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Teachers forced to equip schools at own expense as austerity bites West Bank

January 24, 2015

Teachers forced to equip schools at own expense as austerity bites West Bank.

23 January 2015

Budgets are so tight that many Palestinian Authority schools cannot afford paper and pencils. Hard-pressed teachers must spend their own stagnating wages on supplies.

Ghadeer Rabi cannot remember a time during her five-year career as a high school teacher that her salary was enough to support her family. Without her husband’s income, the thirty-year-old says she would not be able to survive.

Rabi’s monthly paychecks are inconsistent, often coming as partial payments or none at all. The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority “keeps promising us a lot, like raises, but we haven’t seen anything,” she told The Electronic Intifada.

Rabi’s situation is not unique: the PA and public servants in the occupied West Bank have been at loggerheads for years.

These problems show no sign of letting up, especially since Israel began withholding taxes it is supposed to transfer to the PA as part of the Oslo accords.

Israel is withholding $127 million worth of tax funds and customs duties on goods that pass through present-day Israel before being exported, as reported by Al Jazeera English earlier this month. The Israeli move has been taken in retaliation for the PA’s decision to join the International Criminal Court.

Withholding Palestinian tax transfers, which Israel has done as a punitive measure many times in the past, intensifies the already difficult economic situation for public and civil servants, among them teachers. In response to Israel’s withholding of tax money, Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, said that “Western governments should refuse to follow suit [by imposing] their own sanctions” on the PA.

Wages stagnate

Living with her husband and infant daughter in Ramallah, Rabi teaches at the local Deir Jarir Girls High School and Mughtarabe Elementary School in the neighboring area of al-Bireh. The schools’ classrooms — which are overcrowded with upwards of forty students each period — lack heating, air-conditioning and most basic supplies.

Due to severe budgetary limitations, the twenty-eight teachers at Deir Jarir are often made to foot the bill for their own supplies, though more than 600 students attend the school. “We don’t even bother asking for additional supplies at this point,” said Rabi. “We know what the response will be.”

Aside from a one-time hourly wage increase of twenty shekels ($6) for the cost of living, “I have worked for five years and haven’t received a single raise,” Rabi said.

While the PA formally bans teachers from working a second job, Rabi said that most are forced to work elsewhere part-time.

Nidal Afafneh, a fourth-year English teacher at Anata Primary School in the West Bank, is one of those searching for a second job to supplement his income. “Some of my colleagues have even taken third jobs,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “This isn’t allowed, but they have to feed their kids.”

Afafneh, 26, said that teachers are demanding their basic rights, such as the school providing paper, pencils, and an annual salary increase to reflect the soaring cost of living, particularly in the Ramallah area. “Sometimes we don’t have electricity or water in our school for days at a time,” he added.

Israel’s harsh restrictions translate into stagnation for the Palestinian economy. In 2013, the World Bank estimated that Israeli control of the West Bank costs Palestinians some $3.4 billion each year. These restrictions have also created a dependency on foreign aid.

PA “dependent and fragile”

But critics also accuse the PA of rampant corruption. The lack of accountability within public institutions has led to widespread “embezzlement, money laundering, fraud, and exploitation of position for personal gain,” states a 2012 report by the Coalition for Integrity and Accountability, a Ramallah-based anti-corruption watchdog. “Those involved in these crimes were high-level employees, such as heads of government divisions, who were conspiring with lower and intermediate level employees.”

Alaa Tartir, program director of Al-Shabaka, a group that monitors Palestinian social and economic policies, explained that the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization “created an inherently dependent and fragile Palestinian ‘authority.’”

After years of building up its public sector, the PA today has around 150,000 public servants, Tartir told The Electronic Intifada. “When Israel decides to withhold Palestinian taxes or when the PA passes through a financial crisis — which is recurrent — those monthly salaries get majorly delayed or paid in installments over months,” he said.

“When Israel withholds taxes it does indeed commit another form of ‘collective punishment’ because it does not only punish the civil servants but also their families [and] we are talking about hundreds of thousands of people that are affected,” Tartir continued.

Yet, the PA’s neoliberal economic policies have only worsened the situation. A Western-backed agenda “entrenched the structural deficiencies in the Palestinian economy and created further distortion,” said Tartir. “It increased inequalities, poverty and unemployment. It created a status of individual wealth for some but national poverty for all.”

Harming the poor

The PA “created a capitalist class that are benefiting from the status quo and arguably from the mere existence of the occupation,” he noted, adding that “entrenching the neoliberal policies will only help Israel’s occupation directly and indirectly through adding another layer of repression that particularly harm the poor and [hinders] their process of liberation.”

As the costs of housing, food and utilities continue to increase, the Palestinian economy remains largely stagnant. According to a World Bank report published in September 2014, unemployment in the West Bank sat at 16 percent during the first quarter of that year.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, an estimated 23.1 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza worked in the public sector during 2013. Of those, 16.4 percent were in the West Bank.

In addition to the punitive measures taken by the Israeli authorities, the constant disputes between the PA and teachers have resulted in several strikes over the last five years. Most of the more than one million students across the West Bank are affected, creating a difficult learning environment.

Citing the fall 2013 semester as an example, Ghadeer Rabi, the teacher, explained that there were several strikes, “making the actual class time very thin.”

“Strikes have made it a very difficult learning environment. Teachers go through the lessons really fast to catch up with what they miss,” she said. “And students aren’t motivated to be in class.”

Patrick O. Strickland is an independent journalist and frequent contributor to The Electronic Intifada. His website is Follow him on Twitter: @P_Strickland_.

