This blog has been in hiatus for a long time. Occasionally I’ve posted when I’ve had to get things out but really in the last five years I’ve posted maybe three times. I’ve just started a professional blog ( so it’s time to move on from the radical radish. I’ve had some great times here and I’m proud that this blog was included in Dr Frances Shaw’s research into the Oz Feminist blogosphere.

Thanks to all those who read here and commented and those who inspired the posts. It’s been fun but now my focus is education and equity (but still informed by my passion for feminism and politics!)

Ciao xx

On grief, part II

It’s been a month. A month ago, he left us. It was the virulent leukaemia after all. And me being a stem cell match didn’t help. (If none of this makes sense you’ll need to read my previous post from last July).

There’s so much I could say, so much I want to say about the process of watching him and his partner go through the various treatments that were tried, about the process of being a stem cell donor, about the hope that comes with the next treatment option, until finally there are no more options. Only palliative care.

But I can’t write about it now. My face is salty and my heart too bruised today. I’ve lived a blessed life and this is my first taste of grief so strong that you can’t take it in all at once. Grief that comes in waves and leaves you adrift in your own emotion, grief that threatens to drown you.

I feel too weak to do anything, all my strength is gone.

I’m living a double life. There’s me carrying on and doing what I need to do, attending to my family, functioning at my job. I’m currently in the UK. So I’m dealing with travel, making memories with my family, networking with fellow researchers. Then there’s the other me, grieving in the quiet moments that I have to myself. Bewildered that this has happened, shocked anew every time I remember, mourning whenever something reminds me of him. There’s a lot that reminds me of him: red hair, minis (the car, that is), the type of ambient music he had on whenever I visited, cocktails, and snazzy clothes.

I dreamt there was a cure and woke up remembering that he’s gone. Realising that this can’t be fixed.

Time is living a double life too. There’s normal time marching on, carrying me onwards. There’s eternal time where I’m stuck in a moment, where’s it’s still so fresh, so shocking, so painful. How can it be a month?

I feel like the way forward is to somehow reconcile the two mes. The me of grief and the me of the brave face. To weave the two together so that my grief comes part of me. So that I know its ok to mourn, to grieve, to adjust to this new normal. I know I will find new ways in which he remains a part of my life, in a new and a different way.

I know I will eventually get used to seeing the things that remind me of him.

But in the meantime there’s an awful lot of minis in the UK.

In which I pause the blog hiatus to write about grief

On Friday at about 10:30am I learnt that my grandfather has passed away hours earlier. In the hours following I found myself composing blog posts in my head. Words to remember him by; his gentle presence, his cheeky sense of humour, his incredible longevity. (He died just 16 days short of his 98th birthday). However, this is not that post.

24 hours later I rang my mother in response to her message about funeral arrangements. Instead of reaching Mum, her mobile was answered by one of my brothers, Sam. Apparently mum was on landline to my other brother, Fred – my youngest brother, my 24 year old brother. Sam relayed Fred’s conversation with mum to me.

Fred’s calling from hospital. [Why? What happened? It was here the dread started] He’s got cancer. They called him at work yesterday afternoon to tell him to get straight to hospital. [This was the moment, the one you see in the movies but you never think you will experience, you never want to experience. It’s the moment when it feels like a nightmare, where you hope you’re mishearing, or it’s not real, or something, anything, other than this]. The conversation was fuzzy after that, Sam had little more information, at least none that I could make sense of, but I was swearing and saying, “No…I don’t understand”. I stayed on the phone with Sam for a little longer while Mum finished her conversation with Fred and then switched phones to talk to me.

Yes, he is in hospital. Apparently he’d a biopsy done on a cyst and the results had come through yesterday afternoon and they (whoever ‘they’ were) had called Fred at work to tell him he had cancer, and that he had to come in as soon as he could. Once he got there they took some bone marrow. His prognosis was bleak, it was initially thought he had a virulent form of leukaemia.  On Saturday morning he’d just learnt that the initial diagnosis was wrong and that his bone marrow is clean. But he still has some form of cancer, and his treatment depends on what it is. His future is now tests and treatment and his prognosis unknown. And that’s the point when he’d rang Mum. He didn’t call her the day before on account of that being the day she’d lost her Dad. He thought that was enough bad news for one day. It turned out that the decision to wait until Saturday morning to call her was wise, given that the news changed from terribly dire to bad and unknown.

