Some Lessons From History

Image Source: Creative Commons: https://www.imoa.ph/event-archive/

All Hail To The Expert!

What must I think in the face of life’s daily challenges?

What is my acceptable course to follow in times of stress?

Why, just listen to an expert stupid. A nice accredited answer this,  you might say. The final solution to the thought processes of the common man (and woman ✓).

When in doubt, call an expert. That is the spirit of the modern age. When not in doubt, call two experts.

Now who are these experts? Where can you find them?

No problem. They will emerge from your woodwork wherever you turn.

You will find they proclaim themselves energetically. There will generally be a verbal signal in their titles that advertises their virtue: words such as noted, respected, qualified, experienced, professional, distinguished, famous, prominent, renowned, eminent, celebrated, illustrious, legendary, lionised or latest will mollify your brain, relentlessly.

The problem is no expert is always right. There is no such thing as the absolute truth, and that’s the absolute truth. In a few words that sums up the spirit of this essay.

Let us look at history to develop this point further. Have you noticed how big mistakes litter the pathways of human progress? Inelegant disasters are all too common. A few random samples will serve to clarify this.

Our Examples

The Great Fire Of London

The Love Of Lead

The Great Depression

Two World Wars

The Vietnam War

The Cold War

The Iraq War of 2003 et seq.

Global Warming

Now on with the analysis. Not mere description but hard core analysis.

The Great Fire Of London: 1666

Here is one expert’s opinion.

For a man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man’s home is his safest refuge].

Sir Edward Coke (pronounced Cook), in The Institutes of the Laws of England, 1628. 

Source: https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/an-englishmans-home-is-his-castle.html  10/10/19

This expert was right sometimes, but not in 1666.

Now how’s this for poor advice from another expert?

Words of Sir Thomas Bloodworth, Lord Mayor of London, before the great fire got under way: “Pish! A woman could piss it out.” 

Here are more details of the burning.

Pepys Diary Entry, September 2 1666

By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down tonight by the fire we saw, and that it is now burning down all Fish Street, by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower; and there got up upon one of the high places . . . and there I did see the houses at the end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side of the bridge . . .

So down [I went], with my heart full of trouble, to the Lieutenant of the Tower, who tells me that it began this morning in the King’s baker’s house in Pudding Lane, and that it hath burned St. Magnus’s Church and most part of Fish Street already. So I rode down to the waterside . . . and there saw a lamentable fire. . . . Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the waterside to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconies, till they some of them burned their wings and fell down.

Having stayed, and in an hour’s time seen the fire rage every way, and nobody to my sight endeavouring to quench it . . . I [went next] to Whitehall (with a gentleman with me, who desired to go off from the Tower to see the fire in my boat); and there up to the King’s closet in the Chapel, where people came about me, and I did give them an account [that]dismayed them all, and the word was carried into the King. so I was called for, and did tell the King and Duke of York what I saw; and that unless His Majesty did command houses to be pulled down, nothing could stop the fire. They seemed much troubled, and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor from him, and command him to spare no houses. . . .

[I hurried] to [St.] Paul’s; and there walked along Watling Street, as well as I could, every creature coming away laden with goods to save and, here and there, sick people carried away in beds. Extraordinary goods carried in carts and on backs. At last [I] met my Lord Mayor in Cannon Street, like a man spent, with a [handkerchief] about his neck. To the King’s message he cried, like a fainting woman, ‘Lord, what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses, but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it.’ . . . So he left me, and I him, and walked home; seeing people all distracted, and no manner of means used to quench the fire.

The houses, too, so very thick thereabouts, and full of matter for burning, as pitch and tar, in Thames Street; and warehouses of oil and wines and brandy and other things.

Source: http://www.pepys.info/fire.html 10/10/19

This poetic expert is closer to the truth today:

Source: https://me.me/i/fire-and-ice-some-say-the-world-will-end-in-c4a7bc8515e2437a85ad291fa49dbdf5 14/10/19

The Love Of Lead

Here is some more advice from the past.

Lead has been known to us humans for thousands of years. It has a low melting point and has thus been easy to separate from its bedrock. The Romans after their invasion of England were responsible for the wide dispersal of lead throughout their vast empire. This is probably why many Roman aristocrats suffered from lead poisoning.

What about this quote for misguided lead glorification ?

Ezekiel 27:12

Tarshish was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of all kind of riches; with silver, iron, tin, and lead, they traded in thy fairs.

Thus spake authority, flawed expert on wealth in praise of lead.

Here are some more details of the big mistake. Many past people were so sure of things.

Lead was a popular, valued, intricate part of life for millennia. It has had many uses ranging from bullets to water works. The first plumbers got their name from the Roman word for lead: plumbum. One of the biggest mistakes was linked to its sweet taste. Many drinks in ignorant times were flavoured with it. Poisonous outcomes. Experts of the formative past knew nothing of lead’s dangers. Time in the end did tell.

The Great Depression

Now this piece of expertise ranks very highly in the history of misguided advice.

1932 PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS

There are three definite directions in which action by the Government at once can contribute to strengthen further the forces of recovery by strengthening of confidence. They are the necessary foundations to any other action, and their accomplishment would at once promote employment and increase prices.

The first of these directions of action is the continuing reduction of all Government expenditures, whether national, State, or local. The difficulties of the country demand undiminished efforts toward economy in government in every direction. Embraced in this problem is the unquestioned balancing of the Federal Budget. That is the first necessity of national stability and is the foundation of further recovery. It must be balanced in an absolutely safe and sure manner if full confidence is to be inspired.

The second direction for action is the complete reorganisation at once of our banking system. The shocks to our economic life have undoubtedly been multiplied by the weakness of this system, and until they are remedied recovery will be greatly hampered.

The third direction for immediate action is vigorous and whole souled cooperation with other governments in the economic field. That our major difficulties find their origins in the economic weakness of foreign nations requires no demonstration. The first need to-day is strengthening of commodity prices. That can not be permanently accomplished by artificialities. It must be accomplished by expansion in consumption of goods through the return of stability and confidence in the world at large and that in turn can not be fully accomplished without cooperation with other nations.

BALANCING THE BUDGET

I shall in due course present the Executive Budget to the Congress. It will show proposed reductions in appropriations below those enacted by the last session of the Congress by over $830,000,000. In addition I shall present the necessary Executive orders under the recent act authorising the reorganisation of the Federal Government which, if permitted to go into force, will produce still further substantial economies. These sums in reduction of appropriations will, however, be partially offset by an increase of about $250,000,000 in uncontrollable items such as increased debt services, etc.