Brains are bodies: Brain research and understanding brain function and the brain itself.

January 2, 2015

There can be no doubting the importance of brain research and the understanding we have of brain function and the nature of the brain itself. What is worth noting though is that the research support what many have argued for years and decades about the importance of social equity and distribution of wealth and services to human happiness and its correlation to wellbeing. What is most disconcerting is the refusal by successive governments to seriously address the issues with policies that acknowledge the research. Far from it in fact the emphasis on relying on market forces to address concerns of equity have been proven to be failing.

Dr Mustard and Professor Stanley argue the importance of “investing in early childhood development if we want to encourage a healthier, fitter population, and provide opportunities for children to achieve their potential”. As with Cuba’s example, the central aspect for improving outcomes is caring, responsive communities; only then can we provide safety, quality care, and schools that genuinely support families. Professor Stanley speaks of “causal pathways” which are a set of factors that interact over time to create an outcome. If we wish to see responsible communities and “resilient” adults then we need to provide the circumstances that allow for the development of responsible, thoughtful and resilient children.

 Dr Fiona Stanley in 2003 outlined some key critical issues that policy makers have yet to seriously address. As she has stated in other interviews one has to wonder what the point of research is if we fail to act on it.

The questions she asked seven years ago are these;

  • Are outcomes for children and youth improving in Australia? As so many outcomes are related to social disadvantage, surely as economic prosperity and living conditions improved, so have the health, educational, behavioural and general status of our children?
  • Is there any evidence more recently of a levelling of social gradients, that is fewer differences between the ‘haves’ and the ‘haves not’?       Are all in society winners from the dramatic economic and social changes in our society?
  • What has been the impact of services? (Mostly focussed on treatments not preventions).
  • Why have so many of the problems in children and youth not improved? Are there some common explanations?
  • What do we know about the causes and possible prevention of them?
  • What should Australia do?

Professor Stanley argues that a multidisciplinary approach is required if we are to address in any systematic way these pressing social issues. We know that the problems that will impact negatively on children, family and society begin in the womb; in reality they begin before then if we consider the circumstances of the women and men who will become parents.

An outstanding and obvious example is the issue of insufficient and inadequate housing and related homelessness. We know that instability and relocation is extremely stressful on children especially, and of course for the adults. We know about stress response and that the detrimental effects can be overcome when there is stability and consistency within caring environments which in turn improve children’s learning and wellbeing. We can easily assume that this issue alone will have to be resolved before serious in roads can be made to addressing the concerns raised by Professor Stanley.

The current debate on Health Reform is a case in point, so little of what is being proposed has to do with prevention of illness and providing social solutions. The head of the Queanbeyan Hospital suggested to PM Rudd that he should look to Cuba’s example for solutions, as did Dr Mustard who lived and worked in South Australia as Thinker in Residence in 2006 and 2007. He asked the question, why is Cuba leading the world in Early Childhood development?

As much as it may upset some people on ideological grounds, an important part of the answer is that Cuba leads the world in the practice of socialised medicine and care. Health and wellbeing are community concerns; they are not commodities to be used for the social advancement of a few. There are many other examples but another is bound up with the question of diet. Cuba went through an oil shock and import crisis when the former Soviet Union collapsed. Since the 1970s Australian permaculturalists have been assisting in improving food production and the Cuban diet which has been high in meat and carbohydrates and low in fibres. Today up to 70% of Cuba’s domestic food production occurs in urban areas. That a society was able to respond to a crisis of this proportion is due to the way fundamental social values and needs were redefined after the social and economic revolution of 1959. Cuba for this reason has been regarded as the Jewel of Central America in relation to social wellbeing ad literacy.

Thinking about what is necessary here today in this country and what should and needs to be done makes all the rhetoric of an education revolution ring very hollow. We should remind ourselves that governments do little to change anything fundamentally. Profound and lasting changes in the early childhood and education have been the consequence of the combined forces of thorough research and enlightened practitioners and educators.

As educators and practitioners we must pay attention to the current research about brain development. One aspect that does concern me is that we could be in danger of losing site of the person. While it is important to appreciate brain development and pedagogy that enhances this development, especially so for those who are living in conditions that mitigate against providing an enriched learning environment whether it be informal or formal. As we strive for informed data as evidence it would be an error to end up where we have in the compulsory sector. Schools in the public system are narrowing the curriculum, losing sight of the whole child. I have heard it said even, that we need big schools so that the data is reliable!

Dr Mustard and Professor Stanley argue the importance of “investing in early childhood development if we want to encourage a healthier, fitter population, and provide opportunities for children to achieve their potential”. As with Cuba’s example, the central aspect for improving outcomes is caring, responsive communities; only then can we provide safety, quality care, and schools that genuinely support families. Professor Stanley speaks of “causal pathways” which are a set of factors that interact over time to create an outcome. If we wish to see responsible communities and “resilient” adults then we need to provide the circumstances that allow for the development of responsible, thoughtful and resilient children.

(Fiona Stanley AC

  • Founding Director and Patron
  • Distinguished Research Professor, The University of Western Australia
  • Vice Chancellor’s Fellow, and Director – 2013 Festival of Ideas, The University of Melbourne
  • Australian of the Year 2003
  • Established the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth in 2002
  • UNICEF Australia Ambassador for Early Childhood Development
  • The Fiona Stanley Hospital named in her honour)

(Dr Mustard is involved with governments in Canada and Australia, with the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, UNICEF and the Aga Khan University In Pakistan.  He also leads The Founders Network, a virtual research organisation that proposes practical solutions to the complex problems facing society and seeks to put research findings and ideas into action in communities worldwide. Dr Mustard has received numerous awards for his work including the Companion of the Order of Canada. Most recently he was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

See more at:

It shouldn’t be difficult to find more money for less privileged schools by Denise Ryan

January 2, 2015

This article outlines the myriad concerns of thousands of teachers and school leaders when it comes to funding schools and programs. We know the bulk of money and resources go to the wealthiest schools and families: Inequality looms large and we are far to tolerant. Many of us are only to well aware of the complete disregard the most privileged in our society have for those most in need. 

