It is not often these days that I open the morning paper to welcome news. But this morning’s Sunday Age brought me something I am really happy about.
The Victorian State Government is planning to move language teaching beyond being only a subject to being also a medium of education. Subjects other than the language itself – such as maths and science – could be taught in a LOTE.
This approach to language teaching is vastly superior. Language learning requires time and exposure. The amount it has been getting is just nowhere near enough.
There is a vast body of research and experience that shows that students continue to learn the content of other subjects (such as maths and science) even when they are learning them through a second language. And they can also learn the second language in the process.
It would also be nice to see the demoralised LOTE teaching workforce get a bit of a boost.
Geez, Julia, you are making it hard.
My loyalty to the ALP is based on a commitment to ideals, not any given current leadership or policy. I don’t expect the Labor Party in government to please me all the time. I expect decisions I disagree with, and lacunae. Most of the time, I can deal with the gap between the government I would like, and the government I get.
But Julia Gillard on asylum seekers is really testing me.
Maria Montessori did not believe adolescents should go to school at all. She thought they should be out in the fields working, and growing into their adult bodies and their adult selves. As the mother of teenagers, I reckon she had a point. And that is why I am excited by the ALP Y9 proposal.
I was watching the ALP campaign launch streaming on my computer when I first heard about this plan. I was not actually expecting to hear anything I would get enthused about, so I was delighted to hear John Brumby outlining this genuinely exciting initiative.
Of course, kids these days don’t get to leave school to do manual work and then go back. If you fall off the education treadmill in the modern world it is often very hard to get back on, and rare to go as far as you might have done. The manual work is largely gone. The opportunity for that kind of education within the family or community is a thing of the past.
But we still have to deal with the realities of adolescence. Teenagers have a massive job to do in growing physically and emotionally and defining a newly minted adult sense of self. We ask them to make massive decisions about their life directions, and to make them fairly young.
Year 9 is a crunch point in education. There are reasons why kids disengage at that point. They are under enormous pressure to work out who they are – not just in the sense of choosing school subjects, but in really deep ways that goes to the core of their identity.
That kind of existential work is time-consuming and all absorbing. The minutiae of remembering to get your white shirt through the wash over the weekend, or keeping track of your textbooks can get very tedious when you are trying to work out if you are in love for the first time. Obeying petty rules can feel like tyranny when you are first feeling the power of being adult size.
At this time in their lives, kids deserve a bit of time off the treadmill of bells and rules and rigidity. It is the right time for a shake up. A chance to follow up an absorbing interest. To meet different people. To be somewhere new. To be distracted from book learning for a bit while you get a handle on who you want to be.
Yr 10 is when kids start to take different paths. Individual paths that they must choose for themselves. At the end of Yr9 they will be faced with important decisions about how they want the next three years, and the rest of their life, to pan out.
In kindergarten, children learn through free choice and play. At the end of childhood, in Yr9, our teenagers can be given another chance to learn in ways that are playful, but none the less crucial for that. This is a no less transformational moment in their lives than the important preschool years. It is the perfect moment to be flexible.
This program, for me, is not about handing down wisdom on practical life skills. It is about taking away some of the pressure of the daily grind of class and homework, to let our kids play for a moment. It is a smooth space in among the deleuzian striations of school. It is a hiatus that will allow them to enjoy a moment of being before they have to get on with becoming.
Maybe the execution will disappoint. Maybe Bailleu will get elected and it will never happen.
But the concept is a winner with me.
Filed under: politics
Filed under: politics
Consultation – or more usually lack of it – is often an issue in politics, particularly at local government level. When there is a proposal to re-arrange some corner of our world, we have come to expect that we will get a say in it. Governments have to promise to consult. Community members damn decision-making that did not consult.
Consultation is important to democracy. It is a natural extension of the concept of representation. We should demand to be consulted about things that affect us.
