The Dog’s Bollocks

Truth is like a dog’s bollocks – pretty obvious if you care to look.

The Commercialisation of Childhood

Another triumph for de-regulated free-market capitalism. A must view for all those who believe that the pinnacle of human existence is an economy based on consumerism.

Consuming Kids: The Commercialisation Of Childhood

With virtually no government oversight or public outcry, the multi-billion dollar youth marketing industry in America has been able to use the latest advances in psychology, anthropology and neuroscience to transform American children into one of the most powerful and profitable consumer demographics in the world.

The irony is that moral crusaders like Tony Abbott support this very industry which is warping the psychological well-being of our children in ways that undermine the very values they desire to instill. Or maybe they’re just hypocrites.

Powerful and scary stuff. And you thought teachers were to blame!

Filed under: Big Picture, Economics, Education, Media,

Melbourne Zookeeper impregnates Elephant!

The Age

At least that seems to be the case according to the caption accompanying this photo and story at The Age online today.

Dokkoon the Asian elephant trumpets her approval at being two months pregnant to Melbourne Zoo handler Dave McKelson.

Well done Dave. One question — did you need a stepladder?

Will the offspring be the next Elephant Man?

Long gone are the days when journalists, copywriters and sub-editors needed to know anything about grammatical construction of the English language. Having subjects and verbs in agreement would be a good start.

Filed under: Ass Hattery, Education, Media, , ,

The market imperative for higher teacher pay

TimePlanVICTORIA will need to immediately recruit teachers from interstate and overseas to avoid a shortage of high school teachers, according to an internal report to the Brumby Government.

That might explain the recent pay rise for teachers. But will it be enough to compete in the global market for graduate teachers?

Since Thatcher gouged the British economy of sufficient capacity to train and supply its own teachers, Britain has been absorbing graduates from around the Commonwealth, Australia included, for more than two decades. Straight out of college, Australian Graduates can earn $AUD80—120,000 in Britain or any number of wealthy Asian and Middle Eastern countries.

We’ll either have to create greater demand for teacher training courses by paying teachers more, or we’ll have to make do with whatever teachers we can poach from countries less affluent than ours. India, Indonesia, Africa, South America, perhaps? I doubt that’s what Boltheads have in mind when they deride those leftist teachers unions holding the public to ransom, but that’s the market for ya.

Filed under: Economics, Education, ,

‘Failing schools’ are a failure of government

The concept of the under-performing school is simply a tool for politicians to disguise their own unwillingness to provide appropriate resources to the education system to help lessen the impact of social inequality.

So says Graeme Smithies, recently retired from 35 years in schools, in The Age today. A refreshing statement of the bleeding obvious about the state of public education in Australia. These are the best bits:

The apparent underperformance by many of the students in those schools is a direct result of factors outside the control of the school – the socio-economic, demographic and family factors that children have experienced before they start school, and which they continue to experience in the 17 hours of every school day that they are not at school.

For more than 40 years researchers have identified a variety of socio-economic factors that can influence a child’s educational performance. Proponents of the underperforming school fallacy seem to ignore these factors.

I have never seen a definition of what constitutes an underperforming school, but those who use the term generally imply that the academic performance of its students, as measured by VCE results or literacy and numeracy testing, is below expected standards, or the standards achieved by schools in different suburbs.

The implication is that teachers at such a school are not doing their jobs well enough – and if they work harder, improve their methods or are replaced by better teachers, the problem will be solved.

The concept of the underperforming or failing school is based on a number of myths. The first is that student performance is entirely dependent on what happens in school, and that it is a consequence solely of the activities of teachers and principals and not of any factors outside the school.

The second myth is that all students come to school equally prepared, with equal ability and with equal levels of motivation, so that all they need is excellent teaching to excel.

Students who start school with the best chances of ultimate success will come from a home where the parents are well educated and where education is highly valued; where the child’s imagination and cognitive development have been stimulated and enriched by a wide variety of play and other creative experiences; where English is the first language, and the parents and other adults with whom the child has contact have strong linguistic skills in the English language.

They will come from homes where the child is read to frequently, the parents read and are seen to enjoy reading, and there is a large variety of reading matter; and the child has had at least a year of pre-school experience before starting school.

