The Sociology of A Place To Call Home Part 7
by Sandshoe (Honshades)
Anybody who has tried to hold down a job without a place to live will know housing is basic.
I am the pin in my essay. My bias includes gender and culture as considerations. Who I am in my skin and how I inter-connect as an individual is as basic as a place to call home.
Culture informs us or sets rock solid like concrete around us, describes taboos and great expectations.
What decisions I made in New Zealand in 1987 when I am then unemployed and homeless can only be interpreted with more data. My early interests and personal history are relevant, how I was housed, what my employment experience was, what qualifications did I have to find employment.
I helped out in the library filing index cards when I was a young child growing up in a sugar town in North Queensland. I was always there by bicycle or on foot I liked the library and the librarian so much. I just did the job I was offered and I earned 20 cents a session of filing.
Everybody I knew studied something.
People were in never ending supply. People was the most of anything available to me to study without pocket money.
No pocket money.
My father who I mention a lot was my role model. I spent a lot of time with him at the sugar experiment station where he worked, In his glass house set in basins of water on concrete stumps, he had rows of shoe boxes with soil in them and insects in the soil. He showed me the insects were at various stages of their life cycles. My take away thought was he studied on the cheap using shoe boxes. I got it that he told me he was not flush with research money. Me either.
He told me too he would be nobody without amateur entomologists who wrote to him. He was grateful for them They informed his work.
I became an amateur people studier. It might come in handy for someone one day. I sat in a roughly triangular space between the wall and the back
of the lounge couch. Nobody knew I was there. I eavesdropped. I learned the first principle of scientific study. Do not put yourself in the way of the experiment.
I got over eavesdropping. I got too big to fit in the space. Next I was soon the only one of the children at home, seven years younger than my sister, 11 younger than my next brother and 13 younger than my older brother. Children leaving home was the norm. They left to get qualifications, to work and so on. They went thousands of miles away. They married and had children. My mother grieved that separation, my father more matter of fact. When he was 15, although city bred and qualifying from High School early because his mother was a teacher, he wanted to be a farmer and was apprenticed to a farm in the Scottish Highlands. He immigrated to Australia in 1922 travelling on his own a few months ahead of his parents and siblings, age 17.
Immigration was the norm. My mother’s parents were respectively from Cornwall and Scotland. Their parents immigrated to Australia.
I was called on when I was a young teenager to tutor younger children in piano. A once High School student from my class recalls to me on Facebook I tutored her in missed school work and how much she appreciates my help. A young child asked me was I going to be a school
teacher at the end of my helping him with his homework. We were sitting at a table on a convent verandah waiting for our music lessons. He triggered me into thinking on it.
No, I had no ambitions to be a school teacher. I was just helping.
When I started High School, I found a passion. I wanted to be a nuclear physicist.
Good luck my father and I attended an exhibition toured by the Atomic Energy Commission. I was treated with lavish attention by the staff. I was bedazzled by curiosity. I identified with hearing the son of my father’s labourer was a nuclear physicist. What a coincidence.
My physics class was three academic stream girls with a handful of academic boys and in all, perhaps, 30 students. I was home from school ill with something terrible. My mother asked for me could I have the first physics exam paper to sit it at home, specified not for class credit. I was happy. I was awarded 98%. The teacher announced I topped the class. I felt alarmed and as I anticipated, some tech training and academic stream boys muttered I had cheated and lodged a protest. The teacher rejected their protest, disappointing. I was for justice.
Not because I tried harder, but because I was competent I was awarded 100% for the next exam I sat with the class in the classroom. The teacher glowed for me. I must have cheated upped a notch.
I suggested at some stage soon to the teacher the text book illustration and explanation of the structure of the atom were simplistic. The text
was written in a way I thought suggested what was shown was it. I am sure it was. I asked about mesons that were not discussed. He replied in a measured tone if we stuck to the textbook it was all we needed to know and we would pass the State exam in a year and half. He said that was all that mattered.
See what he did there.
I was shocked. I was d i s g u s t e d.
Boredom set in. Not that I had ever tried to top the class, I fell a few places. I was mocked by the same boys that clearly I had not been able to cheat.
My physics results spiralled so low over two years, I scraped through the 1965 Junior High School Queensland-wide Physics examination. I did not continue with Physcis.
