In May 1977, the Geography Teachers Association of Victoria organised and sponsored a guided group-tour of parts – carefully selected – of the People’s Republic of China. I went, I saw, I was sucked in.
In Dec 79/Jan 80, the School of Education of Melbourne’s La Trobe University organised and promoted a similarly guided group-tour of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Again I went, and saw, and was sucked in.

There were no sceptics in either group. There should have been, if only on the basis that if something looks too good to be true, it most likely is.

None of this current Look Back in Doubt is meant to deny that both tours were intensely interesting, ultra-efficiently organised, exciting, even exhilarating, nor to deny that both countries had admirable achievements under gargantuan difficulties to present to our small collectives.

People who read my description in the PNG Post Courier [Fri 26 Sept 1980] of crawling through the Viet Cong tunnels at Cu Chi – the waistline was a lot trimmer then – were duly impressed. My PRC tour report, presented to the staff at Melbourne’s Wesley College, was greeted with some degree of knowing empathy.

What is bringing on this bout of revisionist nostalgia ?

An opinion piece in the SMH of Mon 10 Jan 05, Louis Nowra’s most recent contribution to the republic of letters:

The moral blindspot that has allowed killers to become kitsch

And the most disturbing thing about his argument is that it tells us nothing new, not a solitary thing – it has all been said before. And each time such accusations have all been whitewashed, explained away or ignored.

One can find some excuse for ignorant headline-seeking celebs, among whom Nowra’s “empty-headed copywriters” could be counted, as they are simply revealing the shallowness of whatever passed for history teaching and learning in their education.

The real culprits are in academia and the education industry which propagates a widely-agreed consensus of the sort Nowra has outlined. It seems that tens of millions of murders in the USSR’s gulags, Mao’s lao gai and Pol Pot’s and other communist killing fields are to be discounted as “$1.99, 70% Off !!” collateral damage; the only deaths of premium worth were those by fascists, by clericalists of the old Roman Catholic kind, through the activities of transnational suits, and, of course and above all, by anyone linked, however tenuously, to AmeriKKKa. The most recent version of this vicious malapportionment of blame is – one killing by an Israeli soldier: Bad, one hundred murders by a suicide bomber: Good. Noticeable, too, is the contrast between the over-hyped [yes, over-] reactions to misdeeds at Abu Ghraib and the silence of the sheep at murderously vile atrocities perpetrated by anti-democratic thugs in post-Saddam Iraq.

And the Stuart Macintyres and Phillip Adamses, together with our own resident “I-was-a-communist-but didn’t-inhale” gulag-deniers, continue to wonder why Jo/e Citizen regards them and their fellow-travellers at best with utter indifference and more often than not with an almost intuitive contempt.

Not for them do John Donne’s words apply: “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind”.

Harry’s teenage idiocy

PS: the latest teenage idiocy by Harry Windsor, He of the Dubious Provenance, evokes a similar response:

Tom Utley, of the UK Daily Telegraph, quoted in Views on Prince Harry’s Nazi costume [The Age, Digests & Dispatches, Sat 15 Jan 05] claimed to not being in the least surprised if the prince was one of the 45% of Britons who say that they know nothing at all about Auschwitz.

Readers here need not be surprised, either, what with the gutting of significant content in school courses in what used be called history, in accordance with progressivist dogma at Nice Mz Wriedt’s EdCentral: “we no longer ram boring old [always ‘boring old’] facts down children’s throats – we teach them how to think”.

Most people, of course, realise that this is a false dichotomy: it is entirely feasible to do both, imparting culturally significant content — and surely that ought include the Holocaust – and teaching “how to think” at the same time. Gerald Ford’s supposed difficulties with (gumchewing+walking) it ain’t.

PS2: perhaps Young Windsor should’ve worn a Lavrenti Pavlovich Beria T-shirt.

TT asked Leonard for a life story as philosophical underpinning for his erudite treatise. Here it is:

Leonard Colquhoun is a recently retired teacher, about which status he has these two comments: ‘recently’ should be valid for another year or so; ‘recently’ rather than ‘ex-‘, for the following reasons.

‘Ex-teachers’ seems to apply to people who once were teachers, and are now in some other field of labour, or Labor. Some ex-teachers seem to be badly traumatised by the experience – however short – which is very, very sad; other ex-teachers gravitate to desk-jockey sinecures in EdCentral to infest what should be treated as a noble profession with some of the most egregious stupidity in the known universe. He suspects that the second lot spent very little time assessing Year 9G reading journals or checking lab reports.

