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A Personal view of Education, Politics and Religion

Or a ramble through 83+ years of memories

By Rosemary J36

I was in my third year of life (in England, on the outskirts of London) when WWII was declared, and it heavily coloured the rest of my life. Growing up with rationing and shortages has led to habits of minimising waste. I even wore to university in 1954 a blouse, home-made from the fabric of a dress which my mother had made for me to wear to Junior school when I was 9!

In order to provide a background to the views I have formed over the years – which include the need to invest heavily in education, the destructiveness of adversarial politics and law and the need to replace the pseudo-science of religion with real understanding of how knowledge evolves from scientific research – I venture to provide a (possibly boring) slice of my autobiography! After all – everything comes down to cause and effect, and how life treats you affects what you think and believe.

My mother was born in England in 1896 to a minister of the Church of Christ, so her version of Christianity was verging on the puritanical. However, to my gain, she was, unknowingly, a pioneer of feminism, whose misguided marriage led to her determination that her two daughters would never have to be dependent on another! My father was in a technical branch of the Civil Service with a background in mechanical engineering.

The older I get, the more I appreciate that my mother (who, sadly, died in 1975) is truly my hero!

The timing of my arrival in this world was also critical, because it enabled me to benefit from radical changes in England to the education system – Scotland is fiercely independent in many things!

Many small, private secondary schools were invited to become state-aided Grammar schools, retaining their charters as long as this did not conflict with the government approved syllabus, drawn up by the relevant regional university groups. Many of these schools were single sex, generally seen as being to the benefit of girls more than boys.

Can I stress at this point that my parents were both reasonably intelligent people but, with three children, had they had to pay for our secondary and tertiary education, it might not have been possible for them to do so for all of us. My mother’s father had moved to a new church every two years, so her own education had been very fragmented. She had also been employed in the Civil Service before having to resign on marriage in 1931.

Back to the history.

We did little in the way of current affairs at school, as the curriculum was geared towards achieving university entrance standard, but my mother was very much a conservative supporter, while my father was a died-in-the-wool Labour supporter. I learned early in life that both sides have much in common but taking sides was dangerous!

Also, in my teen years, the little I knew of the USA indicated that anyone, from any background, could aspire to be President. Nowadays, of course, only multi-millionaires – preferably with strong ties in the corporate world, have a hope in Hades of rising to those heights.

By my third year in Grammar school, (equivalent to Year 9) having had a smattering of Latin and Chemistry mixed into a very broad general education, we had to choose between science and the arts. With Maths as my best subject, I chose science, leading to Chemistry and Biology in ‘O’ Levels and Pure and Applied Maths and Physics in ‘A’ Levels, along with a whole lot of other subjects at ‘O’ Level, the most critical being English Language, without which no white-collar employment would be available!

In the last 2 of our 7 years in secondary education, those of us on the science side had to keep up English Literature as a non-examinable subject, although those on the arts side did not have an equivalent requirement to continue with a science subject. Personally, I think this is a grave mistake, particularly with girls, because they then regard science as a mystery – as do an alarmingly high proportion of our current national politicians!

The other invaluable part of my education in those last 2 years was the study of Comparative Religion. In my opinion, understanding and tolerance require a base of knowledge, while ignorance too often leads to bigoted attitudes and prejudice.

I still use my knowledge of the human body and its systems, which I gained in school biology, although it fell really short in only teaching us about reproduction in rabbits! Dangerous for pre-pill young women! My older sister was later of much help, as she went on the study medicine, finally specialising in surgery, so her greater knowledge of human sexual matters was invaluable!

Although I failed to pass the entrance and scholarship examination for Oxford and Cambridge, which would have enabled me to follow in the footsteps of my brother, who won a State Scholarship to the latter university, I did pass the entrance exam for what was then the Imperial College of Science and Technology (now simply IC) in London University. Distracted by a mixed sex (overwhelmingly male) social climate, I struggled to achieve highly in my studies but did complete a BSc (Special) Mathematics in 1957.

