So who’s this bloke Marcuse?

The Australian 3/11/15


So who’s this bloke Marcuse?
Students know of Karl Marx but don’t know how his ideas might apply to their teaching.

Jennifer Oriel’s opinion piece “University courses make student teachers hostile towards the West” (The Australian, October 30) reflects the best of modern journalism, especially if it is measured by the immediate responses.

Oriel’s article, exposing the subversive ideological influences on university-based teacher-training courses, raised the ire of 574 respondents.

By contrast, two articles in the same paper by ­Judith Sloan and Natasha Bita on the billions of taxpayers’ dollars (yes, billions) wasted by irregular practices of education private providers received just a couple of dozen comments across the two articles.

It would seem a left-wing conspiracy inside teacher education courses is of far greater import than the actual rorting of taxpayers’ money, and maybe rightly so. A belief in thousands of teachers indoctrinating the youth of today and the leaders of tomorrow is certainly of great significance. And Oriel does an important service in reminding us of this.

Unfortunately, I argue that her perceptions may be flawed. As someone who taught in schools for 28 years, has taught in three universities and now teaches in one of the nation’s largest teacher education providers, I believe Oriel’s picture is very much at odds with the reality of the situation. To be sure, post-colonialism has permeated universities but mainly in social science courses, not in education. A straw poll of 37 students walking down the corridor or buying coffee before their first lecture revealed that less than 10 per cent had ever heard of Paulo ­Freire (one thought he was an injured Wallaby) and none had heard of Herbert Marcuse (“Was that Phillip Hughes’s brother?”).

While some knew of Karl Marx from their school history days (the Russian Revolution is the most popular course in Year 12 history in Western Australia and economics is widely taught), not one student could think of how Marx’s ideas might apply to their thinking about being a successful teacher.

And there’s the rub. Teacher education campuses are full of students whose overriding concern is to be a good teacher, and in large part that means they can walk into a class and leave again seven hours later, having kept some sort of order in the classroom and having engaged the students positively in that time. If you ask them whose ideas they hear about most, it’s probably John Hattie.

Hattie’s great contribution has been to make all of us — teachers and students — think carefully about what it means to be a successful teacher, and it’s his mantra of “Know thy impact” that has far greater resonance than “All power to the Soviets” or “Vive la revolution!” You’ll find students poring over the work of Bill Rogers or one of the other gurus of behaviour management with far greater purpose than ever dipping into Freire or even, lamentably, John Dewey.

Teacher education students spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about their ability to control children in class and therefore their ability to teach effectively. They always have done so (as their lecturers will honestly testify) and they always will.

Dylan Wiliam and his ideas on formative assessment remain another, if less important, influence; the students hope to use formative assessment once they have got the students quiet and listening. In Queensland, teacher education students may know more about Robert Marzano, one of the most brilliant educational entrepreneurs in the US. He still has important messages about the art and science of teaching and his messages have been adopted by many schools in the state.

And what of the lecturers themselves? The major ideological debate I have experienced has been over direct instruction (or explicit instruction) and its educational value. In the two states I have taught in, each with a high proportion of indigenous children, and with many students expecting to teach in rural and remote locations, Noel Pearson’s strong claims have received mixed responses. Yes, there’s a whiff of ideology behind the claims of each party but the divisions are largely debated rationally and civilly with the research literature summoned to support both points of view.

As far as the other perceived ideological stance — phonics versus whole-word reading — everyone I speak to seems comfortable with the view that it’s a combination of the two. It’s not either-or but and.

As for political ideologies, the worst it has ever got are divisions over Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott, as one might have in any bar on a Friday evening. One of my colleagues had no more idea about Freire than the students I ­surveyed.

In my experience, all that graduating teaching students want is to be a good practitioner in their chosen profession, make a difference in young people’s lives and earn some returns from their four years of study. We can be proud of them rather than ­condemnatory.

Bill Allen is a senior lecturer in education at Edith Cowan University.


Author Andy Griffiths on why kids need to get bored


SMH 6/8/16

Parents should butt out of their children’s lives, says Australian author Andy Griffiths. Best-known for his Treehouse series, his latest,The 65-Storey Treehouse, was the best-selling book in the country last year. He and his collaborator, illustrator Terry Denton, meet about 20,000 children each book tour.

The writer has strong beliefs about raising children that he believes would help kids and adults alike. “I think parents are way too much in their kids’ business. I would rather parents concentrate on making themselves happier and fulfilled people and lead by example there,” Griffiths says.


