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Archive for the ‘education’ Category

letter to the Minister

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Just sent off a letter to The Hon Kate Ellis MP, Minister for Youth, about whether the proposed student services fee will have a mechanism to prevent the administration from muffling students’ voices by withholding funding, as was threatened at Murdoch last week.

What do you guys think?

Written by Sunili

25 November 2008 at 2:30 pm

common tactics

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So the other day, my dad (who, incidentally, has an online subscription to Harper’s so now I can read all those awesome articles!!) forwarded me a communique from Murdoch Uni’s Guild about how that uni’s admin undertook in some antidisestablishmentarianism* that was eerily familiar to me.

To recap the backstory briefly, the Notre Dame admin people told myself, then editor of the student mag Quasimodo and the relevant Student Association officials that if we didn’t stop criticising the uni in our publication, the uni would seriously consider withdrawing financial support of the Student Association (which doesn’t charge student fees at all, and relies on elected volunteers and admin goodwill** for everything).

The Murdoch situation goes like this:

Chancellor Budge stated that the Guild should consider whether their campaigning “is consistent with an expectation that the University’s financial and in-kind support will also continue.”

This is a Gag Order from the Chancellor: the Guild is to cease campaigning on student issues [with regards to “matters that are damaging to the University“] or else it will not receive any of the prospective student services levy.

The saga, as outlined the The Oz’s Higher Ed Sup yesterday, is pretty much exactly the same as what us Notre Damers had to go through.

What, are the Vice Chancellors like meeting regularly to form some sort of anti-student Axis now? Do they swap cupcake recipies as well?

This issue going to be the topic for my next contribution to newmatilda.com.  For the first, click here.

* I so totally typed that correctly in one go. GO ME!

** I hereby pronouce that term The Oxymoron of the Day.

UPDATE

Oh, PS: I EFFING TOLD YOU SO.

Written by Sunili

21 November 2008 at 1:36 pm

student services: who pays wins?

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Oh bless. Not many things get the Aussie partisans as worked up as what gets done uni students’ time and money.

In the Red corner: those latte-drinking pinko student unionists, who (allegedly) skip class to sit around in the Guild offices finger-painting painting giant calico banners for the next protest march — forests? Gay marriage? Nuclear energy? Whatever the lame cause, those lefties scumbags will use student funds to politicise it. Oh the horror.

In the Blue corner: those latte-drinking ponyclub Student Liberals, who (allegedly) skip class to work in blue-ribbon electorate offices and assault constituents, or scheme to dupe innocent electors with illegal fake how-to-vote material [See: Pandagate. Oh kids. Those were the days!!] and would rather die than have daddy’s $250 used to pay for a studying mother’s childcare subsidy. I mean. Jeez. Don’t they get Centrelink for that?

Now, having been at a tertiary institution in which the embryo of student activism was well and truly aborted long before that baby could start kicking and screaming (you guys! I am hil-EFFING-larious!!), I never got to witness or be involved in the fun first hand. But I have a little bit of experience when it comes to some of the ideas being tossed around in the current proposal on the student-services-funding merry-go-round:

From July next year, universities will be able to charge students a compulsory $250 fee to run student services like health, childcare and sports clubs.

…”This is a contribution which goes to universities, not to any individual student union, and it is entirely at the discretion of universities,” Mr Rudd said. [ABC News]

UWA’s Guild Prez Nick Barron “says he hopes some of the money will go to the unions”:

“There isn’t really any guarantee in the information that’s been released so far that this money will necessarily reach student organisations which is something we would have liked to have seen,” he said.

“But we’d hope that individual universities would acknowledge that the best service providers are student organisations run by students who are on the ground and have the best contact with the people who these services will ultimately be provided to.” [ABC News]

He better be hoping and praying really hard, though. I heard young Nick being interviewed on jjj’s Hack this afternoon, and when presenter Kate O’Toole asked him what would happen if the university itself had control over student services like student papers, I wanted to pick up the phone and tell them all about dear, darling Quasi. RIP, little guy.