Herbert Hoover: State of the Union, December 6 1932

Some people today still speak in Hoover’s tones. Can you believe it?

Source: https://millercenter.org/the-presidency/presidential-speeches/december-6-1932-fourth-state-union-address 12/10/19

Here are some more details of the Depression mistakes.

(1)

The Failure to “Trickle Down” 

Source of Image: https://tricountynews.mn/2016/07/14/ccc-helped-millions-of-unemployed-in-great-depression/ 12/10/19

Now here’s an expert with a point actually worth checking out:

(2) The Great Depression in the United States, far from being a sign of the inherent instability of the private enterprise system, is a testament to how much harm can be done by mistakes on the part of a few men when they wield vast power over the monetary system of the country.

Milton Friedman

Source: https://www.azquotes.com/quotes/topics/private-enterprise.html 12/10/19

Two World Wars

World War I

Here’s some startling, misguided expert advice from a vanished past.

Why should we not form a secret society with but one object, the furtherance of the British Empire and the bringing of the whole world under British rule, for the recovery of the United States, for making the Anglo Saxon race but one Empire? What a dream, but yet it is probable; it is possible. 

Cecil Rhodes

Source: https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/british-empire-quotes 11/10/19

And here’s an admission that might surprise you. The spirit of its times?

I think a curse should rest on me — because I love this war. I know it’s smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment — and yet — I can’t help it — I enjoy every second of it.

Winston Churchill, a letter to a friend (1916).

World War II

Now the following is among history’s most famous (or infamous) pieces of wrong expert advice.

My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. 

I believe it is peace for our time… Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.

Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister, 30 September 1938.

Source: https://eudocs.lib.byu.edu/index.php/Neville_Chamberlain%27s_%22Peace_For_Our_Time%22_speech 11/10/19

A consequence now worth considering: the German Blitz of Britain.

“The Second Great Fire Of London”

Target: City of London

Location: London, England

Date: 29–30 December 1940; 6:15 pm – 4:00 …

Perpetrator: Luftwaffe

The economic damage from such large devastation of a major city is thought to have accelerated the collapse of the British Empire, and the decline of Great Britain as a superpower in the decades following the war.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Great_Fire_of_London 12/10/19

The Vietnam War 1965-1975

Two Expert Opinions Giving Rise To Conflict

 (1)

Source: Creative Commons: https://www.awesomestories.com/images/user/c0110706d589f929da4dc9fd5a2e49eb.jpg 12/10/19

(2)

Source: Creative Commons: https://66.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m0z1wymbsa1rrgzb0o1_400.png 12/10/19

The expert artists above sum up the propaganda of the time pretty well. The excuse for war wrought havoc in many lives. And it didn’t stop unwilling conscripts fighting a different kind of battle. More trouble for innocents.

The Vietnam Outcome:

We lost the war! Mind you, you don’t find winners of wars, only who’s left.

Here’s a harsh reality

Estimates of casualties of the Vietnam War vary widely. Estimates include both civilian and military deaths in North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

VIETNAM WAR…

Total Number of Deaths.

Allied military deaths 282,000

NVA/VC military deaths 444,000

Civilian deaths (North and South Vietnam) 627,000

Total deaths 1,353,000

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War_casualties 12/10/19

As for the trauma of the war’s surviving soldiers, and the shattered lives of napalm victims, I’ll let you visit the archives of Hell for yourself.

The Cold War

Now here’s an interesting description of how Cold War experts misled us.

Origins

Brinkmanship is the ostensible escalation of threats to achieve one’s aims. The word was probably coined by Adlai Stevenson in his criticism of the philosophy described as “going to the brink” in an interview with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles under the Eisenhower administration, during the Cold War. In an article written in Life Magazine, John Foster Dulles then defined his policy of brinkmanship as “The ability to get to the verge without getting into the war is the necessary art.” During the Cold War, this was used as a policy by the United States to coerce the Soviet Union into backing down militarily. Eventually, the threats involved might become so huge as to be unmanageable at which point both sides are likely to back down. This was the case during the Cold War; the escalation of threats of nuclear war, if carried out, are likely to lead to mutually assured destruction.

Credible Threats

For brinkmanship to be effective, the sides continuously escalate their threats and actions. However, a threat is ineffective unless credible—at some point, an aggressive party may have to prove its commitment to action.

The chance of things sliding out of control is often used in itself as a tool of brinkmanship, because it can provide credibility to an otherwise incredible threat. The Cuban Missile Crisis presents an example in which opposing leaders, namely U.S. president John F. Kennedy and Russian Leader Nikita Khrushchev, continually issued warnings, with increasing force, about impending nuclear exchanges, without necessarily validating their statements. Pioneering game theorist Thomas Schelling called this “the threat that leaves something to chance.”

Now some details of the consequences:

(1) Brinkmanship was an effective tactic during the cold war because neither side of a conflict could contemplate mutual assured destruction in a nuclear war, acting as a nuclear deterrence for both the side threatening to pose damage and the country on the ‘receiving end’. Ultimately, it worsened the relationship between the USSR and the US.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brinkmanship 12/10/19

Now some more details of Cold War mind play. More consequences.

(2) After World War II, the consequences of the Soviet Union’s victory over the Nazis were rejected, and a global containment of communism was elevated into a doctrine by President Truman. By the Cold War, we spurred the Soviet Union from exhaustion to great-power status, the atomic bomb, and space achievement. Our policies against communism in China had much the same effect there. The Cold War has also frozen the world into its immediate postwar postures and prevented peace settlements in East and West. Since 1945 the United States has spent enough resources on the Cold War to make many ailing societies healthy, resulting in a dangerous weakening of our economy. We ourselves have submitted to the militarism we fought in two world wars and have gone far to create a United States dominated by the military. We have depleted our resources for peacetime living, while our competitors have forged ahead with such technologies. We have sadly neglected the nation’s poor, and the President’s Great Society legislation, aimed at helping them, is suffering because of the expense of the war in Vietnam. By making anticommunism our life motive, we have fostered rightist fanaticism. We have forgotten the inexorable law of life that every social system is in constant evolution, and, now that the Cold War with the Soviet Union has eased, we are preparing to wage one against Communist China. Is it too late for us to welcome China to the community of nations, avoid the final world war, and try to organise the unity of man?