Beloved kids author only writes books for his 10-year-old self.

When he was a secondary teacher, he saw in some colleagues a fear, an assumption that an unoccupied child is somehow dangerous. He advocates quite the opposite, encouraging parents to let their kids get bored regularly. “Anything that requires the adults to put in a lot of work, I’m a little suspicious of.”

Of course, boundaries need to be set and parents need to help children achieve a balance in how they spend their time. But jumping in to solve problems or relieve boredom is counter-productive. “I think the adult sets the kid up so they can draw on their own resources.”

Children’s book author Andy Griffiths lets his mind wander on the train. He says allowing children downtime encourages …
Children’s book author Andy Griffiths lets his mind wander on the train. He says allowing children downtime encourages them to use their imaginations. Photo: Simon Schluter
The present-day tendency to fill every night with an activity is far from ideal. Griffiths says he sees a lot of over-scheduled children. “Just because there are all these options for your child now, whether it’s sporting or artistic or educational, it doesn’t mean they are all appropriate for your child, or that most of them have to be pursued.” He advocates free time, downtime “in which you simply dream and imagine and maybe read a book, which in a way is the ultimate immersion and non-doing”.

He is very concerned about the current obsession with marks and ATAR scores. “People are locking down the process of education to a number of points we have to get to. That is not the way that I learn effectively … I guess that’s the message … allow plenty of time and don’t be so obsessed with outcomes. The emphasis on outcomes is misguided because you can’t know what the outcome is until you set out on the path. I feel if you do try to prematurely limit that outcome, you’re going to end up with an inferior result, whether that’s a kids’ education, or [in writing] a book.”
As a society, we undervalue the importance of play, according to Griffiths. “Now from someone like Edward de Bono, we’re learning that there is a very powerful, serious component to play. It’s how we solve problems more creatively, more happily, it’s how we get along with people.

“So when I have my kids playing in the Treehouse, they’re involved in life and death matters in that play. Play requires time.”

Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton have no trouble tapping into their inner 10-year-olds.
Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton have no trouble tapping into their inner 10-year-olds. Photo: James Penlidis Photography
See Spectrum for a piece by Andy Griffiths about growing up free-range in the 1970s.

Top Treehouse Parenting Tips

1. Relax. Childhood is not a competition or a race. Slow down and smell the Play-Doh.

2. Try to help your child (and yourself) find a balance between screen time, reading time and outside play time.

3. Read with your child and let them observe you reading by yourself (your actions speak louder than words).

4. Be mindful of how much you are trying to fit into your – and your child’s – life. Have regular periods of free time with nothing scheduled.

5. Allow your child to become bored and trust in their ability to find ways to create their own fun. Resist the temptation to step in and “save” them.

6. Build your child a multi-storey treehouse (just kidding! See Tip 5).

– Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton

To Drug or Not Drug — is it the answer… ?


 A little boy started in Kindergarten this year, he was a very outgoing, lively and had a beautiful smile… unfortunately he had come from a home with no boundaries and had trouble fitting in with the rules and social regulations associated with school life. Before the end of first term he had been suspended because he was being violent with other kindergarten students and punching and lashing out at teachers. By the end of second term he had earned another short suspension, and a longer suspension because of an escalation of his violent behaviour.


As a teacher I was feeling really bad for him, because he needed so much love, attention and one on one time to accomplish even the basic of tasks, that is when he chose to attempt any classroom tasks. His attitude and actions in class was holding the other students hostage, because he required so much discipline time by the classroom teacher, it took time away from the learning of the other students.


While he was on the longer suspension, we discussed the best way to re-introduce him to school and we had to implement better strategies to look out for the welfare of students and teachers. It was also mentioned to his mother in discussions, that some drug therapy might help with his concentration and engagement with his learning. His mother was against the drug idea, and I can understand her concerns and reservations in relation to this.


So our little mate has returned to term 3, he is on drugs to calm him down and this will hopefully allow him to concentrate and engage more.


I witnessed him during the later part of the day in a library lesson and I was literally gobsmacked…. his behaviour was beautiful; he was sitting calmly, ignoring silly behaviours around him, and really engaged with the lesson.


I don’t have strong opinions in regard to drug therapy for young children, but the miraculous transformation of this little boy is amazing— the drugs have allowed him breathing space to accomplish some real learning. I had a good talk with him about his behaviour and he said he felt really calm and was enjoying what he was doing in class. I spoke to his class teacher and she was so happy and glad that the little boys mother had chosen the drug therapy road as she felt that he now had a better chance to focus and concentrate in class.