Barron made some great points about how it should be the student organisation that deal with the cash, but I just felt he didn’t have the fear in him. Probably because their student paper has never been told that funding will be withdrawn if they try to publish any sort of criticism of university policy or any sort or anything students might actually give a shit about (that’s a small category; students are generally apathetic buggers, aren’t they?)

From my humble experience, when you take the money to the administration side of the equation, you get the same power structure that might’ve been seen between the Deputy Principal and high school prefects. Fun times.

No hat, no play, children. And don’t forget your permission slips.

Written by Sunili

3 November 2008 at 8:21 pm

fun links to keep the masses occupied

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Gah, it looks like I may have called an end to my hiatus too early. But we did have a good couple of weeks up-til now, so I’ll count that as a blessing.

Until I have time to pull together all the notes scattered through my several Moleskines (I try to be organised, but I think I am a scatterbrain at heart) into real blog posts, here are some fun things for y’all to read:

If you think that’s special, then think about this. Pfotenhauer said that she lives in a place called Oakton, Va. Oakton is located in Fairfax County. Pfotenhauer implied that the country was part of “real America” because it was open to the possibility of electing John McCain. Here’s the problem: Fairfax County, like its neighbors, are in the process of turning colors. (We can detect this with a special version of a mass spectrometer called a “ballot box.”)

Like regular charges of left-wing bias against the ABC, the moral panic evident in submissions to the Senate inquiry rests on a certain implicit, though questionable, assumption – namely, that only deviation from prevailing orthodoxy constitutes bias.

Conventional views are presumed neutral, and the possibility is never entertained they may be invisibly, systematically biased in the other direction. It follows that the regular complaints of bias and proposed remedies are a form of harassment designed to maintain doctrinal conformity.

However, the highest educational ideals require precisely the reverse attitude – that is, encouraging the exploration of alternatives to preferred, taken-for-granted views. As Bertrand Russell remarked, education should make students think, not to think what their teacher (or government) thinks.

Found any good web-treats recently? Please share!

Love,
Sunili xoxo

Written by Sunili

20 October 2008 at 6:02 pm

on the University of Notre Dame Australia and academic disappointment

with 5 comments

UPDATE: apparently some people @ ND are ticked off at me for writing this post.  In a perfect world, they would stop Googling themselves (with disparaging search terms, no less) or writing patronising emails and get back to supporting students and academic staff. But whatevs. That’s just my opinion, and no-one listens to me. (Anyone who is listening to me: um… may I suggest therapy?) I have made one change, and one change only to this post, and kudos will be awarded to the first person to pick what it is (hint: nothing in the text of the post, other than this update, has been changed). xoxo SG

So I am applying for this Thing (no specifics; that way, when I don’t get it I don’t have to admit to my rejection) and I need super-dooper undergrad grades, which I have, but I worry that the Thing-chooser people will look at my Notre Dame transcript and snort with derisory laughter before throwing my application out the window.

I hear the new VC is getting inaugurated this evening, and I totally hope she has lots of plans for making the place less of a joke.  When I started there, way back when, people who didn’t know me looked at me with a horrible mix of sympathy and disgust upon finding out I was going there.  The people who knew me to be generally intelligent, of course, looked at me with abject confusion:

“Why the HELL is she going there? Surely she got the grades for UWA law?”

Yeah. I did. But I thought ND would get better, cause there were all these cool lecturers there and, you know, I like being little different.

So what happened?

FAIL.

All the staff members who I was impressed by as a curious Year 12 leaver have since vanished into thin air (or, more accurately, better institutions) and I graduated with two lots of first class honours yet feeling like a complete tool.

