They said What to a Teacher?

March 9, 2017

Below is a recent twitter thread talking about bullying and racism. I remembered an incident when I was a teenager walking with my mother from Redfern Station, Sydney to our place. Three Anglo guys stood in front of us and one yelled, “This is what YOU are!”  He rasped his throat and spat a huge glob of green mucus onto the footpath, just missing my mother’s shoe, “THIS! you big fat wogs!” he pointed to the glob. They laughed. My heart skipped a beat, my fists clenched by my side. My mother, looked forward and whispered in Greek, “Ignore them, keep walking.”

Ignore them? Smash the guy’s face into the ground, rub his nose into the green glob, and if there was any dog shit around, rub his face into that too. That’s what was ricocheting in my skull. I kept walking and saw my mother clutching her gold cross near her throat.

Attacking me with racist crap was all part of living in Redfern in those days. But attacking my mother in front of me was another thing. I knew these dicks, my gang knew them and we would get revenge. Our gang was wog only with two Aboriginal kids and we got back at them for the greeny and other crap they did to us. That’s another story.

Someone else told us about her father being hit with a molotov greeny through a car window. Others joined the thread.

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I then remembered what happened to me as a TAFE teacher and tweeted:

Twitter Insidious Racism

I promised I’d write about it – and here it is.

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I’m not going to use peoples’ real names nor the real region and campus. I’m protecting the guilty because, who knows, they may have changed and feel some remorse. Also, I don’t want to tar a region and a college with the same racist brush because they weren’t all racists. Everything is true except the names.

It was 1988, the Bicentennial of the White Invasion. I was transferred from an inner Sydney TAFE college to a regional college beyond the Great Dividing Range. My friends knew me as an inner city rat because that’s all I lived. Migrants moved to the slums because it was cheap and close to the factory work in the 1950’s and 60’s. For me, anything beyond Liverpool was the Bush. Sure travel through the Bush but not live in it. Snippets of the film “Wake in Fright” bobbed in my mind. An Aussified Duelling Banjos soundtrack played in the background of what I thought it will be like in my new place.

I had no choice but to take this transfer as an English Literature / Communications teacher. My English as a Second Language qualifications were not going to be of any use there. We couldn’t afford the rent in inner Sydney on one wage for a house big enough for me, my wife and five kids.

Upon arrival at my new college I was told the whole region had been waiting for a suitably qualified teacher of English/Communications for over five years. Now they had one.

It was my first ever class in a country college, an initiation into the rural classroom. It was an English class in the Certificate of General Education, TAFE’s equivalent to the NSW School Certificate for those seeking a second chance.

After introducing myself and greeting the class of 15 students I wrote my name on the board. While my back was turned I heard some muttering. When I turned to face the class two students in their early twenties, boy and girl stood up. The guy says, “I’m not having a fucking wog teach me English!”

Before I could reply he and his girlfriend ran out of the class. The other students laughed. I told them I’d be back soon. I saw the two students run down the corridor in the direction of my Head Teacher’s office. I caught up with them as my Head Teacher, Mr Turnip, greeted them.

I said, “Right, you two are not allowed back in my class unless you apologise in front of the class.”

The girl started to cry and the guy stared at me. Mr Turnip put his arm around the girl’s shoulder and said,”Look, just go outside for a while. I’ll handle this.” They walked away with the guy turning his head in my direction smirking.

Mr Turnip asked what happened and I told him. He replied, “But you know Stavros, it IS a bit strange having someone like you teach English.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. From a distance, I  heard faint banjos playing. I replied, “Do you realise what you’re saying? I’m a fully qualified English teacher with an Honours degree in English Literature from Sydney University and a Diploma of Education from the same place. Why is it strange?” I hated telling him my quals and feeling defensive.

He said, “Well, because, you know, you’re not the usual type of person to teach English.”

“Be careful Mr Turnip because you are defending racial harassment.”

Denial of Racism is Racism

“Oh! Come off the grass. What those kids did was not racist. They can’t help being surprised that you are their English teacher.They’re disadvantaged and not used to seeing people like you. Show some compassion.” He folded his arms, ” You take those students back into your class.”

“Sure, they can return as long as they apologise in front of the whole class. They have to do this, otherwise I’ll be a laughing stock to the rest of the class and others will attack me with their racist bull shit.”

“No, you will take them back regardless of an apology. I’m directing you as your Head Teacher.”

“No, I refuse to accept them without an apology and I’m giving you notice I think this whole episode and your attitude is harassment.”

I turned away from him and returned to the class. I never saw the two students again.

I didn’t put in a formal complaint against Mr Turnip. It didn’t seem right in the first week of my teaching in a new college. Needless to say the vibes were tense.  My duties included teaching Higher School Certificate, Certificate of General Education English and Communications classes for vocational courses. There was such a need for my services I had plenty of overtime.

A department from Head Office, Sydney called me. They officiated over the Tertiary Preparation Certificate (TPC) – a course that prepares students for university study. They told me the Aboriginal community needed  a suitably qualified teacher to both teach and coordinate a pilot program. The local community had been waiting for years for this program. It had never been conducted before in NSW and it was now possible to happen because I had arrived. Wow! I grabbed this opportunity with my arms, legs, heart and brain. It was 1988, the Bicentennial of White Invasion – what an honour to implement this pilot program and to have an opportunity to teach an all Aboriginal class.

Yothu Yindi replaced Duelling Banjos in my heart.

Head Office warned me that there would be many obstacles to overcome to make it happen. As far as I was concerned, like the Blues Brothers, I was on a MISSION FROM GOD!

It’s another story for another time about the travails in getting this course off the ground and the joy of working in it.

Teaching and coordinating this course required me to travel 120 kms there and back to the small college twice a week. I heard there were other teachers who travelled even further to teach in colleges in rural sectors so my travelling was nothing.

One day, after returning from the special Aboriginal program I was called to the Head Teacher’s office for a meeting. Mr Turnip was replaced temporarily because he was promoted for a semester as Deputy Principal. My new acting Head Teacher, Ms String O’Pearls was also the Head Teacher of Adult Basic Education and she felt she could look after two sections for a semester.

There was no smile on her face when I entered the office and sat opposite her. Ms String O’Pearls asked me how I was finding working there. I told her it was OK and a bit of a culture shock for me. I also said I loved teaching the Tertiary Preparation Certificate even though I had to travel a fair distance to do so.

She didn’t smile, there was no spark of life – she just touched her pearls with the tips of her fingers. She said, “I’ve called you for this meeting because there’s been a complaint.”

“A complaint? About me?”

“Yes, well, not a specific complaint just a general statement that you don’t quite fit in here.”

I was aghast. “Don’t fit in here? What do you mean?” Yothu Yindi receded and I could hear the distant twang of banjos once again.

“People have been complaining about the way you talk and gesticulate. You’re pretty loud you know.” Her fingers played with the pearls around her neck.

My mind was somersaulting. As far as I was concerned everything seemed OK. I got on well with my students and I thought with my colleagues.

“What’s wrong with the way I talk?”

“You’re too loud, too passionate – everything is so big,” she said in her staid official tone.

“Wow! You’re kidding me! What about my gesticulations?”

“You can’t stop using your hands as you talk. People say if we tied your hands you wouldn’t be able to speak.”

“Well, it’s been a bit of a culture shock coming here. I’ve often wondered why no one ever smiles in this building. In fact you all may as well have a bag over your heads you’re so expressionless. How do the students handle you?”

“How dare you speak like that to me!”

“How dare you speak to me like this! Fuck! Unbelievable!”

The lines on her face contorted into a weird question mark with her mouth a tiny dot.

By now I couldn’t stop,

“Have you considered that maybe I’m suffering from a double whammy culture shock? You know, I’m the only non English speaking background person here among all of you uptight Anglos AND the shock of coming from inner Sydney – cosmopolitan – to this all white province – except for the Aboriginal people who live away from here. It’s a fucking shock to my system.”

“Oh, come on. You’re nothing special and I don’t appreciate your tone or language.”

“I am special, like we all are. You’re saying I don’t fit in. Well, so what? Have you heard of diversity? You say that staff don’t like the way I speak, act or BREATHE! I’m a Greek Aussie. This is how we are. YOU are a racist and you don’t even see it.”

“Careful! Don’t use terms like that. I’m telling you we don’t like the way you behave.”

“No, you’re telling me you don’t like the way I AM! You don’t acknowledge cultural differences – both ethnic and social – inner city Sydney to this place here.”

“You have been warned about your behaviour.”

I shook my head, looked down at my feet. Exasperated I said, ” You have been told that I consider this whole interview as racist in nature. In fact I’m going to use this experience, if I’m granted an interview for the position of Regional Multicultural Education Coordinator, in the Hunter as a classic instance of systemic racism perpetrated by staff who don’t even see it as racist.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“If granted an interview I will. I’m out of this place. Lucky for me I love my students – especially my TPC students. If I get that job it’ll be the only thing I’ll miss.”

I walked out of the office feeling flustered, upset, hurt and defiant. I wished with all my heart that I would get that job in the Hunter.

Well, I did get the job in the Hunter and I did use the incident with Ms String O’Pearls in my interview. I couldn’t help my self telling her how I used the incident in her office in the interview. I thanked her.

Lets talk about Racism


A Ganma Odyssey

January 18, 2016

prologue ganmaA Ganma OdysseyThe Literacy Education Research Network  (LERN)  Conference, to most participants, represented far more than a collection of academic papers and workshops and, for Stavros at least, it spanned far longer than just 4 days…


 

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Whatever the answers to these questions, I felt that in my own life, this journey to the Centre was a definite circle, a cycle of some sorts.

It’s been 25 years since I last visited Central Australia. Back then, the Sturt Highway was a two way dirt road all the way from Darwin to near Port Augusta. In 1972, words like revolution, liberation, justice, equality, freedom and peace, rolled off my tongue with a tender passion. Feeling the emptiness in the institutions, the knowledge factories and the general lack of soul in the world I hit the road. Back then I was searching for something. Nowadays, I’m still searching and it seems that the ” R ” word is the only one that doesn’t roll off my tongue so easily. Perhaps it should.
Twenty five years ago I found myself, with little more than nothing, in the heart of Australia. All I had was my canvas pack with a few clothes, a couple of books and some water in a bottle. I had no money. The previous three nights I had slept under the stars along the highway and during the day I prayed for a lift. I was two hours south of Alice heading for Adelaide when I was dropped off at Erldunda, near the turn off to Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). Across the road a petrol bowser stood as if on guard outside the general shop. A bus arrived and parked a few metres away from where I was standing. I watched the tourists get off. I hadn’t eaten a thing for over three days and I knew that the people getting off the bus would have something to eat. I approached a woman in a white hat as she stepped off the bus. Looking her in the eyes I said, “Excuse me, have you any food?”.

She looked at me with some pity and reached her hand into a brown paper bag pulling out a small green tomato. As she handed me the fruit I sensed everyone looking at me, from the bus driver to the little girl with her face pressed against the bus window. The white hat woman released the tomato into my hand and a ripple of disgust crossed her eyes and brow. I was dirty, I was homeless, a Dharma Bum now just a bum. I accepted the food and turned away from my shame. I noticed someone standing ahead of me in the distance waving, beckoning me to come over.

I had nothing to lose but everything to gain, holding the unripe tomato in my hand, I walked towards the stranger. As I got closer I could see white hair and a white beard on the face of an old black man. He wore trousers that were a little too big for him and a coat that was a little too small. He smiled and placed his hand on his belly whispering, what sounded like, “Hunger…hunger..” He took me by the arm and showed me to his home by the highway. It was a lean to humpy with a corrugated iron mulga branch roof. Some old flour bags were scattered on the dirt floor to sit on. He shared with me some milk arrowroot biscuit pieces and a powdered milk drink in a tin cup. He let me stay the night. The shop with the petrol bowser had switched its lights off. During the night, nothing much was said between us – the silences, with the occasional bark of a lone dog, said it all.

In the centre of Australia I saw that the dispossessed ones were the generous ones. We non – indigenous ones take and take while these people, the original ones give and give. Twenty five years later, in 1997, our government wants to stop the original people from reestablishing their culture and reconnecting with their land. Extinguishing the recently acquired native title rights is the equivalent of stealing what little these people have and giving this little to the rich, whether pastoralists, miners or just greedy transnational corporations. Will we the non – indigenous ones ever learn? So, 25 years later I was returning with a hunger so subtle that you’d miss it if you weren’t seeking it. It’s a hunger for something which may transform the hole in my being to the whole.

The LERN Conference promised an exploration into multiliteracies, cross cultural communication, anti- racism education and multicultural multimedia all under the theme of Learning. I didn’t know if my hunger would be satisfied attending the Conference. I was hoping for a taste, even a sniff of something that’s true. I closed the book and through the plane’s window noticed below us a road leading out of the desert. In the distance, over the desert and the dunes we could see it came from Alice Springs.

The next morning I arrived at the Araluen Arts Centre in Alice Springs for the Opening Ceremony of the Conference. After the introduction and welcome by the traditional elders from Alice Springs, the Larumba Traditional Women’s Dance Group danced and sang traditional stories that could have a heritage far older than 100,000 years. The singing reminded me of Byzantine chants in the Greek Orthodox Church. The more I listened the more resonances I could hear, like echoes, reminding me of other sacred utterances I had heard – a Sufi zikhr to a Buddhist chant, a Hindu mantra and a native American prayer. It was almost as if there exists just one sacred song with many different versions vibrating through humanity’s common voice. It was fitting that the singing touched these notes because we were an international gathering.

I tried to make sense of the dance movements and resorted to number and rhythm. I was hoping that by keeping count of the position changes and the number of people moving in my awareness, would like insect repellent, keep away unnecessary inner talk. What was before me could not be evaluated in terms other than itself. We were not witnessing a performance, but rather we were being asked to be part of the ceremony. Sure, we were sitting watching a stage, but in the intention of welcoming us, we were entering their land, their world view on their terms.

The time span of these stories, these oral histories and ceremonies force us to come to terms with our sense of time. How do we know that our sense of the present moment is the only one around? Other peoples may have a much larger sense of the present moment than we do. And the other way around. You know, if we were truly transcultural we would have to accept Australia’s original peoples’ story of their origin. The translation of Tjukurrpa as Dreamtime has in many ways devalued its significance to those whose idea of dreaming is nothing other than random – neurological – connections – sparking – off – in – the – brain – when – one – is – sleeping phenomena. The idea of a dream time in this context points to a time that is unreal, wispy as inconsequential jingles and daydreams. However, if we consider that Tjukurrpa may be as real in its own terms as cyber space is in the technological, we may have an entry into true and equal dialogue.

