Friday, March 27, 2015

The school seminar

I've just finished my four week prac placement at a local high school. It was great. It made me realise how handy my degree in classics is, especially for teaching Shakespeare. I'm sad to leave.

Here's what happened on the last day.

A religious seminar was scheduled for this day. There are four periods timetabled for each day. A group of Christians were scheduled to deliver a seminar to Years 7, 8, 9, and 10 over the course of the day. Teachers were told that they were to teach no new material if students were absent from their class due to attending  the seminar. This, of course, disrupted teaching and learning, especially preparation for assessment tasks.

I had a free period so I sat in on the seminar. Students were lined up to get their names marked off. The seminars were 'opt out' so those who didn't bring a note were expected to attend.even if they weren't interested and had other work to do. I asked the volunteer what group was running the seminar and she told me she didn't know. Students sat in circles with an adult Christian in each group. A leader (I'm not calling these people teachers) showed a video of people answering the question 'what happens when you die?'

They then presented a little skit about what's behind the screen. One person said there was nothing. One person said something the students would like, for example, movie tickets. Another went behind the screen to look and said it was something else that they would like. The students then guessed. The one who guessed 'lollies' received the lollies.

Then the leaders spoke about the resurrection, and how Paul said if the resurrection didn't really happen then there is no reason to love Jesus. They then presented 'evidence' to refute arguments that Jesus didn't rise from the dead. All this 'evidence' came from one source, the New Testament, with no discussion about the validity of that evidence or any question about presenting proof from any other source. The historical truth of the bible was accepted without question. The idea that there was no resurrection was mocked. It was spoken of as a 'fact'.

A leader then said that this may be convincing, but so what? Why does it mean we should have a relationship with Jesus? Then another leader spoke about how, when he was fifteen he had a few near death experiences - accidents, and appendicitis. When he was waiting for surgery he was scared, but was comforted by the idea that Jesus loves him. That was presented as 'testimony'.

A student then promoted the school's Christian club, the leaders told students about local church youth groups and gathered their email addresses.

I didn't say anything during the seminar. I'm sure you can see how intellectually bereft it was. I felt I'd drifted a long way away from teaching ethics classes, or any critical thinking that is encouraged in the classes I'd been teaching at the school. What I did do I'll save for another day. Or you can ask me.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Gordon Church of the Flying Spagetti Monster

The Gordon Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has applied to become a provider of Special Religious Education in  public schools in NSW. The application has fulfilled all  the criteria, yet a decision has not been made. Pastor Dan has said he was told by the Department of Education and Communities that they are referring the matter to a board of other providers, that is, Christians, even though they have no authority to make these decisions.

Please sign the petition to Adrian Piccoli asking that he hand down his decision. The policy states that while SRE is delivered in public schools that all religions should have equal access. Public school children should not be discriminated against on the basis of religion.

If this is denied I'm betting there will be applications from many more minority religions, such as Jediism, Pantheists, Wiccans, Pagans, Born Again Pagans, the Prince Philip Movement and other cargo cults, Aetherius Society, Raelism, Happy Science, the Nation of Yahweh (I've left out some seriously dangerous ones). If it is approved, the same outcome is likely, but may also include Satanists (as happened in Florida, where Satanic colouring in books were distributed after bibles were given out in schools), Communists, Capitalists, and a discussion is likely to ensure about what is a religion. There is an argument that Buddhism isn't a religion but a philosophy, and it is delivered in SRE time.

Obviously, the whole system needs to be overhauled because the Department of Education and Communities does not oversee nor enforce their own policies. See my contribution to Open Drum here.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

This makes me angry

Yesterday I watched this.

It's creepy. And sinister.

There are people who put lots of time and money and energy into trying to access other people's children to convert them into Christians.

Today I watched a video about people suffering from food insecurity.

Aside from it being unethical to use public schools to convert children to a religion, something else bothers me. And that's the waste.

There are real problems in the world that require our attention. It makes me angry that so many people are focused on an issue that is not based on anything real. Their faith may be real, but the existence of their god isn't proven, or even likely. In the history of the world so much brain power, time, effort, money and activism has been wasted on something that, I believe, doesn't exist. It makes me mad that all this power could have been brought to bear on real problems, real issues, ones that are measurable, visible, knowable. When people are trying to work out what their holy book really means, it is just a waste of time. It is a text. The 'true meaning' is constructed. The is no one true meaning. The intention of their god, if gods exit, is unknowable. All this focus on religion is a waste of time, money, energy, resources, skills, understanding, knowledge and good sense.

