Friday, October 10, 2014

The 'true meaning of Christmas', and the facts

Some Christians will tell you they know the ‘true meaning of Christmas’. Here are the facts about Christmas.

The Jesus Story

There were more than four gospels written about Jesus. The four that are in the New Testament were selected. The others were lost (and some have been partly found). Two include the story of the birth of Jesus: those written by Matthew and Luke. These are inconsistent.

The gospels were written after the death of Jesus. Jesus and his disciples were illiterate peasants. The gospels were written c.65 -100 CE, so they weren’t written by anyone who actually knew him. The only other existing reference to Jesus in ancient writings is an oblique reference to him in regard to his brother, James. The gospels were written after the Romans destroyed the temple of Jerusalem in 70 CE. After this event the early followers of Jesus, who were Jews following a Jewish messiah, became a new religion for Jews and Gentiles. This change was driven by Paul, who was Saul and converted on the road to Damascus. Again, Paul never met Jesus. He was a Jew and and a Roman citizen, who took the message of Christianity to the broader world, and wrote about half of the New Testament. There is evidence of him breaking with the original followers of Jesus, who, after the death of Jesus, were led by his brother, James.

The story of Jesus states he was born in Bethlehem. There is no evidence of this. If Jesus was born in Bethlehem he would be known as Jesus of Bethlehem rather than Jesus of Nazareth. The story places his birth there to connect him to the line of King David, in order to fulfil an ancient Jewish prophecy. There were about forty generations between King David and Joseph. King David had multiple wives, so would have had tens of thousands, if not a million, heirs. If Jesus is the son of God and Mary is a virgin, then the lineage of Joseph is irrelevant. Virgin births were common in ancient mythology. The story says that Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem for a census. This is not true. It doesn’t fit with other Roman documentation. Luke says Jesus was born when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Quirinius was governor of Syria when Jesus was 8-10 years old. There were censuses in ancient times, but not ones under the rulers as stated in the story and not ones that asked people to travel. To travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have taken seven to ten days, in the heat of the day and the cold dark of night, resting in fields, and eating only the supplies that could be carried. The is no mention of Joseph outside the birth stories. There probably was no star. Ancient peoples didn’t know about how the planets and the universe worked. They believed that a bright star marked the birth of a prophet. Matthew writes that Herod ordered the slaughter of baby boys. This is not true. Its purpose is to link the story to the story of Moses. Again, this is written to conform with ancient Jewish prophecies, which were inconsistent. The early readers of these stories would have known them to be untrue. There were not written as historically true stories.

In Mark’s earlier gospel he writes that someone says  ‘Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?’ This would have been an insult, akin to calling a person a bastard, since men were named according the paternal line. Mark doesn’t mention the birth story. Paul, writing 50-64 CE says that Jesus was born of a women. The stories about Jesus’ birth hadn’t started yet.

There is nothing in the gospels about Jesus being born in December. In the early Christian communities the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. Emperor Constantine, who declared Christianity the official religion for the Roman Empire, declared in 336 AD that December 25 would be celebrated as the birth of Jesus. This was reinforced by Pope Julius I a few years later.

Some people think that Jesus was actually born in April or September.

Pagan Celebrations

Before the birth of Jesus pagans celebrated the winter holidays. In the northern hemisphere winter solstice was celebrated on December 22.  In Rome, Saturnalia meant feasting and fun. The festival of Juvenilia celebrated children. Romans also celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the sun, on December 25th.

These celebrations, in the cold and dark of winter, included bringing the outside in. In ancient times people believed that having evergreen branches in their homes would keep out evil spirits. A yule log was burned in the fireplace.

Pagan rituals were turned into Christian ones. The early Puritan settlers of America banned the celebration of Christmas because of its pagan roots.