The absence of any or all of these factors will affect a child’s readiness for school. Lower parental levels of education, limited linguistic ability, lack of reading and books in the home, little use of the English language in families of non-English-speaking backgrounds, high levels of family unemployment and non-attendance at kindergarten are all more prevalent in the northern and western suburbs.

Rather than grapple with these issues, Howard chose to divert funds from public education to the private sector, exploiting every opportunity to create fear that public schools are failing, are valueless, only for povo’s, and it’s all the fault of those lazy leftist and elitist unionised ideologues known as teachers, and we’ll spend countless millions on testing the kids to prove it and show you that we’re tough in The War on Education.

Rather than ‘our failing schools’ it might be more instructive to regard the problem as a symptom of ‘our failing society’. Even in relatively affluent but time poor families, many kids from the earliest age grow up exposed to a mind numbing stream of sensational and trivial trash media dedicated to encouraging unsustainable and insatiable consumption of everything from junk food to lifestyles in the pursuit of pleasure and the illusion of happiness. Family and community are sacrificed on the altar of free market capitalism. As individuals we are driven by our vanities and insecurities to fear, anger, anxiety, intoxication, depression and unhappiness in ever greater numbers. And that’s just those of us who are well-educated and relatively affluent! In economically underprivileged areas, the problems are exacerbated with violence and crime.

The only long term answer to these problems is education, and lots of it. To continue the blame game as we have been doing for the last 12 years is simply shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. We are failing our schools, the students and the families they serve.

Filed under: Education, Howardians, Ideology, Politics,

The cost of rampant reporting mechansims

Despite last minute posturing from both sides, the Victorian Government seems poised to strike a deal with teachers over pay and conditions. The teachers’ trump card at this time is to sabotage the upcoming National testing for literacy and numeracy standards. It is timely therefore to read John Hirt’s op-ed in The Age Ideas for achieving the goals that we agree on wherein he proposes three stategies to reach commonly agreed goals:

  • Reduce accountability in the public provision of professional services
  • Increase class sizes in schools
  • Teach a different Asian language in the schools of each capital city

The first recommendation is something I have pondered for some time. Hirst hits the nail on the head.

Doctors, nurses, teachers, academics and scientists are mostly committed to their work. They have a shared understanding of what good practice entails. Their dedication and training produces this; they have no need of mission statements to tell them what they must do or what their institution should achieve.

Increasingly, governments have imposed new tests of accountability on these people as if they were all lazy or bored or corrupt. They do this with the aim of producing better services. However, frequently what is needed for better services is more money. Instead of providing this, governments decide to better manage the funds already allocated. This involves more reporting and paperwork and more administrative staff to produce and manage it. The effect, if there is no increase in funding, is actually to decrease the amount of money going to provide the services. More time and effort goes into administration. Nurses have to decide whether they will attend to their paperwork or to their patients and their patients are in danger of losing out.

Now extra grants of public money are being made not to support services but so that institutions can install the new reporting mechanisms.

In Tony Blair’s years as prime minister of Britain there was a huge increase (47%) in the amount of money going to health services, but once this disappeared into the administration of health there was only a 17% increase in the money spent on the front line, that is attending and curing patients.

Increasing surveillance reduces morale of dedicated people.

The campaign for performance pay for teachers and endless demands for accountability standards is a cynical exercise by politicians to demoralise and diminish the status of teaching by which they hope to convince the electorate that the problem with education lies with the teachers, not the diminishing funds being spent on it. In this mission they are aided and abetted by economists pathologically opposed to any kind of increase in public expenditure unless it directed at private profit for consultants and outsourced service providers. It’s all a sleight of hand.

While further reduction in class sizes may bring diminishing educational returns there is little evidence to suggest that Hirst’s plan to double class sizes wouldn’t have negative consequences – not the least of which would be individual stress levels of both students and teachers. You could do it by plugging the students into immersive digital learning environments a la Second Life but that would cost a fortune. Most school buildings have been designed for 24 students per classroom so there are also significant infrastructure constraints.

While there is also little doubt that our economy and national security would be enhanced by the increased teaching of foreign languages, Hirst’s recommendation for teaching specific languages in specific location is rather whimsical. It ignores the diversity of our cities and the propensity of individuals to have preferences and proclivities for particular languages.

But as for the costly and ineffectual growth in administrative reporting processes in education, health and public science Hirst is spot on. A waste of time and money and of no benefit to anyone other than Business Management School graduates.

