As a teacher I spent my working life in “education” focused on producing “well-educated minds” but what that meant for each individual student and even for each individual teacher was often contentious. The Education System is focused on Results – defined in academic success which is measured quantitatively and ranked hierarchically. It is then convenient for goal-oriented workplaces to select their workers based on who is “best”. In order to improve those “results”, as demanded by anxious parents and reactive politicians, the system has instigated a program of “standardized testing” which is supposed to provide information for planners to target “needs”. Unfortunately the system does not seem to recognize that standardized testing assumes standardized humans. I never met one of those in my thirty years of teaching!
Standardized testing is simply a political tool that is used to promote those who are pronounced as “excellent” and save money by sending it only to those who have “needs”. It has nothing to do with education and is, in fact a hindrance to a well-educated mind. In Australia we now have a test called the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy or NAPLAN. It is run by the rather ponderously named Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) and was intended as a tool to “drive improvements in student outcomes and provide increased accountability to the community”. They test literacy and numeracy skills of students in years 3, 5, 7, and 9, which is at ages 8-9, 10-11, 12-13, and 14-15.
An entire industry has built around NAPLAN, including online sites with past papers, suggestions and hints for students and parents to enhance success. Teachers in some schools have been under pressure to “prepare” students by practising on past papers and teaching to the criteria of the tests rather than the curriculum. The movement to abandon the testing process is growing louder and well it should. Teachers, Principals, Parents and Businesses are all starting to question the value of “standardized testing”. There is even a Facebook page dedicated to stopping Naplan: https://www.facebook.com/protectingchildhoodofficial/.
This is the banner on their site.
Their impressum is:
Education; Children; Wellbeing; Play
That impressum is a growth formula, each level brings deeper understanding, greater knowledge, better people. Let our children PLAY, then they will learn. That is the only additional pillar I would add to the three pillars of “intellectual honesty, open-mindedness, and critical thinking” outlined by Paul in his excellent blog. As he concluded so eloquently if you adopt these pillars as the basis of good education:
Not only does it lead to the excitement of discovery, but also to the satisfaction of understanding.
I have been writing for many years but now I ask why? I have recently found it difficult to write, something I struggle to understand. I have always been able to write my feelings, my thoughts, my ideas for myself. Writing my thoughts I was able to say what I really wanted without fear of negative response.
Natalie Goldberg in her book “Writing Down the Bones” writes:
“‘But why,’ people asked me, ‘does everybody want to write?’ … We all have a dream of telling our stories – of realizing what we think, feel and see before we die. Writing is a path to meet ourselves and become intimate. … What crannies of untouched perception can you explore?”
A friend of Natalie’s and a fellow writer, Julia Cameron wrote in her book “Right to Write” published in 1998:
Why should we write? We should write because it is human nature to write. Writing claims our world. It makes it directly and specifically our own. …
We should write because writing brings clarity and passion to the act of living. Writing is sensual, experiential, grounding. We should write because writing is good for the soul. We should write because writing yields us a body of work, a felt path through the world we live in.”
“A felt path through the world we live in”, exploring “crannies of untouched perception”, perhaps that is why I am struggling to write now. My path is winding, my perception broadening, my feelings deepening. I have been exploring my family history and uncovering much that is giving me pause. There is a trail of separation and dislocation that begins with the first of my Father’s ancestors who were sent to Australia as convicts from Britain. I wonder that the present generation carry some of the pain and anxiety from the past that may shape their “untouched perception” of their current reality? Is my anxiety inherited?
Science has begun to study how our DNA can be shaped by more than just physical factors. In 2017 a report of three separate studies by scientists concluded:
They came to a stunning realization that if our emotions affect our DNA and our DNA shapes the world around us, than our emotions physically change the world around us.
And not just that, we are connected to our DNA beyond space and time.
We create our reality by choosing it with our feelings.
Epigenetics is the study of the chemical tags that wrap around our DNA and determine which are used and which not. These tags respond to our environment especially food and stress. When it comes to inheritance, we are born carrying some of those same tags that our fore-fathers and mothers had. As one scientist who has studied the effects of past trauma on the children and grandchildren of holocaust victims states:
“I think everyone’s intrigued by this idea they’re part of a history that isn’t just about the genes that they have, their DNA, that it’s also about the experiences that occurred before them to their ancestors. I think this is such a powerful idea,” said Rachel Yehuda, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York.