The Story of Santa

St Nicholas was a priest, and then Bishop, who lived in Asia Minor about 300 CE. He was kind and generous. The Roman emperor declared he was a god, but Christians did not worship that way, so Christians and St Nicholas were imprisoned. He was imprisoned for five years. When he was released his reputation grew, as it did after his death. In the 17th Century Dutch immigrants brought the story of St Nicholas to America. In 1822 the story ‘The Night Before Christmas’ was written. In the 1920s the image of Santa became a jolly fat man wearing a red suit with a white trim. Coca Cola owns the rights to the image of Santa created for their advertising 1931 - 1964. The practice of exchanging gifts began in the late 1800s. It became a national holiday in the US in 1870.


The first recorded use of the word Christmas was in Old English in 1038 CE. The words ‘true meaning of Christmas’ were first used on the blurb for Dickens’ book ‘A Christmas Carol’.

Christmas today can bee seen as a celebration of friends and family. It can be valued as an time of economic upturn. It can be seen as a festival of excess and waste.

So, you can see, the story does not have one true meaning. The meaning is constructed, contested, and shifting.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

We need to talk about god.

I was raised a Catholic, but I’ve been an atheist for a long time; about 35 years. As a single person, and before having children, I didn’t really have cause to think much more about religion. I expected to live my life amongst like-minded atheists. When I moved into the suburb in which I now live and started having children, I had to rethink my views about religion. My community is one in which there is an evangelical Anglican church. This church supports men who are studying ministry (and their families) and missionaries, who travel overseas to spread the word.

Members of this church attend the local public school. There aren’t any other community hubs in our suburb (unless you’re Catholic), so the church and the school share some resources. It is often church-going parents who are available for volunteering at school. I’ve been socially involved with these families, and have asked members over the years about aspects of their faith. I understand that they believe they are right and want to spread the word. I understand they think they are doing the will of god. I’ve done my own further research about the life of Jesus and the beginnings of the church. I’ve always questioned their belief that they have a right to access children at public schools. Some evangelical Christians attend public schools as ‘salt and light’, that is, as an example of Christians living in our community in an effort to convert other people to Christianity. For an atheist family to say they were at a public school as an example of an atheist family would be considered preposterous. Some evangelical Christians attend public schools to grow their church. For any other religious group to state that they use public schools in this way would cause an outcry. I’ve been interested in, engaged with and understanding of the local church group. I have a degree in ancient mythology, and understand the need for the ritual and community that religion provides. My view has always been to live and let live. My aim has been to emphasis what we have in common rather than what divides us. It is easier when you like the people involved. I’ve even defended church members against their critics, asking for understanding, and hoping for a harmonious community.

I can no longer remain polite about allowing the local church to fulfil its aim of using the public school to seek converts. I believe it is morally wrong. It is wrong to gain access to non-Christian children with the aim to convert them. It is wrong in primary schools, where children may not have developed the ability to reason and question. It is wrong in high schools, where children are concerned with fitting in to a group. It is wrong to approach children with lollies, balloons and parties, knowing that children will be attracted by these things. It is wrong to market religion to children. It is wrong to tell Christian children to talk to their little friends about Jesus. More than morally wrong, I say it is sinister. It is time to get churches out of public schools.

This includes chaplains, scripture teachers and ministries such as Access and Generate, who, by their very names, are clear about their intentions. I argue that if it isn’t OK to have Muslim or Jewish groups entering schools to preach to those of other faiths, then it isn’t OK for Christians. If it isn’t OK for atheists to tell Christian students that there is no god (which is quite different from ‘not believing in god’ which assumes there is a god and atheists don’t believe in him), then it isn’t OK to tell non-Christians that there is. We are respectful enough to not tell children who believe in Santa that their belief is wrong, even though Santa is used to reward and punish children in order to manipulate their behaviour, even though all adults know there is no Santa, yet some Christians feel they have the right to preach about sin, heaven, hell, and the mythologies of the bible to non-Christian children. It makes me wonder if Christian children are being taught that non-Christians and atheists are to be regarded with pity or in a disparaging or disrespectful manner because they are going to hell and should convert, yet these other groups are given no right of reply. I don’t understand how anyone could consider this acceptable. 

At our school Protestant Scripture has recently been rebranded as Christian Scripture, even though the school also offers Catholic and Greek Orthodox Scripture classes. This appears to be an attempt to cast a wider net, attracting Christians who may not be Protestant. 

