Friday, March 04, 2022

Ping, Pong, Pang: we went to enjoy the opera but found it perpetuating racism

By Cat-Thao Nguyen

On reading the story below, I do feel sorry for Ms Nguyen. But Puccini's "Turandot" is one of the greatest works of opera so should be sacrosanct in a way. Its first performance took place at the "Teatro alla Scala" in Milan in 1926, conducted by Arturo Toscanini, after which it rapidly became a classic. Who has not wondered at the power of its great aria "Nessun dorma"?

We should not meddle with the transcendent and it seems that the Sydney performance was true to the original, as it should have been.

So I think Ms Nguyen should simply see the opera as the fantasy that it is, without ascribing personal reference to it. That would seem to be the only constructive way forward, difficult though it might be. After all, works by Wagner are now performed in Israel, for their artistic merit, not their historical relevance

Growing up in poverty in Bankstown as a Vietnamese refugee, I was always on the outside looking in at the Sydney Opera House. My mother always warned us the city had a different temperature. Crossing train lines was like crossing countries.

So when my Canadian-Chinese husband suggested we go to a performance at the Opera House earlier this month, I wore the heavy coat imposed by mum. After showing our vaccination documents and checking in we ascended the steps of the Joan Sutherland Theatre to see Opera Australia’s performance of Puccini’s Turandot.

Our previous experience of a Puccini opera was by accident while on holiday in Italy. Inside an ancient church, there were two unassuming singers without any costumes, stage or surtitles. And it was transcendent. But what we saw in Sydney shocked us.

In 2019, a comedian withdrew her show, Aisha the Aussie Geisha, from the Melbourne Festival. It had featured a white person dressing up as a geisha with face paint, drawing complaints about its use of “yellowface”. Yet Opera Australia apparently feels comfortable having white performers dress up in face paint and exaggerated Asian features to play Chinese characters such as Ping, Pong and Pang.

Turandot is set in ancient China, even though Puccini never went to the country. Unsurprisingly, the play, which centres around a barbaric Chinese princess, contains outdated orientalist stereotypes of Chinese people. As an Asian woman, I have had to battle exotic fetishism and binary depictions that oscillate between submissive servant and dragon lady – the exact binary I was now watching on stage.

As I sat in the theatre, the horrible caricatures kept coming like a tidal assault. Ping, Pong and Pang pranced around the stage with their Fu Manchu-style moustaches and fake long ponytails flicking across their costumes. I felt utterly sick. I clutched my husband and clamped my hand over my mouth. As the scenes unfolded, I felt a violent wilting of dignity for myself and my Chinese husband.

We decided to leave after the first act. Most of the audience that night was white but the only thing white for me was my hot rage. I quoted the Jewish teacher Elie Wiesel to my husband. Wiesel said: “It is illegal to shout ‘Fire’ in a crowded theatre. But if there is a fire, it is immoral to remain silent ... One must raise an alarm in such a moment, even though it will be perceived as the act of a madman, even though it makes people uncomfortable.” It seemed no one else was alarmed.

No one else saw the fire of cultural appropriation and the use of Chinese music, traditional dress and perpetuating historical Western depictions as demeaning. Instead, on the Opera House balcony people chuckled, talked about property and holidays. It was achingly normal.


No one cares about boys doing badly

Bettina Arndt

Nearly forty years ago, I was interviewing a senior New South Wales bureaucrat about how badly boys were doing in schools.

‘What do we do if we find girls continue to draw ahead of boys?’ I asked her.

‘We wait 2,000 years and continue to analyse the results very, very carefully,’ said this Director of Curriculum.

She later claimed that was a joke, but that has precisely been the strategy of feminists running our education system since that time. This was in the mid-1990s and they’ve been sitting pretty ever since the 1972 Whitlam government introduced strategies to encourage girls’ achievement in schools. Girls were surging ahead across the board.

But the endless promotion of girls’ achievement threatened to come unstuck when, suddenly, parents started to notice what was happening to the boys.

Robert MacCann from the NSW Board of Studies released a startling report giving a very detailed analysis of sex differences in final school results which showed girls doing increasingly well and boys’ results dropping through the floor.

Suddenly the newspapers were full of stories of irate parents demanding to know what was going on. Parents sent me cuttings from local newspapers showing the smiling faces of girls winning all the prizes in school speech days whilst boys filled the remedial classes or dropped out of school.

(Unsurprisingly, after launching his bombshell report, there’s no sign Robert MacCann appeared in public again. The gulag, perhaps?)

It was obvious that girls’ education strategies had more than levelled the playing field. But that wasn’t the main game for the feminists now firmly entrenched in our education departments. A letter I received in response to my articles on boys’ education spelt out the feminist goals very clearly.

‘Girls today are far beyond needing equality. They need compensation for 2,000 years of being repressed, mutilated, enslaved, raped, and treated as inferior,’ the hostile reader wrote.

Similar sentiments, more tactfully expressed, were published in an article But the Girls Are Doing Brilliantly in a gender equity magazine produced by the Federal Education Department. It suggested that increasing girls’ performance in maths and science wouldn’t provide girls with a passport to career success, nor result in better paying jobs or increased workforce participation. More had to be done.

