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Posted by Lisa Hill on December 29, 2009
Students, click this link to go to the LisaHillSchoolStuff Wiki.
Posted by Lisa Hill on April 21, 2014
Last week when author James Brown was interviewed on ABC TV about his new book Anzac’s Long Shadow, it drew a predictable response. From the RSL National President to politicians who were interviewed the prohibition on criticism of Anzac day was clear. It is sacrosanct, and the way it is now celebrated is ‘what the people want’. Nobody would entertain the idea of questioning the nation’s priorities in respect of this day, much less offer any leadership about it. Well, I hope that away from the glare of the cameras they take time to read this book, and to think about the many issues it raises.
In a nutshell, Brown (a former army officer) argues that Australia spends too much time, money and emotion on the Anzac legend at the expense of current serving military personnel and our future defence needs. He points out that Australia is going to spend $325 million on WW1 commemorations, which is twice what the British will spend. Some of this will be spent on sporting events tagged with the Anzac brush, some on tours and cruises, some on more memorials in more places, bigger and better than what we already have, and $27 million of it is going to a company that’s going to manage events in Turkey. This is, as Brown says, a commemorative program so extravagant that it would make sultans swoon and pharaohs envious. It has become, he says without mincing words, a sort of military Halloween … with commemorative events at Gallipoli now more like an all-Australian jamboree.
But this is not a churlish harangue. Brown is genuinely concerned about significant matters on which we are not spending taxpayer’s dollars. While no Anzac commemoration can be too lavish, defence spending is in a parlous state, underfunded by 25%. It is naïve, he says, to imagine both that there are no impending threats and that our preferred option of diplomacy will always protect us. By celebrating the courage of the hastily assembled armies that fought in World Wars 1 & 2, and by fostering the myth of the Aussie digger (braver and smarter than all other soldiers anywhere, lack of training notwithstanding) we are deluding ourselves if we imagine that similar unpreparedness can be victorious in future wars in our vicinity. And we’re not doing ourselves any favours by perpetrating the pseudo-democratic notion of contempt for the officers who lead them.
In a 2010 memorial lecture for Sir John Hackett, the current chief of the ADF, General David Hurley, outlined the kind of skills needed to operate in a ‘volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous’ region. In his view, Australia would face particular challenges in defending itself in this turbulent new world, lacking advantages in military size and unable to maintain a broad technological edge over regional powers. Australia’s military leaders would need to operate remotely and autonomously, and possess a deep understanding of the cultures, languages* and ways of thinking of regional countries. In short, Hurley suggested, defence would need to adopt a highly innovative culture and mould a new kind of officer – one able to master innovative strategy, strive for intellectual excellence, develop deep knowledge as well as strategically important personal relationships in two regional societies, and most importantly, think critically and analytically. (p. 105)
* Tonight I heard ABC journalists from News 24 turn aside from the latest briefing about the missing Malaysian plane because a Malaysian journalist asked a question and was answered by the Minister in Malay. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, no journalist should be hired by any Australian media organisation unless they can speak an Asian language, and anyone deployed to work in Southeast Asia should be fluent in Bahasa.
Even if you’re a committed pacifist and don’t share Brown’s concern about our readiness for defence, there are other reasons to be dubious about our national priorities. Brown writes in a calm and measured tone (he’s a Military Fellow at the Lowy Institute) but the reader can sense his outrage about the complacency with which Australia has slid into distorting the original meaning of Anzac and turning it into big business while at the same time neglecting the mental health needs of former soldiers. As it says in the media release that accompanied this book, ‘for the same cost as the Federal government’s centenary program, a mental health professional could be provided for every army combat unit for the next 30 years’. Brown doesn’t use the word ‘hypocrisy’, but I will: is that kind of hypocrisy what we Aussie citizens really want? I suspect not, it’s just that we haven’t thought about our priorities, or if we have, we’ve been too constrained by the aura of Anzac to say anything.
What really unsettled me in reading this book was the chapter about the RSL. Of all our charities, the Returned Services League is the one that pulls most at the heartstrings, and we give generously to its appeals. Somewhat naïvely , I now realise, I have often dined at RSL Clubs in NSW when travelling, believing that I’m helping to support returned soldiers and their families. I did not know that while RSL Clubs may be decked out in military memorabilia on their walls, that they are separate from RSL charities. Less than one in twenty of its members have been in the military and fewer still have been to war. They are big business now, and they wield enormous political power as we saw when the previous government tried to introduce gambling reforms.
