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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Why class sizes matter By Mary Merkenich

In an article in the Australian on April 20, Adam Creighton asserted that: “Teachers’ unions in Australia and worldwide have been astonishingly successful at hoodwinking the public into thinking smaller classes matter.”
As a teacher with over 30 years’ experience and a member of the Australian Education Union, I can say articles such as that display ignorance about what it is really like to be a teacher in front of a class.

Classes are not homogenous groups of robots who all unquestioningly follow teacher instructions. They consist of individuals with individual needs, abilities, interests, concerns and social skills. Teachers have to manage these differences so that all have the best educational opportunities as well as a rewarding and rich social life.

Studies worldwide support the view that smaller class sizes improve the learning environment in a classroom and consequently academic achievement.

In a 2011 study into class sizes in the US, researchers concluded that students who were taught in a small class in primary school were more likely to attend university. The positive effects of small class sizes were largest among students from low-income families.

Another study in 2010 which examined students from a Latino background in the US evaluated variables such as school funding expenditures, tests scores, ethnicity, and teacher qualification, teacher-student ratio and degree obtainment to identify any impact on student achievement. It found “the most powerful predictor of changes in reading and math in all models was decreasing the student-teacher ratio”.

One of the most powerful examples supporting the benefits of smaller classes is the education outcomes achieved by Finland, which has been ranked at the top for educational results internationally for the past decade.

Finland’s average class size at primary and secondary levels is 20 students per teacher. Additionally, about 40% of students in Finnish secondary schools receive some kind of special intervention. School faculties include a "special teacher" who is assigned to identify students who need extra help and then provide it.

Finland's graduation rate for upper secondary students was 93% in 2008. It has scored either first or second out of OECD countries for scientific literacy, math literacy, and reading literacy in the past decade.

There is no credible evidence that smaller classes offer no benefits to the learner or to the teacher, but the issue is debated because politicians do not want to commit resources to allow for the extra teachers and classrooms that it would require.

Creighton writes: “Analysis by Inquirer estimates that lifting the average primary and secondary class size from about 23 to 27 — about where they were in 1980 — would save the NSW government more than $1bn a year.”

Small classes cost more resources in the short-term, but the costs to society of not engaging students are huge; welfare payments, teen pregnancy, crime, health care costs — these are all inevitable consequences when quality in education is compromised.

Christopher Pyne, the opposition education spokesperson, also frequently argues that class sizes don’t matter.

Pyne was educated at a private school where the average class size is 12. If small classes are not important than why do elite schools promote themselves by advertising that they have small classes? One could conclude that small classes matter only if you can afford to pay for them, otherwise it’s the “factory method” for you.

When teachers have time to give individual attention to students, in addition to having the opportunity for clarification or more help with their work, most students appreciate the recognition, the connection with the teacher and the respect they feel. Many studies have shown — and many parents can attest to the fact — that if a child has a positive relationship with their teacher they enjoy going to school.

Teachers want positive relationships with their students but they need the time to be able to develop such relationships with every student in their classes. This discussion must also be about nurturing the dreams and aspirations of each student.

These are important elements in a quality education. It is not merely a matter of dollars or numbers. Quality education is about providing the best possible learning conditions in which all young people, not just those who can afford it, thrive.

From GLW issue 964 Saturday, May 4, 2013

Saturday, May 11, 2013

John Tognolini: Writing History & Brothers

George Campbell Hunt and his comrades wearing fezes in Alexandria before the 21st Battalion proceeded to Gallipoli in August 1915

I wrote this back in 2013. It still stands. John Tognolini 21-415

It says a lot about the digital and global age that we live in, since I posted the first part of Brothers, my historical novel on the World War One military campaign of Gallipoli on Jottify last year, that a lot of people have read it here in Australia. The picture of my uncle Stephen Tognolini and George  Hunt taken in France in 1918 just before the Battle of Hamel where George was killed. I thought that he was Aboriginal. Historian Philippa Scarlett  wrote on her blog Indigenous Histories that his father was from the West Indies:


 Thanks to writer John Tognolini I’ve recently located George Campbell Hunt of the 21st Battalion, AIF.

John was gathering information about his uncle Stephen Tognolini M.M when he discovered George Hunt in a group photograph of the 21st Battalion taken in Picardie, Somme in June 1918. George Hunt fought at Gallipoli and later in France and rose to the rank of Company Sergeant Major.

George Hunt’s service record describes him as of ‘swarthy’ complexion with brown eyes and black curly hair. His photograph (reproduced by John Tognolini from the collection of the Australian War Memorial) clearly shows he is ‘not of substantial European origin’ – and so ineligible to become a member of the AIF. But like many others he was accepted by the military authorities and after serving for four years was killed in action on 6 July 1918 at Hamel, France. His name on the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour is accompanied by a studio portrait.

In the previous year, following the second battle of Bullecourt (3–15 May 1917) Hunt was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.

