Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Somewhere Tonight

This video montage was posted on Facebook by one of my 5 Platoon associates. Thanks Bernie.

It was originally used to promote the 1987 Welcome march - something I missed (to my eternal regret).

Although it's Bob Seger song, Normie Rowe makes a great job of it. He does, after all, have an in-depth understanding of the experience.

My platoon features from 3.36 until 3.40.

Most of the photos are the work of Denis Gibbons  and Andy Mattay, two great photographers.

Here are the lyrics -

Somewhere tonight
Someone's reachin' out to someone who's refusin'
Someone's tired of all the reasons someone's using
Someone doesn't understand

Somewhere tonight
Someone's thinkin' back to someone who got closer
Someone's realizin' something's really over
Someone's thinkin' it's too late
Someone's thinkin' it's too late

There's a cold wind blowin' from the north
And the summer birds are leavin'
As the sun slips ever further south
The lakes will soon be freezin'
And the ice will claim the empty shores
Where the one's in love went walkin'
And the hard blue skies will shiver
As the winter clouds come stalkin'

And unless you find someone to hold
Unless someone starts carin'
Unless you find the warmth you need
Unless someone starts sharin'
When the long, dark nights come closin' in
And the winter winds come howlin'
You don't know if you'll make it
Without someone you can count on

Somewhere tonight
Someone's packin' up and someone's really leavin'

Someone's not quite sad - only disbelievin'
Someone's walkin' out the door

Someone's walkin' out the door


Friday, 27 May 2016

Finland Forever

By the end of this year I will have been teaching (or leading teachers and supporting them) for forty-eight years.

That's a long time, admittedly interrupted by bits and pieces such as two years as a Nasho, and four years in Regional administration, but generally speaking, I've worked in schools with kids and teachers and this profession has pretty much been my life. I continue to get a real buzz out of it.

It's interesting to reflect on the waxing and waning of educational trends down through those years. There's been plenty.

When I started as a wet-behind-the-ears First Year teacher (we weren't given the honorific of "graduate" back then) I had a class of forty five sitting in rows, and I was on my own. Teacher Aides hadn't, at that time, been invented. I remember that the job was challenging, but fun. For me, it still is. At least the actual teaching part, that is. The bureaucratic dross that has been added down through the years is less enjoyable.

We taught from a "workbook" which stipulated content. On day 5 of term 2 (for example) work that was set down to be covered was written in detail in the workbook. It was different from day 4, but was pretty much set in stone, irrespective of location, student characteristics and school size. Every school in the state was teaching the same content on that specific day. I can't remember the origin of this curriculum content, but I recall that it came from a syllabus.

Ironically, we've gone full circle in that the "syllabus" is now called the Australian Curriculum, and its content is available on line.

In just about every other aspect of the craft, however (apart from class size) there have been enormous changes - too many to cover here. I will, however, touch on the current obsession with standardised testing. It's known as NAPLAN (called irreverently NAPALM) by some.

It's the politicians' gift to education. Quite obviously, if you aren't sure what to do to improve results (I won't use the word "outcomes") measuring them is probably a safe bet. At least, if you're a politician, it shows that you're "doing something about education".

Actually, you're not. You're doing about as much for improving a team's performance as the crowd at a Broncos/Cowboys match does by watching it. Somebody should tell Wayne Bennett that the performance of his team can be improved by the game's spectators. Standardised testing does however provide great copy for the media. They publish "league tables" and sell a lot of newsprint.

The other downside (apart from the league tables) is the waste of precious time and energy preparing for, and administering the testing regime, and the time it takes out of actual teaching and learning. The subjects that actually enhance quality of life (Music ad the Arts) are languishing.

All this testing and data gathering seems to be making little difference to school performance.

There is one country where standardised testing was abandoned decades ago.

And guess what - their school performance improved exponentially. Now I'm not saying that the improvement is down purely to the lack of standardised testing. It's not.

It's down to a range of factors, most of which relating to teacher performance. It's pretty simple. If you want high performing students and high performing schools, you need high performing teachers.

When I was in the principalship, my school participated in a Queensland study looking at the influence local school management had on school performance. It was supposed to show that if the management of a school's financial and staffing resources was in the hands of the school community instead of the centralised bureaucracy, results would improve.

When this study was done and dusted, it proved that there was a small correlation between management and outcomes, but by far the most significant factor was teaching competence. It had been commissioned by a government that was hoping to use its results to justify a programme they called "Leading Schools". The very expensive study was quietly shelved, never to be cited again. They had to use other justifications.

Going back to my reference to standardised testing, I'm talking about Finland, of course. Take a look at these results -

Ninety-three percent of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17.5 percentage points higher than the United States, and 66 percent go on to higher education, the highest rate in the European Union. Yet Finland spends about 30 percent less per student than the United States.

