Thursday, May 19, 2011

From logo to logistics: curriculum control coming our way?

South Australian principals reading through the 2011 NAPLAN (national literacy and numeracy tests) Online Student Participation Website User Manual may or may not have noticed the Pearson logo sharing equal billing with that of DECS (SA Education Department).

However, they must surely have noticed that the website, on which they had to record their Statement of Compliance confirming that they had read and understood the NAPLAN Handbook for Principals, and to confirm or update student details, was not a DECS or DEEWR website, but the website of Pearson Online, and that it is a private multinational corporation.

Further, readers of that enlightening publication, Murdoch's Advertiser, may have seen the little column on May 12 that revealed that since the 2009 NAPLAN tests, Pearson Research and Assessment has had the contract to print, package, distribute and collect NAPLAN tests and results.

Storm in a teacup, or crony capitalism?

Get onto Pearson’s pearsonplaces website, and we find that simultaneously with the development of the new Australian Curriculum, Pearson’s “national author and review teams” have already produced texts and support materials for English, Science, Maths and History.

In fact the pearsonplaces website makes the Australian Curriculum look like a commodity marketed and distributed by the giant multinational.

So, a major corporation has used its smarts to get in quick and corner the market on texts for a new national curriculum. It’s also making big bucks out of NAPLAN. What’s the worry?

Time to revisit the educational cesspit of the United States.

The US is introducing a type of national curriculum for the first time. It is called Common Core Standards.

The Gates Foundation and the Pearson Foundation have teamed up to write a K-12 curriculum that will promote online learning and instructional video gaming.

Diane Ravitch, well-known educationalist and critic of standardized tests and “school choice”, was outraged.

“It is way past time to get mad,” she wrote. “When did we vote to hand over American education to them? Why would we outsource the nation’s curriculum to a for-profit publishing and test-making corporation based in London? Does Bill Gates get to write the national curriculum because he’s the richest man in America?”

The development of national curriculums means that publishers previously working within smaller state level markets now have national markets where a reduced range of products can be “taken to scale” (produced more cheaply with increased volume).

Pearson is moving quickly to capture not just the paper text book market, but the eText and iPad markets as well. They have teamed with Apple and the State of Virginia to run the first-ever complete social studies curriculum for the iPad, which will include games and self-test apps. If it is successful in Virginia, it will go national.

The transferability within English-speaking nations of certain curriculum and support materials (a shortcut to profits) is evidenced in pearsonplaces’ promotion of the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment Systems “world-class literacy learning and assessment tools”. These were developed in the US and have been developed and used for over twenty years. Pearson is currently marketing them to Australian primary schools. The authors make no attempt to hide their “one size fits all” philosophy, stating that “When everyone in the school uses the same assessment, contnua and language as they move from observation to instruction, a common conversation occurs.”

If the big corporate octopus becomes any more involved with development of Australian curriculum materials and NAPLAN tests, will there ever be any place for the innovative and creative teacher who develops resources to suit the learning needs of diverse groups of students? Or will teachers simply become instructors of corporate classroom materials?

It is worth considering the approach adopted in Finland where the Minister for Education Henna Virkkunen praises the professionalism of educators:

“Teachers in Finland can choose their own teaching methods and materials. They are experts of their own work, and they test their own pupils. I think this is also one of the reasons why teaching is such an attractive profession in Finland because teachers are working like academic experts with their own pupils in schools.”

Amen to that!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Humphrey McQueen's Workers' Memorial Speech

Historian and author Humphrey McQueen (above) was a guest at the South Australian May Day celebrations last weekend.

Hundreds gathered under wet conditions on Saturday morning for the May Day march. They included CFMEU member Ark Tribe who last year won his battle against the reactionary Australian Building and Construction Commission. Ark (third left, above) proudly carried the Eureka flag during the march.

Good numbers of young people also attended.

Also at the front of the march were the red flag of the international working class, the flag of the Aboriginal Australians (black at the top for the people, red underneath for the land, and both under the yellow sun), and the flag of the Eureka rebellion of 1854 which today symbolizes working class leadership of the people’s struggles for democracy and in defence of their rights and liberties.

On Sunday, McQueen spoke at the Workers’ Memorial at Port Adelaide (below), and later that night at the May Day Dinner (second, below) at which Ark Tribe was acknowledged as a people’s hero to a standing ovation.

The text of McQueen’s speech at the Workers’ Memorial commemoration is reproduced below:

Port Adelaide Workers Memorial

(Speech by Humphrey McQueen, May Day, 2011)

One does good, neither from fear of punishment nor promise of reward, but because good is good to do. These were the sentiments of the nineteenth-century American Rationalist, Colonel Robert Ingersoll, whose writings would have been popular with some of the people whose names went onto the Workers’ memorial. We can be certain that all of them had lived according to that point of view. None of them behaved as they did with any thought that they might be honoured in any way other than through the respect of their friends, neighbours and workmates.