I was googling my Arts honours supervisor (cause he’s flown the ND coop and I needed his new contact details to ask for a reference for aforementioned Thing) and I discovered that he’s recently co-authored a book on terrorism. It looks like a good one, too:

Responding to Terrorism

Political, Philosophical and Legal Perspectives

Robert Imre, University of Newcastle, Australia, T. Brian Mooney, Singapore Management University, Singapore and Benjamin Clarke, University of Notre Dame, Australia

This volume, which focuses on Australian perspectives on terrorism, provides significant new dimensions. Four main areas are treated in this intriguing analysis: responses to uses of torture, legal approaches, terrorism as a consequence of globalisation and counter-terrorism. There is a nice blend of the heterodox, theoretical and concrete cases. Without doubt this is a challenging, perceptive and useful book that must be essential reading in the sometimes hyper-ventilated field of terrorism studies.
Alan O’Day, Greyfriars Hall, University of Oxford, UK

Terror does not respect disciplinary boundaries. In confronting the global reality of terror from philosophical, political and legal perspectives, Imre, Mooney and Clarke, open the way for deeper and more considered responses to our age. Their message is one of totality, of the need to consider terrorism as a crisis of ideas, of politics and of laws. In this they offer a wealth of insights to both researchers and policymakers.
Kieran Tranter, Griffith University, Australia

The co-authors were also lecturers of mine. The three of them were right up there among the best academics ND had to offer.

Ben Clarke lectured me in Crim, International Law and Human Rights Law, and while he kinda needed to work on his over-reliance on PowerPoint at the time, he’s totally bloody interesting and committed and passionate about the international public law field and I will always admire him.

Brian Mooney was part of the reason I decided to go to Notre Dame.  He gave a talk to us in Year 12 Religion & Philosophy (by the way, I am still so effing impressed SHAGS implemented that. So impressed) and I was blown away by him.  He was hilarious, he was interesting, and he was bloody thought-provoking.  The thought of going to a uni with lecturers like that was highly desirable, so I did some research, went to the open days, signed up and then I got the scholarship and it was a done deal.

Rob Imre, what can a say… What a bloody legend. The man reminded us that we were there to THINK, not just hand in some arbitrary assessment to get an arbitrary grade to get an arbitrary qualification to get an arbitrary job. It would piss off the idiots to no end when they would ask him a question, expecting the answers to the exam, and he would reply, “Well, what do you think?”

Which makes perfect sense considering that thinking, if I may ever-so-lightly generalise, is the whole fricking point of a university education.  But he was treated like shit and off he went.

For those who know a bit about ND, you may or may not be surprised to know only one of those co-authors are still staff members at Notre Dame.

The other two have moved on, and frankly, left a giant effing vacuum.

For an institution so obsessed with the image they present to the outside world (I totally speak from experience here), you’d think the Media office is pretty darn pissed off they can’t claim all three authors as their own.

But they really messed up.

The thing is, right, I *did* enjoy most of my academic career there, and I learned lots of new skills (eg, How to Deal with Morons), and made some great connections that I will have with me for life (Hi, Matthew, darling) but that place… urgh, what a horrible fucking excuse for an institution of tertiary education.  And yup. I even didn’t change it to ‘effing’. It is THAT BAD.

The place was run by high school administrators AS a high school. I remember at one stage they tried to ban chocolate on campus cause it wasn’t healthy. And do NOT get me started on their attitude to mentioning any sort of reasoned discussion or debate on anything even slightly related to the s-word.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, they seemed to have no conception of the fact that a university is there to educate students and that to educate students you need good staff.  Because, oh Mary Almighty, they sure as burning hell did not act like they knew they need good staff. Or knew that to keep good staff you have to treat them like human beings, and respect them for being bloody intelligent ones at that.

Instead, the University seemed to see academic staff as workers in a degree factory who only need to shove random bits of information into students so that people can pay their fees, get their unnecessarily large-and-expensive-to-frame bits of paper and go work in some schmucky job.