The Finns moved away from highly centralised planning and standardised testing decades ago. Instead they focused their time energy and resources on improving the quality of their teaching force. To teach in Finland, you need a masters qualification. You are a didactition, a concept totally foreign in the USA (and here, as it happens).

Google the word - results come up only in Finnish - yet it's an English word.

There is a waiting list to get into teaching in Finnish universities. Teachers are highly respected and well paid. They also have a strong union. The last characteristic is about the only one that in this country we share with them.

If we want to improve educational standards, lets support the people critical to school performance. Let's pay them what they're worth, improve their status, and understand that teachers shape the future.

Ask the Finns. 

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

This Gearing is Negative

Negative gearing of home loans has become an election issue.

For those readers (like me) who find topics about finance as exciting as warm custard, here is a definition -  

Gearing simply means borrowing money to buy an asset. In the case of property, you have taken out a loan to purchase a property. Negative gearing means that the interest you are paying on the loan is more than the income. As a result, you are making a loss.

But why, you ask, would you buy a property and run it at a loss? Wait – there’s more.
If you do this, you can claim the loss as a tax deduction. Now that’s a trick. It means that you’re paying less tax than I am, when I bought a unit and paid cash for it. So, I’m subsidising your investment.

Financially it makes sense; ethically, not so much.

There is one very basic concept implicit in the process which seems to have been ignored in the political debate.

That concept relates to the definition of a "home". Perhaps I am old fashioned, as I've always considered a home as a place to live. You know, as referred to in Maslow's hierarchy of basic needs - a place of shelter.

Negative gearing looks at "home" in a different fashion. It sees a home as an investment, not a place of shelter.

It also considers this same home as a tax dodge. 

Now that process, claiming a deduction for the purchase of a home that the owner is living in sounds to me, reasonable enough. For this owner, the home is indeed a place of shelter.

But consider a different scenario. In this case, a property investor has five homes, and has made a great deal of money from the property market. This same investor is treated by the ATO in exactly the same way as a first home buyer. But for this owner, the home is something else entirely. It is an investment.

That is not reasonable. Why should my hard-earned tax dollar contribute to this individual's accumulating wealth? What is also not reasonable is that first home buyers, in Maslow’s terms, are being priced out of their capacity to seek shelter.

A bit strong, you say? Not really, negative gearing, amongst other things, puts upward pressure on home prices. So one segment of the population, property investors, are being subsidised by the taxpayer to keep another segment out of the market.

It does, and will continue to do so under the Coalition's negative gearing policy.

It stinks.

It needs to be tweaked. You should only be able to negatively gear your place of residence.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Back Where it Belongs

Today I marched with my union for the first time in thirty years.

The reason for this was the reinstatement in Queensland of the May day celebration back where it belongs.

This victory over political spite (which was the only reason for shifting it) was worth celebrating.

There was a great rollup, and it was good to reconnect with people I had worked with over the years in a variety of schools and situations. Songs were sung, speeches made, and a good time was had by all.

We were reminded of the origins of the Labor movement in the 1891 shearers' strike. The harsh suppression of this strike (including the use of the military) was largely responsible for the formation of the Australian Labor Party.

In order to do a bit of stirring, I wore my unit reunion shirt to the parade. Large numbers of ex-military are anti-union, so I thought that it might be instructive to remind them that the right to organise was one of the values that Australians had always fought for.

Scattered amongst the crowd were ex-public servants sacked in Newman's purge in 2012. It was interesting listening to them explain how that action had motivated many to become very politically active.

The surprise defeat of his government was in no small measure an outcome of his broken promise about public service redundancies. People (and their families) don't forget these things.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

The Anzac Myth

Photo courtesy the Saturday Paper

I came across this well written piece in The Saturday Paper.

It is especially relevant at this time, on the eve of ANZAC day, given the extensive and overblown mythology that has developed around what was always intended as a day of commemoration.

It also resonates with some research I did recently through the Australian War Memorial into a great uncle who served in France.

My great uncle's military records indicate that he jumped ship in Durban on the way to Plymouth, and was consequently separated from his unit. On arrival in the UK, he went straight into hospital with VD, no doubt picked up during the ten days he was AWOL in Durban.

His service records show that he embarked for France a few months later after a long stint in hospital, but the fact that he ended up with a different posting in a different unit from his original probably saved his life. More than half of his original unit were casualties, dead or maimed, in the nightmare that was the Western Front..

He survived and ended up marrying a French girl who had nursed him in hospital, strangely in the UK. I never did discover what she was doing in England.

They lived in France for a while after the war, but eventually found their way back to Australia in the twenties to settle in Clermont,central Queensland.