I am sure time will tell what the outcome may be……..

We should teach our children how to fail

July 16 2016 – 12:00AM
Jacqueline Maley



We should teach our children how to fail

Artist James Powditch was rejected for this year’s Archibald Prize. It was, by his own standards, a failure. A person only enters a competition to win it, or at the very least, to be included on the shortlist. In the selfie-driven, life-curation-for-social-media-age we inhabit, failure is as unspeakable as a bad smell in a small space.

Powditch’s fantastical portrait, of Sydney Story Factory founder (and, it must be disclosed, my sister-in-law) Cath Keenan, will hang instead in the Salon des Refuses at the SH Erwin Gallery.


Raising children a learning process

The Meisels are raising three daughters and both parents say they’re learning on the job.

What was so marvellous about the story was Powditch’s unvarnished assessment of his own shortcomings.

“Really, honestly, my career is going nowhere,” he told journalist Andrew Taylor.

“When you don’t make the Archibald and you end up in the Salon, the Salon is always the better show that year … the reality is the Archibald would have garnered a bigger audience.”

Powditch should get a prize for plain talking. I cannot remember the last time I heard such a blunt and un-self-serving admission of public failure.

We live in a time where narcissism is normalised and where social media gives us the power to spin our own lives with the calculation and fabulation of a team of marketing executives.

Even though we know it’s all rubbish, people’s constant self-promotion on social and traditional media, the scrolls of perfectly styled family holidays and just-so children, the odious retweeting of compliments to oneself, it still coats the walls of the modern world, and is increasingly difficult to escape.
That’s true even when the mask slips. Take comments this week from author and social media star Zoe Foster Blake, who catalogues her family life on Instagram, complete with adorable toddler and Italian holidays. In an interview with the ABC, the journalist ventured that Foster’s life seemed “sort of perfect”.

“I know it does!” Foster responded. “It seems perfect because we choose what we portray.”
At least she cops to her conscious curation. I had a look at her Insta account – it’s funny, harmless escapism.

But there is a reason social media is consistently linked, in study after study, to poor mental health for young people. Images of success, physical and material, these days proliferate in all public and private spaces. Nowhere are children taught that failure, or even just a pedestrian lack of success, are a normal part of life, a necessary part.

Last year American schoolteacher and writer Jessica Lahey published a book called The Fear of Failure based on her experiences observing parents who leapt into their children’s lives constantly to protect them from failures big and small.

There were parents who wrote their children’s assignments for them or ferried a child’s forgotten lunch to school, instead of letting them experience the consequences of their own mistakes and allowing them to negotiate solutions (eg decide to either go hungry or borrow money from a friend).

The worst parents, Lahey argues, are not just over-protective but privilege their child’s world view over the facts. These children never experience natural consequences. Until, of course, they get clobbered by life in an adult environment where their parents are not there to run interference.

The kids end up feeling incapable and dependent because their parents have implicitly taught them that’s what they are.

“My ‘best’ students – the ones who are happiest and successful in their lives,” Lahey wrote in a 2013 article for The Atlantic, “are the students who were allowed to fail, held responsible for their missteps, and challenged to be the best people they could be in the face of their mistakes.”

Failure, and its close cousin, regret, teach foresight, problem-solving and (hopefully) better restraint next time. Failure also teaches us compassion and empathy, because it humbles us and knocks the smugness out of us.

Best of all, it teaches resilience, which is surely the best trait any parent can foster in a child.

The other thing about failure, as opposed to the tedious projection of success and perfect hair, is that it is interesting.

Failure stories are better. Jane Eyre wouldn’t have been Jane Eyre if Jane hadn’t flunked life’s lottery and ended up in semi-indentured slavedom chez Rochester. Nobody would have wanted to read about an Anna Karenina whose decision to leave her husband for Count Vronsky turned out to be a sensible one.

In 2013 the Guardian published seven writers reflecting on failure. It makes for great reading. Diana Athill “knew” herself to be a failure from the ages of 22 through 39, she says. Margaret Atwood asks, “Who told us we had to succeed at any cost?” Will Self states that “a creative life cannot be sustained by approval” and Lionel Shriver observes that there are “scads” of self-help books on how to succeed, but none on how to contend with its opposite, “which is more the form for practically everybody, right?”

Athill’s last word is the best: “It is possible to recover from failure: to digest it, make use of it and forget it.”

We should teach that in schools, and post it on Facebook.

