Three Herald opinion pieces that appeal to me today

1. Barry Jones — Intelligent discussion all but extinct

A title both hyperbolic and even ironic – though he does say all but extinct. Resonates with me though.

It is instructive to compare the debate in the Victorian Parliament in 1872 on the Education Act and the debate in 2006 for the Education and Training Reform Act, a consolidation of legislation passed in the previous 134 years. Which debate was of higher quality? In 1872 MPs were discussing ideas – especially ”free, secular and compulsory” education, while in 2006 all the speeches were about management and training as a factor in job creation. In 2006 I suggested that it might be time to actually define ”Education”, something omitted in the draft bill, and to explore its role in personal and community life, but this was rejected as too ambitious.

In 1872 the minister, J. Wilberforce Stephen, quoted the poet and educational reformer Matthew Arnold eight times in his speech and expressed the hope that the legislation would ”set an example to our progenitors in England”. There was no comparable ambition in 2006. No ideas on education were mentioned and it is doubtful how many MPs in 2006 would have recognised Arnold’s name, even as the author of Dover Beach.

Pedant that I am: that really should be “Dover Beach”, Barry. Furthermore, they may never have heard of Bob Dyer either!  Have you, dear reader? If not, Barry and I are your superiors…  In 1872 Matthew Arnold was still very much alive as well, not a long-dead poet, critic and public figure. So that really should enter the comparison between now and then.

But I do sympathise with what Barry is saying here…

2. Tanveer Ahmed — To stay in power, Labor must give it back to generation vexed

This is very substantial and truly heartfelt.   It really goes way beyond the topic its headline proposes to a malaise that has come about through economic and social changes in the past thirty years. Answers are not at all obvious. I’m not sure any of our politicians really know what to do or say on this.

I have a growing number of patients in their fifth or sixth decade of life presenting after losing their jobs or their sense of autonomy at work. They are overwhelmingly male and working-class, in parallel with the decline in industrial manufacturing employment.

They usually present with varieties of depression, which in men is transmitted more commonly through hypermasculine rage or alcoholism that overlies shame and humiliation.

It coincides with a huge increase in those claiming the disability pension through mental illness, an underestimated trend. In 2010, the Bureau of Statistics reported 29 per cent of the people on disability pensions required it due to mental illness, compared with 21 per cent a decade ago.

For men, mental illness has already taken top spot for disability claims, over ailments such as back injuries which dominated a generation ago when blue-collar work was the norm….

3. Dany Alarab — Treasure this – teachers offer twice the passion for half the pay

Spot on! This is why even though I always felt being a Marxist was rather like believing in fairies I supported the Teachers’ Federation AND the Independent Teachers’ Union when I was in the private sector. Sadly, employers will take advantage and exploit, given half a chance, and there is an absolute need to have your own dinosaur or dragon to fight back – or to negotiate, if fighting is less necessary.

… Teaching these last two terms has been particularly difficult. I arrive at school at 7.15am and prepare my resources for the day. Once the bell goes at 8.55am there is literally no break until 3pm. Recess and lunch are usually spent with students to catch up on work missed, detentions, reports on classroom incidents, committee meetings or supervision duty. Monday afternoons I spend with students at ”homework club”. The rest of the week, between 3pm-5pm, I write lesson plans and prepare resources. If I have any marking, I generally take it home with me.

Last term, I spent four weeks in my own time with my head teacher applying for a $20,000 grant from the federal government to introduce Asian Studies into our curriculum. We would often leave the staffroom at 7pm and go home to complete the rest.

If I take a ”sick” day it is usually to complete marking at the end of exam periods as I physically do not have any time left in my day.

I am not special. I am not asking for a pat on the back. This is my job and I enjoy doing it but I do not know how much longer I can continue like this. I have worked in the private sector, in human resources at Bayer and in hotel management, so I have experience in other industries but I have never worked harder than I do now. I am 36 and have been teaching for seven years. I can either go for promotion or move back into the private sector and get paid twice as much for a job which is half as hard, but half as fulfilling…

There are savings to be made but you are looking to make them in the place where you will lose the most value; your teachers. The wage freeze you have announced is really going to hurt our ability to attract and, more importantly, retain good, hardworking employees in state education. The removal of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission as an independent umpire in wage negotiations is also extremely disappointing.

By taking away the independent arbitrator in a dispute, you leave public sector workers with no alternative but to strike. I have not been a fan of all of the decisions made by the NSW Teachers Federation, but these announcements have forced me to rethink my attitude towards collective action….

Or forced me to see the light, I would say!