Or, at least that was what it was like in Law and when I did Arts.  I hear that this year they made an HONOURS STUDENT change her topic AFTER it had ALREADY BEEN ‘APPROVED’ because apparently a discussion of why Muslim women living in Western Australia choose to or not to wear a hijab is “too controversial” inappropriate for a politics/sociology honours thesis.

Oh yeah, and scholarship students were expected to serve food at university functions for free as a means of “giving back” to the university community.  Because it’s not at all like they NEEDED scholarship students to  contribute anything to the academic reputation of a student population consisting mostly of air-headed daddy’s-girls/boys and bored stockbrokers’ wives . Nuh-uh. Yeah, the university is doing the scholarship students a favour.

Urgh.

Who knows, it might be better in other schools. But I saw nothing but shitness, I just really, really hope it gets better in the future under new leadership.

From the way things went while I was there, it seemed like some of the best staff members (including, arguably, the best ever) got fed up, then packed up and left, and I hear from good authority that the floodgates are still open.

What a bloody waste.

When I enrolled there in 2002 there was so much talk of growth and development — visions of the uni growing into a great place staff, students and alumni could be proud of.  I ignored people’s pitiful looks when I told them I was going to Notre Dame because I was sure it would eventually shrug that reputation.

Sure, it grew alright; in a hurried and horribly-planned manner that may be rather familiar to people trying to rent a house or squish onto a bus in Perth. But has it made us proud?

Not yet.

Please Celia, please fix this mess.

Written by Sunili

4 August 2008 at 5:51 pm

change at the top

with 8 comments

I’m not exactly Christian, but I wish to take this opportunity to give Him many rounds of thanks and praise for the blessed event of Dr Peter Tannock (Grand High Douche-Bag) finally confirming that he is leaving ND.

! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

There had been rumours about this going around since I was in First Year, and excitement built around reports he’d anointed a successor last year, but even better news, the Uni’s PR Machine (the highest per-capita funded department?) has officially announced it!!

And in even betterer news (can it get better, you ask? Oh hi-ho, yes, it can!!), his successor isn’t who we’d heard it would be, but rather is the wonderful Professor Celia Hammond, who was originally in the Law School and was really nice and cool back in the day.

If I may be so bold, tonight, before I Lay Me Down To Sleep, I shall pray the Lord Celia’s soul to keep, just in case, you know, after all the present celebrations, it, you know… ends up turning bad. I’m sure it’ll be fine, but, you know… you never know!!

CONGRATS AND GOOD LUCK CELIA!! We’re counting on you!!!

Written by Sunili

27 May 2008 at 5:51 pm

Posted in education

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The Battle for Their Minds: Ideology and the Future of Education in Australia

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This is an article that didn’t make it into the last issue of Quasimodo for 2006 due to technical issues. I didn’t want to waste it so I thought I’d use it as a filler.


Some time before he drank that fateful glass of hemlock, Socrates pointed out that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Here at Notre Dame, our Core Units give all of us an opportunity to examine aspects of life in Philosophy and Ethics, and to learn about ideas. Our Core Units and other humanities courses are opportunities for us to think.

Very recently, the Honourable Julie Bishop, Federal Minister for Education and Training, gave an address to the History Teachers’ Association of Australia conference at our lovely Fremantle campus. In her speech, she outlined the Howard/Bishop regime’s manifesto for changing the way history—stories of life, of our societies and of our world—is taught and, ultimately, examined in our schools.

Apparently, the need for this change is driven by concerns, as outlined in quite emotive language, of the dangerous “social engineers” in the education departments of the Labor-controlled states: “Ideologues who have hijacked school curriculum and are experimenting with the education of our young people”. It just makes you quiver in fear, doesn’t it?

As Aristotle observed, “All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth.” Ms Bishop’s policy developers appear to have come to just that conclusion.