‘Other people’s children also deserve an education’ February 9, 2010, Denise Ryan is an senior education writer for The Age a daily newspaper in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Teacher Brendan Murray made a public plea last November for someone to donate a portable classroom so that he could help high school drop-outs wanting to study at an alternative school program he and a small team of teachers and social workers have been running in Heidelberg West. Asked last week if any school had responded to his request to help teenagers in one of the most disadvantaged areas of Melbourne, he looked downcast. ”No,” he replied.

That seems extraordinary. Schools have never had it so good. Millions of dollars are flowing to state and independent primary and secondary schools. Yet not one school offered to help or to donate one of its old portables. No doubt they will end up in a paddock in Kyneton or one of the other graveyards for old school buildings. Murray has run the Pavilion school program for three years from rundown changing rooms in the former Olympic village. More than 80 young people who were previously not working or studying turn up on a rotational basis to a venue that can only comfortably cater for 12. The teenagers share toilets with cricket players who use the adjacent room.

The Education Department saw fit to award Murray its outstanding secondary teacher award for 2009, yet it failed to find his program suitable premises for three years. The federal government also knew about the program, awarding it a Closing the Gap award for its work with indigenous students. Following recent publicity about the Pavilion’s plight, the Education Department offered it rooms in the former Preston East Primary School. This is a wonderful outcome. But it is only a start. Another program for disadvantaged teenagers that urgently needs help is ‘Hands On Learning’. High schools have to run this program outside their budget, and this year schools such as Mornington Secondary College and Monterey Secondary College can’t afford it.

Mornington Secondary principal Sarah Burns says her most challenging students are devastated that this ”absolutely brilliant” program, where tradesmen and specialist teachers worked with them on practical building projects, can no longer run. She is not sure how she can prevent them from dropping out of school this year. More alternative school programs are needed to offer education to the 13 per cent of people aged 15 to 20 who are not studying or working. In its 2008 report, the Foundation for Young Australians calculated that 200,000 people fit this category. It’s not hard to find them. These are the young people you see hanging around Melbourne’s shopping centres and stations, bored and often getting into trouble.

There seems to be a disconnect, where the link between these disaffected young people and crime is not recognised. Sure, more police might help, but what about dealing with the underlying problem of hundreds of young people who would love a chance to rebuild their lives and learn, even if their literacy levels are low and they may first have to deal with problems such as substance abuse? At a time when the education system is flush with money, it seems timely to suggest that parent groups and staff in every school that received funding should sit down and work out how to help less fortunate schools.

A friend told me recently about the reaction when she suggested at a Parent Teacher Association meeting at her child’s state primary school that it might use some of the $90,000 raised in the school fete to help a disadvantaged school – she was met with an uncomfortable silence. When she raised it again at the next meeting, she was firmly asked to drop the issue. I hear that school has just bought a baby grand piano. Those who work with troubled teenagers see it so clearly: To have a safe society, everyone must look out for the most needy. You can’t protect your own children when there are other children on the street desperate for help.

Education ‘reform’ another wrong diagnosis: union protectionism and the conventional wisdom

January 2, 2015

 I found this article in Washington Post, 12-17-09 but I omitted to save the authors name so my apologies to that person. It remains pertinent in 2015 especially here in Australia as our politicians and bureaucrats are hellbent on following one bad example after another in the name of ‘reform’. I think the article represents the opinion of many good and committed teachers. I am a committed teacher union activist however my criticisms of our unions are similar to those of the author.

The standards and accountability fad is an intellect-gutting, society-destroying myth

“Good teachers are the key to good schools. A major obstacle to staffing America’s school with good teachers is union protectionism.” So goes the conventional wisdom. I’m no fan of education unions. I fault them for not taking the lead in education reform, for misplaced priorities, and for a willingness to support bad legislation just to keep a seat at the federal education reform table. I was hammering union leadership on those issues decades before I could do it with the click of a mouse. That said, when it comes to education reform, teacher unions get an undeserved bad rap. No way are they the major obstacle to school improvement. Mark that problem up to institutional inertia, innovation-stifling bureaucracy, and misguided state and federal policy. Trace union bad press back to its origins and it’s clear that much of it comes from ideologues and organizations less interested in improving education than in destroying union political clout and privatizing public schools.

No, the main opposition to the education reform effort set in motion about twenty years ago by corporate heads and Congress isn’t coming from go-along-to-get-along unions. The sustained and blistering attacks come from professional educators like Alfie Kohn, Susan Ohanian, Stephen Krashen, Ken and Yetta Goodman, and dozens of others I could name. And me. Retired or otherwise independent, we can say what we think without fear of retribution or being accused of being self-serving. Most importantly, unlike the architects of No Child Left Behind and its gestating offspring, the Race to the Top, we’ve spent thousands of hours in real classrooms working directly with real students.