Twitter: @JacquelineMaley

Follow Jacqueline Maley on Facebook

‘The Gift of Failure,’ by Jessica Lahey

‘The Gift of Failure,’ by Jessica Lahey

When I was learning to drive, my mother sat in the passenger seat pressing her foot on an imaginary brake, gripping the door handle for dear life. She couldn’t do it for me; she could only watch. It wasn’t pretty, but I did learn.

As you read Jessica Lahey’s new book, “The Gift of Failure,” a picture emerges of childhood today unfolding the way a young person learns to drive, except the car is the kind with controls on both sides and the parent riding shotgun is quick to take the wheel outright rather than letting the kid figure it out. Together they arrive at the destination — college, the workplace or simply chronological adulthood — but the child was really just along for the ride.

To Lahey, these failure-averse parents experience an “adrenaline-fueled ­oncoming-headlight glare” born of a desperate need to prove their parenting skills. Any day they can “help” their child — on the playground, rushing breathlessly from sandbox to swings to ensure nobody gets hurt; at home, shuttling forgotten l­­unches or assignments to school and doing the student’s homework; in class, contesting grades; or at sports, second-guessing coaches and referees — they reassure themselves that “Yes, you are a good parent today.” It’s a parent’s ego trip, but children pay the price. When parents try to engineer failure out of kids’ lives, Lahey says, kids feel incompetent, incapable, unworthy of trust and utterly dependent. They are, she argues, unprepared when “failures that happen out there, in the real world, carry far higher stakes.”

It’s no revelation that children need failure; others, including Madeline Levine, Wendy Mogel and Paul Tough, have taught us that. But Lahey adds the welcome perspective of a middle-school teacher — one of those incomparable people who impose order, compassion and even humor on the chaotic, snarled intersections of adolescence. In this book, she is a whistle-blower for the kids. One story involves a student she calls Marianna, whose mother approaches Lahey not to discuss her grades (which are great, perhaps in part because of her mother’s obsession) but to lament Marianna’s loss of passion for learning. We picture Lahey sitting across the table trying not to scream as she finds the wherewithal to tell the mother she is the problem. We’re in suspense, rooting for both Marianna and Lahey, wondering whether this mother will be schooled, when pages later we read: “I take a deep breath, cross my fingers, and tell her the truth.”

Lahey’s prose here is gripping, yet the storytelling releases us too soon. We want to know exactly what Lahey said. How it felt. How Marianna’s mother reacted. (One surmises it wasn’t, “O.K., you’re right, I see the light.”)

Likewise, Lahey relates a conversation with unhappy parents whose student just earned a B-minus. We hear Lahey offer kind words about his character and capabilities, with reassurance that in the long term, “he will be fine.” But let’s face it, we’re in this mess precisely because parents don’t buy that oversimplified message. We desperately need brave educators like Lahey to summon the guts to tell it like it is. And to illustrate why, as Lahey recounts it, even award-winning educators are leaving the profession because of “issues with parents.”

The Bloomberg columnist Megan McArdle wrote in her 2014 book “The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success” that “schools don’t teach failure but maybe they should.” But Lahey knows that education itself inherently offers that lesson. “The ugly and wonderful truth about middle school,” she says, is that “failure is not an if proposition, it’s a matter of when.” Or it used to be. Now that parents shelter their children every step of the way, we have “failure deprived” college students (as administrators at Stanford and Harvard call them) and entitled, anxious 20-somethings who can’t function in a world that’s sometimes cold or cruel or indifferent. So how can teachers snatch back their critical role and give children the necessary space to fail? They could start by making parents read Lahey.

How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed
By Jessica Lahey

272 pp. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers. $26.99.

How Riley bucked high school expectations

SMH 12-7-16

UNSW medical student Riley Bennett was inspired by his nan, an Indigenous healer

How Riley bucked high school expectations

After going to UNSW’s Winter School for indigenous high school students, Riley Bennett abandoned plans to be a baker and pursued medicine instead.

Riley Bennett didn’t think he was smart enough to go to university. Growing up near Port Macquarie, he loved surf lifesaving and wanted to work in a field where he could help people, perhaps as a paramedic.

His high school careers advisor told him he should train as a baker.

“The idea of going to university was never raised with me,” he said. “The expectation for Indigenous people in my town was that you’d drop out of school at the end of Year 10.”

Medical student Riley Bennett at the UNSW Winter School: “Whatever you want to do, go after it.”


