Saturday, September 24, 2016

Lets ask more questions: Challenging cultural and moral absolutism

While we are engaging in public arguments about marriage equality, immigration and cultural appropriation, lets take a few steps back and see where the ideas for these arguments come from.


In the history of ideas we often hear that our culture is based on Judeo-Christian tradition, however it is also based on Greco-Roman civilisations, which informed the development of Judeo-Christian ideas (which should not be collapsed; Judeo-Christian is a term now used to elevate certain ideas and power structures and exclude others).


What did ancient people believe? They believed in gods who existed in a hierarchy of deities, and that gods interacted with humans at times, by pretending to be people in order to test heroes, or to satisfy sexual desire and impregnate human women to make demigods, to take their favourites to be immortals on Mount Olympus, or to advise or protect people. The gods were petty, vain, jealous, and watched the actions of humans like they were barracking for sides of a sports team, but they did not need humans. The will of the gods was unknowable. Ancient people believed in the Great Chain of Being, an idea which continued with Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and influenced the art and literature of the western world. When Julius Caesar died he apotheosised (turned into a star) and his adopted son became a deity. They believed in making sacrifices to a series of gods. Mostly it didn’t matter what you believed; it mattered that you made the sacrifices. Xenophanes wrote in about 500 BCE


“The Ethiops say that their gods are flat-nosed and black,


While the Thracians say that theirs have blue eyes and red hair.

Yet if cattle or horses or lions had hands and could draw,

And could sculpt like men, then the horses would draw their gods

Like horses, and cattle like cattle; and each they would shape

Bodies of gods in the likeness, each kind, of their own.”

So, they understood that people created gods in their own image.


However Socrates was prosecuted and executed for impiety (not honouring the gods) and corrupting the minds of the youth (by teaching them to think) - there may have been political reasons for his execution. We still use his thinking today.


Their societies were slave based, women had no rights, homosexuality was normal. They didn’t know about germs, or that the earth was round, or that the earth circled the sun. Stories were fluid, not sacred, and rewriting stories was standard practice. Their curiosity was real and well developed, leaving us with ideas about history, philosophy, natural science, comedy, tragedy and politics. They were interested in how other people had other beliefs and practices. Many ideas from the remaining Greco-Roman literature served in the formation of the old and new testaments: stories with moral lessons, heroes in rivers prior to a challenge, souls, halos, virgin births, three women lamenting the death of their hero, hymns, the fulfilment of prophesies and so on. Celebratory feasts consisted of meat and wine, and the rule of hospitality to strangers was key.


One could argue the problems began with monotheism, and with that, moral absolutism. Abraham discovered a god who was jealous, and claimed himself to be best. Abraham fathered a child to his slave and then to his ninety year old wife. His god told him to kill his child as a test. Judaism was born. Moses went on to free the Jews from Egypt (if they ever lived there), which could have happened sooner had his god accepted the permission of the Pharaoh after each plague, plagues we now have natural explanations for. Moses’ god gave him Judea as the promised land. Judea being no prize indicates that his god did not know about Hawai’i and didn’t even know that the French Riveria was not far away. The Jews wrote their beliefs and practices. According to believers, their god created the world, the devil, evil and used the idea of sin and redemption. God gave Moses the Ten Commandment, which he broke in anger, then returned up Mount Sinai to get another copy. The bible reports various versions. The first three commandments are about his god. The instruction to not kill was immediately followed by Moses encouraging killing. As a set of rules to live by, the Ten Commandments could have been better.


Jesus was a Jew who fought for Jewish rights. His story was written years after his death:probably from 50 to 90 CE. In 70 CE the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, and it must have seemed the Jews needed a hero. Saul, who became Paul, spread the word about Jesus to non-Jews, even though he never met Jesus, and the remaining disciplines wanted to keep the sect Jewish. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus is thought to have been caused by an epileptic fit, or by seeing a falling meteor. The new testament was written to fulfil the ancient prophecies. Once collated, and rewritten, and translated, the earlier texts upon which parts were written were lost.