My story, the realization of what I “think, feel and see” in Natalie Goldberg’s words, is the story of my ancestors too. That story needs to be told in all honesty so that I may “claim my world” as Julia Cameron says. The path is long, there will be many twists and turns, hills and valleys but it will bring “clarity and passion to (my) act of living”, it will be “grounding”, but above all it will be “good for the soul”.
It has been difficult to write recently without making some reference to the level of anger being expressed in so many ways by so many people. In Australia we have the spectre of politicians expressing their anger by taking revenge on colleagues from their own political party in government, urged on by the increasingly vociferous attacks from the angry men who hold sway on some radio programs. These government leaders of our society, tasked with providing effective government, seem to have forgotten that it is best achieved by building relationships based on trust. This is certainly not achieved in an atmosphere of “threats, intimidation and bullying” as one female Cabinet Minister admitted publicly. The men call it “robust conversation”, but I wonder if they mean it the way Jim Killen and Fred Daly did? Sir James Killen was a member of the Liberal Party Government from 1955 to 1972 and again from 1975 to 1983. Fred Daly was a member of the Labor Party Government from 1972 to 1975, having been a member of Parliament since 1943. Both men had “robust conversations” many times in Parliament and in the media, but had so much respect for each other that Jim Killen wrote the preface to Fred Daly’s collection of political memoirs. I could not imagine Tony Abbott writing a similar preface for anything Malcolm Turnbull will write, and they are supposedly on the same side of the political fence?
There is a culture of anger based on frustration and fear in our society that needs to be understood. Anger cannot be denied, it is a normal part of the human condition, but it should be understood. To unleash anger in the name of improvement is the real problem. Anger, based on frustration and fear, denies the person confronting the opportunity to respond in a positive way. The only response to anger is more frustration, more fear, more anger. It builds a cycle of destruction that is the antithesis of trust, effective leadership and positive relationships. That is why the bullying, intimidation and threats that our leaders demonstrated as their preferred mode of achieving their goal in recent times is so disturbing. It destroys effective government, it does not provide it.
Last night on National Television, Alan Jones, the man who described himself as “very comfortable” with his “privileged position” that enabled him to “manipulate and paralyse our parliament”, as one questioner put it, advised one female Liberal Party member who had complained of bullying to “take a teaspoon full of cement and toughen up”. Alan has been a radio “shock-jock” in Sydney for many years and has built a reputation as being a leader of reactionary conservative views with his angry tirades against any alternative view to his own. He is one of many angry men who seem to have a hold on radio especially in Sydney. They use their anger to build an audience of frustrated people who resent changes and do not want to consider any reason to question. It is a view of the world that is too prevalent in this society of goal-oriented achievers who want to protect their place and position against any threat they perceive. That is the fear they base their anger on, that is reason we have a leadership of destroyers, not builders.
To build a positive future we need to accept and understand who we are and how we have got here. Only then can we hope to start the conversations that are so desperately needed to enable us to grow. I live in hope and offer this image for reflection. Peace.
Recently I spent some time in the Glasshouse Mountains of Queensland. They are in the Blackall Range west of the Sunshine Coast above Brisbane. They were named “Glasshouse Mountains” by James Cook when he sailed past in 1770 because they reminded him of the shape of the glass making kilns in his native Yorkshire, known at the time as the “English Glasshouses”. To the local Jinibara and Kabi Kabi people the Blackall Range was a special place where once every three years hundreds of people from many First Nations would gather to meet, feast and hold important ceremonies from the bountiful crop of the Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwilliii). The forests of the Blackall Range were especially attractive to the European timber-getters in search of red cedar, white beech, hoop pine, and various hardwoods of the eucalyptus trees.
A small remnant of the rainforests which once covered this mountain range is near the Glasshouse Mountains at Mary Cairncross Reserve out of Maleny. From the entrance you can get a magnificent view of the Mountains and you can walk through the forest as it would have been when the First Nation people travelled through it to their tri-annual gathering. They have many stories of the area and the best known one is on the Glasshouse Mountains themselves. You can read the full version of it at: http://www.glasshousecountry.com.au/glasshousemountainsaboriginallegend.html.