Source: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/000271626636600115?journalCode=anna 12/10/19

Note Well This Guardian Spirit Of The Cold War!

In order to bring a nation to support the burdens of maintaining great military establishments, it is necessary to create an emotional state akin to war psychology. There must be the portrayal of an external menace. This involves the development to a high degree of the nation-hero, nation-villain ideology and the arousing of the population to a sense of sacrifice. Once these exist, we have gone a long way on the path to war.

John Foster Dulles

This confession of Dulles, the fanatical exponent of combative social values, turned even the air we breathed into a substance of violence and hate.

Source: https://quotes.thefamouspeople.com/john-foster-dulles-1907.php 13/10/19

The Iraq War of 2003 et seq.

Yet another double-crosser of the truth came forth in this year.

Colin Powell February 5, 2003.

My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence…

…My second purpose today is to provide you with additional information, to share with you what the United States knows about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction as well as Iraq’s involvement in terrorism, which is also the subject of resolution 1441 and other earlier resolutions.

I might add at this point that we are providing all relevant information we can to the inspection teams for them to do their work.

The material I will present to you comes from a variety of sources. Some are U.S. sources. And some are those of other countries.

Some of the sources are technical, such as intercepted telephone conversations and photos taken by satellites. Other sources are people who have risked their lives to let the world know what Saddam Hussein is really up to.

I cannot tell you everything that we know. But what I can share with you, when combined with what all of us have learned over the years, is deeply troubling.

What you will see is an accumulation of facts and disturbing patterns of behaviour. The facts on Iraqis’ behaviour –  Iraq’s behaviour demonstrate that Saddam Hussein and his regime have made no effort  –  no effort  –  to disarm as required by the international community. Indeed, the facts and Iraq’s behaviour show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/feb/05/iraq.usa 12/10/19

Now look what GW and his experts did for us.

It’s been 16 years since President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq. That’s when the American people were told that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (false); that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators (false); and that overthrowing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein would bring democracy to Iraq and security for the United States (both debatable).

Here’s what the United States has accomplished: As of the end of February, the number of Iraqi civilian deaths sits at 202,757. More than 2.7 million have been displaced internally (2.42 million, down from a peak of 6 million) and externally (280,014). American troop casualties rest at 4,540, and with over 1.5 million U.S. servicemen and women cycling through Iraq, we’re looking at costs — human and financial — that Americans will have to bear for generations to come, with over a trillion dollars being added to U.S. debt…

…The wars against Iraq (and Afghanistan) have been paid for by raising the national deficit, so the United States has put off actually paying for these wars for nearly two decades (the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001)…

…But veterans themselves are paying a heavy price now, with injuries (including traumatic head injuries), PTSD, depression, and high suicide rates.

Source: https://thinkprogress.org/iraq-war-15-year-anniversary-ac6c5461c69e/ 12/10/19

As to war crimes, the deliberate massacre of civilians, why does this kind of behaviour pass without notice? Do you remember the London Blitz? Dresden? The burning of Tokyo? The burning of Vietnam?

All forgotten? When will we ever learn? One solution cries out from the wilderness of anguish:

Source: http://www.coalitionfortheicc.org

Global Warming

One more example wants to roll off my pen. Here is yet another notable self proclaimed expert’s opinion.

In a letter to Pope Francis, Christopher Monckton, Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchely, wrote 

I have listened carefully, and I can inform Your Holiness that science is divided on the climate question. A small number of totalitarian profiteers of doom in various self-serving national academies have issued pompous statements about it, but a large number of papers from reputable scientists, and a larger amount of hard data, suggest that global warming is and will continue to be a non-event. (June 19, 2019)

Source: https://www.desmogblog.com/christopher-monckton 12/10/19

The above distinguished viscount was welcomed by some in my country at times of hearty debate.

One final folly beckons. This time we go to the top.

First the virtue:

CLIMATE ACTION SUMMIT, 23 SEPTEMBER 2019

Climate change is the defining issue of our time and now is the defining moment to do something about it. There is still time to tackle climate change, but it will require an unprecedented effort from all sectors of society. To boost ambition and accelerate actions to implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, UN Secretary-General António Guterres is asking leaders, from government, business and civil society, to come to the 2019 Climate Action Summit on 23 September with plans to address the global climate emergency. The Summit will spark the transformation that is urgently needed and propel action that will benefit everyone.

Next the imprudence:

Australia’s Prime Minister, visiting the United States at the time, did not attend this Climate Action Summit.

____________________________________________

End Thoughts

Now if the expert is infra dig, to whom can we turn when we need advice? When we need a plan that will work?

The answer is 

the scientist. 

Why is this so?

Well the scientist knows he (or she  ✓) is fallible. The scientist therefore constantly checks his or her findings and lives by logical argument based on verifiable evidence. The scientist accepts peer group sharing and peer group criticism. The scientist publishes all methods used so that others can repeat the research in question. The scientist holds all beliefs tentatively and stands ready to modify or abandon according to the results of the latest experiment or observation. The scientist, working within rigorous probability, is a thinking reed facing up to and surviving in a hostile universe. 

So climate change IS a threat to all life, to everything we love on earth...

royciebaby

Viva The United Nations!

Image Source: Creative Commons Public Domain

A certain prime minister is apparently worried about an often-ill-defined borderless global community and worse still, an unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy. Sounds a bit like EU to me. Or the victors at Versailles in 1919. Could the right honourable gentleman be thinking of the United Nations? I hope not.

When I was a little boy of eight years, a man in a distant land coined the words “united nations.” That man was the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The year was 1942.

All that adult stuff was unknown to me at the time. But I did know a terrible war was raging. My family was involved in Tobruk, New Guinea and Changi. When I grew up I learned that the cliques ruling Germany, Japan and Italy were putting the interests of their own countries ahead of those of the rest of the world. Hitler had asked the world to respect the mandate of his 1934 electoral constituency. Some mandate! Some constituency! After a terrible conflict, millions of lives later, the selfish interests of the Axis powers faded into unsubstantiated fantasy as the world hit back.

In 1945 at war’s end, a vital international institution, the United Nations, was born. I was a little older in the late forties. I still remember my teenager’s idealism. So many nations, big and small, coming together for mutual benefit seemed so refreshing, so different from the dominant power struggle of the war years. The Charter of the United Nations was signed on 26 June 1945, in San Francisco, at the conclusion of the United Nations Conference on International Organization, and came into force on 24 October 1945. The Statute of the International Court of Justice is an integral part of the Charter.