The Jews didn’t claim Jesus as their messiah because he did not bring the Messianic Age of Peace. Apollonius of Tyana, a contemporary of Jesus whose story is similar, had followers who considered Jesus to be fraud.


Non-biblical ancient texts tell stories of gossip quickly received as truth. The Jesus stories grew as stories of ancient mythology grew. The stories of Jesus contain parables; it is possible the stories of Jesus themselves could be parables.


Christians look for historical evidence of Jesus. There is historical evidence of stories from Greek mythology: the fall of Troy, the golden fleece, the existence of Amazons. The historical evidence does not mean that we should accept these stories as literally true as written in one form or another, and it certainly doesn’t mean we should worship their gods.


The destruction of the Library of Alexandria in 3rd century CE, which housed up to 400,000 scrolls, and was also a university and a pagan temple, marked the end of antiquity. After the edict in 313 CE by Constantine that his kingdom was tolerant of all religions, the persecution of Christians ceased. However, his own support of Christianity (possibly for political reasons, his own faith being unknown), saw the beginning of the persecution of followers of traditional Roman religions. After this, history entered the dark ages. In 4th century CE both St Jerome and St Augustine struggled with reconciling their love of Greek and Roman literature, which had formed their thinking, with their Christian faith. Over time the moral absolutism of Christian ideology saw the destruction of pagan texts, including those by Sappho, the persecution of women, homosexuals, and anyone who questioned the right of Christian rule. Christians colonised other cultures, exploiting their lands and people for economic gain. Muslims had similar attitudes, although weren’t as successful colonisers.


During the movements of the Renaissance (inspired by works from ancient Greece and Rome), Neo-Classicism, and Romanticism, through the Reformation, Enlightenment and into the modern age the outcome of cultural absolutism and moral assurance continued in the persecution of those who challenged Christianity, the denial of women’s rights, the continuation of slavery and fear of foreigners, and colonisation. Why? Because of systems of power and privilege.


Of course other cultures had their own ancient texts and beliefs (particularly ancient Chinese and Indian literature, and, later, Arabic learning), their stories having some crossover with Western texts in terms of purpose and ideas. When these were translated by Western writers, often monks, they were written in terms familiar to Christians. Being able to see them objectively in their cultural context has partly been lost. We can look to Aboriginal Dreamtime stories for how ancient people in Australia thought.


We can see the way religions start, grow and spread in looking at more modern religions and sects: Scientology, Mormonism, and Pacific cargo cults like the Prince Philip Movement. We can see it in the history of celebrating Christmas, Halloween and Mother's Day, and in the development of Santa Claus. Traditionally men have become religious leaders to access power and position (even those who have been colonised recognise that religious leadership grants them a seat at the big table), and women join religious life to be left alone.


After the Holocaust’s genocide of the Jews, homosexuals and people with disabilities, caused by nationalism, racism, homophobia and moral absolutism, the world came together to form the United Nations and to write the Declaration of Human Rights. This states that our basic human rights are inherent and should be protected by law. We understand, now, the dangers of facism.


Living according to an ancient text is a dangerous idea, and one that is held consistently by believers. They say God wants marriage to be between a man and woman, yet they don’t turn to that text to find out how to fix their cars, or cure their illnesses, or what to make for dinner. As taught in high school English, texts are created within a context, for an audience and a purpose.


