is no, the time to deal with it is this year, the time to address it is in the Spring session of the parliament, have the vote and let’s move forward,” he says.

Mr Khan addressed the NSW Parliament in the days after the Ireland Marriage Equality Referendum.

“I think there are number of things you can draw from the Irish referendum, we all know Ireland to be a deeply conservative Catholic nation and the fact that people came together, had a quite civil conversation and voted strongly in favour of it, I think is indicative of what you certainly would expect to see in Australia,” he says.

“The church is not nearly as influential in Australia as it is in Ireland and yet people came to a considered view, a tolerant view of both sides,” says Mr Khan.

The Tamworth based MLC says the time to act is this year.

“It’s now time with the winter break coming on for people to go home and reflect, address the issue directly, deal firstly with the right of coalition members to have conscience vote and that having been done for there to be a bipartisan bill and for that bill to go forward to a vote,” he says.

That’s our Trevor! LNP and all….

So Australia Day again — #2

And what better preparation than to have lunch in a Wollongong Chinese tea-house with two one-time Vietnam War protestors, one a radical historian…? I refer of course to my lunch companions at Ziggy’s House of Nomms yesterday, my usual Friday lunch companion Chris Turner and someone from my teaching days, Rowan Cahill, whom I had not actually seen for forty years!

In Ziggy’s House of Nomms

Ah, Rowan! There is a great deal about you on that excellent blog from Berkelouw’s Book Barn in Berrima. For example:

(Geoff) I took the liberty of including some biographical information on Rowan, our associate beard…

Rowan is an Honorary Fellow with the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts at the University of Wollongong.

He has a diversity of interests. Primarily he is interested in rebellion and resistance to the state, and in the apparatuses and methodologies deployed against these. In the area of academic/scholarly publishing he is interested in, and a supporter of, Open Access. With regard to Australian society and culture, he is variously interested in Australian militarism, labour history, and in the Cold War.

Rowan has published over 620 articles and reviews in some 108 professional, academic, literary, newspaper and online publications (see publications). With colleague Terry Irving he blogs at Radical Sydney/Radical History….

And a lot more too.

Rowan Cahill

Rowan reminded me of the time I guest edited a special South Coast and Tablelands English Teachers Association number of the NSW ETA Newsletter — I think that may have been 1979 or 1980. What I was not expecting was to be presented with a slim volume of Rowan’s poems, with a lovely inscription.

And then there was the food. Chris and I recruited a new fan for Ziggy’s, that’s for sure.

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Steen and Kevin of Ziggy’s House of Nomms. That’s the truly amazing prawn and scallop dumplings in front!

And here (just posted on Facebook by Ziggy’s) the absolutely mouth-watering garlic prawn spring roll!