Friday, 12 April 2013

Education, you had ONE job, just ONE JOB!

The Melbourne Declaration ( is a Neil Armstrong-esque, one small step in the right direction, and light years better than the US first attempt at a 21st Century curriculum. But the declaration is, on its own, wishful thinking. There exist more glaring problems with the education system, its role in society, and in society itself, than the National Curriculum and the Melbourne Declaration have thus far addressed. I want to be a teacher (turning down at least two other lucrative career paths) for three reasons: first, because I will be a brilliant teacher, and the world needs as many of those as they can get. Second, because I want to inspire as many children and young people as I possibly can to think critically, have confidence in themselves, and to know who they are. Third, so I can help facilitate the changes to society and its institutions (including education) that need to happen. In short, I am what J Abner Peddiwell called in his timeless essay on education “The Sabre Tooth Curriculum,” a 'radical.' And we live in a radical time.

Whether you're a realist like me or something else, the world is becoming more globalised, diverse, and sociably and upwardly mobile. It's inescapable; like John Henry vs. the machine, you cannot stop progress. It remains to be seen whether these changes will deliver the stated, and desirable, outcomes of producing 'healthy, productive and rewarding futures' for Australian school leavers. There are some good common-sense and relatively simple-to-implement points in the declaration, such as the focus on becoming 'Asia literate' (remembering that not so long ago our own Prime Minister Paul Keating said that Asia is 'just a place you fly over to get to Europe')(p.4). The ideas of creating an environment free of discrimination, and reducing effects of socio-economic disadvantage (p.7) are a little harder to implement, mostly because these are in large part symptoms of the current system anyway. In a sense, what the Declaration espouses is using the disease that produced these symptoms to cure them. By far the most positive aspect of the Declaration is the (albeit small) recognition it draws to the diversity of individual intelligences, and the necessity of 'a range of pathways to meet the diverse needs and aspirations of all young Australians.' (p.8) This is still coming from within the old framework though, which is why it's wishful thinking. For now.

The problem with the current changes to the education system is that they are reformations, not transformations; the system was built to meet the needs of the socio-cultural, technological and communications revolution of industrialism in the 1800's (Rifkin 2009; Robinson 2006), and is predicated on the idea of a certain, very narrow, kind of academic ability, and the demonstrated capacity for it (ibid). It was designed to create obedient workers who, in the words of George Carlin, are:

'Just smart enough to run the machines and do all the paperwork, and just dumb enough to passively accept the increasingly shittier jobs and pay schemes. (The people who crafted it) aren't interested in creating a nation of people smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they're getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard...years ago...they just want obedient workers.'

Or we could take a look at H. L Mencken's (1924) damning words:

The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardised citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is the aim...whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues, and other such the United States and everywhere else.”

Like it or not, it is the truth. Which is precisely what they're getting, more often than not, and with all the changes the Melbourne Declaration rightly identifies to be taking place in the world, I hope you can see why reformation (as opposed to transformation) isn't going to cut the mustard, and I am in this to change the system from the inside.

I have always had a passion for history, storytelling, original and 'maverick' thinking, and inspiring humankind. A friend once told me in all seriousness that I would make a very good cult leader. Perhaps I am destined to lead the cult of properly educating humanity.

 I fervently agree with the sentiments of great historians, historiographers, and historical figures such as Jared Diamond, Edward Carr, Bill Bryson, Jeremy Rifkin, and Ronald Wright, with the idea that facts and rote learning do not matter. What matters is the search for the causal relationships between social and chronological events, and to find them, so one can understand them. To cast, as it were, a long look back in order to cast a short look forward (Christian 2005). Even fewer teachers – or people in general – seem to see why this kind of thinking is important, or why empathy, and appreciating their students for who they really are is the most important (Rifkin 2009). The reasons why fall outside the scope of this particular discussion, but the consequences of not doing it are very real, and probably deadly.


Carlin, G., (2008), It's Bad for Ya! (Stand-Up Comedy Recording), HBO.
Christian, D., (2005), Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, University of California Press.
Mencken, H. L. (1924), in The American Mercury.
Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, (2008), Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, retrieved < >
Rifkin, J., (2009), The Empathic Civilisation: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis, Tarcher-Penguin, London.
Robinson, K., (2006), The Element: How Finding your Passion Changes Everything.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Guy on the Bus

On the bus home tonight I saw a fellow in a wheelchair covered from head to heel in compression bandages, with only his face uncovered. What little I could see of his face was a mess of 3rd degree burns, as, probably, was his entire body. He was gaunt and trembling; his fingers and toes kept curling and twitching, as if eternally reliving whatever it was that immolated them, and him. But this man spoke to his two companions with the kind of quiet, earnest and lovely emphasis that could only teach me one simple thing.

I was sitting on that very same bus, directly opposite this man. And I was fretting about my living situation, the ancillary strains attached to the best relationship I think I've ever had, my back pains that have been getting worse since the chiropractor started to fix them, my boss yelling at me today, and my assignment being late due to my post traumatic stress disorder acting up. I was fixated so negatively on all of this...while this beautiful man, this magnificent bastard, was just grateful to be alive.

I can't compare my life's trials to his, because they are individual. You are you, the burned man is the burned man, and I am me. Nobody can compare their life to another's. There is one thing that he and I, and you, too, have in common, however - and indeed, everyone else who has ever lived in this world. And that is the attitude we choose towards our lives.

This begged of me one question: if this welcome stranger on the bus can so eloquently, so silently, demonstrate such a singlemindedly gentle and inspiring joy of living that brought tears to my eyes, then what excuse do I have to bitch and cry?

My living situation is a minor thing compared to the prospect of being burned from head to toe. The relationship really is wonderful, what kind of moron would undermine it with such negativity? My back pains are being healed, it has to get worse before it gets better - but it *is,* for the first time in six years, *getting better!* My boss yells at everyone, but is a sterling and kindly gent underneath the grumpy old man syndrome, and nobody else takes his temper to heart - mostly they laugh about it. Why don't I? I do at times struggle with the residual impact of the traumatic life I've had, but I've made such progress that inspires literally everybody who knows my story - and I'm succeeding in my studies and everything that's important to me. So why the hell am I stressing?

The greatest power - such as that wielded by this burned man - requires the lightest touch. This is why God is all but invisible. And this is why the burned man didn't know or care what influence he had on me; he was just going about his business, blissful to be alive and blissfully unaware of the beauty of his spirit, and the lessons he'll no doubt teach, unconsciously, to anyone that crosses his path in life, so long as their hearts and eyes are open.