By this time, I was well on the way to becoming an agnostic!

On and off from then until 2004, I taught maths at both secondary and early tertiary level and have helped many mature-aged young women who always thought, wrongly, that maths was beyond them. Male maths and science teachers have a lot to answer for in this context!

Because of the space race and the British government’s need to recruit more maths and science graduates into teaching to raise the standard (does this sound familiar? It should!) I taught my first year on probation to acquire qualified teacher status. This, of course, even with 5 years full-time and 3 years part-time maths teaching experience under my belt, did not make me ‘qualified’ by Australian standards so, after arriving in Australia in 1971, I only taught part-time or casually, all at secondary level, until I completed my Grad Dip Ed (Secondary) as an external student at Mitchell College (now Charles Sturt University).

I succeeding in gaining a position at the fledgling NTU (now CDU) in 1989 and later undertook, successfully, an MSc (Science Education) by thesis through Curtin University.

Here I must make the point that my entire education, up to the age of 68, was paid for by the relevant governments.

Because the formerly private secondary schools, which moved under the government’s control, had been modelled on the British Public Schools – Eton and Harrow etc – they had a House system with a highly competitive points system in sports and other areas, and an expectation that growing maturity required increasing responsibility – for oneself and for others.

This also, because of the no fees situation in state-owned schools, imbued in many of the beneficiaries a realisation that they had a moral debt to repay the nation – not financially but in service! This is a grave lack in a user pays system! The latter fails to encourage an active involvement in voluntary organisations.

I have dual British and Australian citizenship, my family having moved to Australia when my husband, a civil engineer, was appointed to a position here in 1970. I followed him with our children, arriving at the start of 1971.

I cannot honestly say that I have a great deal of pride in either country – entirely due to the nature of politics!

I realised in middle life that a significant number of people have had their lives affected adversely because of the prohibitive cost of seeking legal advice. So, in my last semester as a maths lecturer, I commenced study for an LLB – little knowing that you cannot give legal advice (without risking expensive claims against you if that advice is faulty!) unless you have a current practising certificate and professional indemnity insurance! So, I continued on to cover that last requirement for admission by completing a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. I had also completed the necessary requirements to be an accredited mediator, and I practiced law in a small firm for a little over 4 years, but continued mediating for a few years longer.

This fulfilled a dream I can trace back to 1975, when I started study in a Diploma in Accounting and completed, among other units, a year-long Business Law unit.

Anyone who tells you that you are too old to learn is misleading you. Life is a continuous learning experience even if it is at its best up to age 5!

I have my own theories about how religions were developed, but underpinning all religions it seems to me there four factors.

  1. A desire to explain natural phenomena.
  2. A desire to find a meaning for life.
  3. A need to have some rules for a community to live in peace.
  4. A desire for power which enables an individual to claim the capacity to translate messages from some supernatural being(s).

My own belief is that the ethics – do as you would be done by, etc – which appear to underpin the teachings attributed to an individual (who may/may not have existed) known as Jesus Christ, are, in fact very desirable ethics and I think it a pity that our current would-be leaders do not practice them.

They give a meaning to life – help others!

But, human nature being what it is, ‘greed is good’ prevails over unselfishness!

Modern science is well on the way to providing answers to many questions and Stephen Fry has issued a video which effectively de-bunks the concept of a loving, omnipotent god!

When I consider the adversarial processes for law and politics, inherited from the British colonisers, and which have controlled our lives, I find them way short of desirable.

We also have a Constitution, designed to designate which of Commonwealth and States can use which powers – a totally inadequate document in the modern world.

We have politicians more interested in retaining power than setting our systems to rights or helping you and me and our fellow voters, the stupid people who elected them!

I firmly believe the scientists on climate change.

I am torn between wanting us to act urgently, so that my 3 great grandchildren will be able to enjoy their lives, and hoping that we bumble on to be rapidly overtaken by events and the selfish, greedy corporations will have their comeuppance!

