Thursday, September 23, 2010

How they Educate the Educators

By Peter W.

GK Chesterton said `Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.' That is not my favorite Chesterton quote. He also said `A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.' Both are apposite when thinking about contemporary government-run education.

Last year my wife completed a post graduate Diploma in Early Childhood Education. The theme of every unit in this diploma was that the little blighters educate themselves. All you need to do, as an educational facilitator, is to provide them with a rich learning environment. In particular, you shouldn't think of teaching them anything, or of directing their learning in any way. This may harm their self-esteem, curiosity and creativity. Children will absorb the numeracy and literacy skills they need as they need them. Their learning should be self-directed.

Apart from being complete and utter bollocks, what struck me most about this course was how carefully structured it was. By the time you get to post-graduate level, you have a pretty good idea of how to study, and of the gaps in your knowledge. Of course, as Donald Rumsfeld remarked, there are also unknown unknowns - things you don't know you don't know, and this is where a good teacher comes in handy.

But in this course, every student had to read the same articles in the same order, and was expected to come to the same conclusion. Namely, that education works best when it is structured. The lecturer, being a humourless left wing git, saw no irony in this at all.

Post-graduates can be expected to take most of the responsibility for their learning. Kindergarten and primary children cannot. The whole world is unknown unknowns to them. They have no way of knowing what they need to learn, or how to go about learning it. Sadly, most primary teachers in Australian state schools, never having been educated themselves, cling to the romantic ideal of student directed learning.

The one area where this does not seem to apply is political/environmental issues. At KICE (Kangaroo Island Community Education), and at other government schools around the country, students are regularly subjected to emotionally laden, reason-free, questioning forbidden, programmes of indoctrination on matters environmental.

This week's subject is the ghastly consequences of palm oil farming. Empty headed and single-minded guest speakers are inflicted on the students, who are also obliged to watch heart-rending videos of forest clearing followed by pictures of sad looking orang utans and little elephants.

They are then encouraged to act globally and to take action by telling other people what to do. For example, students may wish to write to Australian companies which use palm oil, threatening not use their products unless they cease to do so. Or they may write to the Indonesian ambassador expressing their dismay at Indonesia's apparent disregard for the welfare of its endangered species.

The arrogance is astonishing. As is the complete lack of concern for the families whose livelihoods such actions will destroy.

Students then file home in a bored fashion, leaving a trail of litter, and perhaps bashing a few penguins to death along the way. Believe me, it happens.

The end result is listless and resentful students, whose self-esteem really is damaged because they know very well that they are not achieving or learning anything worthwhile.

But teachers, in a frenzy of rose tinted delusion, return to the staff room to congratulate themselves on what a wonderful job they are doing, oblivious to the consistently appalling behaviour, and equally appalling academic results.


A female Hitler calls for infant formula to be made hard to get

Infant formula should be available only on prescription to boost breast feeding rates, an expert says. But Victoria's peak doctors' group and Melbourne mothers say the proposal goes too far.

Jennifer James, of RMIT University, said formula manufacturers should also be banned from marketing their products to the public.

"When women are having problems, and it's very challenging learning to breast feed, the formula is readily available and the marketing suggests that babies will thrive on it, so women go for it," Dr James said.

"The majority of women and new dads that you speak to will give you some reasons why it's important to breast feed but there's still this pervasive belief that 'I'll try it and if I can't do it, formula's just as good'. "I would like to see formula prescribed by a health professional rather than being available in supermarkets and chemists."

Melbourne mum Christine Rookas said it should be a mother's choice whether to breast feed or not. "I would be very frightened and afraid to think that formula will be prescribed," Ms Rookas, from Avondale Heights, said. "I think there's already a paranoia for mothers. They feel guilty enough about using formula milk."

Ms Rookas was still breast feeding six-month-old Neave, as she had her two older children, despite finding it tough. "I just kept persisting ... because it's more convenient rather than a huge health benefit," she said.

AMA Victoria president Harry Hemley said requiring a prescription for infant formula would be very inconvenient for new mothers. "There's no doubt that new mothers need more support to make sure their children are as fit and healthy as possible," Dr Hemley said. "Breast feeding is the best option for most new mothers, but not for everyone."


Chaos and confusion as Australia's Leftist government tries to find a solution to illegal immigration

They seem however to be going slowly down the path that worked well for the previous conservative goverenment

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen will head to East Timor to revive plans for an offshore immigration processing facility following talks between Julia Gillard and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao. The Prime Minister spoke yesterday to Mr Gusmao and asked whether she could dispatch Mr Bowen to discuss the processing centre with his East Timorese counterpart.

It comes as political controversy has again erupted over boat arrivals and Australia's system of mandatory detention with a suicide and two days of protests at Sydney's Villawood facility.