So colossally does the Rooty Hill RSL Club loom over western Sydney that for the past several years it has waged a campaign demanding its own postcode. Within its grounds are a full Novotel and bowling alley. Its gambling floor is a sea of hundreds of poker machines. The then prime minister decamped her entourage to the club in 2013 and it has played host to prime ministerial debates in the last two federal election campaigns. The ‘Last Post’ is played every night, governors have paid tribute at the club’s war memorial and the NSW RSL held its conference there in 2012 – but this suburban casino is no veterans’ organisation. In 2012, the Rooty Hill RSL Club brought in $71.5 million in revenue from its operations, with $41.6 million of this coming from its gambling activities alone. Donations to charities and community groups, including in-kind donations of venue space and hospitality, amounted to just $900,000 and Rooty Hill will not divulge whether this included veterans’ charities. The Castle Hill and Parramatta RSL Clubs brought in $52 million of revenue, yet less than half of a percent of this ($250,000) went towards ‘veterans’ support and welfare’. (p. 134-5)
When a club wins an award for its generosity to charity because it gives $1.2 million of its $9.3 million dollar profits – something is wrong, and when it’s trading on the RSL name but only two of the charities have anything to do with veterans, that’s a matter that should be more widely known. In Brown’s words:
The issue is not that RSL clubs aren’t doing charitable work. The issue is that they’re not doing nearly enough given the extraordinarily privileged position they occupy in society. (p. 135)
Ever wandered through the imposing War Memorial in Canberra, awed by its sombre exhibits? Me too, so it surprised me to learn that our national obsession has spawned hundreds of Anzac histories but that there’s no official military history of Australian service in East Timor, the Solomon Islands, Iraq or Afghanistan. None has been commissioned. Nobody has analysed events to learn what went well, and what didn’t. This neglect has much to do with the invisibility of the modern serving soldier, and our collective ignorance about what we need to do to avoid war in the future and to fight it well if it’s unavoidable. It’s quite shocking to read that
It took ten years and ten combat deaths before the parliament became sufficiently interested in the Afghan war to debate it formally. Six months earlier, however, it had found the time to debate petitioning the UK government for a pardon for ‘Breaker Morant’, who was court-martialled in 1902, during the Boer war. (p.75)
This is a brave book. Brown also tackles the ceremonial that we have come to expect from our politicians when a soldier dies on active service. Starting with the first casualty in Iraq, our political leaders have attended the funerals of each and every one. This expectation delivered a truly incongruous result when the Prime Minister, the defence minister and the chief of the defence forces rushed back to Australia – cancelling attendance at the Pacific Islands Forum, liaison with our old enemy Vietnam and a meeting with the US Secretary of State. All these long-planned events were important to our long-term strategic security. Is that really what we want? Is it really what the bereaved families want, when their loved one has given his life to improve our long-term strategic security?
Subtitled The cost of our national obsession, James Brown’s forensic analysis of the financial, emotional and social costs of the Anzac industry is a book that should be read by our politicians, military leaders, business leaders, and media organisations. It also needs to be read by our school teachers who are besieged with new pictorial histories each year and intense pressure to devote more and more of the school curriculum to this one single event in our history. Teachers are unwittingly complicit in a national program of Anzac inculcation, with the children identified by the Anzac centenary commission as an ‘important conduit’. That’s not something that should happen by default.
Anzac’s Long Shadow is part of the Redback series, published by Black Inc. Marketed as ‘books with bite, short books on big issues by leading Australian writers and thinkers’, this series looks like one to keep an eye on.
Author: James Brown
Title: Anzac’s Long Shadow, The Cost of our National Obsession
Publisher: Black Inc, 2014
Source: review copy courtesy of Black Inc
Fishpond: Anzac’s Long Shadow: The Cost of Our National Obession
Or from good bookshops everywhere.
Posted by Lisa Hill on March 22, 2014
This is a brilliant slideshow by Zaid Ali Alsagoff showing Bloom’s original Taxonomy and its many revised versions in visualisations. Click the link to Slide Share.
Posted by Lisa Hill on March 18, 2014
Click the link to find out more and to download the festival program. Take the kids if you can!
Also, check out this article, In Praise of Children’s Books, by Judith Ridge: where she reflects on the characters who nurtured her childhood love of reading – and passionately argues that we need to recognise, reward and nurture great children’s writing, as separate from great writing for young adults.
Posted by Lisa Hill on March 8, 2014
I read very little YA fiction but every now and again a book comes my way that takes my interest. The reissue of award-winning The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick interested me because I’d read Do-Wrong Ron by the same author to my Year 5 & 6 students. They loved it, and I admired the free verse form, perfect for reading aloud.
Well, The Simple Gift isn’t going to be okay for primary school students because it’s the coming-of-age story of homeless 16-year-old Billy who runs away to avoid an abusive father, and it’s got some language that we don’t use at school, not to mention some … um … adolescent activity that we prefer to keep …um … theoretical for primary aged students – but I thought I’d share here an example of the power of Herrick’s style:
I was ten years old
in the backyard
kicking a soccer ball
against the bedroom wall,
practising for the weekend.