What do we think about Washington-dictated education reforms? We think they’re sufficiently abusive, counterproductive, and downright stupid to warrant a massive class action suit by parents and grandparents against those responsible. What explains the radically different views of experienced teachers and the suits in corporate suites and Congress who’re now running the education show? A sign that hung in Albert Einstein’s Princeton University office sums it up: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Data-enamoured, spreadsheet-studying, educationally clueless policymakers think Einstein was wrong. What is it, exactly, that can’t be counted? Most people think babies are born with minds like blank paper. Parents, teachers, and others, “write” on that paper, filling it with advice, information, explanations, and interpretations. Schools organize and compress the process with textbooks and teacher talk, and tests check how much kids can remember long enough to pencil in the “right” oval on a standardized test. It’s that simple. Except it isn’t. Not even close. Kids’ minds are never, ever, like blank pages. To matters they consider important, they attach explanatory theories. When a teacher or other explainer dumps information on them that doesn’t match their theories, they reject it. They may play the school game-may store the explainer’s theory in short-term memory until the test is over and the pressure is off-but rarely do they adopt it.

Kids don’t change their theories because doing so would be too traumatic. Their beliefs-about themselves, about others, about how the world works-are their most valued possessions (just as they are for the rest of us). Their theories are “who they are.” Casually exchanging them for someone else’s ideas would undermine their identities, their individuality, their confidence in their ability to make sense of experience. I learned the hard way-from thousands of adolescents-that I couldn’t teach them anything important. All I could do was try to get them to think about a particular matter, then ask them a question or give them something to do that their theories couldn’t handle and let them struggle to work it out. Changing their minds had to be their doing, not mine. Bottom line: It’s impossible to count how much kids really know. Period. Standardized tests are an appalling, monumental waste of time, money, and brains. Especially brains.

To the “standards and accountability” cheerleaders-the Business Roundtable, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Governors Association, the US Department of Education, newspaper editorial boards, syndicated columnists, and so on-the complex, counterintuitive, kid-controlled, impossible-to-measure learning process I’m describing is alien. But that process lies at the very heart of teaching and learning. Trying to shield it from destruction is why older, experienced teachers are the most vocal, determined opponents of the present reform fiasco. They know the “blank paper,” count-the-right-answers theory propelling the standards and accountability fad is an intellect-gutting, society-destroying myth. And they know that adopting national standards and tests will lock that myth in place far, far into the future.

Australia in America’s Third Iraq War by Richard Tanter

December 31, 2014

Little more than two months after the start of bombing operations, Australia’s new war in Iraq is following the path of its predecessor, a path marked by Australian subordination to American interests, irrelevance to Australian national interests, casual disregard for Iraqi sovereignty and law, increasingly severe restriction of information provided to the Australian public, and an inclination to escalation.

Just as it is America’s, this is Australia’s third war with Iraq in less than 25 years – following on from the Gulf War following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990-1991, and the illegal and destructive invasion and occupation of Iraq between 2003 and 2008. Australia’s 600-strong deployment to Iraq this time is as large as Canada’s, and is exceeded only by the deployments by the United States and Britain.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott welcomed the war with apocalyptic religious imagery, describing the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham as a ‘death cult’ which ‘exults in evil’.1 The real character of the Australian decision to deploy special forces troops and aircraft to the Middle East for the latest phase of the United States Iraq War is best deduced from the Australian Defence Department’s website on the deployment. The last paragraph of thedepartment’s imaginatively uninformative Operation Okra web page advises readers that ‘further information about the international effort to combat the ISIL terrorist threat in Iraq can be found at the U.S. Department of Defense website.’2

In compliance with the mantra of alliance integration, distribution of news about all significant decisions about Australia’s war in Iraq have been handed over to the United States. The incoherence of US strategic policy, together with the inherent military escalation logic of the Iraq-Syria intervention, and the collapse within Australian politics of the capacity to question presumptions of automatic alignment of Australian and US interests, all collude to guarantee outcomes worse than failure.

According to one of the U.S. State Department’s more bizarre statements, Australia is amongst 60 countries that have joined the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL – demonstrating ‘the global and unified nature of this endeavor’.3 Like the Bush-era ‘Coalition of the Willing’, this is a peculiar multilateral structure. Like all of America’s post-Cold War ‘coalitions’ this multilateral formation includes core and peripheral members, with most countries present in name only, and a much smaller number making a visible military contribution. Amongst these, Australia is one of about 15 countries from outside the region collaborating with the United States in the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq precipitated by the summer advances made by the Islamic State insurgency.4

As of the end of November, the United States had carried out 819 air strikes against targets in Iraq, and another 10 countries had carried out 157 strikes.5 The actual number of militarily active countries in the grandly named Global Coalition is unclear, partly because certain Middle Eastern allies of the U.S. prefer that their participation be less than visible to their citizens. Saudi Arabian, United Arab Emirates and Jordanian air force aircraft participated in at least a small number of bombing operations against Syrian targets in late October.6 However, there are no reports of subsequent operations by regional countries, with very few details of those that are known to have taken place.

…. ( A lengthy article worth reading, concludes)
Members of the Special Operations Task Group, advisors and trainers or whatever they may be labelled, are certain to find themselves in combat at some point, and with a high risk of non-combatant Iraqi casualties. Use of diplomatic passports to protect ADF soldiers from Iraqi legal jurisdiction at such points – or from antagonism by those immediately affected – or from the wider Iraqi public, is likely to be politically ineffective and counter-productive.