Part of me tries to remain indifferent to the irony of learning recently the 1967 Senior Physics examination that as a consequence I did not sit to matriculate in Physics two years later provoked a State-wide controversy so uproarious, its reputation passed into the history of Queensland education as too difficult, that it was set at too high a standard.
To matriculate in 1967 to go on to University, 22 points were requisite and five subjects (English added on as compulsory made six). Points
awarded each subject as merit were 1 to 7 where 7 is the highest and 4 a pass. I understood the intention of the grading was to facilitate at a glance whether a student may have achieved say 3, but not passed compulsory English and could be awarded a concession to be considered for admission into an apprenticeship or get a job.
I matriculated with 28 points, four above what was requisite, on the strength of the four subjects, English, History, Geography and Economics. I achieved the requisite number of 4 points and above for each of three further subjects Chemistry, French and Music so matriculated with seven subjects including English instead of six, a total of 41 points. I have tried to wrap my head around what this and results like it from my class and other schools did to analysis of the 1967 Matriculation result State-wide (presented further below). My own points number in crude statistical form was almost two students’ requisite number to matriculate.
However, not only did I have no Physics. No Maths.
My father was enraged two years before when I arrived home from school with news I accepted enrolment in Economics instead of Maths fait accompli.
He was powerless.
How dare a teacher put this to you and allow you to drop Maths without asking you to discuss it with me first and your mother.
I agree. I am reinforced by reading historical documents that throw further light on my experience of education in the 60s. The potential for
corruption of an Education Department can be taken for granted as equally as we take for granted its potential lurks in any other arm of government.
It seems extraordinary a teacher appointed as Principal to a new local school, especially when he was himself the prospective Senior Maths teacher, introduce to a High School student the potential she can and advise her to throw in the towel on Maths allegedly on her behalf without wider consultation beyond a half hour discussion with her in his office.
I was a naive 15-year old provided no career advice. Neither did my adviser gather my history. He was not my Maths teacher either for long enough to base his decision on personal experience of me. That he did not consult with my parents and suggest they secure a tutor for me if he thought I would not manage Senior Maths looks like an agenda.
The school was new. Economics was newly offered in place of Maths. The school wanted Economics students. The Queensland Government I suspect wanted Economics students. It might have seemed clear to the Principal I would walk it in. My brother, irony, was a Finance Editor on the desk of a major city’s daily newspaper and held an Economics Degree. One of his closest friends from his school days was an Economist.
Why still would an educator not seek to equip with Maths a teenage student with a background like it and an academic record like mine were it examined?
My mother an Australian bush kid who learned shop calculation using an abacus in the employment of a Chinese emporium, my father at the top of his profession in the context of practical application of the science of entomology, what would a teacher who did know of my family expect their response would be to learning I had been streamed out of Maths?
My brother advised my parents to send me to boarding school in Brisbane where our father’s sister was a teacher. I refused point blank on the basis of loyalty to my parents because I was the remaining child and feared the loss of my parents. That my aunt who never married and I had the same name was a factor although I did not say so. I feared I would be bullied.
The Principal who advised me I was wary of when I met him. Good enough reason in the first place a teenage girl glibly chooses to accept not undertaking Maths that she does not like. Instinct is a powerful driver.
My opinion of him includes eventual belief at the end of that year he did not like me.
He triggered detestation in me. I never spoke about it. I have no memory of him in my final year of High School.
The occasion was my winning the High School inaugural Public Speaking comp.
I was a successful public speaker for 6 years. I learned the skill in far wider fields than the High School. My Economics teacher who was my
mentor in regard to public speaking talked me out of qualms I felt about competing in the event. I told him I thought other students had little chance against me. Pitting my experience against theirs seemed unfair in the arena of a new and small school.
Talked into entering, my ambition became to present my skills to my school and teachers. No-one had heard me compete which was at night usually at distance from the School.
I had the audience in the palm of my hand. I extended my vocal projection to the back seats and my attention. I was so composed I could appreciate the audience members’ individual admiration. The quiet other than for my delivery was its evidence. The applause was thunderous. I credited to myself I won as I provided thank you to the audience.
Before the result was announced, the Principal rose to his feet and asked to speak. He was not scheduled to speak he demurred. He was moved to speak. He embarked on a meandering delivery that the best person does not always deserve to win.
The ethos of not winning was a mantra at our school that those who do not win are not just valued for their participation. They are important and loved. I was a wholehearted supporter of the viewpoint. I participated in everything. I flailed last the entire length of the pool representing my swimming team. I played basketball I never had and found I could
probably be good at it were it not for playing A Reserve tennis. I ran cross country despite I was never any chop at running races.