Filed under: Economics, Education, Politics, ,

A mind is a terrible thing to waste

Professor Peter Doherty asks in The University of Melbourne Voice “What sense does it make to pour federal money selectively into minority, private (and often exclusionary) primary and secondary schools while starving the majority public sector?” The short answer? None.

The Howard government embraced Thatcher’s ‘greed is good‘ free market theology which played to the heart of the human tendency to regard our relative wealth and privilege in comparison to those less well off. After all, one is ultimately able to feel rich and privileged if it’s obvious that so many others are poor and unprivileged.

What is the point of driving a BMW if everyone has one?

Filed under: Australian values, Education, Media, ,

How the mighty fall – it’s as easy as ABC…

The unedifying scramble by ABC Learning‘s senior executives to unload personal shares in ABC Learning is hardly reassuring news for fellow investors, their workers, or their clients who depend on their services so they can work two jobs and pay off the sub-primed McMansions.

Eddie GrovesFounded in 1988 in Ashgrove, Brisbane’s Eddy Groves, now the Global Chief Executive Officer of the company, ABC Learning, with the aid of cheap sub-prime credit and much largess from the Howard Government has acquired around 1000 childcare centres in Australia and another 500 or so in the US and South East Asia. They were even making overtures to state governments to operate for-profit McPrivate Schools in the McBurbs — courtesy of Howard’s funneling of education funding from public schools into the private sector.

Today’s bursting of the bubble is a long way from the halcyon days when Larry Anthony, Howard’s Minister for Childcare, lost his seat and took up a lucrative directorship with his good mate from ABC Learning. Who can forget when Costello’s granting of quite generous allowances and tax discounts magically transformed into higher fees by ABC Learning wihtin weeks? Brilliant! Those were the days!

ABC Learning has clearly placed corporate growth ahead of providing quality childcare. Never a good combination in my experience. Remember when they went to court defending a negligence charge when a small child escaped and wandered off? They argued that their liability went no further than their employees. That it had nothing to do whatsoever with chronic under-staffing by low-paid, under-skilled workers? Talk about laugh!

Just goes to show that making a quick buck is not the same thing as maintaining a healthy economy. The two should never be confused, despite what the Howardians led us to believe.

Filed under: Economics, Education, Howardians, Religion

Howard’s vision of The Future (now with welfare for the wealthy)

SpoonerAt his Campaign launch, Howard remarked to the effect that an $800 tax rebate for school fees to millionaires was a break through in public policy – the transformation from a Welfare Economy to an Opportunity Economy is complete. WTF? Middle class welfare is now available to the ultra rich!

Howard’s education policy announced yesterday provides $6 billion in the name of education, yet not one cent of it will go directly to schools, let alone public schools. All it is doing is adding another inflationary cash injection into the consumer economy as reimbursements for money already spent. But based on past form, it would be naive to have expected anything else from Howard, who has doggedly pursued privatisation of education through a combination of funding policies which facilitate the flow from of cash from the public sector to the private sector and a sustained culture war on the teaching profession, portraying them as Maoist ideologues who brainwash our children with an elitist, left-wing, politically correct post-modern view of the world and our history.

Head Girl, Julie Bishop, trumpets the policy as one of giving choice to parents, for they are the best people to decide how best to spend the education dollar. The full manifestation of Howard’s vision would create a three-tiered education system. At the top will be the sandstone colleges – always the exclusive preserve of the wealthy and well-connected. In the middle will be McPrivate Schools, probably built and run in Public Private partnerships with the likes of ABC Learning Corporation, catering for the aspirational middle class who can’t afford the real thing. And the rest? Well we’ll train them to be grease in the wheels of commerce. A proper education can only be obtained in the private school system, and only by those who can afford it. The rest of the population can have a safety net education and access to ‘proper’ technical schools.

Add into that mix yet another underclass – migrant guest workers. Then we can do what France and Britain have done – exploit migrant guest workers for more than a generation and yet not grant them rights of citizenship, creating the conditions for unrest and alienation from the second generation Australian born. I guess it will be good for sustaining The War on Terror. Oops, don’t mention The War!

