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Tag Archives: Australian culture

For many kids Civics is arid, deadly dull and is thus hard to teach

That, I suspect, is part of the problem behind the story in today’s AustralianStudents do badly in study of civics. I really don’t think results would have been much better fifty years ago when I was fifteen.

STUDENTS’ knowledge of Australia’s system of government is lower than expected, with only one in three Year 10 students knowing what the Constitution is.

The national assessment of civics and citizenship in Years 6 and 10 found about 54 per cent of primary students and 41 per cent of high school students met the proficiency standards for their year. But about one in five Year 10 students failed to meet the Year 6 standard.

"This was especially the case in relation to information about the constitutional structure of Australian democracy," the report says. "Lacking such fundamental information will restrict the capacity of students to make sense of many other aspects of Australian democratic forms and processes, and they may, therefore, be disadvantaged in their capacity to engage in meaningful ways in many other levels of civic action or discourse."

At Year 6, students are expected to recognise the division of governmental responsibilities in a federation, identify a link between a change in Australia’s identity and a change in the national anthem, recognise the benefit of different political parties and the federal budget.

By Year 10, students are expected to recognise key functions and features of parliament, analyse the common good as a motivation for becoming a whistleblower, explain the importance of a secret ballot, and recognise how the independence of the judiciary is protected. On the Constitution, Year 10 students were asked "what is the Australian Constitution?" and given four possible answers: the rules about how the major Australian political parties are run; the policies of the Australian federal government; the framework for the ways Australia is governed; all the laws that Australian citizens must obey…

Look at the last paragraph there! Did I know all that fifty years ago? Answer: NO! What do we expect then? Why, aside from pious hopes, should we expect 100% of kids to have mastered all that arcane matter?

On the other hand, kids today do have advantages. In the web world there are some marvellous sources of information. Even the Book of Answers from the last government’s ill-conceived citizenship tests is not a bad resource on these and other matters. But then there are sites such as Australian Politics and Oz Politics. Certainly it isn’t hard to find out these days; in my day it was less easy.

There is a big role here too in well organised excursions to parliaments and courts, as many schools do. The information people there are often brilliant, and the whole thing becomes more concrete. On the other hand bureaucratic responses to child safety issues have made organising any excursion a logistic nightmare, so I suspect there has probably been some reduction in such activities. A shame. Mock courts and parliaments are another approach that can bring these matters to life.

Coincidentally, yesterday I found myself with a 15-16 year old from China, a recent arrival whose English is developing, trying to help him with a Legal Studies task on the rule of law – and a whole host of other key terms all crowded into one or two of his school lessons. A challenge. We did our best.

 

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The bushfire and the Australian imagination

There is a good article in today’s Australian by Simon Caterson: Living with the embers.

IT would be hard to overestimate the strength of the hold that bushfire has over our physical environment and over the Australian imagination. When in 1988 a series of ceremonial bonfires was lit during the Australian bicentenary celebrations, historian Geoffrey Blainey viewed the event as honouring "the most powerful, majestic and frightening force in our history: the force of fire".

Bushfires recur every year and occupy an important part of our culture and art. Blainey observes that "every day for millions of days countless fires have been lit or enlarged for countless purposes, and many of those fires had unintended consequences"…

The definitive Australian film (or play) on a bushfire theme may be yet to emerge, but many painters and writers have tackled the subject. In March 2003, the National Gallery of Victoria staged an exhibition of fire-themed art works to raise funds for victims of that summer’s fires.

Among the paintings assembled were works by John Longstaff, Eugene von Guerard and Tim Storrier. One of the best-known is Longstaff’s Gippsland, Sunday Night, February 20th, 1898, which shows a horseman riding swiftly out of a forest at night with the fire front advancing close behind him.

Australian writers have long striven to give expression to the horror of bushfire, while often acknowledging the subject’s indescribability. In his 1853 poem The Bush Fire, Charles Harpur writes: "Where are the words to paint the million shapes /And unimaginable freaks of Fire, /When holding thus its monster carnival /In the primeval forest all night long?"

