History and Time – It’s All Relative

A watch face with no band

Do you think this watch last worn in the 1980s is an historic object?

Every now and then my daughter and I think about how the times in which we live will be perceived by people in the future. “They did that???,” we imagine incredulous school students of the future saying when told about things that happen that seem to be weirdly normal today.

But when will school students be taught about 2017 in their history lessons? I will make a bold prediction. I don’t expect lessons about 2017 to be taught in schools until some time around the 2040s. Continue reading

Singapore’s Education History on Display

The building housing Singapore's Ministry of Education Heritage Centre

Singapore’s Ministry of Education Heritage Centre

On the second day I was in Singapore I left the bus and became lost. My phone was low on batteries and my GPS was not working properly. I trudged off in the direction I thought I should be going and found myself walking through a large HDB housing complex.

Getting lost on foot in a new place is a good thing. My family is not convinced about this, but that is their loss. Losing one’s way in a new place is a wonderful way to discover things that you may not ordinarily encounter.

Behind the HDB (public housing) complex I discovered Singapore’s education museum – the Ministry of Education Heritage Centre. This museum does not make the lists of museums that tourists are urged to visit so if I hadn’t become lost I may have missed it. Not many people would be excited by this but I have a background in education history so I made a mental note to visit it once I knew a bit more of Singapore’s general history.

Last week I visited the Heritage Centre with a friend of mine, Betty Wee, who is a retired Singaporean primary school teacher. The first section starts with the point where most accounts of Singaporean history start, Sir Stamford Raffles and the early nineteenth century. The first thing that visitors are informed about is Raffles’ vision for a Malayan college in Singapore which he was unable to establish before he left the island in 1824. The college was opened as a primary school in 1837.

However, the exhibition then notes that formal Malay education started well before Europeans arrived in the region. The visitor is told that this was mostly of a religious nature but aside from this there was very little detail. Perhaps the historical records have disappeared? Continue reading

Review: A History of Australian Schooling

Book cover of A History of Australian Schooling

A History of Australian Schooling by Craig Campbell and Helen Proctor (Crows Nest, NSW:Allen & Unwin, 2014).

For over a century Australian schools have acted as future-shapers. Since the era of compulsory schooling emerged in the Australian colonies during the late nineteenth-century, every Australian child has spent a number of years in school. Children take at least some of the ideas and behaviours that are developed in the classroom and in the playground with them for the rest of their lives. As such it surprises me that education history is seen as a ‘special interest’ and not a field that is part of the core of Australian history.

A History of Australian Schooling by Craig Campbell and Helen Proctor is a chance for people to catch up on the latest research in Australia’s schooling history in one readable volume. It is long overdue. When I started exploring the history of education in Australia seven years ago I had to turn to books published in the 1970s for the overview I needed to become grounded in this history. Those books were good but forty years later our society has changed and a substantial amount of historical research into many different themes has been conducted. A History of Australian Schooling encompasses a broad range of themes in Australian education history including those that have not been previously collected in one volume. Continue reading

Queensland’s Bible in State Schools Referendum – 1910

Members of the executive committee of Queensland's Bible in State Schools League

The executive committee of the Bible in State Schools League. They were all men but this photo fails to convey the importance of the work of women in the campaign. Source: John Oxley Library

My honours thesis, Queensland’s Bible in State Schools Referendum 1910: A Case Study of Democracy, is now available to download from the University of Sydney eScholarship Repository. In it I explore a fascinating era of Queensland’s history where women, Labour politicians and the Protestant clergymen of the Bible in State Schools League were key participants in a public debate about whether Bible lessons should be reintroduced in Queensland’s state schools. These lessons had not been held in public schools since the introduction of Queensland’s free, compulsory and secular education legislation in 1875.

I loved doing the research. At times I was sitting in the Fisher Library at University of Sydney silently remonstrating with the politicians as they were debating the issue in parliament. At other times I was incredulous. The Legislative Council spent twenty-one hours debating the issue and this was after the referendum had been passed by Queensland voters! I was a bit suspicious of the Hansard recorder. The debate was rather sparse at around two o’clock in the morning. Was he taking a cat nap?

