Crowns and thrones- newly worn and relinquished
This reflection is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Patrick Rafferty, who passed away on ANZAC Day, a day short of his 93rd birthday. The father of a dear friend, Patrick was a pioneering landowner of the Guyra district of the New South Wales. Forever optimistic and generous of spirit, blessed with endless humour and energy, Patrick will always be remembered.
Last week began with a tragedy in Texas, absurd and bizarre even by America’s own standards. A man in a Texan town asked his neighbour to resist from discharging his rifle as he and his wife were trying to settle their infant. The indignant neighbour told all and sundry that “ this is my rifle and my land and my right to fire it.” He then entered the neighbour’s property and shot five people dead, including a mother and her eight-year-old son. Where does one begin to describe the warped sense of rights and temperament that could lead to such an event? This week has just begun with just a ‘standard’ shopping mall shooting massacre near Dallas.
Australians are blessed to live in a country where its citizens are not prone to outrageous acts of violence, aided and abetted by arguable Constitutional protections and a rampantly individualistic culture. It is hard to believe that the Port Arthur massacre is now beyond the living memory of a generation. Never has our federal system of government worked so effectively and co-operatively as it did after the massacre to introduce complementary State laws restricting gun use in Australia.
In 1970 Cat Stevens had a hit song, ‘Where do the Children play?”, which is a reminder to our younger generations that they are not the first to express concern about the condition of the world’s environment. Perversely in contemporary America, the song would now not be seen so much as one about the quality of its environment, but about the civic safety of its most vulnerable.
Today, in Australia many people might be right to ask ,“Where does everyone live?,” after the Federal government recently announced Australia's migrant population will increase between the 2022 and 2024 financial years by more than 700,000.
Employers are bemoaning a lack of available staff. Increasing migration, especially of sought after skilled workers seems a solution. However, recent rises in interest rates have further dented the ambitions of many Australians to buy a home. As demand for property purchases has declined, the demand for rental properties has escalated leading to increased rents and rental property shortages. Throw in the curse of ‘Air B n B’ where property investors choose to retain properties for profitable short-term leases, and we have a problem. Vicious cycles do not take long to form.
Australia now has the highest minimum wage rate in the world. Inflation, however, is eroding the real value of wages growth. One will always struggle to understand how a nation that is a net exporter of energy resources has the high energy costs that it does- whatever happened to maintaining a homegrown advantage? The surge in migration, whilst arguably necessary, will only further add to unreasonable pressures within the housing market. No matter how high our wages are, they seemed doomed to lag behind those needed by most to purchase a house.
When post-war immigration changed the face of mono-cultural WASPy Australia in the 1950s and 1960s- now one out of two Australians living in Sydney or Melbourne was either born overseas or has a parent born overseas- a million dollars would buy you a suburb. Now a million dollars buys an “average house” in Australia's two largest cities.
It is also fair to ask why there are not enough locals with the skills needed to meet employer demand. One possible answer is that not enough are being taught required skills. Therein, lies another critical labour shortage, that is threatening our economic and civic strength, which is the shortage of teachers. My thoughts on this predicament are set out as a postscript.
ANZAC Day has come and gone. Autumn, the season of ”mists and mellow fruitfulness” is well settled.
Mists, often menthol in smell, generated by those who are ‘vapers’ are the latest target of our Health Ministers, worried as they are about the numbers of teenagers who vape and then ‘progress’ to cigarettes.
Increasingly, Australians are concerned that the fruits of our society are not being shared by enough, especially housing. Federal and State Labor governments have recognised that the benefits we have become accustomed to, especially welfare and health payments, must all be paid for, either now or in the future. Debts remain debts. However, it is hard to reduce structural Budget deficits when governments keep adding new structures to the balance sheet, highlighted by extravagant defence spending, and runaway Budgets in key welfare sectors.
Our Prime Minister, who regularly tells us of his upbringing in public housing, went to Hobart last weekend to announce that the Federal government, structural deficit notwithstanding, was able to contribute close to a quarter of a billion dollars to build a football stadium in a city with a chronic shortage of social housing. Throw in hundreds of millions for forthcoming Commonwealth and Olympic Games and “very soon you are talking about real money.”
