Friday, February 29, 2008

Fin de Siecle?

Wikipedia defines "fin de siecle" thus:

Fin de siecle is French for "end of the century," also implying the end of an era. The English term "turn-of-the-century" is sometimes used as a synonym, but applies to the beginning of the next century, so the 19th century fin de siecle is the turn of the 20th century. In both languages, the term generally encompasses both the closing decades of a century and the opening decades of the following century. In general, fin de siècle is often used to refer to the end of the 19th century and the era of the Belle Epoque: (French for "Beautiful Era") was a period in European history that began during the late 19th century and lasted until World War I. the Belle Epoque was considered a "golden age" as peace prevailed between the major powers of Europe, new technologies improved people's lives, and the arts underwent a revolution. In visual art movements such as Post Impressionism, Expressionism and Art Nouveau blossomed. Composers like Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Igor Stravinsky came to prominence, and in America Jazz began to form into a cohesive movement. Literary realism and naturalism achieved new heights.

It was certainly a time of great innovation and creativity, but what has happened to the 20th century fin de siecle? Certainly technology has undergone revolutionary transformations, but one can hardly compare the arts of today with that of the late 19th/early 20th centuries. This seems paradoxical as anyone now has the ability to produce and publish works of art, literature, music etc. to a mass audience without the need for a contract from a publishing or record company. With a word processor, piece of free audio software or an video camera you can easily broadcast your creations to the world. I sometimes wonder if my lack of appreciation of modern culture is just a measure of how out of touch I, but I really don’t sense anything like a modern day belle epoque surrounding me. Perhaps there’s just so much out there that we are not presented with a crystallised view of the great creations of the age, and sure, one or two good things pop up here and there, but to be honest, one would have to admit, the wheels have kind of fallen off. If this years entrants to the Archibald Prize are anything to go by, most people would agree. It is very ironic that in an age where almost anybody has the ability to create almost anything, almost nobody is.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Not Cricket

I’m not sure I quite understand the controversy surrounding the continuing cricket insult scandal. First, Harbhajan Singh was disciplined for calling Andrew Symonds a ‘monkey’, and now Matthew Hayden has been fined for calling Harbhajan Singh ‘an obnoxious weed’. Has anyone actually stopped to think that are not actually the worst insults ever uttered? Where did these guys go to school? I’m sure lots of people have been called much worse, myself included. You can interpret ‘monkey’ as a racist slur, but you might also affectionately call your kids the same thing, no malice intended. Perhaps these guys should add insults like ‘dirty rotter’ and ‘filthy scallywag’ to their repertoire. If you want to insult someone, have the decency to come up with something at least a little offensive. The current exchange sounds a bit like dialogue from an Enid Blyton story.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Political Animals

Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and her colleagues last night questioned what impact Mr Rudd's cat, Jasper, and his golden retriever, Abby, would have on the state of the lawns at the Lodge. With Kevin Rudd enjoying an approval rating of 70%, and Brendan Nelson languishing on a mere 9%, is this really the best the Liberals can do? Nick Minchin's explanation of the figures as 'the honeymoon peroid' effect hardly seems convincing.

I mean, really... calling Rudd's dealings with his family pets into question sounds a little desperate. A lot in fact. Do we really have to go through the whole Brian Bourke thing again. That was tried last year to little effect. The leaked revelation about Rudd's visit to a New York night club seemed to make him more popular if anything. What next? Revelations about Rudd's indiscretions as a schoolboy? Perhaps the Liberals are running out of straws to clutch at, but they surely need to have a better strategy than this incredibly trivial garbage raking if they are not to be consigned to political oblivion.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Apology

At long last, the vicious (to use Paul Keating’s words… classic!) reign of the Howard Government is at an end. Kevin Rudd and his cabinet don’t seem to have put a foot wrong so far, at least in PR terms. Howard’s failure to make any sort or apology seems mean spirited at least. His explanation that ‘sorry’ and ‘an apology’ are different things (admittedly, he was talking about interest rates here) seems lame at best. The apology has been a triumph for Kevin Rudd, and has left Brendan Nelson with egg on his face. Nelson really had nowhere to turn, his initial, non committal caution gave way to a qualified apology of a dubious nature, but had he refused to support the apology he risked seeming just as out of touch as Howard. Supporting the apology completely might have risked alienating those sections of the community who are offended by it, at least in Liberal perceptions.

I applaud the Rudd Government’s symbolic apology and acknowledge the meaning that has resonated within the indigenous community, but an apology with no compensation is at best a hollow gesture. The stolen generations deserve compensation as was recommended by the courts. Is this nothing more than an apology for an apology? Perhaps we should ask John Howard (sorry…)

Public Education

There seems to be an increasingly prevalent view in Australia (and probably many other countries), that public education is substandard. Many parents seem to think that they would be letting their children down by sending them to a public school. They will go to any length to afford the exorbitant fees charged by private schools, often going into debt or enlisting financial support from grandparents. While private education may have benefits, I can very confidently state (based on 15 years of experience teaching in both systems) that public education is by no means a second rate education. While private schools may have superior resources, teaching standards in the public system are definitely superior.

Due to government funding policies and income from fees private schools can boast of facilities public schools can only dream of. For example, sporting and technology facilities in private schools are far more extensive than those that public schools can access. However, public schools are able to provide more than adequate facilities in most cases. If this were not true, how is it possible that public school students attain top rankings in highly resource dependant areas such as computing and science?

Many people seem to think that teacher training courses at universities are easy to get into. In 2005 a UAI of 80 + was needed; a more than respectable attainment. Many of my colleagues at teacher’s college had come from successful careers in areas such as medicine, engineering and business. They turned to a career in teaching, not for increased financial rewards but because they sought fulfilment in a more people oriented field.

All teachers in public schools have undertaken intensive, specialist training in education. Teachers in private schools are only required to have an undergraduate degree. In fact, early in 2005 a small scandal erupted when it was revealed that a number of private school teachers did not even have these qualifications.

Not only are public school teachers required to have a higher level of tertiary education than their private counterparts (a post graduate diploma of education being the minimum requirement), they can also access ongoing professional development throughout their teaching careers. I have attained several additional, university accredited qualifications in areas such as English as a Second Language, literacy education and technology through professional development programs. I can personally attest to the fact that the standard of teaching at my own (public) school is of an outstanding level. Through an innovative approach to the resources available this standard continues to improve.

Perhaps parents are guilty of letting down their children by not sending them to a public school…