why school sux

Education is purposed to help us make sense of our identities while providing the skills for shaping positive and participating global citizens. In westernised countries, where we spend the majority of our waking formative years engaged in compulsory schooling, the role of education in fashioning well balanced contributors is undeniable. Unfortunately, the curriculum of the current system is so cluttered by meaningless requirements and bound by so much red tape that organic growth is stifled and significant exploration of self and world are commonly deemed unfeasible.

One of the biggest tragedies of this era is the way in which students’ inherent capacity for innovation is persistently and ruthlessly squandered through our education system. The way in which we continue to dismiss the value of creativity in favour of a blind and empty emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic is a primary facilitator of this problem. Despite massive changes to educational theories, our approaches to teaching and learning continue to discourage intellectual risk taking, simplifying concepts and limiting discovery by implying that there is a right and a wrong answer to every question.

It’s absurd that in the twenty first century, we continue to award an apparent value to subjects on the basis of outdated perceptions of economic utility. Somehow, despite radical changes to the global climate, subjects such as mathematics and the sciences are still considered overwhelmingly more important than creative alternatives. Consequently, our education system remains geared toward right brain thinkers. Those with a propensity toward academia who respond to traditional forms of instruction and assessment are able to thrive, and are used as evidence that the system is working. Meanwhile, students who are otherwise inclined are abandoned by the system. Their inability to tow the line is interpreted as antagonism and behavioural rebellion and is typically remedied through discipline. Bombarded with blame and accosted by seamless experiences of crushing failure, these students see themselves as the stupid problem. Hopeless or hardened, they eventually enter the world with a sense of resignation that penetrates the core of their identity and what they could have been. On an individual level this is a tragedy. On a societal level, this epic loss of untapped potential is inexcusable.

Too large a portion of our country’s adult population spend their lives mindless and miserable, waiting for the weekend so they can drown their discontentment by indulging in excess. We waste our existence tolerating the greater part of our waking hours because from our earliest educational influences, we were discouraged from pursuing our passions and dismissed from developing a greater knowledge and understanding through poor teaching. Studies show that those fortunate enough to fall into fulfilling fields of work are more content, less aggressive and far superior contributors to their professions and broader communities. So why, when the benefits are evident, does our education system place so little value on individuality, programming us to fear failure, to strive for less?

Exponential growth in technology and rapid changes to cultural and lifestyle philosophies in the past half century are redefining the role of education. Possessing the skills necessary for survival in an increasingly left brained, beyond the box world is becoming increasingly requisite. Educators should be obliged to equip young people with these tools. Through necessity, our approach education needs to quickly evolve. Yet instead, we remain reliant on an outdated nineteenth century model, originally developed to meet the needs of the industrial age. A system of schooling which favours conformity and standardisation can have limited benefits in a twenty first century context. It’s time to rethink our view of intelligence, as we are entering an era where innovation, difference and diversity will be the qualifiers of success.

Every government makes a superficial attempt at reforming education. Unfortunately, their efforts are usually limited to adding more requirements to an already overloaded curriculum, placing unrealistic pressure on staff and students while leaving the archaic philosophies that undermine the model untouched. The system is failing. What we require is a fresh page on which to begin drawing something suitable for our shifting culture.

For better or worse, schools are shaping the next generations of our society’s adults. Our approach will dictate whether we use this time to prepare positive and passionate contributors or disheartened, indifferent drones. Education should be fuelling students’ fires. As it stands, our system does nothing but squander our kids’ enthusiasm, driving them to opt out; if not literally then certainly figuratively. The repercussions of this reach way beyond the realms of the playground. Education is the institution which is deciding the dynamic of our country’s populace. It’s imperative we begin to get it right.

 

For a deeper understanding of our need for an educational revolution, enjoy this informative presentation by Sir Ken Robinson, a world renowned expert in the field of education. If you’re interested in hearing more, I’ll post a selection of his more engaging pieces on the Facebook page.

 

school sux

When I was in my final year of secondary study, I was instructed, along with countless other year twelve candidates, to elect the university course for which I wanted to apply for the following year. A typical seventeen year old, I had next to no idea what I hoped to do with my life. That said, regardless of my bewilderment regarding the future, on one point I was certain; I was aching to escape the mundane reality that was high school.