After talking to Mum I spoke to Fred. His wicked sense of humour is still intact with the change in diagnosis he was upbeat. He’d faced horrible news and so was dealing quite well with the unknown and hopefully less horrible news. That was on Saturday at least. I’ve spoken to him since and in the days following he is not as positive as he was then. The reality of the situation is becoming apparent with the medical tests that he is undergoing, scans, more biopsies, having a catherta put in. His diagnosis is life altering at a minimum. I daren’t think much beyond the minimum at the moment.

We were finishing up a conversation last night and I apologised, saying that I have to get back to my family, he said “It’s fine, I have to get back to my cancer”. Oh gods.

A long overdue rant

Long overdue in the sense that anything here is long overdue as I hadn’t blogged for a long long time.

Long overdue in the sense that Australia’s anti-intellectualism and suspicion of those with a university education has long gotten up my nose and it’s about time that I said my piece about it. (No guarantees that this is my piece in its entirety, I reserve my right to rant further on this topic).

Ok, some background, some context is probably necessary before I put my rant pants on.

The Labor government has been very education focused since coming to power in 2007.  In 2008 when Julia Gillard was federal Minister for Education she oversaw the signing of the Melbourne Declaration (which is the official document outlining Australia’s national goals for education). By fortuitous happenstance the education ministers of all the states (with the exception of Western Australia) were members of the Labor party and a close look at the Melbourne Declaration and Labor education policy suggests that the Melbourne Declaration enshrines many of Labor’s education policies into this national  agreement (the national curriculum, increased federal control over education, accountability and transparency, equity, etc). Since the signing of the Melbourne Declaration the federal Labor government has increased its control of the education sector. We are closer to having a national curriculum than ever before, we have a federal quality framework for the early childhood sector, the new government bodies AITSL [Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership] (AITSL is currently developing a federal set of teaching professional standards) and ACARA [Australian Curriculum, Assessment, and Reporting Authority] (ACARA oversees the NAPLAN testing and the MySchool website) mean that education is being overseen and regulated by federal as well as the existing state regulatory bodies. As can been see from this brief overview, since coming to power in 2007 the Labor government has been busy (whether this incursion into education is positive or not is a debate for another day).

Image of the Melbourne Declaration document

Although there has been a lot of progress since 2007, things have gotten more difficult since Julia Gillard became Prime Minister in 2010. Not only is her government a minority government, but various states now have Liberal led governments thus the cohesion that existed when the Melbourne Declaration was signed no longer holds.

Not very long ago the federal government commissioned a review of education funding in Australia – the Gonski review. School funding is one of those contentious topics where everyone is an expert and everyone has an agenda. So the Gonski review was commissioned and it returned with a conclusion that in order to fix some of the problems of the unnecessarily complex and opaque conditions surrounding school funding, and to ensure that all schools are adequately funded on a needs basis, it is going to cost an extra $5 billion – this is probably higher than it needs to be as Gillard stated that no schools would be worse off as a result of any changes arising from the Gonski review. Anyway with agreement from the states the Gonski Review recommendations  might be put in place – but it isn’t going to happen with the states in slash and burn money saving mode.

And this all brings me to the subject of my rant. A post by Liberal Minister Alan Tudge on ABC’s The Drum on the failure of the government to implement the recommendations of the Gonski Review has managed to push my buttons. Tudge argues that the Gillard government needs to concentrate on teacher quality in order to improve Australia’s educational outcomes. He states:

After two years of work, it will back to the drawing board for Gillard, but she now has the opportunity to do what she should have done at the outset: tweak the current funding model and then focus attention on what really matters – quality teaching.

Our teacher training courses are frequently poor, focusing too much on the philosophy of education and not enough on the basics of how to teach well.

Well, I have a couple of things to say to this. You know what I love. I love how everyone is an expert when it comes to teachers and teacher education. And yes let’s hold teachers responsible for the state of education, no better yet, lets blame teacher educators for the state of education in Australia.