Whenever Western experts place their civilisation stethoscopes on Aboriginal artefacts and markings the dating goes further and further back into the mists of time. First the age of indigenous culture was put at 20,000 years , then to 40,000 years, then 100,000 years and currently as a controversial minimum 160,000 years before our present time. Perhaps its easier to accept their version of things. Kevin Bates worked next door to me as the Regional Aboriginal Coordinator at Newcastle Campus. One day I asked him how long did he think Aboriginal culture was around for. I thought that he might say 200,000 years or even longer. He said, “We’ve been here since the beginning of time.” I asked him if he meant that metaphorically. He replied, “What is it with you? It says what it means – we’ve been here since the beginning of time.”

During the Opening Plenary Session, Vincent Forrestor said,

” I want to make this clear. Many people think that native title only has to do with land. Native title is more than land, it is our heritage, our stories, our songs, our dances, our customs, our ceremonies, our language, our culture. In short, native title is our life.”

I was one of the many and now it was clear to me that treaties, agreements and other deals negotiated by non – indigenous ones are nothing short of bargaining for the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical survival of Aboriginal people. The dispossessed must bargain within the framework of the Invaders’ Law. It was only recently our courts admitted that when the invaders arrived there were humans here and that these humans had an intricate relationship with the land. The lie of terra nullius was corrected with the Mabo judgement. Now, a government that has big business interests at heart is trying to extinguish native title.

As I was walking out of the foyer I saw a poster of a man on a camel with a dialogue balloon saying, “Come camel riding in the Heart of Australia.” I remembered the little known history of the Afghani camel drivers who were especially invited to migrate to Australia about one hundred years ago. Their special skills were the husbanding of camels for use in Central Australia. Some returned to Afghanistan, some stayed and married Aboriginal women. The Islamic mosque in Alice Springs bears witness to the descendants of these Afghani camel masters. This brought to mind the Afghani writer, Idries Shah. In his introduction to the book, “The World of the Sufi”, by Ahmed Abdulla, Idries Shah mentions a story about Dhul’l-Nun the Egyptian and “The Pointing Finger Teaching System”.

In the surrounding lands, it was believed that a certain statue pointed to where hidden “treasure” lay buried. People from all over came to search, digging holes in areas indicated by the pointing finger of the statue. No one had found any “treasure” but still they searched heading further towards the horizon. One day, Dhul’l – Nun sat and watched the statue from sunrise to sunset. Then, on one particular day at one particular time, dug where the shadow of the finger fell, and discovered the treasure of ancient knowledge.

We need to turn around and not look at where the finger is pointing but to where its shadow falls. The finger points to never ending economic progress and development, it points to a future where the rich will only get richer at the expense of the poor. The shadow falls on native title. And the time is now. The Tjukurrpa – Dreamtime stories are the longest continuous religious beliefs documented anywhere in the world. (Josephine Flood, Archeology of the Dreamtime, Sydney and London, William Collins, 1983) Do we value the hidden treasure of the oldest living continuous culture on the planet? Do we recognise the “treasure” or do we filter out everything that requires some heart, some conscience? A natural sense of justice should spark a little recognition of the treasure in the finger’s shadow. The sense of a fair go cannot allow the extinguishment of native title.

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While waiting for the bus to take us to Alice Springs High School, where most of the presentations were being held, I thought about the next few days. These few days will be an opportunity to step outside the routine of my ordinary life. Firstly, there will be four days of conferencing and then a few days of touring the Centre with some friends who are also LERNing.The fact is that just being in a different location had already disrupted my habitual comfort zone. To make the most of these days I would have to make an effort to turn inwards, so that the momentum of being in a different location and doing different things wouldn’t be wasted. The momentum, I hazarded a guess, is an energy or state of awareness that could loosely be called “holiday consciousness”. This turning inwards has nothing to do with solipsistic analysis and the chattering monkey mind trying to guess and to strategise the next moment. It is more the effort to intentionally steer one’s attention to other parts of one self normally unconscious. We may call it the subliminal underground of our being, the shadow, what we in the industrially developed world call only “feelings” and “sensations”.

It has been suggested that the human notion and definition of self has been through major shifts since the beginning of human consciousness (Julian Jaynes, “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”, Boston, Houghton Miffen, 1977 ). The closest to us historically, that may demonstrate this shift, is said to have occurred in Homer’s Greece.
According to this view, in Homer’s day, the people did not have the same sense of self as we may have. Their inner psychological organisation was different to what we take for granted. The voice of the mind was somehow perceived as a “god” speaking from outside themselves. It didn’t take too long before people started sussing out that there were a lot of “gods” running around in the temples and in the marketplaces saying contradictory things about how things were, that they saw the untruth of their “godhood”. Gradually this voice of the “gods” became established in the sense of self we call “ego”. What was there before the voice? Who and what was Ulysses’s “sense of self” on his Odyssey?

Have we in the dying years of the Industrial Age, come to a cultural cul-de-sac? Somehow, we have alienated ourselves from not only each other but also the common ground of experience – nature, the Earth. Is it time for another definition and sense of self, another way of knowing, one that acknowledges something other than the sovereign rights of the mechanistic, rational, technocratic and anti – spiritual mindset of the “Western” sense of self?

Edward de Bono in his “I Am Right, You Are Wrong”, thinks that this is the case. He suggests that a renaissance of thought and language patterns is needed so that humanity doesn’t self destruct. He proposes turning away from the “table top logic” of the traditional “Western” mindset in favour of developing a way of knowing that is based on perception. De Bono explains that recent developments in the understanding of self-organising systems and ideas from information theory, have given indications as to how the neural processes of the brain perform the activity of perception. Perception operates in nerve networks like a feature of a self-organising biological system, a living entity. Let’s call information that comes through our senses impressions. These impressions fall on the inner landscape of our mind like rain. The rain on the mind organises itself into tributaries, rivulets and streams of temporarily stable patterns. These patterns can subsequently flow into new sequences and patterns. According to de Bono, the perceptual mode of thinking encourages the mind to form multiple branching flow patterns; the sensory information is not boxed in by fixed linguistic concepts, generalities, and logic. Perceptual thought patterns follow the natural behaviour of neural networks; our present mode only plays back a recording of words and concepts provided by a preestablished cultural mindset.

Courtney Cazden during her paper on Ganma Space spoke of the necessity of getting rid of the margin and centre metaphor. This metaphor was based on the myth of terra nullius of students’ minds and being. Courtney told us that while she and Mary Kalantzis were flying to some school in the Northern Territory they noticed water holes that had fresh and salt water tributaries and other smaller rivulets all feeding the main space of the water hole. This, they found out was known as a ganma. The ganma looks like localised swirling spirals from the air. Courtney said that the mingling of brown, fresh and salt water in this space was analogous to the culturally diverse classroom. And in light of the process of perception is an apt image of the inner subjective world, our mind, our being.

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The multicultural classroom as a Ganma Space, this metaphor rather than create separate marginalised groups besides the mainstream, recognises the primacy of all the diverse groups’ backgrounds and experiences. There is no one central dominant culture enforcing a mainstream reality. There is an influx of different cultures, different literacies, different world views, a swirling waterhole, a turning of bracken water whose salt has not lost its savour. A living Ganma Space.
Let’s go one step further and consider that in the industrially developed world there is the primacy of the head, (some localise it to the left hemisphere of the brain) and all the other ways of being and cognition – feelings, sensations and intuition have been marginalised. What do we have if we apply the ganma metaphor to our own inner world? In this ganma, head, heart, body and spirit all contribute equally, but differently, to our sense of the real. These parts of ourselves may all be cognitive in nature, they may be different tributaries of knowing, different source data. Ganma Space taken as psychological space, the internal world of our experience, would allow for the possibility to connect our known and unknown parts of ourselves. This opens the opportunity to connect with others by being able to include more of the “other” in one’s awareness.
Could the perceptual mode of thinking be a ganma way of knowing?

The taste I seek is a taste of being – not in the philosophical sense – a point of view to be debated, but rather an experience, an immersion through the background/underground of one’s chattering monkey mind – into the moment. We’ve seen that working from only a part of ourselves doesn’t work. The problems confronting all of us in this time of planetary transition are whole systems oriented. Now we see through Chaos theory, that a butterfly fluttering her wings in South Africa has global consequences. And when it comes to the ecological state of the Earth and the widening gap between the rich and poor across the planet, it is obvious that whole, global issues require an effort and a response that is from the whole of ourselves, the ganma of ourselves.

I decided to attend the presentation, “One Step Ahead: Aboriginal Perspectives on Management Education” by Evelyn Schaber and Second Year Management Training Program Students (Institute for Aboriginal Development, Alice Springs). As the classroom became full, with little standing room available, I was handed a printed page depicting in diagrammatic form Tjukurrpa and its sacred relationship with the people and the land. I was particularly taken by the fact that the primary relationship is a triad, a trinity.This trinity is reflected in Christianity, Hinduism, Taoism, Islam, Buddhism and other indigenous traditions. Joseph Campbell in his “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” and Mircea Eliade in his studies of religions and shamanistic traditions of the world point out other common features of invisible landscapes scattered across all cultures of the planet. So, what’s going on? What is this numerical coincidence that crystallises as a triad across and within all sacred traditions? Rather than be surprised by finding this fundamental triadic relationship within the sacred world view of the original people, I felt a kind of confirmation linked to feelings that arose during the Opening Ceremony.

After a few minutes, Evelyn introduced herself and the students beside her, Sherana, Patricia, Maxine, Cynthia and Sophie. She began by outlining the differences in the indigenous way of perceiving and knowing to the Western methodologies. She said, “It is not the knowledge that counts but how the knowledge is taught. Students need to know where the knowledge comes from and this must be put into political/ideological perspectives.” Evelyn explained that this entails the recognition of the narrative form, the story and the song as a valid means of conveying information and knowledge. Storytelling gives shape to knowledge and by having a whole form, bits of data and information find their meaningful place within the narrative. Evelyn compared the Western method of knowing to that of just focussing on a chorus and then a verse analysing each line of a song without knowing or listening to the whole song. “A song is more than the sum total of its parts. Our mob need to know the song, and hold the whole picture because education is political, education is an institution of the dominant culture. We need to be able to read where the dominant culture – ‘they’ – are coming from both politically and ideologically. That’s what is meant by having to be one step ahead.”

Martin Nakata, (University of South Australia) said at a later paper, Indigenous Perspectives on Multiliteracies , “Indigenous people must articulate their position, which has been historically constructed as the “other” and recognise the primacy of the indigenous perspective.” Martin also emphasised the importance of being taught by indigenous people, that what they had to say had as much verity as the dominant culture’s institutionalised knowledge. I was hearing that the indigenous way of knowing is holistic and the focus is on the whole song, the whole story. Martin was saying that there was an epistemological imperialism implicit in the way that research is conducted in “Western” institutions. I was hearing that an epistemology based on indigenous perspectives has as much ontological status as the positivistic technoscience paradigm of the “West”.

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It just crossed my mind that the Greek word nomos, normally translated as law, as in eco-nomy, astro-nomy etc. can also be interpreted as melody or song. Eco – melody and astro – melody would give a different methodological approach to eco-law and astro-law, economy and astronomy. And who’s to say that the means of material exchange in traditional indigenous cultures is not more of an eco – melody than an economy? Perhaps the First Boat People and those who wish to take away native title didn’t and don’t wish to hear the songs of the original people, because their white noise mindset makes them tone deaf.

After Evelyn’s introduction and overview, each student began telling their individual stories of their personal experiences of formal education. I was witnessing a continuation of the welcoming ceremony and songs, this time in English, in a classroom. As each student told their story, of how they came to be doing the program and the various obstacles that were in their way to learning, I became aware of a soft uneasiness, a gentle tension in the air. As each student spoke in turn, I noticed in their bearing a vulnerability, an openness, an uncertain dropping of the guard. Their stories exposed their humanness, their heart. The how was more powerful than the what. The vulnerability and the innocence of that vulnerability began to resonate with a part of myself that could only respond in eyes welling up with tears. I told myself, “Big boys don’t cry in conferences….keep your act together….don’t make a fool of yourself….” The law and the wall of my persona, my sense of self, was being demolished by the truth of their song – stories. The tears trickled and I slowly turned my head to see all of the people standing behind me also crying. Indeed, by the time the last student had told us her story, I noticed that everybody in the class room felt the same way. Such openness, such vulnerability, such trust – such courage. Warriors of the Heart. The students’ eyes revealed the suffering and the strength that came through their own personal transformation. The sharing of their stories with us was a part of this transformative process and a political act. Smiles like chunks of sun beamed across their faces as we applauded and wept at the same time.

In my ordinary life, working as an educator, I am predominantly in my head and this experience gave me the opportunity to make a shift. I have nothing against heads, it’s just that for most of us in the developed world, that’s all that’s in operation. Our education is an initiation into the rationalist world view. This perspective lifts the intellect, the head, to a detached point of view that sees everything as if it is on the outside. It is called “objectivity”. When we teach our students literature, from this perspective, we tell them, “This story was written by someone, who was influenced by someone who was born somewhere”. Students learn facts, objective things that are apparently verifiable by reference to other someones who have written about the story or the author. The more one is initiated into the realm of the written word, and now also into the electrographic realm of cyber space, the less the realm of one’s own experience counts for anything in the classroom. Students learn facts about the story or the poem rather than the stories and the poems themselves. They learn that these facts are true because they are emotionless, they are detached from personal experience and work through the medium of the written word. Our classrooms devalue the spoken/oral tradition and value the written word. Our classrooms through our system’s methodologies enforce a monoliterate consensus reality.This reality is taught and is seen to be more valid than other ways of knowing, of communicating and of researching. In this classroom at Alice Springs High School, Evelyn’s students found a way to bridge the realm of the head with the realm of the heart through telling their stories.

I learned that I truly need to learn how to learn.

Perhaps this was heart knowledge – a grammar of the heart. We were in – formed through a literacy that was independent of our permission. The in – forming by passed our heads and touched our feelings. The soft uneasiness and the gentle tension in the air of the classroom transformed into a scent of the true. The ambience born from this exchange points to hope of true reconciliation – a sharing of a common ground – between the original ones and the rest of us, some place in the Heart of Australia. As Evelyn said, “We as educators have to confront and transform the realities of power in the classroom, and assist students to leave the baggage of 200 years of prejudice and discrimination at the door.”