If the Labor government’s honeymoon is about to end- let’s not forget it is nearly a year since its election-it may not be because of the efforts of a dispirited and depressed Opposition, but rumblings within its own ranks that its priorities are misplaced.
Autumn can sometimes be melancholic. Many Australians are still reflecting on the unique contribution of Barry Humphries to our society. Some are lamenting in these more sanitised times of public utterances that his death is symbolic of a collective loss of an ability to laugh ourselves.
The brilliance of Humphries’ two major characters Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson-one must remember they were characters, not distinct individuals-was that they reminded Australians of someone that they knew. Edna, who Humphries described as “universally ignorant about all matters”, was a caricature of the vapid and stupid busybody. Patterson celebrated the raucous vulgarity of too many Australians.
Last weekend in Sydney, a city once described as being founded in its modern incarnation by those who made illegal rum and those who bought it, and a city Edna’s mother told her was full of “people who were c-o-m-m-o-n,” saw vulgarity and stupidity combine in spectacular fashion.
One of Australia’s most well-known radio announcers, Kyle Sandilands, was married for the second time. In an age of self-generated narcissism, Sandilands had asked his listeners in the week beforehand to guess how much aspects of the wedding were to cost him. $60,000 for the flowers, $95,000 for the oysters and caviar. Total cost over $1,000,000. And we needed to know because?
The gaucheness of the celebrations was matched by the seediness of Sandilands’ groomsmen- one a well-known Kings Cross “nightclub identity” and the other a convicted drug smuggler. The Great Gatsby meets Meth if you will. The ostentation of it all bordered on the vulgar. The sight of a “working class” Prime Minister and Premier of New South Wales delighting at it all was at best crass and, at worst, stupid.
Mr. Albanese, fresh from his largesse in Hobart, commented that Sandilands, who experienced homelessness in his youth, was a “significant public figure” and an “Australian success story.” Humphries, recently buried near Bowral in Sydney’s Southern Highlands must have been chortling on material Edna and Les would have dined out on for ever.
I wonder whether our Republican Prime Minister enjoyed the Sandilands nuptials or the recent Coronation more? Bizarrely, one wonders whether Australia’s new Head of State, enjoyed his long awaited moment in the London drizzle. By contrast to the beaming expressions of his mother at her coronation in 1953, King Charles III seemed overwhelmed and subdued when ascending to the throne.
As one King is crowned, the reign of another is all but over. Rafael Nadal’s announcement that he is not fit enough to play in this week’s Italian Open increases the chances that the ‘King of Clay’ may not be able to grace the courts of Roland Garros. And who is the new King? Thankfully for Spaniards they have an heir in Carlos Alcaraz, who will regain the world’s No.1 ranking this week following triumphs in Barcelona and Madrid. Whether he is the rightful king will depend on the fitness and tenacity of Novak Djokovic. How remarkable it is that the much touted “Next Gen” of Zverev, Thiem, Tsitsipas all seem highly unlikely to reign supreme. Russia’s Danill Medvedev’s ability to cement his status as the world’s best player remains as mercurial as ever.
‘From Rome to Paris’: one could be telling tales of the expansion of the Roman Empire, but no longer. Nevertheless, following this week’s Italian Open attention will turn to Roland Garros. The Italian Open was the only significant tournament that Martina Navratilova did not win in her career. This is unlikely to be a similar problem for Iga Swiatek, who, although upset in the Madrid final by Australian Open champion, Sabalenka, remains a firm favourite to triumph in Rome and Paris. The nascent rivalry between Sabalenka and Swiatek, currently 5-3 in Swiatek’s favour, could be the next best thing for women’s tennis.
Remarkably, Alcaraz and Djokovic have only played once with the Spaniard winning their semi-final contest in last year’s Madrid Open. All their future matches will have a Colosseum like atmosphere as the new young King tackles the game’s longest ranked No.1 player.
Let the game reign supreme!