Faith can be defined as pretending to know things you don’t know. It is a failed epistemology rather than a virtue. It blocks openness to evidence and knowledge and changed beliefs. Religious faith is not a quality valued in the modern world. Yet, in Australia, we treat religious institutions as if they were virtuous, despite the evidence of the Royal Commission into systemic child abuse. We grant religious institutions tax exemptions, we publicly fund their schools (which are places of intellectual dishonesty, since they cannot be teaching critical and creative thinking, nor can they seriously believe the tenets of their faith - if they did they would instruct students to answer every HSC exam with ‘because it is God’s will’). We grant religious institutions exemption from discrimination law, so they are free to not employ people who are homosexual or non-believers. We pay religious institutions to run government services, which they can do cheaper than non-religious organisation since they don’t have a unionised workforce and don’t pay tax. We treat religious groups as if they are good because they run charities, when they could do much more. The Catholic Church could sell its properties today to solve world hunger tomorrow, but it doesn’t. Instead, they pray, which does nothing. We pay for chaplains to counsel children in public schools, where we suspend the curriculum and policies of public education to permit evangelical volunteers access to students for religious indoctrination. We listen to religious leaders as if they were academics; they are not. Academics have intellectual curiosity and are open to changing their views based on evidence while religious leaders aim to make everything fit into their conclusion that they will not revise. And all religious institutions are misogynistic. Women who value women’s rights should not be supporting religious institutions.


People who claim that there is one way to be an Australian, that Australia is a white country, based on Judeo-Christian values, have a lot of thinking to do. We need to ask them questions. The only monoculture that ever existed in Australia was indigenous. If they want to live a white Anglocentric life, they would find it very challenging: What would they wear? What can they eat? Can they communicate using only words based on Old English? What is their number system? It is an idea as flawed as trying to live according to an ancient text. Do they think it is OK for white people to colonise brown people but not OK for brown people to influence white culture (whatever that is)?


Right wing conservative and fundamentalist Christians state we should be afraid of cultural relativism and moral relativism. In fact we should be very afraid of cultural absolutism and moral absolutism. These ideologies protect those in power (white, Christian, heterosexual men) and enable them to force their beliefs onto others. They think they rule the world, because they have. The differences between ISIS and fundamentalist Christians are ones  of scale and concentration. Fundamentalist Christians believe non-believers burn in hell for eternity while members of ISIS will kill you. Members of ISIS are grouped together in the middle east, while fundamentalist Christians are scattered around the world, abusing children and killing people in their own communities (through neglect, exorcisms, enacting what their faith tells them). Cultural and moral relativism enables us to try to suspend our prejudices to understand other people.


When Christians are challenged about their privilege they cry discrimination. Challenging privilege is not discrimination. In a globalised world, with real problems such as climate change and how to live sustainably, refugees, funding for education, health, and public transport, addressing racism and inequality, and providing safety nets for the most vulnerable people, we cannot afford to waste time debating the basic human rights of one set of people or another. People have the right to believe what they like, but they should be asked to think about and justify those beliefs when they use them as a basis for limiting the freedom of others. We need to challenge moral and cultural absolutism.
It is time to move on. We know now that the world is round. We can explore space and  nanoparticles. We understand about germs. We know it isn’t healthy to eat mostly meat and bread. We know how the world works and how social and economic systems operate. We understand it is healthy to create communities and perform rituals; they add meaning and purpose to our lives and help us process the events of our lives, and trying to make sense of the world, but we can do these without pretending to know things we don’t know.


So, in our public discussions, lets ask a few more questions. Lets use good logic and not fall into bad arguments. Lets ask why people believe what they do, and if that is a good basis for a belief. Lets ask what systems of power our beliefs support. Who is advantaged and who is disadvantaged under these power systems? Lets ask if ideas belong to a certain group of people, and what is served if they do. Lets ask for definitions of people’s beliefs and what the implication of those definitions mean. Lets ask more questions.


A few years ago the BBC stopped giving media space to climate change deniers. We need to do the same with people who disavow people of their basic human rights. We certainly should not be funding their arguments, based on their lack of knowledge, experience and understanding. After two and half thousand years of philosophy, literature, art, history and politics, we are learning very slowly. Lets not return to the dark ages.




Monday, May 02, 2016

The Blackboard Jungle

I’m writing to try to make sense of things.


I’ve been doing casual work in a low socio economic school. I’m shocked that there are schools like this in Australia. I’m confronted by how sheltered I am. I know nothing.