This is what happened during the students’ presentation – intentionally or not, they directed our attention to include another part of ourselves. We had to acknowledge that there was more to each of us than meets the eye. And this more belonged to all of us in common. Ganma within, ganma without – turning, turning – ganma without, ganma within.

Is the phrase “language of the heart” just a metaphor? Do indigenous sacred world views point to a real place inaccessible to the chattering rational mind (with or without a PhD), but accessible to the intelligence of the heart? Does reflexive practice, with an intention to include more of one’s self than just the head, allow for the entry of compassion? By doing this as educators, could we be assisting in creating textual bridges through firstly becoming human bridges? Are we talking about the politics of consciousness and the need to question the root assumptions of “Western” techno – rationalism? Do these assumptions, these desacralised paradigms of reality only make it possible to see a sacred site as a potential dollar making or military site? Was Kevin Bates right when he said that the Aboriginal people have been here since the beginning of time?

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The act of turning inwards and acknowledging the ganma of one’s being is a political act of consciousness. This act may only be for a fleeting moment but it may have long term consequences in the classroom and the community. How does one move far enough away from the chattering rational mind, “table top logic” to include the stirring of feelings and sensations, without in any way losing the attention required to participate in events around one? Who is moving away, and where is this away? Who am I? Why am I here? These questions, if I can keep alive their intent, may open doors to other literacies that resonate through different cognitive frameworks underpin the creation of other worlds. These questions, this search for inclusion in the whole by becoming more whole may be the first letters of an unknown alphabet within my own being.

At the end of a day’s attending papers I decided to go on a guided tour of a sacred site. The promotional poster had this to say :

“Native Title Rights, Educational Rights” – A Time Line Presentation,
presented by Vincent Forrester.
Experience a Tour to Kyunba (Native Pine Gap)
– sacred site – 20 kms south of Alice Springs.
Institute for Aboriginal Development, Alice Springs.
While driving to our destination, our guide Vincent Forrester, called out the names of the surrounding hills, rocks and dirt and told us the stories of their birth. In this named landscape I was an alien. The naming stories revealed an invisible landscape that is visible to Vincent and his people. As we got off the mini – bus, Vincent said, “Welcome to my country”. Was I really in his country? Just because I was physically there, standing on the dirt, didn’t necessarily mean I was inhabiting the same sense of place.

The sense of country that gives birth to the Tjukurrpa – Dreamtime stories must be completely different to that which just measures acres of dirt. Somehow I was locked out of a sense of country and a way of knowing that Big Bill Neidjie, a Kakadu Aborigine refers to:

“I feel it with my body, with my blood. Feeling all these trees, all this country…when the wind blows you can feel it. You can look, but feeling…that put you out there in open space.” (Quoted in James Lowan, “Mysteries of the Dreaming” )

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As the sun was setting, we walked following Vincent, he pointing out the various plants that had medicinal and other uses, we in silent curiosity and wonder. He showed us the places where adolescent males had their initiation rites. There were rock carvings and paintings at one ceremonial spot that seemed to have grown from out of the rock assisted by human hands. Vincent told us that some visitor had chipped off and stolen a big section of the painting/carving. It left a sharp straight line where it was separated from the greater stone and a large hole. No doubt, the missing stolen piece was going to be placed on a mantle shelf as a decorative item probably besides some bric – a – brac. Turning, he pointed his finger towards some low lying hills where the women had their own initiation ceremonies and rites. Ahead of us, about five minutes walk away, was the sacred centre of this land. We were not allowed to go there.

As we were returning to the mini-bus, the red colours of the twilight and the trees’ silhouettes shimmering in the breeze made me feel as in a dream. Pointing to a thin line, a wire fence nearby, Vincent said, “Our next door neighbour, over this fence, is Bill Clinton. In the 1960s, Prime Minister Harold Holt gave this land to the President of the USA. He didn’t talk to us, he didn’t ask us and he didn’t charge the USA any money. He just gave our land to President LBJ. This place over the wire fence is Pine Gap, a military site, where not even white Australians are allowed to visit.”

By now it was dark, with only the head lights of the bus providing some illumination. Just as he was about to climb on the bus, Vincent paused. There was silence for a few seconds as we waited. With a slight quiver in his voice, he said,

“I am asking you educators, you teachers to do something. We could sell land worth seven and a half million dollars to Woolworths for them to build their shop in Alice Springs – but there’s none of our children working there. Our kids are leaving school in year 8 and don’t return. You, you people who are the educators must do something.”

We boarded the bus and as I looked through the bus window I noticed the stars and the pattern we call the Southern Cross. Thoughts and feelings were stirring inside of me. Vincent was pleading with us to find a way to make education accessible to his people. He wanted his people to be initiated into the realm of literacy that confers power in the “Western” sense. Pine Gap – that “secret” electronic spy installation for the military purposes of Pan Americana, was just over the fence from a sacred Aboriginal site. He wanted his people to be able to straddle two realms – that of the Tjukurrpa, a sacred perspective and that of the “West”. The ability to do this is dependent on native title rights and educational rights for the original people of this country. The ability to straddle the two realms, the two world views, may also be essential for us to ensure the survival of all of us and the planet.

The Pine Gap military site is part of the electrographic world that now envelopes the globe. This electrographic world has connected all continents and carries data on every square inch of the earth’s surface traced by geostationary satellites. Information from the furthest reaches of the solar system and further out through Hubble’s eye, swirls into it. We are now immersed in an electrographic mist of data. Over the next 20 years or so, the mist will become rain, and this rain may become a flood of data. Or, it may become a global informational ganma. It all depends on us and the new neural networks, modelled on the human brain, that are now being developed.
The current digital infotronic revolution could have an impact on humans to rival the impact that the arrival of language had on the dawn humans. It is possible that the 40 year period between 1980 (the arrival of the Personal Computer) and 2020 may be seen in hundreds of years time, as one of the greatest turning points in human history. This revolution is much larger and faster than previous transitions like the change from an Agrarian Age to the Industrial Age. Whereas before, transitions occurred in specific places and gradually spread across the globe, the current revolution in technology is being felt globally and almost instantaneously. Through the coming Digital Age a global culture is emerging.

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What must it have felt like about five hundred years ago when the very first book was published on a printing press? For one thing, Gutenberg probably didn’t foresee that literacy skills would be needed by everyone. Today it is seen as a fundamental human right. Five hundred years ago only a certain elite, members of the church and some others, had access to books which had been hand copied one by one by monks. They were the only ones who could read and write. Gutenberg democratised the need for literacy. In the new world order of the Digital Age many people may not be able to access information technology and may not have the necessary electrographic literacy. This means that the poorest will become even poorer without access to this technology.

Questions and concerns like these were fluttering around in my head when I first met Johan Cedergren at the Dingo Cafe, Alice Springs. Johan, a teacher from Rodengymnasium Upper Secondary School, Sweden came to present his paper, “Baltic Region Knowledge: An Interdisciplinary High School Course for Swedish and Russian Students”. This project is part of a long term program for re-establishing contacts between north western Russia and the new Baltic States. The internet is used extensively to network the students between the two countries.
I also had an interest in this new technology and my paper, “The Hunter Connection: Getting Ethnic Communities Online “ was on a rural strategy that the Multicultural Education Unit, Hunter Institute of Technology, Australia is implementing to address the local community’s communications needs.

Johan and I found that our concerns were similar. How do we ensure that this technology is accessible to all who need it? The small proportion of humanity who has access to this knowledge and technology also uses up most of the planet’s resources while the greater majority of humanity is undernourished and living in poverty. This small proportion of humanity, from previous experience, may build new virtual ivory towers far removed from the hoi polloi paralyzed by techno fear or by the lack of access to the technology. There is a need for groups that have been “marginalised as the other” to colonise Cyberia. The secular clergy of our small proportion must work to ensure that all have access.

Whatever the answers to these issues, the fact is that we are experiencing a fracturing of the idea of specific location in space. Telecommunications in all its diversity is bringing the globe to one’s home and one’s home to the globe. Video conferencing in virtual rooms with participants from all over the world are a reality now. I cut and pasted this information about the Tanami Project from some email message I received in 1996:

VIDEOCONFERENCING IN THE OUTBACKSince 1993, Aborigine communities in Australia’s Northern Territory have
been using videoconferencing as the primary medium for personal and business communications among each other and other sites in Sydney, Darwin and Alice Springs. The Tanami Network, which uses PictureTel videoconferencing equipment, is favored over the telephone or radio because it can convey the extensive system of hand gestures used by aborigines while speaking. Most of the videoconferences held are personal or ceremonial in nature — paid for in large part by mineral royalties and community funds. Other aborigine videoconferencing networks include the Mungindi Project, which uses Cornell University’s CU-SeeMe software to link four remote schools.
(Technology Review Apr 96 p17)

This multimedia technology makes it possible to communicate Tjukurrpa information to community members whether three hundred kilometres or three thousand kilometres away. It is possible, with the right intent, to straddle both “Western” and indigenous perspectives if the technology is used appropriately and the resources accessible.

Both Johan and I decided to go and see this project. Johan went on a bus with a group of other LERNers to Yuendumu about three hundred kilometres from Alice Springs on the edge of the Tanami Desert. I went with another group to Alice Springs. When we became connected, the information signals were beamed to Sydney then bounced off from a satellite to Alice Springs and Yuendumu. It was a strange sensation communicating with this technology, there was a slight adjustment required in one’s sense of place. The next day in the foyer of the Araluen Arts Centre, Johan asked me to have a look at his laptop computer. On the screen was a picture of myself taken from the video screen at Yuendumu. Unknown to me, Johan took a picture of me “hosting” on his digital camera. He showed me other pictures he took of the conference. These pictures I downloaded from his website in Sweden when I returned home to Morpeth, NSW.

So, digital images taken from an electrographic encounter in the centre of Australia are accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world with the appropriate technology. Not only images but also sound and text.The possibilities of using this technology to enhance communications between all of us is immense. The tributaries of information are now global and the challenge for us, as educators, is to ensure that all have access.

Those who do have access to the infotronic labyrinth with walls of World Wide Webs, do we need a thread like Theseus received from Ariadne to find our way to the centre and back? Who is the monster at the centre and what is the thread? Unlike geographical Siberia, Cyberia resides in non-Euclidean space where North, South, East and West do not exist. So, where is the centre of the maze? A computer program is a set of linear binary instructions. There are as yet no computer based devices which can handle patterns. Stories, as information devices, handle and convey patterns of knowledge.

Perhaps the thread we seek is our own story making capacity.

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The four days came to an end too quickly. The Closing Ceremony was performed by Pitjantjatjara traditional dancers. Faces of people I had met, the garden chats, the painting of the Conference Mural by LERNers, images of the management students, the Conference Dinner when we let our guards down and saw each other in motion, floated through my mind during the asymmetrical pauses of the dancers. A performance by a group of young local people followed giving the other half of the Closing Ceremony. The emerging global culture and its expression were clearly seen in the dancing. Dancing to contemporary hip hop music with moves informed by their aboriginal inheritance, the group expressed movements that were both uniquely local and global at the same time. Ganma dancing?

The next day I met up with my touring companions to pick up the hire car. All of us were born in different countries and had made Australia our home. Alejandra Martinez from Chile, Chandrima Mukerjee from India, Jenny Howard from Borneo, Beatrice Espenez- Stotz from Uruguay and myself from Greece. Our car was a little ganma space on four wheels, touring the centre of Australia with five dinkum Aussies. Alejandra, was the holy of holies – a mother to be, with only three months to go before the birth of her baby. I felt that her presence would ensure a safe passage for us all. Once we picked up the car I took some tapes out of my bag which would become some of the soundtrack of the trip. The first song we listened to as we were leaving Alice Springs was “Two Way Dreamtime” by Directions in Groove (DIG). We played this song often at different points on our journey :

Two Way Dreamtime

Dreamtime on a leyline, forty thousand years is a long, long
Dreamtime on a songline, forty thousand years is a long, long
Dreamtime on a leyline, forty thousand years is a long, long
Dreamtime on a songline, forty thousand years is a long, long time.

Welcome to the alien nation, and this society based on invasion
where we don’t know soul from a hole in the ground.
Two hundred years of beating around the bush, digging money out boom or bust, well, ashes to ashes dust to dust…

It’s all those people that you buy and sell, millions of shares in a living hell. You’ve got a house and a pool and a Porsche and a beeper, but are you just making life cheaper, you’re gonna have to dig a little bit deeper, the price of admission is so much steeper.
You pay with your dreams, so wake up sleeper.

Dreamtime on a songline, forty thousand years is a long, long time….

Welcome to the alien nation, but it’s not too late to change the equation.
Listen to the A-B-original people, the Earth is a church without a steeple, don’t look for heaven in a father above, it’s here on the ground in a family of love and deeper respect for each other, brothers and sisters with the one Earth for mother.

Now life is a state of constant creation and what we need is inspiration.
There’s more to me than meets the eye, so let’s find the spirit that let’s us try, to make a treaty with the past or we’re doomed to a future that cannot last. Heal the wounds, confess our crimes, free at last in a two way dreamtime….

Directions in Groove

The first place we visited was Stanley’s Chasm, a huge gap at the tail end of the McDonnell Ranges. We walked up and through a stony path, past desert palms, mulga, a plant with flowers smelling like delicate lavender. We saw a couple of rock wallabies scurry up shear vertical rock faces. We entered the chasm and heard frogs croaking. The rain had brought the mating calls of the frogs that reverberated through the chasm. As we walked out I had the distinct feeling of having emerged with realigned impressions. The surrounding rocks and trees vibrated invisibly and silently. Ally laid on her back across a flat smooth striated rock. Her belly, full of new life made a silhouette just left of Stanley Chasm’s opening . Birds became audible. Ally spoke to Beatrice in Spanish. I asked them what they were talking about. They said that they both felt as if they had just emerged from a womb. The words Mother : Matrix : Matter rose to the surface of my mind.

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Space is what you first notice, once you’ve travelled in Central Australia a few hundred kilometres on no speed limit roads. The massive road trains, when they appeared, shuddered a reminder of how small you and your car really are. The expanse of sky and the horizon of the world’s most sparsely populated lands (apart from Antarctica) made me feel my smallness. Our first stop for the night was at King’s Canyon.