 

I attended what could be considered a standard public high school. In fact, hindsight suggests mine was probably more reputable when compared to the average secondary institution; its culture was established and respected and the students wore the motto Pride and Loyalty well. But never the less, with the exception of English and the Visual Arts, I found school utterly boring. Due to a restrictive state syllabus undermined by archaic educational philosophies, I was expected to take science and math based subjects, despite my disinterest and obvious inability in those fields. Further, timetabling made it impossible to select more than one creative elective; an obstacle constructed to point students toward academic subjects with stronger university admission scores and traditional employment opportunities.

At my high school, it was virtually obligatory to take classes you did not enjoy, making enduring the tedium of school an absolute slog. In truth, there was more than one occasion during those final years that I decided my best option was to drop out of school and work full time at the local fast food joint. In the end, all that stopped me doing this was my unconquerable fear of quitting. So I endured, denying my interests and relenting to the constraints enforced by marginalised opportunities. After all, what choice did I have?

When the inevitable moment of tertiary study selection arrived, I was a cluster bomb of confusion. With nothing to guide me but a humble university admission guide, which was more reminiscent of a telephone directory than an oracle, I went about compiling a list of careers into which I could see myself entering four years down the track. Months later, after driving myself sick from the stress of exams they’d said would singularly make or break our futures, I was accepted into an education/arts degree. For better or worse, after waiting thirteen years to escape school, I was to become an English teacher.

Despite the way in which I’d seemed to fall into the decision, as the course progressed I grew increasingly excited by the prospect of sharing my love for words and literature with generations of young people. University gave me the impression that my job would be important; that teaching was one of the most gratifying and vital professions into which I could possibly hope to enter. As the four years neared their conclusion I began to buzz; I was about to start changing lives! The optimistic, utopian attitudes of our instructors implied that my own school experience had been an unfortunate exception, and I started believing I could play a part in making things universally better. So it was to my dismay when, after finally graduating, I realised that my original suspicions had been correct; the institution of education was severely lacking. Furthermore, as a new teacher, I would bear the brunt of its short falls from the front line.

I witnessed as our restrictive and poorly executed education system constantly failed countless young people. They arrived at the start of every year, bright eyed and bushy tailed, and within a week their innate fires were collectively extinguished by outdated dogma. Dead weights, they’d wander home after being smacked in the face by the realisation that this year, nothing would change. They would be force fed facts, a portion of which they would be required to regurgitate on an exam paper, and eventually they’d be spat out, none the wiser.

I was struck dumb by the injustice and frustrated by the fact that education, possibly the single most important social service, has been left to stagnate. Truly, there is little wonder that as a people we are becoming increasingly ignorant and lethargic; our world is rapidly changing, yet we are stunting the growth of our younger generations for fear of change. Teaching should be about opening minds, not limiting them. Our current system, founded on an obsession with bureaucracy and restricted by a tradition of control fails on this most fundamental level.

Finally my disdain and discontentment grew to a point that I couldn’t take it any longer. I quit my job and moved far away, believing it had been a bum steer getting involved with education in the first place. That what I should have done all along was something else.

Yet ever since I threw in the towel, a niggling nuisance in the back of my mind has refused to quiet. I dwell on the fact that, despite the system’s bottomless pit falls, the fundamentals of teaching and learning are alive and well. After all, in its basic form education is simply a process of interpersonal relations. Working with young people is wonderful; passing your passion about, watching them weigh the happy shape of it. And despite the bombardment of bureaucratic bullshit there remained rare moments when, against all odds, students managed to reach realisations about themselves and the human condition through our lessons. Witnessing that was truly wicked.

This week I will begin the process of returning to school as a casual teacher. I miss the classroom, but I’m primarily being driven by my compulsive inability to give up. Education needs to be better. And I want to play a part in making this happen. In the long term, that will mean returning to university. For now, if all I can do is be ready with a soothing hand to steady a student whose disconsolation has left them floundering, I’m going to want to be there for that, too.

 

same sex marriage. or, what is quickly becoming gay marriage

Mar-riage

  • A relationship in which two people have pledged themselves to each other in the manner of a husband and wife.
  • The legal or religious ceremony that formalises the decision of two people to live as a married couple, including the accompanying social festivities.
  • Any close or intimate association or union.