Do something else. Do something useful. Deal with a real problem.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Shave for a Cause

It's that time of year again, when people raise money to support people with blood cancer by shaving their heads.

I'm feeling quite uncomfortable about it this year.

I understand that it probably started as an act of solidarity, so that people who lose their hair due to chemotherapy don't feel so alone. I'm on prac at a high school at the moment and some students shaved their heads at lunchtime, charging admission to the hall.

I couldn't go. I couldn't bear people laughing and cheering. To lose your hair due to chemotherapy is actually awful. The hair dies on your head. To lose it is confronting. It comes out in dead handfulls. When it happened to me my primary concern was to hide it from the children because I knew how disturbing they would find it. I made an appointment for a hairdresser to shave my head as soon as possible and wore a scarf to try to keep from scaring my children. If I was caught in a breeze without the scarf I reckon my hair would have blown off my head.

When I was bald and getting about wearing a scarf I remember exchanging looks with other bald women and not knowing if they had participated in a fundraiser or if they were cancer patients. They would have looked at me with the same question.

To have your head shaven against your will is an act of violence. It is done to people to strip them of their identity, in jails and the armed forces and in concentration camps. In ancient Greece women would shave their heads when they were in mourning. In some Islander cultures a girl's head is shaved to punish her.

When you lose your hair to chemotherapy it doesn't grow back nicely. It grows back coarse and weird. For people who voluntarily shave their heads, their hair will grow back soft and lovely. They don't lose their eyebrows and eyelashes. It isn't the same.

So, while I'm happy for people to raise money for people with blood cancer, and that they are prepared to do something to raise it, and I appreciate the work of the Leukaemia Foundation (they certainly do good work in driving patients to hospital, providing accommodation for patients, and raising money for research for treatments, which is desperately needed for people with Multiple Myeloma), I'm just not up for the cheering.

Maybe next year I'll feel differently.

The poker game of parenting

Lately I've been feeling like parenting is a poker game.

P1: I'll see your child at the Opera House and raise you a trip to Fiji.
P2: I'll see your trip to Fiji and raise you are trip to the US.
P3: I'll see your trip to the US and raise you a trip to Europe.
Me: I'll fold.

If we don't wind back we'll be expecting children to go to the moon before they leave school.

The whole business (and it is a business, in fact lots of businesses, based on parental Fear of Children Missing Out) spirals upwards, and every turn of the screw (to mix my metaphors) is more pressure on families, whether it be their finances (working extra shifts, taking out loans), their time (driving kids around, not spending time together) and adding to the stress of modern life.

Pace yourselves, parents. Play the long game.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Are bonding activities a male thing?

In thinking about all the activities children are invited to participate in, I've been pondering the place of bonding exercises. The camps and tours and parties that the groups they belong to organise in order for the members to bond.

This seems to me to be a particularly male thing. When I think of bonding activities I think of men playing soccer, or paintball, or men going drinking together and then to lapdancing clubs and brothels. This is supposed to create group cohesion for people who are already in a group working together for the same goal. Women don't seem to need bonding sessions, mostly because they don't have the time for them. If women are working together by meeting monthly to run a committee, or they work together or are on a team together, they just get on with the job. The bonding happens by doing the job together. They don't go off to the pub afterwards.

I understand why kids who enter high school from various primary schools go on camp together. They need to get to know each other. Other than that, I don't see the point of bonding exercises for teams or bands or choirs. Surely meeting weekly to do the activity together is a bonding experience in itself.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What is the value and how do we deliver it more simply?

That's the question I'm asking this year.

I'm asking this question at meetings when someone suggests we need to run an event. I'm trying to point out that the children in our area are privileged, and parents are tired. Their regular activities fill a week. Everything extra adds to the stress of family life.  When do families have time to visit grandparents on the weekend?