Late at night I walked along an elevated metal path that was built to conserve the local environment. I was going to view the profile of King’s Canyon against the night sky. The end of the path was about half a kilometre away from the cabins. While walking down the metallic path, my footsteps echoed through the night space. Finally I stood at the end of the “Western” metallic thread. I turned towards the cool breeze blowing through the native land. How far had this wind travelled to get here – the Centre of Australia? Across hundreds, perhaps thousands of kilometres of ground that was almost empty of people. I looked at the Milky Way splashing across the dome of my mind, streaks of falling stars crossed above King’s Canyon. All the while I felt the Southern Cross watching over us.

The next day after seeing and walking around King’s Canyon we headed further south to Uluru and Katajuta. Twenty five years ago when I arrived at Erldunda, the turn off to Ayer’s Rock and the Olgas, I couldn’t take the turn and went direct to Adelaide. This time I was ready.

On the way to Uluru we passed Atila (Mount Conner) whose flat table top contrasted with our post card expectations of Uluru’s and Katajuta’s roundness. We were only about twenty kilometres from Uluru when we passed an old panel van crowded with local Aboriginal men, women and children, waving to us. Getting closer to Uluru, the following refrain came from the car’s radio:

What if God was one of us,
just a slob like one of us,
just a stranger on the bus
trying to make his way home…..
In the near distance we caught a glimpse of Uluru, the largest Rock on Earth, right in the Centre of Australia, now in front of us. With many other vehicles we parked at the specified viewing area. We had arrived at the most opportune time to witness the almost miraculous changes in colour of Uluru as the sun sets. Uluru turned our sight away from the west where the sun was setting, towards the Red Centre. The shifting reds of the Rock vibrated against an eastern blue sky, the shadows of mulgas nearby almost merged with the red dirt.

The next day we visited Uluru where we spent some time at the Cultural Centre. Along the inner walls of the Centre, a Dreamtime story written in English had Aboriginal paintings as iconic reflections. The version below of the same Kuniya story comes from “Uluru, an Aboriginal History of Ayers Rock” by Robert Layton.

The Kuniya story (The Pythons)The Kuniya converged on Uluru from three directions. One group came westward from Waltanta (the present site of Erldunda homestead), and Paku-paku; another came south through Wilpiya (Wilhia Well); and a third, northwards, from the area of Yunanpa (Mitchell’s Knob). One of the Kuniya women carried her eggs on her head, using a manguri (grass head-pad) to cushion them. She buried these eggs at the eastern end of Uluru. While they were camped at Uluru, the Kuniya were attacked by a party of Liru (poisonous snake) warriors. The Liru had journeyed along the southern flank of the Petermann Ranges from beyond Wangkari (Gills Pinnacle).

At Alyurungu, on the southwest face of Uluru, are pock marks in the rock, the scars left by the warriors’ spears; two black-stained watercourses are the transformed bodies of two Liru. The fight centred on Mutitjulu (Maggie’s Spring). Here a Kuniya woman fought using her wana; her features are preserved in the eastern face of the gorge. The features of the Liru warrior she attacked can be seen in the western face, where his eye, head wounds (transformed into vertical cracks), and severed nose form part of the cliff.

Above Mutitjulu is Uluru rock hole. This is the home of a Kuniya who releases the water into Mutitjulu. If the flow stops during drought, the snake can be dislodged by standing at Mutitjulu and calling ‘Kuka! Kuka! Kuka!’ (Meat! Meat! Meal!). The journey to Uluru and lhe Liru snakes’ attack are described in the public song cycle recording the Kuniya story.

Almost half way along the Cultural Centre’s inner wall, a large video screen was showing the same traditional dancers that had performed the Closing Ceremony at Araluen Arts Centre. An electrographic video echo in Uluru.

When we approached Uluru none of us could envisage climbing the Rock. The original people of this land plead with tourists at the Cultural Centre not to climb Uluru. Even at the site where a chain railing extended up a ridge began its climb, there was a sign with a Red Cross stating that the local people would strongly prefer people not to climb Uluru because it was against their religious beliefs. Again, it was a request. What do fellow humans have to do to at least elicit some semblance of respect for their beliefs?

I am reminded of the Sufi saying: “When a thief sees a saint, all he sees is his pocket.” In this context could it be, “When a fool sees a sacred site, all he sees is a ladder of chains.” ?

On the way back to Alice Springs we decided to stay the night at Erldunda and make an early start the next morning. Once we got to the turn off I rang my family and found out that a friend had died the night before. Returning to our table outside the roadhouse, in shock over the news, I wept. My travelling companions brought coffee and sat with me. Their company was a comfort.

A group of about six Aboriginal men were dropped off a utility truck a few metres away from us, while I was lighting a cigarette. Speaking their native language they sat and stood a few tables away from us. One of them, who was standing, caught my eye and looked at me for as long as it takes to inhale and exhale two complete breaths. He walked over to our table and it was clear by the way he asked for a cigarette that English was his second language. I gave him the pack and the coffee with the news of Kevin Bates’ passing away resonating through my heart. He sat with us for a short time. An echo from twenty five years ago was heard at Erldunda that night. Twenty five years before, the old man had given me milk, biscuits and shelter somewhere near here. Twenty five years later I had given in return, acquired habits. Somehow, it didn’t feel it was an equal exchange. Somehow, I felt that I was still in debt.

After a while the utility truck returned to pick the men up. As they left I wondered at the coincidence of place, time and events. I meandered to my cabin, noting that the only other time I slept in Erldunda was in a humpy by the side of this road. Having said good night to my companions, I sat outside trying to locate the Southern Cross. I noticed a swarm of fireflies swirling to my right near a gigantic eucalyptus tree. I stared at the fireflies remembering that they are sometimes a symbol of the soul’s ongoing life after death.
Ally bought “Tribal Voice” by Yothu Yindi as soon as we arrived at Alice Springs. She wanted to ensure that the last musical sounds we listened to as we drove our hire car to the airport came from this part of Australia. Driving to the airport we heard the song :

TreatyWell I heard it on the radio – And I saw it on the television – Back in 1988 – all those talking politicians – Words are easy, words are cheap – Much cheaper than our priceless land – But promises can disappear – Just like writing in the sand – Treaty Yeh Treaty Now Treaty Yeh Treaty Now – Nhima Djat’pangarri nhima walangwalang – Nhe Djat’payatpa nhima gaya nhe – Matjini Yakarray – Nhe Djat’pa nhe walang – Gumarrt Jararrk Gutjuk – This land was never given up – This land was never bought and sold – The planting of the Union Jack – Never changed our law at all – Now two rivers run their course – Separated for so long – I’m dreaming of a brighter day – When the waters will be one – Treaty Yeh Treaty Now Treaty Yeh Treaty Now Treaty Yeh Treaty Now Treaty Yeh Treaty Now – Nehma Gayakaya nhe gayanhe matjini walangwalang nhe ya – Nhima djatpa nhe walang – Gumurrtjararrk Yawirnny – Nhe gaya nhe matjini – Gaya nhe matjini – Gaya gaya nhe gaya nhe – Matjini walangwalang – Nhema djat’pa nhe walang – Nhe gumurrtjarrk nhe ya – Promises – Disappear – Priceless land – Destiny – Well I heard it on the radio – And I saw it on the television – But promises can be broken – Just like writing in the sand – Treaty Yeh Treaty Now Treaty Yeh Treaty Now Treaty Yeh Treaty Now Treaty Yeh Treaty Now – Treaty Ma – Treaty Yeh – Treaty.

(M. Yunupingu / G Yunupingu / M Mununggurri / W Marika / S Kellaway / C Williams / P Kelly / P Garrett)

While flying over the Simpson Desert on the return journey, I thought about Gracelyn Smallwood’s paper where she compared the state of South Africa’s original people and Australia’s. She said,

“South Africa is striving for Truth and Reconciliation, not just Reconciliation without Truth. The truth is that over three quarters of the Aboriginal people have been murdered over the last two hundred years in Australia. In South Africa, the blacks during apartheid, kept their language and culture. In Australia there is a selective amnesia operating when it comes to the indigenous people. We need both Truth and Reconciliation.”

Perhaps one of the consequences of working towards Truth and Reconciliation may be Justice for the original people of this country.

I noticed that the land was getting greener and soon we were flying over the Great Dividing Range. Though I looked, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to spot the Three Sisters rock formation of the Blue Mountains. I was hoping that as we curved our landing onto Sydney Airport I’d catch a glimpse of what I and my two brothers called the Three Brothers. These were three twenty storey high Housing Commission flats that were built during the sixties across the street from my first home in Australia. Like many migrants of the fifties and sixties we lived in the cheap accommodation that was available those days in Redfern and other parts of inner city Sydney. Orienting my gaze from Sydney Harbour Bridge I tried to guess the approximate site of my first home here. The patterns on the ground below became angular and grid like, broken by the occasional patch and oval of green. I didn’t get a glimpse of the Three Brothers. Since the time of my childhood, many other sky scrapers were built and they were lost to me.

Botany Bay came into view as our plane was turning to land. As our plane looked like it was going to touch the water I felt Sydney, Eora, an edge metropolis of our ganma continent turn around the Red Centre, the rocks, hills, mulga, spinifex, red dirt and a few people in the Heart of Australia.

Published in Education Australia,1998


The Triumph of Triviality – John Schumaker (from New Internationalist)

March 31, 2010

The triumph of triviality

John F Schumaker asks if consumer society is too shallow to deal with the deepening crises facing the planet.

The results of the cultural indoctrination stakes are not yet in but there is a definite trend – triviality leads, followed closely by superficiality and mindless distraction. Vanity looks great while profundity is bringing up the rear. Pettiness is powering ahead, along with passivity and indifference. Curiosity lost interest, wisdom was scratched and critical thought had to be put down. Ego is running wild. Attention span continues to shorten and no-one is betting on survival.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Half a century ago, humanistic thinkers were heralding a great awakening that would usher in a golden age of enlightened living. People like Erich Fromm, Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, Rollo May and Viktor Frankl were laying the groundwork for a new social order distinguished by raised consciousness, depth of purpose and ethical refinement. This tantalizing vision was the antithesis of our society of blinkered narcissists and hypnogogic materialists. Dumbness was not our destiny. Planetary annihilation was not the plan. By the 21st century, we were supposed to be the rarefied ‘people of tomorrow’, inhabiting a sagacious and wholesome world.

Today, the demand for triviality has never been higher and our tolerance for seriousness has never been lower

Erich Fromm’s 1955 tome, The Sane Society, signalled the début of the one-dimensional ‘marketing character’ – a robotic, all-consuming creature, ‘well-fed, well-entertained… passive, unalive and lacking in feeling’. But Fromm was also confident that we would avoid further descent into the fatuous. He forecast a utopian society based on ‘humanistic communitarianism’ that would nurture our higher ‘existential needs’.

In his 1961 book, On Becoming a Person, Carl Rogers wrote: ‘When I look at the world I am pessimistic, but when I look at people I am optimistic.’ While acknowledging consumer culture’s seductive dreamland of trinkets and desire, he believed that we – those ‘people of tomorrow’ – would minister over a growth-oriented society, with ‘growth’ defined as the full and positive unfolding of human potential.

We would be upwardly driven toward authenticity, social equality and the welfare of coming generations. We would revere nature, realize the unimportance of material things and hold a healthy scepticism about technology and science. An anti-institutional vision would enable us to fend off dehumanizing bureaucratic and corporate authority as we united to meet our ‘higher needs’.

One of the most famous concepts in the history of psychology is Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, often illustrated by a pyramid. Once widely accepted, it was also inspired by a faith in innate positive human potential. Maslow claimed that human beings naturally switch attention to higher-level needs (intellectual, spiritual, social, existential) once they have met lower-level material ones. In moving up the pyramid and ‘becoming’, we channel ourselves toward wisdom, beauty, truth, love, gratitude and respect for life. Instead of a society that catered to and maintained the lowest common denominator, Maslow imagined one that prospered in the course of promoting mature ‘self-actualized’ individuals.

But something happened along the way. The pyramid collapsed. Human potential took a back seat to economic potential while self-actualization gave way to self-absorption on a spectacular scale. A pulp culture flourished as the masses were successfully duped into making a home amidst an ever-changing smorgasbord of false material needs.

Operating on the principle that triviality is more profitable than substance and dedicating itself to unceasing material overkill, consumer culture has become a fine-tuned instrument for keeping people incomplete, shallow and dehumanized. Materialism continues to gain ground, even in the face of an impending eco-apocalypse.

Pulp culture is a feast of tinsel and veneer. The ideal citizen is an empty tract through which gadgets can pass quickly, largely undigested, so there is always space for more. Reality races by as a blur of consumer choices that never feel quite real. We know it as the fast lane and whip ourselves to keep apace.

Rollo May described it accurately in his 1953 book, Man’s Search for Himself:

‘It’s an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when they have lost their way.’ So it’s largely business-as-usual even as the sky is falling.

Some critics did predict the triumph of the trivial. In his 1957 essay, ‘A Theory of Mass Culture’, Dwight MacDonald foresaw our ‘debased trivial culture that voids both the deep realities and also the simple spontaneous pleasures’, adding that ‘the masses, debauched by several generations of this sort of thing, in turn come to demand trivial cultural products’.

Today, the demand for triviality has never been higher and our tolerance for seriousness has never been lower.

In this dense fog the meaningful and meaningless can easily get reversed. Losers look like winners and the lofty and ludicrous get confused. The caption under a recent ad for men’s underwear read: ‘I’ve got something that’s good for your body, mind and soul.’ Fashion statements become a form of literacy; brand names father pride and celebrity drivel becomes compelling.

Not even God has been spared. Once a potent commander of attention and allegiance, God has been gelded into a sort of celestial lapdog who fetches our wishes for this-world success. Nothing is so great that it can’t be reconceived or rephrased in order to render it insubstantial, non-threatening or – best of all – entertaining.

The age of trivialization has left its mark on marriage, family and love. In a recent AC Nielsen survey, when asked to choose between spending time with their fathers and watching television, 54 per cent of American 4-6 year-olds chose television. The same study reported that American parents spend an average of 3.5 minutes per week in ‘meaningful conversation’ with their children, while the children themselves watch 28 hours of television a week. To which we can add cellphones, computer games and other techno-toys that are inducing a state of digital autism in our young people.