Some top classes and small electives seem to be functional. Most students are wildly disruptive or quietly on their phones and listening to music. There is little learning going on. They trash everything. Worksheets and pencils are missiles to fire at each other. There are food wrappers everywhere. Students come and go from classroom to classroom, roaming around the school. They have no manners or sense of respect. The teacher is ignored or invisible.


There are things that can be done to turn this school around but it isn’t likely to happen (ban phones, halve class sizes, repeat students who don’t work, expel the most disruptive). The school needs a lot of welfare support it isn’t going to get. Some students are obviously depressed or worse. No-one would be there if they had the option to be somewhere else. I want politicians to come to the school to see how terrible it is and that the teachers are doing their best and still support the public system. Any of these teachers might be an example of storybook inspiration but it isn't likely to happen. My friends and I support public education but none of us would enrol our children in this school. And we've let this happen during years of economic prosperity.


I can’t imagine the students being seated and quiet in class for a test.


But this is what has shocked me the most. The way they talk to each other. The talk is not just full of swearing but sexual insults. They talk dirtier than pornography. They talk about sex graphically. The girls dance in class and offer themselves to the boys. There is no respect in any way I’ve been taught to recognise respect.  But there is a lot of laughing. Nothing is taken seriously until suddenly, it is, and then there is a fight.  


Yesterday there was a small group of girls in my class who were calling each other whores. I told them that a lot of women over a long time had been working for women’s rights and that by talking to each other like that they were setting us back, because they were making it OK for men to talk to women like that. Then in another class there were about a dozen students talking to each other so awfully I couldn’t say anything without feeling threatened.


There is very little I can do to help them.


I wonder how these students will be able to function when they leave school, having done years of schooling but no school work. How will they earn a living, fill in a form, rent a house, be able to live and work with other people if they believe their behaviour at school is acceptable?


I’ve become a teacher because I want to teach, but really, I only want to teach people who want to learn. I want to teach students about big issues and logic and power structures and how stories work.


I support public schools and funding for public schools. I support women’s rights. I’m asking myself if I expect these students to be grateful for the work adults have done and are currently doing to help them. We work to make things better for the next generation. What if the next generation doesn’t care? I know that there are lots of students who do care and do take advantage of their opportunities. I understand that free education is part of why people want to come to Australia. The people in my circle talk about opportunities for their children that are so far beyond what these students can see - overseas trips for the band, drama workshops, tutoring, elite sport coaching. The gap is widening, when some students come to school yet do no school work. I want to be able to talk to these students, away from their peers who they are constantly performing for, and encourage them to take their own lives seriously. But that isn’t my place. The deputy principal would have spoken to them repeatedly, and I don’t know about what is happening at home that is serious. It is possible that they are fine within their culture and I just don't understand, and, worse, I'm imposing my white middle-class values onto them. I don't know.


And now John Kaye has died. I’ve been involved with his Greens Education group and know how he worked to gain funding for public schools and TAFE. We need many more people to get involved to work for the basic rights of the students who have nothing. We need many people to fill the gap he has left, and many more to help the next generation. We can’t just cut them loose.

I’m at the point where I want to help them, but I’m not sure that I want to be with them. Which, I know, says I'm not a very nice person. I'm not sure I'm equipped to help. I'm not sure who is.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Campaigns and fundraisers

    • In my paper about how volunteering is propping up a broken system I am also writing about fundraisers and campaigns. There are lots of things I don’t understand.
    I see lots of fundraisers that don’t account for all costs: time, health, environment. I see fundraisers where the people who make the stuff are the people who buy the stuff. That’s not efficient. I see people wearing rubber wrist bands that will take hundreds of years to degrade. I see people buying plastic stuff that will probably end up in the ocean. I see people sending Christmas boxes to children in the Pacific Islands, who then have to live with the wrapping and plastic on their island or in the ocean. I see cupcakes and donuts. A teacher I know was selling chocolates to raise money for a children’s hospital. At one school the students ran a campaign taking enviro-selfies. They declared it a success because they had 300 likes on Instagram. It made zero impact on the environment.

    I see the RSPCA gives a tick to dead animal products.