Australia's Teacher Shortage- some thoughts
The Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare, has been right to point out Australia’s shortage of classroom teachers. It is a problem that will only worsen with the imminent retirements of scores of ‘baby boomer’ chalkies. Not having staff to make a turmeric latte is one thing : not having committed, inspiring, rational, and intelligent people to teach the next generation the joys of literature, the delicacies of grammar, the logic of mathematics, and the mysteries of our physical world is quite another.
So, how has it come to this? Why is teaching no longer attracting enough people to its ranks?
Ten reasons, amongst many:
1. For too long our society has devalued the vocation of teaching: “anyone can be a teacher;” “it’s the job for those who can’t manage a real job”. This has led to perceptions that studying teaching is not a serious option for “the best and the brightest.” ATAR scores to enter teaching courses have plummeted.
2. As the value of teaching has diminished, so too has its financial rewards. In most States teachers reach the top of their relevant pay scale after ten years. CPI increases are all that is ahead of them at a time when financial pressures are greatest. One of the great ironies of our education system is that many a great teacher leaves the classroom to serve in better paid administrative and leadership roles. I remember a student of mine in Sydney in the early 1990s replying , “ But , Sir I want to buy a house ” when I suggested he become a teacher;
3. With all best intentions educational bureaucrats have created national curriculums from Kindergarten-Year 10. They are hopelessly overcrowded with content. Teaching as a reflective, sequential art has become replaced by a race to “get through” a course, placing pressure on new teachers that can become dispiriting;
4. All government and non-government schools are called on to fulfil many objectives, many of which are unrelated to educational standards: programmes are constantly introduced into schools to correct perceived social injustices and wrongs- health education, drug education, gender awareness, mindfulness- the list goes on. Schools are being called upon to be a fulcrum of post-modern equality. In doing so, educational quality has arguably been lost as time has been stripped from teachers’ primary role;
5. Sadly, schools now reflect the litigation averse paranoia that affects our too many of our institutions. Teachers inspired to broaden the minds of their students discover that a trip to the National Gallery requires more paperwork than the D-Day landings. Professional development days for teachers are often pre-occupied with mandated first aid and EpiPen training, rather than classroom practice;
6. Teachers, courtesy of social media and e-mails, are under increasing pressure to be miracle workers to all people. A keyboard warrior class of parents has emerged, whose unreasonable and incessant demands on teachers are proving debilitating for too many. Who would have ever thought that teachers would be forced out of work , as many are, because of workplace threats and intimidation from students and/or parents?
7. Too many teachers are required to assume additional roles of psychologist and psychiatrist for their students. New teachers often feel that their curriculum knowledge is ancillary to the demands of parents that they also be responsible for their child’s entire holistic development;
8. In Victoria, the experience of prolonged lockdowns magnified the benefits and importance of schooling in classrooms. Covid lockdowns also made many businesses concede that flexible working arrangements were possible and necessary. Teaching, for so long seen as an attractive vocation, because of predictable holidays, is now, paradoxically, seen as a more demanding profession. Unlike being in an accounting practice, a teacher cannot work from home on days that suit them;
9. Too many young teachers are betrayed by their tertiary institutions. Their undergraduate courses do not furnish them with the depth of knowledge required in core curriculum areas. I have seen far too many teachers despairing at the thought that they are only one page ahead of their students in the textbook. Is it any wonder that the Minister ruefully observes that close to 50% of teachers leave the profession in their first five years ; and
10. There are still far too many teachers who in their early years to teach courses for which they are not fully trained. Would we ever expect a graduate dentist to repair our car ? Such experiences only disillusion a beginning teacher who, in addition, must learn to manage the bureaucracy of a school and educational system. Add to this bewilderment the early career shocks of often what seems to be incessant marking and lesson preparation and it is little wonder that initial enthusiasm can be tested and found wanting.
A debilitating combination of societal indifference about the importance of teaching, ill-designed curriculums, poorly prepared teaching graduates, excessively bureaucratic work practices and inordinate parental demands have dimmed the lustre of arguably our most important profession. If only the teaching profession had granted themselves copyright of the phrase, “social influencers,” before today’s spurious sages.