Monday, June 11, 2012

Must not re-enact history?

The British Raj is part of Indian history and in my experience Indians are more likely to be amused by it  -- particularly by British eccentricities  -- than anything else.  And since the Indians attending the function below thought it was fun one has to conclude that only sourpusses are complaining about it

A colonial-themed event at a university has resurrected an uneasy past. The dress code on the invitation "white tie or colonial uniform" seemed innocent enough. College students arrived at St Paul's great hall dressed in immaculate black dinner suits with matching white handkerchiefs.

They were met by a team of Indian and south Asian waiters, dressed in colourful traditional cultural garments and college students dressed in formal attire, who served them Indian delicacies and curries.

It was St Paul's yearly "upscale" dinner. This time the theme was "end of the British Raj".

But within days of the grand event, ideological war broke out at the University of Sydney over whether the elite college, which is no stranger to controversy, was basking in the glory of colonialism and slavery. Before long, vicious vitriol began ricocheting across Facebook.

"I am Indian and I used to go to college. My relatives suffered in colonial India. This theme offended me and brought me to the brink of tears," one female student wrote.

"Please, can you all come to our next party? It's Mexican themed, and we'll be celebrating all the abductions and beheadings you can poke a stick at," a student responded.

"I have this turban and - what luck! - it's just your size," another provoked.

Had it not been a letter to the student newspaper, Honi Soit, from an outraged arts student, Mason McCann, the white tie event may have gone unnoticed.

"I do not think the party was a celebration of Indian culture, it was a celebration of imperialism," Mr McCann told The Sun-Herald.

"The party demonstrates a serious deep disconnect between the culture of St Paul's and the culture of the University of Sydney. I am deeply offended by it.  "They have a responsibility as a prestigious and old institution to project a positive public image to both the other students and the public, and I think that party succeeded in doing just the opposite of that."

In response to Mr McCann's letter which was published in full, Hugo Rourke from St Paul's, who as senior student speaks on behalf of his peers, wrote to Honi Soit to justify the party.  "It was a successful event, held in good taste and enjoyed by attendees and employees alike," he wrote, seemingly shocked that the event would cause such uproar.

The catering company for the event, Sodexo, were similarly taken aback by the suggestion their workers had been forced to don cultural garb.

Its state manager, Ram Devagiri, said his staff, who all have a south Asian backgrounds and work at the college full-time serving three meals a day, were having an "absolute ball" at the party and had become "annoyed" at the insinuation there were racial undertones at play.  "They are not happy that they are being dragged through this, because they actually had a great time that evening," he said.

"We didn't go out looking for a couple of Indian-looking blokes and bring them in. They work there all the time."

But when it was revealed that Mr Rourke's published response had been edited, the debate shifted to Facebook and racial vilification was exposed.

"If you can find me anyone of Indian heritage who was at all offended by the evening at St. Paul's for (Jazz Dinner Dance) I'd be astounded," one flabbergasted St Paul's student wrote.

"That's it, ban ALL the upscale parties!!" another wrote.

On Wednesday, the Student Representative Council passed a motion condemning the themed party by writing a letter to the college's spokesman, the warden, Dr Ivan Head, asking for an explanation.

"The meeting was very controversial, there was a lot of debate about it," said SRC welfare officer Rafi Alam.  "Most of the people who said it wasn't racist were white people who go to college or have friends in college, but the non-whites were quite upset about it," Mr Alam said, who has a Bangladeshi background.

It is understood that a handful of students boycotted the dinner.

Mr Alam said the party proved that "racial subtext" existed at the university.

When The Sun- Herald contacted Mr Rourke, he "had nothing to say on the matter". The warden, Dr Head, did not return calls.

Does the St Paul's party constitute discrimination? The president of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, Stepan Kerkyasharian, said that as long as there was no insistence that only people from the Indian subcontinent could serve as waiters, then what happened at the St Paul's function "would not be discrimination".

Re-enacting a period in history like the British Raj "may offend some people but I don't think the act itself constitutes discrimination or vilification".