If the message from the church is strong enough to withstand scrutiny, then approach adults, not children.

Some people think Christian groups should be present in public schools in order to teach values. Anyone who has spent time in public schools would see that values are stated in policy documents , embedded in the school rules, modelled in respectful relationships and are reinforced every day.  The core values, as stated in a policy document of March 2004 are: integrity, excellence, respect, responsibility, cooperation, participation, care, fairness and democracy. The general capabilities embedded in the new Australian curriculum include: critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability, intercultural understanding and ethical understanding. These are the aims of a secular education. How do these sit with religious indoctrination and the belief that people of one religion have the to right to try to convert public school students?  I say they don’t.

World-wide we are doing a very poor job of respecting difference, emphasising what we have in common and allowing others to believe what they please. Future generations will look at this time in history in wonder and disbelief that people in the 21st century held religious beliefs, fought over them, colonised and killed over them. There is now more archeological evidence of stories in Greek and Roman mythology than there is for some stories in the bible. That doesn’t mean we need to practise a religion around them. The only way forward, which is sure to come, is to actively teach atheism. Surely we are grown up enough, and knowledgeable enough, that we can let religion go. There is no other hope for world peace.

Monday, September 22, 2014

I have a passion for using the correct word*

I’ve already had my rant about the overuse of the word ‘grab’.

I also take issue with the use of the word ‘nightmare’. Too often I’ve heard people say things like ‘the renovation is such a nightmare!’. Well, no. You can afford to update a house you own. It is an inconvenience, and manageable, and you chose to do it. Being a woman in the DRC or Afghanistan would be a nightmare. Being raped in front of your children would be a nightmare. Being caught in a tsunami would be a nightmare. Have some perspective.

Recently I’ve added another to my list.

When I used to read the mum forums whenever there was a disagreement someone would say ‘we’re all passionate mums’. I thought the use of the word was silly then. The silliness has grown.

I had someone say to me recently ‘oh, so you’re passionate about road safety’. No. I’m concerned about road safety. I care about children not being killed getting to school. Lets save passion for passion.

My partner was asked at a job interview what he is passionate about. The correct answer was supposed to be ‘coding’, which would be ridiculous.

I’m expecting to be asked the same question when I’m applying for jobs, but it’s one I just can’t take seriously. Better to ask what I care about, or what I’m concerned about . Or what I’m compassionate about. That I can answer truthfully.

Lets leave passion for the bedroom (or anywhere else you might like to encounter your preferred sex partner).

* This doesn't mean I always do use the correct word. But I try to, and I'm willing to learn.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Teaching Feminism

With the despairing conversations resulting from the tumblr posts on Women Against Feminism, there has been raised the suggestion that feminism needs to be taught. Many groups have been compiling responses to enlighten people who believe we no longer need feminism, or who don’t understand what feminism is. Good work. I’m all for teaching feminism.

A group of Melbourne students at Fitzroy High School want more resources for the teaching of feminism, and want to rewrite the curriculum to include women’s studies, so did crowdscourcing to raise funds. I’m not sure what the fundraising is for. The new Australian curriculum isn’t about to be rewritten anytime soon - it's just being implemented. (From what I've seen of the history curriculum, the knowledge one would hope students wouldn't leave school without - genocide, civil rights movements - are in the elective strand rather than the compulsory strand.) Although there is no explicit unit of work in the history curriculum on women, it is possible that an aware teacher can include aspects of women’s studies in any syllabus unit. I don’t know what they are trying to achieve by creating curriculum resources for the nation. I plan to teach feminism as part of any unit of work where the issue is relevant.

Everything people need to learn about feminism is available online. Start a Facebook page and have regular meetings to discuss the issues. Anyone can like the Facebook pages for feminist activist groups and receive their regular posts about women in art, business, entertainment, about gendered education and toys, about political issues, about books and conferences and panel discussion, and about campaigns for action. There are lots of creative ways to be a feminist:

From the US: Miss Representation, Brave Girls Want (these groups pass on videos and infographics from Upworthy and Buzzfeed), Feministing, Feministe, Everyday Feminism, and the writing of Jessica Valenti (who started Feministing).