Indeed the whole approach to the legal basis on which the ADF has been deployed to Iraq, like so much of the American-led war itself is fundamentally counter-productive, and shows a large measure of disregard, if not contempt, for both Iraqi sovereignty and for the right of Australians to know the basis on which our forces are fighting in foreign wars. 15 December 2014

Read the full article here

The origins of our Present: The struggle for the care of children within the family and society

December 29, 2014

The struggle for the care of children both within the family and society continues and changes. In this country, Australia, the treatment of children has gone through a number of major identifiable shifts. Initially the formal care and education of very young children, now commonly accepted as the early years, was the privilege only of the very rich. In many respects working class children were regarded as either not worthy, or incapable of being educated. So dire was the situation for the working class that they were reduced to being recipients of charity and volunteers’s good intentions. Aboriginal child rearing has its own special complexities over and above the settler population, their generalised dehumanisation and conditions of slavery still resound with paternalistic attitudes.

Conditions of life in “the 1920s and 1930s saw intense debate about the health and welfare of mothers and children…fuelled by a variety of concerns ranging from fears of ‘race suicide’ to humanitarian concern for the plight of the poor.” (Brennan 1994) Government intervention was effectively non-existent but by the late 1930s the extremely impoverished and unhealthy conditions of overcrowded working class life could not be ignored and were especially compounded by the effects of the First World War and the economic depression.

Consequently many women were left without a breadwinner and were forced into wage slavery themselves, while also suffering indignities at the hands of religious bigots, and the paternalistic class prejudices of the well-to-do philanthropists. Care of children and their mothers were the priority both from social and physical disease. Education as we understand it was not a concern in these circumstances, “During the depression…kindergartens added a ‘meal and sleep’ program…to ensure that children had at least one good meal and a rest each day. … relatively few children attended…the scale of the problem was vast. (Brennan 1994, p35)

While class issues continue to dominate our working and home lives, the inclusion of our concerns in the public discourse is glaringly absent. Perhaps, like the aboriginal and Torres Straight islanders, we are only included when there is a social crisis of a kind that even the most racist political leaders can no longer ignore it, as was the case of the Howard led Coalition Government which initiated the Northern territory intervention into aboriginal affairs. In this regard both ALP leaders of recent time have not only failed to speak to any of our most pressing concerns, they have actively assisted the most powerful people and corporations to disorganise and oppress our attempts to organise the working class.

Citizenship is not only a problematic concept for children, but it is an empty one for the majority, the working class. While Millei and Imre (2009) are thought provoking and raise any number of concerns around the problem of defining what citizenship may mean for children, and so therefore, definitions of a child and children, they too omit our everyday reality. While they confine themselves to the conceptual use of the term in policy documents, they beg the question, for whom, and by who, are policy written? Suffice to say that the word ‘children’ could be substituted with ’adult’, the issues remain, and are the same. Teachers who choose to be disempowered cannot empower the powerless.

Under the Fair Work Act (Workchoices) we do not have rights at work, the right to strike, the right to make our workplaces our places, therefore considering the idea of citizenship as a social and democratic element of the ‘good life’ is rendered especially meaningless. Policy is meaningless unless it is enacted. In regards to education policy, curriculum, and citizenship, it is correct to say it being misrepresented and undermined by the politicians and their departmental, and academic quislings. Rather it is quantitative data gathering, NAPLAN tests, and a generalised distrust of teachers that dominates the discourse – in effect the lowest common denominator prevails. The terms of ‘empowerment’, ‘citizenship’, and ‘rights’, the ‘rhetorical vision’ in social and educational policy will remain a chimera for the majority of us unless we organise and propose alternatives rather than merely continue react to the bourgeoisie’s corporate agendas. .


Brennan, D. (1994) The politics of Australian Childcare; From Philanthropy to Feminism, Cambridge University Press, p.33

Millei, Z. and Imre, R. (2009) The Problems with Using the Concept of ‘Citizenship’ in Early Years Policy, Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, Vol. 10(3)


Food, glorious food! Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Gardens

December 28, 2014


Reflection on my years teaching and learning through cooking and gardening in primary schools. I am currently a preschool teacher at Namadgi School (Australian Capital Territory). I also run the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program for Years Three, Four and Five.

Food, glorious food!

Running the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden at Namadgi School will probably be my teaching career highlight. Rarely does school-based learning involve doing. That is, physical activity and applying knowledge in any practical sense. Both of which, in my experience, are increasingly, and sadly, absent from primary-school activities. Cooking and gardening heighten and refine all our sensory perceptions, and the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation’s approach emphasises engagement through such sensory experiences. Actively engaging children in this way is a counter to the idea that our attitudes, and our experiences of food and eating can change by learning with pen and paper alone. It is importantly an antidote to the myopia infecting all of us who must contend with the narrow mindedness of NAPLAN and all the other coinciding efforts to corporatise and standardise life. I have long believed that if we are serious about meeting the diverse needs of our children, an entire curriculum, of real significance and rigour, could be built around the activities of growing and cooking food. Food, without exception is essential to all of us.

At every school where I have taught I have established some kind of a garden for children to be involved with. The purpose has been to make tangible the connections between literacy, maths, science and art. Witnessing the enthusiasm of enough young people told me that those projects were but a glimpse of what may be possible. Success, however, would not be the right word to describe my efforts. Generally, a significant handicap has been the principals’ unenviable preoccupation with the limits of school budgets, or perhaps the department’s latest pedagogical turn. Serious consideration of gardening and cooking providing for good learning did not ever get very far. So it is with a real sense of elation that my school’s leadership has embraced the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden project, and given me the opportunity to develop it.

