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There Are Many Clever People – I know, I’m One. And I know I’m One Because I Told Myself So.

“Noel Coward was a charmer.
As a writer he was brahma.
Velvet jackets and pyjamas,
“The Gay Divorcee” and other dramas.

There ain’t half been some clever bastards
(Lucky bleeders, lucky bleeders)
There ain’t half been some clever bas-tards.

Einstein can’t be classed as witless.
He claimed atoms were the littlest.
When you did a bit of splitting-em-ness
Frighten everybody shitless

There ain’t half been some clever bastards.
Probably got help from their mum
(who had help from her mum).
There ain’t half been some clever bastards.
Now that we’ve had some,
Let’s hope that there’s lots more to come”.

(“There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards”, Ian Drury and The Blockheads)

Yes, all right – the title of this is meant to be ironic. But I am actually clever. And I know I’m clever because I actually realise the irony.

We have a tendency to presume that successful people must be clever. After all, they are successful so therefore they must be clever because to think that luck could play such a large part in the way the world works would blow a large whole in the whole capitalist system. Not to mention a whole lot of a religions which base their product on the idea of retributive justice.

But it’s quite simple really. In a competitive system, some people succeed. Why do they succeed? Because they outperform others. Why do they outperform others? OK…

At this point your answer may vary between:

  1. They worked hard and never gave up
  2. It was God’s will
  3. They were smarter than everyone else
  4. They knew someone; the system is corrupt
  5. They were just lucky
  6. One or more of the above in combination
  7. Something that I left out, which a reader will point out
  8. Something I left out, which nobody notices and I’ll be able to consider myself a success because nobody pointed out what I’d missed.

Whatever you believe, it’s probably harmless enough UNTIL you expect everyone else to believe it too. Which, of course, brings me to the Christophers that were the subject of this blog.

The first is Christopher Bantick whose little article in the paper last week attracted a response. To quickly summarise, he praised Chinese style education which he admires even though he works at a “successful” independent school. And he knows that his school is successful because the parents who send their children there do so because it’s successful. And they know that it’ll get good results because it gets good results and who cares about anything but an ATAR score anyway. As Mr Bantick so eloquently put it in his article:

“These parents are buying access to university. Fact.”

Now, I’m sure that some people may have a problem with that by itself. However, it was this next quote that allowed me to tell myself how clever I am and convinced me that I didn’t need any other confirmation than to simply ask myself what a clever bastard I am: (Yes, irony again. Stick with it people or I’ll have to do what Christopher’s school does and get rid of you all and get better readers so I can get good results!)

“I have yet to meet a parent who sends their son or daughter to school so they can pass some “happiness” index. It’s all about the ATAR”

Personally, I don’t actually send my son to school because it’s all about the ATAR. I don’t remember asking his prep teacher if all this time spent in “play” would hamper him when he eventually attempted Year 12. Neither did I grow concerned when he developed friendships with other students that these might become a distraction in Year 12.
I send him to school for a whole range of reasons. But nearly all of them are so that he can have choice in his life, so he can succeed at what he does and at the end of it all, so that he has a far better chance of being happy than if he were as limited as he’d be if just stayed home watching TV and listening to my wisdom.

I suppose I could have sent him to the private school where Mr Bantick teaches, so it could be explained how a school which relies on wealth and privilege is really good, just like those Chinese schools which are run by Communists.

As for the other Christopher. Mr Pyne. He knows that he’s successful because he’s Education Minister. And as he said in Parliament the other day, what he says gets on TV and nobody can hear the Opposition. That’s clever, isn’t it? That’s success. I don’t have to worry because what I say gets reported.

I wonder if Mr Pyne realises the irony. Nah, he’s probably just clever because he knows he’s on TV. Like “The Bachelor”… Now who would have thought that after spending all that time together and after that romantic proposal that this wouldn’t be a marriage made in heaven? Who would have thought that Channel 10 would still run the final episode even though they knew that the marriage wasn’t going to go ahead?

But hey, “The Bachelor” like Christopher Pyne appears on TV. So they both most be full of quality, right?

Full Disclosure: Christopher Bantick was one of my supervisors when I was a student teacher. He warned me that one of the Year 8 students never put pen to paper. At the end of my first class, this student had written a couple of paragraphs. I handed it to Mr Bantick and asked if he wanted a sample of the kid’s writing. Maybe he thought I was being too clever… Whatever, he spent the rest of my rounds telling me that I relied on the kids liking me and that my lesson plans were terrible. He was absolutely right. I don’t remember him ever him making any suggestions how to improve my lesson plans. I learned that in later rounds.


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  1. stephentardrew

    You are so bloody clever Rossleigh.