Out of this cock-up comes the most pressing question of our age. Can a highly trivialized culture, marooned between fact and fiction, dizzy with distraction and denial, elevate its values and priorities to respond effectively to the multiple planetary emergencies looming? Empty talk and token gestures aside, it doesn’t appear to be happening.

Some of the great humanists felt that there are limits to a culture’s ability to suppress our higher needs. They assumed that we are ethical creatures by nature and that we’ll do the right thing when necessary – we will transcend materialism given the freedom to do so. That seems far-fetched given the ethical coma in which we now find ourselves. Yet the ultimate test is whether or not we can do the right thing by the planet and for future generations.

Ethics and politics have never sat well together. When ‘citizens’ changed into ‘consumers’, political life became an exercise in keeping the customer happy. The imperfect democracies we have today have never been tested with planetary issues like global warming and climate change, which demand radical and unsettling solutions. In the race against the clock, politicians appear almost comical as they try not to disturb the trivial pursuits propping up our dangerously obsolete socio-economic system.

Global calamity is forcing us into a post-political era in which ethically driven individuals and groups race ahead of the political class. Soon centre-stage will belong to culture-change strategists who are able to inspire leaps of consciousness independently of hapless follow-the-leader politics. One such person is Jan Lundberg (www.culturechange.org). Lundberg is an environmental activist and a long-standing voice for pre-emptive culture change. He understands that hyper-consumerism trivializes reality and numbs people, even to prospects of their own destruction. In his essay ‘Interconnections of All in the Universe’, he writes: ‘Unless we broaden and deepen our perception of both the universe and our fellow members of society, we all may perish in persisting to manipulate each other and our ecosystem with materialism and exploitation.’

Culture-change strategists all agree about the urgent need to promote ‘global consciousness’ or ‘cosmic consciousness’ – a broad worldview with a high awareness of the inter-relatedness and sacredness of all living things. It is thought that such a universality of mind leads not only to intellectual illumination, but also to heightened moral sensibilities, compassion and greater community responsibility.

Behind the scenes some noteworthy organizations are working toward the goal of global consciousness, including the World Commission on Global Consciousness and Spirituality (www.globalspirit.org), whose members include Nobel laureates, culture theorists, futurists and spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama. The group points out the huge backlog of positive human potential that is ready to unleash itself once we assume control and carve healthier cultural pathways for people’s energies. According to their mission statement, the fate of humankind and the ecosystem lies in our ability over the next couple of decades actively to revise our cultural blueprints in order to foster global consciousness and create new, more ‘mindful’ political and economic models.

Global calamity is forcing us into a post-political era in which ethically driven individuals and groups race ahead of the political class

Even in the formal education system, a small but growing number of teachers are incorporating a ‘global awareness’ perspective into the curriculum, aimed at dissolving cultural barriers and building a sense of global community (www.globalawareness.com). Some are even encouraging a ‘global grammar’ that links students both to other human beings and to the entire planet.

In the war against trivialization some groups speak of ‘planetization’ – an expansive worldview that can slow our cultural death march. It was the French philosopher, palaeontologist and Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who coined this term in calling for a global mind that fused our ecological, spiritual and political energies, and thereby paved the way for harmonious living and lasting peace. The organization Planetization Rising (www.planetization.com) sees this next phase as the only means by which we can ascend to a higher knowledge and thereby find a life-sustaining path for ourselves and the Earth: ‘It’s the next watershed mark in our evolutionary journey which alone can provide us with the empowerment and insight needed to overcome the gathering forces of ecological devastation, greed and war which now threaten our survival.’

The cultural indoctrination race is not over. The losers are still winning and the odds for a revolution in consciousness are no more than even. But is there an alternative – other than to drown in our own shallowness?

John F Schumaker is a US-born clinical psychologist living in Christchurch, New Zealand/Aotearoa. His latest book is In search of happiness: understanding an endangered state of mind (Penguin, 2006).

also by…
THIS AUTHOR

The happiness conspiracy
What does it mean to be happy in a modern consumer society? John F Schumaker argues that the elusive state has more to do with culture than genetics.

In greed we trust
John F Schumaker takes on the philosophers of greed.

Dead zone
John F Schumaker now lives and works in Aotearoa/New Zealand. But on a recent trip back home he came face-to-face with the monster of American consumer culture. The sobering encounter left him questioning both human greed and the pursuit of materialism.


A Voice from the Voiceless >> Dadaab Refugee Camps Kenya

March 9, 2010

Hi

I received the following message from some African refugee workers I am in contact with in my day job. This is stuff you won’t see on ABC, BBC, PBS or written about in UN Reports. It is a Call from those whose voice has been voiceless in Dadaab, Kenya. I have not corrected any grammar, syntax or spelling. I am posting this as I received it.

stavros

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Dear All the concerned Memebers,

With humble respect, on behalf of the refugees living in the camps of Dadaab, we would like to share our grievances with the world and ask for you to help us find our way to freedom.

Our lives in the camps are far worse than you can imagine. We live in an open prison, far away from justice and humanity. We talk, but our voices are never heard. We move, but only inside a cage. We have many skills and talents, but we are denied our chance to maximize our potential. We are chained to a life full of stress and despair; a life for which many would prefer death. We are denied opportunities for education and employment. We live in a condition without adequate water, food, or health facilities. We are arbitrarily beaten or detained by police within the confines of the camp. We lack the ability to freely express ourselves or have control over the decisions affecting our lives.

For those of us lucky enough to obtain employment with the agencies, we are exploited through the payment of mere “incentive” wages, while national and international staff receive much greater payment and benefits. How can you force us to live in a certain place that denies us our human rights and our basic needs?

 This note wishes to express some of the challenges we face here in the refugee camps of Dadaab in the hopes that we will be given a chance to have greater control over our lives, and have our fundamental human rights fulfilled. Although the challenges and abuses we face are numerous, we will only briefly mention some of our main grievances, including restricted movement, exploitative working conditions, poor service deliver, and false information and abuse by UNHCR and other agencies operating in the camps.

For many of us, the restrictions on movement and the conditions in our forced confinement have caused more psychological, economical, and health problems than diseases and wars have caused.

We ask the Kenyan government, the other governments of Africa, and the people of the world to hear our voices, see our condition, and look further into our situation. We only want our chance to thrive, to live our lives, to visit our family members, to attend school, to receive medical treatment, to help support our families, and to have control over the economic and policy making decisions affecting our lives. We only want the chance to live as other human beings live, with a hope for the future.

Please hear our cries, allow us to move freely from this open prison, and provide us the opportunity to live our lives, support ourselves, and pursue our dreams!

Restricted Movement

Some of us have faced the imprisonment of the refugee camps of Dadaab since 1991, while others of us are newly arriving. Although there have been changes and developments over the past nineteen years, our restricted movement has caused and continues to cause our underdevelopment and deterioration. Many people have died from simple diseases because they could not move to get treatment in Garissa (a town only 90 km from Dadaab). Many parents have remained separated from their children who disappeared from the camps because they could not move to search for them or inquire of their whereabouts. Many students have missed their chances for educational opportunities, have failed to take their final examinations, or have been unable to obtain education certificates earned because they could not receive the permission to move. Many people have been forced into greater poverty by being denied the chance to work and by having to pay three times the price of goods in other regions because they can not move to get cheaper goods for consumption or business. Perhaps worse still, many who have tried to move have been beaten, arrested, detained, and/or forced to pay heavy bribes or fines of large amounts of money they never imagined.

Exploitative Working Conditions

Ever since the creation of the refugee camps of Dadaab in 1991 and 1992 and thereafter, UNHCR and the agencies operating in the refugee camps of Dadaab have relied for their operations on the exploited labor of the refugee communities. Whether skilled or unskilled labor, refugee staff members have worked in conditions and received wages that are in violation of national and international labor laws. While many of the refugee staff in the agencies work tirelessly for the agencies and their fellow refugees, they still merely receive “incentives” for their hard work and dedication. Even highly experienced individuals, some of whom have graduated from Universities, colleges, and secondary schools in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Congo, Sudan, etc., receive unlivable wages, let alone wages commensurate with their experience. In addition to the dreadfully low, unlivable wage, refugee staff members are discriminated against in their payment. Specifically, although refugee staff members work as many hours and complete as many or more tasks as national or some international staff members, refugee staff members are paid significantly lower amounts and are called the derogatory name of “incentive” staff members receiving not wages or a salary but “incentives.” Indeed, though the work load given refugee staff members often exceeds that national/international staff members, refugee staff members are not given their proper respect or payment.

In a related manner, refugee staff often face harsh and discriminatory treatment by national and international staff of UNHCR and the agencies. Several national and international staff frequently use harsh commands and create a difficult work environment, and are given titles of officers even though they do not have as much experience or strong work ethic as the refugee staff members. As an example of the unfair treatment of refugee staff members, these staff members often have to queue for long hours simply to receive their payments and such long lines often cause staff members to miss the limited opportunities to receive their payment and in turn delay their receipt of their hard earned payments. As another example, refugee staff members have great difficulty receiving transportation services of the agencies, sometimes even when travel is required by their jobs. Also, refugee staff members are often not given opportunities for training or scholarships, or even if they do receive such opportunities they are not given work permits at the end of even multiple degrees. Moreover, refugee staff members are not allowed to take part in decision making about the refugee programmes ironically that the refugee staff members usually must implement and that are intended to benefit refugee beneficiaries. Similarly, refugee staff members are not afforded an opportunity to participate in planning, writing project proposals, or otherwise participating in any other management functions despite in many circumstances years of experience and knowledge about the refugee communities who are supposedly the beneficiaries of the agencies’ programs and the conditions in which they live and operate. Indeed, refugee staff members are not even provided meaningful opportunities to present feedback that is received, considered, and/or implemented. Incentive Wages At the heart of the exploitation of refugee staff members lies the entire system of “incentive workers.”

The agencies in the camps of Dadaab divide staff into three main categories:

§ International staff

§ National staff

§ Incentive staff

While national and international staff have relatively similar salaries, working conditions, and privileges, the so-called incentive staff are barely paid, are discriminated against, and are often treated with disrespect. The national and international staff members have every thing required for the fulfillment of the respective work such as transport, office tools and equipment, refreshments etc. at their disposal. At the same time, the refugee staff generally have no such access despite the fact that the national and international staff often greatly depend upon the refugee staff in order to carry out their duties, gain access to and understand the refugee communities, and break through language barriers and cultural differences. Yet, while the incentive staff are indeed the back bone of the agency operations in the camps, the relationship between these two sets of staff and the treatment of refugee staff members is horrible.

 The agencies and UNHCR continue to simply pay only meager incentives, which are minimal amounts in and of themselves and are not accompanied by any significant bonuses, benefits, allowances, pensions, separation payments, or other components of standard national and international staff contracts even for refugee staff members that have been working for over a decade. An incentive worker will earn as little as 50 – 90 USD per month, regardless of the number of years of experience, seniority in employment or academic qualifications. Indeed, the skills, academic credentials, and experiences varies significantly across the work force of refugees, ranging from primary school leavers to those with multiple Masters degrees and diplomas who have worked for more than a decade. Yet all are subject to harsh conditions and meager payment. In addition, the ill treatment and lack of respect for refugee staff and their tireless efforts has taken its physical and emotional toll on many staff members, and in fact some young professionals have developed psychological problems due to the frustrations they face while others have chosen to even risk their lives to return to their respective homelands in the hopes of finding an adequate means of survival for themselves and their families. Moreover, the vast disparities between refugee staff and national/international staff continues to create envy and hatred among the staff of the same agency.

 The incentive system is often claimed to be necessary because of limited budgetary resources and because refugee staff members are not allowed to officially work under Kenyan law. However, in actuality, these supposed justifications serve only as mere excuses for the agencies to hide behind so that they can continue to exploit refugee labor. With respect to the limited resources, first of all limited resources can not serve as an excuse for exploiting refugee labour. Moreover, the amount of money that is wasted if not skimmed off the top by the agencies reaches huge amounts; if there are indeed limited resources, the agencies could shift resources away from ineffective trainings, corrupted individuals, and high paid national and international staff in order to adequately pay incentive staff members.

In a related manner, in line with the problem noted above of not including refugee staff in decision-making and managerial tasks: the agencies should “open the books” and allow refugee staff members to be a part of resource allocation decisions. With respect to the inability for refugees to work under Kenyan law, again the agencies and not the Kenyan government are setting the amounts of the incentive wages and if the agencies are able to legally provide incentives at all then the agencies can not point the finger at anyone other than themselves with respect to the exploitative amounts that are arbitrarily set by UNHCR and the agencies. Moreover, UNHCR and agencies are able to obtain work permits for refugee staff members in Nairobi and elsewhere when they deem it appropriate. Further, it is the obligation of UNHCR to advocate on behalf of refugees’ right to work and pressure the government of Kenya to follow its obligations under the Refugee Convention to allow for such rights.

We ask members of the international community to step up for this matter and come forward to help us refugee staff members regain our human dignity and equality and fairness for all in terms wage earning, working conditions and decision-making. Furthermore, we ask that international human rights bodies and the International Labor Organization study and scrutinize the years in which our talents, skills and services have been exploited and abused by the agencies in Dadaab. The title “incentive worker” The title given to the refugees working with the humanitarian agencies is itself exploitative and demeaning. Literally the word incentive means something given to some in order that he/she keeps the same spirit in the course of an operation; however the magnitude of the incentive in the camps of Dadaab is negligible. Considering the workload carried out by the staff or employees drawn from the refugee community, it is the case that refugee workers form the backbone of the humanitarian operations in the Dadaab camps. Indeed, without these workers, the agencies would suffer an acute shortage of human resources. Given the fact that the title “incentive” does not actually sound proper, the refugee workers often feel discouraged and humiliated to be called an incentive worker, which even can weaken the productivity and output of the workers. Furthermore the title incentive widens the already expansive gap between the refugee workers and the national and international staff, which further hinders the cooperation necessary to achieve the important goals of the humanitarian operations in Dadaab.