Women were instrumental in the campaign for the passing of the referendum. The Bible in State Schools League was in financial trouble and turned to women to help them out. Not only did women rescue the organisation financially through their fundraising, they wrote letters to newspapers, were part of delegations who visited parliamentarians about the issue and were conspicuous as they manned the polling booths on the day of the referendum. However, while researching this referendum I was mindful of the fact that women do not all think the same way. Sure enough newspapers such as The Worker had letters from women who opposed the introduction of Bible lessons and expressed their opposition to the referendum to the Bible in State Schools women at the polling booths. Continue reading

Remembering a Special History Teacher

AnnHardyIt was with great sadness that we learned that history teacher, Ms Ann Hardy, died in an accident while on holiday in Thailand. She was one of a group of special teachers at my children’s high school. She had tremendous rapport with the students and her energy enlivened the school. Last year she was a finalist for the NEiTA 2012 ASG Inspirational Teaching Awards.

The principal of Killarney Heights High School, Ms Kim Jackson, wrote the following obituary for Ms Hardy which I reprint with permission.

As term 4 began at Killarney Heights High School we were shocked to hear that Mrs Ann Hardy and her husband Dr Carlos Hardy had been in a motor bike accident in Thailand.  This shock turned to grief upon hearing last Friday that Mrs Hardy had passed away.  To those who knew and loved her she was a bright and vibrant person who set high standards for herself and others. She was a very dedicated, passionate and committed educator and was very involved in the corporate life of Killarney Heights High School. Continue reading

Reflecting on National Reconciliation Week 2013

20130602 Temple by Qi Jie Oh C

Sydney Baha’i Temple – photograph by Qi-Jie Oh.

“Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place…” The words sung by the a capella choir filled the Sydney Baha’i Temple with glorious harmonies accompanied by the rumbling thunder of the storm outside.  I shut my eyes and allowed the sounds to resonate through me.  Beauty and emotion intertwined in that moment.

The effort to drive through the wind and rain to attend the special service for National Reconciliation Week at the Baha’i Temple was worth it.  We imbibed the teachings of holy writings from around the world which exhort those who read them to treat everyone with justice, to create a peaceful world.   After the service I was fortunate enough to hear Bettina King, an Aboriginal lawyer, and Professor Shane Houston, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sydney, speak about reconciliation.

It was the end of a tumultuous week.  During National Reconciliation Week Australians had celebrated indigenous achievement and remembered a difficult past.  We had also despaired when we were confronted by further evidence that our society fails to achieve the standards of inclusiveness, fairness and kindness that we aspire to. Continue reading

Our Schools and the War: the Victorian Education Dept and WWI

Book Cover of 'Our Schools and the War'

‘Our Schools and the War’ by Rosalie Triolo (North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2012).

War is not just about tactics on the battlefield or the machinations of political leaders.  It is also about community, both at the site of active fighting and in the home towns and cities that have seen their men disappear to fight.

In Our Schools and the War’ Rosalie Triolo explores Australia’s participation in World War I in terms of community.  She focuses on the students, parents, teachers and officials who comprised the Education Department of Victoria.  Triolo examines the battle field as well as the home front in her quest to understand how this education community responded and contributed to what was referred to as ‘The Great War’.

The consideration of the role played by Victorian school children in the war is one of the strengths of this book.  Throughout the war the Education Department exhorted school communities to raise funds for the war effort.  Triolo shares a long list of activities undertaken by students.  In Leongatha students raised canaries for sale, made photo frames, caught mice and sold fish they caught.  Students at other schools sold vegetables they grew, helped to feed farm animals, gave musical performances, caught rabbits and sold their skins and made fly nets.  Innovation in fundraising was encouraged as long as it did not have the taint of gambling.

Children were made to feel as real contributors to the work of the communities in which they lived.  Their contributions to the war effort gave them many opportunities to apply what they learned at school. We may have a stereotype view of education in this era, that it was about the three R’s rote learning and corporal punishment, but Triolo observes,

…children were given unprecedented responsibility and autonomy in their communities.  They were freed to exercise initiative, step out of desks and classrooms and engage in activities for the wider community as never before.

p. 79

Continue reading