Stephanie Alexander herself is best known in metro Melbourne as one of the eminent ‘foodies’ and has been owner and chef of that city’s finest restaurants. Ten years ago, however, her concerns about our society’s abuse of food, and the sensory harm it was inflicting on children and families, saw her create what has become the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation. I knew about Stephanie from my years as a cook in the industry, but it was later, as a teacher, that I observed the development of her ambition to see children involved in the growing, cooking, and the sharing of their delights at the table. It is an impressive achievement. I can only recommend that any teacher who wishes to undertake any kind of cooking and garden program in their school to give this program top-most consideration. Gardening and cooking experiences and activities from over four hundred schools have been synthesised to produce excellent set-up support, and curriculum materials that will assist teachers integrate literacy, maths, science and art. ICT curriculum demands are also met, by a website designed to upload and document activities and recipes which can then be shared with other participating schools.

It is an age of paradox when the media becomes social; food, like porn is everywhere; and good cooking are competitions defined by TV advertisers. Many of us share Stephanie’s concerns one way or another, the discouragement of sensory refinement, our knowledge of nature, and the decline of conviviality. The pressures families face distorts our lives. Global food markets and corporate retailing leave us malnourished irrespective of our social class. Be it a life-style of over-indulging on the finest of everything, or alternatively, attempting to live on kitten fried Kentucky style, both are the consequence of corporate capitalists’ cultivating ignorance. Consciously engaging children and teachers in the sharing of knowledge about how, when, and why things grow, and cooking and eating together is what enriches us, and protects the world surrounding us.

We care about the things we love. Why then, even before our children can enjoy the natural world, do we emphasis everything that threatens it? So too it is with the food we eat. A pie in a classroom is more likely to be a healthy eating chart rather than a culinary and sensory delight that the children have made. The suggestion seems to be that our children’s ignorance will be remedied by a moralising that engenders species-loathing fear. In turn that approach denies the possibility of learning from hands-on effort and the pleasures that brings. Classroom culture tends to deny the importance of sensory experiences and the development of our capacities to think and talk about them. Rather, the argument seems to go, that to do so is not serious learning. Really? Conversely, I would argue, we do not take ourselves seriously enough.


December 28, 2014

A letter sent to the Canberra Times (Australian Capital Territory, Australia) in response to the Education Minister’s call to ‘crackdown’ on vending machines in schools.

Fat lot of good it’ll do

August 29, 2014

Vending machines and school canteens in public schools are once again the easy target in the ”war” on obesity (”Crackdown on school junk food: vending machines may go”, August 25, p3).

I do not know how many vending machines are left in schools but it cannot be so many as to be a significant contributor to the high sugar diets that too many people subject themselves to. The school canteen is another issue. They are expensive to run and there is a slim profit margin. The commercial imperative pushes canteen contractors down the junk food path. It would be a mistake to think that either of these is a significant causal contributor to the mal-nutrition that plagues Western diets. In fact it could be argued that it is obfuscation and avoidance of more significant issues.

The problem begins in the profit-driven corporate food manufacture and distribution, and the general anti-social character of our working lives.

Lunchboxes that come from home are loaded with disturbing amounts of high sugar and salt items. Chocolates and chips were once occasional treats but they have now become a lunchbox staple. Time-poor parents are attracted to these substitutes for good food because they are generally dressed up to appear healthy and are packaged to fit in a lunchbox.

If the Territory government were serious about addressing obesity and diet amongst our most vulnerable people, children, then it would need to initiate a campaign against all advertising of high sugar and salt ”food” in much the same way that tobacco has been dealt with. In the long run it will be only radical social change in the conduct of our daily lives and the manner of food production that can begin to address these multiple concerns.

American influence? By Rodrigo Acuña 15 July 2009

July 24, 2009

American influence?
By Rodrigo Acuña
15 July 2009
Last week’s military coup in Honduras highlights the limits of democracy in Latin America.
The coup’s leaders complained that the country’s president, Jose Manuel Zelaya, was attempting to extend his presidency with a referendum on the constitution which if passed, would have facilitated his potential re-election.
Much of the mainstream media have repeated this view but it is simply false.

As Latin American experts Pablo Navarrete and Victor Figueroa-Clark recently pointed out in the New Statesman, the referendum, which was “non-binding”, even if won by Zelaya, would have only paved the way for another vote that would have taken place after Zelaya stepped down from office in January 2010.

The current Honduran constitution was written in the early 1980s, during Ronald Reagan’s presidency and shortly after 16 years of military dictatorships. Like other constitutions in Latin America, which were created during or briefly after the generals stepped down, Honduran’s has countless restrictions, loop holes and flaws. The same could be said about the country’s other institutions.
Commenting on the Central American state, Greg Grandin – professor of history at New York University – recently said:

“The Honduran military is effectively a subsidiary of the United States government. Honduras, as a whole, if any Latin American country is fully owned by the United States, it’s Honduras. Its economy is wholly based on trade, foreign aid and remittances.”

During the 1980s, with heavy backing from the Reagan administration, Honduras was used as a permanent base for the right-wing Contras against the Nicaraguan Sandinistas. Currently, the country hosts one of the largest US military bases in Central America and receives $US 1.4 million per year in education and exchange programs.
It is precisely because of the nature of the relationship between the United States and Honduras that the role of the Obama administration in recent developments needs to be scrutinized. Did Washington give the Honduran military the green light to remove Zelaya? While for now that question cannot be answered in full, we do know the following.