Detention facilities are overcrowded. Mental health experts and refugee advocates believe this has contributed to the incidents this week, although the asylum seekers appear to have protested in an effort to have their claims reconsidered.

Plans for an offshore processing centre have faced strong resistance in East Timor since they were first mentioned by Ms Gillard earlier this year, and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd was quick to indicate after the election that it would be Mr Bowen who would deal with the issue.

The East Timorese Government has signalled it wants the issue of a processing centre resolved through regional dialogue, not through a bilateral deal with Australia. It has however left itself open to talks with Australia.

Yesterday's discussion between the Prime Minister and Mr Gusmao comes as Mr Rudd is due to meet the East Timorese Foreign Minister Zacarias da Costa at the United Nations in New York.

The deal comes as the head of a government advisory group on asylum seekers warned incidents of self harm at Villawood were the beginnings of a detention system spiralling out of control.

Monash professor of psychiatry Louise Newman said conditions would likely deteriorate at other detention centres across Australia and chastised the government for failing to learn from the past.

Already, men have broken out of Darwin detention centre to stage roadside protests and others fought with tree branches and pool cues in a mass riot on Christmas Island.

"There is a shocking sense of de ja vu," Dr Newman said. "We're seeing the tragic repetition of the same risk factors that we know are predictive of the sorts of problems we saw in Woomera and Baxter."

Nine Chinese nationals on the roof of the stage two accommodation building had climbed up just after 8am yesterday in the same area where Fijian detainee Josefa Rauluni, 36, died in an apparent suicide on Monday.

Speaking through a translator last night, one of the detainees said one of the men had cut himself and was lying unconscious on the roof. The nine include four women, one of whom Xiao Yun, 32, says she is two and a half months pregnant. Ms Yun was detained upon arriving in Australia in early April after she was caught on a fake passport. She has been in Villawood since. Ms Yun said the group were Falun Gong or Christian and feared persecution if returned to China.


Army top brass imbecilic as usual

Why won't they listen to the men in the field?

A senior soldier has blasted plans to send 100 troops to Afghanistan next month without mortar support.

The Townsville-based Digger, who does not want to be identified, also revealed troops heading off to war against the Taliban have been forced to buy their own combat boots. More than a dozen Diggers from the 5th Mechanised Battalion have purchased American made Altama and Bates boots for up to $250 a pair because their Q (supply) store ran out of army-issued combat footwear. "It is a joke," one soldier said.

Mortars are the most effective form of fire support to infantry. Especially if they are pinned down like Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney and his mates from the 6th Battalion were in Afghanistan last month.

The young Lance Corporal became Australia's 21st fatality in Afghanistan and his comrade who sent the explosive email revealed this week by The Advertiser argued that mortar support might have saved the father of two. "That contact would have been over before Jared died if they gave us f*****g mortars," he said.

The senior soldier contradicted joint operations chief Lieutenant General Mark Evans who told the media yesterday that troops fighting in the three-hour battle in Afghanistan last month did not run low on ammunition. "A mate of mine who was there said they had to withdraw because ammo was low," he said.

While he regards the lack of boots as very serious, the soldier said mortars were a matter of life and death. "A lot of blokes would be dead if it wasn't for mortar support, especially in Afghanistan," he said.

The senior soldier said that mortars were the only guaranteed fire support for infantry troops. "Mortarmen are soldiers within the battalion they are supporting, so they know full well the urgency and the reason when they are needed to fire," he said. A good mortar line can have highly accurate weapons ready to fire within two or three minutes.

According to some insiders, tactical commanders are reluctant to use mortars and artillery due to the risk of civilian casualties and prosecution. The insurgents deliberately fight in populated areas to expose local civilians, and five Australian commandos are facing possible unlawful killing charges over the deaths of six Afghan civilians, including five children, in February 2009.

Australian infantry units use 81mm mortar tubes manned by three soldiers with three tubes per section.

Three combat teams from the 5th Battalion will deploy next month to replace the Brisbane- based 6th Battalion in Oruzgan Province, but only two will take mortars. "For unknown reasons a Major in charge of the third team has decided not to take any mortars," the soldier said. "There are so many things wrong and so many leaders making decisions that will get people killed, and have got people killed. "This is very disheartening, what do we tell these kids heading to war?"

A chorus of serving and former soldiers have jumped to the defence of the Digger who sent this week's email while condemning the response from the top brass in Canberra.

Vietnam veteran and war pensioner Bernie McGurgan, from Capalaba in Queensland, posed a simple question to General Evans: "Are we fighting a war in Afghanistan or not? "If the answer is yes, nothing is too good or too costly in providing the ultimate and maximum fire support for our fighting soldiers," Mr McGurgan said.


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