This mob wasn’t at all happy when governments responded to the massive community disquiet about the boys being left behind with two parliamentary inquiries. The first, led by Liberal backbencher Stephen O’Doherty in New South Wales, made worthy recommendations only to have the project shelved when Bob Carr’s Labor government came to power, kowtowed to the Teacher’s Union, and buried the whole thing.

Next came the Howard Government’s House of Representatives Inquiry, which reported in 2002 after receiving a record number of submissions. The bipartisan committee unanimously recommended programs to assist boys, especially in literacy. The Deputy Chair, Labor MP Rod Sawford, spoke out about the ‘state of denial’ the committee encountered in education bureaucrats and academics, which they put down to ‘the fear that addressing boys’ issues would undermine ongoing support for strategies for girls’.

Federal Education Minister Brendon Nelson announced he planned to tackle this head-on, with his government considering to what extent pro-girl policies were ‘letting down boys and their families’. He announced boys’ ‘Lighthouse’ programs to fund schools developing strategies to improve boys’ achievement.

But naturally, Labor’s powerful handbag brigade weren’t having a bar of this and funding for boys’ initiatives rapidly dried up when the Coalition lost power. (Every time I despair of Morrison’s pathetic Coalition government I think of this history – Labor has ruthlessly dismantled programs benefiting men and boys in family law, support for fathers, etc.)

This was just when Christina Hoff Sommers was exposing the plight of boys’ education in America in her powerful book, The War Against Boys. Similar patterns were to emerge in many Western countries – ‘Worldwide, boys are 50 per cent less likely than girls to meet basic proficiency in reading, maths, and science,’ notes Warren Farrell.

Here we are twenty years later with boys’ education totally off the agenda. The 2019 Alice Springs Education Declaration setting out Australia’s current goals for education didn’t mention ‘boys’ in their entire document.

Most of the data showing how badly boys are slipping behind never sees the light of day. Evidence that is available reveals a dire picture of boys in trouble:

Boys are dropping out of school. For every 17-year-old girl not going to school in 2020 there were 1.5 boys. That trend has been getting worse for the last half-century.
Boys are left behind. NAPLAN results tracking basic skills show more boys than girls falling below minimum standards in every subject. In the writing test, boys are seven months behind girls in Year 3, 9 months in Year 5, 18 months in Year 7, and 20 months in Year 9 – trailing girls by almost two full years. In the graph below showing Year 7 NAPLAN results we see that in most subjects, boys in Year 7 are about twice as likely to be in trouble as girls. Overall, 11 per cent of teenage boys can’t read at a minimum standard. And even in numeracy, more boys are below par.

Boys’ final school results are also slipping. Last year in New South Wales, girls were awarded 58 per cent of all the high scores in the HSC results, with about 6,300 more top scores than boys received. Most states simply don’t publish final year results by gender.

Boys are no longer going to university. In 2021 there were 1.4 females for every male doing a degree or graduate study. More girls than boys have been going to university since 1989, with the gender gap increasing steadily.

Over the past two decades, we have seen more and more measures introduced which favour girls’ achievement. The inclusion of a compulsory unit of English in the calculation of NSW tertiary entrance marks in 1994 was a major factor contributing to the increasing domination of girls at that time. Seven years later, the bureaucrats doubled the compulsory English requirement, which experts calculated immediately tilted by 4 per cent the ratio of girls in the top 10 per cent.

Bias against boys is now worn as a badge of honour. Look at this Melbourne University academic presenting her research showing boys do better in multi-choice maths exams – which she proudly declares is reason to do away with them.

There’s long been a shift to assessment methods that favour girls, like ongoing assessment rather than exams. The currently favoured open-ended inquiry approach and self-directed learning means boys are more easily distracted and can fall behind. Boys do better in orderly classrooms where there are clear directions, explicit goals, timely feedback, and consistent sanctions for uncompleted work. They require high expectations and praise to stay on task and achieve good work – yet teachers praise boys less than girls. With male teachers now outnumbered 2.8 to 1, female teachers’ bias against boys is a major issue. Female teachers are more likely to mark boys down, as this OECD study found.

There’s plenty that could be done to facilitate boys’ learning, including a greater emphasis on literacy and reading – starting with a phonics-based reading model. And regular breaks from sitting still. My older son spent time in a school in Manhattan where the boys had scheduled runs up and down the stairs of their high-rise building every hour or two – orderly chaos but great for their learning.

In his latest book, The Boy Crisis, Warren Farrell makes this chilling point. ‘For the first time in American history, our sons will have less education than their dads.’ Farrell explained he grew up in an era in which girls were doing badly in maths and science but added, ‘We concluded the trouble was with the schools.’ His country decided to tackle the problem and girls are now thriving.

Now boys are doing badly in almost every subject. And what’s the reaction? ‘We say the trouble is with the boys,’ said Farrell.

It’s that darned toxic masculinity. That’s the problem. Our entire education system, with unrestrained glee, now has that firmly in their sights.