He led his battalion forward in an attack with great coolness and courage and although twice wounded assisted to evacuate the wounded, resuming his command after his own wounds had been dressed.
Fourth Supplement No. 30234 to the London Gazette dated 14 August 1917

His own description of the events of that day was published in the Maryborough & Dunolly Advertiser of 13 July 1917, p4.


Some little time ago we announced that Sergeant G. C. Hunt, of Maryborough, had succeeded in winning the D.C.M. for valorous conduct on the field. In a letter to his wife, Mrs. Hunt, of Napier street, he describes the incident which gained him the distinction. The letter is dated May 10, and reads: “Well, here I am at last. Have not been able to write much before. In fact, I shall have to send this to friends in England, as I hear that no mail is to go to Australia for quite a few weeks. We have just got out after a big, terrible battle with Fritz. I thank God I got out alive, although I am walking about covered all over with bandages shrapnel wounds in head and hand, and a bomb wound in the leg. Three separate occasions during the day of the terrible battle I brought in a badly wounded captain, and also a corporal, never thinking of myself all the time. Shells, shrapnel, bombs, and machine gun fire all over No Man’s Land. I also got in to some very hot scrapes. At one place three Fritzs came at me all of a sudden with bombs, and I luckily got in first with my revolver. I actually kissed my revolver for saving my life. More good news: I would not go away when the doctor sent me, but said my place was with my men. I have been strongly recommended for the D.C.M. I guess you will be proud of me now. I am feeling O.K.

George Hunt may have been Aboriginal but it’s possible he could have been of African or Indian heritage. Information in his service record says his father was also George Hunt and that although enlisting from Maryborough Victoria, he was born in NSW, in Newcastle in 1878. The birth of a George Hunt, son of George and Frances Hunt was registered in Newcastle in 1877. It is feasible that Hunt may not have stated his age accurately – he was already older than the average volunteer.

But whatever the facts of his heritage, it is clear that his enlistment and distinguished service is another example of the existence of men of non European origin in the AIF, challenging the popular perception of this band of men as white Australians.”
In a further article she wrote.


Posted on April 19, 2013by Indigenous Histories

Michael Riley, great grandson of George Campbell Hunt, has provided more information about his great grand father who was one those members of the AIF who did not fit the profile of ‘White Australians fighting for a White Australia’.

The records located by Michael and others show his father also George Hunt was from Antigua in the West Indies and had arrived in New South Wales by 1877. Available photographs of George Campbell Hunt (decorated in 1917, the year before he was killed in action at Hamel), show him in a variety of lights – the debonair, in the photograph on the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour– the stern and war hardened serviceman in a 21st Battalion group portrait taken in 1918 at Picardie and the relaxed soldier amongst mates in an informal photograph of George Hunt and friends provided by Michael. In this he and his comrades wear fezes. These and the children in the photograph suggest the photo was taken in Alexandria before the 21st Battalion proceeded to Gallipoli in August 1915. (Links to the former two photographs are in the 8 March posting WHAT WOULD CHARLES BEAN HAVE SAID ABOUT GEORGE CAMPELL HUNT AIF)”

I owe a debt to Philippa and as I finish the last part of Brothers. I also a debt to the historians Peter Stanley and David W. Cameron but also Charles Bean whose White Australia image of World One both Philippa and I challenge. Saying that Bean, for me despite his bigotry is the ultimate primary source historian of World War One. He is full of so many contradictions.

I had four uncles in World War One and another uncle and my father in World War Two. My mother was also WW2 veteran. I also had my cousin Michael killed in Vietnam. He was only 19. I’m named after my Uncle John/Jack who was either 16 or 17 when he killed in action France. Like his brother Stephen he was awarded the Military Medal for valor during the Battle of Passchendaele (Third Ypres). His citation reads

At Broodseinde during the period 26/27th October 1917 No 3648 Pte John Tognolini did excellent work on the morning of the 26th October. He was one of a party of eight carrying two stretcher cases to the Regimental Aid Post when a shell burst and severely wounded three of the party. Although wounded himself he continued with his work and made two trips back to get the wounded they had left on the way. He then returned to line and on the morning of the 27th October when several men were wounded by shell fire and all the stretchers in use. He dressed one man and carried him on his back to the R.A.P. All this work was under very heavy shell fire.

He set a fine example of coolness and courage to the men of his company.

 Private Tognolini has on many occasions shown great courage and devotion to duty.
He was killed in action on 25-4-18 at the Battle of Villers Bretonneux.

This is the first volume of Brothers that will become a series of novellas is dedicated to my uncles and their comrades. It has fictional characters based on them. The events of course are real and I write showing the full horror of what they endured. I believe it is the obligation of a novelist to write historical fiction that has to be accurate and bring the past to life, and by doing that make it popular and accessible to people.

All romance of war was shattered by the first sight of the dead and dismembered. That’s why the poetry of Wilfred Owen bellows at us today of the horror of war. Brothers is a work of empathy with the poor bloody soldiers who endure such incredible hardships.