  2. Miriam English

    I wonder how many people think getting an education is the same thing as getting high exam results. I hope it isn’t many. I always cruised through school, hardly studying and getting A levels in almost everything. Am I smart? I know some people think I am, but I don’t believe I’m particularly smart. I’ve always been a very heavy reader. It just so happened that I already knew most of what came up in school. It was all just a part of general knowledge for me.

    I had a friend who was easily as smart as me, possibly smarter, but who performed dismally in exams because the pressure brought often a nervous breakdown. Well, some will say, the examination system proved that one person could manage and the other couldn’t. But here’s the kicker: by any measure of success my friend is successful and I am not.

    I had other friends who did very well at exams, not because they were particularly smart, but because they studied up on the material. What do the exams tell us? Nothing, really.

    I had another friend who was frankly brilliant — the smartest person I ever met. They consistently topped all classes. Did the examination system point out another great winner? No. My friend died of liver cancer while still in university.

    Education should be about educating people, not about loony test scores. In the end they mean little or nothing. The teachers know far more about whether a person has a good attitude to learning and can work hard. But even their assessment of kids isn’t useful, because they’re just kids. People continue to grow and change after they leave school.

    But the very worst aspect of examinations is that they are so damn artificial. They test whether a few random facts have stuck. There may be some points given for demonstrating the ability to write out a coherent piece of text on a topic, but this is no good for people who don’t think in words. There are as many kinds of minds as there are people. Some think in pictures; some in 3D space; some in sounds; some understand things through their hands; some have a feel for how plants grow; some can’t see colors; some rare individuals see 4 primary colors; some have intense concentration and can zero in on fine details; some flit over broad outlines connecting together things that seem to others unrelated; some easily understand other people’s emotions; some have an aptitude for machinery; some have fine motor skills; some need to be highly active; some can sit and think things through for hours. We are all incredibly different… so can anybody tell me why we have this stupid one-size-fits-all examination system?

    We are discarding the greatest wealth we have — human minds — sacrificing them on the altar of conformity.

  3. Ray Butler

    As individuals our labours, manual and intellectual, are the only real commodity we have to trade, but as humanity economic organisations are the only tool available to sustain and progress us. It isn’t much of a creative stretch to point out that the only humanitarian tools available to us are being focused on a select few individuals that happen to be in a position to do so. I understand that wealth is probably the most effective driving force for action, ideology does a similar job but is much more messy, and although wealth can drive action it is a consistently terrible way to decide the direction of humanity, because it invariably decides it in its own return in disproportionate disregard to the best interests of collective humanity.

    This isn’t a case of taking wealth away, it is just a case of setting guidelines for it to drive action within. Wealth will want a return on its investment but never at a cost to humanitarian purpose, the point of a strong economy is to furnish decent standards of living across the board, and certainly now environmental sustainability, the erosion of that point in favour of personal ambitions always has and always will be toxic. Everything we do as human beings is for our family, but family responsibility is relative to our sphere of influence, one has duty to the home built, the home a duty to the community, the community a duty to the nation, and the nation a duty to the world; if your sphere of influence is global your duty is also, a world leader cannot take shelter in the rights of a common man.

    We are all ultimately public servants and “earning” is dependant on how well we do that, not on how well we take from that, a magnificent meal is made bitter by the taste of the blood of humanity, a humble meal is far sweeter earned in service. We cannot possibly lose in a world that genuinely values us, no matter what we sacrifice, because it is in that sacrifice that the world finds our value and they will fight in honour of our name for a scrap of bread just to fill our belly if they must, in thanks for our service and in self-interests for what they know we can do.

  4. John Fraser


    The "real" clever ones are the ones who want to impose a $7 doctors co-payment on Aussies but don't want to send medics to West Africa to fight Ebola.

    But what would one expect from the defender of Hardies and the attacker on Bernie Banton.


    The "real" clever ones are the ones who didn't rush armaments to the Peshmerga Kurds …… this particular "clever one" is not only deja vu in Iraq but also a replay of Vietnam.


    Looks like the "clever adults" are working hand in hand with the "worst warmongers" in history.

  5. Ricardo29

    Clearly though, we’ve all got the purpose of education wrong. As former ACT Chief Minister and now head of the Business Council(?) told poodle Pyne on recent Q and A, the education system is failing because it isn’t turning out students who are ‘job ready’.

  6. Kaye Lee

    Bantick is dragged down by the rock of ATAR when we want our children to fly. To say that the HSC is what your educational experience is about is unbelievably pedestrian.

    I wonder if he is aware of the research that shows “that graduates of non-elite and co-educational schools do better at university than graduates of socially and academically elite and single-sex schools who achieved the same tertiary entrance score.”