"I think if [re-enactment] is done accurately and in good faith and the re-enactment itself is not offensive, is not intended to vilify and is not discriminatory, then one has to accept the historical reality," Mr Kerkyasharian said.

"If the message here was, 'Look, Indians are slaves … or Indians are only good as waiters' I would find that objectionable.

"But if the intent was to create this historical imagery … I wouldn't see that as deliberately derogatory or deliberate vilification of people of an Indian background," Mr Kerkyasharian said.

The popularity of re-enactment is growing and the Australasian Living History Federation now boasts 85 member organisations that specialise in eras ranging from the ancient to the medieval, Napoleonic, Victorian, US Civil War, colonial Australia and the two world wars.

The federation's secretary, Jessica Robinson, said some re-enactments had caused anger and those with particular potential to offend included the US Civil War, the world wars, the Crusades and colonial Australia.

But she is adamant that, when done sensitively, they can all be re-enacted without the performances in any way glorifying slavery, Nazism, religious hatred or the conquest of Aboriginal people.

"Our main rule is that we don't want re-enactment to be a vehicle for any kind of political ideology that someone is trying to force through in the modern era," Ms Robinson said.

Jeff Yuille is a corporal in the 2nd Virginia Living History Group, which celebrates the Confederate regiment of the same name that fought for the South in the US Civil War. Its members dress in period costume, camp out, eat period food and sometimes stage mock battles against other living history groups representing Union soldiers from the North.

Although some believe any celebration of the Confederacy is a de facto celebration of slavery and racism, Mr Yuille said his group had never experienced any protests.

Criticism of the British Raj function, he said, sounded like "political correctness gone mad" and only represented the view of a "crazy minority".  "They are reliving history," he said of the event.

Stephen Gapps is a historian and curator at the National Maritime Museum who conducted his PhD thesis on the history of historical re-enactment.  "I think some events are difficult to re-enact because of the long memories of the terrible events, particularly colonial [Australian] stuff and the US Civil War," he said.  "Some things should not be re-enacted, like events from the Holocaust," Dr Gapps added.

But he believes that if controversial topics are tackled with authenticity and sensitivity and "get people from both arguments involved in the beginning", they can be cathartic rather than divisive.

Dr Gapps said Colonial Williamsburg, an American historical theme park, represented an 18th-century landscape where slavery was common, but previously "hardly any elements of the presentation dealt with slavery".

It was decided to get black Americans involved in recreating a slave auction - a move that attracted hundreds of protesters - but they walked away from the performance saying "it was fantastic and it showed the humanity of the situation".

Holding a British Raj dinner was "fraught with danger", said Dr Gapps, because Sydney has a big sub-continental population, so it had to be approached carefully.


Student teachers fail primary school-level tests

Another indication of how low educational standards have sunk

ALMOST half of aspiring primary school teachers failed parts of a landmark test featuring literacy and numeracy questions that Year 7 students should be able to answer.

The results have reignited concerns about the quality of teaching graduates entering Queensland classrooms.

The Courier-Mail last week revealed that about 12 per cent - almost one in eight - high-school leavers who began a teaching course this year had an Overall Position of 17 or worse.

Figures released by the Queensland College of Teachers reveal about 40 per cent of third or fourth-year teaching students who sat the trial Pre-Registration for Aspiring Primary Teachers Test failed the literacy, numeracy or science component.

Educators defended the results saying the test was aimed at graduates and some students may not yet have been exposed to some of the test material.

However, The Courier-Mail understands there were high failure rates on some basic content questions.

The test was introduced by the former Bligh government after principals raised concerns that some graduate teachers lacked basic literacy and numeracy skills.

It contained questions on teaching strategies and basic primary school level content which they will have to teach.

Professor Geoff Masters, who recommended the teacher test, said the results gave weight to principals' concerns.  "Some of the questions are fairly straightforward tests of literacy and numeracy," Prof Masters said.  "It does raise a question about whether some students who are getting through their initial teacher education programs have the levels of personal literacy and numeracy and the knowledge of how to teach literacy and numeracy that we require in our schools."

