Jewell of Anstey

Maths and science teaching madness
November 5, 2010, 3:29 am
Filed under: education, politics, Victoria

The Victoria election campaign is throwing up various ideas for doing things differently. Today’s paper carried a Liberal Party proposal to make maths and science teaching in primary schools a task for specialists.

This strikes me as an extraordinarily bad idea.

I have long been intrigued by the failure of maths and science teaching in secondary schools.  Many students are forced to continue studying maths by a system that insists it is important.  Only a few seem to enjoy it, and too many of them appear to mainly enjoy the relief of being capable of doing something others drop. Meanwhile, the content and method of teaching maths seems to make very little progress.

The situation for science seems to be even worse. The ranks of science teachers seem to include far too many who have no idea how to engage the attention of a class.  Students drop out in droves, mostly convinced that they ‘hate science’.

Do we have any reason to think we can improve on this situation in primary schools?

At the moment, primary teachers are generalists who cover all the core areas of the curriculum.  Specialists do languages, art, sport, music – areas where real subject-specific skill is needed.  But the generalist classroom teacher covers all literacy, culture, social sciences, sciences and maths.  What the generalist teacher specialises in is the craft of teaching.  Primary teachers are magnificent technicians of teaching.  Freed from the need to be experts in a content area, they can focus on knowing how to manage a class and how to engage each individual in a learning journey.

Knowing how to do maths and knowing how to teach maths are not the same thing.  Ditto for the sciences.  Primary teachers need to be people who love and respect children as committed learners with endless potential.

This policy seems to be based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how primary schools work.


October 21, 2010, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Brunswick, politics

Brunswick has a long history in left-wing politics. It is a vibrant place, open to change. So I suppose it is hardly surprising that it should be one of the places where the emergence of a new third force in Australian politics plays itself out.

The Greens Party has been gaining strength here over several election cycles. I even have a Greens MP for a neighbour.  In many ways I welcome the challenges and debate that this brings.

But I also have a nagging fear.  I worry that this internecine conflict will drive politics underground.

For so long, pretty much everyone in Brunswick was on the same side.  The socialists and communists were further to the left, but they supported the labour movement, and did not see the Labor Party as the enemy.  People are used to standing shoulder to shoulder to fight a common enemy, and in that context their political commitment flourishes.

But what happens now the Labor Party and the Greens Party are fighting for the same patch? Last night I saw a spat break-out on facebook between people who might once have called each other comrade.  If we see much of that, I fear that the sites of public community life – fêtes and committees and street parties – will quickly be placed off-limits to those who want to raise the political issues of the moment.  In the interests of pleasantness, we may lose those opportunities to inform and rally people to causes that are bigger than our little neighbourhood.

Many things about Brunswick are changing.  I hope I am wrong about this one.

One day of grace
October 9, 2010, 5:33 am
Filed under: politics

Two Ministers in the Victorian Labor government resigned on the last sitting day of 2010.  As is the way with Ministers, they held off the announcement until the last minute.

Both Peter Batchelor and Bob Cameron had served as Ministers for 10 years.  That is a long time.

You would think they might deserve at least one day of grace and recognition for their years of service, and some acknowledgement of their achievements.

I was very disappointed to read the feature article summing up their careers in The Age the next day.

The piece by Paul Austin and Farah Tomazin is so negative.  The little positive recognition of their work, towards the end of the piece, is reported only via what Brumby said, leaving a hint that the praise is being dismissed as puff.

Politicians must accept scrutiny and criticism.  As representatives or ministers they often carry the can for things they did not personally do or support.

But I wonder what it does for our democracy to have a media view of politicians that is so overwhelmingly negative that we cannot even afford a thankyou and farewell on the day they resign.

Hello Brunswick
October 9, 2010, 5:30 am
Filed under: Brunswick

It is spring in Brunswick. The sun is shining gently.  Peach and plum trees in my front garden are laden with blossom. Cyclists are out in force. There have been some early sightings of cricket whites.

This is a great place to live.