There was an important new spirit in the air at this time. I could feel it as a child. Later on I read and learned the details, for example of the Preamble below.

Preamble to UN Charter

WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED

to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our life- time has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

AND FOR THESE ENDS

to practise tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS.

Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.

Source: https://www.un.org/en/sections/un-charter/preamble/ 6/10/19

When respecting the United Nations, it is hard for an Australian not to think of Dr Herbert Vere Evatt. His life is worth study. His work  for the UN should give us pride not antipathy. The following words from the Evatt Foundation deserve our attention.

Dr H V Evatt

As leader of the Australian delegation to the meeting that founded the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945, he took the step of including a woman in the delegation. The woman was Jessie Street. This was a brave move for a political leader in those days, when women in politics were not highly regarded by most male politicians.

At the San Francisco Conference, Dr Evatt spoke to the Great Powers on behalf of the other nations of the world with a voice that commanded universal respect. After three months of diplomatic struggle, the Charter of the United Nations was adopted; a Charter that had become more humane and larger in scope, now containing provisions for the poor, the weak and the oppressed, provisions that had never been envisaged by the Great Powers. 

Source: https://evatt.org.au/about-us/doc-evatt.html 5/10/19

In 1948 Dr Evatt was elected President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the only Australian to have ever held the position. He presided over the adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the cornerstone of human rights protection throughout the modern world. “It was the first occasion on which the organised community of nations had made a declaration of human rights and fundamental freedoms”, Evatt reflected, “millions of people, men, women and children all over the world would turn to it for help, guidance and inspiration.”

Source: loc.cit. 5/10/19

Now the Declaration has long been an inspiration for my work as a history teacher and more simply as a sentient human being. The UN is far from being an ill-defined borderless community and an unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy. The Preamble below might help explain what I mean and emphasise once again the importance of this international institution.

Preamble: Universal Declaration Of Human Rights

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realisation of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction. 

SOURCE https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/  5/10/19

For this discussion of mine I draw attention to but two of the articles of the Declaration. I commend the others to you, but space here rules my pen. Source: loc.cit 5/10/19

Article 2.

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

This is such a strong denial of any “demand for conformity” by this international institution. Now look at this second reference to the Declaration.

Article 30.

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

What more need be said? Such a legacy is this inheritance of vital global agendas. Surely we want the freedoms to be universal. We must not let individual, ruthless self interest weaken universal freedoms.

Viva the UNited Nations I say!

Viva the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants, adopted in September 2016!

Viva The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)! 

Viva The International Court of Justice!

Down with ruthless self interest at the expense of our fellow human beings!

The Climate Irate

Wake up World! Get your priorities right.

It’s about getting people into jobs.

Violent storm is a profitable norm. Don’t let the fear make you waver. There’s work as a consequence – replacement of the defacement. So the budget’s still balanced, stupid.

It’s about getting people into jobs. 

Predatory wildfire is in fact a boon. Don’t let fierce flames get you down. We get rebuilt houses, remade barns, revived fences and new cars. So renewal is fuel for the economy, stupid.

It’s about getting people into jobs. 

Murderous flood means more than mud. Don’t let the torrent seem abhorrent. Restored towns avert frowns. So there’s work in that lurk, stupid.

It’s about getting people into jobs. 

An endless drought has no clout. Don’t let your thirst be the worst. Dehydration is no privation if you woo the voters with dams. So that deployment fosters employment, stupid.

It’s about getting people into jobs. 

So what! There’s a species extinct. Don’t let the loss make you cross. What matters are the fees for the cut down trees. It’s the GDP, stupid.

It’s about getting people into jobs. 

Yes that’s it. This is the age of chicanery and thunder. Dysfunction is the unction. It’s the poet’s loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires all concerned with getting people into jobs. So it’s yo ho ho for the status quo and profit is the prophet, amen.

Note On Featured Image: Source Creative Commons John Kerstholt

royciebaby

Links with YouTube

I haven’t been writing for a while. I’ve just had a thought that you might be interested in my youtube activities.

So here are two of them. Please don’t attach to me the items on youtube that follow mine. Just me; that’s all I want you to notice.

1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75JqZSj_Glo

2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRAoGZsVsyo

Thanks for your visit. I hope to write more soon.

Regards,

royciebaby

On This Matter Of Phonics

The old demon of oversimplification is back again with the teaching of reading. Of course phonics is a useful word attack skill but it is not the centre of the universe. Reading is a very complex task – perhaps more so than ever before in this contemporary world. Phonics alone simply cannot deal with it. There are 44 phonemes in English and only 26 letters. 

Here is a little visual I made to illustrate my point. It speaks for itself.

As a teacher today I would see phonics as an important part of a wider teaching program. So much more than sounding needs to happen. We need to immerse the children in language. Read them stories often. Use classroom drama to illustrate words. Play music to enhance listening. Get them to write often and read their stories to a friend or to the class. Lend books, especially illustrated ones, for home reading, ideally involving parents. Do readers theatre. Practice with cloze tests. Play Scrabble. Do crossword puzzles. Among other things, all this promotes skills with context.

Context clues are an important part of word attack. Watch what happens when I put an invented word into context. The word is xzn. On its own it is meaningless. Now for context: I drove the family xzn into the garage, checked the tyres and filled it with petrol. See what I mean? You decode the word into the idea of a car based on context clues and you are probably right. You need to give children many, many contexts. Let them guess. Give them practice. Immersion in language to me is vital. Words need to be everywhere. I remember in practice teaching taking my students into infants classrooms where everything was labelled: “table,” “chair,” “desk,” “window” and so on.

Next I speak of sight words. My infants and primary teaching coincided with the Dolch sight words. In the 1930s and 1940s Dr Edward William Dolch researched word frequencies and made a list of 220 words, mastery of which would enable you to read a high percentage of common verbal material. He also supplied 95 high frequency nouns.

The Fry Sight Words list is closer now to present day needs. Sight words require drill. Once you know them your reading flows more easily so you can focus on other words.

The value of memorised sight words is that common words or irregular sounding words can be recognised at a glance without letter by letter analysis. This fluency is important for oral reading. So oracy itself has needs beyond phonics drill. I have respected for a long time the social value of reading aloud – say in play performance or verse speaking – the latter a valuable activity that unfortunately is often neglected these days.

