A Continuation Of The University Story
My journey to self awareness continued in 1963. My previous post (located below this one on this site) tells the story of the first two years.
I was feeling much more confident when my third university year began. I enrolled in English III and Education I. The latter was actually a second year subject. Psychology I or Philosophy I were prerequisites.
I managed more time in libraries then, despite my teaching commitments after being placed on Primary Promotion List 1. Remember there was no internet at this time. Information was far more remote than a click away. You had to work hard to get it, often competing with fellow students who were on the same mission in those libraries.
Modern English literature was the theme of English III. Dennis Biggins, father of the distinguished actor Jonathan
and of other successful siblings, continued inspiring me as head of English.
I remember doing well in an essay on sexuality in the modern novel. I still recall much of my analysis, ranging through Sigmund Freud, D H Lawrence, Hemingway, Joyce, E M Forster and others beyond my memory.
I have just found an interesting article on E M Forster. It goes so much further than I went in my essay. There is always so much more to learn about everything isn’t there?
I had a major problem while doing my final English exam. A sabre jet fighter plane from Williamtown air base, crashed just down the road from the University. Pandemonium broke out. There were sirens and bells ringing out and I quite lost my train of thought. The result was a viva voce test for me later.
Griff Duncan, former Principal of Newcastle Teachers College, became a Professor at the University and was one of my inspiring Education lecturers. Like so many of my teachers of that time he is now a university building. Our main concern during the course was to compare various education systems from around the world with our own.
I remember Scandinavian education, especially Finland. I have found a present day site that is worth visiting. It helps to explain the respect I felt for Finland all those years ago.
Another fascinating foreign insight came concerning the Jamaica Youth Corps. Here was a role model of interest to Australian teachers and I dreamed that one day I might be able to create a replica of it here. Alas that did not happen, but the philosophy of the West Indian locale influenced my teaching. This site well captures the spirit of the place.
Exam time loomed again according to the nature of things. I passed comfortably in Education and my viva voce English test went well. My teaching salary increased with this success, as I was now considered three year trained.
In the next year I studied Education II and History II. In Education we researched a ground breaking 1963 document from England, the Newsom Report: ‘Half Our Future.’ It made a case for children below the 50% level, the failures or under achievers, as opposed to the elite top decile.
That study of mine had a profound effect on my teaching. Later in life I found myself in classrooms with what were known as GA or General Activities pupils. These were depressed high school students who found normal lessons beyond them.
Many of them were simply passing time until the school leaving age arrived. Such pupils as these were precisely the subject matter of the Newsom Report. I remember one of the pupils saying to me, “Gee Sir, you must be dumb having to teach us.” Spelling lists tended to include such words as danger, poison, wrong way go back, and keep off the grass. I did what I could to give them self respect, and helped them stand in other people’s shoes through drama.
History and philosophy of education were also my focus for study in this year. Another profound influence on the rest of my life. I learnt that education in Ancient Greece was not for all citizens.
Privilege existed and best served the elite, for example excluding women and slaves. Plato’s emphasis on education for social justice has influenced me ever since. Here is a rather good contemporary summary of Plato’s impact.
We moved on to Saint Thomas Aquinas of the thirteenth century, a vast influence on universities in particular, but also on the earlier stages of child development. His emphasis on moral values has echoed into the present, especially in religious schools.This article is a very thorough treatment of Thomism. It is quite long and you may not read all of it, but I found it interesting.
I remember so well John Locke’s definition of early learning as writing on a blank slate or ‘tabula rasa.’ My clear recollection is probably because it is exactly opposite to my views. There is much of value in Locke’s writing, as I remember it, but I have a problem with the blank slate.
Rousseau’s Emile was another inspiration. What a joy for teachers with big classes to dream of a one to one ratio: one teacher one pupil. Here is a summary of the influence of Rousseau that reminds me of my past studies.
I met John Dewey, the Progressivist, as part of this course. His burning desire to change society through the learning and verve of the young, inspired me. Social reform was Dewey’s mission.