From the UK: UK Feminista, The F-Word

From Australia: Destroy the Joint, Collective Shout, the writings of Andrea Fox (blogs as Blue Milk), Clementine Ford, Anne Summers, the blog News with Nipples, Hoyden About Town and their Down Under Feminist  Carnivals, and our Sex Discrimination Officer, Elizabeth Broderick.

From Canada: Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement

For global issues, read Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and look at the United Nations groups, UNIFEM and Women Watch.

That should be enough to get started.

There are new books coming out all the time - mostly saying the same things but saying them to new audiences.

At one of my daughter’s schools there is a feminist club. At my other daughter’s school the principal and teachers talk about feminism. Nina Funnell visited the school recently to talk to the students. All good stuff. And good for the students hear about feminism from someone other than their mothers.

Whilst I’m happy to prepare and present programs for schools about Feminism (and many other issues), school students are able to get these activities started for themselves, with teacher assistance. If the students from Fitzroy High School can get started with a discussion in English class and teacher assistance, surely they can continue. If the fundraising is to pay for people like Nina Funnell, Danielle Miller, and the above-named (or me) to visit and present at schools, then carry on.

Meanwhile, I’m planning to attend the conference in Brisbane, run by The Association for Women Educators: Reclaiming Feminism, EnGendering Change, where I hope to find out more, (or, doing the sums, perhaps for now it is enough to know this group exists) and I think it’s time I started a feminist bookgroup. I’ll keep you posted.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Women in Sydney Theatre

There’s been some controversy lately about gender in theatre. A production of Oleanna in the US, a play written for a man (the uni lecturer)  and a women (the student) was staged with two males in the roles. David Mamet pulled the plug after one performance.

In Sydney, at Belvoir  St Theatre, a male has been cast as the lead in a production of Hedda Gabler.

The production is directed by Adena Jacobs, a woman, who calls it a ‘post-gender’ production.

Ash Flanders, who plays Gabler, say “... I think Hedda is ­almost beyond gender, she is ­almost a mythical creature.”

Now I’ve ranted here before about the state of Sydney theatre, about the work of directors Simon Stone and Benedict Andrews, and how tawdy, misogynistic and base their productions are. (I blame Barry Kosky. Compulsory masterbation scene, anyone?) I’ve asked that we have more female directors and that productions have a vision of what the world may be, not of how depraved the world is. These productions are not what I want to see at the theatre. Yes, I know people watch Big Brother on tv, but we expect a little more critique and insight from theatrical experiences. When I see nudity, excrement and bad behaviour on stage, as someone who has lived with small children, it just makes me think of more mess for women to clean up. I was hoping a female director at Belvoir would be different. I need to think again.

So far, I’ve only read this review, which views it poorly.

If we really did live in a post-gender world, casting men in women’s roles would be fine. If there were loads of great roles for women, it would be fine. If casting against type added some insight or critique, then that would be fine. I’m all for shaking up the classics - transport them to different times and places - that would be fine. But don’t just do it for the sake of it, or for sensationalism. You need to actually have something to say. So now I'm not sure if it is a gender problem, or a Sydney theatre (STC/Belvoir St) problem.

And I wonder what all the underemployed great female actors think about their limited roles going to men.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Writing on mothering/motherhood - a review in LRB

An article here by Jacqueline Rose, about mothers, published in the London Review of Books. It’s a long article, covering a number of texts, but worthwhile. Here are some excerpts.

There was a time when becoming a mother could signal a woman’s entry into civic life. In ancient Greece, a woman was maiden, bride and then, after childbirth, mature female, which allowed her to enter the community of women and participate in religious ceremonies. Established in her household as a mother, a woman gained new economic and affective power (she had ceased to be an object of exchange). She could fulfil her destiny only by becoming a mother, but according to one account of Greek motherhood, in doing so she became more rather than less engaged in the polity. Having a child ushered the woman on a path that led to something other than motherhood itself – an idea which modern times seem progressively to have lost. This version of motherhood expanded horizons. It gave women a voice. ..