The (Big L) Liberal plan outlined by Ms Bishop is to implement a single national curriculum to be co-ordinated by a National Board of Studies which will not be under the influence of the nasty (little l) liberal intellectual ideologues. No longer will there need to be a fear of social engineering, because, as we all know, the Liberals aren’t at all into stacking boards with their own ideologues. Appointees to the ABC, the Australian Communications and Media Authority and the nuclear-energy inquiry task-force over the last decade have all been completely, 100%, certifiably, absa-diddley-doodily ideologically neutral… or maybe not.

Paul Keating claims Howard’s regime is on its own mission for ideological domination. “Whatever John Howard believed I stood for philosophically,” said Keating, “I was never tempted nor had the temerity to subjugate professional opinion by formalising adherence to any set of rules or philosophy in government-owned media institutions … Yet the only apologia for this brazen interference by the Howard Government is the new whispered word balance, which decoded means … let’s hear more from us” (emphasis added).

The example of the new content requirements for the ABC can be seen mirrored in education policy.

The National Board of Ideology Free Studies would essentially deal with the influx of “fads” in school curricula which Prime Minister Howard has previously identified as “black armband history” that tends to apologise for facts about the past (generally in order to learn lessons for the future) which amounts to “little more that a litany of sexism, racism and class warfare.” Howard prefers the “‘traditionalist’ view of a good education… in opposition to the more fashionable, progressive views that have held sway in schools and universities.”

Oh! Shock, horror! Heaven forbid! Intellectual progress!!! Asking questions, understanding about life, our societies, the world. Now that’s bad education policy for you.

According to the Howard/Bishop regime, kids need to be learning about facts, dates and figures. Hrmm, yes, that’s a great way to get kids excited about history, since it was soooo interesting already. But actually, there’s absolutely no need to entice the kids to these classes: Julie Bishop’s history would be compulsory. Because “students need to be equipped with the fundamentals, essential and enduring skills and learning that will help make them informed and productive citizens” (emphasis added).

There have been worries that the primary function of social and political institutions such as law and education is merely the promotion of economic efficiency. And there you have it folks: students need to be educated in order to become productive citizens. Drones who know how to construct proper sentences as they work in their desk-mule jobs for corporate firms all around the country.

Ms Bishop sees the status quo as being affected by “too much political bias”. What she seems to be forgetting is that history is inherently biased: it automatically arrives from the view point of whoever wrote it down and that fact cannot be escaped. In her speech, Ms Bishop highlighted key things children should get out of their history lessons:

Every schoolchild should know, for example, when and why the then Lieutenant James Cook sailed along the east coast of Australia. Every child should know why the British transported convicts to Australia and who Australia’s first prime minister was. They should also know how and why Federation came about, and why we were involved in the two world wars.

But if we ask ourselves these questions, ideological answers cannot be avoided. Cook sailed to Australia on orders from the British Government to find more land in order to expand their empire. Convicts were transported to Australia to deal with the ever-increasing prison population in Britain and some were petty criminals who only stole out of desperation in times of economic hardship and class subjugation. Australia’s first PM was Edmund Barton, who believed that “the doctrine of the equality of man was never intended to apply to the equality of the Englishman and the Chinaman.” Federation came about in order to ensure the economic security of Australia and the first non-administrative act of the new Commonwealth Parliament was the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (Cth); the foundations of the White Australia Policy. We were involved in the World Wars following the lead of the British motherland seeking security in Europe.

Asking questions is actually quite subversive. She probably should’ve left the ‘why’ bits out if she didn’t want ideology taught in history lessons, and just stuck to proclaiming the importance of learning facts and dates about dead, white males.

Examining history and literary texts through ideological analysis and debating ‘themes and issues’ is a means to examine life. Because, really, what is the point if we just walk though life without giving it any thought? It is only through asking questions, seeking knowledge and making our own conclusions that we as a society can progress and improve. But as Cicero succintly lamented, “the authority of those who teach is often an obstacle to those who want to learn.”

Written by Sunili

13 November 2006 at 5:01 pm