For a long time now, the word ‘marriage’ has been applied figuratively to describe any close union, or the blending of two things that had once been separate. Originally, the word stems from the classic Latin verb maritare, meaning simply ‘to marry’, and is used to refer to the joining of people, animals and even the crossing of grapes in viticulture. This raises a poignant, if slightly obscure question: if grapes can get married, why can’t gay people?

The issue of gay marriage has been bombarding both public and political arenas of late. The focus of the debate is as follows: Is it time to change the laws of our country so that same sex couples can be permitted to enjoy the same marriage rights as their heterosexual counterparts? And the consensus? The general populace’s viewpoint (at least, that of the younger generations for whom I can reasonably speak) appears to be to each their own; let them marry if they wish, what does it matter? However, if you belong to a minority, such as an extremist religion or a political party, your opinion is that marriage is a sacred ritual and should not be bastardised by the likes of sinning homosexual couples. So far, the minority are owning this one.

Let me begin by addressing those individuals who, for religious reasons, disapprove of altering the age old tradition of marriage. Guys, I totally get it. You probably don’t approve of watching television, either, and if you’re a lady, you doubtlessly still wear a hat to church to cover your hair, which you’ve never in your life had cut. You believe that in marriage you must obey your husband (and this would become terribly confusing if at least one of you weren’t male). You live in the manner that the bible dictates and you are closed minded to anything which compromises the laws of your God.

Well, good for you, but let’s be realistic. Recognise that your closed minded ways, and I say this without negative connotations and with complete respect (after all, life for you in the twenty first century must be both tricky and tempting) make you very much a minority. The overwhelming majority of us are moving forward, god or no god, towards a more balanced and more comfortable future. Surely you must acknowledge that while your beliefs are valid, it wouldn’t be fair to expect that they should effect the larger population. In truth, I hope that you can continue to approach marriage with the same respect and caution as you always have (after all, since marriage is sacred, and I’m not arguing that it isn’t, you certainly wouldn’t condone an abomination such as divorce. Geez, what would Jesus do?)

That dealt with, if you are not a religious extremist, it is entirely illogical to perceive marriage with such rigidity that you cannot entertain making the glorious sanctity all inclusive. The truth is that, perhaps sadly, perhaps gladly, marriage is not now, nor has it been for a long while, the sacred ritual of days gone. Aside from countless other factors, for the vast majority of us, the underpinnings are barely religious at best and the ceremony is entirely rescindable.

The inability to accept change appears to be the largest issue preventing the legalisation of same sex marriage. This is confusing however, as changes in our cultural value systems have already affected marriage in big ways. If it’s okay for straight couples (incidentally, I hold the term ‘straight couple’ in contempt; the connotations are immediately suggestive of inflexibility and a depressing dullness. I may like boys, but I’m still an interesting person) to engage in second or third marriages when the first doesn’t work out, and if we’re alright with people entering into a marriage after having already lost their virginity, why uphold the gender specifications of the said parties? This is the twenty first century; if we are able to bend other components of the tradition when they become outmoded or are no longer relevant, what is preventing us from continuing this process in favour of equality? After all, it’s not as if you’re being made to marry a same sex person against your will (though in saying that, history dictates that the sanctity of marriage isn’t necessarily against forced unions). Same sex marriage is a non event.

And now we come to the point: I don’t think the majority of politicians really have a problem with gay marriage at all. I put it to you that the single reason the current government and their combatants are allowing the issue of same sex marriage to consume so much air time is that while our focus is directed at a valid yet relatively trivial topic, the public are being successfully distracted from important issues that should be receiving wider scrutiny. Truth be told, gay marriage is being used as a shield behind which the politicians are seeking shelter until the next election.

I think it’s worth entertaining the theory that the fuss being made over same sex marriage is bluff; an issue being used to absorb our attentions so that we fail to notice the parties’ inadequacies when dealing with the things that are fundamentally important to the strength and wellbeing of our rickety nation.

 

Gay marriage? Tell me about it.

 

 

my contempt for the sunburnt country

I hate unsubstantiated patriotism. National holidays like Australia Day seem to exist for no other reason than to incite a certain demographic to demonstrate their regard for king and country through donning the relevant flag, adorning themselves with the obligatory southern cross tattoo and drinking beyond excess. Meanwhile, they alternate between sitting, scantily clad, in a toddler’s long suffering wading pool and meandering the streets in a parade of obnoxious and deviant exhibitionism, seemingly mistaking their ignorant and racist chants and exclamations for national pride.