John Pilger:Hold the front page! We need free media, not an Order of Mates

The other day, I stood outside the strangely silent building where I began life as a journalist. It is no longer the human warren that was Consolidated Press in Sydney, though ghosts still drink at the King's Head pub nearby. As a cadet reporter, I might have walked on to the set of Lewis Milestone's The Front Page. Men in red braces did shout, "Hold the front page", and tilt back their felt hats and talk rapidly with a roll-your-own attached indefinitely to their lower lip. You could feel the presses rumbling beneath and smell the ink.

This was the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, where I learned to report crime, courts, sport, killer bees, Rotary meetings and the arrival of almost famous people from that mysterious land, "overseas". The proprietor was a former boxer, Frank Packer, immortalised in Cyril Pearl's Wild Men of Sydney, and knighted for his vendettas against anyone to the political left of Pontius Pilate.

"Sir Frank" was seen on the editorial floor on Saturday nights after the races. If his horse had lost, fear and loathing were a presence. Once, he cancelled all the late editions and exiled the production staff to the King's Head, where their necessary return was negotiated from a phone on the public bar.

My only encounter with Sir Frank was when I foolishly boarded a geriatric lift precariously filled with the corpulent proprietor and his two gargantuan sons, Clyde and Kerry. "Who the fuck are you?" said Kerry, later to find distinction as the money bags behind World Series cricket.

The training was superb. A style developed by a highly literate editor, Brian Penton, who had published poetry in the Telegraph, instilled a respect for English grammar and the value of informed simplicity. Words like "during" were banned; "in" was quite enough. The passive voice was considered lazy and banned, along with most clichés and adjectives - except those in the splenetic editorials demanding all Reds went to hell. When I boarded a rust-streaked Greek ship for Europe, I was sorry to leave; I had begun to learn about the craft of journalism and about those who controlled it and used it and why.

A lesson that endures is that when the rich and powerful and own the means of popular enlightenment and dress it up as a "free press", bestowing a false respectability called the "mainstream", the opposite is usually true. Sir Frank turned out to be a minnow compared compared with Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch bought the Packer newspapers in 1972 and today controls 70 per cent of Australia's capital city press, along with dozens of local and regional newspapers. In Adelaide and Brisbane he owns almost everything. Two conglomerates dedicated to a doctrinaire, often extreme world view - Murdoch's News Limited and Fairfax Media - control 86 per cent of the Australian press.

This absence of choice and real dissent, let alone "balance", extends to the national broadcaster, the ABC, a progeny of the BBC run as a corporate hierarchy. There are honourable exceptions, of course, among them Philip Dorling, Kate McClymont and Quentin Dempster. Unlike the US and Britain, independent online journalism is rare. The result is a sameness that seems remarkable and demeaning in a first world, educated society.

Murdoch's augmented obsessions rule. The Labor government of Julia Gillard is loathed by his newspapers. This is inexplicable as Labor's policies are more or less those of the conservative coalition of Tony "Mad Monk" Abbott. When Communications Minister Stephen Conroy proposed timid post-Leveson regulation, he was depicted as Stalin in the fashion of the Sun in London. When Labor's prime minister in 2010, Kevin Rudd, announced a modest tax on the mega-profits of the mining companies, he was deposed by his own party following a propaganda campaign across the media, largely funded by the mining lobby.

Public perception of non-conformist minorities, especially Australia's indigenous people, is often taken from the media. These unique first people are seen as "bludgers" - spongers. This inverts a truth that is never news: a parasitical, lucrative white industry is effectively licensed by federal and state governments to exploit indigenous hardship.

Like America, Australia in its early colonial days had a vibrant press, a "medley of competing voices", wrote Edward Smith Hall, editor of the crusading Sydney Monitor. Journalists were "the voice of the people" and not of the "trade of authority". In the late 19th century, there were 143 independent newspapers in New South Wales alone. By 1988, the empires of Murdoch, Fairfax, Packer empires and Alan Bond, later imprisoned for the country's biggest corporate fraud, dominated the "mainstream" as an exclusive Order of Mates.

This is true across much of the democratic world. The medley of voices on the internet has dented monopoly media power, though the same monopolies are now consuming the web. "Social media" are largely introverted, a look-at-me peep show for the digitally besotted. As the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta approaches, hard-won rights such as the presumption of innocence are buried beneath the tentacular might of corporate systems.

Ironically, in the "information age", censorship by omission is a weapon of this power - the silencing of whistleblowers without whom journalism can never be free, and of a compliant, privileged "left". Militarised policing, displayed recently in Boston, consumes an America waging "perpetual war" and now threatening China. In Europe, a savage class war rages from Greece to Spain and Britain. It is no surprise that newspapers in thrall to this corrupt power are ailing.

Edmund Burke mythologised the press as a Fourth Estate. Today, we need a "fifth estate" right across the media and in journalism training and on the streets. We need those like Edward Smith Hall, who see themselves as agents of people not power.

This article originally appeared in the New Statesman 9 May 2013