What is the value of band camp, when you are transporting all the people and equipment involved to another place, which takes a lot of planning and money, and is a disruption to family life, and results in children not sleeping. Couldn't the value that comes from playing together for an intensive rehearsal period be addressed by a weekend workshop at school? What is the value of the school fete and how can we achieve good enough outcomes without exhausting a hundred people? What is the value of an overseas trip? Don't we have great teachers, and performance opportunities in Sydney?Are these extra experiences for our kids going to be on their resumes and mean the difference between getting a job and not getting a job? Not likely, when they are mostly heading to university and the opportunities listed on their resumes mostly tell a prospective employer that their parents had money.

I'm asking questions to suggest we stop the spiral of making everything bigger and better, and the unspoken expectation now that children must do everything and go everywhere before they finish school. You don't need to keep up with what other schools offer. Life is not a competition and childhood is not a race.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Jan 2015 - catch up.

I’m blogging because I read it is good for my health. So this post is all about me.

I finished the year feeling better than I had for about two years. More exercise. No more napping. Feeling normal. Then I got the results from my checkup. My doctor told me I have some deficiencies - need to take supplements. That’s fine. The worry is that I’m clinically anaemic. Which could be caused by internal bleeding. Which we need to investigate. Also, it means I’m on a very strange spectrum for tiredness. Now I just feel like I need to nap.

I have finished the coursework for my degree. I’ve packed up my readings to pass on to other students. I’ve learned that online learning is a vastly inferior form of delivery compared to being with people. I literally could have studied a whole degree without saying the words. We are taught that we need to know our students, build relationships, cater to their needs, deliver information in various modes, work collaboratively, and then we are given readings and told to write. The feedback I’ve had on my assignments have been close to worthless. Not good. I’m sitting on a GPA of 5.9, which makes me realise I should have asked for remarks which would have toppled my GPA to 6. Even though I know no-one will care, I do. I have two pracs to undertake to finish my degree. I’m getting back to exercising to make sure I’m ready.

Then I’m ready to work. I know not to expect I’ll get a permanent teaching job right away. I know I’ll have to network to get casual work. I’m looking at making my own work if I don’t get a job. I have a Plan B.

At the new year everyone was saying how crap 2014 was. I didn’t feel that way. Then I took a look at what had happened and agree. It was a crap year. In some ways it has continued to be a crap year. Horrible things have been happening to people. There is a lot of sadness. I know what to do to help the people around me. I’m not sure what to do to help on a wider scale. Like everyone else I’ve been thinking about the role of religion in terrorism, and what we need to teach people so that basic human rights are respected. I understand that people don’t think logically when they feel their beliefs are being attacked. I need to learn more about what to do. I want to read Sam Harris’ book ‘The End of Faith: Religions, Terror and the Future of Reason’ and Andrew Scott’s ‘Northern Lights: The Positive Policy Example of Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway’. I’m also thinking about the intersection between being authentic and being kind. I’m not suggesting that kindness isn’t authentic, just that sometimes it takes some thought and control, and that living an authentic life, being true to yourself,  isn’t always responsible and kind.

On the home front I’ve been working out what our new routines will be. The children’s schedules have changed. We’re looking into joining a new dance school (looking at the online photos has been somewhat stomach churning). I know I won’t get everything I want and am prepared to compromise. We’re making a cleaning schedule, based on aspects of Flylady. We’re talking about what we need from being part of this family - how we need the home to be the safe place where we can relax and regroup. Matilda will be going on four camps this year, she has a job, and will be doing the Duke of Edinburgh award. She has been invited to perform in Prague. She won’t be going. Clancy‘s band is proposing going on tour in NSW. I’ll be arguing against that. Banjo is now old enough to walk to and from school herself. It means I’m not so involved in the primary school. This is my tenth year at the primary school. I’m ready to move on.

I kept a record of the children’s expenses for last year. Matilda: $7585, Clancy: $5199, Banjo: $2295. Some expenses were waived for us because we’re unemployed, so the real figures are higher. These aren’t just school expenses but include dance and music.

I’m starting a feminist book group. I will set up a FB page after we work out how to run it. There is lots to talk about.

We’re working on organising Mamapalooza. The plays this year are about domestic violence. We are having an art exhibition at ANU in Canberra, and I’ve proposed we do a presentation at the Symposium at the The Editorial Collective of Lilith: A Feminist History Journal,  Flesh and Blood: A Feminist Symposium on Embodied Histories, ANU on Friday May 8, 2015.

I’m taking Feburary to get organised and build up my energy again. I’m happy to see friends and exercise and have fun. And talk. Talking is good.