Friday, 7 December 2007

Deja Vu

Stories about gun massacres in the US of innocent people going about their daily business are unfortunately almost run of the mill.
The latest tragedy in Nebraska follows a very sad and familiar pattern. What I find bizarre is the lack of response from the US authorities. It’s almost as if they’re in denial.
One of the elements of my army training that has stayed with me is the clear understanding of the lethality of modern weaponry, and the need for access to these things to be controlled.
Obviously, it’s not understood across the Pacific.
Today’s Australian editorial says it pretty well –
There was a morbid sense of deja vu about the murder of eight Christmas shoppers in a mall in Omaha, Nebraska, by a 19-year-old gunman who later killed himself. Robert Hawkins, who reportedly wrote in a suicide note that he wanted to “go out in style”, would no doubt be gratified by the global media coverage his gruesome crime received. Yet mass murder in the US has become horribly commonplace. The Virginia Tech massacre, the milk truck driver who murdered the Amish schoolgirls, the Minnesota high school massacre, the Columbine High School massacre, these are only the most gruesome cases that have made the headlines. In 2004, the most recent year for which figures are available on gun deaths in the US, there were 11,624 homicides and 16,750 suicides. The US has the highest rate of gun deaths in the developed world. In a 1994 comparative study of gun-related deaths in the 36 richest countries, the US came first with 14.24 deaths per 100,000 people compared with Australia which had only 2.65 gun deaths per 100,000.
The trouble is that guns are big business in the US. In the 20 years to 1996, the US manufactured more than 85 million firearms. So in spite of the fact that every two years more Americans are killed by guns than died in
the 10-year Vietnam War, the US Government remains the captive of the gun lobbies and refuses to increase gun regulation to protect its citizens. In contrast, in Australia, after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 in which Martin Bryant murdered 35 people and wounded 37 others, then prime minister John Howard co-ordinated uniform gun laws in which all states and territories banned or heavily restricted the legal ownership of self-loading rifles, self-loading shotguns and pump-action shotguns, implementing a buyback program that destroyed 700,000 guns. Since then, the risk of dying by gunshot has halved and there have been no mass executions whereas in the decade leading up to Port Arthur there were 11 mass shootings, which killed 112 people. By 2003, the total number of gun deaths in Australia had dropped from 521 to 289 and gun-related homicides had dropped to one-fifteenth the rate of the US.
The Australian, more than any other paper in the country, champions individual liberty and freedom of choice, but we firmly believe that the right to life is the most fundamental freedom and it is clearly jeopardised in the US by the failure to heavily restrict and regulate gun ownership.

Pretty well said.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

The Education Debate

Julia Gillard has blamed the Howard government for Australia slipping on the international league table of student outcomes.
Blame is a waste of time, but I’m feeling encouraged simply by the fact that education is where it should be - at the centre of national political debate. If the new government does nothing else, getting it up front is an accomplishment.
Back in the nineties, When Borbridge was in power in Queensland, there was an initiative called “Leading Schools”. It was decided that the best way to improve schools was to make them self managing. Schools were offered extra cash to sign up, and many did, especially high schools. At the same time as this was happening, research was commissioned which was supposed to show that self-managed schools would get better results for students. When the research was completed a few years later, it showed absolutely no correlation between how schools were managed and results for students. What it did show was a strong link between teacher performance and student results. “Leading Schools” was abandoned after two years.
This is a long winded way of showing that the best way of improving results for students is by improving teacher performance. So far, no administration has tackled this, except for the ill-considered notion of performance pay for teachers which has been shown time and again to be counter-productive.
Some suggestions from a teacher since 1968 -
Increase teacher pay by 25% immediately.
Transfer any teacher who has been on the same class or in the same school for more than three years to another teaching posting.
Mandate - by affirmative action - a minimum of 25% male teachers at every school.
Put the best teachers on the most difficult classes.
Fine parents whose children are suspended for bad behaviour - $1000 a throw.
Make TE scores for teachers 5 or better.
Mandate a post graduate qualification for all newly graduating teachers.
Introduce a statewide internship programme, so that graduating teachers spend their last year of training in schools day by day - same as medical graduates.
Provide realistic bonuses for teachers who work in difficult and challenging situations. I’m talking thousands monthly.
Make teacher registration dependent on continuing study - in other words, if you’re not studying, you can’t teach.
The unions would probably accept this conditional on the first suggestion (the pay rise).
I’d give it five years, and you’d see major improvements. Let’s see what Rudd does once the Trojan Horses (the laptops) are sorted.

A Pinch of Common Sense

Courtesy I found this posted in Facebook a few weeks ago, when the faux outrage about mandated vaccination first began to ...