My first season of sport
and I’d already scored a goal
so I kept practising, alone.
And I guess I tried too hard,
I kicked it too high,
stupid of me I know,
and I broke the bedroom window.
I stood in the yard
holding the ball
looking at the crack in the pane.
Dad came thundering out.
He didn’t look at the damage.
He’d heard it. He came over, grabbed the ball,
kicked it over the back fence
into the bushes,
gave me one hard backhander
across the face,
so hard I fell down
as much in shock as anything,
and I felt the blood
from my nose,
I could taste it dribbling it out
as Dad stood over me
no more sport
no more forever.
He walked back inside
and slammed the door
on my sporting childhood
that disappeared into the bushes
with my soccer ball.
I was ten years old.
I didn’t go inside for hours.
I looked through the back window
reading the paper
in front of the television
as if nothing
Billy takes refuge in a library, and picks up Lord of the Flies:
Lord of the lounge
It’s a good library.
Lots of books, sure,
and lounges soft and comfortable
for real reading,
and I choose one
in the corner
and I settle down
with a book about these kids
stranded on a desert island
and some try to live right
but the others go feral
and it’s s good book
and I’m there, on the island,
gorging on tropical fruit,
trying to decide
whose side I’m on.
And then it hits me.
I’m on neither.
I’d go off alone,
because you can’t trust
those who want to break the rules
and you certainly can’t trust
those who make the rules,
so you do the only thing possible,
you avoid the rules.
on the deserted island
of a soft lounge
in Bendarat Library.
from The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick, UQP (University of Queensland Press), 2000, reissued 2014, ISBN 9780702231339, p. 15-16, and p23-24.
To read an excellent review of this novel, visit the blog of my friend Louise at A Strong Belief in Wicker.
Cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers
Posted by Lisa Hill on March 4, 2014
This year, as everyone knows, is the centenary of the beginning of the Great War, and next year is the centenary of the Gallipoli landing – and it is obvious already that there is a flood of new books about the Anzacs. Teachers are going to have to be discerning about what they use and how they use these new books, because if there’s one bit of research that every teacher of history should know, it’s that students get very tired of covering the same topic again and again.
At my school, we already have a good collection of picture books from commercial publishers and numerous kits from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the Shrine of Remembrance and the Australian War Memorial. Some of them are better than others, because it takes writerly skill to treat this topic in a way that’s suitable for primary school children yet isn’t too sentimental, mawkish or jingoistic. We want children to know their history, but we also want them to learn the processes of history: investigating evidence, exploring different points of view, and recognising that there’s more than one way of telling the story of Australia’s participation in this war. At my school, we also need to tread warily: some of our refugee students know about war at first hand. And I needn’t remind readers of this blog that we now have politicians revisiting interference in the history curriculum with nationalistic demands that sit uneasily with the spirit of teaching the history of this or any other topic.
Meet the Anzacs is the fifth in the the Random House Meet … series of picture books focussing on men and women of Australia’s history, but it’s the first that’s not about a particular person. (The other one in this series that I’ve reviewed was Meet Mary McKillop) but we’ve also got Meet Ned Kelly and due for release soon is my own personal hero, Meet Douglas Mawson. Meet the Anzacs is pretty much what you’d expect it to be: it’s suitable for primary aged children in content and style, explaining the assorted reasons men had for enlistment and the amateurish training they had, but tactfully omitting the hooliganism and worse of the Anzacs in Egypt, and leaving the carnage on the beach to the imagination. I really liked the way this was handled: text telling the reader that the landing was not at all what the soldiers had expected, with a double page picture showing what a lost cause the venture was because of the geography of Anzac Cove. This would be a great page for discussion, I think. The art work, by Max Berry is particularly good because, as you can see from the front cover, it de-sentimentalises the men. These soldiers look like real Aussie blokes.
But the arrival of Meet the Anzacs made me realise that my school needed a plan for 2014, so that each area of the school is covering a different aspect of the Anzac Story. Using content from the Australian Curriculum for History, we’ve sorted out who’s doing what this year, and have left ourselves ‘wriggle-room’ for 2015. Meet the Anzacs is well suited for the Gallipoli centenary next year because it explains the facts in simple terms that make it suitable for Year 1 & 2 and the illustrations by Max Berry are excellent.