One last thought!

Karl Marx is quoted as referring to religion as ‘the opium of the people’.

Nowadays I think it could be fairly claimed that big business has invested heavily in making entertainment the opium of the people – and it reminds me of the Decline of the Roman Empire!

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23 comments

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  1. Diannaart

    Rosemary

    You have given me a feast for thoughtful consideration.

    Thank you.

    I will now take time to digest.

  2. paul walter

    Change in pace for here, nice leisurely read, from a genuinely literate person with a story to tell.

    Go, Attlee!

    Will say just one thing more, I was crucified for further education for not being good at maths , a spatial problem compounded by the experience of a pleasant but utterly inept teacher at a new high school.

    The system gradually morphed and I finally ended up doing basic Arts/ Humanities much later, just what I had always yearned to do and it was like manna from heaven; pure guava.

  3. Kronomex

    If I had to choose saying that, to me, encompasses what I think of religion it’s from Maurice Maeterlinck: “The living are just the dead on holiday.” Life is short and dead is forever, so make the most of life.

  4. Kaye Lee

    “they had a House system with a highly competitive points system in sports and other areas”

    You have just prompted a flashback to one of my most mortifying moments. When I was 8, if you had to go to the toilet during class time you lost five points for your house. I wet myself rather than let down the team.

    Sometimes competition and the pressure to win causes us to make poor decisions. Scott Morrison is peeing down his leg as we speak.

  5. Karen Kyle

    A most interesting and damned intelligent article.A far more balanced view of religion and the place and the use that has been made of it. Most enjoyable.

  6. RosemaryJ36

    Kaye Lee: Infant and junior schools were all provided by the state and had no house system. There were private preparatory schools to which the wealthy sent their offspring until they were old enough for Eton et al. I cannot comment about them but the Infant and Junior schools which I attended had no draconian rules governing toilet trips!
    We had holiday art competitions – in which my more artistic sister scored well, painting wild flowers and – using oil paints, little crinoline ladies on tiny perfume bottles. That earned house points at the secondary school, so it was a system far from being dominated by sports!

  7. Rosemary J36

    Paul Walter: Just as not everyone will be a ballet dancer or a concert pianist, so not everyone will excel at maths. The biggest problem which was true when I started teaching in the UK, and clearly has also affected Australia, is the dearth of mathematicians to teach mathematics. It should never be taught by someone who dies not love maths, even in primary school, and certainly not in secondary school but – without a new look at curriculum and incentives for mathematicians to become teachers, nothing will change! There are teachers of children – which is vital in the early years of school – and there are teachers of subjects – which is equally vital in secondary school.
    ALL the teachers in my secondary school had either a general degree, plus a Dip Ed, and taught several subjects at more junior levels, or had an honours degree in one (maybe two) subject area(s) (plus, again, a Dip Ed) which they would teach in middle and upper school classes.
    I have taught basic maths skills to would-be early childhood teachers who do not understand that they need knowledge beyond the level they aim to teach because bright kids ask questions and teachers are expected to know the answers!
    There are so many fun things – you only have to look at Eddie Woo and the excitement he engenders to see it is the teacher’s enthusiasm or lack thereof and not the subject matter that is critical!
    Many primary school teachers do not enjoy maths and their students pick up on that and start disliking it too!
    Teachers are expected to do so much more than teaching, including essentially child-minding activities like lunch duty which could be done by someone else. Why isn’t it?
    And if parents, with 2 or 3 teenagers complain they cannot cope, why do you expect a teacher to cope with a class of 25 – 30 teenagers????

  8. Uta Hannemann

    I think to have a study of Comparative Religion is a great idea, Rosemary, You say: ‘In my opinion, understanding and tolerance require a base of knowledge, while ignorance too often leads to bigoted attitudes and prejudice.’ I very much agree with this!