Both the head of the Honduran military, General Romero Vasquez and airforce General Luis Suazo, who led the coup against Zelaya, are graduates of the notorious US School of the Americas (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), where key Latin American dictators and tortures during the Cold War were trained.
According to lawyer Eva Golinger, who has been crucial in uncovering Washington’s role in the 2002 coup in Venezuela, the US has been providing up to $US 50 million to organisations in Honduras which look favourably on US interests.
In a recent report in the Washington Post on June 29, it was claimed US diplomats had been negotiating privately to stop the coup. An official quoted in the paper said events had “been brewing a long time”.
Also, while after some hesitation, US President Barack Obama did call events in Honduras an illegal coup, the British newsagency Reuters reported that “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the administration was not formally designating the ouster as a military coup for now, a step that would force a cut-off of most US aid to Honduras”.

For those familiar with US-Latin American relations, the above pattern is all too common: a coup takes place against a leader not adhering to Washington’s interest, the US at the time denies involvement and then 20 years later archival evidence confirms the White House did in fact support a military take over.
Zelaya’s own political trajectory fits the scrip neatly.
Elected to the presidency in 2005 on a conservative law and order ticket, once in office Zelaya soon moved to the political left.
Criticising the practises of local and international business, he increased the minimum wage by 60 per cent. Justifying his actions, Zelaya claimed he had the support of the country’s unions and that his decision would “force the business oligarchy to start paying what is fair”.

On other fronts, the president increased teachers’ wages and invited Cuban doctors into the slums. In a country where 70 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, Zelaya’s actions did not go unnoticed by most Hondurans.
Then he crossed another boundary. The president travelled to Cuba and Venezuela and signed Honduras to the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) – a fair trade agreement between nine Latin American countries which stands in sharp contrast to free market doctrines.

In late 2008, it was reported that Zelaya sent Obama a personal letter harshly criticising Washington’s history of “interventionism” in the region, and demanded a new approach to fighting the drug trade.
Earlier this year, at the Fifth Summit of the Americas, the ALBA countries declined to sign the final statement of the conference which was heavily promoted by the Obama administration. It claimed the declaration did not “respond to the global economic crisis” and “unjustly excludes Cuba, without mentioning the general regional consensus that condemns the embargo”.
As numerous experts on Latin America are aware, the region is now clearly divided between those which want to remake the status quo (ie the ALBA camp through agreements such as a regional currency), and those which want to reposition it – eg Brazil or Chile.

While the Obama administration may make all the appropriate diplomatic statements about the coup in Honduras, it is doubtful it is really lamenting the removal of Zelaya.
In past Unleashed articles I have argued that the US has not taken kindly to the ALBA alliance, or any country which has joined the Venezuela-Cuba alliance.
Whatever one may think of these countries, they are pushing for a regional alliance which questions US hegemony in the region.
Organisations like the Union of South American Countries (UNASUR) and the Bank of the South stand in direct contrast to the aims of the US-led Organsiation of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Bank in the way they do business.
Also, various countries (again led by the Venezuela alliance) have been moving to have US military bases removed from their countries.
Honduras may have eventually moved in that direction and this is why Washington is not pushing for sanctions on the new military government.

Even if Zelaya did not move in that direction, the fact that he joined the Venezuela-Cuba alliance was enough to upset the local political right and again, the United States and its pro-free market organisations.
Back in Honduras, developments still look bleak despite recent talks in Costa Rica to end the crisis. Zelaya’s attempt last week to return home failed after his aeroplane was denied entry into Tegucigalpa’s main airport. Awaiting supporters were gunned down by police in front of the international press.
Throughout the country, military repression has cost the lives of several of the Zelaya’s supporters. Dozens others have been arrested and beaten after protesting against the coup. A media black out has occurred with Amnesty International reporting that:
“Many broadcasters appear to have closed for fear for their safety. Others, such as
Canal 36, have been closed by the security forces and members of the military are
reported to be patrolling their premises.”

Despite almost universal condemnation, the new Micheletti regime is confident it will hang on to power claiming credits from the US and the European Union will continue to flow into the country.
And with a US-trained military, Honduran ‘democracy’ should be more than safe.

SAVING AUSSIE BOOKS from the economic and political agenda of big business corporations.

July 19, 2009

To all those who care about our home and a culture
of ‘A Fair-go’ and ‘Participatory Democracy’.

SAVING AUSSIE BOOKS from the economic and political agenda of big business corporations. This corporate campaign to do in Australian authors and small independent publishers and bookshops is being ably run and organised by the giant corporations’ quislings.
One vocal example of this species is the ex-ALP Premier of NSW, Bob Carr; he is on the board of Dymocks Books. Despite his many years as a member of the ‘political class’ he thinks crossing the floor means a move to the Macquarie Bank.
Are we prepared to let Coles and K-Mart monopo-lies the economic, political and cultural agendas?
If not find out more and read on …


You will probably have heard by now about the Productivity Commission Report that recommends abolishing Territorial Copyright on books and so allowing the Parallel Importation of books. Many Australians are up in arms about this.

Some of us are developing a short campaign to convince the Federal Government to reject the Commission’s report, and retain restrictions on parallel importation. But we need to let people from all walks of life know about this threat to Australian-published books, both fiction and non-fiction.

We have initiated a new blogsite to help explain our campaign and the issues behind it, and to demonstrate the breadth of opposition amongst authors, publishers, independent booksellers, parents, teachers, librarians, printers and book lovers. The blogsite address is This new website offers information (easy to understand), links, comments and access to practical ways people can contact (and lobby) politicians, letters to the editors – and getting our concerns out to the general community.
We also are developing a petition on the blogsite and/or a petition format to print off and circulated as widely as possible.

The site also has guest bloggers willing to put their names to blog entries, (hopefully not just authors) because there’re many other professions and trades who will be affected by this change of law.

Please pass on to as many people as you can in your circles.