Firstly, the Gillard government is looking at teacher quality – what does he think that AITSL is all about?

Secondly, what does he think that that teacher training courses actually involve? I can tell you, it’s certainly not four years of nothing but philosophy of education. (Can you imagine it? ED101 – Intro to educational philosophy I, ED102 – Intro to educational philosophy II, ED201 – Educational philosophy I, ED202 – Educational philosophy II, ED301 – Studies in Educational philosophy I, ED302 – Studies in Educational Philosophy II, ED401 – Advanced studies in Educational Philosophy I, ED402 – Advanced Studies in Educational Philosophy II!!). I can assure you that while educational philosophy is a part of an education degree, it is a small part. Education students study educational foundations (history, sociology, psychology  and yes, a smattering of philosophy with a focus on ethics – I ask you who wants teachers without any background knowledge in ethics?); curriculum and subject content courses, pedagogy and methodology, behaviour management, special education and Aboriginal education as well as professional studies courses (incorporating practicums and an internship). What, pray tell, should be left out? So perhaps before Liberal Ministers bag out teacher education they should actually take a minute to find out what contemporary teacher training involves.

Thirdly, although I am not against improving teacher quality and teacher education (although I believe neither are in the perilous state indicated by Tudge) improving these areas alone will not solve the problems of our education system. The current focus on teacher quality puts the responsibly for educational outcomes on individual teachers and on the institutes responsible for teacher accreditation and registration. It ignores that education is embedded in complex structures and that student outcomes are influenced by, not just teacher quality, but also their SES background and the SES background of the schools of which they attend, parental and community attitudes to education, the curriculum, resources available to them and a host of other factors. Teachers themselves do not work in isolation and quality teaching is enabled when teachers work together in schools. The emphasis on teacher quality and the current solutions proposed to improve teacher quality  – bonus pay, teacher accreditation, professional standards – are each based on the presupposition that teacher work and teacher success is an individual endeavour and ignores the reality that teachers work as part of system – they work with colleagues, the school leaders, parents and the community, and within education systems; complete with bureaucracies, rules, syllabus documents and expectations over which they have no control. In other words, due to the complexities of the education system and the varied communities within which schools are embedded, improving individual teacher performance will not necessarily lead to better educational outcomes. Teacher quality is not the panacea for education’s problems. And discourses which look to simplistic solutions to solve education’s woes only serve to obfuscate the many factors influencing educational outcomes. The inequities that plague our otherwise good education system took several generations to evolve to this point, a renewed emphasis on teacher training is not going to suddenly make these problems disappear.

*deep breath* I think I’ll leave it there for now, but I do have more to say on this topic.

Disclosure: I have a PhD in educational philosophy, work as a teacher educator.

It’s officially been a big day.

A big day, a crazy busy week, a hectic month, and a hell of a year.

Perhaps by way of example, I can provide an insight into the busyness of the last week or two by describing the number of messes we’ve had to clean up this evening. Firstly, there was wine glass that smashed when the box of straws were being pulled from the cupboard. The straws were destined to go into the banana smoothies that the kids were having for dessert. Glass went everywhere. Quite possibly into the waiting smoothies, so not only did the bench have to be cleaned up but the shakes had to be remade.

Then there was the glass of port that was knocked over, all over the computer desk and keyboard. And lastly the dog knocked over a couple of pot plants, smashing one ceramic pot and getting potting mix in the basket of clean washing that was sitting below the coffee table upon which the plants had been placed.

We are supposed to be celebrating tonight, for today the final hard bound copy of my thesis was submitted this morning. Finally. For it has been a long, slow journey. (I started in 2001, close to ten years ago. I studied part-time, deferred at one point, had two kids. My thesis was a very stop/start enterprise. But, it’s done now, truly done and dusted). Apparently it will all be official next week when I receive the letter that declares that I’ve officially qualified for the degree of PhD. (Woohoo, WOOT! And all that jazz!).