But why in modern times is the participation of mothers in political and public life seen as the exception – Great Britain lagging behind the rest of Europe and the US? Why are mothers not seen as an essential part of a contested polity? Why are they exhorted to make their stand in the boardroom – to ‘lean in’, as the ghastly imperative of Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller has it – as if being the props of neoliberalism were the most mothers could aspire to, the highest form of social belonging they could expect. Today we are witnessing what Angela McRobbie has described as a ‘neoliberal intensification of mothering’: perfectly turned out middle-class, mainly white mothers, with their perfect jobs, perfect husbands and marriages, whose permanent glow of self-satisfaction is intended to make all the women who don’t conform to that image – because they are poorer or black or their lives are just more humanly complicated – feel like total failures. This has the added advantage of letting a government whose austerity policy has disproportionately targeted women and mothers completely off the hook...

‘What we have, for the most part,’ Daisy Waugh writes in I Don’t Know Why She Bothers: Guilt-Free Motherhood for Thoroughly Modern Women, is a repressive sentimentality, a smiling acceptance of female martyrdom, which teeters, at times, beyond martyrdom into a sort of approved, mass-culture masochism.’ But Waugh’s insights are trounced by her breeziness, which makes you feel that mothers have only themselves to blame – that ‘thoroughly modern’ in the title is the give-away…

Perhaps, then, we should be asking a slightly different question: not what a mother is or should be, but what version of motherhood might make it possible for a mother to listen to her child? For if Western culture in our times, especially in America and Europe, has repeatedly conspired to silence the inner life of the mother by laying on her the weight of its own impossible and most punishing ideals, if the term ‘mothers’ is a trigger for a willed self-perfection that crushes women as mothers, then how can mothers be expected to hear their children’s cry – the cry not of wailing babies, which is hard enough, but the cry of protest and plaint? How can they bear to watch their child cast off the yoke of false mental safety, turning on its head what was meant to be the psychic legacy of their own version of motherhood?...

Cultural Diversity in Education

I’ve just done a unit of study on cultural diversity in education. Because I’m an external student I didn’t get to discuss all the interesting issues I wanted to talk about, so I’m raising them here.

Multicultural Public Speaking Competition

I wonder how much about multiculturalism the primary school students understand. I wonder if the topics the students can choose from are really suitable. It’s all a bit more complex and confronting than primary school students, and their teachers, might be comfortable with. And although I’m all for disrupting the norm, I’m not sure this is the right way to go about it. The topics don’t point to the idea that white culture is a culture, but they do assume that, and assume that every other culture is ‘other’. The topics don’t touch on white privilege, although I wonder how far any discussion on multiculturalism can go without mentioning it.

I have reservations about telling my children about racism. Although I’ve told them about issues in history, I don’t want to plant the ideas that people of some races have been regarded as lesser human beings. I don’t think they’ve ever heard an Irish joke. My instinct is to let these ideas die out. The research says they should be acknowledged and  addressed. Some say that being colourblind is the way to go - to stop talking about racism. Researchers disagree. I can make a comparison with sexism. It won’t go away by ignoring it.

I suspect there is a market in selling speeches for this competition. I know that a lot of parents write them for their children, because the concepts are difficult. Writing a speech is difficult. We need to teach multiculturalism in primary schools but surely there is a better way to do it than having a public speaking competition.

How to engage migrant parents.

This question was raised at a P&C meeting recently, and is something I’ve thought about before, noticing that it is usually the white parents who volunteer and participate at school. (This doesn’t hold true for the selective school, where parents are more into the concerted cultivation style of parenting.)

Schools are white institutions. Parent bodies at schools are white institutions. Some cultural groups may not be comfortable with the model of sitting in a circle and everyone having their say. Some may  want to hear only from elders, or those in authority, or may make their point more circumspectly, taking more time. Their style may not suit a fast talking, let’s stick to point and make a resolution type of meeting.