The more favorable the working conditions, the more efficient an employee will be in her/his daily undertakings, and the more cooperative relations amongst different categories of staff members, the more likely the operations in general will be successful. Thus, if only from the point of view of improving operations in Dadaab, the title of the refugee staff should be changed, the disparity in wages must be closed, and the working conditions must be improved. Harmonization Incentive Document for 2010 A memo concerning the “harmonization of refugees incentive workers wages” was developed by UNHCR in collaboration with all of the NGOs working in the refugee camps; some of the NGOs have shown skepticism about the effects of the document but the policy has been passed without adequate input or consideration of the viewpoints of current refugee staff members. While we recognize the potential positive effect of raising the wages of those agencies paying the lowest amounts, harmonization should only result in a harmonization upward. Moreover, we believe that individuals should be paid wages that are both living wages and appropriate for their jobs and their level of expertise and experience. The document is totally contradicting the conventions to the refuges. Indeed this is a practical evidence that UNHCR is violating the international conventions and protocols relating to the provisions and service of the refuges instead of promoting, it.

Furthermore, the UNHCR has not increased a sigle coin to the refguee workers and what it done was a cheating withno consultation to the concerned parties; indeed the amount that was dedected from the fellow refugee workers were increased for the other fellow refguee workers thus, creating envy and hatered among the working refguee workers!. In this world it has never been noticed that somesone’s pay is lowered without proper justifications.

Despite the fact that many other irrlguralies that can not be not be summarized is ongoing on daily, weekly, monthly or annually basses within the confines of the refugee camps of Dadaab.

Poor Service Delivery

The Dadaab refugee camps were established in the wake the devastating civil wars and persecution in neighboring countries, such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, Burundi, Congo, and Eritrea. While we are grateful for the support that has been provided to those who have had to flee from their home countries, it is incredible that nearly twenty years after their adoption, their remains terrible problems in the service delivery and operations of the various agencies operating in the Dadaab camps: UNHCR, WFP, CARE, NRC LWF, IRC GTZ –IS, WINDLE TRUST KENYA, DRC HI, MSF, etc. The food distribution sector, the education sector, the medical care sector, the water and sanitation sector, and the land allocation and shelter sectors provide just a few of the many examples of the continuing and sometimes worsening poor service delivery. Food While the refugees in the Dadaab camps do appreciate the relentless efforts of the international community to ensure that the refugees in the Dadaab camps are given food, we ask the international community if a three (03) kilograms of maize and 50 grams of oil is enough to feed a person for a period of 15 days. This meager amount does not meet international standards. Worse still, a quarter of the amount claimed to be given is often stolen during food distribution, in large part because the workers of the food distribution are not adequately paid and are thus encouraged to steal from the beneficiaries. How can refugees be forced to remain in camps, told for twenty years that they are not allowed to work and raise their own livelihood, and then not be given enough food to feed themselves and their families?

Education

Education in the camps consists of several primary schools and secondary schools and other adult learning literacy institutions. While education, especially at the primary level, is a basic need and right, various factors have limited the quantity and quality of education provided in the camps of Dadaab. At the most basic level, the camps’ population has swollen thrice in recent years, while the capacity has only minimally increased. The focal organization for education in the camps, CARE international in Kenya, has not done a good enough job at increasing the education capacity. Poor quality education is matched with poor infrastructure, as many of the buildings remain the same as those built in 1992 to accommodate some 97,000 refugees while the population has currently grown to nearly 300,000. We have 18 primary schools across the three camps with an average of 3500 pupils per school. These large numbers of learners face many challenges in school. The general ratio of teachers to pupils is 1:80; a situation that has forced many learners to become dropouts, ending up on the market streets. All the 18 mentioned primary school are registered as Kenyan National examination centers while the learners in grade 8 (standard eight) must sit for the national exams in November of each year. The Kenya national examination law states that for a school to be a centre for national examination, there should be a least one trained teacher per class in that school; contrary to this law the schools in Dadaab do not have adequately trained P1 teachers. Yet the ministry of education of the government of Kenya officially has accepted this situation, which has resulted in poor performance in all these 18 schools. Another factor affecting education is the issue of payment. A teacher who is expected to serve as a role model, shape the study and character of various children, and teach the next generation of students, receive some of the lowest wages, lower even than donkey cart riders. The low payment causes more qualified individuals to seek other jobs, and for those who remain as teachers to have little motivation to do a good job in their work. Another problematic feature of the education system is that although as many as 4000 pupils sit for their national exams (KCPE), only roughly 120 students from each camp will have the opportunity to move on to secondary school, and even fewer of those who complete secondary school will have opportunities for further education after high school. Courses in Kenya University and colleges, despite funding by the international community, remains limited.

Medical Care

Medical conditions and nutrition have declined since 1992; down the line diseases are increasing while the interventions are relatively minimal compared to the number of patients in the hospital. In addition, as a result of acute malnutrition in the camps and anemia, child mortality rate is on the rise.

Further, due to ongoing fighting in neighboring Somalia, many refugees continue to come to the camps with numerous diseases, injuries, mental sickness, skin diseases and birth defects, many of which are not able to receive medical attention and are told that their ailment is too complicated to be attended to in the camps. As result many patients will converge at UNHCR field offices for their medical concerns but unfortunately UNHCR protection unit staff will keep refugees waiting and only refer them to the same doctors, nurses, and medical facilities that are already stretched too thins Which are expected to assist roughly three hundred deliveries per month in each of the camps. Currently, we have three medical charity organizations in camps MSF SWIZ in Dagahaley, IRC in Hagadera, and GTZ-IS in Ifo. Yet, especially due to the overcrowding, the medical facilities simply do not meet the incredible medical needs in the camps. Some of the most basic issues in the medical care sector include: – Lack of qualified personnel in hospitals – Lack of medicine/ procured – Lack of emergency equipment / ambulance theatre – Lack of adequate facilities or equipment to deal with many of the ailments Water and Sanitation Water and sanitation services are basic and essential; there are 15 boreholes in the camps which supply safe water to the refugee population since water is chlorinated before being supplied. Those boreholes are managed by borehole attendants or incentive workers who work from 6:30am to 6:30pm ever day, even on weekends or public holidays, since water is needed every hour of the day, and yet only earn minimal wages. Similarly, sanitation, waste management, and carcass collection and disposal, as well meat inspections/hygiene promotion are carried out incentives staff while the national staff seem to sit in the office browsing the internet and pretending to be busy in the offices. (Issues of latrine are handled by NRC whiles other sanitary and hygiene activities are done by CARE – RAP Watsan). In addition, the water crisis in the deeply populated Dadaab camps often results in fighting at the tap stands among families, village mates, and block mates. Sanitation and waste management is also worrying. The current network of latrines is hardly maintained and there are not nearly enough latrines for the Dadaab refugees in general. The latrine system in Dadaab camps is far below internationally accepted and minimum standards, such as 1 latrine for every 20 people.

Land Allocation and Shelter

For security reasons and because of the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Somalia, many Somali refugees flee and escape ordeals in the war torn Somalia and seek protection in the Dadaab camps. Yet upon arrival in Dadaab, new arrivals often receive little guidance, orientation, or support to find land, obtain food, seek medical screening or vaccinations, etc. For instance, when a family comes to Dagahaley camp, where registration has been undertaken since 2005, the only thing they receive form UNHCR is a food ration card after waiting for around 10 days.

Finding shelter is often left to the good will of the refugees already living in the camps, despite the fact that severe overcrowding and congestion already exists in the camps. Most of the new arrivals simply build make-shift shelters that are susceptible being washed away by the heavy rains, or they resort to a living under the trees or a “house” where they are exposed to the elements. New arrivals thus face problems related to security, cold, wild animals, poor sanitation, etc. In addition, after registration the new arrivals often do not get non food items that they are intended to receive such as plastic sheeting, a cooking set, Jeri cans, and blankets; even accessing food is hard for new arrivals as they will start getting food from WFP up to 10 days after obtaining registration from UNHCR.

False Information Provided to Community Representatives and Visitors

Although there are the above problems and many more in the refugee camps of Dadaab, often visitors come to Dadaab and are shown a very different picture than the actual reality. Indeed, visitors of various high positions and organizations visit the worlds’ largest refugee camps of Dadaab in north eastern Kenya. Dadaab has in some ways become like a circus display or tourist attraction, with so many visitors coming in and out to see the camps and meet with refugees. Most visitors come with the intention of evaluating how the funds they have donated have been implemented for the target refugees. Visitors who individually only infrequently and occasionally pay visits to the refugee camps are thoroughly misguided about the real information on the ground. Visitors are often taken to pre-arranged places and meet with special people organized to supposedly speak on behalf of the refugees, who often give information that does not inform the visitors of the real circumstances of refugees’ conditions. It is believed that some agency staff members use bribery and other means of influence with refugee leaders whom they think can give substantial and fabricated information to the visitors that will protect and promote the agencies and their supposedly humanitarian work. It is believed that some agency staff members make false promises to such leaders, such as offering resettlement opportunities or contracts in order to entice these leaders to hide the true information about how agencies deal with refugees when high profile visitors come to the refugee camps. In addition, often when high profile visitors come to the camps, their time is scheduled such that they do not meet with many of the true leaders, intellectuals, young leaders, women’s groups and other stakeholders from the refugee community to hear and know from them directly without the presence of the Agency’s representatives. Moreover, the security guards (AGK) are given instructions to be on high alert and only allow those who had been chosen by the agencies to meet with the visitors. For instance during a recent visit by 17 embassies to the refugees camps, our community leaders, intellectual, young leaders and other stakeholders from the refugee community were only given an opportunity to present all of their pressing problems in a mere 45 Minutes, with agency representatives present who could note which refugees spoke and potentially deal harshly with those who spoke after the visitors had left. In addition, on the onset of the arrival of various visitors, agencies attempt to undertake various preparations intended to deceive visitors about the situation in the camps, such as intensive cleaning campaigns, having even senior officers wade through the rubbish, adding new/temporary infrastructure of all sorts (tables, seats, wall hangings/messages, computers, etc.), painting walls, putting up boards and signs to show orgnanized residential and office compounds, and so forth. As but one example, when some high profile visitors were coming to visit the camps in mid-2009, new buildings were constructed, walls were painted, old equipment was hidden, and intense cleaning efforts were undertaken at a surface level in order to deceive the visitors. If the amount of hard work that was taken to make these preparations was done on a daily basis to actually address the problems facing those in the camps rather than simply providing surface level window dressing to please visiting donors and officials, the situation in the camps could much improve. As another example, when an envoy of ambassadors visited the WFP food distributed centre, all of the former containers used for distributing food (which had been cut in size in order to limit the amount of food given to each refugee) were set aside and every individual was allowed to receive a full ration. But these measures only existed during the few minutes when the visitors were present.

 Taken together, the agencies make significant efforts to hide the truth of the situation of refugees in the camps of Dadaab when visitors arrive. We therefore make a heartfelt request to the Intentional Community, high profile visitors, media, government officials, human rights bodies, independent journalists and other concerned parties to always think beyond the box while visiting the Dadaab refugee camps, to be skeptical of what they are being shown, to try to ensure that they take some time to talk privately to a number of different refugees, and to visit unplanned areas in order to uncover the true living situation of the refugees and hear their voices longing to determine their uncertain future! Abuse from UNHCR Officers in Dadaab against refugee youth advocating for their rights. National and international staff members of UNHCR and other agencies in the camps of Dadaab often attempt to harass and intimidate refugees who advocate for their own rights. As a recent example, the UNHCR Head of Sub Office, in the presence of elder witnesses, threatened various refugee youth who intended to attend a meeting at his office, shouting that in case any youth came into his (UNHCR) office he would call the police and arrest them. Similarly, the senior Protection Officer has often failed to protect the rights of the refugees while allegations of harassment and human rights abuses flood his office in Dadaab. If UNHCR jeopardizes and denies the basic rights of the refugees in Dadaab Refugee Camps and denies the opportunity for refugees to advocate for their own rights; who will then advocate for the rights of the thousands of the disadvantaged societies in Dadaab camps? It can only be concluded that the UN and other agencies do not wish to see a community who can manage their own affairs independently. It can only also be concluded that the agencies in Dadaab are more political agencies than they are humanitarian agencies, with many agencies undertaking similar tasks and doing little to actually assist refugees as they claim. Moreover, the reports shared by the agencies with the donors often provide false information and figures, including but not limited to false information about living conditions, security, service delivery, movement, education, development, health, water and sanitation, food, and services they allegedly provide but often either do in a sub-standard manner or never have even undertaken at all. While agency staff often argue that refugees have no right to complain because the services they receive are free, it must be noted that agency staff also receive free of charge much better services than the refugees receive, including in the areas of water, medical care, food, housing, electricity, etc. We request from the international community and other concerned parties to help us mange our own affairs and that affect us by giving us a chance to get the jobs we can do for own selves.

Conclusion

 In sum, we wish to reiterate that we hope that the international community will hear our cries and undertake efforts to end the exploitation and abuse we face by pressing for an end to restricted movement, a reform of exploitative labor policies, an improvement in service provision, a greater allowance for participation in decisions about service provision to the refugee communities and refugee staff members, and the end to the deception and abusive practices of the Kenyan government, UNHCR, and the other agencies operating in the camps of Dadaab toward the refugees and the international community. Furthermore, the International community and the concerned goverments should watchout carefully the actions of the govermentof kenya, UNHCR and the other Agenceis opertaing in the region decissively and should held account for any inhuman acts. Thanks and looking forward to your immediate durable solutions.

Kind Regards,

Refugee Silent Welfare Committees


The Corporatisation & Destruction of TAFE – History Rhymes

November 7, 2009

Below is an article I wrote “History may not repeat itself, but it sure does Rhyme!” in 2008 while I was working in TAFE as the TAFE Teachers Association (Hunter Institute) Peace Officer. Peace Officer? Well, it was a title given so that Management couldn’t hassle me because I was representing the Union. I was aggravating Management with some of my communications questioning the Corporate Culture that was infecting Public Education – especially TAFE.

It’s primary intention was to record the history of the corporatization of TAFE for the younger teachers who would never get to know TAFE as a public education provider. TAFE was the greatest social justice and equity mechanism in the world because it gave hope and education to those who were disadvantaged and poor. Those educated and trained through TAFE could then get jobs that would alleviate their disadvantage. TAFE did not only cater for the needy but it’s Access and Equity programs and policies ensured that the needy were supported.

It was obvious to me that the plan to corporatize TAFE and gradually get rid of Access and Equity programs and policies was created at least in the early 1990’s. It was also obvious to me that the government wanted to privatize Vocational Education and Training (VET). We all knew it. In NSW we saw what happened in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania. We would never let that happen in NSW? Well, we did allow it to happen and now we are witnessing TAFE’s destruction.