That is why it is an honour to be at the Port as your guest on May Day to reflect on their lives and the importance of this monument.

We gather in the shadow of Anzac Day and of International Workers’ Memorial Day. This event brings the two commemorations together. Looking back to the establishment of this memorial between 1917 and 1921 we see a period of intense propaganda in support of King and Empire.

It is often forgotten that war is work for capital. Slogging in the trenches for the capitalist state is as much a form of wage-slavery as is laboring on sites for a particular capitalist. Eight of the forty-one original names were of local workers who had been killed in the war. In one sense then, this workers’ memorial is also a war memorial. But I suggest that all the war memorials are also memorials to the working people whose lives and limbs were lost in the service of capital. Those monuments are ours too. We must reclaim them from the warmongers.

During the 1971 Moratorium March in Newcastle, the thousands of workers paused at the small war memorial outside the Post Office in Hunter Street. An elderly miner spoke: ‘When I was a lad I was silly enough to volunteer to fight for the British Imperialists. I’m proud to say that my son fought in the anti-fascist war. We’re both here today to make sure that my grandson is not conscripted for the imperialist war in Vietnam’. As anti-imperialists, part of our task is to make the experiences of three generations part of every Anzac Day.

Adding the statue of ‘Justice’ with her scales of equality in 1921 was another call to arms. Those scales can never be balanced in a class society. We have a horrible reminder of the law as a regime of injustice in the 2004 murder of Daniel Madeley. I say ‘murder’ even though Marx explained why ‘killing is not murder when done for profit’. Similarly, the escape of the directors of Hardie’s on yet another of those legal technicalities is proof that capital gets away with mass murder. As one of the asbestos widows put it: ‘There is no appeal from the grave’.

The bias built into bourgeois law is written all over the persecution of Ark Tribe by the Building and Construction Commission. It pursues workers trying to enforce Health and Safety regulations but turns a blind eye to the violators. To make matters worse, the anti-labour party government is harmonising OH&S down to the weakest common denominator.

Hence, the necessity for Justice to have a sword. Under the rule of capital, that defensive weapon is a militant union movement. The significance of organised labour was voiced in 1916 by a Hobart labourer, Samuel Champ:
Our liberties were not won by mining magnates or stock-exchange jobbers, but by genuine men of the working-class movement who had died on the gallows and rotted in dungeons and were buried in nameless graves. These were the men to whom we owed the liberties we enjoyed today. Eight hours and other privileges in Australia had been won by men who suffered gaol and persecution.

Shortly after Champ’ s speech, our liberties were protected by the defeat of the two plebiscites to impose conscription for overseas military service. The labour movement knew that industrial conscription would follow. According to the Solicitor-General, the War Precautions Act already meant ‘that John Citizen was hardly able to lift a finger without coming under the penumbra of some technical offence’. How appropriate then that we are meeting in the courtyard to the prison cells where militants were held.

Among the victims of this repression were ‘the IWW twelve’ jailed for arson. All but two got early release after a Royal Commission. That investigation was one achievement of the Industrial Socialist Labor member for Broken Hill, Percy Brookfield.

Brookfield held the balance of power in the NSW parliament. To cling to office, the Labor cabinet gave way on the IWW and on OH&S for Barrier miners
Percy was on his way to Sydney via the Port when ‘he died for his people’ at Riverton in March 1921, ninety years ago. He had often passed through here and no doubt many locals wanted to add his name to their memorial. He has his own in the Broken Hill cemetery and now Paul Adams’s biography is now available with that stunning title - ‘The Best Hated Man in Australia’.

Percy Brookfield was special. However, until 1915, he was just another miner and unionist. Similarly, Ark Tribe had been an everyday builders’ labourer for twenty-three years before he took his stand. The same is true of the Eureka rebels. They were not saints or angels before November 1854. People rose to the call in1929 here and again in 1998 against Patricks. Stories about past struggles encouraged them to say: ‘We could do that!’ And they did.

Women have always done so too. Yet only one out of the forty-one names in the first listing was of a woman, Christina Fox. More have been added, for example, the Aboriginal activist, Ruby Hammond. Yet there were many, many more who were busy behind the scenes – ‘Because that’s what women do’, to quote a line from the 2004 musical Eureka! They ‘did good because good is good to do’. Researchers are finding more of their names for you to consider adding.

Why are there not more memorials to workers? There is a marble statue of a cane-cutter at Innisfail. And there are memorials to a few of the tens of thousands killed on the job, for instance, to the Truckies at Tarcutta. And as we saw earlier there are the war memorials for the tens of thousands slaughtered to make the world safe for big capital.