The Principal’s delivery however now took a different turn. His remains the worst address I have heard made in a public forum. He poorly belaboured that … to paraphrase … the incompetent should win because they put themselves out there and gave it their best and the more nervous they are, they should win, the more they struggle, they should win; the person who has put on the best show should not win and how could they not with all the experience behind them and the privilege that weights their likelihood of winning. Competitors with experience that far outstrips the experience of others ought to be excluded from competition, not given an award.
Comparing others with them is not fair, that is what injustice is.
The identification he had invested in, I as equally maturely recognised …. and had never had opportunity before until he drew back his insecure arrow at the adjudicators, competition rules and a silenced audience … was the strong resemblance of his characteristics as a speaker and physically to the student he was praising without naming him. The student was as much victim had he realised what was being said and if I was malicious. I bore my fellow competitor no illwill. I felt instead deeply for him in the competition that he was fearful beginning to end.
I had won recognition for the State side in the State vs Private School argument by winning seven public speaking competitions in a row through my Primary and Secondary school years. My shoulders were never held straighter and my head when I walked through the audience to
accept my award. The performance I staged accepting the Principal’s limp hand and mumbled accolade was my win. Other than a victim of his incompetence as a Principal, I was of his values that decried competitive achievement in favour of attainment of a common denominator.
A lowest common denominator only takes hold where competition is removed.
In the next year, my last at High School I was invited with successful public speakers from other schools to deliver a demonstration speech to an adult group establishing a Public Speaking club in Cairns. It was not uncommon I was invited to address adult groups albeit that was not always possible. I was pleased in this case especially to be invited as the founders were an all-women group. I suffered a catastrophic attack of stage fright, made an apology and left the stage having lost both sequence and recall of the topic.
I did not return to competitive public speaking and not either competitive debate for the sake of itself. I once attempted public speaking competition as an adult and withdrew early. I was overwhelmed with a
sense of being an impostor. I have when called on enjoyed however skill as a speaker. My motive is never competitive and I developed advanced skills as a communicator and negotiator.
I draw scrupulous attention I had written everything to this juncture and after the quote (further below in italics) some long time before I read in recent days a retrospective history of Assessment in Secondary Schools by Eddie Clarke published in 1987.
Clarke describes a report prepared in 1970 for the Queensland Board of Secondary School Studies that recommended the Junior and Senior examinations be abolished.
I select two sentences: “The Junior Examination discourages experiment and innovation” and “We have concluded the responsibility should be placed on the schools for the assessment of school achievement.”
I strongly do not agree. I hold a strong viewpoint the school was not the appropriate location of my own best assessment and that schools in a wider general were neither going to be the best location given the slip shod quality of their management in the 1960s and 1970s by the Queensland Education Department. I decry the two reccomendations as the very breath of naivety for the following reasons.
People and not examinations … aside horses for courses and that examinations can be modified … discourage or encourage “experiment and innovation”. I was situate in the frame of a distressed education system in 1969 that I myself did not understand was distressed, but was led by polemicists and dissidents themselves within it to believe was a
new and exciting, shiny system. Teachers are crucial and their management. Never in the context of my Physics class did I seek to compete or provide interruption that was careless or nuisance value. Injustice was done me in Physics alone that I contributed significant input and opportunity to the standard of the education received in the Physics class.
If anybody threw in their bundle following my lead, I hope it was the bullies who were never to my knowledge hauled away to describe why they bullied me. Charging me repeatedly that I cheated went deep. We were small children together through Primary School. Furthermore most of the boys I believe went on to apprenticeships and I am pleased for them worked their way through their levels of competency to establish successful careers and higher qualification. I am confident I was not in their imaginations leering at them accusing them of cheating.
I provided as well significant continuous input into the final year of Senior English class taking a lead that was allowed me because, as example it was said of a small novel of Charles Dickens it was boring agreed to by the teacher. I presented a passionate case it was not boring in the same educative terms my father introduced Dickens to me and inspired me to persist until I got it.
Reading now the history of assessment in secondary schools by Clarke, I read that dominant educators in the period of the 60s seem to have advocated a purge dedicated to dismantling the education system entire, a refixing of educational co-ordinates in the nature of a pogrom,
appealing only to a common denominator and I suspect justice its first victim. I note blame for the allegedly parlous condition of High School examination success rates was attributed to University lecturers’ management of examination setting.