The plan for Preps
We’re keeping it low-key for the preps. No stories of blood and suffering for five-year-olds, it’s not appropriate. Prep history is mainly concerned with learning about the past through photos and artifacts, so they’re going to read Phil Cumming’s lovely book, Anzac Biscuits about a child baking biscuits for her father, and the soldier eventually receiving the biscuits from his daughter at the front. It’s a beautiful, tender book, and the pictures by Owen Swan link the family separated by war using visual symbols such as snowflakes at the front and flour being sprinkled on the kitchen table. Classes will bake some biscuits too, of course. I also found a terrific photo of a soldier posing with his wife on the eve of his departure for war: the children can talk about clothing of the past, including the uniform, and they can also investigate the concept of photos as evidence of events that happened long ago. But I am hoping that someone will issue something else that’s suitably gentle for this age group, in time for next year. (I found one called The ANZAC Puppy by New Zealand author Peter Millett at Fishpond, and it looks as if it might be suitable, but I haven’t got a copy of it yet. Update: Peter Millett kindly sent me a copy and my review is here.)
Years 1 & 2
The AC content for Years 1 & 2 suggests investigating local buildings of historical significance, so these classes are going to walk to our local war memorial for the school’s wreath-laying ceremony. They’ll also use the ‘We Remember’ kit produced by the Australian War Memorial: it has useful posters of memorials and symbols such as honour rolls and wreaths, and it includes a Big Book ‘Remembering Charlie Cooper’ about some kids who become interested in the names on their local memorial. It’s not great literature and the illustrations are a bit pedestrian, but the story covers the topic well without being too heavy-handed for this age group. We’ve also got a full-sized poster of the Shrine of Remembrance, and they’ll use that too. (There is a book called My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day but they had that one last year). Publishers could usefully check out the Australian Curriculum for this age group and commission a really talented writer of children’s books to produce something appropriate for 2015 as well.
Years 3 & 4
The AC for Years 3 & 4 includes looking at commemorations around the world, and we’ve tweaked this a bit so that we can use three books that we have in our collection. The first is a new one called The Promise, by Derek Guille, and it’s a bilingual book, written in French and English, about how Australian soldiers liberated the village of Villers-Bretonneux on 25 April 1918, and how school children from Victoria raised money to help rebuild the village school. With an unusual plot-line involving a commemoration by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the books shows how the villagers have kept their promise that they would never forget Australia. (There is another one on this theme called Le Quesnoy: The Story of the Town New Zealand Saved by Glyn Harper which might be worth getting hold of too.)
Anzac Cottage: The House That Was Built in a Day by Valerie Everett isn’t a story from overseas, but this tale of a house that was built by 200 people in Perth for one of the first wounded ANZAC soldiers to return from Gallipoli is about the 90th anniversary of this community event, and I think it’s an appropriate text to use. The other text is rather old one called A War Far Away by Pauline Cartwright. It may be hard to find: it’s about a Kiwi teacher who goes away to war and is killed. It’s a bit sombre, but I like the way it shows the human cost of war in the wider community and I think it’s all right for this age group. (ISBN: 0170078205, EAN 9780170078207 & originally part of a set of books called The Highgate Collection, now out of print. A smart publisher would reissue this).
Years 5 & 6
Years 5 & 6 are going to research the role of women in WW1. They’ll use a DVA publication called Devotion and another called Australian Women in War (both of which you can download for free here) – we also have some posters typical of their era: one that shows the nurses of the 1942 Banka Island massacre needing to be avenged and another which proclaims that war is a man’s job. I would also recommend that anyone doing this topic also read Kitty’s War by Janet Butler: it is a superb history which interrogates Nurse Kitty McNaughton’s diary, analysing what she included and what she left out, and why. It’s also a vivid picture of the dangers nurses faced and the discrimination they dealt with, and any teacher who reads it will be able to enliven her lessons with an authentic and riveting story. If you can’t get hold of it, read my review instead: it’s a poor substitute for the real thing but it’s better than nothing. It’s high time that a publisher produced a picture biography of the nurses of WW1, and Kitty McNaughton would be an ideal subject.
In the Library, I’m developing a unit for Years 5 & 6 called Indigenous Service. Last year with Y 3 & 4, I taught a unit called Animals at War, using the DVA kit, M is for Mates. (Again, download it for free by clicking the link). Students researched ways in which animals were used: donkeys (yes, including the famous one), horses, carrier-pigeons, dogs and camels. This is an interesting way of making children aware of war beyond the trench warfare images: they learned about how the animals were and weren’t cared for, and at the end of the unit we had a lively discussion about the ethics of using animals in warfare, given how we now feel about animal welfare issues. I’ll teach this unit again next year in 1915. Update: Peter Millett’s book The Anzac Day Puppy is ideal for this unit, see my review here.
The Indigenous Service unit for this year will be closely based on advice in the Indigenous Service kit for Primary schools. (Make sure you download the one for Primary schools.
Other books you might use can be found at Kidsize Living.
Download our plan in Word and adapt it to suit your own school. ANZAC COMMEMORATIONS (Whole School Plan) 2014-5 (2)
Click the book covers to buy these books from Fishpond.