What is the purpose of reading? It is a lot more than mere barking at print. Meaning is the key, the crux, the life moulding force. So we have word attack. We decode. Then comes meaning – that intangible, mystic outcome. If we are good with meaning, it gets us out of trouble. If we are bad with it we elect monsters into government. 

In all my years of teaching (50) and study I have not found a better description of the levels of comprehension than the one given by Nila Banton Smith. It’s a good analysis to work on.

The author suggests that comprehension be divided into four distinct categories of thinking skills: (1) literal comprehension, the skill of getting the primary, literal meaning; (2) interpretation, the probing for greater depths of meaning; (3) critical reading, the evaluating and passing of personal judgment; and (4) creative reading which starts with an inquiry and goes beyond implications derived from the text.

Source: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED034657

Of all the outcomes of teaching it is hard to find a more rewarding one for the teacher than the gift of reading. I have seen the light in the eye of the infant child when the first words begin to flow, and I have seen the glow of pride from a PhD student when a thesis abstract has been accepted. The significance of effective reading is vast.

The shoulders of so many giants are waiting for us behind the print that we read. There lies the wisdom of the ages. There lies the ability to detect political sham and advertising trickery. All this is too important to be reduced to simplistic formulae or league tables based on pseudo-tests derived from false premises.

I’d now like to finish with a poem I wrote some time ago. Thanks for your company.

Back to Basics

Or Teaching Reading Is Not As Simple As It Sounds

Kill off all the metaphors, cancel connotations

With your universal phonic imposition.

Blow up all the phrases with well directed lasers

So reading fits your toxic proposition.

Mangle all the meanings, disintegrate depiction

While shackling wide-eyed infants to their stint.

Put their thoughts in traction through stereotyped infraction

And teach them only how to bark at print.

Massacre analogy and mutilate sublimes

As you advertise a false belief that sells.

Vandalise all contexts with pedagogic pretexts

Confining every dream to decibels.

Standardise existence, by removing all resistance

To the sometime invalidity of rules.

Violate felicity with a claim of authenticity

That ratifies your covenant of fools.

Dream on of a place where thought abounds,

And the poor as they read become rich;

Where elegance transcends predictable sounds

And the meaning soars far above pitch;

Where all of the wonder as authors are read

Flows free as the winds from the pages,

While diversity chooses how children are led

To a world beyond phonemic cages.

28 April 2007

Poems

Dear Visitor

Welcome to you. Poems: just a humble bit of thinking from the ancient.

royciebaby

Hansard: Who Owns The Truth?

Who owns the truth?

Mister Speaker

That is a question to shake

The cosmos

Until the sky falls apart 

A matter of rightful possession

Should a cunning warlike clique 

With their power at its peak

Use their guiles

To hide the files

On their deeds of warcrime transgression?

Now the makers of rules 

Are not all fools

So there is a law

Even in war

That morality needs to apply

So just suppose

As the saying goes

A foul deed has been discovered

Causing death to many civilians

An evil deed uncovered

Affecting the lives of millions

Is there no right to the truth they hide?

Should a sin be classified?

If a writer on seeing a wrong

Tells the tale

And ends in gaol

What is 

The ephemeral reason?

Can telling the truth be treason?

Is fact a commodity

A tangible oddity

To be hidden by gangsters

With the glee of pranksters

So that felons avoid prosecution?

Should a voice of reality

Be a fatality

Accused of the ultimate solution?

To preclude such a tale of human woe

Mister Speaker

My answer is : “No.”

_____________________________________

Rejoice-in-iniquity News

Invite ’em then delight ’em

And so proceed ad infinitum 

There’s been a knife murder

In Ryde today

Blood on the road

Crime tape display

A baby is snatched 

In a shopping centre

A man in a toilet

Only women should enter

A youth in a car is running wild

Three are dead including a child

A cleaner finds a body wrapped in a curtain

Cause of death remains uncertain

Rape alleged by a football star

Evidence points to the back of a car

Snatch and grab theft in a corner store

A crime repeated several times more

Savaged by a dog

An infant dies

A terrorist is tried for selling lies

An addict is arrested in Centennial Park

Police form a cordon after dark

A distinguished man denies carnal knowledge

A pedophile sacked from a private college

A youth has murdered a family of five

A baby is killed on a parent’s drive

A tourist is missing causing alarm

A boy is shot on an outback farm

For the first time vision

Of a starry night

A surgeon gives a blind boy

The gift of sight

Final step with the list completed

Benign words must be deleted

________________________________

Weed

A plant that grows where it is not wanted

Is defined by wont as a weed

It may be striking or grandiose

But if it’s unwelcome it is indeed

A weed

The patch of today

Promotes the weed

As an icon of subterfuge nurtured by greed

That springs up fast 

In counterfeit places

Truthfully titled

Developed disgraces

And its shadow falls across

Things of beauty

Depriving gardens of history’s duty

These plants of ignominy curse the toil

And dominant, pollute all human soil


Image from Creative Commons: The Conversation.com

In For The Kill

The efficient market is a dangerous place

Lined with the bones of the human race

Supply and demand

You must expand

The rich and powerful fraternity

Will market you into eternity

Free enterprise is the sacred saying

That carefully implements the paying

Compete I repeat

Till the quest is complete

The myths of profit abound

Crush your rival

Lie for survival

When the dealer comes around

With ethics in tatters

You know all that matters

Is the market call when the bell rings

It’s where tricksters deal

And know how you feel

When the fat lady finally sings

So sanctify your name

Multiply the fame

Ride forth like a knight into battle

Take over your foes

Auction off their woes

Till you hear your money tins rattle

Then play the absurd

As you spread the word

Along the internet voice wire

Extend the vigour

Of your monetary rigour

As you build your fiduciary empire

It’s no ivory tower

This region of power

As you reach your utmost extension

Your rivals will fall

With no name at all

Worth more than desultory mention 

So take up your mission

Beyond the mere vision

Of minor shows tied to the road

Shine forth in your glory

To end your fine story

On the highway with Mister Toad

_____________________________________

The Gilded Smile

A political lobbyist

Is a peddler of guile

With a gilded smile

Who buys privation

Of the needs of a nation

And puts a price on everything

In the cause of his vanity

To mislead humanity

He cloaks in mystery

The path of history

With a lavish pecuniary pose

And a carat

Near a dollar-bill nose…

So let us consider briefly how 

The elastic system works

First we have 

The efficient market quirks

That bring competition

To a well paid position

As the green-eyed monster

With currency hair

Gobbles up all opposition

Big government is the specified curse

So you sell it off for better or worse

Cut back the size as you organise

To privatise or fall

What follows is a hex

On all

As bills are passed to reward

The few as one

And the money flow has only just begun

Markdown of government power is set in train

As the lobbyist holds out his eager hand again

Until there is left but little faint resistance

At the sale

Of the precious tools of flesh and blood existence

______________________________________________

Bye for now,

r

A Little Book Of Monsters

Dear Reader

An election is approaching its voting day in Australia as I write. It has inspired me to make a little chapbook. If you would like to find a little more on chapbooks you can do so here.