  9. wam

    south Australian high school of the early 50s BBB(before baby boomer)
    day one assemblies school rules IQ tests life story essay
    day 2 english test maths test home at lubch whilst tests assessed
    day 3 assembly 1A 30 names eng lat fr m1 m2 ph chem 1b eng fr geog m1 m2 gen science 1C eng geog hist m1 gen science rest arith social science art and ww mw.
    have a bad day tough luck but there was plenty of jobs for 14 year old plus apprenticeships and many teacher got degrees as well as being plumbers
    we had menzies and santa maria

  10. Diannaart

    Uta Hannemann

    I couldn’t help but wonder why the teaching of Comparative Religion is regularly raised as a possibility here in Australia and just as regularly pushed out of consideration by Christian politicians. These people live in fear of knowledge (anything to do with Tree of Knowledge in Eden?) and the probability their religion will be found as not so original and no better than other religions.

    For example, “do unto others …” the Golden Rule was not originated by Jesus on the sermon on the mount

    The Golden Rule in the World’s Religions
    A survey of the religious scriptures of the world reveals striking congruence among their respective articulations of the Golden Rule of ethics. Not only do the scriptures reveal that the Golden Rule is an ancient precept, but they also show that there is almost unanimous agreement among the religions that this principle ought to govern human affairs. Virtually all of the world’s religions offer formulations of the Golden Rule somewhere in their scriptures, and they speak in unison on this principle. Consequently, the Golden Rule has been one of the key operating ideas that has governed human ethics and interaction over thousands of years.

    Rosemary you have had the benefit of schooling that is still not available here.

  11. Michael Taylor

    Any article that mentions Scotland gets a gold star/elephant stamp from me.

  12. RomeoCharlie29

    So, RJ36,I have long thought you might be my lunch neighbour at the Noodle House. You have confirmed it with your entertaining and erudite potted autobiography. Your comments about teachers are apposite and reminded me of two teachers of vastly differing skills.in grade 5, Mr Lowe, helped me on the path to a rudimentary understanding of arithmetic which still stands me in good stead.(parsing the bill). In two of my three lost years in a private boys school ( of which I have written elsewhere) Ghengis Khan, I can’t remember his real name, ensured that maths was so stultifyungly boring and unintelligible that its mysteries have since eluded me despite my occasional need for it. Higher ATAR scores are not the answer to better teachers, empathy and better training are. My own theory is that — apart from the far greater demands of record-keeping— the profession of teaching went off-course when Teaching College functions were transferred to universities.

  13. wam

    Spot on RC29 – to be a primary teacher you need personal skills, a depth of understanding and aptitude to teaching – secondary teachers need those skills and a specific knowledge of teaching subjects – the latter was delivered by university but when whitlam let vicechancellors loose universities bred in every state and when HECS hit the vicechancellors smelt millions of government handouts with no strings attached and thousands of functionally illiterate, enumerate and 10s of thousands below average students became bums on seats in bridging courses and teaching, nursing degrees result simplified courses, kids deep in debt no hope of a job vicechancellors addicted to gov cash.

  14. paul walter

    Interesting comment, RosemaryJ36 and wam’s and others comments further expand on it. Times change both slowly and rapidly.

    They told me got to uni after neuropsych tests after a factory injury, a mediocre factory worker, I was, but arts humanities,yes, NOT architecture of engineering.

  15. paul walter

    Bugger!

    A tooth just fell out or at least the filling, leaving nothing left virtually.

    Every time I have deluded my self into thinking I have arrested the aging process something like this happens.

  16. DrakeN

    Paul, growing old is not for wimps 😉

  17. Rosemary J36

    RC29: Now you have gor me wondering which of the group you are?

  18. RomeoCharlie29

    RJ36, The initials might be a clue. Wam, I agree that nursing might be another area where the transition from teaching hospital to Uni course might have had a deleterious effect but an area I know less about. I should note that I know uni folk in the education faculty who are dedicated and knowledgeable but it seems to me that the teacher colleges were deeply immersive in the teaching process, both academic and practical, in ways that Uni’s can’t be just by their very nature. I say all this as the husband of a teacher I regard as exemplary, college trained and with 50 years experience, including some University time. And what about journalism? The transition from traditional cadetships to Uni based courses?