Medical student Riley Bennett at the UNSW Winter School: “Whatever you want to do, go after it.”

Mr Bennett qualified as a baker at TAFE while going on to Year 12. He planned to spend his last July holidays hanging out with friends. Instead, at his mother’s urging, he reluctantly signed up for medicine at the University of NSW’s Winter School, a program for Indigenous high school students considering further study.
“It was life changing,” Mr Bennett said. “I learned about what university was like, how accessible it was and what the opportunities actually were. As soon as I finished Winter School it was my life’s goal – nothing was going to stop me going on to do medicine.”

Mr Bennett, 22, is now in his third year at UNSW. When he graduates from medicine, he plans to work in Indigenous communities as a GP and emergency physician, delivering care to people isolated by geography or distrust for conventional medicine.

Healing is in his blood. His family is from Barkindji country in western NSW and Dalabon country in Arnhem Land, where his late grandmother was a respected medicine woman. He hopes to draw on the knowledge she shared to help treat patients.

“My nana was such an influential Indigenous healer,” he said. “When someone has enough power to help a community like that, it really inspires you to do the same thing.”

Mr Bennett now talks to school students about his path to university. He seized every opportunity available, winning three scholarships, attending the Pre-Medicine program and meeting people “on the same wavelength” through the Nura Gili centre for Indigenous programs.

Mr Bennett said young people were always asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But that was the wrong question.

“We should ask them, ‘What issues do you see as important and how do you want to solve them? What questions do you want to answer?'”

While students were sometimes underestimated by those around them, others limited their horizons by underestimating themselves, he said.

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Mr Bennett said. “Whatever you want to do, go after it.

“A lot of the students I did Winter School with wanted to do nursing, physiotherapy, be paramedics. Most have gone on to do medicine. They aimed for a level they thought they were able to [achieve], but now they’re exceeding that expectation by miles.”

OOECD education chief Andreas Schleicher blasts Australia’s education system

SMH 15/3/16


OECD education chief Andreas Schleicher blasts Australia’s education system

Australian education ‘very significantly shrunk’

Leading global education experts Andreas Schleicher criticises the Australian education system for falling behind global standards at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai,

Dubai: One of the world’s most influential education experts, Andreas Schleicher, has criticised the Australian education system for falling behind global standards.

Mr Schleicher, the education director of the Organisation for Economic Development, said that Australia had a very significant drop in the results of students at the top of the PISA testing rankings in the past year.

“Australia has lost a lot of students with very good results, it’s very significant this round and I think that’s something to really think about,” he said.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international survey held every three years that pits the world’s education systems against each other by testing the performance of 15-year-old students.
Australia’s results have steadily declined over the past decade. Last year, Australia ranked 14th behind Poland, Germany and Vietnam, with up to 20 per cent of students unable to demonstrate basic skills.

Speaking at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, Mr Schleicher said Australia’s emphasis on having teachers in front of a class over their own professional development was an area that needed addressing.

“[Australia] more or less defines teachers by the number of hours that [they] teach in front of students,” he said. “That is part of the problem.”

“We treat teachers as interchangeable widgets on the frontline – they are just there to implement prefabricated knowledge.”

He said many countries were struggling to keep the best teachers in the profession because of curriculums that restrict creativity.

“There really is a complete lack of intellectual attractiveness to the teaching profession once you have that very industrial work organisation behind you,” he said.

The past decade of Mr Schleicher’s data-driven research, which has been harnessed by the education secretaries of both the US and Britain, found that several changes have allowed the world’s most successful school systems to prosper.

According to Mr Schleicher, high-achieving education systems such as Finland have implemented selective teacher training with high academic standards, prioritised the development of teachers and principals as goals above reducing class sizes and allowed teachers to be creative in their implementation of the curriculum.

These systems also directed more resources to schools that have high numbers of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli frequently cites Finland, where teachers are required to have a master’s degree, as an ideal model for NSW.

In September, Mr Piccoli announced new entry standards for teachers, with higher minimum marks now required to enrol for an undergraduate teaching degree.

Mr Schleicher added that Australia’s needs-based Gonski reforms, with increased investment in teacher training, were a positive step but that more commitment was needed.

“That is one of challenges in Australia – to make sure the funding continues to be channelled to schools with more needs,” he said.

The federal government has not committed to the final two years of Gonski funding. According to school funding expert Jim McMorrow, NSW schools would be $1.27 billion worse off without the needs-based funding injection.

The reporter travelled to the Global Education and Skills Forum as a guest of the conference.