Chuck in 25 foreign-owned nuclear rectors around the coastline adjacent to Australian cities as a climate change solution, put the Adelaide-Darwin railway to the use intended by its owner, Halliburton – the people who gave us the Iraq War – and ship in US nuclear waste and ship out yellowcake to all comers.

Yep, sounds like a vision for the future all right.

Filed under: Ass Hattery, Australian values, Education, Federal Election 2007, Ideology, Politics

Me too – and I’ll raise you

TandbergTeam Howard’s Campaign ‘Launch’ is anything but economically conservative as the cost of its election promises approaches $50 billion. Any traction gained by attacking Kevin07’s me-too-ism has been lost as Team Howard attempts to out-bid on education and first home affordability. Anyone care to explain how injecting 0.5% of our Trillion Dollar Economy back into consumer’s pockets is not inflationary and fiscally irresponsible?

Team Howard’s campaign strategy underscores the fundamental problem, Rather than investing $6 billion directly into education it is to be spent indirectly through taxation reimbursements of private money already spent, regardless of income, need, or capacity to pay. Private school fees are now tax deductible, further skewing the flow of government investment in education from the private sector at the expense of what Team Howard consider to be a safety-net public school system.

Howard says we don’t need no education revolution – we need an education system that teaches kids how to read, write, spell and add up. Head Girl Julie Bishop says it about giving parents ‘choices’ for their children’s education. Pay tax-deductible fees for a private school and presumably your child can also learn take-aways, times tables and goesintas.

Team Howard’s Not an Education Revolution is an indirect, inefficient and ineffective way of improving educational outcomes and reducing skills shortages. It is dressed up as offering families educational ‘choice’ that has more to do with free-market ideology than good economic management and capacity building. Unfortunately for the economy the net result will be to shift cash from investment in education back into consumer spending, adding more inflationary pressure and doing nothing whatsoever to enhance educational capacity.

Aside from sabotaging Team Howard’s claim to being fiscally responsible economic managers, the Campaign Launch reminds the electorate that they have ignored social investment for eleven and a half years and are flooding the economy with inflationary pre-election cash bribes. Ad-hoc policy on the run and at its worst – ineffectual and always with undesirable and unintended consequences. Team Howard’s policy credibility has been further eroded and I suggest that the voters have finally woken up to their deceptive smoke and mirrors policy making and come polling day won’t buy it.

add to kwoff

Filed under: Economics, Education, Federal Election 2007, Ideology, Politics

Day 14 – The Narrowing

TandbergTeam Howard’s Generals regrouped in Melbourne yesterday for what they hope was a productive if not decisive reframing of the election narrative ahead of encouraging polling figures from HQ’s preferred Newspoll showing a narrowing billed by the Government Gazette as a halving of Kevin07’s 2PP vote. Team Howard are back in The Game! Inveterate Spin Master Andrew Robb appeared on Lateline, amidst awkward questions on interest rates, leadership and climate change, to explain the new narrative.

Unlike previous Narrowings and False Dawns this one is For Real. Apparently it’s like the Republic debate where 80% of voters were in favour of a change until the actual referendum when it dropped back to 45%. No mention of the fact that Howard sabotaged the referendum by ensuring that it asked the wrong questions for the non-preferred model designed to derail support. People are now starting to weigh up the important question – who is best equipped to manage our Trillion Dollar Economy – and come election day they will choose the experienced and proven Team Howard to continue on the path to prosperity for the next say 10-20 years. Never mind that the new poll figures suggest that the movement is coming from a 10% reduction in minor party voting intentions rather than any severe dent in major party preference.

Team Howard announced a $2 billion plan to recreate the Technical School System, although only $270 million will actually be spent in the next term of office. These will be Proper Technical Schools for Working Families, just like we had back in the 50s and 60s, not just add-ons at the back of Academic High Schools. Presumably Proper Academic High Schools (with Proper RRRs and Proper Po-Mo-Free History) and Universities will continue to be the preferred means of education for privately funded Professional and Business Families.

A good day for Team Howard, sufficient for them resist the urge to start eating their own. Full points for encouragement. And so on to The Great Economic Debate debate and the next set of polls.

Cross posted at Blogotariat.

Filed under: Education, Federal Election 2007, Politics

The Dog’s Bollocks

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The Dog's Bollocks: "Bollocks" is one of my favourite words, and this is now one of my favourite blogs and I've only been reading it for five minutes. – John Surname

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