  19. wam

    RC29
    I took metal work for one term in grade 7 and got bullied almost every lesson from teacher and students eventually getting caned for yelling in class after I got stabbed in the arse with scribes.
    I walked, an extra mile home from school, to avoid the woodyard boys.
    My mw results were unsuccessful but the teaching method employed by these skilled tradesmen was excellent – the dexterous old men would demonstrate and set the task – when you finished the teacher said almost right (more usually he would shake his head saying this is awful and into the bin your hard work was thrown), the mistakes were pointed out, remedial work deftly show and a new piece of tin was produced and you started again. This was repeated till you got it right.

    When the colleges trained the teachers and the assessment became a mark out of 10. WW and MM became elective timetable fillers for maths/science dodging.
    The high school of the early 60s was led by old men at Principal deputy and senior master levels, with a few fearsome women.
    However the mercedes in the car park was owned by the even older and more fierce ww and mw teachers.
    They were great years to teach because a senior told you what to do and tested the kids after to see how you did not just how the kids did in the test. The vast majority were fair and understanding of your class dynamics,.Plus there were head office inspectors who came to your class to award skill marks in the first year of teaching??
    Sadly nursing suffered from a huge pay gap because their excellent training was not a degree equivalent.
    So, excuse the offensive words, less trained, less needed ‘degree’ workers got paid out of proportion to their importance. Nurses had to forgo their skills education for ‘lectures’ their get it right’ training for ‘near enough’.
    The freedom of vicechancellors is a worry. If you speak to one about bums on seats for teaching, nursing and bridging you get vehement denials of the ‘Queen Gertrude type???
    The vicechancellors and politicians have a reliance on reviews hiding inefficiency and effectiveness of the course, staff and outcomes for students.rather than evaluation which may expose weaknesses. (remember the rabbott gave institution like his daughter school access to government money at the rate of $5m per 100 starting bums on a seat?????)
    If only high school teachers knew what it used to be.

  20. paul walter

    I am not old, DrakeN, just young for my body.

  21. Rosemary J36

    I think many people regard teachers as a coherent group. They are not.
    If you are teaching early childhood, primary or secondary children, a different skill set is required at various stages. At the earlier ages, you should be laying foundations, encouraging children to develop knowledge across the spectrum and allowing the child’s natural curiosity to inspire them to learn.
    Some have not had the level of parenting to help that curiosity develop and they need special attention.
    By the time the child reaches secondary level, it becomes important to ensure that the child develops essential skills for life, so increasingly concentrating on essential knowledge which matches the student’s interests and abilities.
    Eddie Woo has conclusively proved that maths can be interesting to far more children than is usually the norm and has also proved that specialist teachers are essential for many study areas.
    I have always said it was a miracle my children survived their childhood, because I don’t like small children – certainly not for extended periods of time! I would be a total failure as an early childhood or primary teacher! (Just to reassure you, my children and I are now good friends!)
    Yet, despite a widespread fear and dislike of maths among older students, there are many of my former pupils who remember me favourably!
    Horses for courses – and the skills to be an effective teacher largely come from experience rather than teacher education courses.

    RC29 – thanks for the hint! It confirmed suspicions! I agree about nursing. As a profession it was always under-rated and even now, when nurses’ skill-sets overlap those of the doctors, they are still not given due respect.
    Similarly, teachers have loaded onto them many tasks which should be the responsibility of parents, if only parents learned how to parent other than by experience!

  22. Diannaart

    Rosemary

    Good points, teachers, nurses are not homogenised groups, skills vary according to need, requirements and situations. Both professions require adaptable people, quick thinkers and resourceful.

    My sister prefers teaching years 11 and 12. However, she teaches 7, 8 and 11.

    As for the 3 R’s: Respect, Recognition and Renumeration, these need a return to essential services like teaching, medical services, rescue services.

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