A 19th-century writer who described a bushfire from personal experience was Marcus Clarke, who found himself suddenly caught up in a mallee scrub fire, which he tried to help contain in a back-burning operation: "But the fiery cohort came up, roaring in the tops of the trees, and was upon and past us almost before we could feel its heat, leaping our little line without a pause, and flying away into the forest. We had to run for our lives and, escaping danger of crushing branches, blazing bark and sudden whirls of yellow fire, that would play and crackle about us from some sappy fern, fell with singed hair and blinded eyes into the company of our reinforcements."

A sinister metaphor for bushfire was used by English author H.G. Wells, who visited Australia in the late 1930s.

"A bushfire is not an orderly invader, but a guerilla," Wells wrote. "It advances by rushes, by little venomous tongues of fire in the grass; it spreads by sparks burning leaves and bark. Its front is miles deep. It is here, it is there, like a swarm of venomous wasps. It shams dead and stabs you in the back. It encircles you so that there is no sure line of flight of its intended victims. It destroys the bridges in your rear. It bars the road with blazing trees." …

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John Longstaff, “Gippsland, Sunday Night” 1898

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2009 in environment

 

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Poetry Viva — Wollongong 11 October 2008

Yet another email, this one from the South Coast Writers’ Centre.

Poetry Viva

SCWC PROGRAM
11 October 2008

Join our most exciting contemporary poets for an afternoon of challenge and contemplation. Featuring Dorothy Porter, John Tranter, joanne burns, Judith Beveridge, Peter Skrzynecki, Barbara Nicholson, Chris Mansell, Elizabeth Hodgson, Merlinda Bobis and more reading from their work. Call in to Wollongong City Gallery for half an hour or the whole afternoon, and experience these extraordinary Australian writers. A co-production of South Coast Writers Centre and Viva La Gong. Supported by the Australian Poetry Centre.

12noon – 4.30pm, Saturday 11 October, 2008
The Fine Gallery, Level 2, Wollongong City Gallery, corner of Kembla and Burelli Streets Wollongong, NSW 2500

Free Event

More information: Ali Smith tel 02 4228 0151 or email scwc@1earth.net

Bit nostalgic this one for me… Ten years I was down there, some thirty years ago.

HSC students will find it interesting. In her email Ali Smith says: students, teachers, and school librarians are more than welcome to come along and hear these poets read their work. I have highlighted poets Year 12 students/teachers may be especially interested in seeing. Deb Westbury will be there too, apparently.

Guess it’s nice that people are using my blog to publicise things too. 🙂

 

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Radio Australia’s special English sites

Related to the last post here, I have been exploring:

Radio Australia: Learn English

learnenglish

Worth a look.

 

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Fascinating stats

On Jim Belshaw’s Personal Reflections the following appeared this morning, though dated yesterday.

Australia’s Global Ethnic Rankings

We all know that Australia is a country of migrants. A short search of Wikipedia shows that, measured by ancestry, Australia is in global terms:

  • The second largest Irish, Maori and Maltese country.
  • The third largest English country.
  • The fourth largest Scottish country.
  • The fifth largest Greek, Vietnamese and Dutch country.
  • The seventh largest German country.
  • The ninth largest Italian country.
  • The eleventh largest Serbian country.
  • The fifteenth largest Han Chinese country.
  • The sixteenth Turkish country.
  • The seventeenth largest Indian country.

What do we make of all this? Well, it’s just a measure of diversity.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2008 in Australian, blogs, diversity, multiculturalism

 

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13 February 2008

Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of

this land, the oldest continuing

cultures in human history.

 

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australian.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have changed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2008 in Australian

 

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Great resource for Journeys and multicultural education

Last night I watched Who Do You Think You Are? on SBS.

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Go there not just for that one, but for the others in this currently ongoing series.

Naturally, too, I commend Inspiring Teachers which begins on Wednesday 6 February, 2008 at 8pm. 🙂

 

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Multicultural Australia: you’re standing in it!

