Campus frames soul growth
Fine minds built by exercise
Read, write, question why.
When I became a teacher Australia had a post war economic boom. Millions of displaced persons came to the country on assisted migrant programs. In turn that created a housing boom as new suburbs grew on land that once housed orchards, market gardens, vegetable plots, and small dairy herds. The new arrivals came with young families. School classes were at bursting point. Women who had occupied almost every job class in the country during the war were forced to give up their jobs to the returned soldiers. Within a few years the education department called many of the female teachers back to the classroom but they still had a need for more teachers, more schools, and more classrooms.
As a schoolboy I had no idea of the job I felt aspired, unlike some of my classmates. Most knew they would go back to their farms and work on the family business. Some choose to learn a trade and become a leading tradesman after their apprenticeship. Some became bank tellers. Jobs were plentiful, so many left school early and took the first job they were offered. Me? I was slow to even think about it. It wasn’t until I had been at secondary school I was forced to think of it. Elizabeth, my sister had chosen to teach. In my case I had no idea. In my last year I applied to become a Patrol Officer for the government in a remote territory area. (The role of the PO was to be the administrator and peace keeper in an otherwise uncontrolled area). Fortunately I realised I was unsuited to the work when I was asked what I knew about the remote areas of the Northern Territory and Papua New Guinea. I had done no research about the work – it simply seemed romantic. I had no idea of the places I would be expected to govern. The rejection did not hurt. At that stage I applied for entry to teacher training.
Straight from school I entered a crammed learning program to become as one of the first group to commit to two years of training. (Many male teachers in the time before I started had only one year of preparation). Our day started at nine and finished at four pm. We had a break of 45 minutes for lunch, otherwise we went from lecture to lecture. After ten weeks we had a three week practical period in schools. Each evening we had to write up our two 45 minute lesson plans for delivery the next day to the class for our supervising teacher. Our year was broken into three dense terms like this.
Because teaching materials, like everything else in schools was scarce, we were expected to produce a pile of teaching aids to be used in the school of our first appointment in our spare time. It was a busy period for everyone. Periods of reflection and self development must have happened – yet it was unlike the education universities offered. We were better prepared than the school monitors of the nineteenth century – but not much. We had developed none of the higher learning skills required of students at university level. We had no experience in analysis. We were not expected to synthesise what we hand been taught. Our means of evaluation were limited, and we were not encouraged to create new ways of the teaching. Our testing was to examine whether we had mastered the lower levels of learning, to remember, to understand, and to apply our learning.
As it happened. I enjoyed teaching and as a registered education department teacher I need never have studied again. The exception being – in the wisdom of administrators, it was determined one had to do further study to improve ones pay grade. Some chose to accept that was good enough. It didn’t take long to realise spending money was no way to improve your financial situation, and you could not do that unless you were paid more. The department had post graduate honours course for first and second grade teachers. To progress you had to qualify at the lower level before attempting the next. The units of study were of a very pragmatic nature and slow to attain because only one or two subjects a year were encouraged. We were expected to read and comprehend a text book and then sit a three hour examination of our learning. It was a soul destroying way to learn. Fortunately it was possible to jump to the top level if you passed an undergraduate degree.
As luck would have it Gough Whitlam became Prime Minister within the first ten years of earning my Certificate of Education. One of the changes he introduced was to make University courses free to all eligible students. This was my relief from the drudgery of the Ist and 2nd Honours program.
I could enrol to study off campus. It meant I could study after hours and get a degree. So many did the University course it enabled it to set up tutor groups all over the country. This was my first experience of actually discussing what we were reading and develop the higher learning skills I really needed to be more effective.
We did have three hour exams but we also had lots of developmental assignment work and I found, for the first time joy in learning, and the confidence to aim for high distinctions rather than settle for a pass.