Knowing that the Senior Executive Service doesn’t strategise by the 6 monthly semester or even annually but at least a decade ahead I tried to organize Save TAFE Festivals and a website which would highlight the corrosive effect that corporatization was having. The website would include every Institutes’ offering with the numbers of vacant teaching positions NOT filled – by Faculty and Campus. It would also show the stupid, mindless restructures that happened over the years which were done to destroy TAFE staff’s morale. For some unknown to me reason TAFE TA didn’t support the idea. They didn’t support the Save TAFE Festivals idea either. I had two Institutes’ teachers showing interest with over 100 staff in both stating they would support the idea. I asked the Union for the email address database of all NSW members which they refused to give me. I asked that they forward the emails to all NSW members which they refused to do.

I was told that some Union Council members were against both the Save TAFE Festivals and exposing / dobbing in website because if they were successful it would show management that there was no need for extra resources because TAFE teachers could do so much just by organizing and donating their time and expertise. What the fuck! But that is what I was told.

I was also told by Council members that my ideas were far too radical and that most Union members only care about their salary and conditions. I couldn’t accept that baby boomers who were about to retire wouldn’t do as much as possible to Save TAFE because they had nothing to lose. They were superannuated and tenured so they couldn’t be sacked and even if they were hassled so what? They only had one to five years of not being liked by management. But no – in their smugness and complacency, in their relaxed and comfortable slumber they let TAFE be destroyed.

I left TAFE in 2010 because I was getting bitter towards my fellow teachers and Union members. We had a great  strike turn out for our conditions earlier but to SAVE TAFE – only very few gave a shit. I didn’t want a bitter heart while remaining in TAFE for a few more years. The way it turned out, I need not have worried because all those jobs disappeared! I must admit some schadenfreude  when I heard that most of my Managers & some of the teachers who told me I was over the top paranoid about the future of TAFE lost their jobs.

Now we are witnessing the wholesale destruction of TAFE – many of us saw it coming but few wanted to do anything about it.

The current Managers of TAFE should be ashamed of themselves for they are accomplices in the greatest destruction of world best mechanism for social justice and equity.

The following was originally sent as an attachment then I put it up on a cloud as a PDF document. I’m now including it here so that when needed I can send link via Twitter.

Right at the end of the History Repeats article is a post I put up about 6 months before I left TAFE. Since I couldn’t get a website going through the Union I did my little bit on this blog. The egroup & Save TAFE blog no longer exist.

Stavros

January, 2016

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Sometime in 2008

History may not repeat itself, but it sure does Rhyme!

Hello Everyone,

Greetings from your Hunter TAFETA Peace Officer.

I morphed into this role a few weeks ago during a TAFETA Branch Meeting at Newcastle Campus and I wasn’t even there! I accepted the nomination and here I am writing to you. I figure that I’m better placed than that poor bloke in Franz Kafka’s story,“Metamorphosis” where he woke up one morning to find he had morphed into a cockroach. At least in this role, I can communicate … and that is what this TAFETA role is about….. I think.

I have lived long enough to have experienced as a teenager the first landing on the moon by a human and a time when a single computer occupied an entire building. Now I live in a time, when other solar systems are being discovered in our galaxy and a silicon chip is in every home and office, if not in your pocket. I have also lived long enough to see Public Service change from serving the public to marketing to customers. In DET, students have become clients and in TAFE, we lost our Principals to get Managers and we are now in the process of losing our principles and teachers for trainers.

The document, TAFE NSW Doing Business in the 21st Century, arrived in my inbox and the thought crossed my mind that it’s important the history of what happened since 1988 to TAFE should be recorded. When we, the Great Demographic Blimp of Baby Boomers, leave TAFE over the next few years, this knowledge will disappear.

History may not repeat itself but I reckon it rhymes.

Rhyming patterns may be discerned in this 20 year history. These in turn may resonate into the future. Younger TAFETA members will tune into echoes and hear the rhymes of crimes, the chimes in the times. They will be prepared to project from these rhymes of history possible “new” beginnings and probable lies.

So instead of looking towards the future I turned around and saw a hazy scene, a kind of otherworldly reminiscence. Like an eagle gliding above, I saw over 50,000 teachers from schools and TAFE colleges converging and congregating at Hyde Park in 1988. I remember having travelled by bus from Wagga, along with many others from across NSW, to protest the fundamental change in direction for public education which was being pushed by the then Greiner Liberal State Government.

Terry Metherill, the Education Minister at the time, decided that it was time for Public Education to walk the path (plank?) of economic and cultural redemption. As a matter of historical record, Nick Greiner was a disciple of Margaret Thatcher’s Gospel of Economic Rationalism, she of the “there is no society” fame. He took it upon himself to transplant the Corporate Business Culture (CBC), structure and processes into the Public Service.

You may ask, “What is wrong with Corporate Culture?” Well, it may be fine if the prime purpose of an organisation is to make money at the expense of everything else. In fact, if a human was a Corporation their psychology would be diagnosed as psychopathic. A book by Joel Bakan called “The Corporation – the Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power” outlines these features and why the Corporate model is dangerous for a Public Service.

Educational service exists for reasons that transcend making a profit, so if you transplant a culture and model – of being from an entity which exists solely to make money onto education you have created an organisation creaking with tensions and contradictions. These tensions are exacerbated because Corporate goals contradict Teaching goals, no matter how many Mission and Quality Value Statements are made in glossy brochures.

Anyway, Terry Metherill, Nick Greiner’s loyal Education Minister began his major restructure of Education to make it Corporate. He didn’t explain why, he just didit because it was a matter of economic rationalist faith – a user pay doctrine of an irrational ideology.

So how did we arrive where we are now? What did these Economic Rationalists do? Why did we educators, teachers and citizens protest in 1988 and have gone quiet since then?

Well, the first thing Greiner and Metherill did was to create the Senior Executive Service SES. The Corporate Business Model dictated an SES which was separate from the rest of the organisation and placed on 3 – 5 year contracts. They could earn bonuses too if they performed according to the specifications of their contract. So, if they could demonstrate that under their watch they came in under budget they would get a bonus.

No longer were the Heads of Public Service organisations permanent with tenure andthus could advise and run their organisation according to the needs of the public withoutfear or favour but had to perform according to the dictates of their political masters or face the sack. Greiner had politicised the State Public Service which Howard would later do tothe Commonwealth Public Service in a much more sinister way. The best example of this was the break up of Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) to Jobnet Private Providers.

About a year or so later, Greiner set up the Scott Report and then the Predl Report which had to review all of the Access and Equity Services. When Scott and Predl reported that the Access and Equity Services were excellent and needed more funding rather than be dismantled, Greiner and Metherill weren’t too pleased.

The next step was to impose a “Managerial” culture onto the Principals and Teachers. They got rid of all Principals and in their place created Managers. I remember talking with a few of the Principals who had lost their jobs because of the restructure and how they felt about the changes. They felt that Corporate Accounting Procedures were central to their new role rather than pedagogy and educational guidance. They lamented the loss of true educational leadership and the rise of the Corporate Manager within an educational institution.

One feature of this Corporate Managerialism is that no longer is it expected those in management roles in Faculties have to have expertise in the Faculty’s skill base they manage. In fact, they don’t even need to have been teachers. All that is needed are generic management skills where the manager does not have to know anything about the educational content of the faculty, just how to manage budgets and human resources, preferably with an MBA. So, an accountant would be ideal to be a Faculty Director of Access and General Education.

One thing that was pivotal in creating the “Corporate Business Culture” in TAFE was to ensure that there was a separation in working conditions between Principals and Teachers. This meant that the new Managers did not have the same conditions as Teachers which guaranteed that no longer would there be “solidarity” between Principals and Teachers. The first Institute Managers (IM’s) were restructured into these positions from their previous educational leadership positions. They had no choice but to take up what was on offer or lose their jobs.

A friend who was forced into becoming an IM told me that when he complained to the Institute Director (ID) about the situation the ID said, “You’ve got a job, haven’t you? Don’t complain.”

In the 1990’s we witnessed a change from TAFE Regions to Networks. In fact our Institute was separated into three networks Newcastle Urban Network, Hunter Network and Central Coast were part of North Sydney Network. Along with these Networks came new signage, new stationery and new offices. In the Network model it was believed that Network Administration offices had to be separate from the “business” of the campus. This meant that money was spent in creating new office space away from the campuses. A little later another restructure saw the creation of Hunter Institute of Technology. Only a few of the TAFE Institutes were Institutes of Technology, the majority were Institutes of TAFE. This entailed spending money on NEW signage and stationery. The new signage evenwitnessed new logos for each Institute. Then there was another restructure where all Institutes became Institutes of TAFE and with one brand sign TAFE, NSW.

All the while the Marketing areas of these restructured organisations gained in powerand status. To emphasize the new Corporate Hierarchy, palatial offices were created to house the CEO’s, the Institute Directors. Meanwhile, classes and programs were cut and new “Centres of Excellence” were created which rationalised the delivery of programs away from local campus provision to one place within the Institute. So students who attended a Muswellbrook course in Automotive Engineering would now have to travel to Glendale Campus which was the ONLY campus offering the course.

I do not know if there has ever been a cost benefit analysis of all these restructures but I imagine that the cost would be in the order of millions. How many classes could have been run for the cost of these failed restructures? Has anyone reviewed the Senior Executive Service structure to see if it is beneficial to the community?

I don’t know if Teachers Federation has researched and reviewed the restructures involved. Maybe I’m a little naive about this but it seems to me that whenever there has been a review and then a restructure we just go along with the ride. WHY?

Sure salary and conditions are important, but who is responsible for the “culture” of an educational organisation, if not us teachers? The effect is that we now have the Managerial Culture infecting head teacher positions where the main work seems to be compliance and accounting of the budget.

In another decade we may find that TAFE will become TVT Technical and Vocational Training, where Head Teachers will be Program Managers on 3 – 5 year contracts responsible for hiring “trainers” casually or on short term contracts. These Program Managers may also be offered bonuses if they perform according to their contracts. In other words, they will have similar work conditions to the Senior Executive Service but with much less pay and less responsibility.

We may even find that online education will do away with buildings so that TAFE campuses become smaller and in regional areas non existent. Private providers may rent these ghost buildings for bugger all and if students need practical training they can come in for a few days per year. Impossible? Improbable? Let’s see.

Already the powers that be, have decided that TAFE teachers do not need a Diploma of Education, just a Training Certificate will do, since we all have Cert 4’s to satisfy Registered Training Organisation (RTO) status. Do you remember your initial response when told that you have to do the Certificate 4 in Workplace Training? I bet it was something like, “Why? I’ve already got a Dip Ed. I can’t see why I have to get a lower qualification because you say so.” But most of us did it and now we find that TAFE Management doesn’t want your Dip Ed because they want trainers NOT teachers. Don’t forget, trainers are cheaper than teachers and in this competitive market place private providers use trainers, so what chance have teachers got? Why has our Union gone along with this? Beats me! I refuse to do the Certificate 4 – and so should all of us.

TAFE lost its Principals in the 1990’s to get Managers, now it looks like TAFE will lose its Teachers to get Trainers in the 21 st Century.

 I remember a few years ago when I was visiting Bethlehem in Palestine, sitting on a bench in Nativity Square. Along came an old man with an Arafat like profile who sat next to me. When he realized that while I was of Middle Eastern appearance, I didn’t speak Arabic but only Greek and English, we began speaking in that half telepathic, half verbal way in English that happens sometimes between people of different backgrounds when they want to communicate.

Anyway, he found out that I was a teacher and he said something which has touched me to the core ever since. He said, “In our culture a Teacher is a Lamp because a Teacher brings the light of knowledge to the darkness of ignorance.” Note, not a trainer but a Teacher. The two roles are completely different and now Management wants to get rid of Teachers in TAFE.

How many restructures have we had since the late eighties? What happens when an organisation is in a constant state of restructuring? One thing that is obvious is that there is an ambience of uncertainty. People worry about their positions and their jobs. As anyone with a modicum of common sense knows, people do not innovate and create when they are scared and insecure. We have had a culture of fear and uncertainty for about 20 years and I don’t think having an Institute Manager position Director of Innovation will create the psychological space for creativity to be born. It appears that we have been surviving in the Realm of the Perpetual Restructure.

While I’m sympathetic to the Buddhist concept that the only constant in the world is Change, I do not feel that these constant restructures are based on a sense of the sacred.

I believe that the Equity Units of TAFE are what makes TAFE uniquely different to any private provider. In many ways the Equity Units are TAFE’s sensitive antennae picking up trends and subtle changes in the scales of social justice. What happens to Equity Units happens to everyone else in DET, sooner or later. Right now all Equity Units are going through another review and there is talk about creating a new Social Inclusion Unit. However, before you younger ones cheer, please understand that 20 years ago the Central Equity Units had more than 60 people and now have about 20. If we go by what has happened in the past, why wouldn’t we believe that the Central Equity Units will become a Social Inclusion Unit with three, if not one member of staff?

Hunter Institute’s Multicultural Education Unit won a Quality Award in 2007 for the work it is doing with African refugees. This is great, good work is being acknowledged but when you consider that the category in which the Quality Award was given, it kind of changes one’s feelings. The Award states: “The African Experience” Business Relationships. Yes, a social justice project that worked closely with the local community did not have a category called “Social Justice” or “Community Relations” to call home. To fulfil the Corporate ethos this spherical, “Whole of Life” project had to be put into a corporate cube.

History may not repeat but it sure does rhyme!

After the consultations for the Doing Business in the 21st Century are over, you can bet, like clockwork, there will be another Restructure, Realignment Re – whatever word they will use for it. Why don’t we have a Review of the “Restructurers”? I sometimes wonder if these Managers who order restructures do it just to be seen to be doing something. It is often easier to dismantle and restructure than to create and build.

Maybe, I’m having an attack of nostalgia for a world that has disappeared and a paranoid fantasy that in TAFE’s place, a 21st Century TVT Corporation is coming. Assuming that there will be another restructure, whatever name or spin they put to it, what will happen? What needs to happen? Can we do anything about it?

I believe that Teachers Federation is like a sleeping giant. I don’t mean to take away any of our great achievements as a Union but I would love to see the sleeping giant wake up and say “enough is enough” with the corporatisation of our educational service. We can do it if we have the will. However, I am inclined to feel that as we older ones leave TAFE, the younger ones who have not known a non corporate TAFE culture, will go along with the changes because that is all they know and recognise.

What if we do wake up collectively, what can we do?