The title of my chapbook is A Little Book Of Monsters and the monsters in my imagination are politicians. I am going to post the pages below. I have designed a cover. Here it is and here are the pages of my little book.

My Chapbook Cover

So there you are. Just a little bit of fun. Thank you for coming to this place and for reading down to here. Recovering from injury so hope to write more frequently. Best wishes, Royce.

My Latest Book

Dear Friends, sorry to have been away for a while. I have just published this book with Amazon: An Advanced Survival Guide For Dishonest Political Bastards. I started the book with a review by a fictitious senior lecturer from Sydney University writing (fictitiously) in The Sydney Morning Herald.

I thought the “review” might be readable on my web site so here it is. This second book is a sequel to one published in 2005 without the “Advanced.” The new book will be available in e-form and paperback in a few days. Thanks for your visit.

Critical Review

Dr Adrian Arbiter’s Critique*

Royce Levi, in his Advanced Survival Guide, has provided an ironic historical satire about political behaviour in the modern world. To do this the writer adopts an assumed right wing persona and proceeds to praise devotedly “approved” historical figures as ideal role models. These models of political behaviour are certainly not angels. To the mocking writer they are.

They notably include moguls Joseph Pulitzer, Randolph Hearst and Edward Bernays as well as Australia’s highly successful John Howard and another prime minister Harold Holt. History is the key: political mores are linked to past events in both peace and war. The order in the House is actually organised disorder tied to political agendas.

There is a touch of parody in the writing. The so-called “advice” consistently reeks of extreme, ruthless, political gamesmanship. Big tongue in big cheek.

The how to do it subject matter is presented in roughly historical order, with a pointed warning at the head of Chapter1. There we are told that “Every House of Government is a theatre of pretence where myths and legends are acted out in the masks and costumes of  false reality.” 

We meet first Joseph Pulitzer, “giant of influence,” and “power broker extraordinaire.” His media magic, involving “stunts, exposés, ‘Crusades,’ innovative illustrations, and sensationalism,” is portrayed as a source of immense power. Note the difference between a democrat and a plutocrat: people power versus rich power. We meet the powerful Greek word: kratos: ‘power.’ The Pulitzer Prize, still ranking as one of the highest social achievements, is even today still an indication of Pulitzer’s power.

Then we find Randolph Hearst, via what is known as the Yellow Press, providing us with more strategies of political power. Newsman Hearst is presented as a powerful role model closely linked to success in politics. “His papers attacked President McKinley, even suggesting he be removed from office by force. In 1901, at the height of the Hearst abuse, McKinley was assassinated.”

The Advanced Survival Guide also delves into the life of the omnipotent Edward Bernays. Much is made of this man’s importance, his extensive impact on generations of humanity. “It was Bernays’ vast personal influence, his mind control of the masses, that determined so much of the shape of the twentieth century. “

It is in the mind games of politics that Bernays is declared indispensable. The man’s own words provide the evidence: “…we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons … who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.” This is golden guidance for politicians who are au fait with mind control populism.

Attention to the main figures above is far from the complete story. The text abounds in allusions to other mind play, ranging from Plato and his cave (see Chapter 12 p. 42 ) to Nixon’s “silent majority.” The text is the author’s personal journey, rich in its variety and often surprising. One of the surprises is the array of Des Carts axioms such as “as fit as a diddle,” scattered throughout the text. Approval from the French philosopher René Descartes seems unlikely.

Extensive referencing is another feature of the book. Sources are meticulously recorded. One can assume that because this is a “guide,” the author’s intent is to encourage in the probationary politicians expansive and rigorous reading. Web sites as well as specific texts are thus referenced.

The Epilogue is a puzzle. At first sight it seems to be an off-topic collection of irrelevancies. Maybe, we are told, the supplement comes via social media from a recently retired prime minister. At the beginning and end of the Epilogue however, there are significant editorial notes. They point out that politicians are dealers in off-topic subjects. “Skill with talking to fill out time is standard political practice. At the extreme level is the American filibuster, but far more common is the long-winded beside-the-point speech in defence of disastrous policies.” 

Apart from the entertainment value of many of the Epilogue’s items, the author seems to be deliberately having fun with sayings. He provides his own defence: “Political methodology depends, indeed thrives on glib-tongued, fluent irrelevancies that hide ill-timed, unsuitable or inconvenient reality.” The variety makes interesting reading.

We discover via the narrative of this text, a new political term: in-for-a-structure. “It refers to the very common practice of selling off state property or services and then using the funds to build tall buildings. This creates the illusion (or is it delusion?) of creative power. As the writer puts it, “No negatives. Do it. Sell off the family jewels and look masterly.”

The tone of the writing seems to deserve my final words – words about its jocular spirit. Humour and satire have long been linked to each other. Lemuel Gulliver’s (Jonathan Swift’s) adventures are one of the best examples of this. 

Mock heroic urgings abound in the text. An example: “Your task is to use Bernays on the reasoning-impaired masses and, through them, win the power and the glory O so ready and waiting for YOU…We use ’em! Confuse ’em! Enthuse ’em! Advance triumphant you partisan know-it-alls. Go! Go! Go! Fool the fools.” 

With those words from the text I leave you to your own reading.  Adrian Arbiter.

___________________________________

  • Dr Adrian Arbiter is a fictitious Senior Lecturer in Politics at Sydney University writing in The Sydney Morning Herald.

On Teaching

Well here I am. Older than most – eighty-five to be specific. For fifty of those years, as a teacher, I helped people fashion their future. Now I’m in my own future, that uncertain time so dependent on whether you can keep on breathing.