I note claims made by the Bassett Report (August ’68) about the status of my matriculation year of ’67 was the basis of the reccommendations.
More than half failed to qualify for enrolment in the degree course aimed at?
Only 50.6% of Queensland’s Senior year students matriculated?
Add sub-seniors, that is the previous year’s students, and 45% only of the total number of students obtained minimum requirements for matriculation?
All students have who stayed on beyond Junior examination year is a record of failure?
I suspect the document was the work of blokes driven by ideology analysing statistics compiled by blokes driven by ideology talking about young blokes not yet driven by ideology who they identified with and truly felt for regards the young blokes needing explanations provided why they failed and the teachers, too, needing cover.
If the interpretations of the Basset Report were worth a cracker, I name regardless the notable absence of reference to the quality of teaching and teacher training.
Young blokes the Report isolates, poor kids and I will be among the first to agree with that, needed an education plan that facilitated their matriculation into apprenticeships. To extrapolate further, considering the interconnected-ness of education and experiential politics the slant given the report would meet favour with the Government that it was the
University lecturer’s fault and as well caters to an undeniable fact we would have needed more and more apprentices of the age because we were conscipting our qualified to the Vietnam War. A report generated by educators within the framework of the Queensland Department of Education or its Committees was not going to breathe air too long if the analysts did not walk a nice political line of bias between the sociology of education and the sociology of workplace.
Queensland was a rough place for anybody who stepped out of line in the 60s.
The Committee’s report (The Bassett Report)…stated that:
Present senior examinations are too hard for a significant proportion of students who at present stay on at school beyond Junior. At the completion of their secondary schooling all these students have is a record of failure. This with the results of 7595 students who sat for five Senior subjects in 1967. Of these only 50.6 per cent matriculated, matriculation being defined as the gaining of a point score of 22 in five subjects, (a minimum of 4 in each) English being a compulsory subject…
When the result is reduced to a total of 20 points to include those qualifying for entrance to the Institute of Technology and the Teachers’ Colleges, the percentage rises to 65.6. Hence it appears certain that more than one-third of the 1967 Senior candidates failed to obtain any qualification and that considerably more than one-half failed to qualify for enrolment in the degree course aimed at.
If the sub-senior year is taken as a starting point, the failure rate is higher still… of the 8456 who began sub-senior in 1966, approximately 45 per cent only obtained minimum requirements for matriculation in 1967…
In a situation in which a significant and increasing number of students are staying on to the completion of the secondary school without qualifying to enter a tertiary institution (and perhaps without wishing to do so), there is a definite need for a different provision for them.
At present the Senior examination has to serve them, and also those proceeding for further study. In attempting to do both of these tasks it falls between the two, not serving either as well as it might.
Reflecting on my entry into Grade 11 in 1966, I knew where I was in this respect alone. I knew times had changed and that the year was not called sub-senior any longer but titled Grade 11. We all knew and never referred to our year as sub-senior, nobody did. We accepted the year was
Grade 11. We knew accepting it was a significant ideological shift. Sub-senior as a title was demeaning. Grade 11 opened opportunity instead for the psychology of achievement to burgeon. Sub-senior was exactly what it says, hierarchical and not wanted, sub-.
Yet educators were beavering in the background preparing reports and papers still referring to the year as sub-senior?
Did they apparently not get where the education system had arrived and value the intrinsic importance of language and that what we call adminstrative function shapes it or were they purposefully ignoring the work of those who before them made sub-senior archaic?
I cannot think they were competent.
Our very own intelligentsia that was resident in our entire year of ’67 could have advised. We co-operated between ourselves and managed even a significant coup regards one issue to establish the conditions we collectively required. I was designated by the group spokesperson to advance our cause. We discussed, debated and we worked hard. We each had things going on in our individual backgrounds. We came together
each day and survived two significant years of education that were entirely bullying-free regards the relationships with other students as I experienced them. Somewhere, scattered in various parts of the world are successful individuals whether they passed all their subjects or failed by virtue of the system or not who feel strong ties of affection and admiration for me as a participant as I do them unreservedly. We changed horses later, we changed courses. There are teachers and consultants among them.
I was happy in the companionship of my peers. My sociology of a place to call home pin points those two years as home.
to be continued…
Christina Binning Wilson