    I see people shaving their head for the Leukaemia Foundation. A girlfriend in Melbourne told me she was planning to do it. I asked her not to.
    • I don't like the 'Shave for a Cause' campaign. There are a few reasons why. I understand that people want to raise money and to make cancer patients feel less alone, but shaving your head isn't a great way to go about it. At a school I was working at the students were doing it, and everyone was clapping and cheering, and a teacher who had just recovered from breast cancer was in the staff room sobbing. I couldn't participate. When you shave your head you don't lose your eyebrows and eyelashes. That's the weirder part than having a bald head. When you shave your head your hair grows back soft and normal. After chemo your hair grows back different and weird. My hair is very different now from what it was. It is coarse and weird. I had my head shaved because the hair on my head had died and was coming out in clumps. It was confronting and distressing. My main concern was hiding it from my kids. Having non-cancer patients walking around with bald heads makes it harder to identify the real patients (unless I'm at hospital). I don't know if people I meet have a shared experience or not. Helen Razer calls it 'cancer cosplay', and she's right. Traditionally shaving one's head symbolises a loss - mourning or a loss of identity - it reminds me of entering the army or a concentration camp - a way of stripping people of their individuality. It's punitive. That’s why patients who have chemotherapy (which makes you sick - it’s poison) feel the loss of their hair. Because I’ve had cancer treatment I’ll never be the same again. I’m on medication. My bone density is weakened. I take supplements. I need to stay out of the sun for the rest of my life. I’m always worried about relapsing. I understand people might not have thought of these things before, but it isn’t an act of solidarity. When I saw a child at my daughter’s primary school get his head shaven at school, I cried.

    • Here’s another one: the White Ribbon Campaign. 
    • Women have been telling men, forever, to stop hitting women. Men get the idea to say the same thing (because everybody knows that no-one listens to women). They name the campaign. They have ambassadors and advocates (some of whom have a record of violence against women). They buy billboards. They sell white ribbons. They are heroes. (Men who speak out about women's rights can even be Australian of the Year!)
    • What are they doing? Do they provide funding for abused women? Help the campaign to provide women’s refuges? Organise counselling for violent men? Campaign against sexist advertising, the porn industry, gender equality in power positions on boards or in government, change the way violence against women is reported in the media? No. They are asking men to take an oath. They say 156,636 people have taken their oath and their reach is growing. That’s their aim and their product (although, you could argue their product is themselves).   
    • Now, lets follow the money.
    • According to their  professional, corporate looking website, their funds come from donations, merchandise, events, partners and philanthropic organisations, and receive 10% government funding. Their revenue in 2013/2014 was $2,697,261. They aren’t funding anything that helps women in a practical way, so what is their money spent on? Paying men to run their events and campaigns and show what great guys they are for telling men to stop hitting women. A swanky website doesn’t pay for itself. It is very corporate looking, with a mission statement and graphics. The money goes to paying themselves. They are a not for profit organisation.

    Meanwhile I see the Coalition for Women's Refuges, made up of women who have worked in women's refuges and feminist groups for years or decades, campaign for the restoration of safe places for women and children to go when abused, working for free with no money, no website, no corporate sponsorship, no big media campaign. Why is that?

    I see welfare programs that were once run by government agencies now run by church based groups. The church based groups can afford to deliver services more cheaply because they use volunteer labour. They can access more volunteer labour by funnelling people into that labour through their programs. These groups own property, pay no tax, accept tax deductible donations, and, one could argue, have a vested interest in keeping people poor and uneducated in order to prop up their own institutions. These institutions have systematically abused children and covered it up. They are not ethical.

    You can see what I mean by fundraisers and campaigns being inefficient, damaging, or ineffective. They are propping up broken systems. The way to fix the broken systems is to campaign for proper use of taxpayers’ money. Children's hospitals should be funded. Animals should be protected. Victims of domestic violence should have safe refuge. Australia should give aid internationally. Guess which countries do these things rather than run stupid, time wasting campaigns and fundraisers? Nordic countries.