I found Maria Montessori’s child-centred approach to teaching quite an inspiration. I note today that her influence is quite significant in Australia and throughout the world.
Another interesting source of learning for me was the notion of Great Books, promoted by Robert Maynard Hutchins, among others.
I found and still find the idea that a body of great books, say 150 in number, deserves to be an important part of learning. Books, especially in those early years of mine, were ongoing things and could be read over and over. Now we move into the cyber age but great books are still available, especially through Project Gutenberg. The choice of books for the list was in Hutchins’ day decided by tradition and the judgement of reputable authorities. I am aware of the criticism of this idea from the perspective of multicultural education. I am still thinking about that. Maybe the selection of books could be multicultural. Ideas do need to focus on the needs of the pupils.
Teaching turned out to be my profession for a long time. Meeting these university masters of educational thought, even though it was at night and often after a hard day, was a great motivation. I continued willingly.
History II was another moving experience. We focused on modern British history. I remember vividly the Irish question. The Act of Union of 1801 I learned didn’t ease the tension between the English and the Irish. On the contrary.
I remember especially the Great Hunger during the 1840s in Ireland. A million Irish men, women and children died as a result of the famine, largely caused by the potato blight that swept Ireland and elsewhere in Europe. Apparently the English landlords promoted only one variety of potato, which didn’t help. I recall my lecturer pointing out that although famine was killing so many people, Irish citizens behind barricades had to watch food being loaded onto ships as export.
Another vivid memory I have is of the Easter Rebellion of 1916. I learnt to love Willie Yeats’ wonderful poem about this tragic event that cost so many Irish and other lives. I reproduce the last part of it here:
From Easter, 1916
By William Butler Yeats
One of my lecturers in English remarked that Yeats was the greatest poet since Pope. I was not equipped to confirm this, but I was certainly a fan of Yeats. I read his Cuchulain plays at another time, another place.
Success in this year’s examinations meant that I had eight subjects to my credit. One more remained and I would have my degree.
We moved from Maitland to Sydney at the end of this year. This meant I had to enrol at Sydney University for one final subject. In a fit of aberration I chose Economics I.
When that course began, the professor announced that 40% of the students enrolled would fail. Numbers studying that subject were very great. I was to fall victim to the fail category. It is hard to describe the misery of finding that news on a notice board with my wife and a young child in a stroller.
The following year I chose to study American History III. Such a good year it was. It certainly made up for the previous year’s disappointment. Memories still come flooding back.
Frederick Jackson Turner’s moving frontier was so much more than a Hollywood western. As well as creating a special way of looking at American history, Turner’s moving frontier also promoted imperialism. The Mahan Doctrine concerning naval bases outside America, also contributed to the imperialist push.
I read of the Dred Scott case with considerable compassion. I learnt of its contribution to the Civil War climate, in itself a fascinating unit of study.
I did an essay on Social Darwinism in the US. Darwin’s critical influence on such Robber Barons as Andrew Carnegie and JP Morgan et al., with the help of Herbert Spencer, made interesting reading. Those survival-of-the-fittest disciples were a tough bunch.
Another thing I remember well was William Jennings Bryan’s famous “Cross of Gold” speech. How could I forget it. It was so poignant. So relevant to the suffering American millions. So brilliant. Here is the last paragraph. A moving thing. He wanted to give silver to the poor at the expense of gold.
There, in Bryan, was a great speaker. It was quite sad in some ways that he met his doom at the Scopes Monkey Trial, even though his prosecution case was unjust.
The Immigration Act of 1924 was another interesting part of American history to study. It was an obverse response to the massive immigration wave surging into America during the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. No longer would teeming hordes enter the US via Ellis Island. Today, that past learning experience of mine about America, makes me view Australia’s present immigration policy more clearly.
From the Boston Tea Party to Wilson’s Fourteen Points American history reached out to me. Australia has so many links with American life: films, cars, politics and world war history. I found non stop study fascinating and worth every moment.
To add to my enjoyment, I passed the exam. I was finally a Bachelor of Arts. Life was moving on in the right direction at last.