Well, being a Peace, Love and Hope kind of bloke, I believe that if enough of us have a vision and if this vision is rooted in pure intention, that Magic can happen, that serendipity and synchronicity are not just long words but mean something vital, that Leonard Cohen was right when he wrote, “God is alive, Magic is afoot”, that, Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly are right that “From Little Things Big Things Grow”. However, saying this does not preclude organising collectively. We can organise locally by forming affinitygroups / clusters of action.

To do what?

We need to take individual responsibility and to join with other like minded members to develop and create new strategies that arise from locally relevant issues. As a start, every time our Managers tell us to do something we can ask

“WHY?” and keep asking “Why?” and not be satisfied with answers that allude to “because that is the way it is” or “because we have been told to”. Keep onpushing through to the essence of what is being directed by asking the simple question “why?” I have been surprised how far this question has taken me into the realm of the human instead of the wasteland of the corporate.

Here’s some other stuff we can do:

If asked for a student tally, refer the manager to CLAMS; for a budget summary, tell them to see Buddy; for FCPS, say, “Here’s my current provision, for next semester’s, ask me then.” You all know that these “tools” do not help us, they are a burden. Yet we do them. Then the managers ask us for simple info instead of using the tools created for their use! Don’t forget that as we use these “tools” we embed the “managerial” culture into our positions and we acquiesce and then comply in the corporatisation of education.

If you want you can reply with some feedback which I can use to create a threadand send to TAFETA members. You may wish to share your own experiences of “corporatisation” and ways of taking it on. Keep sending your input to the Doing Business in the 21 st Century people, if it’s still open.

This may not sound like much but when you consider how many of us there are I’m certain that our combined imagination and creativity will come up with countless strategies to “decorporatise” our TAFE. Or, we can simply do nothing, roll over and sleep until we are superannuated out. The choice is ours.

For the younger members, at least you now have a story of how TAFE became corporatised before it became TVT Corp and maybe you will be able to recognise that historical rhyme when you hear it and thus be prepared.

All the best

stavros

Your Peace Officer

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November, 2009

Hello Everyone

When I’m not Stargazing and Journeying across the planet I have a job that pays my bills and gives a great sense of satisfaction. I work in a system which I believe is one of the world’s greatest mechanisms of ensuring social justice through education and training. The system I am referring to is Australia’s Technical and Further Education (TAFE).

My job is as an Institute Multicultural Education Coordinator…of the 50,000 or so students who attend our Institute, about 3,000 of these are from non English speaking background. Recently, well over the last 4 years, my work has been predominantly with the newly arrived humanitarian refugees from Africa.

I won’t tell you   what is happening to our TAFE system here but you can find out, if you are interested by visiting this blog >>>

http://save-tafe-now.blogspot.com/

and the yahoo group

http://au.groups.yahoo.com/group/Save_TAFE/

If you are an educator / teacher from outside Australia and you are interested in what is happening to Public Education, I’d be happy to hear from you and discuss what is happening in your country.

all the best

stavros


Excerpt from an Interview with Basarab Nicolescu

July 26, 2009

I first came across Basarab Nicolescu in “In the Valley of Astonishment, an interview with Basarab Nicolescu” by Jean Biès, in Parabola, Vol.XXII, No.4, Winter 1997, New York. Parabola is one of those magazines / journals which have the power to connect one with ideas that go beyond the “daily times”.  Since then, I read an essay of his in Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and His Teachings, called “Gurdjieff’s Philosophy of Nature.”

I find him an incredibly interesting thinker who is both a scientist and (he may not like this word) “mystic”. In fact, I am now waiting on delivery of his book titled “Science, Meaning, & Evolution: The Cosmology of Jacob Boehme”. (I can’t believe that I just bought thtreasure040-3is book for 0.01 cents at Amazon, but the postage was $12.50…. still an amazing bargain!)  Jacob Boehme was a German Christian mystic who was considered an original thinker within the Lutheran tradition. He is also a true “theosophist” from the Greek “theosophia” – knowledge of things divine.

The following interview excerpts I have included in “Journeys and Star Gazing” because he touches on the “journey” from specificity…the specialised field of knowledge to the world of transdisciplinarity. I work as an educator in the field of Multicultural Education (see my article A Ganma Odyssey). Nicolescu’s answer to a question on Education below gives, to my eyes, a crucial insight into how to work in the incredibly complex field of teaching non literate African refugees the English language.

Anyway, I hope the teachers which I have emailed with this link find it useful.  I did.

stavros

An Excerpt from an Interview with Basarab Nicolescu

From Ad Astra – Young Romanian Scientists’ Journal 2002  www.ad-astra.ro

Basarab Nicolescu

Basarab Nicolescu

Liviu Giosan: Dr. Nicolescu, your name cannot be easily dissociated from the concept of  “transdisciplinarity”.  Let us start by citing from the Moral Project of the International Center for Transdisciplinary Research (http://perso.club-internet.fr/nicol/ciret/) that you co-founded in 1987: “its principal task is the elaboration of a new language, a new logic, and new concepts to permit the emergence of a real dialogue between the specialists in the different domains of knowledge…”. What was the trajectory that led you from physics to transdisciplinarity? Did your background as a scientist educated in a repressive communist society play any role in imagining and developing this project?

Basarab Nicolescu: When I was a student, I followed the debates between the fathers of quantum mechanics: Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Niels Bohr, Max Planck. It was then that I learned that in fact most metaphysical questions are not disconnected from scientific research. First I read their books and articles. After some years I discovered that their correspondence was much more down-to-earth than the published scientific works. It is there that one can follow the genesis of their ideas. Strikingly, there is an incredible link between the quantum world and our day-to-day, macrophysical world, although they might seem disconnected.

For a physicist, the quantum world is a real world; I work inside it and I know that we can test it, we can experiment with it. So my first big intuition, only a long time after I arrived at a certain formalization of it, was the idea of the discontinuity between general concepts in quantum mechanics, or I would say, by extension, in quantum physics, and classical physics. Discontinuity does not mean contradiction. It means simply that different laws are at work in each domain, in such a way that you cannot move in continuity, in
the mathematical sense of the word, from the laws of quantum mechanics to the laws of classical mechanics. Now, of course, this was at the heart of the physicists’ quest at the beginning of the last century. In a sense, it is quite astonishing that almost all great personalities in physics were cultured people and they always tried to incorporate information from physics into their philosophical beliefs. Early in my career, around 1975, I began to realize that science contributes new information to philosophy,
but perhaps there is no philosophy that can integrate all new scientific ideas. Only by using concepts from various philosophical systems could you describe science. In this, I am in accordance with Bohr, Pauli, and Heisenberg’s ideas, expressed clearly in the latter’s Manuscript of 1942, that the main assumption of modern metaphysics is not valid in quantum physics. It is applicable in classical physics however. I use the word “metaphysics” in its academic sense, meaning the complete separation between subject and object. In the quantum world, we cannot reduce our study to either the subject or the object because we are faced with an interaction between the two. This idea is shared by philosophers like Husserl, Heidegger, or Cassirer. It is this interaction that leads us to the question of regions or levels of reality that are united through the coherence of our world. It might be called unity, but I prefer to use the word “coherence”. The coherence laws are not of a mathematical nature, that is the point. They are not quantitative, but law-like in the symbolic sense. Science alone is unable to describe this relationship due to the scientific methodology. Exact science by itself is imitation, it deals with that which can be replicated. It concerns not individual events but collective ones, large number of individual events that can be described probabilistically.

Humanistic sciences on the other hand deal with individual events. Unfortunately, contemporary humanistic sciences try to mimic exact science, and here is where they fail. This does not necessarily mean that science has limitations in itself, but there is a limitation of methodology. And this is normal, because exact science describes a well-defined region of reality. This region is accessible through this type of
methodology, but others might not be. To believe that exact science can describe everything is equivalent to saying that what we think today was always thought in the same way!

Transdisciplinarity is imagined as a solution to these types of problems, because it is able to describe the relationship between fields, or levels, or disciplines, as a whole. We use the term “transdisciplinarity” as an attempt to provide a very general framework for discussing the relationship between these various discontinuous parts of our experience, and indeed of reality itself. The idea of levels of reality can be a pillar of this new type of knowledge, a starting point for any attempt at unifying different fields. The other
principles include a new, non-classical logic and the principle of complexity. These three principles can be expressed as follows: 1. There are in Nature, and in our knowledge of Nature, different levels of Reality, and, correspondingly, different levels of perception; 2. The passage from one level of Reality to another is insured by the logic of the included middle; 3. The structure of the totality of levels of Reality or perception is a complex structure: every level is what it is, because all the levels exist at the same time. These three principles correspond to Galileo’s postulates for the modern science approach: 1. There are universal laws of a mathematical character; 2. These laws could be discovered by scientific experiment; 3. Such experiments could be perfectly replicated.

Coming to the second part of your question, I could say that indeed being educated in a repressive society influenced the development of my ideas. Repression generates a desire for transgression. And in fact, transdisciplinarity is a kind of generalized transgression. More generally, it is obvious for me that all great Romanian creators such as Brancusi, Eliade, Lupasco, Cioran, Tzara, Gherasim Luca, Andrei Serban went beyond boundaries between domains of knowledge and between cultures. Psychoanalyzing the Romanian
soul is not the scope of our discussion, but I wonder if the cruelty of History did not push Romanians to “invent” a genius of transgression for settling the scores.

Razvan Florian: Is the concept of “transdisciplinarity” applicable in education? What would be itsbenefits over more “classical” teaching and learning methods? Could this concept be of use in the day-today scientific research as well?

Basarab Nicolescu: I studied this problem for a long time (see my “Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity”which will be published by SUNY Press in February 2002), and in spite of the vast diversity of the education systems from one country to another, the globalization of challenges in our times require global solutions for education problems. Periodic upheavals in education in various countries are symptoms of the same flaw: a disharmony that exists between values and realities of a planetary life in a process of change.

The UNESCO report of the “Commission internationale sur l’éducation pour le vingt et unième siècle”, chaired by Jacques Delors, underlined four principles that we could use to build a new kind of education upon: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together with, and learning to be. In this context, a transdisciplinary approach could make important contributions to reforms in the educational system.
First of all, “learning to know” involves training people to distinguish the real from the illusory. This simple ability, if learned properly, will provide the student with intelligent access to the fabulous knowledge of our age. The scientific spirit, one of the most important characteristic of the human spirit, is indispensable in this venture. It is not the assimilation of an enormous mass of scientific knowledge which gives access to the scientific spirit, but the quality of the scientific information acquired by the student that
leads him or her into the very heart of the scientific approach: a permanent questioning in relation to facts, images, representations, and formalizations. “Learning to know” also includes learning the skill to build bridges – between different disciplines, between various meanings, and between all these and our inner abilities. A transdisciplinary approach is an indispensable complement to the disciplinary approach, because it leads to the emergence of continually connected human beings, that are able to adapt to changing demands of professional life, and who are endowed with flexibility in renewing their interior potential.

“Learning to do” certainly implies acquiring a profession, process which includes a phase of specialization. However, in our tumultuous world, where recent changes induced by the computer revolution are but the portent of large scale social changes to come, strict specialization can be dangerous. It could lead to unemployment, exclusion, or even to a debilitating alienation. If one truly wants to reconcile the demands of competition with the concern for equal opportunity, every profession should be woven into the whole of
human occupations. Of course, this is not simply a question of learning different skills at the same time. A flexible, knowledge core that could quickly facilitate reorientation to another occupation should be accepted as a teaching philosophy. In this context, the transdisciplinary approach is invaluable. In nuce, “learning to do” is an apprenticeship in creativity. The emergence of authentically transdisciplinary individuals requires a favorable environment for a maximal realization of their creative potentialities. The
social hierarchy, so frequently arbitrary and artificial, should be replaced by cooperation at new structural levels, for the advantage of personal creativity.

“To live together with” does not mean simply tolerating differences of opinion, skin color, and beliefs; submission to the exigencies of power; negotiating between the in’s and out’s of innumerable conflicts; definitively separating interior from exterior life. A transdisciplinary attitude can be learned, to the extent that each being possesses an innate, sacred, intangible core of transcultural, transreligious, transpolitical and transnational values. Yet, if this innate attitude is only potential, it can forever remain hidden, absent in act. To insure that community norms are respected, they must be validated by the interior experience of each being. In the end, the transdisciplinary attitude allows us to better understand our own culture, to better defend our national interests, to better respect our own religious or political convictions. As in all
relationships between Nature and Knowledge, open unity and complex plurality are not antagonistic.

At first, “learning to be” seems an insoluble enigma. We exist, but how can we learn to be? Understanding this principle involves discovering our conditioning, the harmony or disharmony between our individual and social lives, and testing the foundations of our convictions. In short, it means to always question everything. In this quest, the scientific spirit is again a precious guide. “Learning to be” presumes a permanent two-way communication where the teacher enlightens the student as much as the student
informs the teacher. Any training period inevitably passes through a transpersonal dimension and any disregard for this dimension goes a long way toward explaining the fundamental tension between the material and the spiritual realms, that is felt by our contemporaries.

There is one very obvious interrelation between the four principles of the new system of education: how to learn to do, while learning to know, and how to learn to be while learning to live together with? In the transdisciplinary view, there is a transrelation which connects the four principles. Any viable system of education should aim for an integral education that will activate all human potential and not just some of its components. At present, education favors the intellect relative to the body and sensibility. This was certainly fruitful in the past, leading to an upsurge in knowledge, but it cannot continue without sweeping us away in the mad logic of efficiency for efficiency’s sake that could lead to self-destruction.

Experiments performed by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman with children from disadvantaged neighborhoods of Chicago demonstrate this point: knowledge is assimilated faster and better when intellect, body, and feelings are all simultaneously addressed. This is a prototype of the new education that our modern society could use to reconcile effectiveness and affectivity. It is quite obvious
that specific differences among knowledge fields and experiences call for a diversity of transdisciplinary methods. And because transdisciplinary education is a long-term, global process, it is important to establish institutions that will help initiate this process and insure its development. On the other hand, universal sharing of knowledge cannot be functional without the emergence of a new type of tolerance founded on a transdisciplinary attitude that implies an active use of the transcultural, transreligious,
transpolitic, and transnational vision. Of course, if only to perform our everyday science, we do not need transdisciplinarity. On the other hand, transdisciplinarity, even if not identified as such, has always been an essential condition for great discoveries, for unified theories.