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

History Without the Book???

Room lined with glass coved bookcases, table in the middle with open archive boxes, books, computer etc.

In the midst of my research in the reading room at the University of Wollongong Archives.

People worry about the ephemeral nature of information on the internet.  Web pages are easy to create and just as easy to remove or alter.  Many prefer to refer to a hard copy of a book because they believe that it will be accessible for longer than information found on the internet.

But the book is not an inviolable object.  It can be destroyed by disaster, carelessness and by a deliberate act.  Recently the Sydney Morning Herald drew attention to the destruction of thousands of old books, journals and newspapers by the University of New South Wales.  Unfortunately the library’s response does not seem to have had much publicity.  The library states,

Where duplicate copies are discarded, at least one copy is left on the shelves so the knowledge contained in the book is still available.

Andrew Well, University Librarian, University of New South Wales, ‘Statement on Collection Management’, 16/3/2011

Nowhere in this statement or in the library’s ‘Collection Development Policy’ is there any reference to removing all copies of certain books unless the library holds the last copy in Australia as suggested in the Sydney Morning Herald article.  I will leave this discrepancy for others to address.  My aim here is to explore the broader issue of the pressures faced by archives and libraries around Australia to balance retaining material for posterity versus the inevitable difficulties posed by funding and storage constraints. Continue reading

The Transformation of a Word

Dana Street2

Dana St. Primary School, Ballarat. Built in 1856. (Source: Wikimedia)

We all know that the meaning of words can change over time.  Words such as gay and cool are used in ways not contemplated one hundred years ago.  Historians need to be aware of this when reading old texts.  In my research of the  education debates in the Australasian colonies from the 1860s to 1914, I had to understand what the word ‘secular’ meant at the time.  It is much more complex than I would have ever imagined.  The word ‘secular’ has not just changed – it has undergone an extraordinary transformation. Continue reading