    Suggested reasons:

    •Preparation for the end-of-school assessments in private schools, relative to state schools, boosts tertiary entrance results above “underlying ability”, and graduates regress to “underlying ability” level at university.

    •Preparation for life and learning beyond school in private schools (and single-sex schools) relative to state schools (and co-educational schools) is poor, resulting in university performance below “underlying ability”.

    •Graduates of private schools make less effort at university because of perceived long-term advantages of their secondary schooling and other socio-cultural reasons.

  7. stephentardrew

    The conceit that someone knows truth and can box their fellow citizens into cages of misbegotten authority claiming knowledge without proof is the prison of fear and prejudice. I know what I know in a desperate need to thrust away the unknown to find security in authority and narrow group think regardless of the facts. Creativity comes when we admit we do not know yet are willing to explore the matrix of possibilities resting silently upon the fabric of our self-reflections. As Arthur C. Clark proposed any sufficiently advance alien civilization would appear magical and wondrous to us while we would simply be the just another primitive, blind, unknowing species with little knowledge of the potentiality that evolutionary complexification and self-organization will bring. So no matter how clever we are there are fantastic and fascinating things outside of our reach simply because we are limited by time and evolutionary epoch. There is something invigorating about humility when I can say I don’t know yet my need for love, happiness, contentment and physical security is the critical thing I share with my fellow beings. If this is the case we should be working towards a society that alleviates suffering and hardship by providing objective physical and subjective emotional, abundance for all. Having positive wishes, hopes and desires provides us with a sense of belonging and togetherness in which the urge to greed and self-interest, which causes us to harm and exploit our fellow citizens, would be diminished. To say I don’t know yet realize that my suffering is your suffering will, of itself, lead to the evolution of a new and more loving and trusting society.

    Personally this is what progressivism is about. It is not about authority and the claim to absolute knowledge and truth but a shared journey thorough the matrix of possibilities that is accelerating exponentially. It is not the knows that are truly interesting but the hidden possibilities ready for us to discover through the deeper meaning and context to our existence.

    A philosophy of goodness and least harm is difficult because humans are captured by primitive biochemical urges that we can now overcome through reason and concerted effort to provide adequately for all. Evolution is literally challenging us to take responsibility and build a more sustainable and caring communitarian world. The rewards may be beyond our wildest imaginings. The point is we always know vastly less than what is realizable.

    So we do not have to know or claim truth we simply need to follow our hearts and admit I recognize that I don’t know and humbly move on sharing and caring for our fellow sentient and non sentient beings.

    In short a good dose of idealism never goes astray.

  8. Möbius Ecko

    I wonder if he is aware of the research that shows “that graduates of non-elite and co-educational schools do better at university than graduates of socially and academically elite and single-sex schools who achieved the same tertiary entrance score.”

    Kaye I’ve bought up this point in many a debate on public funding of private education, and that fact is almost universal across the globe. There are several US and European studies alongside an Australian one on it.

    Indeed the publicly educated students do so much better in university tertiary education that mostly wealthy privately schooled students need to be advantaged in making university so expensive to exclude a majority of other students. Not only are the privately and elite schooled students propped in this way, they are also advantaged by receiving out of school tutoring starting from primary school through to the end of their tertiary educations.

  9. Matters Not

    that graduates of non-elite and co-educational schools do better at university than graduates of socially and academically elite and single-sex schools who achieved the same tertiary entrance score

    Do you have links for that? I only have one. Be interested.

  10. Matters Not

    Thanks for that, I don’t understand how I missed that article. Must have been away.

    I knew Barbara Preston when she worked for the Australian Education Union. She’s really on the ball.

  11. Lee

    “so can anybody tell me why we have this stupid one-size-fits-all examination system?”

    There are courses where exams are appropriate. Doctors have to be able to work under pressure and recall knowledge very quickly, for example. If they choke at exam time chances are they can choke in an emergency situation too. But in some career paths it isn’t necessary and it keeps intelligent people out of the areas where they can do very well. I had a very intelligent friend and work colleague who was unable to graduate from university because exams made her so nervous that she would vomit at the thought of them. She really knew her stuff though and was a great mentor to me and several other work colleagues. These days she would not be able to get employment in the field because now all employees need a university degree first.

    I recall when I was studying biochemistry at university. We had practical assessments every week which contributed very little to our final mark and I got full marks for most of those and lost a mark on a couple of them. Most of the emphasis was placed on two end-of-semester exams. At the end of semester 1 I walked into the exam and for reasons unknown I went blank. It had never happened to me before and it really distressed me, which probably further impeded my efforts during that exam. My mark for semester 1 was 30% and I had to see my lecturer. He recommended that I withdraw from the subject as he didn’t think that I could pull myself up enough to pass in semester 2. I stuck with it because I knew that exam was an aberration, although I was as nervous as hell walking into the semester 2 exam for fear that it would happen again. I walked out confident that I had very close to, if not, full marks. I completed the subject with a credit, 1% more and it would have been a distinction.