However, we need to remember that we are surrounded by memorials to working people wherever we go. A plaque to the architect of St Paul’s cathedral in London, Christopher Wren, reads ‘ If you seek his memorial, look about you’. An avalanche of capitalist propaganda makes it hard for us to recognise the memorials to workers that are all around us. The first ticket-holder in the Shearers’ Union in Wagga Wagga in 1886, Charlie Sullivan, knew the truth when he wrote his memoirs forty years later:
Not one word is written of the thousands of workers who toiled in the heat, in the cold, and in the rain, who cut through rock and blasted channels, who reared great walls and buildings, not a word of the lives lost, of those who toiled with the crushed fingers of their calloused hands, dripping blood into the concrete, or staining steel. It has been thus from the time millions of straining naked slaves built that magnificence which was Babylon, and those monuments which are known as the Pyramids. The names of kings and warlords are handed down in manuscripts and in books to after generations, but few ever think of the great and humble army whose sweat and blood are mingled in the concrete and bricks as surely as if the walls were built over a framework of human flesh.

They will remain unhonoured and unsung till workers write the histories that are taught in our schools.

Gathering here today we take a stand to inscribe Charlie’s longing for a red armband account of Australia’s past.

Although I have dwelt in the past, you would not have come out this morning if you did not know in your hearts that this is a monument to the living. When you lay your flowers you commit to a future where any murder for profit is outlawed, where class bias is no more, and where every human being flourishes through social equality. Until then, organised labour as the embodiment of Justice dare not lay down our sword.

Geronimo should be honoured, not associated with bin Laden

The vile creature bin Laden is dead, conspiracy theorists notwithstanding.

But what a sad reflection on the mentality of the US imperialists that he was code-named after a great indigenous patriot and warrior, Geronimo.

Are the grown men and women who comprise the inner sanctum of US ruling circles really nothing more than outgrown children, still playing “cowboys and Indians” in the backyard?

To code-name bi Laden “Geronimo” is to revel in the expansionist war crimes and land seizures of settler America, and is an insult to every living US indigenous person.

Geronimo (June 16, 1829 – February 17, 1909) was a prominent American First Nations leader of the Chiricahua Apache who fought for several decades against the expansion of Mexico and the United States into Apache tribal lands.

After an attack by a company of Mexican soldiers killed many members of his family in 1858, Geronimo joined revenge attacks on the Mexicans and later against the United States. He became known for bravery and daring feats and was revered by the Apaches as a warrior with spiritual powers.

Lisa Balk King, of Indian Country Today Media Network, wrote that the nickname sends "a disturbing message that equates an iconic symbol of Native American pride with the most hated evildoer since Adolf Hitler."

“Potentially the most disturbing fact is what this says to American Indian children. It equates being Native American with being hated, an enemy to the world, and someone to be hunted down and killed, and re-casts one of their heroes into a villainous role,” she said.

Unlike bin Laden, who was summarily executed upon capture, Geronimo was kept alive as a prisoner of war and died in captivity after being thrown from his horse in 1909.

So, the lone superpower that cooperated with anti-fascist forces to raise the standard of international justice to new heights with the Nuremburg War Trials has now descended to the depths of vigilante assassination.

This is of no surprise to anti-imperialists, but is causing concern to many democratic-minded and justice-loving persons.

All that the US ruling class can do is to smother itself in the jubilant lumpen exreta of “USA! USA!”, “Got what he deserved - the people in the Twin Towers weren’t armed either!” and so on.

Lies and misinformation typical of imperialist spin are slowly dissolving.

Yesterday, a US reporter was telling readers of our local Murdoch rag that “Bin Laden was located in an upstairs room using a woman, believed to be one of his wives, as a shield as he fired at the soldiers.”

This justified his killing and discredited him as a coward.

However, Pakistani sources are now saying there was no fire fight anywhere in the compound. "Not a single bullet was fired from the compound at the US forces and their choppers,” said the source.

And persistent questioning of the sort rarely seen these days by the kept reporters of the White House elicited a reluctant admission from the US that bin Laden was unarmed.

Now bin Laden’s 12 year old daughter, who was present when he was killed, has claimed that her father was first captured and then shot, in front of her and other members of the family.

His wife had not been used as a shield, but had rushed at the US soldiers who had shot and wounded her.

So, one pack of bastards has eliminated another bastard - the creature they created in their fight with the Soviet social-imperialists for control of Afghanistan.

No wonder they wanted him dead. What stories he might have told!

And in the process, the children of indigenous USA are defeated all over again in the continuing Apache Wars.