In April, 1911, Victoria schoolchildren in Grade Three received their monthly edition of The School Paper, produced and distributed by the state’s education department. It is an eye-opening relic of another age and can be read here, along with School Papers from other years and for different grades.
The School Paper content is unashamedly Australian, recounting the exploits and tragedies of explorers, sympathetically depicting the lives and cultures of pre-settlement Aborigines and general items of interest intended to encourage a catholic appreciation of the ways the world then worked, from the best time to plant rose cuttings to warnings against cruel April Fool pranks and the Latin roots of common words. Below is a paragraph, selected at random, describing the union movement and origins of the eight-hour day.
The writing is clear and straightforward, the grammar impeccable, the information conveyed a valuable contribution to the sum of knowledge it was expected children would take with them into the workforce and adult society.
Now let us examine writing of a different sort.
Below, one of the recommendations from the latest Gonski exercise in fixing what the document’s executive summary describes as children “falling short of achieving the full learning potential of which they are capable”. Put bluntly, that translates as a lavishly funded education system producing school leavers who are unable to read, comprehend and calculate, let alone appreciate their country’s history and social evolution.
Selected at random, Recommendation 23 from Gonski, The Sequel:
Establish an independent institution to coordinate the strategic development of a national research and evidence base through the sourcing and generating of research, and the synthesising and promotion of educational evidence that can be easily accessed and implemented to improve student outcomes
Rudely translated, the above is a plea to finance and install yet more jargon-sprouting gargoyles atop the crumbling edifice of Australian education. One guesses the writer would not have been offered a job producing articles for the 1911 School Paper.
As to what educational authorities regard as worthwhile reading material for Australian children, digest the passage excerpted below. It is from the Fartimus Maximus books which Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, extols as just the thing for honing the minds of modern third-graders in what the state’s licence plates proclaim as “the education state“. He also recommends lots more books his education advisers think are just the shot. By way of background, the books’ young hero, whose chronic flatulence is the series’ sole and sustaining theme, is called upon to deliver a eulogy at his grandfather’s funeral:
He had written a speech the night before, but as he reached for it in his pocket he heard himself say, “What am I doing? He wouldn’t want this. There’s only one thing I can do.”
Jack took the microphone out of its stand and pointed it towards his butt.
You can guess what happened next.
Everyone gasped in horror – especially the priest. “What do you think you’re doing?” he growled.
“Well,” said Jack with a grin, “it’s better out than in.”
Need anything more be said about the sorry descent of Australian education, the culpability of those who oversee it and the reason, as the Gonski crew would have it, that our kids are falling ever further behind?
Roger Franklin, editor of Quadrant Online, obtained his grade three education from sisters Leo and Magdalene at St Augustine’s parish school in Yarraville. Farting figured not at all in the curriculum.