Friday, 15 June 2012


Both my parents were teachers, my bride is a brailler and teacher of the blind, and one of my sisters teaches music.

I have a commitment, therefore, to education, and to its function in society.

Hopefully, I've learnt something about the activity, having been up to my ears in it since 1968. That's 44 years and counting.

As a result, I've developed a set of beliefs about learning and teaching based on what I've seen and done since 1968.

The most fundamental of these understandings is that teaching is about change, initially in individuals, and as a consequence in society. I belong to the group of teachers that believes that beyond passing on society's beliefs and mores, a teacher has a role in making the world a better place by encouraging students to reflect on what they see, and if they believe it can be improved, they should set out to do so.

Good teaching is essentially subversive, something that becomes clearly evident whenever totalitarians seek and gain power. Teachers are usually the first to be controlled or eliminated. 

Obviously, working with disabled kids since 1970, has convinced me that for those disadvantaged through impairment, education is one way of removing barriers to best quality of life.

Hence, I've always worked hard to make kids with disabilities as independent as possible. Ultimately, the amount of real independence they develop is directly proportional to later quality of life, defined as power to make and shape their own lives. The less they have to rely on others, the better their lives.

Which brings me to the image above. The difference with kids with disabilities is that you're teaching basic skills as well as the capacity to be critical. The sequence (skills first) is vital.

Read it carefully.

I reckon Chris Hedges has nailed it.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

iLead iTeach iLearn

I’ve just returned from a conference of special educators. Once upon a time, before I “retired” attending conferences was a fairly regular experience.

Not any more.

This is the first professional conference I’ve been to in about five years. I’ve attended training sessions, simply to stay up to date – mostly with technology.

Practically everything once dealt with by the bureaucracy is now “Do it yourself” – using the IT support that underpins most routine processes.

It will be interesting to see how well this proceeds after 30th June, when the new state government has terminated the contracts of all the IT support staff.

But I digress…

This one was different, and to be honest I shelled out the hefty registration fee because I was glad of the opportunity to meet up with old colleagues, and spend a bit of time with like-minded people. Most of them continue to be passionate about their work, and given the barriers presented by the fading of the social justice agenda (some of it as a result of the political drift to the Right), they need real guts and determination to stay on the job.

This conference was an assembly of leaders (principals and heads of special education services), so for me it was a chance to renew some collegiate associations. It was gratifying to note many teachers that I have mentored down through the years are now principals.

My parents were both teachers, and I ran into one forty plus bloke who remembered being taught (in year 2) by my mum in the early sixties. He remembered her very clearly, described her as the most compassionate person he ever encountered, and told this yarn to illustrate.

Apparently the year 1 and 2 kids in my mum’s class used to have a “sleepy time” for about half an hour at the end of the school day.

This doesn’t happen these days, but looking back on it, it probably wasn’t a bad practice. One afternoon, one of the kids (indigenous, and from a family that was doing it tough) went completely to sleep. At bell time (3pm) mum didn’t wake him, but let all the others out whilst he slept on.

When he did wake up, he was disoriented and upset, so mum took him home with my two younger sisters, ran him a hot bath, gave him a feed, and drove him back to his home with some clean clothes on. This was straightforward, given that the school residence where my family lived was next door to the school.

I was innocent of this, being at boarding school at the time, but when I checked with my sisters, they remembered it.

These days, of course, acting that way out of basic compassion would be unthinkable.

It rings true, because I remember mum doing something similar when I was about six or seven, although on this earlier occasion, she sent one little aboriginal lad home wearing my clothes. I was not impressed.

He was right about my mother. She couldn’t bear not helping if she saw someone in difficulty. Sometimes it got her into trouble.

I must be getting on. I was the oldest person at the conference, and there were only four principals in the room of my generation, who had come through the specialist training that I had.

The scary thing is that no-one is being trained in these specialist areas these days. The organisation is slowly losing its collective memory.

Not a hell of a lot has changed in our system. There are still issues in education involving the on-going clash between politics and pragmatics.

I can attend these things now with a wonderful lightness of being – I’m not a principal anymore, and can be empathetic without having to deal with the day to day challenges of incumbency.

As someone said on the last day – the work these people do with disabled kids is vital. You can't (for example) have an 85% success rate at crossing the road.

I salute them.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...