Castrating Australia

Ukraine, the causes, the strategies and the ramifications for us all

One theme, of course, keeps recurring, and that is what Rebecca Weisser describes in this week’s cover story as our Peter Pan politics, the notion that the West has for far too long indulged in fairy-tale policies built on fantasy ‘woke’ concerns – such as climate, race and gender identity – but now it is time for us all to ‘grow up’.

That’s one way of putting it. A Speccie reader has put it rather more bluntly, by writing to all members of the Morrison Cabinet berating them for the unacceptable risk they have placed this nation under by recklessly embracing left-wing environmental politics and policies.

He writes, somewhat scathingly:

Dear Minister, Well, not one summer but two in Melbourne in which there has been not one day of 40 degrees or over.

The dams are virtually full at the end of summer. The average world temperatures are the same today as 43 years ago and that comparison is even after China’s increased coal-burning. The CSIRO cannot quantify how much CO2 is in the air generated by man.

Yet you have led us into a Green’s paradise where no scientific peer-reviewed data seems to justify putting our coal and gas electricity generation into a crisis position.

The writer goes on to detail the explosion in electricity costs to be paid by you the consumer that are directly due to the subsidising of – and new infrastructure required for – our so-called ‘renewables’.

But it is the last line in the letter to ministers that is the most devastating:

Let Germany and Britain be a glaring warning to you fools.


As this magazine has repeatedly maintained – and we are a lone voice in the media brave enough to bluntly spell it out – the pursuit of net zero emissions is a treacherous policy that exposes future generations of Australians to virtual enslavement

As China ignores any environmental concerns to build up her massive and unstoppable military and industrial strength, our leaders and business elites are destroying the very energy strength this nation may desperately need in the years ahead not only to defend ourselves militarily but in order to prosper as a free and sovereign democratic nation.

Now that we have seen the clear and present danger of diminishing one’s access to cheap, reliable and abundant energy resources, such as has wilfully occurred in Europe, the Coalition must immediately end the commitment to net zero emissions. And while they are at it, please remove the moratorium on nuclear power.

Or else, like Labor and the Greens, the Coalition will forever risk the epitaph of having deliberately and treacherously castrated the industrial strength of this nation.


Maths and science teachers need better pay, report warns

Maths and science teachers would be paid extra under a radical reform to fill skills shortages.

A two-tier salary system for teachers is recommended in a report by the Centre for Independent Studies, which wants higher wages paid to teachers who specialise in hard-to-fill fields such as science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM).

The CIS disputes predictions of a teacher shortage, arguing that workers qualified in professions such as information technology, accounting and engineering could be given fast-track training to teach in high schools.

“Union demands for across-the-board pay rises are not ­responsive to the actual needs on the ground,’’ CIS education ­research fellow Glenn Fahey said.

“The (teachers’) union says all teachers should be paid the same, based on an old industrial model. “But when it comes to maths, there should be a more market-responsive salary available that reflects industry demand – a salary that gets close to what they could earn in industry.’’

In NSW, which pays the highest teacher salaries, new graduates earn $75,605, but the salary for “highly accomplished” ­teachers is capped at $111,271, with up to 12 weeks’ annual leave.

Consulting giant EY’s cyber security professionals earn $68,000 as graduates, $150,000 as a senior consultant and $310,000 as a senior manager. The median salary for a mining and gas engineer is $158,775, with a standard four weeks of leave.

The CIS report suggests a 5 per cent salary bonus for science and maths teachers. “Mathematics and science teachers tend to earn lower salaries in teaching than their graduating peers in industry, while in all other subjects the opposite is true,’’ it says.

“In order to attract and retain teachers in shortage areas – particularly with specialisations in maths and science – policymakers should consider flexible pay rates, making them more market-based, rather than fully regulated. There is evidence that maths and science teachers’ salary expectations are relatively sensitive to market salaries outside of teaching.

“The same is not necessarily true for the wider teacher workforce who … report relatively high levels of satisfaction with pay and conditions.’’

Mr Fahey said professionals with existing science or maths ­degrees could not afford to quit high-paid jobs and start at the bottom of the salary ladder as an entry-level teacher.

“If you’re a mid-career professional (and switch to teaching) you have to start at the bottom on an entry-level salary,’’ he said. “That doesn’t make sense. That subject knowledge and ­experience should be recognised in the salary.’’

Mr Fahey said industry professionals with a mastery of STEM subjects were good at “explicit teaching’’ to school students.

“Teachers who bring with them industry experience and knowledge tend to be better in the classroom,’’ he said. “They are better able to ­explain the sequences involved in solving problems.’’

The CIS report recommends that high-performing teachers be paid a 20 per cent bonus.

It states that Australia has enough teachers, but they need to be better trained at university.

“The number of students per teacher has almost halved since the late 1960s,’’ Mr Fahey said. “While there are claims of a growing shortage of teachers, the truth is that staffing increases ­significantly outpace student ­increases.’’

Mr Fahey also called for better quality controls on teaching ­degrees.

“The problem is not so much a poor quality of potential teachers attending university, but that those coming out of training are underprepared,’’ he sa




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