In some families, parents aren’t available in the evening. They may consider this family time, or be working shift work, or be single parents and have no babysitter. It is possible that migrant parents see no value in attending school meetings and functions. If they considered it to have value, they would come. It may be worthwhile asking migrant parents why they don’t attend. If they want to come, but don't feel comfortable, then that is something to work on.

For some families, the family comes first. That may mean helping with younger children or helping with the family business. Education may not be a priority. It is also possible that migrant families may be helping their children’s educations in way we don’t see. For some cultures the school is expected to manage all school related issues, and if parents are at the school it is only because there is a problem. There may be a sense of shame associated with the parent being at school.

It is much easier to involve migrant parents when there is a large culture group at the school. Most studies that have been done in the USA are about Latino or African-American families. Where there is a large parent population who speak another language the school can translate announcements and newsletters to that language, such as Spanish for Latinos. For African-American students they can talk about code switching between Standard English and Ebonics. It is more difficult to address the issue when families are from a wide range of cultures, such as the situation in my local area.

To involve migrant families most schools immediately reach for celebrations of festivals and food. This is now regarded as shallow and tokenistic. If we want to really engage migrant parents then we need to listen to them. We need them to know that their culture is reflected in school materials. We need to invite parents to schools to tell us about themselves and their culture. The way to go is probably to follow the policy guidelines for Aboriginal Education, which states that elders must be invited to the school, and be involved in the school community. But, having listened, we might not always like or agree with or be able to deliver what people want. We can’t assume that involving migrant parents is going to end happily for everyone. Do we really respect cultural diversity or do we want everyone to do things the white way?

The situation may improve with the new Australian curriculum having intercultural understanding as a General Capability.

What is a minority?

If a group claims to have minority status, even if they seem quite powerful, does that mean they do? I remember in the late eighties or early nineties, when minority groups were gaining more attention and receiving funding support. White males were saying they were a minority, and were discriminated against because, according to them, you needed to be lesbian in a wheelchair to acquire funding. Another example would be a religious group that once was persecuted but now is powerful. At what point do you stop being part of a minority? If you identify with the original persecuted group, are you still a minority?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Book your babysitters - Mamapalooza is coming!

 Mamapalooza is on in May. Make your plans now to come along. Support mothers in the creative and performing arts. Support a broader depiction of mothering in our culture, and join the conversation.

 Ask your friends and please circulate among your networks. 

Events include:   

Launch by Tanya Plibersek, ‘Stolen Moments’ an art exhibition depicting and exploring the themes of identity and motherhood, Tuesday 6pm - 6th May, Tap Gallery

Mama Music night featuring Rebecca Moore and Lisa Schouw (Girl Overboard) at the Django Bar in Marrickville, Thursday 8th May 8pm

Mama Comedy Night Hosted by Lou Pollard Friday 9th May 7.30, Tap Gallery

‘Mothers’ – a play about mothers – Friday 8pm 2nd, 9th,  Saturday 2.30pm 3rd & 10th May at the Roxbury Hotel in Glebe and at the Tap Gallery on Mother’s Day, Sunday 5.30 11th May. 

We need all the help we can get to spread the word.   Thanks

For a full program go to see Facebook: Mamapalooza Sydney 2014 or email

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting, by Jennifer Senior

This is the book commissioned after the publication of her New York magazine article a few years ago. If you haven’t been keeping up with all the books published in the last dozen or so years about parenting, reading this will give you the sweep of the important ideas. Senior intersperses interviews with parents with findings from academic studies in a readable way. I’ll cover the main points (so you don’t have to read it).

We no longer know what children are for, which means we no longer know what parenting is. In simpler societies it was about passing down folkways and adding to the family economy. It used to be that children gained satisfaction from helping with farmwork. Now we praise them for their effort in sports. We’re all making it up as we go along.

Since small children think permanently in the present, parenting small children means that the adults in their lives are less able to be in the present. Being with small children provides few opportunities for ‘flow’ and the satisfaction of concentrating on a single task.