The test, which has cost more than $2 million to develop, has been shelved under cost-savings measures.

The Queensland College of Teachers, which conducted field trials in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Toowoomba and Cairns in March last year, said 483 students took part.

"The outcomes of the trials indicated 72 per cent of the participants would have met the benchmarks set for the literacy instrument, 82 per cent for numeracy and 81 per cent for science respectively," a QCT statement said.

"If the test proceeds, candidates will be required to meet the benchmarks set in all three areas. Approximately 40 per cent would have been required to re-take at least one of the instruments. The results of the trial should be considered as indicative."

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said the results were concerning.  "The trial test was conducted on less than 10 per cent of the entire cohort of third and fourth-year teaching students to assess the validity of the possible test questions and the logistics of implementing the test itself, rather than the quality of teaching graduates," Mr Langbroek said.  "However, the results are still concerning which is why I plan to work with universities to ensure that they are producing quality graduates to teach Queensland children."

Queensland Deans of Education Forum chair Professor Wendy Patton agreed that the results were cause for concern.

But she said variables had to be taken into account, including the fact that third-year students had been given "graduate" tests, and it was still unknown what the trial test questions were.

She said individual students were not provided with their marks, with an assurance those wouldn't be published.  "We have to acknowledge that these were not students at the end of their program," she said, adding that she hoped they would be able to answer the questions by the end of their course.

Under QCT guidelines, higher-education institutions are required to provide extra tuition to any student who needs support in literacy or numeracy. Prof Patton said that was being done.


One in eight Education bureaucrats get the chop while more teachers are put on

Campbell Newman is rapidly unwinding sick Labour Party priorities

THE jobs of one in eight bureaucrats are being axed in the Department of Education, Training and Employment.  The department is reducing staff by 12.5 per cent - about 385 jobs, mostly workers on temporary contracts.

Among the areas facing the greatest reductions are human resources, which has three times the staff of similar sized companies in the private sector, and the indigenous education unit.

While administrative workers are in the firing line, the number of teachers is expected to increase by about 400 next year.

Education, Training and Employment Minister John-Paul Langbroek said all government departments needed to cut waste and find savings to pay off "Labor's $85 billion debt".  "The changes apply to administrative positions only, meaning no school or TAFE position will be affected," Mr Langbroek said.

Public sector union Together Queensland has been battling to save jobs with up to 175 information technology workers to be cut by July 1.  Some of those IT workers were permanent teachers seconded to the Department, which are now returning to classrooms and replacing teachers on temporary contacts.

It comes as DETE cancelled a $250,000 technology expo for teachers on Friday.  Education assistant director-general David O'Hagan said other Smart Classrooms activities would continue.

Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates accused the Newman Government of "paying lip service to its pledge not to impact on frontline services" over the IT worker and conference cuts.


An Aborigine debunks the do-gooders

Brad was a self-help guru, who found fortune and fame peddling a bunch of easy answers to a gullible people.  Although simply a character in The Simpsons, like many other characters from that beloved cartoon, it is not hard to find people in real life who could play that same part.

Like Jack.

After his recent appearance on Australian Story, Jack Manning Bancroft is riding a wave of public adoration.  Touted as everything from a future Indigenous leader, to an Aussie inspiration, overwhelmingly, the feedback coming in from his TV appearance has been extremely positive.  If you listen to the viewers, he's achieving huge success with Indigenous youth, turning the tide of low expectations and bringing high profile supporters and donations to disadvantaged Aboriginal kids.

At least, that's what Australian Story told them to swallow.

Jack runs an outfit called AIME - Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience.  He teams Uni students (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous) up with Indigenous students, to mentor them through High School, for around an hour a week (it must be an action packed hour..).  It is supposed to assist with raising the rates of Indigenous students finishing Year 12, and encourage more Indigenous students to go on further, to University studies and a brighter future.