So this morning while I was somewhat preoccupied with the lovely bound copies of my thesis that I received yesterday and had to get to the right office today, our dog was taken to the vet to be desexed. In the extra rushed morning rush I completely forgot to send with my daughter the music for the song she had chosen to sing in today’s audition. She was trying out for her school’s talent show that is being held next week. It wasn’t until I pulled up at school to pick her up this afternoon that it dawned on me that she’d gone to school without it. As she came out of the gate I apologised, but was complimented by one of the teachers on her strong clear voice. Apparently, she had gotten up and managed to sing “A whole new world” fairly well without any musical accompaniment. Phew. So she made it through the audition, and will be singing in next week’s show, with or without the music, the choice is hers.

So the beagle has been inside all evening (knocking things over due to his surgery collar) while he recovers from his operation, so we decided not to go out to celebrate the finally submitted thesis. Perhaps festive season fatigue is also factor in our decision to keep things low key tonight. We had the lad’s Christmas concert last night, my work Xmas party tomorrow night and my husband’s the following night.

So I’m sharing my news with you tonight. It still feels surreal at the moment. It’s kinda hard to get excited right now. I mean, I’m quietly excited. That’s the problem with being as laid back as I am, excitement is more of a slow burn than an intense flare.

I just said to my husband “I’m hoping next week’s letter makes it feel real. I still feel as if someone could pull the rug out from under me, like I haven’t crossed my “i’s” and dotted my “t’s”. ” He replied “There’s your problem, you crossed where you should have dotted and dotted where you should have crossed”. Oh Frack! 😉

Anyhow, enough from me. I hope that the silly season is not wearing you right out and that joy, friendship and love come your way. If you need some good reading, please check out the latest Down Under Feminists Carnival, its full (as usual) of feminist goodness and awesome writing. My current plan is to finish my glass of port and get a good night’s sleep. Night!

Wherein rather than confront I retrospectively vent

I’ve had a mostly lovely evening today, but a run in with a some random asshole has left me with a bad taste in my mouth. The incident is still niggling. And why is it that you always work out what to say after the event?

One lovely thing that happens in this area is the various Christmas markets that take place in the lead up to the festive season. So I took the family and we went into the city for tonight’s Red Lantern Night Markets and we had a very nice time. Good food, funky stalls; I even had a rickshaw ride with my daughter. Fun. So we’d been there a couple of hours and were just about to head home, when my husband run into an ex-student. As they chatted I spied a store that I’d been wanting to check out for a while and ducked in with the kids. The shop was new and funky and set up with families in mind. There were toys around and shop was selling handmade kids clothes, and vintage adult clothes, as well as cute accessories. So, you know, it was the kind of place my funky ideal self would shop at. (Not being this self, maybe I shouldn’t have gone in there).

I’d been carrying my son on my hip; he was tired. Upon entering I saw a groovy leather lounge set up with kid’s cushions, so I put the boy on this couch and explained I was going to look through the merchandise. He was reluctant to be put down but convinced by the cute car shaped cushions. My daughter liked the vibe of the place and was happy to look around. She found a rocking horse and was safely and contentedly occupied. I was browsing through some rather groovy clothes when I heard my daughter tell her brother that he had to share. I turned to see him grab the cushions away from a younger child who was coming to the lounge. Unimpressed with the lad’s behaviour I headed over to the couch to sort the situation. Meanwhile the toddler’s (presumed) father was watching on from a distant corner, and loudly commented about my son’s unwillingness to share. His partner, who was at the lounge with their little boy tried to shush him, but the more she shushed and said it didn’t matter, the louder the man got. “It does matter, look he’s grabbed all three of the cushions”. (His tone was louder and more cutting than this innocuous remark would suggest). I hurried over, and in the time it took me to get to my four year old boy and quietly remind him that the toys were for everyone, not just for him, this stranger had loudly and accusingly made several (to my mind) completely unnecessary remarks to/about my son. The lad handed over a toy cushion to other child without complaining and I was able to return to my shopping.

I hadn’t been impressed with my lad’s behaviour but had roles been reversed and it was my child being denied playthings by another child I wouldn’t have been commenting on the other child’s behaviour. It probably wouldn’t have even struck me as something worth commenting on, as in my experience, casual selfishness is fairly normal behaviour in small children*, especially when you get close to bed time. What annoyed me about the man’s attitude was the assholishness of it. The more his partner tried to quieten him and not make a big deal, the bigger deal he made – he got louder and more obnoxious, over something that was pretty trivial. She was clearly not bothered by my boy, and was embarrassed and discomforted by her partner’s persistence. His little boy wasn’t even perturbed by my boy’s (unfortunate) actions. His attitude would have been perhaps understandable if his boy had responded to the initial non-sharing with a whooper of a tantrum, but the boy hardly seemed to care.

