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

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Significant Historic Australian Education Collections – Deakin University, Geelong

Entrance to Alfred Deakin Prime Ministerial Library

One of Australia’s most extensive collections for the history of education – the Alfred Deakin Prime Ministerial Library at Deakin University, Geelong.

While working on the Teaching Reading in Australia project I had the opportunity to work in some of the best archives in Australia for the history of education.  These archives are significant repositories of Australian history.  Some don’t get the attention they deserve, others are well recognised but their education collections are little known.  In this, the first of a series of occasional posts on education archives in Australia, I share with you the delights of one of the most extensive education collections that I know of in Australia.  It is held by the Alfred Deakin Prime Ministerial Library at Deakin University in the city of Geelong, Victoria. Continue reading

Teaching Quality – Discovering the Teacher’s Role in Learning

Students and teachers stnading around charts on the wall

The Monitorial System of education used to teach the masses in the nineteenth century. From, A Cyclopedia of Education: Volume 4, edited by Paul Monroe (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1918).

The phrase ‘teacher quality’ is “judgmental, simplistic.. and undermining of real teacher professionalism”, argued Melbourne high school English teacher, Peter Job, recently.  The current debate about ‘teacher quality’ portrayed teachers as “static commodities like cars or vegetables”, he observed.  Instead of ‘teacher quality’, he advocated the discussion should be instead focused on ‘teaching quality’.

Peter Job’s article on The Drum website picks up on an issue that has been debated since the nineteenth century.  Is teaching like following a recipe – copy it from a book, apply each step to any class and expect that a learned student will emerge at the end of the allotted (cooking) time?  Is the teacher a mere implementer of previously approved teaching methods learned by rote and applied without modification to every pupil? Or does a teacher’s training, ongoing professional development, teaching experience plus professional judgement lead to better learning outcomes for their students?

The Teaching Reading in Australia researchers examined this issue from a historical perspective.  Research Associate Professor Phil Cormack (School of Education, University of South Australia) compared two systems of education that emerged in Britain during the industrial revolution (‘Reading Pedagogy, ‘Evidence’ and Education Policy: Learning from History?’ downloadable at the Teaching Reading in Australia website).  The ‘monitorial system’ developed by Joseph Lancaster used the best performing students in a school to teach the other students by strictly adhering to a particular method of teaching invented by Lancaster and supervised by one head teacher in the large classroom.  The purpose of this system was to enable mass education with the most efficient use of resources.  There was no leeway to adapt the method of teaching to better suit particular students or to improve on it by innovation in the classroom. Continue reading

History of Teaching Children to Read

“The almost exclusively scientific orientation of current reading policy and pedagogy is profoundly limited”, argues Professor of Education at Charles Sturt University, Bill Green. “It needs to be supplemented by a more critical, cultural, historical perspective.  One which takes account of more than a so-called best practice or the singular method”.

Head and shoulders photo of Bill Green

Professor Bill Green

Professor Green, along with Research Associate Professor Phil Cormack (University of South Australia) and Professor Annette Patterson (Queensland University of Technology) have done the research to support these statements.  Over the last few years these three professors of education have undertaken a significant study of the history of how children were taught to read in Australia from early settlement to 1939.  Funding for the Teaching Reading in Australia project came from an Australian Research Council grant.  I was fortunate enough to observe their work at close quarters as I was employed as a research assistant for the project.

Now that the archival research has been completed we would like to share with you some of the findings of this work and the resources we have found.  On this blog I will also give you a ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse of the work we did to uncover this history.

We have created a website for the project which gives a broad overview of Teaching Reading in Australia, a bibliography of useful references and a list of key archives researchers can consult.  I give a more detailed overview of the website and how it can be used on the Teaching Reading in Australia page on this blog. Alternatively click here to go directly to the project’s website.

This week I asked the professors a few questions about the project for this blog. Continue reading

Book Review: Secularism or Democracy? by Veit Bader

Cover of Veit Bader's book, Secularism or Democracy

‘Secularism or Democracy? Associational Governance of Religious Diversity by Veit Bader, (Amsterdam University Press, 2007).

This is a comprehensive book that explores issues of religion and state such as what role should religions have vis-a-vis the state, the role of secularism in government and society and how the state can deal fairly with the various religions.  The author, Veit Bader, is an emeritus professor of sociology and philosophy at the University of Amsterdam.  This is an academically rigorous book.  It is most definitely not bedtime reading.  However, if you want a deeply thought and carefully argued book that does not shirk difficult questions or pose glib solutions this book is for you.

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The Emergence of Anzac Day

Anzac Day procession, Brisbane, 1916.

Each year Australians and New Zealanders observe Anzac Day on 25th April.  ANZAC Day  is a day when Australians and New Zealanders remember their war-dead and the terrible suffering soldiers endured while carrying out what they were ordered to do.  25th of April was chosen for Anzac Day in recognition of the day when Australian and New Zealand troops landed on the shores of Gallipoli in Turkey during World War One.  This did not lead to victory but to a stalemate costing the lives of many men on both sides.  Anzac Day is not a celebration of military victories, nor is it a remembrance confined to memories of World War I.  It is a commemoration of the devastation wreaked by all military conflicts.

This post started with the question; how and when was the first Anzac Day commemorated?  I thought I knew the answer but as the process of writing for publication requires writers to carefully justify opinions and facts I did some further research.  The application of this discipline quite often leads to surprises for the writer on the way and this was certainly the case for me.
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