  • So, here's my suggestions. Whenever we are asked to donate or fund-raise or volunteer, say this: No, but I will send an email to a politician asking that your program be funded properly.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Mother advocacy 2016

Mamapalooza

We have two events planned for Mamapalooza this year: a film showing and a comedy night.

You are invited to our Mamapalooza Film Showing
WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS? by film maker Pamela Tanner Boll.
This academy award winning documentary features five fierce women who refuse to choose between mothering and work. Through their lives we explore some of the most problematic intersections of our time: mothering and creativity, partnering and independence, economics and art.
Where: The Women's Library, 8/10 Brown St. Newtown
When: Saturday 14th May, 2pm to 5pm
Discussion and refreshments after the film.
www.facebook.com/mamapaloozasydney/
Please invite your friends.
Part of the Mamapalooza Festival.
Other events include: Mamapalooza Stand-Up 
and Mamapalooza Music Night
www.facebook.com/mamapaloozasydney/
www.mamapalooza.com  Celebrating Mothers in the Arts

and

MAMAPALOOZA STAND-UP
SAT 14TH MAY 7.30PM
A spectacular night of hilarious mama-comedy like you've never seen before!
Lou Lou Pollard - Host
Amanda Gray
Dolores Lorette
Christina Van Look
Sallie J Don
Frida Deguise

Location Tap Gallery 1/259 Riley Street Surry Hills NSW 2010 Australia
$20 at the door.
THE COMICS:
LOU LOU POLLARD - She’s wowed audiences at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Sydney Comedy Festival & Adelaide Fringe as well as supporting Arj Barker & appearing on TV shows including Playschool and the Today Show.
AMANDA GRAY has a relentless assault that’s delivered with a deadpan, straight-faced style, packing a huge armoury of laughs. No topic is sacred, no taboo untouchable.
DOLORES is sharp, blunt and a quick witted delight. With stage presence galore, Dolores has even been described by those in the industry as ..too Funny!
"A very funny lady" - The Funny Tonne.
With support act by Ana Key and the Bra Girls! 



The AMIRICI conference is on in Melbourne in July. I am delivering a paper arguing that volunteering is propping up broken systems and we shouldn’t have to fundraise. It includes reference to this:
http://storyofstuff.org/movies/the-story-of-solutions/

Again, if you have any ideas to share, that would be welcome.

Also, this blog is referenced in a book being published in the UK. Oh, and I was escorted from the Hilton whilst protesting to save women’s refuges.

Autumn equinox 2016

It’s Equinox break in Term 1, 2016, and what’s happening? It's been a while, so I have sub-headings.


WORK

Well, I have been applying for jobs.


Most of the jobs have been part time or temporary at Catholic schools. The only jobs advertised within the Department of Education (my natural home, you would think) are rural or regional. My interview with the Department is a month away.

I can't tell you how sick I am of reading the word 'passionate'.


I have registered to do casual work and thought that once everything was set to ‘go’ that I would be getting a call each morning and running out the door to go wherever needed. But no. I have been getting up each morning and there have been no calls. Well, I’ve had two calls, but they were in the afternoons, and I didn’t see them in time to respond. So, I’ve probably fallen off those lists. (There are 40,000 casual teachers in NSW.) A bit sad, really.


I’ve been doing professional development. I’ve been to two English Teachers’ professional development days, which I’ve paid for myself. I really am quite capable of doing the job my peers are currently doing. I’m doing a course on The State of Education in Australia, in which we have guest speakers who are politicians or professors. The group is small so we have good access to knowledgeable people and can ask questions. I did training to be an adjudicator of debating. What more could I do?


I have two students I tutor, which I enjoy, and I’m happy to take on more students. I put in a lot of preparation for my students. I’ve approached the coaching colleges, but they want teachers with three years experience.


I’m also applying for non-teaching jobs. I’m overqualified for these jobs but haven’t got an interview yet.


So I’m looking at plans B, C, D, E, and F.