This gentleman’s (I use the term loosely) attitude made me uncomfortable, and I realised later what I should said to the man. I could have politely reminded him, that my son is only four and still learning social etiquette, but that it appeared to be too late for him.

Ha! I wish I had the guts to say something like to someone. I am (as you may have gathered) a non-confrontational person, hence an anonymous blog post being directed at a complete stranger whom I hope to never have the displeasure of seeing again.

I do wonder why people have to be so judgmental in regard to children, and hold children to such high standards in public. Had it been an adult with three magazines would anyone felt entitled to make loud commentary on their behaviour? Kids are kids, and sometimes have to be reminded what the right way to behave is. And sometimes adults could do with that reminder too.


*and so is unselfishness, empathy and other wonderful behaviours. Our role as our children’s primary socialisers is to cultivate the positive traits and minimise the normal but not-so pleasant traits. And to do this in a manner that is not harmful to the child.** (Doesn’t sound easy when it’s put like that?)

**A task that parents/carers would find much easier in a supportive and non-judgmental environment.

Crime and punishment, or the lass turns seven.

My daughter turned seven a couple of weeks ago. Seven years old. It’s like a new page in the book of her childhood. She seems rather more grown up, a medium-sized child now, no longer so much a “little girl”. I’m not going to go so far as to call her a tween, because she’s still so much a kid. I know that tween stands for “in- between”, no longer a child, not yet a teenager, but my girl is not a tween, she is a child. She’s mysterious and private and flighty, messy, creative, a dreamer and kinda into that girly stuff that I’m into critiquing, but she’s still very definitely a kid. Tween almost seems to mean mini-teen, as far as the marketers and manufacturers are concerned and I am reminded that I may have to write to the clothing manufacturers and let them know that my daughter and many like her are not Tweens. They are kids and would like to dress as such. I’ve noticed already as I went to buy some summer clothes, that now that I can no longer shop for her for in the little girl section of the shop (sizes 2 – 6), but am consigned to the tween section (sizes 7 – 14) it is increasingly hard to find appropriate clothing. You know, stuff that looks as though it was made for the playground and not the dance floor.

As she gets older I notice how different she is to me as a child. Which of course is to be expected, as she is her own person. But our differences in temperament are so stark I wonder whether my parenting style clashes with her personality. We’ve had our moments, shall we say, and there has been times when I question myself.

She was sent to her room, punished for some misdemeanor – probably she was accused of doing wrong by her sibling. In her mind the punishment was entirely undeserved, this was a travesty of justice. She sat in her room seething with the injustice of it all, it was so unfair. The time in confinement was spent devising suitable punishments for her horrible mother who had so unfairly treated her. The perfect vengeance was imagined – her mother was a witch. She would like to lock the witch in a cage and feed her poison for two weeks, not enough poison to kill her, but enough to make her suffer for a while. I don’t know why, but the vengeance fantasy took the sting out of the punishment, and so calmed her that when she was called from her room, having been there for what was considered to be an appropriate amount of time, she not only apologised to mother but confessed the fantasy. She said that she was so angry that she’d wanted to punish her mother and had imagined what she’d like to do. She honestly explained to her mother about wanting to lock her in a cage and feed her poison, but she’d changed her mind, was sorry for whatever it was that had gotten her sent to her room and wanted to be friends with Mum again. A nice reconciliation took place.

That was me many years ago, plotting to lock up my mother. I can no longer remember what it was I was in trouble for, but I do remember telling mum exactly what I’d wanted to do and how angry I’d been. I think she was shocked at my honesty. We forgave each other and I don’t remember ever having such strong vengeful desires towards my mother after that. I also grew out of believing in fairy tale type punishments.

When I recently remembered that incident from my childhood I figured that I’m probably doing ok with my daughter. As far as I know she’s never harbored a desire to poison me, or lock me up in a cage.