A small swag of human interest stories in today’s Sun-Herald in the wake of Australia Day say more about the comparative success of Australian multiculturalism — diversity AND cohesion — than a whole peck of moanings and mutterings on talk-back radio or similar venues. Aussie pride? Stories like this give it to me in heaps. May there be more and more of them. Let’s celebrate what we have with open hearts.

The first story is such a great contrast to the brief agony that was Cronulla 05.

haisamfarache

WHEN he’s in the line-up off Sydney’s popular beaches, Haisam Farache is just another surfer waiting for a wave.

But once he’s out of the water he swaps his wetsuit and surfboard for a robe and turban and assumes the role of an imam at Australia’s largest mosque.

“For me it relates to how I am as an Australian and a Muslim,” he said. “When I go to the beach I feel rejuvenated. I feel like a new person and whatever stresses I have in my life are being washed away with the waves.”

The 34-year-old, who began surfing at 11, said his pastime intrigued his students at the Lakemba Mosque. Most laughed, he said, when they discovered he was a surfer, and found it difficult to believe a religious leader had an interest outside teaching Islam.

The Auburn-based lawyer said surfing was also an ice-breaker when he visited schools across the country as part of his work with the Together for Humanity Foundation.

He recalls visiting a school on the northern beaches where many students began calling him a terrorist. Once the children discovered he was a surfer, their opinion changed and they saw him as one of “them”, he said.

The second story told about nine of the 3300+ from 56 countries who pledged their allegiance to the flag in ceremonies across NSW yesterday.

Figures from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship show 95 per cent of the population are Australian citizens. However, there are more than 900,000 permanent residents who are eligible to become Australian citizens.

Of the 27,494 immigrants who arrived in NSW between January 1 and December 1 last year, one out of six was from China, making it one of the largest source of immigrants to the state.

Meanwhile, India has overtaken Britain as our second-biggest source of new citizens, followed by the Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea, Lebanon and Indonesia.

Pakistanis and Iraqis are also among our fastest-growing migrant groups…

Abdulai Jallah knew he had to find a new home after fleeing war-torn Liberia several years ago…

—  Liliana Auwyang adored Australia when she visited as a tourist more than 10 years ago. It was the beautiful scenery and culture that had this 41-year-old from Panania, in south-western Sydney, hooked. So, not long after her return to Jakarta, she began researching how to come back permanently…

Richard Brunskill lived his whole life in central London before settling down-under…

Rania Islam. One of the newest little Australians was born at the Royal Hospital for Women, Randwick, yesterday. Rania Islam arrived at 2.40am, much to the delight of her parents, Sharmin Khan and Rezaul Islam, and her big brother Rayyan Islam, 18 months. “It’s very exciting,” Mr Islam said. “We are very proud.” Ms Khan and Mr Islam moved to Australia six years ago and became citizens last year.

Douglas Snider. IT WAS true love that brought Douglas Snider to Sydney six years ago. His wife Tiate was born and bred in the inner-west suburb of Newtown. Now that he’s here, he wouldn’t swap it for the world. “I love absolutely everything here in Australia,” he says…

— THE first Australian park Ewi Sook Oh visited was dotted with coin-operated barbecues… “I love the Australian environment and way of life. I think it is God’s gift,” Ewi says. “In my home in South Korea there are tall buildings and crowds everywhere. There are not so many people in Sydney but they come from other countries everywhere and I feel it is a good opportunity for me to learn about their traditions and customs.”

Rene Strauss Arias. THE reopening of Sydney’s Hilton Hotel in mid-2005 could hardly have been better timed for 49-year-old Filipino Rene Strauss Arias

— WHEN Anwar Hamam landed in Australia, he was merely chasing an opportunity to further his education… But like many of his fellow new Australians, Anwar settled permanently after meeting his partner here… “What I like about Australia is that it is very safe,” Anwar says. “It also offers me so much in freedoms and opportunities. I can become whoever I want to be here. There seems to be a lot more to do here than just about anywhere else.”

A NATIVE of St Petersburg, Andrei Bobylev first heard about Australia from some friends who had already been, and he became curious.