The outfit is funded by both Universities and corporate sponsors (such as Rio Tinto & Google), no doubt as they feel it is a worthwhile cause.  Even Thorpey is on board, and he's putting his money (well, to be technically correct, the money of his donors) where his mouth is.

But I can still hear that nagging little cartoon voice of Lisa Simpson.  You see, like Brad Goodman, Jack Manning Bancroft and AIME are peddling a bunch of easy answers.

In operation for almost 8 years now, you may be surprised to know that AIME does not operate in a single remote area.  Heck, they don't even operate in the Northern Territory, Western Australia or South Australia.  You may be surprised to find that in Victoria, they've chosen to work with schools that not only have some of the lowest percentages of Indigenous students in the state, but, they've also chosen schools that are some of the most expensive and prestigious.  Schools like Scotch College (who do give two scholarships a year to boys from the N.T), Trinity College and Xavier College.  Melbourne Grammar School is also on their list, as is Parade College.  Looking at the list of public schools that they work with, it appears the maps past Hampton Park are not in existence.  A shame really, as if they were to talk with the Principal at say, Bairnsdale Secondary College in Gippsland, they would find that not only are there schools with a high percentage of Indigenous students, but, that those same students would benefit from any help on offer, as they are some of  the neediest and lowest performing in the state.

It is much easier to mentor a young affluent white boy from Scotch, who identifies as Indigenous, than a struggling black kid from the sticks who doesn't dare dream as big as finishing High School with a passing grade.  It is much nicer to sit down and discuss the merits of various Universities and the trivialities of campus life with a young kid in a crisp, smart uniform than to try to elevate the aspirations of a child whose parents don't care enough to ensure he is well fed, let alone well dressed and bathed.

For eight years, it appears Jack has deceived himself, and, the rest of us.  He's told us he's making a change, and, more importantly, he's Closing the Gap.

He is not.

Instead, he has created a divide.  Widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots.  While the wealthy Identifiers are improving their outcomes from good or great, to fantastic, the neediest have lost ground.  Hell bent on convincing ourselves that things are improving, we place people like Jack on a pedestal.  He tells people what they want to hear, and asks only that you throw money his way in return for his good deeds and innovative ideas.  Like the citizens of Springfield, we can't get enough of our Brad Goodman and his easy answers.

I don't doubt that there have been some hard luck kids who have been helped by AIME.  I also don't doubt that they've done some good work as a result of their programs.  Heck, I don't even doubt that some of the kids they've helped have had dark skin.  What I do take issue with, is allowing what appears to be a genuine fear of failure to dictate your policy and programs, resulting in the help again going not to those most in need.

Let's say Joe Average decides to start an organisation to help Aboriginal children.  Joe wants to be able to get donations coming in by the bucketload, so, he looks around the other organisations who claim to do the same thing as him, and makes his pitch even better than theirs.  Red Cross say they will lift literacy rates by 10%  among 5-12 year old Aboriginal children by 2015.  To get more donations than Red Cross, Joe markets his organisation to potential donors as being ready, willing and able to take that number to 25%.

This is where things get tricky.  Instead of working harder or smarter with old theory, or implementing some new, previously untried revolutionary program to work with struggling kids, Joe simply takes his half-baked organisation to selected areas, excluding any schools with kids that have consistently poor outcomes or a high percentage of low-income earners as residents.  He works with a small group of children who identify as Indigenous (often several generations removed from a single full-blood ancestor), offering nothing new or exciting, but, simply uses their natural progress to fiddle with the averages and achieve his goals on paper.

We're a nation that likes facts and figures, but, we're a population that likes them spoon-fed to us.  We certainly seem to prefer it when someone else tells us what conclusion we are meant to draw from statistics and percentages, if our current mindset is anything to go by.  Indigenous specific statistics are no exception.  In the twenty years from 1986 to 2006, the Indigenous population doubled.  While part of this is attributed to natural rates of procreation, the Australian Bureau of Statistics states that this staggering increase is also due in part to people identifying as Indigenous where in previous counts, they did not.