If I had gone straight to university I probably would not have done at all well but I was settling into the academic life in a way I could not imagine. I did a post graduate certificate and was almost finished a Masters course by units when I was hit with PTSD and turmoil. It took another thirty years to resolve this matter. The more I studied the more I came to realise I was heading down a narrowing lane of specialisation with less and less to do with the practicality of my work so I stopped. I guess I lost the plot.
Like me, in the past forty years universities have changed. Last year, and for many years before, more women have graduated than men. Many fewer had reached university than men when I closed my books. Getting to and staying at university is an economic burden the individual now carries forward for many years. To have so radically changed is a sign the country lost its way. The contribution an educated population makes to the country is huge. Why burden the smartest group of people with the discouragement of debt?
By adopting the Americanisation of education, where the user pays, has had other detrimental affects. Universities, decade on decade, have had to find more private money to survive. Not only do students compete with each other so do universities. The better funded they are the better sought after are their students. It is a dog-eat-dog race.
The pandemic has highlighted just how warped this thinking is. Our government has been generous to all businesses that have lost 25% – 50% of their turnover. It has paid allowances to these companies so they can give their staff $750 per week to keep them notionally employed as Job Keeper employees even though there is no work for them to do. Except they have not done the same for universities. There, up to 80% of the former employed staff are women on sessional payments. Without the same number of students (overseas students cannot return yet) they are without work and unpaid. We stand to lose some of our sharpest minds to stupidity. To spell it out. Why are so many academics on sessional contracts? (It is insecure work and therefore it is cheaper.)
To make bad matters worse I read our top ranked university programs are no longer seen as the best places for learning. Three recent examples of this have come to my attention in the last week alone.
Our government is going to charge students extra unless their undergraduates degree is a STEM course. (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics). They have given into the business model of learning where vocational training becomes more acceptable than the growth of the human mind through a history course, a course in literature, arts/law, art/commerce degree. It is pathetic to move back to the low levels of education like mine was before at teachers’ college. I say this after my study after retirement at Swinburne. I did a short course on Carbon Accounting. The unit work was not as taxing as any I could recall from my past experience.
James Lovelock recently celebrated his 101th birthday. He is a polymath. The man is a genius with a mind more able than people a fifth of his age. He says he was the first British academic to get work with NASA because he was a puzzle solver. He says he is an optimist and I cannot now remember his comment so I will leave you to study his achievements rather than misquote him. (Given my previous reference to William Golding, (Billy Bunter) you might be interested on his recollection of discussions he had with his neighbour, Golding, and how he accepted Gaia as a good name for his theory).
I found this conversation with James Lovelock on the BBC on 4/08/2020. Excellent diversion to listen to this man. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csz7jm
Secondly Daniel Kaufman of Missouri State University says in the podcast, Problems in Philosophy – Big Ideas.
The university of today is not a viable model. More and more technical more and more isolated
Designed to educate elites it has been turned into a system of mass education – it is too expensive to play that role because of unbridled capitalism. The University is turning itself into a white collar voctech. Staff need to move to more public intellectual work. The people who are holding us back are in the institutes that are best ranked but least progressive – meaning those with the better ranking are stifling change. We cannot globalise everything People need to work. Automation is going to make sure people will not have jobs.
It has been a deliberate attitude when writing these entries never to make it entirely autobiographical. Today I seem to have been more forthcoming but I will draw back from naming names and record we were involved with Equippe).
At one stage in the last 56 married years we, Jennie and I, became involved with a group of church lay leaders. The group involved many of the intelligentsia of Melbourne. When we were but undergraduates when we were noticed and invited to join it’s leadership even though we were “country cousins/bumpkins. Equippe included academics and other professional people, a smattering of Jesuit leaders, and an archbishop. So although no match intellectually with them, they became our peers, indeed – friends. It seems right not to name them because as a group they were older, wiser, and practised long after we had no faith in matters of belief.
At that stage Professor C and others among us had lifetime university appointments. What a funny state we have reached.