I’m writing two books and preparing sessions I can present at schools (even though I don’t like the privatisation of education that is happening, little by little, in public schools, but what else can I do?)


I’m thinking I’ll end up patching together some sort of part time and piecemeal work.


I’m open to any suggestions. However, I'm not prepared to pretend to be a Christian when I'm not. (There is lots of casual work available in Catholic primary schools, but I would need a priest or minister to endorse me to be able to work in that system. It's not going to happen.)


Wish me luck!

FAMILY

The family is fine. The two teenagers are working at fast food outlets. One is a vegetarian and one is vegan - we are all compromised in one way or another. We are now a vegetarian household. The youngest still wants to eat meat, and is visiting friends and neighbours more regularly at mealtimes. She says she wants to marry a butcher. I’ve been telling friends she will work for meat.


We’re thinking about how to rearrange the house to be more functional for older children. Does anyone want a free piano?


The youngest is unhappy at school, and truly, I would homeschool her if we could forego any potential earnings.


It is coming up to a year since my mother died. We have celebrated the first Christmas without her, her birthday, now Easter, soon Mothers’ Day. Over the past few years I have been kind of steeling myself for when she goes. I’m not sure it helped. I’ve been more functional than I was when my sister died, but I can’t talk about it anymore than this.


HEALTH

As I think I’ve already said, since the stem cell transplant I find it a bit difficult to know when I’m really sick. I don’t know if I should expect to ever be really energetic again, so I just plow on. It’s hard to know what is caused by side effects of the medication and what is simply ageing.

It may be that there is never anything wrong with me that can’t be helped with exercise. I do know that I’m not as strong or flexible as I once was, so I can work on that.

The long, hot summer seemed endless. It was uncomfortably hot. I had a solstice party, which I’ll continue to do, but it seems a long time ago. I’m relieved it’s autumn.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The Seven Stupids of Christmas


It’s that time of year again when everyone goes crazy about Christmas. The economic forecast is good. The environmental forecast is devastating. Women are expected to be working extra shifts. We celebrate as if it is the middle of winter. The biggest loser is logic itself.

            1. December 25 is not Jesus’ birthday

Christians will say that Jesus is the reason for the season, and that celebrating him is the ‘true meaning of Christmas’. This doesn’t hold up to examination. There is no historical evidence to support much of the story of the birth of Jesus, which is fine because the story was not supposed to be interpreted literally. Myth is often based on some fact but then moves on. There is nothing in the gospels about Jesus being born in December. In the early Christian communities the birth of Jesus was not celebrated because the story of Jesus’ birth hadn’t started yet. 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. If you don’t believe that a Jewish man of Iron Age Judea is your personal saviour, then it doesn’t matter when he was born, or when his birth is celebrated. 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’.

2. The celebration has pagan roots, and is about winter

We know that Christmas replaced a winter solstice celebration in the Northern Hemisphere. It makes sense to have a festival when winters are cold and long and people are prone to depression. Bringing the branches of evergreen trees inside and having a special meal would help people through the winter. The early Puritan settlers of America banned the celebration of Christmas because of its pagan roots. Why are we decorating everything in fake snow, eating plum pudding and singing about Jingle Bells? Why do we sing carols by candlelight in a heatwave during daylight savings? Celebrating a winter wonderland doesn’t make sense in Australia, where it is hot and we all go swimming.

3. Santa isn’t real

The conspiracy about Santa is deep and broad. Adults behave as if he exists. They talk to children as if Santa really does know if they have been naughty or nice, and that he will sneak into their house at night and leave presents. Shopping malls and the post office are complicit with the lie.

St Nicholas was a priest, and then Bishop, who lived in Asia Minor about 300 CE. He was kind and generous. 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. Christmas became a national holiday in the US in 1870.

4. Santa is bad for parents

Parents have the power to reward and punish children if they choose. They could accept that power rather than defer it to a fictional middle man. It would be honest and transparent and grow trust. Children would know they are dealing with their parents directly.