  12. Kaye Lee

    If we DO want to concentrate on academic performance, the top seven schools in the HSC last year were state schools. James Ruse (as always), Baulkham Hills and Hornsby Girls (all in Sydney’s Western Suburbs), followed by North Sydney Boys and Girls and Sydney Girls and Boys. This is to be expected as they are selective (on ability, not money).

  13. mark delmege

    I like that line about how in a meritocracy (particularly in a bureaucracy)people tend to rise one level beyond their capacity and if they are really useless even higher.

  14. Kaye Lee

    As our fearful leader said on his election as leader of the Liberal Party “Sooner or later, we are all promoted to our own level of incompetence”. Take Maurice Newman…please.

  15. stephentardrew

    Mobious Ecko:

    Saw the video about inequality long ago however it is so utterly relevant to your question concerning why we so willingly follow a thoroughly discredit US economic and education system. Just a few hours searching US media will disclose the dystopian facts about an empire in decline. I think that exponential growth in technology is also being tracked by exponential failure of Empire builders who are slaves to greed and ideological irrationality. It is frightening that Abbott and his team are rushing head long into the dystopian unjust, unequal, racist police state that is reflected in much of conservative US. The funny thing is that the southern states that condemn any sort of welfare are the ones most unequally support by subsidies from the north. Progressive media struggles under a barrage of lies and contortions perpetrated by those who have the wealth and power to beat down anyone who disagrees with them and this is where Abbott, Hockey, Brandis and their ilk want to take us.

    The absurd cost of higher education will kill of many opportunities for low income students whose families are only just surviving. What to do I don’t know. That we are being led down a path of rapacious greed and inequality is self evident from the facts at hand. Our only hope at the moment is that the LNP screw up so badly that they get the flick. Then we have to somehow make Labor accountable. It is truly a desperate and dangerous path to a dystopian future.

    Privatization is a giant con that simply feeds corporate greed and the military industrial complex. The problem at the moment is that we are being attacked on so many fronts simultaneously it is difficult to prioritize. Global warming and alternate energy are a good place to start however without informed scientist and effective accessible higher education we are lost.

  16. stephentardrew

    Matters Not:

    You know its farcical when the doyens of ignorance claim that undermining education will lead to excellence in Australian universities. And these morons are the representatives of this country. They are actually driving us towards general mediocrity while a select few, with the right political outlook, have access to academic excellence with the caveat that you believe in magical and mythical fairies.

    Makes you think we are on the cusp of some sort of evolutionary dead end and failure that may lead to a crisis that drives a more sustainable type of sentience. Maybe artificial intelligence is the monkey in the room that can lead us from this type of irrational insanity. In essence I don’t fear a truly rational AI because I trust implicitly in logic and rationality to solve our particular dilemmas. There is no doubt, in evolutionary terms, we need a more rational and less negatively emotionally driven outlook.

    How the hell do you convince ideologues they are the current viruses undermining communitarian justice, equity and reasonable utilitarian distribution of goods. (both kinds)

    Pity evolution is so slow and tedious however we do have the opportunity to bring about change though it is hard graft.

  17. townsvilleblog

    I personally know a woman who slept her way to riches, she hardly has enough intelligence to dress herself, you don’t need to be clever to be wealthy, you need to be cunning and exploitative of your fellow man.

  18. John Fraser


    @Matters Not

    More “grist” for the war machine.

  19. Kaye Makovec

    Reminds me of the old joke, the rich man says to the poor man who was being a smart aleck, “If you’re so smart why aren’t you rich”
    The poor man replied, “If you’re so rich why aren’t you smart?”

    As somebody once said, “some people are educated above their intelligence.”

  20. Liz

    What a fantastic article Rossleigh! It resonates well with me, as I have recently removed one of my children (and will be removing the other at the end of this year), from a private school who puts results before the individual. I have experienced a school who thinks they are a lot better then they actually are. Arrogance is everywhere and as far as Christopher Pyne – he really should get back into the sewer where he belongs!

  21. Ray Butler

    Some would say people are too selfish to consider what I suggest, but from my perspective I’d say people are not selfish enough to consider it.

  22. mark delmege

    Sorry Ray you lost me a little.

  23. Baz

    A self-made businessman was asked to give the speech at a high school graduation. ‘Some of you will go on from here to become further educated. The rest will go to university”

  24. Peter Glen

    Hi, great writing but a little typo that I must correct, it is Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Brilliant band with fantastic songwriting and musicians.

    Cheers, Peter

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