What now? Categorised by the powers that be as beyond my use-by date, I often find myself these days like Winnie the Pooh: sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.

As for the thinking part, I thought I might today share here my thoughts about the classroom as a place of learning. Why not? It’s such an important place. The real nucleus of education. That class at work is close to the only setting where you can truly judge a teacher. Validly and reliably that is.

It is where essential learning journeys begin; where the young bird flies for the first time; where words become wheels in motion; where the penny drops and the mind comes to life.

So here I stand. The following are my ideas gathered through time about teaching behaviour. Do what you like with them.

We first need to answer important questions before we start teaching. What is a classroom? What is a class?

Every classroom is an infinite cauldron of competing forces. Every class is a bubbling pot of individual differences close to boiling point on the day you take over. So when you begin you need to say to yourself, “This is serious. Learn to teach or else!” You might also be aware of the old axiom: “To teach is to learn something twice.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his Emile or On Education, has an interesting general principle to start you off:

I have already said your child must not get what he asks, but what he needs; he must never act from obedience, but from necessity.

Interesting. Those “needs” are the key. Should they be elitist ideology or genuine universal requirements. Your immediate task ontaking over? To determine, as best you can, the precise, true needs of each child in your care.

Testing therefore will be important. Real teachers, as opposed to upwardly mobile politicians, know the difference between a diagnostic test and an attainments test, and use them both well, certainly not to create league tables and myths of superiority. So the initial teaching time, say the first six weeks, can include something like this:

Initial Attainments TestInitial Diagnostic Test

TEACH

Retest AttainmentsRetest Diagnostic

RE-TEACH ∞

It’s all basic logic. You need first, as the great educational drama guru Brian Way once said, “to find where the child is at.” You can then apply teaching that is appropriate to age, social status, home background, pupil mental and physical health, past achievements, gender, student ambition, available resources and the teacher’s professional awareness. Yes. The role of the teacher is extremely complex.

Testing will always be a part of that complexity. To be avoided at all costs however is a system of public ranking that in itself becomes the main focus of learning. Have you noticed the huge market for so called test panaceas? Worried about NAPLAN? We can fix it. Do these things and win.

Once you have established how close to the chronological age the mental age is, for each student in your care, you are ready to begin your vital work. If you are an infants or primary teacher, you are a generalist and your assessments and diagnoses will be many and varied. You will have developed your own, professional variety of tests. I have found the “getting to know you” short essay from each pupil a very good starting point. It can reveal many things including information from the Affective and Psycho-motor Domains.

I want to talk now about some of my classrooms. The memories remain.That is how I will share my visions of virtue and folly.

My First Class.Class 4B Boys Primary January 1953 45 Pupils: Sydney, Australia.

I was with those boys for a whole year – day after day after day. Each of those days began with a hymn: “Now Thank We All Our God,” and a creed: “I honour my God, I serve my Queen, I salute the Flag.” That routine and comparative order usually moved quickly into chaos. To create a learning climate in such a big class was a challenge for pupils and teacher.

I had so much to learn about classroom management. I would shout above noise, demanding silence. I would bang my desk with a large piece of wood for the same reason. I would blame and punish far more frequently than I would reward virtue. I would delay feedback with written tasks because of the large number of children in my care. It was a hard way to begin my fifty years of teaching.

Abilities in the group were so mixed too. Some were quite bright and many were well below the norms for Year 4. Average age was about ten yet there were two twelve-year-old strugglers who could not read. You had to program, teach and test a plethora of subjects: craft, English, music, maths, science, history and geography, physical education. The inspectorial system was used then. Once a year for the three years of your probation, you were visited by a learned inspector who watched you work and judged your worth as a teacher. At the end of the third year I passed and was awarded a teacher certificate. Such a challenge with but two years teacher training. If I were to begin teaching that class today, their lives would be so much better.

In A One-teacher School. Classes K-6 plus 2 Correspondence; Girls and Boys Primary 1958 19 Pupils: Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia.

Here the social role of the teacher was important. It was an isolated community and the teacher was a star of recognised social status. Links with parents were vital as was an awareness of pupil home duties on the farms. Life had taught the older pupils very valuable sibling management skills that were used by the teacher with a number of learning tasks, coping with the age and subject variety – all in one room. ABC radio broadcasts for music and social studies gave valuable assistance. We did lots of story telling for the whole group. Drama also worked well across the grades. Henny Penny for example:

One day an apple fell and hit Henny Penny on the head.

HENNY PENNY: The sky is falling. I must go and tell the Queen. Henny Penny met Goosy Poosy.
HENNY PENNY: The sky is falling. I must go and tell the Queen. GOOSY POOSY: I’ll come wiv ya.

Participation was the aim, not necessarily perfection. Which brings me to a major issue with the contemporary child.

The cyber age has drastically reduced interaction between people in real world contact situations, free of computerised devices. A serious consequence of this is a lack of practice with vital communication skills. I mean gesture, eye contact, the smile and other facial expressions, posture changes linked to meaning – they all tend to disappear in the cocoon of chat group or the SMS. Even Skype is artificial and not the same as a meeting between people without artificial links.

I believe with all my heart therefore, in the vast and present need for drama in classrooms. I mean Theatre in Education (TIE), educational drama, readers theatre and children’s theatre – all required now with constant use.

Another Primary Class After Several Years Of Teaching.Class 6A Girls and Boys Primary 1961 32 Pupils: Maitland, New South Wales, Australia.

A lovely classroom climate. Pupils working busily all the time. No shouting and banging of my desk. A gentle pause instead when necessary, waiting for silence. Important instructions were often given in a soft voice. Listening thus became a reward and helped each good listener’s progress. The effect on classroom climate was important.

One of the pupils from that class recently visited this web page and linked up with me. It was a joy and an honour to meet her. Where does a teacher’s influence end? One of the boys I taught in 1953 also found me in the same way. He was a successful sportsman and teacher. It was also an honour to share coffee and memories with him until he passed away two years ago.

A GA (General Activities) Class.This is a special category of students with limited ability in high schools, staffed by primary trained teachers. My class: boys Median Age 12-14.11 1963 17 Pupils: Sydney, Australia.