5. Christmas is bad for women

Christmas is run by women; they do all the work to keep it going. Women put toys on layby mid-year and keep track of gifts the children might like. They organise the food and do the cooking. They organise the relatives and try to make sure everyone is happy for the big day. Expectations are high. This brings into question the unpaid work women do. This is work women could just stop doing. We could give the work of Christmas to men and be happy with receiving gift cards and having a BBQ for lunch. Or we could scale it all down and eliminate the pressures. We could kill off Santa, let children know that their mothers hold the power, and women could accept the credit for the work they do. It makes no sense for women to do the work of gathering gifts and giving the credit to a fictional fat man. Holding on to the idea of Santa and the expectations on women for Christmas works against the goal of gender equality.

6. Christmas is an economic hoax

In Australia we celebrate Christmas as a festival of excess and shopping. Prices are inflated before 25 December and reduced the next day. If the date is not tied to any specific event, why can’t we celebrate when we please?

7. Christmas is bad for the environment

The way we celebrate Christmas has an enormous environmental impact. We spend time shopping, buying gifts packaged in plastic, then wrap them in paper that is bought especially and used once. We buy gifts for people who need nothing new. We buy gifts for people whose houses are filled with clutter. We wrap the biggest thing we have, our houses, in Christmas lights.

It makes no sense to save energy, to reduce, reuse and recycle for eleven months of the year, and then create enormous amounts of waste in celebrating Christmas. If an evil villain wanted to trick us into destroying the planet, slowly but surely, he would invent Christmas the way we celebrate it now.

We can celebrate when we like and how we like

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

The broader question might be whether Christmas should be a public holiday. To accommodate people of all religious beliefs and none, perhaps we should no longer assume that everyone celebrates Christmas in the traditional way. We could be more flexible in choosing our holidays.
Now that we have critical thinking as a general capability in the National Curriculum, we should expect that our traditions will be challenged. They should be challenged. Is doing something on the basis of tradition a good enough reason? In a hundred years how will people look back on us today and regard our celebration of Christmas? Is our celebration of Christmas something you could explain to an alien and hope to be considered an intelligent being? Christmas does not have one true meaning. The meaning is constructed, contested, and shifting. We should be challenging ourselves to celebrate according to our values, the values we claim to be protecting from terrorists.






Monday, October 05, 2015

A working life

I have been working full time. I’m very fortunate to have been offered a job for a term, which has been extended to two terms. I have ten classes, which means I have about 230 comments to write on reports. I’ve had nineteen sets of class assessments tasks to mark. 

I like teaching. I have realised that I do have a lot to offer, and there is a lot that I know and can share after years of study and workshops and exploring my own interests, although it has been challenging. I’ve been learning about staff and procedures, marking, parent/teacher interviews, writing reports, and working out when to be hard and when to be soft. I’ve come to the conclusion that soft is better. The more I get to know my students, their needs, interests and abilities, the better we all are.

My job is to deliver the programs, facilitate learning and fit in with the culture of the school. That’s what I’m doing. I’m enjoying the content and working. I’m coping, energywise. Although I did get sick and kind of miss the last week of school.

I’m finding a dissonance between what I hoped teaching would be and what it actually is. That’s to be expected. A wise friend told me that I’ve had the freedom to live according to my values for a long time. I haven’t needed to engage in anything terribly compromising. That’s true. There is compromise in any work situation.

I think a lot about my students. Another friend has told me that I could spend all my time working, but I need to set boundaries and know when to take a break. The job could be all consuming, but I can’t let it be.

Even though I’ve been marking and preparing during the holidays, there are still things about next term I haven’t been told yet. I just have to trust that I’ll be able to pull it together quickly as needed. That’s what I did last term. I can do it. I’m hoping this term won’t be as steep a learning curve as last term.

And nobody knows what will happen after this term. I hope to keep working.


This is what I've thinking about learning.
'Critical thinking discourages ideas'
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_8n0gLmL9M

This is what I've been thinking about teaching.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-greene/the-hardest-part-teaching_b_5554448.html?ir=Australia