Or a ramble through 83+ years of memories
By Rosemary Jacob
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 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 while 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 my brother’s footsteps 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 (overpoweringly 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 debt to repay the nation – not financially but in service! This is a grave lack in a user pays system!
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 admittance 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.
- A desire to explain natural phenomena.
- A desire to find a meaning for life.
- A need to have some rules for a community to live in peace.
- 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!
As far as the adversarial processes for law and politics, inherited from the British colonisers, which have controlled out 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!