The boom in our numbers has been great for those trying to 'Close the Gap'.  All of a sudden, gains can be made, by little more than a tick in the box.  We can all reassure ourselves that we're going forward, not backwards, because the statistics don't lie.  As a percentage, we have more middle income and high income Indigenous households than ever before.  As a nation, we've made serious ground when it comes to preventable childhood diseases ravaging Indigenous youngsters.

But that's when you look at the nation as a whole.  When you take the statistics and break them down, you see the real picture.  Urban Indigenous populations are making all the gains.  The remote communities make little gain, none, or in some cases, are going backwards.  While their often fair-skinned, urban counterparts are achieving on par in almost all areas with their non-identifying peers (the gold standard we apply when we speak of a Gap), the improvements of which we so often speak and celebrate are just not being delivered to those who need it the most.  Those who were struggling then, are most likely to still be struggling now.  My experiences with remote communities have done nothing but strengthen this conviction.  The overwhelming poverty, dysfunction and suffering remains at the same levels year after year for many remote communities, but to hear the city slicker fauxborigines speak, we're doin' fine.  We hear self-appointed Elders constantly tell us the importance of Welcome to Country ceremonies and demand their performance as a mark of 'respect', yet never think to question why they have placed so much focus on a shallow tokenism, when children are being abused and neglected. 

Instead of helping their poorer, blacker cousins, often, the fauxborigine exploits them for their own gain. 

We are allowed to get upset when intellectually impaired children are excluded from across the board testing (Naplan) in an effort for a school to post an artificially inflated score.  It is unquestionably wrong for a school to discriminate against disabled children in order to appear as though their students are outperforming their expectations. Why are we so afraid to apply the same logic when discussing Aboriginal students?  At present, should you dare to point out that disadvantaged, dark skinned Aboriginal children are being excluded in much the same way from programs such as AIME to keep their success rates high, you will be denounced loudly by every fauxborigine with a Twitter account.  Accusations of racism if you admit to being non-Indigenous, and, a perpetrator of lateral violence if you happen to be black like I am.  Personally, I despise a term like lateral violence being levelled at me by someone with pale skin.  The term implies that the accuser and myself are on an equal footing, when clearly, we are not.  I cannot hide what I am, they can and do.  Even if they have 'identified with their culture practically from birth' (a readily coined phrase by many in the 'Industry'), it makes no difference.  They demand every Caucasian person in Australia admit that they are the beneficiaries of White Privilege, yet refuse to accept that simply by virtue of their own pale skin, they too are the recipients of this very same Privilege.  Hypocrisy at its finest.

During his TV appearance, Jack compares himself to an Undercover Cop, with regards to his Aboriginality.  He explains that people cannot tell he is Aboriginal just by looking at him (just as one cannot tell an Undercover Cop in plain clothes is a Police Officer), and because of this unique position he holds, he is able to permeate the various layers of society and discover racism across all walks of life (and of course, is personally offended by it - give me a break).  Lucky him.  I don't know a single black skinned and obviously Aboriginal person who wouldn't mind trading skins for a day so he can really learn what it's like.  Perhaps then he will stop making ridiculous and insulting statements and realise just how good he has it.

Overhearing a racist joke or comment is so far removed from being rejected dozens of times for rental properties or jobs for no other reason than the way you look.  Seeing an Aboriginal person be refused service by someone who just served you without problem is light years away from being the person denied that simple courtesy again and again.   Having two people in primary school call you a name after you told them you are Aboriginal is a walk in the park compared to having that label applied to you almost every day, and that label sticking with you long past the days of the schoolyard, without having to utter a word about your heritage to anyone.

I hope Jack will decide to prove me wrong and start working with impoverished and remote Aboriginal communities.  It will be much harder than working with the kids from a private school, but I can promise you that it is infinitely more rewarding, and I warn you that it will at times, break your heart.


1 comment:

farmland investment said...

Well,that's great news about the Dept. of Education for a change. Fewer bureaucrats and more teachers, at least one agency is heading in the right direction.