The timing is URGENT as the Federal Government will make its decision in the weeks ahead. Many thanks for your interest and support.

Sheryl Gwyther
An Australian writer’s alert regarding the loss of Australian culture with the threat of Parallel Importation of Books.
Some of you may know of author and teacher Sheryl Gwyther. Lothian Books published her first novel, Secrets of Eromanga in 2006. In 2002 was awarded an Australian Society of Authors’ Mentorship. In 2009 Sheryl and other Australian authors and publishers are fighting for their livelihoods. For Sheryl, ”writing is my life now … and with my visits to classrooms and libraries enthusing kids about the amazing world of Australian dinosaurs and about writing, I’m never bored.” You may or may not have heard but Australian authors and culture is under attack from giant global corporate interests.
On June 30 Sheryl wrote, “The Productivity Commission took their findings to the Australian Parliament on whether Australian authors and illustrators will lost Territorial Copyright. Over the past decade this protection has ensured a phenomenal increase of quality Australian-authored books and the emergence of a battalion of award-winning authors. More significantly is the fact it has given the world an insight into our country through the eyes and words of Australian authors.”
Do you want to see Australian children reading books without Australian content and ‘Americanised’ with Mom instead of Mum or faucets instead of taps, and vacation instead of holiday? It could happen if pressure from some quarters (e.g. Dymocks company’s management and major retail chains of Woolworths, Coles, K Mart, Big W and Target) convinces the Australian Government to relax the current Parallel Importation Restrictions on books. (PIRs)
What is Parallel Importation of Books? Parallel importation would allow Australian booksellers to import books from the US and the UK, irrespective of whether they’re already published in Australia. These two countries prohibit Parallel Importation of books into their countries so why allow it in Australia?
How will it affect Australian book buyers? Removing PIRs will flood the market with inferior imports, drown out Aussie content/language and reduce your choice of books – with no reliable evidence that books will cost you less.
If you want to read Australian books; if you want your kids to see their lives and experiences reflected in the books they read, write to your politicians. Tell them NOT to remove PIRs on books. This is an issue that every good teacher should be concerned about. So I have asked that her open letter be published.
Peter Curtis,
Primary Teacher, AEU.

08/07/2009 An open letter by Sheryl Gwyther

Culture for DUMMIES

Forgive the acerbic tone to this post, but I can’t let Professor Allan Fels’ latest comment go regarding his desire to scrap Territorial Copyright laws for Australian authors.
This is part of what he said last night on ABC TV’s 7:30 Report about our present copyright protection: “There’s also a claim that it’s good for culture, that is, it’s good for culture that Australian book readers should pay more for books. I don’t understand that.”
An open letter to Professor Allan Fels, Bob Carr and all….
Well, let me enlighten you, Professor Fels with my Culture for DUMMIES.
Heinemann’s Australian dictionary says culture means, ‘ a development or improvement of the intellect or behaviour; the distinctive practices and beliefs of a society.’ Well, that’s pretty straightforward, don’t you think, Professor Fels?
Let’s put it in context of Australian children’s picture books and novels. After all, that’s the area that will be directly hit by yours and Bob Carr’s, Dymocks Bookstores, and the discount retailers Woolworths and Coles’s bid to destroy Australian Territorial Copyright on books. If the Parallel Importation Restrictions (PIRs) are abolished or watered-down (as desired by you and your fellow free-marketeers) future Australian books risk losing their Australian content, voices and experiences.
In the world of children’s books – and maybe you have no experience in this area – the risk is even greater. Australian children must grow up having access to books from their own country. Books that hold mirror images of their own experiences not those of children living in Manhattan, Texas or Manchester. Books that echo with Australian voices, multi-cultural and all; stories connecting with our own place in the world.
If PIRs are abolished and Australian authored books are published overseas they WILL BE CHANGED to suit American or British tastes. Then they will be exported back into this country with American spelling, language and terms – gone will be Wagga Wagga, Mum, footpath, rugby union, gum tree, Indooroopilly, possum and a host of other words.
But even worse than losing our own language is the threat to Australian content in books. Aussie children understand Aussie humour – North American and British children don’t quite get it. Okay, I mustn’t generalise, so let’s just say that publishers (the gatekeepers) in the US and the UK don’t ‘get’ Australian humour … just ask popular Australian children’s author, Morris Gleitzman about his experiences. (His texts are Americanized for the North American market)
And what can Australian authors do when a large American publishing firm says we’ll publish your book, but we’ll need to make a few changes. If we refuse the changes we do not get published. We’ve seen this happen already where Australian books are picked up by US publishing firms. Even picture books are not immune – they become bland, superficial facsimiles of their Aussie twins.
So, Professor Fels, please open your eyes and your mind; life isn’t meant to be all about making more money. And don’t try to pull the wool over Aussie eyes – people who want to buy a book in this country are not bound by the price at the bookshop. We all have access to free libraries across this wide land so no child needs to go without a book because of what it costs. (And let me remind you, the Productivity Commission says there’s no guarantee books would be any cheaper if the restrictions are lifted).
I’m just an ordinary Australian children’s writer trying to make a living in my beloved country – following my passion for storytelling set on this land, that uses the language and experiences of its peoples. Like my fellow authors I live with rejections, rewrites and edits on work that might take many years to complete. I don’t complain if I’m lucky to earn 10% of the RRP on a proportion of a few thousand published copies.
I just move on to writing the next one with the thrill of knowing many children read my stories and enjoy them; and the knowledge that I’m part of a noble profession working to ensure our Australian culture in its written form will survive and thrive, long after you’ve become a tiny, full-stop dot in the book of Australian history.

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