The curriculum for this group was focused on everyday survival skills. Teaching time was all-day not 40 minute periods, and in a single room. This was my entry into secondary teaching. I was studying part-time for an Arts Degree so later taught English and history in that and other high schools, and later became an English/History Master. My GA lesson notes:

Spelling: Danger, Poison, Beware of the Dog, Keep Off, Give Way, Wrong Way, Go Back, Halt, Trespassers Prosecuted, Wait Here, Do Not Touch, Electricity, Police, Ambulance, Hospital, Emergency.

Mathematics: Addition of Shopping Bills, Distance Measuring, Easy Fractions, The Four Processes: × ÷ + −.

Social Learning: Electoral Rolls, Emergency Behaviour 000, Police Functions, Interpreting Advertising, Our History and Geography, The Rules Of Good Manners, Job Seeking.

There was a fundamental need for these young people lingering at school until the leaving age of 15. It was self respect. A major strategy required was to give them support to live their debased lives. One of them said early in my time with them, “Gee Sir, you can’t be very bright having to teach us dumb ones.”

We were friends, those seventeen lads and I, and found ways of succeeding with practical things. I met one in the street after he had left the class. He was very excited and wanted to share with me the news that he had found a job with a panel beater.

Is it not an essential duty of all educators to strive to avoid isolation, despair and varying degrees of self contempt in the young? That is a call to arms for us all.

HSC High School English Class. This was a final year class with students from several cultural backgrounds. Year 12 Mixed Gender 1997 27 Pupils, Sydney, Australia.

One of my students, a young man from this class, one day gave me a poem after a lesson. It was a very good poem, hand written. So good I asked him where he found it.

“I wrote it Sir,” he said.
I heard his words with genuine surprise.
“It’s a very moving poem,” I said. “Tell me about it.”

“Well Sir, I am a Kurd. I have lived if four countries counting this one. It makes me very sad because I have not felt that any one of these places is my home.”

There he was, as I observed, a young eighteen-year-old refugee, sharing his anguish with me as a friend. I wondered what my country had done to him to make him feel so much an alien. My humble contribution was to offer support and give him more power to analyse and write in English.

Year 10 History. This was a class with students from several cultural backgrounds. Year 10 Mixed gender 1997 30 Pupils: Sydney, Australia.

My subject one day with this class was the outbreak of World War I. The specific topic was the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip. Part of my tale of the assassination ran thus:

The motorcade mistakenly turned into a side street where Princip happened to be hiding. The first three cars began to reverse to the main road giving Princip a chance to fire two shots at the archduke from point-blank range. Within minutes the Archduke and his wife Sophie were dead. Three weeks too young for the death penalty, the Serbian Black Hand member Princip was sentenced to 20 years gaol. He died in that gaol of tuberculosis in April 1918 aged a mere 23.

A day or two after that lesson I was approached by one of my pupils.

“Sir, I’m having a hard time after that lesson about the assassination of the Archduke. Some of the class are bullying me because I’m a Serb and they say I caused World War I.”

This was a shock to me. Suddenly I had to look at my history narrative from a different point of view.

It had been so easy up to that moment to classify “goodies and baddies” in clinical categories. Now one of my pupils was actually threatened by my black and white tale.

I told the troubled lad always to walk away from unfair criticism with head held high. He was not guilty o anything.

“Every nation has a dark side to its history,” I said. ”Austria-Hungary and the Bosnian Serbs had been in dangerous conflict for some time. But don’t waste your time fighting back with events for the bullies to be ashamed of. Just walk away. Learn more history and you’ll find no nation is totally free of shame. Yes. Walk away and learn more. That is your best defence.”

University Class: MA In International Relations (1 Semester 1993) . This was a public-speaking course for diplomats. There were 21 students from many nations.

The teaching strategy here was to immerse the students in great speeches and give them practice through group work largely, in analysing the material for emphasis, pauses, suitable high and low volume, varied speed, connotations, gesture suitability, appropriate posture and valid core themes. Discussion and debate were important aspects of the teaching.

Among the texts were Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Hamlet’s soliloquy, Mark Anthony’s speech on Caesar, 1 Corinthians 13, and texts contributed by the students. Interaction and peer support were noticeably a feature of this teaching program, in short “learning by doing” as drama pundits tend to say.

University Equity Program.This was a Federal Labor Government funded one-semester equity course I taught at university for non-matriculated applicants seeking entry to university. The literacy section included definition, comparison and contrast, description, scientific discourse, valid argumentation, public speaking and exam technique.

Nine Intakes, 20-30 Students, 1989-1995 a University In NSW, Australia.

The core of this program was an awareness of the power of analytical writing. Students were required to write one essay a week throughout the semester. The result was 10 essays of 250 words, based upon university model questions, all with feedback within one week. Exceeding the word limit was heavily penalised, as was failure to keep to the set question. Students learnt to get to the point quickly and keep to it without padding or irrelevancies.

I taught the nine generations of this program whose graduates achieved higher results in First Year than any other identifiable undergraduate group. Graduates later included a University Medalist in Psychology, several PhDs and many honours degrees across all faculties. Such is the power of precise, analytical writing and supportive, rigorous, ongoing guidance.

As a teacher, I can say my life intertwined with many of
these lives. One example is a single mother beset with a husband failing with alimony payments. She wanted to get into university and become a lawyer. That dream of hers came true, as did the dreams of many other such students.

My Last School.A High School In Western Sydney, Australia

When I retired from university teaching, I worked in this high school from 1996 to 2004. This poem reflects on some of the outcomes.

Vive l’école

A school is not an inanimate thing.

I found this out today

When I visited a place

Where in my yesterdays I used to teach.

‘Hello Sir’ came the voices,

And their looks of recognition

Seemed to tap me

On the shoulder

As I walked across that playground

At recess time

Into the hollow hallways

Where I heard again the footsteps

Of the past

And in its briefly empty classrooms

I met the echoes of my words

And the reflected sounds of yesterday’s pupils

With their sighs of learning struggle

Their misdemeanours

And their Ahas! of the once in a while

When insight sets in.

It was a weird experience this…

A haunted house without ghosts

Not spooks

But thoughts and words

And struggles and despair and hope

And growth and disobedience

And little triumphs over learning curves

And breakthroughs to understanding

And punishment and distraction

And anger and hatred and inspiration

And penalty and injustice and impossible tasks

And, when the last bell rang,

Memories of transformations that never end.

A school is not an inanimate thing.
 

  November 2004

Note: For images, my thanks to Creative Commons.