I remember once suggesting to a leader that we put out some information, and being told that it was too early for ‘consultation’ as the decision had not been made yet. That leader clearly had a wobbly grip on the concept.
I get irritated when people get up in arms over something that is being implemented, after ignoring opportunities to be consulted at the time the decisions were being made. If you want to be consulted, you really should go to the public meetings, and look at the plans, and respond to the surveys at the time. If you are not prepared to make the effort to participate in consultative processes, you can’t complain when it is too late.
There are times, though, when I wonder whether we should even bother paying lip service to consultation over some things.
Social housing, for example, is greeted by almost universal rejection in any neighbourhood where it is planned. If we did genuine, responsive consultation with the immediate neighbours of any proposed bit of housing for the poor, we would never build any. People always believe that public housing is terribly important, but this particular street is the wrong place to build it.
One of the advantages of representative democracy is that it sets up a remote control mechanism for implementing things we believe in but don’t particularly like. Having elected a government that we know will build public housing, or send price signals on energy use, or increase urban densities, we can then have these things forced on us unwillingly. As they must be, if we actually want them done.
Consultation over issues like that is kind of silly. If we subject the cost of electricity to a vote, the price will not rise. Even when we know it should happen, we won’t welcome it. Governments know they are going to have to do it whether we like it or not. Consultation in those cases is a waste of time and resources.
We need the electoral process to offer us an abstraction we can support in principle, and then impose the uncomfortable reality of those decisions on us. The representative process allows us to create the arms length remove that we need to help us make decisions we know we won’t like when it comes to the crunch.
So why do we bother to pretend that consultation over issues like this is a good idea? Paying lip service to the idea of consultation over decisions that are going to be imposed anyway devalues the concept of consultation. It makes people cynical about political processes. And that hurts democracy.
Last Sunday I went to church.
I went to the official opening of the renovated Uniting Church on Sydney Road. Given that I am not a member of the Uniting Church, I know a remarkable number of people in that congregation.
Part of my Irish-Catholic inheritance is a deep distrust of Protestantism. I am always intrigued to find how deeply these ancient antipathies run in Australia among people who think they left their religiosity at grandma’s. The advent of multiculturalism papered over the historical differences between the various tribes of the British Isles. But under the surface of the homogenising label ‘Anglo’, cultural differences persist.
I feel diffident about campaigns against gambling and drinking, because I remember that wowserism was historically a way to marginalise the Irish. I find campaigns that purport to support state schooling can still sometimes be more anti-catholic than egalitarian.
Religion issues have been much discussed in recent months. There have been objections to religious instruction in schools. Outcry over school chaplains. Major challenge to the traditional institution of marriage. Sneering responses to the canonisation of St Mary KcKillop. A lot of commentators have confidently assumed that to be progressive is to be against religion.
But the people I know who attend the Brunswick Uniting Church are the salt of the earth. I come across them organising school fetes, sitting on committees of management, working with asylum seekers. They contribute. I was pleased to join them in celebrating the great work they have done restoring this historic building to create a new centre to support their worship, and their community work.
This progressive congregation prays for women’s rights, global equity and the environment. They sing 21st century hymns with thoroughly modern lyrics displayed on a large computer screen. But they still make admirably traditional morning tea cakes.
I would have liked to join in the singing, but I got an attack of sentimentality that caught my throat.
I heard a rumour that some people walked out of a recent CPA reunion when a speaker described The Greens as the ‘left wing of the Labor party’.
I am wondering if it is time we distinguished between progressive and left-wing.
There is no doubt The Greens are loudly and proudly progressive on a range of social issues. The most obvious recent one is same sex marriage. The Greens have made no bones about their support for this. Labor has been more circumspect, with some MPs and candidates prepared to voice support, but reluctance by governments to act. One assumes that some Labor MPs might oppose it, either through personal conviction, or in the belief that they would be representing the views of their electorate. We have heard little from opponents of same sex marriage, but we all know they are out there. They have no need to rally against it until a proposal is put up.