Briefly it is a story of a family with Tibrogargan, the Father, Beerwah the Mother and Coonowrin the oldest son who shamed his family and the Father now looks away from him and the others. The following photo-story is offered as my reflections on the things I saw on that walk around the Mary Cairncross Reserve. I welcome your comments on my reflections.
I walk towards the westerly sun through the forest.
The seat of reflection calls me, but the blue light of truth beneath it beckons me on.
The clear light of spirit shines on my path as I hear the birdsong around me.
Tree Spirit watches me warily as I go since much has been lost to the human invaders.
His wisdom will remain in this place of sanctuary so I offer my thanks for his presence today.
He has seen much of what I will never know and his strength is grounded in time.
The forest floor holds the grounded spirit which climbs through the ancient ferns and breaks upon the spirit of sky above in it’s red pulsing glow.
“Look up!” it calls and I see the soaring canopy of leaves that opens above me and brings life and light.
I stand in wonder at the family of trees and wish my own could stand together with me.
I know the pain of dis-connection as I recall the sound of fire and flood that hurried me on.
At last I know I can see again the group I turned away.
It is peace I feel as I gaze before me at the solid shapes of the family I shamed. I know their tears will wash their pain as the clouds gather above to let fall their gentle rain.
Tibrogargan and Beerwah have found their family again.
has inspired me to think more deeply about the issue of “home”. To return home from a journey is, for most people, a comforting conclusion to an experience that leaves you with much to reflect on. That assumes the “home” you return to is a place where that reflection is possible and somewhere you are secure and safe in a supportive environment to enable time for that reflection. In our society, our home is our house but for many it is linked to land. The “house” can move but the connection to home is often expressed through a love of land and, in some cases, a yearning to return. This can be carried through generations and is, I believe part of the issue of disconnection that faces us today, a disconnection from ourselves because we are still trying to find “home”.
I am a direct descendant of a convict who was sent to this country in 1827. I stand as the fourth generation born in this land and each of those generations have made their home in different parts of the country. I have travelled to each of those places, Windsor, Queanbeyan, Beechworth, Albury and have recently been back to my birth town, Molong. I feel a family connection to each of those even though I do not live anywhere near them now. That connection is in my thoughts but in Albury and Molong it is physical as well.
My Great-Grandfather, the youngest son of the convict sent here in 1827, established a coach-building business in Albury and the building he constructed to house it is today a Motel with a plaque outside bearing his name.
At the Albury Library Museum a collection of tools used by my Great Grandfather at his factory can be seen.
In Molong, many of my parents artifacts are also housed in the local museum including programs from the local Show, Christmas Carols and sporting events held in the town during the 28 years they lived there. Most importantly, to me is the fact I was born in Molong and spent the first 18 years of my life living in that district. This is my connection and what draws me back sometimes to see the places I remember and feel in my heart. That is why I write in this blog about my journey beginning as it did on the “red road”of Gundawanna.
Just this year I had the opportunity to drive down that road again past the front gate I wrote about in my post on 5th August. The road is now sealed, the gate locked, the track overgrown. No-one uses that entrance to the property anymore, but part of my heritage is still visible. My parents moved away from Gundawanna 40 years ago and it has been owned by at least two or three people since that time, but still today, standing proudly on the post where my Father placed it long ago, is the mailbox with our name emblazoned on it. I was pleased it had been left.
No matter where the house we live in is situated, our home is where we connect. Part of that is our past and it is somehow gratifying to know that physically part of our past stays where we have lived. It gives us the confidence to follow our dreams in life knowing our roots are deep. Now I reflect on who I am knowing that where I have been and where I will go is part of me and secure in the knowledge that I am Home.
The mango tree confused him. Spreading its dense limbs over the luxuriant growth of the garden, lush with the constant rains of the tropical coast. Perhaps it was the house he remembered. He could not be sure because of the growth that had occurred over the years. If he walked past from one direction, there was something familiar, but walking from the opposite direction did not prompt any memories. And yet, those steps to the door, the wide verandah,, it all seemed so welcoming. He could remember sitting with her father on a front verandah. Was it here? He was a wonderful man, mild in manner, a man who seemed to know him better than he knew himself then.