Then he read the travel diary, Down Under, by best-selling American author Bill Bryson, and decided to follow suit. That was three years ago…

Source: The Sun-Herald

    RELATED

    On assimilation

     
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    Posted by on January 27, 2008 in Australian, equity/welfare, inspiration, multiculturalism

     

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    More on Journeys

    That post on Physical journeys and Peter Skrzynecki’s poems has now had 2,743 individual visits. I thought I would share how I approach teaching this unit, keeping in mind it is not the only approach that would work.

    First, I would have a study of the set poems for their own sake, almost (but not quite) ignoring the “Journey” aspect. Having looked at what they say, how they work, and how well they say it — a rather conventional critical reading of poetry — I would in that process have drawn into discussion much of the context of the poems in Australian migration history, European history, and Peter Skrzynecki’s own background. Then I would raise the question: “Looked at as journeys or documents of journeys what have these poems been offering?”

    Then I would look at the Board of Studies brochure Then I would seek to refine just what “Journey” can mean. After that, I would revisit the poems to tease out the idea of physical journey, practising linking that idea both to the poems and to the Board of Studies material.

    Then I would offer some examples of other texts showing how they might be deployed to support or contrast with the way journey is represented in the poems. I would almost certainly forbid use of these practice examples, encouraging students to find their own. I would ask them — and check this — to start compiling their own portfolio of journey texts, making sure they have a range of text types. I would exhort them to collect often and indeed to collect too much. I would hope they may have as many as twenty possibilities by the time the Trial HSC is approaching. That is not unrealistic — just one every week or two. And it is not hard.

    This is what I say to students:

    So many movies, stories, poems, songs, artworks, and so on, are really about journeys of one kind or another! There is no problem finding material, unless you leave it to the last minute. Each item collected should have basic notes saying what it is, where it came from, what it offers on the idea of “journey” and what poem/s it seems especially to link to. Later the twenty or so items can be sorted and reduced to the six best ones. That gives you plenty of choice when it comes to any exam question, as you will never actually use more than two. However, if you only know one or two you may find yourself working with material that does not quite fit the question.

    There are no silver bullets, no short cuts. If, however, you are now in Term 4 starting this there is no need to panic. It really is not very hard. The less lazy you are about it, too, the easier it becomes!

    What is hard is answering the question relevantly in forty minutes, deploying around five textual discussions to best advantage. Now that really takes serious practice. Use every opportunity for that your teachers give you!

    Very important!

    Do not, I mean do not, try to learn a “perfect” answer off by heart! See How can I improve my essay grades, especially in exams, without learning “model essays” off by heart?

    Note

    Amendment to English Stage 6 Syllabus: Withdrawal of stimulus booklet for HSC 2008.

     
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    Posted by on November 7, 2007 in English studies, HSC, questions asked, student help

     

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    Accent on otherness

    Yes, this is an excellent supplementary text for NSW HSC “Journeys” [or “Belonging”] but it is more than that: Pauline Webber in The Weekend Australian (September 29, 2007).

    THE point at which cultures and ethnicities intersect is fertile ground for the creative arts. Such hybridity has been a riff running through the history of international cinema from the moment Hollywood opened its arms to European Jews fleeing the Nazi onslaught. Globalisation and the convoluted patterns of migration shaping the post-war world have provided film industries everywhere with periodic injections of freshness and originality. Films are made by North Africans in France, Asians in the US, Armenians and Iranians in Canada, Indians and Pakistanis in Britain.

    A surprisingly large number of Australian filmmakers are from migrant backgrounds. Just taking a selection from those who have a significant body of work makes a long list: Rolf de Heer, Ana Kokkinos, Tony Ayres, Paul Cox, Alex Proyas, Ray Lawrence, Khoa Do, Clara Law, Nadia Tass, Kriv Stenders, Tom Zubrycki, George Miller and many more…

    Excellent overview leading to this conclusion: “Each speaks as one of us but with an accent that puts the emphasis in surprising places. Our cinema can only be the richer for the inclusion of such voices.”

     

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