Even where the positions of principle for Labor and The Greens are the same, Labor policies are more complex and cautious. This is hardly surprising. With a vastly higher vote, Labor represents a wider range of demographics and views. Representing the views of their constituency involves balancing conflicts, and leaves no room for the purity of The Greens, with their narrower more homogeneous slice of the population.
While Labor is in government, they are also expected to be able to implement their policies. Labor policies have to be practicable, and achievable within a single electoral cycle. Being free of these constraints, The Greens can propose clearer, more idealistic positions that are able to capture the imagination and harness the enthusiasm of their target progressive voters.
But does this progressive idealism make The Greens left wing?
The ‘compromesso storico’ between the labour movement and the inner-city intelligentsia was the driving force behind the success of the Victorian Labor. The core of ALP philosophy was class-based – support for the struggle of working people. Internationalism, feminism and anti-racism could find common cause with the search for human dignity and equality.
Gentrification of the inner-city, and the arrival of environmentalism have challenged and shifted that alliance. While the inner-city Labor Left readily embraced environmental politics, the ALP as a whole has reflected the patch-work acceptance of implications of climate change found across the country. The Greens have been the beneficiaries of Labor’s failure to go as far as fast on these issues as many would like.
Meanwhile, gentrification of the inner-city has seen the working class and their jobs pushed out. Brunswick once housed migrant workers with numerous children, who grew useful quantities of vegetables, kept chooks and walked to work in local factories. Their houses are now home to small families who grow vegetables in a more ornamental way, keep two or three bantams with names, cycle to work or school when they are not using their Subaru all-wheel drive, and worry about whether state schools are good enough for their children. The converted factories house young people with healthy social consciences and enough money to eat breakfast out every day.
Value politics are very important to these people. When Labor fails to live up to ideals on issues such as treatment of refugees, same sex marriage, or funding for important social services, they lose ground with these voters. They are rich in compassion.
They are also fairly rich. The new inner-city has a blind spot when it comes to class politics. They seem oblivious to just how privileged they are. They whinge about the wait for a tram and demand more fixed rail, but don’t spare a thought for the plight of teenagers in Caroline Springs who would be far better served by a bus on Sundays. They think travelling more than 3km to school is hardship. They make donations to lobby groups to save forests, but don’t ask what the displaced workers will do.
The new inner-city politics is progressive on social issues. But class issues barely rate a mention.
The Greens main constituency is these new inner-city types. The Greens do not have Labor’s historical and structural ties to the labour movement. Active unionists and other people with strong ties to class-based politics still combine their social progressive agenda with a worker rights and egalitarian agenda within the ALP (or other socialist groups further to the left than Labor). Some lefties within The Greens have tried to connect them to traditional left issues. But the reality is that The Greens core inner-city constituency does not know or care about the working conditions of cleaners in the CBD, or the loss of jobs in manufacturing, or the quality of education on offer at Dallas primary school.
The political pressure on The Greens to be left-wing, in the traditional sense of siding with the working class, is low.
For the Labor Party, ties to the labour movement are still central. Class issues are built into the structure of the party. There is political pressure on the Labor Party to stay more left-wing, in the sense of maintaining ties to the working class. This can also have the effect of pushing Labor to be more socially conservative, in line with the slower speed of social change in communities beyond the inner-city.
Left-wing people for whom class issues are primary are still likely to find more satisfaction with Labor. If government money goes to Broadmeadows ahead of Brunswick, they are likely to accept that as just. They may even enjoy direct benefit, since they may well be among the ranks of professionals who service the outer north while living in the inner north. They are less likely to shift to The Greens when they know they are biting the hand that feeds them.
But there are many new inner-city residents who have lost all contact or sympathy with the working class they displaced when they moved into the area. People more likely to make a donation to Oxfam than to a strike fund. These people, and The Greens party that best represents them, are progressive. But I am not so sure they can claim to be left wing.