He died fairly young, possibly as a consequence of his service, but my French great aunt lived to a ripe old age. Stories of her eccentricities are part of our family history.

The article linked above discusses these issues at some length. It recounts the reality, not the myth.

Somehow the myth continues to grow, like a parasite on the truth, and it dishonours the memory of those who did not return.

On a personal note, I have been accused on a military blog of lying because I had the temerity to point out that the story going around that all Nashos who served in Vietnam were volunteers was rubbish. Somehow, the fact that National Servicemen were obliged to serve in Vietnam whether they wanted to or not, does not fit the narrative that we were enthusiastic about driving the Commies out of South Vietnam.

The National Service Act made it very clear that national servicemen on full-time duty were liable for ‘special overseas service’ including combat duties in Vietnam. This fact is conveniently ignored. The "all were volunteers" myth has been thoroughly debunked in mark Dapin's book - The Nasho's War, and before its release, research I'd done at the AWM was leading me to the same conclusion. There is no record of alleged "opt-out parades" anywhere in unit records or AWM documentation.

There may have been isolated incidents of unit commanders taking matters into their own hands and finding ways of weeding out unwilling conscripts, but I certainly was never given the opportunity. To enlarge this alleged practice to cover ALL Nashos is pure fiction.  

Dapin interviewed hundreds of Nashos and came to the same conclusion.  

The myth persists, and until a short time ago was included in material available to schools on the ANZAC day website. I emailed them with my evidence, and they subsequently removed it, but this sequence of events is typical of the exploitation of the commemoration to support a spurious narrative.

Those who served were on the whole, ordinary men caught up in the absurdity of war. They wanted to live - they saw no glory in dying in war. They loved and were loved. They who were killed left family and lovers behind who will mourn them forever. 

Perhaps telling the truth about the ugly absurdity of modern warfare is too much for our delicate twenty-first century sensibilities, but is it OK to invent a false narrative to avoid such unpleasantness?

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Parting Glass

This is posted, gentle reader, for two reasons.

One is that it is a moving and evocative piece of music.

The other because a member of my extended family (my nephew) is a member of the Brisbane based choir, Voices of Birralee, which is currently on a WW1 commemorative tour in France. they are performing at Amiens, Villers-Bretonneux and Bullecourt, among other locations.

This performance was recorded in L’├ęglise de la Madeleine in the 8th arrondissement of Paris.

The lyrics -

 "The Parting Glass"

Of all the money that e'er I had
I've spent it in good company
And all the harm that e'er I've done
Alas it was to none but me
And all I've done for want of wit
To memory now I can't recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all

Of all the comrades that e'er I had
They are sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e'er I had
They would wish me one more day to stay
But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I'll gently rise and I'll softly call
Good night and joy be with you all

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Unique, Incredible & Iconic

 These three words are driving me spare!

It is impossible to read or watch media without each of them being misused, overused, or simply dropped into the text or dialogue without any care or understanding of their meaning and usage.

Let’s begin with “unique”.

The dictionary meaning is “the embodiment of unique characteristics; the only specimen of a given kind.”

Yet how often is it applied to something slightly unusual, and more frequently than not, an adjective is attached, so we end up with stuff like – “very unique”. What part of “only” is not understood? Something is either unique or it isn’t. 

In that sense, it’s a bit like “pregnant”.

Then there's "incredible". The word means “so extraordinary as to seem impossible”.

To me, the extraordinary thing is the frequency with which it is applied breathlessly to some situation or performance of note. It seems to be one of the few descriptive words known by your average sporting commentator. Taken literally, we’ve seen a rash of extraordinary and/or impossible performances recently. 

Perhaps these performances have become so commonplace that before too long a whole new lexicon will have to be invented. The sky’s the limit.

Perhaps we can begin to use words nicked from other languages. How about “giaman”? (Pidgin). 
It doesn’t mean “incredible”, by the way.

But the one that really gives me the irits* is “icon”.

The funny thing about this word is that it lay dormant for a very long time, and then suddenly (about five years ago, I reckon), it exploded on to the scene.

Years ago, when I was studying comparative religion, was the first time I remember coming across this word. It was presented in the context of artistic renderings of religious symbols and was usually applied to representations of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a saint, usually painted in oil on a wooden panel, depicted in a traditional Byzantine style and venerated in the Eastern Church.

So how did it come to be applied to people who have become well known? What is religious about celebrity? That’s quite a semantic stretch.

I guess that celebrity worship, often driven by marketing, has become a product of contemporary culture in the absence of more traditional belief systems.

But the change in meaning is an enormous leap from the original.

I know – English is a living language, but that doesn’t excuse treating well established meaning like yesterday’s food packaging.

Don’t get me going on the packaging industry………….

*Maybe if I use this it will become fashionable.

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