He had met his daughter, Alana, at that youth camp. He had no idea why they had been so attracted to each other, something about her stillness had attracted him. Or was it her ability to see through his need and provide that quiet comfort that soothed him, made him remember what it was like to share. They had spent that night together on the beach, just talking and kissing. Those kisses! He could still taste the salt, the tangy feel of her tongue, the warmth of her body, the closeness of her, the sharing, the quiet. The intimacy of the comfort had been enough for him then.
They had spent the next two days in each other’s company. Such a joy. They found such common interests, they dreamed of a similar future. Just sharing closeness and time seemed to satisfy him, brought him a calm he had not felt for some time. After they left, they wrote long letters to each other, talking of their love, their dreams, their desires for the world that seemed such a challenge. He found in her a spirit which charged him with the energy he needed to believe in the changes he wanted to make. At that time he could only think of changing the world, not himself. It was easier to dream of a world of peace and love and work at ways to make it possible through his life choices than it was to love. She seemed to understand this, and gave him the platform for his ideas that he needed. She also knew that he had to change, but only when he was ready. She was patient, simply expressing her love in the ways he wanted to hear.
When she sent the invitation to come to her house and meet her father, he had hesitated. This would require a commitment. He was uncertain what it meant. Was he ready to be that personal? Did he trust himself to maintain the distance that was necessary while expressing closeness? Would her father understand? After all, he was not like him. She assured him it was fine, this was the time of openness, and hadn’t they written of how much they shared in belief, how much they had in common, how little difference there really was?
In the end, he had gone willingly and found in her father another kindred spirit. Talking to him had been like talking to an older, wiser version of Alana. He wasn’t as attractive, of course, but the physical was not as important to him then. They spoke of the world and the future, they described their ideals and hopes for change. They spoke for what seemed hours, even after Alana came out and joined them. He couldn’t remember what happened after that, he only knows that he never went back to her house again.
It hadn’t been easy. Others had not understood his need. They warned him not to keep writing to her, to discourage her from closeness because of his future. He had gone along with their request, he had discouraged her, he had stopped writing. Even now, he couldn’t remember what had actually happened, whether she had written last or he had. It had somehow just stopped. Time had passed. Almost a lifetime.
Now here he was in the street again, outside what he thought was the house, as far as he could remember. Somehow, the thought of her had always been there. Perhaps it was just the comfort he felt that night on the beach, perhaps it was just the thought of the life they could have shared, the life he might have had.
It had been a lifetime, a lifetime of struggle, of death and despair. It was supposed to be a life of joy and love, but he had not found it. The training had been the easy part. The ideals he carried like a torch for others had been fostered by a succession of worthy men. The travel and further study in South America, North America, Rome, had reinforced his views that people had to change. They had to accept the new way for life, for love. He had always found it easy to discuss these ideals, to believe in the way.
In his last year of study, the death of his mother had started it. For the first time, doubt entered his mind. His mother had died the night before his father came out of hospital. At her funeral his father was drunk again. Why did good people die in pain, leaving those behind to persist without accepting change? Where was life and love for his mother? How could he have made it better for her? He did not think it was regret he felt, and he certainly denied the anger. He was good to his father, accepting his faults, comforting him, but it didn’t change him. He flew back to Rome confused.
Working in South America had sealed it. He seemed to be surrounded with death. The old, the young, the fighters, the weak, even the just, all seemed to die without reason, without love. He did what he could to comfort the living, but the words started to sound hollow even to him. The ritual had comfort in its familiarity, the people still came, but something was missing. The fiery bitterness of the white rum became his solace, until his superiors stepped in and sent him back for rehabilitation.
The front gate stood open. It seemed to beckon him. He could imagine her looking out the window at his approaching figure and running joyfully to open the front door. He just wanted to see her again, he wondered why his eyes suddenly felt full, as though he was looking at the moon off that beach, that night…….
“Can I help you?”
“Does Alana King live here?”
“Alana King. She lived here with her father. She was a youth worker.”
“Oh! The Kings! They owned this house before we came. Tragic story. She was killed in South America on a holiday and her father never got over it. They said he used to just sit on this front verandah, waiting for her to return, I guess. I’m sorry, did you know them well? … Are you all right? … Father……?”