Senior mainly reports, but she does contribute this suggestion. To reduce anxiety, rather than look to how French women parent, mothers could look to the fathers in our midst. Mothers tend to multi-task, ie, be relational while doing other things, whereas fathers tend to do one task at a time, which is less stressful.  

Although Senior is looking primarily at middle class parents, it is interesting to note the difference in parenting styles across class. Middle class parents do concerted cultivation. This means they are overinvolved with their children’s lives. We hyperparent because we don’t know what future we are preparing our children for.

Family time is now spent doing homework together rather than eating dinner together. (I must say, this doesn’t happen in our house, but seems to be the way in the US.)

Adolescence is often more taxing on adults than the children. It is confronting for adults to see their children on the brink of adulthood - it means they reassess their own choices.

Our experiencing selves versus our remembering selves. Being with children may not seem fun at the time, but the way we remember being with children grants it significance and meaning.

Wanting our children to be happy is an unrealistic and unmeasurable goal. It places pressure on children. And happiness is a by-product rather than a state in itself.

It is good to be reminded that childhood and parenthood are socially constructed. And that policy lags social change.

In looking at the reasons for having children Senoir turns to parents who have dealt with dying, or the possibility of dying. The answer, she says, is about connection, and that connection in the routine of everyday life. I can relate to that.

It wasn’t an earth-shattering read for me - I’ve already read and discussed these ideas. But if you are a new parent, or considering parenting, or interested in how childhood and parenthood have changed over time, it is a good read.

The way education is going

It’s been interesting to be involved with two high schools introducing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). The program initiated under Kevin Rudd as an enticement for votes, that all public school students are given a laptop in Year 9, has ended. (I’d like to know if all those laptops are now in landfill.) The response from schools is to implement BYOD from year 7. So far, children have been lugging laptops to school and back every day, along with dance gear, sports gear, cooking gear, musical instruments, or whatever else is required for the day’s activities, and barely opening the laptops.

At one school information session a parent asked if the device bought for year 7s will do for their school careers. The answer was ‘no’. They’ll probably need new devices for year 10, but then the students will need to switch to handwriting their notes, so they can be prepared to write their HSC exams by hand. The demonstrations by the teachers were boring and ineffectual. When asked about managing class behaviour a member of the executive said that we can all multitask now. Apparently we can listen and be online at the same time. Other concerns raised by parents were dismissed as family issues that parents just have to manage. I have my reservations about the whole program.

Meanwhile, we hear about children suffering from nature deficit disorder. We probably all could benefit from spending more time outdoors.

I’m currently studying via distance education. There is a world of difference between studying on campus and studying online, so much so that sometimes I think they should be different qualifications. Studying on campus means easy access to lecturers, getting to know them, and them, you. It means talking to peers about what you are learning. It means being able to work together, attending post-grad presentations and being part of academia. Studying online is all about working alone. It means studying in the margins of the rest of your life. You can do a whole course and never speak the words aloud. That’s a much shallower level of processing. It also means that, although in education we are being taught to cater for various learning styles, the value of group work,  and to deliver and assess using a variety of means, in truth we are being taught a very talk and chalk method. We are reading, and sometimes have online lectures to listen to, and we write very proscribed assignments to prove we have read the readings and understand the main points of the course. It isn’t a method that allows for an animated discussion nor much in depth assimilation of information.

It appears the whole idea of education, and the regulations around both schooling and higher education are about the change.

I’m finding it a bit demoralising to be studying education when the next trend is to run schools as businesses. Even though we are implementing the new national curriculum, the government is talking about changes to the curriculum. It is likely that in the coming federal budget the changes to tertiary education will include funding for private providers to allow more competition, increasing student fees, stopping government support for post-grad degrees, and encouragement for Australian universities to offer online courses to the Asian market. It is thought by some that by retaining HECS we will avoid the access and equity problems of the US style university system. Time will tell.

If studying online is the way of the future, perhaps high school students really do need to bring their own devices, despite educational theory. It is yet to be seen how online learning prepares students to work in real workplaces.