I am very much aware that this stance makes me entirely unpopular with the overwhelming majority, but I can’t help it; when I hear expressions of blind loyalty for the motherland, I cringe involuntarily, and if pressed, I am forced to admit that, actually, I have a lot of beefs with Australia. I can’t help but feel as if we’re being cheated somehow.

It’s quite perturbing that, whether he be the dinky die, double plugged, singlet wearing yokel in the pub, or the white collared businessman, buffing his virgin 4WD in the suburbs, the typical Australian can’t actually articulate what it is that he likes so much about the country he claims to vehemently admire. Instead, it’s somehow acceptable to simply stammer some meaningless gibberish about being ‘lucky’ and ‘free’, and as long as you make a vague references to the ‘Australian Spirit’ your efforts will be immediately met by gregarious applause and slaps on the backside. On the whole, we’re fairly eager to big up Australia, but what I’m wondering is, why should we?

Don’t misunderstand me; I am more than aware that as citizens of Australia, we’re relatively blessed. I mean, we can walk down the street at any given time and, depending on the neighbourhood in which we choose to dwell, we can expect not to be accosted by gun fire. Further, we have sewage, sanitation and clean water, and these are all good things. I also enjoy that there are supermarkets where we can purchase produce which, to all intents and purposes, appears fresh, and that the majority of us can boast having homes in which to live and cars that we can drive. Also, our stats suggest we’re better than America, and since we seem to rate them so highly, that’s got to be worth something. But ironically, it’s these exact fortunate circumstances that cause Australians to be easily amongst the most politically lethargic citizens in the world.

The truth is that the typical Australian has absolutely no interest in the political ups and downs that are shaping our country and are more informed and involved with the formation of the teams that have made it into the football grand final than the campaign leading up to any given federal election. In fact, due to a combination of ignorance and lack of interest, Australians have so little faith in the value of their vote, that they can be persuaded to exchange them for gifts. Call me a cynic, but being offered tangible goods in the lead up to voting day, screams bribery. But instead of wondering what shortfalls in the parties’ policies might have lead them to earn public support through the offering of material produce, like a child to the vacant parent who has skipped the last several access visits but comes bearing gifts, we approach them, hearts and palms open. Sure, we’ll blame them later when their bandaids prove useless against the sting of betrayal, but until the wheels fall off, we are content.

I get it that everyone can’t be described as politically lethargic. In fact, some people care very much. But why is it that, generally speaking, we couldn’t care less about our country’s leadership and the choices they make on our behalf? Why do we choose to remain uninformed? Why is it that we opt to vote above the line, simply to avoid having to spend an extra few minutes in the polling booth?

Fellow Australians: until we begin en masse to take an active interest in the decisions being made on our behalf by our government, we will be neither a free nor lucky nation. As we sit back, sipping our foreign owned, iconic Australian beers, and boasting unreservedly as to our privileged lifestyle, the cost of living is being needlessly hiked up around our armpits, our soldiers are being sent to fuel wars that are not our own, natural resources are being recklessly harvested, with no serious consideration as to their sustainability and the average wage is being reduced. Meanwhile, the decision makers and those with stakes in the big money are rewarding themselves with yet another pay rise. It may surprise you to know that the Australian ‘lifestyle’ we value so highly is amongst the most expensive in the western world. And there is no logical reason for this.

Instead of pointing an inactive finger in accusation at the government, it is time to admit some fault; it’s the laidback, lackadaisical Australian ethos that we know and love that is allowing the politicians to turn our country into their personal economy in order to satisfy their own agendas. We’ve allowed ourselves to develop such an inherent trust and obedience in authority that we don’t even think to look up once in a while to check what they’re doing with our things. It stopped being a government for the people a long time ago, but we only have ourselves to blame; we didn’t even notice.

So let’s take back the country of which you’re all so fond and transform it into something that might make us feel genuinely proud. This will not happen as a result of vague romantic sentiments that glorify the Australian spirit, but rather through our actions. To paraphrase a democrat, it really is time we started keeping them bastards honest.