His teaching career began in inner Melbourne primary schools, experiences for which he has always been grateful, because teaching primary school pupils really forces one to actually teach – or used to. Secondary teaching took him from metropolitan and country Victoria to Hobart in the 70s, to PNG in the 80s, and back to Melbourne in the 90s. His subjects [and he uses that term fully and deliberately in its time-honoured sense] were English, histories [Greek & Roman, Asian, and Modern], Latin [until the last vingtaine of the previous century], and Technical Drawing [in pre-metric days, which gave him greater insight into the expression “five-eighths of seven-sixteenths of FA”].

Quelle horreur

One feature of this pedagogical journey was an inability to see himself reduced to being a ‘facilitator’ in ‘child-centred’ classrooms; the impression that he should actually engage in the craft of teaching was something that no number of consultants, in-services, multi-degree’d experts, or even ‘ex-teachers’ could wean him off. He even taught spelling – quelle horreur! – even though admonished that umpteen teenagers could have had their creativity crushed for ever.

A member of the relevant teacher unions for 30 years, he ended up as branch organiser at his last workplace. He’d like to see union officials focusing on their core duties: the rights and privileges, wages and conditions of their members. He hopes they’ll stop giving away 50m penalties to the opposition with trendoid political posturing, and urges them to cease using unions as rungs on political ladders of opportunity – or should that be ‘opportunism’ ?

The highlight of his BA (Melb) was a major in the Best Subject Ever – at least in its 60s form: History & Philosophy of Science; he can’t recall much of his Dip Ed [a reaction shared by the many trainee-teachers he mentored], and as for his Grad Dip Ed Studs, let’s just say that it didn’t have much to do with Year 9G.

He reckons himself lucky with partner of 15 years Margaret, who’s been – not in this order – dairy farmer, taxi truck driver, private investigator’s agent, country general store-cum-PO factotum, make-up artist for Channel 0-as-was, title searcher, and finally legal executive, surviving daily dealings with some of the most incompetent specimens and speciwomens in the nation, some of whom have gone to be Big Knobs in state government bureaucracies. There is a certain glint in her eye when she explains that among her worst clients were teachers, as “they knew it all” – of course, mostly, they only knew 0.675 of 0.4375 of FA.

Old Aussie cultural cringe

Football is an enduring and absorbing interest, the Australian “game of our own”, of course, none of that foreign stuff, although he does confess to a more-than-passing interest in the NFL. But then, that national version of “foot-ball” is not shoved down our throats by celebs, suits and *SLMs – who are still in the thrall of the old Aussie cultural cringe.

As paid-up, card-carrying members of The Australian Skeptics, neither he nor Margaret give much credence to party manifestos, religious dogma, statements by CEOs in nice suits, declarations by politicians propped up in front of bookcases, or ideologues who see individuals as units in a collective.

Another membership of the card-carrying kind is of The Folio Society, which brings equal amounts of pleasure and pain, the latter being the necessity of sometimes resisting the Society’s blandishments.

Travel in places as diverse as the USSR, Japan, the USA and Canada, Vietnam, Great Britain and Ireland, China, Morocco, Spain and Portugal, Indonesia, Germany and Italy, and above all France and Paris, ensured that YHA hostels, Amtrak and Eurail added to their bottom lines. The one big lack in living in Tasmania is the lack of trains; Margaret and he would like Nice Mr Lowy, wealthy Sydneysider, to stop wasting his money on a foreign sport, and spend it on running his very own rail network here.

Of forms of government let fools contest

Among the dear departed he regards favourably, despite whatever faults, failures and foibles they may have had, are – again, in no special order – M Tullius Cicero, Elizabeth I, Confucius, Thomas Wentworth Wills & Henry Harrison, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Marcus Aurelius, Dick Reynolds, Augustus Caesar, Jefferson and Washington, Aristophanes, Nelson, Keith Miller, Hypatia, A A Phillips, Orwell, P Ovidius Naso, M Gandhi and N Mandela, William of Occam, Themistocles, Monash, William Wilberforce, Kemal Ataturk, W C Fields, John Locke and J S Mill, Michael Collins, Ambrose Bierce and H L Mencken, and Alexander Pope, especially if he wrote this couplet:

“Of forms of government let fools contest,
That which governs least, governs best”.

Essendon for Premiers 2005, James Hird for another Brownlow, Matthew Lloyd for another Coleman, and Mark Johnson for Shirtfront of the Year.

*SLMs: an especially obnoxious sub-species of a media/celeb phylum who reckon that their particular location demands that those of us “camping out” take notice of them – do the names Jones, Laws and Singleton ring any chimes?